A/N: Sorry about the delay. I've started college courses, so the updates might be a little fewer and farther between but I'll do my best to put up a chapter every week, if I can.
Willow entered her house dubiously, the well-conditioned fear ramping up below the surface. After a moment, she remembered that she had invited Faith over just last night. She had told her she was welcome anytime.
Had that just been last night?
She smiled at the dark-haired Slayer nervously, trying to convey that she was as optimistic about this as she could manage. Not sure if it worked, the redhead shifted her gaze to her mother, not catching Faith’s thoughtful smirk.
“Hi, Mom.” Just those two words informed the Slayer that the bulk of Willow’s nervousness was not for her but for Sheila. Because the older woman could hear the emotion in her daughter’s voice as well, she looked to the man that had a reassuring hand on Willow’s shoulder.
“You told her.” Oh, those words were so cold and sharp and Faith took a step away from Sheila.
The man, who Faith assumed was Willow’s father despite no real resemblance, kissed Willow’s cheek and smiled at Faith with an open, gentle expression.
“Why don’t you and your friend go have that talk with your Mr. Giles, hmm? I’ll have a talk with your mother.”
In turn, the petite girl nodded silently and eyed Faith significantly. The Slayer edged past the adults with the sparking tension, flashing a semi-genuine smile on the way. She grasped Willow’s arm just above the elbow and guided them out of the house.
When the door shut behind them, Willow breathed a sigh of relief and carefully extricated herself from Faith’s grip.
“What was that?” Faith’s eyes were so wide that the witch began to remember the Slayer before… before there was this unspoken thing that they leave her on her own, before the jealousy set in. Other than that, there was something different, a lifting of some kind that she couldn’t identify.
“You’re different,” Willow said bluntly, purposely ignoring her question for the time being.
Faith laughed shortly, the mirth and surprise on her face real. It was so different from anything Willow had seen in the last few months that she couldn’t help but feel that bond of friendship grow again, that part of her that just liked all people. “Yeah, she said you would feel it.”
Willow frowned, the lines around her mouth and forehead creasing slightly. “She?” she echoed.
“I saw my Watcher.”
Willow’s frown deepened. “Wesley? Why…” Her voice trailed away when Faith shook her head and raised a hand to stop an oncoming babble.
“Not Wes. Diana Dormer, my first Watcher.”
Willow gasped. “The one that Kakistos…?” Faith nodded. “But she’s dead, obviously. How did you…?” The redhead paused and smacked herself lightly on the forehead after a moment. “Of course. You’re a Slayer. You get the prophetic dreams.”
Faith could tell in her voice that she had almost said “like Buffy”. She reminded herself to be thankful that at least Willow was perceptive enough to realize the constant comparisons to Buffy the Saint were part of the problem. “Yeah, she talked to me. Lifted the compulsions for a bit.”
There was that frown again. “Compulsions?” the witch echoed.
Faith looked at Willow with dark eyes. “The Mayor is a sorcerer, y’know.”
“Right.” Willow nodded emphatically. “Of course he is. Wait, you mean?”
Faith huffed. “Yeah, I mean.”
Frowning, the redhead began to lead them away from her house. Inside, she knew her parents were already fighting, though it would more resembled a subdued argument than a full-out fight. But Willow knew the difference, knew her parents too well. It was all in the eyes and the tone.
However, the quiet unnerved Faith a little. Around her friends, Willow had this energy about her and babbled to the point of not being able to shut up, it seemed. This introspective girl that was there now was different, so different that the Slayer in her could sense the untapped power that almost swirled around her.
“He wants you to switch sides,” she blurted into the oppressive silence.
Willow turned to face the dark Slayer, her hazel eyes fathomless. The heaviness of the gaze stopped Faith mid-step, causing her to stumble slightly. “What would the Mayor want with me?”
Straightening her stance and gathering the small amount of dignity she’d lost in her gracelessness, Faith shrugged her shoulders. “How should I know? All that magic stuff is just a little out of my territory. He’s just got all excited when I told him about that vision.” She backtracked a little when she saw a pained expression float over Willow’s face. “Sorry, I couldn’t help it.”
Sighing, Willow led them forward again. The path they took, Faith knew they were heading for the high school. “So, I don’t get it. What do you want?”
Faith followed the redhead in an obedient manner but let the silence reign as she gathered her thoughts. This time, she tried not to let Willow’s quietness
bother her. “Di said that you could stop the compulsions.”
This time, the redhead interjected. “Whatever magic the Mayor is doing, I’m sure it’s above my level.” Faith got the impression that Willow was reaching her limit for quiet.
“No, it’s like…” She stopped, forcing herself to word the sentence before saying it. “It’s like I’m protected from him. Like a shield.”
“Ohh…” Willow sounded like she suddenly understood something. “That might be the thing I did.”
Faith frowned, glancing at her momentarily. They were getting closer to the high school every minute. “What thing?”
“There’s a shield again magic, specifically magic that attacks the mind. I cast it on myself a few weeks ago. I figured it would be best. Maybe it extends when I’m near people.”
Faith shrugged. “Like I said, I don’t get the magic stuff. I just know you help.” She stopped, grabbing Willow’s arm in the process. The witch was forced to face her. “Please.”
Willow could hear the desperation in her voice and knew from experience that Faith didn’t like to beg. But she was doing it now. However, there was still that
little voice, irrational and tiny but clear of argument, that reminded her that the Slayer had joined the Mayor freely. “You’ll have to be around me almost constantly?”
Faith loosened her grip, realizing that the witch was agreeing. “It’s likely.”
Willow’s lips thinned as she pressed them together, forming a plan in her head. “We’ll go see the Mayor after I drop something off at the library.” She smiled slightly at the cringe on the Slayer’s face. “Then we’ll go see Angel.”
It was at the vampire’s name that Faith’s expression fully turned into a grimace. “Why him?”
Her smile widened. “He’ll be the easiest to apologize to.”
They reached the library in another five minutes, which was plenty of time for Willow to explain her conditions of this agreement. In exchange for the inexplicable bubble of magical shielding and pretending to switch sides, Faith had to apologize to everyone and deal with what happened with the dead man. Angel would be the first because she had done the least to him and he was most likely to understand the darkness she didn’t want to face.
While Willow entered the high school, Faith waited outside, squinting slightly at the bright light. As much as a part of her wanted to find a way out of this, to run and run and run, a small (so small) part of her agreed that the redhead was right. She would never be okay if she didn’t do it the long way.
She kept alert and did well to keep watch, though. It wouldn’t go over very well if any of the Scooby Gang caught her in the vicinity. The small part of her chirped again, wondering what they would do to Willow when they found out what she was doing.
Feeling very sneaky, Willow pushed at the library double doors. She knew that she should have chosen to see the Mayor first so that she wouldn’t lose her nerve but she still had those pages from the Books of Ascension, burning a hole in the pocket of her overalls and burning a very distinct place in the forefront of her mind.
“Giles!” she called out.
“Hey, Wills.” And there was the Slayer, the blond. Buffy.
“Buffy. Hi. Have you seen Giles?”
“I’m right here.” Willow turned to see the librarian erupting from his office, using a handkerchief to clean his glasses. She idly wondered if his constant cleaning compromised the integrity of the lenses.
“Hi!” She forced brightness into her voice, feeling that she sounded overly chipper. “I have something for you.”
Giles arched an eyebrow and she could almost hear the British and so skeptical thoughts flitting through his brain. “Really?” She could see the exhaustion showing around his eyes. Another idle thought occurred to her: would she ever stop noticing these tiny things about others?
“Yeah.” She pulled the folded pages out of the front pocket of her overalls and handed them to him. “I completely forgot last night.”
“I imagine.” He unfolded the pages and Willow waited with bated breath for the British in the older man to slip, just for that small moment. He didn’t disappoint: he gasped audibly and looked at her with bright eyes. However, she could see the disapproval. Of course his keen mind had put together the fact that she hadn’t gotten herself out was to get her hands of these. She thought the trade-off was worth it but he probably didn’t. “You’re brilliant, Willow.” There it was, that little flat tone that probably only she could hear and that he probably didn’t know that he had used.
“So they say,” she said with a smile. Never let that brightness fade, she told herself. They all needed it, her bright optimism in this world of deep darkness. “I’ve got to go, though.”
“C’mon, Will. Dusty books and hours of translating dead languages, wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Willow knew Buffy was being facetious but she was sure to paste the appropriate longing expression on her face. They would never know certain things: this farce she was about to attempt; that she had scanned those very pages on her computer so that she could translate them while her parents were in town; and, most of all, that she now trusted Faith more than Buffy.
It couldn’t be helped. In truth, Faith had really never asked anything of her until recently. She had never taken advantage of her abilities, be they of computer or magic. But now… Now, every single time she glanced at Buffy, she received more glimpses of what was apparently a larger vision, covering Goddess only knew how many years. She didn’t like what she saw, not of any of them.
“My parents are here. I’ve got to convince them to skip graduation.” Willow caught Buffy nodding in the corner of her eye as she moved to the doors.
“Call me later?”
“I will.” In this moment, her vision settled on the blond Slayer again and she saw something that chilled her to the bone. It was Xander, screaming in his sleep with a bandage covering the whole of one eyes, and she knew that that eye was gone, destroyed in a fight. Two words echoed in her mind, chasing each other around the boundaries of her skull: Buffy’s fault, Buffy’s fault, Buffy’s fault…
Though her legs wanted to run, Willow forced herself to walk calmly outside, though she was given away by her panicky breathing. What was that? Xander had looked older. What was going on? How could she even begin to find out?
Faith glanced at the door when it opened. She frowned slightly. Willow looked slightly paler and was almost hyperventilating. “Red, what’s going on?”
The redhead closed her eyes and forced a deep breath. After that, the regular breathing pattern returned but she still felt jumpy in her bones. However, it steeled something in her. There was probably only person in this town that could help her with this. Dangerous as he might be, it still didn’t deviate from the plan.