DISCLAIMER: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and lots of people in expensive suits. I’m not making any money here, just trying to create a happier Buffyverse for my favorite characters.
SPOILERS: Starts during the events of “Earshot,” and contains spoilers for the remainder of S3.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Second Chances
By rebelrsr



It took far too long for Buffy to meet up with Giles and Willow. Faith never stirred. As the Citroen jerked to a stop in front of her, the blonde carefully settled her bundle across the back seat. Scrambling into the crowded front seat with Willow, Buffy kept her gaze locked onto the unconscious girl behind her.

"Head for the Mansion, Giles," she ordered.

"I'm afraid her injuries might be too severe for that." The older man took a corner too sharply, and Faith moaned as she rolled across the seat.

The blonde waited until the injured girl quieted before replying. "No, Giles. We won't be able to keep her safe at the hospital. If we can get her to Angel's, the Mayor will have a bit more trouble getting to her. Angel can guard her at night. One of us can take the day shift."

Always the student, Willow piped up, "What about school?"

"Will, we have a week til we graduate. I don't think they'll fail us if we miss some classes." Buffy glanced back at Faith again. She was still out. Reaching down the link, the Slayer flinched. Lots of pain there. Frowning, Buffy considered the emotion. She didn't think all of the pain came from the other girl's injuries.

A few more minutes passed before they wheeled up to the large Mansion that Angel called home. "Will, see if Angel's in. I could use his help with Faith." They climbed out of the small car and Buffy kept her senses fully extended. Only one vampire popped on the radar. Good. She didn't think the Mayor would expect them to bring the brunette here. "Giles, I'm going to stay here tonight. Can you let Mom know what happened? I'll be by there in the morning to get ready for school."

"Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" Giles' cultured voice asked. "You seem certain that Faith is back on our side, but perhaps she is working both sides of the fence."

"We've been over this before." Buffy was impatient. "In fact, you were the one who suggested I go to Faith to get information on the Box." She glared at her former Watcher. "Why can't you trust me? She's on our side. Hell, look at her, Giles! The Mayor sent his vamps after her because she helped Will."

Giles looked down. "Yes. It does seem the logical explanation. Faith has fooled us before, though." He took off his glasses and cleaned them with a rag he pulled from his pocket. "I will stop at your house and speak with Joyce."

"Good." Buffy felt Angel approaching. "OK, Giles. Help me get her out of the car. Angel's on his way." Pushing and pulling at the brunette, they managed to get her out of the vehicle and leaning against the shorter Slayer.

"Buffy, Giles, what happened?" the tall vampire asked. He moved to pick up the injured Slayer.

"I'll explain," Buffy said. "Giles, go ahead and take Will home and talk to Mom. I'll meet you in the library before school tomorrow. We can work on a schedule for guard duty and do that research we didn't get to tonight."

"If you want, I can take the shift tomorrow," Willow offered hesitantly. "If you can get me some of the stuff on the Ascension, I'll just sit with Faith and research."

Smiling in relief, Buffy grabbed the taller girl in a crushing hug. "Thank you, thank you, thank you." She pulled away. "Great. Let's get her settled in for the night, Angel."

The vampire retreated to the courtyard entrance of his home. "Thanks again, guys. I'll see you in the morning." Buffy trotted after her boyfriend.

Faith bit back a groan and opened her eyes. Dim light stabbed at her and she dropped her lids. Peering between her lashes, the brunette Slayer saw a tangled mop of blonde resting next to her hip. Carefully, she levered herself up until she leaned against the wall behind her head. Angel's, she thought to herself. Then the person sitting beside her must be…"B?"

The blonde head snapped up and tired hazel eyes blinked sleepily. "Faith?" More life lit the eyes. "Faith!" Buffy smiled and grabbed the brunette's hand.

"B, how the hell did I get here?" Faith tried to keep the panic from her voice.

Buffy felt the panic and hurried to reassure her companion. "We found you in the alley behind the movie theatre. Some vamp was kicking the snot out of you." For some reason, the blonde Slayer didn't want the other girl to know about the connection between them.

"Yeah. He got the drop on me." Faith looked away from Buffy. Fuck. What do I do now? They have to know I ain't working for the Mayor anymore. Bitterness followed that thought. She had nowhere to go now. She'd betrayed the Scoobies and her Boss. She didn't belong in Sunnydale.

"The Mayor wasn't real happy with you helping Will, was he?" Buffy questioned gently.

Instead of answering, Faith drew back, refusing to meet the probing hazel eyes.

"Hey, come on." The blonde gently shook the hand she held. "You saved her and you got us some information."

"Yeah, well, as Red pointed out, it's too late." Faith pulled her hand away.

Buffy looked closely at the other girl. This was the longest conversation they'd ever had. Well, the longest talk that hadn't revolved around Slaying or guys. "Too late for what?"

The blonde Slayer felt the reluctance in Faith's next action. Brown eyes left off staring at the blanket and locked with hers. "Too late to be a Scooby."

She had to tread carefully. Buffy instinctively knew the other girl wasn't ready for complete forgiveness. The brunette ached with guilt. "Faith…It won't be easy." She paused, hunting for words. "I don't know how quickly the gang will be to forgive and forget. But, Will offered to come and be with you during the day tomorrow." She smiled. "And you know how much she hates to miss class."

It was the right thing to say. The scared brown eyes warmed with laughter. "Fuck, yeah. Red's kinda weird that way."

Buffy leaned back and stretched. "You feeling OK? I think you took a pretty good shot to the head."

"Doing OK, B. Bit fuzzy around the edges, but Slayer healing's on the job." The younger girl fell silent, staring moodily into space.

The older Slayer propped her chin on her hands next to Faith's legs. She wanted to know what the other girl was feeling, but it didn't seem fair to keep using the link. Yawning, Buffy looked up. "Hey, you need anything? I'm a bit hungry and can grab something for you while I'm up."

"Nah. I'm good." She was lying, and Buffy knew it. The blonde waited a long minute, but the other girl stayed silent.

"I'll be back in a few. Just call out if you need me."

"Sure." Faith seemed to pull in on herself.

Sighing, Buffy wandered off in search of a late night snack. The blonde kept a light touch on her link with the injured Slayer. Not enough to pry, but she wanted to know if Faith bolted while she was gone. Angel's kitchen was a massive space that rang with emptiness. The only part of the area in working order contained a refrigerator, a microwave, and a hot plate. The hot plate was Buffy's. Yanking open the door, Buffy peered at the various containers of blood, looking for real food. Only old take out and a bag of brown lettuce met her requirements.

She stepped back and closed the door. She 'looked' for Angel with her Slayer senses. Her boyfriend was out in the courtyard. Brooding, I'm sure she commented to herself. She followed his aura and found him, as expected, leaning against the courtyard wall, staring moodily at the moon. "Anything new up there?" she asked.

He smiled slightly. "Just the usual. How's Faith?" He pulled her in front of him and wrapped his arms around her. Leaning back against his muscled frame, the Slayer thought about the events of the past few days.

"She's coping, not well, I might add. Will said a few things at City Hall and she's depressed."

"I can talk to her if you want." His cool breath caresses Buffy's cheek and she shivered. "We were connecting before Wes showed up that night."

Without thinking about the strength of her reaction, the Slayer said, "No! I don't think Faith is really up to any heart to hearts right now," she explained, moderating her tone. She pulled out of the embrace and wandered back into the barren courtyard. "She's fragile, Angel. I don't think she can take much more."

"She made her choices, Buffy; now she has to learn to live with the consequences." Angel's offhand comment irritated the blonde.

She whirled around and glared at the demon. "Oh, for God's sake, Angel, stop with the moralistic crap. So she made some bad choices. She nearly got killed trying to make up for it. You all need to cut her some slack."

Angel stared at her without speaking. Finally, he straightened to his full height. "Buffy, you can't treat this like she just hurt your feelings or ruined your favorite blouse. She went, all on her own, to the Mayor. She chose to align herself with evil."

"We sent her there, Angel. After Finch died, we all stopped trying to help. All we did was say crap like: 'It will be OK' or 'Let's talk about it.' We never really helped her deal." Buffy paced the courtyard. "Why didn't we ever tell Wes to fuck off? Or have Willow get rid of the evidence?"

Shocked at her vehement defense of the brunette Slayer, the vampire backed off. "Maybe I should take off for a bit, do a sweep of the cemeteries." Pressing a perfunctory kiss on her cheek, he stalked away from the Mansion.

Buffy stood in the courtyard, staring after the departing vampire. Deep inside, she knew he had a valid point, but she needed to protect the younger Slayer. The emotions that bled through their link broke her heart. She shook her head at all the heavy thinking, and returned to the kitchen.

Despite Faith's refusal, the blonde knew the other girl had to be starving. She may have lost the fight in the alley, but the adrenaline from the fight probably had her hungry for any kind of food. Ignoring the empty fridge, she pawed through a couple of cabinets and found some bags of microwaveable popcorn. Praying she didn't blow the bags up with her limited culinary skills, she tossed them into the microwave and waited.

For once, her prayers were answered. Carrying the non-smoking bags carefully into the main room, Buffy hoped Faith would be cooperative. Force feeding another Slayer didn't sound like great entertainment. "Found some popcorn. There's enough for two," she announced cheerily.

She was sure Faith would make a snide comment, but her stomach growled, halting the refusal. Smirking, the blonde opened one of the bags and dropped it in the brunette's lap. "Eat up. I think I even managed to get it cooked right."

"Thanks, B." The words tumbled out, barely audible.

Before Buffy could answer, a new voice rang out. "Hello, girls. I thought I'd stop in to see how the patient is doing."



Munching on a handful of popcorn, Buffy turned to see her mother standing behind her. "Hey, Mom," she mumbled indistinctly around her mouthful.

"Good to see you listened to all those lessons in manners I taught," Joyce said, raising an eyebrow. Buffy just grinned and kept chewing. "Hello, Faith," the older Summers greeted the silent and withdrawn brunette. "How are you feeling?" She moved past her daughter and perched on the edge of the bed.

Faith picked at the blanket covering her legs before answering. "Doing OK, Mrs. S." Both blondes looked disbelieving. "Ah, yeah, well, maybe a little less than OK, but I'll be fine."

A warm chuckle brought the Dark Slayer's head up. "Buffy, why don't you go look for Angel? I want to talk with Faith alone for a minute."


"Mrs. S-"

"Really, girls, I'm not going to hurt anyone. Now," she leveled 'Mom Face' at the blonde standing protectively near the brunette, "go." She pointed at the French doors to the terrace. "I want to talk with you, too, young lady. So make sure you don't get lost on patrol with Angel."

This time, Faith laughed. "Yeah, B, don't get lost out their looking for Soul Boy." She grinned at the discomfited older Slayer, her dimples peeking out.

Buffy felt her unaccustomed happiness and relaxed enough to smile back. "I promise, Faith." The words seemed far too serious for the situation, but Buffy wanted to make sure her sister Slayer understood she meant them. "I'll be back soon."

"OK, B." The smile dimmed, and Buffy felt the other girl slipping back into depression. She hesitated, but left at the glare she received from her mother. Strained silence filled the cavernous room once the Slayer disappeared.

Joyce hesitated, seeing the defensive posture and lowered eyes. "Faith-" The brunette flinched at the sound of her name. It pushed her into Mom mode. Sliding across the bed, she pulled the reluctant girl into her arms. "Oh, Sweetie, I'm not here to yell at you or hurt you." Faith was rigid in her arms, but Joyce didn't let go. She held on tightly until her daughter's fellow Slayer began to relax.

"Buffy talked to me about Deputy Mayor Finch the other night."

Fuck. Please, please don't make me talk about that, Faith begged the older woman silently.

"I wish she'd told me sooner, Faith. I think we could have helped you deal with everything." Joyce sighed, and squeezed the brunette tighter. "Sometimes, I think my daughter and her Watcher are two of the dumbest people on the planet."

The unexpected comment drew a snort from Faith. She'd never expected Buffy's mom to be so down to earth. "Hey, I wasn't joking," Mrs. Summers commented. "Mr. Giles spends all of his time looking up demons, and my daughter, well, I love her. But she can be a little dense sometimes."

"It wasn't all their fault, Mrs. S." Despite the sick feeling in her stomach, Faith couldn't stay silent. "I wasn't much for admitting I'd screwed up. They tried to help until I spit on them once too often."

"So you admit you were part of the problem?" Joyce pressed.

Faith's jaw clenched, and her next words were forced out between her teeth, "Fuck, yeah."

"I'll ignore the language this time, young lady." A blush climbed up the young girl's face at the warning tone.

"Sorry, Mrs. S."

The elder Summers dropped her arms and simply sat next to the younger girl. "Rupert told me how you risked your life to get them information on the Mayor and the Ascension." A tear trickled down Faith's cheek. "I know that had to be hard for you. Thank you."

"Why would you ever thank me?" The words burst from Faith. "I'm the reason the Mayor even has a shot at his Ascension. I killed a demon so he could get the Box. I had a chance to destroy it, and I didn't take it." She dragged herself out of the bed, wandering slowly over to the courtyard doors.

Joyce watched the tormented girl. "True. All of it." The tears fell faster. "You did all of those things. You chose to do them."

The dark-haired Slayer put her hands on the door handles, the urge to run pushing at her. Mrs. Summers was hammering at her fragile defenses. Before she could flee, however, the next round of questions arrived.

"Would you make the same choices again? If you and Buffy were in the alley with Finch, would you still make the same decisions?"

The concept brought Faith up short. She spun around, staring at Buffy's mother. Finally, she returned to the bed and sat down. Faith showed surprising maturity when she asked, "Does it really matter? I can't change that night, or any of the stuff I've done since then."

Joyce nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry. That was a stupid question." She met the brown eyes calmly. "The gang is researching the information you got them. If they find what they need, will you help them defeat the Mayor?"

The brunette Slayer was sure her heart would stop as pain ripped through her. "I-I don't-"

The younger girl's obvious grief stopped the inquisition. "Shhh, Faith. Don't answer." She drew the brunette back into her arms, feeling tears dampen her shirt where the brunette head rested.

"It hurts so much," the broken girl whispered. "He was like my father – the father I always wanted. He loved me. I know he did."

Buffy watched her mother rock a sobbing Faith. The other Slayer's pain had drawn her back to the Mansion at a dead sprint. She'd been talking with Angel when the emotional pull came. The confused vampire now stood at her back, also watching the touching scene. Motioning silently for him to follow, the blonde Slayer backed out of the room and headed for the kitchen.

"Buffy, what the hell is going on?" he demanded as soon as they were out of earshot.

Hopping up to sit on the counter, the blonde regarded her vampire boyfriend. He looked irritated and confused. She decided to tell him part of the truth. "I noticed when I had the Aspect that I could also pick up emotions. The first time, I felt Faith's in her apartment. She was on the fence about being with the Mayor. It's why you and I were outside City Hall last night. Giles thought I should talk to her about rejoining the Scoobies."

"So that's why you kept asking me all those questions." He smiled a little, and Buffy glimpsed just a hint of smugness in his smile.

Tamping down on an angry response, the Slayer nodded. "Yeah. I didn't realize you were immune to the talent." She moved on, away from the empathy. "She really put herself out there for us. I'm worried she might do something stupid."

Black eyes regarded her seriously. "You're sure she isn't just playing both sides like the last time?" Angel remembered when the other Slayer had come to him, covered in blood, begging for his help.

"I'm very sure." Buffy knew just how much Faith wanted to be a part of the gang, and how much the younger girl was hurting right now. "It's going to take a lot of work for her to forgive herself."

The ancient vampire moved to stand between her knees. "You've really changed your tune. Just a few days ago, you wanted to kill her." He ran cold fingers down her face, caressing her lips. Maybe it was the exhaustion weighing her down, or the memory of Faith's reaction to the tall vampire, but Buffy shuddered at the touch.

Trying to smile, the Slayer moved away and got off the counter. "Yeah. It's weird. Everything changed when I could feel her emotions. She'd say the most incredibly horrible things, but underneath…" Buffy frowned. "I just can't think of her like I used to. She's vulnerable right now, Angel. I have to protect her."

"Buffy, she's a Slayer. An evil, manipulative Slayer," the vampire exploded. "Even if she's ready to try redemption, you have to be careful. She could backslide at any moment." He tried to explain how the process worked. "It isn't an easy path she's chosen, Buffy. Most people, most humans, don't make it."

It was a sobering message. The vampire rarely talked openly about his struggle to atone for his demon. "What can I do to help her?"

"Honestly? I don't really know." He thought for a minute. "When she was here the first time, before Wes showed up, she told me she had nightmares. That's a good place to start."

The blonde nodded. She hoped the younger girl would eventually trust her enough to talk about those night terrors. She felt along the link. It had been quiet for a while, and she discovered Faith was asleep. "I'm going to go talk with Mom. You should probably get some rest while I'm at school. Gonna be a long couple of days with a lot of research and guard duty."

She walked slowly into the main room of the Mansion's first floor. Joyce sat with a sleeping brunette cradled gently in her arms. The Slayer felt tears behind her eyes. The other girl desperately needed a parent's love, and her mom was the best, despite their differences of opinion. The older Summers looked up and smiled at her daughter. Gently slipping away from Faith, she walked quietly toward the other blonde.

"I don't want to leave her alone, but I'd like to talk," Joyce began.

Nervous at the serious look on her mom's face, Buffy agreed. "OK. We can step out on the terrace. We can keep an eye on her through the doors, and if she wakes up, she'll be able to see us."

"Good thinking." Joyce put an arm around the Slayer and they moved in silence outside. The sun was just beginning to slip above the horizon, and the sky was an eerie gray. Rubbing her hands up and down her arms to get warm, Mrs. Summers leaned against a stone column. The location let her watch the sleeping girl inside and enjoy the beauty of the coming day. "Buffy, I want to talk to you about Angel."

Suddenly wishing she was with Giles reading dusty books, Buffy wiped damp palms on her jeans. "OK."

"I'm worried about you two." Joyce looked intently at her daughter. The teen looked stunned, at both the topic and the adult way her mother was treating her. "I don't really have to tell you that you and Angel are from different worlds."

"No, Mom," the younger blonde agreed. "Strangely enough, that point's been made pretty often lately." The Slayer leaned against the cold stone wall, and waited for the rest.

"Honey, I'm not saying this to hurt either one of you. I just want you to think about what's been going on." Checking to make sure Faith was still in bed, Joyce pulled her daughter into her arms. "You know, when I decided it was time to have this conversation, I intended to have it with Angel." Buffy stiffened.

"Then why didn't you?"

Resting her chin on Buffy's head, Joyce thought about that question. "I think I realized when you had the Aspect, that I couldn't keep treating you like a little girl." She laughed uneasily. "You are, and always will be, my baby. But you are also the Slayer. You've had to deal with a lot; grow up fast. I want you to know I respect you, and I think you're capable of discussing this in a mature fashion."

The Slayer pulled out of the hug. "Wow." When Joyce waited for more, Buffy shrugged. "I was going for something more detailed, but, well, wow seems to cover it."

"Are you ready to talk frankly about Angel?"

"I think so, Mom. And, to be honest, I've been giving the topic a lot of thought lately." Buffy pulled her jacket closed in front and regarded the older Summers quietly. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Despite what I just said about your maturity, I don't want you to lose out on the rest of your childhood, Buffy. I'm worried about what the continued stress and world-saving will do. You're still just a girl."

Buffy sensed a theme. "And Angel's old enough to be my grandfather – a couple times over."

"I've been thinking about this a lot, dear," Joyce continued. "When I thought you might leave Sunnydale, it wasn't so bad. But," she held up a hand to stop her daughter's protests, "I realize you can't leave. Buffy, there are some tough choices ahead for you, and I was afraid you wouldn't be able to make the tough decisions." She met pain filled hazel eyes. "Are you ready to make those on your own?"



Buffy gazed into her mother's hazel eyes. "I think so, Mom." She tried a grin. "It's not going to be easy, though. Will says I've got a Romeo and Juliet thing. Kinda tough to pull out of the whole doomed love."

"Try. Hard," her mother replied dryly.

"I will. Suggestions on how to get the ball rolling?" Part of the Slayer was overwhelmed by the conversation. She'd always been close to her mother, but this felt different somehow.

Unfortunately, the older Summers shook her head. "Sorry, honey. I'm afraid my experience with brushing off two-hundred year old already dead boyfriends isn't the best."

Making a face at the older woman, Buffy replied, "You aren't going to let that go, are you?"

"No, dear, I don't think so." They shared a laugh. "You should go, honey. Mr. Giles and Willow are researching in the library. I'm sure they could use a new pair of eyes by now."

"Research. The best way to start any day." Stretching, the shorter blonde wrapped an arm around the other woman. "You're the best, Mom." At Joyce's disbelieving look, Buffy reaffirmed. "Hey, we don't always agree on stuff, but come on! How many other parents would be OK with their kid being the Slayer, dating her sworn enemy, and having friends on the lam from the cops?"

Joyce laughed. "Well, when you put it that way…" The two hugged and reentered the Mansion. In deference to the still sleeping Faith, Mrs. Summers commented in a near whisper, "I'll stay here until school's out. I have coverage at the gallery until five."

"OK. One of us will be here by then." She grimaced. "Probably me. I need to have that talk with Angel." Suddenly feeling ten again, she mumbled, "Love you, Mom," and bolted from the Mansion.

Buffy tapped her pencil on the book in front of her, mind not fully engaged in yet another session of Ascension research. Two days ago, her entire world had been focused on surviving long enough to take Angel to the Prom and graduate from high school. Survival was still high on her mental to do list, but the rest of the teenage coming of age activities no longer held much appeal.

"Any luck?" Giles enquired, emerging from his office looking tired and rumpled.

The four Scoobies gathered around the table shook their heads.

"Marvelous." He snatched off his glasses and began furiously polishing them. "The day of the Mayor's Ascension is fast approaching and we still don't know what to expect."

Xander closed his own tome with a thump. "What about those pages from the Book Faith gave Will? She risked her life for those. Don't tell us they're worthless."

Perhaps sensing how close they all were to a breakdown, Giles approached the table and sat down. "No, Xander. On the contrary. We now know the Ascension refers to the transformation of a human into a demon who is the living embodiment of an Immortal."

"Sounds pretty bad," Buffy lamented. "But, hey, at least we know more than we did yesterday." Her Watcher looked at her in disbelief. "Wow. You need some more sleep or something, Giles. You're even grumpier than usual."


The Briton's angry retort was interrupted by a shout from Willow. "I found him!" She waved at the screen of her laptop.

"Found who, Will?" Buffy moved around the table, peering over the redhead's shoulder. A grey-haired man in a striped shirt and bow tie gazed back at her. "Hey, did you dump Oz? Is this your new date for the Prom?"

Willow blushed. "No!" She looked mortified. "I'm pretty sure this is the man the Mayor wanted Faith to kill."

Buffy lost track of the conversation. Kill someone? That bastard actually wanted her to deliberately kill a human?

"How can you be sure?" Giles inquired.

"Well, I can't be completely sure, but I finally hacked the Mayor's computer system. Um, OK, I've been able to access the phone records, at least. " She grinned. "In the last week, he's called Professor Worth," a slim finger pointed to the man on the screen, "over two dozen times. I checked. The good professor is a Volcanologist."

"Intriguing." Giles stared at the screen, lost in thought.

"Hey, Will, wanna tell the rest of us why a guy who studies Vulcans is important?" Xander inquired.

Absently, Giles responded to the question. "Not Vulcans, my boy. Volcanoes. The professor studies volcanoes." Shaking himself, the Watcher patted Willow on the shoulder. "Well, done, my dear. I believe I'll pop over to his office and see if I can discover what information he has. Until then, I'd say you lot need to head to class." He gathered an armful of books and reshelved them on the way to his office.

The teens stared after him. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" Xander asked no one in particular.

"Well," Oz responded laconically, "is it really thinking? Or just acting like a typical high school student?"

"Good point." Xander got up and stretched. "Your house, Buff? I'll grab doughnuts on the way."

The Slayer nodded. "Perfect. Mom's at the Mansion with Faith, so we can take over the kitchen. Will, walk with me?"

Sensing a best friend talk in the works, the novice witch smiled at her boyfriend. "Why don't you go with Xander, Baby? I'm sure he can use a hand with the food. Get enough for Faith and Mrs. Summers and we can run them by on the way home, later." She jammed her laptop into her bag and stood up. "Ready when you are, Buffy."

"Let's motor." Buffy ignored the raised eyebrows at Faith's old saying. As the two girls snuck out of the library, the blonde grabbed her friend's hand, linking their fingers. "So, things got a bit intense with Mom this morning."

"About Faith? I'm sorry. She didn't even listen when I said I'd watch Faith. It was like-"

"Not Faith." Buffy slowed their pace, staring moodily at her shoes.

Willow tucked long red hair behind her ear and regarded her brooding friend. "Buffy? If not Faith, then who?"


"Oh." Willow regarded the Slayer hesitantly. "I thought your mom was OK with Angel?"

"Me, too." Buffy smiled sadly. "But we were wrong. She thinks he's too old; that he's all wrong for me. Basically, the normal mom objections to a boyfriend, but it's all made worse by the Slayer/vampire thing."

"But…but she's wrong, Buffy. You and Angel-"

"-shouldn't be together, Will."

Faith opened her eyes, expecting to see one of the Scoobies standing guard, but the room was empty. Her body ached, but the pain was manageable. The brunette slowly sat up. The heavy black drapes that normally covered the windows had been pulled back. Sunlight poured into the austere room. Guess Angel ain't here. She crawled out of the bed and stumbled to the French doors, peering out. The courtyard looked hard and barren in the bright light, and the Slayer squinted.

Her stomach rumbled, and Faith cursed the biggest side effect of her calling: the Hunger. She needed to eat, soon. Unfortunately, the young brunette had never been on a tour of the large home. After several false starts, her enhanced sense of smell picked up the scent of bacon frying. Nearly drooling, she hurried down halls and around corners like Bugs Bunny chasing down carrots. Despite the enticing odor, she hesitated outside the kitchen door, not sure if she was up to another Benefits of Redemption chat with Buffy's boyfriend. Finally, giving in to the demands of her stomach, she pushed open the door – and breathed a sigh of relief.

Mrs. Summers turned strips of bacon in a large skillet. "Smells good, Mrs. S."

The older woman looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Perfect timing, Faith. Have a seat, and I'll have breakfast on the table in a minute."

"Yeah." Not sure how to act, the Dark Slayer ambled over to the large table and dropped tiredly into a chair. "Um, you the only one here?"

"For the moment. Well, I think Angel's upstairs, sleeping, but I haven't seen or heard him all morning. Buffy and the rest of the gang are at school." She placed eggs, bacon, and a stack of toast on a plate before delivering the feast to her companion. "Think this will be enough, honey? I've got a little more bacon and a few eggs left."

It took all her willpower to keep from face planting in the food and answer the question. "It's more than enough." She took a bite and nearly groaned. Damn, this was good. With no regard to manners, she began shoveling the breakfast down as fast as she could. After clearing most of the plate, the teen noticed Joyce watching her in open amusement. Her muscles tightened, and the old defenses snapped into place. "Kinda surprised B and the Super Friends didn't leave me chained to the wall. After all," she bared her teeth in a mocking smile, "I might get up to more evil deeds."

"Oh, stop it. Buffy might be blonde enough to fall for that, but you don't fool me." Joyce left her position by the stove and joined Faith at the table. "Finish your breakfast before it gets cold."

Flushing, Faith stared at her plate and slowly worked her way through the remaining eggs and toast. Finally full, she leaned back in her chair and sighed. "Thanks, Mrs. S. That was way better than the bag of popcorn your daughter provided last night."

Picking up the empty plate and heading for the sink, Joyce commented, "Be glad she didn't try anything more complicated. She might have managed to burn down the Mansion." At Faith's disbelieving laugh, Joyce said, "Buffy may be a force to be reckoned with in the demon world, but put her in the kitchen, and nothing is safe." She smiled at the young girl's open merriment. "I did some exploring while you napped. There's a bathroom just down the hall. Why don't you go clean up while I make a grocery list for later?"

"Yeah. That sounds good." Faith glanced at the filthy clothes she was still wearing. "Think Fang's got anything I could borrow? I don't really want to wear these another day."

The older woman shook her head. "He might. But I don't think an all-black wardrobe will help your new image." Hazel eyes held the brunette's puzzled brown ones. "It's time to grow up, dear. It's time to stop playing at the world-wise street tough, and start being a Slayer. I stopped and picked up some jeans and shirts, along with the food, on the way here this morning. They're waiting for you in the bathroom."

"What I wear ain't got anything to do with being a Slayer," Faith fired back. She might be off her game thanks to the Mayor's boys, but she didn't have to take this crap.

"You're right. You could wear summer dresses and sandals like Buffy, and you'd still be a warrior," Joyce responded. "It matters to you, though, if you'd just admit it. The leather, the attitude – it's how you see yourself. Who taught you that anyway, Faith? Why can't you get past the 'Bad Girl' persona and let the real you out to play?"

It was just too much. Shaking with a mixture of rage, embarrassment, and grief, Faith exploded out of the chair. "Who the fuck made you my mother?"

"No one, Faith. That's the problem. You need a mother, and a father, too. People who care and won't let you just brush them off with an airy 'five by five' and a cocky smirk." Joyce moved into the Slayer's personal space, staring down at her.

Part 16

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