DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related properties belong to Joss and some corporate types. Please resist the urge to throw money at me for this one.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a very, very immediate sequel to my previous story 'The Willow Diaries,' and will make very, very little sense if you don't read that one first. Also there's bad language, people getting killed, and girls kissing (each other), so don't say you weren't warned.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Calendar Pages
I've been sitting in front of a blank computer screen for almost an hour. That's how long it's been since Faith left, Willow and Rupert taking her back to her dorm room to nurse her bruises and her ego. In the year I've known her, I've never seen her lose a fight that badly.
But that isn't what I want to write. But then, I don't really want to write what I want to write. Because after everything the people I love have gone through, I refuse to believe that the Goddess could be so cruel as to open their wounds like this again. Of course, that doesn't make it any less true.
"Jenny?" Jenny Calendar looked up from her laptop to find Giles' gently smiling face leaning through the doorway. She met his weary smile with her own.
"How is she?"
"The same. She doesn't seem to want to say anything other than what she's already told us. I'm hoping Willow will be able to coax something else out of her."
"I can't even imagine what she's going through."
The far-off look that had been in Giles' eyes since Faith returned with the news drifted off again. "Quite." The librarian shook his head. "Well, I believe I'll make some tea. Fancy a cup?"
Jenny groaned as she leaned back in her chair, neck popping. "Actually, now that you mention it, that sounds wonderful."
"All right. Don't interrupt what you're doing, I'll be back."
"Thanks Rupert?" The librarian turned back from the bedroom door. Jenny met his eyes. "We're going to be okay."
Giles forced a smile. "Yes. Yes, of course." Without another word, he disappeared into the hall.
Well, alive isn't the right word, of course. Which is the problem.
When Faith came back, she wouldn't tell us much more than that, no matter how much Rupert tried to encourage her. I don't blame her; getting her ass resoundingly kicked for the first time would be bad enough, but to see a fate like that befall a former Slayer...
I don't know what could be worse.
Faith cradled her dislocated arm against her stomach, stake still clutched protectively in her other hand. As hard as she tried to fight against the pain coursing through her body, it was taking its toll; Buffy seemed able to get behind her almost effortlessly. Buffy, however, didn't seem interested in killing Faith.
If she did, Faith reasoned, she'd probably already have been dead.
The Slayer growled. "What the fuck do you want from me?"
The blonde's musical laugh echoed through the empty warehouse. "Oh, please. It's not about you, Faith." The velvety voice was grinning again. "It's never about you, is it?"
Faith saw a shadow jump on the edge of her peripheral vision and spun, gritting her teeth against the pain it sent through her head, but Buffy was already gone.
"Let's face it. You're not Giles' real Slayer, are you? Or Willow and Xander's real best friend?" From somewhere behind her, Faith heard a chuckle. "I mean, for all you know, I could have fucked Cordelia first too."
Another growl of rage rose in Faith's throat as she turned to lunge at the sound of the voice, only to have Buffy's arm close around her neck from behind. Buffy was pressed close, the tips of her fangs scraping against Faith's ear. "I want you to deliver a message for me, can you do that, Faith?"
Faith struggled, but the motions only made Buffy grin wider against her throat. "Tell Xander that I'm going to turn him, and then I'm going to feed him Will and Cordy. Tell Jenny Calendar that she gets to watch...
"And tell Giles that it'll be all...his...fault."
Suddenly, Faith was propelled forward into the floor, her face smashing hard against the concrete for a final time.
"Think you can remember that?"
Faith shook her head as Willow's voice intruded upon the memory. The Slayer supposed she should have been grateful.
"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?" Willow had been asking since before the sun went down.
"Yeah. I mean, no. I just need time to like, process, you know?"
Willow let out a deep breath. "Yeah. Believe me, I know."
Faith cleared her throat. "You know, you don't need to stay here and babysit me. I'm sure you got more important stuff to do."
Willow shook her head even as she turned toward the alarm clock on her bedside table. "No, to be honest I think I am supposed to be on a date right now!"
Faith's eyebrows went up as Willow's head whipped back around, a vivid blush on her cheeks. "Date?"
"No! Not a date. Not a date date. A coffee date. With a friend! A friendly coffee date! I think I'm still in shock a little bit."
The return of Willow's babbling was almost enough to make Faith smile. "Yeah, well, you should go. Can't remember the last time I had a friendly coffee date with a friend. I mean, not that I was advertisin', but " The Slayer shook her head. "Go. I'll be fine."
Willow paused for a moment, the urge to curl up and cry for Buffy all over again warring with the surprisingly strong desire to see Tara. Finally, the redhead took a shaky breath. "Yeah. Okay. But just if you need anything "
"I'm cool, Red, really." As Willow reluctantly nodded and headed out the door, Faith collapsed backward onto her bed with a sigh. "Five by five."
Tara glanced down at her watch; it was past eight thirty. It wasn't like they'd even set a concrete time, and she was suddenly reminded that Willow didn't even have her number to call if something was wrong, but still
The blonde sighed and picked herself up from the small table by the window and turned to leave.
She had just set foot on the sidewalk when she had to pull up short to avoid the flustered-looking redhead who almost ran into her.
When she saw the blonde, Willow's eyes widened, the sudden and unexpected surge of emotion adding one more ingredient to the cocktail already threatening to make her explode. "Tara. I'm sorry, I know I'm late "
"No, it's okay, I mean I was just it's okay." The blonde gave the redhead's too-cheery smile another look. "Um are you? Okay?"
Willow shook her head. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. I'm fine, I'm fine. I just I had a a family "
It wasn't until Tara gathered her into a warm and fragrant embrace that Willow realized she was crying.
Willow breathed in the musty, comfortable smell of Tara's room, like a cross between potpourri and library books, as the blonde guided a mug of tea into her shaky hands. Tara's fingers lingered as Willow took a careful sip, delicately brushing a strand of hair away from the redhead's eyes.
After almost two hours, Willow's tears had finally subsided. In the interim, she had told Tara everything. The blonde set herself down next to Willow's position half curled up against the wall, still trying to process it all herself. The losses Willow had experienced made Tara think with sorrow of her own mother, while the parts about demons cut close to home for a slightly different reason.
When Tara turned her gaze back to Willow, the redhead's brow was furrowed, a far-off look in her eyes. "Willow?"
"Is it just me?" Before Tara could open her mouth, Willow began to shake. "Jesse, Oz Buffy," the girl's voice cracked. "Everyone who gets close to me dies. Is it me?"
In an instant, Tara's arms were around the redhead who seemed on the verge of crying again. "No, no sweethea " Tara flushed as she caught herself, glad Willow couldn't see. "Willow. It's not you, it's not your fault."
"Don't leave me," Willow hiccuped. "Promise you won't leave."
Tara wrapped her arms tighter around the smaller girl, pressing a fervent kiss into her soft hair. "I won't. Not ever, I promise." Willow let out a soft sigh at that, enough to make Tara's heart skip a beat. "If there's if there were anything I could do to make it better "
Willow wrapped her arms around the blonde's warm, increasingly familiar curves. "Just hold me. Just a little longer."
The short, sharp series of knocks on the door sounded for the third time. More than anything, Faith wanted to ignore it: to just float away, either to sleep or on the bottle of Jack she had hidden under the bed. It was a testament to her Slayer instinct for constant watchfulness, she figured, that she hadn't started in on it already.
Whoever it was knocked a fourth time, then a fifth. When it was obvious they weren't going to go away, Faith sighed, pushed herself off the bed, and stalked to the door. Willow had been in a hurry when she left, maybe she forgot her key
Faith tore open the door to find herself face to face with the last personwell, last living personshe wanted to see.
"Hi." The seductive caprice Faith had gotten so used to seeing was gone from the brunette's face. Instead, Cordelia just looked tired. "Can we talk?" Before Faith could open her mouth, Cordelia held up a hand. "Just talk."
After a few seconds of staring at Cordelia, Faith shrugged and moved aside, closing the door as soon as Cordelia was through.
"Let me guess, you're lookin' for a shoulder to cry on, right?"
Cordelia bristled. "That's not fair. You think this is hard for you? You didn't even know her."
Faith bit back her acidic reproach, closed her eyes, and sighed. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'm just " Faith sagged against her bed, Cordelia crossing the room to sit gently on the edge of Willow's. "She was me. She was the Slayer, she was this bad-ass I've spent the last year trying to live up to. To see her like that the things she said " Faith trailed off, flicking her hands impotently, but Cordelia just nodded.
"I was the first friend she made when she came here, did you know that? Always seems to get lost in the holy Willow-Xander-Buffy trinity. I just wonder sometimes, if things had been different " Cordelia shook her head, apparently as much at a loss for words as Faith. Finally, she sighed. "Did you mean what you said?"
Faith looked up to meet her eyes. There was no need to ask what she was talking about. "You feel anything for me, besides in your Victoria's Secrets?"
Cordelia opened her mouth to speak, then closed it. Her gaze fell to the bedspread. "It's not like I hate you."
Faith almost smiled. "Yeah, I meant it." Her eyes shifted toward the window, to the stars beginning appear through the trees. "I'm not the same chick I was when I came here. I never had people close enough to keep secrets from before. And it's not worth it anymore."
Cordelia sighed. "Fine." The brunette stood and moved toward the Slayer, but then thought better of it. Instead, she headed directly for the door. "I'll try to stay out of your way."
"No, I mean we'll still be friends."
Cordelia looked back at Faith over her shoulder, a sad smile spreading across her face. "We can never be friends, Faith."
As Cordelia closed the door behind her, Faith let herself fall back onto the bed. Then, with a sigh, she rolled over, digging under the bed for the bottle. If nothing else, she could get a little sleep.
As preoccupied as she was walking through the courtyard toward Giles' and Jenny's house, Cordelia practically jumped when another figure appeared next to her.
"Whoa, Cordy, it's me."
Cordelia let out a breath. Of course, it had to be Xander. "Hi. I was just "
As she trailed off, Xander just nodded. "Couldn't sleep."
As she shivered in the cool air, Xander automatically took of his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. Cordelia sighed to herself; she still didn't know what she saw in him. "Something like that."
It was a rather disheveled-looking Giles who answered the door, his sweater and tie having apparently been discarded earlier in the night. "Oh. Hello, you two."
"Not interrupting anything, are we?"
Giles scowled at Xander, but they all knew that deep-down Xander's irreverence was probably a good way to keep them from going crazy. "Please, come in."
"Thanks," Cordelia muttered. "We just "
"Couldn't sleep. Didn't want to be alone."
Jenny emerged from the kitchen. "Hey. How are you kids doing?"
"Oh, you know."
Jenny just sighed. "Yes, I do." She set the tea tray she was carrying down on the table; both she and Rupert had contemplated switching to something stronger, but both carried the unexpressed fear that they might not be able to stop if they did.
Giles motioned for everyone to sit as he settled into his threadbare armchair. "Perhaps this is actually for the best. I was hoping to have a conversation about this. I'd prefer to do it without Faith or Willow since well. And I suppose the sooner the better."
Xander sat perched on the edge of the couch. "All right, let's converse. Let's start with conversing about how the hell this could have happened."
Giles sighed. "I don't know. There's no record of a Slayer ever being turned before."
Jenny's eyes narrowed. "How can that be?"
"Supposedly, drinking a Slayer's blood is the most potent sensation a vampire can feel. Vampires are not creatures of particular foresight, I doubt one would be willing to give up the experience out of curiosity."
"Except the Master."
"Except the Master."
"Which means that " Jenny swallowed. "Buffy's not just the first Slayer to become a vampire, she's also the only surviving vampire sired by the Master?"
"She's not just an ordinary vampire. That's what's truly troubling about all this."
"Oh, is that what's troubling about all this?" Suddenly, Xander was on his feet.
"No, I'm sorry, I cannot take this. This isn't some new villain of the week we're talking about here, this is Buffy!"
"It is not. Buffy." Before anyone could react, Giles was towering over Xander, his voice low and dangerous. "The thing that is walking around in her skin is not Buffy. It is an insult to her memory. We are all grieving, but we have to concentrate on how to stop this thing, and the sooner we pull ourselves together the sooner we can do it."
"Wait a minute," Cordelia interjected, "are you saying we just have to kill her? I mean, Angel has a soul, isn't there like a spell"
"We already know what we have to do. If all you have to offer are flights of fancy, Cordelia, perhaps you should leave."
Cordelia merely sat, a look of shock on her face. She blinked, then slowly rose. "Maybe."
Cordelia was out the door before Jenny could speak. Xander shot Giles a look before turning to follow her out.
When Jenny turned toward Giles, he had already crossed the room to stand at the window, his fingers digging into the windowsill until his knuckles were white. "Go on then, say it."
Jenny sighed. "This could have waited a few days. Rupert, they're grieving. It's like losing her all over again"
"Don't you think I know that?" The Watcher whipped around. "That is exactly why she's so dangerous. It's not that she was a Slayer. It's not the Master. It's that she's Buffy." When Jenny said nothing, Giles expelled a breath and turned back toward the window. "That's why we can't wait. Buffy was always playful. As one of them well, I rather expect her to make Angelus look puritanical in comparison. In a few days, it will only have gotten worse. She'll see to that."
"They're just children, Rupert. They need time to process this."
"And it's my responsibility not to get any more of them killed."
Jenny blinked. "Any of them."
"Get any of them killed." Jenny approached cautiously, daring to lay a hand on her lover's shoulder. "Rupert, you're not responsible for Buffy's death."
"I WAS HER WATCHER!" Giles screamed as he turned around with a ferocity than made Jenny shrink back. "No, you're right. I performed my duties to the letter. I put her out there. I read the prophecy. And I did nothing. I watched!"
Jenny shrieked as the tea cup the librarian had left on the windowsill exploded in shards against the living room wall.
In the ensuing stillness, Giles' ragged breathing and the thumping of Jenny's heart were the only sounds. "Rupert "
The Watcher merely shook his head. "I'm going to bed."
Jenny watched as he shuffled listlessly up the stairs, his frenetic rage suddenly drained, a passionless emptiness in its place.
She didn't know which worried her more.
Rupert was right that first night. In the last few months, it's only gotten worse. At first, we didn't hear anything for almost a week, left alone to stew in our grief. Then, Faith found the first tape.
Buffy leaves them for her, like a calling card. Sometimes they're in the possession of demons, or vampires, sometimes they're in broad daylight. She's even begun sending them to Faith directly. Rupert was right; this must be what Angel would be like in the modern day were he ever to lose his soul.
I've considered telling themtalking to Uncle Enyos, trying to find the spell againa dozen times, but I don't know. As bad as it is now, I don't think any of them would be able to move on, able to cope, if she were out there walking around, an abomination just like him. Especially Rupert.
He and Faith are both taking this so personally; even though she knows what's going to be on the tapes, Faith still watches every one. I've been trying to persuade her to get rid of them, but she's even more stubborn than usual lately, albeit in a rather more mission-focused way. At least she can go out and patrol to work off her frustration. There's not much I can do for Rupert but keep telling him it's not his fault.
Xander's trying to cope, like he always does. He's a brave boy, and sometimes he's the only thing that keeps me from going crazy. It doesn't help that Cordelia seems to have withdrawn from us almost completely. I didn't think this would affect her so deeply. Maybe this was the final straw to convince her that she didn't belong in this world.
Willow is, ironically, the most worrisome. There are times she seems almost...well, happy. Happier than I ever remember seeing her, in fact. But at the same time, she's shut off. Almost as if she had some secret world from which she was drawing all this new peace.
Maybe that's just her way of dealing.
We all have to do it somehow.
Faith held the latest video cassette in her hands, flipping it over again to look at the title scrawled across the label sticker in loopy, unsettlingly feminine handwriting.
Casting another glance to the locked door of the dorm room, Faith slid the tape into the VCR. A moment of static was followed by the familiar black screen. Then a spotlight came up on the steel folding chair in the otherwise featureless black space.
In the chair, a petite, red-headed teenager was stripped down to her underwear, shivering.
Faith recognized the voice coming from behind the camera immediately. "Hello, Willow."
The redhead in the chair immediately strained against the duct tape holding her arms and legs against the metal. "Oh, God. No, listen, you've got the wrong that's not me! My name's San"
A blur shot across the screen, Buffy backhanding the girl so hard across the face that Faith distinctly heard the sound of something breaking.
Buffy was wearing a hockey jersey, her hair falling loose around her face. Slumber party, Faith's mind supplied. Not that she'd ever been to one.
When the blonde spoke, she didn't sound like a monster. She sounded like a girl. "Don't be silly, Will. You think I don't recognize my best friend?"
"I'm not. God, I swear"
The girl groaned in agony as Buffy's closed fist smacked into her jaw. When she moved to the side of the chair, blood was dribbling from the girl's mouth.
"So, has anyone asked you to the dance yet?" Buffy was sitting on the ground, back leaned casually against the girl's leg.
The girl tried to respond, but only a bubble of bloody spittle emerged from her lips.
"Oh, come on, Will. You gotta get in the game. I mean, you're a babe, honestly. Guys should be all over you. Just gotta seize the day."
Buffy bounded to her feet, shouting over her shoulder as she moved out of the glare of the light. "Hey, wanna see something cool? It's this objet d'awesome my mom's featuring in one of her gallery shows. S'posed to be based on some ancient Aztec sacrificial thingamabob." Buffy reentered the light, still bouncing. The serrated knife in her hand gleamed in the light. "You wanna see? We gotta be careful though, cuz"
Then Buffy tripped.
Without warning, she was falling forward, the knife aimed right between the girl's shoulderblades. The redhead cried out in pain and horror as the blade pierced her chest with a wet schlock. Then she went still.
Faith merely flinched.
When Buffy righted herself, she was frantic. "No! No, no, God, Will! Will, please, wake up! Oh God, somebody help! Will, Will honey it's going to be okay, just hang on. Somebody! Please, please!" Buffy threw herself, sobbing, on the girl's lifeless lap, slender arms wrapped tight around her. "Oh God, what have I done? Will, please, wake up. Please. Wake up "
Then, as quickly as the fit had begun, it was over. Buffy stood, turned, and walked toward the camera. The last thing Faith saw before the picture cut out was Buffy's smile.
Faith practically wrenched the tape from the machine, then stalked back to the bed and pulled the box from underneath it. She didn't need to look at the labels as she shoved the new addition into its proper place. They were already seared into her.
Willow #13. Xander #1 and 2. Cordelia #13. Jenny #1 and 2. Giles #1 and 2.
Each one was different, yet the same. In some, Buffy was the monster she was, in others the girl she had been. On each tape it happened a different way, sometimes more torture, sometimes less, sometimes role-playing, sometimes an "accident" like this one. Each starring some innocent who had the bad fortune to bear a passing resemblance to someone Faith loved. Worse still, after months of tracking down the worst elements of the demonic underworld, receiving shadowy and unhelpful locator spell results from Willow and her undisclosed "Wicca group," and periodically beating Willy the snitch for increasingly far-fetched leads, she was still no closer to finding Buffy.
All she had to show for the last three months of work was a steadily growing collection of tapes of the people she couldn't save.
Willow sighed as she walked out of her history class. Once again, Faith hadn't come. All her time these days seemed to be split between patrolling, gathering information, and watching the tapes. Willow had forced herself to sit down and watch one of them with her; she couldn't even make it half-way through.
At this point, Willow was practically doing her homework for her. And the redhead was beginning to miss classes as well. There were days when she could sympathize with Faith's questions on whether any of it really meant a damn thing. She didn't hold out much hope for either of them come finals.
Sometimes it seemed like the only moments of solace she could find anymore were with Tara. The mere thought of the blonde brought an unconscious smile to Willow's lips; as the new friends had grown closer, they had begun to spend more and more time together, most nights ending with Willow falling asleep in Tara's bed after an evening spent testing spells and talking about anything and everything. At first, they had stayed with the common ground of magic, but it hadn't taken them long to branch out into music, movies, family, love livesa topic on which Willow, of course, had little to report, and on which Tara seemed reluctant to speak herselfand even when there seemed to be nothing left to talk about, Willow was amazed by the effects of just listening to the sound of Tara's voice. Lying back in the blonde's lap, feeling the soft rumble of her words wash over her, Willow could almost forget.
Willow turned around, only now realizing that she'd walked almost to the doors out to the quad, completely on autopilot. She also only now realized that that meant the brunette had probably been trailing behind her, trying to get her attention for a while now. She squinted. "Stacy?"
The leader of the Wicca group was standing in front of her, arms folded accusingly. "Okay. Here it is. You don't want to hang out with me. Message received. But you can at least be a little less of a bitch and give me an explanation."
"Wait, what are you talking about?"
"First you stand me up for coffee. That's fine, maybe you have somewhere to be. Now you haven't talked to me all term. At first, I just thought hey, no big, she's not interested. But you know what, you pretend like I don't exist and let me stew for three months, I'm eventually gonna start getting just a little pissed off. And thinking that , hey, maybe I'm entitled to at least a half-decent brush-off."
Willow couldn't help but notice that the brunette was a little less politically correct when she was angry. Then, the actual memories started to return. Her coffee with Stacy was supposed to be on the day when
Willow closed her eyes. "I'm sorry." Stacy scoffed. "I haven't been avoiding you. I've just been preoccupied. That day we were supposed to meet for coffee, something happened."
Stacy's arms remained crossed, an eyebrow raised in silent challenge.
"My best friend died."
The brunette's face fell. "Oh, Goddess, Willow I'm so sorry, I didn't know "
Willow just shook her head. Thanks in no small part to Tara, she was beyond tears at this point.
"I didn't I can't believe I didn't hear anything about it."
"She didn't go here. She was my best friend from high school." It wasn't technically a lie.
"Goddess, I wish you would have told me. You wouldn't have had to go through this alone."
"I wasn't. And I'm dealing."
Stacy sighed. "I'm sorry I called you a bitch."
Willow almost smiled. "That's okay. I've never been called one before. It was actually kind of cool."
Stacy chuckled. "Look why don't we grab some dinner this weekend. On me. It'll give us a chance to talk."
Willow shrugged. "Yeah. Okay."
"Great. How's Friday night for you, say, nine?"
"Sure. I'll meet you on the quad."
Stacy smiled, but it wasn't her condescending Wicca-group-leader smile. "Great."
Willow watched the brunette go, lost in thought. Maybe she'd misjudged her. She might actually turn out to be a friend, even if she wasn't as cool as
Willow winced. "Tara!"
"No, Willow, I t totally understand. It's not like we had a d d date or anything."
"I just feel bad about blowing her off. And once you get past the whole I-Am-Helen-Reddy-Hear-Me-Roar thing, she seems like she might actually be kind of cool. I just want to, you know, get to know her a little better."
Tara felt a lump form in her throat. She'd seen the way Stacy had looked at Willow back in the group. Cool. "I I'm sure you'll have a great t t time."
"But I mean, we're still on for trying that glamour on Saturday night, right? I mean I really like doing spells with you."
Tara closed her eyes and had to force herself to keep from biting her lip. "Sure."
"Bye." As Tara hung up the phone, she felt like crying.
I'm getting more worried about Rupert.
He's been getting worse every day. He hardly ever comes in to work anymore; I know he's a hair's breadth away from getting fired. All he seems to do lately is research, write in his Diaries, and patrol on his own. It scares me more than a little. Most of all because he's gone into the mode he goes into when he's planning something. And I don't know what it could be.
Yesterday I came home to find him in the bedroom, anthologies and what I think were old Watchers' Diaries, his own included, spread out over the bed. It was all I could do to talk him into coming downstairs long enough to eat something. I don't know when the last time he shaved was. He's more distant than ever, as if he intends to carry the burden of this whole thing himself. And as hard as I try, I'm not sure I can help him.
I'm not sure Rupert Giles is the man I knew anymore.
Now that he was standing at the door, Xander was having second thoughts. Not about whether she would be there; normally, any self-respecting party girl would be out on a Friday night, but these days Faith hardly ever left her room except to patrol or try to dig up information, and since Giles hadn't been at home when he dropped by he assumed that the increasingly bellicose Watcher had taken that particular burden from her for the night.
Just as Xander raised his hand to knock, the door swung open. "What?"
Xander took a deep breath. "Hey, Faith. How goes the life of martyrdom?"
For a moment, it seemed to Xander that Faith was debating with herself whether to punch him or let him in. Eventually, she stepped away from the door.
"You know. Long hours nailed to that cross, but the dental plan's good."
"So, you just gonna keep at it?"
"Aside from hunting her down, what do you suggest?"
"Well, top of my head, you could try getting over yourself for a second. I get that you feel the whole Slayer responsibility burden thing. I remember that from Buffy. So get responsible about it. Save the wailing and gnashing for those of us who actually met her."
Faith looked up at the boy's defiant face. At times like this, she was reminded how much she took him for granted. "You love her?"
Xander colored a little. "I was young. And I mean, I know she didn't"
Faith shook her head. "Not Buffy. Cordelia."
Xander seemed surprised by the question. "Oh. I I don't know." He let out a sad chuckle. "She won't let me get close enough to find out."
Slowly, his smile faded. "I killed her. They ever tell you that?"
Faith squinted. "Cordelia?"
"Buffy." When the Slayer looked up, Xander's eyes had taken on a far-off look. "Angel and I were in the tunnels, coming after her. I tried to give her CPR if I'd been faster a little faster "
With a practiced grace, Faith lifted herself from the bed and slapped him lightly across the face. When he recovered, he found her rolling her eyes. "It's not your fault. It's not Giles' fault. It's sure as hell not my fault."
As Xander shrugged, a thin smile returning to his face, Faith sighed. "To hell with it. I think I got a half a bottle of vodka left under the bed. You wanna get drunk and fight about sports?"
Mission accomplished, Xander's smile widened. "Nothing would make me happier."
Giles signed the last of the letters with a final, downward stroke. The whimsical part of his nature he had spent the last twenty years trying to tamp down insisted that such things should be sealed in wax, but he had neither the time nor the supplies, nor for that matter the inclination. In fact, he had barely brought himself to write the letters at all.
But then, whatever pain he could save them from at this point, he supposed he had a duty to do it. He scoffed. As if it made a difference anymore.
His hard, businesslike script laid the final name out on the folded sheet: Faith. In a sense, it had rather unexpectedly been the easiest to write; she alone, he knew, would understand why he had to do what he had to do.
With a final look at the pile, he stood, his gaze catching inadvertently on the mirror by the door.
He looked so old.
A final glance around the house that he and Jenny had shared for almost a year, then he slung the supplies over his shoulder.
This was his mess.
And one way or the other, it ended tonight.
As soon as Willow's eyes found Stacy at a table next to one of the cafe's windows, the little niggling doubt that had spent all of high school scrutinizing and comparing her to other girls began to rear its head. One look at the suddenly coifed brunette in her tastefully low-cut dress, and Willow suddenly had the sneaking suspicion that she was underdressed.
When Stacy spotted her, a smile split her face and she beckoned for the redhead. Willow approached the table awkwardly. "I didn't know we were gonna be dressy."
"Oh, no, I just " Stacy shrugged playfully, "felt like it."
"Um okay." Willow sat down a little uneasily. Even though she couldn't put her finger on it, something about the brunette seemed off.
Stacy just smiled. "It's really good to see you, Willow." Stacy held the redheaded witch's gaze until Willow fidgeted and turned her gaze toward the table. Stacy cleared her throat, and picked up the menu lying in front of her. "So what are you gonna get?"
The evening passed pleasantly enough, though Willow was quickly beginning to feel as if she were reaching the limits of Stacy's conversational repertoire. As Stacy walked her back to her dorm, Willow couldn't help but compare their conversation to those she had with Tara. As much as they'd shared over the past few months, they never seemed to run out of things to talk about. The mere thought of the blonde brought an unconscious grin to Willow's lips.
"See, I knew I could get you to smile." It wasn't until Stacy's elbow nudged her arm that Willow realized the brunette had probably been talking to her for a while.
"Hm? Yeah, sorry. My head's just outside my head."
"Thinking about your friend?"
"Um yeah, sort of." Willow looked up at the brick building looming before them. "This is me."
Stacy nodded. "Okay. I, uh I had a really great time tonight, Willow."
"Yeah, it was fun. Sorry I was distracted."
"It's okay." Stacy leaned toward Willow, casually brushing a strand of hair away from her eyes. "I can't imagine how hard it's been for you to go through this. I just wish if there was any way I could make you feel better, anything I could do "
"Oh, well, I just need time to"
And suddenly, Stacy was kissing her. Willow's eyes widened, a gasp of confusion and panic rising in her throat. Stacy must have thought it was a gasp of something else, because the brunette pressed closer.
Willow finally managed to duck under Stacy's arms, shaking and breathing hard as she pressed up against the brick. "What what was that?"
Stacy's smile had a hint of the condescension in it that Willow had seen the first time they'd met. "It's okay. I was pretty sure you'd never with another woman before. But it's perfectly natural. There's nothing wrong with it."
"Well, gee, there's the you not asking me about it."
"I really like you, Willow." Stacy gently lifted Willow's chin to look down into the redhead's eyes. "And I know you like me."
"Stacy, I don't like you like that! I lov" Willow stopped. Her eyes widened. "Oh, God."
"It's just that you've always had a talent for getting a reaction out of him."
Cordelia couldn't help but roll her eyes as they walked through the courtyard leading to Giles and Jenny's house. "Is this that 'tact' thing I keep hearing about?" When Jenny didn't take the bait, Cordelia just sighed. "It's fine. Not like I had anything else to do tonight, anyway."
"I just need something, to know that he's still in there. He's starting to scare me."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. When was the last time he bathed?"
Jenny merely fought her lips into a disapproving line as she worked the lock. When she pushed open the door, her lover was nowhere in sight. "Rupert?" No answer. "He's probably upstairs."
As Jenny headed for the staircase, Cordelia peeled off for the kitchen. If she was going to get a reaction out of Giles, she wasn't going to do it on an empty stomach.
Something on the kitchen island caught Cordelia's attention. As she stepped closer, she realized it was a stack of white papers, folded and ordered with a precision Giles hadn't been showing much of lately.
The one on top had Faith's name written on it in Giles' businesslike handwriting. Curiosity overtaking her, she began to flip through the pile until she came across a sheet with her own name on it. An uneasy feeling growing in the pit of her stomach, Cordelia flipped open the note.
It was short and to the point. Cordelia supposed that was good, in a way; were there any more of it, she probably wouldn't have been able to move.
"Ms. Calendar." It was barely a croak. Cordelia tried to force the sounds past her throat; by the time she managed to overpower her reticent voice, she was already running up the stairs. "Ms. Calendar!"
Cordelia slammed to a stop in the bedroom doorway to find Jenny frozen over the bed, a shoebox full of videocassettes staring up at her from the comforter. Cordelia could barely bring herself to creep closer, let alone look at the labels. But she did.
Faith #1, Faith #2, Faith #3, Faith #4...
Giles relaxed his arm, the ashes of the solitary vampire who had led him to the rotting carcass of the textile mill just inside the city limits settling around his feet. He had served his purpose.
Giles let the stake drop to the ground almost casually, the wood clacking deafeningly against the concrete.
As the darkness closed around him, he felt as much as saw a lithe shape slip out of the shadows at his side. "Hello, Buffy."
The thing in the shadows smiled. "Hello, Rupert."
At the sound of frantic pounding on the dorm room door, a pleasantly buzzed Faith and Xander propped themselves up from their position leaning shoulder to shoulder against the edge of Faith's bed.
Faith sprang to her feet. "Hang back."
Xander just nodded as Faith crossed to the door in one bound, whipping it open with her fist already pulled back.
When he saw Jenny and Cordelia standing in the opening, Xander stood up. "Guys, what is it?"
Jenny's jaw was clenched so tightly it hurt Xander just to look at her; it was Cordelia who spoke. "It's Giles."
At the sound of the frantic pounding on the dorm room door, Tara lifted herself from her bed, scrubbing her face in an attempt to camouflage any remaining tear tracks. When she pulled the door open, she had to fight to keep from immediately starting new ones. "Willow."
"I was wondering how long it would take you to accept my invitation."
Giles let the axe rest casually in his left hand as Buffy crossed behind him. "How terribly thoughtful of you to send an escort. Bit of a gamble that I wouldn't stake him on the spot."
"Not at all. I knew you'd know." Giles had to fight to keep from thinking that the voice sounded almost regretful. "No one's ever known me as well as you, Rupert."
Tara sniffed and crossed her arms. "What happened to your date?"
"Did you come here to bargain, Rupert? To try to dig down and find that last shred of humanity that, surely, must remember who I was, and if I'd only think about what I was doing "
"I think we both know it's gone a ways beyond that."
Buffy smiled as she continued to circle him. "You know I'm not going to let you leave here alive."
Giles' grip on the axe tightened. "Nor I you."
Buffy grinned. "Well, well. Let's play, then."
"Okay, I know I probably should have called or something, but I just had to tell you, because now that I think about it if I'm right you probably wouldn't have talked to me if I'd called in the first place"
In spite of herself, Tara stepped back to let Willow into the room as the redhead began to babble.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. Please believe that."
"For what? For getting me killed? Don't be. After all, that's the job, isn't it? Leading teenage girls into the meat grinder?"
"Not for that. For forgetting for one moment how afraid you were of becoming one of them." Giles sighted Buffy circling behind him, and his eyes narrowed. "I should have cut off your head and burned your body myself."
Without warning, the Watcher spun on his heel, axe lashing out.
"Look, Tara, I know what you're thinking, because Stacy was thinking it, only I didn't know she was thinking it because I wasn't thinking it. I mean, I was definitely thinking it, just not about her. And I don't expect you to know that, because I didn't even know until I knew she was thinking it "
Tara could only stare in awe. "Willow, I don't understand what"
And suddenly, Willow was kissing her.
"You know it's funny, all those training fights a little part of me always wondered whether you were holding back. Whether the pathetic little British librarian was afraid of hurting the Slayer."
Giles doubled over as Buffy sped past him again, an inhumanly strong fist slamming into his ribs.
As Buffy passed by again, Giles raised the axe; the former Slayer hissed as he cut a deep gash in her thigh. "Apparently so."
The feel of Tara's lips moving against hers made Willow feel like she never had before: as if currents of light were flooding her body. All sight and sound disappeared beneath Tara's touch. If the first spell they had done together had been incredible, this was beyond description.
Willow pulled back after what could only have been seconds, but seemed like eons. Both she and Tara were breathing heavily, and the blonde's eyes were wide.
Buffy shrieked with inhuman rage, a fist whipping toward Giles' head, but the Watcher lifted the handle of the axe to block the punch. The wood splintered with a crack, and in one smooth motion Giles let the blade fall ringing to the floor while he flipped over the broken, pointed handle.
Before he had a chance to lunge, Buffy had slipped back into the darkness.
When Tara didn't respond, panic began to course through Willow once again. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry, that was wrong and unacceptable not to mention hypocritical, I mean how would I feel if, well exactly what happened happe"
And suddenly, Tara was kissing her.
"Do you know how much I looked up to you?" Giles whipped his head around, but Buffy was too deep in the shadows. Her voice, however, was a mixture of spite, pain, and something that almost sounded like remorse. "I never would have told you. I mean, can you picture that?"
Giles felt a rush of air behind him and spun around brandishing his makeshift stake, but Buffy was long gone.
"You were like a father to me, Giles."
The Watcher had to tamp down a rush of emotion at the sudden appearance of the familiar appellation.
"Do you know what I realized, in the moment just before I died?"
As Giles backed himself toward the wall, eyes scanning the shadows, Buffy shot from the darkness behind him to grab his neck, a wet crack echoing through the empty blackness.
"I hated my father."
It was almost 8 AM by the time Willow, with a heady and bewildered smile on her face, made her way back to the room she shared with Faith. When she opened the door, four pairs of eyes swiveled to her.
Before she could even begin to worry that they might know where she'd been, Faith had jumped up to embrace her as tightly as the Slayer's not inconsiderable strength would allow. "Shit, Red, don't ever scare us like that again!"
"Still breathing oxygen." Faith's grip loosened, but the looks of tension hadn't faded from anyone's face. "What are you guys doing here?"
Xander cleared his throat and slowly rose to his feet. As Faith pulled back from the redheaded witch, Xander extended his hand. Willow looked down at the single sheet of paper, folded down the middle and with her name spelled out economically in the center.
Silently, Willow took the paper and unfolded it. The words were unmistakably Giles' handwriting, and a sense of rising dread filled her as she began to read.
This could well be the most difficult of these letters for me to write.
Let me begin by saying that with the possible exception of Buffy Summers, I have never known a young woman with more promise, or whom I more wanted to help to avoid the mistakes I have made, than yourself. I have always seen so much of myself in you.
It is because of this that I hope you can understand why I have done what I have done. By the time you read this, I have no doubt that any attempt on your part to find me by way of a locator spell will be quite pointless. Not that I expect that to stop you from trying.
You and Xander, better than anyone, understand what Buffy meant, not just to me but to all of us. It was my negligence, my unwillingness to listen, my slavish devotion to the strictures of the Watchers' Council that is to blame. Buffy was an exceptional Slayer, and an exceptional young woman, and her death rests entirely on my shoulders.
Her return, and all the suffering she has wrought since, both to ourselves and to the innocent people of this city, is therefore my doing as well. I intend to make amends for that fact.
If there is one thing I must ask of you, it is to be strong. Be strong for yourself, and for all the rest. I can already see that you are on the road to becoming a powerful witch, and more than that a truly remarkable woman.
And in the fullness of time, I can only hope you are able to find it in your heart to forgive me for all the suffering I have caused.
Your Friend, Eternally,
Willow finally looked up from the letter, tears streaming openly down her face, only when the screeching of the phone on the nightstand shattered the silence. Xander grabbed the receiver before it could ring again.
"Hello?" Xander blinked. "Speaking you did? I understand. No, we can get there. No, of course. Thank you." He dropped the receiver, his expression still blank.
Cordelia gently touched his arm. "Xander?"
He cleared his throat. "That was the cop I called about looking for his car. They found him."
We need one of you to positively identify the body.
When the detective had said it, Willow had practically collapsed into Cordelia's arms; even Xander looked faint. Jenny's face was still frozen in stone.
It was Faith who finally stepped forward, following the two officers from the too-harsh morning sun into the speckled shadows of the decaying mill. The spell apparently broken, Willow, Cordelia, Xander and Jenny followed slowly after her.
They hadn't moved him. Police officers were still milling around with chalk and cameras, engaged in the minutiae of death which the Slayer's line of work had somehow spared her. As the group approached, the detective glanced to one of the technicians, who nodded. He motioned for Faith, who knelt down across from the crumpled form in its immediately recognizable tweed jacket.
The eyes that stared up at her were empty, glasses half-fallen down the edge of the nose. Without thinking, Faith reached out to straighten them.
"Ma'am, you really shouldn't"
"Jack!" the detective hissed, and the technician closed his mouth.
Finally, Faith stood. "Yes." Without a word, she brushed past the detective, who merely watched her walk back to the rest of the group hovering in the doorway.
Unable to keep looking at the sight, Willow turned toward the wall. Then her eyes narrowed.
Xander's eyes, then the eyes of the others, followed her. "Will?"
The witch's delicate fingers were running through the thin grooves carved into the wall, a vertical line of cryptic symbols. "They look like " Willow cleared her throat and turned back toward her companions, shaking her head dazedly. "I, uh I think it's how she was protecting herself from locator"
Suddenly, Willow was on the floor, Jenny's fist still balled as the older woman towered over her. "Where the hell were you?!?"
Two of the uniformed officers were already closing, Cordelia and Xander frantically trying to dissuade them from cuffing the woman who had now begun to weep.
"You could have saved him! If you weren't so God damned busy in your own little world, you could have found him before he "
Jenny collapsed on the ground next to Willow, and Xander and Cordelia turned back to them as the retreating police cast half-wary, half-sympathetic glances their way.
Faith still stood in the doorway, staring out into the sunlight.
As they drove home, all packed into Jenny's car, Cordelia eyed Faith, wedged next to her in the back seat, with concern. The Slayer was just as still as Jenny had been. "Hey."
Faith turned toward the brunette, and Cordelia gently took her hand. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
They rode in silence a few minutes more, Cordelia's fingers still laid atop Faith's, before the Slayer leaned forward. "Could we pull over, please?"
Jenny, still sniffling as she drove, just nodded.
The sedan stopped on the dusty roadside at the edge of the city limits and the car door opened, Xander sliding out to make room for Faith.
As soon as the Slayer cleared the car, she dropped to her knees, a spray of vomit speckling the sand. Xander silently leaned down to hold back her hair as she continued to heave, Cordelia climbing from the back seat to rub circles across the Slayer's back.
In the front seat, Willow and Jenny sat in silence, listening to the muted sound of Faith's retching outside.
"I know it's my fault."
Jenny closed her eyes, and slowly exhaled. "I didn't mean that."
"I did." Willow sniffed. "Or maybe Xander was right all along, and it's all his fault. Or Angel's. I mean, if they'd been faster and saved Buffy then none of this would have happened, right?" The redhead was on the edge of tears.
Jenny sighed. "Come here."
The older woman leaned across the console, wrapping her arm around the redhead's shoulder as Willow cried.
Willow leaned forward on the dorm's front steps, chin planted on her folded arms. Since coming back from well, since coming back, they'd all gone their separate ways.
Willow registered the sound of shoes on the cement, but didn't look up until hearing Faith's voice above her. "Hey."
The redhead looked up; the Slayer wasn't looking at her, but instead squinting into the sunlight. "Hey."
As if not entirely convinced it was the right thing to do, Faith hesitantly sat down next to Willow. "Hey."
The traditional Faith approach to conversation almost made Willow smile. "Hey."
The Slayer cleared her throat. "So, we haven't been talking a lot lately."
Willow straightened unconsciously. "Things have been weird."
"I know. And they're just gonna keep getting more fu messed up."
"And here I was thinking you were here to cheer me up."
Faith sighed. "Look. I know this whole thing with Buffy and everything, it's been worst for you. And I I should have been there for you to talk about it, so you didn't have to withdraw, or whatever "
"No, no, sweetie, it's not you, I " Willow took a deep breath and turned her gaze to the sunlit quad, unable to keep looking at Faith. "Her name's Tara." Willow risked a sideways glance to find Faith watching her carefully. "I met her in the Wicca group. We just got along so well, and I told her about Buffy, and we started spending so much time together " Willow swallowed. "And at first, it was just nice having someone to talk to about magic and she just made me feel so but then after a while, or, well, after last night I mean, I don't even know if I'm if we're I was just so afraid you'd all "
When the redhead lapsed into silence, Faith almost smiled. "I'm screwing Cordelia." Willow's eyes shot to her, but now Faith was watching the horizon again. "Or, was. Pretty sure it's over, but, yeah."
Willow merely stared at the Slayer's placid face for a few moments, then reached out to squeeze Faith's hand in silent thanks.
Eventually, Faith turned back to face her. "So, I get to meet this chick, or what?"
And finally, Willow smiled.
It's been hard.
When I was six, my aunt Mina, Uncle Enyos' wife, died of cervical cancer. She was the first person I ever knew to die. Everyone tried to explain, but I couldn't understand.
When Buffy died, I understood. For the first time since I was a child, I was close enough to people to see the effects death had on them. If anything, it made me really comprehend the nature of our duty as a tribe...the things people have to do when they lose someone.
Rupert...I feel like I'm six years old again. Not only that, but as time's gone on it's become clear that without you, I'm suddenly the adult, with a gaggle of demon-fighting teenagers depending on me for guidance. I'm terrified that I don't know what I'm doing, that one wrong word might get one of them killed.
I don't know how you did it.
Faith's redoubled her efforts lately; we all have. But every time we think we've found her, Buffy's moved on. Every safehouse we track down brings us one step closer, but it's starting to take its toll. Over the last week or so the virtuoso has moved on to siring, creating new vampires only to throw them into Faith's path to deliver cryptic messages we can't get her to repeat.
Willow and her...Gods, I'm still not used to writing this...girlfriend have been researching the magical avenues, and they say they're finally honing in on a spell to effectively track her. As strange as it sounds, that little revelation was probably the best thing to happen to us all winter; for a few moments at a time, it gave us something utterly conventional to concentrate on.
We'll find Buffy. We'll find her and we'll make her pay. Before the school year is out, we'll make her pay for everything. I swear it.
I love you, Rupert. Always.
Willow and Xander emerged from another exceedingly dull composition class to find Tara waiting for them. Their aimless chatter died away and a smile wreathed Willow's face as she reached out to slide her hand into the blonde's. "Hello, girlfriend."
Tara blushed only slightly. "Hello, other girlfriend."
The two shared a brief but heartfelt kiss, and Xander rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, you two, stop being so mushy and awkwardly arousing."
The two girls pulled back, now both of them blushing. Willow swatted Xander's arm playfully.
"Oh, I'm kidding. You two can do anything you want in front of me. Kissing heavy petting "
Before Willow could hit him more earnestly, he began to walk. Tara shared a glance with Willow, who merely shook her head as they followed after.
"Slow week, Xander?"
He merely groaned. "Par for the increasingly mini-golfy course."
Willow grinned. "That mean you and Cordy are still singin' the Carpenters?"
Xander slowed, eyebrows raised in Willow's general direction.
"The Carpenters? 'Breaking Up Is Hard to Do'?"
Xander just picked up his pace and shook his head. Tara squeezed Willow's hand. "I got it, sweetie."
"I don't even know what's up with us. We're just in a holding pattern. I mean, I'm patrolling with Faith all the time, Cordy's off doing whatever it is she does these days, it's like we just don't have the energy to admit we broke up months ago."
Willow shot him a sympathetic glance even as she began to peel off toward the office set back from the hallway. "Okay, I just have to talk to my advisor for a sec, then we'll head to lunch. Be right back."
As Willow closed the door behind her, Xander and Tara took up positions on opposite sides of it. The two cast awkward glances at each other for a few moments before Xander cleared his throat. "So "
Tara just nodded, face ducked behind her hair. "Yeah."
Xander sighed. "Yeah "
Faith dropped bodily into a chair at the table that Willow, Tara and Xander already shared. "Geez, don't let me crash the party."
"Oh, no party, we were just trading mean-spirited gossip about you."
Faith's playful answering swat nearly caused Xander to topple from his chair. "We still patrolling tonight?"
"My crossbow stirs in anticipation as we speak."
Faith's nose wrinkled. "Christ, tell me that's not a metaphor for something."
"Speaking of, I notice you're getting pretty good with that thing," Willow offered, causing Faith to beam in pride.
"You kiddin'? X-Man's a sharpshooter. Should've dragged him along from day one."
"Day one I would've been more likely to kabob you than the vamp." Xander shook his head. "I just like feeling y'know, useful."
"Speaking of again, since Tara and I don't have any more classes, we were going to keep working on locator spells. Besides the stuff from the magic shop, we still have a bunch of books from G the high school collection to go through."
Faith leaned back. "Anything good so far?"
Willow frowned. "Not so much. All the locator spells we've found are based on the same principles, so the same wards can keep them out. We've been trying at different times of night, you know, to catch her when she's out hunting, but so far nothing. We even tried punching through the wards last night, brute-forcibly, but well, it went south."
Tara sought out Willow's hand under the table and squeezed it tightly. Willow returned the pressure gratefullyneither of them had been able to shake the image of Tara slammed against the wall, blood pouring from her nose as the energy had pushed back against them. It had taken Tara the rest of the night merely to reassure Willow it wasn't her fault.
"Well, don't let us keep you," Xander groaned as he stretched, "We'll just be having kinky, unprotected sex 'til nightfall."
Faith chuckled. "Actually, I got a class at two, so you'll have to start without me. What do you think, somethin' with chains this time?"
Tara blushed behind the curtain of her hair, and Willow rolled her eyes. "And on that note."
She squeezed the blonde's hand once more and pulled her up after her. Tara waved shyly as her human anchor dragged her away from the table. "Bye."
Xander watched them go until they were out of the door. "So, have you talked to Cordelia lately?"
Faith sat up just a little straighter, and cleared her throat. "Uh, no. Not really." Xander let out a long sigh. Faith could sympathize; the brunette hadn't spoken more than a dozen words to her since Gil for over a month. And the Slayer couldn't help but feel that all of it was her own damn fault. She shook her head. "Look, maybe all this shit just made her figure she wasn't cut out for this life."
"Yeah, I guess. I just " Xander's eyes were focused somewhere past the cafeteria wall, and he let out another breath. "I thought she was."
"So did I." The Slayer stole a glance at Xander, still lost in thought. "Listen, Harris, there's somethin' I gotta "
Xander turned toward her. "Yeah?"
Faith paused, then hung her head. "Forget it."
The rustle of a page being turned brought Willow's mind out of the fourteenth-century spellbook she had been engrossed in. She looked across Tara's bed to where the blonde was sitting cross-legged, another huge book in her lap and a spiral notebook beside her. After a few seconds, Tara realized she was being watched and her eyes flitted up to meet Willow's. "Yes?"
"You were awfully quiet earlier."
Tara's gaze returned to her book. "I'm just I still feel kind of weird you know, around your friends?"
"Well, they're your friends too."
Tara shrugged. "Kinda are."
Willow winced. "This is about Xander, and how he thinks things are funny that are actually embarrassing "
Tara just smiled. "Xander's a sweetie."
"It's Faith, isn't it? 'Cause she's all tough and distant. But she's just like that, I mean it's kind of a Slayer thing, even though I guess Buffy was never like that, but anyway she doesn't mean anything by"
Tara silenced the babbling redhead by pouncing across the bed and locking her in a passionate kiss. When she pulled back, Willow blinked. "I'm sorry, was I babbling?"
The corner of Tara's mouth twitched upwards. "I like it when you babble."
"I like it when you stop me." The two witches shared a smile as Tara, shaking her head, leaned back and moved the spellbook back onto her lap.
"We've got work to do. Mr. Bogarty's going to be wanting his books back."
Willow grinned. "I'm still amazed he just let you borrow his merchandise."
Tara winked conspiratorially. "I've got people."
Willow chuckled and shook her head. "I don't even know what we're looking for anymore. I mean, if we haven't found a locator spell that'll work so far "
"Well, we'll just have to keep our eyes open for other approaches. That's why I moved on to spells specifically dealing with vam " Tara blinked. "Huh." Willow looked up, but Tara was still staring at the book.
Willow blinked. "Um subtitles?"
Tara looked up. "It's Finnish. I think it might be just what we need. There was a sorceress named Thesulah who used it to seek out a specific vampire."
Willow squinted. "Thesulah. I think one of these books had a section on " Willow dug through the pile until she found a volume that looked familiar. "Yeah, here. Thesulah Reign of History with the Gypsies Orbs of " Willow stopped breathing.
"Oh my god."
"Palaa Isä is Finnish for 'Return to the Father,'" Tara informed the band gathered in Jenny's living room. "Thesulah was a R Roma who went north after her people banished her for abuse of magic. When she was in Finland, she was staying in a town where a vampire was turning children. This v vampire was supposedly immune to the sun, so it could hide out among the villagers. Thesulah devised a spell to make one of the children point out its sire; she gathered everyone in the village together in one building, cast the spell, and turned the vampire loose. It walked straight over to its sire and bowed down to him."
Xander just blinked. "Okay, but we already know Buffy's the one siring these people."
Willow shook her head. "That's not the point. The spell was designed to make a vampire point out their sire in a crowd. When he's present."
Jenny leaned forward in her chair. "You think that if we cast this spell on one of Buffy's vampires, we can just follow it back to her."
Tara shrugged meekly. "The spell's c conditional. The vampire has to bow d down to its sire in his presence. If it's not already, the spell should compel it to go to him so it can fulfill the c conditions. That, or or make the vampire's head explode."
"So you're sayin' we need to take one of them alive er, undead, or whatever." Faith grinned. "This looks like a job for Slayergirl."
"Shouldn't be a problem. We seem to be running into one of Buf her messengers every other patrol these days."
"Faith, Xander, you really think you can handle it?"
Xander shot the Slayer a questioning gaze. She just winked. "Piece of cake."
Jenny shrugged. "Ladies and gentleman, we have ourselves a plan."
"Wait!" Willow stood to take Tara's place in front of the group. "Now that we've you know got a plan, we need to make sure it's the one we want."
Faith leaned back against the sofa. "As opposed to "
"When I was looking for information on the sorceress who created the Palaa Isä, I found something else. I didn't open with it because, well, we might need the Palla Isä either way, but "
Willow shook her head and picked up the book laying on the coffee table, flipping it open and showing the assembly the illustration.
Xander leaned in toward the page and squinted. "Why do I think that looks kinda familiar?"
"This is an orb of Thesulah. I can't be positive but I think it's what gave Angel back his soul. There's a spell in here "
Everyone was too focused on the book to see Jenny practically leap out of her skin. Except for Cordelia. The brunette looked from the teacher, back to to the book, then stood and headed for the stairs. "I'll be right back."
"Wait a minute, are you saying you can " Xander shook his head in disbelief, "you can do what those gypsies did to Angel? You can give Buffy back "
"Buffy's dead!" All eyes turned toward Jenny, hunched over her chair, fists clenched in front of her. "Buffy Summers is dead and the demon that stole her body broke Rupert's neck, am I the only one who remembers that?"
"But, if Angel could change "
Jenny just shook her head. "It doesn't matter. You'd need an orb in the first place and"
A soft clink sounded as a glass sphere landed atop its own illustration on the coffee table. All assembled looked up at Cordelia. "Xander was right. It did look familiar. Remember that paperweight he was always telling us not to screw around with?"
Xander looked from her to the sphere on the table, then carefully picked it up. His eyes grew cloudy. "Yeah."
"We should have just destroyed them all." When their eyes all turned back to Jenny, she was staring straight ahead.
Willow looked across the table to Cordelia, who was still staring at Jenny. The redhead's brow furrowed. "You knew about the spell." It wasn't a question.
Jenny sighed in resignation. "My people my tribe was the one that cursed Angel. I was sent to Sunnydale to keep an eye on him on him and Buffy."
"Why wouldn't you tell us?"
"After Bu after they were both gone, I thought I could just live my life. I'd gotten too attached to " Jenny snorted and shook her head. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters that you were just going to let us kill her when there was another way out!"
"Look at us! Look at what having her around has done to us! This has to end, and it can't do that as long as she's here to remind us." Jenny shook her head in disgust. "My people re-ensouled Angel, and a hundred years later we're still slaves to him. Is that what you want?"
"That's enough." Xander set the orb back down on the open book with an audible thump. "Buffy saved all our lives well, okay, most of our lives. My point is, we owe it to her to do whatever we can." Xander looked up at the suddenly silent assembly. "But we also owe it to her to keep her from hurting anyone else."
Willow sat down heavily on the couch, leaning against Tara. "Tara and I can do the spell. We don't have to kill her."
Cordelia just shook her head and headed toward the door. "I can't do this anymore."
"Cordelia, wait" Xander was cut off as the door slammed behind the brunette.
Faith hadn't even turned to look, gaze settled out the window. "It's getting dark. Xander, we should get out there, make ourselves unmissable. We catch one, then we can decide what to do."
With one last glance at the door, Xander sighed. "Right."
Willow just nodded. "Yeah, okay."
Jenny said nothing.
"Nah, by far the worst was this Parker guy. Met him the first week of school. Comes on all sensitive, talkin' about how his father died an' shit, acting all romantic and vulnerable "
Xander dropped out of the jog he had to switch on and off to match the Slayer's stride. "Girls really go for that? 'Cause I'm about as vulnerable as they come, and I'm getting nothing."
Faith chuckled. "And I'm like, look asshole, you think I don't know you're just lookin' to get off and get out? Funny is, if he'd just gone for it instead of bein' all slick, I would've been more likely to give him a swing. I mean, 'cept for Cor"
Xander looked up as Faith stopped with a cough. He couldn't tell in the moonlight, but it almost looked like the Slayer was blushing.
As a flash of recognition passed over Xander's eyes, the noise he made sounded almost like a chuckle. "You know, I've known Cordelia since we were kids. I've watched her double-time her boyfriends since third grade. I guess it was pretty stupid of me to expect her to just change all of a sudden."
"Fuck, I you gotta know I didn't"
Faith took a deep breath that let out in a resigned chuckle. "August. Before school started." Xander just shook his head. "Look shit, I"
"Can we not?"
"Fuck, you gotta understand"
"Understand what?!?" Xander shouted. "What an idiot I am? How I thought you were my friend?"
"Hey, it's over, okay? And come on, it's over between you two, you just don't have the nads to admit it!"
"That's not the point! We didn't break up in August! It's not like you didn't think about this! Were you just gonna keep it from me forever?"
"What the hell, you think I did this to hurt you? You think I planned it all out?"
"Oh yeah, I hear the first six months just sort of steamroll you like that." Their forward momentum was now gone, Xander pacing between two gravestones. "But I guess that's just part of the Faith lifestyle, right? Fuck anything with two legs, no matter who it hurts!"
Faith's fist clenched. "Don't you dare! You have any idea how much this's been eatin' me?"
Xander exploded with laughter. "Not as much as my girlfriend has, apparently!"
"You know, I get that you have this whole bad-ass, biker chick thing going, but do you think now that you're all settled in you could pull it off without being such a huge slu"
Xander spiraled backward, careening to the ground as the sound of Faith's fist against the side of his face echoed through the graveyard. As Xander leaned back up, cupping his cheek, Faith's eyes went wide. "Shit, Xander, I fuck "
The boy's eyes narrowed. Before Faith could react, Xander had dived past the tombstone and snatched up his dropped crossbow, a bolt whistling through the air toward her.
The vampire behind Faith hissed as the projectile lodged in its shoulder.
The Slayer spun just in time for a rock hard fist to slam into her nose. Faith's head snapped back, and as she brought her hands up her vision refocused on the leering, full-fanged face in front of her. The vampire tore the crossbow bolt from its flesh with a wet pop and tossed it aside with a snarl. "Your boyfriend's a good shot, Slayer."
Faith chanced a glance back at Xander. He had picked himself up, lips settled into a grim line; the bruise was already beginning to show on his cheek.
The shabbily-dressed vampire brought Faith's attention back around with a throaty chuckle. "I have a message from Buffy Summers."
"What a coincidence," Faith growled as she pulled back her fist. "I have a response."
The vampire's fanged mouth spread into an obscene grin. "Cordelia Chase dies at midnight."
Willow, Tara, and Jenny looked up from the ritual space they were clearing on the floor as the door to the house practically flew off its hinges, a thrashing, half-conscious vampire sliding to the ground under Faith's boot. "Start the spell!"
Willow shared a glance with her companions. "Which one?"
"The Impala thing. Do it, now!"
Without waiting for the other women, Faith grabbed the vampire by the collar and shoved him up against the nearest wall.
The screech of tires sounded outside, and four sets of expectant eyes turned toward the doorway as a panicked and out of breath Xander stumbled through. "Her roommate says she never came home, and I didn't see her on the path back to the dorms."
"Fuck!" Faith slammed the vampire harder against the wall, finally dropping him into the center of the hastily assembled circle of candles Tara and Jenny had begun to set up while Willow flipped open the spellbook.
"Who didn't come home?"
"Cordelia! Buffy's got her, she going to kill her," Xander gasped between mouthfuls of air.
Tara blinked. "But h how could she have kn kn known"
"She's probably had eyes on us for months, been planning this all from the beginning," Jenny muttered in disgust.
"How could she know how to do any of this?"
"I can't believe this "
"Red! We got " Faith glanced down at her watch, "fifty minutes. We need this spell now."
"Um okay, okay, it was it was designed for a single caster, so we should be able to do it in no time. We can do it easy "
Tara leaned across the floor, firmly taking the redhead's hand in hers. "Willow."
Willow looked up into blue eyes, and nodded. "Right. Candles."
"On it," Jenny called, lighter already in hand. "You want me in the circle?"
"No. Tara and I have had a lot of experience together. You might throw us off."
"Fine. Xander, get the bowl on the kitchen counter."
"The one with the herbs?"
"No, the yellow one, with the mix."
Xander handed the plastic vessel off and Jenny placed it next to the vampire's face just as the monster began to thrash again. "Faith, Xander, we better hold him down!"
"Tara and I can't reach around you"
"Then do it standing!"
"Okay, okay, we're ready. Light it!"
Jenny's free hand snaked out, the lighter setting the bowl of herbs and oil ablaze.
Willow reached out to grasp Tara's hands, the familiar white warmth flowing into her. Like every time, she had to fight to not just sink into it. When she finally forced her eyes open, all she could see was Tara.
The words came on instinct.
"Monet jumalat, nimetön niistä, voimme vedota sinua."
Willow could hear Tara's voice echoing her own.
"Nimesi meidän puhtaaksi kauhistuksia meidän näkyvistä."
The vampire hissed, Xander groaning as he pushed down harder against its legs.
"Nimesi etsimme isä tämän hirviön!"
The two witches' voices had reached a fever pitch; Jenny looked up as the bookcases around them began to rattle, Giles' personal collection tumbling from their shelves.
"Lapsi on meidän alusta. Alus on meidän kostoa!"
The vampire's hiss had turned into an inhuman wail; Faith had to close her eyes as the candle flames flared and a glaring yellow light rose around them.
"Palaa isä! Palaa isä! Palaa isä!"
The vampire roared.
Before Faith could get off a warning, all five of them were on the floor, the vampire lurching to its feet and struggling to shed the duct tape around its wrists as Jenny and Tara frantically tried to extinguish the flaming oil that soaked the floor.
The vampire stumbled toward the door.
"Faith, go, follow him!"
The Slayer only stopped to accept a sword from Xander, but then turned back as he attempted to follow her. "No, stay here."
"I need you to keep them safe!"
Xander looked back into the living room, then nodded. Faith returned the gesture with something almost resembling a smile.
Then she was gone.
In a darkened hall lined with soft wooden columns, Buffy looked up as a tall, lanky form melted out of the shadows. "She's on her way?"
The figure nodded.
"This is the last I'll see of you?"
Jenny leaned back against the living room wall, not yet having moved from where the vampire had thrown her. Her eyes settled on Xander, axe in hand, watching the door intently. "Xander." The boy turned. "She'll be okay."
He sighed. "Yeah. I just "
"Wish we could do something more to help," Tara muttered.
Willow sat up. "We can."
Jenny followed her gaze to the crystal orb still sitting on the coffee table, then turned back to glare at the redhead. "No. Absolutely not."
"What do we have to lose?"
Tara leaned closer to the redhead. "M maybe we should "
"We can do it."
"No!" Jenny was suddenly on her feet. "You think she can just be forgiven? It doesn't work like that!"
"Jenny, it isn't about that!"
"She killed Rupert!"
"And now she's going to kill Cordelia! And if Faith doesn't get to her in time, or if she can't " Willow took a deep breath as Tara's supportive hand landed on her shoulder. "What's the worst case scenario? We buy her some time? Do you hate her that much that you're willing to let Cordelia die?"
In a moment, Jenny's glare was broken. Willow leaned around her toward the door. "Xander, try to catch up to her. Tell her what we're doing, tell her tell her it's up to her what she does about it."
Xander didn't move, still watching the older woman's back. Finally, Jenny's shoulders sagged. "Xander, go. We'll be fine."
After a moment, Xander nodded, slinging the discarded crossbow over his shoulder and sprinting for the door. Jenny shook her head in disgust and stalked off toward the kitchen.
Willow turned to Tara, meeting the blonde's worried gaze with her own. "Let's get started."
Faith growled in frustration. The vampire was stumbling around as if it were being yanked along on a string, the spell jerking it toward wherever it was Buffy was hiding much too slowly for her liking. At this rate
"Faith!" The Slayer half-spun, one eye still on the loping vampire as the other took in Xander's panting approach. "Faith! Willow " The brunette leaned over to catch his breath, and Faith watched as the vampire increased its lead.
"Willow wanted you to she's trying the re-ensouling spell."
Faith looked hard into Xander's eyes. "I can't promise "
"I know." Xander swung the axe up into both hands. "I'm coming with you."
"I know." Faith let her appraisal linger a moment longer, then just shook her head. "Let's move."
"Ready for herbs?"
"Ready." Willow folded her knees underneath herself, flipping open the book as Tara lit the bundle of greenery and took a place across from her. "Ready for speaking in tongues?"
Tara smiled shyly. "Ready."
As the two girls began to chant, Jenny merely leaned against the kitchen wall and stared.
Buffy's hand snaked out, and a bare bulb winked on. Cordelia squinted under the yellow glare, a line of blood dripping from her eye to the edge of the duct tape covering her mouth. "Not long now." Buffy's brow furrowed. "You know, I never really got a chance to thank you for how welcome you made me feel when I first came to Sunnydale, did I?"
Cordelia merely strained her hands against the iron shackles holding her to column at the edge of the raised platform where Buffy stood.
Buffy shrugged. "Course, the calling me a freak and setting out to destroy my life afterwards kinda puts a damper on the whole thing, but whatever." Buffy's yellow eyes traveled down Cordelia's struggling body.
"You know, now that I've got you hereand I hope this isn't too personal, it's just I'm really kinda curiouswhat's it like to fuck Faith? Good?" Buffy grinned. "I bet she's a biter."
The door of the decrepit church slammed open, a vampire tumbling headfirst to the floorboards and exploding in a shower of dust.
Faith smirked. "You have no idea."
"Te implor, Doamne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte."
The two witches' voices shook, and Tara's forehead was creased in pain.
"Nici mort, nici all fiintei "
Jenny watched as the orb couched between the two began to glow even as Tara sagged forward.
"Lasa orbita sa fie vasul"
Tara cried out, and the glow faded in an instant. Willow blinked. "Tara?" The blonde slumped against the back of the couch, shaking. Willow's eyes went wide. "Baby!"
Buffy looked up nonchalantly. "No. This is pathetic. I mean, you've still got ten minutes left. You're supposed to come barreling in here at the last second when I've got my fangs to her throat, you know? This is kinda anti-climactic."
Before Faith could respond, Buffy was across the room, her fist slamming the Slayer's head back and a brutal kick snapping against the defenseless brunette's stomach.
As Faith crumpled to the ground, Buffy kicked the Slayer's sword across the floor and shook her head sadly. "Can you ever do anything right?"
Tara shook her head. "I'm f fine. Whatever's sur r rounding her, it's just like with the l locator spells."
Tara slouched against Jenny's arms as the older woman lifted her up, Willow anxiously following. "Baby, I'm so sorry. Look at me "
Tara reached a hand out to Willow's neck. "Sweetie, I'm okay, see?"
"She was just drawing on too much energy. She's fine."
But when Jenny looked back, tears were streaming down Willow's face. "Oh, God, please don't leave me! Everyone, everyone always leaves me, Jesse and Buffy and Oz and Giles and I can't even do a stupid spell "
Jenny's mouth worked impotently as Tara rushed forward to cradle Willow in her arms.
"Sweetie, we'll keep trying. We've still got time "
"No, I can't, I can't do this anymore," Willow sobbed. "I can't "
Jenny's eyes turned from the hiccuping redhead and the blonde trying to comfort her to the crystal sphere lying, forgotten, in the middle of the carpet. Her eyes hardened. "Willow. Tara. Sit down."
"Seriously, Faith, I really want to know." The Slayer roared and jumped to her feet, Buffy flipping back onto a rotting pew. "Is there anything you're actually good for? I mean, you can't fight. You can't think. According to Cordy back there, you can't even fuck. What is it that you could possibly hope to accomplish?"
Faith charged the grinning blonde, landing a solid kick to the side before Buffy used the momentum to spin the two of them around; now she was between Faith and the door.
"I mean, what was the plan here? I kicked your ass the first time. You think you can come back here all by yourself and take me because what? You're ready for me this time?" Buffy just chuckled. "You're not good enough, Faith."
Faith shot out a fist, but grimaced as Buffy caught it in midair and countered with another kick to her stomach.
"How does that feel, Faith?" Buffy hissed. "Knowing that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you'll never be good enough? That no matter how many times you save their lives, no matter how many ways you whore yourself out to them, Xander, and Willow, and Jenny Calendar, and even sweet delicate Cordelia will always always wish they had me instead?"
Buffy shrieked in pain as an arrow exploded through her kneecap. Xander stepped through the moonlit doorway and lowered the crossbow, jaw set in grim determination.
"Got over it."
Willow cast a nervous glance at the blonde seated to her right, then another at the older brunette next to her. Jenny just nodded. "Willow. We're ready. Just hold on."
Willow took a deep breath.
"Te implor, Doamne. Nu ignora aceasta rugaminte "
As Buffy leaned down to try to extract the arrow from her shattered knee, Faith tackled her to the ground. "Xander, get Cordy out of here!" she screamed.
Xander bolted past; as Faith turned her head, Buffy kicked up, and Faith was flying through the air. The pew she landed on cracked with a wet snap. Before Faith could fight her way back to her feet, Buffy was on top of her.
"Nici mort, nici al fiintei "
Willow looked across the circle to find both Tara and Jenny sagging. When her chanting faltered, the brunette met her eyes and tightened her grip. Willow swallowed.
"Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-i va transporta, sufletul la el."
Cordelia flinched as something rang against the chain holding her hands over her head. Suddenly, the manacles slackened, and the brunette slumped to the floor. Without warning, the tape was ripped back from her mouth, and she sucked in a painful breath. Slowly, her vision began to focus. "Xander?"
"Oh, God. Cordy, are you okay?"
"I I can't feel my arms. My eye feels "
"Okay. Okay, I just have to get you out of here. We have to get you out of here."
Cordelia blinked, then sucked in a breath as Xander eased her to her feet. "Faith where's Faith? She can't "
"She's fine." Xander shook his head, then met Cordelia's bleary gaze dead on. "It's okay."
Xander pulled Cordelia's hand over his shoulder, lumbering toward a side door as the sound of splintering wood rang out in the background.
Willow could feel an increasing pressure from somewhere inside her skull. A quick glance at Tara and Jenny showed that they were as close to gone as she was. Their chanting was beginning to falter, the words moving sluggishly from their lips. Willow couldn't even feel Tara anymore beyond the pain.
Then, in an instant, it was over. The fog lifted, and Willow felt the warmth come flooding back over her. A voice rang out in her head: We're through.
Faith jammed her foot against Buffy's wounded knee, and the blonde let out a sharp hiss. It was all the opportunity the Slayer needed to push her opponent back into the aisle, another kick snapping Buffy's head back.
Faith cracked her neck as Buffy glared up at her. "Am I good enough now?"
"Nici mort, nici al fiintei "
The three witches' voices were rising as one, the crystal between them gleaming a blinding white.
"You used to be one of us! They loved you! They still love you!"
Buffy lunged, but Faith rolled to the side; when she rose, the discarded arrow was in her hand.
"Give me another choice."
"Te invoc, spirit al trecerii. Reda trupului ce separa omul de animal!"
Tara tightened her grip on Willow's hand as the light from the orb grew stronger.
Buffy lurched to her feet, blood dripping down from her shattered nose. "You stupid slut. You're nothing."
The three women's voices were now indistinguishable, mixing together into something beyond human. "Asa sa fie."
Buffy roared, her fist slamming out toward the brunette's face. "You're nothing!"
"No." Faith's iron grip snatched the blonde's wrist, and Buffy shrieked as her arm was bent back. "I'm the Slayer."
With a primal scream, Faith drove the arrow into Buffy's chest.
Faith watched Buffy jerk back as the wooden bolt pierced her heart, the blonde's eyes filling with light. As her skin began to flake away, Buffy blinked.
"Oh, God! Giles "
And she was gone.
Willow's vision filled with white. She could feel herself thrown back, heard her voice crying out as her spine slammed against the bookcase.
"Willow? Willow, are you okay?"
When Willow's eyes came back into focus, she turned from Tara's concerned face down toward the floor.
The orb was gone.
Faith bowed her head, the sound of the arrow clattering to the floor echoing through the black silence.
The Slayer twisted her head weakly, as if she were looking for something.
Finally, Faith slumped to the ground, and began to cry.
A hand reached out to touch her shoulder.
The Slayer looked up to find Xander leaning down over her. The sounds of the hospital slowly came back to her as she glanced around the waiting room.
"She wants to see you."
Faith searched Xander's eyes for the condemnation she knew she deserved. She didn't find it. Hell, she thought, he looked almost worried.
Faith just nodded.
Cordelia looked up as Faith slipped through the door to her room, closing it behind her with a click.
"About time you got here. Faith, you're the only one I trust with this." Cordelia jerked a bandaged hand up toward her puffy face. "How do I look?"
A sound escaped from Faith's throat that was somewhere between a sob and a guffaw.
"I'm serious. I need an honest opinion. Willow has zero fashion sense, and Xander's such a guy."
Faith fought to swallow the lump in her throat. "You look alive."
Cordelia let out a careful sigh. "Yeah." The brunette licked her lips. "Faith I'm getting out of here."
Faith narrowed her eyes. "Of course you are. Doc says they set your arm, you're gonna be fine"
"Faith." Cordelia shook her head softly. "I can't stay in Sunnydale." Faith opened her mouth to protest, but Cordelia waved her off. "I can't. And it's not you, or Xander. I can't live like this anymore. It's all just too much."
Faith smiled painfully. "What about school, what about your parents?"
"My parents are broke. School's a scholarship because I test well and suddenly need the money." Cordelia snorted. "Apparently Daddy had this problem with his income taxes. Like, you know, paying them."
"Why didn't you tell us? Tell me?"
Cordelia fixed the Slayer with a sad gaze. "We're not friends, Faith. We can never be friends."
Faith just nodded. "Are you gonna can you at least stay 'til the end of the school year?"
"Would that make any difference?"
Faith opened her mouth, then merely sighed. "What are you going to do?"
"Go to LA. Try to get into the business." Cordelia shrugged and forced a smile. "It's what I've always wanted."
"I already told Xander. I thought you two could tell the others, I don't I don't want to make a big deal out of this."
Faith snorted. "Right. Not a big deal."
"Faith " Cordelia sighed. "Take care of him, okay?"
"You love him?"
"You love me?"
"Well, hell, I mean, seems like this is the time for cards on the table, right?"
Cordelia shut her eyes and drew in a breath. "For fuck's sake, Faith, just get over here."
When the Slayer was within arm's reach, Cordelia drew her down into a chaste, lingering kiss. "Goodbye, Faith."
Faith closer her eyes, pressed her forehead against Cordelia's, and sighed.
Every day, it gets a little easier.
We were all overwhelmed. Buffy, then you, then Buffy again, then Cordelia leaving. I didn't ever imagine that one would be as hard as it was. Not that I blame her.
There are days I want nothing more than to get away from here.
But it's still getting easier. Faith's been teaching Xander to fight, while Tara's become something like a den mother, even for me. As much as we were drifting apart since Buffy died the first time, we now seem to be finding each other again. School's faded into summer, and at times it almost seems like there's color in the world. We're a family again, Rupert.
As I'm writing this, I realize that, even though I apologized to Willow, I never apologized to you. I was being selfish about the re-ensouling spell. I was so tied up in my own pain that I was blind to how those kidsour kidswere suffering. And I know that that's the last thing you'd want.
Every day, it gets a little easier. But I still miss you.
I still love you, Rupert. Always.
"I just don't think it's funny."
Jenny looked up as the door to the house swung open to admit Faith, Tara, Xander and Willow.
Tara shook her head. "No, see, it's not about the actual reflection "
"Yeah, no, I get it. I just don't think it's funny."
Willow squeezed the blonde's hand. "I thought it was hilarious, sweetie. Side-splitting, even. My sides were totally splitted."
Tara forced a wan smile.
"Hey, Ms. C, what do you have to eat?"
Jenny rolled her eyes and swatted off Xander's attempts to move past her into the kitchen. "You kids sit down. I'll think of something."
As Jenny closer her laptop, the rotary phone Giles had insisted on keeping in service began to ring.
"Hello?" The four students looked back from the living room as Jenny's eyes narrowed. "Yes, as a matter of fact she is. May I ask who's call"
Jenny looked up to meet Faith's curious gaze. "Faith there's someone on the phone. She " Jenny cleared her throat. "She says she's your sister."
Faith squinted as she leaned forward to take the receiver. "My what?"
The Slayer held up the phone with obvious trepidation. "Yeah? Who the"
Faith blinked, a look of confusion passing over her features. And all at once her face fell.
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