DISCLAMAIR: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and lots of people in expensive suits. Iím not making any money here, just trying to create a happier Buffyverse for my favorite characters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Adheres to Buffy canon up to "Who Are You?" Spoilers for S4 after (and including) "This Yearís Girl" and the Angelís episode "Sanctuary."† Many thanks to Val for the beta and encouragement.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Rebelrsr


Chapter Seven

"Right," Xander exclaimed. "We'll bring Psycho Slayer back, spell her up, and see how many more people she can kill. She won't take out Adam, she'll just replace him."

Tara looked at Willow and Giles for support. Willow shook her head. "I know why you think this is a good plan, but you're wrong. Faith may have Slayer blood, but she betrayed that. I'll hack the discs. Hopefully, we'll find something to help take Adam down now, or we'll wait until Buffy's back on her feet."

Giles said nothing at all, merely watching the byplay between the rest of the gang. "Mr. Giles? Don't you think we should bring Faith here?" Tara couldn't believe she was the only one who saw how important this was.

"Tara, I'm sure you mean well, but I don't think that allowing Faith to act as the vessel of the entire Slayer line in is our best interest." He grimaced before continuing. "Though it pains me to admit it, Xander is right. Faith has already proven unstable. With that kind of magical power, she could do an extraordinary amount of damage."

Xander could see their newest member was upset. "Look, Tara, I know it looks really bad right now, but we always manage to find a way to defeat the latest Big Bad. Buffy's Slayer healing will kick in soon. We just need to be ready when she's back on her feet."

During the conversation, Joyce had moved toward the door. "Maybe I should see how long we need to wait. I'll check with the doctor." She headed out into the hall.

"Come on, baby. Give me a little time with the discs. I'm sure they'll have something we can use. Everything will work out, I promise." Willow hesitantly reached for Tara's hand, but the older witch moved away.

She couldn't believe how short sighted they were being. Didn't anyone understand that they might not have the time to wait for Buffy to heal? "Willow, what is it w-with you? Even if Buffy were upright, unless she's a hundred percent, the spell could literally tear her apart. She's going to be channeling centuries of Slayers as well as our powers. On top of that, she has to fight Adam." Tara wanted to scream in frustration at the looks of incomprehension she received. She tried again. "Would you rather take the chance that Adam could kill most of Sunnydale and release all of the demons in the Initiative because you've got issues with Faith? Willow, I told you what I saw the other night." She looked at the redhead. "Admit it. She was right about Buffy wanting to give up."

"Whoa! When did you guys talk to Faith?" Xander sounded confused.

Willow jumped in. "Don't worry about it, Xander. We didn't talk," she said, looking at Tara, "and she wasn't right."

Giles quietly said, "Willow, Tara is an experienced witch. I'm sure she was correct in her assessment of Faith."

"And I say again, when did you guys talk to Faith?" Xander was angry now. Since the girls went off to college, he was always on the outside, never knowing things until they needed him. "Willow, when did you see Faith, and what do you mean she was right about Buffy?"

Tara sensed Willow was going to sidestep the question again. She thought the young man deserved an answer. "Faith was in Willow's dorm room last night." Ignoring the reaction to her statement, she swiftly outlined the conversation with the Dark Slayer. An uneasy silence followed the explanation.

Finally, Xander straightened up and slowly walked to the door. "I've always been there for you, Will. You and Buffy. But apparently, I'm not part of the gang anymore. You want to do this alone? Go right ahead. I'm done waiting around for you to remember I'm your friend." The door made a soft thump as it closed behind him.

"Great. Just great. Why couldn't you just leave things alone, Tara?" Willow demanded. She got up and moved a few steps away.

"I don't think you're being quite fair, Willow." Giles tried to derail her rant. "Tara has been invaluable in discovering a way to defeat Adam. You, as a fellow witch, should trust her judgment."

"Damn it, Giles. Stay out of this. Buffy's been dealing with everything by herself lately. Where have you been? Hiding at home, staring into a glass of scotch, thinking about your lost career as a Watcher?"

Tara watched Giles flinch from the verbal blow. "Enough, Willow!" She walked over and grabbed Willow's arm. "The situation is bad enough without you making it worse. Listen to yourself. Your oldest friend thinks you don't need him. You've insulted the closest thing to a father you've ever had. And I'm done with feeling worthless and incompetent." She searched her friend's eyes, seeing no lessening of the anger there. "When this is over, I hope you can mend all the fences you've just torn down. I'm going now. You can scramble around and check the disks, but eventually you'll have to face the fact that Buffy may not be ready for an enspelled encounter with Adam. Call me. Faith and I will be waiting." She headed for the door, fighting tears.

Crap. Out of all the places I could end up, I'm in L.A. Faith pushed her hair out of her eyes and leaned against the wall. She was beyond tired. Her ribs still burned with every breath and there was a buzzing behind her eyes. She couldn't rest here. Faith didn't know exactly where here was, but she recognized the atmosphere. Vampires and demons weren't the danger and she wasn't about to take another human life – especially to save her own. Pushing her senses to the fullest, the girl known as the Dark Slayer made her way slowly down the alley.

Long blocks later, slums blended into an old commercial strip. Faith relaxed slightly. The area was fairly deserted and her Slayer senses were quiet. After a few minutes of searching, she found an ethnic grocery without the usual metal barricade blocking the storefront. A quick glance reassured her no one was watching. She grasped the heavy padlock on the door and twisted. It took longer than she expected for the lock to break. Too bad I'll never get the chance to ask B what those Council guys did to me. She entered the store without turning on the lights and scanned the shelves of food before randomly grabbing boxes and bags. Carrying her booty past the dairy cases, Faith searched until she found a small office.

With a sigh, she sat down behind the desk and opened a bag of chips. Hunger took control after the first handful. In no time, the food was gone and the trash can was overflowing with empty packaging. Sated, Faith felt the pull of exhaustion. Even the dubious comfort of the rickety rolling chair called her to sleep. Shaking her head, Faith pushed herself to her feet. The owner probably wouldn't be in for a couple of hours at least, but even in this part of L.A., the cops would notice the broken lock. Another trip through the front door was too risky so the Slayer headed out back. It had started to rain while she had dinner, and Faith cursed the thin jeans jacket she was wearing as she wandered through the downpour. Walking in the wet darkness gave her too much time for thinking. Slinging her soaked hair over her shoulder, Faith picked up her pace and started looking for a little action to take her mind off the memories.

She ran for several minutes, keeping to the shadows, before she found it. A tall man in a leather duster fought a handful of vampires. The Slayer never questioned how the lone fighter kept the fangs at bay. She simply charged into the battle, fists flying. There were no stakes hiding in her jacket, so Faith resorted to old fashioned butt-kicking. A combination of blows knocked a young, well dressed vampire out of the fight. She grabbed another opponent, pushing him against the wall of the nearby building. The rage from the church returned, but this time, she wasn't swinging at herself. Her control fled as she battered the vampire with blow after punishing blow. The pummeling might have continued indefinitely, but a hand grabbed her arm and spun her away. Shaking and still fueled by anger, Faith turned on her attacker, throwing a wild right.

The vampire behind her growled and blocked the potentially damaging punch. Hands grabbed both her shoulders, pinning her arms. "Faith? What are you doing here?"

By the time Tara got to her dorm room, she had her tears (if not her emotions) under control. She lit a few candles and grabbed a water from the tiny fridge before dropping gracelessly onto the bed. She lay there, the final minutes in the chapel on endless repeat in her mind. A few tears leaked from her eyes before being impatiently scrubbed away. Vowing to avoid the self-pity, Tara rolled off the bed and headed to her desk. I told Will Faith and I would be here when they finally bowed to reality. I'm going to need to find a way to figure out where she is, then, she thought. Convinced that the wanted fugitive had left Sunnydale ruled out the locator spell Willow had used to find Buffy. Tara was going to need something that worked over larger distances. Unfortunately, most of those spells required a personal item from the individual being sought.

She moved a pile of school books out of the way and noticed a message light blinking on the answering machine. Probably Willow calling to tell me she's sorry. Too late for that. Steadfastly ignoring the indicator, Tara grabbed the spell books from her bookcase and returned to the comfort of the bed to research. Two hours later, she was no closer to an answer. Rubbing her temples, she tried to think of other alternatives. OK. If magic won't work, what else can I try? Faith was terrified Buffy would find her. She needed to leave fast and get as far away as possible. Tara remembered how beaten up the other Slayer looked in the hallway yesterday. Hitch-hiking was probably out, then. Sunnydale had an airport, but that required money and usually an ID. Even the Sunnydale police would watch the bus depot. That left the docks or a cargo train. She needed to check departure records for yesterday afternoon. Hoping that this would be more successful than her magical research, Tara grabbed her bag, a cross, and some holy water before heading for the UC-Sunnydale library.

It was still early enough in the semester for the library to be nearly deserted. Tara logged on to the computer and tried to find the train and shipping schedules for Sunnydale. Biting her lip, she devoutly hoped she'd picked up enough about the Internet from Willow to do this. It was easier than she'd thought. The shipping schedules showed no departures for the day before. She tried the train schedules next. The passenger trains were no problem to find. But the witch was sure that the fugitive Slayer would have avoided those. A few searches and some dead ends later, she found the departure times and destinations for the cargo trains that passed through town. Five trains had rolled through Sunnydale yesterday. Only two were possible escapes routes – one to Houston, the other to Los Angeles. Tara wanted to bang her head on the table in frustration. There was no way to know which train Faith had taken. She wasn't ready to give up, but it was time to call Giles and see if he had any other magical means for locating Faith.

The trip back across campus was uneventful. At least Adam had one positive impact on things, vampire and demon activity were at a standstill. Once inside her dorm room, Tara moved to the phone. The red message light was still blinking. Sighing, the witch decided to listen to Willow's hyper apology before calling Giles. She pressed the message button and listened to a completely unexpected voice: "Hi, Willow? I really hope this is the right number. It's Cordelia. Look, Angel had this number in case we needed to get in touch with Buffy, and, well, I think Buffy needs to get here soon. Psycho Slayer's in town, and Angel's deeply into his 'everyone deserves another chance' mode."


Chapter Eight

Willow watched Tara walk from the room in disbelief. Only after the doors closed behind the older witch did the reality of the situation hit her. The redhead turned to the only remaining Scooby her eyes filled with tears. "Giles?" She sounded dazed. "What did I just do?"

There was little sympathy in the ex-Watcher's gaze as he replied, "I would think that was obvious, Willow. Now, perhaps I should return to my apartment. I believe your computer is there." He, too, moved to abandon her. "You'll need it if we are to discover what's on the disks. I would appreciate a call if there is any change with Buffy whilst I'm gone."

His statement lashed at Willow. "Sure. Sure, Giles. I'll call." She looked away, afraid to see the condemnation in his eyes. Huddling onto a chair, the witch stared at one of the candle flames along the wall and tried to figure out just where things had gone so terribly wrong. The passing of time faded in the orange glow that filled her consciousness. Answers eluded her, but the meditation brought a measure of calm. Unwinding from her cramped position in the small chair, Willow stretched before wandering out to check on Buffy.

The hallway was deserted. Panic tried to overwhelm the remnants of peacefulness until Joyce came into view, talking with the doctor. Breathing a sigh of relief, Willow walked over and hovered a few feet from the pair. Although she couldn't hear their hushed conversation, she decided it must be good news from the way Mrs. Summers smiled. After a few minutes, Joyce noticed Willow standing motionless in the hallway and reached out a beckoning hand. The younger woman hesitantly joined her and was immediately wrapped in a tight hug.

"She's awake, Willow." Joyce's voice was choked with emotion.

At the pronouncement, Willow leaned into the embrace, sobbing. Dimly, she could hear Buffy's mother's whispered words of comfort and burrowed into the arms around her. Finally, though, the emotion ran out, leaving the redhead drained. Sniffling, she wearily straightened and pulled from Joyce's hug.

Joyce allowed her to move away, but kept a firm grip on Willow's hand. "Is everyone still in the chapel?"

"No." Her voice sounded strained by more than just the earlier tears. "Giles went back to his place to get my laptop."

Even though the young redhead wasn't her daughter by birth, she had spent enough time in the Summer's house for Joyce to recognize the avoidance in Willow's answer. Cupping the girl's chin, the surrogate mother looked for the rest of the information. "What about Xander and Tara?" she questioned.

Blushing brilliant crimson, Willow stuttered, "Well, um, after you left to check on Buffy, Tara…" A quick glance up showed Joyce giving her a 'you're going to tell me eventually' look and she caved. Dropping her eyes, she launched into explanation. "Tara said we needed to go get Faith, but no one agreed with her. She got kinda upset and then Xander found out Faith had been to see us. She told us that Buffy was depressed, maybe even suicidal." When Joyce stiffened, Willow started talking even faster. "A-and then Xander stormed out 'cause he said we'd forgotten he was our friend, and I said some things to Tara and Giles that weren't very nice and they both left, too." By the time she finished speaking, the redhead's words were jumbled, tears and sobs making clarity a problem.

Joyce pulled the weeping girl back into her arms. More than anything, she wanted to ask Willow about what Faith had said, but she knew the teen wasn't ready for an inquisition. "OK, it's OK, Willow." She stroked the rumpled red hair buried against her chest. "Buffy's been asking for you. Pull yourself together and go see her. I'll give Rupert a call." The shuddering form in her arms froze for a moment before slowly pulling away. It took all of Joyce's self control to swallow her laughter. Willow's eyes were red and swollen, with tear tracks visible amidst her freckles. A red nose and hiccupping breaths completed the abject picture. As she turned to find a phone, Joyce couldn't resist commenting, "You might want to freshen up before visiting."

It took a moment to get her bearings after the second crying jag. Dazedly looking around the hallway, Willow finally woke up enough to lurch toward the restrooms. A glance in the mirror told the witch why Joyce had suggested the pit stop. Cold water helped with the remaining tear stains but did little to lessen the puffy eyes. Shrugging, she gave up trying to hide her grief and went in search of her best friend.

The shock of seeing Angel sent Faith over the edge. Writhing in his grip, the Slayer loosed a primal scream and threw herself at the souled vampire. She managed to slip from his grasp with the move. She beat at him mindlessly, screaming, tears mixing with the rain on her face. Fatigue finally forced her to stop, and she simply hung in his grasp, pleading, "Please, help me." The tough-girl façade shattered. Eyes dark with understanding, Angel picked up the hysterical Slayer and started for home.

By the time they reached his apartment, Faith had pulled herself together. The tears and sobs had faded, leaving her disconnected and empty. She could feel Angel looking at her, trying to evaluate her state of mind. But the Slayer couldn't seem to care; maybe that's why she allowed the vampire to lead her out of the freight elevator and into the small subterranean apartment Angel used. As soon as he stopped pushing her, though, Faith stopped moving.

Two hundred and forty years of living gave him some insight, and Angel merely commented, "I'll just put your stuff here," and dropped her jacket onto a chair. Turning, he reached out, but stopped short of touching the frozen teen. "Why don't you get some rest? I'll be close by."

Faith wanted to respond but was afraid there would be no words, just more screaming. So she nodded, and curled up in the bed, comforter held in clenched fists beneath her chin. It was warm, peaceful. Watching Angel putter around the room, she needed to let him know his kindness was appreciated. "Angel?" Her voice felt broken from the earlier emotional storm.

"Yeah?" The tall demon turned immediately.

"Thanks." The smile that greeted her hesitant response was unexpected. "I don't know…" The words trailed off as the Slayer dropped into sleep.

Stretching brought only the faintest protest from her ribs, and Faith smiled before snuggling into the pillow. Good. Slayer healing's finally kicking in. Inhaling deeply, she tried to get back to sleep but the scent from the pillow had her Slayer senses on alert. Sitting up, Faith quickly took in the dim light from the lamp on the nightstand. Where the hell…Angel's her mind sluggishly provided.

Now that she was more or less upright, the need for sleep faded. Standing, Faith took stock of her surroundings. There were no windows in the room. The table lamp provided the only source of light. She opened a door to her left – bathroom. A set of double doors led to a living room and small kitchenette. The refrigerator was stocked with pints of blood, and – she was relieved to see – normal food. Although her stomach rumbled, the Slayer decided a shower was her first priority.

It appeared Angel had anticipated her need to clean up. Fresh towels and shower supplies adorned the vanity. A pair of jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt rested on a wicker hamper. Picking up the clothes, Faith sniffed and then smirked. Wonder what Queen C thought of loaning me her stuff. Quickly stripping off her grimy leather pants and top, she stepped into the shower. She luxuriated under the steady stream of hot water until it began to cool. Energetically toweling her hair, she walked to the fogged over mirror and cleared a spot with one hand. The physical signs of her last fight with Buffy had nearly disappeared. Looking deep into the eyes of her reflection, Faith wondered what she would find. The image didn't show her anything new, but scenes and voices from the past bombarded the Slayer.

//Buffy's voice, strident with disbelief and a touch of fear, "You killed a man!"//

//Her own voice, devoid of emotion, "I don't care."//

The argument had ended there, the day after she had killed Allan Finch. But those three words echoed in her head. Breaking away from the eyes in the mirror, Faith dressed and fled the bathroom. She couldn't stay here. Angel was too close to her past; being here, with him, would bring it all back. She jogged into the kitchen, focused on grabbing a meal before finding the exit. Faith piled sandwich fixings onto the counter and yanked a large knife from a rack for the roast.

"Glad to see you're finally awake."

The Slayer started at Angel's voice, spinning to face him with the knife raised.

Hands extended from his sides in a show of peace, he calmly continued. "Faith, I want to help. But there are a few things you have to do." The vampire paused, waiting to see her reaction. She remained crouched, knife ready. "First, I need you to give me that knife."

Faith stared hard at the demon standing in front of her and then at the blade in her hand. Straightening from her crouch, she approached Angel. Although he held his hands steady, she could see his body bracing for action. The Slayer moved to within a few feet and slowly extended the knife, hilt first. Angel took the knife and relaxed a bit.

"You're looking better," he said. He walked around her and took a pint of blood from the fridge. Losing his human features, the vampire bit into the bag, draining it quickly.

//"Faith, no!" She heard Buffy's voice just as the stake entered the vampire's chest. Oddly, there was no dust, just warm, sticky liquid staining her hands. A closer look revealed her hands were covered in blood.//


It took a minute for the Slayer to realize she wasn't in that alley, with Allan Finch's blood soaking her hands. "Yeah, what?" She snapped.

Angel discarded the bag. "Sure you're OK? You went kind of pale." He shifted again, hiding his fangs. "Maybe I should have asked if you were alright with me eating."

"Whatever, Big Guy." Faith went back to the food on the counter. She wasn't really hungry anymore, but wasn't sure when she'd have the chance to eat next. "I was just making a sandwich when you came in and freaked over the cutlery." The vampire had always made her nervous. She couldn't stake him – him being Buffy's boyfriend. Then, he had chained her up in the mansion and tried to convince her that the Scoobies could help after the Finch thing. Faith was pretty sure he had more redemption talks in mind.

Sandwich in hand, she went to the living room and sat in front of the television. She flicked through the channels, finally settling on an old episode of "Gilligan's Island." It didn't take long to work her way through the sandwich, and Faith debated whether to fix another. Angel's figure still standing in the kitchen made her decision easier, and she remained in the living room pretending to watch TV. I should've skipped the shower, she thought when the vampire joined her.

"So, what's your plan, Faith?"

He was using that creepy, soft voice reserved for stray dogs or crazy people. Wonder which one I am? The Slayer didn't answer. "You could stay here for a while."

"And do what, Angel? I don't think you've got a great need for murderers on the payroll." The words came out before she could stop them.

Angel moved to kneel in front of her. "No, I don't. But I could use a Slayer who's on the path of redemption." He took her hand. "The benefits aren't great and the work is pretty painful. However, I can promise you won't be working alone."

The soft words brought tears to the teen's eyes. Struggling to keep her emotions in check, she replied, "How do you ever get the images to go away? Every time I close my eyes, I see Allan Finch or the professor."

"They fade, in time. But you won't ever forget. They'll always be there, reminding you just how hard you have to work to make up for your mistakes." Seeing her pull into herself, Angel continued. "You made mistakes, Faith. Accept that and move on. You can learn to live with the pain of what you did, but you can't let it rule you."

Angel's words pounded at Faith. Panicked, she jumped out of the chair, knocking the vampire over as she ran for the elevator.

"You go out that door, you'll be running for the rest of your life. My bet, it'll be a pretty short run."

"It doesn't matter," the Slayer replied, grasping the metal grating covering the elevator.

The vampire was relentless. "Where are you gonna go? Back into that darkness?" he questioned.

Faith opened her mouth to answer, but never got the chance.

"No. She's coming back to Sunnydale with me." Slayer and vampire stared in shock at the blonde standing unnoticed inside the elevator.


Chapter Nine

Tara walked to stand opposite Faith as the Slayer dispensed with the grating. "Cordelia said you were both down here."

"Yeah, Blondie. That don't explain why you're here. I thought you guys had something big on the calendar." Faith was trying really hard to ignore the witch's opening statement. The only way she planned on going back to Sunnydale was – well, OK, she wasn't planning on ever going back.

The tired blonde walked around Faith. "H-Hi, Angel. I'm Tara." She held out her hand and the quiet vampire shook it. "I guess you could say I'm the newest Sc-Scooby. Cordelia left a message for Willow that Faith was here." She grinned crookedly at the Slayer's snort of amusement. "Can we sit down? You need to know what's going on."

Angel could tell Faith was going to be difficult, so he stepped in. "Sure, Tara. Faith, why don't you get something else to eat and get Tara something to drink." He motioned the two women into the living room. When the dark-haired girl hesitated, he placed a firm hand on her shoulder and gently propelled her in the right direction. He joined Tara on the couch, turning to face her. "If you came to get Faith, then things aren't going well." There was no doubt in his statement. He was very sure of the Sunnydale crew's dislike for the second Slayer.

Tara nodded. "You could say that. Do you want me to get started, Faith?" She raised her voice slightly to reach the girl in the kitchen.

"Yeah. The sooner you get done with the explanation, the sooner I can hit the road."

Witch and vampire shared a look. Neither of them had any intention of allowing the Slayer to run. "We've been trying to find a way to defeat a government-created human-demon hybrid named Adam. Yesterday, we found a spell that would let me or Willow channel the power of the Slayer line through Buffy. Unfortunately, before we could tell Buffy, she ran into Adam." Tara paused, trying to find the best way to continue. Nothing came to mind. "Buffy's in the hospital."

The faint noises in the kitchen stopped. Tara waited through an uncomfortable silence. When it became clear that neither Angel nor Faith was going to ask, she clarified, "She was unconscious when I left the hospital several hours ago."

This finally got a response. "So, B's in a coma? What do they call that – poetic justice?"

Tara's eyes closed at the mocking statement. It was well after midnight, and she was running on nerves. Her shielding was impaired by a fog of exhaustion. The Slayer's words were crude, but the emotion behind them cut at her control. "Not a coma. At least, the doctor's didn't think so. She was really banged up – head injury, bunch of broken bones, and some swelling along the spine."

Angel drew in a breath he didn't need. "But they think she'll be OK?"

"The doctors wouldn't really say. But Willow helped bring her in. She got a chance to do a quick scan and try a little healing. Enough that Buffy should be fine." Angel sagged in relief. Faith came in and offered Tara a bottle of water. She also held out a plate piled with food. The witch took the water and waved off the food. She just wanted to get this finished, get Faith's commitment to return to Sunnydale.

"If B's gonna be fine, then you don't need me there."

"Faith," Tara's fatigue morphed into impatience. Damn it, I wouldn't drive out here if I thought Buffy could do this. "Yes, Buffy will be fine – eventually. But no one knows how long it will be before Adam makes his move. We need you to replace Buffy as the focus of the spell."

Sandwich frozen halfway between her plate and her mouth, Faith stared at the blonde in shock as she went on. "The focus has to be a Slayer. With Buffy out of commission, we need you, Faith." Tara sensed that this was the way to convince the brunette – need. The witch searched for words, pressing her point. "No one else can do this. You have to go to Sunnydale."

Nothing showed on the Slayer's face, and tired blue eyes closed in frustration. "For Goddess' sake –"

"So, the Scoobies sent you out here because the first stringer is out and you need to pull in the second?" Faith asked.

Tara nodded.

"I'm not buying it, Blondie. Ain't no way the gang's onboard with me being back in SunnyD."

"You're right, Faith." The Slayer's eyebrows shot up, and she opened her mouth to speak. Tara rushed on, though, her words harsh with fatigue and too much emotion. "I'm the only one that believes we'll need you. Everyone else is betting on Buffy getting back on her feet and being strong enough that the spell won't tear her apart." Tears began to fill her eyes. "Even Willow wouldn't believe me when I told her."

Slayer and witch stared at each other until a quiet voice interrupted. "You have to go, Faith" He had been so quiet both girls had forgotten he was in the room. "This is your chance."

"My chance to what, Fang? Have B kick my ass again when she's out of the hospital? Hell, Red might not wait that long. From what I saw, she's long past floating pencils."

Faith shot out of the chair. Angel stood, too, and they went toe to toe. Tara watched apprehensively. The Slayer was on the edge of losing control.

"Why'd you stop to talk to Willow?" The witch's voice was soft, barely audible. When both Faith and Angel turned in her direction, she said, "I just want to know. Why would you risk accidentally running into Buffy or the police by going to the dorms?"

Tara wasn't really expecting an answer and was shocked when Faith replied, "Couldn't let Buffy make the same mistakes as me. When I was feelin' all overwhelmed after Finch, that's when I started lookin' for ways to get killed. Didn't want B making the same dumb decisions."

"Then help me! If you don't go back with me, then Buffy will crawl out of the hospital and face Adam. Believe me, Faith, with or without the spell, she won't survive the fight. Even Slayer healing takes more time than she has."

Glancing between pleading blue eyes and sympathetic black ones, Faith bowed to the inevitable. "OK, Blondie. When do we leave?"

Willow paused just outside the room. The hacker was nervous about seeing her best friend. Finally, she peered around the doorframe at the small blonde. Buffy smiled at her from the bed, and Willow slowly walked toward her.

"Mom said she would go find you. I thought maybe something was wrong; she's been gone a while." Buffy's voice was a mere whisper. She took a deep breath, and Willow saw her wince. "Guess I should thank you for finding me."

The redhead frowned. Her friend didn't sound all that sincere. "Hey, no problem. I think you're still way ahead in the 'saving your friends from certain death' competition. Your mom was pretty happy when I talked with her. Seems you'll be back to saving the world in no time." She watched Buffy's reaction carefully.

"Yay, me."

This time, Willow couldn't mistake the bitterness in the Slayer's voice or miss the tear that trailed down the pale cheek. She pulled a chair close to the bed and sat, gripping the hand nearest her. "Why the tears, Buffy?"

The blonde head shook violently against the pillow.

"Come on. You know you can't keep a secret from me." The witch tapped her fingers lightly against the hand in her grasp. "Buffy, I'm really worried, and I'm not going away."

A choked sob broke from the form in front of her. "Will, I…I don't want to do this anymore. There's just too much; I can't deal with it all. There's always something looming ahead, and one day, I know I'm gonna make a mistake, and that'll be it."

"Buffy," Willow hesitated. She wanted to promise the distraught girl that it wouldn't happen that way, but they'd both know she was lying. "You're not alone, you know. We're all here to keep the chance of mistakes to a minimum. But, you need to let us help. You've been kinda 'Loner Gal' for a while."

Buffy didn't respond. Her eyes stared sightlessly past Willow, tears streaming steadily.

Maybe the supportive best friend wasn't what the Slayer needed. "Buffy, I wish you could send the Council your resignation. But it doesn't work that way." She snuck a glance at the blonde. She had her attention. "Yeah, it sucks that you have no life and that the whole world relies on you to keep them safe. A little bitterness is understandable. But I'll say it again: you are not alone." Willow bit off each word, trying to force the Slayer out of her depression. "Can you honestly say things haven't changed? Xan and I used to sit in the library while you single-handedly took on the bad guys. We don't do that anymore. We're out there with you, and Tara's helped me harness my powers. I don't think you'll be the only one fighting anymore."

"It's not fair that you guys have to be out there. It's my job."

Willow nearly laughed at the contradictory whine from her best friend. She smiled lovingly at the Slayer, leaning as close as possible from the chair. "Buffy, come on, when has life been fair? If life were fair, Cordelia would be fat and ugly and Principal Snyder would have had horns and carried a pitchfork." The hacker relaxed slightly at the smile tilting Buffy's mouth. "Now, take a long nap. I'll make sure no bad guys get in and when you wake up, I'll know everything we need to know about Adam and his evil plan."

"You'll wake me if you find anything, right?" Getting a nod in response, Buffy reluctantly said, "OK." As soon as the words left the Slayer's mouth, her eyes drifted shut and she quickly fell asleep. Willow leaned back in the uncomfortable chair and simply watched the sleeping girl. The beeping monitors and hushed hospital noises lulled her into a trance-like state for a while until movement by the door caught her attention.

Mrs. Summers stood holding up her laptop case. Willow got up carefully to avoid waking Buffy and walked over to the older woman. She reached for the equipment, ready to go to work on the disks, but Buffy's mother didn't let go. "Let's go talk about my daughter and what Faith had to say."

Part 10

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