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The Kindred

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Summary: The scooby gang travels to San Francisco to prevent another hellmouth from being opened with the help of the Charmed Ones. What does evil have in store, what surprises await? And just what is Paige and Faith's connection. Warning: contains rape.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Charmed > Faith-CenteredJillRJohnsonFR18190,043993,80026 Feb 0726 Feb 07Yes
DISCLAIMER: I do not own anything in this story involving the characters of Buffy or Charmed. No copyright infringement is intended and I claim nothing Charmed or Buffy. I unfortunately DO own the character of Travis Harwell.

The Kindred
By Jill R. Johnson

Chapter One

Faith tossed in her bed in the darkened motel room. Buffy and Dawn occupied the room with her. Willow and Xander were in a room adjoined to theirs. She stared up into the darkness, knowing that if it were day she would be able to see the cracked plaster in the ceiling. It was the same view as every seedy motel she had ever been in.

But it was night and she was wide-awake. She could hear Dawn softly snoring in the bed next to hers. Looking across the two-foot space between the beds she could barely see that Buffy had a protective arm wrapped around her little sister. Faith began to cry.

They weren’t loud sobs, or weeping, but rather gentle silent tears that fell unnoticed to the pillow. She closed her eyes and thought about the past five months. They had said goodbye to all the slayer wannabes three months earlier. She had hated saying goodbye to them. They had become her friends, her little groupies. She liked having groupies. But she knew that they had families to go home to now that the First was gone, they had lives to lead, school to finish.

Faith had no one but Buffy and the gang, and she knew she didn’t really even have them. She had been a nightmare to them from the day she arrived in Sunnydale. She had hurt each of them in one way or another. Faith knew she was a different person than she used to be. She had grown up and accepted all that she had done wrong.

She turned in the bed again, her thoughts making her unable to be still. She recalled the time she spent in prison. An era she would rather not think about, but couldn’t steer her mind clear of by any means. She had been a model citizen of D-Block, cell #4453. The other prisoners had respected her and had treated her accordingly. With the exception of the one woman the last week she was there, the other prisoners had given her no trouble whatsoever.

The guards on the other hand, she could not say the same about. Faith sat up in the bed, threw the covers back, and slipped quietly outside. She wanted to forget, she wanted to get it all out of her head. She needed a cigarette.

The asphalt was cool on her bare feet. She padded over to their car. It was an old station wagon complete with the wood paneling. Faith didn’t mind the atrocity. It gave them enough room to breathe now that they were playing nomads. She opened the door, knowing it was unlocked, and retrieved her cigarettes off the dashboard.

She looked around at their surroundings. They were in the middle of nowhere. Faith thought about where they were heading. San Francisco. They had a new mission. Buffy and Giles had decided that Buffy would find a new Hellmouth and start with the life saving again. San Francisco was a prime locale. Xander and Willow were forever a part of the team and Dawn was Buffy’s little sister, of course she would be wherever Buffy went. And Faith, she had no one else. And she couldn’t stand the thought of being alone.

She scoffed at the idea. Five months ago she had coveted the idea of being on a deserted island with no one but herself. Then she had fought with Angel, she had helped the Angel team overcome Angelus. Then along came Willow who told her about the First in Sunnydale. Faith helped the slayers-in-training and she helped Buffy, she had even hooked up with Principal Wood.

One thing leading to another had brought her to that exact moment where she stood in an almost deserted motel parking lot, leaning against the hood of a station wagon, taking a drag from her Marlboro Light, and wanting more than anything for someone to protect her and to want to save her the way Buffy was with Dawn.

The thought surprised her as she took another hit from the cigarette. She stared aimlessly at the ground and her feet. Months ago she would have run, gotten as far away as she could from the tight knit group. But something had happened in prison. Something had happened that made her only want to feel safe.

As she was pushing the thought far back into her mind, a voice from beside her made her jump. She looked up to see Buffy staring back at her, her eyes wide with curiosity. Faith half-smiled and offered Buffy the cigarette. Buffy shook her head no.

“Haven’t you heard? Smoking kills,” Buffy said lightheartedly.

“So do demons and vamps but we still chase ‘em don’t we?”

Buffy nodded and leaned against the hood of the car next to Faith. Faith could feel Buffy’s stare. She threw the cigarette on the ground and looked at Buffy.

“Happy now?”

“Yes, very. I wouldn’t want you to die you know. That’d suck.”

Faith’s smile fell slightly, “Do you mean that, B?”

Buffy’s face changed from an expression of amusement to one of concern, “Of course I mean it, Faith. Who else knows how to fight like me?”

They were silent for a minute and Faith could still feel Buffy’s eyes on her. Faith wanted to cry. She knew why, but she wasn’t about to give in to the satisfaction of letting it happen.


“I’m going back to bed now.”

Faith walked away from Buffy and slipped back into the motel room. Buffy watched her walk away and noticed for the first time that Faith walked with a lot less confidence than she used to. Buffy hated that Faith closed up every time they got close to communicating on a deeper level. She wanted to find a way to get through to the heart of Faith.

She shook her head and followed her fellow slayer’s path back into the motel room. Inside, she glanced over at Faith who had her eyes closed tightly. She knew that since Sunnydale had turned to dust, Faith had only slept during the day in the car when the whole gang was around her. It made Buffy wonder. But more so, it made her worry.

It had been the longest three months Piper Halliwell had ever experienced. Leo had been an Elder for three months. Even Prue’s death had not been this excruciating. Piper knew why. Leo had chosen to leave her and Wyatt, Prue would never have chosen to leave her. Piper glanced at the framed black and white photo of she, Leo and their son. No matter how angry she was with him, she loved him heart and soul, and always would.

She pushed the covers off of her and peeked into Wyatt’s crib. She was not surprised to see that he was gone. She knew that either Paige or Phoebe had taken him downstairs earlier that morning. She had made it a habit of sleeping in late on Saturday mornings after a hard night’s work at P3.

Slipping on her robe, she groggily made her way downstairs. She felt a wave of disappointment wash over her as she realized that Chris, their new Whitelighter from the future, was the only person sitting at the kitchen table. Piper rolled her eyes and moved slowly toward him. He looked up at her smiling, his bright blue eyes shining. Piper hated him for having blue eyes. They reminded her of Prue.

“Morning Piper!” he said, his voice filled with cheer.

“Where are my sisters?” Piper asked as she filled her gray mug with highly caffeinated coffee.

Chris frowned, “Didn’t they tell you?”

Piper looked at him with concern, “Tell me what?”

“They took Wyatt to the park. It’s a pretty day. Indian summer, maybe?”

Piper looked out the kitchen window and saw that Paige’s VW Bug was gone. Her shoulders sagged slightly at the thought of having to spend any time alone with Chris. She still couldn’t figure it out, but there was something about him she didn’t like. But she knew that Paige and Phoebe seemed to like him and trust him so that was good enough for her. “Besides,” she thought, “I’m just missing Leo.”

She smiled at Chris and sat at the table with him, sipping her coffee slowly, “So, did they say when they’d be back?”

Chris shook his head, “Sorry. All they said was that you need some sleep and that you were overdoing it, so they took

Wyatt to the park and told me to stand guard for any demon activity.”

“Oh…well, okay. Want to watch some TV with me?”

Piper didn’t want to like Chris, she wanted to continue to distrust him, but she knew that if she was really going to make a go at picking up the pieces of her life, then she’d have to put some faith in this man. He followed her into the living room. She curled up in the oversize armchair while he slouched on the couch.

Piper flipped through the channels before finally stopping on a channel showing the news. A reporter was standing next to a huge crater. Piper and Chris watched with interest as the anchor asked the reporter about the events that had caused the large dent in the earth.

“Well John, this is where the significant events of three months ago occurred. Where the town of Sunnydale was literally sucked into the earth. Geologists are claiming it was the most destructive earthquake in world history.”

Piper rolled her eyes and flipped channels again, “I can’t believe they’re still reporting about that Sunnydale crap.”

Chris shrugged, “Well, Piper an entire town did just disappear, it’s kind of phenomenal and if you ask me, it’s a little bit supernat…”

“I didn’t ask you,” she said with a grin as she tuned the TV into a cartoon channel. An animated creature appeared on the screen and Chris began to laugh. Piper looked at him, mostly amused.

“What’s so funny?”

“We used to watch this together all the time.”


Chris’ smile became a somber grin, “Yeah, me and my mom.”

Piper’s curiosity got the best of her, “I thought you said you didn’t have family.”

“I didn’t. Not in the traditional sense of the word. But I had a mom. I had a dad too, but he’s not worth mentioning.”

Piper let the conversation die as she turned up the volume to the cartoon, enjoying the occasional chuckle from Chris and her own rising spirits.

The old station wagon rattled to a stop at the top of the dirt path. The five road-weary passengers poured out of the vehicle, stretching and yawning. It had been a long drive from the motel in the middle of nowhere to San Francisco. Buffy looked at their surroundings and began to walk to where the view was best. She could hear Willow and Xander behind her setting up a blanket in the grass. They, along with Dawn, had decided to have a picnic brunch. Buffy was happy that they were smiling, but indifferent to the picnic.

Footsteps followed hers. She knew it was Faith. Buffy was surprised at how incredibly close she and Faith had grown in the months following Sunnydale, even though she still wasn’t sure she could trust her completely, and there was still the issue of Faith being a wanted escapee hanging in the air, but Buffy knew she loved Faith as much as she did Willow, Dawn and Xander. She only wished Faith would talk to her about the things that bothered her. Buffy felt as though they were more than friends. They were soul sisters.

Buffy stood close to the edge of the cliff overlooking the San Francisco Bay. She rolled her eyes as Xander made a joke about his eye patch. She was sad that so many people had been hurt and died in the final battle of Sunnydale, but it was the only path to salvation.

She let the cool breeze wrap around her as she took in the sea below. The sun shimmered off its every wave, leaving her feeling refreshed, ready for more. Dawn, Xander and Willow sat on the ground near the car they had managed to buy with what little money they had. She wasn’t worried about them. They were safe. They were alive.

She wasn’t worried about Giles, who had flown back to England to reconstruct the new system of slayers. Buffy felt freer than she ever had. She was not alone anymore. She had her family, plus an entire world of slayers to help her battle evil. And Giles was going to instruct and lead them all. Buffy knew he could do it, if anyone could.

She wasn’t worried about Principal Wood. She was worried that she still couldn’t call him Robin. She almost grinned as an image of him passed through her mind. She wasn’t worried about him. He was safe at a cousin’s house in Los Angeles, healing from his wounds in their ultimate supernatural battle against the first.

She wasn’t worried about the potential slayers, because they were now fully powered slayers, each back home with their families, training in secret with their newly initiated watchers. Buffy knew they would be safe.

Buffy wasn’t even worried about the incredible new Hellmouth they were about to face. Willow had reassured her that they would defeat it with minimal injury as long as they found the three sisters Willow had seen in a spell-induced vision. That was what had led them to San Francisco. That and the fact that San Francisco was a hellmouth greater than Sunnydale had ever dared to be.

The one person Buffy worried about was the person she least likely thought she would ever worry about. Faith. She looked to the brunette standing next to her. Her usual self-assured demeanor was missing from her posture. Buffy’s forehead creased in concern. She could have sworn she saw a tear falling down Faith’s cheek.

Buffy lowered her voice, so the others couldn’t hear, “Faith? Are you okay?”

Faith swiped at her cheek, taking the tear away. She looked at Buffy with a false façade of cool.

“Yeah B. I’m five by five,” she forced a laugh, “You know me, all I need is a warm bed, some grub, and every once in a while I need a good fu…”

“Faith. Really. I understand, don’t need the harsh verbage.”

Faith turned away from the edge of the cliff and her smile faded, “Do you think we’re ready for this again?”

“I don’t know.”

Paige stared at the object in front of her, willing it to leave her alone. But the control it had over her was more than she had ever imagined. Its power to make her want it, to make her want to be evil enough to take it into her, it was unimaginable. She had promised herself again and again that she was no longer going to let things of its kind destroy her or control her.

“You gonna eat that donut Paige, or are you gonna stare it to death?” Phoebe asked as she looked over her nephew’s head to her redheaded sister.

Paige looked away from the chocolate covered pastry and up at her older sister with a snarl, “Funny.”

Phoebe smiled, “I can’t believe what awesome weather this is.”

“I know. Reminds me of summers I spent on a farm,” Paige said as she turned her face up toward the sun.

“You used to spend summers on a farm?” Phoebe asked surprised.

“Don’t act so shocked, sis.”

Phoebe shook her head; “It’s not that you spent time on a farm that surprises me. It’s that we never knew that.”

Paige shrugged, “Weird, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before.”

“No, you haven’t. But then again, you don’t ever talk much about yourself. We’re always too busy vanquishing things to talk, aren’t we, Wyatt?”

Wyatt grinned baring his few teeth. Drool covered his chin, so Phoebe gently wiped it away with a soft washcloth. She turned her attention back to her younger sister.

“We’re not busy now,” Paige said matter-of-factly looking straight into Phoebe’s brown eyes.

Phoebe smiled as Wyatt picked up a plastic red toy ring and started chewing on it, “No, we’re not. So what’s on your mind?”

“I don’t know…I mean, I’m not used to talking about me…so where do I start?” Paige asked as she tucked her hair behind her ears.

Phoebe let Wyatt crawl to Paige. Paige felt happy and wanted as Wyatt crawled into her arms and hugged her. Paige knew he was sleepy. Other than Piper she was the only one he’d let hold him when he was tired. Paige knew that Phoebe didn’t mind because Wyatt always went to Phoebe when he was hungry. Paige held Wyatt closely, giving him the security he needed to take his mid-morning nap.

“How about Sam…how are you doing with him?”

Paige looked up to the sky in a half-eye roll, half-angered look. “He hides so much of himself, Pheebs. We start talking and he clams up. It’s like there’s something he’s not telling me, or that he just doesn’t think I should know. I don’t know, it’s weird. But other than that, I can tell he loves me. I can tell he wishes that he would have been able to know me all along and that he regrets ever having to give me up. He would have made a great dad too.”

Phoebe’s face showed a bittersweet grin, “Yeah…me and Pipe regret it too…the giving you up part.”

“Well, I’m here now, right? That’s what counts.”

“Yes it is. You’re a natural with your nephew, you know that?”

“Yeah…I’ve always been good with kids. Probably comes from always wanting a little brother or sister growing up.”

Phoebe laughed, “Didn’t bank on getting two older sisters, did you?”

Paige grinned, “No, but I’m glad I did.”

“Yeah, well, we’re glad we have you too. You know what? I always wanted a little sister to love as much as my older sisters loved me. And now I have you.”


They both sat in silence just enjoying being near one another and enjoying the peacefully warm day. Both wished Piper was with them, but knew that Piper needed some time to herself.

Chapter Two

Xander made sure everyone was in the car and settled before he started the engine. He glanced to his right. In the passenger seat was his oldest friend. Willow looked back at him and smiled. Xander was happy that she had made it through the Sunnydale events alive. He was as happy about Willow’s survival as he was sad about losing Anya. He returned the smile and looked in the rearview mirror. Faith had volunteered to sit in between the two Summers sisters.

Faith looked rather uncomfortable and out of place as Dawn went on and on about mundane San Francisco trivia and as Buffy stared thoughtfully out the window. Xander almost felt sorry for Faith, but then she did something completely out of character for her. She actually talked to Dawn as though she were intrigued by what she was saying. Xander turned onto the main road and glanced again at Faith, completely amazed by her vivid, real smile.

Willow closed her eyes as they drove slowly down from the cliff where they had parked and picnicked. Memories of years past floated heavily through her mind. Tara smiled at her from across a room, Kennedy urged her to believe in herself, she killed Warren, Oz was a werewolf, Angelus hurt Buffy, Dawn was the key, and she almost laughed out loud at the image of her doppelganger.

She opened her eyes to see that they were nearing the interstate. They were headed for the heart of the city. Willow had seen a club in her spell-induced vision. P3 was the name of the place she had seen the three sisters. She had heard one sister’s name in the vision, ‘Piper Halliwell’.

They were on their way to find the club now that their appetites were sated. She reached for the radio and tuned into a station. She turned up the volume. Even though it was barely noon, Willow was in the mood to dance.

Buffy watched the asphalt as they moved quickly over it. Her mind was neither here nor there. She thought for a second that it felt really good not to think. She glanced at the other occupants of the car. Her sister and Faith were talking animatedly. Buffy thought that being so enthused about a conversation regarding population and geographic facts was odd for Faith, but it made her feel better to know that her sister was being paid some attention.

Music filled the car and Faith turned away from the conversation with Dawn long enough to say, “Oh my god! Turn this up! I love this song!”

Willow looked at Faith with some surprise. Had she not known better she would have imagined that Faith was in a good mood and acting as the teenager she never got to be. Willow returned Faith’s beaming smile and turned up the sound. Beastie Boys, “Brass Monkey” reverberated throughout the worn out car. Buffy couldn’t help but laugh as the people she loved most in life began to bob their heads up and down in rhythm with the song.

Piper and Chris had been watching cartoons for about an hour when Piper decided that she wanted to hang out with her sisters. Chris looked a little disappointed, but smiled.

“Okay. Well, I’ll orb to the park and get them.”

Piper shook her head, “It’s called anonymity, Chris. We like it a lot.”

Chris didn’t follow her meaning and gave her a look that stated just that. She laughed before trying to explain herself, “You can’t orb into a park in the middle of the day. I’ll call Phoebe on her cell and then they can drive home.”

Piper picked up the cordless phone in the living room and dialed Phoebe’s phone number. After three rings, Phoebe picked up. Piper could tell that Phoebe and Paige were having a good time together.

“Hey, Pheebs. How’s my son?”

“Hi Pipe. He’s out cold.”

“So Paige has him, huh?”

“Yep. What’s up?”

“I was thinking maybe you guys could come home and the three of us could spend some time together. You know, some sister time.”

Piper waited, as there was a pause from Phoebe’s end of the conversation. She could tell the phone was being covered with Phoebe’s hand. Muffled voices filled the background. Piper couldn’t make out anything they were saying. She was beginning to grow impatient when she heard Phoebe’s voice on the line.

“Pipe? We’ll be home in twenty.”

Piper felt an odd sense of relief, “Good. I’m going to jump in the shower and send Chris away for a while.”

“We love you sis,” Paige said in the background.

“I love you guys too.”

Piper hung up the phone and looked at Chris, who had been listening to the conversation from his seat on the couch. He looked at her questioningly.

“What?” Piper asked him.

“Send me away?”

“Yeah. Just for a little while. So my sisters and I can have a good time.”

“Ouch,” Chris said looking at Piper with sad eyes.

“I didn’t mean it that way. I just mean that my sisters and I need to spend some quality time together. We haven’t really done that since Leo…”

“Left you?” Chris asked.

“Yeah. Something like that,” Piper answered, her voice filled with the exhaustion that was creeping throughout her body.

Chris shrugged, “I completely understand. And I’m out of your way for the rest of the day. I have a Whitelighter meeting this afternoon.”

“Sounds so corporate,” Piper laughed.

“Yeah, well…it feels that way too.”

Chris waved and then disappeared surrounded by blue orbs. Piper moved out of the living room and to the upstairs where she went into the bathroom and got in the shower. After fifteen minutes, she turned the water off. As she got dressed in her room, she heard voices in the hallway. She was filled with joy when she heard her sisters’ laughing.

She came out of her bedroom and wrapped her arms around Phoebe in a bear hug. Phoebe hugged her back but looked at Paige over Piper’s shoulder. Paige shrugged and before she could say anything Piper let go of Phoebe and hugged Paige.

“What’s that for sis?” Phoebe asked.

Piper smiled walking toward Wyatt’s room, “What? Can’t I love my sisters?”

“It’s not the love that concerns us, Piper, it’s your really weird good mood,” Paige answered honestly.

As Piper picked a just-waking Wyatt up from his crib where Paige had just put him down, she chuckled, “Look…I just woke up on the right side of the bed this morning. I decided to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back into the swing of things. No more feeling sorry for myself…I’ve still got three people who I love very much and who I need to be there for.”

Phoebe draped her arm around Piper’s shoulder, “Just don’t forget we’re here for you too.”

Piper nodded, “I know, and the next time I get emotional you two will be the first to know. Now…how about the two of you go to the store and dream up something really good to eat, buy the ingredients, go to the video store get a good movie, no romantic comedies, please, and when you get back we can cook together and then watch a movie after Wyatt is asleep…sound good?”

Phoebe didn’t hesitate to kiss Piper on the cheek. She grabbed Paige by the hand and pulled her toward the stairs. Paige paused for a moment and looked back at her oldest sister.

“If you need anything just call out. I’ll orb home.”

“Paige,” Piper looked at the red head with an amused expression, “What could happen in an hour?”

Paige gave Piper her best, “how can you even go there” face and then turned and followed Phoebe down the stairs. When they were in the car they both looked at one another grinning.

“Are you as happy as I am?” Phoebe asked.

Paige nodded, “I am, but why are we so happy?”

“Because Piper finally wants to spend time with us. She’s coming out of the dark, right?”

Paige stared thoughtfully at the manor as Phoebe pulled out of the driveway, “I hope so.”

Buffy exited the Internet coffee shop and walked back toward the car where Faith sat on the hood. Buffy looked on as Faith twirled a cigarette in her fingers. Buffy raised her eyebrows toward the object. Faith smiled, “It’s not lit.”

“Security blanket?” Buffy asked as she handed Faith a cup of black coffee.

“Maybe,” she paused and then asked, “How long did Xander say it would take the three of them to find this Piper person?”

“Willow’s doing the work. She’s online going through the city’s chamber of commerce databases. She said it might take a few minutes. Meanwhile, Xander and Dawn are having a staring contest over a couple of cappuccinos.”

Faith didn’t bat an eyelash as she said; “I’m thinking that’s an unfair contest, what with Xander having only one eye and all.”

Buffy laughed despite herself. It felt good to laugh about something that had made her feel more than guilty. Xander had released Buffy from all blame, telling her it was part of the battle, but Buffy always harbored guilt when one of her friends was hurt.

Buffy took a sip of her hot chocolate, “I think the eye patch gives him a sort of sex appeal.”

Faith rolled her eyes, “Sex appeal? Xander?”

“Hey, it didn’t stop you from…”

Faith held up her hand, “Stop right there. That was the old me. That was the bitch…the hard-ass, don’t care bitch.”

Buffy nodded, “Yeah, you aren’t the same girl any more, that’s for sure.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Faith asked defensively.

“Nothing Faith, just that you’ve moved past that part of yourself. And now you seem more, I don’t know…huggable.”

Faith looked at Buffy threateningly, “Hug me and die.”

“I could be wrong on that,” Buffy said with a smile, “But you know what, I don’t think I am. I just don’t think you realize yet how much you need someone. I don’t mean just a warm body in the bed with you, but someone, as in family.”

Faith lit the cigarette she had been holding and inhaled the smoke deeply, “You’re wrong B. I do know how much I need a family more than you think I do.”

“Faith, talk to me. What’s been going on with you these past few months? Ever since we left Sunnydale, or rather Sunnydale left this earth, you’ve been…different.”

“Let’s just say that with all this free time we’ve had since the disappearance of SunnyD, my mind’s been working overtime on sorting through yet-to-be-dealt with issues, and then let’s leave it at that.”

“What issues, Faith?”

Faith slid off the hood of the car and placed her coffee where she had been sitting, “B…I said let’s leave it at that. It’s not important.”

Faith began to walk away. The cigarette dangled from her lips. Buffy could hear mumbling as the brunette slayer stormed off.

“It’s important if it jeopardizes our mission,” Buffy said hoping to stir up a bit of the old Faith, the one with more fire than a volcano.

Faith stopped in her tracks and turned to face Buffy. Buffy saw something in Faith’s eyes. She could have sworn it was sadness. Faith’s voice shook.

“I’m not going to jeopardize anything B. I’ve got this under control. It’s all good, got it?”

“Yeah, Faith, I’ve got it,” Buffy answered quietly and unconvincingly.

“B, why do you do this?” Faith asked, her shoulders sagging with the weight of her world.
Buffy blinked in surprise, “Do what?”

“We’re getting along fine, right? I mean we have a silent agreement of sorts, right? We don’t step on each other’s toes and things will be calm. Why do you insist on pushing me?”

“Excuse me for living…again…but Faith, I didn’t think what we had was an agreement or some kind of stay-out-of-the-way deal. I thought we were friends. Hell, I consider you more than that, Faith. I think of you as a sister. And you know it.”

“Do I? When would I know it? Have you ever said to me, ‘good job Faith’ or ‘hey Faith, just wanted you to know that you’re alright’? No, you haven’t, so how am I supposed to know that you think of me as a sister?”

Buffy stared at Faith. Tears burned the rims of her light green eyes, but she said nothing. She wasn’t sure what to say next to Faith.

“Thought so…” Faith threw her cigarette down and walked away toward a phone booth.

Xander, Willow and Dawn emerged from the café and approached Buffy. Xander noticed Faith in the phone booth, “Is Faith going to pull a superman?”

Buffy shook her head and ignored the comment, “What did you find out?”

Willow looked defeated, “Nothing. We might have to wait until the club opens.”

Dawn shifted restlessly from one foot to another as Willow and Buffy tried to figure out the next step to take. Xander sat behind the wheel of the station wagon and waited for them to tell him where to drive. Buffy, Willow and Dawn climbed in the back seat. The four of them watched as Faith talked into the receiver of the payphone. After a few seconds she hung up the phone, ripped a page from the phone book and strutted back to the car.

She slid into the front seat and handed Xander the torn page, “1329 Prescott Street.”

Willow looked stunned, “How in the world did you do that?”

“Not everything is high-tech Will. I looked up ‘P. Halliwell’ in the phone book, I called and asked for Piper, the girl that answered said that she was Piper, and then I hung up. Figured the best way to approach her would be in person.”

“Yeah, cause the Hellmouth and all,” Willow said.

“Right,” Faith agreed. She was aware of their eyes on her. She looked at each of them.“What are you waiting for Xander? Let’s cruise.”

“Okay,” Xander said as he started the car. Then he added, “You know, I find it strange that I’m the driver seeing as though I have only one eye.”

Piper hung the phone up and shook her head. The girl’s voice had not sounded familiar. She chose not to mull it over any longer as she played with Wyatt on the floor of the living room. She looked at her watch. Paige and Phoebe would be back soon. She turned her attention back to Wyatt. Before she could pick up his ball and roll it to him a loud crash resounded through the house. Piper knew it came from the attic.

“It’s always coming from the attic,” she said to Wyatt. Wyatt grinned. Piper picked him up and held him close as she moved up the stairs. Entering the attic she wasn’t surprised to see that the noise had been caused by wind. Wind was blowing through the attic even though the windows were closed. Piper kept a hand over Wyatt’s eyes shielding them from any dust and debris.

As she moved carefully into the attic, something began to form. Piper moved slowly away from the swirling black cloud that emerged. As the wind within the attic ceased to blow, she turned her deep brown eyes to the newly formed figure. Her mouth fell open in bewilderment and she clutched Wyatt closer to her. Her heart beat in a rhythm of panic, of fear.

She called loudly for Paige and Phoebe, and then for Chris. No one came. She wanted to back away from the evil within the room. But fear for her son’s life, and for her own life, kept her frozen in place.

“Do not be afraid Piper. I’m not coming back. I’m only here to warn you about an evil, greater than me. It’s growing now, beneath the city.”

Piper relaxed slightly seeing the look in his eyes, knowing he wasn’t there to hurt her, but only to warn her. She knew he was a ghost of some sort or another.

“How will we defeat it?” She asked, her mind reeling in exhaustion from all the things they had been through, including losing Leo to the position of an Elder.

He smiled, not an evil smile, but a confident grin, “There will be others to help you. You cannot defeat it alone.”

As Piper’s mind pondered the possibilities, the black cloud began to twist and twirl again. “What others?” she asked before he could leave.

“You’ll see,” he responded. “Tell Phoebe I love her.”

“Cole!? What others?”

It was too late; he was gone as quickly as he had appeared. Piper’s shoulders sank into relief, and yet the muscles in her jaw clenched in anxious query. Why hadn’t her sisters and Chris responded?

Chapter Three

Paige and Phoebe walked through the manor door bantering back and forth about movies and actors. Before they could drop their purses in the foyer, Piper was coming toward them from the living room. Phoebe could read the panic in her older sister’s eyes.

“Piper, what’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong is where have you guys been. I’ve been worried sick. I’ve tried calling you and you didn’t hear me. Paige, are your powers defunct?”

Paige looked at Phoebe with wide eyes. She orbed out of the foyer and into the living room. She called to Piper, as she reappeared, “No, my powers are fine. Piper, what’s going on?”

Piper grabbed Phoebe’s hand and pulled her into the living room where Wyatt was playing quietly in his playpen. Paige was waiting for an answer from Piper. Piper urged her sisters to sit down while she began to pace in front of them.

“Piper, you’re going to wear a hole in the rug, now what’s going on?” Phoebe demanded.

“While the two of you were gone, I had a visitor.”

Paige looked alarmed, “A demon?”

Piper chuckled a bit, “Sometimes. Phoebe, it was Cole. But he was in some kind of evil ghost form. I don’t know.”

Phoebe looked angry, “Did he hurt you? Or Wyatt?”

“No, no, no…it wasn’t like that. He was here to warn us of evil.”

“Okay, if Cole was here to warn us about something it must be pretty huge, because nothing is more evil than Cole,” Paige concluded.

Phoebe shot the younger Halliwell a look of disdain. And Paige shrugged her shoulders, “No offense, Pheebs.”

Phoebe shook her head, “Some taken, but not much.” She turned her attention back to Piper, “What exactly did he say?”

Piper sat down in the chair across from the couch, “Okay, he said it’s growing beneath the city, it’s a huge evil and that there would be others to help us defeat it.”

“Others?” Paige asked.

“Yeah. He wasn’t any more specific than that. Oh and I tried to call for Chris and either he’s in trouble and can’t hear me, or he’s ignoring my call.”

Paige looked concerned, “Chris wouldn’t ignore any of our calls.”

Paige began to call out for Chris trying to demonstrate to Piper that she was right. Chris didn’t appear. The girls were exchanging fearful glances when the doorbell chimes echoed throughout the manor. The sound sent a sudden unexplainable chill through the Halliwell sisters. They crept slowly toward the front door holding onto one another.

Xander was watching the road carefully. They were in a rather abandoned part of a warehouse district with not another soul in sight. Xander knew he had made a wrong turn more than once. His female passengers were growing impatient. He took his eye off the road and looked back at the whining girls in the back seat. Before he could talk he heard Faith call to him to watch out.

Xander swerved as he saw something in the middle of the road. After hitting the object, he ended up driving into a streetlamp. He jumped out of the still smoking station wagon and ran to the front of the car to inspect the damage, “I told you it was strange that the one-eyed guy was driving. Look what I caused.”

Buffy patted him on the back, “Xander, you didn’t cause it.”

“I didn’t?” He asked, confusion creeping into his voice.

Faith stepped over a demon that was sprawled out on the asphalt and was now oozing green goo from a wound in its stomach, “Well, whatever it was, it’s dead now. Good hit Xander.”

“See, it’s my fault,” Xander said throwing his hands in the air.

Buffy rolled her eyes, “The thing came from nowhere. It’s its own fault for dying.”

Dawn was becoming fidgety, “Is the car going to work now?”

Xander shook his head and looked at the girls for some idea of what to do next. He wondered to himself if he’d ever meet a girl that would rely on him for a plan. He glanced at the demon. It was beginning to disappear.

“You guys, what’s it doing?” He asked pointing toward the diminishing puddle of demon.

“Self-disposing demon…cool,” Faith said as she jumped in the driver’s seat and shifted the car into neutral. She jumped back out and told Xander to steer while she and Buffy pushed the car off the curb and streetlamp and into an alley.

Buffy dusted her hands together and looked at her family, “Looks like a nice long walk for us danger-seekers.”

“Great,” Dawn mumbled weakly as Willow wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

Piper reached for the doorknob as Paige and Phoebe clung to her like children. She pulled it open quickly and let out a sigh of relief as she saw that Darryl was standing before them. She could feel her sisters let go of her. She stood up straight and looked at the grim expression on Darryl’s face.

“What’s wrong, Darryl?”

Darryl shook his head, “I’ve got some nasty business I need your help with.”

“Your kind of business, or our kind of business?” Paige asked.

“Oh, it’s your kind, that much I’m sure of.”

Phoebe motioned for everyone to follow her. Piper got Wyatt out of his playpen in the living room and joined her sisters and their oldest friend in the kitchen. Phoebe poured them all a cup of coffee as Darryl sat down running a hand over his weary face.

“There’s been a rise in crime near the docks and the warehouse district. Lots of murders, assaults, what ever.”

“What does this have to do with demons Darryl,” Piper asked, her voice filled with doubt.

“The deaths and assaults are…well, at best they’re unexplainable. Some people claim to have been bitten on the neck; some murder victims have disappeared from the morgue. I got a total circus going on in my district. I need your help.”

Paige was playing close attention, “Bites on the neck?”

Phoebe was catching on, “Vampires?”

“Would explain the disappearing bodies,” Piper joined in.

Darryl looked at Paige, “Weren’t you a vampire once?”

Paige made a face at him ignoring the comment. They decided to spend a girls’ night checking out the warehouse district. Piper managed to convince Darryl to take Wyatt to his house. She knew Sheila, Darryl’s wife, would love to keep him for the night.

As they said their goodbyes to Darryl and kissed Wyatt goodnight, the sisters could feel a rush pulsating through their veins. They looked at one another smiling. Piper led the way upstairs for them to change into fight-worthy clothes. They met back at the door ready to go.

Piper laughed, “I think we must all be ready for the release that kicking evil ass will bring.”

The sun had set long ago and a crescent moon provided scarce illumination along with a few streetlamps. Buffy and Faith were always comfortable in the night. They had fought enough beasts and vampires to leave them with a true sense of security in darkened alleys. Willow, Xander, and Dawn huddled close to one another feeling the fear that non-slayers feel.
Dawn shivered from the cool night air, “Do we have any idea where we are?”

“No. None,” Buffy answered honestly.

She kept her eyes on the shadows along the streets. She realized that they had not seen another person since they wrecked the car. Her spider senses perked up as she felt someone watching them. Buffy could feel the wooden stake in her back pocket and felt a rush of adrenaline.

“Willow, Xander…take Dawn and hide in that doorway over there,” she whispered, pointing toward a door that led into a warehouse.

Xander and Willow knew something was about to happen so they didn’t hesitate to move Dawn quickly to the allocated hiding place. Buffy nodded to Faith and Faith’s face grew into an expression of cockiness. Buffy thought about how much calmer Faith was about fighting. She knew that even though Faith still enjoyed it, the rogue slayer didn’t get as excited about it as she used to.

Before she could finish her thought process about Faith, three men stepped into the street smiling. Buffy never grew tired of seeing how egotistical vamps grew quite humble after being beaten down by the slayers.

“Hi there little girls? You lost out here in big bad San Fran?” He was dressed in black leather pants, white platform boots, and a white silk shirt.

Buffy smirked, “By the looks of your outfit I’d say we’re definitely in San Francisco.”

Another of the three vampires laughed, “Told you not to wear that outfit, Freddy.”

“Hey. Are we going to fight or are we going to discuss the latest issue of Vogue?” Faith was growing impatient.

The third vampire, bigger than the first two took a step toward Faith, “Hey. I know you. Saw your poster in the post office. You escaped from prison.”

Buffy looked at Faith and Faith shrugged, “What? I guess vamps have to mail letters too.”

“Is that true? Are you an escaped convict?” Freddy asked.

Faith wordlessly stepped toward the vamp. Without making a show of it, she thrust a wooden stake into the heart of the vamp. He fell to the sidewalk in a flurry of dust. The other two vamps looked at Faith in anger. Buffy stepped to her friend’s side and together they began to fight.

Buffy dusted the fashion critic after a few simple martial arts move. Faith had taken on the biggest of the three. Buffy turned to see the dark-haired girl struggling. She was pinned to the ground by the vampire. He was straddling her and holding her arms down by her wrists. Buffy hesitated wanting to see how Faith worked her way out of the situation.

She was surprised when she heard Faith’s voice, “Get him off of me! Get away from me! Get off of me! Help me!”

Buffy ran to the spot where the vampire was holding Faith down on the ground. She quickly punched through his back with her stake and made dust out of him. She looked down at Faith. In the deep brown eyes she saw immense terror. It threw Buffy off guard. Buffy held out a hand to help Faith up. Faith ignored Buffy and pushed herself off the ground.

Willow and Xander emerged from their hiding place with Dawn following close behind. Buffy tried to reach out to Faith to ask her what was wrong, what had happened, but Faith shook her off and started walking. Xander and Willow followed behind Faith. They were mumbling about how the vampires always seem to find them.

Dawn stood next to Buffy. They watched the others walking away. Dawn looked curiously from Buffy to Faith’s back.

“What just happened, Buffy?” Dawn asked in a whisper.

Buffy shook her head, “I don’t know. Nothing I hope.”

“I’ve never seen Faith looked scared before. Not even before you guys fought all the ubervamps. She looked scared just now, didn’t she? She sounded really scared.”

“Nah, Dawn. Faith’s fine,” Buffy said trying not to worry the teenager.

“If she’s not, if she’s scared of something, we’re going to help her, right?”

Buffy looked at Dawn. Surprised at her little sister’s intuition. “Yeah. If something’s not right with Faith, if she needs us, then we’ll help her. That’s what family is about.”

“Yeah,” Dawn agreed as she and Buffy started walking to catch up to their friends.

Paige yawned as she, Piper and Phoebe made their way through the deserted streets of the San Francisco warehouse district. The youngest Halliwell was growing bored with the view. Street after shadowed street they had walked, seeing and hearing nothing.

“Can we go home? There’s nothing here,” Paige whined.

Piper flashed Paige an inquisitive glance, “I thought you loved vanquishing demons.”

“I do. But there are no demons to vanquish. We haven’t even seen another human. And no vampires either.”

Phoebe laughed, “Alright Miss Attention Span, how about we walk a few more streets over, and if there’s nothing there we’ll head back home, watch a few movies and call it a night.”

Paige nodded looking down at her watch, “Good. Because it’s already 9pm.”

“Are you going to turn into a pumpkin?” Piper asked facetiously.

“Maybe,” Paige answered.

Willow saw the girl coming before the rest of the gang, “Guys, looks like we’ve got more company.”

Xander turned around and let out a low whistle, “I may only have one eye and that might distort my vision, but as far as I can tell she’s a babe.”

Dawn rolled her eyes and watched Faith and Buffy reach for their wooden stakes. She looked at Xander and shook her head, “Your vision is more than distorted Xander. She’s a vamp.”

“Huh, what? How did you know that?” Xander asked fumbling over his misjudgment.

Dawn pointed at her sister and Faith. Xander shrugged and gave a “how was I supposed to know” look. The girl got closer to the group. She stopped and smiled.

“You know, you girls shouldn’t be out here in the big bad without a little manly protection,” her voice was sultry.

Xander raised his hand, “Hey, I’m a man.”

She flicked her gaze to Xander before focusing on Faith and Buffy, “Like I said…”

Buffy raised and eyebrow, “Do you want to chat, or do you want to die?”

The girl flipped her long black hair behind her shoulders, “Neither. Catch me if you can.”

The vampire took off running into an alley. Buffy ran after her while Faith decided to run in a different direction to cut her off down the street. Xander, Willow and Dawn followed Buffy.

As she ran through the alleyway alone, the only sound to accompany Faith was the sound of her boots making contact with the ground with each step she took. Each breath she inhaled stung her lungs and each exhale renewed her sense of fight.
As she neared the next alley she could hear more footsteps coming toward her. She knew it was the vampire with Buffy close on her trails. She increased her pace and found herself tackling the badly dressed girl vamp. They fell to the ground in a rolling tumble and came to a stop. Faith was on top of her getting ready to stake her.

The vampire managed to flip Faith off of her and land on her feet. Faith got to her feet immediately and she and Buffy stood on each side of the vampire. Willow, Xander and Dawn completed a circle around her and began tightening the circle.
The vampire struck out sending Willow flying into a pile of debris. She landed with a thud against the pavement. Xander called out to Willow but Willow didn’t respond. The vampire laughed as Willow groaned beneath the pile of debris. Knowing that their friend was alive, the remaining Scoobies advanced upon the vampire.

Piper halted in her steps causing Paige and Phoebe to run into her. She quietly gestured toward a group of people. The three of them watched as a group of three girls and one guy encircled a single girl. She noticed another girl lying in some debris. Piper could feel her blood boiling.

“I can’t believe they’d gang up on innocent girls like that,” Phoebe said as she looked up and down the alley they were watching from.

“Damn vampires,” Piper said.

After a few seconds of searching she found a broken mop handle. She picked it up and looked at Paige and Piper silently urging them to look around and find their own wooden weapons.

“We’re going to need these to kill all those vampires,” Piper said as she brandished a splintery piece of wood she had found next to a demolished crate.

Paige pulled a finely sharpened stake out of her back pocket. Phoebe and Piper stared at her in complete amazement.

“What?” She shrugged, “I was a bloodsucking beast once…I’ve been prepared since.”

“Okay,” Piper nodded quickly, “Let’s do this.”

“Wait,” Phoebe whispered, “Piper, why don’t you just freeze them and then we’ll stake them while they’re frozen?”

Piper nodded in agreement. The three of them slipped around the corner into the street. As they got nearer to the group of people, Piper gestured with her hands. Only the innocent girl and the guy froze. Piper stopped walking and looked at Phoebe and Paige. Paige’s eyes were wide with amazement.

“Okay, how does that happen?” Phoebe asked.

“I don’t know,” Piper whispered through a clenched jaw as the three girls left unfrozen began to look from their victim to one another.

Faith looked at the vampire. She then looked at Xander. Neither of them was moving. A subtle panic rose in her heart as she looked to Buffy and Dawn. She was more than relieved to see that the two of them were looking back at her both as bewildered as she was.

Faith dropped her fighting stance and inched closer to the frozen vamp. She raised her stake ready to pierce the demons heart with it, when she heard a voice from behind them.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Piper called out to the girls.

The three unfrozen Scoobies turned to see three women. Faith forgot about the frozen vamp as she fell in line next to Buffy and Dawn. They stared at the three newcomers daring them to approach. Faith smirked as the copper-haired stranger shot her a threatening look. For some reason, the only one of the three women that intimidated Faith was the longhaired brunette with the vicious stare.

“Well, we aren’t you, thank God. Besides, are you going to stop us?” Buffy asked.

Phoebe twirled the mop handle in her hand, “That’s the plan Blondie.”

“Hear that B, she called you Blondie?” Faith repeated laughing, “I like her.”

“Faith…not a good time to go switching sides again,” Buffy retorted.

“Yeah, as if, Summers, as if,” Faith said feigning a hurt look.

Piper looked at Phoebe with an expression of amusement, “Think they’re sisters?”

“Nah, they don’t look anything alike,” Phoebe answered.

“Neither do we,” Paige remarked.

Piper looked at Paige, “Sure we do, we all have the same eyes, and before you went all dye-job on your hair that was the same too.”

“Hello?” Buffy interrupted the rambling women.

“What is it with the Chatty Cathies today?” Faith asked completely impatient by the stand off.

She heard Willow moving around in the pile of debris she had been hurled into. She thought it curious that Willow had not frozen either. Then it dawned on her that each of the four of them had some sort of mystical energy coursing through their veins.

She turned her attention back to the three women, “So…let’s rumble.”

Chapter Four

“Is she serious? Rumble?” Piper whispered.

Paige couldn’t help but giggle, “What is this, West Side Story?”

“If she breaks out into ‘I’m so pretty’ I’m going to hurl,” Phoebe remarked.

They looked at Faith, quiet amusement embedded in their expressions. Paige watched as Faith frowned at their comments. Something about her made Paige think twice about wanting to fight her. She could see something in the dark brown eyes that she had seen before.

Piper’s voice was one of contempt, “Who are you people supposed to be anyway, and why are you preying on innocent girls?”

“Innocent girls…I think you’ve got the wrong idea here,” Buffy answered.

Dawn, who had been quietly watching, spoke up, “They’re the slayers and their gonna kick you’re a…”

Buffy slipped a hand over Dawn’s mouth before she could finish her sentence. The Charmed Ones observed the young girl’s expression of anger. Piper stepped toward Buffy, and Buffy stepped toward Piper. They were toe to toe in the darkened street.

“Slayer, yeah, right,” Paige scoffed.

“Yeah, who wants to know?” Buffy asked.

Piper blew up a crate that was sitting nearby, “Me.”

Buffy, Faith and Dawn turned to watch the smoking pieces fall with a clatter to the asphalt. They looked back at the oldest Halliwell and showed no fear.

Buffy smirked, “Yeah, that’s nice, what other tricks do you have?”

“This is one I recently learned,” Piper spun around forming a roundhouse kick. It contacted with force against Buffy’s arm sending the slayer to the ground. She quickly bounced back up and came back at Piper with her own spin kick.

Faith, not wasting an opportunity to fight, moved toward the other dark-haired girl, “Hi, I’m Faith. I’m going to kick your ass now.”

With that, she swung a hard right hook into Phoebe’s jaw moving Phoebe backwards. Phoebe shook off the surprise. She levitated and kicked Faith in the face. Faith sprawled backwards and recovered quickly. She grabbed the back of Phoebe’s neck and spun her around.

“Nice tattoo,” Faith said referring to the one etched into the back of Phoebe’s neck.

Phoebe scratched her nails into Faith’s arm making marks through the black-ink tattoo on her upper arm, “Yeah, you too.”

“Oh, you are so gonna go down for that,” Faith growled as she swung a fist into Phoebe’s jaw pushing her back several feet.

Phoebe quickly regained her composure as she side kicked Faith in the ribs. The younger slayer bent down as air rushed from her lungs. She inhaled deeply and looked up to see Phoebe bringing a fist to her face. Faith blocked the hit and pushed Phoebe to the ground.

Paige and Dawn circled one another. Paige wasn’t sure if she should try to vanquish the young girl or not. Something inside her told her that these women weren’t really the bad guys. Before she could think it out any further she felt a sharp kick to her shin.

“Ouch! You little fu…” Paige began to snarl, but before she could fully respond, Dawn had a hand full of her hair and was pulling on it. Paige reached up and grabbed the girl’s hair as well. It was a lose-lose situation for both of them.

Pummeling was happening left and right as Willow’s eyes slowly focused. She finally managed to make out Buffy tangling with a longhaired brunette. She saw that Faith was fighting another girl and that Dawn was busy in a hair-pulling contest. She looked to Xander and saw that he, along with the vampire, were both standing completely still.

Willow reasoned out the scenario. She stood up and made her way to the place where Buffy was about to stake Piper. At that exact moment, seeing the women up-close, Willow realized who they were.

“Stop!” She called out to Buffy.

Buffy looked back at Willow, “Stop?”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s not…they’re the ones. The ones I was telling you about, from the vision.”

Faith stopped taking swings at Phoebe, “Willow, are you sure, because this was just getting good.”

Phoebe moved to stand by Piper. They were still in fighting stance until they all heard some scuffling. Buffy, Faith, Willow, Piper and Phoebe turned to see Dawn and Paige still pulling one another’s hair.

“Paige! Hey, we stopped fighting,” Phoebe called to the youngest Halliwell.

Buffy smiled as Dawn kicked Paige in the shin again, “That’s my little sister, alright. Dawn! Stop.”

Dawn and Paige reluctantly pulled away from one another. Paige glanced at Faith and couldn’t help herself. She smiled and shrugged. Faith found the gesture odd, but didn’t comment on it. Instead she turned her attention to Willow.

“Will, what’s the deal? Are these our three witches?” Buffy asked.

“Yes,” Willow answered. She stared at the Charmed Ones in awe, “Wow. The most powerful witches ever.”

Faith looked doubtful, “I don’t know, Red, I heard what you did when you went all Wes Craven supernatural…somehow I doubt they’re more powerful than you.”

Willow blushed slightly at the mention of her dark side, “…they are quite powerful.”

Piper raised her eyebrows while being scrutinized by Willow, “Anyone want to clue us in on what’s going on?”

Willow smiled, “Piper, right? Well, we got a message of sorts that we’re supposed to come here and you would help us defeat the Hellmouth.”

“The hell-who?” Paige asked.

Willow began to explain, “The Hellmouth. It’s a gateway to evil. There are many around the world and from the dawn of time there’s been one…”

Buffy interrupted, “Big hole, lots of demons and vamps come out of it. We kill them.”

Willow gave Buffy a sour look. Buffy shrugged, “What? You were about to go all Giles on us.”

Phoebe’s eyes widened in awareness as she looked at Buffy, “Oh my god. I knew something about you was familiar. You’re
Buffy. I’ve heard about you. Heard you were only a legend, that he slayer was a legend. But wow…you are Buffy, aren’t you, the slayer?”

“Like I said earlier,” Buffy said without a smile.

“Hey,” Willow said looking at Xander, “What did you do to our friend?”

Piper looked at the still-frozen man and smiled, “I froze him.”

“Can you unfreeze him?” Willow asked.

“How do we know you guys are telling the truth?” Paige asked trying to smooth down her out of place hair.

“What? Can’t trust these faces?” Faith asked grinning wildly.

Phoebe chortled, “Hardly.”

“You guys aren’t vampires?” Piper asked them trying to keep things calm.

“No, we’re not,” Buffy stated, “But she is.” Buffy was pointing to someone behind Piper. The girl vamp had unfrozen. Just as she was nearing Piper, Faith hurled a wooden stake through the air and it pierced the vamp’s heart.

The vampire turned to dust, leaving the Charmed Ones in awe and with looks of respect for the newcomers. All of the
women turned as they heard Xander.

“Hey. How did you? You were over here and now you’re…and there are three more…are they good?”

Willow patted Xander on the shoulder, “They’re good, you were frozen.”

“Did it hurt?” he asked.

“No,” Willow answered him before turning back to the others.

“Um, I’m Willow Rosenberg, this is Xander Harris.”

The others followed suit and introduced themselves one by one continuing to keep a close eye on those they didn’t know.

“Buffy Summers.”

“Dawn Summers, Buffy’s sister.”

“I’m Piper…Halliwell, but apparently you already knew that,” she said looking toward Willow.

“Phoebe, I’m the middle sister.”

“I’m Paige, the youngest.”

They all looked to Faith. Faith shrugged, “What? I introduced myself earlier, remember. I’m Faith.”

Phoebe laughed, “Just Faith? Like Cher, or Madonna?”

Faith shot Phoebe a look of spite and fought the urge to show her the middle finger, “No, like Faith.”

“Okay, intros are over. What’s the what here?” Buffy asked ready to get down to business.

Piper looked around, “Shouldn’t we go elsewhere?”

Xander raised his hand, “Um, problem there. I wrecked our car so we’re kind of grounded here.”

Paige looked at Phoebe and Piper, “I can orb a few of them and you can drive the rest of them to the manor.”

Piper nodded, “Okay, just be careful.”

Phoebe whispered into Paige’s ear, “And don’t let them get near the Book of Shadows.”

“Right,” Paige said.

“What’s the Book of Shadows?” Faith asked, using her extremely keen hearing to eavesdrop.

Phoebe looked at her with a glower and then grabbed Piper’s hand, “Paige, take that one with you,” she said, pointing at Faith.

Paige looked at Faith and noticed a look of loss on her face, “Ever orb before?”

Faith shook her head and watched as Buffy, Dawn and Xander went with the older two sisters. Willow was looking at Paige as though she were a movie star. A wide Willow-grin was plastered on her face.

“So, can I orb with ya?” Willow asked.

Paige nodded, “Yeah, sure. You have to take my hand though.”

Paige offered her hand to Willow who took it enthusiastically. She then held out her right hand for Faith. Faith looked at it and after some hesitation, she slipped her hand into Paige’s. The three of them disappeared in a sea of blue lights.
Buffy glanced back at the place where Willow and Faith had been standing with Paige. She blinked unbelievingly as she realized they had disappeared. She looked at Piper.

“Where did our friends and your sister go?”

“To the manor,” Phoebe answered.

“The manor? You guys live in a manor? How cool is that?” Dawn said.

Xander smiled and patted Dawn’s head, “We must calm ourselves young one.”

Phoebe smiled at Dawn. She admired the girl’s spunk, “No, that’s okay. It’s cool, Dawn. Lots of history. So, where are you guys from?”

“Sunnydale,” Buffy answered.

Piper stopped walking, “Whoa. Wait. Sunnydale? As in, it sank into the ground never to exist again, Sunnydale.”

“That’d be our home sweet home alright,” Xander confirmed.

“Why do I get the feeling you guys helped it into the ground?” Piper asked suspiciously.

“Well, um…it was either kill the hellmouth, or end the world. I’m thinking we made the correct decision,” Buffy responded.

Piper moved on. She was tired and was getting cranky. More than anything she missed Leo and wished she knew what happened to Chris.

Paige let go of the newcomers’ hands. She watched them as they both turned a few shades paler and looked as though they needed to sit.

“First orb is always the hardest,” she said, concern in her voice.

Faith remained silent as she sat down on the coffee table in the living room of the manor. She looked around trying to regain focus. Everything remained blurry. She could hear Willow giggling.

“That’s the coolest thing ever. How did you do that? What kind of magic did you use?” Willow said trying to cut off her laughter.

Paige smiled at her, amused by her giddiness, “It’s the kind of magic found in the blood.”

Willow stopped smiling, “Your powers, they come from your gene pool?”

Paige nodded, “Yup.”

“Whoa,” Willow said as she sat on the coffee table next to Faith.

Paige looked to the young brunette. Her face was extra pale and dark circles had taken up residence under her deep brown eyes.

“Are you okay?”

Faith looked at Paige and tried to grin. It failed. As she tried to stand up her knees weakened and she fell to the floor with a thud. Paige quickly bent down to check the slayer’s pulse. A weak but palpable beat could be felt beneath the skin on Faith’s neck.

Willow looked worried, “Is she okay? What happened?”

“Orbing must have been too much for her, although it’s never had this much of an effect on anyone,” Paige replied.

“And Faith’s not…well, she’s not really a weak-in-the-knees kind of girl,” Willow added.

“Here,” Paige said as she grabbed Faith under the arms, “take her feet and help me get her on the couch.”

Paige and Willow got Faith to the couch. Willow asked Paige where the washcloths were. She wanted to put a cool one on
Faith’s forehead. Paige pointed in the direction of the stairs.

“There’s some upstairs, second door on the right. In the bathroom,” Paige answered as she sat down on the coffee table next to Faith. She watched the brunette and felt a strange curiosity about her.

Willow had reached the second floor when Faith began to mumble. Paige leaned in closely to listen. She could only make out muted whimpers. Faith began to turn her head from side to side indicating she was in the midst of a dream. As Paige saw an expression of fear contort the girl’s face she knew it was a nightmare more than a dream.

She heard the other girl opening the cabinet upstairs and turning on the water. She was about to try to shake Faith awake when instead Faith shot up into a sitting position on the couch. She stared wild-eyed at Paige. Paige stood up and backed a few steps away from Faith while holding her hands up in a sign of surrender.

“Whoa, it was a dream. Whatever it was, it was a dream.”

Faith looked up at the redheaded woman but didn’t see the brown eyes she had seen right before she had passed out. These eyes were cold, angry and blue. They belonged to a man. She shook off the image and focused on Paige.

“Are you okay?” Paige asked.

Faith wasn’t sure how to answer. She felt a pounding in her heart and knew why her world was aching. And for some reason, unexplainable to her, she wanted to tell this woman everything. Before she could speak, the opening of the front door diverted their attention.

Piper and Phoebe walked in followed by Dawn, Xander and finally Buffy. Buffy turned immediately toward Faith sensing something was wrong with her. She saw that Faith, near tears, was trying to walk to her from the couch.

“Faith?” her voice was unsteady. She had never seen the hard-hitting Southie look so lost.

Faith reached out her hand trying to balance herself, “Buffy?”

With that, Faith fell again to the floor. Buffy didn’t hesitate to go to Faith’s side. She looked up at Paige, her eyes glaring with accusations.

“What have you done to her?”

Chapter Five

“I didn’t do anything,” Paige answered defensively.

Willow had returned from upstairs and saw Buffy kneeling next to Faith on the floor and looking at the redheaded Halliwell, “Buffy, she didn’t do anything.”

Buffy looked at Willow. An expression of apology crossed her face as she looked back to Paige, “What happened to her, then?”

Paige looked worried, “I don’t know. Could have been the orbing, but no one’s ever fainted because of it.”

Dawn frowned, “Okay, when she comes to can you not mention the word fainting. I don’t think Faith would like the idea that she fainted.”

Xander smiled slightly, but looked at Faith with curiosity, “Dawn’s right. Faith doesn’t faint. Something else must be going on.”

Buffy looked at her friends and to the older Halliwells, “Do you have anything we can eat? I hate to impose on you guys, but we…”

Piper shook her head, “Say no more. We’ve got plenty.” Willow, Xander, Dawn and Phoebe followed Piper out of the living room and into the kitchen. They were all hungry and Piper was going to heat up some leftover spaghetti.

Paige helped Buffy move Faith back to the couch. As soon as they got her settled on to it with the cool cloth on her forehead, Paige covered her with a blanket that was hanging on the back of the couch. Buffy and Paige sat down on the coffee table each watching over Faith. Paige noticed that worry had taken up permanent residence on the young blonde’s face.

“Has she been having trouble sleeping?” Paige asked.

Buffy’s green eyes shimmered with tears, “I think we all have, but yeah, Faith more so.”

“Any idea why?”

Buffy shook her head, “I don’t know. She said something about issues she needed to deal with, or something like that. It’s hard to tell with Faith. She’s not big on talking about herself. At least not about anything that exposes her vulnerability.”
Paige nodded, “I can understand that.”

Buffy looked at her inquisitively but Paige brushed it off with a wave of her hand. Paige’s forehead creased in thoughts as she looked down at the ground.

“She fainted twice,” she said.

Buffy looked surprised, “What?”

“She fainted once before you guys walked through the door. It was strange, like she was having an instant dream as soon as she passed out.”

Buffy looked at Faith and then back to Paige, “Did she say anything? Talk in her sleep?”

Paige hesitated gazing at the still-form of the young woman on the couch. She inhaled deeply, “She didn’t say anything, but she looked…I don’t know her obviously so I don’t know how to interpret the look on her face, but she looked afraid.”


“Yeah, afraid.”

Buffy pondered the thought, flashing back to the moment earlier in the evening when Faith had freaked out when the three vampires attacked and one had pinned her to the ground. She knew the look in Faith’s eyes then had been of fear. Buffy stood and motioned for Paige to follow her.

“Let’s get some food. We can let her sleep. I think that’s all the trouble is,” Buffy said as she headed in the direction of her friends’ voices.

Paige glanced back at Faith. Her intuition was telling her there was something more to the story than any of them knew. She shook off the thought and followed Buffy toward the kitchen.

Xander, Willow and Dawn sat at the kitchen table with Piper while Phoebe sat on the kitchen counter. They were all drinking milk, waiting for the spaghetti to warm up. Xander glanced impatiently at the oven.

“Hey, why didn’t you just put it in the microwave?” He asked Piper.

As Piper stared back at him, Phoebe laughed, “Piper never uses the microwave. It’s against her religion.”

“And would that be the non-nuke religion?” Xander asked trying to be funny.

Piper continued to look at him with an expression of intolerance, “No. I was a chef before I started P3. Therefore, I cook, I don’t ‘nuke’.”

Phoebe smirked at Xander, “See, told you.”

Xander smiled at the middle sister. He was definitely attracted to her, but he didn’t dare flirt with her. There were more important things to do, not to mention he didn’t think she’d give him a chance. He looked at the milk in front of him. He was getting sleepy.

Dawn looked up from her milk to see Buffy coming into the kitchen, “Is she going to be okay?”

“Yeah,” Buffy said, unsure, “She just needs some sleep. I think we all do.”

Paige looked at Phoebe and Piper. They nodded understanding the look. Paige smiled and cleared her throat.

“Hey, um…you guys can take my room, I’ll bunk with Piper tonight,” Paige said.

“I will too, that’ll give you guys more room,” Phoebe joined in.

Xander gazed at the three Halliwell sisters, “So…there’ll be three of you, together…in one bed.”

He yelped a little when Willow smacked him on the arm, “Down boy.”

“Yeah, like you aren’t interested in seeing that,” he said quietly.

The comment gained him another smack on the arm. He bowed his head and apologized. The timer on the oven went off indicating that the food was at the right temperature to consume. Piper got it out and got eight plates out of the cabinet.

“Should we try to wake up Faith?” Dawn asked.

Buffy glanced at the plates, “Um…no. We can let her sleep on the couch. We’ll leave a note for her that there’s food on a plate in the microwave for her.”

“Microwave bad,” Xander said facetiously as he smiled at Piper and Phoebe.

Buffy looked confused, but she didn’t delve further into it. Instead she helped Piper pass out the plates to everyone else and then to dole out food. Piper studied Buffy as they worked side-by-side making sure everyone had enough to eat. She could tell that the young woman was used to leading, to protecting those around her. Buffy reminded Piper of Prue.

As the two forces of good ate they talked animatedly about the things they had seen, and done, in their time as warriors. Willow explained to the Halliwell sisters that she was also a witch but had once been extremely evil.

“Been there bought the t-shirt,” Phoebe said, frowning.

“Yeah? Did you almost end the world too?”

Phoebe looked at the redhead with surprise, “No. Just married the source of all evil and almost had his demon spawn.”

“Oh…well, that sucks too,” Willow replied.

Piper and Phoebe told the group about Prue and how she had died and how they had found Paige. They explained to them what a Whitelighter was and that they were worried about theirs. Chris had still not answered any of their calls.

Xander filled Piper, Phoebe and Paige in on Sunnydale and those that were lost, while Buffy took her turn to tell them about Angel and about the group in Los Angeles. Everyone was talking excitedly except for Paige and Dawn who seemed to be locking eyes, each staring down the other in contempt. Paige smiled at Dawn though, and Dawn seemed to relax.

Paige had been listening intently to the tales of battle. An hour had passed before they knew it. Everyone was full and still sharing stories when Paige thought about the brunette on the couch.

“What about Faith?” Paige asked the group.

The Scooby gang exchanged wary glances before looking back at the copper-haired witch. None of them spoke as Paige, Phoebe and Piper waited for an answer.

“Faith is a long story,” Xander offered.

The comment worried Piper, “Is she dangerous? Because I have a son that’s just a baby and if anyone’s going to bring danger to Wyatt, I want to know about it.”

Paige felt the need to defend the strangers, “Piper, we deal with demons. What danger could one girl bring?”

Buffy almost spit out the milk she had been drinking. As all eyes turned to her she shook her head, “That’s a loaded question.”

Buffy paused to take a deep breath, then she began again, “Faith is…was dangerous. The girl in there now is not the same girl she used to be though. She fought with us side-by-side in Sunnydale, and she would never have let any of us die.”

“She may have once tried to kill us all…” Xander interrupted.

“Xander, don’t,” Buffy admonished.

Willow continued, “What Xander means is that Faith…well, we don’t know much about her childhood, or what’s happened to her over the years, and whatever that may be it’s no excuse for the violence she caused, but Faith after she first came to Sunnydale, she was a rogue slayer.”

“Wait, Faith’s a slayer too?” Phoebe asked.

“Yeah,” Buffy nodded.

Phoebe looked perplexed, “But I thought the legend was something like, in every generation a slayer is born…yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Buffy laughed quietly, “That’s supposed to be the way it is, but I died and a new slayer was chosen. Kendra. She was killed, and along came Faith. So there were two of us.”

“Well, now there are hundreds upon hundreds of them,”’ Dawn added.

“Right and that’s because?” Piper’s voice was filled with astonishment.

Willow answered, “Because when we battled the army of the First, I did a spell that invoked the power within all potential slayers.”

Paige was anxious to talk more about Faith, “So Faith, she was dangerous?”

Buffy ran a hand across her forehead. Her head ached and her shoulders felt heavy. “Faith killed a man. It was truly an accident. She thought he was a vamp, staked him, but he didn’t turn to dust. Turned out to be the mayor’s aide. He died right there in front of us. I knew it got to Faith. Kind of tore her up inside. But Faith, she doesn’t let people see these things. Anyway, long story short, she turned to the dark side. She killed several people, wrecked a few lives, slept with my boyfriend, and switched our bodies before Angel finally helped her. He made her see that she was redeemable. It took us a little while longer to see it. When she came back to Sunnydale, after breaking out of prison…”

“Prison!?!?” Piper almost screamed.

Buffy was taken aback. She was glad that Faith wasn’t in there. Then again she knew they would never be talking about Faith if Faith had been in the room.

“Prison?!” Piper was pacing now, “Is she reformed, I mean really reformed?”

Buffy nodded vigorously, “She’s pure gold now. I mean sure she’s got that tough girl act down to a tee, and a smart mouth, and she could probably crush a man’s skull with her thighs, but she would never hurt any of us. Or you, or your son. You have to trust me on that. If I thought she was capable of hurting an innocent person anymore I wouldn’t have her anywhere around my little sister.”

Piper calmed down after hearing the conviction in Buffy’s voice, “Okay, well, I don’t know why, but I’ll trust you, but if she even looks like she’s going to do something shifty, I’ll vanquish her, human or not.”

Phoebe leaned back stretching her arms out, “I knew there was something about that girl. You can tell by the way she punches that she’s bad news.”

Phoebe looked at Buffy who was getting angry at the way Faith was being talked about. Faith may have once been her enemy, but now she was her friend. She would die to protect her just as she would Dawn, Willow and Xander.

“You said she broke out of prison, does that mean the cops are looking for her?” Paige asked.

The Scoobies all nodded. Paige turned to Piper, eyes pleading. Piper crossed her arms, “Don’t look at me. If you want Darryl to do something about it, then you talk to him in the morning. I’m not having anything to do with an escaped felon.”

Paige sighed, “Fine. I will. But I think she’s got a good soul. You know? I mean, my intuition tells me that she’s here to help, not hurt, and if you had seen the look in her…”

She felt Buffy looking at her with a “don’t tell them” expression. Paige stopped herself from speaking further.

Phoebe looked at her, the scowl on her face softened as she saw that Paige was concerned for the stranger, “Maybe Paige is right. If she’s done as much good as her friends here say she has, then we should help her.”

Piper rolled her eyes and began to clear the plates from the table. Dawn helped her clear and Willow washed them.

“How can this Darryl help her?” Buffy asked Paige.

“He’s a cop, a lieutenant, here at the SFPD. I don’t know what he could do, but maybe he knows someone who knows someone, you know? It’s worth a try.”

“Yeah, it is,” Buffy relaxed a little.

Phoebe asked them for more Sunnydale stories. Dawn sat on Buffy’s lap while Xander, Willow, Piper, and Phoebe used the other chairs. Paige sat on the kitchen counter where Phoebe had been sitting earlier. As they exchanged grisly tales of demon possessions and big bads, they all failed to notice the person who was now in the living room with Faith.

Faith tossed and turned on the sofa caught in one violent image after another. She was asleep and didn’t see the man watching over her. But as she woke from the nightmare she was wrapped in, she was immediately on her feet. She was staring into a set of cold angry blue eyes, this time they were real.

Chapter Six

Faith’s breathing remained even although her heart was pounding. She did not know the man facing her, but she could already tell she didn’t like him.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” he asked her.

Faith didn’t blink, “I was invited. Can’t say the same for you.”

“Oh, well,” he put his hand on her upper arm in a friendly gesture, “I’m Chris.”

Faith didn’t hear what he had said. She was flipping him to the ground. He landed with a crash through the coffee table.

“Whoa! What was that for?” Chris asked as he scrambled to his feet.

Faith blinked surprised at her aggression, something she had fought to maintain. “You were touching me.”

“My mistake,” Chris looked around for a weapon. He didn’t feel as though he could trust the woman. He grabbed a vase from the end table. He hurled it at Faith, only to have her deflect it with her forearm.

“And you just made another one, ass” Faith growled as she flung herself toward the dark-haired man. She tackled him to the floor and together they rolled to a stop. She landed on top of him and kneed him. As he doubled in pain, he disappeared in blue lights.

“Uh oh,” Faith said as she realized he did the same thing Paige had done earlier.

The footsteps coming toward her from the kitchen sounded like running horses. She turned to see Willow, Xander, Dawn, and Buffy looking at her with concern. Piper was staring at her with animosity, Phoebe looked bewildered and Paige was moving toward her.

“Are you okay? What happened?” Paige asked her.

“There was a man here. We fought. I’m sorry about the coffee table,” Faith gestured toward the broken wood on the table.
Her voice was barely a whisper. Faith hated that her hands were shaking. She felt Paige close the gap between them.

Phoebe shrugged, “It’s not the first coffee table we’ve had to replace.”

“You’re bleeding,” Paige said matter-of-factly as she took Faith’s arm in her hand.

Faith didn’t pull away. Instead she let Paige look at the wound, “He threw the vase at me.”

“Grams’ vase?” Piper asked as though Faith would have that answer.

Phoebe frowned at Piper, “Not the important question, Piper. Faith, who threw the vase at you?”

“Some guy, I don’t know. He looked normal, I guess.”

Faith looked at Piper, “I’m sorry. If it was valuable I’ll help pay for it.”

Buffy flinched at the sorrowful sound in Faith’s voice. She looked to the rest of the Scoobies. They all knew that something was amiss with their friend.

“Yeah,” Piper hissed, “I’m sure you can afford it on prison pay.”

Faith pulled her arm away from Paige and glanced at Buffy, “You were talking about me, B?”

“They asked…I…I…” Buffy couldn’t find the right thing to say.

“Forget it. It’s no big deal,” Faith sounded defeated.

Paige took Faith’s arm again and held her hand over the deep cuts. Faith eyed Paige closely. She didn’t blink as a soft amber glow emanated from Paige’s palm and spread over the wounds. Faith instantly felt the pain disappear.

She remained quiet as Paige let go of her arm. She looked in awe at the now uncut skin on her arm. She looked at her friends and saw that they too were floored.

Willow managed to sputter out some words, “You…did you just…heal her?”

“Yeah, one of my Whitelighter powers,” Paige answered.

“This keeps getting cooler and cooler,” Willow said, sounding like a child in an amusement park. She noticed the stares she was getting from the rest of the crowd. “Sorry, but you know, excited, by the coolness and all.”

“Understandable,” Buffy said as she looked from Willow to Paige and then to Faith.

“Faith, this guy, do you think he was of the vamp variety?” Buffy asked her.

Faith licked her lips. They were dry and she felt oddly disoriented. She knew she needed more sleep. Even more than that she wanted to smoke.

“Faith?” Xander’s voice interrupted her cravings.

“What?” She realized that everyone in the room was staring at her again.

“Buffy asked if the guy was a vamp,” Xander repeated.

“Um. No, he was whatever Paige is. He orbed,” her voiced sounded stronger than she felt.

“A Whitelighter?” Phoebe asked.

“I guess, yeah.” Faith answered.

“Chris! Get down here now!” Piper yelled to the ceiling.

Blue lights formed behind Piper. Chris appeared with a shameful grin plastered on his face, “Honey I’m home?” he joked sheepishly. Faith glared at him. Paige rolled her eyes. Buffy waited patiently. Dawn looked like she was instantly in love.
Willow crossed her arms. And Xander stood up straighter and adjusted his eye patch.

“Explain, now.” Piper was not in the mood for humor.

Chris looked at Faith apologetically and smiled, “Just a misunderstanding. I orbed in, she was here, we didn’t know each other and she flipped me into the coffee table. So I threw the vase at her, I didn’t know she was a guest. Then she tackled me and kicked me and I orbed out.”

“Big chicken,” Paige said.

“What? It hurt, besides, she’s really strong,” Chris defended himself.

“Whatever,” Piper was angry, “I don’t care about the vase or the coffee table. Where’ve you been all night? We’ve been calling for you.”

Chris hesitated. Piper could tell that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was going to be a lie. For a brief second she wished Faith could have pummeled him a little more.

Chris finally spoke, “I didn’t hear you calling. The Elders were filling me in on a rising evil. It’s called the…”

“Hellmouth, lots of vampires and demons, yeah, we’ve got it covered, thanks for coming,” Paige completed his thoughts.
Paige glanced from Piper to Chris and then to Faith. The negative energy she felt while watching Chris caused her to become unnerved. Something in his face, a face she had grown to trust, made her very wary of him.

Buffy broke the awkwardness, “Okay, I hate to play leader here, but why don’t we all go to sleep and start off on the right foot in the morning. Hostilities are running too high to get anything accomplished tonight. What do you say?”

Piper nodded, “Agreed. Chris, go up there and sleep tonight, come back in the morning and we’ll make all the proper introductions. Just remember these faces, if you see any of them in the morning, do not throw a vase at them. Understood?”

“Yes ma’am,” Chris saluted sarcastically before orbing out.

“He’s your guide?” Willow asked noting the lack of maturity.

Phoebe nodded, “Yeah, cute huh?”

“Yeah,” Dawn determined.

“Ew, whatever,” Paige said. She then looked at Xander and pointed to the couch, “You sleep here, got it?”

Xander yawned, “Not a problem.”

As Xander lay down on the couch that was still warm from where Faith had been laying, the Halliwell sisters led the girls upstairs. Paige pointed out her room and Phoebe’s room.

“You guys can divvy up these rooms. We’ll be in there,” she said as she pointed to Piper’s room.

Piper tried her best to act civil, “Bathrooms are in there. Towels don’t go on the floor.”

Buffy and Faith exchanged a smile. They were amused by Piper’s strictness. Faith finally found something to say to Piper, “Thank you, for putting us up, and for everything. And I really am sorry about the table.”

“And the vase,” Buffy whispered.

“Yeah but I didn’t throw that, he did, I was just defending myself,” Faith refuted.

“Faith, just…come on…” Buffy said tilting her head toward Piper.

“Fine,” Faith finally said, “I’m sorry I broke your vase.”

Piper’s glare softened as she tried to smile, “Look, like Buffy said, we can start on the right foot tomorrow. Just get some sleep.”

“Okay, thanks. Thank you,” Faith repeated.

“Your welcome,” Piper said as she disappeared into her room.

Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Faith were left in the hallway to work out their sleeping arrangements while Phoebe and Paige changed clothes. Buffy hesitated before assigning herself a place to sleep. She wanted to stay close to Dawn, but at the same time she felt the need to watch over Faith. She wanted to know firsthand what was going on and figured it might be there one chance to talk.

“Dawn, how about you and Willow bunk up tonight. Faith and I will take this room,” Buffy stated indicating Paige’s room.

“Whatever,” Dawn said flippantly.

After Phoebe had changed and went to Piper’s room, Dawn and Willow settled into their bed. Willow had turned the lights out when Dawn got the urge to talk.

“Do you miss Kennedy?”

Willow smiled in the dark, “Yes, a whole lot, but I know she’s got things to do now. Just like we do.”

“Do you miss Tara more than you miss Kennedy?”

Willow hesitated before answering. Her heart twisted in her chest as she thought of her former lover, “I could never miss anyone the way I miss Tara. Besides, Kennedy’s alive and well. It’s a different kind of missing.”

“Yeah, I could see that,” Dawn paused before her next question, “What do you think is going on with Faith?”

Willow was only slightly surprised by the question, knowing that the younger Summers sister was always inquisitive, “I don’t know Dawnie. She seems lost, hurt even.”

“Was it something we did?”

“No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think it was something that was done to her, you know, but it wasn’t us. I don’t know how to explain it, but Faith’s not easily offended. It would take something really big to get her lost. You know?”

Dawn sighed, “No. I don’t know. All I know is that after everything I ever heard about Faith, I want to not like her, but she’s been nice to me and I can’t help but feel bad for her. I think she’s been alone for a very long time, and no one should be alone, not even Faith.”

Phoebe, Piper and Paige were comfortable in Piper’s king-sized bed. Piper hadn’t felt that safe in her own bed since Leo had left her. She chased away the thought by looking at her younger sisters. Phoebe was in the middle of the bed. Paige was on the other side of Phoebe. Although it was dark Piper could see that her sisters were awake.

“Are we crazy for trusting them?” Piper asked quietly.

“Absolutely, but crazier people have trusted us, so it’s only fair we give them a chance,” Phoebe reasoned.

Piper exhaled, “Yeah, I guess so. I like Buffy, I think she’s incredibly trustworthy, and her sister seems okay. The guy seems harmless and Willow is likable.”

“So basically you’re saying you can’t trust Faith,” Paige sounded frustrated.

Piper’s voice was filled with big sister concern, “What’s up Paige? Why do you feel this need to be on her side?”

She could feel Paige turn away from them and toward the wall before she spoke, “It’s not about sides Piper. I can’t explain it, but there’s something very important about Faith. Just a feeling.”

“Yeah, a feeling that she’s going to completely turn our lives upside down,” Piper stated.

Phoebe played referee, “Hey, Piper, give her a chance, okay. We don’t know her; we don’t know what she’s been through in her life or anything about her circumstances. And Paige, we do know she’s killed innocents before so don’t be so quick to defend her. We can give her a chance while being cautious at the same time, right?”

“Fine,” Paige reluctantly agreed.

“Whatever,” Piper said rolling over to face the wall opposite of the one Paige was staring at. Phoebe rolled her eyes and then closed them, wondering what it was about Faith that had her sisters in such a dilemma.

The house had been quiet for several hours when Buffy decided to stop trying to sleep. It was a futile thing to continue to stay in bed when she knew she wasn’t going to sleep. She sat up in the bed and turned toward Faith. She could tell her counterpart was asleep although agitated. A few whimpers escaped Faith’s mouth as Buffy watched her closely.

Buffy gently shook Faith until the slayer opened her eyes. Faith looked up and saw Buffy staring back at her, her green eyes wide with questions.

“B, what time is it? Is something wrong?” Faith’s voice was groggy.

Buffy leaned her head to the side, “You tell me.”

“What?” she cleared her throat, “B? You wake me up at,” Faith looked at the digital clock on the nightstand, “at 3am to chat?”

Buffy wasn’t about to put her head back on the pillow, “Faith, talk to me, what’s going on with you? If you can’t tell me straight out, then tell me about the dreams you’re having. Please.”

Faith pulled herself up to a sitting position and looked into Buffy’s eyes. She saw more than just concern in them. For a half second, Faith swore she saw love there as well. Faith closed her eyes and leaned her head against the headboard. She didn’t know what love looked like so she brushed the thought away.

“Fine,” Faith finally sighed, “We’ll talk. I just don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Faith, just tell me why you’re having such a hard time sleeping, and why when you do sleep, you’re always tossing and turning.”

Faith nodded and inhaled a deep cleansing breath, “Simple, I have nightmares.”

“About?” Buffy wasn’t going to let it go.

“Things,” Faith was evading the issue at all costs.

“What things?” Buffy persisted.

Faith sank back down under the covers and turned her back to Buffy. Buffy didn’t move an inch.

“Faith, ignoring me won’t make me go away. I care about you. Not just because we kick ass together. I care about you because I…well, because I…” Buffy couldn’t find the right words.

Faith’s voice was made gruff by the crying that had overcome her, “Buffy, you don’t have to say anything.”

Buffy was surprised at the sound of Faith crying. She wasn’t sure how to handle it. Dawn crying she could handle. Dawn was her baby sister. Willow crying was not a problem for Buffy either. They were best friends and had shared many tears together. But for Buffy to know that Faith was hurting, crying, it shook her to the core. Faith didn’t cry. Faith didn’t hurt.
Buffy settled herself down on the bed next to Faith. Unsure if she should or not, Buffy took a chance and put her arm around Faith. She could feel Faith shaking.


Buffy was beyond shocked when Faith turned over and buried her face against Buffy. Buffy remained silent as Faith cried. Buffy wrapped her arms around her younger friend. Her confusion and awkwardness lost themselves as she concentrated on holding Faith close.

Chris watched through the crystal sphere. He shook his head in disdain.

“What a bunch of needy, weepy girlie-girls,” he said as he turned to his mentor.

“Chris, those girlie-girls could take you out in a snap of their fingers. I’d be very cautious if I were you.”

Chris looked to his leader, “Yeah, well, you aren’t me. So what about it?”

The other man shook his head and smiled, “I’m not going to argue with you Chris. As long as they think you are still working for the Elders and not me, then everything will be fine. Understand?”

“Yeah, I get it. But when do we get to drop the bombshell and turn their lives upside down with the news that you’re the new power to be dealt with?”

“As soon as they’re ready,” the man answered.

“Yeah? And when will that be Leo?”

Chapter 7

The sun streamed into the kitchen giving Piper a sense of relief as night finally lifted and disappeared. She had tossed and turned the entire night thinking about the strangers in her midst. Images of the sunken hole that had been Sunnydale, California continued to torture her conscience. By the time the clock next to her bed revealed it was 4am; Piper was feeling more than sympathy for the young people.

She had crept out of the bed not even disturbing the peaceful sleep of her younger sisters. She wanted to do something nice for their guests. She felt some remorse over their first meeting. Even though she didn’t trust Faith due to the things Buffy had told them, she wanted to give her a chance as well, if not only for Paige.

Piper flipped the pancake over in the pan. She was on her fourth batch of flapjacks. As soon as she was sure there was enough for the entire group she turned the gas off and set the plate in the middle of the dining room table next to a plate of freshly cut oranges and bacon. She covered the plate of pancakes with the top from a pot to keep them warm.

She glanced around the room to make sure everything was ready. She had pulled four chairs out of the basement and had added a leaf into the dining room table to accommodate 8 people plus a high chair for Wyatt.

Darryl had called on her cell phone at 5am to let her know that he would be dropping Wyatt off at the manor around 6:30am on his way to work. Piper was glad that Wyatt would be there at any minute. She wanted to spend a few minutes alone with him before the herd of guests came to breakfast.

She glanced at her watch and smiled in amazement as a soft knock came from the back door. She turned toward the door to see Wyatt smiling back at her. Darryl was struggling to hold on to the squirming toddler. Piper reached out her arms and felt her heart warm as Wyatt reached back for her. She could tell he was far advanced for 8 months old. She cuddled him close and received a belly laugh.

She gave Darryl a quick hug and a big smile of thanks, “You and Sheila are lifesavers, Darryl.”

“Actually that’d be you and your sisters,” Darryl grinned bashfully.

“Well, thank you none-the-less. Would you like to stay for breakfast?”

Darryl shook his head, “Nah, I’ve got to get to work, but are you sure you cooked enough for the three of you?”

Piper looked at the massive amount of food on the dining room table and smiled, “Yeah, we have company. Add five adults to that three. Plus Chris. It’s a long story that has everything to do with the mission you sent us on last night.”

Darryl looked to the floor finding it hard to believe that he hadn’t even bothered to ask how the previous evening had gone. “Everyone’s okay, right, I mean you and your sisters are fine?”

“Yeah, we just picked up a few stranded vampire fighters,” Piper said nonchalantly.

“Vampires? So you guys were right? That’s what’s been going on in my district?” Darryl asked nervously.

“Yeah, come by tonight when you get off work, we’ll explain everything. Plus there’s someone I need you to try to help. If it’s possible.”

“Who?” Darryl asked suspiciously.

“A girl, her name is Faith. Tonight I’ll explain.”

Darryl glanced at his watch, “Yeah. Okay, I’ll be here around seven tonight.”

Piper said her goodbyes to Darryl. When he was gone she sat at the kitchen table and played with Wyatt. His wide blue eyes sparkled as only an innocent child’s eyes could.

Faith’s eyes felt heavy, possibly even swollen. The night rushed back to her. She remembered crying and being held by Buffy. She opened her eyes to find that she was still curled into the older slayer, taking refuge in the comfort. It startled Faith to know that she had allowed herself to break down, especially in front of Buffy.

She slid away from the blonde slayer and crept out of the room. She crossed her arms in front of herself feeling slightly chilled due to having on a tank top. The black jogging pants kept her legs warm but she had no socks on so her feet were cold. She smelled food downstairs. Her stomach growled in response. Faith realized that it had been since their picnic brunch the previous morning that she had eaten.

She tiptoed down the stairs and into the kitchen, barely remembering where it was. She felt self-conscious when she realized that Piper was the one person already awake. It dawned on Faith that Piper had made all the food she now saw on the dining room table.

Faith almost turned around and went back upstairs when she realized that Piper had not yet seen her. The oldest Halliwell was busy buckling a baby into a high chair. Another comprehension hit Faith as Piper spoke lovingly to the child. Piper was his mother.

“Must have missed that conversation when I was asleep,” Faith thought as she continued to listen.

When Piper finally turned around and saw Faith standing there, Faith stumbled out an apology for eavesdropping.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…it’s just that you were so…and I couldn’t…”

Piper suppressed a smile, “Are you the only one up?”

Faith nodded. Piper gestured toward a chair next to Wyatt’s seat. Faith sat down obediently, not wanting to further upset the obvious head of the household. Faith was getting ready to apologize again for throwing Chris through the coffee table, but Piper spoke first.

“Sleep okay?” Piper asked innocently not knowing anything about Faith’s breakdown.

“Seems to be the question of the week, ‘How’s Faith sleeping?’” Faith answered half-jokingly.

“So, don’t want to talk about it huh?”

Faith shook her head and eyed the bacon as though it were treasure. Piper looked from the bacon to Faith and back again.

“You can go ahead and have some if you want,” Piper permitted.

Faith’s eyes brightened slightly as she reached a hand to the plate of bacon. She felt annoyed as Piper smacked the back of her hand.

“Hey. You said I could…”

“Yes, but first you have to promise me something,” Piper bargained.

Faith bit her lower lip, “What?”

“You have to promise me that you won’t let anything hurt this little boy, nothing, not even you.”

Faith, looking withdrawn, put her hand down on the table and looked at Wyatt, his bright blue eyes were gleaming and he was smiling at her. Faith would never admit it to anyone, but her heart melted for a mere second as she looked at the boy. She wondered what it must feel like to be him. Completely loved by his mother, never abandoned, never alone. Faith wanted to know what that felt like.

“I promise,” Faith stated. She felt that promise etch itself into her heart. She wasn’t sure why but she knew that if it came down to it, she’d give her own life for this stranger’s baby.

“Okay then,” Piper smiled, “Let’s eat.”

“Shouldn’t we call the others?” Faith asked.

Piper rolled her eyes, “If we must.”

Faith smiled her first real smile in days. Despite the previous night, she found herself liking Piper. But she knew all she had to do was mess up once and that could all be over. Her smile quickly disappeared as she saw blue orbs swirling next to the table. Chris formed completely and smiled at Piper and Faith.

“You two play nice while I go wake up everyone else. And please, do not break any more furniture. Please.” Piper begged as
she walked out of the room.

Faith turned all of her attention to Wyatt. She smiled at him and felt some sense of accomplishment when he smiled back. She tried to ignore the fact that Chris was staring her down. She was doing a good job of doing so until he spoke.

“You look like you’ve been crying,” he said, his voice carrying some type of amusement.

Faith shot him a look of distaste, “No, I haven’t.”

Chris sighed, “Look, I’m really sorry about last night. We honestly got started on the wrong foot. What do you say? Can we try to get along?”

Faith looked down at Chris’ now outstretched hand. She scowled and looked away from him. “I don’t shake hands with strange people.”

“But I’m not a stranger, you know I’m their Whitelighter and that my name is Chris.”

Faith’s face remained expressionless, “You’re still strange.”

Piper opened the door and peered into her room. Paige and Phoebe were still out cold. She hated waking them but knew they wouldn’t want to miss any food or conversation with the newcomers. Piper grinned inwardly as she remembered how Prue used to wake up she and Phoebe as children.

Piper leaned close to Paige’s ear and began to sing, “Good morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear sisters, good morning to you.”

She was greeted by a smack in the face with a pillow. It didn’t hurt so she laughed despite herself, “Come on, sleepyheads, I made a ton of breakfast. All our guests are going to eat all the pancakes and blueberry syrup if you don’t move now.”

Phoebe was crawling off the other side of the bed, “Dibs on the crispy bacon.”

Phoebe disappeared into the hallway, leaving Piper to try her best to wake Paige. Phoebe literally collided with Xander in the hall. Piper had woken him first and given him directions to the bathrooms upstairs. Xander was still half asleep as was Phoebe.

“I’m so sorry,” Phoebe mumbled.

Xander wasn’t wearing a shirt and was surprised to find Phoebe staring at his chest. He covered his upper body with his hands, “I haven’t been keeping my regular workout schedule.”

Phoebe grinned deviously, “Looks fine to me.”

“Yeah? Well, that doesn’t say much about you. I mean, not too much to say for one-eyed non-muscled men, eh?”

“I didn’t mean fine as in okay, I meant fine as in, fine.”

Xander blushed as Phoebe disappeared down the stairs. Xander shook his head in disbelief as he continued his journey to find the bathroom. He opened one of the closed doors in the hall and was greeted by a half screech. Dawn was changing clothes and Xander had accidentally walked in on her.

“Xander! Get out!” Dawn yelled.

“I’m sorry! Oh geez, my bad!” He said as he backed out of the room and shut the door behind him.

He leaned back against it and said, “It’s okay Dawn. I was looking with my bad eye.”

Willow was standing in the hall looking at Xander with disapproval. Xander shrugged, “What?”

“You. With the whole, ‘oh, my one-eye’, ‘I’m the one-eyed monster, argh’…” Willow said as she covered one of her eyes with her hand.

“Okay, Will…I beg you not to use the words one-eyed monster ever again, dirty connotations there. And I’m not throwing a pity-party.”

Willow looked at Xander beseechingly, “You are too. Everything that comes out of your mouth is about your missing eye. You know what…you lost more important things in Sunnydale, Xander. Quit hiding from it.”

Willow turned on her heels and marched down the stairs. Xander’s heart stung with her words, but he couldn’t be mad at her for them because she was right. Xander tried not to think about it as he headed for the bathroom that he finally found. Before he reached the door, Paige moved in front of him.

“Sorry, I’ve got to go,” she shot him a smile and then closed the door.

“Great,” was all Xander could say as he leaned against the wall and waited.

Buffy watched Faith carefully across the dining room table. Faith played with Wyatt and ignored Buffy’s gaze as they inhaled the breakfast Piper had made for them. Chris and Xander talked animatedly about how hard it was to be the only man in a group of women. Dawn and Phoebe talked about the history of the manor. Willow and Paige exchanged potion secrets while Piper watched Buffy watching Faith.

After everyone in the group had filled up they moved to the living room to discuss the issues at hand. Piper put Wyatt in his playpen, while she sat down in the chair in the living room. Paige and Phoebe sat on the arms of the chair. Dawn, Willow and Xander sat on the couch while Chris, Faith and Buffy remained standing.

“Okay, we have to discuss what steps we need to make in order to insure that the Hellmouth doesn’t open here in San Francisco,” Buffy started.

“What causes the Hellmouth to open?” Piper asked trying to get a good grasp on the subject at hand.

Willow filled the Halliwell’s and Chris in on the Master, the First, Warren, everyone who had ever attempted to open the Hellmouth. The sisters three listened carefully taking in every plan and notion that had been a potential threat to Sunnydale. When Willow had finished speaking, Paige shifted uncomfortably off the arm of the chair and stood next to Faith by the fireplace.

“So, basically any idiot with a chip on his shoulder can open the thing?” Paige said throwing her hands up in a frustrated gesture.

Faith looked at the ground as she spoke, “Look, we’ve beat everything that’s come at us so far, we can beat this too.”

Phoebe glanced at her with uncertainty, “That would be great, if you knew who we were going up against, but you guys don’t know anymore than we do why you’re here.”

“We’re here to stop the Hellmouth from opening. That’s what we do. Maybe it’s up to you three and Chris to figure out who’s going to open it,” Buffy’s words held no malice. She was offering a suggestion, not an accusation.

Piper nodded, “I think Buffy’s right. They’re here for the showdown. But this is our territory, we know it better and we know the people that create havoc in it.”

Paige looked at Chris, “So what do we do next?”

“The usual,” he said looking upward, “I ask the Elders for more information.”

As Chris orbed out, Willow whispered in Xander’s ear, “Is it just me or is there something really not right with that guy?”

Xander whispered back, “You mean other than the fact that he can disappear into thin air?”

Leo looked up as Chris orbed in. He greeted him with a guarded smile and then moved toward him, “How’s Wyatt?”

“Fine. He’s surrounded by three women who love him. He’s not hurting for anything, yet.”

Leo took note of the bitterness in Chris’ voice, “I can return to him before too long. We have to stop this from happening. The Elders must not be allowed to carry out their plan.”

“Leo, when the Elders find out I’m on the side of good and evil, they’ll take care of me, and you won’t have any choice but to let them carry out their plan.”

“How will they find out unless you tell them, Chris?”

“They’re Elders Leo, you know better than anyone that they know everything. You were an Elder for all of two seconds, right? So you should know.”

“I denounced my status and shed my powers to hide from them. That’s why you will be the one to go through with this. You have to.”

“I know Leo, and I will. I’m just not sure who I can trust, and who I can’t.”

“The newcomers are secretive?” Leo asked indicating the watching glass.

“Somewhat. The younger slayer, Faith, she’s…I can tell she doesn’t trust me at all.”

“I suppose when a girl throws you into a table it kind of gives it away, doesn’t it?”

Chris smirked, “Yes. But she’ll learn to trust me or else she’ll suffer.”

Chapter Eight

Chris paced back and forth in the abandoned house. It was where Leo was laying low. Having been off the Elders’ radar for three months, he needed a place to sleep, to shower, to think. A house located across town from the manor was perfect. He made sure that if he needed anything in the way of supplies, he shopped outside of San Francisco to avoid being seen by one of the Halliwells.

Leo stood by the window looking out at the burning sunshine and the wave of people. It was a Sunday. People were on their way to church, lunch, whatever it was people did on Sundays. Leo felt his stomach turn at the thought and looked at Chris.

“Don’t you think you should go now? Check with the Elders?” Leo asked.

Chris nodded, “Yeah, but what do you think they’ll tell me?”

“Whatever it is, you’re going to assume the exact opposite is true.”

“Understood,” Chris agreed as he orbed out.

Leo shook his head, knowing where the world had wronged Chris. Leo knew that Chris was inherently good but with a deep embitterment. Leo was intent on being Chris’ mentor, making things right. He also knew that by changing the way things could be, he risked Chris’ life. He frowned as he realized he was ready to sacrifice the dark-haired, blue-eyed Whitelighter.

Buffy opened the door and walked inside. Her jaw dropped as she stared at the amount of artillery found along the walls and aisles of the weapon store they had managed to find. Buffy felt her pulse race with the sight. Xander stepped next to her and smirked.

“Guess you’re feeling the big happy right about now,” he said.

Buffy shot him a gleaming smile, “If slayers get big happies, they would be here.”

“Do you think the others are okay?” Xander asked, a little worried about being separated from the other girls. It was the first time since they had left Sunnydale that they had been apart.

Buffy held up her smile, “Absolutely. I think the Halliwells are honest, and truly good.”

“True,” Xander paused and started smiling, “So, do you think the Halliwell sisters are okay then?”

Buffy laughed, “The only one I’d be worried about is Phoebe. Dawn will talk her ear off.”

Xander and Buffy meandered through the aisles picking up one weapon after another. Every time Buffy picked up a weapon she had a Scooby in mind. Buffy blushed as she nodded hello to the cashier and grabbed a cart to carry all of their goods.

“Hey Buffy, how are we going to pay for all of this stuff?” Xander asked as Buffy joined him in the crossbow department.

Buffy smiled and pulled out a credit card, “Courtesy of the new Watcher’s Council.”

“Thank you Daddy Giles,” Xander grinned.

“Okay, don’t say that again, it sounds wrong, very, very wrong.”

“So, basically every time I see a cute guy I’m just falling all over myself. Then my sister doesn’t understand because she has her head on straight. She thinks I’m totally nuts because she thinks that I think I need a guy in my life. Anyway. This is where I work.”

Dawn looked at Phoebe in awe. She had never met an adult who could talk as much as she could and she was completely fascinated by it. Phoebe unlocked her office door and the teen followed her in. Dawn took a seat in a comfortable chair in front of the cluttered desk.

“You know, they say the cluttered desk is a sign of a genius.”

Phoebe looked up at her from her seat behind the desk, “Really?”

“Yup,” Dawn muttered as she looked at a picture on Phoebe’s wall.

In the silver ornate frame were three girls. Piper and Phoebe were two of them, but Dawn didn’t recognize the third.

“Who’s she?”

Phoebe looked at the wall where Dawn was staring. She removed her glasses and smiled sadly. Phoebe knew further exploration on the subject of Prue would come up sooner or later with these strangers. She looked into the young girl’s blue eyes. The thought instantly gave her a vision of Prue. She closed her eyes and sighed. Opening them again, she saw that Dawn was looking at her, waiting patiently for some type of explanation.

“That’s Prue, our other sister, the one we told you guys about last night.” Phoebe said, the words coming out more quietly than she had intended.

“Oh,” Dawn looked to the floor, commiserating the loss. “I lost Buffy once, but we brought her back from the dead. She was in heaven, and we brought her back here, to hell on earth.”

“But, from all bad things that happen, good things arise.”

“Do you really believe that?” Dawn asked not really sold on the thought.

Phoebe nodded, “Yeah, I do. When Prue died, we found Paige. And Paige…she’s the little sister I always wanted, our salvation you could say.”

Phoebe forgave the girl’s curiosity and instead of changing the subject she began the long drawn out tale of the Halliwell sisters. Half and whole.

“Aisles upon aisles upon aisles of yummy goodness.”

Willow’s voice was filled with childish glee. Piper couldn’t help but laugh. They had been up and down every aisle in the grocery store. Piper’s basket was filled, but she didn’t mind how much it was going to cost to feed her guests for however long they needed to be fed. She was worried however, that she was going to have to cook for them all.

As though reading her mind, Willow stopped and looked at Piper, “Don’t worry, as delicious as your cooking seems to be, we won’t make you our kitchen slave.”

“Yeah? You cook?” Piper asked curious to know who the chef was in the group of youngsters.

“I make one mean PB&J. I also happen to be as good at cooking as I am with potions.”

Piper looked relieved, “I’m glad. I’ll need help, with both. With Phoebe working all the time and Paige taking some odd head trip lately, I’ve been not practicing all things Wicca.”

“Ooh…I love all things Wicca.”

Piper smirked as she and Willow continued down the cereal aisle. Willow wondered if she should ask the question she’d wanted to ask since the previous night. After passing by Cap’n Crunch, Raisin Bran and Fruit Loops, she finally built up the courage to speak freely with Piper.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where’s your son’s father?” Willow waited for some time of reprimand from the suddenly rigid oldest sister.

Piper bit her lower lip before deciding whether or not she wanted to answer the redheaded stranger. She decided she should talk to someone about it, why not someone who had an outside view of it all.

“Leo, that’s my husband. He was our Whitelighter…”

As Piper recounted the tale of Leo becoming an Elder, Willow listened raptly feeling pain for Piper’s loss. She too had lost her lover, her soul mate. But, Willow thought, there was hope for Piper

Wyatt was asleep. Paige and Faith sat staring at one another in the living room. Faith’s skin was crawling with having to sit still for so long. It wasn’t in her nature to have any length of attention span. She wanted to go out, wanted to dance, wanted to forget. But she had promised Buffy that she’d stay put.

“Faith, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to talk. I mean, I know we’re complete strangers, but maybe that’s a good thing. You know, no previous notions about you, or your life.”

Faith gave Paige a cold hard look, “Why would I want to tell you anything about myself?”

Paige wasn’t deterred by Faith’s standoffish attitude, “Why would anybody want to tell anyone anything?”

Faith shrugged. She was never very good at riddles. She was sitting her legs curled under her, still in the black jogging pants she had woken up in. Her arms were crossed protectively over her chest. Her entire demeanor screamed for help.

“Look, all I know is that when you passed out in here last night, you had a dream, a nightmare. People don’t have nightmares for no good reason. So, if you want to talk, I’m here to listen. As a stranger, but also as a potential friend,” Paige continued staring at Faith.

Faith lowered her deep brown eyes to stare at her hands that were now clasped tightly together and lying in her lap. She considered the use of the word friend. She had her friends, four very loyal, very forgiving friends. She looked up into Paige’s brown eyes and new that inside her incredibly pale face and worried gaze, she had a prospective friend in Paige.
“I…I have nightmares because of all the stuff that happened. I mean, not of the things that happened in Sunnydale, but other things, but it’s because of Sunnydale that I have them.”

Paige gave Faith a sincere look. Faith knew beyond doubt that the look was not one of pity, but rather it was one of true concern. Faith felt the courage to continue. She felt enough courage to start from the very beginning.

“When I was little, I lived in a trailer park in South Boston. Life was good for a while. My mom, she worked long hours, and hard ones as a waitress at some dive bar across town. My dad, he was never around. So, I was alone, a lot. I was a happy kid though, you know. I was a little spitfire daredevil. I used to climb trees like nobody’s business. Man, I was the queen. Well, at least the queen of the trailer park kids. When I was 6 I realized that my mom was a heavy drinker. It was an every night thing. She wasn’t so bad at first. I mean I could stand her, you know? Then she started bringing home her flavors of the week.”

Paige’s eyes went wide with fear for the young woman sitting across the empty space where the coffee table had been. Faith waved her hand as though to brush the thought off.

“It’s not what you think. None of them ever…hurt me, at least not the way a man can hurt a woman, you know. But they were rather cruel. I caught my fair share of ass-whippings. One guy took it upon himself to teach me all about religion through the use of a belt and a dark closet. He’d beat me and then lock me in the closet for the night spouting off at the mouth about this verse or another. I was 8 years old and completely convinced that I was going to hell. The saddest thing, Paige, is that no one ever cared enough to find out why a little girl was screaming in the middle of the night. I think that’s why I have such enormous trust issues. I wasn’t let down by just my mom, I was let down by an entire neighborhood. I mean, they were trailers, you know. You can hear everything outside a trailer.”

Faith paused, her eyes were misted with unshed tears. She inhaled a deep breath. She looked to Paige with eyes that asked if she should go on. Paige nodded and urged her to take her time. Faith couldn’t believe she was telling a perfect stranger anything about herself. But there was something about Paige she wanted to trust, something she needed to trust.

She exhaled the breath she’d been holding, “By the time I was twelve I’d had more than enough. I ran away. I kicked it on the streets for a few months before the police hauled me back to my mom. She had nothing to say to me except that I was a disappointment. That I was nothing. Nobody. I didn’t want to believe it, but what’s that saying about you hear something enough? Well, I heard it plenty. I started spending time with boys in the park. I had sex for the first time when I was…”

Faith stopped herself. She wasn’t sure why but she didn’t want this woman, this stranger to think badly of her. She was trying to think of an excuse when Wyatt started crying. She was more than relieved when Paige went upstairs to get him. A few moments later Paige was coming back down the stairs with the dark haired little boy. Faith hadn’t moved, she had hardly breathed in the time Paige had gone upstairs.

Faith shot Paige a grateful smile. Paige knew it meant that she was through talking to her. Paige sat next to Faith on the couch. Faith let Wyatt curl his hand around her finger. Paige noticed an exchange of smiles between Faith and Wyatt. She was impressed that Wyatt was so comfortable around her.

“He likes you,” Paige finally said.

“Yeah? You think so?”

“Normally when he doesn’t like someone he puts up a defensive shield.”

Faith looked at Paige questioningly, “Do you mean that literally?”

Paige nodded flashing Faith a grin. She put Wyatt on Faith’s lap and then headed for the stairs. Faith felt a sudden rush of panic. It was the panic she felt any time responsibility was thrust upon her.

“Where are you going?” her voice faltered as she looked at Paige.

“I’m going to go take a shower real quick. Don’t worry, you two will be fine,” Paige said as she disappeared up the stairs.

“Okay, okay. This is…I can handle this,” Faith said more to herself than to Wyatt. Wyatt looked up at her and grinned.

“Yeah, I could be good at this. Right. As long as you just sit here and play, and don’t do anything that requires any action, we’ll be five by five right buddy?”

Wyatt smiled as his face turned a bright red. Faith could tell that he was straining.

“Okay, don’t even go there little man. You’ll be sitting in that stuff until Paige comes back down those stairs.”

Wyatt looked at her, his smile faded. His bottom lip puckered out in a pout. It began to quiver as tears formed at the rims of his eyes.

“Aw, come on, don’t cry, please. Don’t cry. I didn’t mean it…I’ll change you. I’ll change you.”

Faith picked Wyatt up and walked with him on her hip into the conservatory where she had seen his changing table earlier that day. She laid him down on the table and withdrew a diaper from the drawer below him.

She looked at the clean diaper in her hand and then at the clothes Wyatt was wearing, “Oh geez, for freak’s sake, I’m a slayer I should be able to handle this.”

She fumbled with snaps until she finally had Wyatt’s outfit off. She looked at the diaper he was wearing as though it was the fiercest demon she had ever seen. She pulled the Velcro strips open and had to back away as the stench of its treasure made its way to her breathing space.

“Oh little man, that is wicked-nasty,” she fanned the area around her with the clean diaper. Looking to the side of the changing table she saw a device that she had seen on television.

“Diaper genie, huh? Bet it doesn’t grant wishes,” she muttered as Wyatt laughed loudly.

Faith pulled the soiled diaper off of Wyatt and pushed it into the diaper pail. She felt some sense of accomplishment when she got it closed and the stench dissipated. As she turned back to Wyatt she realized that his bottom was covered with the same stuff that had been in the diaper.

Faith shook her head, “Oh you’ve got to be kidding.”

She looked into the drawers again and saw some wipes. She pulled a few of the wet sheets and began to clean up Wyatt. By the time she was done she had used fifteen of them. She knew that someone who was used to changing a diaper wouldn’t have to use so many, but she wasn’t taking any chances.

She stuffed the used wet wipes into the diaper genie. She picked up the new diaper and studied it carefully. After a few minutes of turning it over and over, she finally thought she had it figured it out. She slid it under Wyatt and began the process of getting it snugly on him.

After a few minutes, “Okay. I think we got this. Not so bad, huh little dude?”

She picked Wyatt up and held him out so she could inspect her work. As she did, the diaper slid off him and onto the changing table. Faith shook her head in complete surrender. She heard a quiet laughter at the door. She followed the sound and saw that Piper was watching her.

“I’m sorry, I’ve never…” Faith began to explain.

Piper smiled, “You should have seen me try the first dozen times. My sisters were better at it than me. So was my husband.”
Faith smiled gently and handed a still naked Wyatt over to his mother, “I think I’ll let you take it from here. I’ll go help Will with the groceries.”

“Okay. When you guys get through come to the living room. I think I thought of a plan for the evening.”

Faith left the conservatory heading for the kitchen, completely intrigued by Piper’s cryptic statement and hoping that Buffy, Xander and Dawn would be back soon.

Chapter Nine

The Scoobies were all huddled together on the couch, with the exception of Faith. She was standing, holding Wyatt and waiting for Piper to being to explain her plan. Buffy watched the younger slayer with curiosity, sympathy, and extreme worry. She couldn’t shake the memory of Faith clinging to her the previous night, crying herself to sleep.

Buffy had tried to talk to Faith when she and Xander had returned from buying new weapons. Faith had brushed her off with a wave of her hand and a flash of a grin explaining to her that she had just been tired. Buffy knew in her heart that it was so much more than exhaustion that had caused Faith’s breakdown.

Buffy felt someone staring at her. She looked away from Faith and Wyatt and found that Paige was studying her. Buffy shot the redhead an unsure smile. Paige gave her a look that Buffy interpreted to mean that they needed to talk. Buffy looked back at Faith and knew that the youngest Halliwell knew something about Faith that she should know.

Dawn shifted in Buffy’s lap pulling the slayer back into the conversation. Xander and Willow were on the couch next to Buffy and Dawn. They were all listening intently to Piper. Chris had not come back yet and the sun was going down. Buffy wasn’t sure they could trust Chris. She knew he was supposed to be their guardian angel, but there was something about him that irritated her.

“Okay, seeing as we have a lot of work ahead of us in trying to prevent this, this…” Piper looked at Buffy as she forgot the word.

“Hellmouth,” Buffy assisted.

“Yes, Hellmouth. Seeing as we’re about to get all entrenched in stopping this thing from opening. I think we should spend the evening out. We can go to P3, have a few drinks, some dancing, what do you guys think?”

“What about Wyatt,” Paige asked.

“I’ll watch him.” Dawn volunteered. When she received blank stares from her friends and the Charmed Ones she simply said, “What? I’m not old enough to go clubbing with you guys. I’ll watch Wyatt.”

Xander raised his hand, “I’ll stay too. I’m not up for the dancing. Besides, I want to work on some carriers for the fun stuff Buffy and I bought today.”

“Weapons,” Buffy answered the questioning glances.

Phoebe looked at everyone and clapped her hands together in excitement, “So it’s girls’ night out?”

Xander and Dawn stared at one another, both contemplating the decision they made. As Faith handed Wyatt over to Dawn, the baby frowned slightly and looked back to Faith.

“It’s alright little man, squirt here will handle you right,” her voice carried some amusement as she moved away from Dawn and Xander and up the stairs to get dibs on the first shower.

Chris orbed into the bathroom while Faith was in the shower. She didn’t see him at first, so he watched her momentarily, admiring her body through the fogged glass shower door. When she did finally sense someone watching her, Faith turned around to see Chris staring at her malevolently. Chris backed as far away from the shower as he could. Faith shook her head and glared at him.

“You couldn’t handle me, now get the hell out of here before I beat your ass down.”

Chris didn’t hesitate to orb out of the bathroom, leaving Faith alone and somewhat shaken. He reappeared in the living room where Dawn and Xander were getting care-taking tips from Piper. Piper shot him a look of impatience.

“Chris? Where the hell have you been? What did you find out?”

Chris shook his head, “The Elders weren’t extremely helpful. There’s nothing new they can tell us about who’s trying to open the Hellmouth. They did say that we might have to wait until it’s open to fight whatever it is coming.”

“Are you serious? You have no idea what comes from beneath. We lost half of our town last time. A city this size…it would be beyond detrimental,” Buffy’s voice was heavy with guilt and ire.

“Any idea on how much time we have before it’s open?” Phoebe asked Buffy.

The blonde shook her head, “No. There’s no time limits, could be tonight, could be tomorrow.”

Piper looked to Chris, “Will it happen tonight?”

“The Elders seem to think we have a little time, maybe a week. They want us to teach one another all we can about our crafts, powers, and abilities. They want us to be prepared for the war, just in case we can’t stop the opening,” he replied.
Piper sighed, “Okay. Then tonight, we go out and relax and enjoy our lives, as we know it. Tomorrow we train.”

Chris looked confused, “You’re going out?”

Willow nodded, “Yeah, Piper here promised us fun and drinkage.”

“Big on the drinkage,” Buffy laughed.

“Ooh, yeah, but no beer for Buffy, bad experience once,” Willow added.

“Yes, beer bad,” Buffy concurred.

“What about Wyatt?” Chris asked.

“He’s staying with Dawn and Xander,” Piper answered giving Chris a mind-your-own-business look.

“Oh,” Chris paused shuffling his feet and looking at the ceiling as he heard the shower turn off. “Can I go?”

Phoebe looked to Piper. Chris knew they were somehow communicating their shared response. Finally Piper broke the silence, “Sorry Chris, girls’ night out.”

“Oh, okay,” he sounded disappointed, “Well, are you going to P3. You know, I should know where you’ll be in case something happens?”

“Yeah,” Phoebe simply muttered.

“Guess, I’ll hang out here and help take care of Wyatt,” Chris said, boredom evident in his voice.

Paige steered the jeep onto the main street. She was driving Piper’s car, as she had been deemed designated driver. She had actually volunteered for the job. Only Phoebe and Piper knew why she was so willing to do so, Buffy, Willow and Faith were none the wiser.

As Paige glanced around the car she found it humorous that they had all managed to squeeze in. Piper was in the passenger seat while Phoebe, Faith, Buffy and Willow were scrunched into the backseat. When they finally pulled into the parking lot of P3 there was a chorus of sighs of relief.

Piper looked at all the girls. They were a beautiful group all with different styles and looks. She herself was wearing black leather pants and a hot pink blouse. Then there was Phoebe, with her dark brown hair and bright brown eyes. Her smile could light a hundred worlds. She was dressed to kill in a pair of bright red leather pants and a black sleeveless top. Her boots matched her pants.

Paige was glammed out in a pale pink top and matching pants. Her hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail. Piper was proud of her subtlety. Usually Piper had to beg Paige to hide her cleavage a little better. She smiled at the thought as she turned her attention to the three strangers. Three women could not have been more different than Willow, Buffy and Faith.
Willow looked happily toward the club as they piled out of the car. Piper could see that her feet were tapping along to the bass that echoed through the still night air. The redheaded witch was wearing simple white cotton cargos with a baby blue top and all white sneakers. She was the epitome of shy innocence.

Buffy was styling comfortably in casual cream-colored pants and matching suede motorcycle jacket. She was wearing sensible shoes, Doc Martens’ grizzly boots in the shade of chocolate. Piper could see the humanity and the care in the slayer’s green eyes. She could also see the urge to have a little downtime.

Faith, Piper decided, was Faith. She was the most underdressed of all of them and yet her lack of “see-me” clothing made her the most visible. She had on a pair of blue jeans, a simple black tank top, a black belt with engravings and a silver buckle, and a pair of black motorcycle boots. Piper wondered if Faith usually wore more makeup than what she had on. She lost the thought as she realized that the girls were walking away from her and toward the club.

They entered to shouted greetings from regular customers. Faith was impressed with the camaraderie between Piper and her patrons. The group of six women made their way to the table in the alcove where the three sisters usually sat. Piper left them alone for a moment to check on the management team. While she was gone a waitress came by to take their order.
“Hey Nina, looks good and busy tonight, huh?” Phoebe asked loudly, addressing the waitress.

“Yeah, your sister should be happy, biggest crowd we’ve had in weeks,” Nina shouted back, “Are all of your friends of age, Pheebs?”

“Um, yeah, I think so,” Phoebe replied looking at the young faces around her.

“Fair enough,” Nina laughed, “What do you girls want to drink?”

Faith raised her voice, “I’ll have a tequila shot and a Corona.”

Paige looked at her with concern but let it pass. Buffy spoke up next, “I’ll have a rum and coke, please.”

“Make mine a martini, and…” Phoebe said. She looked at Faith and smiled, “And a tequila shot.”

Faith smiled back and Phoebe shrugged, “What? You can never shoot alone. It’s not proper party etiquette.”

Willow spoke up, “I want one too, a shot of tequila.”

Buffy and Faith looked at Willow in shock, “What? I’ve had a hard couple of years too, lost a whole lot, you’re darn tootin’ I’m gonna drink it up.”

Buffy and Faith nodded and exchanged an humored glance. Paige put in her order, “I’ll have a Dr. Pepper please.”

The waitress left the girls to themselves and went to turn in their order.

“Gee, Paige, don’t you think you ought to lay off the hard stuff?” Faith joked.

Paige gave her a look of scorn, “I’m driving. Don’t you want to get home safe?”

Faith frowned and lightly tapped Paige on the upper arm, “I was just kidding. Geez, lighten up yo.”

Piper came back from the bar carrying a tray of five purple shooters and a Miller Genuine Draft. The girls made room for Piper to sit down. She took a swig from the beer and then passed out the shot glasses filled with the purple liquor to everyone but Paige.

“What are these kiddy drinks?” Faith asked.

“Just my way of saying I’m glad you guys are here, apocalypse or not. So, raise your glasses and throw it down,” Piper said raising her shot glass.

The girls smiled as they raised their glasses, “Cheers.”

Xander was busy crafting a sling for the crossbow arrows when he heard Dawn calling to him from upstairs. Piper had given him permission to use the basement for his handiwork. She had even given him Leo’s tool belt to work with.

Xander thought about the look in her eyes as she had handed it to him. There was unmistakable sadness. He had seen the sadness too much in the eyes of his friends. He found it incredibly satirical that it wasn’t until he lost one of his own that he started noticing what could be seen in the eyes.

Xander heard Dawn call for him again. He set down the thread and needle he had been holding and ascended the basement stairs. When he reached the top Dawn was holding a very upset Wyatt.

“What’s up Dawnie?”

Dawn looked flustered, “He won’t stop fussing.”

Xander smirked, “Smells like he needs a diaper change.”

“Oh,” Dawn paused and looked at Xander, “Here, you do it.”

“No way, you volunteered. You do it.”

Dawn made a puppy-dog face, “But Xander he needs to spend a little time with a man. His dad’s gone.”

“Well, where’s Chris? He can spend time with him, particularly now in the smelly time.”

“He lighted out or orbed or whatever they call it.”

Xander shook his head, “Fine give him to me, I’ll do it.”

Dawn happily handed Wyatt to Xander and then turned toward the living room to watch television.

The music of DJ Sammy pulsated through the crowded club. The girls had been drinking and dancing for three hours. Paige, although the only sober one in the group, was far from bored as she and Phoebe danced with a few hot guys. Piper was beyond tipsy as she and Willow talked Wicca loudly and casually. Buffy and Faith were glued to the dance floor. Buffy had a third rum and coke in one hand and an extremely attractive young man in the other. Faith was holding her fifth bottle of corona in her left hand, and a cigarette in her right.

Paige couldn’t help but watch the slayers as they moved seductively against two fraternity brothers. Paige couldn’t believe how young they looked despite the fact that they had saved the world. They looked free, but at the same time, burdened with the harsh realities of life.

Faith pushed a guy off of her who was getting too playful. He didn’t take the hint and rudely squeezed in between her and Buffy and pulled Faith to him. Paige could tell Faith was restraining herself, knowing her strength could take a guy out in a matter of seconds. Paige looked at Piper and then nodded toward Faith and the aggressive dancer holding onto her.

Piper nodded to a bouncer and pointed to Faith. The bouncer grabbed the guy by the shirt and dragged him away from Faith. He didn’t throw him out of the club. He simply warned him to back off. Faith smiled appreciatively at the bouncer before Buffy pulled her off the dance floor.

“I want another drink, mine’s empty,” Buffy said, her eyes wide with the buzz she was well past.

“Yeah, I could use another shot,” Faith replied, not really feeling much of her five beers and three tequila shots.

They sat down at the table with Willow and Piper. Phoebe and Paige managed to tear themselves away from their dance partners and join the other girls at the table.

“Everyone having fun?” Phoebe asked enthusiastically.

“I sure am. I’m completely fascinated by your spells and potions,” Willow slurred, the few shots and two beers she drank making her giddy and lightheaded.

Paige laughed, “Guess Willow is seeing the enticing part of alcohol, huh?”

“Yeah, but she’ll see the repercussions in the morning,” Piper chuckled, winking at Paige.

“Repercussions? No one said anything about repercussions. I want to wake up repercussionless,” Willow muttered.

Faith turned one corner of her lips into a sarcastic smile, “No such thing as repercussionless, Red, not when you’re drinking. Speaking of which, waitress!”

Faith motioned for Nina to come by their table. She obliged with a smile and took another order from Faith for a round of Tequila shots for all six of them. The girls chatted about useless things until the shots came. Faith held up her glass and downed hers quickly, everyone but Paige followed suit.

Faith stared at her, “Turning down a shot? One won’t hurt you. Come on.”

Paige stared back, her good time slowly sinking away. She felt saddened that the dark-haired, 22-year-old girl was using alcohol to push away the darkness. She knew the others were there to relax and have fun, but with Faith, she knew it was different. She just wasn’t sure how she knew.

Before Paige could respond, Phoebe came to her defense, “You drink it Faith. Paige doesn’t drink.”

“That right, Paige? You a teetotaler?” Faith asked teasingly.

Paige ignored the brunette slayer and instead grabbed Phoebe’s hand, “Come on, let’s dance some more.”

Faith’s cocky smile faltered as she watched them walk away. She turned back to Piper, “What did I say?”

“She was an alcoholic,” Piper answered barely audible over the loud thumping of J-Lo.

“Oh,” was the only answer Faith could muster. She thought about the conversation she and Paige had earlier. She had told Paige that her mother was an alcoholic and Paige had listened patiently without words, without judgment. Faith hated herself for the moment. Without realizing what she was doing she finished off her sixth beer and Paige’s untouched tequila shot.

Faith pushed away from the table leaving Buffy, Willow, and Piper to talk. She was intent on apologizing to Paige, but as she walked toward the younger two Halliwells, who were in the middle of the dance floor, Faith ran into Chris, literally.

She was about to walk around him when he grabbed her left arm and turned her to face him.

“We need to talk. I want to apologize for the way we started this,” Chris’ voice was sincere, but his grip on Faith’s arm was hard.

The club went dark and strobe lights came on as a heavy-rhythm song started. The flashing blue lights gave Faith a familiar feeling. She realized quickly it was the feeling of lack of control. She tried to shake Chris’ hand off of her arm, but he didn’t let go. She glared up at him.

“Started what? There’s no we, nothing to worry about, no big deal, now let me go,” Faith said, looking up into his piercing blue eyes.

He gripped her arm tighter, “Faith, listen, you’ve got to trust me.”

“I don’t have to do crap, Chris, now let go of my arm,” Faith could feel her anger rising, her right fist clenched at her side.

She breathed deeply trying to stay the rage rising within. Chris loosened his grip and his face softened, “Faith, look, we have some kind of strange dislike for one another. I think if we started from the beginning we could get along a little better.”

Faith jerked her arm out his grasp, “I don’t have to like you Chris. As a matter of fact something about you completely scares me, and I don’t like to be scared. Now get the hell away from me.”

As Faith brushed past him, Chris grabbed her even harder around her arm. He spun her to face him. As he did he accidentally knocked her into a large man causing him to spill his drink. Chris didn’t notice the man staring him down as he continued to block Faith from getting to Paige.

Piper had watched the entire scene, curious to see how it played out. She couldn’t tell who was the bad egg between Chris and Faith. As she saw the heavily muscled man staring down at Chris, she looked to the bouncers. They were tied up with various inebriated people.

She looked back at the dueling duo and knew that the red-faced Faith and the very angry-looking Chris had no idea they were about to start a brawl. She tried to get Paige and Phoebe’s attention. They were oblivious to the events transpiring several yards from them.

Piper looked to Willow and Buffy, “You guys up for a little tangle?”

Willow looked perplexed, “Did she say she wanted to tango with us, cause, I love the dancing and all, just not sure I’m ready to get involved with anyone yet?”

Buffy shook her head and grabbed Willow’s hand. They followed Piper into the crowd, and into the path of destruction.

Chapter Ten

Buffy pushed her way through the thick crowd of club hoppers. She could feel that Willow was no longer holding her hand. Looking behind her, Buffy saw that Willow was still at the table draining someone’s bottle of beer. Buffy knew that there was something serious happening elsewhere so she decided to deal with Willow afterwards.

She saw Piper stopping in the middle of the dance floor and then she saw the center of the commotion. Chris was glaring at Faith, his hand wrapped tightly around Faith’s arm. Buffy knew that it was hurting Faith because she had a look of pain across her face. She couldn’t even begin to understand why there was a stand off between them.

Piper was trying to get Chris’ attention, but Chris was rapt in his actions. The large man that Chris had knocked Faith into was getting ready to use brute force. Buffy surmised quickly that the scenarios that would play out would not be pretty.

She took her place next to Piper and tried to get Faith’s attention away from Chris’ face, “Faith! Whatever you do, don’t hit him.”

Faith, breathing heavily, looked at Buffy and nodded. Now that she was closer to the rogue slayer, Buffy could see more than pain on Faith’s face. She saw rage in her deep brown eyes and an emptiness she hadn’t noticed before. She felt some relief as she saw Faith’s clenched fist relax and hang loosely at her side.

“Piper, get your boy off of Faith, now,” Buffy ordered loudly over the music and the gathering crowd.

“Chris! Let her go. I don’t know what your problem is, but roughing her up isn’t the answer, now let her go before I freeze this place and blow you up,” Piper’s voice was filled with conviction.

Chris let go of Faith and let the anger building within him subside. But the damage had already been done. The muscular man with beer all down the front of his shirt threw the first punch. His thick fist landed dead center on Chris’ face, popping the bridge of his nose. Blood appeared immediately as Chris fell to the floor.

The large man looked at Faith with a sneer and deep cold blue eyes that made Faith tremble, “Thought you could use a hand little girl. A princess like you shouldn’t be so dirtied by scum like him.”

Faith recoiled. The man’s words reached inside of her and twisted something she had suppressed. Blind rage gripped her like cold on ice and before she could even think about what she was doing, Faith brought the heel of her hand up into the man’s throat. He staggered backwards gasping for breath.

The man quickly caught his breath and backhanded Faith, “You bitch!”

Buffy felt as though she herself had been punched as Faith fell backwards into her. Buffy helped steady Faith and looked to Piper for help. Piper was busy helping Chris up.

Chris scrambled to his feet and took a swing at the muscular man, “You never hit a woman!”

He knocked the man backwards a few feet barely dazing him. Chris felt Faith push him from behind. He turned to face her, proud of what he had done.

“I don’t need you to protect me, you freak!” Faith yelled as she made a sweep kick at Chris knocking him to the floor again.

By the time Chris hit the floor, the oversized customer was in Faith’s face. She head butted him, causing a cut in her forehead. Blood seeped down into her eyes as the man staggered from the contact.

Buffy tried to reach for Faith’s arm, but Faith shook her off, “No, Buffy, he has to pay.”

“What? Faith, what does he have to pay for? You don’t even know him,” Buffy was confused by the wild, faraway look in Faith’s eyes.

“Damn it princess, you like it rough don’t you?” the large man asked already swinging his fist at Faith’s stomach. He made contact only giving Faith a moment’s pause. She came at him nails raring to go. She scratched at his face and continued to wail on him even though the blood in her eyes muted her vision.

Piper, who along with Buffy had managed to stay out of the fray with the exception of helping their friends to their feet, finally got the attention of the bouncers. Three of them rushed to the dance floor. Two hauled off the muscular man, steering him toward the exit, while another helped Buffy hold Faith back, which was not an easy chore.

“Let me go Buffy, I’ll kill him. That son of a bitch, I’ll kill him,” Faith screamed as she struggled against her friend.

Piper helped up Chris, who was smart enough to stay on the floor after the last hit he had taken. Piper ordered him to disappear. He orbed out making Piper even angrier than she already was. As she looked around she realized no one had noticed the magical departure due to the strobe lights being the only source of illumination. She focused on Faith and Buffy.
Faith was still struggling against Buffy. But seemed a little more subdued than at first.

“Buffy, let me go. Please, let me get him,” Faith said, half screaming, half begging.

“Faith! Stop! Listen to me, look at me,” Buffy tried to reason with her.

Faith turned to Buffy and Buffy saw that Faith had tears mixed with the blood in her eyes, “Buffy, please. You can’t let him get away with it. You can’t. Not with what he did.”

Piper’s eyes narrowed in concern as she listened to the conversation. Buffy looked as though she was afraid for Faith. Paige and Phoebe had finally noticed the commotion and had hurried over too late to help out. Piper wondered how her sisters could be so oblivious sometimes.

Faith was shaking from the inside out. Her world was three shades of gray. A face flashed before her, it was him. Not the him she had just brawled with, but the him from prison. She felt confused, and tired. She felt so very tired. She saw another face staring back at her. It was Buffy. Faith remembered in a span of ten seconds all of the horrid things she had done to Buffy in the past. Her stomach churned from the knowledge.

Faith couldn’t drop her gaze from Buffy’s eyes and Buffy couldn’t drop hers. The older slayer was trying to read the younger one’s mind. Faith was trying to hold on to her reality. She felt darkness surround her. She focused her eyes on the floor and realized her world was spinning.

“B, I think I’m drunk,” Faith whispered as her knees gave way. Buffy caught her and with Piper’s help, held her up.

“Faith, what just happened here?” Buffy asked needing to know what was going through Faith’s mind.

“I don’t think she’s going to answer you,” Paige said as she watched Faith’s eyes.

Phoebe wasn’t far behind, her expression one of giddiness, her voice thick and slurred, “Yeah, cause she’s drunk.”

“And you’re not?” Paige asked her middle sister.

Buffy and Piper supported a half-aware, still bleeding, Faith as they made their way back to their table. Paige and Phoebe followed them. As they neared the alcove, they noticed a group of men clapping and applauding. Buffy could hear wolf whistles and howls.

Buffy stopped in her tracks, “Willow?”

Looking up, the slayer and the three Halliwells saw that the shy redhead had gotten in touch with her hidden pole dancer.
Willow had wrapped herself seductively around a metal pole and was grooving to the beat of the music. The men around her were hands-off, only calling out an occasional rude comment. Mostly they watched, and they clapped.

“Oh. My. God.” It was the only reaction Buffy could assemble.

Piper threw her hands up and looked at Buffy, “What is it with your friends? They’re going to get me in serious trouble. You deal with it, now.”

Buffy shrugged, “I’m sorry, must be the tequila.”

“Yeah, must be the tequila,” Phoebe slurred, draping an arm on Piper’s shoulder.

Piper shrugged her off, “And you! You’re drunker than they are.”

Phoebe gave her a scowl, “I may be as drunk as that redheaded one, but I’m definitely not as drunk as this girl here.”

Phoebe patted Faith’s bowed head. The dark-haired slayer responded with a grunt.

Paige shook her head and broke through the group of boys. She grabbed Willow, who had taken off her shirt, and pulled her through the crowd. Piper grabbed Willow’s shirt off a chair where it had landed after she had thrown it.

“Hi guys. Is it just me, or is it cold in here? What happened to Faith? What’s going on? Weren’t we supposed to tango,” Willow asked, as she looked wide-eyed at the group she had come with.

Phoebe draped an arm over Willow’s shoulder and whispered, “Shhhh…we’re drunk.”

“Oh. Okay. Shhh,” Willow responded.

“Are you sure? I mean you guys are sober right? And what about Wyatt?” Paige asked Piper, as they watched Willow and Phoebe stumble into the backseat of the Jeep.

“Wyatt’s fine, I checked on him around 11pm and Dawn said he was sleeping peacefully. And who couldn’t be sober after that incident in there. I mean, besides these two,” Piper answered pointing to the Jeep where Buffy was helping Faith into the front passenger seat, which was out of hearing distance from where Piper and Paige stood.

Paige nodded and looked at Buffy, “Are you going to try to talk to her, see what’s going on with her group?”

Piper nodded, “Yeah, I think she and I have a lot in common, or at least a little. I think she needs to bounce some thoughts off of someone who doesn’t really know her.”

“Yeah, Faith and I talked this morning,” Paige admitted.

“Oh? Any clues from the conversation that might explain what happened in there, or is she still just dangerous and psychotic?”

“She’s not dangerous or psychotic, Piper, at least not to us. Between what Buffy’s said, and what Faith told me, I think she’s going through something that no one has a clue about. Least of all us. I’m going to watch over her tonight. Maybe there’ll be a revelation or something. I don’t know.”

“Okay,” Piper said softly, “You take care of her, I’ll take care of Buffy. As for Willow and Phoebe…thank God for video surveillance because I don’t think Willow will ever believe us when we tell her what she did tonight.”

Paige grinned at Piper and gave her a quick hug. Piper smiled back and laughed, “What was that for?”

“Just glad I have you in my life, that’s all,” Paige replied.

She and Piper joined Buffy next to the Jeep. She saw the concern in Buffy’s eyes, “Hey, look, she’ll be okay. Whatever happened in there tonight, you don’t have to fix it alone.”

Buffy nodded without smiling, “Yeah, I have to get used to that.”

“Used to what,” Piper asked.

“Used to not fighting alone. Used to sharing the load. Paige, earlier today I had the feeling you wanted to tell me something about Faith. What was it?”

Paige looked at the unconscious brunette, “Does she talk to you about her past? About who she was and where she came from?”

Buffy shook her head and then looked shamefully at the ground. Faith had never volunteered a lot of information, and Buffy hadn’t asked. “All I know is that she’s from Boston, her mom is dead, and she has one hell of a chip on her shoulder.”

“She earned it,” Paige’s voice was matter-of-fact.

“What do you know?” Buffy asked.

Paige closed her eyes and exhaled into the warm night air, “I can’t say anything. I don’t want to break her trust.”

“Faith doesn’t trust,” Buffy stated.

Paige nodded, “I know, which is why I don’t want to undo what little trust she’s shown me.”

“Okay. Are you sure you can handle those three alone?” Piper asked.

“Yeah, are you two sure you’re sober enough to go hunting for vamps?” Paige asked her voice not hiding her extreme discomfort.

“We’ll be fine,” Piper answered.

Paige said goodbye to her oldest sister and to the older slayer and watched them disappear into a dark alley. Inexplicable chills ran up her spine. She brushed them off and got into the car. She looked at her drunken passengers and sighed. She held her hand up to Faith’s still bloody forehead and healed it. The blood disappeared. She listened to them all breathing deeply. She was glad there were people at the manor to help her get the three girls out of the car. All three women were fast asleep, “Or,” Paige thought, “passed out.”

Buffy walked beside Piper, their strides matching. The night air was chilly. They were walking through a rather bad part of town. Neither seemed to be very nervous, as each had seen worse than thugs and gangsters.

Buffy wanted to know more about the oldest sister of the most powerful witches of all time, with the exception of Willow. She wanted to know how she handled being a single mom while battling evil. She wanted to know about her powers, if she had any, and how she coped with seeing her older sister die. She sensed strength in Piper that she couldn’t sense in the others.

“So how long has your husband been gone?” her voice contained sympathy, but not pity.

Piper watched her feet as she thought about Leo, “Three months. How long has it been since you left home?”

“Three months,” Buffy said, matching Piper’s heavy tone of responsibility. “How do you do it Piper?”

“Do what?” Piper asked.

“How do you live day in and day out protecting others without feeling resentful.”

“I don’t know. You just have to…because the alternative, death, it sucks.”

Buffy grinned, “Not really. Death, well, my death, was actually quite nice. Very peaceful. But, I’m learning to love life too, just as much.”

“That’s right, you died.”

Buffy nodded, “Yeah, more than once. But who hasn’t?”

Piper pondered that remark and thought of the numerous times she’d been brought back from the eternal darkness, “Good point.”

Before Buffy could speak again, a vampire stepped out of the shadows behind Piper. Buffy knocked Piper to the ground as she began to battle the vampire. Piper remained on the pavement watching the intricate moves of the ultimate slayer. She was completely impressed by the skillful martial arts moves and the hard hitting blows the tiny blonde delivered.

Buffy pulled a wooden stake from the waistband of her jeans and quickly twisted it into the vampire’s gut. He disappeared in a flurry of dark ashes. Buffy turned to help Piper up but was knocked over by another vampire that had moved out of the shadows as well. Piper and Buffy both jumped up from the ground. Piper threw her hands up freezing the snarling vamp.

“Whoa, never going to get used to that am I?” was Buffy’s response.

“Well, kill it will you? We don’t have all night.”

Buffy nodded. She flipped the stake into the air and as she was catching it she drove it into the vampire’s chest.

She dusted her hands together and looked at Piper, “So…that’s your power.”

“One of them,” Piper stated as she continued to walk down the darkened street.

Buffy watched her back as she walked away. “One of them?” she quietly asked herself.

Paige pulled into the driveway of the manor. She looked up seeing only one light on, the light in the living room. They always left it on for nights when one of them would be home late. Paige glanced at the bright green digital clock on the dashboard of the Jeep. She felt the fatigue setting in as she saw that it was after three in the morning.

She looked over at Faith. She was semi-conscious, looking about the darkness. Willow and Phoebe were leaning against one another in the backseat, each as asleep as the other. Paige could tell by the relaxed features on Phoebe’s face that she was deep in sleep.

“Faith? Are you okay? Do you feel alright?” She tucked a strand of dark hair behind Faith’s ear.

“Mmm….I feel like…” Faith managed to mutter as she tried to focus on her still-spinning world.

Paige looked from Piper’s leather upholstery to Faith’s pale face, “Okay, you look like you’re going to be sick. Are you going to be sick?”

“No, I just need a bed,” her voice was clearer.

“Okay, let me get these two inside then we’ll help you in, okay?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Faith said as she pressed her forehead against the cool glass of her window.

Paige got out of the Jeep and looked toward the house. She was more than relieved to see Chris coming toward her. Although she was mad at him for making Faith mad, she needed his help with Phoebe and Willow. Before Chris could say anything, she held up her hand and stopped him.

“Chris, I don’t want to hear a word out of you. I don’t want your side of the story, I don’t even want to know what you were thinking grabbing her the way you did. All I want from you is for you to get Phoebe out of the backseat of the car and carry her up to her room.”

Chris nodded, knowing he had a lot of explaining to do, but no one who wanted to hear it. He opened the back door and glanced cautiously at Faith. Faith was unaware of his presence as he slipped his right arm under Phoebe’s knees and his left around her back.

He lifted her gently and orbed her to her room. He came back within seconds and orbed Willow into the house as well. As he returned again, he put his hand on the front seat passenger side door. Paige put her hand over his, startling him slightly.

“No, you stay away from her, until I can figure out what’s going on with her. Got it?” Her eyes blazed with a protectiveness he hadn’t seen in Paige before. Not even with her sisters.

Chris held up his hands in surrender. He backed away from Paige and looked up to the stars, “I’ll be up there if anyone needs me.”

“See ya,” Paige said as she opened the front door to the Jeep.

She unbuckled Faith’s seatbelt and then gently lifted her chin, “Faith? Can you hear me? We’re going to get you feeling good and then put you to bed, okay?”

“K,” her voice was soft, whispered.

Paige thought about how she was going to get Faith inside without waking up Wyatt, Dawn, and Xander. She didn’t want to
orb with her after their previous experience.

“Okay, sweetie you’re going to have to help me out here. We’re going inside now. Can you walk?”

Faith looked at her with a frown, “I’m drunk, not paralyzed.”

“Yeah, well, I know from experience that there’s not much difference,” Paige smirked.

Faith slipped her arm around Paige’s shoulders and used Paige to balance herself. She couldn’t believe how loopy she was. More than that she couldn’t believe she had lost that much control. Pieces of the short brawl came back to her. She wanted to cry, but laughter escaped instead.

“What’s so funny?” Paige asked her as they opened the front door.

Faith giggled again, “I’m so sorry for wailing on that guy.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know why you hit him the first time, but he deserved whatever came his way after he called you a bitch and hit you.”

They shuffled into the house. Paige left Faith leaning against the foyer wall and went to the living room to check on Xander. She was happy to see that Xander was fast asleep on the couch and that Dawn was asleep in a sleeping bag on the floor next to the couch. She could hear Wyatt’s soft breathing coming from his playpen.

She returned to Faith who was leaning heavily against the wall. She touched Faith’s arm and felt the slayer flinch. Looking down she noticed that a bruise was slowly developing around Faith’s bicep. It was where Chris had been grabbing her.

Paige touched her arm softly, “That asshole.”

She then looked at Faith, who was staring back at Paige, her eyes filled with the kind of sadness Paige had seen on the faces of lost, abandoned children in her days at the social services office.

“Come on, let’s get you to bed,” Paige said as she helped Faith make her way up the steps.

Paige left Faith in her room as she went to Phoebe’s room to check on the other partiers. Phoebe was half off the bed and Willow was snuggled in tightly with a pillow. Paige smiled at the sight. She pulled Phoebe’s boots off and her pants to make her more comfortable. Phoebe didn’t move a muscle.

She heard Willow giggle in her sleep as she slipped off her shoes and pants. Paige then folded their clothes and placed them neatly on the counter. She pulled the comforter over the half naked girls and then returned to her own room.
She expected Faith to be passed out cold, but the younger girl was sitting on the edge of the bed, her head in her hands. Paige knew she must have been feeling more than sick.

“Can I get you anything? Water? Anything?”

Faith simply shook her head without looking up at Paige.

“Okay, I’m going to go to the bathroom and change clothes,” Paige said, trying to give Faith her space.

“Don’t leave,” Faith’s voice was shaky, fearful at best.

Paige stopped as she reached the door. She looked back at Faith to see that she was looking back at her. Her brown eyes were wide. Paige knew that she wanted to talk.

Paige shut the door and turned to Faith, “Okay, I don’t have to go anywhere. We can talk, if you’re up for it.”

Faith nodded running her hand through her long dark locks. She felt embarrassed that she was asking for anything. Her mind raced as she tried to find the best place to start. Paige sat on the bed next to her. Faith suddenly felt ashamed.

“Actually, can I take a shower first? I reek.”

Paige nodded, “Yeah, sure. You know where it is.”

Faith nodded and thanked Paige quietly as she stumbled toward the door. The alcohol was still in control of her central nervous system. She sat back down on the bed.

“Guess I can reek a little while longer,” she said with a laugh.

“Are you okay, Faith?”

Faith looked into the very serious amber eyes. She wanted to share everything with this stranger. But she needed to know first if Paige was someone who would return the gesture.

“Tit for tat, Paige, I shared with you this afternoon, now you tell me, why were you an alcoholic?”

Paige shuffled in a breath of air, the question surprising her, “Well, long story. Well, maybe not so long. I saw my parents die, in a car accident, when I was 17 years old. It screwed me up royally.”

“Your parents? But, I thought that, your mom was a witch, and your dad was out of town on business,” Faith asked, perplexed.

“Um, no, well, I’m only their half sister. We have the same mom. I was given up for adoption when I was born, because my mother and my real father, Sam, well, their relationship was forbidden. So therefore they thought I’d be killed, or harmed or god knows what, so they hid me away and I was adopted. It was my adoptive parents that I saw killed. Patty, my birth mother, she died not long after I was born, but I’ve met her, because of the supernatural thing. And Sam, he’s a Whitelighter so I see him on occasion, although he’s not really open and talkative at all.”

“Wow, I had no idea,” Faith said.

“How would you, we just met,” Paige shrugged.

“Right. Good point.”

Paige got up and pulled a pair of light cotton pajama bottoms from a drawer. She quickly pulled off her pants and slid on the
pajamas. Finding the tank top to match the pajamas, she took off the shirt she had worn out that night and pulled on the tank. She glanced at Faith and saw that the young woman was staring at the floor.

“You want to get changed for bed? I can leave the room for a second,” Paige asked.

“What?” Faith looked up noticing for the first time that Paige had changed clothes. “No you don’t have to leave, I’m not
really all that modest.”

Paige nodded and as she brushed her hair, Faith managed to stumble into a pair of black boxers and a white t-shirt. Paige saw that the mark from Chris’ grasp on Faith’s arm was turning a nasty shade of purple. Faith fell back on the bed trying her best to stabilize herself.

Paige sat next to Faith and held her hand over the bruise. The soft glow came and the bruise disappeared. Faith smiled gratefully but quickly her smile turned into a frown. Paige could tell by the slayer’s eyes that she was still quite tipsy.

Faith’s voice was unsteady and soft, “Can you fix a broken soul with that power?”

Paige frowned with Faith, “No. It can’t fix broken hearts or broken dreams either.”

“Worth a shot, huh?” Faith tried to smile.

Paige took a chance, “Want to talk about it?”

Faith stared at the ceiling until finally the words she’d been trying to remember came to her lips, “I’ll share your toys, I’ll share your money, I’ll share your toast, I’ll share your honey, I’ll share your milk and your cookies too – The hard part’s sharing mine with you.”

Paige smiled, “Is that riddle-speak or is that a real poem?”

Faith smiled a bittersweet grin, “It’s real. My mom used to say it to me all the time when I was little, and when she wasn’t drunk.”

Tears sprung to Faith’s cheeks as she pictured her mother standing before her wearing the waist apron she wore to her waitressing job. She remembered her mother’s smile and long dark hair. She remembered hearing about how her father, her real father, was a deadbeat. A similarity to Paige struck Faith.

“My dad’s name was Sam too,” Faith revealed, her voice holding no cryptic meaning or beliefs.

“Lots of Sams in the world, huh? Did you ever meet your dad?”

Faith shook her head, “No, I was the product of a one night stand, or a week’s worth of one-night stands, not really sure on that. My mom was traveling around the country. I can’t remember where she said she was, but she ended up with me out of the deal.”

“Sounds like a good bargain,” Paige offered.

“You think?” Faith asked stifling a sarcastic chuckle.

“You don’t?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean I did a lot of terrible things in recent years.”

Paige looked carefully into Faith’s eyes, “The way Buffy tells it you’ve atoned for them.”

“Buffy’s a good girl, Paige. She never deserved the things I did to her. Did she tell you everything?” Faith looked at Paige eager to know if she had been spoken of badly.

“I think she filled us in on a good bit. Want to know what she said about you?”

Faith nodded. Paige smiled, “She said you were pure gold now.”

Faith looked stunned, “Really? B said that?”

Paige nodded, “She seems very protective of you.”

Faith thought of the night before when she had lost control and cried while Buffy had held her, “I don’t know. I know she’s protective of Dawn and Willow and Xander, but…ah hell, what difference does it make, I can handle myself you know?”

“Maybe, but we all need someone Faith,” Paige said beginning to wonder how Piper’s wisdom and Phoebe’s heart had found their way into her brain.

“Yeah,” Faith turned toward the wall and closed her eyes.

“Is it okay if I sleep in here with you? That way Piper and Buffy won’t wake us up when they come home.”

Faith’s voice was heavy with sleep, “It’s your room.”

Paige turned off the light and slipped under the covers. She knew Faith was still awake simply by the way she was breathing.

“Faith, I know your tired and want to sleep but I have to ask you one question. And I have no right to ask you this, and you don’t have to answer me, but…was there ever a time in your life, your adult life that you needed to be protected, but no one saved you?”

Faith’s heart thumped loudly in her chest. She couldn’t believe that a woman she had known less that 24 hours was hitting uncomfortably close to home with her question.

Faith thought twice before answering, “Yes.”

Chapter Eleven

Paige’s heart sank. She had a feeling that Faith was going through something she herself had never experienced. She wished Leo were around to help guide her. The minutes on the clock had ticked away until 4:00am was showing. She looked to the form of the girl next to her. She could tell that Faith was in the middle of a nightmare.

Paige clicked on the bedside lamp and watched Faith’s face as the soft light illuminated it. Faith’s face was contorted. Her hands were wrapped tightly around the sheets. Paige could see light perspiration on the girl’s forehead. Her heart broke at the sound of a whimper escaping from Faith.

Needles. She remembered her slayer strength gone, powerless. The prison doctor had told her it was the flu. He had given her another shot. Faith almost cried then.

Bruises. Her mother had laughed at her bruised backside. She had pointed and said that it had been Faith’s fault. She should have behaved and followed his religious teachings.

Fighting. A man’s face loomed above her. Cold, blue eyes. Faith fought to forget him.

Alone. She was alone again, ten years old swinging on a rope into the old rock quarry filled with water. She was braver and stronger than anyone around her. Then again, she recalled, she was alone.

Helpless. “Thought you could use a hand little girl. A princess like you shouldn’t be so dirtied,” his voice was cold, calculating. She wasn’t the small little girl, but a strong slayer, and still she was helpless.

Faith fought her way through the nightmares of darkened images. One by one reminding her of why she was scared. Feelings of loss, fear, terror, she had left them behind her at 16 years of age when she had been called to be a slayer. But at the age of 22 they had been forced into her again.

Buffy and Piper were regretting their decision to walk to the manor. They had not encountered any more vampires and were more than exhausted. Piper could see a hint of the sunrise to the east. She yawned and looked at Buffy out of the corner of her eye. The blonde slayer seemed to be lost in thought.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Piper said.

Buffy looked up at her and smiled shyly, “Probably not worth a penny.”

“Oh? Want to share anyway?”

“Just thinking about Faith,” Buffy admitted.

Piper nodded, “That was some scene tonight, wasn’t it? I’m sorry about Chris’ behavior. I don’t know what the problem is between the two of them but you can be damn sure I’ll deal with him tomorrow.”

“Thank you. He was really hurting her, you know. And it’s hard to hurt a slayer. But, Faith wailing on that guy, it was like…like she wasn’t even in the room with us,” Buffy said as an image of Faith’s eyes and face flashed through her mind.

“She could have really hurt him, couldn’t she?” Piper asked already knowing the answer.

“Yes, and I think that’s the scary part. She’s worked so hard and come so far to throw it all away on some bikerboy.”

Piper bit her lower lip, “What do you think set her off?”

“I think it was what he said, what he called her,” Buffy said thoughtfully.

“Which part? Princess?”

Buffy smiled, “That’d be the one.”

“Why should that set her off?”

“Maybe it has something to do with her childhood,” Buffy guessed.

“Could be,” Piper said looking at Buffy. She hesitated before speaking again, “Buffy, what about you?”

“I don’t mind being called princess. I mean it’s a little annoying but I’ve been called worse.”

Piper laughed, “No, I mean, who are you? What was your childhood like?”

“Oh,” Buffy smiled apologetically, “Me? You want to know about me. Well, I was born and raised in California. Los Angeles was my first home before we, me and my mom, moved to Sunnydale. Before I became the Chosen One, I was a cheerleader and all around popular girl. Then I became a freak.”

“You aren’t a freak. You have the opportunity to save lives. That’s not freakish, it’s…heroic,” Piper looked kindly at Buffy.

“Me? No, I’m no hero. I mean sure yeah I saved the world a lot and stuff, but I’m no hero. I’m just a human with super human strength who’s just trying to make it in the world.”

Piper mulled that thought over. She and Buffy had more in common than she thought, “What about your dad?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said you and your mom moved to Sunnydale, what about your dad?”

Buffy frowned and shrugged, “He’s basically a shiftless no good deadbeat. Dawn and I knew when mom died that we were on our own.”

“Ah, but you had Willow and Xander, right?” Piper was intrigued by Buffy’s life.

“Yes. We had them. Oh, and Giles,” she answered.


“Yeah, he’s my Watcher. Kind of like your Whitelighter, only without any powers. Just lots of brains. He’s also been the father figure in my life. Great man. Very British.”

Piper smiled, “Sounds like you had a good family.”

“Yeah, I did…I do. I think having friends and family that close to me, it saved my life and my soul on more than one occasion.”

“And that makes you worry about Faith?” Piper asked intuitively.

“Yeah, it does. She never had that kind of closeness. That stability. We’re here for her now, but I don’t think she’s ever going to open up to any of us. She’s not the share kind of girl.”

“Maybe Paige can help her. She is after all part Whitelighter; she has the ability to guide. I think she can handle it.”

Buffy looked worried, “What if something happened to Faith that we know nothing about. Not when she was a child, but recently. Maybe in prison or something. I hear about things that happen there and it makes me wonder.”

“She’s a slayer, right? She has super strength. No one touched her there, I’m sure. Not unless there’s some kind of slayer kryptonite,” Piper joked.

Buffy stopped walking. She looked at Piper, significance clouding her eyes. Piper looked back at Buffy and stopped smiling.

“Something I said?” Piper asked, “God, there’s a slayer kryptonite isn’t there? I was only kidding but there really is something, isn’t there?”

Buffy nodded, “When I turned 18, the Watcher’s Council tested me. They injected me without my knowledge with a mix of herbs and adrenaline suppressants. Slayer Kryptonite if you want to call it that. What if?”

“What if what?”

Buffy sucked in a deep breath, “What if someone in the prison got a hold of this injection and gave it to Faith? She would never know what hit her. Her strength would be gone within hours of the first injection and she’d be completely helpless. Something like that would destroy Faith. Faith’s entire adult life has been built on being strong. Faith can’t be helpless, it would kill her.”

Piper saw tears on the rims of Buffy’s eyes, “You really do love her don’t you?”

“Like she’s my sister,” Buffy answered.

Piper took Buffy’s hands and started walking faster, “Let’s go home. We need to get some shuteye. Since Darryl bailed on us last night, we’ll need to go see him sometime today and see what we can do about getting Faith off the escaped con rap.”

Buffy looked to Piper appreciatively and allowed herself to be led. It was nice having someone older than she was looking out for her. As they walked quickly through the still darkened alleyways, Buffy felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She felt a presence but couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from. She stopped in her steps and Piper turned to her with a look of confusion.

“Buffy? What is it?”

“Something. Evil. All around us.” Her voice was soft as she tried not to block any alerting noises.

Piper looked around and finally saw what Buffy was sensing. They were in the middle of a mass of shadows and garbage cans. A colorful mural decorated the red brick wall of the side of a building. Piper could see eyes staring back at her from the mural. She blinked trying to focus on them and realized that there was more than one pair of eyes.

“Buffy, we have company,” Piper said pointing to the mural.

Buffy gasped as twenty figures emerged from the mural. They had been camouflaged in the paint and brick.

“Okay, I read about these guys in the Book of Shadows. They’re Chameleon demons,” Piper stated, “Lots of them.”

“Okay, can they be staked?” Buffy asked.

“No, and my powers don’t work on them. Only a potion can vanquish them,” Piper sounded apprehensive.

“So what are the options here?” Buffy moved into a fighting stance.

The demons moved away from the wall and began to surround the two girls. Buffy and Piper were far outnumbered.

Piper frowned at their movement, “Okay, normally I would say run, but it looks like we’re going to have to make our path through them.”

“Ready when you are,” Buffy answered eyeing one of the demons.

Faith turned again in the bed. Paige knew the slayer was dreaming again. She had been quiet for an hour or so, no movements or signs of nightmares. But Faith’s face twisted again in fear. Paige slid out of the bed and moved to a chair that sat next to it. She massaged the back of her neck. She had stayed awake the entire night listening to Faith mumbling in her sleep. Various words had been clear, but most were incoherent.

Paige listened closely as Faith began to mumble again, “No. I can’t. I’m bad. Please, don’t.”

Paige wondered what she was dreaming about. She moved back to the bed and sat facing Faith. She leaned in closer to hear Faith speaking in her sleep, but instead, Faith shot up in the bed, a scream caught in her throat.

Paige grabbed Faith by the shoulders and tried to sound reassuring, “Faith? You’re okay, it was just a dream.”

Faith, her eyes wide with panic, her breathing rapid and shallow, looked at Paige and nodded, “Yeah, just a dream.”

Faith slid off the bed and away from Paige. She paced the room several times before she finally stopped and looked at Paige. Faith looked exhausted as though the few hours of sleep hurt her more than if she had stayed awake. Paige wondered how close to the truth that was.

“How do you feel?” Paige asked.

“Ha, I feel like I got toofed,” Faith said.

“Toofed?” Paige asked warily.

“Yeah, heavily intoxicated,” Faith looked at the floor and tried to remember everything of the night before. The events were somewhat hazy. She sat back on the bed with Paige. The sun was barely peeking through the blinds.

“What exactly did I do last night? I was totally bazo. I seem to recall your friend Chris being a little too aggressive for his own good. And I remember trading blows with some big ape. I remember coming home. Buffy and Piper went vamp hunting, didn’t they? And…did I…did I say anything that might, I don’t know…”

“Give your secret away?” Paige finished Faith’s statement.

Faith looked surprised, “That must be a yes or else you wouldn’t know I had a secret to give away.”

“You didn’t give anything away, but I think it’s apparent to everyone that you’re hiding something,” Paige said honestly.

“Okay, well. I don’t really want to talk about it this morning. Okay? I mean, thank you for keeping me safe, and for making sure I made it through the night all good and well, but I don’t want to…”

“Talk about it, yeah I got that. Do you know how to cook?” Paige changed the subject so that Faith didn’t have to.

“Some,” she looked at Paige’s scrutinizing stare, “Okay, not at all. You?”

Paige shrugged, “Some…breakfast is my specialty.”

“Cool. Sun’s hardly up. Think Buffy and Piper will sleep in late?”

Paige looked concerned, “Um…they haven’t exactly come in yet.”

Faith frowned, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I was awake all night, they never came in.”

“I’m sure they’re fine, right?” Faith’s voice was completely unsure.

Paige’s voice was even more uncertain than Faith’s, “Yeah, I’m sure.”

They stared at one another, each hoping the feeling of trouble settling into the bottom of their stomachs was wrong, and neither believing they were.

Chapter Twelve

Paige tried once again to focus in on Piper’s energy. Faith walked back and forth nervously behind her, “Get anything?”

“No, and if you keep pacing I’m not going to,” Paige said trying to maintain her calm.

“I’m sorry. I never used to be this damn jumpy. Then again it’s been a long couple of years.”

Paige looked imploringly at Faith. Faith frowned, “Okay, I’m sorry I’ll go sit over there,” she said, indicating the chair next to the bed.

Paige refocused her thoughts on Piper. The sun had risen and the light made Faith’s head ache. She pushed aside the discomfort and closed her eyes, trying to focus her energy on Buffy.

“I can’t believe I’m lost in my own damn city!” Piper was frantic as she and Buffy ran through a row of houses. The sun was up and it was already growing warm. They stopped briefly to catch their breath and figure out where they were.

“I can’t believe neither of us has a cell phone,” Buffy said through deep breaths. A cut above her forehead made her eyes look greener.

Piper shook her head, “We’re idiots. What were we thinking?”

“Must have had more to drink that I thought we did,” Buffy answered.

Piper looked down the street, “Okay, I know this street.”

“Are we close to your house?”

They heard the sound of footsteps closing in on them. Piper frowned and yelped as three of the chameleon demons appeared in front of them, and four appeared behind them.

She looked at Buffy, “Not close enough.”

Paige opened her eyes, her heart thumping wildly, “I found them.”

Faith, still dressed in black boxers and white t-shirt, stood up ready to run out the door. Paige held up her hand.

“They’re in trouble, demon trouble. You stay here, I’ll orb to them. Wake up Xander and Dawn, get Wyatt to Piper’s room and tell him danger is coming and then meet us in the attic. Never know when demons will follow you home.”

Paige orbed out. Faith did not hesitate to move quickly down the stairs. She barreled into the living room and shook awake Xander. He jumped up, surprised and disoriented.

“What? What?”

Faith was already picking up Wyatt and calling to Dawn to wake up, “Incoming baddies, we’ve gotta book it upstairs and get ready.”

Dawn said nothing as she got up and followed Faith and Xander upstairs. She was used to trouble without warning. She didn’t think that a different city would bring different results. The three of them, with Wyatt, slipped into Piper’s room. Faith put Wyatt into his crib and then warned him that danger was coming.

She quickly stepped back as a bluish shield surrounded Wyatt and his crib. She smiled and shook her head in awe. She rejoined Xander and Dawn and led the way out of Piper’s room and toward the attic.

“What about Willow and Phoebe,” Dawn asked.

Faith frowned, “No time to get them, besides after last night they’ll be useless this early in the day. Come on!”

Paige orbed into the middle of a quiet street. She recognized it and knew it was several blocks away from the manor. She didn’t see Piper or Buffy.

“Piper! Where are you?” Paige called out.

She looked up as she heard footsteps running her way. She was relieved when she saw Piper and Buffy speeding toward her on foot. But relief fell to dread as she saw the 20 demons following them.

“Oh, that’s bad.” Paige said to herself.

“Paige!” Piper said as she ran to her. Buffy wasn’t far behind. Paige grabbed both of them and orbed away from the street
and into the attic.

As they reformed in the attic, Buffy pulled away from Paige and sat on the floor, “Holy crap, that’s a heck of a ride.”

Paige ignored Buffy as she recovered and instead turned to Piper, “What were those things?”

“Chameleon demons. They’re here in the Book,” she said as she started flipping through the pages.

Paige frowned, “They’re going to follow you home aren’t they?”

“Don’t they always,” Piper said with an eye roll.

Faith came running through the door followed by Xander and Dawn, “Hey you guys, need some help?”

Faith looked down at Buffy who was turning green, “Orbing huh? Yeah, see why I passed out?”

Buffy nodded as Faith helped her up. Xander and Dawn looked on in awe as Piper flipped through the book.

Piper finally spoke, “Okay, here they are: Chameleon demons. They’re lower class demons, um…kind of like worker bees, sent by a master. Potion…potion…here…”

Piper wrote down a list of ingredients and handed it to Paige. Paige orbed downstairs to gather what they needed to make the concoction.

Faith looked at Xander, “Hey, you got those weapons ready?”

“Weapons won’t do you any good,” Piper said as she pointed to the book, “They can only be killed with the potion.”

Faith nodded, “Okay, how many of these things were there?”

“Twenty,” Buffy said, finally regaining her composure.

“Damn,” Faith said as she let out a low whistle.

Paige orbed back into the attic, “Okay, here we go. Shouldn’t take but a few minutes to mix the ingredients. Fortunately no boiling is needed.”

She and Piper mixed the potion and placed them in vials. Everyone in the attic got two vials. Faith made the count silently before looking at Paige with doubt in her eyes.

“There’s twenty of them, and we have twelve vials?”

Paige frowned and looked around, “She has a point.”

“There’s no time,” Buffy said as she stared at the attic wall.

The others followed her gaze. Twenty sets of eyes peered out at them from the wooden walls. Xander moved behind Buffy and Faith, as did Dawn. Paige and Piper moved forward. Each wondering how they were going to survive.

They were completely surrounded as they eyes formed into bodies the shade of the walls. Paige looked to her left and saw that there were two demons standing very close to one another. She hurled her vial into the side of one of them causing the contents to spill onto both demons.

Their shrills were agony to the ears, but the Scooby gang and the two Charmed Ones looked on as the two demons exploded sending a mass of green slime into the air and all over them.

“Oh that’s disgusting,” Dawn said as she hurled her vial and managed to take out one more demon. Again slime showered down on them.

“We’re going to drown in this stuff before we can kill them all,” Faith stated.

“Looks like we’re about to rumble,” Xander was watching the remaining seventeen demons creeping toward them.

All hesitation was ceased as each good warrior took on a demon or two. Vials were thrown and shrill cries were heard. When finally all the vials were gone, the slayers, Xander, Dawn and the Charmed Ones, looked around at the slime dripping from everything. They had managed to take out all of the chameleon demons.

Faith laughed loudly, almost hysterically as she cleared the stuff from her face, “Wow! Now THAT was a hoot and a half. We mauled those beasts.”

“Yeah,” Piper said, unenthused.

Buffy smiled at Faith’s joy, “Glad to see you don’t have a hangover.”

“Yeah, well, I got a few hours of quality shuteye,” Faith said as she looked knowingly at Paige who had moved next to Buffy.

Paige winked at her and then let her hand hover over Buffy’s cut forehead. She healed it leaving the older slayer looking grateful.

Dawn looked disgusted by the slime tangling her hair, “Okay, how am I ever going to get all of this off of me?”

Paige looked at the ceiling and smiled, “Better question is how will we ever clean this room?”

Faith stopped laughing and looked thoughtful, “It’ll disappear.”

“What?” Piper asked.

Faith nodded, “Yeah, I think it will. I think it’s the same kind of demon that caused Xander to wreck the car.”

Xander frowned, “I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

Faith smiled as Buffy watched some of the slime disappear, “Faith’s right, look.”

The slime began to fade away, leaving the room looking as though it had never been touched. It also disappeared from their faces and bodies. Paige looked curiously toward the door.

“How in the world did Willow and Phoebe sleep through all of that screaming?” she asked.

Faith chuckled, “And I thought I was drunk last night.”

“You were,” Buffy stated as she followed Paige and Piper out of the attic.

Faith shrugged, “Can’t argue with that. Hey, Piper, are you going to cook breakfast?”

“Yeah, let me check on Wyatt and then we can eat,” Piper answered.

The group passed by Phoebe’s room deciding to let them sleep in a little later. Faith looked at the clock on the microwave.
She couldn’t believe that it was only seven in the morning. Piper came down the stairs with Wyatt and held on to him as she instructed Paige and Faith in the art of cooking.

Faith felt oddly at home, surrounded by her friends, old and new. She listened with happy ears as Buffy laughed at one of Xander’s jokes, and a happy heart as Dawn shared a chair with Buffy. Somewhere in the back her mind, Faith could hear her mother’s voice taunting her.

“Oh, come on Faithy, it never lasts, does it? Just when you think they’re your family, they’ll turn on you. When they find out what you let happen in jail, they’ll look at you with more disgust than they ever have.”

The voice faded as Faith’s frown appeared. She swallowed the knot that was stealing up her throat. Her muscles tensed all over and stayed that way until Buffy put a hand on her shoulder. Faith turned to Buffy in surprise.

“Faith? How are you this morning? I mean really? And don’t give me your usual five by five BS either.”

Faith grinned a cocky smirk, “I’m sorry about last night. Lost my head, B. But it won’t happen again.”

“Won’t it?” Buffy’s face was filled with unease.

Faith looked around the kitchen. No one was paying attention to Buffy and Faith’s conversation. Faith bit her lower lip and then shook her head, “I don’t know. Maybe it will. But I won’t be drinking again anytime soon. Reminded myself too much of my mother, that’s for sure.” Faith gave a fake laugh.

“Faith, you know, we haven’t gotten to really talk since the night before last, about what happened, when you…”

“When I cried like a baby? Yeah, and we won’t get to talk about it. I’m sorry I went all soft on you, B, but I told you, I’ve
just been tired. That’s all,” Faith’s voice conveyed her resistance to further pursue the conversation.

“Fine. But if you ever want to talk, I’m here.”

Faith nodded and Buffy returned to the table where she poured Dawn a glass of orange juice. The conversation between Piper, Paige, Xander and Dawn continued in a light manner, congratulating one another on the defeating of the chameleon demons, but wondering who sent them. Faith could only think of getting through the day without losing her grip on the world around her.

The sun was bright and painful as it poured through the windows of Phoebe’s room. Phoebe groaned as she licked her lips. Her tongue felt as though she had been chewing cotton balls. As her vision cleared and her ears stopped ringing, she looked at the alarm clock and saw that it was 10am. She also realized she was mostly naked. She pulled the sheet up to her chin and closed her eyes again trying to recall the night before. She remembered nothing about it.

She heard a sigh and thought it had come from her own mouth, but when an arm fell across her chest and embraced her tightly she knew she was in bed with someone. She slowly looked to her right and saw Willow asleep next to her, a wide grin displayed on her peaceful face.

Phoebe’s eyes widened. She didn’t remember getting into bed with Willow. As she realized that she was only wearing underwear and her tank top, she wondered how she had gotten undressed. Phoebe slowly tried to work her way out from Willow’s cuddle.

In the process she woke Willow up, causing the redhead to let out a small yelp and scramble out of the bed, “What? How did we? Did we? I mean, you know did we? Oh god.”

Phoebe shook her head holding a pillow over her underwear, “Um, okay, let’s not panic. Reasonable explanation, I’m sure.”

“Okay, oh! I remember…” Willow said excitedly.

“Remember what?” Phoebe asked cautiously.

“Um…drinks, lots of drinks.”

“Right, okay, so we were drunk and we ended up in bed together why?” Phoebe tried to stare at the wall instead of at Willow.

Willow shook her head, “Don’t remember that part. Oh, okay, you know what, I already have a girlfriend, so, you know if we…well, this means nothing, I mean, I can’t date you.”

Phoebe blinked, “You have a what?”

“Yeah,” Willow nodded, “I have a girlfriend, so we can’t…”

“You have a girlfriend? So that means you’re a…you know?”

Willow frowned, “You can use the word, it’s not illegal to say lesbian.”

“Yeah, you’re that?” Phoebe was shocked.

“Well, yeah, aren’t you?”

Phoebe shook her head, “No, I’m not.”

Willow looked down at the tangle of sheets and their half-naked state, “You’re sure about that?”

“Well, I…” Phoebe stopped her thoughts in their tracks, “Yes, of course I’m sure!”

“Geez, don’t sound so offended,” Willow said defensively.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I’m not, and if we…then what if I am?” Phoebe felt her stomach flip.

They both sat on the bed, far enough away from one another that they weren’t anywhere near touching. Phoebe continued to stare at the wall, while Willow wracked her brain to recall the previous evening.

After a few moments of silence, Phoebe asked, “Well, was I any good?”

Willow shrugged, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

“Okay, okay. We need to get a shower. Not together! Apart, and then we get dressed and then we go downstairs and join the rest of the group if they’re even here. And, we don’t mention a word to anyone until we know what, if anything, happened.”

“Yeah, okay.” Willow agreed.

An hour later, Willow and Phoebe joined the group in the living room. Xander knew by the look on Willow’s face that something odd was going on. He saw the blushing cheeks on Phoebe and had a fair idea of what had happened. He looked at Faith who had noticed the two as well.

Xander whined quietly to Faith as he crossed his arms over his chest and pouted, “Man! Willow gets all the girls.”

Chapter Thirteen

Chris and Leo had watched the attack in the attic on Leo’s crystal sphere. Chris had laughed as the girls and Xander were covered in slime. Leo had looked at him with disparagement. Once they saw that the group was safe they turned away from their watching glass and discussed the plan.

“Who do you think sent the Chameleon demons?” Chris asked, his eyes wide with curiosity

Leo shook his head as he paced the floor of the darkened, dusty living room, “I have a short list of suspects.”

“Who’s on the top of that list?”

Leo frowned, “The elders.”

“And who’s second?” Chris questioned.

“The Elders,” Leo replied.

Chris raised an eyebrow, “That is a short list.”

“Told you,” Leo said with a smirk as he finally stopped pacing.

Chris was eager to move forward, “What’s our next step?”

“Well, I suggest you keep an eye on that rogue slayer girl. She’s going to be pertinent to the entire plan. Wouldn’t want
anything happening to her, would we?” Leo asked with accusations in his eyes.

“Yeah, well, after last night I don’t think I’m going to be allowed anywhere near her,” Chris crossed his arms over his chest.

Leo eyed Chris suspiciously, “Yes, what was that about last night?”

“I don’t know Leo, I lost my head. Something about that girl gets under my skin,” Chris’ answer was honest.

Leo tilted his head to the side and studied Chris’ face for a moment, “Get tougher skin. Because if I hear about or see you
hurting that girl one more time, you won’t have to worry about the Elders or Piper finding out about us and our plan, you’ll have to deal with me. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Chris rolled his eyes. He hesitated and then looked at Leo again, “So, what is our plan?”

Leo began to pace again, “You’re going to continue to report to the Elders and the Charmed Ones. However, instead of telling the power of three what the Elders are saying, you will tell them what I want you to tell them. Under no circumstance should they do what the Elders want them to. If they follow the Elders, they’ll suffer for sure. Got it?”

Chris nodded, “How does it all work, Leo? I mean, why can’t you tell them everything now? Why wait?”

“Because the best way to avoid the type of troubles that come in revealing such things too early, is to wait for the exact right time. And the right time in this situation is to wait until the Elders think they’re safe and sound and that no one knows what they’re up to. That’s why.”

“But wouldn’t it be better for Piper, Phoebe, and Paige to know what’s going on?” Chris sounded genuinely worried.

“No. They’d be so angry that they wouldn’t be able to comply with our strategies.”

Chris nodded, “True, when Piper finds out you are no longer an Elder and that instead you’ve gone rebel on the whole good/evil war, you’re going to be yelled at for sure.”

“That’s the least of our worries, Chris,” Leo said, his voice filled with disquiet.

Phoebe sat down on the stairs, enjoying the quiet in the manor. Chris had orbed in and back out again saying something about the Elders holding an emergency meeting. He had told the group he’d be back afterwards to give them all the details. Piper and Paige had taken Wyatt with them to Chinatown for herbs and potion ingredients. They were also going to stop by the police station to talk to Darryl about Faith. Buffy had gone with Dawn, Willow, Xander and Faith to the beach in Piper’s Jeep.

Phoebe smiled as she thought about the look on Piper’s face when they had asked to borrow her beloved vehicle. Phoebe thought her older sister was going to faint. Instead, Piper had smiled and handed Buffy the keys. Buffy shook her head and said she didn’t drive. So instead Piper gave the keys to Faith.

“Xander doesn’t drive it,” Piper stated.

Phoebe had decided to stay at home and work on some martial arts moves. She had practiced all of fifteen minutes when she had grown bored and wandered up the stairs. As she had passed through the house, memories seized her mind. She was overwhelmed by the images and had to sit down on the stairs.

She had been sitting still for almost thirty minutes, just breathing, remembering. It was Prue’s face that she continued to see in memories of their childhood, of their three years of being witches. Phoebe laughed quietly. Looking to a picture sitting in the foyer not far from her position on the stairs, she studied her oldest sister’s face.

“Prue, had I known that it was going to end so soon, I would have told you more often how much you meant to me. Who would have thought life began the night I came back from New York, for me anyway.”

Phoebe laid her head in her hands, her elbows on her knees. She tried to shut out the pain of missing Prue. Her attempts were halted as a voice reached her ears.

“It began that day for me too, Pheebs.”

Phoebe felt herself shaking instantly at the sound of the calm, raspy voice. She was too afraid to look up, too afraid not to. Slowly she lifted her head and eyes to meet the gaze of the voice speaking to her. She half-expected to see the eyes that were staring back, but expecting didn’t prevent her from gasping in shock.

Piper and Paige sat in Darryl’s office waiting for him to return from a meeting. Wyatt was asleep in Paige’s arms. Piper was exhausted. She and Buffy had taken no naps before they left the house. So they were working on zero sleep.

Piper propped her feet up on Darryl’s desk and leaned back in her chair. She closed her eyes willing Darryl to hurry up. Suddenly the office door opened and Darryl shuffled in. Piper opened her eyes and looked up at him. He was staring at her feet on his desk.

Piper smiled and quickly removed them, “Hey Darryl, how’s it going?”

“Fine. What can I do for you girls today?” Darryl flashed them a bright wide grin.

Paige looked at Piper with raised eyebrows and then smiled at Darryl, “You’re in a good mood.”

Darryl nodded, “Yes I am. Got some really excellent news today, and I just pray you girls aren’t here to squash my parade.”

Piper feigned hurt, “Would we ruin your day Darryl?”

Darryl and Paige both nodded. Piper shrugged and laughed. Darryl relaxed into his seat and then looked expectantly to the sisters. They looked at each other and Paige nodded to Piper indicating that Piper would be better at explaining Faith to Darryl.

“Okay, Darryl…here’s the deal…” Piper began.

Darryl held up his hands, “Wait, wait, wait…right there. You mean you two aren’t even going to ask me about the good news I got?”

Paige and Piper looked shamed as they bowed their heads and uttered apologies. Darryl was still smiling. Paige finally asked him to tell them about his good news.

“Sheila and I are having another baby,” he said with the proud gleam in his eye that only an expectant father gets.

Paige smiled and verbally congratulated him, while Piper jumped up and hugged him letting Darryl know how happy she was for him. After some celebratory discussion about due dates and names, Paige cleared her throat announcing that they needed to get down to business.

“Alright, now tell me about this Faith person,” Darryl said, obviously in the state of mind to offer all the help he could to the Charmed Ones.

Piper explained to Darryl about meeting their houseguests in the warehouse district. She told him about the slayers and Sunnydale. Then she explained to Darryl that Faith was a wanted fugitive.

“She broke out of prison Darryl, to save the world. She could have left anytime she wanted to during her two and a half years there, but she didn’t. She wanted to serve her time. And her friends are convinced…”

Paige interrupted Piper, “We’re convinced.”

Piper nodded, “Right we’re convinced that she’s completely reformed. Is there anything you can do to get the warrants off of her?”

Darryl was pensive as he tapped his pencil rapidly on the desk. After a moment of the tap, tap, tap he finally looked up and nodded his head.

“I think there’s something I can do, or at least look into. It might take me a few days, but I think I can get your friend free.”

Piper looked at Darryl curiously, “Okay, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”

Darryl smiled, “Let’s just say that if this girl helped save the world then I owe her this little thing, because if it weren’t for her and this other slayer, I wouldn’t be expecting another baby.”

Paige and Piper said thank you to Darryl and left the police station. Paige buckled a still sleeping Wyatt into his car seat and then slid into the driver’s seat. Piper got into the passenger seat and looked at Paige with scorn.

“What?” Paige asked nervously.

“You have got to get a bigger car than this Beetle. It makes me claustrophobic.”

Paige laughed as she started the car and pulled away from the curb, “Only because you aren’t driving.”

The surf was high and Dawn was taking the waves better than Buffy, although Buffy was doing just fine despite her serious fatigue. Xander had wandered down the sparsely populated beach in hopes of coming across someone he could flirt with. Willow and Faith were relaxing on the beach.

Faith watched Buffy wipe out yet again, this time getting banged on the head with her surfboard. Faith tensed up ready to run to Buffy’s aid if needed, but Buffy bobbed to the surface of the ocean and Faith relaxed again.

Willow noticed the moment, “Faith? Can we talk?”

Faith looked at Willow with a frown, “What’s with everyone wanting to talk to me these days. Was a time that no
one wanted to breathe in the same air I occupied, much less speak to me.”

“Yeah, well, Faith, times change and people learn to care and love people they never imagined they would…”

“Or could?” Faith asked.

Willow nodded, “Sure. It’s just that, I…we…have noticed that you’ve been distant lately, more so than usual, and I
think you’re sad.”

“You going to analyze me with that big brain of yours, Freud?” Faith admired Willow’s honesty, but the revelation that she wasn’t hiding her fear and pain as well as she had been worried her.

“I’m not Freud, Faith, I’m just a friend,” Willow smiled at Faith.

“Yeah? Tell you what Red, you figure out the right questions to ask me, I might answer them,” Faith said with all sincerity. The dark-haired girl stood up off their blanket and ran toward the water. Willow watched after her with an admiring eye and a sad heart.

“Oh, I’ll figure it out Faith, you bet your sweet bippy I will,” Willow whispered to herself as she watched Faith swimming toward Buffy and Dawn.

Xander plopped down on the blanket next to Willow, “There’s no one on this beach.”

“Couldn’t find a woman, huh?” Willow asked teasingly.

Xander eyed her knowingly, “But apparently you did. Want to share the details of your evening with Phoebe Halliwell?”

Willow blushed, “I would if I could remember them.”

“Drunk were you, little miss trampy?” Xander laughed.

“I’m not a tramp. And Phoebe’s not a lesbian. And I don’t remember what happened so shush.”

Xander shook his head and smiled, “Willow, I doubt anything happened between you two, so chill out.”

He looked at the girls in the water. He admired Faith’s bikini-clad form as she emerged from the ocean only long enough to grab one of the surfboards they had rented. She disappeared quickly in the rolling waves. Xander looked longingly as she and Buffy climbed upon their boards and swam further out.

“Xander, I think you’re drooling.”

Xander snapped out of his reverie and swiped at his chin jokingly, “Sorry, women in bikinis.”

“You’re so bad.”

“I know. Say, did you have a chance to talk to Faith about what’s going on with her?” Xander was genuinely worried.

“She’s not exactly open to the whole discussion thing, especially when it concerns her life. But I think if we figured out the right questions to ask, she’d answer them,” Willow revealed.

“What makes you think that?”

Willow smiled, “Because she said so. Those were pretty much her exact words.”

Xander nodded, “Good, that means she wants to talk, she’s just not sure where to start.”

Buffy led Dawn and Faith further out into the ocean. Faith had asked them to show her how to surf. Buffy had explained to Faith that they had to wait for the right wave. Faith was as patient as Buffy had ever seen her. Buffy looked into Faith’s face as Faith watched the incoming waves, waiting for the right one. Buffy saw turmoil and trouble etched into her sister slayer’s eyes, but a serene calm was slowly washing over Faith’s face.

“Okay, here comes a good one guys. Faith, just remember to curl when you drop,”

Faith looked at Buffy with an arrogant grin, “I won’t drop.”

Faith caught the rather large incoming wave and began to paddle out in front of it. Dawn looked at Buffy and smirked, “She’s so gonna drop.”

“Oh yeah,” Buffy agreed.

They watched as Faith managed to climb on top of the board and steady herself. She rode the wave with much confidence but something made her lose her balance and she plummeted from the top of a massive wave into the torrential water below.

“She dropped, alright,” Buffy said as she scanned the surface of the water for Faith. The waves were becoming more frequent stirring up the undercurrent. When Faith didn’t surface immediately, Dawn looked at Buffy with alarm.

Buffy nodded and they paddled on their boards to the spot where Faith had gone under. The waves were swelling to dangerous heights. The sounds they made as they overlapped and crashed down onto the blue surface was deafening.

Buffy spoke loudly to Dawn, “Do you see her?”

Dawn yelled back, “No! Buffy where is she?”

“Dawn get to the beach, these waves are too dangerous. Let Xander and Willow know what’s happening.”

As Buffy glanced toward her oldest friends she realized they already knew what had happened. Dawn quickly paddled away toward the beach. Buffy continued to search the now murky ocean for Faith. The dark slayer was nowhere to be seen. Buffy feared the worst.

“Come on, Faith where are you? Where are you?”

Phoebe blinked. It was a face she had dreamed of seeing again, a face she had wished a million times to see. But as much as she believed in magic, it was very hard to believe that the person standing before her was real.

Phoebe remained silent. The voice stepped toward her, “I’m real, Phoebe. Go ahead, touch me.”

Phoebe stood up from the stairs and slowly lowered herself to the main level of the house. She was standing face to face with a brilliant smile.

She lifted her hand to the familiar cheek, “Oh my god. You are real. How? When? Prue?”

Prue smiled, her blue eyes wild and twinkling, “I don’t have a lot of time to answer questions even though I know you have a million of them.”

“Damn right I do, Prue,” Phoebe sputtered, “Wait, what do you mean you don’t have a lot of time.”

“Just that, I’m under a protection cloak right now. No one can find me. But it wears off soon and I have to go back to where I was.”

“And where was that?” Phoebe asked ignoring Prue’s impatient gaze.

“Pheebs, pay attention. I know this is hard for you, to see me, to know I’m flesh again, but please, do not, do not tell Piper or Paige you saw me. I had to let you know that everything was going to be okay, that you guys aren’t alone in this battle. It will feel like you are, you won’t know who to trust. I know what’s going to happen and I know who the bad guys are going to be. All I can tell you right now, is do not, under any circumstance trust Chris Perry. Do you hear me?”

Phoebe looked sad, confused, and happy all at the same time, “What? Prue, he’s our Whitelighter, what do you mean don’t trust him?”

“Just don’t trust him. He’s dangerous, more than you could ever imagine. Put your trust in your sisters, and in your new friends. Those will be the only people you can trust,” Prue looked up toward the ceiling. Phoebe followed her gaze.

“You’re a Whitelighter aren’t you? I knew it!” Phoebe yelled excitedly.

“Phoebe, focus! I have to go, but remember, do not trust anyone but your sisters and your new friends. And I mean no one.”

“What about Darryl?” Phoebe asked honestly.

Prue rolled her eyes, “Of course you can trust Darryl too. But that’s it.”

“What about…”

“Phoebe!” Prue admonished.

Phoebe smiled and wrapped her arms around Prue, “I’ve missed you so much. Please tell me I’ll see you again. And don’t lie.”

Prue nodded, “Oh, you’ll definitely see me again, but do not, repeat, do not tell Piper and Paige you saw me. Swear?”

Phoebe hesitated but then finally agreed, “Yeah, I swear but I don’t know how I’ll keep it from them.”

“You’ll manage. I love you Pheebs.”

Phoebe felt hot tears soak her cheeks, “I love you too Prue.”

Prue grinned and then orbed out of the manor leaving Phoebe with a knowing grin.

Chapter Fourteen

Buffy pushed down the panic and pulled up her strength. She was taking a beating from the continuous waves. Although she had known that it was a risk for her to dive into the water to find Faith, she knew it was one she was willing to take. She had been searching for what seemed like forever. It had only been a few minutes.

Willow had instructed Dawn to run to the nearest phone and call 911. Xander and Willow knew better than to rush into the water to help Buffy. They knew she would be quicker and more successful if they stayed on the shore and waited. Willow prepared herself to use magic if necessary and Xander silently wondered if he’d have to administer CPR to a slayer for the second time.

Buffy gasped for air as her head rose above the surface. The waves were still coming full force. Buffy surveyed the area. The water was deep enough so that Buffy couldn’t touch the bottom. She couldn’t be sure how deep it was. She swam a little closer to shore and that’s when she finally saw her.

Buffy swam as hard as she could to the lifeless form floating in the water. When she reached Faith she saw that the slayer was unconscious. Buffy’s heart pounded as she gathered Faith into the crook of her arm. She swam with all of her might toward the shore, but the harder she swam the further the shore seemed.

Buffy’s strength was beginning to wane. She could see Willow and Xander on the shore. Buffy felt herself and Faith dip below the water. She fought her way back up as she held tightly to her precious cargo. She silently prayed for assistance.
She felt herself sinking to the floor of the ocean still holding onto Faith. Buffy knew she should save herself, let go of Faith and swim to safety. But her heart wouldn’t let her do that. Instead, she decided, she was going to die with her soul sister.

As sand touched her back and the water above her was dark, almost peaceful. Buffy hugged a still unconscious Faith closely. Then, as though an angel was coming to them, light shined its way through the dark water. And Buffy wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn that the water was parting.

Willow stood with her feet in the water chanting and holding her hands, palms up, toward the sky. Her hair had turned an angelic white, her eyes a pale blue. Xander was waiting anxiously for Willow’s chanting to produce a miracle. His heart had fallen into his stomach when he saw that Buffy was going beneath the water with Faith.

He looked left and right and realized they were alone on the beach. He was thankful because Willow’s Wicca was creating quite the scene. The ocean was parting, like Moses and the red sea. Xander could see Buffy and Faith through the parting water. He took off running as fast as he could through the tunnel of water Willow had created.

Buffy was shocked to suddenly feel no water around her. She turned over and laid Faith on the ground. Buffy coughed up a little water that had managed to find it’s way into her chest. She looked at Faith. Faith’s usually olive complexion was fading into a bluish white paleness. Buffy knew Faith wasn’t breathing and she could bet that her heart wasn’t beating.

She pushed herself up onto her knees and elbows, intent on carrying Faith through the dry tunnel. She looked up to see Xander coming toward them. She got to her feet and lifted Faith over her shoulder. Xander came to her side and pulled Faith away from her. Together Buffy and Xander carried Faith to the safety of the beach.

Willow stopped chanting and collapsed on the beach, exhausted from her efforts. They watched as the tunnel of water crashed in on itself and once again formed a normal ocean. Buffy turned her attention to Xander who was already using his hands to do compressions on Faith’s chest.

He had kept up his CPR training. He could see the rise and fall of Faith’s chest as he breathed air into her lungs for her. He could feel the coldness of her skin as he pushed down on her ribcage, praying for something to happen. After several seconds, Faith sputtered and coughed her way to life. Xander rolled her over and Faith spit up the water with which her lungs had been burdened.

They heard the wail of sirens in the distance. Buffy could see Dawn running toward them. Faith smiled at Willow and then passed out again, exhaustion taking over her body. Buffy smoothed down Faith’s hair and watched as the paramedics made their way through the sand to where Faith was now peacefully out cold.

The nervous energy that made its way into Phoebe’s foot was amazing. She continued to tap her size 6 Gucci boots on the floor of the kitchen as she waited for Paige and Piper to return home. She couldn’t shake the image of Prue smiling at her. She didn’t want to shake it.

The clock in the living room chimed four times indicating that the afternoon was almost over. Her hands were trembling with the tremendous joy she felt and she could barely keep the tears away. She stood up and paced the kitchen floor trying to think of a way to distract herself from the knowledge that Prue was alive. She sat down again; firmly realizing that no amount of distraction could ever keep her from smiling at the thought of her big sister, back from the dead.

She jumped at the sound of the back door opening. Paige, carrying a brown sack full of herbs and potion ingredients, and Piper, who was carrying Wyatt, came in laughing and chatting. Phoebe bit her lip hard trying to keep herself from bursting out with the news.

“Hey Pheebs, are our guests not back yet?” Piper asked already knowing the answer after seeing that the Jeep wasn’t in the driveway.

“Nope not yet,” Phoebe’s words came out quicker than she thought they would.

Paige laughed and looked at Phoebe’s leg. Phoebe was still tapping her foot against the floor. “Phoebe, did you have too much herbal tea today?”

“Huh?” Phoebe looked at her leg and stopped the motion, “No, just got really bored with all of you gone forever.”

Piper laughed, “Told you that you should have come with us.”

“Yeah, well, if I had I wouldn’t have gotten to see Pr…” Phoebe realized what she was saying and finished her sentence in a different way than she had started, “…oof that I have been neglecting my workout sessions.”

“How’d it go?” Piper asked eyeing Phoebe skeptically. Piper could always tell when Phoebe was working her way into a lie and this time was no different.

“Fine. Although I totally can’t nail my side kick for some reason,” Phoebe fibbed.

The sisters walked into the living room where Piper put Wyatt into his crib where he immediately picked up a toy and played quietly. They then returned to the kitchen to stock the herb shelf and to make tea. Phoebe fidgeted nervously as she sat on the kitchen counter.

Piper paused as she was putting up herbs, “Hey Pheebs, are you okay?”

Paige had been staring at Phoebe as well, “Yeah Phoebe, you look a little off your game.”

Phoebe wasn’t sure what tale to tell next. All she knew was that she had promised Prue she wouldn’t tell her sisters about Prue’s Whitelighter status. While she was quickly thinking of an answer to their questions, the phone rang startling them all.

Piper raised an eyebrow, “My car better be okay.”

Paige rolled her eyes and picked up the phone, “Hello?”

The voice on the other end of the line was tired, panicked, “Paige, it’s Buffy. I wanted to call and let you know that we’re at the hospital.”

Paige’s heart sank as she began to think of who was hurt, “What? What happened, are you guys okay?”

Piper noticed Paige’s reaction, “Paige? What is it?”

Paige motioned for her sisters to stand close to the phone with her. They moved quickly and leaned their heads in close to hear Buffy’s quiet, solemn voice.

“It’s Faith. We were surfing and she went under. Xander had to do CPR, but then she passed out and the paramedics came.”

Paige swallowed hard. The news that Faith was hurt troubled her more than she thought it would. Somehow she knew that she and Faith shared a bond.

“What do you mean Xander had to do CPR?” Piper had just caught onto the term.

“Faith was dead. She wasn’t breathing and her heart had stopped. I don’t know how long she wasn’t breathing. But she’s unconscious now. And I don’t know what to do.”

“Where are you? What hospital?” Phoebe asked.

“San Francisco Memorial, in the ER,” Buffy replied.

“Okay, we’ll be right there,” Paige said, as she hung up the phone.

Piper went back to the living room to get Wyatt and then she, Piper and Paige crammed into the Beetle on their way to see what they could do for the kids from Sunnydale.

SLASH It was the sound the belt always created as it made a connection with her bare behind. She could hear his voice preaching his word of God. Faith knew in her heart of hearts that it wasn’t her God’s word. He never touched her with his hand, only a belt, or whatever object was handy. Faith used to think that he never touched her or hugged her because she was a horribly dirty little girl and he would be tainted. But as Faith grew older and remembered him. She knew he was obsessive-compulsive and had a serious germ-phobia. Another whip from the belt on her 8-year-old frame. And then he locked her in the closet.

“It’s dark! Please not in there!” She would kick and scream the entire time as he shuffled her into the closet. And she was alone with her tears, her burning behind and only the darkness to talk to.

Faith tossed in the hospital bed as Buffy watched her. Buffy could tell that her friend, her once enemy, was in the midst of a bothersome dream. Buffy wondered if it were slayer-related, or simply human nature. By the look of fear in the creases of Faith’s tightly clenched facial muscles, and the amount of perspiration appearing on her forehead, Buffy surmised it was the latter.

PIERCING It was the squeal of the iron bars sliding open. Faith had grown accustomed to everything but the piercing sound of metal on metal as the cell door opened. The sound pierced her thoughts as she looked up to see the guard on night duty looking at her with a lustful grin and cold, blue eyes. Her stomach flipped but her resolve was strong as she simply glared at him. She had not been touched by the guards save for a few times that they had beaten her in response to her defending herself in the yard.

“Garrett, flu shot…Doc’s office now,” the guard looked as though he was up to something.

She hated it when they used her last name. She had been fingerprinted upon arrest and they had learned all about her petty crimes as a pre-teen. Faith had no choice but to follow him to the prison doctor’s office. The office was cold and impersonal. The walls the same gray cinder block as the rest of the prison. In the middle of the cold, stained, off-white, tile floor was a single exam table. The only other furniture in the room was a stainless steel cabinet with various medications in it, and a metal stool.

“Sit there,” the guard pointed at the table. Faith said nothing as she followed his barked order. The doctor came in and smiled at the guard.

“Hello Travis, how’s the wife?” the doctor asked the guard.

Travis glanced at Faith. Faith looked away from him. Travis responded, “We’re getting a divorce, Doc. You know how it is. Been married too long, she quit putting out.”

The doctor smiled at the guard. Faith hated men. Her heart beat quickly in her chest as she could feel both of their eyes upon her. She glanced up as she felt the doctor rolling up the sleeve of her denim button-up. The needle slid into her skin with ease. Faith did not flinch, did not breathe. She waited until she heard it again, the piercing screech of metal on metal. She was safe again, back in her cell. Alone.

Paige, followed by Piper and Phoebe, who was holding Wyatt, led the way into the emergency room doors. They spotted a nurse immediately and found the exam room where Buffy sat holding Faith’s hand. The blonde girl’s head was bowed down.
“Buffy?” Paige’s voice was more of a whisper than she had wanted it to be, but Buffy had heard her none-the-less. She looked up at the three sisters. Paige watched as Buffy tried to smile but instead frowned.

“Is she okay?” Phoebe asked, her voice louder than Paige’s but still soft.

Buffy shook her head, “She won’t wake up. The doctors think it’s exhaustion, but I don’t know. I’m worried.”

Paige watched as Piper uncharacteristically reached out to Buffy and hugged her, “It’ll be okay. She’ll be fine. You two are strong fighters, and I doubt Faith will let something like drowning keep her down, right?”

“It didn’t stop Buffy,” Xander said from the doorway.

The sisters turned toward the young man. He was smiling a comforting smile and his hands held two white Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate. They then looked at Buffy who was smiling back. Paige could feel the deep connection between these two individuals. Like brother and sister, she postulated as she walked to the other side of Faith’s bed.

Xander handed a cup to Buffy and put the other cup on the cheaply built nightstand in the room, “Willow and Dawn are still in the waiting room. They want to know what we should do.”

Buffy shrugged, “I don’t know. I mean, I guess you can take them home, you know. Not a whole lot you can do.”

“How will you get home?” Xander asked looking at the three sisters for help.

Paige nodded, “I’ll take her and Faith home in the Bug. Piper, why don’t you and Phoebe take them back to the manor, feed them. I’ll stay here with Buffy and Faith.”

Phoebe looked hesitant, “The doctors didn’t recognize her did they? As a wanted fugitive?”

Buffy shook her head, “I don’t think so.”

“It’s okay, Darryl’s working on it,” Piper reassured Buffy.

Buffy informed Piper that her car keys were in their beach bag in the waiting room with Willow and Dawn. She then thanked them for everything. When everyone had left the room, returning it to the semi-peaceful state it had been in, Buffy then realized that Paige was watching Faith very closely.

“She’s been dreaming like that since they loaded her into the ambulance.”

Paige nodded, knowing that if Faith were harboring a dark secret, it wouldn’t be long before it would be revealed.

SHREDDED Her jacket provided little protection. Faith stared down at the shredded remains of the windbreaker her teacher had gotten for her from the school’s lost and found. It had been in the bin for more than a year, making it school property. Faith’s teacher had noticed one morning that Faith was without a jacket, so she had fished it out of the bin for her.

Faith couldn’t believe how cold it was. Her 12-year-old body shook in the whipping winds of the Boston alleyways. She was sitting against a brick wall, her knees pulled tightly to her chest in an effort to conserve body heat. The jacket was pulled up to her chin, but the various cuts and tears in it made it no more functional than fishing net.

Her stomach growled. It had been over 24 hours since she had eaten. She had been getting water from the water fountain at the local park, so she was only slightly dehydrated, but food was something she needed. Faith was shockingly self-efficient at the age of twelve. But she knew she had to be, because if she wasn’t she’d never make it.

“Hey little girl…what are you doing out here all alone?” Faith looked up. A man was crouching down, staring at her. His teeth were filthy and his breath was putrid. Faith cringed as he reached out a hand and patted her on the head.

“I asked you a question sweetheart,” his voice was gravelly as though he had a cold. Faith stood up ready to run. She knew the man was homeless, like her. The difference was that the man before her had been on the streets for years and years instead of mere weeks.

The man reached for Faith’s small arm and pulled her to him. She could feel him groping her, making her cry out for help. As the man tried to reach into Faith’s pants she kicked him in the groin sending him to the ground howling in pain.

As she took off running into the dark Boston night, her shredded jacket fell silently to the cold hard road, next to the crying man.

Faith moved her head back and forth against the pillow. Paige bit her bottom lip as she watched her closely. Buffy was standing at the edge of the curtained exam room waiting for a nurse to walk by. Paige could tell that Buffy was afraid to leave Faith’s side. Looking down on the oddly innocent face, Paige couldn’t blame her.

“She does look innocent, doesn’t she?” Buffy’s sad voice invaded her thoughts.

Paige looked up to see the green eyes looking helplessly at Faith, “I was just thinking that.”

“Faith’s no innocent girl, Paige. I mean maybe she was, but the things she’s done in her life, she’s not innocent.”

Paige shook her head; “We’ve all done wrong in our lives, in one way or another, Buffy. But we all start off innocent, children to be loved, or lost. Faith, she was lost. But look at her Buffy, the way she suffers now. Her nights are plagued with these nightmares. Her life plagued with the constant guilt she feels because of the harm she’s done to you. She loves you, as much as you love her.”

Buffy nodded, “I know that. I really do. But why won’t she open up to me? Why won’t she trust me enough to tell me what’s happening to her?”

Paige smiled a bittersweet smirk as she placed her hand on Faith’s cool cheek, “Because you don’t trust her, Buffy. And how can a girl who’s never learned to trust or be trusted ever believe in that sort of system?”

BURNING She could feel the fire coursing through her veins, like a fever. She had been given the flu shot only an hour before and now her slayer strength was sapped as she lay down on the bed in her cell. She wondered how Buffy was, wondered if everything was okay in Sunnydale.

She felt the burning guilt of the things she had done to Buffy. She knew the law would eventually forgive her, but she would never forgive herself, nor would she blame Buffy if she never forgave her. Faith looked up at the ceiling and watched it as it spun. She could hear the guard, Travis, approaching the cell. He was a muscular man, with cold blue eyes.

When he stopped at Faith’s cell and peered in, Faith looked back at him and knew what he had in mind.

“What’s wrong with me?” she asked him, somewhat confused by the sudden fire in her veins.

“You must have the flu, Garrett. How about you come with me and I’ll make it all better,” Travis was already opening the cell door. The piercing sound slashed into her mind shredding her thoughts. Anger was burning through her.

Travis pulled Faith roughly from the bed. Faith formed a fist and swung it at him. She missed his face but connected somehow with his chest. He merely laughed. Faith couldn’t believe that her slayer strength was truly gone. All she had left were her street smarts and an aching in her muscles, and she knew neither was going to do her any good in this situation.

Faith’s hand tightened around Paige’s. Buffy looked even more concerned than she had when Paige had first arrived.

“What do you think she’s dreaming of?” she asked the redheaded sister.

Paige shrugged, “Listen, I think there’s some things you should probably know about Faith. Things you probably know somewhere deep down. Not excuses for the things she’s done in her life, but perhaps explanations…”

Paige was interrupted by Faith who was mumbling in her sleep, “No, no, no, no, no….please.”

Tears sprang to Buffy’s eyes. She had never heard Faith’s voice so weak, so haunted. Slayers were never weak, or haunted, Buffy thought. Then she remembered her discussion with Piper and her theory about the shots Giles had once injected into her on her eighteenth birthday.

“I think she’s been…” Buffy began to tell Paige her theory, but she too was interrupted, this time as Faith shot up in the bed with a long, loud scream that shattered the hospital buzz.

A nurse hurried into the room, “Okay, okay. It’s okay, you’re alive and well, Ms….” she looked to Buffy and Paige who were still shocked by Faith’s scream.

“Faith, her name is Faith,” Buffy managed to utter.

“Does she have a last name?” the nurse looked suspiciously at Buffy.

Buffy shrugged and received a funny look from Paige, “What? She’s never told us her last name.”

Paige shook her head in disbelief, but then turned her attention to Faith who had curled herself into a ball on the hospital bed. Buffy’s bottom lip shook as she watched Faith transform from the strong, sarcastic vampire slayer that she knew, into a weeping, trembling, terrified child that she didn’t.

The nurse left to find the doctor. Paige gently placed her hand on Faith’s back, “Faith. It’s Paige, and Buffy, can you tell us what you were dreaming about.”

Faith stopped crying and sat up quickly in the bed looking around the hospital room, “I want to leave. I want to leave now.”

Buffy nodded, “I’ll find you some clothes.”

Buffy was about to leave the room when a doctor came in carrying a needle in each hand. Buffy saw the immediate fear rise in Faith’s face. Faith moved quickly away from the doctor and pushed herself into Paige’s arms. Paige wasn’t sure if she should hug Faith or help her out of the room.

“No needles,” Faith spat out with an immeasurable amount of clarity.

“Dear, the water you drowned in, it was polluted. You and your friend here both need to get this shot of antibiotics.”

Buffy glanced from Faith to Paige and then to the doctor. The doctor looked nice enough, Buffy thought, but then again, so did Giles when he was injecting her with the slayer kryptonite. Buffy watched Faith closely as the doctor stepped toward her with one needle reaching out to her arm. Faith flew off the bed and head-butted the doctor. She then threw him effortlessly into the wall.

“Faith! Stop!” Buffy shouted as Faith went after the barely-conscious doctor. Paige wasn’t sure what to do as she watched

Faith pick the doctor up by the collar and shove him into the wall, cracking the plaster.

Buffy pulled Faith’s arm trying to get her to look at her, but Faith was as lost as she was at the nightclub the night before. “Faith! No! You can’t hurt him, please!”

Faith was paying no attention to Buffy, instead she flung her counterpart across the room and into Paige. Buffy had seen the look in Faith’s eyes before. The look of a woman getting ready to kill.

Chapter 15

Willow turned off the shower and stepped into a nice fluffy terrycloth robe that Phoebe had loaned her. She snuggled into the fabric and pulled her red locks fall into a towel that she twisted into a turban on top of her head. They had only been home for ten minutes but she had rushed immediately to the bathroom to get a shower.

Something in the atmosphere around her changed and she felt it. A chill shot through her as she closed her eyes and focused on the disturbance. She was connected to the slayers of the world. It was a huge connection that rarely disturbed her everyday being. But she could feel that one of them was in deep turmoil. And it was one of the ones close to her.

“Faith,” Willow whispered to herself as she finally received an image of the dark slayer’s face.

Paige watched as Buffy picked herself off the ground, dove for Faith, and knocked her to the ground. Faith pushed Buffy off of her and continued to go after the doctor. Paige took a high risk as Faith knocked the doctor against the wall one more time and his eyes closed as though he were unconscious. She dove for both Faith and Buffy and orbed out with them.

Willow ran down the stairs still wrapped in Phoebe’s robe. She found the crew looking tired, and worried in the living room.

“Guys, big problem…” Willow began to tell them what she had felt but was interrupted as Paige, Buffy and Faith orbed in, rolling to the floor in a distortion of bodies.

Piper held Wyatt closer as the three girls struggled with one another. Paige finally pulled herself out of the fray and left Buffy to tend to Faith.

As Faith and Buffy wrestled on the ground, Xander smirked, “Now there’s a blast from the past.”

Willow slapped him on the arm, sensing the darkness within Faith subsiding. She knew Faith was okay for the moment, but she was also very close to the edge. Willow looked at the dark-haired slayer with sympathy. The struggle with Buffy was a losing one for Faith, but she struggled still. Buffy was sitting on top of Faith holding her down.

“Faith! Stop fighting! We’re home. You’re safe. He’s not going to give you a needle. Look around.”

Faith was wild-eyed and breathing hard. She looked around the living room frantically from one face to the next. It was as though she were somewhere else. She blinked and relaxed under Buffy’s weight.

“I’m going to get off of you now. Are you okay? Are you over it, now, whatever it was?” Buffy sounded much more harsh than she had intended to and she knew that Faith had caught her tone.

Faith simply nodded and got up. She left the room and ran up the stairs leaving the group stunned and filled with questions.
They all jumped when the door to the bathroom slammed shut.

“What in the hell was that?” Piper asked the only question that was really on any of their minds.

Buffy and Paige glanced at each other. Paige could see that Buffy was speechless, so she spoke up, “Faith apparently hates needles.”

Willow knew that it was more than that. She knew it was something that had pushed Faith to an edge she had been trying to walk away from, “Should I go check on her?”

Buffy nodded, happy to have someone else be there for Faith. While Willow ran up the stairs to see if she could talk to Faith, Paige sat on the couch with Phoebe and Xander. Dawn was pulling Buffy down onto the armchair with her, while Piper sat on the floor to play with Wyatt.

Piper’s voice was calm this time as she addressed Paige, “Now, what happened?”

Paige shrugged. Buffy took it as her cue and filled them in on exactly what had happened in the ER after they had left. They exchanged thoughts and theories, but none of them could even get close to what Buffy was thinking. No one but Paige.

Leo slammed his fist against the wall of the abandoned house. The wall shook. He turned back to Chris.

“What do you mean they’re moving forward with their plans?” his voice was filled with anger.

Chris nodded, no sign of a smile on his face, “I was at the meeting Leo, the Whitelighter meeting and they said they were moving ahead with their plan.”

“Damn it! There’s not enough time to warn them properly. They won’t see past their anger. There has to be something we can do to stop the Elders. They cannot succeed. It will mean the end of everything we’ve been working for.” Leo paced the floor.

“You’ll have to reveal yourself soon. I estimate two days before our opponents and their partners try to open the hellmouth,” Chris clenched his teeth together trying to hold back his hatred.

“Two days? That’s not enough time for our plan,” Leo growled.

Chris shook his head, “No it’s not, so now we come up with a new plan.”

“There is no new plan. Only the one. And we’ll have to make two days enough time. I’ll have to reveal myself at just the right time.”

Chris frowned even more deeply than he had been, “That’s suicide.”

“It’s a chance I have to take, Chris. For all of them.”

“Yeah, Leo, but you forget that if you take that chance and it goes wrong, it’s not just suicide, it’s murder.”

Chris orbed out to deliver the Elder’s information to the Charmed Ones. He wasn’t sure which boss he hated more. He knew whichever it was; it wouldn’t matter for much longer.

Faith’s head ached. She couldn’t believe everything that had happened since they had come to San Francisco. She sat on the edge of the tub letting the hot water fill it. She was wearing a white robe she had taken from the back of the bathroom door. Willow had been standing outside her door for five minutes begging to be let in.

“Faith, I’m not going away so please, let me in.”

Faith finally relented and opened the door. She ushered Willow, still wearing her own borrowed robe, inside the bathroom and then locked the door again. Willow sat on the closed toilet and Faith took her seat back on the edge of the tub.

“Faith, what happened at the hospital?”

Faith smirked and shook her head, “Right question receives an answer. That’s not the right question.”

Willow thought about Faith’s riddled speech, an idea crossed her mind. It was something she couldn’t believe that hadn’t occurred to her before, but she knew beyond a doubt it had to be true.

“What happened in prison to make you hate needles, Faith?”

Faith looked at Willow. She was shocked to hear the redhead hit upon the right line of questioning. She remained silent, debating whether or not to answer. As the doorbell rang downstairs, she knew she wouldn’t have to answer the question.

Faith shook her head, “Saved by the bell, huh?”

Phoebe left Paige, Piper, Xander, Dawn and Buffy in the living room and made her way to the front door. She opened it and found an older, attractive gentleman standing on the front porch cleaning his glasses with a handkerchief. Phoebe smiled. She knew who this man was without ever having met him before.

“Giles, I presume,” she said standing back and letting the man into the foyer.

His British accent was heavy as he slipped his glasses back on, “Yes, how on earth did you…”

“Know that you were Giles? I’m the psychic sister,” Phoebe said, a hint of amusement to her voice.

“Ah, yes. Then you must be Phoebe?” he asked as he reached out his hand for hers.

She shook his hands and then grinned, “I am Phoebe, but the real reason I knew you were Giles is that the Scoobies are quite good at description. They got you down to a tee.”

Giles looked at Phoebe as though she were an alien. She was still feeling amused as she showed him to the living room where everyone but Faith and Willow sat staring back at him. It was Dawn who jumped up first and rushed the man with a hug. Paige noticed the fatherly way the man embraced Dawn and then Buffy and Xander. He smiled and nodded at Paige and Piper.

Introductions were made and tea was brewing. Buffy smiled softly at Giles, “Not that we’re not happy to see you Giles, but why are you here?”

Giles looked around the room. Piper, Paige and Phoebe were staring back at him expectantly. Buffy nodded, “You can trust them.”

“Yes, yes, I know. It’s just that I can’t believe I’m in the same room with the Charmed Ones. They’re an incredible sight.”

Buffy feigned hurt feelings, “So you’re here to worship the Charmed Ones? What about me, the Chosen One?”

Giles smiled his best Giles smile, which was a mere smirk, “Yes, well, there’s a whole lot of you now isn’t there.”

“Fine,” Buffy pouted.

Giles cleared his throat and Xander laughed as he looked at Phoebe, “Ah, the let’s-get-down-to-business throat clearing.”

Giles shot Xander a look and cleared his throat again, “The first reason I’m here is the Hellmouth.”

“Yeah, we’re all on top of that, G-man,” Xander said enthusiastically.

“You don’t know the half of it, Xander,” Giles said as he looked at the sisters three.

Piper was the first to catch on, “The manor?”

Giles nodded, “I’m sure you’re very well aware that your house is the spiritual nexus, but it appears as though the reason
it’s the spiritual nexus is that it’s also the entrance for all things evil.”

“That’d certainly explain the attraction demons seem to have to it,” Paige mentioned.

“Wait, you’re saying we’re sitting on top of the Hellmouth, right now?” Buffy asked.

Piper, Paige, Phoebe and Giles nodded. Xander looked shocked and Dawn seemed to be thinking it over. Buffy began to pace the living room floor. “Great, just great. At least now we won’t have to find it. It’ll just swallow us whole in our sleep.”

“Actually Buffy, this could be a good thing,” Xander’s rational voice surprised her.

“How do you mean?” Phoebe asked him.

“Well, if someone’s trying to open the Hellmouth…he’ll have to do it right here. So we know for a fact that if we’re on our best guard in this house, then we’ll catch whoever it is trying to open it, right?”

Giles nodded, “He makes a valid point. It works to our advantage knowing where it is.”

They all nodded and mulled it over amongst themselves for a few moments. Buffy thought over their next step. She knew they had to find out who was vying to open the Hellmouth and when they would strike.

Giles looked around the living room, as though doing a mental headcount, “Where are Willow and Faith?”

Buffy looked at her group and then to Giles, “They’re upstairs talking. Giles, Faith has been doing some serious wigging out lately. Any ideas?”

Giles shrugged, “That’s the other reason I’m here. It has come to our attention that while in prison, Faith sustained some unexplainable injuries. We, the new Council, need to clear this up as we suspect it has something to do with the old council and their crimes.”

The news struck Buffy’s heart making her feel as though her theory were closer to truth than fiction. She waited for more from Giles but they were interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Buffy knew Willow had been unsuccessful at getting Faith to talk.

The two Scoobies rounded the corner into the living room. Both were in a change of clothes. Willow and Faith were both wearing T-shirt and jeans. Both were barefoot. Willow’s face became one big grin as she enveloped Giles in a hug. Faith, her arms crossed over her chest in her usual defensive manner, smiled and nodded.

“Hey Giles, how’s the investigating going?” Her voice was smooth, confident. Buffy and Paige both knew she was simply covering something.

“You should know Faith, it’s going towards you,” Giles answered honestly.

Faith’s mouth opened slightly as though her brain had stopped her from speaking while it chewed over the revelation. Buffy watched Faith grow pale. Piper excused herself and her sisters as they took Wyatt into the kitchen to make dinner. Buffy was grateful to them for affording Giles the time alone he and the Scoobies needed with one another to sort through Faith’s troubles.

“I’m going to go help them,” Buffy said as she left the living room. She noticed Faith’s sad eyes as she left the room. Buffy stopped outside the living room and positioned herself to eavesdrop. She knew that whatever Faith revealed would be something she wanted to hear, but might not want to immediately face. Buffy knew that if what she believed to be true, was true, then she’d want an easy non-confrontational exit from the house. Her spot by the living room door was the perfect place.

The group watched Buffy leave, wondering why she would leave at that moment. They then turned their attention to the man who had been a father to them all. Giles’ accent was thicker than ever as he looked Faith over and frowned, “We need to talk, all of us.”

Faith reluctantly sat on the armchair and faced her friends. Giles, Dawn, Xander and Willow occupied the couch. They didn’t know that Buffy was listening at the door.

“What’s this about Giles?” Faith asked, already knowing what was coming.

Leo looked at his partner again and smiled, “I think Chris is buying everything I’m selling.”

“Good. He’ll need to buy it if he’s to go down with the others. I can’t stand that little sh…”

Leo interrupted before the cursing could begin, “Have you revealed yourself to anyone but me?”

His partner laughed, “It doesn’t matter one way or the other. It’s not me they’re going to be mad at.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Leo said with a grin, “Don’t be so sure.”

They laughed as they sat down to a table filled with ancient books, maps and the crystal gazing ball, plotting and planning the most crucial plan of all. The plan to destroy.

Chapter Sixteen

Piper poured warm tea into Paige’s mug. The sweet aroma of peppermint intertwined with the steam that rose up from the white porcelain. Paige breathed it in deeply and then glanced at her sisters. Piper was staring anxiously toward the living room. Phoebe was feeding Wyatt, who was sitting patiently in his high chair.

“What do you think that’s about?” Piper asked, her voice filled with nervous energy.

Paige shrugged, “I’m not sure. I don’t think it involves us though. I think it’s something personal, between them.”

Phoebe rolled her eyes and laughed softly, “Right, like you’re not dying to eavesdrop and find out what’s going on with that Faith.”

Paige nodded, “True.”

Piper started toward the door, but Paige stopped her, “Piper. As much as I want to know what’s going on with her, with them, I think we need to let them talk it over. It may not be for stranger’s ears.”

Piper raised her eyebrow and shot Paige a defiant look, “We’re not strangers.”

“Yes, we are,” Paige said, “We’re also not her family.”

Phoebe’s tone fell to a whisper, “She doesn’t have family.”

Paige nodded, “Yes she does. Those people in there are her family. And it’s obvious to them, and to us, that something is tearing her up inside. So, let’s let them handle it, and if they want to fill us in later, then they will.”

Piper bit her lip. Knowing she was defeated she sat down at the table. Paige punched her softly on the shoulder, “That’s a good big sister.”

Faith could tell by the look in Giles’ eyes that she wasn’t going to get out of talking to them. She swallowed the lump forming in her throat and felt her defenses rising. She let out the breath she had been holding and suddenly felt tired and more alone than ever, even with people wanting to hear her, wanting to help her.

“Come on Faith, they don’t care about you. They don’t really want to help you. They just want to see you weak, and broken. Are you going to let them see you that way? Tell them the truth Faith and you’re only going to get hurt.”

Faith pushed her mother’s voice to the back of her mind. She inhaled again as Giles asked his first question. She braced herself for it, but was still stunned when it was asked.

“Faith, as head of the New Watcher’s Council, I’ve been doing some investigating concerning the crimes of the old council. We believe some of their worst crimes were perpetrated against you.”

Faith let out a burst of laughter before reigning herself in, “Gee, Giles, ya think?”

Giles looked at Faith with compassion in his blue eyes. The look unnerved Faith. She hated to feel cared about, even though it was something she craved eternally. She was safer, she thought, alone. No one could see the person, the little girl hiding inside the dark closet within.

“Faith,” Giles said, “There are records of your stay in prison that show unexplainable injuries. Can you tell me about that?”

Faith’s eyebrows creased, “Which time? The time the guards beat me for defending myself? The time I was jumped by three women in the yard? Which time?”

“No, those injuries healed quickly thanks to your slayer abilities. I’m talking about the time you spent in the prison infirmary starting two weeks before you broke out of jail. You sustained massive bruising and a broken arm. What happened to land you in the infirmary and why didn’t your slayer healing power kick in?” Giles looked at Faith patiently.

“Yeah Faith, tell him how you were such a bad girl, tell him. Tell him how it’s all your fault.”

She pushed the voice away again and concentrated on her fingernails. They were clipped short, but were somewhat manicured. Her hands were beginning to shake. Her breathing was growing rapid, but not half as quickly as her heartbeat.

“Faith?” Giles asked.

“Two weeks before?” Faith was stalling for time.

Giles nodded, “Yes, do you remember?”

Faith nodded without thinking She looked at Dawn who was staring back at her with curiosity brewing in her baby blues.
Xander was looking down at his feet. Willow was watching her with sympathy and friendship, and Giles only wanted to get her to talk. Faith could read their faces.

“You can’t read anything Faith. You’re a nothing, a nobody, and these people only want to hear the sordid details. So tell them what you must but don’t tell them everything. Leave that for your own guilty world, you whore.”

Faith could feel the warm tears burning at the rims of her eyes. Wanting to be free, wanting to be done with the darkness. But Faith pushed them back and sucked in a deep breath.

“I remember just fine. I had the flu. I think I got the flu when the doctor gave me a flu shot. I don’t know. But I had the flu and my powers were gone,” Faith looked at Giles expectantly.

“Go on,” his voice was calm as though they were discussing a soup recipe.

Faith licked her suddenly dry lips, “I got the shot and then was sent back to my cell. I was back in my cell for about an hour when I could feel my strength draining. I felt like I had a fever. So I lay down, on my bed and rested. Travis came by…”

“Who’s Travis?” Willow asked the pertinent question. Buffy committed the first name to memory as she listened still from her hidden spot.

"Travis Harwell, the head guard of D-Block. That’s where my cell was. Anyway, he came by. He looked like he was going to rough me up a little so I took a swing at him. I hit his chest but it didn’t even faze him. He just laughed at me.”

Faith’s voice had dropped to a level slightly above a whisper. She felt as though the words would never reach the surface and then they finally did, “He laughed at me and then he dragged me to solitary confinement. He threw me down on the cement floor and then he…and then he…he beat me. I was completely helpless to stop it. Completely. I had no slayer strength. So what about it Giles? Does that help with your useless investigation?”

Giles nodded, “Yes, but Faith, there’s something you’re leaving out. I can tell.”

Faith stood up and all eyes followed her as she turned her back toward the group and looked out the window. She could feel them staring at her, waiting for a word from her. She bit her lip. She wanted to tell them wanted to find safe harbor in their friendships, but the voice in her head was confusing her, making her want to run.

“Come on Faith. Tell them what a tramp you are. Tell them you wanted it and that you had sex with him. Go on tell them!”

“I didn’t want to!” Faith said loudly, realizing too late that she had responded to the voice in her head verbally instead of mentally.

“Faith?” Xander was standing now approaching Faith with his arms out. She realized she was crying. When had she started crying? Faith pushed past Xander and started to leave the living room. She stopped herself and turned back to Giles.

“I had the flu. I was confused. I didn’t mean to sleep with him. It’s no big deal.” Faith cried as she ran through the foyer and out the front door, leaving the door swinging open. No one had even noticed that Buffy had already slipped away from the manor.

“Faith! Wait!” Willow called after the brunette as she ran into the shadows of night. Piper, Phoebe and Paige came into the foyer quickly as though they had been waiting for some commotion. They saw Willow standing at the opened front door, Xander’s head lowered as he stared at the ground, Giles wiping down his glasses and Dawn looking scared and confused.

“What just happened?” Phoebe asked.

Willow shook her head, “I’m not sure, but Faith shouldn’t be alone right now.”

“She’ll come back,” Giles said placing his glasses back on his nose.

“What if she doesn’t? You saw her face Giles, something’s seriously wrong with that picture. Why’d you push her like that?

What does her making it with some guard have to do with anything?”

Giles frowned deeply, “She didn’t ‘make it’ with some guard, Xander. I think you’ve missed the bigger picture, which would be why there’s something seriously wrong with it.”

Paige could tell that Xander wasn’t the only one lost by Giles’ comment. Her sisters and Dawn appeared dumbfounded as well. But as she looked from Willow to Giles she knew exactly what had been revealed without being said.

“Should we look for her?” Paige asked Giles.

Giles nodded, “In the state she’s in, there’s no telling what she might do.”

The group began to gather in three groups, Giles, Willow, Xander, and Piper in the Jeep, Paige and Buffy in the Beetle, and Phoebe and Dawn in Phoebe’s Mini Cooper. They started splitting up when Dawn’s small voice stopped them in their tracks.

“Where’s Buffy?”

The night was still new as Buffy closed the phone booth door behind her. She picked up the receiver and dialed 4-1-1. An operator picked up.

“What city?”

Buffy’s voice was shaking with fury, “Stockton, California.”

“What listing?”

“Travis Harwell,” Buffy hissed through clenched teeth.

“One moment, please,” the operator put Buffy on hold. Within a few seconds she came back to the line, “Ma’am, the number is 209-555-4667.”

“Is there an address?” Buffy crossed her fingers.

“Yes, but I’m not supposed to give out addresses.”

Buffy bit her lower lip, “Look, will it be in a phone book when I get to Stockton.”


“Then please, save me that few minutes and help me out, please.”

Buffy waited as the operator sighed into the receiver and then finally spoke, “Fine. The address is 699 Franklin Avenue, Apartment 308.”

“Thank you,” Buffy said after hanging up the phone and walking toward the loading bus. In two hours she’d be in Stockton.

Faith ran as far as her legs would take her and then she stopped to breathe. It was only then that she realized she was still barefoot. The bottoms of her feet ached from the various rocks and debris cutting into them. She looked around and realized that she hadn’t gotten as far from the manor as she thought.

She shuffled in a restorative breath and doubled back to the manor. She watched from the shrubs as Paige, Phoebe, and Dawn got into the Beetle and Piper, Giles, Willow, Xander and Wyatt got into the Jeep. She wondered briefly where Buffy was and why she hadn’t been in the room to hear what had happened.

Faith watched as they left and then she slipped inside quickly running upstairs. She listened carefully for footsteps as she put on socks and her boots. After making sure the coast was clear she slipped the remaining keys off the hook in the kitchen. She shut the door behind her and looked undecidedly at Phoebe’s Mini-Cooper. She felt something pushing her from within.

Unlocking the car she slipped inside and started the engine. She knew the way to Stockton without having to think about it. And she was intent on paying a visit to Travis Harwell.

It had been forty minutes since the main group had left the house. They had been driving around aimlessly looking for any signs of Faith or Buffy. Nothing had been found. Piper guided the car onto the Interstate as she dialed Paige’s cell phone. Paige answered quickly.

“What now?” the youngest Halliwell sounded desperate and it made Piper wonder again about her sister’s connection to Faith.

“I don’t know. I’m out of ideas. We all are. What about you guys?”

Piper could tell Paige was getting a consensus from Phoebe and Dawn. She answered quickly, “Nothing.”

Everyone was silent for a moment as they all searched their thoughts, their hearts for the right answer. Finally it was Dawn who broke the silence. Piper could hear her through the cell phone.

“She went after the Travis guy,” Dawn’s voice was sure and steady.

“Who? Buffy or Faith?” Phoebe asked.

“Um…both I guess, but definitely Buffy,” Dawn answered.

“Why does she think that?” Piper asked Paige.

Paige glanced in the rearview mirror to the young teen sitting in the backseat, “What makes you think that Dawn?”

“Not think, know. Buffy cares about Faith, the way she cares about all of us. Ask the others what Buffy would do if one of them had been beat up the way Giles says Faith was.”

Paige could hear Piper put the question to the group in the Jeep. The consensus was the same. Buffy would go after the guy who hurt them. Buffy was a lot of things, but protective, and loyal were her best qualities.

“Okay, then I’ll call information and find out where he lives. It’d have to be somewhere around the prison, where was it located, Giles?” Piper was talking to both groups both inside her car and via the cellular.

“Northern California Women’s, it’s in Stockton,” Giles was quick in his response.

“Stockton, that’s an hour and a half away,” Piper stated. “Paige, you following us?”

“Better believe it,” the youngest Halliwell agreed.

Piper ended the call with Paige and dialed information. She spoke with the operator and received the same information Buffy had received. She looked at her nervous passengers and her sleeping child in the backseat.

Piper felt the need to reassure her new friends, “They’ll be okay guys. We’ll find them both before they do anything. Whatever happened, it’ll be okay.”

Willow frowned, “Buffy will be fine, she’ll stop herself from doing anything stupid, but Faith, if what I think happened, really did happen. She might not ever be okay.”

Buffy got off the bus and looked around. She was in the middle of downtown Stockton. She almost laughed out loud at the absurd thought of it being downtown. She walked into a coffee shop and asked the waitress where Franklin Avenue was. The waitress looked at her and smiled.

“Honey, you’re on it.”

Buffy left the coffee house without thanking the waitress and she began looking for street numbers. Several blocks down from the coffee shop she found a rundown apartment complex, 699 shined bright in gold lettering on one of the front doors. She walked into the dirty lobby and to the elevators. She arrived on the third floor and stepped out. Turning left she found apartment 308 with ease.

Her hands were shaking as she knocked on the door. It only took a few minutes for a man to answer the door. Buffy looked up into his cold, blue eyes and pushed back the tears that had started to form in her own.

“Travis Harwell?”

Chapter Seventeen

Piper drove as quickly as she could through the rain that had begun to fall. She couldn’t believe their luck. They had been making great time until a heavy downpour about forty minutes outside of San Francisco slowed them down.

She glanced into the rearview mirror to see if Wyatt was still asleep. His little head was bent forward and Piper knew he was fast asleep. She quickly took in the appearance of Willow and Xander. They looked understandably shaken. Giles had filled Piper in on what had been said in the living room. Piper had looked at Willow and the two of them had communicated as women. They knew what Faith had gone through even without having to hear it.

Giles was staring ahead. Piper found him to be almost a soothing presence. The car was silent with exception of the back and forth swipe of the windshield wipers and the steady drop, drop, drop, of the rain.

She was happy to see Paige’s headlights still in her view. The VW Bug couldn’t handle the weather as well as Piper’s Jeep, but Piper knew that Paige wouldn’t have any real trouble keeping up. Her baby sister was one determined girl when it came to a crisis. Nothing would stop her from being there for their new friend.

Paige had turned the radio on to drown out the rain. The volume was low enough so that they could still talk, but the three girls in the Beetle were so lost in their own thoughts that they weren’t saying much anyway. Paige had left the radio tuned into the only station they could get. It was a country station.

Paige found herself listening to the song being played. The vocals drifted into her ears and left her feeling sadder than she was already feeling. But something in the lyrics stirred a feeling deep within Paige. A feeling that she was missing out on something very important in her life.

An image of Faith, eyes sad and soaked with tears, repeating the nursery rhyme from her childhood, edged its way into her mind. Paige held on to the image and knew without knowing, she had to be there for Faith. And soon.

Faith looked down at the flat tire. Rain poured down on her, soaking her t-shirt and jeans. Her skin ached from the cold rain, but it was the last thing on her mind. She had been on the side of the interstate for half an hour, in the rain. Cars had passed her, some honked but none stopped. Finally an eighteen wheeler slowed to a halt and opened the door for Faith.

Faith smiled slightly as she realized the driver was a large woman, “I’m heading toward Stockton.”

“Hop in sweetie, that’s the direction I’m going.”

Faith nodded and pulled herself into the passenger seat of the semi, “Thank you. I’m sorry about getting your seats soaked.”

“Don’t worry about it doll,” the woman smiled as Faith shut the door. Faith looked toward the road ahead. She knew it was a matter of time and she’d be able to stop Travis Harwell from ever haunting her nightmares again.

“Yeah, I’m Travis Harwell, who wants to know?”

Buffy pushed her way into the man’s apartment, “I’m here for a friend. I’m sure you know her.”

“You got friends, do you?” Travis asked sarcastically as he shut the door and locked it. The motion did not go unnoticed by Buffy. She laughed internally at the presumptuous man. She turned to look at Travis but couldn’t stand to look him in the eyes. Instead she shot him a go-to-hell look and turned her back to him while she studied his DVD collection.

“Yeah, I have a particular friend in mind. Her name’s Faith. Ring any bells?” Buffy turned to look at his reaction.

The man could win a lot of money playing poker. His face showed no reaction. Instead he smiled and stared intensely at Buffy, “You know Garrett?”

“Garrett?” Buffy asked quietly.

“Girl your age, about this tall,” he gestured with his hands, “Dark hair, pretty brown eyes. Was a prisoner of the Northern California Women’s joint before she busted out?”

“That’s my friend, alright,” Buffy nodded. She hated even taking the time to speak to the man. She wanted to pummel him immediately. However, her sense of morality prevented her from doing so.

“So what can I do for Faith?” Travis flashed a lustful grin. Buffy knew beyond a doubt that everything she had been assuming, thinking, hoping against, was true.

“You can not say her name. I’m just here to have you confess what you did to her.”

Travis’ expression didn’t change, “Wait, you’re a slayer too, aren’t you? Buffy right? Yeah I heard about you. Have your flu shot lately?”

Buffy snarled in disgust. She couldn’t believe he was going to openly admit what he had done. And she certainly couldn’t believe that he was going to be so cocky about it.

Phoebe was staring at the road ahead, happy that the rain was clearing. Paige had been quiet for far too long and Dawn had stopped trying to ask questions about Faith. Phoebe’s heart jumped into her throat as Piper slammed on the brakes in front of them and pulled to the side of the interstate.

“What in the hell is she doing?” Paige asked incredulously.

Paige followed her to the side of the road. She watched as everyone from the Jeep piled out of the car and walked forward. Phoebe and Paige looked at one another and then quickly followed suit. Dawn reluctantly stayed in the car as asked.

Phoebe was the first to see what the group from the Jeep was looking at, “Hey! That’s my car!”

She ran ahead of them and looked over the Mini-Cooper. Satisfied that it was only a flat tire she went back to the Beetle and got an extra set of keys from her purse. She returned to her car and popped the trunk. She looked to Xander and smiled.

“Care to fix it?” she asked sweetly.

Xander shrugged, “Sure, I’m the man. I’ll fix it.”

As Xander went about fixing the flat tire, Phoebe turned to Giles, “Okay, I’m guessing Faith took my car since Buffy doesn’t drive.”

Giles nodded, “Yes, she’s rather notorious for borrowing other people’s means of transportation.”

“You say borrow, I say steal,” Phoebe’s voice was harsh.

Piper smacked Phoebe on the arm. “She’s a desperate girl right now, Phoebe. After what she’s been through, I’m sure borrowing your car is the least of her worries.”

Phoebe nodded apologetically and turned to Giles, “From everything you’ve told us, I’m guessing she’s heading to Harwell for a little sweet revenge.”

Giles nodded, “But I have a bad feeling that Buffy may beat her to it.”

“Then we don’t have time to spare,” Paige said already feeling a sense of duty toward the younger slayer.

Piper bit her lower lip, “Paige is right. Xander, can you fix this flat and then head back to the manor with Wyatt?”

Xander looked as though he were going to protest. But he realized quickly that he didn’t understand everything that was happening, “Yeah, no problem.”

Willow looked thoughtfully toward the Beetle, “Take Dawn back too. She doesn’t need to see what might happen.”

Xander nodded, “Um, okay, but we’re going to have to take the Beetle instead.”

“Why?” Paige asked.

“Because that Mini is a two-seater, and we need a backseat to put Wyatt’s car seat in, right?” Xander reasoned.

Piper nodded, “He’s right. Giles and Willow can ride with me. Phoebe, you and Paige follow in the Mini, okay?”

Phoebe nodded, “Yeah, no problem.”

They moved a still-sleeping Wyatt into the Beetle and informed Dawn what was happening. Dawn tried to protest but Giles sopped her with a mere look of impatience. Dawn pouted in the backseat next to Wyatt, but remained quiet.

The tire was fixed by the time they had buckled Wyatt in. Xander, Dawn and Wyatt headed back toward San Francisco while the Jeep and the Mini continued on toward Stockton. Paige quietly wondered how much time they had left.

“So you admit it then. You gave her the Watcher’s shot and then when she was weak, powerless, helpless, you attacked her.”

Travis laughed, “Yeah, that about sums it up, shortstop.”

Buffy was barely holding in her anger, “God! You sick bastard!”

“What are you gonna do honey, beat me up? How about I give you a real reason first?”

Buffy eyed him curiously. Travis got very close to her ear and whispered, “I can make you hear it all.”

He pulled away from Buffy and went into the single bedroom. He came back out holding a CD. He slipped it into the bright red CD player on his entertainment center. Buffy shifted uncomfortably form one foot to another.

“What are you doing?” she asked him.

He laughed, “Technology, got to love it! I got it all on tape, sweetheart. The whole act, and then I burned it to CD, lasts longer you know?”

Buffy felt her stomach flip in revulsion, “You didn’t?”

“Didn’t I?” He asked as he hit play.

The room was filled with silence for a mere second before Buffy heard the sounds of metal on metal screeching open. The sound echoed throughout the small living room. Buffy backed away from Travis and the speakers, but the sound was everywhere. She could hear him taunting Faith. She could hear Faith struggling against him. Then came the sound of scuffling as, Buffy assumed, Travis dragged Faith to solitary confinement.

“Stop fighting me, you bitch! You don’t have your strength right now so give it up.”

His tone was cold, calculating. Buffy could hear a hand smacking across flesh. She knew he must have hit her.

“Stop it! Leave me alone!"

“Thought you could use a hand little girl. A princess like you shouldn’t be so dirtied.”

“Please don’t touch me, please.”

Faith’s voice sank into Buffy’s heart. Buffy had never heard Faith so terrified, so lost. The only time she had heard that kind of terror was in her own voice the day she lost all of her own slayer strength, her eighteenth birthday. She knew that feeling that helpless could destroy an otherwise strong soul.

“She was a wildcat that girl,” Travis interrupted her moment of reflection. Buffy was losing control of her temper fast, as sounds of Faith begging and pleading filled her ears.

“No, no, no, no.”

The words followed one another quickly in a voice filled with hopelessness. Buffy let the tears fall as she listened to her friend, her soul sister, being violated. Faith’s screams filled the apartment via the speaker system. Faith had been helpless and her world swept out from under her.

Buffy turned her bright green eyes, made brighter through the tears, to Travis Harwell, “You raped her.”

Travis shrugged and flashed her a lascivious smirk, “Some call it rape. I call it taming. The bitch knows it was all her fault anyway. She deserved everything I gave her.”

“You bastard,” It was the only thing Buffy said as she flung herself onto the man. Delivering several sharp blows to his head by means of the bottom of her shoe, Buffy drew first blood. But Travis was strong and got up quickly. He took a swing at Buffy missing her face by inches. Buffy countered with a sharp kick to his ribcage sending the man flying through the wall. He landed in the bedroom amongst a mass of splintered wood and sheetrock. Buffy stepped through the hole in the wall and continued to pummel the man. She was seeing red and was intent on killing him.

The eighteen-wheeler pulled into the middle of the small downtown area of Stockton. Faith opened the door and hopped to the ground, “Thanks a lot for the ride.”

The large woman in the cab of the truck smiled down at Faith, “No thanks needed honey, just take care of yourself will you?”

Faith nodded and watched as the big rig pulled away and out of sight. She turned and saw a phone booth. She quickly found Travis’s address and after asking for directions she found herself on Franklin Avenue.

The Jeep, followed by the Mini, pulled to the curb of the apartment complex on Franklin Avenue. Giles, Willow, Piper, Phoebe and Paige filed out of the cars and into the building. They failed to see Faith stepping to the curb behind them staring up at the building and she failed to see them or even notice the cars. Her mind, her eyes were focused forward.

Buffy hurled the man across the room. Straddling him for leverage she began to alternate fists into his face. Her hands were becoming bloodied from the constant scrapes against his teeth. His face was a bloodied mess. But Buffy couldn’t stop and Travis wouldn’t stop baiting her so she continued to batter him.

Faith’s screams for help, her repeated “no” and her sobbing urged Buffy to continue in the name of her friend. She knew a few more hits would send Travis Harwell to death, and hopefully, Buffy thought, to hell.

She pulled back her hand ready to strike one of the final blows when suddenly the door to the apartment was blown off its hinges. Piper stepped in, her hands still raised in the air. She had blown the door apart after seeing that it was locked.
Buffy turned back to Harwell and raised her fist again. Her tears falling even harder. She felt a hand grasp her wrist tightly to prevent her from hitting him. She looked up and saw Giles holding her back. Giles pulled her to her feet and embraced her. Buffy relented at first but finally gave in, sinking into Giles.

The Charmed sisters were surprised to hear the strong slayer sobbing softly into Giles’ shoulder. They were even more shocked to see the mess of a man lying on the floor of the apartment. Willow checked his pulse. He was alive, but unconscious.

Giles pulled away from Buffy, “Are you okay?”

Buffy nodded, “How’s Faith?”

Giles exchanged glances with the girls he had arrived with. Paige finally broke the awkward moment, “She ran out of the house. Must have been after you left.”

Buffy looked beyond worried, “I’ve got to find her. I’ve got to let her know it wasn’t her fault.”

Paige frowned, “Buffy, was Faith…did he…”

Buffy nodded as the tears continued to flow freely, “The son of a bitch has it all on a CD.”

The blonde walked to the CD player and ejected the disc and handed it to Giles, “I don’t know if this will help with your case or not, but the entire act is there. Him hurting Faith.”

Giles frowned, “So it’s true, she was attacked two weeks before she broke out.”

Buffy nodded, “Yeah, she was raped and still stayed in jail, because she’s a good person who felt as though she had to serve her time.”

“Well if you ask me, her time was done the minute he laid a hand on her,” Willow said.

“Is she here? In Stockton?” Buffy asked the group.

“We think so. She borrowed my car and we found it on the side of the interstate with a flat. We fixed it, sent Xander, Dawn and Wyatt home in the Beetle and then came straight here.”

Piper shook her head, “She could be anywhere.”

“I have to find her,” Buffy said as she edged toward the door. “I have to make sure she’s okay.”

“I’ll go with you,” Paige said.

“We’ll deal with Harwell, you two hurry, get to her before she hurts herself, or someone else.” Giles said.

Faith entered the lobby of the apartment complex. Her entire body was shaking with fear. She was about to hit the up button on the elevator when she heard feet pounding down the stairs to her right. She waited to see what faces would appear.

She felt a mixture of emotions as Buffy and Paige appeared in front of her. They halted immediately upon seeing the rain-soaked younger slayer. Faith looked at Buffy’s hands and saw that her knuckles were bloodied and cut.

“You’re hurt?” Faith asked Buffy, her voice sounding as though she were in another world.

“It’s nothing,” Buffy said, tears falling once again to her cheeks.

Paige remained quiet, letting the slayers talk it through. She moved toward the door of the apartment building to prevent Faith from running from them.

Faith looked from Buffy to Paige. She could see the look in their eyes and knew that they knew. She watched as tear after tear fell from Buffy’s green eyes.

“You know?”

Buffy nodded, “Faith, it’s okay. It’ll be okay. We can help you deal with it.”

Faith backed into Paige. She pushed Paige out of her way and backed out of the door. She looked to Buffy with tear-soaked eyes and shook her head, “I can’t, Buffy, I can’t do this.”

And then she ran.

Chapter Eighteen

Chris wandered aimlessly through the bright white corridors of the Heavens. He was lost deep in thought ignoring the emotions of his charges. His own plans and feelings were unraveling as he stopped outside of the Elders’ chamber to listen in.

The booming voices of the leaders of good echoed off the chamber walls, “I say we proceed as planned. They are none-the-wiser but given more time they will figure out that he is not who he says he is. They will know that we sent in evil.”

“It doesn’t matter,” another voice spoke, “If we rush the opening, then we will not be prepared. If we give ourselves more time then we can be organized for the battle.”

Chris shook his head and walked away, already knowing what would be said next. He hated playing double agent, especially when he wasn’t working for either side.

Giles looked down at the bloodied face of Travis Harwell. He picked up the rather large man and slammed him into a wall. Willow, Piper and Phoebe stood back and let Giles handle it.

Giles’ voice was even but filled with disgust, “If you ever, so much as think of Faith again, I’ll make sure Buffy comes back here to finish you off.”

He released the man and let him slide to the floor. He turned to the girls and motioned for them to leave. Piper looked wary as she pointed down at Travis.

“What about him? Won’t he call the cops?”

Giles smiled, “What? And tell them he just got beat up by a girl? For some reason I doubt it.”

The living room in the Halliwell manor was silent and dark with the exception of a slight hum and a glowing blue light emanating from the center of the room. There sitting in the middle of a circle of blue light was Leo, chanting softly in an ancient language long forgotten.

“Leo? What are you doing?” The voice floated to his ears pulling him from his chanting.

Leo looked at his partner and smiled, “The ritual.”

“The ritual? I thought we decided to wait on the ritual? If you complete it now it will be too soon, won’t it?”

Leo shook his head, “No, they’ll move sooner than we thought. Very soon, so I need to complete this ritual or else we’ll lose.”

His partner nodded, “Okay, I’ve got something I want to check into anyway. But you better hurry up, there’s a few of them on their way back here.”

“How do you know that?” Leo asked.

“Because I’ve been eavesdropping, maybe you should try it,” the voice said with a laugh.

“I would, but I can’t risk getting caught, and Prue…you shouldn’t either.”

Prue laughed, “Fair enough partner, but when this is all over, you’ll see how much you worried for nothing.

Paige looked at Buffy as Faith ran out the door at full-speed. Buffy looked stunned, unsure if she should follow her friend, or leave her alone. Paige couldn’t take any more waiting.

“I’ll get her.”

Buffy nodded, “Be sure she’s safe.”

“I will,” Paige said quietly as she orbed out of the lobby of the apartment complex.

She reappeared two blocks away right in front of Faith who was still running. Faith collided with Paige bowling them both to the sidewalk. Paige’s arm scraped against the sidewalk but she didn’t feel it because Faith wrapped her arms immediately around Paige’s waist clinging to her as a child clings to a mother.

The motion shocked Paige deeply, but she returned the gesture by slipping her arms around Faith. Faith sank into Paige’s arms and wept against her shoulder. Paige ran her hand over Faith’s hair, smoothing down the chestnut locks.

“Shhh…you’re safe. Faith? Do you hear me? You’re safe,” Paige wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to say, but she felt as though her words were true.

She felt Faith burrow into her arms deeper, her sobbing slowing. Paige swallowed the lump in her throat and looked down at the fragile girl she held.

“Faith, I know we’re strangers, but I feel as though there’s this bond between us, some unspoken link. And I want you to know that I will not let anyone hurt you. I know you’re a slayer, strong by nature, but you don’t have to be strong with me, okay? You can talk to me, tell me what happened, get it out of your head.”

Faith nodded and turned herself in Paige’s arms so that she could be heard clearly. Paige still held on to her while Faith rested her head on Paige’s arm. They stayed like that for several minutes on the quiet street. Paige was thankful no one walked or drove by. She knew Faith was about to talk about something she needed to unburden from her heart, and she wanted no interruptions.

Faith’s breath trembled from her lungs and into the night air. The concrete they were on was damp from the rain. Faith was already soaked to the bone from her time spent hitching a ride. She felt different from any other time in her life. She never would have imagined that she would break down in a stranger’s arms and cried like the child she had once been. But still, she couldn’t seem to let go of Paige. It was as though the copper headed Halliwell was the only thing keeping her safe.

“How much do you know?” Faith finally muttered through still-falling tears.

“Just the basics. That man upstairs, the one Buffy beat senseless, he hurt you.”

Faith nodded, “You could say that.”

“Why don’t you tell me about that day?” Paige pushed gently.

Faith inhaled deeply and released the breath before she began to speak, “I don’t know where to start.”

“How about after you were taken back to your cell. What were you feeling then?”

“Lost. I could feel my power fading. And I was just your basic average five foot four inch 120 pound girl. I was nothing. I curled up on my bed feeling this fever moving all over me. I felt sick, but not just sick like physically sick, but sick like I was going crazy, you know? And then I heard him coming. I heard Travis coming.”

Paige could feel Faith trembling in her arms, “Take your time. I’m not going anywhere.”

Faith took a deep breath and continued to hold onto Paige, “He came in my cell and I knew by the look on his face what he wanted. It’s what all men want. And I won’t lie. When I know I can be in control of the situation, I usually give it freely. I’m not an innocent person, not at all. But I wasn’t in control…I didn’t want it, Paige.”

“What happened next?” Paige pressed.

“He came in my cell. I tried to push him away but he wouldn’t leave.” Faith faded away from Paige and back to that terrifying night.

The storms raged outside, but the only way the prisoners of D-Block knew was the occasional clap of thunder. Faith put her head on her pillow trying to steady the spinning room. Her mind was tortured with the thoughts of the things she had done using her slayer strength. She wondered if those she had hurt in her life had ever felt as helpless as she did.

Especially the minute Travis Harwell appeared at her cell door. Faith looked at him and knew what was on his mind, she had known immediately that he was going to hurt her in a way she had never been hurt.

Faith managed to find her voice as Travis stepped into her cell, “What’s wrong with me?”

He turned the key and slid open the heavy bars making the awful racket, “You must have the flu, Garrett. How about you come with me and I’ll make it all better.”

Travis pulled Faith roughly from the bed. Faith formed a fist and swung it at him. She missed his face but connected somehow with his chest. He merely laughed. Faith couldn’t believe that her slayer strength was truly gone. All she had left were her street smarts and an aching in her muscles, and she knew neither were going to do her any good in this situation.

Faith pulled away from Travis as hard as she could. She felt tears spring to her eyes and tried to convince herself that she wasn’t afraid, but it didn’t work. She knew she was terrified. She pushed herself away from him, and he yanked her closer to him.

“What’s the matter crybaby, miss your mommy right now?” His voice was cruel, degrading.

Her arm ached from the effort of trying to stay away from him, but still she tried. She fought him all the way to solitary confinement. They were the only two people in the ward. Faith kicked at Travis with what little strength she had. Her head was swimming in the struggle.

“Stop fighting me, you bitch! You don’t have your strength right now so give it up.”

His voice chilled Faith to the bone. She looked around the room he had pushed her into. It was a seven by seven foot room with no windows and only one solid steel door with a tiny window in it. She barely saw his hand coming toward her, and when she did see it, it was too late to protect herself.

Stinging filled her eyes as she found herself on the floor. The hit she had taken had stunned her enough to give Travis time to move on top of her without a fight. Faith realized she was pinned down. She looked into his ice blue eyes and silently pleaded with him to stop.

When that didn’t work she used her voice, “Stop it! Leave me alone!”

Faith pushed him away but he only held her down harder, tighter. He tore her denim button-up shirt open and ripped her bra off. Faith cried out for help, but knew no one could hear her. She scratched her nails down his face but he laughed at her. She spit on him and he slapped her again.

He then reached into his back pocket and withdrew a small bar of soap. Faith’s eyes went wide. She had heard rumors of this kind of treatment anytime a prisoner back talked a guard, but she hadn’t believed the rumors. Until now.

Harwell held Faith’s jaw in his large hand and forced her mouth open. He shoved the small square bar of soap into her mouth, making it hard for her to breath. He held his hand over her mouth and laughed.

“Thought you could use a hand little girl. A princess like you shouldn’t be so dirtied.”

He ran his lips over her face and neck as he held his hand over her mouth. He finally allowed her to spit the soap out and she did so quickly, gagging on the aftertaste of Irish Spring. Her focus was drawn quickly back to what was happening to her as she felt her pants being undone.

“Please don’t touch me, please.”

Travis said nothing as he fought with Faith and won the battle. He pulled her arms high above her head and held her down forcing himself into her. Faith screamed. Her words were repetitive, pleading, lost, “No, no, no, no.”

She let out the saddest whimper as Harwell continued to assault her. She thought about everything she had done wrong in her life and she wondered if that one single moment in hell with Travis Harwell was her payback. Was that her punishment? Faith planted the self-blame seed that very second and Travis Harwell reinforced it as he raped her.

“This is what happens to evil sluts,” it was a mere whisper into Faith’s ear, but enough to convince her that she had asked for and had deserved what he was doing to her. She hated Travis for forcing himself upon her, but she hated herself more for not being a better person.

As he held her hands away, he twisted her wrists. Faith screamed out in pain and agony as she felt and heard the bone snapping. The cold concrete floor scratched into her bare back and legs. His knees dug bruises into her thighs, his hands made bruises on her face, her arms, her wrists, her entire upper body.

When Travis Harwell was finished with Faith Garrett, she was a mere shell of her former self. She was left to bleed, to cry, to ache in solitary confinement for two days before a female guard had finally opened the door and with slight surprise called for the doctor.

Faith had been in shock, she had been withdrawn the first few days she was in the infirmary. Her broken arm was splinted but not put in a cast. Her bruises were tender, her cuts raw. She shivered and fought every time the doctor came near her.

She was given no pain medicine because she refused to take the shots. Faith knew the only reason she was allowed to regain her slayer strength was because a nurse had taken her under her wing, knowing very well what had happened to her.

As her strength had returned, the bruises faded quickly, and the broken arm mended with no problems. But no amount of power, or slayer abilities could heal the hole in her heart or the emptiness in her soul.

“And then I broke out of there and tried to pretend it didn’t happen,” Faith finished her story in a sea of tears, both her own and Paige’s.

Paige didn’t speak immediately, instead she let Faith’s pain sink into her mind and become her own. Paige suddenly realized that her heart and Faith’s were beating in rhythm with one another. It jolted Paige. She pulled back from the younger girl and looked her over. Paige noticed something in Faith’s face she hadn’t seen before. It was something very familiar, but she knew now was not the time to try to figure it out.

“What do you say we meet up with the others and head home?” Paige asked softly.

Faith didn’t look Paige in the eyes as she nodded. Paige gently lifted Faith’s chin so that brown eyes connected brown eyes. She smiled gently and pushed Faith’s damp hair from her face.

“Faith, listen, it’s not your fault. I know you don’t want to hear that right now, but you have to. Nothing you’ve done in your life warrants that. Okay? You didn’t deserve it, you didn’t ask for it, and it’s not your fault.”

Faith felt herself shiver. She couldn’t believe she trusted so much information and such emotions to a stranger. But as she looked deeply into Paige’s eyes, she knew Paige was no stranger. She nodded and felt somewhat soothed by Paige’s warm embrace. They stood up and Faith allowed herself to lean on Paige. It was the first time she could remember ever wanting, needing to lean on someone.

They were silent on their walk back to the cars. Faith took the time to regain her composure. Paige took the time to reflect on her new bond with her new friend. She had never known anyone as strong, brave, and, at the same time, completely vulnerable as Faith.

Within a few minutes, they joined the rest of the gang on the sidewalk in front of Harwell’s apartment building. Piper and Phoebe looked at Paige with pride. They knew that if anyone could get through to Faith it would be Paige. Buffy looked at Paige thankfully and then pulled Faith to the side.

Faith couldn’t look Buffy in the eyes, no matter how grateful she was that the older slayer defended her. She wasn’t used to being worried about, or protected. Faith was having a hard time finding herself in the role of victim.

Buffy shook her head, “Faith. I know what you’re thinking, but these tears and these bloodied knuckles, they aren’t about pity. They’re about love. I realized what he did to you and I couldn’t see straight because he hurt someone I love very much. I know we haven’t been best friends; hell bitter enemies would be a closer title. But Faith, so much has changed since the bad old days. You and I…we’re more alike than you realize. Neither of us wants to be viewed as helpless, or needy. We’d rather fight fire with our bare hands than to find comfort in someone else, but the time has come for both of us to start leaning a little more on others. I’m here for you, not just in battle, Faith, but also in life. I love you.”

Faith cried as she wrapped her arms around Buffy. She felt as though the tears would never stop. She felt her life, her attitude, her thoughts, her world changing as Buffy hugged her fiercely. When they let go of one another, Faith sniffled and shuffled her feet. She gently play-punched Buffy on the arm.

“Aw, B, you love me. So sweet.” Faith smiled as her voice rose playfully.

“Glad to know you’ll always be a smart ass,” Buffy said as she smiled back at Faith and swiped at a few renegade tears.

Faith shrugged and as Buffy walked past her toward the car she grabbed Buffy’s arm and turned the blonde toward her.
“I’ve never said this to anyone in my life Buffy at least not since I was six years old, but I love you, too. And thank you, for believing in me, and wanting me to believe in myself.”

Buffy nodded and they rejoined the group. Piper, Paige and Phoebe were huddled together discussing driving and riding arrangements. Giles and Willow were watching Buffy and Faith talking. They were not eavesdropping, but merely taking in the sight of the two slayers once and for all making the connection with one another they should have made years before.

Willow embraced Faith in a quick, but meaningful hug, “I completely…I mean, if I had…then I would have…”

Faith laughed a genuine laugh, “Red, it’s okay, I know. I know how you feel. I’m just sorry I didn’t let all of you know what was happening sooner, although I think one of you already had me all figured out,” she said as she looked at Giles.

Giles shrugged, “It’s my job.”

“Yeah,” Faith said with a soft smile as she got into the back seat of the Jeep. Buffy and Paige sat on either side of her. Giles took the passenger seat and Piper climbed into the driver’s seat, leaving Phoebe and Willow staring uncomfortably at one another.

“Um…I guess it’s you and me in your car,” Willow said, her voice quivering with panic.

Phoebe nodded and quickly got in. Willow followed suit. After the seatbelts had been buckled and the engine started, Willow looked at Phoebe and frowned.

“Um, about last night…” she began to say.

Phoebe interrupted her, “Music, I think we need music.”

Willow nodded, half-relieved that Phoebe had stopped her from starting the conversation. Phoebe switched on the radio and the sounds of Melissa Etheridge filled the car. She and Willow exchanged an awkward glance.

Phoebe held up her hand and pulled the car away from the curb, “Not a word.”

Chapter Nineteen

Prue orbed into the room. It was dark and dirty, cold and barren. Mostly it was well hidden. She looked around at the craftsmanship of the room. Chris had done a good job of digging out a room into the floor of the basement of the Halliwell Manor. A door to the secret room had been made out of wood and then covered in a concrete façade keeping it well concealed.

Prue surveyed the secret space. It was surprisingly clean and roomy considering it was 10 feet by 10 feet and only seven feet tall. A small area rug covered the dirt floor. Prue couldn’t believe that Chris had managed to get a twin bed and a desk into the room. Then she rolled her eyes at herself as she realized he probably orbed them into the room. She glanced at the door in the ceiling of the room once more making sure she heard no one before she began rifling through the drawers of the desk.

The antique writing table had three drawers. Prue carefully replaced every object she touched. When she was going through the third drawer she felt the bottom of the drawer move in a way it shouldn’t. She carefully manipulated the bottom until she heard a small click.

The drawer had a false bottom. Prue lifted it out and saw a red, leather bound book. Picking up the book, she began pacing the small room, ready to read her newfound treasure.

Prue quickly realized that the book was a journal and that the first page was written in Ancient Sumeric, a language with which Prue was only vaguely familiar. She flipped through the journal until she came to several drawings. The corners of her lips turned upwards into a brilliant white smile.

“Busted,” she said as she quickly memorized the drawings. She knew that recreating the drawings would be pertinent to her and Leo’s plan. As she continued through the journal she came across an entry marked, “June 11, 2023.”

As she read through the entry she couldn’t believe what she was reading. Everything Chris planned, everything he was, Prue had the proof in the palm of her hands. As she continued reading about Chris’ life in the future, she kept an ear out for incoming footsteps or orbs.

Her pacing continued until finally she stumbled over the edge of the floor rug. The corner was turned up from Prue’s clumsiness. She became curious as she saw white paint on the back of the rug where she held its corner.

Prue pulled the rug back further revealing three of the five drawings from the book painted on the hard dirt floor. Her breath caught in her throat as she realized that their time to act had become shorter. She quickly tucked the book in the back of her jeans and orbed out of Chris’ secret room, just as Chris orbed in.

Chris orbed into his room to find the rug turned up, the drawings on the floor revealed and his secret hiding place in the desk uncovered. His jaw clenched in anger.

“Alright, Faith,” he said to himself, “I don’t know how you did it, I don’t have a clue, but you found my secret room. I know it was you. You want to go through my things? Want to take my book? Fine. I’ll make sure you get to visit the room for a long time.”

Prue orbed into the living room of the manor she saw headlights in the window. She quickly ran to Leo who was finishing the ritual in the living room.

“Leo,” she whispered, “we’ve got to get out of here. They’re home and Chris is in the basement.”

Leo looked up from his chanting and quickly removed himself from his meditating pose, “He’s in the basement?”

Prue shook her head, “Orb first, I’ll explain later.”

Prue and Leo orbed out of the living room just as Xander and Dawn came in carrying Wyatt, still asleep in his car seat. Dawn looked around the darkened house as a feeling of unease settled over her. Xander took Wyatt out of the car seat and carried him to his bed in Piper’s room.

He returned to find Dawn in the kitchen staring at the basement door, “Dawn? It’s a door, they lead places.”

Dawn rolled her eyes and smacked Xander softly on the arm, “Duh, I just thought I heard something.”

Leo orbed into the abandoned house he had been hiding in. Prue followed closely behind. Prue laughed as she sat down on the couch. Leo shook his head and frowned at her.

“Prue, will you please tell me what’s going on?”

Prue smiled as she reached for the book still safely tucked away in the waistband of the back of her jeans. She pulled it out and waved it in Leo’s face.

“This is what’s going on,” she said haughtily.

Leo’s eyebrows creased and he reached for the book. Prue pulled the book away from him and waved her index finger back and forth.

“Nope, you don’t get to touch it, because suddenly I’m not so sure I can trust you.”

Leo flashed her a confused look, “Why would you say that Prue?”

“You know, I had told Phoebe not to trust anyone but her sisters and their new friends…I forgot to follow the same rule myself.”

“Prue, I’m not following. What is in that book?”

“Everything that Chris is. And I find it extremely hard to believe that you wouldn’t know the truth about him. You’re an experienced Whitelighter, Leo. You’re supposed to sense these things.”

“What things Prue? Damn it, we don’t have the rest of our lives to talk this over, what things?”

Prue eyed Leo carefully and she knew that her brother-in-law had no idea what she was referring to, “Leo, I find it hard to believe that you didn’t know that Chris was your…”

The roar of the shaking ground beneath her cut off Prue’s sentence. Dust and plaster fell from the ceiling. She knew immediately it was an earthquake, and a big one. The roof of the abandoned house caved in and fell upon Prue and Leo.

The Jeep rocked back and forth on the road, making Piper lose control of the steering wheel. The car slid off the road and flipped three times before finally landing on its roof, it’s wheels still spinning in the air . Phoebe and Willow remained silent but alert as Phoebe quickly pulled the Mini to the shoulder of the road.

The ground continued to shake as Phoebe and Willow held hands to keep each other balanced. They slowly stumbled their way to the Jeep. As they reached the overturned vehicle the ground stopped shaking. Their hearts beat wildly as they circled the Jeep trying to figure out the best way to get a door open.

Phoebe was filled with horror as she finally caught a glimpse of Paige lying on the ceiling of the car, which was now the floor. Even in the cloudy darkness, Phoebe could see that Paige was covered in blood. She tried to open the backdoor immediately but it wouldn’t budge. She could hear Willow having more success on the opposite side.

She heard Willow gasp as she finally opened the door, “Willow what is it?”

“Phoebe hurry, get over here, they’re bad, they’re really bad.”

Phoebe quickly abandoned her spot near Paige’s door and ran to where Willow was lying on her stomach on the muddy ground trying to see inside the vehicle. Phoebe dropped to her stomach as well and felt the mud oozing beneath her.

She looked from Buffy who was closest to her, she felt her pulse and was relived to get one. Phoebe couldn’t reach Paige to check on her. She reached around the front passenger seat where Giles was strapped in upside down. She felt his pulse and again was filled with relief. She needed to get to Piper. Phoebe glanced around one more time, a realization dawning on her. She counted heads and realized they were short one person.

Willow’s voice filled Phoebe’s ears confirming her thoughts, “Where’s Faith?”

The manor was in complete disarray. Mirrors broken, windows shattered. Xander and Dawn had quickly run to Wyatt’s room at the first sign of a shaking earth. They were impressed to find him surrounded by his protective shield. Xander and Dawn had quickly ducked beneath it as well. Inside the shield, it was quiet and serene. They could hear the sounds of the tumbling objects but it seemed far away.

Xander now held Wyatt in his arms. The baby had cried only for a few minutes after the earth stopped shaking and Xander was more than happy to make him feel safe in return for Wyatt keeping them safe. Dawn shook nervously as she stood next to Xander, too afraid to move away from him.

“Dawn, it’s not like we’ve never been in an earthquake before. Gee, we should be all hugs and puppies about them by now.”

Dawn shook her head, “This was different Xander, this was…this was very different. Something’s wrong…”

Xander and Wyatt both looked at her. Dawn frowned, “Buffy…”

Faith couldn’t believe the intensity of the pain running through her wrist, the same one that had been broken months earlier by Travis. Her vision was hazy as she tried to pinpoint her location. She could hear voices not so far off.

Her back ached, her ribs throbbed and her legs shook as she rolled herself onto her stomach. She was covered in mud. She focused her sights on the Jeep, wheels spinning, beyond that was the road they had just been on. Faith tried to call out to the two figures that she saw running toward the Jeep. She quickly comprehended that it was Willow and Phoebe rushing to save them.

Her voice faltered as pain shot through her upper body. Again she tried to call out to them, but her voice was smothered by pain. She watched as Willow opened the Jeep door and as Phoebe checked the people within. Faith silently thanked the higher powers that Wyatt had not been with them.

Faith wondered when they would start looking for her. She still wasn’t sure how she’d been thrown so far from the vehicle and was still alive. She started pulling herself up slowly, but fell to the ground, exhausted, bleeding, broken.

“It has begun,” Chris said quietly to himself, smiling with joy as San Francisco shook tremendously. Chris laughed as he watched the aftermath of the Jeep wreck from his chambers in the heavens. He wasn’t surprised to hear knocking on the door soon afterward telling him he needed to quickly orb and save his charges. Chris knew they’d all survive, if he wanted them to, but his focus would remain on Faith.

“She’s the answer,” he told himself as he orbed out.

Xander and Dawn tried to call each sister’s cell phone. Paige and Piper’s cell phones were not in the calling area, but Phoebe’s was busy. Xander couldn’t help but agree with Dawn that something was amiss.

“There’s nothing we can do Dawn. Nothing we can do until they call us. Meanwhile, let’s get this place cleaned up.”

Dawn went along with Xander’s idea reluctantly, choosing to wait and pray for her family’s safe return.

“Oh god! Willow, do you smell that?” Phoebe asked frantically.

Willow sniffed at the air and her face flashed to pale, “Gas.”

“We’ve got to get them out of there now,” Phoebe said as she pulled Buffy slowly from the vehicle. She passed the job of pulling Buffy to safety to Willow. Phoebe crawled into the Jeep carefully and finally was able to check Paige’s pulse. Her baby sister’s neck was slick with blood and as hard as she wished for it, there was still no pulse.

“Paige! Come on!”

Phoebe could hear Willow in the distance talking to the emergency operators. She knew it would be mere minutes before the ambulance reached them, but mere minutes they did not have. Phoebe knew that moving Paige could be deadly due to the risk of broken back or neck, but she also knew that they didn’t have the luxury of bracing Paige properly.

Phoebe pulled her baby sister to where Buffy was lying, close, but far enough away so that if the car did explode, they would be safe. Willow tended to Buffy and Paige as Phoebe ran back to the Jeep. She crawled into the back of the Jeep and felt the upside-down Piper’s pulse.

“Strong. As always. Piper! Piper, wake up! We’ve got to get out of here, do you hear me?”

Phoebe’s heart soared as Piper sucked in a deep breath and groaned, “Pheebs? What in the hell was that?”

“We’ve got to get out of here, Piper. Can you unbuckle your belt?”

“I’ll see,” Piper fiddled with the seatbelt for a few precious seconds while Phoebe managed to bring Giles to. Phoebe heard the click of metal and winced as Piper fell from her seat to the ceiling of the Jeep with a thud.

“Ouch,” was all Piper could say.

“Piper, see if you can help Mr. Giles out of his belt.”

Piper nodded and reached around the still semi-conscious man. She clicked the belt and Giles fell to the ceiling as well. He grunted as Phoebe led him through the back seat and to the spot where Buffy and Paige were still unconscious.

She quickly ran back to Piper who was trying her best to stand on her own two feet. She stumbled until Phoebe caught her. They moved as quickly as possible from the Jeep. Sparks had started to fly from the undercarriage making their hasty exit a necessary one.

The Jeep exploded in fiery fury lighting up the dark sky. Willow started compressions on Paige’s chest, not knowing what else to do for someone who’s heart wasn’t beating. Piper and Giles watched the burning blaze and the unconscious, but breathing Buffy. Phoebe searched the surrounding area for Faith. She could hear the ambulances moving toward them in the distance. Faith was nowhere to be seen.

Faith had been watching as Phoebe had taken Buffy and then Paige out of the car. She knew that they were the most seriously injured. She remembered that neither of them had been wearing a seat belt. Faith also remembered that she had been wearing hers.

“How did I get thrown from the car?” She asked herself.

Before she could even debate an answer, Chris appeared behind Faith in the field near the Jeep. No one saw him orb in, no one but Faith. She saw blue from the corner of her eye. She turned over in chaos of pain.

Her heart slowed as she saw Chris staring back at her, malice in his eyes, “Faith. Let’s go.”

“Stay away from me,” she managed to utter softly through clenched teeth. She turned back onto her stomach and tried to crawl toward the Jeep. Her body relented. She felt Chris step closer to her. Faith finally gathered enough strength to call out for help. But as the word left her mouth, the Jeep exploded and once again her attempts to let Phoebe and Willow know she was alive failed.

Her eyes filled with tears as she pondered the possibility that not everyone had made it out safely. Faith cringed as Chris touched her shoulder and before she could stop him, or say anything, they disappeared in a swarm of orbs.

They reappeared in a small dimly lit room. A twin bed, and an antique desk were its only furnishings. Chris dropped Faith onto the bed. She managed to quickly pull herself into a sitting position, and backed away from her abductor.

“What in the hell do you want from me?” Faith asked in anger.

Chris’ face did not change as he said, “I could ask the same of you.”

“What? I obviously want nothing to do with you and certainly don’t want anything from you. You’re a freak now take me back to them. Now.”

“Don’t worry darling, I’ll be going back to them. And I’ll save them. Well, all but the one you need to save everyone from the Hellmouth…her I’ll let die.”

“What are you talking about? What is going on?”

Chris smirked, “The end of the world is going on.”

“Damn, thought you baddies could come up with a few new lines, but it’s always the same old shtick,” Faith ached all over but as always her sense of sarcasm was intact.

“Chaos is coming, Faith. And you’re going to miss it all.”

Chapter Twenty

Willow worked feverishly to maintain compressions on Paige’s chest. Buffy lay lifeless, but breathing next to Paige. Phoebe ran to the road to flag down the slowly approaching ambulances and fire truck. Piper and Giles weren’t sure what to do. What seemed like hours passed, but they all knew it had been mere minutes, maybe even seconds.

Piper’s eyes grew wide as orbs brightened the dark night. Chris appeared. Piper blinked through the tears in her eyes and for half of a second swore she saw Chris smiling. As she blinked again she only saw him move into action, holding his hands steadily over Buffy.

She coughed and sputtered to awareness as the amber glow repaired her body. Chris moved on to Piper next. Piper glowered at him and pushed his hand away, “Paige first. She’s not breathing.”

Chris hesitated slightly but then quickly kneeled over Paige. Willow maintained compressions while Chris held his hand out. No amber glow came, nothing happened.

“Chris, what’s happening? Why isn’t it working?” Piper asked terrified.

“Maybe it’s because her heart isn’t beating on its own, I don’t know,” Chris said, smiling inwardly but revealing a panicked face. He moved to Piper and put out his hands. The soft amber glow came quickly and Piper was healed of her bruises, cuts and minor injuries. He did the same for Giles. The healing was done just as Phoebe was leading the paramedics down the embankment.

The paramedics looked with amazement at the uninjured people and then regained their focus when they spotted the unresponsive Paige. They quickly took over for Willow, who backed away reluctantly. The team, two men and a woman, worked together to maintain breathing and compressions. The younger of the two men was sent to the ambulance to get the defibrillator. After every fifteen compressions the older man performed, the woman paramedic breathed two short breaths into Paige’s lungs.

Chris stared at Paige, wishing her dead. He thought of his prisoner back in the hidden room at the manor. “Faith will be right under their proverbial noses,” he thought, “and they won’t suspect a thing.” He wanted to orb away right then and there to taunt Faith, to make her crazy. But he knew he’d have to wait until the emergency personnel was gone.

The younger paramedic came back quickly with the portable machine. Paige was hooked up to it in a matter of seconds. Piper could barely hear the woman yell, “clear.” Her ears were ringing with the knowledge of how serious her baby sister’s condition was. Phoebe held on tightly to her hand and Piper did not dare let go. The air, humid and stale, from the rain, stank of ozone. And the fact that the area had just endured and earthquake was of no comfort to any of them.

Willow, Giles and a somewhat confused Buffy stood to the side watching, waiting. It wasn’t until they got a heartbeat on Paige and were loading her into the ambulance that Buffy noticed Faith was gone. She looked around frantically, calling out for her, praying that she could find her.

Giles and Chris volunteered to stay behind with Buffy to find Faith and to drive the remaining Mini-Cooper home. Willow, Piper and Phoebe rode to the hospital in the ambulances. Piper was in the ambulance with Paige. Phoebe rode in the other with Willow.

Dawn paced the floor. She and Xander had managed to straighten up all of the broken objects and crooked paintings, returning the manor to a semblance of normality. They still had not heard from any of their friends. Wyatt was peacefully asleep in his playpen in the living room. Xander didn’t want to let Wyatt out of his sight, more for his own protection that Wyatt’s.

Dawn looked over at her brother-like friend. Xander was dead to the world, lost in dreams of earthquakes and vampires. Looking at the grandfather clock, Dawn could tell that it was past midnight nearing one in the morning. She yawned but only out of habit. Her mind was wide-awake with worry.

When 1:30am rolled around, Dawn was close to dozing. She jumped out of skin when the cordless phone next to her head started ringing. She quickly answered it.


Willow’s voice sounded tired on the other end of the line, “No, it’s Willow, Dawn.”

“Willow? What’s wrong? Is everyone okay? There was an earthquake and we couldn’t get you guys on any of the cell phones, what’s happening?”

Willow sighed, “We’re all okay. Well, most of us.”


“Buffy’s perfectly fine, Dawn. But Paige and Faith…”

Dawn’s heart had mixed emotions. She was elated that her sister was fine, but she could hear the worry and the fear in
Willow’s voice, “Willow, just tell me.”

“I’m trying, Dawn. The earthquake caused Piper to run off the road in the Jeep. I was in the other car with Phoebe. The Jeep…it rolled several times before landing on its top. Phoebe and I managed to pull Buffy, Giles, Piper and Paige to safety before the car exploded. Paige wasn’t breathing and her heart wasn’t beating. She’s lost a lot of blood. The doctor’s said something about punctured lungs, or neurological damage, I don’t know, I wasn’t listening closely. But Buffy’s okay, and I’m okay, and everyone else is okay, Chris was able to heal everyone but Paige. But Dawn…Faith was…”

“You didn’t get her out of the car in time, did you?”

“No, that’s just the thing, Dawnie. Faith was nowhere to be seen. Buffy, Giles and Chris are looking for her now. If she turns up there, at the manor, somehow, call me on Phoebe’s cell phone, immediately, okay?”

“Okay,” Dawn took down the hospital information before hanging up. She decided not to wake Xander to tell him what had happened. Instead she buried herself in the couch and laid her head down on one of the many pillows adorning the sofa.

She jerked her head up, all too aware of a soft noise coming from the basement. Then the floor settled causing the house to creak as many old houses do at the end of a crazy day. Dawn debated whether or not she should investigate the noise. Deciding to forget about it and go to sleep, she buried her head in the pillows and closed her eyes tightly, praying for morning, praying for Faith, praying for them all.

Faith’s hand and wrist was ablaze with pain as she continued to beat on the door of her prison. She had located the hatch in the ceiling of the small room. The smell of dirt and mildew made the walls seem closer. She was claustrophobic and wasn’t entirely sure when she had gained that fear.

The warm tears that fell to her cheeks enraged her. She didn’t want to cry. She wanted to find a way out. She screamed until her lungs ached for air. She let out one last long scream for help and then, resolved that no one was within hearing distance, she collapsed on the bed, overcome by pain and exhaustion.

Piper and Phoebe paced the waiting room expecting word from the ER doctors at any second. They had been waiting patiently for thirty minutes. Piper had had enough. She stopped at the nurses’ desk and waved her hand in front of the face of the nurse on duty.

“Excuse me, yeah, hi. I need to know how my sister is doing. Now.” Piper held no pleasance in her voice, only cool, calm fierceness.

The nurse looked at Piper as though she were Rosemary’s Baby, “Ma’am the doctor will be out shortly. Give him time to do his job, please.”

Piper clenched her jaw determined not to make a scene. She felt Phoebe’s comforting presence behind her. She turned to the middle Halliwell and pulled her into an embrace. She knew there was no hiding the fact that they were both worried. Paige had been technically dead before the paramedics had shown up. And now neither of them knew how she was.

Dr. Maxwell sewed the last incision and made his way out of the operating room. He hated this part of his job. The part where he informed the family of the precarious situation their loved one was in. He washed up and watched through the glass of the emergency room doors. He could see the two young women sharing a moment of affection.

His heart broke as he pushed open the double doors and walked, solemnly, toward the women. He found it difficult to make eye contact with the younger of the two, something about her gaze, he felt as though he could lose himself in her.
“Halliwells?” He asked, already knowing the answer.

They nodded and he cleared his throat, “I’m Dr. Maxwell…I have news about your sister.”

Paige walked through shadowed realms, her brown eyes bright in the mystical darkness. She knew in the depths of her soul that she was dreaming, but everything seemed so real. She saw one face after another as she passed a long line of people she had known in her lifetime. She saw her adopted parents faces, her sisters, her boyfriends, Daryl, Leo, Chris, Sam, Patty, and Grams. More faces, acquaintances and friends, appeared to her as she walked along in the darkness.

She was not scared, but there was a feeling surrounding her that she could not place. It was a feeling of loss, something missing, and something so close yet so far. And then the faces were gone and she was left alone in the shadows.

Moments of silence ticked by leaving Paige feeling unsettled, disturbed, even more so than the fact that she couldn’t wake from her dream. Finally a face appeared to her, one she had not seen in the long line of family, friends, and acquaintances.
She looked into the sad brown eyes of the young girl she had only recently met. Faith looked lost, sad, alone.

“Faith? What is this place?”

Faith looked around at the shadows and shrugged, “I don’t know, is it your dream or mine?”

Paige shook her head, “I have no clue. What happened?”

“Car accident. You weren’t wearing your seat belt, Paige.”

Paige looked surprised, “Am I dead?”

Faith looked around again, “I don’t think so…maybe on the edge, but not dead. I’ve been in these dream worlds before, they’re usually a ‘this is your life’ montage of all the wrongs you’ve done.”

“Wait, Faith…I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, but you were. How did you get here?” Paige looked Faith up and down, noticing the way she was holding her wrist close to her.

“I have no idea. All I know is that I’m dreaming and I’ve been kidnapped by Chris.”

Paige looked in disbelief at the younger girl, “Chris? He kidnapped you?”

Faith nodded, “I know, crazy right? But it’s true. That ass came to me while I was trying to call out to Willow and Phoebe for help. See I was thrown from the car although I have no freaking clue how I got thrown so far without being instantly killed. Anyway, I saw the car explode. Did they get everyone out?”

Paige shook her head, “I have no idea. I’m unconscious remember. God, I hope they did get everyone to safety. Faith, why did Chris kidnap you?”

“He said something random about chaos coming and that he was going to let the one person who could help me stop it die, or some such crap.”

“Me? Am I the person who can help you stop it?”

Faith shrugged, “Damn, I could really use a cigarette right now.”

Paige rolled her eyes, “Smoking kills, Faith.”

Faith smirked, “Way I see it, Paige, we’re already dead.”

In the settling dust and debris of the demolished house Leo and Prue had been in when the earthquake struck, there was a soft coughing. Beneath a pile of sheetrock and splintered wood, Prue moved slowly toward fresh air.

Finally tired of fighting to get out of the rubble, she orbed. The outer walls of the house were still standing, stable. The interior was destroyed. She sifted through the sheetrock calling for Leo. She finally found him unconscious. She smacked him softly on the face a few times finally getting him to respond.

“Thank God we’re already dead, that might have been the end of us,” Leo joked.

Prue rolled her eyes, “Funny, now help me find his journal.”

“No,” Leo said looking at her suspiciously, “First you tell me what Chris is.”

Prue glared at him, “You know who Chris is Leo. Even if you don’t know on a surface level, somewhere deep inside you’ve suspected who he is all along.”

Leo eyed Prue with uncertainty, “Fine, don’t tell me. Let’s just find his journal.”

“Yeah,” Prue nodded as she began looking in the spot she had orbed from earlier, “Besides his big identity secret, it’s filled with the drawings. It’s proof that Chris was working for them. For the bad side.”

“We call them the bad side, Prue, but perhaps they mean well,” Leo argued somewhat defensively.

Prue stopped looking for the book and turned to Leo, “I can’t believe you would defend them, Leo. They took away my family, your family. They forced you into hiding, and they’re trying to push the world into utter madness. The Elders are evil, Leo, we should have known it from the beginning. And their golden boy…Chris…he’s your son.”

Chapter Twenty-One

“He’s my son? What are you talking about, Prue?” Leo examined Prue’s face carefully and knew instantly that she believed what she was telling him.

Prue crossed her arms and shook a piece of ceiling out of her hair, “I mean he’s your son. How much clearer can I get?”

Leo frowned deeply as he began searching the debris once again for Chris’ journal, “Okay, say for half a second I believe you. If I’m his father, then who’s his mother.”

Prue glared at him before realizing that Leo wasn’t grasping the entire situation. She stopped Leo and held both of his hands as she had with her sisters many times. She allowed them to cross her thoughts as she wondered about their safety. She shook away the thought and focused on Leo.

“Leo, Chris is from the future. He’s twenty years old and he’s from twenty years in the future.” Prue held eye contact trying to get Leo to draw the correct conclusion. She could see the explanation finally dawning on him.

“You’re saying that…that Chris is…there’s no way.”

Prue rolled her eyes and as she looked at the ground she saw the leather bound book peeking up at them from a pile of broken furniture. Prue quickly scooped it from its hiding place and shoved the book toward Leo. He took it hesitantly and began to flip through it. Tears formed in his green eyes as he realized Prue was right.

“How does Wyatt become evil?”

Dr. Maxwell looked from Piper to Phoebe and back to Piper. He swallowed hard before letting out a small sigh. He was completely losing his ability to be a professional. Their brown eyes were the same as his patient currently lying in a state of physical imbalance. He knew Paige’s condition could change in the next to worse in the next few days, but he also new that for the next few hours she was safe.

“Dr. Maxwell, how’s our sister?” The younger of the two finally asked him after a few seconds of silence. He looked into her eyes, teary and concerned.

He lowered his gaze to the floor and shuffled his feet, “I’m sorry to have to say this, but it doesn’t look good for your sister right now. We’re through with surgery. We repaired the damage to her lungs and they should heal with minimal difficulty. She has a broken arm. It’s being set now while she’s unconscious.”

He paused to gather his thoughts and his breath. He could see the older of the two becoming anxious and she finally spoke. Her voice was soft, afraid.

“What aren’t you telling us, Dr. Maxwell?”

He shuffled in air, suddenly feeling claustrophobic, “Your sister sustained serious head trauma in the accident. She lost a significant amount of blood, and although that sounds horrible, it may have actually kept her alive.”

Phoebe looked confused. Piper simply waited for him to continue. Dr. Maxwell nodded, “Yes, I know it sounds strange. But the fact that she was bleeding from lacerations to the head, it prevented some swelling. Had she not had those cuts and decreased blood pressure to the brain, she would be dead.”

Piper cleared her throat, “So if that’s such a good thing then why do you look as lost as we are?”

Dr. Maxwell shook his head; “She’s hanging on the edge right now. The injury to her head has caused severe bruising and a build up of fluid to the temporal lobes. We had to go in and relieve some of the pressure.”

Piper felt nauseous, “What do you mean you had to go in?”

Dr. Maxwell nodded, “Yeah, we had to make incisions in the head here and here,” he pointed to both sides of his head just above the ear.

“Did it work?” Phoebe asked hopeful.

Dr. Maxwell, “That’s the odd thing. The pressure is gone, but her brain activity is off the charts. Which in some ways is a good sign, it means it works.”

“There was a doubt that her brain would work?” Piper asked incredulously.

“A small chance, yes. But we had to take the risk, otherwise she would have died in a matter of minutes.”

Phoebe nodded and took Piper’s hand to keep the older Halliwell calm, “But she’s not awake?”

“Too early to worry about that just yet. She’s still under the effects of anesthesia. We’ll know in a few hours what, if any damage there was. Be prepared though. Damage to the temporal lobes can cause speech problems, severe headaches and sometimes memory loss. She might not remember anything about the accident, or it could be even worse.”

“What could possibly be worse?” Piper hissed trying her hardest to keep her emotions in check.

“She might not remember anything at all, about anyone.”

Phoebe shook the doctor’s hand and smiled, “Thank you, Dr. Maxwell. When will we be able to see her?”

“She’ll be taken to ICU once she’s out of recovery. You can see her then. It’ll be a few hours. Perhaps you should go home, rest. Nothing will happen in the next few hours,” he let his hand rest on Piper’s shoulder and he met her warm brown eyes with a small smile, “I promise I won’t let anything happen to Paige.”

Phoebe and Piper thanked the doctor and watched as he retreated back into the recovery area. Piper sighed as she paced the floor. Phoebe watched Piper helplessly and wondered if she should tell her about Prue. It would bring some hope to an otherwise horribly dark day.


“I want to go home and see Wyatt, Phoebe. I have this odd feeling that something’s not right at home.”

Phoebe nodded putting aside her news once more, “Okay, well, I know never to dismiss instinct so, I’ll get Willow and then get us a cab.”

“Faith!? Faith, where are you?” Buffy called out into the night. The rain from earlier in the evening had caused the ground to become soggy. The earthquake had caused it to be unstable. Buffy could feel the soft tremor of aftershocks beneath her feet. Her eyes strained in the darkness and still she had no idea where Faith had gone.

Chris had orbed out soon after the ambulances had left. He was going to check with the Elders as to where Faith might be. Giles stood surveying the vast field. Trees lined its edge. He studied them carefully and Buffy could tell he was thinking about searching them. She knew Faith wasn’t there. She wasn’t sure where she was, but she knew she wasn’t in the woods. Buffy squatted down giving her legs a much-needed rest. As she let her eyes wander she saw something shining on the ground ten feet from where she was.

Her heart pounded as she moved quickly to the object. She knew immediately what it was and it gave her a mixed feeling of relief and panic as she ran her fingers across the silver chain. She scooped up Faith’s cross still attached to its chain. Her heart ached with its presence.

“Giles!” Buffy yelled to the British man with a pitch of alarm.

Giles hurried to where Buffy stood. She handed him the cross and watched his reaction. He clucked his tongue, which meant he was dealing with something beyond his control.

“Where is she Giles?” Buffy asked looking at her father-figure expectantly.

Giles shook his head, “I don’t know Buffy. It’s so very odd. This seems to be a case for the Halliwells.”

“Yeah, well they have enough to deal with right now. They’re a sister short right now, and frankly, so am I. We have to find her Giles. Faith’s been through enough. We all have.”

Paige tried not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Of all the people to accompany her on her journey through limbo, she had Faith. She didn’t suppress her laugh as she thought of the famed George Michael song. When Faith looked at her, Paige shrugged and then started singing the song.

“You gotta have faith, faith, faith. I’ve gotta have faith…”

Faith turned and looked at the smiling girl beside her. Her mouth fell open in shock as she took in the sight. Paige was looking back her completely aware that Faith had seen something that bothered her.

“What? What is it Faith?” Paige asked panic growing in her voice.

Faith’s forehead creased in confusion, “Your hair…it’s gone.”

“What?” Paige ran her hand on top of her head and felt the bristled texture of a shaved head. Her face grew paler with the revelation.

“Oh my god! Where’s my hair?” Paige turned to Faith, tears in her eyes.

Faith shook her head. “You have stitches too, Paige,” Faith said cautiously as she looked at Paige’s head. “They must have had to operate on you.”

Paige sank to the ground and it was Faith this time that pulled Paige into a safe embrace, “Shh…it’s going to be okay, Paige. Somehow I’ll make sure it’s okay. I’ll find a way out of the makeshift prison Chris has me in and I’ll make sure that one of the Whitelighter people heals you.”

Paige barely heard any of the words Faith had managed to mutter, “Faith…I don’t want to die. I’ve just started to live. I know it’s been two years but I’ve really only begun to know my sisters and I can’t lose that or them. And I don’t think they can lose me either. I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t Paige, if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll make sure you live.” Faith found herself once again making a promise to save and protect a stranger’s life. But as she held onto Paige she realized that the girl in her arms was no stranger. There was a deeper connection there. Something she couldn’t’ place her finger on, but real nonetheless.

“Paige, I’ve got to go now. You’ll be okay. I’m going to find a way out and you’ll be okay. Okay? Are you listening to me? I’ve got to go and find a way out so I can get to you and tell them that you can be healed. Okay?”

Paige nodded and without thinking kissed Faith on the forehead, “Thank you.”

Faith smiled gently and then disappeared into the dark shadows. Paige sat, trembling, alone, praying that it wouldn’t take Faith long. She then swore under her breath that Chris would pay if he laid a single finger on Faith. The image of her and the dark haired slayer on the sidewalk in the abating rain flashed into her mind. She grew a new strength from knowing that Faith was being strong for her. Paige stood and took a deep breath, once again running a hand over her bald head.

“Great,” she whispered to herself, “I’m freaking GI Jane.”

Chris smiled as the slayer tossed in the twin bed. He knew she would be awake soon. He also knew that she would be terrified when she woke in complete darkness. He had turned off the only source of light in the cramped room. He loved the torture part of being evil.

Faith’s eyes slowly fluttered open. Her heart pounded against her ribcage as she realized she was submerged in total darkness. She calmed herself and relied on her spider senses to detect her surroundings. She knew she was still in the same hole in the ground. The smell of the dirt and mildew gave away her location.

Her ears perked up at the sound of another being breathing nearby. She knew in her heart that it was Chris. She quickly devised a plan.

Chris knew she was awake. He had heard her slightly gasp as she had jerked out of whatever dream world she had been in. He sat on the bed next to where she rested.

Faith’s body ached with the movement of the bed. Her broken arm throbbed beyond belief. She shuddered in repulsion as Chris laid a hand on her thigh.

“What in the hell do you want, Chris?”

Chris laughed. He could see very well in the dark thanks to the power he had stolen from the future. “Now, now, Faith, no need to be paranoid and bitchy is there?”

“Of course there is, I’m with a psycho bitch,” Faith said as she kicked at Chris.

Chris was barely affected by the kick. He laughed it off as he wrapped a strong hand around Faith’s throat. With his other hand he tossed a blue orb toward the ceiling of the room. The small space was completely illuminated in blue. Faith flinched at the sudden light.

“You know, I don’t take kindly to being called a bitch, Faith. How about we give you some medicine for that mouth of yours.”

Faith looked to what Chris was holding in his hand. All plans and false facades of cool dropped as she realized he was holding a needle filled with fluid. She knew exactly what it was. She screamed and kicked and screamed again. Chris managed to hold her down with ease and insert the needle into her arm.

Faith felt the effects almost immediately. She knew it was a stronger concoction than they had used on her in prison. Although her slayer strength and senses were immediately doused, she knew she still had the ability to scream. And scream she did.

Dawn eyed the clock. Four in the morning was a time she rarely saw, even in normal vampire hunting days. She continued to have the eerie feeling that something wasn’t right in the house. She heard a noise coming from the kitchen. Her heart fluttered with fear as she debated whether or not to wake up Xander.

His soft snoring told her to search for an ally elsewhere. She rose quietly from the couch and grabbed a poker from the fireplace. Holding it tightly in her hand she eased her way toward the kitchen. The sound of shuffling feet made her raise her weapon higher into the air, ready to strike.

As a shadowed figure came into view she began to swing the poker. She stopped herself from hitting the figure when she realized it was Buffy. She quickly dropped her weapon on the floor and threw her arms around her weary looking sister.

“Buffy?!? I was so worried about you. You found Faith right? I mean she’s okay, right?”

Buffy looked to the ground and then back at Dawn, “We didn’t find her. I don’t, we don’t know where she is. We looked everywhere and all we found was this.”

Giles hadn’t said a word, as he was lost in exhaustion and thought. Buffy held out Faith’s silver cross. She was about to speak further when they heard the front door opening. Buffy tuned her spider senses in to hear the muffled voices of Phoebe, Piper and Willow. She, Giles and Dawn went quickly to the foyer.

Buffy looked at the sad faces on the sisters, “How is Paige?”

Piper left the foyer and went into the living room to get Wyatt, who had just begun to cry. Phoebe looked at Buffy, and with tears brewing in her deep brown eyes she shrugged, helplessly.

“Do you guys have ghosts in your house?” Dawn asked out of the blue, uncomfortable with the sad silence of injury and possible death. Buffy frowned at her little sister.

Phoebe looked at the teen with curiosity, “Was it an older lady with an air of strictness and very intimidating?”

Dawn frowned, “Huh?”

Phoebe shook her head and waved off the notion, “Never mind. Why do you ask honey?”

“Because I keep hearing strange noises coming from the basement.”

“The basement?” Phoebe didn’t try to hide the flash of anxiety that slid across her face.

Dawn stepped back, “I knew it. You’ve got ghosts.”

Phoebe smiled nervously, “Ghosts? No, not ghosts. Not there. Not sure what it could be though. In this house it could be anything from good to evil.”

Willow finally spoke through her wariness, “Probably evil. Want me to go down and check it out?”

“I’ll go with you,” Buffy said as she followed Willow toward the basement. Dawn followed Buffy intent on finding out what had been making the noises she had been hearing off and on.

Phoebe hesitated and then finally followed suit, “Okay, fine, I’ll go to.”

Xander watched as Piper picked up Wyatt and sat down in the chair with him. The little boy snuggled deep into his mother’s chest. She held him securely, yet gently. Xander envied the closeness. He missed his family, his mom and dad, even though they had never been close.

Xander pulled himself off the floor and moved to the couch. He smiled at Piper, “How’s your sister?”

Piper shook her head, “Not good. We won’t be able to see her for a couple of hours so the doctor ordered us to come home, get showers some rest and then come back in the daylight hours.”

“Did the doctor say anything as to what the injuries were?” Xander wasn’t sure why, but he found himself caring deeply about what happened with this family.

Piper sighed, “Trauma to the brain, they had to make incisions, relieve pressure. She should be fine, but they said her brain activity was abnormal. It was all over the place.”

“Could she be dreaming? Maybe in another plane of existence?”

Piper eyed Xander curiously and then noticed the books on the coffee table. They were supernatural reference books pertaining to the subject of other dimensions. “Anything is possible Xander.”

They sat in comfortable silence. Before too long Piper nodded off with Wyatt asleep in her arms, and Xander asleep on the couch.

The basement was creepy in the wee hours of morning. Phoebe shuddered at the coldness of the concrete floor. She felt as though something wasn’t right with the position of their things. Boxes had been moved, furniture displaced.

“Something’s different,” Phoebe said in a whisper.

Buffy looked around, “Like what?”

“I don’t know, just…something.”

“That’s helpful,” Willow muttered under her breath.

“I heard that.” Phoebe said.

Dawn held up her hand, “Shhh….listen, can you hear that?”

Faith could hear the muted sounds of footsteps above. Unfortunately Chris heard them to. Faith screamed for help not knowing if anyone could hear her or not.

Buffy turned her head in the direction from which she thought the sound had come. There was nothing to see. She knew that Dawn, Willow, and Phoebe had heard it too.

Phoebe whispered, “That was a scream, wasn’t it?”

They heard another one, this time louder, more desperate. Buffy and Willow exchanged a glance, and then Willow said, “Oh my god, that sounds like Faith.”

Chris wrapped his hand around Faith’s mouth, muffling her attempts to scream. He mentally kicked himself for not testing his soundproofing technique. He held on tightly to Faith’s mouth not letting one decibel of sound free.

Faith struggled for air, screaming became her second goal as she grew aware of her darkening world.

“What would Faith be doing in the basement? Where is she? And why is she screaming?” Phoebe was too tired to put two and two together on her own.

Dawn shook her head, “We’ll have to answer those questions in a minute, right now we have to deal with them.”

Phoebe, Buffy, and Willow followed Dawn’s gaze to six vampires who had just come from the corner of the basement.

Phoebe frowned as they prepared to fight, exhausted, “That’s just freaking great.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

The vamps laughed and snarled making their usual pointless pseudo-witty repartee. Buffy was too tired and to worried about Faith to return the banter. She saw an ornate wooden chair close to her. As the vamps encircled the four women, Buffy quickly tumbled to the chair and splintered it with a sharp kick. She noticed Phoebe flinch.

“What?” Buffy asked looking at the middle Halliwell.

Phoebe gestured toward the chair, “Antique.”

Buffy shrugged and pointed at the vampire inching closer to Phoebe, “Vampire.”

She tossed Phoebe a piece of the splintered chair. Phoebe seized it midair and quickly drove it into the vampire’s heart. He disappeared in ashes. She threw the stake back to Buffy who hurled it through the air and directly into another of the vampire’s chest, repeating the flurry of ashes.
Buffy looked to the remaining four vamps, “Even playing field, now…what do you think your chances are of coming out of this alive? Or, undead, actually?”

The four vampires growled loudly as they launched themselves at Dawn, Willow, Buffy and Phoebe. Willow quickly threw her attacker to the floor only to have him return the motion seconds later. As she lay on the ground fighting to keep his fangs away from her neck, her hand searched the ground nearby for a weapon.

As she felt along the cold cement floor, she felt a break in the floor and a small draft of cool air coming from below. She filed the discovery in her mind and then continued to search for a weapon. Finally her hand landed on a pencil. She brought the pencil between her and the vampire and forced it into his chest.

Dawn remembered the moves Buffy had been teaching her and the assertiveness Faith had been instilling in her. As she thought about the missing slayer, she grew angry. She soon found herself pummeling her vampire assailant to a pulp. Before she even realized how angry she was she had snapped the vampires neck, leaving nothing but a pile of dust.

Phoebe took on her second vampire easily fighting him to the ground. She could see the first stream of daylight coming from the small windows bear the ceiling in the basement. She smirked as the plan developed. She looked at Buffy and Buffy followed her lead. They flipped the last two vampires toward the side of the room where light beckoned. They easily pinned the vamps to the ground in the still soft sunlight. The vampires struggled as their faces began to smolder.

Buffy scrunched her face, “Ew. Guess early morning light takes longer to kill.”

Phoebe nodded, “Yeah, I wonder if it’s very painful.”

The vampires both started wailing in agony. Phoebe looked to Buffy, “Guess it is.”

Within minutes the vampires were dusted. The women sat on the ground tired from their exertion and the events of the previous days. They jumped as Piper called down to them from the top of the stairs.

“What’s going on down there? Is everyone okay?”

Phoebe looked around at her new friends, “Yeah, Piper, we’re fine. There were some vampires down here but they’re gone now.”

Piper slowly descended the steps having put Wyatt in his bed, and leaving Xander still asleep on the couch. She looked at the broken chair and raised an eyebrow at Buffy, “I’m going to assume this was you.”

Buffy looked sheepishly at Phoebe, “Sorry.”

Piper shrugged, “It’s okay, hated it anyway.”

Willow, who had begun to study the floor where she had felt the draft, looked at the others, “Do you guys have a
secret room here or something?”

Phoebe and Piper looked at one another, and Piper answered, “No. Why?”

“Look at the floor. It looks as though it’s been recently redone. See how new it looks here as compared to over there.”

Buffy, Dawn, Piper and Phoebe looked from the spot Willow was pointing at to the rest of the floor. They could all see the difference Willow had seen. Buffy tapped on it with a piece of the broken chair. She then tapped on the floor a few feet away.

“This spot is hollow,” she concluded.

Willow looked hopeful, “Do you think Faith’s in there?”

Buffy shook her head, “I don’t know. But her screams had to come from somewhere.”

Piper was confused, “Wait, you heard Faith scream? Down here?”

Phoebe nodded and explained to Piper that Dawn had been hearing strange things coming from the basement all night. When Piper asked if the screams could have been the vampires, Buffy spoke up saying how the screams sounded close, but distance.

“Yeah, because that makes perfect sense,” Piper rolled her eyes.

“Look, let’s not debate it. Let’s find out for sure,” Dawn interrupted, “How do we find out what’s under there?”
Dawn asked looking at Phoebe and Piper.

Piper looked carefully at the floor noticing the small, minute cracks forming a square, “It’s a door.”

“How do we open it?” Buffy looked at Piper and Phoebe for answers.

Dawn scoffed, “Carefully. How else?”

Willow nodded, “Magic maybe?”

Piper and Phoebe both shook their heads at the same time Phoebe spoke, “Moving objects, that’s Paige’s job. I really don’t have a physical power. And Piper, she could blow it up, but if there is someone in there…it could be dangerous.”

Sadness invaded Phoebe’s voice as she thought about her little sister. She pushed the thought aside for a moment as she looked to Willow, “How about you? Got any magic you can do?”

Willow looked thoughtfully at the floor. After silent deliberation she nodded, “Yeah, I think I can do it.”

Leo and Prue could both hear the silent pleading of their newest charge. It was a charge appointed to Prue and Leo, not by the Elders but by a newer, higher power. True good. Prue looked at Leo who was still in shock from the news about Wyatt and Chris being one in the same.

“Leo, look, we have to help her, and if it means killing Chris…”

Leo snapped his head up and glared at Prue, “You mean killing Wyatt?”

“No, Chris and Wyatt may be the same person, but Chris is evil. It’s not too late to change it all for Wyatt, to make his life good and filled with kindness and comfort. Never to be alone. Don’t you know that?”

Leo pushed his lips together in a thin tight line before finally nodding and agreeing to help their new charge. He silently cursed the Elders as he and Prue orbed away from the ruins of what was the abandoned house.

They reformed in the small dark room expecting to see Chris and Faith. Instead they were greeted by complete darkness. Prue found the lamp on the desk and turned it on. There was no one in the room. Leo looked to Prue and Prue allowed fear and resolve to settle into her gut.

“Where is she?” Leo whispered.

“I don’t know. I felt her here. But, why would Chris have her? What would he want with Faith?”

She looked to Leo for answers. She knew everything there was to know about Faith. It was her job to know. But she didn’t know everything there was to know about Chris. Leo looked lost in thought.

“Leo? What is it?”

Leo looked at Prue with dread, “Prue. If Chris has Faith, knowing everything we know about Faith, who she is, where she came from, then Chris isn’t worried about the Hellmouth opening. He’s not working for the Elders or us. He’s working for himself.”

It took Prue only a moment to catch on to what Leo was saying. She then noticed the used needle lying on the bed. She picked it up and held it up to the light. “Oh God.”

Faith still wasn’t used to the effects of orbing. Chris dropped her aching body to the ground. Her arm hurt more now than it had because her slayer strength was sapped. She glared up at Chris through tears of anger.

“What do you want from me?”

Chris smiled, “You and I, Faith, we’re meant to be together.”

Faith’s stomach twisted, “What in the hell are you talking about? We’re not meant to be anything.”

“It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you. But you will learn to love me and you and I together…we’re going to produce the most
powerful ruler any of the worlds have ever seen.”

Faith stared fearfully at Chris and in a whispered breath said, “We aren’t going to produce anything together.”

“We’ll see. And we’ll also see your true strength. Consider this a test,” Chris said as he orbed away.

Faith got to her knees, holding her wrist tightly to her chest. Tears streamed down her face as she realized exactly where she had been taken and what test Chris was referring to. She was in a mausoleum. A mausoleum containing three newly dead people, their tombs marked by ribbons. Faith knew in her heart that those three newly dead people, would soon be undead.

She closed her eyes, wishing, hoping to see and talk to Paige. She wasn’t sure why, but she wanted nothing more than to see her new friend, to connect with her, to feel safe with her. Her world turned dark and once again she found herself in the shadowed world of Paige’s subconscious.

“Come on Will, you can do it,” Buffy encouraged the redheaded witch.

Willow focused on the ground and spoke loudly, “Åpn denne døren!”

The ground shook slightly reminding the women of the earthquake that had occurred only hours before. Phoebe and Piper held hands and stood closest to where the ground cracked and separated. A small three-feet by three-feet piece of the concrete lifted from the ground. Willow moved her outstretched arms and the concrete followed them. She dropped her arms and the concrete fell to the ground, breaking in two.

“What did you say?” Buffy asked always amazed at her best friend’s talent.

Willow smiled, “It’s Norwegian for ‘Open this door’”

Buffy smirked, “Really? Cool.”

They peered into the hole. Piper gasped and fainted into Phoebe’s arms. Buffy, Dawn, and Willow looked confused. Phoebe waved with one hand as she held onto Piper with the other. A look of surprise and happiness mixed upon her face, “Hey Prue, what ya doing down there?”

Paige’s eyes focused on the girl in front of her, “Faith? You came back?”

Faith looked tired and in pain, “Told you I would didn’t I?”

Faith collapsed to the ground. Paige, having found new strength kneeled next to Faith, “What’s wrong Faith? What’s happened?”

Paige feared the worst as her younger friend cried, “Faith? Tell me what’s happened.”

Faith pushed herself away from Paige’s comforting embrace, “Chris. He’s moved me and I don’t know where I am. A mausoleum or something, I don’t know.”

“Can you see any of the names on the tombs?” Paige asked.

As though the shadows became Faith’s sight, their surroundings changed from darkness to the barely lighted house of graves. Paige quickly found the name she knew would be there. The oldest Halliwell’s name stared back at them.

“Prudence Halliwell? Your sister?” Faith asked.

“Yeah,” Paige said sullenly. She looked at Faith with hope, “At least I know where you are.”

Faith shook her head, “Yes, you know where I am, but you’re unconscious. Who’s going to save me?”

Paige looked at Faith curiously, “What are you talking about? You’ve got your slayer strength, right, you can save yourself?”

Faith allowed tears to fall as she explained to Paige what Chris had done, the Slayer kryptonite he had given her, and what he had said about being together. Paige looked mortified, “That bastard. I’ll kill him.”

Faith hadn’t heard Paige. She was disappearing into the shadows again, “Faith! Wait, where are you going?”

Faith’s voice was soft and distant, “The vampires are waking up. I have to fight for my life now.”

And then Faith was gone. Paige’s world turned to shadows and dismay. She knew she had to fight to awaken. If they didn’t save Faith from the vampires, then Chris would, and Paige knew that for Faith, that would mean a fate worse than death.

Prue climbed out of the room with Buffy’s help. She smiled at the blonde slayer and introduced herself to Buffy, Willow and Dawn. She then knelt beside Piper and Phoebe. She kissed Phoebe’s forehead and said hi. Then she tried to rouse Piper.

Buffy who had been silent, looked thunderstruck, “But you’re the dead sister,”

“Yeah, so?” Prue shrugged, “Like you’ve never come back from the dead.”

Dawn laughed. Willow and Buffy looked at Prue, wondering how she knew about Buffy’s previous deaths. Leo came out of the room and smiled guiltily at Phoebe. Phoebe looked shocked to see him.

“Leo?” The middle sister asked simply.

Leo nodded and kneeled next to Prue who was still trying to get Piper to waken. He looked at Phoebe, “Sorry, it’s a long story and as soon as Piper’s on her feet, we…Prue and I, will explain everything.”

He looked up the stairs to the open basement door. Xander was standing on the landing holding Wyatt. Leo broke into a half run as he skipped stairs and made it to the top. He reached out his arms to hold Wyatt, but Wyatt shied away from him and buried himself into Xander.

Xander looked suspiciously at Leo, “Who are you?”

“I’m the husband and the father. Can I hold my son, please?”

Xander looked down to Phoebe who nodded at him. Xander reluctantly handed over the little boy. Wyatt did not cry but looked confused by Leo’s presence. Leo looked to Prue who had managed to get Piper slightly awake.

“Prue, orb Piper to the living room. The rest of you come upstairs. This involves all of you, and Faith.”

Upon hearing Faith’s name, Buffy’s heart skipped a beat. Hope was paramount in her emotions. She followed Phoebe, Willow, and Dawn up the stairs and into the living room in time to see Prue orbing Piper onto the couch.

Phoebe sat on the coffee table next to Prue, both finally getting a response from the still very much in shock Piper.
“Dear God what kind of spell did you do, Willow?” Piper asked, her eyes still closed, “I swear I thought I saw my dead sister.”

Piper sat up and shook her head as though clearing it of cobwebs. She opened her eyes and focused on Prue.

“Hey honey, how are you feeling?” Prue asked gently.

Piper looked from Prue to Phoebe, “Why don’t you looked shocked?”

“She knew, Piper, but I made her promise not to tell you or Paige that I was alive. It was very important for me to remain gone.”

Piper stared at Prue, tears brimming. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to wrap her arms around Prue and hold onto her for dear life, or if she wanted to smack her for not letting them know that she was alive.

“I know what you’re thinking Piper, and the truth is, I’m not alive. I’m a Whitelighter now. Leo and I…”

Piper stopped her, “Wait, you and Leo. Leo? Where’s Leo?”

Leo came into the living room holding a now-smiling Wyatt, “I’m here Piper.”

Piper eyed Leo longingly, “Okay, I think the two of you better start from the beginning.”

Leo nodded. He put Wyatt in his playpen and sat on the arm of the chair where Prue had moved. Phoebe sat on the couch next to Piper, Buffy sat next to Phoebe. Dawn sat on the floor in front of Buffy and Xander and Willow took up residence by the fireplace mantel.

“There’s a storm brewing,” Prue began, “The kind of storm that won’t stop until we make it stop.”

Chapter Twenty-Three

Piper couldn’t take her eyes off of her older sister. Prue could feel the stare burning through her. She wanted to throw her arms around Piper more than anything, but she knew that Piper was very angry for the deception. Prue had seen the pain Piper had gone through when she had thought Prue dead. Phoebe had ached too, but not as deeply and horribly as Piper. Prue and Piper had always shared a special bond, a bond that best friends share.

Prue continued to glance at Piper. Piper couldn’t believe the mixed emotions she was feeling inside. She knew she should be solely elated that her big sister was sitting in front of her. She knew she wasn’t alive in a normal sense, but she was well and able to communicate in solid form. In all essence, Prue was alive. Piper wanted nothing more than to embrace her sister, but she knew they needed to figure out what was happening and soon.

Leo pressed his hands neatly together and touched the tips of his fingers to his chin, “Okay. Prue and I have been working together for only a few months. She only reached Whitelighter status then. I was an Elder, but that changed when I realized we were working for the wrong side.”

Phoebe raised and eyebrow, “Are you saying you two are working for evil?”

Prue shook her head, “No, we were working for evil. The Elders aren’t who they claim to be. See, as we learned more about this impending Hellmouth, we realized that someone wanted it to happen very badly, and it wasn’t the demons.”

“The Elders?” Piper finally spoke.

Leo nodded, “Yes. Call it boredom, I don’t know. Something about the balance between good and evil being disrupted. Good’s winning, so the Elders had to throw the game. The Hellmouth would do just that.”

Buffy was anxious to get through the lectures and straight to the part where she got to fight, “The Hellmouth wouldn’t do just that. It would not only tip the scales in the favor of evil, it would destroy all good, turning us into slaves and things to be tortured. If we’re lucky we’ll be dead when it happens.”

“It’s not going to happen,” Phoebe said confidently.

Buffy nodded, knowing that her lack of faith was because of their lack of Faith. She did not and could not fight without her sister-slayer. A pain edged into her gut making her well aware that something was wrong with the dark-haired vampire killer. Buffy looked anxiously at Willow and Willow nodded as though she understood her feeling completely.

Willow’s voice was calm, inquisitive as she looked at Prue, “How do we stop the Elders?”

“Leo would know the answer to that better than I would,” Prue said looking at the blonde haired man.

“I’m not sure. I mean, I was only an Elder for a short time before I realized what they were planning. We can figure out that part in a little while. There’s more pressing issues to deal with,” Leo said running a hand over his closely cut hair.

“Should we call Chris,” Phoebe asked, something inside of her telling her that Chris wasn’t all they believed him to be.

Prue and Leo exchanged a glance. Piper picked up on it quickly, “He’s evil isn’t he?”

Leo shrugged, “Hard to say really. Piper there’s something you have to know about Chris…”

“All I need to know is that he probably had something to do with Faith’s disappearance,” Buffy was now standing anger visible in her bright green eyes.

Prue swallowed nervously, respectful of the slayer and still not intimidated by her, “We’ve been working in tandem with Chris to gather information. That is until we found out that he wasn’t working with us, or with the Elders. He’s working for himself.”

Piper watched Leo. She knew there was something Prue had decided to skip over, something she knew she should know about Chris. As she stared intensely at Leo, he lowered his eyes to the floor. Piper turned her attention to Prue, knowing that whatever Leo was going to say wasn’t the most important issue of the moment.

“Okay, so Chris is working for himself. Is Buffy right? Does he have something to do with Faith missing?”

Prue glanced at Leo and then looked at her feet, “Yes. He has Faith. At least, we’re 99% sure he has her.”

“And why do you think that?” Xander asked, finally joining in on the question and answer session.

“Because that room we were in…it was a room Chris built,” Leo said looking at Xander. Leo suddenly orbed out and then in a few seconds orbed back in holding the syringe from the hidden room in his hand.

“We found this,” he said sullenly.

“No.” Buffy backed away from him, refusing to believe that Faith was helpless and defenseless again.

Leo nodded, “She’s without power now. We couldn’t sense her.”

Piper’s head popped up and her gaze snapped from Leo to Prue and back again, “Sense her? But you only sense charges. Does that mean that Faith is a charge?”

Prue bit her lip, which both Phoebe and Piper knew meant she was debating on how much she would tell them. Finally she let go of a breath she had been holding, “Paige should really be here for this. Where is she anyway?”

Piper and Phoebe exchanged looks, and Phoebe leaned her head on Piper’s shoulder letting Piper reveal to Prue what was happening to their baby sister.

“Paige is in the hospital, in a coma.”

“What? What in the hell happened?” Prue was visibly upset, making Phoebe wonder how long she had known about Paige and how long she had been watching them.

“Car accident. Chris was able to heal everyone but Paige, something about her being dead at the time,” Piper’s voice was growing weary, impatient.

“Chris wasn’t able to heal Paige?” Leo asked for clarity.

Dawn rolled her eyes, “Seems now with your news that it wasn’t a matter of able to, but wouldn’t.”

Prue looked at the kid for the first time. She smiled at her with a hint of admiration. She then looked to Leo, Phoebe and Piper, “You guys get to the hospital. Leo, see if you can heal her. Maybe she knows something.”

Piper and Phoebe made no attempt to move. They both wanted nothing more than to get to the hospital and see Paige, but there were still questions to be asked and answers to be heard.

“What could she possibly know? She’s been out cold since the accident,” Xander once again piped in.

“True, but Faith might have been able to contact her,” Prue said. She then realized that everyone was staring at her, confused gazes fixed on their faces.

Prue nodded, “Okay. Let me try to explain this in as little time as possible, because with Faith powerless, we need as much time to focus on her as we can get.”

Prue looked at Leo for assistance. Leo stood and began pacing, “Faith is Prue’s charge. Her only charge as of right now.”

Phoebe raised her hand like she was in school, “Okay, but, a charge is either a witch or someone who will be a Whitelighter, right?”

Prue took over, “Right, and it’s also for people of mixed magical backgrounds.”

“Like a slayer?” Dawn asked.

“Yes, like a slayer,” Prue looked at Buffy.

“So does this mean I have a Whitelighter out there,” the blonde asked.

Leo shook his head, “No. Faith is a special case. Usually, Whitelighters are specifically designed to guard and guide witches, Whitelighters-to-be, and those who are a mix of the two.”

“So then why is Faith so special,” Phoebe asked.

Leo swallowed and looked at Prue. Prue turned her attention to Piper and Phoebe knowing what she had to say would affect them more than it would the others. “Because Faith is part Whitelighter.”

“What? You mean she’s a Whitelighter to be?” Willow looked puzzled as she exchanged a frown with Buffy.

“No, I mean she’s part Whitelighter. Part of her genetics are Whitelighter DNA. The other half of her magical ability comes from being a Slayer.”

Piper rubbed her hands across her face, exhaustion evident in the dark circles appearing under them, “Okay, tell us how is Faith part Whitelighter. That would have to mean one of her parents is a Whitelighter, right?”

Prue shifted her weight from one foot to the other as she was now standing. Leo still paced the floor behind her. Willow and Xander hadn’t moved far from the mantel. Buffy was now standing behind the couch and Dawn, Piper, and Phoebe were sitting rigidly on the edge of the couch.

“Yes, Faith is part Whitelighter because her father is full Whitelighter. Her father is Sam,” Prue watched Piper and Phoebe’s faces for a reaction. She got the one she thought she would. Surprise, confusion, disbelief all registered in their brown eyes.

Phoebe was putting two and two together, “So Paige and Faith are…”

“Sisters,” Piper finished for her.

Leo nodded, “Yes.”

“Wait, wait, wait. If Faith is part Whitelighter, then how come we’ve never seen those powers in her before?” Willow was thinking clearly enough to ask the right questions.

“They were dormant due to the circumstances of her conception,” Prue answered.

“Meaning what?” Buffy was now pacing in sync with Leo.

Prue sat back down in the chair, “Meaning that her father, the Whitelighter was a drunk and de-winged when he met Faith’s mom. They had a week together of…fun, and then it was cest la vie.”

“So you’ve known about this how long?” Piper looked at Leo and then Prue accusingly.

Prue shook her head, “Everything I know about Faith I learned in the last month. It’s the same for Leo.”

Piper accepted Prue’s answer as the truth and then she realized that Prue and Leo were exchanging a guilty glance, “What aren’t you telling us?”

Prue cleared her throat, “We found Chris’ journal and we know who he really is. Piper’s he’s Wyatt.”

Piper paled suddenly, “What? Wyatt? There’s no way.”

Leo nodded, “Yes there is. He becomes evil in the future. The weight of all his magic, his powers, it’s too much for him to handle because he has no one to help him cope with them, to guide him in the way of good. It’s my fault.”

Piper glared at him not wanting to verbally agree with him, but wanting to let him know the thought had crossed her mind, “You’re telling me that the man who left Paige to die, who now has Faith, haunting her maybe doing God knows what to her, this evil son of a bitch is my son?”

Prue stood from the chair and kneeled in front of Piper, “Honey, listen to me. Chris is Wyatt, but Wyatt isn’t Chris.”

Tears had begun to fall from Piper’s eyes. She scoffed at Prue’s statement, “What in the hell is that supposed to mean, Prue?”

“It means it’s not too late to stop this from happening to Wyatt. It’s not to late. Things can change that will alter the future. It isn’t set. We know that better than anyone, right?”

Piper nodded and straightened her shoulders and then moved from the couch to Wyatt’s crib. He looked up at her and stretched up his arms to her. She scooped him out of his playpen and sat back down on the couch cuddling him close, “Okay, so what does Chris want with Faith?”

Leo took in a deep breath. He knew it was getting harder by the moment to reveal all they had to reveal, “Chris is the most powerful being of all time. At least that’s what the Elders think. But he’s not the only one.”

“Faith?” Buffy asked.

Leo frowned at her, “Exactly. Faith has extraordinary gifts. In addition to her slayer strength and powers, which as you well know can be rendered useless, she has magical gifts yet to be seen in any world. The Elders assume it’s because of the mix of Slayer and Whitelighter inside. But the truth is she’s got more magic than even they know.”

“But Chris knows this. From future events, right?” Phoebe drew her own conclusions, which were affirmed by a nod of Leo’s head.

“Yes, he knows this from future events. Faith, as an instrument of good, does a lot of incredible things in her life. More than any of you would ever know her to be capable of. And it’s because of the trauma she endured.”

“You mean, the fact that she was raped?” Buffy asked bitingly.

Leo blushed, “Yes. It caused her to have compassion, a knowledge of pain that will enable her in the future to feel so much about people, to help those who hurt as much as she’s hurt.”
Phoebe shook her head in sadness. “Guess you can strike that up to the ‘All things happen for a reason’ cliché, huh?”

Prue’s eyes were watering. Tears threatened to spill as she looked from her sisters to the Slayer and back, “Faith’s life has been hard. When she was evil, I know that wasn’t easy on any of you.” She directed her attention to the Scoobies in the room.

Buffy shrugged, “Yeah, but no matter how evil she got we still wanted to save her.”

Leo smiled slightly, “That’s right, and a lot of that is because the magic within her draws her to good people, even when she was bent on destroying them.”

“How do we help her now?” Xander stood stoically with his arms across his chest.

“Like I said, I can’t sense her but we have to get to Paige. I have a feeling Faith has been to see Paige in her unconscious realm.”

“Because they’re sisters?” Phoebe asked.

“No, because it’s one of her powers.” Leo answered.

“That explains it,” Buffy smirked.

Prue looked at her puzzled, “Explains what?”

“She used to be in my dreams all the time. I thought it was just a slayer thing, but apparently now we know differently.”

“Using dreams and unconsciousness, Faith is able to communicate on a much deeper level than she ever can awake. Her power where that’s concerned is that she’s able to deal with her own pain and other’s pain as well. It makes her stronger as well as whoever she’s contacting,” Prue explained.

“We’ve got to go see Paige,” Piper said standing up with Wyatt in her arms. She looked at Leo and smiled gently, “Prue needs to take us.”

Leo nodded and gently placed a hand on her shoulder, “We’ll talk later, okay?”

She nodded and then let Leo take Wyatt from her. She allowed herself to take one of Prue’s hands, joyful in the perfect fit. Phoebe took Prue’s other hand and the three of them orbed out.

Leo looked to the remaining four. Willow looked nervous, “What should we be doing in the meantime?”

Leo looked serious, “We prepare for battle.”

Chapter Twenty-Four

Faith backed slowly to the darkest corner she could find, hoping the newly waking vampires wouldn’t find her. Her arm throbbed, the swelling making her fingers feel cold from lack of circulation. Her back ached and her mind pulsated with curse words.

She scanned the room quickly for any makeshift weapons. Nothing struck her as wooden or sharp. She knew that fighting the three vamps with her bare hands would be absolutely stupid. They were emerging from their caskets slowly. Hunger was apparent on their pale faces.

Faith hated being weak. She thought about the amount of crying she had done in the days since they had arrived in San Francisco. Her jaw clenched tightly in self-shame. She couldn’t believe she had let herself get so bogged down in self-pity that she had forgotten how tough and independent she was. She felt a strength surge throughout her body. It wasn’t her slayer strength, it was nowhere near that amount of power, but it felt good nonetheless. She knew it was the strength of self-preservation.

She stood up and walked out of the shadows, glaring at the vamps, “Hey, you guys hungry?”

Prue looked down at the now bald little sister she had never met. She studied the stitches on both sides of Paige’s head. Piper and Phoebe looked at her expectantly. Prue knew the risks of exposure. A patient, already on file, disappearing from the hospital in the mid-morning hours would make incredible headlines.

“Heal her Prue,” Piper’s voice sounded far away as Prue deliberated.

“Prue?” Phoebe’s hand was on her arm.

Prue shook her head, “The risk of exposure…how do we get around it?”

Piper pursed her lips in thought. After a few minutes of looking down at their youngest sister, she looked back at Prue and smiled, “Heal everything but the stitches.”

Prue raised an eyebrow, “I’m not sure I know how to do that.”

“Try,” Phoebe pleaded as they watched a nurse go by. The ICU was sparsely populated. The nursing staff was enjoying cake and ice cream at the nurses’ station. Someone’s impromptu birthday celebration was giving Prue the chance to heal Paige.

Prue nodded and made Phoebe stand guard at the door of the ICU room. Phoebe gave her an all-clear signal and Prue went to work. Her slender hands trembled slightly as she held them over Paige’s head. The soft amber glow gave the otherwise depressing room a calming illumination. Piper and Phoebe held their breath waiting for Prue to finish.

Prue concentrated on Paige. The power to heal was working slowly, but working nonetheless. She could hear the heart monitor behind her beep more rapidly and then calm to absolute normalcy. Paige’s deep amber eyes fluttered open and then closed again. The glow from Prue’s hands disappeared. Piper looked from her older sister to her youngest sister in apprehension.

“Did it work?” Piper’s voice trembled.

Phoebe looked toward them from her guard post at the door, “Guys? What’s the news?”

Prue shrugged and then placed her hand lightly on Paige’s cheek, “Paige? Paige? Wake up. We need your help to find Faith. We need you to find your…”

“No. Don’t tell her who Faith is. Not yet. We’ll wait for that. We’ll tell them when they’re together,” Piper knew what was best for her baby sister.

Prue nodded and continued to try to rouse Paige. Paige moaned softly as her eyes opened and focused on the faces above her. Her voice was heavy with ailment as she looked at Prue and frowned, “Faith’s with your stone Prue. But what are you doing here?” Without any further words Paige slipped quietly back into unconsciousness.

“Are these all the weapons you’ve created in the last few days?” Leo looked at Xander with admiration.

“Yup. I’m big on the battle,” he said with a goofy grin.

Leo raised an eyebrow and then looked at Willow who was reading through the Book of Shadows. He knew he could trust her since the book did. They were in the attic trying to gather as much preparation as they could. Dawn was keeping Wyatt company with toys and blocks as Leo and Xander double-checked their stockpile of weapons. Willow was trying to get up to speed on the powerful magic of the Charmed Ones and Buffy paced nervously by the attic door.

Leo shook his head. He knew Buffy Summers was a powerful warrior and a compassionate soul, but she was impulsive and lacked discipline. He smiled inward as he realized that his wife and her sisters were very much the same way.

Buffy noticed Leo looking at her. She continued pacing wondering if the Charmed Ones relied on their guide as much as she did. Giles was her father figure, her mentor, her…Buffy stopped as a horrific realization dawned on her.

“When’s the last time anyone saw Giles?”

Faith looked around warily as the vamps descended upon her. She let go of her broken arm letting it hang uselessly by her side. She swiftly ducked past the three vampires and made her way toward the blocked entrance of the mausoleum.

“You guys are slow,” she grinned.

The tallest of the vamps smiled, “And you’re food.”

They rushed toward her knocking her to the ground. Pain pulsated through every joint and vein of her body. She could feel involuntary tears soak her eyes as the shock of impact resided. Over the shoulder of the nearest vampire she could see blue light. Light she now recognized as the lights of orbing. Faith knew she was being rescued. She just hoped it wasn’t Chris.

Piper frowned deeply, “What in the hell do you think she meant by that?”

Prue shook her head, “I have no idea.”

“What the hell do you think it means?” Phoebe asked coming away from the door, “The mausoleum.”

Piper and Prue looked at their younger sister unsure of her sanity. Phoebe rolled her eyes and grabbed Prue’s hand. “Trust me. Faith’s with your stone? What the hell else could it mean?”

“She has a point,” Piper agreed. She looked down at Paige and then back to Phoebe and Prue, “You two go and I’ll stay here to be with Paige when she wakes up.”

Prue could see that Phoebe was torn between staying with Paige and going with her, “Phoebe you can stay with Paige and Piper if you want to, it could be safer for you.”

Phoebe looked grim, “No. I want to help you get Faith home safely. I want to be sure that Paige’s little sister makes it home safely. So we can tell them when they’re together. When we’re all together.”

Piper nodded, “Yeah, she’s family now. Plain and simple.”

Prue took Phoebe’s hand and they orbed out as Piper continued to try to wake Paige.

Phoebe and Prue orbed into the mausoleum and instantly noticed three separate piles of dust. Phoebe looked closer at the dust and noticed two sets of footprints. One set was larger than the other. She knew that whomever had helped Faith vanquish the vamps had been a man.

“Can you get a premonition?” Prue’s voice jolted her out of her Nancy Drew world. The thought of using her powers hadn’t even crossed her mind.

“I don’t know. I can try.”

Prue nodded, “Go for it.”

Phoebe knelt down next to the ashes of the undead. She placed her hand near the larger set of prints and closed her eyes. Her breathing was controlled as she relaxed her mind and tapped into her heritage. A vision like a gust of hurricane-force wind knocked her to the ground. She forced herself to stay with the vision.

She could see Faith struggling against the vampires and then the orbs behind them. The vamps one-by-one but in quick succession were dusted. Faith was left staring into the eyes of her rescuer. A man that Phoebe knew Faith didn’t recognize. He offered a hand and Faith reluctantly took it. Phoebe recognized the man but knew that he was not the same man she knew.

The vision changed from past to future. Maniacal laughter emitted from the familiar face as he knocked a very helpless Faith to the ground. Phoebe trembled as she struggled to free herself from the vision, slowly coming out of it.
Prue watched as Phoebe sucked in a deep breath finally emerging from the vision. She helped Phoebe up and waited patiently for Phoebe to catch her breath and reveal what she had seen. Phoebe leaned into Prue shaken from what she had seen, not entirely sure she could believe her own vision.

“Phoebe? What is it? Who helped her?” Prue’s patience wasn’t what it used to be.

“You’re not going to believe this, Prue, but it was Sam.”

The rest of the people in the attic simply stared at Buffy as though she were crazy. Then one by one the awareness of a missing Giles was felt by all of them. Buffy waited for an answer to her question. Seeing that she had stumped her friends she asked it again.

“When is the last time anyone saw Giles?”

Dawn looked lost in memory, “Um…I remember him being with you when you got back this morning, when you were showing me Faith’s cross.”

Willow nodded, “Yeah, and then you and Dawn, and Phoebe and I went downstairs to see what the noise was and…that’s it. I don’t remember seeing him since then.”

“Same here,” Buffy said as worry clouded her green eyes. She looked at Leo, “Is there any way you can sense him?”

Leo shook his head, “I don’t think so. Would he just leave without telling anyone?”

“No, he wouldn’t. The vamps in the basement must have been a diversion tactic,” Xander concluded.

Buffy slowly nodded, “I’m in agreement. Someone has taken Giles.”

“But who would want to take Giles?” Dawn asked.

“And why?” Willow added.

Faith was sick and tired of being orbed against her will. She pushed away from the man who had saved her from the vampires. She wanted to say thank you but everything in her being told her not to trust the blue-eyed man in front of her.

“Who are you and why did you bother?” Faith asked looking more perturbed by the second.

“My name is Sam, and I’m your father.” The older man said as he smiled gently and then smacked her hard across the face with his open hand sending her flying to the floor.

Faith looked up at the man from her new place on the floor. The man had white-gray hair and angry eyes. His face was twisted in mischief. Something about the expression was familiar and looked as though it didn’t fit the man in front of her.

“I don’t believe you. You’re not my father,” Faith said gathering a little bit of her courage. She felt feverish inside and a chill traveled the length of her spine.

“How would you know? You’re a bastard child born to a drunken mother. And you can bet that everything that ever happened to you in your life was your fault Faith. All your fault,” his voice was filled with venom as he hit her again.

As Faith, dazed and reeling from pain looked up from the ground, she realized she was in an abandoned warehouse. She knew it probably wasn’t far from where she and the Scoobies had first encountered the Charmed Ones. She stared hard into the poorly lit area around her. In the corner she could barely make out a figure with his hands and legs bound by duct tape. A rectangular piece covered his mouth.

Faith looked harder at the man and then she knew…“Giles?”

Chapter Twenty-Five

“Sam?” Prue asked.

“Yes, Prue I swear it was him,” Phoebe glanced around the cold crypt as she stayed near her oldest sister.

Prue took Phoebe’s hand in one of her own, “No, I believe you Pheebs, but why Sam, why now after all this time would he finally come to Faith’s rescue?”

Phoebe shook her head, “I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t know about her.”

“Maybe it isn’t Sam.”

Phoebe waited for Prue to clarify her thought process. Prue’s voice was calm and steady as it always had been when they were working through a supernatural mystery, “One name keeps coming up.”

“Chris,” Phoebe responded knowing exactly where her sister’s thoughts were leading.

“Yup,” Prue closed her eyes and remained silent as she used her senses to feel their plane of existence. After several minutes of misdirected feelings, she finally sensed the power emerging through the atmosphere.

“Prue? Anything?” Phoebe’s brown eyes were wide with anticipation.

“A warehouse, downtown. It’s abandoned.”

Phoebe nodded, “Has to be the warehouse district. Will your sense of them grow stronger the closer you get to them?”

Prue nodded, “Yeah, it should, like a tracking device.”

“Let’s go.”

Prue took Phoebe’s hand and the orbed out of the mausoleum. They reappeared in the hospital room with Piper
and Paige, who was finally awake and trying to sit up. Piper was insisting that she rest and stay still. Paige was already pushing back the covers and forcing her way out of bed.

“Paige, please sit down. You were nearly dead,” Piper nagged her now-bald little sister.

“Yes, I was and I ache all over, but other than that I feel fine, Piper. Besides, the three of you need to start explaining to me what our big sister is doing here and alive, so that we can get to the issue of where Faith is and how to stop the world from ending.”

Paige walked cautiously to the small hospital closet. Her body throbbed with the motion, but she knew, thanks to Prue, that her pain would soon subside. She smiled at Prue as she pulled her jeans and a hospital issue t-shirt from the closet. Her own shirt had been destroyed when she was brought into the ER.

Prue returned Paige’s smile and took one of Paige’s hands in her own, “Nice to meet you little sister.”

“Likewise,” Paige returned the smile. “Now…why aren’t you dead?”

Phoebe chose the speedy version of the story, “She is dead, but she’s a Whitelighter, Faith’s Whitelighter. We need to find Faith before Chris can hurt her. He’s going to try to…”

“Mate with her?” Paige interrupted, “Yeah, I know exactly what that sick bastard has in mind. Faith visited me while I was unconscious. Can anyone explain that to me by the way?”

Piper, Phoebe and Prue exchanged glances and they all shrugged and shook their heads. Paige rolled her eyes and slipped on her jeans, “You know, you’re all horrible liars. Where’s Faith now?”

“Chris has her,” Prue answered.

“What? Where?” Paige’s voice was filled with fear and anger.

“Warehouse district,” Prue answered, “We need to get to the others.”

“Do we have time to round up the Scooby gang?” Piper asked.

Prue nodded, “We better make the time. We’ll need them to help vanquish Chris.”

“Can you vanquish a Whitelighter, I thought you needed Darklighter poison?” Phoebe asked curiously.

“No, a Darklighter’s arrow won’t work on Chris. Chris isn’t much Whitelighter anymore. He’s mostly evil. His powers transcend even the toughest enemy we’ve encountered.” Prue informed them.

Phoebe breathed in deeply, “Even tougher than Cole?”

“That would explain why he visited me in the attic,” Piper stated.

Phoebe nodded, “Yeah, he was trying to warn you about a great evil, but was it Chris, or the Hellmouth.”

Phoebe’s words reminded them all that there was an even more urgent matter than the evildoings Chris had planned. The Elders were going to undermine the balance of good and evil. The world was about to become an apocalyptic war zone.

“Okay, time’s wasting girlies,” Paige was finally dressed and heading toward the door. “Prue, how do we vanquish Chris?”

Prue looked to the ground and then cautiously at Piper, “We can’t, but Wyatt can.”

“What?!?” Piper’s face filled with resistance.

“Piper, just hear me out,” Prue pleaded, “I know he’s a baby, but he understands more than you think he does. He knows that Chris is evil, and he knows that Chris is here to hurt not help.”

“How do you know what Wyatt knows Prue? You want my baby son to vanquish his future self?” Piper was more intrigued than furious.

“Whitelighter to Whitelighter senses, that’s how I know. Wyatt is good; therefore we share a connection of sorts. I don’t share that connection with Chris. Piper…although Chris was once Wyatt, Wyatt is not Chris yet.”

They were all silent momentarily as they looked at one another. Then they noticed Paige staring at them with her mouth wide open and shock across her face.

Phoebe stepped to her side, “Paige, sweetie, what’s wrong?”

Paige snapped out of her shock and shook her head, “Geez, I’m in a coma for a night and my nephew turns evil.”

“Wyatt is not evil, Paige. Chris is,” Piper clarified.

“And Chris is Wyatt?” Paige asked.

“Yes, from the future.”

Paige nodded, remembering why they were pressed for time, “Fine, then we go to the manor, we get Wyatt and the others, and we find Faith. We bring her home. I don’t know why, but this girl means a lot to me.”

Phoebe and Piper exchanged glances with Prue behind Paige’s back and then the four of them orbed out of the hospital room.

Faith knew, upon seeing Giles, that the man holding them both captive was none other than Chris. Faith turned and looked up at the older man. He leered at her sending Faith into a world of flashbacks. That same kind of look had permeated the deepest corners of her life five months earlier.

She found her voice, “Chris, I didn’t know you could morph? What other evil tricks do you have up your sleeve?”

The man in front of her frowned and then morphed into Chris, “Damn. There go my elaborate dramatic efforts.”

“Yeah, guess you’ll just have to kill me as yourself,” Faith pushed.

Chris laughed, “Kill you? Oh no, you aren’t getting out of this that easily. You forget what I have planned for you and me.”

Faith could taste the blood on her lip. She looked back to Giles who was trying to loosen his binds. Turning back around she was met with another slap in the face. The blow left her dazed. Shaking off the ringing in her ears, she tried to get up from her place on the ground. Chris pushed his foot into her side and she fell to the ground again without much resistance.

“This is going to be too easy,” Chris hissed as he brought his face within centimeters of Faith’s.

Faith could feel his breath, hot and rancid, on her face. She winced as he grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her to her feet. She tried to tune him out as he whispered into her ear. Wicked words filled her mind as he laughed again, explaining in detail what he was going to do to the Slayer.

Faith heard Giles moving in his chair, slamming it into the wall behind him. She hoped he would stop to avoid drawing Chris’ attention to him, but she also knew that it was exactly what Giles wanted to do, to give Faith time to escape.

Chris looked toward Giles while keeping one hand tangled in Faith’s hair, “Hey old man, stop moving or I’ll make you watch the entire event.”

Faith’s anger far outweighed her powerlessness. She waited for Chris to turn back to her. As he did she head butted him square in the nose, sending him backwards and to the floor, seemingly unconscious. Faith shook her head to clear her darkening vision. She debated between the door and Giles. She knew she could never leave Giles.

She stumbled toward him as she heard him calling to her, “No! Faith run! Go get the others, I’ll be alright, go!”

But Faith couldn’t listen. She wouldn’t listen. She refused to leave the only man who had treated her with respect, and kindness. She crawled to his chair and tried to rip the duct tape from his hands. She managed to shred it slightly before her world became a black quagmire of unconsciousness.

Leo was the first to see the orbs appearing in the living room. He half hoped it was Chris so they could end it now. But he knew Chris was too intelligent to not know that he had been found out. He was more than relieved to see Prue returning with Piper, Phoebe and Paige.

“Thank God! Wait, where’s Faith?” Leo’s joy was quickly clipped by the realization that the rogue slayer was still

“Chris has her,” Prue was all business. “He’s holding her in an abandoned warehouse. We came to gather the troops and have ourselves a vanquishing party.”

The rest of the household was aware that the Charmed Ones had returned. Dawn, Xander, Willow and Buffy filed into the living room with Leo and the sisters.

Buffy voice was filled with ire, “We think he has Giles too.”

“Giles is missing?” Phoebe asked genuinely concerned.

Dawn nodded and then looked at Paige, “Where’s your hair?”

Paige frowned having forgotten about her baldness, “They shaved it to fix my head. Leo? Anything I can do about this?”

Leo raised an eyebrow and then moved to Paige. His hand hovered over her head. Soon the amber glow made the stitches disappear, and before too long her hair began to grow. The entire group watched in awe, their mission momentarily displaced by the marvel of magic.

When her hair had reached shoulder length, Leo withdrew his hand, “It’ll grow on it’s own from here.”

Paige glanced in the mirror and her mouth fell open, “It’s brown again!”

Leo shrugged, “Yeah, it’s your natural color, you’ll have to mess up another potion to make it red again.”

“Hello? Anyone remember Faith and Giles? The ones who need our help?” Buffy was past irritated.

Prue looked carefully at the blonde slayer, “Believe me, no one has forgotten them. Faith is as much family to us as she is to you, if not more so.”

Paige glanced at Prue curious as to what had motivated her oldest sister’s statement, “Prue? What do you mean?”

Willow stepped in, “Whatever, as long as we all know that they are priority one.”

Leo had gotten Wyatt from his crib and was handing him to Piper when Wyatt began to cry. It wasn’t his normal cry. It was a wail, an indicator that something was seriously wrong. Piper looked alarmed as she held him closer.

Before anyone could react to Wyatt’s warning, Chris appeared in the living room behind Buffy, “Anyone miss me?”

They all turned to face their current enemy. Chris grinned menacingly and winked at Prue, “What are you going to do Whitelighter girl? Stare me to death?”

Prue’s jaw clenched in anger, “No, we’re going to kill you.”

“Riiight, sure, I believe you. Before you do, I was wondering if you’d like to make a trade?”

Buffy crossed her arms, ready to defend her friends, “What kind of trade?”

Chris waved his hand and a bleeding, battered Giles appeared next to him. Giles collapsed to the floor. Willow and Dawn were immediately by his side pulling him away from Chris. Chris sneered.

“Giles, for Paige,” Chris winked at the now-brunette, “I like your hair sweetie, makes you look like your little sister.”

Paige looked confused as she glanced from Chris to Prue, and then to Piper and Phoebe, “What is he talking about? Who’s my little sister?”

Chris looked surprised, “What’s this? They haven’t told you yet? Damn shame. Paige, your little sister…she’s a keeper. So, I think I will, keep her, that is? Care to join her? I think she could probably use someone there to be her maid of honor.”

Realization dawned on Paige. Tears formed in her eyes as she realized that Faith was her sister, her flesh and blood sister. She didn’t know how it was possible, but she could feel it in the depths of her soul. Her world was spinning as her family instantly grew larger.

“You are a sick bastard, Chris, and you will die,” Phoebe stepped in front of Paige to protect her from the harshness in Chris’ words. She could feel Paige’s hand taking hold of her own. She tried to give Paige what little reassurance she could through touch.

“I could kill you all now,” Chris said as he raised his hand. A massive fireball formed in his palm. Before he could throw it, Wyatt surrounded everyone but Chris in his protective shield. Chris frowned as he realized that Giles was protected. He shook his head, extinguishing the fireball with his other hand.

He smiled again, sending fearful chills into the girls in the room, “Yeah, well. That’s the way it works, huh? You know, I’ll wait for you to find us. By then it’ll be too late. She’ll be expecting our child.”

Chris shimmered out, not even bothering to use the false façade of orbing. Wyatt’s protective shield disappeared and they all looked gratefully at him. Paige was confronted by her sisters. She shook her head, not ready to talk about the how’s or why’s or what’s of it all. She only wanted to find Faith. Leo quickly knelt beside Giles, healing his wounds. Giles sat up, his face pale and his eyes distant.

“Giles? Talk to me? Where’s Faith?” Buffy’s voice was overflowing with fear.

Giles turned slowly to his favored slayer, taking in the panic in her green eyes, “We have to hurry.”

Leo nodded and drew in a breath. Looking toward the sisters he frowned, “Are we ready?”

Prue shook her head, “We’ll never be ready, but Wyatt is and that’s all that matters.”

Leo nodded in acknowledgement, “I know.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Faith struggled against the tape binding her hands. After she had momentarily blacked out from head butting Chris, she had awoken to Chris pulling tape tightly around her wrists. He had then smiled viciously at her and then disappeared. Moments later, Giles disappeared too.

She had managed to get one hand free when Chris reappeared. Faith tried to stand up, to move away from her captor, but she wasn’t quick enough. Chris was pulling her up again by her hair, throwing her into a stack of wooden crates. She crashed into them with a thud. Her body hurt from the abuse it had taken. She prayed to a higher power for strength, to have her slayer abilities back.

“Those bitches!” Chris voice boomed throughout the warehouse. “I’ll kill them all. I should have killed them from the start, but those damn Elders were always watching. They would have stopped me anyway. And now, now your friends, and your sister, they’re coming to rescue you.”

Faith, still standing, huddled against the stack of boxes, stopped breathing momentarily as his words sunk into her mind, “My sister?”

Chris rolled his eyes, “Yeah, yeah, your sister. But you know what. Let them come. I’ll be ready for them. But it’ll take them a few minutes to get here you know. Even with orbing they have to find out exactly which warehouse we’re in. So…while we’re waiting…”

Chris moved to Faith, reaching his hand to her shoulder and then grabbing her arm tightly. He threw her to the floor. Before Faith could react, he was on her, tearing at her t-shirt, her jeans. Faith held back the tears. As terrified as she was, she wasn’t going to give Chris the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

A momentary thought crossed her mind, “Who is my sister?”

The thought was quickly replaced by fear, anxiety, and the need to be somewhere else. She wasn’t sure why, but she began to concentrate on Paige. Paige had been an amazing comfort and safety for her in the few days she had known her.

As Chris pawed her and bruised her, Faith knew that he was going to do what had already once been done. Faith knew this time it would be worse.

Paige orbed into the alley with Phoebe and Piper, who was carrying Wyatt. Right behind them, Leo orbed in with Willow, Buffy and Dawn. Prue orbed in last with Giles and Xander. They immediately dropped into the shadows created by the tall warehouses around them. Night had descended, their preparations and planning taking more time than they would have liked. Prue and Leo stood silently, their heads bowed, their hands interlocked.

“Anything?” Buffy asked, the feeling of despair growing stronger inside of her.

Prue nodded, but did not lift her head or open her eyes. She continued to concentrate with Leo. Within a few seconds they let go of one another’s hands and looked at everyone else. Prue noticed Piper giving her a look. Prue knew the look all too well. It was hurt mixed with a bit of jealousy.

Prue brushed off the look, knowing they would have to deal with all the secrets later. A confrontation she was not looking forward to. Prue swallowed hard as Paige looked at her, hope in her eyes, “They’re close. Very close. I can sense magic but I can’t tell who it’s coming from.”

Leo nodded adding, “Chris must have some sort of shield so we can’t orb right to her.”

“So we track them and then go in guns blazing,” Buffy said, ready to move forward.

Xander smirked, “We don’t have guns.”

Willow and Buffy shot Xander a look to tell him it wasn’t the time for jokes. Xander could feel how grave the situation was, and how much trouble Faith was in. The kind of trouble she had been in before. He frowned when he thought of the incredibly strong woman, weak and defenseless.

“Giles, how long does the drug last?” Paige’s wheels were turning in her head.

Giles looked up surprised at the question, “The drug?”

Willow filled him in on finding the syringe in the hiding place in the basement. Giles’ heart sank. Twice in a lifetime was more than any girl could bear, he thought to himself. To the others, he said, “One shot, second time around, could last anywhere from 24 hours, to two days.”

“Damn, so there’s no hope that she has any of her slayer strength, right?” Paige looked at him fiercely.

“No, I’m afraid not,” was his simple answer.

“But her Whitelighter power wouldn’t be affected, would it?” Phoebe was following Paige’s thought process. Help Faith save herself. But their plans and hopes were halted as Prue shook her head.

“He has her, and if she doesn’t know about her powers, then there’s no way she can tap into them. Active or not.”

“I suggest we start moving. Maybe we can sense them more strongly then,” Leo said as he began to move down the alley.

The others followed him each with their own fear or thought about the situation at hand. Buffy was angry. She knew that if Chris laid a hand on Faith it would never again be the same for the younger slayer. Dawn felt the urgency of their predicament. She was still reeling in shock that one of the strongest people she knew, was really as vulnerable and lost as she was. Xander wished he had visited Faith in prison, that he had been a better friend.

Willow looked at the stony faces of her companions, wondering if any of them felt the fear she was feeling. An emotion that was not her own. She knew that what she was feeling belonged to Faith. Looking behind her, at Paige, she could see a subtle resemblance between the two. The fire was identical, but it was the sadness in their eyes that they shared. Willow almost smiled. She was happy that regardless of what was happening to Faith at that moment, when it was over, Faith was going to finally have someone of her own. A sister. A soul mate.

Piper held Paige’s hand while holding on to Wyatt. Phoebe continued to check behind them for any sign of vampires or demons. Paige watched as Piper kept a steady eye on Leo and Prue, who were leading the group along with Giles. Suddenly, as though the wind had been knocked out of her, Paige doubled over.

The group stopped moving and looked back to Paige. Phoebe was at her side with a hand on her little sister’s back, “Paige, what’s wrong? What is it?”

“I don’t know. I think it’s…it’s her, she calling me. She’s…” Before Paige could finish speaking she was pulled into nothingness by blue orbs. The group looked to Leo and Prue for guidance. They looked as stunned as everyone else.

“Leo, what just happened?” Piper’s panic was strongly evident in her wavering voice.

“Faith happened,” Prue answered, “She must be in serious trouble and thinking about Paige. They have the same power, the ability to call something to them via orbs. Faith must have unknowingly called Paige to her.”

“I thought you said she wouldn’t be able to use them if she didn’t know they existed,” Dawn challenged.

Prue shrugged, “Faith must be different.”

Xander covered his mouth trying to avoid the opportunity for a wisecrack. Willow nodded recognizing the opportunity had passed.

“If I’m catching on to how your powers work,” Buffy said as she looked to Prue and Leo, “then the power of good will be stronger than the power of Chris, so you two should be able to track them, right?”

Prue nodded and closed her eyes. Within seconds she reopened them, hope filling her face. “This way.” The group followed her out of the alley and down a street.

Paige felt herself being pulled through space. It felt stronger than orbing, but similar nonetheless. When she finally became solid again, she knew exactly what had happened. On the floor in front of her, Chris was attacking Faith. Faith was struggling hard not to cry, but Paige could quickly tell that the dark slayer was losing the battle.

The half-Whitelighter, half-witch looked around the room. She searched for weapons of any kind. She had so far gone unnoticed by attacker and victim. Finally spotting a crowbar in a corner, Paige softly called for it. It orbed into her hand and as Chris realized someone was behind him, it was too late for him to react. Paige swung the crowbar into Chris face, sending him flying backwards and landing against some crates, unconscious.

Faith rolled onto her side, covering the parts of herself that Chris had exposed. Paige was at Faith’s side in a matter of milliseconds.

“Faith, thank god,” Paige reached out to Faith, letting her hand fall on the dark hair. Faith, still frightened by what had almost happened to her, recoiled from Paige’s touch. Paige took no offense to it. She pulled Faith forcibly to her feet.

“Come on, Faith, we have to get out of here before Chris recovers.”

Paige’s words sunk into Faith’s mind. The dark-haired slayer looked to the heap on the floor. Chris was groaning from under a pile of boxes. Faith’s eyes grew blank as her composure returned.

“Where are the others?”

“I don’t know. They’re probably close,” Paige answered realizing suddenly that she was talking to her sister, her flesh and blood.

Faith looked from Paige to Chris and then to the door. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to run or end it. She felt Paige slip her hand around her own. Faith welcomed the comfort. She knew that what Chris had said was right. She did have a sister and she knew that she was standing there with her.

“Chris, as you already know, is evil. He’s Wyatt, from the future. Something happens later that makes him evil,” Paige was trying to quickly explain so that Faith would leave with her. “The only person that can vanquish Chris, is Wyatt.”

Faith barely breathed, “That sweet little boy turns in to that?” She said as she pointed at Chris, now moving slightly on the floor.

Paige nodded, “Yes, now we have to go. We have to find the others.”

“No, I want to finish him off now,” Faith said defiantly.

Paige shook her head, “You’re not listening. Only Wyatt can vanquish him.”

“I heard you, I just want to see for myself,” Faith was insolent as she crossed her arms across her chest. “But you need to leave, find the others.”

Paige noticed the pleading look in Faith’s eyes. She knew Faith never wanted to be alone again. Paige wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around Faith and hold her close for comfort, the way only a sister can.

“No. You stay, I stay,” Paige said crossing her arms in mimicry of Faith.

A lone tear made its way down Faith’s cheek. She looked at Paige with admiration, “Hey, when did you get hair, and why is it brunette?”

Paige smirked, “Leo.”

Faith looked thoughtful, “How did you find me?”

“You found me actually. You did this, you pulled me here with your powers.”

Faith looked confused, “I don’t have my powers. He gave me the slayer kryptonite.”

Paige shook her head, “Not those powers, you have other powers. It’s how you called for me.”

“Paige, Chris told me that I have a sister, and I have to know if my feeling is right. Is she…”

“What a touching reunion,” Chris said as he stood slowly from the ground.

Paige and Faith had been too busy talking to one another that they had failed to notice their main concern sneaking back to the conscious world. Chris now stood, a devious grin on his face.

“So, what will it be ladies. Big sister or little sister first.”

Paige stepped toward him, “Oh it’ll be my pleasure to dismantle you.”

Chris looked back at the pile of boxes on the floor, “Yeah, that was a pretty good hit. What did you use anyway?”

Paige looked at the crowbar lying on the floor in between them. Paige reached out and called for the crowbar, but before it could disappear and rematerialize in her hand, Chris was holding it.

“My powers are so much more than yours.”

Faith was close to Paige. Paige felt as though Faith was an extension of herself, and Paige knew that in many ways, she was. Paige had an idea to keep Chris at bay until her sisters could show up with Wyatt.

“So, nephew of mine. What was it that made you go all evil anyway?”

“Oh, so you all know now, huh? Well, Auntie Paige, not a lot you can say or do to make me go good, got it?”

“I don’t give a crap one way or another, Chris. You made your own choices to be evil. No one forced you to become a spoiled brat.”

“You don’t think? How about my father abandoned me. My mother become a total whore after the hellmouth opened. How about I had to fend for myself most of my childhood.”

Paige rolled her eyes in mockery, “Boo-freaking-hoo, Chris. We all have it bad sometimes.”

Chris eyed Faith with an evil smile, “I know she has had it rough? Want some more?”

He stepped toward Faith but Paige immediately put herself in front of Faith. Faith was grateful for the protection. She still had no slayer strength. Her mind reeled with the thoughts of what Chris had said. If the Hellmouth was what caused Chris to be evil then there was a chance to save Wyatt. To save them all.

“What will stop the Hellmouth?” Faith asked her fear subsiding.

“Only one person can stop the Hellmouth, Faithie, that’s you,” Chris said, a sneer across his face.

Paige swallowed hard, “How can she stop it?”

“By giving it what it wants.” His voice was cryptic as he circled them.
Paige was growing tired of his word games. She tried to sense her sisters, but could not, “What does it want her to give it, Chris?”

Faith and Paige weren’t really sure they wanted to hear the answer, but they listened raptly for his reply. Chris remained silent as he continued his circle around them tapping the crowbar against his palm. He was now behind Faith, leaving her vulnerable to him. Faith became quickly aware of his eyes on the back of her head. She moved in closer to Paige, praying that the others would come soon.

“Chris,” Paige asked again, “What does it want from Faith?”

Chris’ actions were too quick for Paige to stop him. He quickly reached out and grabbed Faith pulling her to him. The crowbar fell noisily to the ground as an athame appeared in his hands.

“It only wants her blood. If her blood is spilled into the hellmouth then there will be no war, no ravaged lands, my mother and father will be together and I can return to a better future. So I will gladly spill her blood.”

Paige kept her eyes level with Faith’s. She didn’t want to lose the silent communication that was going on between them. But she had to look away and look at Chris, to read what was in his eyes.

“I thought your big goal with Faith was to mate with her,” Paige said flippantly.

“It is, it was. I don’t know about that anymore. I mean, to be the father of the most powerful baby in the world…that would be amazing, wouldn’t it? But it seems as though time has gotten away from me. Oh the decision. Hellmouth, or screw her, hellmouth or screw her?”

“Stop it Chris!” Paige was angered as Chris alternated between pressing the athame against Faith’s neck drawing blood and then kissing her where he had cut her.

“Auntie Paige, shame you won’t get to know your little sister, isn’t it?” Chris orbed out with Faith leaving Paige screaming for them.

“Damn it! They have to be here somewhere,” Prue was growing frustrated with her inept powers. Leo placed a calming hand on her shoulder.

“We’ll find them, Prue, don’t worry.”

“Listen,” Willow’s ear was turned toward the alleyway behind them. Giles adjusted his glasses.

They all turned to see Paige running toward them. Piper knew that the look in her little sister’s eyes was insurmountable fear. Paige stopped running and out of breath began to tell them everything that had happened.

“Where do you think they went?” Buffy asked.

“I don’t know. He was talking about the Hellmouth,” Paige answered finally catching her breath.

“They’re at the manor,” Prue said suddenly and surely.
“Let’s go,” Leo grabbed onto Piper, Wyatt and Phoebe. Paige took Giles, Buffy and Dawn. Prue took Xander and Willow. They orbed away from the warehouse district.

The ground shook and rumbled. Faith was filled with dread as she realized they were in the basement of the Halliwell manor. A symbol that had not been there before appeared suddenly, blood red and glowing. Faith knew from her time as a slayer that it was not a symbol of good, but rather of extreme evil.

“It’s time,” Chris winked, his blue eyes blazing as the world rumbled.

Faith tried to jerk away from him. But his grip was strong on her arm. He raised the athame high above his head, and brought it down in a smooth arc toward Faith’s chest. Faith closed her eyes, waiting for the end.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

The end didn’t come. As Faith closed her eyes she was unaware of the sudden disappearance of threat. Seconds passed and she finally opened one eye and peered out. Everything was cloudy blue. She opened both eyes and through her opaque barrier she saw that Chris was now standing to her side the athame on the floor at her feet.

She looked toward the door of the basement and there, crowded on the stairs were her friends, her family. Relief swept through her as she realized that the barrier between her and Chris was similar to the one Wyatt used to protect himself. She smiled thankfully at the little boy.

Wyatt cooed in his mother’s arms. Piper smirked as she looked at Chris, the only one in the room unprotected. Phoebe ruffled Wyatt’s blonde hair, “Looks like your powers are growing, huh little man?”

“Faith, are you okay?” Buffy asked from the foot of the stairs.

Faith thought about it a moment before flashing Chris an ‘eat crap’ grin and speaking to her sister-slayer, “I’m five-by-five B, and ready for the little dude to put this sorry bastard out of commission.”

Faith looked back at the group. They were all staring at Wyatt anxiously. Piper was speaking quietly to her son, too softly for Faith to hear inside the soft swoosh of her protective shield. Chris was staring at the dark-haired slayer intently.

“Faith, vanquished or not, your blood is still the key to stopping the destruction. Do the right thing Faith.”

“Faith, don’t listen to him. We’ll find another way,” Paige’s voice was reassuring from across the room. But the look on their faces told Faith that a plan had not yet been devised. The ground shook beneath them all and Faith felt the ground opening up. She looked toward her friends with pleading eyes.

Chris tried to disappear, but his powers didn’t work. He knew the double shields were neutralizing his strength. “Mom, Dad, you gonna kill me?”

Piper looked sad for only a moment as she clutched baby Wyatt, “What you’ve become is irreprehensible, Chris. I don’t even know you.”

“But I know you Mother. And you will see. If you save her, if you allow this Hellmouth to open, and she lives, then your future will be set. You will suffer a short life of degradation and pain. I promise you that.”

Piper’s ears ached. She could feel the half-threat, half-warning in Chris’ voice. She kissed Wyatt’s cheek and with that, Wyatt began to stare Chris down. Without warning, the entire group of heroes began to chant. Chris dropped to the floor writhing in pain. His hatred and anger was visible. As he looked one last time at Faith, his body shined with an almost black aura, and then he exploded in a blinding flash of light.
The force knocked everyone to the ground. Faith hit her head on an antique table. Blood began to seep from her wound. It ached as she regained her poise and looked toward her friends.

“That is one fine boy you have there,” Giles said as he picked his fallen glasses up from the stairs.

Leo smiled at Piper, but made no moves to join her and Wyatt, “He gets his best qualities from his mother.”

Piper smiled in return and then looked from Leo and Giles to Paige, Phoebe and Prue, “You guys okay?”

Paige nodded and looked toward Faith who was holding her broken arm, “Faith? You okay?”

Before any of them could reflect upon the vanquishing of Chris, and before Faith could answer, the ground rumbled again, this time shaking the stairs beneath their feet. Piper knew the stairs were going to collapse. She quickly pushed Dawn, Xander, Willow, Giles and Phoebe up the stairs hoping that the others would follow them.

But as she reached the safer landing above, she realized that Leo, Prue, Paige, Buffy and Faith were still standing in the basement. Their faces were etched with the panic of realization. They knew that the rumbling ground meant that the Hellmouth was upon them.

Phoebe was the first the fire blocking their way to the back door in the kitchen. She couldn’t begin to imagine how the fire had started, nor did she take the time to figure out. The sounds of the fire spreading mixed with the shaking ground caused her to panic as she quickly directed those with her toward the living room.

“My god! Run! Run!” Phoebe’s voice shrieked above the roaring sounds of the spreading fire. She couldn’t believe how quickly it had gone from simply guarding the backdoor to engulfing the kitchen. The ceiling above them was awash in fire.

Piper tried one more time to urge the group below to get out quickly. She knew Prue and Leo would make it out no matter what happened, but Faith, Buffy and Paige wouldn’t survive a fire. She looked at Paige, hoping she’d orb out when it came down to it, and not play hero. She knew that the chance of Paige not helping Faith was slim.

“Come on! There’s a fire spreading up here. The stairs aren’t going to hold and I’m not sure how long this house will either,” Piper yelled down to them.

Paige looked up at her, her brown eyes drowning in indecision, “Piper, go! Get everyone out. Get into the street. We’ll figure out a way to stop it and then orb out!”

Their voices were merely mumbles as the ground shook harder, and more loudly. Paige swallowed hard as a reluctant Piper, tears apparent in her eyes, disappeared from view. Debris fell around them, as the shaking did not cease.

Piper tried to lead the way out of the house still holding Wyatt closely. He was calm, surprisingly so, considering how chaotic the world had turned in a matter of seconds. As they approached the foyer they realized that the majority of the house was on fire. Their path to the front door was clear however, and Giles, Willow, Xander and Dawn made it through the door and into the street. Phoebe, close behind Piper and Wyatt, turned at the stairs and looked back at her sister.

“I have to get the book, Piper!”

Piper looked angry and shouted above the deafening sounds around them, “Phoebe, are you insane? The book isn’t important. Don’t you get that? The book is so far from important it’s not even funny. You are important, Wyatt is important, and Prue and Paige are important. That’s all that matters to me in this world. Now come on!”

Phoebe kissed Piper quickly on the cheek, “I love you.”

Phoebe dashed up the stairs toward the attic. Smoke closed in behind her. Piper ran to the street, her heart breaking for the unknown consequences of her sisters’ actions.

“What do we do?” Prue asked Leo above the roar of the shifting walls.

Leo looked apologetically at Faith, “Do you think Chris was telling the truth? Do you think the Hellmouth wants your blood?”

Faith looked from Leo to the Athame and silently nodded. Buffy who had been unusually silent was the first to know what Faith was thinking as the younger slayer picked up the athame, “Hell no. Faith.
No! Not after everything we survived. It won’t be this way.”

Faith smiled. All the emptiness in her chocolate eyes was gone, replaced by a sense of fulfillment, “All my life, Buffy, all my life, I wondered if I was worth anything. I wondered day in and day out if I had any purpose at all on this earth. Sure, I’m a slayer, but you’re ‘the’ slayer. I’m nobody. I don’t even know if I know how to love.”

She paused momentarily but continued before Buffy and the others still in the basement could continue. Although Faith’s voice was soft among the noises of the continuous earthquake, it was clear.

“Wait, that’s not true, I do know how to love, and this will be the greatest proof of it yet. I love you so much B that I have to do this for all of you. The world will not come to this, not today, not on my watch.”

Faith shoveled in a deep, slow, deliberate breath. She looked at Paige, sadness in both of their eyes. A protest was perched on Paige’s parted lips. Faith shook her head.

“If I had only known about you ten years ago…about all of this…I wouldn’t have been the person I became.” Faith said, her voice faltering under the scrutiny of her newly discovered sister’s eyes. “I was so bad for so long, and I know that had I known about you from the time I needed someone the most, I wouldn’t have ever become so bad.”

Buffy’s eyes filled with tears, “Faith, there’s another way. There has to be.”

“B, you know better than anyone that there is no other way. You’ve been there, done, right?”

“Yeah, and it sucked. Believe me. If you die Faith I will pull your ass from the grave and straight out of Heaven,” Buffy growled.

Faith almost laughed, “Some how I doubt I’ll end up in Heaven.”

Piper joined Giles, Xander, Dawn and Willow on the street. Neighbors had gathered one after the other onto the asphalt safety. The ground rumbled less intensely outside. But the more people crowded into the street from their slowly deteriorating homes, the harder it shook. Piper noticed the splitting road.

“Looks like we’re about to be in big trouble,” she said as she pointed toward the street down the hill from them.

Giles looked around for answers, trying to concentrate on his knowledge. He knew there was a way. He just wasn’t sure what it was. He fought to keep his balance as the ground shook.

Dawn looked at the burning manor. Tears fell from her wide eyes as she realized the danger Buffy was in. She felt Willow’s hand in hers. Xander knelt on the ground waiting, watching. None of them feeling the loss and fear that was bubbling deep inside of Piper. She gripped Wyatt in one hand. She had never been more scared, and with that fear, her power grew stronger. Piper reached her free hand up hoping, praying that she was not too late.

Phoebe coughed and choked on the billowing black smoke. The years of history, her family’s history, was burning. But she knew in her heart that the truest sense of history lied in the Book of Shadows. The power was off and the smoke caused the house to be darker than death.

She was turned around backwards in her own house. Finally gaining her bearings, she made her way to the top of the attic stairs. She threw open the door and was surprised to see that so far the attic had been untouched by fire or smoke. But as she rushed into the room and closed the door, she knew that wouldn’t last long. Smoke wafted up through the opening at the bottom of the door.

She reached for the book and instead of taking it and running, she began to rapidly flip through it, knowing in her heart, hoping in her soul that their salvation was there. The fire was spreading more quickly. And soon the attic wall near the door was covered in the dancing fire. Phoebe sputtered as breathing became difficult. And yet she continued to search through the book.

Phoebe’s heart stopped as she found it. The answer she had been looking for. She began to recite the spell even as her pants leg was set ablaze by the reaching flames.

Faith looked at the athame in her hand, now pointing toward her own heart. She said a silent goodbye to the world around her. Tears flooded her face as the past years flashed before her. Ending with one last image of her smiling sister. Faith knew it was all for Paige.

Paige, Buffy, Leo, Prue watched in horror as Faith, standing in the middle of the blood red evil symbol on the floor, drove the athame into her own heart.

The world stopped, silent, still. The fire had frozen. The roars of the earth rumbling were gone. The only sound in all of the corners of the Earth was one single beating heart and nothing more.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Thump, thump, thump. His heart beat against his ribcage. Standing in the unmoving world, he surveyed the images around him. Fire licked the sky in a frozen kiss. He stood in the middle of the street where people, stationary in time, pointed at the burning house that burned no more. He looked to the familiar face. Piper stood still in time, frozen like the rest of the world. Her right hand was cast upon the air, while her left hand held on to Wyatt. His blue eyes gazed steadily upon the fire. He, too, was frozen, as were the friends of the slayers.

The man whose heart beat was the only sound in the world, laid his hands on Wyatt and Piper. He then waved his hand and Piper and her son disappeared. Smiling satisfactorily, he left Giles, Dawn, Willow and Xander frozen and then moved through the rubble, the only being in the entire world that moved. That saw. He moved passed the front door of the manor and passed the flames that stood like cardboard in the foyer. They were not hot to the touch. They were simply an image now. Non-moving. Non-threatening. He debated if he should head toward the basement first or the attic.

Knowing the world was frozen made neither situation more pressing than the next. He moved up the stairs. Making his way past fallen walls and beams, he reached Phoebe, her face frozen in a state of panic. He took in the sight of the frozen flames on her pants’ leg. He lightly patted the flames away without disturbing her unmoving form. He looked at the book in front of her and smiled. She had found the right spell whether she knew it or not.

He laid Phoebe’s hand upon the Book, waved his hand into the air and Phoebe and the book disappeared. He dusted his hands together and smiled. He knew he was being watched from elsewhere in the universe. Completing his mission would be his honor.

He moved away from the attic. As he neared the basement he knew what was to come. Virtually gliding down the crumbled stairs, he took in the unmoving figures gathered around the emblem on the floor. Piper, hand still in the air and Wyatt still on her hip, were there. Phoebe hand on the book was there. And also there, in the middle of the sign on the floor, Faith lay in a frozen pool of blood. It wasn’t the first time he had seen her. And he prayed it wouldn’t be the last. He looked down at Paige who was kneeling on the floor reaching out to Faith, all stopped in time.

He didn’t know the blonde girl with the solid crystal tears on her cheek. He looked up at the ceiling and then nodded. Drawing in a deep breath he waited for the world to restart. Like a video on fast forward the world moved again into normal motion. The rumbling began again and the shaking didn’t stop. Paige reached Faith without noticing the additional people now in the basement.

Piper looked shocked as she realized she and Wyatt were in danger. Seeing Phoebe trying to catch the falling book, Piper assumed it was her sister’s doing.

“Phoebe! What did you do?” Piper yelled above the roars. Leo and Prue turned toward the middle sisters with surprise and fear on their faces.

Buffy was close behind Paige. Paige pulled Faith into her arms, gathering up her bleeding baby sister and holding her close. “Faith, Faith, hang on. Do you hear me?”

Paige’s eyes were clouded with tears. Buffy’s eyes lingered on the athame. No one had yet noticed the man standing in the room with them. He finally stepped forward into what little light was offered into the basement via a now shattered window.

“Everyone listen!” His voice boomed above the racket of the opening Hellmouth. He watched as Paige scrambled to move Faith away from the hole growing larger in the floor. Buffy helped her.

Leo and Prue looked to the man, unsure of his allegiance. His soft blue eyes were kind. “I’m not here for Them. I’m here for my daughters.”

Paige looked up at him, “Sam? What’s going on?”

He smiled gently, but wasting no time he explained quickly, “The Hellmouth can only be stopped by the blood that courses through Faith’s veins. My blood, your blood,” he said looking at Paige, “So I have a plan. Leo, quickly, you and Prue heal Faith.”

Leo and Prue moved next to Paige whose tears were slowly ceasing as hope refilled her heart. They slowly pulled the knife out of Faith, blood continued to seep from the wound. The exit of the blade caused Faith to wince, giving sign that she was still alive.

Sam continued to explain his plan, “We’re going to reset time, only those of us here, near the Hellmouth will not be affected. Only the world outside of this room will be reset. Your friends on the street won’t remember anything past the time Chris was vanquished, but we will.”

“Why do we need to reset time? If the Hellmouth is unaffected by the time resetting, why do we need to reset time?” Piper yelled over the earthquakes.

Sam nodded, understanding the girl’s thinking, “You saw the world outside, Piper. Everything is almost destroyed. If we reset time now, then it’ll only be as though an earthquake has hit San Francisco again. Got it? No fires, no deaths, no grounds opening, just some structural damage and a few crooked pictures.”

Leo shook his head, “I don’t understand Sam, what will resetting time do? The Hellmouth will continue opening.”

“We’re going to give it blood. My blood.” Sam looked at Paige who looked up in horror.

“Are you crazy? You can’t die in her place? No one should have to die,” Paige’s voice was filled with anger.

Buffy nodded, “No, he’s right, Paige. Trust me. I know from experience that things like this won’t stop until it’s satisfied.”

Prue was confused, “But Sam, you’re a Whitelighter. You’re already dead, right? How can you stop it?”

“I’ll explain it when we reset time.” Sam looked down at Faith who was slowly coming to.

“What do we do?” Phoebe asked nervously.

“The spell you found in the book. The one to reset time?”

Phoebe nodded, “What about it?”

“You, Piper and Paige need to read it, now!” His voice grew louder as the ground shook even more violently, smoke and fire reaching down to them from the ceiling above.

“Now damn it!” He yelled.

Paige left Faith in Buffy’s arms and joined Piper and Phoebe around the book. Their voices were almost comforting as they spoke in rhyme, each in harmony with the other. As their words flowed, the world stopped and felt as though it were rewinding. As there words were done the world stopped and restarted again.

The final speck of dust settled from the vanquishing of Chris. Dawn, Willow, Giles and Xander
were no where to be seen. Phoebe, Piper, and Paige looked to Sam for instructions. He nodded, and quickly hugged Paige.

“No matter what happens next, I love you. You have to know that. I know I’m a lousy father, but I love you. And I will see you again.”

He moved to Faith who looked dazed, almost in pain. Sam knew about her arm. He healed it as he knelt down beside her. He smiled gently and something in his sweet eyes made Faith feel safe, loved, cared for.

“Faith, you and Paige take care of each other. I’ll always be watching you. I know I’ve never been a known presence in your life, but I do love you. Whether you know me or not.”

Faith nodded, not knowing what to feel or what to say. Sam winked at her and then stood up and moved to the center of the blood red symbol on the floor. Next to the hole still widening in the ground.

“There’s a spell next to the time spell Phoebe. The three of you need to read it out loud. Now!”

Phoebe nodded, and she, Piper and Paige began to recite the spell. Sam smiled as he was washed by a bright white light that came quickly and faded away. He stood before them all, a mere man. A mortal who would save the world. He quickly grabbed the athame form the floor.

Paige jumped forward but was held back by Prue who wrapped her arms around her tightly. Paige struggled against her Whitelighter sister, but instead sank into her arms as Sam closed his eyes and drove the athame into his heart. He fell backward disappearing into the hole. The rumbling of the ground stopped and the hole began to close up. Leaving the world as peaceful as it had been that morning.

Prue let go of Paige and allowed Piper and Phoebe to hug her for comfort. So much had to be resolved. So much had to be discussed, explained, and dealt with. Wyatt reached out for Leo and Leo gratefully took him. Piper smiled at Leo ready to hear his apology and his explanation and go forward from there. She watched as Prue smiled, watching their little sisters. Home. It felt good.

Paige broke away from her familiar sisters and moved toward Faith. She relished the idea of starting a relationship with her newfound sister. Faith didn’t smile back at her, instead the dark haired slayer and her fair haired counterpart were watching the ground. From the closing hole, three beasts of hell were crawling out. Buffy almost laughed, “They always have to get the last word, don’t they?”

Faith stood up ready to fight. Her slayer powers were almost back to normal. She wondered if bleeding had helped get rid of the poison. Or perhaps it was the healing, she wasn’t sure. She took a fighting stance next to Buffy. Faith’s only knowledge was to fight first, deal with the emotions later.

The hole closed completely as the three hell beasts stood on solid ground. Piper threw her hands up and tried to blow them up. The effects of her power were mere scratches across the beasts’ hard scaly skin. Piper looked slightly panicked as she searched the room for backup. She knew she had it in the slayers. Beasts from the underworld, the hellish hellmouth variety of the underworld, were their specialty.

As the beasts snarled and dripped slime, Faith and Buffy moved in for the kill. As soon as the rest of them saw that Faith and Buffy were going in for the fight, they weren’t far behind, throwing punches debris, whatever they could use as weapons. It didn’t take long for the group to demolish the oozing brownish green monsters.

Piper looked at the non-dissipating mess, “Okay, who’s going to clean this crap up?”

Buffy smiled as she looked at the top of the basement stairs, “They are. They missed the whole saving the world thing, they can clean it up.”

Everyone turned to see to whom Buffy was referring. Dawn, Giles, Willow and Xander stood bewildered at the basement door. They looked at one another, shrugged and descended the stairs. Which, were intact thanks to the resetting of time.

Dawn looked around the room and at the very closed Hellmouth, “I am so confused.”

Buffy smirked as Faith stifled a laugh. Dawn cut her eyes at them to dare them to use her statement against her. Buffy hugged her little sister and smiled at Paige. “They’re a handful, but you love them more than anything else in the world.”

“What’s that?” Paige asked.

“Little sisters,” Prue replied knowingly as she leaned into Phoebe.

Paige smiled and nodded, “Yeah, I’m getting that feeling.”

Paige was going to hug Faith, but Buffy stopped her, “Hug her and she’ll kill you.”

Faith smiled, “No, you hug me and I’ll kill you. I’ll hug Paige anytime. She’s my sister after all.”

“Ouch,” Buffy mocked as she laughed.

Willow suggested that they all move upstairs for some coffee and tea. Faith silently wondered to herself what time or day it was. It had all gotten so lost, even before the stopping and resetting of time. Her hand involuntarily fluttered to her heart, remembering what she had done to save her sister. She felt Paige slip her hand around her own.

“So you guys gonna stick around a while?” Paige’s face was filled with anxiety.

Faith shrugged, “I don’t know what’s next.”

As they gathered into the living room they realized the time. It was past midnight. Each wondered where the time had gone. Leo laid Wyatt in his crib and then looked at the weary warriors and frowned. He knew their mission was incomplete. The major immediate dangers were stopped, made null and void.

Repercussions of their brief time together were becoming obvious. Paige was sullen and quiet as she sat between Phoebe and Faith her hands wrapped in each of theirs. He knew she was contemplating Sam’s death, wondering if it could have been any different.

He watched Faith silently turn inward, as he knew she must have done often in her life. But then, to his surprise, he realized that Faith was crying quietly, slipping her head on Paige’s shoulder. Paige let go of Faith’s hand and slipped her arm around the slayer. Leo knew it was a beginning for them that they would never forget.

Buffy sat in the large armchair with Dawn in her lap, the two of them obviously comfortable with each other. Leo could tell that Dawn was as protective of Buffy as Buffy was of Dawn. Leo found it funny that such a small girl could be a protector of the world and that her little sister, though taller in stature, was the protector’s protector.

Willow sat next to Phoebe. Leo wondered why the red headed witch continued to steal glances of the psychic witch. Phoebe was preoccupied with watching Prue who was sitting on the floor with Piper’s head in her lap. Xander was sprawled out next to them. Giles was cleaning his glasses…again.

Leo knew he should let them rest, let them gather their strength, but he also knew the battle was not over and that the more time that passed the more danger they were all in.

He cleared his throat, which got everyone’s attention, and pissy glares, he frowned apologetically and shrugged, “I hate to do this, you guys, but it’s not over.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Prue eyed Leo cautiously from her seat on the floor, “Leo, it can wait until morning, can’t it?”

Piper looked up at her sister and then to Leo, “What can wait? Why isn’t it over?”

Leo’s frown deepened, as did the lines in his forehead. He glanced from his wife to his sisters-in-law to the strangers-turned-friends. He nodded and then shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans as he looked around the room again. Dawn was half-asleep still on Buffy’s lap in the chair. Buffy was staring intently at Leo; sure her job was done but willing to fight longer still. Xander was asleep, a soft snore escaping his lips with each breath he released. Prue kept a hand on Piper’s head, relishing the touch, the love. Leo was ecstatic that the Halliwells were finally together.

Giles paced in front of the fireplace, “Leo, what matters are left to resolve?”

“The Elders,” Leo said emphatically. “They still need to be stopped.”

Prue shook her head, “Not tonight. We have the protection spell over the house so that no one can enter without our permission. It’s not imperative that this is finished tonight. I think it’s more than acceptable for all of us to get some sleep and take it easy until we wake in the morning.”

Piper smiled at Prue, “Nice to know that I don’t have to be the boss anymore.”

Phoebe laughed as she threw a pillow from the couch hitting Piper in the stomach with it, “What are you talking about, Pipe? You’ve always been bossy.”

Paige snorted, “I still love you Piper.”

Piper laughed as she relaxed for the first time in days, “Thank you Paige. You’re now my favorite little sister.”

Paige feigned a hurt expression, “What’s this? I wasn’t your favorite little sister all along?”

Piper threw the pillow at Paige and hit Faith instead. Faith frowned and looked at the pillow that had landed in her lap after pelting her on the forehead. Faith’s eyes were tearless now, although her red puffy face showed the ramifications of letting loose momentarily. Paige’s arm was still draped over the younger slayer’s shoulder. Leo wanted them to have time to talk about their still very new discovery. There was so much the new sisters needed to uncover, to say. He thought about the amount of time it took Piper and Phoebe to adjust to Paige. He knew that there was no time like the present.

“You’re right Prue. It can wait. Tonight we sleep, we talk,” Prue glanced at Piper who smiled knowingly, “We do whatever we have to do to make ourselves stronger.”

“I think Xander will be sleeping here on the floor,” Faith said as she moved from the couch and lifted Xander’s head gently. She slid the pillow under his head and then Phoebe covered him with the throw from the back of the couch.

Those still awake looked around the room trying to decide who they needed to be with the most. Paige looked torn as she glanced from Faith to Prue. Buffy also looked torn between her baby sister and the dark-haired slayer. Paige and Buffy exchanged a look and then Buffy smiled and nodded.
Faith finally had a family, Buffy thought as she looked at the dark-haired sisters. Even if only one of them was her true blood, she knew the others would never let her be hurt. Willow, Buffy and Dawn crawled into the sleeper sofa that Leo and Giles had pulled out.

As Faith went upstairs to brush her teeth and change clothes, Prue approached Paige, “Hey kid. You’re one kick-ass Charmed One, you know that?”

Paige grinned, “Thanks. Listen, I know you just got back, and I really want to talk to you…”

“But you want to be sure Faith is going to be okay?” Prue finished for Paige, “It’s okay, sweetie. Faith needs you so much right now, and Pheebs and I have some pre-Paige issues we need to work out.

Things that aren’t your problem, although they are your business.”

“Stuff about Cole, I’m guessing.” Paige said intuitively.

Prue simply nodded before gently kissing Paige on the cheek and hugging her, “I’ll see you in the morning, Kid.”

Paige nodded and watched as Prue ascended the steps. She felt two hands slip into each of her own. She knew it was Piper and Phoebe. She pulled both of them into a silent hug and whispered ‘I love you’.

Piper tucked a strand of Paige’s chocolate-colored hair behind her ear, “We love you too and we know that Faith really needs you right now or at least needs to know that you are going to be there when she does admit she needs you, and I guess I just wanted to say that she’s one lucky, very lucky girl to have you.”

Paige smiled, “Must be good karma in our blood because I was really lucky to have you two.” She paused and looked at Piper, “You going to talk to Leo tonight?”

Piper nodded and then whispered, “Night girls, I love you.”

“Night,” Phoebe and Paige whispered simultaneously.

Paige looked at Phoebe, who looked as though she had something she wanted to say. Paige could tell she was debating it. Finally Paige gave in, “Phoebe, what is it? What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“If she decides to leave with her friends, will you be leaving us too?”

Paige balked at Phoebe’s sad eyes, “I hadn’t even thought about it.”

“But you would consider it?”

Paige shook her head, “No. I haven’t thought about it because it’s ludicrous. My home is here, forever. I’m just hoping maybe we have enough room for Faith too.”

Phoebe nodded, “She’s a part of you, that makes her a part of us.”

Buffy and Willow had been eavesdropping on all of the conversations. They both were glad they knew their place. As soon as their job was done in San Francisco, they would be moving on to Los Angeles. Buffy thought about Faith and knew how much she’d miss the rogue girl. But she knew how much Faith desired a home, a family. Buffy would never stand in the way of that.

The blonde smiled over Dawn at Willow and Willow smiled back. As Xander snored softly on the floor near them, they knew that with or without Faith, the occupants of the living room, which included Giles, who had decided to also sleep on the floor, were their true family.

Prue had snuggled under the covers after a quick shower. Phoebe couldn’t’ stop looking at her. Prue finally turned off the light.

“Wait,” Phoebe said switching a lamp on, “I thought we needed to talk.”

Prue giggled lightly, “No. There’s nothing for us to talk about Phoebe. Well, I mean, you do know how much you mean to me, right? And you know I love you?”

“I think so, yes. And I love you just as much if not a million times more,” Phoebe answered.

“Not possible, but I only told Paige that so she wouldn’t feel so torn between looking after Faith tonight and catching up with me. I’m here for the duration Pheebs. Forever and ever.”

Phoebe sat up in the bed, “You’re serious?”

Prue nodded, “Of course. I would never joke about being away from you guys. I hated every minute that I was a Whitelighter and couldn’t tell you where I was or how I was, or that I was planning on coming home again. You couldn’t imagine the countless hours upon hours where all I could do was look at your pictures and pray that I’d be home.”

“I can’t imagine? Are you serious?” Phoebe asked a half-grin, half-frown on her face. Prue took note that the expression made Phoebe look like a lost child. Prue sat up as well.

“I know it was hard for you Phoebe, but you had Piper, and then Paige. You were able to heal, to move on.”

Phoebe shook her head, “No. No one could ever make us forget you, or lessen the pain of losing you Prue. You have to know that. Look under that pillow.”

As she pointed to the pillow Prue’s head had been occupying, Prue lifted it and found a worn black and white picture of herself. She was in her late teens holding a camera. “Where did you get this?”

“A box of your stuff. I had to keep it here with me. That look on your face reminded me of all the millions of times I got in trouble and you were there, constantly, that look of love on your face no matter how angry you were with me.”

Prue reached out to Phoebe and pulled her into an embrace. Phoebe shuddered with tears as she and Prue shared a long overdue moment of affection. They lay down again, eyes closing before their heads hit the pillows.

Leo looked at Piper from the doorway of Wyatt’s nursery. He felt his heart skip a beat as she brushed out her long dark hair. More beautiful than ever, he thought to himself as he moved across the room and sat on the bed behind the vanity where Piper was sitting.

“Been a long time since we’ve been together in a room, alone,” Leo said.

Wyatt gurgled from his crib. Leo smiled brightly and nodded, “Virtually alone.”

Piper was nervous. Leo had never looked more handsome, more assured, more like a husband, her husband. She wanted nothing more than to lose herself in his embrace, to feel his hands on her skin, his kisses on her face. But there was so much between them. Secrets that shouldn’t have been kept.

“Leo? I…” Piper began.

Leo stopped her by laying his finger on her lips, gently, “It was all for a good reason, Piper. It was all for this reason right here.”

Leo leaned into her and kissed her softly. Her heart thumped, her legs grew weak. She had missed him so much. She had missed everything about him, right down to the cologne he wore. She kissed him back and let him carry her to the bed. Knowing that going any further would undermine any argument she might have in the morning, Piper stopped him from kissing her again once they were both on the bed.

“What is it Piper?” Leo asked.

“Just…hold me. Tonight I need you to be here, to hold me.”

Leo was more than happy to oblige, his thoughts of a passionate reunion squelched and replaced with thoughts of a compassionate reunion. “Something,” he thought, “that lasts a lot longer anyway.”

Leo closed his eyes and knew that Piper was fast asleep. It was the most comfort he had felt in months. He had missed his family, and knew that he would never leave them again.

They were sitting on the bed, legs crossed. Their faces were not very similar in features, it was apparent that each had taken after her own mother. And since they did not share a mother, their features were not much alike with exception to their eyes, and their cheekbones. Paige thought it odd, but Faith looked more like a Halliwell than the child of Sam and some other woman.

“Speechless…you?” Faith finally said after moments of the two of them staring at one another, mentally making note of every line and color in their faces.

Paige smiled, her eyes watery, “Never, but definitely in awe.”

Faith chuckled slightly. The two of them weren’t sure where to begin, or how to begin. Paige had so much to ask Faith about how she grew up, although she already knew the effects of her little sister’s childhood in the trailer park. She wanted to know everything about Faith, yet she was terrified of asking Faith even the simplest question.

“Did you ever want a little sister?” Faith asked. Her voice was soft, unsteady in the quiet night.

Paige’s face lit up, “I was just telling Phoebe a few days ago how much I had always wanted a little sister when I was growing up.”

“You got three big sisters instead though, huh?” Faith looked at the photograph of Prue, Piper and Phoebe on the nightstand.

“I did. Well, actually I only got two big sisters. Prue was gone when I got here, remember?”

Faith nodded, “Presumed dead, but just orbing around elsewhere.”

“Exactly,” Paige muttered as she saw the growing concern in Faith’s eyes.

“Can I do that too?”

“Do what?”

Faith smirked, “Orb. Can I orb?”

Paige shrugged, “You should be able to. I’m willing to bet that Patty, my mom, helped Sam bind your powers, so we’ll have to do a spell to unbind them all. Patty probably did a lot of things to help you as a baby.”

“You think?” Faith asked doubtfully.

They were silent momentarily until Faith finally asked, “So, this woman, your mom, have you been able to meet her?”

Paige nodded, “Yup. She’s around a lot. Ghost form usually, but she takes corporeal form every now and then for the really big things.”

“Are you upset about Sam?” Faith asked cautiously.

Paige considered the question and decided to answer honestly, “Sam was a man with many secrets, none of which he cared to share. Did I love him? Yes, in a way that I never expected to. Like you love an uncle or something. He wasn’t my dad. He helped create me, but my dad died in a car crash. Sam was an incredibly good man. And you know something, you have his generosity, I can tell.”

“Right, I don’t see that. But I’m thinking having some of your Whitelighter powers will be wicked cool.”

Paige chuckled and then decided to dig deeper with Faith, “What about you Faith? Does your mom ever visit you?”

Faith let out a soft but sarcastic laugh, “Too much. She’s always in my head, more so since I was in jail.”

As the word ‘jail’ left her lips, Faith cringed and pulled her knees to her chest. She felt like the twelve year old girl she had once been in the dark alley, cold and alone.

“Faith,” Paige laid her hand on Faith’s knee and looked deep into Faith’s brown eyes, “You aren’t going back there, ever. You know that don’t you?”

“There’s still a warrant out for me, Paige. If they find me, I’m as good as gone. And after what Buffy did to Travis Harwell…he’s bound to get me good.”

Paige bit her lower lip. The fear coursing through Faith’s eyes was a strange sight. Paige understood suddenly that for all of Faith’s false bravado and tough talk, she was always that lost little girl in a darkened closet, in a darkened jail cell.

“We talked to our friend Daryl, at the police station. He has a friend who owes him a favor. He’ll get it taken care of and you’ll be free, Faith. Free from it all.”

Faith was biting her lower lip the same way Paige was. Paige took note of the similarity, and then concentrated on Faith’s next words.

“Do you think I’ll ever really be free, Paige? Free from everything? Free from what happened there, in that jail, with that monster?”

Paige inhaled deeply. No answer was a good one and a million of them passed through her head in a matter of seconds. She was about to sigh in resignation that Faith might be right, but then she remembered. She remembered what she had felt like when she first met Piper and Phoebe. Terrified of being close to them, but terrified not to be.

“You’re not alone anymore, Faith. I mean, I know you’ve had Buffy and the Scoobies, but you’re really not alone anymore. We’re sisters. Flesh and blood family. And that means you’ll never go through anything alone ever again.”

Faith looked as though she were considering the point. Her heart felt as though it were going to explode as she looked at Paige. It was an unexplainable moment in her life. One of those very rare times that she felt something she had never felt before. As she tried to decipher what she was feeling, she continued to look at her sister.

“Sister,” Faith whispered in reaffirmation, not knowing she had spoken aloud.

Paige took Faith’s hand, “That’s right, sister.”

Faith smiled as she relaxed slightly on the bed, her body, although healed by Prue and Leo, ached tremendously. Images of the last year flashed through her mind. She felt a sudden wave of yet something else she didn’t recognize.

“What are you feeling right now, Faith?” Paige asked as she let go of Paige’s hand and explored the younger girl’s eyes, which were downcast upon the comforter of Paige’s bed.

Faith shook her head, “A lot. I’m feeling things that I’ve never felt before.”

“Like what?”

Faith finally lifted her head and looked at Paige. Her eyes were red again and tears were racing down her cheeks, “I don’t know, but I think I feel…love. And loved.”

“Yeah?” Paige asked astounded.

Faith nodded and Paige smiled, “I’m glad you feel that. Because even though we just met, and we just found out we’re sisters, I know beyond a doubt that I can love you very easily.”

Faith grimaced and frowned. Paige’s smile fell, “What’s wrong? What did I say?”

“It’s not you, Paige. It’s just that. I have a long way to go, before I can even begin to understand what love is.”

Paige smirked, remembering her first few months with her sisters, “You will. Believe me. You can’t be around this house for long without knowing exactly what it’s like.”

Faith was biting her lower lip again, “I haven’t decided if I’m going to stick around here or not. I mean there’s battles I need to be at, all over the earth.”

Paige nodded, “It’s not something you have to decide to do right now. Maybe someday. And maybe your greatest battle is here, in San Francisco.”

Faith nodded and yawned, “Who knows.”

Paige felt herself wishing she had been there when Faith was younger to tuck her in and protect her. Even though Paige was just five years older than Faith it felt like a lifetime as she looked into Faith’s wide innocent looking eyes. Paige remembered Buffy’s words when Faith was in the hospital after almost drowning.

“Faith’s no innocent girl, Paige. I mean maybe she was, but the things she’s done in her life, she’s not innocent.”

Paige disagreed silently with Buffy. Faith was the most innocent person in the house, except for Dawn and Wyatt. She knew of Faith’s exploits and misadventures, but she also knew that Faith looked at the world through a jaded view, and that view, made her unaware of the good things in the world, it made her fearful, angry and therefore, Paige thought, innocent unaware of being loved or of loving.

Faith watched Paige thinking. She could tell how much she already felt for the older girl. “Is it possible?”

Faith thought, “Do I love my sister? Is it at all possible that she loves me? Was she being truthful?”

“I feel weird,” Faith said suddenly, breaking the silence.

Paige looked intrigued, “Weird? How so?”

Faith laid her head down on the pillow. As Faith contemplated her answer, Paige turned off the main light in the room and slipped under the covers. The lamp on the nightstand emitted a soft pink glow.

“Weird because you found out all of these God awful things about me, and then we found out we’re sisters.”
Paige wasn’t following, “So?”

“So? So aren’t you extremely disappointed?” Faith asked honestly not knowing the answer.

“What?” Paige sat up and looked at Faith who was lying on her back looking up at the ceiling. “I am so far from disappointed that perhaps I’m even too proud that you’re my sister.”

“Proud? What in the world have I ever done for anyone to be proud of?”

Paige frowned, “Faith, please tell me you don’t really think that way.”

Faith nodded, her tears still falling, “I’ve been an awful person, Paige. I killed a man. I was horrible to people who cared about me, to Buffy. I broke every heart of every boy that ever had anything to do with me. The only person I ever loved was myself.”

Paige shook her head, “That’s where you’re wrong, Faith. You don’t love yourself. If you did, you wouldn’t be so hard on yourself. You’d give yourself a break and you’d realize that you’re one hell of an awesome soul. Why do you think you were the Charmed Chosen One?”

Faith shrugged and pointed toward the ceiling, “Someone messed up, up there?”

“No. However you were made Faith, you are filled with love, with compassion, with heart and soul. Trust me.”

“And of all the people in the world that I’ve ever met, you’re the only one I’ve ever trusted so quickly, and with so much.”

Faith yawned, exhaustion finally getting the better of her. Paige ran a hand gently across her new sister’s cheek wiping away the remaining tears.

Paige laid back down again and looked at Faith, “We can talk more tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay,” Faith mumbled already being lulled to sleep by the soft sounds of the night.

Paige glanced at the clock. It was past one in the morning. She prayed that the house would be dream free for night and that they would all get some quality sleep.

Unbeknownst to Paige however, there was already trouble brewing in one of the upstairs rooms. A danger lurked, waiting for the right moment to reveal itself.

Chapter Thirty

The danger Paige knew nothing about was taking place in Phoebe’s room. Prue looked at the object with a mix of fear, and amusement. She knew that if she took the bait, the moment could spin out of control. She looked away from the object her sister was holding and to Phoebe’s evil glare.

“You wouldn’t do this to me, would you, Pheebs?”

Phoebe nodded, smiling a mischievous, mean grin. Prue frowned. She quickly looked around for her own weapon. Picking up the closest thing she could, she took the first swing.

“Hit first and hit hardest,” Prue said as she erupted into a fit of giggles when her pillow sideswiped her little sister.

Phoebe looked surprised as she snorted a laugh, “Oh! It’s on now!”

She swung her own feather-filled pillow at her sister, relishing the childishness of the moment. She had missed Prue more than she ever thought possible. She had no idea why she had decided to slip off the bed and hover over Prue with her pillow raised in the air. But she did just that and now she and Prue were at the beginning stages of an all-out pillow fight.

“Hey, you started this shortstop,” Prue grimaced as she was smacked in the side of the head.

They laughed loudly, not knowing that their outburst had attracted the attention of the other occupants of the upstairs rooms.

Faith had been dozing lightly as she heard a loud verbal noise coming from the room across the hall. She looked at Paige, who was already up and heading for the door.

“What the hell is that?” Faith asked the youngest Halliwell.

Paige shrugged, “Whatever it is, it sounds painful. I have to go see if my sisters are okay.”

Faith held up a hand indicating she wanted Paige to wait for her. Faith quickly grabbed a baseball bat that Paige always kept behind her bedroom door.

Faith nodded, “Okay, let’s go.”

Faith saw that Paige’s hand was completely steady as she turned the knob. Her own hands were trembling beyond her own belief. Faith felt a cold chill on the back of her neck as they stepped into the darkened hallway. She quickly saw Piper and Leo coming out of Piper’s room. Faith felt a twinge of jealousy as she saw how emotionally close Leo and Piper were. Faith wondered to herself if she would or could ever feel that way with a man.

The noise, muffled by the door, came again. Paige looked as though she were amused. And then Faith heard it again. She raised an eyebrow and gave Piper a quizzical glance. Piper smiled and shrugged. They all huddled around the door as Paige opened it. She slid the door open silently without distracting the room’s occupants.

Faith had to stifle a laugh of her own as feathers floated from the ceiling to the floor. The room looked like a blizzard. She heard Paige giggling beside her, as was Piper. Leo shook his head mumbling something about sisters and went back to bed.

“Are you two done yet? Some of us would like to sleep tonight,” Piper said, her hands on her hips in faux anger.

Prue and Phoebe’s heads snapped to attention, realizing finally that they were being watched. Phoebe laughed as Prue, being caught having childish fun, turned red with embarrassment. She quickly hid the pillow behind her back as though that would absolve her from all the chaos. A feather landed in her raven hair.

Faith was now smiling, more so than she had in a long time. She felt like she belonged. Standing in the doorway with Piper and Paige, she felt like one of them. And she knew that although the facial likeness between she and Paige were scarce, their similarities were abundant.

She realized that she was being stared at and turned to see Paige smiling admiringly at her. It made Faith blush as she flashed Paige a quick grin and then returned to bed. Paige shook her head, knowing that getting closer to Faith than she already was would be highly unlikely, not unless Faith experienced exactly how healing love could be.

The thought caused a surge of creativity in Paige as she began to plot against but also in favor of her new little sister. She turned to Piper, Prue and Phoebe with a smile. They knew that she was up to something and invited Paige into the room. Piper followed Paige in and then closed the door behind them. She loved potting as much as any of her sisters.

The crick in Paige’s neck indicated that she had fallen asleep somewhere other than her intended target of a nice, plush bed. She sat at the dining room table sipping highly caffeinated coffee and listening to Buffy and Faith discuss battle techniques as they demonstrated their moves in slow-motion so as not to destroy anymore of Piper’s furniture.

Paige pushed her chin to her right with the heel of her hand trying to pop the bones in her neck. She had fallen asleep in a chair in Phoebe’s room while they had talked quietly into the early morning hours. Piper, had gone back to her own bed with Leo, but Paige couldn’t tear herself away from Prue and Phoebe. She knew that Faith would be asleep and that she needed to spend time with her long lost oldest sister.

The four Charmed Ones had plotted and planned until 4am when finally Phoebe fell asleep. Prue had then told Paige everything she had needed to hear, and Paige knew she needed to repeat those things to her newfound baby sister. She looked again at Faith who glanced at her with a hunger for approval. Paige secretly wondered how it made Faith feel to need her approval and then she smiled at her little sister, not wanting to give Faith one second’s worth of doubt.

She turned her attention to the kitchen where Piper and Leo were making a massive brunch aided by Dawn. No one had gotten up before eight-thirty that morning. And now that they were all awake, it was already ten. Piper looked shyly at Leo. Paige was pleased at the sense of flirtation between her sister and brother-in-law. She wondered briefly if they had been that way when they first met, shy and smiling.

On the dining room floor, Prue played with Wyatt, getting to know him better. Wyatt, although timid at first, was now laughing at his aunt as she made silly faces at him. Paige smiled softly thinking of their conversation earlier in the morning.

Giles had his head buried in the Book of Shadows. Paige had to stifle her laughter when every few minutes the older gentleman would talk to himself saying things like “Marvelous,” “Excellent,” and Fabulous.” Paige had always found the book neat, but never a source of complete unadulterated worship.

Phoebe was sitting with her head down on the table. Paige laughed inwardly. For all of Phoebe’s talk and bravado, she was a big baby when it came to not getting enough sleep. She moaned over her cup of coffee as she lifted her head and looked toward the kitchen. Her voice was gravelly with sleep, having been the last one awake.

“Piper! When’s breakfast going to be ready?” Phoebe half shouted.

Piper leaned her head through the door, “Well, Pheebs, had you not been the last one up we could have had breakfast at nine, but we were nice enough to wait for you, so now you need to be patient enough to wait for us. Okay?”

Xander laughed from his seat next to Prue and Wyatt. Phoebe frowned at him and looked to Paige for support. Paige stifled a snicker before letting her grin grow, “Sorry Pheebs. Don’t look at me.”

Phoebe’s face grew serious as she stared down her younger sister, “Okay, see, Paige, this is how this is going to work. We’re the two youngest; you have to back me up. We’re a team, see?”

Paige shook her head, still smiling, “Here’s the way I see it working, Phoebe. Piper’s got a stove full of food, and I have a hungry stomach, so in my book, Piper wins.”

Phoebe looked as though she were about to say something more, but she smiled and nodded, “Good point.”

Paige laughed and noticed that Willow, who had been sitting across the table from Phoebe, was staring silently at Phoebe again. Phoebe noticed it too and blushed as she went back to studying her coffee. Paige was beyond curious.

“Okay,” Paige said looking from Phoebe to Willow. “What is with you two anyway?”

The whole group stopped doing what they were doing and looked from Paige, who was waiting for one or the other to answer, to Willow and Phoebe, who were looking very suspiciously at the table. Paige sighed loudly.

“Somebody start talking, please,” Paige begged.

Phoebe looked desperately at Willow trying to get the redhead to stay quiet. But Willow’s surrendering eyes said everything. Willow finally stood up and paced the floor of the dining room. Phoebe squirmed in her seat terrified of the consequences of that which she had kept hidden.

Willow finally stopped, her voice shaking as she paled even more than anyone thought possible. The entire group was still frozen in place. Even Piper, Leo and Dawn were standing in the doorway, food forgotten. Their ears were trained on Willow, waiting with bated breath for her to speak.

Finally her words came out in a blurred rush as Phoebe buried her extremely red face in her arms on the table, “How was I supposed to know that getting drunk would lead me to cheating and that I would have romp with a Charmed One of all people in the world, not to say that the infatuation isn’t well-deserved because, oh my god, you guys are like goddesses. But when we woke up and we were half-dressed in the same bed, I was so ashamed, I mean, no offense Phoebe, because you’re hot, Xander can back me up on that one, but I felt bad because I have a girlfriend elsewhere, and then I get all high and sloshed and sleep with you, it’s just not right, and then there’s you, you didn’t even know that you were a lesbian so how on earth could you possibly know that we would have done that, so it must have been me and I’m more than sorry although I can’t say that if we were drunk it wouldn’t happen again, because you are hot. Xander?”

Xander’s eyes were wide with amusement and with the images he was creating in his mind of Phoebe and Willow rolling in the sheets. He realized that Willow was looking at him, “Huh?”

“You’re drooling,” Buffy whispered as she nudged him.

Paige was trying hard not to laugh. She knew what night Willow was referring to and she knew that they had both been passed out long before she had pulled their clothes off for them. She was trying to stop the laughter inside while also trying to find the words to let Phoebe and Willow off the hook.

Giles was the only one not completely silenced and intrigued by the new revelation from Willow. He was still nose first into the Book of Shadows. Buffy and Faith looked from Willow to one another with raised eyebrows. Buffy cleared her throat and tried to find the right words to speak.

“Um…Will? Willow? What about Kennedy?” It was the only thing Buffy could think to ask.

Willow looked as though she was about to cry and still Paige wanted to laugh harder. She knew she had to say something. Faith saw her big sister painstakingly trying to keep a straight face. It brought a smile to her own face. She wondered how someone else’s smile could make her feel so happy. She laughed out loud for a mere second but quickly covered her mouth with her own hand.

Willow glared at her and Phoebe raised her head from her hiding place in her arms. She gave Faith a “shut-up” look and then turned back to Willow, “It was the alcohol, Willow, that’s all. I’m not a lesbian,”

Phoebe looked to Prue for backup but Prue grinned and shrugged, “Hey, I’ve been gone for two years…a lot can change. What exactly did you guys do anyway?”

Phoebe and Willow exchanged glances and then shook their heads, “We don’t remember,” they said in unison.

Paige couldn’t hold it in any more. Her reddening face and exhaustive smile had gone unnoticed until she finally burst out in laughter and rolled out of chair landing feet first to the floor and then kneeling to the floor in a fit of side-splitting laughter.

Piper came into the room, neither smiling nor frowning, “Phoebe? Do you like girls?”

“Oh my god! I’m not a lesbian!” Phoebe screeched defensively.

Willow looked insulted, “Is there something wrong with it?”

Phoebe shook her head and spoke over Paige’s howling laughter, “Of course not, but I’m not one. I’m sure everyone here has experimented with lesbianism at one point in time, right? Doesn’t mean you’re a lesbian, right? Anyone?”

Phoebe looked around and everyone was either looking at the ceiling or the floor, avoiding the question Phoebe had put to the group. “Okay, I guess not, then.”

Phoebe slumped into her seat feeling defeated, and confused. Wyatt clapped his hands and pointed at Paige.

“Pay!” It was the first time he had tried to call Paige by her name. He squealed with delight and laughter as he clapped again and then pointed to a still-laughing Paige.

“Damn it, Paige! What in the hell is so funny?!?” Phoebe asked finally fed up with the laughter.

Willow crossed her arms and stared intensely at the youngest Charmed One, “Yeah, I’m glad you find our horrible mistake so funny.”

Paige was trying to breathe through the tears now falling down her face. Tears made from uncontrollable hilarity. “I’m…I’m sorry.” Paige said trying to calm her giggles.

Leo smirked, “Paige, why do I get the feeling you know something about this?”

Paige nodded, clutching her stomach, which had begun to hurt from all the laughing, “They didn’t do anything, together.”

“We didn’t?” Phoebe asked.

Paige shook her head, now hiccupping from laughing so hard, “No. You were both passed out after we left the…hiccup…club. I had Chris orb you up to the room. Then I went up and…hiccup…took your clothes off. You guys never woke up…hiccup…not once. You were out cold so there’s no way…hiccup…that you did anything together.”

Paige, through with her laughter, looked at the people staring back at her. No one moved a muscle or made a sound as she took in another breath and held it trying to get rid of the hiccups. She released the air in her lungs and held up her hands, “What?”

Willow grinned and Phoebe finally cracked a smile. Relief was apparent in their eyes. Paige smiled and felt relief herself as everyone around her burst out into laughter over the mix-up. Phpoebe and Willow hugged one another.

“I’m so glad we didn’t have sex!” Willow exclaimed.

Phoebe nodded happily, “Me too!”

The only person who looked unhappy in the room was Xander, as his onslaught of fantasies about Willow and Phoebe were slashed by the truth that had been revealed.

Faith looked at Xander smiling, “It’s okay Boy Wonder, there’ll be other lesbians someday.”

“You think maybe you’ll bat for the other team anytime soon?” He asked Faith as he winked at her. At least, she assumed it was a wink seeing as though the patch covered his other eye.

Faith stopped smiling and smacked him on the back of the head, gently enough not to seriously hurt him, but hard enough to let Xander know that it wasn’t okay for him to joke about sex with her. Faith finally found herself at odds with what she had always considered normal.

For all intent purposes, Faith thought, she had been a tramp. “Sex him and leave him,” she had always thought. But now the mere thought of having sex with anyone made Faith nauseous. She left the room quietly, amidst the laughter and celebratory banter. Xander turned back to the rest of the group and realized that Buffy and Paige were watching him as they were following Faith’s trail.

They both left the room to go after Faith, who had fled to the back yard. Buffy stopped Paige, “Let me talk to her, Paige, please. I know you’re her sister. But I’ve known her for a long time. And I know how thick blood is, but I love her too. And I know she’s hurting and maybe there’s something I can say that might help. And if not then I want her to know that no matter what, I’m there for her.”

Paige nodded and stepped away from the sliding glass door that led to the small, but well-manicured yard in back. Without a word, Buffy left Paige there wondering what the next steps would bring, and how they would all end up. She rejoined the group in the dining room, still worried about Faith, but smiling at the jovial faces of her sisters and new friends.

“Okay, let’s finish up brunch and get this day underway,” Leo said as he headed back to the kitchen. Paige knew that something was troubling Leo deeply, more than just the Elders. As she looked at Prue, who was looking at Leo walking away, a brief theory crossed her mind. She shook her head negating herself for even coming close to thinking that way.

She took her seat next to Phoebe and apologized again and again for the mix-up. Phoebe and Willow, knowing the real truth, simply laughed comfortably and waved off the event. Behind her smile, however, Paige’s mind was nowhere near the dining room.

Faith’s hands trembled as she slipped a cigarette out of the gold and silver pack. She had just put it between her lips and left it to search her pockets for a lighter, when Buffy sat next to her. Faith rolled her eyes and smirked, “Please don’t tell me that smoking kills. I know it does. But I haven’t had a cigarette in a few days and I really, really need it.”

Buffy smiled softly, “I was just going to ask if I could have one.”

Faith looked at her suspiciously, “You want a cigarette?”

Buffy nodded, “Please.”

Hands still trembling, Faith pulled another cigarette out of the pack and handed it to Buffy. Buffy held it between her lips as Faith finally dug the lighter out of her pocket and lit the cigarette for Buffy. Buffy inhaled deeply and then released the smoke. It billowed from her mouth into the cool mid morning sky. Faith watched her as she took another drag and leaned back in the sun chair she occupied.

Faith leaned back as well and lit her own cigarette, but still kept her eyes on Buffy. Buffy grinned at her, “Before Sunnydale, when I was a freshman at Hembry High in LA. That’s where I smoked.”

Faith nodded slowly, dumbfounded by the revelation, “Just strange to see you doing something bad. That’s all.”

“Smoking is a bad habit, but it’s not illegal…well, okay, it’s not illegal for me to smoke now.”

Faith smiled even more, “Guess not.”

“So what did Xander say to make you leave the laugh-fest in there?”

Faith shook her head, “It wasn’t him. It was me. He was just goofing around, asked me something sexual and I don’t know…I just sort of lost myself for a second. Hard to explain really.”

“I do understand Faith. At least, a little,” Buffy admitted.

Faith looked surprised, “How so, B?”

Buffy took another hit off the cigarette and sighed as she exhaled, “Spike. When he was without a soul, he tried to rape me.”

Faith seemed floored and angry by the news, “He did what?”

Buffy nodded and sat up turning her body toward Faith’s, “It was after I had dusted a vamp. I was hurt, injured from the kill. The vamp had taken a kick at me and I hit a tombstone pretty fiercely with my back. Anyway, I was about to take a shower when Spike came into the bathroom.”

Faith shifted nervously in her seat, and she too sat up and faced Buffy. Their knees were almost touching as they sat facing one another, like a preacher and a churchgoer involved in face-to-face confession.

“Our relationship was pretty messed up from the beginning, always about sex, always about power and violence, really. But this was after I told him it was over and that I didn’t want him around anymore. He came to the bathroom to fight for me I guess. I don’t know. He said he loved me. When I told him it wasn’t love and that I didn’t feel the same for him as he did for me, he attacked me. We struggled and he pushed me down until I was on the floor. I tried to crawl away, but he got on top of me and turned me to face him. He had the upper hand, Faith. With my back hurting the way it was, I was almost powerless to stop him. He tore my robe open, he touched me when I didn’t want to be touched, he bruised me, and he violated my trust, but before he could violate much more I threw him into the bathroom wall. I don’t know what shocked him back to reality more, the pain of the wall or the fact that I was crying and obviously afraid of him.”

Faith had thrown her cigarette into the grass, while Buffy took another inhalation of hers. Faith remained quiet as she thought about Buffy and Spike.

“Like I said, it was before he got his soul back. But before I knew he had a soul, I was terrified of him. I let him help us still, but a few times he touched me, and it threw me back to that moment in time when he was trying to hurt me in the worst way imaginable. I haven’t had sex since.”

Faith nodded, knowing what Buffy was trying to say. She understood that it took time. Buffy had been almost raped and she was having difficulty with it. Faith knew that having been brutally raped and stripped of her powers, she was allowed to have doubts and to be afraid and to want to take her time about getting back into the swing of things. Then she thought of Principal Wood.

“I was afraid when I was with Robin,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

“Afraid of him?” Buffy asked.

Faith shook her head, “No, afraid of myself. I didn’t really want to have sex, but there’s a part of me that needed it, to prove I was over it, that I was in control.”

Buffy nodded, “It’s okay Faith. It doesn’t make what happened to you go away. You’re still allowed to grieve for yourself. You’re still allowed to be afraid and to have doubts and worries.”

“Yeah,” Faith grew quiet. Then she smiled softly, “Who would have ever thought it?”

“What’s that?” Buffy’s green eyes brightened at Faith’s smile.

“You and me, sharing like this.”

Buffy laughed, “Not me, that’s for sure. But I’m glad we can. And I’m always here for you Faith. No matter what. Even if you decide to stay here, I’ll always be just a phone call away. You know that right?”

Faith nodded, “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”

Buffy frowned and finally threw her cigarette into the grass, “I know you must be a little afraid of what’s here for you. Your sister and everything, but Faith, don’t let familiarity rob you of your real family.”

“You are my real family, B. Thought you knew that,” Faith cocked her head to the side.

“Yeah, I do, and I’m glad you think that way too, but Paige…I can tell that she loves you, and she’d fight for you. Speaking as your friend, and as your older slayer co-worker, I don’t want you to pass up on love just because you’re afraid of it.”

With that, Buffy stood up, kissed Faith on the forehead and sauntered back into the house, leaving Faith to ponder her next step, and to breathe in the still rising sun.

Chapter Thirty-One

Paige couldn’t help but smile as Wyatt laughed at Faith. Faith made another face sending Wyatt into a fit of squeals. Wyatt’s normal temperament was calm and cool, as calm and cool as a toddler could be, and the only person he ever truly laughed at was Leo. Until Faith came along.

Buffy sighed as she took in another drink of the hot chocolate Piper had made for the group. They had gathered once again in the living room after breakfast for a brainstorming session on what to do about the Elders. Buffy was getting bored, as she always did during the strategy part of the battle. But she listened intently as Leo continued to inform them of their enemies weaknesses, what few there were.

“Leo? Are you sure this isn’t just another test?” Piper asked, hoping against hope that the Elders were just playing with their emotions once again.

“Positive,” Prue answered for him. “The evidence we gathered, it’s blatantly obvious that they’re the ones who wanted the Hellmouth opened.”

Phoebe shook her head, “Okay, but where did this evidence come from?”

Leo and Prue exchanged a look of doubt, before Leo answered with uncertainty clouding his voice, “Chris.”

Faith looked away from Wyatt and to the floor. Paige could see the fear and anger mixing in her little sister’s face. Paige wanted to move from her spot on the couch to the floor next to Faith. But she looked to Leo and Prue first.

“Ah…Chris? Chris is your big informant? Never thought he was by chance lying did you?”

Prue looked at Paige crossly, Paige shrugged but didn’t back down. Piper smirked, “Yeah, makes since that if he was just trying to father the next super-evil that he was feeding you some bullsh…”

“It doesn’t matter. The Elders need to be stopped,” Prue said, defending their position.

Piper, ever the reasonable sister stood up and clasped her hands together in front of her, “Okay, I say we don’t go for a big war right now. We continue to work our way, good versus evil and see if the Elders want to play by rules. If they are evil and we gain insurmountable evidence that that is true, then we demolish them. Until then, I say we work on ironing out our new dysfunctional family.”

She looked toward Faith and then Prue and Leo. She felt a wave of undeserved suspicion pass through her as she looked from her husband to her sister. Wyatt whimpered on the floor, bored with Faith and ready to be fed. Piper picked him up and moved toward the kitchen.

“I say we vote on it,” Phoebe spoke up.

Xander looked sheepish as he raised his hand, “Do we get a vote?”

Phoebe smiled and nodded, “Yes, because we might need you to bring the Elders down, if it comes to that.”

“Okay, then I vote no. I vote that we go on our way to Los Angeles to help out with the vamps and all their, and you guys look for that insurmountable evidence.” Xander crossed his arms determined to prove he was not in the mood for more battles.

Leo sighed in frustration, “Fine. Piper has a point. Our information could have been corrupt. It was from Chris after all. We’ll bide our time, fight the small evils in the world and if it comes to it, then we’ll take out the Elders.”

“I second that motion,” Paige said finally moving from the couch and stretching. She reached her hand out to Faith who took it. Paige pulled Faith off the floor. Faith looked curiously from Paige to Leo and Prue, as though she hadn’t been paying any attention to anything that had been said.

“We’ll be in the conservatory if you need us,” Paige said as she pulled Faith with her toward the sunroom.

Leo shook his head, looking at the remainder of the group. Buffy was picking at her fingernails, Willow looked half asleep, Dawn was asleep on Willow’s shoulder, Xander was quietly humming to himself, and Giles was wiping his glasses. Phoebe grinned, “Looks like the vote is definitely no. So, Buffy, when will you guys be leaving?”

Buffy smirked, “In a hurry to get rid of us?”

“Of course not. Just wondering.”

Giles’ accent floated into the air, “Well, we really should be heading in that direction. I hate to spoil the relaxation but Angel called, seems there’s some big to-do happening in the city of angels.”

“Isn’t there always a big to-do,” Willow asked in an indifferent tone.

Buffy nodded, “We have to give Faith a few more hours.”

“Why is that?” Xander asked, ready to go, but not willing to go against his women friends.

“Because Faith has a very tough decision to make,” Willow answered.

Buffy continued, “Right, and it has to be her decision.”

“I think she should stay with her sister,” Dawn spoke up, half-awake,eyes still closed on Willow’s shoulder.

“Why is that?” Buffy asked.

Dawn sat up opening her eyes and staring into Buffy’s greens, “Because all little sisters need to spend time under their big sister’s wing. Trust me, it’s the safest, warmest, most awesome place in the world.”

Buffy’s eyes softened as she smiled gently at Dawn, “Think so, huh?”

“Yes, I do,” Dawn moved to the chair where Buffy was sitting. She hugged her big sister, before moving toward the stairs.

“Where are you going?” Buffy asked her.

“To pack. We’ll be leaving tonight, right? With or without her?”

Buffy nodded, following suit. Willow also moved toward the stairs. Xander cleared his throat stopping them from moving up to the second floor. Buffy turned toward him and saw that he was standing with his arms across his chest.

“What now Xander?” Willow asked.

“We have a small problem,” he said indignantly.

“What?” Buffy sighed.

“Our car,” Xander frowned, “It’s still broken.”

Leo shook his head, “No it’s not. It’s working just fine. I fixed it for you.”

“Really? When did you have time?” Buffy asked Leo.

“Whitelighter powers, they’re good on mechanical things too,” he shrugged shyly.

“Cool,” Dawn said as she continued up the stairs followed by Buffy and Willow. Xander finally gave up his stance and followed the girls.

Phoebe looked from Leo to Prue, who were exchanging a glance. Phoebe frowned as a strange feeling of unfamiliarity washed over her. The doorbell rang pulling her away from the thoughts. She rose to answer it but turned toward Prue and Leo first.

“Whatever it is you two are hiding, you better be figuring out how to tell us about it, and soon. Or else we’re all going to have problems.”

Phoebe left the room as the doorbell resounded again. Prue looked to Leo, blue eyes meeting green. She shook her head as she licked her dry lips.

“Do we tell them?” Her voice was whispered as she spoke to Leo.

Leo swallowed hard and returned the whisper, “I don’t know. Not yet. I don’t know how she will take it. Or if she can take it.”

“She has to know. They all need to know. Leo, I’m scared to death that when they find out…well, I’m scared of the way they’re going to look at me, at us. I don’t know if I can live with myself if I lose their love.”

Leo hugged Prue closely, “It’s a chance we have to take.”

Paige and Faith sat next to one another, not facing one another, on the wicker bench in the sunroom. The afternoon sun was warming the room gently, easing Faith’s nerves and slowing Paige’s rapidly beating heart.

“So, looks like this is it,” Paige finally said.

“Yeah,” Faith’s quiet answer barely filled the space from Faith’s lips to Paige’s ears.

“Any ideas what you want to do yet?” Paige prodded carefully.

Faith shook her head, “I don’t know, Paige. I mean, you, this, it’s all so new, and strangely new scares me.”

“I can understand that, and there’s no pressure here. I mean, having a little sister, that scares me too.”

Faith looked surprised, “How so?”

“I love my sisters heart and soul, Faith. But with you there’s this bond, it makes me want to…”

“Protect me?” Faith finished.

“Yes, that’s part of it, but it’s more than that. It makes me want to keep you close forever, not just for protection but when I’m around you I feel….I feel whole, Faith. Does that make any sense at all?”

Faith nodded but her facial expression did not change. She stole a glance of Paige’s profile and saw that tears were making their way down Paige’s cheeks. Faith knew exactly what Paige was feeling because she too, wanted to stay close to Paige. But she had unfinished business in the world. She had people she had to take care of, a past she had to reconcile with. In order for her to move on with Paige and the Halliwell’s in her life as hew new surrogate family, she had to take care of the turmoil in her heart.

“That’s what we’re here for, Faith. That’s what family does.”

Faith looked up at Paige again shocked that Paige seemed to be reading her mind, “How did you…”

“Know what you’re thinking? Because I felt the same way when I found out about Piper and Phoebe. I had so much to deal with in the past, that I wasn’t sure I could handle them as well. But without them, I never would have succeeded.”

Faith nodded, knowing how right Paige was, “There are some things, in Los Angeles, that I need to take care of. Some people I need to thank, and I want to do it personally. But then I want to come back here Paige, stay here with you, and them. If that’s okay?”

Paige smiled a thousand watt smile, “Hell yeah it’s okay!”

Faith heard herself laugh as Paige threw her arms around her. The hug felt good; warm, safe, and good. The doorbell rang but they didn’t move. They sat for a few moments more, feeling the love that was warming their hearts. When the doorbell rang again, they moved apart.

“Who could that be?” Faith asked.

Paige smiled, “A surprise for you actually.”

Faith frowned, “I don’t really like surprises. Vampires like surprises, which makes me not like them.”

Paige laughed, “Trust me, you’ll like this one.”

They moved out of the sunroom and into the foyer where Phoebe was finally getting to the door. Phoebe opened it to reveal Darryl standing there with a grin on his face.

“Hey Darryl!” Phoebe greeted him with a smile and a hug.

Faith took notice of how friendly Phoebe was, it half-annoyed her and half-impressed her. She took in Darryl’s appearance and was instantly impressed by his stature. She noticed a gun and badge on his hip. Her heart began to pound. She was looking for a quick exit when she felt Paige’s hand take her own.

“Did you get it?” Paige asked Darryl.

Darryl nodded and looked at Faith. He took a piece of paper from his inside coat pocket and handed it to Faith, “You’re the girl who helped save the world from hell on earth, right?”

Faith shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Thank you,” he said and turned to leave. Phoebe stopped him.

“Leaving so soon?”

“Yeah, I have to get back to the station. We have a little crime problem on South Side.”

Paige held his gaze for a beat, “Thank you Darryl, thank you more than you can ever imagine.”

“My pleasure,” he answered with a grin and then exited through the still-open door.

Phoebe looked from Paige to Faith to the piece of paper still folded in Faith’s hand, “What was that about?”

Paige nodded toward the paper, “Freedom.”

Faith couldn’t stop the tear that escaped her eye, “Freedom?”

Paige smiled, “Open it.”

Piper and Wyatt entered the foyer as Faith began to unfold the paper with shaky hands. Piper looked at Paige and smiled, “Was that Darryl?”

Paige simply nodded and continued to watch Faith. Faith read the paper and couldn’t stop herself from throwing her arms around Paige. Paige held Faith close and laughed softly.

“You don’t have to go back, Paige. Ever.”

Prue joined her sisters in the foyer, knowing how relieved her charge was feeling. She noticed the paper signed by a judge and knew that Faith was a free woman. Her heart swelled with pride as she looked at her three beautiful younger sisters surrounding this still-unfamiliar girl with love. Prue inhaled a deep breath, suddenly realizing that she herself felt like an outsider in her own family.

Prue let the foyer still unseen by her sisters, she orbed out of the manor, determined to find her way back into her family, determined to forever protect them as well as Faith.

Chapter Thirty-Two

Prue looked at the man with great interest, staring hard into his cold blue eyes that were surrounded by bruising and minute cuts. Her blue eyes looked as though they were filled with fire in comparison. She surveyed the damage that had been done unto him. She smiled, appreciating the blondes work.

“I said, ‘What do you want?’” The man’s voice was gruff with impatience.

Prue stopped smiling and checked the hallway before continuing into the man’s apartment, “I came to make sure you never hurt anyone again, Mr. Harwell.”

“Look, you don’t have to worry about it, I’ll never go near that Garrett bitch again,” Travis Harwell flinched as he said her name.

Prue nodded, “I know.”

Prue flicked her wrist. A fireball formed in her hand. The weight of it was inconsequential but still she winced with guilt as she hurled it into the man’s gut setting him afire. Within seconds the carpet where he had been standing was smoldering. She dusted her hands together, satisfied with her work. She shut his apartment door and orbed away, unseen by anyone.

Giles had already departed by cab for the airport. He was on his way to another slayer conference to help the youngest of the newcomers learn how to survive evil. Xander had finished packing the station wagon and was sitting behind the wheel waiting for the women in his life to get their goodbyes out of the way. He was ready to leave.

Buffy gave each of the Halliwell sisters a hug, leaving Paige for last. While Piper and Phoebe hugged and talked to Faith, Dawn and Willow, Buffy pulled Paige to the side.

“I’ll make sure she comes back here when we’re done with Los Angeles. I don’t know how long it will take, but she’ll come back.”

Paige smiled, grateful for Buffy’s words, “I hope you’re right. I know she’s your friend and she’s like family to you but…”

“But she needs some stability in her life. I was wrong before Paige, it’s not too late for her. She is still innocent in so many ways.”

Paige nodded and thanked Buffy before hugging her. She turned to see that Dawn was standing in front of her, “Hey kid.”

“Yeah, hey,” Dawn answered, “So, I’m sorry I bit you and pulled your hair when I first met you.”

Paige blushed remembering her scuffle with Dawn, “Uh, yeah…ditto that.”

She and Dawn gave one another a smile before Dawn slipped into the back seat of the wagon next to Buffy. Faith and Piper were saying their goodbyes. Faith whispered something into Piper’s ear, making Paige curious, but she was more amused by Phoebe and Willow’s awkward goodbye.

Phoebe could barely lift her eyes off the ground, “So yeah, I’m really sorry about that whole, sleeping with you mix-up.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry that it didn’t happen too.” Willow blanched as she realized her wording, “I mean…I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I meant that I’m sorry that we thought it had and we did all that weirded-out worrying for nothing. And that I was really…”

Phoebe stopped Willow’s rambling by giving her a hug, “It’s okay Willow, I know what you meant, and honestly, if I were to play on your team, I’d probably fall for you.”

Willow was stunned. She said nothing as she quickly returned Phoebe’s hug and squeezed into the backseat next to Dawn. Faith turned to Paige, the one goodbye she wasn’t sure she was ready to say. She knew she would be back sooner than any of them thought.

Faith scuffed her boot on the sidewalk while shuffling her feet, she looked shyly at Paige, “How about we don’t use goodbye here?”

Paige smiled through her tears, “Okay. How about see you later?”
Faith nodded and began to get into the car. Before she could sit down in the front passenger seat, Faith got out of the car again and rushed to Paige hugging her closely. Paige hugged her back, completely intrigued by her little sister.

“I left you something in your room,” Faith said whispering.

“Okay,” Paige replied.


They pulled apart and Faith looked as though she had something else she wanted to say to Paige, but instead she simply nodded, smiled and got in the car. Paige felt Piper and Phoebe’s arms around her, and felt Prue standing behind them. She softly whispered to the departing car, “I love you too, Faith.”

Piper looked to Leo, who was holding Wyatt, and the unreadable expression in his eyes. She wondered briefly where Prue had been for the previous few hours. Her suspicions of her sister and husband were growing, although she wasn’t exactly sure what her suspicions were.

Paige remembered what Faith had told her. Feeling a little melancholy and also anxious to see what Faith had left for her, she excused herself and went into the manor. The day was growing dim as night approached. Phoebe felt relaxed as she realized that they had avoided hell on earth once again. She leaned into Prue for comfort and Prue slipped her arm around Phoebe’s shoulder.

Phoebe sniffed at the air, “Prue? Why do you smell like smoke?”

Paige entered her room and saw the piece of paper and leather bound book sitting on her bed. She sat down not sure she wanted to know what Faith had left for her. She picked up the paper and saw that it was a letter from Faith addressed to her. And the book she quickly realized was Faith’s journal. Paige wasn’t sure if she wanted to smile or frown.

“You trust me enough to leave me this?” Paige whispered to the empty room.

Piper eyed Prue as Phoebe sniffed her again. Piper then sniffed at the air near Prue. “Smells like a vanquish, Prue? What were you doing while you were gone?”

Prue glanced at Leo who was also eyeing her suspiciously. Prue shrugged, “Nothing you guys wouldn’t do if you had the opportunity.”

Phoebe and Piper stepped away from Prue as her eyes turned icy cold. Prue shook her head, “Please don’t be scared of me, but there’s something I have to tell you. Something you’re not going to like.”

The wind picked up as Prue continued to stare at Phoebe and Piper. A cold chill wrapped around the sisters, Leo and Wyatt, indicating the end of the short-lived Indian summer and the beginning of the damp, cold San Francisco winter. Piper shivered and wrapped her arm around Phoebe’s waist. She felt Phoebe shiver as well.

Their sister was different from the Prue they had known before. Piper hated to ask the question, but it fell from her lips regardless, “What are you, Prue?”

Leo nodded, urging Prue to tell the truth. Prue frowned and quickly batted away a tear from her cheek. “I’m still me, Piper. I’m also a Whitelighter. But I can also do this now.”

Prue flicked her wrist and a fireball formed in her hands. She flinched as she saw the accusatory glares from her sisters. She quickly extinguished the fireball and returned her gaze to her sisters. She knew from the fear in their eyes that they’d never trust her. Not even if they knew how she had received the powers in the first place.

“You’re a demon.” Phoebe stated, half hiding behind Piper.

“No, I’m not a demon,” Prue answered emphatically, “I’m a Whitelighter. I’m a witch-Whitelighter. These powers they’re from…”

“Who did you just kill, Prue?” Piper asked, not ready for an explanation to Prue’s demonic powers.

“It doesn’t matter, Piper. He was a horrible thing, and he had to be stopped. I couldn’t let him hurt Faith again.”

Phoebe and Piper both had looks of outrage etched into their faces as they realized Prue had killed a human being. But Prue also recognized the looks of relief that he was gone from the earth. She took a step toward them, hoping to reassure them that she wasn’t evil, but as she reached a hand out to them, they pulled away. Prue knew it would never be right again.

Paige sat back on her bed, resting her back against the headboard. Kicking off her shoes, she made herself comfortable. She opened the letter and began to read. Faith’s voice echoed in her mind with every word she took in.

Dear Paige,

I wrote this while you were in the shower, just in case you were wondering when I had the time. God, that’s not really an intelligent way to start a letter, is it? I’m not real good at the whole pen to paper communication thing. But I thought I’d try this since my voice seems to keep getting lost every time I try to tell you what’s on my mind.

Thank you. That’s the big thing I wanted to say to you. Had you not been there that night, outside of Harwell’s apartment, I know I would have kept running and never looked back. I knew from the minute we first really talked, in the living room when we were watching Wyatt, that there was something really special about you.

God only knew that you were my sister. I’m still having trouble accepting that I have family. Flesh and blood family. But yet, there you are. Real, and loving and so incredibly kind. And the worst thing about everything is that I wish that I could have had you twenty plus years ago. But I didn’t, and that’s one of the things I have to work through. I know, I know…you’re thinking I can’t work through it alone. And I don’t plan to. That’s why I left you my journal. I’ve had it since I was eight. So there’s a lot of reading there. Although after I turned all Slayer and everything, it gets kind of sporadic. At least until I went to jail.

Thank you also, for giving me hope. And no pun intended, faith. Perhaps my mother named me that for a real reason. But probably not. Anyway, perhaps when you read my journal, if you’ll read it, you’ll know more about me than I do. I haven’t read it. I mean, I wrote it, but I’ve never gone back to read what I wrote. Maybe it’s more information than you want to know about me, maybe you want to know more than this. I figured I’d just arm you with all the Faith-info you can handle, so that when I come back, and I will be back, Paige, we can talk, and we can maybe be closer, somehow.

Okay, I hear Xander bitching downstairs, so I better go. But before I end this letter, know this Paige. I know I said that I wasn’t sure what love is, or that I could believe in love, but I’m beginning to think I at least know what it could feel like. Does that make sense? Anyway, when you read through my journal you’ll see how often I was taught that love doesn’t exist. And then you’ll know if I’m something you need in your life.

Well, I’ll talk to you soon, Paige. I’ll be hoping that your safe and sound while I’m away. Think of me when you can.


Paige smiled softly as she opened the journal to the first page. She wondered what adventures, what pain, what quirks she would discover in Faith. As she breathed in the smell of Faith’s perfume from the pages of the diary, she knew that Faith was much deeper than anyone every imagined. And she knew that their adventures together their trials and tribulations, as a family, the five of them, were just beginning.

The End

The End

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