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Summary: Faith was never the Slayer that Buffy, Giles, or anyone else wanted her to be. That doesn't mean she was never a hero. Come and see a side of her the Scoobies never imagined.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Action/Adventure > Faith-Centered(Current Donor)DreamSmithFR18757,64113355,82818 Sep 0723 Sep 07Yes

Chapter One

In early Season Three, Faith arrives in Sunnydale. However, it isn't long before she disappears; the first of several absences during that period. The first one falls between 'Homecoming' and 'Revelations', where we have the strange events of 'Band Candy'.

Buffy and the others most certainly could have used Faith's help there, but she was nowhere to be seen. Have you ever wondered why she left, where she went, and what she did there?

Disclaimer: The exteme coolness that is Faith cannot be owned, but Joss Whedon and company do suffer under that delusion. Plot and dialogue and other stuff is mine, Faith is not.

Author's Note: There's some implied Femslash here (as the Faith/Buffy subtext is the foundation for pretty much every Faith story I write) but no actual sex-type stuff actually occurs.



10:31 a.m.
Friday
November 8, 1998

"-While your mom's out of town, Will?"

Xander's voice carried clearly to her ears, and she turned her head unerringly to the source. There, that intersection where the high-school's corridors widened. The area had been turned into a sort of student lounge, with groupings of chairs and a few soda and snack machines.

She'd been wandering the halls, looking for her sister Slayer and hoping that nobody would ask her if she was supposed to be in a class somewhere. Now she began walking towards the sound of that familiar voice. Xander would probably know where Buffy was, and if so then he would probably even tell her.

After all, so far none of the blonde Slayer's friends had gotten up the nerve to actually say to her face what they obviously thought of her.

"Well, that's the thing. I mean, she'll be gone a whole week, and with my dad already gone to that sales convention in St. Louis, I would be there all by myself."

Just the sound of Willow's voice made her feet slow.

Yeah Red, you'll be all by yourself in that huge, beautiful house you live in. Well boo-fucking-hoo. She snorted softly to herself in disgust. Xander, however, sounded concerned.

"Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, I know you're a big girl and all, but there's been a lot of stuff happening lately. Zombies, Oz-wolf escapes…. Not to mention whoever that guy was who put together that 'Slayerfest' thing where everyone was hunting Buffy and Cordelia."

Standing motionless now just around the corner, the girl curled her hands into trembling fists.

And that's another one I owe you losers. If I hadn't let you talk me into coming straight to the homecoming dance that night, it would have been me in that limo with Buffy instead of Cordelia. She closed her eyes to keep the sudden tears of frustration from leaking out onto her cheeks. Damn it! Me an B would have shredded those losers! It would have been them running away from us, not the other way around. She opened her eyes, and if they remained dry in obedience to her silent command, her breath still came ragged and shallow. But it didn't happen that way, did it? Buffy called Giles for help, not me. She came to the library first, not to the gym, where I was waiting for her. It was her and queen-bitch Cordy who fought together, not her and me. She took on those German twins and their assault rifles alone, rather than come and get me to help. All I was able to do for her that night was make sure that shithead Scott Hope didn't get to enjoy the night with that nameless bimbo he brought. And later, when B left without even telling me what had happened, when she left me just standing there, after I'd gone and used a month's worth of food money to buy a fucking dress just for her, when I'd worn that fucking dress for her…. All I could do after that was go and find Mr. Hope, and follow him when he left -alone-- and blindside him in the parking lot. I let him feel some of what I was feeling right then, all right. Sure, I stopped short of killing him, and I made sure he never saw my face, but I think he got the message. It'll be a long time before he hurts Buffy again, before he hurts anyone again.

She leaned one shoulder against the wall, gazing sightlessly at the ugly paint that covered the surface in slightly uneven layers.

'Course, it'll be a long time before he manages to eat solid food again, but I don't regret it. I only wish that Buffy would just….

"I know; it's not exactly a safe town to be alone in, is it?" Willow said.

The girl around the corner had to fight to keep from bursting into bitter laughter. The little witch-girl thought she knew about being alone? She should try it from--

"So what are you going to do?" Xander asked. "I'd invite you to stay with me, but as you know, my house isn't a place you go to willingly." He paused, and she could almost hear his grin. "Compared to where I live, Faith's motel looks positively comfy."

The girl just stared at the corner that separated her from the two friends who were having such a good time talking about things that had nothing at all to do with her. They didn't know what it was like to sit in that room, alone, day after day after day….

They didn't know, and they didn't care to know.

"Xander Harris, that's just mean."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry." He didn't sound too repentant, though. "So what are you going to do? Go and shack up with Oz?"

"Uh huh, my mom would love that idea." Willow said, sarcasm dripping from her voice.

The girl pushed herself away from the corner, standing straight once more.

I don't want to listen to any more of this crap. I just need to find B, see if I can somehow manage to spend some time with her. As much as it pained her to admit it, that Scott guy had been right about one thing; the older Slayer had been acting kind of strange lately. The first week or two she'd known Buffy, the other girl had been wonderfully attentive. Oh, sure, they'd rubbed each other the wrong way at first, but after they'd dusted Kakistos things had been great. They'd hung out together, gone Slaying together, talked about music, fighting, the monsters they'd killed and the places they'd like to go and see someday…. And then one day it had all just stopped. Buffy had all but stopped talking to her, had stopped laughing, had dropped a lot of training sessions…. Right about the time that idiot with the Jekyll and Hyde routine had shown up, something had gone out of the blonde Slayer. Since that night, shadows had constantly darkened those green eyes. The girl wondered if it was because Buffy had been forced to break 'Mr. Hyde's' neck, but that didn't seem to be it. Maybe she could get the other Slayer to open up, to share whatever it was. Maybe… but of course she had to find her first.

Gritting her teeth against the necessity of having to see and speak to the two people talking around the corner, she took a step forward.

"-But when I told Buffy about the situation, she told me not to worry about it." The red-haired girl continued. "She said that I could stay with her for as long as I wanted, no problem."

The girl froze in place, still just out of sight of the two.

What?

Xander seemed to agree.

"You're moving in with the Buffster? Dare I ask if you'll be, uh, sharing the sleeping accommodations?" He sounded very hopeful of that; she could practically hear him rubbing his hands together in male-pig glee. "And possibly sharing the occasional warm, soapy shower as well?"

"Xander!" The sound of a blow impacting flesh, and not all that light and playful. "You know it isn't like that!" She sighed. "But I'm glad she offered. It'll sure beat being all by myself in an empty house."

"Uh huh, that's our Buffy though; always coming through for the friends."

The girl remained there for a few minutes more, not hearing whatever else the two chose to discuss. Instead, she stood with her arms folded across her stomach, her face lowered as she tried to digest what she'd heard.

She offered-

Poor Willow is all alone in her big house, and she invites-

What the fuck does she think it's like where
I spend all my--?

She always comes through for her friends, huh? Well, I guess somebody must have misplaced my application for membership.


Half-blinded by a red haze of fury, Faith turned away. With long, determined strides she headed for a different part of the school.



* * * * *



Nothing had changed; none of it. The welcoming smiles and syrupy-sweet words that everyone had been spouting in the beginning had been forgotten with predicable speed, and here she was; still on the outside looking in. After less than a month in Sunnydale Faith was already sick of the place.

And of the people.

Screw this! I don't have to put up with this bullshit! I never have before, and I won't start now!

Faith; wild child, Vampire Slayer and all-around tough chick, was royally pissed. And the worst part of it was, she couldn't even let it out.

Well, not in so many words, anyway. She settled for throwing open the doors to the library with enough force to propel them through a hundred and eighty degrees, where they slammed against the walls to either side with a deafening dual crash. Inside, her headlong stride gradually lost momentum until she reached the center of the room, where she came to a stop. Giles was nowhere in view, so she took a few moments to stand there and just breathe; pulling air in and then pushing it out again, slow and steady. As a way to regain her emotional equilibrium it came in a poor second to, say, trashing the entire place, but for now it would have to do.

"Faith?" She jumped, whirling to find the Englishman standing in the doorway to his office. He looked from her to the doors which she'd opened with such force, and then back to her, a disapproving expressing drawing the lines in his face slightly deeper than usual. "Was that really quite necessary? This is a library, after all."

She wasn't in the mood for stupid rules, or for his stern looks, and so she got right down to it.

"I'm leaving."

She had the satisfaction of seeing his eyebrows shoot upwards. They didn't have a chance of reaching his receding hairline, but they sure did make a good try of it.

"Leaving?" He asked, cautiously.

Faith nodded, but even as she did so she found herself glancing away from the look he was giving her. She couldn't help doing it, and that was just another source of helpless anger. Giles intimidated her. Oh, not physically; that was one area where she would never, ever have to feel insecure again. No, this was something else, and the books that filled the room sort of symbolized it: Giles was smarter than she was. Way, way smarter, and she hated that. It made her feel like all the Slayer powers didn't really make her that special after all. It made her feel….

Never mind how it made her feel. He was still looking at her, waiting for an explanation.

"Not, y'know, for good or anything." She managed, studying the pile of tomes that occupied the center of the main table as a way to avoid meeting his eyes. "I've just got itchy feet or something; I need to get out of here for a few days, clear my head and stuff."

She opens up her home to poor Willow, when she's know all this time how I'm having to live, and how much I hate it there. What she was feeling right now, the rage that was coiling through her like a river of white-hot metal; it frightened her. She knew herself well enough to picture what might happen if she ran into Willow right now. Even seeing Buffy might trigger something, and she didn't want to hurt the other girl; despite everything she was feeling right now, she never wanted to cause Buffy pain. And so she would leave, at least for a little while.

And it bothers me that I'm even stopping on my way out of town to let someone know. Why bother? Does Buffy, do any of them ever take the time to let me know what's going on?

It wasn't like, (A) anyone was even likely to realize she wasn't around in the first place, and (B); that they would actually give a shit about it if they did notice. If Buffy hadn't known how taking in Willow as a roomie would make her feel then she really didn't understand the younger Slayer at all.

Giles, however, was now frowning at her.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to go walkabout, Faith, especially by yourself."

Despite everything, hearing that nearly made her smile. He didn't like the thought of her going off alone? Well, she had a feeling he'd like the alternative even less, but what the hell?

"'Kay then," She said, agreeably, and with all the casualness she could muster. "If you're worried about me getting into trouble, how about sending Buffy along to keep me company."

Maybe it would work. She comes with me, and Mrs. Summers is still around to take care of wittle baby Willow.

A sidelong glance showed her the Englishman standing where he'd been in the middle of moving towards the portable tea setup he kept just inside the door to his small office. Her words had apparently frozen him in place, and he was now staring at her in dismay. Pretending she hadn't seen his reaction, she shrugged carelessly. "I think that maybe the two of us should go and do a long patrol every once in awhile; I'll bet there are bad guys doin' stuff around the outskirts of the hellmouth zone, and you guys just stay here in town and never see 'em." It was even possible that it was true; not that that was the reason why she wanted to go. "Me an' B can run a sweep in a couple of days." His mouth was actually hanging open, he was so horrified. Seeing that, she couldn't help but lose a little of her bright smile, a wicked little smirk stealing in to take its place on her lips. "Don't worry, guy. I'll take real good care of her for ya." Yeah, really good care of her. "And I'll have her back here, safe and sound in time for class on Monday."

Maybe that last part, where she was making it sound like a date, was a little much for him; it probably only served to confirm what he suspected about her feelings for his Slayer.

"N-No, I don't think that such a thing is called for. The, um, patrol, that is." He did that thing he always did when he got flustered, taking his glasses off and wiping them clean with a little too much vigor as he stared at her. "The energies of the Hellmouth are concentrated here, as are the creatures in resonance with it. Any supernatural activity beyond Sunnydale's borders should be minimal to nonexistent." He nodded, looking convinced that the matter was settled… and looking relieved that he'd managed to prevent the Buffy and Faith expedition. "It wouldn't hurt to take a look, of course, but I should think that one Slayer should suffice to handle anything that arises in the outlying areas." It was amazing, how sure of himself he could sound, even when there was no way he could know what the hell he was talking about. "If you feel you need a break from the hellmouth, then I suppose a brief patrol to make sure of things would be for the best. For everyone." That last part was a quiet mutter as he turned away, but of course she heard it loud and clear.

She wondered if he'd meant for her to hear?

He probably had, the bastard.

That was it; without another word he went back into his office, and there she stood, alone again.

Well, shit, dude; don't strain yourself tryin' to talk me into staying in town and working things out with everybody who's ignorin' me, or going to the trouble of giving me advice on what to do if I do run into anything out there.

Not really surprised by any part of his reaction, or by his obvious dislike of her, Faith turned and walked back out the doors, treating them a little more gently this time.

After all, it wasn't their fault that her life was continuing along on its usual path of being total shit, now was it?

When she thought about it, Faith supposed she could understand why Giles had a problem with her. Or at least, with her and Buffy being together in any way, shape, or form. After all, he treated the blonde girl like she was his own freaking kid; it was no wonder he got a little crazy when a relative stranger started hanging around. A foul-mouthed, hyper-violent, gutter-trash stranger, at that. It made perfect sense when you looked at it like that. Still, it was almost funny, how far he went to protect his little girl.

When it came time for the Slayers to patrol Sunnydale, Giles always gave the two of them different cemeteries to investigate. 'Making the best use of combat resources', he called it. Faith would be willing to bet good money that he'd never referred to Buffy as a 'resource' before the second Slayer showed up, and that he never called the blonde girl that to her face, either. No, it was only when Faith was around that he tried to be a by-the-book hard-case.

When something did need both girls there to take care of it, he made it a point to come along, to 'observe'. Even their training was something that he divided, scheduling them for different times (when he bothered to train Faith at all). Buffy herself had questioned that one, and in the face of her very sensible arguments he'd let the matter drop. That minor defeat didn't mean that he stopped trying to subtly keep them apart.



And even though Faith could mostly understand the man's problem with her, she wasn't quite sure what had given her away; after all, aside from the monster lore, Giles wasn't usually that good at picking up on the subtle clues. It was pretty doubtful that he'd been able to see how the blonde Slayer affected her when they were sparring. Of course, just being around Buffy was usually enough to get Faith to feeling all warm and feelin' that low down tickle, but when they were training…. When the older girl was standing right up against her, showing her the weird beginning stance for a uniquely Buffy version of a spinning back kick, and that pale gold, baby-soft skin brushed against hers…. Or when they were straining against each other, hands grappling as they were both going for a takedown hold, and Buffy's face was so close to hers that all she could see was that pouty lower lip, and she just knew that it would be so very easy to lean forward a couple of inches and see what it tasted like…. Well, okay; unless Giles was blind maybe he had been able to notice that something was going on after all.

Or at least that something had the potential to go on, if Buffy would only wake up to how her sister Slayer felt about her. Just the thought of how wonderful everything would become if that moment ever came to pass was enough to make Faith sigh quietly, and her angry stride slowed to a more relaxed pace. The occasional student she passed in the school hallway looked at her strangely, and she wondered what kind of wistful (if not downright idiotic) smile she had plastered on her face.

She sighed again, this time with regret. Yeah, it would be great if she and Buffy were to get a regular 'thang' going on… but it would never happen if the Watcher had his way. No, there was no doubt that Giles had figured out Faith's feelings for 'his' Slayer, and he obviously didn't plan on letting it happen any time soon. Despite her repeated pleas, he wouldn't spring for any workout gear for her hotel room. Instead, she had to settle for an old foam mattress duct-taped to a post; and that was surely no incentive for Buffy to come over to Faith's place so that they could train together. Her other option was to train with the older Slayer's gear at the library… except Giles knew that she disliked coming to the high school. It was the same thing she felt around the man himself; Buffy was still in school, her friends were still in school, and even though she knew that it was pointless for a Slayer to waste any of her short life learning how to do algebra, or cut open and catalogue frog innards, the place still filled Faith with a sense of failure. Being inside the school only intensified her feeling of not belonging, not being good enough… and that was something she didn't need. Besides, even when she was there, the two of them could never manage to train for more than a few minutes without Giles looking in on them, or Xander stopping by to drool at the two of them in their sweaty clothes, or Willow showing up to drag Buffy off on some vital errand. If she didn't know better, she'd say that everyone but Buffy knew what Faith wanted… and was determined to keep her from ever having it. That was probably just her paranoia talking, though. After all, Willow couldn't have set things up so that both of her parents were out of town, just on the off chance that Buffy would invite her to stay over… could she?

She scowled, turning down another wide hallway. The exit was just down there at the end; another minute and she'd be out of this place, and on her way out of the town she was rapidly coming to hate.

And I think I'm pretty close to hating all of these people, too. All of them, with their nice houses, and rich parents, and wonderful fucking futures. If I have to stay here, and take their shit for another few weeks, I will hate 'em all. She considered that for a moment, and finally she had to admit that it wasn't quite true. Okay, I'll hate most of 'em. No matter how much she pisses me off, the one person here that I could never hate is-

"Faith!"

--Buffy.

The Slayer turned, and there she was, just emerging from one of the classrooms.

Small, blonde, beautiful….

Perfect.

Buffy flashed one of those exquisite little half-smiles as she shifted a couple of textbooks she was holding securely against her stomach.

"Hey there," The older girl said, looking up from the four or five inches she lacked in matching Faith's own height. "Were you looking for me?"

Always. Faith thought, and in her distraction at the other girl's sudden appearance, she came so close to saying it out loud that her lips actually twitched.

"Ah, yeah."

Even that much took a struggle with an abruptly uncooperative throat, but it earned her an arched eyebrow from the blonde Slayer. That was fine with Faith. She could stand here in silence and watch Buffy's face all day long and be one happy girl.

God, when did I get this sappy? She wondered. This, from someone who thinks she's so tough. Somehow, though, thoughts like that didn't matter. Not when she was standing face to face (well, face to top-of-B's-head) with this particular girl.

It was true; Faith was in love. She'd just turned sixteen three days before, unnoticed, uncelebrated; no one had asked when her birthday was and so she'd never said. She'd never felt anything like this for someone either. Despite having lots of experience in the physical side of things, she'd never once felt any emotional connection… until now.

Gazing up at what was probably a fairly lost-looking expression on Faith's face, Buffy inclined her head a fraction, her green eyes sparkling. That shadow still lurked within them, though. It was like there was something weighing on the girl every waking moment; some sadness, or maybe a secret too painful to bear alone, but too awful to share.

"Well, that sounded really convincing." She said in a wry tone. "If you're busy with something else then it's no problem-"

"No!" The instinctive, half-panicked denial burst from Faith with a little too much volume. She found a cocky grin and tried to cover her slip. "I mean, yeah, I wasn't exactly lookin' for you right this minute, but I'm still glad I ran into you." Which was only the truth, of course. The older girl nodded agreeably, leaning back against the lockers. She looked willing to talk for a few minutes, which provided an excellent opportunity.

Because when it came to something like this, Faith wasn't inclined to play by the rules some dried-up British librarian came up with to protect his ever-so-righteous sense of what was 'proper' for the two young girls in his charge.

Just because Giles had vetoed the idea of inviting Buffy along on the walkabout, that didn't mean the blonde couldn't actually go.

If, that is, Buffy wanted to.

That 'If' loomed large in Faith's thoughts, even as the class bell rang loudly, followed moments later by an outpouring of students from doors up and down the hallway. The sudden crush of people around them of course made it impossible to carry on any kind of conversation. Faith gestured towards the exit, which opened out onto the central courtyard. Buffy nodded agreement, and led the way, with the younger Slayer following close behind.

Outside, the sun shone brightly, illuminating the pale streaks that highlighted the otherwise dark gold of the smaller girl's hair. The sight was enough to make Faith's breath catch.

It isn't just that she's beautiful. She thought to herself. She is beautiful, sure, but if that's all that mattered then I'd have a crush on Cordelia. She's beautiful too… and I doubt there's a more pathetic waste of space on the entire planet. Well, except for Xander.

Moving with her usual, unknowing grace, Buffy seated herself on a stone bench. Feeling incredibly self-conscious, Faith sat down beside her. Clearing her throat nervously, the younger girl spoke.

"I just wanted to ask you why-"

--Why Willow matters more to you than I do. Why they all matter more to you than I do.

She shook her head and tried again.

"I mean, I was sort of wondering when-"

--When you're going to notice that I worship you? Is it so hard to see? How can it be, when everybody else can tell there's something between us, but you can't? I love you, Buffy. I love you even though you're so self-absorbed, so wrapped up in your own private Buffyverse that nobody else's problems manage to make it into that blonde head of yours.

She glanced away from Buffy's curious eyes, out across the courtyard where students were now wandering around and killing a few minutes between classes.

God, I know this is stupid; I know that I'm verging on being a stalker here, obsessing about someone who's never once showed any kind of interest in me… like that. But it could work! She could love me, I know she could! There's so much of me in her; I can see it sometimes, rumbling just underneath that perfect, proper surface she's learned how to show the world. She knows what I know, she's seen the darkness and the blood and the fury that make us Slayers what we are.

We're the only ones in the world who can understand what it's like; that has to count for something.

"Faith?" She turned her head back, meeting those beautiful green eyes and instantly losing herself inside them. "Are you feeling okay?"

No.

"Sure. Five by five." She answered, showing her teeth in a cocky grin. Buffy smiled back.

"'Five by five'? And that's Faith-speak for…?"

She shrugged.

"Never mind. You know, I was kind of wondering if you were feeling okay. You seem kinda, I don't know, depressed or somethin', lately." Faith realized that she was still gazing into Buffy's eyes, that maybe that eye contact had gone on too long, so she glanced down at her hands for a second before looking up again. "Is there anything I can do to help?" Jeez, that sounded lame. She struggled onward. "If you wanted to, uh, talk, or go and work out, or… anything…."

Please. Tell me, like you'd tell one of them. Trust me with whatever it is, like you'd trust one of them. She was staring at the other girl again, but she couldn't help it. She was willing Buffy to let her inside, practically praying for some sign that she wasn't just deluding herself with the hope that there could be something more than this distant, almost professional friendship that they seemed to be settling into….

Buffy smiled, and it was a softly beautiful, heartbreakingly sad little smile.

"Thanks," She said, her voice soft, with that wonderfully odd little pronunciation she sometimes slipped into when she was concentrating too hard on what she was saying. "But really, I'm doing fine. I guess I'm still a little beaten up because of the Scott thing, but basically I'm good." The shadows in her eyes had darkened for a moment there, and Faith felt the remnants of that anger stir once more.

"He shouldn't have done that. He shouldn't have hurt you like that." She growled, her body tensing slightly with the need to lash out at someone. Of course, she'd already lashed out at that particular target with about as much force as he could survive. Any more of that and she'd be reading his obituary in the paper.

Funny, she didn't think she'd be too sad about that, if it were to happen. Buffy just shrugged, looking down at the stack of books that lay between them.

"'Sokay. This wasn't nearly as bad as my last breakup, believe me."

Faith's eyes narrowed at that.

Angel.

Back at the beginning, when the others were still comfortable with her being around, they'd filled her in on Buffy's ex. Willow especially had been big on how it had been a cosmic love affair; soulmates forever, destined in the stars, blah, blah, blah. She'd also described how having to kill the vampire had nearly killed Buffy; how it had taken her months to recover. In fact, Buffy had come back to Sunnydale only weeks before Faith herself had arrived.

Looking at the older Slayer now, seeing how just thinking about Angel only intensified the pain Buffy was obviously experiencing, Faith regretted that she hadn't been around to kill him herself, thus sparing the blonde girl the anguish of having to do it.

And sure, I'll own up to being a little jealous, She admitted to herself. But that's not all of it, either. From what I hear, he wanted into her pants from the first day he was in town, and when he finally got his fuck, he conveniently managed to 'lose' his soul. A hundred years and he never managed to figure out that little detail of his 'curse'? Yeah, right. And then he spends months messing with her head; stalking her, killing people she knew, people she cared about, and then making her think that everything he did and everyone he killed is her fault! It's a good thing ol' Angel is dead and gone already, or I'd come down on him so hard it'd kill his ancestors.

And their friends.


She took a deep breath, looking at Buffy again. The Slayer looked so small, sitting there, so vulnerable, that without even thinking about what she was doing Faith reached out and lay her hand gently on the girl's shoulder.

"Not everyone who says they love you is going to be lying." Her voice sounded a little huskier than usual, but that might have just been because of her heart pounding so loudly in her ears. "Maybe there's someone out there who really does care about you, who wants to be with you forever, always."

Buffy looked back at her, and there wasn't any sign of comprehension in her eyes, no indication that she understood what Faith was trying to say. There was only a troubled look, a punishing uncertainty that there could ever be anything but lies, but pain.

"Forever?" She asked, though the younger girl wasn't sure if she was the one being asked. "I'm not sure there is a forever. I thought some things were settled, that they couldn't hurt me anymore, and just when I've accepted it-" She looked to be on the edge of tears, and the shoulder under Faith's hand shook as that tiny body was wracked with an almost subliminal shudder. "And it was so hard the first time, and I thought I did what I had to do, and now it's all back just like before, and-" Buffy looked at the younger girl, and her beautiful, green, shadowed eyes were bright with tears.

"Faith, I…."

"Buffy!"

She hastily pulled her hand back, and both of them looked around to see Willow walking across the courtyard towards where they sat. Faith, seeing Buffy wipe hastily at her eyes and then bravely smile a welcome, felt sick anger well up within her.

Right there; she was going to tell me what's wrong with her right there, and I know I could have helped. So of course Red has to show up.

Willow came to a stop in front of the bench, beaming with her usual empty cheerfulness.

"What'cha doing?" She chirped, and then, for all the world like she hadn't seen her until just that moment, she turned and looked at Faith. "Hey there. You guys talking about Slayer stuff?"

Faith gave her a poisonous smile.

"Oh yeah, absolutely." She leaned back on the bench, just incidentally showing the flat-chested girl her own generous endowments. "'Cause that's all I'm good for, y'know; Slayer talk."

Willow took a step back, folding her arms across her chest in a self-conscious gesture. She was visibly struggling for a comeback when Buffy saved her.

"Hey, Will." The blonde Slayer was shaking off whatever it was that she'd been about to tell Faith; rebuilding the walls around whatever was torturing her. "We were just talking; no big deal. What's up?"

Faith looked at her, hurt by the casual dismissal.

No, no big deal, B. It was just you finally treating me like someone who might matter in your life, like someone you could trust with the real you. That's all it was.

Willow, bitch though she was, still noticed the tremor in Buffy's voice, and the near-tears brightness of her eyes.

"Oh, what's wrong?" She knelt in front of the girl, her own green eyes searching the Slayer's. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Faith was gritting her teeth again.

Yes, you little shit! She was talking about it to me!

Saying it out loud would only make things worse; she knew that to be true, so she stayed silent. Buffy was shaking her head now, gathering up her books.

"No, I'm fine. Just the post-homecoming blues, is all."

Willow took her by the arm, dragging the smaller girl to her feet.

"Well, I've got a free period, so how about I show you some wacky telekinetic juggling to cheer you up? I've been practicing with paper clips, and I can do two at once now." She gave Buffy a somewhat sheepish look. "Well, usually. But I'm getting better!"

Buffy's smile looked almost genuine this time, and she started off with the other girl. After a few steps, though, she turned and looked back at Faith.

"Did you want to come with…?"

From where she sat on the bench, the younger Slayer shook her head.

"No thanks. I'm good." She tried to find something else to add, thought about telling the older girl that she was leaving for awhile, but with Willow looking at her over Buffy's shoulder the words wouldn't come. Was that smug gleam really there in the red-head's eyes, or was she just imagining it? Buffy shrugged.

"All right. I'll see you later."

The two of them headed off towards the doors that led inside, leaving Faith to sit there alone.

"Yeah," She mumbled, looking down at nothing in particular. "See you later… I guess."



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