DISCLAIMER: Series trademarks, all publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. No money is being made from these works. No copyright infringement is intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: my story archive can be found at: www.thehellmouthrevisited.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Meant To Be
One: The New World

By Hellmouthguy




It was November and winter had arrived a good month early just to make damn sure everyone in Boston knew it wasn't screwing around this year. It barged in uninvited, tracked mud on the good carpet and made itself right at home, and it meant to stay awhile. People scurried along the nearly deserted streets, hugging themselves as the wind rifled through their clothes with icy fingers, stealing their warmth away, chilling them down to the bone.

The day had started cold right from the jump and the night had ended up freezing, with a hard east wind off the water that made it worse. But it was crystal clear too, a night that went on forever full of big, bright stars, the kind Boston only got at that time of year. The sky was full of diamonds that night, and the full moon was the crown jewel, the brightest, most beautiful of all. Looking up at that sky, Faith was able to forget how cold she was for awhile.

Today was her birthday. She was seventeen.

She was in Allston, the college part of town in Boston, making the hike to an apartment building she knew a couple of miles down the road. She'd made a few calls but she hadn't been able to find a couch to crash on for the night, and she had nowhere else to go. She'd spent the day shuttling between the arcade and the McDonald's and the drug store, trying to stay warm, but they were all onto her now and she either had to buy something or take off. Faith didn't have any money to buy anything. The apartment building she was heading for was an old dump that looked like it had been converted from a jail, and it was full of dealers and hookers. But the smelly old live-in super still hadn't torn himself away from his Jack Daniels and his Cinemax long enough to fix the lock on the back door and sneaking in there and laying low until morning was better than freezing.

Faith's beat-up old leather coat wasn't worth a damn in this kind of cold and the blue mittens she'd had since she was twelve had seen better days. But after twenty minutes of dragging herself through the wind and rubbing her hands together and stomping her boots to get some blood moving in her legs things started looking up: four college guys happened by and started talking to her. Faith was a scrawny little thing; two years on the street had taken a toll. But she was still a pretty girl, with her long, dark hair, big, brown eyes with movie star lashes, and a beautiful smile--and she had discovered over the years that pretty girls always had options. Unfortunately the options weren't all good ones. If it meant fun, free food and getting out of the cold, Faith was always game, but she had learned the hard way that there were dangerous people out there. So she looked the guys over before she got her hopes up, and tried to get a read on them.

"Hey dudes, what's up?" Faith said, with a sexy smile. Faith worked that smile; on the street it put food in her belly and a roof over her head.

"You're gonna party with us, sweet-cakes. It's gonna be cool," one of the college guys said. He was a blonde kid the size of a sperm whale with wispy chin hair and no neck to speak of, wearing a Red Sox cap.

"Hey, I like parties," Faith said. "But first there's just this little problem of me not having said I'll show just yet. Where's this party at?"

"Party's right here, hon," another one, a wiry little Irish guy with a crewcut and freckles, said.

"Uh...what?" Faith said. She had an alarm that went off in her head sometimes, when things got a little dicey. She needed the alarm; it was just as important to her on the street as the smile and had done just as much to keep her alive. The alarm was going off now.

"You, us," the third one said. "Here, now." He was pudgy and going bald, with small features all crowded in the middle of his flabby face. He wore a sport coat and a yellow tie, and Faith thought he looked like a Republican.

"Okay, and what are you guys talking about?" Faith said, and chuckled like they were just being funny. But she knew something was wrong. She'd been in tight spots with guys before, and she had come to understand that when guys traveled together, they were like dogs: they were a pack. A guy alone could be sweet, but once he hooked up with his buddies, he could turn on you. Faith knew the trick with dogs: don't let them know you're afraid. So she kept on smiling, and tried to come up with an exit strategy.

"She sure is a pretty girl," the fourth one, a tall, thin Asian guy with long black hair, said. "I like her."

"Think I'm pretty, huh? Aw, thanks dude, that's sweet," Faith said, and smiled some more, and played dumb, and looked around her; not panicking, just taking in the street. She knew if she panicked the four of them would be worse. They all stood closer to her now, had all gotten up in her space. They hadn't made a move yet, hadn't touched her, but the signs were all there. Faith knew that when they were in groups, guys who liked hurting girls usually took their time first, joked around with their buddies, got their courage up. Faith had seen it before. And she had always managed to get out of it before, to get away before it got bad, before anyone had a chance to hurt her. She did it by keeping her head, staying calm, not letting herself panic.

Faith's hands were numb, and she shivered. She was hungry. She hadn't eaten since yesterday and that was a candy bar she shoplifted. And she was tired. Tired of being cold, tired of being hungry, tired of pretending to smile, tired of sleeping on strangers' couches, or the street. She forced her fear back down.

She didn't know what happened. She didn't know how she'd gotten here.

She remembered running.

She had run from Southie's D Street Projects--all sterile green cinderblock walls and cold, echoing concrete hallways littered with condoms and cigarette butts--to the hard, gray streets of Boston, with its towering skyscrapers climbing perpetually up into the sky and the weary, suspicious eyes of its people cast down. She had run from school, from her Mom's boyfriends, from getting smacked around when the booze ran out between welfare checks...from being bored.

She was fifteen when she ran away. She left her Mom, blew off school, and disappeared off the grid. That's what Faith liked to call it anyway, because someone said it in this movie she liked and it made her feel cool, like a secret agent. All it really meant was she crashed on people's couches, scrounged for food, stole stuff and sometimes slept on a bench. But it was better than her Mom's place, with her Mom's loser boyfriends and the booze and getting smacked around...better than the dirty, peeling linoleum floors and her Mom's soap operas on the chintzy nineteen-inch TV...better than the green cinderblock walls and cold, echoing hallways of D Street, and the generations of beaten, downcast eyes that had looked at them, knowing they'd never leave that place: leaving part of themselves there, an invisible, yet indelible mark, instead.

She had two rules once she hit the street, two lines she had drawn, promises she had made to herself and kept. Rule number one was, she never had sex for money. There had been offers. She'd always refused, no matter how hungry she was. She'd said no, to some fat guy from the suburbs who cruised by her in a Lincoln Town Car and offered her two-hundred dollars when she was hanging on a corner downtown, just the week before. Rule number two was, she didn't do drugs. There had been plenty of offers for that, too. Scoring coke or smack or E was plenty easy at parties; everyone wanted to hook a pretty girl up.

But sometimes, when she was at a party, she'd done things, because it was expected...she stayed away from drugs, but she drank a lot and let herself get pretty wasted. It made things go smoother, and Faith soon found she had a taste for the hard stuff, whiskey and vodka. She'd done other things, too. Because they were expected. Once the party was over, if she wanted to be able to stay for a few days, she had to do things, and a warm house was better than the street. They'd fed her, given her a place to sleep...so she'd done things with guys. Only with the cute ones, the ones she liked anyway. And she never went all the way with them.

But she gave one guy a blowjob. And it was easy...so she did it again, with another guy, at another party, when he let her crash at his parents' place for a weekend, and she told herself she liked him and maybe it was like they were on a date, maybe he could be her boyfriend, and it would be okay...

When he came, he came in her mouth, and he held her head down, and didn't let her up until she'd swallowed it. She remembered how it tasted. Bitter. "Hey, that was real nice, thanks hon," he had said, when he was finished with her, and he walked away, got dressed, and went out. There was a lot of leftover booze around the house and Faith started drinking after that; she woke up the next day on a park bench with no idea how she'd gotten there, wearing someone else's tee-shirt and sweatpants, and she didn't have her underwear anymore.

She'd had a few boyfriends, here and there; guys she dated who she thought were okay at first. They were always nice, for a little while...as long as it took to get into her pants. But they never lasted, and in the end they never treated her any better than the guys she met at the parties. She lost her virginity when she was sixteen to a guy named Ronnie who lived in his parents' basement and didn't have a job. She dumped him a few weeks later after he took her out for her birthday and made her pay.

And when winter came, and it was too cold to sleep outside, Faith made the rounds of all the colleges, getting drunk in dorms and sleeping on frat house couches, and as the months passed, the word had gotten around, somehow...you wanted Faith at your kegger. She was a party girl, she was up for anything, she gave great head. She heard some guys laughing about it once, telling stories about how they'd fucked her. They hadn't, but they told the stories anyway.

It was Faith's birthday, and she had spent her day thinking about those lines she had drawn, the promises she had made, as she wandered in and out of all the stores without any money to spend, trying to stay warm. She had been wondering if there was a difference between having sex for cash, and giving head for food and a place to sleep...if there was a difference between getting wasted every other night on smack and getting wasted every other night on booze. Either way you still ended up on a bench in the morning without your panties on. Either way you were still a whore.

Faith thought she had drawn lines for herself, that she had made promises to herself and kept them, but everything got complicated and confused, and all the lines she ever tried to draw, all the promises she ever tried to make, they got blurry, they got broken...

She didn't know what happened. She didn't know how she'd gotten here.

Faith watched the four college guys, and acted like she was dumb, and thought about how to get away...and she wanted to cry. She made herself smile.

She was on a little side street and there were no people around and no traffic. But it wasn't late, only about seven-thirty. It was cold but there would still be people out; if she ran and she could just make it to Harvard Avenue, where all the restaurants were, she knew she could find people, crowds. It was cold enough that Faith didn't think the college guys would attack her right there. And anyway Faith knew they'd want to take their time with her, when they got down to it; there were four of them and they'd all want a turn.

She figured they'd try to bring her somewhere. Maybe they wouldn't even hit her. Maybe they'd bring her to someone's house, and party with her, but they'd make sure she understood that until she put out for all of them she wouldn't get to leave. It had happened to girls she knew. Guys called it "running a train." Or there was always the chance these guys would chicken out. For all their tough talk, most guys, even the ones who really hated girls, knew there was a difference between fantasizing about it and doing it. In situations like this Faith knew there was usually one guy in the group who kept his head, who was the voice of reason, who didn't let the rest get carried away. But this group didn't seem to have anyone like that. They were all on the same page. And they weren't drunk, which would make getting away from them harder. But not impossible. One thing Faith knew how to do was run. One way or another, she'd been running for two years. She just had to pick the right moment...

The Asian one said, "Let's have a kiss, girl." And something happened.

His face...changed.

It had suddenly become deformed, somehow, and his teeth had become long fangs...

He grabbed Faith by the hair, and pulled her toward those fangs, and laughed as she screamed. And then Faith saw the other three change too....turn into monsters right in front of her...

Faith kneed the Asian guy in the balls, and ran. She tried not to panic as she ran down the street, as she heard them chasing her, laughing...

Faith was fast but somehow they caught up to her in seconds, and surrounded her in the middle of the street, growling a little now and circling her. Like dogs...like wolves.

"That hurt, girl," the Asian guy said.

"Maybe she likes it rough," Freckles said. Faith looked around. There was no traffic. There were no people. Harvard Avenue was more than six blocks away.

"Help!" Faith screamed. "SOMEBODY HELP ME!" Her voice echoed down the street. Faith looked around at all the houses. No curtains moved. No one looked out their windows.

The four college guys...the four monsters...laughed. "But we can play rough, right fellas?" Freckles said, and backhanded Faith across the face. She went flying and hit the street hard.

She tried to stand up. Her Mom had smacked her around on a regular schedule and a couple of her Mom's boyfriends had gotten their shots in too, but no one had ever hit her that hard before in her life. Her legs felt wobbly. She heard the Republican say, "Dudes. A little discretion please?"

"There's a nice, private spot," Red Sox Cap said, and grabbed Faith by her coat collar and heaved her across the street into an alley. She flew thirty feet through the air and skidded across the ground and smashed into a garbage barrel, spilling trash all over her.

The garbage smelled like old coffee grounds and rotten meat and bananas. The ground was slimy with it. Faith's head felt like someone had twisted it off. Everything was spinning a little.

She looked out at the street, tried to get her eyes to focus, tried to catch the carousel as it came around again. The monsters were there. Laughing at her now.

She knew they were going to kill her.

Her life, such as it was, came into her thoughts. It didn't flash in front of her eyes like some great revelation. It just...occurred to her. She could think about it, in these last moments, or not. The memories were all there, waiting for her. She could take them or leave them. Mostly, she left them. She hadn't much liked them the first time around.

But she wondered how she had ended up in the alley...wondered how all the memories had led here, to this place, to this last moment of her life.

"Heard you give great head, honey," Red Sox Cap said, his voice echoing down the cold, deserted street. They all laughed even harder. "Heard you're a world class skank. World class."

Faith looked up at the stars. Her vision was clearing a little; things weren't spinning as much as before. She could see her breath in the air, white on black, each breath floating up into the sky, making its mark on the world, and then slowly fading away to nothing in the cold, until only the black remained.

She thought about trying to run again. But she wasn't even sure she could stand and there wasn't any real point in trying; she knew she couldn't outrun them. They were fast, inhumanly fast, faster than anyone she'd ever seen. She was used to the garbage smell now anyway. And she knew it would all be over soon.

She sifted through her memories, trying to find the one wrong move, the one disastrous mistake, that had sent her world careening off its axis; that had, finally, made this her life...made this her death. But she couldn't find any one thing. It was a bunch of little things, and they had all just...caught up to her. And now here she was, in the alley, sitting in garbage...and she was going to die.

And then, she knew. She found the answer.

She knew how she'd ended up in that alley. She knew what had brought her to this pass, what had made this her life. She knew why she was going to die.

She was going to die because she deserved to.

She knew she was going to die because she lived on the street like a lowlife and gave blowjobs at parties like a whore and stole like a thief and no one had ever given a shit about her and at the end of the day, she was just another piece of garbage. Someone no one would ever miss, or even think twice about.

She had never gone back to her Mom's house. Faith pretended it was because she had too much pride. But she knew the real reason she had never gone back, no matter how cold it was outside, no matter how long it had been since she'd eaten, was that she didn't think her Mom would let her in.

Faith had been on the street two years. She'd run into cops before. She knew her Mom had never called them. Never even reported her missing.

Faith shivered in the cold, and cried. Her tears, partially frozen, felt like little spider webs on her cheeks.

She saw life, saw her life, for what it was: a series of decisions. Faith knew she had made those decisions, that no one had made them for her. And those decisions in turn had made her what she was, made her life what it was. And she knew now that they were all the wrong decisions, and it was time for her to pay for them.

The four monsters strolled across the street toward her now, grinning. Faith looked back at them, and waited for them to come and kill her, and cried, and felt cold...

And then a silver Lexus barreled around the corner like a rocket and smashed into the monsters, running right over two of them and sending the other two flying through the air. Faith heard the car screech to a stop somewhere up the street. Then it backed up way too fast, and stopped right in front of the alley.

A woman stepped out of it.

She stood tall and straight, and she wore a classy, well-tailored gray business suit and expensive-looking shoes. She looked about thirty or so, with fine, pale skin, and her hair was done in a stylish blonde pageboy. She was pretty. She could have been an angel, standing there in the dark.

Faith wondered if she was dreaming...

The woman ran to Faith, and knelt beside her.

"Faith," she said. "Thank God. Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

Faith shrank away from her.

"My name is Rebecca Greer," the woman said. "I know we've never met. But I want to help you, Faith. I've been looking for you."

"Why would...anyone wanna look for me?" Faith said.

"Because you're special," Rebecca said.

"Your shoes are getting all dirty," Faith said.

"That's okay," Rebecca said, and smiled. "Listen. You have to come with me now, I need to get you away from those boys before they try to hurt you again. Will you let me take you out of here?"

"You...you ran them over." Faith looked out at the street. Two of them were lying there. She couldn't see the other two.

"They're not dead. I don't have time to explain it all right now, but they're still alive, and they can wake up any second. We have to leave."

"Were those guys...were they...monsters?"

"Yes. But I won't let them hurt you anymore."

Rebecca had an English accent, and the most beautiful eyes: deep, dark blue, like the ocean on a summer day. And there were tiny crow's feet at the corners of Rebecca's eyes, that told Faith Rebecca was older than she looked. But they didn't detract from her appearance; Faith thought they made her look even prettier.

Faith knew Rebecca didn't belong in that alley. She knew Rebecca didn't belong with someone like her.

"I don't want it to be like this anymore," Faith said, looking down at the ground, at the garbage all around her, and crying. "I don't want this to be my life. I don't wanna...be the girl who gives blowjobs at parties and...steals and...always feel cold all the time and...and be garbage. I don't wanna be garbage anymore."

Rebecca's stern blue eyes softened, then.

"You're not garbage," Rebecca said, and took Faith's hand. "You're not. I'm going to help you, Faith, if you'll let me. But we have to get out of here, all right? You're in danger here." Faith nodded, and Rebecca helped her up...

Faith jumped. The four college guys...the four monsters...were back. They stood at the entrance to the alley, smiling.

"Now that was rude," the Republican said. He had a tire track running across his sport coat. "And, not for nothing but, hey, Hugo Boss. Jesus, lady."

Faith felt like invisible hands were clutching her throat, like she couldn't get enough air in. Rebecca had run them over, but now they were back, and they didn't even look hurt...their faces were still deformed...they were monsters...

Rebecca was breathing just fine.

"Rude?" Rebecca hissed, and marched right up to the monsters and looked them in the eyes. "No."

"THIS IS RUDE!" Rebecca screamed, and pulled a bottle from her coat pocket and smashed it into the Republican's face. The bottle looked like it was filled with water, but the Republican screamed, smoke rising from his face like he'd been burned with acid, and he ran out of the alley like a whipped dog. The other three growled and came at Rebecca, and Faith watched in amazement as Rebecca elbowed Freckles in the neck, spun and launched a fast high kick that sent Red Sox Cap flying back into a wall, avoided the Asian guy as he slashed at her with hands like claws, and flipped him over her shoulder.

"Faith, get in the car!" Rebecca shouted, holding what looked like a piece of wood in her hand now, as the three monsters got back up. They surrounded Rebecca, snarling and snapping at her, as Faith ran into the Lexus and locked it behind her.

"I know what you are," Rebecca said to the monsters. "I know how to kill you."

Freckles sprang at Rebecca; she aimed a brutal kick at his balls and sent him tumbling to the ground.

"Three on one, bitch," the Asian guy said. "I like those odds."

Faith sat in the Lexus, with tears in her eyes, shaking. She knew how to hotwire a car; Steve, her klepto car thief boyfriend, had taught her when they dated for that month before he got sent to prison. She checked the key mechanism. She could start the Lexus up and be out of there in thirty seconds.

She watched Rebecca, standing up to the monsters. Rebecca was protecting her, just like she said she would...she was risking her life for her. This woman she had never met before was protecting her...a girl she found in an alley, sitting in a pile of garbage.

Faith looked in the rear-view mirror, and saw herself.

She knew life was a series of decisions.

So she made one.

She left the car, and ran to Rebecca's side.

"Three on two, assholes, Faith said. "You want her, you go through me."

Rebecca smiled.

"The skank speaks," Red Sox Cap said. Freckles got up, still bent over a little in pain. The three monsters circled around Rebecca and Faith, snarling.

"I'm not a skank," Faith said.

They could hear sirens in the distance.

"Hope to see you again, pretty girl," the Asian guy said, and leered at Faith like a jackal.

And the monsters ran away...

Rebecca adjusted her suit and fixed her hair. To Faith she seemed so tall and stern and blue-eyed and pretty...like some goddess looking down at her from Mount Olympus. And not altogether approving of what she saw. But Rebecca smiled again.

"Faith, we need to talk," she said. "But not here, and not to the police."

They hopped in the Lexus and burned rubber out of there, an idea Faith enthusiastically supported. For one thing, it was about ten degrees outside now and the Lexus was nice and warm. For another, she'd had skirmishes with cops before and she thought maybe they'd have a problem believing a story about monster guys who got back up after you ran them over. Faith knew cops were just skeptical like that.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Rebecca said. Faith didn't know where Rebecca was taking them; she seemed to be heading back downtown.

"Yeah, but...how did you do all that stuff?" Faith said.

"That? That was nothing. The day a bunch of louts like those give me an ounce of trouble I'll retire straightaway."

"What's a lout?"

"A stupid bully. Are you hungry?"

Faith was starving.

"Guess I could eat," Faith said.

Rebecca looked at her. Faith was 5'5" and there wasn't an ounce of fat on her. Her cheekbones were sunken. Rebecca knew she couldn't weigh a hundred pounds.

"Well. This is a wretched little hamlet, but I passed a restaurant downtown earlier that didn't seem a completely lost cause," Rebecca said. "Shall we get some supper?"

"I...uh...I don't really...have much money," Faith said.

"My treat."

"Okay...thanks. What's a wretched little hamlet?"

"A rotten, backward place."

"You think this is all hamletish, you oughta see Southie."

"I have, actually. It's quite wretched as well."

"So like, supper's not gonna be all tea and crumpets, is it?"

"Americans," Rebecca said with a smile. "I really do enjoy you all. No. I don't imagine we'll be having any crumpets. Though I may have tea with my dessert, and you can too, if you want."

"How come you helped me? How come you knew my name and you were looking for me?"

"Because you have a destiny, Faith," Rebecca said.

And she drove Faith away from the wretched little hamlet...away from green cinderblock walls and peeling linoleum floors, and cold winter days spent on the street, and nights spent drunk on strangers' couches...away from wandering, without discipline, without purpose...and into a new world.

It was a world of magic.

A world of demons and vampires. A world of monsters, and heroes to fight them. Or one hero, to be exact. One female hero. The Slayer, the one girl in all the world who was called upon by destiny to defend humanity against the encroaching darkness, against the threats that lurked just beyond our perceptions...

Except now there were two.

"Buffy Summers became the Slayer about a year ago when Madeleine Lambert, the previous Slayer, was killed by an extremely powerful vampire named Kakistos," Rebecca said. "Last spring Buffy was injured and was clinically dead for a short time. She was revived, but she had been dead long enough for a new Slayer to be called. That Slayer's name is Kendra Young; she's from Jamaica. So now there are two Slayers. The situation is...unique."

"What kind of goofy name is 'Buffy'?" Faith said.

"I imagine it's a family name of some sort. Some unfortunate attempt to honor a great-grandmother or an old aunt with six cats. But I've read some reports...the girl is quite resourceful. She's won some impressive battles."

They were eating in a restaurant in Boston by the Harbor. Faith liked the place. It was ritzy, elegant, with walls done in oak, and chandeliers hanging down from the high ceilings; a good place to eat and talk. Faith noticed the nice rugs, and good paintings of boats and landscapes and horses on the walls. And she noticed a lot of rich people, or they may as well have been as far as she was concerned. Lots of suits, polished shoes and expensive watches. There was a great view of Boston Harbor, with all the city lights reflecting on the water and the cold December wind whipping the waves over the docks a little, and the waiter never said a word about how Faith was dressed. Maybe Rebecca was dressed classy enough for two.

Faith ate her steak and her baked potato, and looked around at all the rich people and the good paintings, and tried to decide just exactly how crazy Rebecca was. So far Rebecca had talked about magic, vampires, and girls with superpowers, and Faith was wondering when she'd get to the part about aliens and government conspiracies, or maybe the Loch Ness Monster. Faith didn't know what was up with those four guys exactly, why their faces suddenly got all deformed, how they survived being run over.

But they couldn't have been vampires...could they?

"Uh-huh," Faith said, concentrating on her steak and nodding in all the right places as Rebecca talked. It was a good steak.

When Faith was finished eating, Rebecca raised her eyebrow and said, "Do you like chocolate cake?"

"Sure," Faith said.

"I thought so. You look like a chocolate girl," Rebecca said, as the waiter came up behind Faith, and placed a chocolate birthday cake with seventeen candles on the table in front of her.

"Happy birthday, Faith," Rebecca said.

Faith was glad the waiter went away without singing. Rebecca didn't sing either. But she smiled.

"I...don't...know what to say," Faith said.

"Make a wish," Rebecca said.

Faith blew out the candles, and made a wish...and smiled, and wiped a tear from her eye.

Later that night, the Lexus purred incongruously through a run-down neighborhood of warehouses, industrial parks and weed-grown lots. Graffiti marred every wall, and the cold wind blew trash down the empty streets like tumbleweeds in an old West ghost town. Junkies huddled in alleys, dressed in rags, watching the Lexus with sunken, half-dead eyes.

Faith looked out the window at the Boston skyline across the Harbor as they drove, at all those majestic skyscrapers reflecting the moon, and promising the world. Faith had stood beneath those skyscrapers, looking up at those soaring spires while everyone else's eyes were looking down; as they all scurried about the sad, tedious business of living out their days. And she knew the promise was an illusion...a lie. The Harbor water looked cold and black.

"Where are we?" Faith said.

"Somewhere called Chelsea," Rebecca said.

"Sure is a wretched hamlet. Why are we way out here?"

"Because you don't believe me."

"Uh..." Faith said, and glanced nervously back at Rebecca.

"Don't get me wrong, Faith," Rebecca said. "There's no reason you should believe me. A woman appears out of nowhere telling outlandish stories about vampires and girls with super-strength? Preposterous. But let me ask you a question. Do you have an explanation for those four boys?"

"I don't...I don't know," Faith said.

"I do," Rebecca said. "They were vampires. And even though it all sounds ridiculous, everything I told you is true. And I'm going to prove it to you. I'm going to open your eyes and show you the world. I might shock you, Faith. I might scare you. But I'll never lie to you. That's why I told you the truth about Slayers and vampires and demons in the restaurant when I knew you were looking at me like I have two heads. Because you have to know you can trust me."

Rebecca looked down the street, apparently saw what she was looking for, and parked in a narrow alley beside a boarded-up laundromat.

"So, uh...what are we doing here?" Faith said.

"Stay in the car, Faith," Rebecca said. "And pay attention." Rebecca was watching a man as he walked down the street toward them.

"Who's that guy...?" Faith said. "Why is he...what's he want?" Faith thought about running. She could run right now. But she didn't even know where she was and it was freezing outside...and she wanted to stay with Rebecca.

Rebecca turned to Faith, and looked her in the eyes. "Faith, I know you don't believe me," she said. "I know you're scared. But you'll be all right, I promise. I'd never let anyone hurt you. Just stay in the car."

The man was almost at the car. Faith thought he looked like a biker. He was wearing a leather coat, with biker colors. He had long hair, a bandana, and a bushy beard...but now Faith could see that his face was deformed...

Just like the four college guys...

Rebecca left the car, and the man leaped at her, roaring like an animal.

Faith screamed...

It was over in about five seconds. Rebecca kicked the man in the stomach, elbowed him in the back of the neck, smashed his face into the pavement and he was out cold.

She pulled a pair of handcuffs from her coat, cuffed his hands behind his back, walked away from him and opened the car door. "Go into the glove compartment and get the cross and the bottle," she said, and returned to the man.

Faith opened the glove compartment and found a wooden cross and a glass bottle filled with a clear liquid, like the one Rebecca had smashed into the Republican's face. She noticed the bottle had a little cross imprinted on the front. She got out of the car, and crept out of the alley. Rebecca was crouched down beside the biker. He was still unconscious. Rebecca had her back turned to her.

Faith knew she had to make a decision. She could run. Or not.

She crouched down beside Rebecca.

"What are we doing?" Faith said. "Didn't figure you for a mugger."

"Look closely, Faith," Rebecca said. "This is a vampire."


Rebecca turned the man over, lifted his lips, and tilted his face toward the streetlight, so Faith could see. There were ridges and bumps on his forehead. He had long, pointed teeth.

"Note the deformed cranial structure and the canine teeth," Rebecca said. "Vampires look like this in their natural state, when they're about to feed. But they can change their appearance at will, passing for human. Most people have seen a vampire at some point in their lives, without realizing it."

Rebecca smiled, and raised her eyebrow. "I know," she said. "You still don't believe me. To be expected. Hand me that cross."

Faith gave her the cross, and Rebecca held it against the man's forehead.

"This should wake the old fellow up," Rebecca said, and the cross began to burn the man's forehead, smoke actually rising from it. He screamed and tried to move, but Rebecca clubbed him in the face with her forearm, and he fell back against the pavement, growling and baring his fangs. Rebecca's knee was on his stomach and her forearm was tight against his neck. He was immobile beneath her on the pavement like a rat in a rat trap.

"What...the fuck...?" Faith said, as tendrils of smoke rose from the man's forehead, and his skin hissed and cooked like meat in a frying pan.

"Swearing is a crutch we use when we can't think of a more appropriate word," Rebecca said. "It masks limited vocabulary and makes one seem crude. Don't swear."


"Better. Vampires can't bear crosses. See how his skin is smoking? With long enough exposure he'll begin to burn. Now the bottle, please."

Faith handed her the bottle. When Rebecca put the cross down Faith noticed that its shape was burned into the man's skin. Rebecca took the cap off the bottle, and sprinkled some of the liquid on her own hand. It had no effect. "This is water," Rebecca said. "It can't hurt me, obviously. But it's not ordinary water. It's holy water, which means it's been blessed by a priest. Watch."

Rebecca sprinkled the water on the man's face. He screamed, and his face turned black and began to smoke where the drops landed, as if the water was acid.

Rebecca looked at Faith, and poured the water on her own hand again. Nothing happened.

"Holy water can hurt vampires, like it hurt our friend in the Hugo Boss coat," Rebecca said. "A high enough concentration of it can kill them, though like a cross it would take awhile. No, your best friend for killing a vampire is this." She pulled a wooden stake from her coat pocket.

"A wooden stake to the heart, and the vampire dies instantly," Rebecca said. "This is going to be shocking, Faith." The man desperately tried to get up now, growling and screaming. Faith looked around. Screaming wouldn't do a whole lot of good in this neighborhood. Rebecca brutally elbowed the man in the face, cracking his head against the sidewalk, and he fell unconscious again. His screams echoed down the dirty street, and faded away.

"Wait, what are you--?" Faith said...

And Rebecca plunged the stake into the man's heart, and he turned to dust.

Faith jumped backwards, and sat under the streetlight, gaping at the pile of dust...at the dust, already scattering away on the cold wind, that was all that remained of the man...

...Of the vampire.

Rebecca stood up, and looked at Faith, her stern blue eyes fixed on her. Faith felt those blue eyes; she felt their weight.

Above Rebecca's head, the full moon had made it over the ugly old factory down the street, and it peered down at Faith with her, a perfect circle of pure white.

"You're a potential Slayer, Faith," Rebecca said. "One of many around the world. No one can know which one will become the next Slayer. But it's certain that one of them will. All we can do is prepare them. I'm your Watcher. I'm here to prepare you."

The street was quiet, and cold. Only the wind made any sound, but even it was hushed now. It was as if the world had paused. Faith felt like the world was watching her, and waiting...

"I'm going to teach you how to fight," Rebecca said. "I'm going to teach you about your enemies, and the world that's been kept hidden from you. And I'm going to teach you about yourself. You're stronger and better than you know. You're important, Faith; you matter. Don't ever let yourself think you don't."

Rebecca crouched down beside Faith, on the dirty sidewalk.

"You're special, Faith," Rebecca said. "But not just because you're a potential Slayer. You're special, because you're a very brave, and good, young woman. I know why you ran away. It's time to stop running now."

Rebecca held out her hand.

"Let me help you, Faith," she said.

Rebecca held out her hand...from Mount Olympus, from atop those skyscrapers across the Harbor that reflected the moon, and promised the world.

And Faith knew the world was waiting for its answer.

She knew life was a series of decisions...

Faith took Rebecca's hand, and they stood up together.




"This is yours," Rebecca said the next morning. She was holding a wooden stake in her hand. "It's good solid ironwood and it will last you a good long time."

They were standing in the living room of the three-story brownstone Rebecca had purchased a few weeks before at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Berkeley Street, the big bow window filling the room with light. Rebecca had furnished the house with beautiful antique furniture, and there was a grand piano in the living room, and she hinted ominously at giving Faith lessons. The whole house had hardwood floors, and there was a real working fireplace. When Faith looked out the window she could see that their front lawn, bursting with violets and tulips, was the biggest one on the whole street. Her mother's entire apartment could have fit in the dining room. Faith thought it was a castle. But when she remembered that house in later years, she would mostly remember how bright it was; it always seemed full of sunlight.

Faith took the stake, looked at it, got a feel for it in her hand. It was very dark brown, smooth and polished. Faith liked the grain of the wood. She liked the way it fit in her hand.

"I don't want to see you without it," Rebecca said. "When you go out that stake goes in your pocket. I don't care where you are or who you're with, it must be within reach, at all times."

Commonwealth Avenue was in the rich part of Boston; it was a very wide street with grand old townhouses running up and down, each with a tiny little front yard meticulously laid out with flowers. But Faith thought the best thing about it was the tree-lined greenway running down the middle, where kids would walk their dogs and toss frisbees around among the old bronze statues, and the trees would drop leaves all over the place, making the street look like a painting. To a girl from the Southie projects, it was a kind of magic.

"Yes, it'll have to do, I suppose," was what Rebecca said, when Faith looked out at it.

Then she said, "Now let's get to work."

"Uh...you sure about this?" Faith said.

They didn't get to work right away. First, Rebecca had decided Faith needed some things, starting with a new wardrobe. Faith liked Rebecca, but she didn't like charity, and every time Rebecca gave her something Faith felt like something was being taken away from her. Like loans she couldn't repay...like promises she couldn't keep. Faith tried to convince Rebecca that she could make do with just a couple more pairs of cheap jeans and a few shirts, But Rebecca wasn't having any of it. "Nonsense," Rebecca had said. "You need clothes and I'll hear no more on the subject." And that was that.

So Faith stood in front of the mirror that afternoon outside the changing room in Bloomingdale's, a very upscale clothing store in a mall about a twenty minute drive from Rebecca's house. It was called the Chestnut Hill Mall and Faith had never been there before, but she thought it looked pretty swank. Rebecca had heard good things about it and wanted to "have a look about".

Faith stood in front of the mirror, wearing a dress and high heeled shoes, feeling like one of those ridiculous little rat dogs old women lugged around, all bundled up in little doggie sweaters with bows in their hair. She felt like she was on a leash. She looked at the mirror like she wanted to pick a fight with it.

Rebecca stood behind her, and smiled. "Yes, quite sure," she said. "I'm sure it looks wonderful on you, and I'm also sure you hate it."

"It looks okay but...it's just...I'm not much for dresses," Faith said.

"Why not?"

"Don't know. Just...I guess it doesn't really feel like me."

"I'll make you a deal, Faith. You do need some dresses and skirts, and good shoes; I want you to be able to dress up on occasion. But I don't want you to be uncomfortable. Pick out a few dresses and a few skirts and blouses, and at least two pairs of good shoes, and then you can pick out as many pairs of jeans and boots and all the rest as you please. Sound good?"

"Okay, but...I don't...really need all this stuff, y'know?"

"Faith," Rebecca said. "I know this makes you uncomfortable. I know you think this is charity. But it isn't."

Faith stood in front of the mirror, looking down at her shoes.

"Look at me," Rebecca said.

Faith looked up at her. Rebecca smiled.

"I know this is hard for you," Rebecca said. "Harder, in a way, than living on your own was. Because it's hard to be given things when you feel you haven't earned them, when you feel that you're in someone's debt, and you can't see any way of ever repaying that debt. But this isn't about putting you in my debt. This is about me, not you. It's about me, paying off my own debt."

"Uh...okay, you kinda lost me there," Faith said.

"I do tend to make speeches sometimes," Rebecca said, with a smile and a raised eyebrow. "I've always been rather trying that way and I'm afraid you'll just have to have a stiff upper lip about the whole ordeal and bear with me."

"Okay," Faith said, and giggled. "I'll try to keep up."

Rebecca's smile went away. Her deep blue eyes looked at Faith keenly... but Faith thought they were looking at something else.

"We all come into this world with nothing," Rebecca said. "And what we end up having in our lives is often a matter of simple luck. In some countries children die of diseases that were cured decades ago. It's an unjust world, and there is only one real duty we each have in it. It's our duty to try to help where we can. And when someone helps us, we have a debt to repay. We repay the debt by helping someone else. Someone helped me, a long time ago, when I was in a very bad place...a place so bad I never thought I'd make it out. And I have a debt to repay. I have a debt to repay, to you, Faith. I needed help from someone once, and you need help from me now, and someday, someone else will need help from you. We all need help sometimes. That's just life."

"Pretty good speech," Faith said, and smiled.

"Yes, I give a ripping good speech," Rebecca said. "But unfortunately I can't cook worth a damn so we'll be eating out a lot. And I fancy eating in good restaurants. Assuming I can find us a few in this benighted little burg. And good restaurants tend to frown upon jeans and tee-shirts. And I do like you, you know. You're a good girl, Faith, and you deserve good things."

"What's a benighted little burg?"

"A tiny little unenlightened place. But anyway I'm afraid you'll need to dress up on occasion and you'll just have to grit your teeth and get through it. Do you think you can do that?"

"Guess I can handle it," Faith said. She looked in the mirror again. "Gotta admit, I do look just a little bit hot."

Rebecca laughed. It was a high, lilting laugh; it made her sound like a girl. Faith liked it. And it was an infectious laugh; Faith found herself laughing too.

"Yes, Faith, absolutely smashing," Rebecca said.

Faith sat in her room two days later, in the sneakers and sweatpants that Rebecca had bought her, looking down at the floor. It was a nice room, like every other part of the house: big, with hardwood floors and a bow window that let in lots of light. But Faith knew it wasn't hers, not really. It belonged to Rebecca, just like everything else Faith had.

Rebecca had put her through a grueling workout the day before, and Faith's entire body ached. They had run a mile, and at the end of it Faith's legs felt like rubber bands. Then there was an hour of weightlifting. They worked on the chest and triceps that first day, and Faith wasn't strong enough to get any weight up on the bench; she had to lift the bar without any plates on it, and she barely managed to get even that up once. After that Rebecca taught her how to hit the heavy bag. It always looked fun in the movies; Faith had no idea it would be so exhausting. She was dripping with sweat within minutes. Then there was a little rubber punching bag that looked like a balloon that was nailed up on the wall; Rebecca said it was called the speed bag and all you had to do was hit it really fast, getting your hands into a rhythm. After twenty minutes Faith hadn't managed to hit it more than three times in succession, though she had managed to hit the nail a couple of times. And after that Rebecca and Faith had sparred for a couple of hours. Though Faith thought calling it "sparring" would be a charitable description; it was more like Rebecca tossed Faith around, and Faith landed exactly where Rebecca threw her on the mat.

Faith had never felt so exhausted in her life. And Rebecca had told her they were going easy that first day. Faith's finger had a band-aid on it where she hit the nail on the speed bag, and it still hurt.

She sat on the king-sized four-poster bed, the kind she'd only seen in movies and always wished she had, in the big, beautiful room in the big, beautiful house, her whole body sore, her hand aching from the nail...and she looked out the window at the morning, and thought about her old bicycle.

The local church had given it to her in their yearly charity drive. It was a beat-up little pink bike, with a basket and a bell and a few old fading decals, and it was rusty. The other kids made fun of it. But Faith was only ten years old, and she loved that goofy little pink bike, rust and all. She just didn't know how to ride it...

There was a knock at the door. It surprised her. She'd never had her own room with a door on it before.

"Uh...come in?" she said.

Rebecca walked into the room in her sneakers and sweats, and sat next to her on the bed.

"How come you knocked?" Faith said.

"It's your room," Rebecca said. "It would be rude to walk in without knocking."

"Your house," Faith said.

"It's your house too," Rebecca said. Faith shrugged her shoulders, and looked back down at the floor.

"So how did you like your first day?" Rebecca said. "I expect you're feeling rather sore this morning."

"One way to put it," Faith said.

"I know yesterday was tough. Today will be too. But you'll get better at it, and very quickly."

"Hard to be worse."

When Faith brought the bike home her mother said, "Where'd you steal that thing?"

"I didn't," Faith said. "Saint Augustine's gave it to me."

"Cops find out you stole it I'll fuckin' smack you silly, little girl," her mother said. "I don't need no cops here."

"I didn't fuckin' steal it!" Faith shouted.

Her mother laughed, a hoarse laugh, laced with cigarette smoke. "Sure, like you didn't steal those jeans last month," she said. "You always been a little thief. Don't matter to me what you do. But if the cops grab you and I gotta explain it to them I'll smack you silly. Smack you fuckin' silly, so help me Jesus."

"I don't know how to ride it," Faith said.

Her mother shrugged her shoulders and walked away.

"In a week you'll be running that mile like it's the easiest thing in the world," Rebecca said. "In a month you'll be twice as strong as you are now, and you'll make that speed bag dance."

Faith chuckled. "Now I know you're fuckin' shitting me," she said. "Besides, twice as strong as zero's still zero, right?"

"Faith," Rebecca said, in a tone that Faith hadn't heard her use before. It made Faith snap her head up, startled.

"I don't want you swearing," Rebecca said.

"Uh...yeah, okay," Faith said. "Sorry."

"And that bar you were lifting weighs thirty pounds even without any plates on it."

"Could barely even lift it once."

"In a month you'll be doing double that at least, and it will seem easy."

"Yeah? How am I gonna do that?"

Faith tried to ride the bike, and found that she couldn't. She kept falling off. After a long day of taking headers onto the dirty asphalt behind her building, she finally gave up, and left the bike next to the garbage dumpster. The next day the trash collectors came and took it, and it was gone.

"Because I'm going to help you," Rebecca said. "I'm not telling you it'll be easy. It won't. But I'll be there for every minute of it with you."

Rebecca raised her eyebrow in that funny way she had, and smiled.

"You and me, Faith," Rebecca said. "We'll get through it together. How about it?"

Faith looked back down at the floor. She was tired. Her hand still hurt.

"Okay," Faith said.

"Time for our run," Rebecca said, and stood up.

Faith nodded, and stood up with her.

Rebecca was right: it wasn't easy. But Faith did it anyway.

Faith wasn't sure why...but she stuck to it, and did her best, no matter how tired she was, no matter how hard it was. She surprised herself. She didn't think she could be so patient. She didn't think she could try so hard...and then she remembered what Rebecca had said to her.

You're stronger and better than you know.

And Faith felt good about herself...for the first time in a long time...

They ran in the mornings, and hit the heavy bag, six days a week, and lifted weights four days a week. Afternoons were learning how to fight: aikido, boxing, weapons training, and a kind of street fighting called Krav Maga that was used in the Israeli Defense Forces. Faith liked the fighting best and the running worst. She got winded after a few blocks and her legs felt like they were made out of wood by the end of a mile. But Rebecca was right: Faith got better at it quickly, and by the end of that first week she could run the mile without slowing down to a walk and without getting out of breath. And as much as Faith bitched about all the exercise, Rebecca kept her word, and did every single minute of it with her.

Since Rebecca couldn't cook worth a damn and Faith's specialty was grilled cheese sandwiches (which Rebecca called "charming, in an American sort of way"), they ate out a lot. That's where they were the next Friday night, at a swish little steakhouse called Abe and Louie's on Boylston Street a few blocks from Rebecca's house. Faith was uncomfortable; the place had a dress code, and she'd had to wear one of the skirts Rebecca had bought for her. She ate her good steak, and fussed with her hair, and looked around at all the people in their nice clothes. She looked like she belonged with them now. But she knew she didn't.

"So what are your plans for the weekend?" Rebecca said.

"Uh...I don't know," Faith said. "Don't really have any plans."

"Faith, it's Friday night and you've just had a grueling week of exercise and listening to me talk," Rebecca said, and smiled, and drank her wine. Faith had a Coke. Rebecca didn't want her drinking until she was eighteen. "Surely you must want to go out, hang around in clubs listening to rock bands or whatever dodgy things you teenagers get up to these days."

Faith shrugged her shoulders. She didn't have any money. She didn't have any friends. She didn't have anywhere to go.

"Of course, if you'd be willing to put up with me for a bit, I was hoping you'd join me to see the Celtics tomorrow," Rebecca said. "They're playing Chicago; it promises to be quite a barnburner, from what I've been told."

"You're into basketball?" Faith said. Faith had only known her a week, but she had learned pretty quickly that Rebecca was full of surprises.

"I have no idea," Rebecca said. "I've never been to a basketball game. I do like rugby. And one of the things this town has going for it is its sports teams, so I thought we could sample them. How about you? Do you like basketball?"

"The Celts? Sure. Good luck gettin' tickets though."

"I have the tickets. Two at center court right behind the Celtics bench."

"You're shi...uh...you're crapping me," Faith said. "How'd you manage that? You know how hard Celts tickets are to get, even crap seats? And against the Bulls? Thought those would have sold out before the season even started."

"I know people," Rebecca said. "I made a few calls and Bob's your uncle."

"He is? Bob who?" Faith said.

Rebecca laughed. "Sorry, I'm being British again," she said. "It's a way of saying something is easy. The equivalent here would be, 'that's all there was to it'. So. You and me and Len Bias and Michael Jordan tomorrow. Sound like fun?"

"Sounds like a party," Faith said. "Hell, invite Uncle Bob too."

"Good," Rebecca said, laughing again. "And it's an afternoon game, you'll have plenty of time to go out tomorrow night and do God knows what you teenagers do. It will involve boys, no doubt."

Faith shrugged her shoulders again. "Yeah, well...I don't really have plans," she said.

Rebecca went into her purse, pulled money out of it, and slid the money across the table to her. Faith didn't pick it up.

"Do you have plans now?" Rebecca said.

"Uh...what's this?" Faith said.

"A weekly allowance. Take it."

"Uh...look...that's really nice of you, but..."

"Faith, if you were any other girl you would have time to work a paying job, and be able to earn your own spending money. But you're not any other girl, you're a potential Slayer, and your job is to let me train you. That job is very hard and it takes up a lot of your time, and you should have some spending money. And you're going to have some spending money. That's a hundred dollars. Every Friday I'm going to give you a hundred more, and you're going to go out and have fun and do whatever you want with it, and that's final."

"But..." Faith said. Rebecca held up her hand.

"I don't want to hear another word," Rebecca said. "Go out, enjoy yourself. Go out dancing, go to a movie, buy some records, buy some earrings."

Faith looked down at the money.

"I don't really...have anyone to go with," she said. "I mean, there were people I hung out with back in Allston, y'know, people I saw at parties...but...I don't...really have, like, friends I can just call up outta the blue."

"Yes, you do," Rebecca said. "You have me. And I know I'm not the most fabulous sort of friend, but one has to start somewhere."

"You're pretty fabulous, Becca," Faith said, and smiled.

"Thank heaven, I was beginning to worry," Rebecca said. "But it's a good thing you don't have any other friends right now, and I'm going to tell you why, and I'm going to be blunt about it. Ready?"

"Uh...okay," Faith said.

"The people you hung around with were worthless," Rebecca said. "If they were still around I wouldn't allow you to see them. You were in that alley for a lot of reasons, and the people you surrounded yourself with were one of those reasons. They weren't your friends. You're well rid of them."

Faith nodded.

"You're starting from scratch now, Faith," Rebecca said. "You were in a bad place before but now you're out if it, now you're somewhere new, and it will take you time to acclimate yourself."

"What's acclimating myself?" Faith said.

"Getting used to something new," Rebecca said. "You're starting over. New friends are a part of that. But you'll have to find them, and that's something I can't do for you. You're a lovely girl and anyone would be lucky to be able to count you as their friend. Now I won't force you to go out, and I like your company anyway. And I'm not just saying that. I told you when we first met that I won't ever lie to you, and I assume you trust I'm not lying when I say I like you, I like talking to you, I like your company."

"Why?" Faith said.

"Why do I like you?"

"Yeah." Faith looked straight at Rebecca, when she said that.

"Because you come right out and say what's on your mind, for one thing," Rebecca said, and smiled. "I like how you try, even though things are hard. I like how you make me laugh. I like how you were just a tiny bit pleased with yourself when I bought you the dress and you saw how you looked in it. I like how you call me 'Becca'. I like how you pout when you can't get a rhythm on the speed bag, and then you take all your frustration out on the punching bag. And I think you're just a bit goofy. But in an endearing way."

Faith smiled.

"But you need other people in your life, and the only way that can happen is if you go places and meet them," Rebecca said. "You'll be alone in those places at first, but that shouldn't last long."

"Well...I like to dance," Faith said.

"Excellent. Go out and dance. And one more thing. You're a smart girl, Faith, but you didn't always use your head, back in Allston. You let people take advantage of you. I don't want you to ever do that again."

Faith nodded, and looked down at her steak.

"You have a lot to offer," Rebecca said. "People will see that. Just give it time. Not everyone is out to take advantage. There are good people out there too."

Faith nodded again. She knew what most people thought she had to offer.

"Well?" Rebecca said, and glanced at the money in front of Faith.

Faith took it, still looking down at her steak.

"Thank you," Faith said.

"You're welcome," Rebecca said.

"It's just...people see me...guys see me...and they're all thinking one thing, Becca," Faith said.

"Faith," Rebecca said. Faith looked up at her.

"You said you didn't want that to be your life anymore, in the alley," Rebecca said. "You made that decision; no one could have made it for you. I didn't make it for you. Now you have to trust that decision, and trust yourself. You don't want that to be your life? Then don't let it be your life. Demand more from people you call your friends. Don't let people take advantage of you. Know that you're worth more than that, that you deserve better than that. When I saw you in that alley I didn't see a scared girl sitting on the ground; I saw a brave girl trying to stand up. So stand up. Stand up and be strong. Not for me. For you."

"You really think...I can do all that stuff?" Faith said.

"No," Rebecca said. "I know for a fact you can. And I expect you to."

"Okay," Faith said.

Rebecca got Faith back up to a good, healthy weight within a month, and after that Rebecca worked on turning that weight into muscle.

The workouts were grueling, but Faith soon found that she liked them, that she liked the structure they gave to her day. After two years on the street with nothing to do but try to stay warm, Faith found she liked having goals; she liked trying to get up to two miles on their runs, and then three; she liked when she could add weight to the barbell. She liked learning new fighting moves, and practicing them until she could do them perfectly without having to think about them. She liked finally getting a rhythm on the damned speed bag. And she liked when Rebecca smiled at her, and told her she was doing well; she liked seeing that look in Rebecca's eyes, when she knew she'd made Rebecca proud of her.

Rebecca gave her nights and Saturdays off ("but be home promptly by one a.m., and don't test me".) And she took Faith places: movies and ball games and museums. It turned out Rebecca did like basketball, and football, and she especially liked hockey ("smashing"). Faith was a little iffy about going to a museum that first time, but she had never been to one before, so she decided to give it a try one Saturday afternoon, and have an open mind. Rebecca had promised they wouldn't be there longer than two hours, and they were going to the movies afterwards, so it was a fair trade-off.

Faith thought the Museum of Fine Arts was kind of boring, that December day, as she trailed along behind Rebecca in a dress and high heels she couldn't wait to get out of, and looked at all the old paintings; but Faith liked seeing new places, and she had never been there before. It was a bright, cavernous, quiet place: Faith thought parts of it looked like a library, and parts like a cathedral, and parts like a castle, and there were long flights of stairs and long hallways done in marble in every part of it that made her shoes echo down the corridors with a click-klack sound. Everyone whispered, as if the paintings might overhear them and get offended. People stood very close to the paintings, studying them, and Faith wondered what they saw there. Faith stood very close to some of the paintings and studied them, and she didn't think she saw anything much.

But she liked hearing Rebecca talk about the paintings. The Museum of Fine Arts was "sadly limited in both its financial resources and its vision, but someday we'll hop over to New York City, or perhaps the Louvre", according to Rebecca, but Faith thought some of the paintings were actually pretty cool. She liked all the Monets, and she liked John Singer Sargent. She didn't stand six inches away and get all enlightened in front of them like a lot of the people there did, or pretended they did, but Faith looked at the paintings, and appreciated them, especially after Rebecca talked about them. She liked how Monet's "Haystacks" looked like different times of day, and she liked the people in Sargent's portraits...they seemed like they were right there in the room with her. Faith wondered what they would have thought if Sargent told them some crazy potential Slayer girl from Boston would be staring in their faces ninety years later.

"Would you like a painting for your room?" Rebecca said, watching her look at the Sargents. "There are some galleries on Newbury Street I'd like to take a look at, and I was thinking of buying a few pieces for the house."

"Will they be like these?" Faith said.

"You mean the Monets and the Sargents? Only if we're prepared to spend a few million dollars," Rebecca said. "So, no. But they'll be original works by new artists, and even Monet and Sargent started out that way at one point; before they were in museums private collectors bought their pieces and hung them in their homes. We may see the next Monet in one of those galleries."

"Okay," Faith said.

Faith was happy to get out of there and back into her jeans for the movie that night, but when Rebecca asked her if she'd be willing to go back sometime Faith surprised herself by saying yes. She'd spent her life avoiding places like museums, avoiding anything that seemed boring or like work. But she hadn't liked her life much. She remembered what Rebecca told her, about standing up. She felt like she was standing up, in the museum.

Faith liked to dance, and the place she liked to do it was Lansdowne Street. It was a little side street a couple of miles or so down Commonwealth Avenue from Rebecca's house, right by Fenway Park where the Red Sox played, and all the good clubs were there. But it was also right on the way to Allston, and Rebecca didn't like that. The first time Faith brought it up, Rebecca forbade her to go. She forbade her to go to Lansdowne Street or anyplace else anywhere near Allston unless she was with her, actually saying the words "I forbid you", and she got that tone in her voice when she said them, and that was just the end of that. Faith couldn't believe it. No one had ever forbidden her to do something before.

What Faith found even more unbelievable, sitting up in her room an hour later and moping in her brand new jeans and her sexy top and her kick-ass new shoes, was that she was actually doing what Rebecca told her. She didn't go to Lansdowne Street. She sat on her bed, and stared at the wall, and felt pissy about things for awhile, but she didn't try to sneak out. She didn't even know why. She sat there and pouted for an hour, and didn't think about sneaking out; instead she spent the whole hour thinking about why she wasn't thinking about sneaking out.

And then something strange happened. She realized she didn't feel pissy. She realized she had been trying to feel pissy the whole time, but it hadn't been working, and she actually felt pretty good.

Sometimes, Faith was a complete mystery to herself. She shrugged her shoulders, got up, and walked out of the room.

She came back down into the living room with a twinkle in her eye and a bounce in her step and it was all she could do not to smile. She didn't know why she felt happy but she was determined to at least pretend to be pissy, and she felt the smile coming on strong now so she forced herself to think about stuff that annoyed her instead. There was always a lot of that to choose from and she was able to hold the smile back, but the twinkle was still there in her eyes.

Faith sat next to Rebecca on the couch and tried to sound appropriately crabby when she said, "So where can I go then?"

And then Faith looked at Rebecca, and blew it: that damned smile just wouldn't be denied anymore.

Rebecca smiled too.

After some contentious negotiations, they settled on downtown. There were a decent number of clubs there, not as many or as cool as the club scene on Lansdowne Street, but whatever points downtown Boston lost for lack of variety it made up by being far from Allston and within walking distance of Rebecca's house. Faith tried The Roxy that first night, a club about ten minutes away from Rebecca's that she'd heard good things about, and once she got there, it turned out being forbidden was the best thing that could have happened: she loved the place, and went there to dance two or three nights a week, every week, after that.

It didn't look like much. The Roxy was a wide, dark room that squatted at the bottom of a flight of creaky stairs, and it was always too hot, especially when the music started and the dancing got everyone's body heat up. The furniture consisted of marked-up booths, wobbly tables and chairs and stools and a small bar that looked like they stole it out of some guy's basement, and the ladies room was a whole story in and of itself. The bartender was a big guy named Dan who had blue hair and a nose piercing and a tattoo of a Hula Girl on his big slab of an arm. He gave Faith free Coke refills because he liked her. Faith thought the place was too dark and too hot and too loud and sort of crappy, but they got the dance floor right, and she stomped the hell out of that old wood whenever she was there.

But the real reason Faith kept coming back was the DJ. The guy knew his tunes, and he and Faith had quickly become friends. His name was Evan, and he was tall and neat, with longish dark hair, pale skin, and a face that was so delicately handsome it was pretty. There was a steady stream of girls gathered around the DJ booth most nights, competing for his attention. When Evan ignored them all to talk to Faith their looks were daggers. "Sorry girls, he's all mine," she said sometimes, just to rub it in, grabbing his arm and stealing him between sets as the girls' stares burned a hole in her back. He wasn't really hers, except as a friend. But Faith was okay with that. Faith had been burned often enough by guys that she definitely wasn't looking for a boyfriend, and even if she was, she had no time; being with Rebecca took up most of her time. And Faith was okay with that too. She liked being with Rebecca.

Evan didn't seem to be looking for a girlfriend either, though Faith wasn't sure why at first; he was gorgeous. But he was a good friend, and that was all that mattered. He played Faith's favorite songs whenever she was there, and they hung out, Evan drinking margaritas and Faith drinking Cokes, and sometimes they'd grab a bite to eat afterwards. He was the only guy she'd ever met who hadn't tried to get into her pants...the only guy who had ever really talked to her.

Evan had an easy smile, and he told dumb jokes, and he made Faith laugh. It was impossible for her not to smile when she was with him.

One night, over drinks in a quiet corner, Faith asked him if he had someone special.

"I've hung around with some really great girls, had a lot of fun," he said. "And...there was this girl once..." Evan's smile faded. "We were friends all through high school. After awhile, I...fell in love with her. I told her."

He finished the rest of his margarita in one gulp. "We...did it, you know?" he said. "And it wasn't the same after that. It was weird, awkward. We tried to date, but...there was stuff...we both had a lot of stuff we were dealing with. We realized we couldn't be together that way, but we couldn't be friends anymore either. Everything had changed. Then we both went away to college, and I never saw her again."

"I'm sorry, Ev," Faith said.

"I lost a friend, but I learned a lesson," he said. "Take that leap with a friend? You risk everything. Love can destroy a friendship. I won't do that again."

Faith took his hand.

"My friends are too important to me," Evan said. "I don't want any more of them to leave. Got it?"

"Hey, just try to get rid of me," Faith said.

"Gonna hold you to that. So what about you?"

"What, you mean like, guys?"

"Yeah. You have anyone?"

"Nah. I'm kinda...not in the market for that right now, y'know?"

"You're gonna deprive the world of your sassy brand of hotness? On behalf of guys everywhere, what the hell are you thinking, woman?"

She laughed. "Goofball," she said.

"Don't even tell me you don't know how hot you are," he said.

"Bite your tongue, Ev. Yeah, I know I got it goin' on. It's just...I'm a loser magnet. Seriously."

"It can't be that bad. Can it?"

"Okay, Faith 101, ready? I've been with three guys that you could call, y'know, boyfriends, I guess. First there was Ronnie, total deadbeat, always a day late and a dollar short. Took me out for my birthday and made me pay. Followed that up with Steve, the klepto. Stole stuff, even stole my stuff. He's in jail somewhere now. Latest trainwreck was Kenny. Drummer. He was like the guy in 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure', except he didn't even have the decency to be Keanu. He was the other one. Plus he was baked all the time. So, yeah, I don't know what comes after drummer? But I bet it's not anything good."

"Oh, fuck, honeybuns," Evan said, laughing. "If you drank I'd buy you a double."

"Let's talk about you again," Faith said. "Less depressing. So you're telling me you're off the market too? You're breaking hearts, baby."

"I don't know," he said. "I've had girlfriends, screwed around, had some fun...I'm a guy, right? But I'm still looking for the right girl. Whoever she is, I guess I'll know her when the time comes."

"Got plenty of chances to have fun in this place. With all the chicks hanging around your booth I figure you could be as adventurous as you please."

"Fun is one thing. But...I'm looking for someone...where it's not about getting some and getting gone. I want it to be about giving. About committing to something, and making it work. Anyway, whoever she is, she's out there. Maybe I'll get lucky and find her."

"Or maybe she'll find you," Faith said, smiling her sexy smile. "You never know."

"Maybe," Evan said.

But Faith noticed he wasn't smiling anymore.

Some days, after their workout was done, Faith and Rebecca would walk for hours up and down Commonwealth Avenue and Newbury Street, stopping to buy knick-knacks in all the little Newbury Street shops, and looking in the galleries. Faith liked the galleries better than the museum; the stuff in the galleries was a little wilder, a little more surprising. They picked out paintings for the house, looking in all the Newbury Street galleries one cold afternoon in January, and Faith found one for her room. It just spoke to her. She got that feeling, looking at it, that all the people in the Museum of Fine Arts got, or acted like they got, when they stood really close to the paintings and studied them; she felt transported. She felt, for a moment, like she wasn't aware of herself at all.

They walked for hours that day and into the night, and Rebecca talked to her, like she always did; about history or philosophy, or the Slayers who had come before, or whatever Faith wanted to talk about. Faith didn't say much, she just listened; she liked listening to Rebecca. And they ended up back at Faith's favorite place, that night, like they always did: the big, four-acre Public Garden, with its flowers and willow trees, and the lake that had swans in springtime, and the statue of George Washington on his horse. It was a cold night, and there were no leaves on the trees and only a few winter flowers, but the stars were out and the moon was up and everything was quiet and still. It felt like the world was telling them a secret. They found themselves speaking in hushed tones, careful not to disturb that beautiful stillness; they both knew it was fleeting.

"Think about it, Faith," Rebecca said, as they stood beneath the statue, looking up at the stars and eating hot fudge sundaes--the ice cream place on Newbury Street was open year-round, and ice cream was Faith's favorite food. "A ragtag group of poorly equipped farmers, outnumbered and outgunned, defeated the greatest professional army in the world to build your country. They had no real training. Some of them didn't even have shoes on their feet. They marched through the snow anyway. Men deserted in scores, but Washington held his army together. Through defeat after defeat, for years, he held them together. And they won. And they built this country. The longest stable democracy the world has ever known. A beacon of freedom that inspires people around the world to this day...your current President notwithstanding," she added, with a raised eyebrow.

"The Slayer is just one link in a chain," Rebecca said, and put her hand on Faith's shoulder. "A chain of brave men and women throughout history, who have changed the world for the rest of us. You're alive today because of their sacrifices. Some, like George Washington, have held armies together...some, like Buffy Summers, have saved the world from being overrun by vampires. While others, whose names we don't know, have trudged through the snow, with no shoes on their feet. There's a war going on, Faith. It's been going on since the beginning and will go on until the end. You're a part of that war now."

Faith raised her eyebrow.

"Hmm. I'm making speeches again, aren't I?" Rebecca said.

"Just a little," Faith said. "But it's cool, Becca, I like your speeches. Had me glued to my seat."

"Occupational hazard of being a Watcher, I'm afraid. We're subjected to so many mind-numbing speeches about duty and honor and destiny and being the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls and all that claptrap at the Watchers Council that we all just dream of the day when we can inflict one on some poor potential Slayer. Sharing the pain, I suppose."

"Watcher thing, huh? And here I thought it was a British thing."

"Now that you mention it, I suppose that could be part of it too. Okay. No more duty and honor for tonight. Just ice cream and Chinese food and popcorn, and that ridiculous movie you rented for us. Deal?"

"Sure. But hey, duty and honor are cool too. You never know, maybe I'll be the Slayer someday and all that history stuff you're always telling me about will come in handy. I could be all, 'Okay bad guys, I'm Faith the Vampire Slayer, and oh, by the way? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Slayers and vamps'."

Rebecca laughed; she nearly choked on her ice cream.

"I'm not gonna be down with that taxation without representation stuff either," Faith said, giggling and patting Rebecca's back, as Rebecca tried to catch her breath. "If I see even one guy getting taxed without being represented? I'll be all, 'Okay, where's the tea at? Gimme all the tea! Yo, chuck out that damn tea, bro. We are having us a tea party.'"

Rebecca put her hands on Faith's shoulders, looked her in the eyes, and said, "Faith, you're an inspiration to us all."

And they walked home together, laughing.

To Faith's utter amazement, she actually liked the piano lessons.

It had taken awhile to get Faith on board with the plan, but Faith really enjoyed listening to Rebecca play, and that got her to take the plunge. She always thought piano had to be long, boring classical songs, but Rebecca could play folk songs and show tunes and fast jazzy things that made Faith want to dance. So she sat with Rebecca at the piano for an hour a few nights a week, playing the scales and "Pop Goes the Weasel" and "Heart and Soul" and a French song called "Frére Jacques" over and over again, and learning about chords and how to position her fingers. That's what they were doing on a snowy night in February, when they both had colds and were sitting in their bathrobes and pajamas, sneezing and sniffling, and drinking tea with the fireplace crackling away behind them.

"You have excellent hands," Rebecca said, as she watched Faith haltingly try the scales. "If you put your mind to this, you could perhaps do it professionally someday."

"Really think I'm the piano type?" Faith said.

"I think you can be anything you want."

Faith launched into "Pop Goes the Weasel". She kept on screwing up on that one high note, and she was damned well going to get it right this time.

Oh my God, Faith thought. I'm a band geek.

She smiled, and banged out that high note just right.

The snow kept on coming that month; a week later it was still snowing and the whole city was at a standstill. But Faith liked the way it all looked; everything was quiet and pretty, like a painting. She even thought it was a little like a Monet painting, when the street lights hit the snow a certain way, and that made it even better. But it made it pretty damned boring too; the snow was a foot deep, driving was an adventure and there wasn't anything to do. She thought about going to The Roxy but she'd called Evan and he'd said he wasn't going in to work again "until this fucking Bing Crosby-ass White Christmas bullshit lets up. Sorry honeybuns." And dancing was no fun for Faith without Evan spinning the tunes...and without her knowing his eyes were on her.

So Faith stayed home, and hung around in the gym practicing with the weapons, or watched TV on the couch, and she was restless; and then Rebecca came into the living room while Faith was lying in front of the television, and stood in front of her with her hands on her hips and that eyebrow of hers raised.

"Has your brain rotted enough yet?" Rebecca said.

"Almost there, Becca," Faith said. "Tryin' for a nice liquid consistency."

"I have something for you," Rebecca said.

Faith squinted up at her. Rebecca had a book in her hand.

"Oh good, homework," Faith said. "Remember about the liquid consistency?"

"You'll thank me later," Rebecca said.

"I will? You sure about that?"

"You don't like to read?"

"What do you think? Ever seen me with a book? Ninth grade drop-out, you think I like reading? I'm too dumb for that stuff."

"Faith," Rebecca said. Faith instantly sat up. Rebecca's voice had that tone it sometimes got. The tone that Faith knew meant you better frigging listen. The tone that meant now.

"I don't ever want you to say that again," Rebecca said. "Do you understand?"

"Yeah," Faith said. "But...it's true, Becca."

"No," Rebecca said, and sat next to her on the couch. "It isn't. In fact it's the only stupid thing I've ever heard you say."

Faith looked down at the floor.

"How many times have I called you a smart girl?" Rebecca said.

"I don't know. You call me that a lot," Faith said. "Always thought you were just being nice."

"No," Rebecca said. "I told you, the night we first met, that I would never lie to you, Faith. And I never will. Because I want you to know you can trust me, but also because lying complicates things; it makes things harder. The truth is always best because the truth is simple. When I said you were smart I meant it. I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."

"But I don't...know about books and stuff. And big words, and history and...all that stuff."

"'The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants'," Rebecca said. "Who said that?"

"Thomas Jefferson," Faith said. "Okay, so I know that one."

"What does 'wretched' mean?"

"Crappy. Gonna be pretty wretched, having to read stuff," Faith said, and grinned.

"See?" Rebecca said. "You're a smart girl. You pick things up quickly."

"So you're saying I'll just have to acclimate myself to this reading stuff, huh?" Faith said, her grin getting wider.

"Yes, dear," Rebecca said, with a smile. "I'm afraid so."

Rebecca took Faith's hand.

"You know those things because I taught them to you," Rebecca said. "Now I'll always tell you the truth, and that includes telling you things that are hard to hear. And the truth is that you're a smart girl, but you're uneducated. No one has ever taught you anything. No one has ever taken the time."

Faith looked up at her.

"But there's a difference between being uneducated and being stupid, Faith," Rebecca said. "They aren't the same thing. You survived on your own without a place to live for two years; you survived because you're smart. You kept yourself alive when no one would help you. You had to size people up, make the most of your opportunities, find ways to feed yourself, to keep yourself warm, to protect yourself. They weren't always the best ways. But you survived out there when a lot of girls who aren't as smart as you wouldn't have. And Thomas Jefferson and a lot of new vocabulary words wouldn't have been much help."

"I guess," Faith said.

"Now at your age being uneducated is nothing to be ashamed of, yet. You can still say it's your mother's fault, it's your teachers' fault. But you won't be able to say that forever. Eventually, it will be your fault. It's something you need to fix. And I'm going to help you. Why do you think I talk to you so much about history, about philosophy?"

"Yeah, but...it's different when we talk about that stuff. I mean in school it was always boring, history and all that stuff was boring and I could never remember any of it. But when we talk..."

"You had lousy teachers. That doesn't mean you're not smart. Actually it means just the opposite. It means you were smart enough to be bored."

Faith shrugged her shoulders.

"This is no different than our workouts, Faith," Rebecca said. "It will take time but it will get easier, and you'll learn to like it. And I'll help you. And it'll be better than school, because school fills your head with things you don't need to know. I don't care if you don't know calculus, I don't care if you don't know how to speak French. But you need to know about history, and philosophy, because they inform the way we live our lives. You need to read good books, because they build vocabulary and tell us important things about the world, and ourselves. I want you to read this book. And when you're done reading it, we'll talk about it."

"That's it?" Faith said.

"Were you expecting a quiz?" Rebecca said, and smiled. "I'm not going to test you. I'm not going to ask you to write a book report. This isn't about remembering the book so you can get the answers on a test right; it's about reading the book and getting something out of it. If you have questions that's okay, if you don't understand it that's okay too. We'll talk about it when you're done. But I expect you to read it. All right?

"Okay," Faith said.

"That's my girl," Rebecca said, and handed Faith the book, and walked out of the room.

Faith looked at the book. It looked old. It had a weird goofy cover, with a little girl on it.

She shut off the television, and opened the book.

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, Faith read...

Her hands a blur, Faith hit the speed bag with a nice, steady rhythm.

"Tell me why we have to listen to this horrible music again?" Rebecca said, watching her. They were in the gym. Rebecca had set it up on the third floor, in a big room with one of the bow windows that let in lots of light. A sparring ring was set up there, along with the speed bag, the heavy bag, free weights and a bench. There were weapons on the walls, that Faith was just beginning to learn to use: swords, staffs, axes, bows, knives, throwing stars, nunchakus. Practice dummies and targets were set up next to them. The boom box Faith had bought the week before was in the corner, blaring out one of Evan's Roxy mix CD's.

"Helps me get a rhythm on the bag," Faith said, making the speed bag dance.

"Who sings this one?" Rebecca said.

Faith smiled. "You like it?" she said.

"Of course not," Rebecca said. "I'm simply curious."

"'TLC'. They're this all-girl hip-hop band."

"'Hip-hop'. How clever."

Faith turned to Rebecca, her smile even larger.

"You do like it, don't you?" she said. "You're all British about it and everything, but you can't fool me. I can tell you like it." Faith kept hitting the speed bag as she talked to Rebecca, her hands keeping up their rhythm in perfect counter-point to the music.

"Perhaps just a little," Rebecca said.

"Hope for you yet, Becca," Faith said, and laughed, and hit the bag a bunch of big wallops in a finishing flourish as the song ended.

"Yes, well be that as it may, is there any chance we could perhaps shut it off now?"

"Sure," Faith said, chuckling, and shut the music off.

"I remember a time when you hated the speed bag," Rebecca said, looking closely at her. Faith was wearing sweat pants and a cut off tee-shirt, and Rebecca could see the definition in her shoulders and arms; the long, hard trapezius muscles sloping down from her neck, the bulge of her biceps, and her triceps muscles beginning to appear as well. Faith's forearms had long veins running down them now, and were noticeably larger than they used to be. When Faith walked, her posture was perfectly straight, and there was a spring in her step. A far cry from the thin, dispirited, perpetually slouching girl Rebecca had taken in not even four months earlier.

"I remember almost chucking the thing out the window once," Faith said, and turned back to her. She saw Rebecca smiling.

"What?" Faith said.

"You look good, that's all," Rebecca said.

Faith glanced at the window. It was the first day of March, and spring was theoretically on the way, though you wouldn't know it from the weather. Winter still had Boston in its clutches and wasn't giving it up without a fight. It was a cold, rainy day; a few degrees colder and it would be snowing.

"Hope this weather lets up," Faith said. "Pain in the butt on our runs."

They moved to the window and looked out at the afternoon together.

"We got through February," Rebecca said. "March couldn't possibly be worse...could it?"

"Never say never in Beantown, Becca," Faith said.

"Four miles today. I think the running agrees with you."

"Yeah well, I don't hate it like I used to. My wind's good now, and my legs don't hurt. Now it's just boring. But I got you with me, so I'm good."

"I'm proud of you, Faith," Rebecca said, and put her hand on Faith's shoulder. "You've come so far. You've never once disappointed me."

"Thanks, Becca," Faith said, and hugged her. "Thanks...y'know...?"

Faith leaned her head against Rebecca's chest, and held Rebecca very tight. Rebecca could see that Faith had tears in her eyes.

"Faith...?" Rebecca said, hugging her, and running her fingers through her hair. Hugging Faith felt perfectly natural...the way it used to feel when she hugged her daughter, all those years ago. "What's wrong? Is something wrong?"

Faith shook her head, and smiled.

"I'm happy, Becca," Faith said, crying, her voice muffled against Rebecca's chest. "For the first time in my life. I'm just...happy, y'know?"

Rebecca held Faith in her arms, and looked out at the rain...and thought about her daughter...

One day, for no real reason, Rebecca canceled their morning run.

Faith wasn't complaining. It was a cool, bright Sunday morning near the end of March, and Faith could think of a lot of fun ways to spend it that didn't involve huffing and puffing and dragging her ass along the Charles River Esplanade for four miles. Rebecca had come into Faith's room just as Faith's alarm clock went off, sat on the bed beside her, and told her she had some errands to attend to, and that they would skip their run this one time. Faith didn't know what kind of errands couldn't wait until after their run, especially since most of the stores wouldn't even be open yet on a Sunday, but she wasn't about to question this stroke of completely unexpected good fortune.

"But I should be back in plenty of time for us to go through our sword-fighting routine, and aikido after that," Rebecca added.

Faith chuckled. "Yeah, figured that," she said.

"Have you finished the new book I gave you yet?" Rebecca said.

"I'm almost done," Faith said. "I feel bad for Anne. How come the Nazis did all that stuff? What do they care if someone's Jewish? It doesn't make sense."

"We'll talk about it when you're done. Do you like the book?"
"Yeah, it's pretty cool. Sad though."

"Just wait until you start in on the next one. The sadness just keeps on coming, I'm afraid."
"Yeah? What's it about?"

"It's about German soldiers during the first World War, and what it was like fighting in the trenches."

"Cool. Not likin' the Germans so much though, after what they did to Anne."

"People are people, Faith. Evil is a choice made by individuals, not by races or governments. Heroism works the same way. But we'll talk about it another time. Relax, sleep in today. You've earned it."

"Hey, sleeping in? Think I can work with that," Faith said.

Rebecca was looking at her.

"What?" Faith said.

Rebecca smiled, and kissed her cheek.

"Nothing," Rebecca said. Go back to sleep."

Red Sox Cap, Freckles, the Asian guy, and the Republican were sleeping in that day too, sprawled on decrepit old chairs and couches in the living room of a condemned house in Jamaica Plain, a shabby, working class Boston neighborhood that had come a long way from its roots: boasting fairly cheap rents, some interesting restaurants, an impressive array of dive bars and a hop, skip and a jump commute to most of the big colleges in town, it had managed to attract a large and growing population of college students over the years and had eventually become an excitingly diverse blend of cultures and ethnicities and, unfortunately, vampires. The room was a graveyard of pizza boxes and peppermint schnapps bottles. The Republican slept in boxers and a tee-shirt; his brand new Armani suit was carefully hung up on a wooden hanger on the closet doorknob. And other than the fact that Red Sox Cap was actually wearing a Boston Bruins cap now and the Asian guy had cut his hair, they all seemed much the same to Rebecca, as she looked down at them, holding a gasoline can in her hand. She tossed the gasoline can away, and walked to the windows.

It was still early; a couple of hours past sunrise. The vampires had gotten very drunk the night before and gone to sleep and they weren't planning on waking up until after sunset, when they'd hunt.

At least, that was the plan...until Rebecca snapped up the shades on all the windows and said, "Rise and shine, boys. It's a glorious morning."

The sun woke them up instantly, flooding into the room and searing their flesh. They leaped up, howling in pain, their skin smoking, their faces changing to vampire form, and cast their eyes around wildly. Sunlight was everywhere. All four of them scrambled into the same tiny corner, the only part of the room the sun hadn't penetrated.

"The Brit bitch," the Asian guy said, swaying a little, still drunk. "What the fuck do you want?"

"That's a lovely suit you have over there," Rebecca said, looking at the Republican. "Armani?"

"Okay, why aren't we killing her?" Freckles said, massaging his temples and wincing.

"So where's the chippie?" the Republican said, smiling at Rebecca. "You remember, the little homeless slut you picked up? Her name's Faith, right? You should've brought her along, lady. We all miss her."

"You have fabulous taste in clothes, you know," Rebecca said, smiling right back at the Republican. "Are you sure you're not gay? I bet you are. I bet you just love taking a nice, big cock up the arse."

The Republican snarled at her.

"At least your friends stayed and fought," Rebecca said. "But when I hit you with that holy water you ran away like a scared little bitch slapped girl. Pathetic. Do these three bend you over and fuck you? Are you the little poofter girl of the group?"

The Republican took a step toward her, but shrank back, as his skin sizzled in the bright sunlight.

"East-facing windows," Rebecca said. "Just perfect for watching the sunrise. I wonder if the four of you could manage to kill me and make it back to the corner before you burn. Anyone care to have a go?"

The vampires glared at her, but didn't move.

"No, I didn't think so," Rebecca said. "None of you lot have the balls."

"Hey. What's that smell?" Red Sox Cap said.

"It took me awhile to find you," Rebecca said. "But I never stopped looking. I never forgot about you. And now here we all are, having this lovely meeting of the minds."

"Gasoline..." the Asian guy said.

"Yes, I poured it on all of you as you slept," Rebecca said. "No wonder it took you so long to notice it, you all stink of peppermint schnapps. Schnapps is a nancy boy's drink, you know. Real men drink scotch."

The vampires looked around the room, and then back at Rebecca. The sun was everywhere, and it was creeping closer...steadily, inexorably burning their little refuge of shadow away.

"I could've staked you as you slept," Rebecca said. "But that's not how I wanted it."

Rebecca's unwavering blue eyes fixed on them as she took a silver lighter from her pocket, and snapped it open. The vampires shrank back, as a tall, powerful jet of flame shot up out of it.

"This is how I wanted it," Rebecca said. "And Faith sends her regards, by the way."

She smiled, and tossed the lighter at them. The vampires went up in flames like torches, shrieking.

Rebecca watched, as the four vampires burned to death in front of her.

"No one hurts my girl," Rebecca said.

And the vampires burned down to dust...

And Rebecca walked out the door, into the sunlight.

Part 3

Return to BtVS/Angel Fiction

Return to Main Page