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.
"Whatever," Faith snarled. She backed away from Mrs. Summers, adrenaline flowing through her. "I don't have to stay and listen to this crap. I'm outta here."
The Slayer stopped and spun. "What? I know I ain't up to Scooby standards. They made that clear when I got into town. Now you want me to change my image. Fuck you."
Eyes flashing, Joyce responded, "Now, you hold on! I don't deserve that, Faith. I'm not asking you to be Buffy. God knows one of her is more than enough. I just want you to think about how you see yourself, how you want the others to see you." She took a step forward. "Look at your language, Faith, and that leather. It's fine for motorcycles and bars. But this is Southern California. It's hot all the time."
Faith didn't know what to say. No one had ever questioned what she wore. They just assumed she was flaunting herself, and they either wanted to fuck her or they treated her like white trash. "I ain't complaining. Why should you?"
"I'm not complaining. I want to understand what goes on in your head. Do you really wear the leather and the tight clothes because you like them? Or because you know what to expect from people when you do?" Joyce sat on the end of the table. "Tell me something, how would Buffy's friends react if she came to school in leather pants and a tank top?"
The conversation had gone on too long. The need to run was more than she could handle. "Don't matter, Mrs. S. I ain't B. Never have been, never will be. Tell ya what. Thanks for breakfast and everything, but I gotta motor. The Mayor and his boys'll be looking for me. Tell B I'm leaving town. She doesn't need to worry I'll be back." She turned and strode out of the room, heading for the courtyard doors.
"Don't, Faith." Joyce sprinted after her. "If you think you need to leave, fine. No one will stop you, but they need your help with the Mayor."
The brunette froze at the words. Keeping her back to the blonde, she rasped out, "I know he's evil and all, but I can't help you kill him. I gave Red the info she was looking for. The Super Friends will have to do this without me." Pushing open the French doors, Faith ran, fleeing the emotions Mrs. Summers was dragging out. She pounded through the trees surrounding the Mansion, not slowing until she reached the edge of town. Sticking close to the buildings, she started down the cracked sidewalk leading downtown.
She glanced down at her stained and torn clothing. Damn, I shoulda stayed long enough for the shower and the change of clothes. I am so going to stick out, and I don't want the Boss and his boys knowing I'm still here. The only way to blend in was to find some new clothes. That meant hitting Main Street.
Faith altered course slightly, cutting through several alleys until she stood next to the Espresso Pump. Luckily, it was early enough for most of the town's residents to be at work or school. The streets weren't empty, but she might just avoid too much attention. Faith stepped out of the alley and started walking, looking for any place that might get her what she needed. She stopped, peering inside a window display full of dresses. Well, this ain't gonna work. Movement inside caught her eye. Fuck. Queen C. Guess she would shop in a place like this. Time to definitely be moving on.
Keeping an eye out for the police or any of the Mayor's goons, she kept walking. Three stores down, she found what she was looking for - a trendy store catering to the hikers of the world. Experienced eyes scanned the storefront and the inside through the display window. Security cameras were minimal. Slayer speed should let her get in, grab a few items, and split without anyone recognizing her. She had one foot on the threshold when shattering glass and screams caught her attention.
"What!" Willow's voice rose to a shriek. "Of course you belong together. Buffy! What did your mom say?"
"She really didn't say much, Will. She just reminded me of a few things that have been wrong between Angel and me the whole time." Buffy bit her lip, feeling tears well in her eyes. "It's going to be hard, but I have to do this." She raised her head and stared at her friend. "I'm going to tell him to leave Sunnydale after the thing with the Mayor is over."
Willow didn't say much as they cut across Restfield Cemetery. When they exited its shadowed pathways, she gripped Buffy's hand hard. "Is there anything I can do?"
Leaning her head on the taller girl's shoulder, the Slayer shook her head. "No. I have to do this on my own." When Willow put an arm around her, Buffy snuggled in close. "Glad you're here, Will."
"Always, you know that." A smile warmed the light voice. "I've got the Best Friend's Handbook memorized. Taking care of said friend during a breakup is pretty high on the list, you know." She hesitated and then asked, "So what are you going to tell him?"
"I don't know, exactly. The truth. We can't work. I'm human; he's not. I mean, it's more than just not being able to go on a picnic, Will. I want a chance at a real life, and a family." Buff laughed bitterly. "Assuming the Mayor or the next demon to hit town doesn't end that dream once and for all." She halfheartedly shoved against the hacker. "Don't tell me you're going to be in the Angel camp now. I know you've never really liked him."
"Hey, don't be like that," Willow was quick to protest. "Sure, I may have had my anti-Angel moments, but as long as he made you happy, I was good with it."
"It hurts, Will," Buffy's voice wavered. "It hurts so much, but it feels right. I think, in the long run, it's the right decision."
Resting her cheek on top of Buffy's head, Willow said softly, "Yeah, I think so, too. I mean, I tried to hope for the best," she continued, "but, I'm sorry. It must be horrible. Here we are facing the end of the world, and you can't even enjoy the Prom or any of the other graduation festivities."
The Slayer stopped moving, sobs choking her. "I know. It shouldn't matter. It's just a dance, but somehow, it's all I have left." She clung to the taller girl, fighting and losing against the tears. "I feel like I can't breathe, Will."
Willow had nothing to say to that, and just held her, letting her cry. When the emotional storm started to ease, the redhead pulled away slightly. "Let's get you home, Buff. A shower and some sugary goodness will make it seem a little better, 'k?"
Sniffling and scrubbing her face with her hands, Buffy nodded. "OK." Her voice was husky from the crying. "When we get to the house, can you call Mom and check on Faith? I've been getting some stuff from her, but I can't really figure it out. It's kinda muted and confusing."
"Sure," Willow agreed. She took the small hand again and resumed their trek. When they climbed the porch steps of the Summers' house, Buffy moved away from her friend and unlocked the door.
"I'm gonna go try that shower you mentioned." She attempted a grin. "Save me one with chocolate sprinkles?"
"I'll guard it with my life," Willow declared solemnly. "I'll call Angel's, too, while I wait for the guys to get here." She wrapped Buffy in a quick, tight hug. "Don't be long or Xander will eat everything."
When she entered the kitchen thirty minutes later, Buffy knew something was wrong. Oz and Xander sat at the bar, boxes of doughnuts spread out in front of them. It must have been a big problem because the boxes still had doughnuts in them.
"Did the world end already? Cause, hey, I'm real sorry I missed it," she quipped.
Willow turned troubled eyes her way. "I talked to your Mom."
"And?" Buffy prodded.
"And Faith took off a little while ago. Mrs. Summers was heading out in her car to try and find her," the redhead continued. "I'm sorry, Buffy."
Sinking into a chair, the Slayer just nodded. Sorry didn't begin to describe how she felt. The whole screwed up spell aside, she'd known they'd beat the Mayor when Faith helped them out. Who could beat the Chosen Two? But she'd been wrong. Hell, maybe Giles had been right and the information they'd gotten had all been a trick. The emotions felt too real, though. "I have to go after her. We need her for this Ascension thing."
"It looks like she isn't in a helping frame of mind, Buff," Xander mumbled around a doughnut.
"She has to help," the Slayer said to herself. She stood up. "I'll catch you guys later. Let Giles know where I am."
Faith hesitated. It wasn't her fight. In fact, helping out just might get her killed. Another scream sounded, and the brunette sighed. Her life sucked. Sprinting toward the commotion, she noticed the window of the dress shop had been shattered. Faith jumped into the display and saw two things. Cordelia was holding a coat hanger like a weapon, and a weird-looking demon was trying to take a bite out of the former prom queen. Exiting the window near the two, Faith smiled broadly, "Looks like you got things under control. I'll just watch your back in case there's another one."
Swatting at the growling demon, the snappily dressed Cordelia muttered, "Great. I'm being attacked by some hairy dog-thing and they send out the second string. I used to be important enough for Buffy. Damn Daddy and his tax problems."
"Eh, Cor, if you want my help, you might wanna back off on the insults." Faith watched the scene for a few more seconds, but the demon was getting too close to winning the battle. Grabbing an empty dress rack, she ripped one of the bars out and swung it at the demon like a baseball bat. The impromptu club made a satisfying thunk when it hit the growling creature. It yelped, and turned on the Slayer. Faith grimaced at the nearly hairless body and misshapen ears. "Fuck, you're an ugly one." She pulled the bar back a second time, but the demon threw back its head and howled right before springing past Faith and out the window. She turned, but it traveled on all fours and was well out of sight.
Sirens sounded in the distance, and Faith started to panic. There were too many people around now, and she needed to be long gone before the police arrived. "You been keeping up on the Scooby saga, Cordy?" she asked.
"Like I hang out with those losers," Cordelia snapped back. She looked closely at Faith, seeing the worry. "But, I do know you've been helping out," she comment in a quieter tone. "What do you need?"
"Something a little less bloody to wear and a way out that's not the front." The Slayer eyed the other girl. It wasn't like her to be so accommodating.
Cordelia nodded. "Come with me." She pulled a stunned Faith through the back of the shop to the loading dock. "Most of the stuff here would draw more attention than the clothes you have, but one of the girls is going out tonight. I saw her leave a bag by the lockers." The two searched quickly and located a battered backpack. Inside, Faith found a pair of tan slacks and a silk shirt.
Stripping quickly, she donned the appropriated garments. They hung off her frame, but would pass muster if she didn't spend too much time out in the open. "Thanks, Cor," she said sincerely. "The Mayor ain't gonna be too thrilled I'm still in town. I'm thinking leaving's in my best interest."
"I think Buffy and her gang are planning on you being here." Cordelia suddenly remembered she was talking to Faith. "You need to leave. You so don't fit in here, and I don't want to be caught talking to you."
Smirking, Faith lazily checked out the statuesque brunette. "What's the matter, Prom Queen? Afraid I might be too much for your pampered ass?" She might have continued, but the sirens caught her attention. "Whatever. I gotta motor." Giving the other girl a last glare, she exited through the back door and walked calmly down the alley.
Keeping her pace slow and casual, Faith dodged puddles and piles of trash as she made her way down the alley. Her mind raced, trying to find a way out of town. Before she could mentally run through her options, she heard a shout behind her. Fuck. The cops.
Fear surged. If they caught her, she was dead. No way would the Boss let her live.
Giving up on not looking like a suspect, Faith took off. She could hear the car and the sirens following her. She needed a way out. None of the buildings had a fire escape.
Breath coming in ragged gasps, she looked wildly around as she ran. Nothing. There was nowhere to go. Even the Sunnydale PD would check the dumpsters if she just disappeared.
Wait. Lungs burning, Faith knew how to get away. The sewers. She'd been all around the city, and knew every possible access point to the city's underground tunnels. Putting on a burst of speed, she opened the gap between her and the cruiser.
Two more turns Faith grunted, dragging the heavy metal off the ground and tossing it across the alley. They'd know where she'd gone, but they'd never find her in the tunnels. She had far too much experience with the sewers. Cursing the change in clothes (most especially the shoes), she dropped into the murky liquid below and hurried toward the first offshoot.
Buffy jogged down the sidewalk before cutting back through Restfield. She needed to find Faith before she found a permanent way out of town. She was hurt. The Mayor was hunting her. Faith needed a place to hide. There were too many places to search them all. Buffy sighed. She could feel Faith, faintly, but there wasn't enough to help. Maybe She stopped next to the Johnson crypt and dropped to the ground. Resting her forehead on her knees, she reached along the link. It felt different, clogged. The emotions weren't pure or defined. Straining, Buffy thought she'd reached Faith. She let the adrenaline, fear, and fatigue wash over her. She needed more, though. Buffy let the emotions slide through her, pushing deeper, trying to discover where Faith was.
Without warning, Buffy felt herself tilt. No, she was still sitting on the ground. But she opened her eyes. The view was strange, different. It was clearly the sewers. She tried to scan the walls, but couldn't seem to turn her head.
She swallowed hard as she started moving forward. For some reason, the movement made her dizzy. Oh my God, I'm not the one moving. Faith is. Faith was in the sewers.
Ignoring the burning and itching in her eyes and the sickness that twisted her stomach every time Faith took a step, Buffy clung to the link. It was the sewer. No signs marked the connecting tunnels, and Buffy couldn't tell exactly where Faith was. Frustrated, Buffy pulled back, retreating from Faith and their link. When she opened her eyes this time, she saw the cemetery. Climbing to her feet, she sprinted for the nearest sewer entrance, an old aqueduct at the back of Restfield. Squeezing through the chain link barrier, she hurried through the dark tunnels.
She was getting closer. Buffy smiled. The link was strong again. Hurrying to catch the other Slayer, Buffy wasn't paying attention to her surroundings. A vamp lunged out of the shadows, knocking her into the brackish water. Fighting to throw him off, she rolled onto her back. That's when she saw Angel. He staked the vamp on top of her and helped her to her feet.
"Your mom said Faith took off. I thought she might be down here hiding from the Mayor," he explained as she brushed dust off her clothes.
Despite the sure knowledge that Faith was nearby, Buffy hesitated to tell her boyfriend. "Yeah, I thought that, too."
"Then what are we waiting for?" He smiled at her, holding out his hand.
Resuming her sprint through the tunnels, Buffy bypassed the outstretched hand. "You coming?" she called over her shoulder. "Not getting any closer to finding her if you keep hanging out."
It took a minute to find the link again. Faith had moved farther away. Buffy pushed harder, needing to find the other Slayer. Angel ran effortlessly at her side, his long legs easily matching her speed. The situation wasn't ideal, but They were both here and alone. Taking a deep breath, she decided to seize the moment. "Hey, Angel," she panted, "we need to talk."
Angel just looked at her impassively, pale skin leached of even more color in the sewer's dim lighting. "Right now?"
"Yes. I I just, we need to do this, and I it'll be better if the gang's not around." She hesitated, unsure how to get started.
"Buffy? What is it?" Angel grasped her hand, pulling her closer to him, but Buffy wrenched away. "Something's wrong. Buffy, tell me. Maybe I can help."
"Yeah. You'll have to help me with this one," Buffy muttered. Clearing her throat, she tried again. "Angel, I've been thinking about us about our future. And the more I do, the more I feel that us you and me together isn't really what I want." She turned her head to look at him.
For once, there was real emotion in Angel's eyes. "Buffy, is this about what the Mayor said? He just did it to rattle you. I thought you understood that." There is was. The condescension. Buffy relaxed. She could do this.
"No, Angel, it's not about the Mayor, or Giles, or Willow, or Mom, or any of the other people who have been telling me all along this was wrong. Angel, I want a family."
"But, you're the Slayer," he protested. She slid to a stop and stared at him. Since when did he sound like a Wesley clone?
"Yes, I am. And that's not going away. It's just all the more reason to want a family. I may not have a lot of time before a vamp gets the drop on me or there's a Big Bad that's really bad." Buffy smiled sadly. "I love you, Angel. I probably always will, but this isn't working. I want more." She waved her hands at the tunnels walls. "I want more than demons and darkness.
She could feel his anger, but stood her ground. He stared at her, eyes blazing.
"I love you. How can you say all this? A family? You're kidding yourself. The minute you take a human lover, he's a target for every vamp and demon in the area. Can you honestly do that to someone you say you love?"
If that someone is a Slayer. The thought came out of nowhere, stopping Buffy in her tracks. She didn't did she?
While she was distracted, Angel had gone on talking, getting more and more agitated. " who is he, Buffy? Is it Xander?"
"Is who Xander?" Buffy asked. What the hell did I miss?
"Your new boyfriend." His eyes had taken on a yellow hue. He was close to vamping out.
"B's got a new boy? Damn, didn't think she'd ever see the light. Who is the poor guy?" Faith strolled in, hands in her pockets.
"Faith!" Buffy spun around in shock. How had ? Frowning, she reached for the link. Still there; she just hadn't been paying attention.
The interference was too much for Angel. "Get out of here, Faith," he snarled, fangs and forehead plainly visible.
"Hey, Big Guy, I thought you were all for me rejoining the right side of the fight?" Buffy noticed Faith was moving slowly, strategically getting into a position to get between herself and Angel.
Now that Faith was closer, Buffy clearly sensed the brunette's dislike of Angel. She was hoping he'd move, give her a reason to stake him. Buffy couldn't let that happen. He was upset right now, but she did love him. "Angel, I think you should go," Buffy said. "I'm sorry. I wanted us to work, but it we can't."
Tossing another glance at Faith, Angel regained his human face. "Buffy, we've been through so much. I know we can find a way. I want my life to be with you."
Buffy shut down everything. Locked it all away like she was facing a big fight. Looking straight into Angel's eyes, she stated firmly, "I don't. I want to live my life, Angel. Not in here, not in the Mansion, but outside, in the sunlight. I'm sorry. I really am, but it's not working."
The rage was gone. Angel looked resigned, and moisture glistened in his eyes. "How can I stay away, Buffy? Sunnydale's a small town."
"I want you to leave after this thing with the Mayor is over."
The vampire nodded. "Where? I'm assuming you have this all thought out?"
Flinching from the bitterness in the deep voice, Buffy shook her head. "I I didn't think about it. It hurt too much."
Angel took a step back. "I came here to help you find Faith. She's here. I'm going back to the Mansion. I'll-" he broke off, turning away. "I'll stop by the library tomorrow." Without looking back, he walked away.
Faith stared at Angel as he walked away. Fuck. Am I in the Twilight Zone? Did B really tell him to leave? She risked a glance at Buffy. This was no dream. The shorter girl looked scary. She was pale, and too still, and her eyes Faith flinched at the pain there.
"Hey, you OK?" Faith asked.
Buffy didn't respond.
Clearing her throat, the younger Slayer tried again. "Um, I know this ain't a good time and all, but I kinda need to talk to the Scoobies."
"Why?" The tone was flat.
"Well, I stopped in town for a change of clothes." Faith grinned at Buffy. "See, no leather." The cold expression didn't waver. "Right. Moving on .there was this demon in one of the shops. Kinda like a cross between a man and a dog. I tagged it pretty good, but it howled and ran off."
A bitter smile broke the frozen perfection of Buffy's face. "Of course. A new demon, right on top of the Ascension."
"The information I gave Red wasn't enough?"
Buffy finally seemed to wake up a little. "We don't know how to use it. Giles is off talking to the guy you were supposed to kill, and the gang's at my place recharging for some more research."
"Why don't I head back with you, give the gang the lowdown on the new demon?" Faith hesitated, watching Buffy closely. "Once it's dark, I can hitch a ride out of town."
A single tear traced a path down Buffy's cheek. "Do you have to?"
Faith laughed. She couldn't help it. This had to be a fucking dream. Buffy asking her to stay in Sunnydale? "Think tossing out the Big Guy affected you more than I thought." Bitterness seeped into her words when she continued. "Remember me? The Slayer wanted for murder? I can't stay here, B. You and the Scoobs are better off without me." Faith began to move away. "Let's go. Sooner I drop you off, the sooner I can leave for good."
At first, Buffy didn't follow, and Faith finally stopped. Something wasn't right. Frowning, Faith watched her sister Slayer carefully. It looked like Buffy; it mostly talked like Buffy. But unease crawled through Faith. "B?" She walked back, hesitantly putting a hand on the blonde's shoulder. She staggered suddenly, her vision flickering. "What the fuck?" Faith shook her head. "Damn, that vamp musta kicked me harder than I thought."
Helping Faith stay upright, Buffy sighed. "Well, here we go. Another apocalypse and two down for the count Slayers. What do you think, Faith? Think we'd be safe putting money on the game?"
"My money's always been on you, B."
Faith's brown eyes widened. "I mean, you and the Scoobs always seem to make that last second shot." She grinned wryly. "Just really wishing you were playing a different team, though."
Buffy nodded quietly at that, starting to move toward the Restfield exit. "As usual, though, the Slayer thing manages to get in the way of our wishes." She looked over at Faith. "Why did you leave the Mansion? Mom's freaking. She's out in the car looking for you."
Unwilling to break the strange new relationship going on, Faith answered with more honesty than she was used to. "We were talking about stuff, and, well, she said some things that pissed me off."
"Yeah. Mom's good at that." Buffy glanced around the cemetery as they crawled back through the chain link fence. "She and I used get into huge arguments. I even ran away to LA that summer before you got to town."
"Red mentioned it once." In the 'before time.' Before I killed Finch. Before I went to the Mayor. Stiffening against the thoughts, Faith slouched, letting her usual swagger resume. "So, B, who's the new man in your life? Gotta say it was wicked cool the way you let Fang go."
Remembering the look in Angel's eyes as he turned away, Buffy muttered, "Yeah, cool. Like stabbing him and sending him to Hell was cool."
Faith rubbed her temple. "Damn. What's with this headache? I thought Slayer healing would be all over this concussion." She glanced at Buffy, huddled in her jacket. "Look, B, I didn't mean anything. Guess I figured the breakup was a good thing, ya know?"
"Lot of people would agree with you." Buffy smiled a little. "One of them would be me, once the whole broken heart thing goes away." She leaned her head back, soaking up the sunlight. "And, just so you know, there is no other man." Not quite sure why she'd admitted that, Buffy resumed her walk toward home. "You still planning on heading out of town tonight?"
"It's the best plan, B." Faith reached out and halfheartedly shoved Buffy. "But, ya know, I could check in every once in a while. See if you needed a night off or a hand. Not saying I'm going to disappear. Just need to hide out until things cool off."
Buffy didn't immediately respond. Head bowed, she reached along the link. How could she get Faith to stay? She bit her lip, pushing against an unseen barrier. She was unable to break through. Looks like I'm on my own again. Huddling deeper into her jacket, she flicked nervous glances at her companion.
Faith noticed the sideways glances with amusement. "B, you got something to say? Or you just admiring my new fashion sense?"
Hazel eyes shot to hers, while pink tinted her cheeks. "Please. Where did you get those anyway? Walmart? I am so thinking you should get your money back."
"Well, you weren't around, B, I had to shop all on my own." Faith bit back a grin. Damn, she'd missed this. "Guess I coulda asked Red the other night. She was looking pretty hot." The grin peeked out. "She was ready to take me on, too. You giving lessons to the Scoobs these days?"
Buffy's lips twitched. "Not so much, no." She fell silent, and Faith stared at her. Finally, the blonde muttered, "Kinda haven't been doing too much training at all. Big research parties, lots of old, musty books."
"Thought you'd put on some weight." Faith ducked, just avoiding the small hand aimed at her head. "And slow, too."
"Bitch." The insult lacked sting, the smooth voice filled with laughter.
Smirking, arm tossed over Buffy's shoulders, Faith mocked. "You know it, girlfriend." She grunted at the sharp elbow jabbing her stomach. "Damn, B," she pouted, pulling away and rubbing the spot. "You sharpen those things?"
"Just a downpayment on the ass kicking I owe you for the fat comment." Buffy tossed her ponytail over her shoulder, growing sober. "I really need you to stay, Faith."
"I know, B." Faith looked at the sidewalk, teeth clenched. "But I can't." Her vision blurred, tears threatening. Clearing her throat, she ground out, "How do you want to play this?"
A little surprised at the abrupt change of topic, Buffy glanced at Faith. "Play what?"
"Me meeting the gang." Scrubbing her hands on her pants, the brunette Slayer threw her shoulders back. "I may have given you some help and all, but I ain't in to big apologies or nothing,'"
"Ah." Buffy nodded. "That. Well, I think we walk in, say hi, call Giles and Mom, and get started with more research."
Faith snorted. "You forgetting something, B?"
"I don't think so, F," Buffy commented bitingly.
"Just remember," Faith murmured as they climbed the steps to the Summers' house, "if Red kicks my ass, it's all your fault."
Pushing the door open, Buffy waved Faith inside, laughing. "If it looks like that's happening, I'm selling tickets. I mean, Will's way changed from Fuzzy Sweater Girl, but I don't think she's in your league yet." She poked Faith in the side as they entered the kitchen. "Hey, guys. I found Faith," she announced to the trio still huddled at the counter.
"That's Faith?" Xander turned on the bar stool. "Wait. Let me guess. They ran out of clothes at Leathers 'R Us."
Sliding up next to the young man, Faith wrapped her arms around his neck and purred, "Nah, X-Man, I got these from your ex-honey. Just knew you liked the preppy look." Laughing at the dumbfounded look on his face, she let go and hopped on the counter amidst the mostly empty boxes. Choosing a doughnut at random, she munched.
Buffy gave her a wry look. "Swallow, Faith, and then fill us in." She took a seat at the kitchen table. "She got a close up look at a new demon in town." Bitter smile. "Perfect timing, as always."
"It's cool," Oz remarked. "Giles called a few minutes ago about the demon. He and Cordy are on their way with some kind of information"
"Here? You mean we don't have to go to the library?" Buffy eyed Oz. "This isn't just some almost-graduation day joke, right?"
Willow giggled. "Buffy! Oz isn't joking. Look at him. He's serious."
"No offense or anything, Red, but he's always serious." Faith swiped crumbs off her new shirt.
Bright red flooded Willow's face. "Well, no, I mean, he Sometimes, he "
"Gotcha." Faith grinned. "So Dogboy does have expressions. It's all good."
The front door slammed. "We're in here, Giles!" Buffy called out.
"I'm old and tired, but I don't look like Mr. Giles," Joyce commented wearily. Then she spotted Faith. "Well, I'm glad I spent the last two hours driving around Sunnydale. Why didn't I think that my runaway might be at home?"
Faith closely examined the dirt and blood under her nails, feeling the unhappy glare from across the kitchen. She was saved from comment when the front door slammed again. Seconds later, Giles popped his head through the door. His eyes widened at the site of the entire Scooby gang in the kitchen. "Ah, good morning." He half smiled, nervously resettling his glasses on his nose. "Cordelia brought me a video of the new demon in town. Could we perhaps watch it in the living room, Joyce?"
The question set off a mass exodus. Bodies sprawled everywhere in the Summer's living room as Xander popped a video tape into the recorder. "So, you brought this to Giles?" he asked disbelievingly, staring at Cordelia.
"Well, someone needs to do more than just stuff their face with doughnuts. Let's see, what did you have for breakfast today, Xander?" With barley a pause, Cordelia snapped her fingers and smiled condescendingly. "Oh, that's right, doughnuts."
"Yes, well, perhaps we can stay on the subject for once?" Giles tried to steer away from the building argument.
Sandwiched on the couch between Joyce and Buffy, Faith bounced her leg as the surveillance footage rolled. Peering at the grainy black and white images, she watched the demon dive through the window and attack a tuxedoed kid preening in front of a mirror minutes before Cordelia charged to his rescue. "Nice skills there, Queenie. You ever think of teaching self defense?"
"Too much chance she'd break a nail," Xander sniped.
"What is it, Giles?" Willow interrupted. "It looks really familiar."
Giles turned so he could look at the assembled group. "If I'm not mistaken, it's a Hellhound. It's particularly vicious. It's sort of a demon foot soldier, bred during the Machash Wars."
Faith chanced a look at Buffy. The blonde pressed tightly to her side gazed blankly at her knees. Jostling her a little, Faith inquired, "Don't you think you should be paying attention? Kinda hard to kill this thing if you don't have all the info."
"No." Her voice was flat. "Think I got all I need. After you've seen one hairy bringer of death, you've seen them all."
Absently rubbing her temple where the headache had suddenly reappeared, Faith kept an eye on Buffy. She saw signs of Angel withdrawal. However, she had her own problems. Dragging her gaze back to Giles, she inquired, "This thing just passing through town, or do you think someone brought it here and let it loose?"
"Like the Mayor?" Joyce's voice was soft.
Faith nodded jerkily.
"It is unlikely the creature simply appeared here. They have voracious appetites and feed on the brains of their victims. I believe we would have noticed if one had claimed any of the areas around as its hunting ground." Giles chewed thoughtfully at the earpiece of his glasses. "That does beg the question as to why it is here."
Faith fought her way off the couch and strode around behind it, hands gripping the back tightly. "I don't think it was the Mayor who brought that thing."
"Seems right up his alley to me," Willow shot back. "He's definitely about destroying all of us."
"Yeah, Red, but the Boss had major plans to use Sunnydale as his own feeding ground." Faith swallowed the sour taste in her mouth. "Why would he bring that thing here to share in the munchies?"
Everyone stared at Faith until Cordelia sprang out of her seat, waving frantically at the TV. "Look! Right there! Zoom in on that," she commanded Xander, who held the remote.
"It's a video tape," he mocked.
"So?" Cordelia exclaimed. "They do it on television all the time."
Once again halting the verbal fireworks, Willow tried to redirect things. "Cordy, did you have something you wanted us to look at?"
Pinning the shy redhead with a haughty look, Cordelia spit out, "Yes. Look!" She waved at the screen again. "Back it up." Grumbling, Xander rewound the tape until he received an imperious palm indicating he'd reached the right spot. "Right there. Pause it."
"Good Lord, what is that?" Giles moved closer.
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