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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Meant To Be
One: The New World

By Hellmouthguy




Everything was dark.

Then there was a voice.

Holy Mother, hear my prayer, the voice whispered...

It was a girl's voice.


Everything was dark.

Then there was a voice.

Just take it easy honey, just hold still...the voice said.

Faith opened her eyes. Everything was a little blurry.

She was lying on the ground. A light was shining in her eyes. Men were leaning over her.

There were lights all around her...red and blue, flashing...police lights. Her whole body felt numb. A man wiped blood from her nose and mouth.

She looked around. Her head hurt when she moved it. It was night. She was lying next to a police car. Its roof was caved in. She heard sirens in the distance...they sounded like fire engines on the way. There were police cars all around, and an ambulance. Two police officers stood near her. "How the hell did she survive that fall?" she heard one of the officers, a tall black man, say to the other one. She heard the other officer, a petite girl with curly brown hair, say, "God must have wanted her to."

Faith looked up, and saw the top floor of the Prudential building burning.


Faith leaped up. It was like fighting through quicksand. Pain shot through her left arm, and the needles were back in her ribs. Faith heard the man with the light say "Hey!" She heard the black police officer say, "What the hell...?"

She sprinted for the building. Her legs felt awkward, like she couldn't get them to work right. A song from one of those old Christmas cartoons she watched on TV when she was a girl came into her head.

Just put one foot in front of the other...

Her ribs were one continuous, insistent pain. She was pretty sure her left arm was broken; it was bent in a weird way and it hurt. She felt dizzy and nauseous. Her vision was blurring again.

As she ran for the building two more police officers cut her off. Fire shot through her left arm as one of them grabbed her.

"Whoa, whoa! Hold it!" the short Irish guy said. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" She got away from him and tried to run again but both of them grabbed her now, the Irish guy and a fat old man. The petite girl and her partner ran over too.

Faith was crying now. "BECCA! BECCA'S UP THERE!" she screamed, and tore herself away from them. They all fell to the ground and Faith heard someone somewhere say "Jesus!" as she ran into the building.

She ran into the elevator and pressed the button for the fifty-second floor, the doors closing just before the cops and the EMT's reached it. Then she fell to her knees, exhausted and crying. The floor felt cold. She vomited.

A sudden ringing sound startled her. It was the elevator doors opening. She was at the fifty-second floor. She had no memory of the last thirty seconds.

Get it together. Right now.

She looked out at the hallway, and hesitated. She was afraid...afraid she would die without ever getting to ride a roller coaster. That she would never go places or see things, like California, or the Louvre. That Brendan would be the last person she ever kissed.

She thought about her mother. She thought about the time when she was seven and her mother had hit her so hard her skull fractured and she was in the hospital for four days.

She was hurt, she could barely walk...and she didn't have her stake.

Kneeling on the cold metal floor of the elevator, hurt and scared and exhausted, Faith had no idea how she would fight Kakistos...how she could possibly manage even to hold him off.

She got up, and walked out of the elevator.

More than half of the restaurant was gone now. Thick, black smoke made it hard to see and harder to breathe, creeping into her lungs. She couldn't see Kakistos anywhere. She looked toward the center of the dining room, where she remembered Trevor's body was. The whole area was engulfed in flames now.

The area around Rebecca hadn't gone up yet. Faith jumped onto the bar and ran to her.

Rebecca was naked on the floor, in a pool of blood. She'd been beaten.

Faith put her coat over Rebecca and gently turned her head so she could see her face. It was swollen and bloody, yet Rebecca looked unnaturally pale. Her neck had two puncture wounds.

Faith cried, her whole body shaking.

Rebecca stirred. Faith brushed her tears away, and took her hand.

Rebecca opened her eyes as much as she could, and looked up at Faith.

"Faith," she said, in a weak, hoarse whisper, and smiled. "My girl."

Faith kissed Rebecca's cheek. It was a goodbye kiss, she knew.

"Don't...forget...dress in layers," Rebecca said.

"I will," Faith said. "I'll always dress in layers."

Rebecca smiled, and squeezed her hand.

"I love you, Becca," Faith said.

"Love...you...too," Rebecca whispered, and closed her eyes.

Faith carried her to the elevator. Rebecca never opened her eyes again, never stirred. Faith couldn't feel her heartbeat.

Rebecca was pronounced dead a few minutes later, on the plaza outside the Prudential building. She had lost too much blood.

EMT's sat Faith down and worked on her for awhile; she watched as they zipped Rebecca up into a body bag and took her away. They led Faith to an ambulance, and she followed them silently. She didn't say a word in the ambulance. She didn't say a word in the hospital's examining room forty-five minutes later, as she sat on the cold metal table in her socks without her bra on, wearing the little cotton dress they gave her that was open at the back, and the doctor held the cold stethoscope against her back and asked her to breathe in, and his hands probed her ribs. His hands were cold. He asked Faith questions and she didn't respond; eventually they worked out a system. Faith either nodded, or shook her head. But she didn't say anything, and she didn't look at him.

She looked around, at the white walls with the chipped paint, at the metal shelves with boxes of latex gloves and tongue depressors and bandages and moist towelettes and all the other things hospital examining rooms always had, and at the poster showing the spectrum of pain and how you should let your doctor know how bad it is by saying a number from one to ten, and at the other poster with an illustrated diagram of the lungs. The room was too bright. The fluorescent lights were harsh; they brought everything into too sharp a focus, left no room for ambiguity. They made a sound like a little bee buzzing around Faith's head.

Faith didn't like it in there. Everything felt too cold and too hard and too bright and too closed in. The room smelled like blood and rubbing alcohol.

Faith suddenly felt the old fear at the bottom of her stomach: the metal table and the rubbing alcohol and the feel of the stethoscope had brought it all back, dredged it up from all those years ago. The room seemed very small now. The doctor's hands were on her and she didn't want his hands on her. They were rough and cold and he was right up close to her and Faith didn't like his scent; he smelled like cigarette smoke and tuna fish and chewing gum and deodorant all mixed together. She felt like it was getting harder to breathe, like every breath she took was giving her less air than the one before it. She knew that feeling was an illusion, that it was all in her head; she'd had to fight the feeling back before, when she was a girl. She hugged herself, as the doctor examined her, and she felt cold in the flimsy little cotton dress that was open at the back, and she tried not to think about her breathing, or how small the room was.

A nurse came in after the doctor was done and they had put a cast on her ribs and another cast on her arm; the nurse asked if Faith had identification. Faith shook her head. She had a social security card but she kept it at home. She didn't want them to know her real name anyway. When the nurse gave her a form to fill out she put down a fake name and address.

She didn't say a word to the two police officers, the tall black man and the petite girl, who came to see her when she was in the hospital bed later, hooked up to an IV machine in the big, crowded, antiseptic-smelling emergency room with all the junkies in the beds around her, and said they were sorry for her loss. A detective came in and said she was lucky they weren't going to press charges against her for interfering with a crime scene and assaulting police officers. He was a sloppy-looking old man with gray whiskers who needed a shave. His breath smelled like stale coffee. "You're a perfect capper to a perfect goddamn day, missy," he said to her, when she didn't say a word to him. The cops and the detective went away for awhile and another nurse, a fat old woman with beady eyes and gray hair in a tight perm, told her they couldn't find her name in the system and did she have insurance? Faith didn't say a word to her either.

The next morning, when she had a moment alone, Faith unhooked herself from the IV machine, found her clothes, snuck into a bathroom, washed up as best as she could with the broken arm, and quietly slipped out of the building.

It was a cold, bright morning. The pain was a little better; they had doped her up with something overnight and she'd slept for a few hours. She had thirty dollars in her pocket and she didn't feel like walking home so she took a cab.

"Sure this is where you wanna be, kid?" the cabbie said, when they arrived.

The house had burned down.

It was a pile of rubble now, and it had taken a couple of other houses with it. There were no fire engines there, but smoke was still in the air and the charred remnants of the house were still wet. Puddles of water flooded the street.

Faith paid the cabbie, and wandered through the remains of the bright, beautiful house with the grand piano and the hardwood floors and the real working fireplace, the castle Rebecca had made for them both. It didn't feel real, now...it felt like a place she only dreamed she had lived in. The piano was gutted. Faith crouched down and tapped one of the keys. It made a small, pretty sound.

She saw the photo of Gwen in the rubble, in the little silver frame she and Rebecca had bought. The frame was melted, but the photo had survived. She took it out of the frame, and slipped it in her pocket.

Then she ripped one of the wooden legs off of the piano, found a long knife in the rubble that was only partially melted, and walked away.

The car was gone too. Rebecca had been teaching Faith to drive, and had given her a set of keys. Once Faith got her learner's permit Rebecca was going to let her use the car. Faith had just checked every inch of the parking garage near the house where Rebecca kept the car, and the Lexus just wasn't there. Trevor picked Rebecca up the night before; they took his car to the restaurant. Rebecca had left the Lexus in the garage. Someone had stolen it. With a car, Faith would have had some options. Without it, she was down to the money in her savings account. Rebecca had given her an allowance of a hundred dollars a week and Faith didn't always spend it all; Rebecca bought her the things she needed, the allowance was supposed to be fun money. Faith had managed to save almost a thousand dollars. It would support her for a little while.

She remembered Rebecca was the one who insisted that she put any money she didn't spend in a savings account. Faith was going to just put it in her bureau drawer. If she'd done that she'd be down to the money in her pocket now.

First the house, then the car. Faith knew it was Kakistos. He was still out there. Kakistos must have sent his people to burn down the house and take the car.

She walked out of the parking garage, with her piano leg and her partially melted knife.

Faith sat in the Public Garden, under a willow tree. Her left arm felt a lot better suddenly, and she was surprised to discover that it didn't seem to be broken anymore. It still hurt but she could move it. Which made whittling a new stake a lot easier. So she sat under her willow tree, whittling herself a stake out of the piano leg, and thinking about things. She had almost a thousand dollars and nowhere to live. She had the clothes on her back. And she had one very angry vampire on her back too.

Faith remembered Rebecca's voice...that pretty accent she had. Her scent. The way she'd raise her eyebrow sometimes. How warm she always felt.

She started to cry. Then she stopped herself.

Cry later. Plan now.

She needed clothes. They'd have to be cheap. Not having a place to live was going to be a problem soon too. She had lived on the street before and she could do it again...but with Kakistos out there, that was dangerous after dark. And there was also the little problem of Kakistos not dying when she staked him. That had never happened before. As far as Faith knew, it was impossible.

A Mercedes drove by, with blacked-out windows.

She was up against a super-strong ancient vampire who was fully capable of kicking her ass one on one. And he apparently couldn't be staked. And he had Trick helping him, along with a network of hired muscle. And she had cut his dick and balls off, so he was bound to be grumpy. And she had no place to live, no change of clothes, no car, and not much money.

She looked up at the statue of George Washington on his horse. She remembered what Rebecca had told her...about how the American Revolution succeeded when it had no right to, how a bunch of farmers held off the greatest army in the world. All because of that bronze guy on the horse.

"Got any advice, George?" Faith said.

Her stake was done. It was nowhere near as good as the one Rebecca gave her but it was wood and one end was sharp and that was good enough. She threw the knife and her cast in a barrel and headed downtown.

Her social security card had gone up with the house and without it Faith had no identification; all she had was her ATM card. She didn't think the bank would let her close out her savings account without identification so she withdrew the maximum amount allowed from an ATM and ate at a McDonald's downtown and thought about things some more. She hadn't eaten fast food since she met Rebecca. Rebecca wouldn't allow it. The dollar menu burgers were cheap and they tasted like it. But they were food. She knew she'd have to get used to the dollar menu. Not much steak from now on. She sat in the little blue plastic chair and ate her three burgers and fries and drank her Coke, and thought about things.

She realized she would have to go back to the hospital and find out about Rebecca's funeral arrangements.

A drunk old homeless guy who smelled pretty festive walked by her table and noticed the stake. "Is that a sausage in your pants or are you just happy to see me?" he said, and laughed like it was the funniest thing anyone ever said. "You got a quarter?" he added.

Faith gave him a five dollar bill. "Why don't you buy yourself something to eat," she said. "The burgers only taste a little like hockey pucks."

"Eat in this place?" he said, and looked at her like she was the old crazy smelly homeless person. He pocketed the five and walked out.

She could see a Porsche with blacked-out windows outside driving slowly down the street. Faith knew a little about cars; tinted windows were allowed in Massachusetts only up to a point. If the windows were too dark they were illegal. This was the second car with completely blacked-out windows she had seen today. Neither one could possibly be street legal.

If it was Kakistos, it meant he could track her during the day. It meant he knew where she was. They'd follow her until dark, then corner her somewhere...

Her ribs were still stiff and though she could move her left arm a little she couldn't fight with it. She was in no condition to fight Kakistos again yet, never mind fighting him with a bunch of his goons around. And even if she was...how do you kill a vampire who can't be staked?

She needed help. Her money wouldn't last long. It was the first day of autumn and winter would come after that; it would just get colder. She had nowhere to live and she'd be down to begging or stealing eventually. She could go to Evan. She knew she could stay with him as long as she needed to.

But if Kakistos was following her he'd track her to Evan and kill him. Anyone she went to would just get themselves killed helping her...

Anyone except...

She finished her food and walked back outside. Way back in traffic she could see an SUV with blacked-out windows waiting at a light.

Faith walked up the block. The light changed and she heard the cars moving again behind her. She knew the SUV was the fourth one back. She hurried around a corner, tore a piece of iron railing from a stairway and held it down at her side, waiting. When the car followed her around the corner, Faith smashed its windshield in.

Sunlight flooded into the car, and two vampires burst into flames and turned to dust. Faith had her answer.

People were pointing. Cars were stopped in the street. She heard somebody say, "Someone find a cop!"

She dropped the iron railing and ran across the street, around the block, and then went into the Filenes store through a side entrance. It was a huge, noisy, crowded department store with six floors crammed full of stuff, and exits on every side of the building. She needed someplace she could disappear into and think for awhile. Any vampires following her would have to get out of their cars to go into the store and it was still daylight. She'd be safe there for now. She walked past the perfume counters, toward the escalators leading to the Basement discount store. She'd strategize and shop at the same time.

At least, that was the plan. She'd just picked out some clothes--a few cheap outfits that were just barely acceptable but wouldn't win her any fashion awards, and a cheap backpack to carry them all around in--when Evan ran up to her, breathless and frantic.

"Faith!" Evan said, and hugged her. "Jesus Christ! Jesus fucking Christ!"

"Hey, Ev," Faith said, ignoring the pain in her ribs that he was now making much worse.

"Didn't you see me?" he said. "I shouted to you but you just ran away! Jesus, I've been so worried about you! I went by your house to make sure you were okay and the whole place was burned to the ground! Where have you been? You couldn't call? Do you know how worried I was? Why didn't you call?"

"I...uh..." she said, not having the slightest idea how to answer him.

"That fire at the Pru last night...it's all over the news," he said. "They're saying some psychos started stabbing people and set fire to the place..."

Faith wanted to get away. She couldn't look at him. She couldn't let Evan get involved in this. He'd get hurt...

She moved away from him. He moved closer to her.

"Faith...you said Rebecca had a reservation at the Top of the Hub last night," Evan said.

Faith looked down at the floor.

Evan took her chin in his hand, and gently raised her head, and looked her in the eyes. "Was...was Rebecca there when it happened?" he said.

"She..." Faith started to say, and began to cry.

Horror dawned in Evan's eyes. He gently hugged her again, and brought her toward him.

"Faith. What happened to Rebecca?" Evan said, softly.

"I...couldn't...I couldn't stop him," Faith whispered.

"Couldn't...? Couldn't stop who?"

She leaned her head against his chest, and broke down in tears.

"I couldn't stop him!" she screamed. "I wasn't good enough, I wasn't strong enough! And now she's dead and now she's dead...she's dead, Becca's dead..."

She collapsed on the floor, crying.

Evan fell to his knees and caught her, and held her close.

"I couldn't stop him, Evan! I couldn't stop him!" she screamed again. "I'm the Slayer and I'm supposed to be able to stop them all but I wasn't good enough and now she's dead and it's my fault! It's all my fault!"

They knelt on the floor together, holding each other. People were staring. It didn't matter.

"Faith...baby...of course it's not your fault," Evan said.

"I loved her, Evan," Faith whispered. "I loved her and now she's dead."

"I'm so sorry, Faith," Evan said.

Faith nodded, looking down at the table. Evan held her hand.

She was wearing his long leather coat. He had given it to her. "It's cold, honey," he had said.

They were at the Papa Gino's on Tremont Street, a pizza place a few blocks away from Filenes, sitting in a red plastic booth, drinking Cokes and sharing a pizza that neither of them had touched.

"Faith...what's a Slayer?" Evan said.

Faith didn't say anything. She just looked down at the table.

Then she looked up at him. She wanted so badly to tell him...to tell him all of it. To share the weight with someone else...

Behind Evan, she saw the Porsche with blacked-out windows outside.

One of the windows rolled down just a crack...

Faith saw a gun sticking out of it.

Without conscious thought she pulled Evan out of the booth and dragged him to the floor with her just before the gun started firing. It made a strange, popping sound; judging by the sound alone she wouldn't have known it was a gun. It destroyed the front window and raked bullets through the room.

"Down! Everybody get down!" Faith screamed, while lying flat on top of Evan on the floor, completely covering his body with hers. Whoever was firing wasn't taking chances, pumping out enough bullets to mow down a battalion. Faith dragged Evan with her behind one of the booths, trying to get him out of the line of fire.

It was still daylight, with a bright sun. Everything Faith knew about vampires, everything Rebecca had taught her, told her that the vampires wouldn't get out of that car. They could cover themselves up and run in, but they'd be fighting at a disadvantage. All she'd have to do is kick them back outside and they'd be dust.

Faith told herself they wouldn't try to come in.

But Kakistos shouldn't have been able to survive that stake either...

The bullets seemed to go on forever, making little popping and zipping noises as they sliced through the restaurant, bludgeoning through walls, smashing through glass, ricocheting off the metal counters and the cash registers. The air was full of smoke and debris, as if the restaurant itself was in motion all around her. Faith felt her heart beating. If she lost Evan she'd have no one left. She held on tight to him. Her hands were shaking.

Evan's breathing was very rapid. Faith knew he had asthma and he was trying to suck in air, beginning to hyperventilate. She caressed his cheek.

"I'm right here, Ev," she said, softly, as the room exploded around them. "I'm right here." He opened his eyes, and looked up at her. "We're just gonna whisper now, okay?" Faith whispered. He nodded.

"Where's your inhaler?" she whispered.

"All out," he whispered. "Was...gonna pick up...one at the...drug store..."

"Okay. I'm right here, okay Ev? I'm right here, and I won't let anything happen to you. I just want you to breathe with me, okay? Just breathe. We're gonna breathe together, you and me."

She caressed his cheek, and stroked his long, dark hair, and breathed, slow and steady, normal breaths, not trying to take in too much.

"Breathe with me, Ev," she whispered.

He breathed with her. She looked in his eyes. They were big and brown, like hers.

"That's it, baby," she whispered. "That's it. Slow, steady. Slow, steady. Feel me breathing, feel my chest on top of yours, feel the air going in and out. I'm right here. I'm right here. I'm right here."

The bullets finally stopped. Faith didn't look up yet. She listened instead. Listened for the sound of someone walking in...

They breathed together, in the silence. No one moved around them, no one made a sound. There had been at least eight or nine other people there when the firing started.

A familiar scent came to Faith...and a tear came to her eye.

"That's it, baby. You're doing good. That's it. That's it..." she whispered.

Faith smelled the blood in the air, and knew she and Evan were the only ones left alive in the restaurant.

"That's it baby, we're doing it, me and you, that's it..." she whispered...

And Faith suddenly realized that she was in love with Evan. And she knew that she couldn't ever see him again, after today.

She closed her eyes, and promised herself she'd be strong. She opened them again, and looked at him.

Evan's back had been to the window. She hadn't seen any cars following them on the way to the restaurant. They must have been hanging back pretty far and that meant they wouldn't really know what Evan looked like. If she started running, right now, left the city, she'd draw them after her and he'd be safe.

She heard a car drive away.

"That's it, baby, you're doing it. You're doing it, you're doing it," Faith whispered, as Evan's breathing returned to normal.

She smiled, with tears in her eyes.

They got the hell out of there. Faith dragged Evan behind her, cutting down side streets. They stopped at a drug store and picked up Evan's inhaler, and then Faith dragged him behind her again, running in and out of stores, staying out of sight. Faith made her way back to the Public Garden, taking Evan into a little underpass under a footbridge that was hidden from the street. The sun was still bright. They'd be safe there for now. They sat on a bench together.

"Faith...those people are dead," Evan said. "We...have to go to the police."

"Do you care about me?" Faith said.

"Of course I do. What kind of question is that?"

"Then you'll do what I'm gonna ask you to do, without asking me why. You'll do it for me."

"Do what?"

"You're gonna go home. And you're not gonna say a word about this--not one word--to anyone. Not the cops, not Dan, not your parents. No one."


"Evan. Listen. This is important. You're not gonna say a word about me to anyone. You're gonna forget you ever knew me. If anyone ever asks you about Faith Lehane you have no idea who she is. You're never gonna mention my name again, to anyone."

"What? Faith...I can't..."

"You're not gonna go to Rebecca's funeral. You're never going to mention her name or that you even knew her. You'll do all this for me if you care about me. Do you care about me, Evan?"

"More than anyone in the world," he said.

Faith almost broke down, when he said that. She almost took it all back, and ran away with him.

"Then you'll do this for me," Faith said. "And..."

She was crying...she couldn't stop the tears now, no matter how hard she tried to be strong. He gently wiped them away.

"And...and you won't ask me why," she said. "You'll just go. You'll just go, right now!"

"No," Evan said...and he put his arms around her, and pulled her toward him, and kissed her.

They remained that way for a moment, on the bench, kissing each other. Then Faith pushed him away.

"Evan, we can't do this!" she pleaded, crying. "You have to go! If those guys find us they--"

"No!" he shouted. "I'll be god damned if I'm gonna...gonna just run away when you need me!"

It was all falling apart. If Evan went to the police there'd be a record, he'd be a witness, Kakistos could track him down...if Evan tried to stay with her, and Kakistos found them together...Faith felt herself starting to panic.

"No, baby no...please...please? You have to leave, you have to...I can't protect you from them! I can't...they're after me, not you...if you leave you'll be safe! Please? Please?!" Faith screamed, begging, not knowing what else to do...

Evan took her hand. "Faith...I don't know who's after you or why," he said. "But we can go to the police, I'll help you, we--"

"If you try to help me you'll get killed! The guys who are after me...they killed those people in the Pru to get to me!"

She saw it in his eyes. Saw that he believed her.

"They killed all those people in the Pru and the Papa Gino's to get to me," Faith said. "If we go to the police they'll kill them too."

"But...but the police can..." Evan began.

"I'm the Slayer, Evan. I have to do this."

"You said that before. What's...a Slayer?"

"How much do you weigh?"

"About one-eighty."

Faith got up and picked up the bench Evan was sitting on and lifted it over her head with one hand.

"Oh my fucking God!" Evan said, sitting on a bench suspended eight feet in the air, held aloft by a girl.

"The guys who shot at us are vampires," Faith said. "I have super-strength and I use it to kill them. That's my job. That's why they're after me."

He looked down at her, stunned.

"Vampires...?" he said.

"It wasn't guys with knives who killed those people last night," Faith said. "It was vampires. They ripped those people's throats out."

She put the bench down. Evan quickly stood up, as if he thought the bench might try to gallop off with him. Faith tore one of the iron legs from it and bent it into a pretzel in front of Evan's eyes.

"Jesus Christ," Evan said.

"I'm the Slayer," Faith said. "I can bench press a thousand pounds and I can punch through walls. Last night I killed most of the vamps at the Pru, but one of them kicked me out the window. I fell all the way from the top floor to the street and survived."

"Vampires," he said. "You're saying...vampires exist. This is...Jesus, this is just..." He shook his head, bewildered. "And you fell from the top of the frigging Pru and survived...?"

Faith took her stake out of her back pocket. "Know how you're always asking me why I carry a hunk of wood, and I always say it's my good luck charm?" she said. "This is a wooden stake. If you stab a vamp through the heart with it, it dies, turns to dust."

"Vampires," Evan said. "You...kill vampires."

"That's what the Slayer does," Faith said. "What the Slayer is. She's the one who keeps the vamps under control. Rebecca was my Watcher. She helped me, taught me how to fight."

"You are Wonder Woman...that's how you threw that guy across the room at The Roxy. You're Wonder Woman."

"Please. I'm way hotter than her."

"Yeah. You'd look pretty damn good in red white and blue panties."

"So do you believe me? Or do you think I'm just some crazy girl?"

"You did just lift me and the bench over your head with one hand."

"There's that."

"Vampires, huh?" he said.

"Vampires," she said.

"Are there werewolves too?"

"Maybe. Never met one."

He stood very quietly, looking at her.

"So now what?" Evan said.

"You can't come with me, Evan," Faith said. "I can't fight them and protect you at the same time. They'll kill you and...and I love you."

She started crying again.

"I love you and...and if you died I...I couldn't live with myself if you died," she said.

He hugged her. She leaned her head against his chest, just the way she had always wanted to.

"So you're just gonna...what...run?" he said.

"I have to draw them away from here, away from you," she said. "Once you're safe and I'm healed up from yesterday I'll take them down."

He rested his chin on top of her head, and ran his hand through her hair.

"Just like that, huh?" Evan said.

"Or they'll take me down," Faith said.

"So you're saying you're going on the run and I can't come with you."


"Well that fucking sucks. I want to come with you. I've got money. We'll find a place somewhere..."

"No. No, baby. You can't. I won't let you."

"Kiss me again."

She kissed him.

"For Christ's sake," Evan said. "You're the one. It was always you. I'm such a fucking idiot. We should've had so much...we should've...been together, and...I was afraid. That's why we weren't together. I was afraid. I was a fool."

"We had stuff," Faith said. "The friend stuff, hanging out? It was important to me. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

"I said I'd never do this. That I'd never let love get in the way of a friendship again. And then...I meet some vampire-slaying, super hot girl and I realize the thing I really want most in the whole world is to see her in red white and blue panties."

"Such a perv," Faith said, and laughed.

"I love you, Faith," Evan said. "You're my girl."

Faith nodded, and cried, and stayed close against him. She couldn't have him for very much longer. She'd make the most of every second.

"Do you own red white and blue panties?" he said.

They laughed.

"No, perv," Faith said. "And Wonder Woman's panties weren't red white and blue. They were blue with little white stars like the American flag. The top she wore had the red."

"She had that kinky rope too," Evan said.

"It was a magic lasso. It made bad guys tell the truth."

"And the bracelets that blocked bullets for some reason."

"I wanted to be Lynda Carter when I was a little kid. I'd like, spin around the way she did on the show when she was changing? And I'd pretend I was changing into Wonder Woman. Everyone started calling me "Spin Around Girl".

"Spin Around Girl", Evan said, laughing, and they kissed again.

The kissing became passionate. He ran his hands down her back, and up her sides, toward her breasts...her hands touched his chest, and moved down over his stomach, to his waist...

Faith pulled away.

"We...we can't, baby," she said. "We can't."

"But I love you," Evan said. "You can't leave when I just now discovered I love you. Please. Don't leave me now. Don't leave me."

She looked down, unable to meet his eyes.

"You'll die," Faith said. "You'll die if I stay with you. Don't make this harder for me. Please? Please, Evan? For me?"

He gently raised her chin, and looked her in the eyes. He hesitated.

Then he said, "We're going to see each other again, Faith."

And he kissed her, one last time...and walked away.

She ran.

By sunset she was on a Greyhound bus. She had Evan's coat, her stake, a backpack with a few changes of clothes, her ATM card, the photo of Gwen...and the knowledge that Evan was alive somewhere. It would be enough.

Looking back at the city receding into the distance, she saw the Prudential building reflecting the light of the setting sun, blood red.

She had been run out of her own territory. She had lost Rebecca. She had left the man she loved behind and she could never see him again.

She pulled Evan's coat tight around her, and curled up in it, and cried.

Then she turned her eyes forward.

She was heading west...toward the one person who could help her.

The one girl in all the world.




Buffy focused on the tai chi forms, trying to find harmony within herself.

She had been trying for more than two weeks. She hadn't managed it yet.

Her strong, lithe body taut, her breathing relaxed, she moved through the air beside him, focused on her center of gravity, her rhythm adapted to his, but still separate, still apart from him...from this man she loved: this man who had tried to kill her, and everyone else she cared about.

She watched him move, letting her discipline slip slightly; he was so graceful, so beautiful. There were times she couldn't take her eyes off him.

They exercised together every morning in his mansion. Not talking, not touching...just moving, separate from each other, yet together. Trying to achieve the same thing.

When they had really been together...when he was hers, and she was his...all they tried to do was enjoy each other. But that was before her Angel became Angelus...before her beautiful Angel became an ugly thing, a treacherous, murderous thing: a monster without a soul.

Now, they simply tried to find a moment's peace.

He was still beautiful, on the outside. Graceful, muscular, handsome, with the deepest eyes...eyes that had seen centuries. Buffy felt the familiar longing she always felt when she looked at him.

She put the thought out of her mind. She was used to repressing that part of her, now; she did it every morning, when she saw him. Every morning since he had come back...

Angelus had planned to kill Buffy and drag the world into a hell dimension. But in the end, he couldn't bring himself to kill her; he had the upper hand during the fight...but something stopped him from finishing her. His hesitation gave Buffy the chance she needed, and she defeated him.

At the last moment, his soul was restored. Angelus was gone, caged again. Her Angel had returned...too late. The hell dimension had planted its seed here. Only his blood would satisfy it...

So Buffy stabbed the man she loved through the heart, and sent him to hell, and saved the world.

A month ago he returned from that hell dimension she sent him to, like a wish that had been granted. Though he had come back feral, senseless, he had his soul. Buffy could see it, flickering in his eyes.

From his cryptic mutterings and darkly suggestive hints, she gathered he had been in that dimension for nearly a century, even though he had only been gone for three months. Time was different there. And it wasn't a place for people with souls. It had hurt him.

He was still beautiful, on the outside...but Buffy knew the wounds he took in that place ran deep. Angelus was back in his cage, but the damage he had done, the lives he had destroyed, would always be there now, in Angel's eyes.

She took care of him as he acclimated himself to the world. She brought him food: animal blood from the butcher shop. She stayed with him. He didn't say a word to her at first. She stayed anyway.

After a few days, he started trying to recover his focus, his balance. He sat very still for hours, meditating. She sat still with him. A week after that, he began the tai chi exercises.

He hadn't invited her to exercise with him. She came anyway.

On the third day of the exercises, he finally spoke directly to her. He said, "Good morning."

On the fifth day, he offered her a glass of orange juice. He didn't drink it; vampires didn't need food. He had gone to the supermarket the night before, and bought orange juice, so he could offer it to her. He had bought muffins too, and they ate a little breakfast together that morning, after their exercises. He drank his pig's blood, and she drank her orange juice and ate her muffin, in silence.

They had breakfast together every morning now. On weekdays Buffy woke up at four a.m., to spend the mornings with him before school, and they exercised and ate breakfast, and sometimes Angel would say a few words to her.

They never talked about Angelus. They never talked about their feelings, or their relationship, if he was hers or she was his, or where they would go from here. They didn't know where they were going. They took it a day at a time.

Parched, she drank him in every morning. It got her through the day.

Yesterday, they had lain in bed together for an hour after exercising. That hour got her through the school day and through the night, through slaying in the cemetery and cramming for her history test at midnight, until she woke up at four, showered, and rushed back to him. She put on a little perfume this time, the perfume she remembered he used to like.

She didn't try to touch him. She didn't initiate anything. She just smiled and said, "Hi."

He said, "Good morning."

They exercised.

They ate breakfast: orange juice and muffins and pig's blood.

He didn't touch her. He didn't look at her much. He didn't say anything.

At 7:30, she said, "I have to get to school," and walked to the door, trying not to look at him, trying not to let him see how much he had just hurt her.

"Buffy," he said.

It was the first time he had called her by her name since he came back. The name shattered her composure. Her hand shook a little, and she nervously ran it through her hair, trying to smile, trying to be in control, and failing. She could only just barely stop herself from crying. She felt the air between them, the exact distance separating them, every molecule and particle of it. The name sliced through the distance, sliced into her.

"I still love you," Angel said. "I always will."

Buffy's whole body felt like it was shaking. He came to her, and touched her cheek. Her heart beat faster.

"I don't know if I can ever love me," he said.

She took his hand.

"I'll love you for both of us," she said.

He smiled. God, how she had missed that smile.

"I like your perfume," he said.

They couldn't make love; they both knew that. It was their lovemaking that had released Angelus, that had given Angel the one moment of perfect, transcendent happiness that had activated his curse, and cost him his soul. Buffy thought that some part of him must have hated her for that, for destroying the long, slow process of redemption he had worked a century trying to achieve. But she was wrong. He could never hate her. He could only ever love her.

Even Angelus didn't hate her. He loved her too.

Which is why he had tried so desperately to destroy her...

He kissed her. The kiss crackled through her.

It was enough. It would get her through another day. Buffy smiled...

And then she remembered the photographs, in a shoebox in her closet.

She would forget them, sometimes; there were times she went days without thinking about them. But they always came back to her, eventually...they never left her for long.

She started to cry.

After three days on a bus Faith ended up at a dump of a bus station at the ass end of California, a little town on the Mexican border called Calexico, and just in the nick of time: the bus was crowded and stuffy and the other people on it had gotten pretty ripe after three days. Sometimes Slayer senses were a burden. It was almost sunset and the sun was big and golden in a bright blue cloudless sky and the day was windy and hot and felt like summer. Faith saw actual mountains in the distance when she looked around. She had never seen mountains before.

She was on a bus to Sunnydale an hour later, and that night she was sitting in a cramped little motel room that cost twenty dollars a day. She'd gone to an ATM and pulled out more money; the room was paid for a week. After a quick stop at the local McDonald's to chow down on the cheap Faith had two-hundred and fifty-five dollars in her pocket and a hundred and sixty dollars left in her savings account.

The room was lousy. A couple of rickety chairs, a tiny old TV set, a cheap little scratched-up bureau, a bed. A huge painting hung on the wall, all black and a blinding shade of orange, something about birds flying over the ocean, everything silhouetted by the giant, orange setting sun. Faith knew from all her visits to museums with Rebecca that the painting was an attempt at Expressionism. In this case, a swing and a miss. But the room was all she could afford.

She hung what clothes she had in the little closet. She set Gwen's photo on the nightstand beside the bed. In the morning she'd buy a frame for it.

Tonight, she had a Slayer to find.

Willow Rosenberg left the Magic Box with her mandrake root and salamander eyes and hurried home with all the speed and stealth she could muster through the deserted, shadow-darkened streets. She knew it was stupid of her to come alone to this part of town after dark; the Magic Box was in a dreary, squalid neighborhood of tenements and boarded-up buildings and liquor stores, with the occasional crack house sprinkled in, and although the neighborhood's low rents allowed the Magic Box to turn a profit they were more than offset by the high incidence of vampire attacks, and people steered clear of this part of town after sunset. But Willow needed those ingredients tonight; tomorrow just wouldn't do.

The dark in Sunnydale was a strange thing, Willow thought, as she watched the sky and hurried home as quickly as she could: it had a quality, an intensity to it, that darkness didn't seem to have in other places. The light from the street lamps struck out feebly against it, and was swallowed up.

And then from out of that dark came the sound Willow had been dreading...footsteps behind her.

Being the best friend of a Slayer had eliminated much (not all) of Willow's naiveté: she didn't even bother looking over her shoulder and just started running, fumbling through her handbag for her stake and cursing herself for her impatience. A good witch had to be patient, yet she hadn't even had the discipline to wait a single day for the ingredients she needed for her spell. She'd wanted results now, tonight; she didn't want to wait for the sun. She heard the footsteps behind her breaking into a run, and an acid drop of fear splashed down into her heart.

"Hey cutie, what's your hurry?" came the shrill, mocking voice from behind her. A claw dug into her arm and spun her around, and Willow saw three vampires surrounding her. They shoved her into an alley, and the one who had called to her, a small, wiry man with a shaved head and an earring and a big grin, nodded to his two friends. They all looked like they were just out of college.

"She's a pretty one," he said. "Hey Marty, you like redheads. Isn't she pretty?" He shoved Willow again, and she tripped and fell backwards into a wall.

Marty was tall and lanky and he looked like a vacuum cleaner salesman. "Absolutely," he said, whistling appreciatively. "Nice cute face, good legs, and check out those tits too. I bet there's one hell of a rack under that sweater."

"You got us all excited," the first vampire said. He nodded toward the third vampire, an overweight man with slicked-back hair and sideburns that went all the way down to his chin. "Hey Jerry," he said. "This girl got you excited?"

"Aw, yeah," Jerry said.

Willow looked around. Behind her, the alley ended in a fence that was too high for her to climb. In front of her, there was no one else on the street...there was only the all-pervading darkness, closing in. She managed to find her stake at the bottom of her handbag, and held it in front of her.

"A stake. That's cute," the first vampire said.

Marty laughed, walked up to Willow, blocked her feeble attempt to stake him, and smacked her in the face. It sent her flying back into the wall again, and her handbag and her stake clattered to the ground. Marty kicked the stake away.

"Okay, so here's the thing," the first vampire said. "Oh, hey, I'm Alan. Sorry, didn't mean to be rude. Anyway, after you suck me off, Jerry gets to fuck you first. He's sort of a nerd. He doesn't get any. We try to help him out."

Alan and Marty laughed. "Assholes," Jerry said.

"Fucking little tease. This bitch needs a beat-down," Marty said, cracking his knuckles. "And I'm just the man to hand it out. You gotta know how to handle a woman, Jerry. A bitch will take your balls if you let her."

"Get down on your knees now, girl," Alan said, smiling at Willow. "And hey, no teeth, okay?"

Willow stood there, frozen, shaking.

"I said on your fuckin' knees!" Alan shouted, and backhanded Willow in the face. It bounced her off the wall and she fell to the ground, her nose bleeding.

"That's right, man," Marty said. "Teach the bitch."

Willow put her shaking hands together, and looked up at the sky.

"Holy Mother, hear my prayer," she whispered, with tears in her eyes.

"Witch, huh?" Alan said. "Cool. I hear they give great blowjobs. Hey, Jerry, is Little Jerry standing at attention? Get ready, man."

"Let's get to it hon," Alan said, and unzipped his pants, and grabbed Willow by the hair. The other two vampires unzipped their pants and grinned.

"I got a better idea," came another voice out of the darkness. The vampires all turned...

Faith was standing at the entrance to the alley.

"And who the fuck would you be?" Alan said, and let go of Willow.

"Sweet Polly Purebread," Faith said, and smiled, showing the vampires her teeth. It had been awhile, since she'd dusted a vampire. She was restless.

"This isn't a great neighborhood to be hanging out in, Polly," Marty said, moving around to her side. "There are a lot of dangerous people out here."

"I'm selling girl scout cookies," Faith said. "Any of you guys wanna buy a box? How about you, fatso?" she said, grinning at Jerry. "You're a disgusting pig, you probably eat a lot of cookies."

"Fuck you, bitch!" Jerry shouted. "You are so fucking dead!"

"So that's a no on the cookies?" Faith said.

Jerry snarled and ran at her. Faith stepped to her right, grabbed Jerry's arm, spun him around and twisted the arm up high behind him.

"Guess you're gonna die a virgin, fatso," she said, and pulled her stake from her coat pocket and staked him through the back. Marty tried to tackle her, but Faith dodged him, grabbed his arm and flipped him over her head. He flew into Alan and they both crashed into the garbage cans lining the wall.

"Oh, and by the way? I'm the Slayer," Faith said. "Girl scouts is just like a side thing."

"You're one dead fucking crazy bitch, is what you are," Alan said.

"Dead?" Faith said. "Some day. Crazy? Could be. Bitch? Hell yeah. And do you kiss your Momma with that mouth, boy?"

Alan sprang at her. Faith planted her leg, whipped around and kicked him in the chest, sending him flying over Willow's head as Marty ran at her next. Faith grabbed Marty's arm and threw him head-first into a wall. As he struggled to stand she staked him without bothering to turn around.

"Hey, are you okay?" Faith said to Willow, and helped her up. She picked up Willow's handbag, and gave it to her.

"Um...um...yeah," Willow said. She was shaking, and she still had tears in her eyes. Faith took her hand. "It's gonna be okay," Faith said. "No one's gonna hurt you now." Willow nodded.

"Cool. Just gimme a sec here, okay?" Faith said, and stalked past her as Alan got back up.

Willow thought she knew Slayers. She was Buffy's best friend, and she had met Kendra too. But this girl was different. She seemed to enjoy it, to enjoy the killing, in a way Buffy never did...or would never admit she did. Faith had been smiling since the fight started and she was still smiling now.

"Cat got your tongue, boy?" Faith said, as Alan growled at her. "C'mon, aren't you gonna threaten me some more? Get me all scared?"

"Fuck you!" he shouted, and threw a garbage can at her. As Faith blocked it he tried to get past her.

"Right back at ya," Faith said, and punched him in the face as he ran past with a right cross that sent him spinning through the air like a top and crashing into a wall. He fell to the ground, and Faith stood over him, looking down into his eyes. Her smile was gone now.

"Get up, bitch," Faith said.

He tried to stand, and Faith kicked him in the face. Teeth went flying out of his head as he fell sprawling to the ground again, coughing up blood.

He raised himself to his knees, and stood up slowly. Faith waited.

He made one last stand, leaping at her again. He wouldn't have had a chance against Faith on his best day; now he was hurt and it made him slow. She backhanded him out of the air like she was swatting a fly.

"We're not done, boy," Faith said. "Not by a long shot." She picked him up and slammed him face-first into a wall, and held him there by the neck. She bent his left arm behind his back and broke it with a crack that echoed through the alley and made Willow shudder. The vampire screamed. Then Faith did the same thing to his right arm. He screamed again, and Faith let go of him, and he slid down the wall to the ground. He started to cry.

"Hey!" Faith shouted, and crouched down beside him and grabbed him by the throat.

"Don't you fucking cry!" she screamed at him, shoving her finger in his face. "Don't you fucking cry on me! You cry on me and I'll stomp those fucking tears right out of you." Faith got up, took a step back, and kicked the vampire in the head, roaring like a lion as she did; the kick sent the vampire flying down the alley like a football through a goalpost. He ricocheted off the back fence, landed on a dumpster, bounced off of it and fell to the ground.

Willow watched, entranced, as Faith stalked through the alley, ferocious, snarling, not hiding herself from her the way Buffy did, but naked in her rage, and completely revealed before her; this was what a Slayer was, Willow realized. What Buffy was, too...what Buffy had always been, but had never let her see. In her strength and her magnificent rage, Faith was majestic; she prowled that alley like it was hers, like an animal marking her territory and claiming everything and everyone in it for herself. Watching her was like staring straight into the sun.

Willow saw a lion, when she looked at Faith...she saw the hand of the Goddess revealed.

And Willow knew she would never see Buffy the same way again...

Faith wrenched a pipe from the wall and dragged the vampire back where Willow could see him. She stood over the vampire, holding the pipe in her hands.

"Please..." the vampire whispered.

Faith giggled.

She raised the pipe high above her head, and brought it down with devastating force across the vampire's knees. He shrieked, and Willow could hear his kneecaps break.

Faith turned to Willow. "What's your name?" she said.

"Willow," Willow said, staring down at the crippled vampire.

"I'm Faith. You know about vampires?"


Faith held out her stake. "This guy took something from you, Willow," she said. "Want it back?"

Willow looked at the stake for a long moment...and took it.

Faith grabbed the vampire by the neck and smashed him into the wall, propping him up.

Willow stood in front of him, the stake in her hand.

"Right there, Will," Faith said, pointing at the vampire's heart. "Straight through."

Willow nodded.

"So I guess you're Willow's bitch, huh, boy?" Faith said, smiling at the terrified vampire. "Funny how things work out, isn't it?"

Willow saw the fear in the vampire's eyes. She liked it.

With a scream, she staked the vampire, and he turned to dust.

Willow looked down at the pile of dust for a moment...and turned away.

She gave Faith the stake. She stood apart from Faith, looking away from her and hugging herself. Faith put her hand on her shoulder.

"You okay?" Faith said, softly.

Willow nodded. "Um, thanks doesn't, um, really cover it?" she said. "But...thanks. You saved my life."

"Hey, no problem. Vamps were right about one thing, though. Not a real good neighborhood for a gal to be taking a stroll, y'know?"

"I, um, needed some things at the store."

"Uh-huh," Faith said. She looked closely at Willow's face. "Assholes roughed you up a little, huh? Your nose is bleeding, and you got a pretty good bruise on your cheek here. But you look okay other than that. Pinch your nose and hold your head forward to stop the bleeding. I'm gonna walk you home, okay?"

Willow did what Faith told her. "I thought you were supposed to hold your head back?" she said.

"Nope. Forward," Faith said. "Trust me, I've been hit enough to know."

Willow nodded, took a tissue from her handbag, and wiped her nose. "Thanks for walking me home," Willow said. "It's...really nice of you."

"Sure," Faith said. They walked out of the alley and turned down the street. "You live around here?"

Willow giggled nervously. She was still shaky, and the thought of what would have happened to her if Faith hadn't been there made her feel panicky. She forced the thought down, buried it. She noticed Faith was watching her carefully. "That would be a big nope," she said. "I live on the non-crack house side of town. I just come out here occasionally when I'm feeling really dumb and reckless and I need stuff from the Magic Box."

"Magic Box. That like a magic store?"

"Yup. I'm sort of a witch. Or trying to be."

"Hey, cool. Always wanted to meet a witch. Can you do like, any spells?"

"I can levitate pencils. And I restored someone's soul once...let's see...I can do like this thing where I can get inside a person's head and read their thoughts? I did a love spell, but that didn't work so well. Well, actually it worked a little too well and all the girls in town went all crazy jealous and almost killed one of my friends. I'm good with locator spells. Like, if you got lost somewhere? I could totally find you if I had something of yours." Willow remembered the body she had found when she accompanied Buffy on patrol a few weeks before. A girl, about her age, drained of blood. She had been left for dead in a park and her body was decomposing. Maggots were swarming over her.

"So are you from around here?" Willow said. She noticed that Faith was constantly glancing around, looking at all the boarded-up buildings and empty lots, as if she was memorizing the layout of the neighborhood, cataloguing all the places vampires could hide.

"Nah, just got in from Boston," Faith said.

"Wow, that's pretty far. What brought you all the way out here?" Willow saw herself dead in that alley, drained of blood...lying naked by the garbage cans, with maggots swarming over her. She felt something in her stomach...like a twinge of nausea.

"I'm looking for someone," Faith said. "Y'know, most people get all freaked out when they see what I can do. But you're all kinda relaxed about it."

"What, you mean, how you're a Slayer?" Willow said. "I guess it would freak some people out, but me, not likely. My best friend's a Slayer."

Faith stopped and looked at her.

"A Slayer?" Faith said. "Buffy Summers? You know Buffy Summers?"

"Yup," Willow said. "That's her. Um, is everything okay?"

"I need to find her. There's something important I need to tell her about."

"Um...well...I think she's on patrol tonight. I think she wanted to do the cemeteries on the east side this week. She said she did the west side last week..."

"Okay, I'm new here and I got no idea where anything is. How far to all the cemeteries?"

"A few miles, but there are kinda a lot of them. We're sorta cemetery central here. There are six on the east side." Willow remembered the look on the vampire's face, when he grabbed her by the hair. The vampire knew he could make her do what he told her to do. She thought about what they would have done to her, and how she would have been powerless to stop them. The feeling had moved up from her stomach now, into her chest. It felt like a steadily increasing pressure. She tried to block the thoughts again, to bury them, but she couldn't.

She thought about the things Angelus had said to her in her mother's car the previous spring. His voice was gentle, but his hands were cold and there was nothing, not one single thing, in his eyes. She thought about small, dark spaces. She thought about being locked in.

She thought about closets.

She felt her hands shaking, and stuffed them into her pockets.

"She have a cell phone?" Willow heard Faith saying.

"A cell phone? No...no, she...but...now that you mention it, she probably should..." Willow stuttered.

"Okay, come on," Faith said, still keeping a watchful eye on Willow as she looked around. There was no one on the street. She broke the window of the nearest car, an old Chrysler LeBaron, with her fist.

"Um..." Willow said.

Faith got in, smashed the car's key mechanism and hotwired it. "Hop in," she said, as the car started.

"Um..." Willow said.

"Look," Faith said. "I'm a good girl, I don't steal cars. But I gotta find Buffy fast. There's a big bad vamp on my trail and his hobby is killing Slayers. He came after me in Boston and he said he's coming after Buffy next. Buffy needs to be warned. So can you maybe help me out here, Will?"

The thought that Buffy might be in danger was all it took. Willow got in the car. "Head straight up this street all the way to the second set of lights, then take a right," she said.

"Gotcha," Faith said, and pulled away from the curb. She watched Willow out of the corner of her eye. Willow was trying to hide her hands. They were shaking. Faith remembered what it was like to be scared; she had been scared in the Prudential building, heading up in the elevator after Kakistos kicked her out the window. She had been scared when the vampires almost killed Evan.

But when Faith watched Rebecca die...when she watched Evan walk away...she felt that cold thing in her stomach, and knew she would never be afraid again. She simply had nothing left to lose.

She knew all she would ever feel was cold...

Faith put her hand on Willow's shoulder, and smiled. "Rough night, huh?" she said. "But it's all over now, and those guys are dust. You're runnin' with a Slayer now, Will, you're safe as houses. Uh, not that I ever really understood what that means? But no one can hurt you while I'm around. Okay, Will?"

Willow nodded, and forced a small smile. The car felt confined and closed in now...like a closet. "You're really good at hotwiring cars," she said, just to be saying something. The image was stuck in her head now, and she couldn't get it out. She was naked, and he was on top of her. He was beating her, and forcing himself into her, and the other two were laughing and waiting their turn...

"Had a troubled childhood," Faith said with a grin. She kept her hand on Willow's shoulder as she drove. "But I'm a whole new girl these days, promise."

Willow couldn't move. There was no room in the car and she couldn't escape and in the alley she couldn't make him stop. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't get the image out of her head. She couldn't make him stop...

Willow started shaking. Faith pulled over and parked.

Willow felt Faith's hand on her shoulder. She could feel the strength in it, the same strength she always felt in Buffy.

She clutched at Faith's hand like a lifeline. She thought if she let go she'd be lost; she'd never find herself again.

"It's okay, Will," Faith said, and turned toward her. "I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere."

Willow's whole body shook now, and she held onto Faith's hand with all the strength she had, until finally she collapsed into Faith's arms, and cried.

"It's okay," Faith said, and hugged her.

Faith felt tears welling up in her eyes.

"I wasn't too late this time," Faith said.

Faith tried to fight them. But the tears were too strong...

"I saved you," Faith whispered, as the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I saved you."

Buffy stalked through the cemetery, all her senses reaching out. She was in her work clothes: a miniskirt, halter top, and a pair of big platform boots that were good and broken in for running. The night was silent. The only sound was the wind, rustling through the trees. Buffy made no noise whatsoever; she moved from shadow to shadow like a cat with footsteps so light and cunning they couldn't be heard. The smell of freshly-mown grass, and, faintly, pipe smoke, came to her as she sniffed the air, searching for the scent of her prey. An owl watched her, concealed high up among the leaves of a tall redwood tree behind her, staring down at her with bright, unblinking eyes. Buffy knew it was there.

She already knew there were vampires somewhere in this cemetery; she smelled them. She knew they were close. All that remained now was the game, the fun of tracking them. Sometimes she'd let a vampire run a little ahead of her, just so she could catch it and pounce, the way a wily old cat played with a mouse.

A moment later, she heard them. Two men, talking. She crouched behind a tombstone. As the moon peeked through the trees ahead of her, she saw them.

They looked older than most vampires she had fought; they appeared well into their forties. For whatever reason, most of the vampires in Sunnydale looked no older than thirty. They were sitting on tombstones in a little moonlit clearing, and arguing, apparently about the situation in Bosnia. One of them smoked a pipe, which Buffy thought was a real achievement for someone who didn't breathe.

"Interestinger and interestinger," Buffy said softly, and listened. She had a test to study for, but these two vampires made her curious: she had never seen anything like them. She let the two mice squeak, and run ahead for awhile...and she bided her time, waiting for just the right moment to pounce...

Gradually, the image went away, and Willow's panic subsided. Gradually, she stopped crying. The shaky feeling had gone and the pressure in her chest and lungs was gone now too. She didn't feel trapped anymore. She held on to Faith, curled into a ball with her head against Faith's chest, and she felt protected. Faith held her, and watched the street silently. Willow could feel Faith's heart beating against her cheek, strong and steady.

Willow didn't have to be in the alley with the vampires; she knew that now. They couldn't make her do things; they had no power over her. They were only memories, shadows. Faith had killed them. They couldn't hurt her anymore.

Willow knew she could leave the alley. So she did.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"It's cool, Will," Faith said. "You had a rough night. How you doin'?"

Willow shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Sorry? About what?" Faith said.

Willow sat up and wiped her eyes. "Just...I'm just being a stupid crybaby," she said. "I'm acting like a stupid scared little girl when we need to warn Buffy. Come on, let's go. She needs us."

"Everyone gets scared, Will," Faith said, and rubbed Willow's shoulder as she got the car back on the road. "No shame in it."

"I bet you've never been scared," Willow said.

"Sure I have. I used to get scared pretty good sometimes."

"Used to?"

Faith saw Rebecca, dying. She saw Evan, walking away.

"Yeah," Faith said.

The mice kept squeaking...

"You might not actually exist, that's all I'm saying," one of the vampires, a short, nerdy-looking man with glasses and a bald spot, said. But he was still scary in his way: he was wearing a beige Members Only jacket that made Buffy shudder. "You might not exist in nature, but only in my perception of it."

"I can't believe you're on about this again," the other one said. He was a tall man with a pot belly and a bushy beard, wearing an Irish sweater and smoking a pipe. "This is all because you can't cast a reflection anymore, isn't it? The world is what it is. Of course you have to trust your perceptions. If you don't then everything is thrown into chaos, then there's no point to anything."

"Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying."

"Then why are you even arguing with me if I might not exist?"

"Perhaps I'm not arguing with you. Perhaps I'm perceiving an argument which isn't, in fact, happening. Or perhaps I'm the one who doesn't exist, and you're merely perceiving--"

"I'm perceiving that you are a complete and utter nincompoop," Irish Sweater said.

"Yes, and once again, your penetrating insights win the day," Members Only said. "I stand humbled before your rapier wit."

"Oh for God's sake. Fine. You want an argument, here's one. Why bother living when you can't even trust that the world as you perceive it today will still be there in the morning? Why not just stake yourself and be done with it? Because you know that you can trust your perceptions, and you do. This is the world we're stuck with, and we can't escape it. Might as well settle back and make the best of it, I say. You're just bored. You're on this idealist kick now; next week you'll probably be a materialist. The problem with you is, you're always looking for a point to living, some great purpose behind it. But there is no point, there is no purpose. We're here, the world is here, and we simply have to live in it."

"And I feel obliged, once again, to point out that we're not, in actual point of fact, alive."

"A technicality. We may no longer have our souls, but to all outward appearances, by every measure that matters, we're still living, breathing--"

"We're not breathing, actually."

Irish Sweater sighed. "Fine," he said. "We're living, arguing beings--"

...And the cat decided it was time to pounce.

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't make any long-term plans if I were you," Buffy said, sitting on a tombstone right behind them now. The vampires turned and growled softly at her. "And by the way? You guys are like, the most boring vampires ever. You're PBS boring. If there was a movie about you it would be like, one of those independent dealies with subtitles, and everyone's from France? And there wouldn't even be one car chase or any explosions at all. No one wants to see that movie. Plus, free fashion tip? Sweaters and Members Only jackets and pipes? Not really screaming evil undead creature of the night. Try black leather trenchcoats, maybe a few silk shirts. And would it kill ya to use some hair gel?"

"This really isn't a good place for a young girl to be wandering around so late at night, my dear," Irish Sweater said, in what he probably thought was a threatening tone. Buffy smiled politely.

"If she was my daughter she'd be grounded," Members Only said, adjusting his glasses to get a better look at her.

"So you believe she exists now, do you?" Irish Sweater said. "Wonderful. Let's have a parade. Did you hear that, young lady? He's decided you exist. You can relax now."

"Oh, be quiet," Members Only said, and turned back to Buffy. "How old are you? Do your parents know you're here?" he said.

"What if her parents don't exist?" Irish Sweater muttered. "Won't your face be red."

"I believe I'm going to start ignoring you now," Members Only said.

"The girl can't be out of high school," Irish Sweater said, looking closely at Buffy. "Children these days. No discipline at all."

"It's the parents' fault," Members Only said, and shook his head disappointedly at Buffy. "They park them in front of the television all day and wonder why they grow up without any sense of responsibility."

"Not to mention all the violent videogames they let them play," Irish Sweater said. "And the music videos? The girls all learn to dress like harlots and sashay around like Playboy centerfolds. Just look at that skirt she's wearing!"

"Hey!" Buffy said. "There's nothing wrong with my skirt! What's wrong with my skirt?"

"It's inappropriate," Members Only said. Why, in my day--"

"Earth to old guys?" Buffy said. "Your day was a hundred years ago. Now it's my day. So let's try this again. Hi. I'm the Slayer, maybe you've heard of me? The thing is, I have a history test Monday and I really need to study, so how about we skip the bonus round and go right to Final Jeopardy." She pulled her stake from her boot. "Remember, your answers must be in the form of a question."

"A Slayer," Irish Sweater said, and snarled. "So that's why she's here."

"Yup, and now it's time for you to meet Mr. Pointy," Buffy said. "Sorry, I'm usually more quippy, but unless you guys know about Constantinople you're getting the economy package tonight."

"What about it?" Members Only said.

"What about what?" Buffy said.

"Constantinople," Irish Sweater said.

"We're professors in the philosophy department of UC Sunnydale," Members Only said. "Or at least we were, until a puerile young vampiress and her group of asinine thugs turned us."

"Okay, three things," Buffy said. "First, why would a vampire want to turn--um, no offense--a couple of old philosophy professors? Second, what does 'puerile' mean, and third, please stop saying words like 'puerile'."

"'Puerile' describes behavior that is obnoxiously immature or adolescent," Irish Sweater said. "She turned us because Henry failed her on her Intro to Ethical Theory final when she was human."

"She dropped out not long afterwards," Henry said. "And that led, through a tortuous chain of--"

"Don't say 'tortuous' either," Buffy said.

"--And that led," Henry continued, "through a complicated series of events, which she recounted to us in excruciatingly--" He looked at Buffy. She nodded. He continued. "--In excruciatingly complete detail, to Sunday becoming a vampire. So because she blamed me for her unlife, she decided to turn me in order to be revenged upon me. And Randall here happened to be engaged in a heated discussion with me at the time, and Sunday turned him too."

"Because she's a bitch," Randall said.

"And now you guys hang out in cemeteries saying 'puerile'," Buffy said.

"We stay out of sight," Randall said. "We get animal blood from the butcher shops and bring it back here."

"And we have some books, and a chessboard," Henry said. "It's a rather wretched existence, but it's tolerable."

"Why bother with animal blood?" Buffy said. "Having trouble chasing after all those pesky victims in your old age?"

"If you're implying that we would kill an innocent person to satisfy our hunger I must say I'm insulted," Randall said.

"Absolutely not," Henry said. "We've never attacked anyone and we never will."

"Never?" Buffy said. "C'mon, vamps love eating people. I have it on very good authority that people are yummy."

"Perhaps so, but nevertheless, we will abstain," Henry said. "Our blood comes from the butcher shop."

"You're telling me you've never eaten anyone," Buffy said. "Never attacked even one person."

"Never," Randall said. "Not once since that bitch turned us."

"And her name is 'Sunday'?" Buffy said. "And I thought my name was ridiculous."

"What's your name?" Randall said.

"Buffy," Buffy said.

"Yes," Henry said. "I'm afraid that is rather ridiculous."

"Now what is it you need to know about Constantinople?" Randall said.

"That vampire," Willow said, watching the dark, oddly threatening trees rush by in the wind. They were driving down the back roads, and the moon was the only light; the car's headlights carved out a fragile, tenuous path through the nearly absolute darkness of Sunnydale's night, like a rope-bridge over a bottomless chasm. "What if he's here now? What if he finds Buffy before we do?" They had already tried two cemeteries and had found no sign of Buffy yet.

"He'll be looking for me first," Faith said. "Trust me, he wants me a lot more than he wants her."

"How can you be sure?"

"I cut his dick off."

"Oh," Willow said. "Well, okey-dokey then."

The wind picked up, and blew Faith's hair around. "Damn. Think I'm having a bad hair day," she said.

Willow pulled a hairbrush out of her handbag. "Will this help?" she said.

"Got confirmation the whole windblown look's not working for me, huh?" Faith said with a grin, and blew a stray strand of long brown hair out of her eyes.

"Not so much," Willow said, giggling.

"Thanks," Faith said, and took the brush and fixed her hair, and handed it back to her. "You guys got some pretty weird weather around here. Kinda like summer and fall all rolled into one. It's warm, but then the wind starts blowing like a bastard and it suddenly gets cold."

"I know. I've always thought it was because of the Hellmouth. You know about the Hellmouth?"

"Yeah, I got the cliff notes. It's like an entrance to a hell dimension or whatever and Sunnydale's built right on top of it. So you guys got bad weirdness coming to town every once in awhile."

"Yeah. And Sunnydale always has a lot of stray magic in the air because of it too. It affects everything. So we don't just get vampires, we get giant snakes and hyena kids and people building robots in their basements."

"Sounds like a party. Guess it's lucky for me I've got a witch on my side," Faith said.

"Yup," Willow said, and smiled.

"Okay, so then the Automotive Empire sacked the place on...wait, wait, I know this...May 29th, 1453..." Buffy said, sitting on a tombstone and furrowing her brow at Randall and Henry.

"Ottoman Empire," Henry corrected her.

"Right. They sacked Constantinople because they were Muslims and they were being all empirey and they didn't like Christianity, right?" Buffy said.

"'Empirey' isn't a word. But essentially, yes, that's what happened," Randall said.

Buffy suddenly felt strange. Her whole body was tingling, like it was charged with electricity...

Faith suddenly felt strange. Her whole body was tingling, like it was charged with electricity. For a moment she didn't know what she was feeling... and then, instinctively, she understood.

"What's the closest cemetery to here?" she said.

"Blue Hills is about a mile ahead," Willow said.

"That's where she'll be," Faith said.

"And then the Ottoman Empire went on to become the only serious threat to Western European dominance over the next few centuries," Randall said.

Buffy stood up and looked around. She knew someone was coming. And it wasn't a vampire.

"And then they were finally defeated in the first world war," Henry said.

As the tingling feeling got stronger, Buffy remembered that she had felt it once before. She had felt it the first time she met Kendra.

"And the partitioning of the Empire created the modern Arab world we take for granted..." Henry said.

Buffy could sense two people moving toward her. She knew they weren't a threat. If they were she would already be crouched, prepared to fight. Instead she stood there, waiting, peering into the trees by the light of the moon.

"...And all of its attendant problems," Randall said. They were both ignoring Buffy and talking animatedly to each other. "The Arab world's animosity toward Israel has vexed us for decades now, and that isn't even taking into account the tensions between the Sunni and the Shiites..."

A familiar scent came to Buffy on the breeze. She smiled.

"Or the complexities of the Palestinian situation," Henry said. "And then of course there's the danger of America's dependence on foreign oil..."

"That's blown out of proportion," Randall said. "Within a few decades we'll be using hydrogen, or perhaps even cold fusion. Oil will be a headache for awhile longer, but an eminently manageable one."

"I completely disagree," Henry said, as Buffy walked away from them.

"This way," Faith said, marching through the cemetery. Willow had to run to keep up with her. "She's right..."

Buffy stepped out from behind a stand of trees in front of them.

"...There," Faith said.

"Buffy!" Willow said. "You'll never guess who this is!"

"She's a Slayer," Buffy said.

"Oh. You guessed," Willow said.

The moon slipped behind the trees. Two predators stood in the darkness, and faced each other.

"Buffy, you and me need to talk," Faith said. "There's all kinds of badness on the way and we...wait a minute." She cocked her head. To Willow, she seemed to be concentrating intently on something. But Buffy knew she was reaching out with all her senses...the way only a Slayer could.

"What's wrong?" Willow said.

"There are vamps here," Faith said, and pulled out her stake, and marched past Buffy.

"Fine, and yourself?" Buffy said, catching up with her. "The last Slayer was polite enough to say hello at least."

Willow scurried along behind them. "Her name's--"

"Faith," Faith said. "Sorry. After I dust these vamps we'll have some girl talk, promise."

"Faith, look," Buffy said, heading her off. "Yeah, there are a couple of vamps here, but they--"

"But what?" Faith said. "They're vamps. End of story."

"It's a little more complicated than that," Buffy said.

"No, Buffy," Faith said, and started walking again. "It really isn't."

"Wait!" Buffy said, and grabbed her arm, just as Randall and Henry came into view. She could hear Henry babbling something about the separation of powers in the Constitution.

"What's your problem?" Faith said.

"My problem is that if you'd just stay still and listen to me for a frigging second, maybe I could explain what my problem is! This is my town. Did it occur to you that maybe I know how things work here and you don't?"

"Buffy, look. I've heard about you, y'know? I've heard stories about what you've done, how you've saved the world, all that stuff. And seriously, I gotta give you mad props. And I know this is your town, I'm not tryin' to step on your toes out here or anything. But the thing is? Those are two vamps over there, and I'm a Slayer. So I'm thinkin', hey, here's a crazy idea, maybe I should just go over there and, oh, I don't know, stake 'em."

"Here's another crazy idea," Buffy said. "How about you shut up and listen."

Willow had never seen Buffy like this before. She didn't understand it. The way Buffy was looking at Faith, her body language, the tone she was taking...it was as if Buffy had decided she didn't like Faith even before Faith had started talking. "Buffy," Willow said. "How about we all just, y'know, like take a breath and relax and...?"

"They're not like regular vampires, okay?" Buffy said to Faith, like a bored teacher lecturing a recalcitrant student. She ignored Willow completely. "They don't want to hurt anyone. They said they've never attacked anyone before. They drink animal blood."

"Uh-huh," Faith said. "And since vampires are such stand-up guys, you believed them."

"Look, they're nice guys, alright?" Buffy said. "They're like these nice old college professors, and we talked and they even helped me out with my homework and..."

"They helped you with your homework?" Faith said, laughing. "You're kidding me, right?" She looked at Willow. "Hey Will, tell me she's kidding. Tell me you guys are just having some fun with the new girl."

"Um..." Willow said, growing progressively more worried. She didn't know Faith, but she knew Buffy, and she could see that she was getting angry.

"This isn't a joke!" Buffy said.

"And yet here's me, laughing," Faith said.

Buffy's hands were clenched into fists. She took a deep breath. "Look," she said. "I know this sounds stupid. But I've been a Slayer a lot longer than you, and one thing you need to learn in a hurry is that things aren't always black and white. Not all vamps are the same. These guys are philosophy professors, and they swore they've never hurt anybody, and they're really nice and they--"

"You know what?" Faith said, and laughed again. "I always figured things would be a little different in Cali, y'know? Maybe a more laid back vibe, maybe you guys all say 'groovy' or smoke dope or whatever. Gotta tell ya though, I never thought it would be this different. But right now I don't even give a shit. You've been a Slayer what, a couple years now? After all the butt you've kicked, maybe you're starting to forget how this works. So let me bring you up to speed, B. Those guys are vamps, I'm gonna dust 'em, end of discussion. Easy as one-two-three. Comprende?"

Faith turned away, and walked straight toward Randall and Henry, who were too engrossed in their argument to notice.

"Faith!" Buffy hissed, and caught up to her and grabbed her by the arm again. Faith whirled around, her control starting to slip; she was showing Buffy her teeth now.

"Buffy...!" Willow said. "What are you doing?"

"Inquiring minds want to know, Will," Faith said. "I think your friend maybe needs to check her dictionary. Look up Slayer under 'S' and vamp under 'V' and get her head on straight. Know what it says under 'V'? It says vampires are demons. Even the ones that help you with your homework."

Faith smiled again now, without warmth. "And y'know what?" she said. "I've been polite, I've tried to be cool. I mean, you're Buffy Summers, y'know? So I'm tryin' to be all West Coast, all laid back and mellow. I'm tryin', honey, I really am. So I'm gonna ask you once, okay? I'll even ask nicely. Let go of my arm. Pretty please."

Willow gently pulled Buffy's hand away from Faith's arm.

"Faith...look," Buffy said. "Not all vamps are the same! Some are..."

"Some are what?!" Faith shouted. "Cuddly and nice? Or maybe they had a tough life and you feel bad for them?" She thought of Emily, lying on the floor of the arcade at Salem Willows, crying.

"You don't have to kill them!" Buffy shouted back.

Then Faith thought of Rebecca, lying on the floor of the restaurant in the Prudential building, dead. And she felt the cold thing in her stomach.

Faith moved very close to Buffy, and looked her in the eyes. Buffy's scent came to her...she smelled pretty, like flowers. Faith smiled.

"Sure I do, honey," Faith said. "I gotta kill every last fucking one of 'em."

And she walked away.

"The whole thing is a transparent attempt by the Republican party to hijack the government. It's a shameless power grab!" Henry was shouting.

"You don't know your ass from your elbow!" Randall shouted back. "Clinton's behavior is an embarrassment to--"

A piercing whistle cut through the air, ending their discussion. They turned, and saw Faith standing at the edge of the clearing.

"Do you two windbags ever shut the fuck up?" Faith said.

Randall and Henry stood up and stared at her. Faith strolled into the clearing, twirling her stake in her hand.

"So, philosophy professors, huh?" Faith said. "I read some philosophy. Friend of mine lent me some books. She's dead now. Vamp killed her."

Randall and Henry growled. Faith smiled.

"Yeah," she said. "That's more like it, pops."

Buffy and Willow entered the clearing. Faith turned and looked at Buffy.

Buffy knew what the look meant. It was a line in the sand. She could cross it, or not. Faith was leaving it up to her.

Willow understood too. She grabbed Buffy's arm, holding her back.

Faith turned back to Randall and Henry. Her smile got even bigger as they moved around her, positioning themselves for a fight. "Bet you guys know Nietzsche, right?" she said. "I thought some of those philosophy guys my friend had me read were sorta full of shit a little, but Nietzsche was pretty interesting."

"He was sexist," Henry said.

"That was a minor point of his writings, and merely a consequence of the time he lived in. People make more of that than they should," Randall said.

"I just figured he wasn't getting any," Faith said. "He was a grumpy old bastard but he understood about power, y'know? 'Cuz in the end? It's all about power. Guy told it like it is. I was all like, you go, Frederick! Well, except the women being like cows stuff. But then he never met me. Better believe I would've changed his mind."

"And you are? Henry said.

"Supergirl," Faith snarled, and leaped straight at Henry and staked him before he could move. "Henry!" Randall screamed, as Henry turned to dust in front of him. He lashed out at Faith with his claws, but Faith was much too fast for him; she dodged him with ease and he missed by a mile.

"Faith!" Buffy shouted, as Faith spun and staked Randall through the back. He turned to dust, and the dust drifted slowly to the grass, and he was gone.

"WHAT?!" Faith screamed, glaring at Buffy.

They faced each other in the silent cemetery, their lives changed forever.

Faith had thought she would find a friend here. Someone, maybe the only person in the world, who could understand her.

In the moment Buffy had realized what that tingling sensation meant, she had rejoiced. She always knew someone else would be called after Kendra died... and now she was here, and she had thought they would be allies...

Instead, they watched each other warily, each wondering whether she had just made a new enemy.

"Nothing," Buffy said, as the dust scattered away on the wind.

Part 9

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