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



Faith escaped the Mayor's office feeling keyed up and ready for action. Killing the demon was just what she needed to get back on track. Damn B and her rah rah speech. Got all the family I need right here. She headed for the stairs, intending to scare up a couple of the Boss's vamp bully boys to help locate the mouthless demon. Wrenching the access door open, the Slayer hesitated in the hallway. Man, if I tell these guys about the demon, they're gonna know the Boss wants something. Can't let 'em do my job. This is a test. I can't fail the Boss on this one. Stepping back, she closed the door with a thud and hurried out into the fading sunlight. There was only one place to start scouting for information – Willie's.

The trip across town was quiet. The sun was still casting enough light to keep the demon population in their lairs while the good citizens of Sunnydale were settling in for the night to avoid one of the numerous "wild dog" attacks that occurred after dark. The Slayer eyed the few straggling couples with disdain and a just a touch of envy. Kinda miss hanging out at the Bronze with the Scoobs, she thought. Of course, that made her frown. She had moved beyond those days and didn't need visions of what could have been clouding her mind. She had a job to do. That's what she needed to think about.

When she reached Willie's, the brunette took great delight in opening the door with a powerful kick. The cheap wood splintered. The few pieces that remained clung grimly to the hinges. Striding confidently into the dark bar, Faith automatically scanned the room for her prey. Unfortunately, Willie's was nearly empty. Only a trio of vamps and a lone Fyarl demon sat nursing drinks. The owner/bartender practiced an age-old tradition, polishing glasses with a rag. His eyes widened when he saw her. "Hey, if it isn't the Mayor's pet Slayer." He raised his voice on the last word and the vampires immediately headed for the back entrance. The large demon raised his glass in her direction, and made no move to flee to safety.

Hopping onto a stool at the bar, Faith propped both elbows on the scarred surface. "Thanks for the introduction," she said pleasantly. Then, leaning toward the weedy bartender, "Next time you refer to me as anyone's pet, though, I'll use your face to wipe the bar with."

"Hey, I didn't mean anything by it – really," he was quick to reassure her. "Can I get you anything?" He smiled ingratiatingly.

"Nah. I'm working tonight. Need to keep a clear head." Faith cocked her head at the man. "I'm more interested in finding a particular demon. Don't have a name, but the sketch I saw was creepier than most. No mouth." She watched carefully to see if Willie lied.

The little man put down the rag and glass he'd been holding. "Got a lot of strange looking creatures in here. But not one matching that description. Of course," he chuckled, "if it ain't got a mouth, it probably doesn't spend much time in bars."

"Got a point there, Willie," the Slayer agreed. "It's important I find this demon, though. It's got something my boss wants. So, if you could send any info my way, I'd be real appreciative."

"That's nice to know," the bartender replied. "But I'm looking for a bit more than your good will."

The Slayer nodded and reached across the bar to pick up a glass. "Well, I guess I could be persuaded to pay up." She heaved the glass at the row of bottles behind the bar. "Consider this my down payment," she said as the bits of glass and liquid filled the air. Hopping off the stool, her dimples deepened as she smiled. "I'll wait to hear from you, Willie." Flicking her hair over her shoulder, she strode from the bar.

Several hours later, Faith was cursing her decision not to ask for more help searching for the demon. She's combed every inch of Sunnydale looking, but had only managed to discover a vampire lair and some funky green demon that spit slime at her. Scowling, she headed for Willie's in the hope he'd gotten some information for her. The door to the tiny bar had been replaced, and the Slayer gave it a pass this time. She opened the door without violence and walked inside. More denizens of the night filled the area now that full dark had fallen. Ignoring the startled looks from tables of vampires and other assorted creatures, Faith strolled up to the bar. "Hey, Willie. Wanted to see if you had anything for me."

To her surprise, the little man nodded. "Funny. You aren't the only one asking questions about the demon. Angel was in a little bit ago. He's on the prowl, too. I'll give you the same information. Rumor says this particular weirdo has digs in one of the big crypts in Crest Hill."

"Angel, huh?" the girl commented. "How long ago was Soul Boy in here?"

The bartender shrugged. "Not very, maybe ten or fifteen minutes."

"Cool. Thanks, Willie." Moving with Slayer speed, Faith sprinted from the bar, hoping she could catch Buffy's boyfriend before he found her demon. Crest Hill Cemetery wasn't far. In minutes, Faith had reached its gates. She stopped, pulling on leather gloves and making sure her jacket sleeves kept her skin completely covered. She stood there, listening intently and reaching out with her senses. If Angel was here, she couldn't tell. Concentrating on moving silently, the Dark Slayer headed for the first crypt. Methodically making her way through the graves and larger tombs, Faith continued searching. She was getting frustrated. She'd been at this for hours; now, it looked as though her only lead was a dead end.

Grudgingly, she decided to make one more circuit through the cemetery. Picking up her pace, she trotted passed a row of headstones and down the short flight of stairs into the biggest of the crypts. Panting with the effort of opening the heavy stone door, she wasn't prepared for the sight of the demon standing in the center of the cluttered chamber. "Hell, you're even uglier in person," she quipped at the tall, milky white demon. She reached back and yanked the knife – a gift from the Mayor – out of its sheath. "My Boss said to say 'Hi,'" she continued, stalking forward.

Buffy stared at her mother in disbelief. "Angel? Angel's going to help?" Wow. He must really feel guilty about the thing with Faith.

"Yes. Rupert and Xander went to talk to him. He's out now, looking for the demon." Joyce stood up and turned to leave. "You try to get some more rest."

"Mom, can you maybe stay a bit?" Buffy asked hesitantly.

Joyce looked concerned when she faced her daughter. "Buffy, I don't want to make things worse. You look much better than when you were downstairs."

It was true. The distance from the Scoobies and the lateness of the hour meant not many people were out. The shriek of voices had faded to an annoying but still painful murmur. "It is better, without everyone around. But, I really need to talk, if you don't mind."

"About that night with Rupert, dear, I really-" the older blonde began.

"No! A world of no, Mom. I really don't want to talk about that like ever," Buffy assured her mother. "I want to talk about Faith."

Mrs. Summers was surprised. "Why? Did something happen while you were there? She seemed very concerned and helpful when I picked you up earlier."

"See, that's the problem. Faith – concerned and helpful – not really a normal combination," the Slayer tried to explain. Her mother just raised an eyebrow and waited for more. "Um, there's been a lot going on lately you don't know about."

Why, Buffy, I'm so stunned. You mean you haven't been telling me everything? Like that's anything new.

Responding to the thought, the younger Summers started to apologize. "I'm sorry, Mom. I don't mean to hide things from you."

"Let it go, Buffy. Now isn't the time." Her mother shrugged. "Feeling in the dark is something I should be used to by now. Tell me about Faith, though. If you asked to talk to me, it must be important."

"Yeah, I think it might be. When Giles and I first figured out what Aspect I'd gotten, it seemed like a really useful thing. I could read an enemy's thoughts and know what he was going to do before it happened. So, I decided to try it out on Faith. I was planning on getting her to think about the Mayor and the Ascension. I could read her thoughts and go back and tell Giles and the gang what's really going to happen." Buffy's eyes widened at the conclusion of her speech. Her mom didn't know about any of this.

Frustration clear in her tone, Joyce ground out between clenched teeth, "I'm not going to ask what the Mayor of Sunnydale has to do with any or this or beg you to tell me about this Ascension. However, you will explain why you treated Faith like an enemy."

"Because she is, Mom," Buffy exclaimed. Then she paused. "OK, I thought she was, until I visited her at the apartment. Mom, Faith's done a lot of bad stuff recently and it's a really long story." Oh, yeah, and by the way, Mom, I was part of a lot of it. "Can I just skip those details for now and tell you about today?"

There was an ominous silence from the stern blonde at her side. "OK, I'll take that as a no," Buffy said quietly. She quickly launched into a grossly abbreviated version of the night Allan Finch died. "I felt horrible for her, Mom. It was an accident. We thought he was a vampire and I was the one who tossed him at her. When we finally realized he was human, it was too late." Her voice caught. "He was dead."

"Buffy! Why didn't you tell me?" Joyce was too stunned to even be angry about the communication breakdown.

Looking ashamed, the Slayer went on. "At first, Faith and I agreed not to tell anyone. Then it was all over the news and I couldn't hide it anymore. I talked with Giles and Willow. Faith, though, went into full denial. She told Giles I was the one who killed Finch, and when I confronted her later, she brushed it off, claimed she didn't care."

Gently grasping Buffy's hand, the older Summers asked, "I take it you think she lied."

"Yeah. Faith's a little rough around the edges, but I always thought her heart was in the right place." The teen gripped her mother's hand tightly. "Giles and I agreed to keep the whole thing from the Council; they have fairly barbaric ideas on 'punishment.' I don't know all of the details; a lot happened in a hurry, though. Angel captured Faith and was making progress getting her to admit to everything and agree to work with him. Unfortunately, my brand new Watcher found out what happened. That's when he and a Council retrieval team went after Faith."

"Probably not the best way to convince her that you were on her side," Joyce commented.

"No. She was all set to run, after that. I talked her into staying; at least, I thought I had." Buffy shrugged. "Turns out she went to the Mayor and offered to play double agent. We didn't suspect anything until she tried to bring Angelus back. Been open war since then."

Tilting her head questioningly, Joyce asked, "What happened today that made you think Faith wasn't happy with her choice?"

"Her thoughts, partly. I was fishing for information, asking about the Mayor and mentioning the Ascension. The Aspect wasn't working on overdrive, yet, so I was only getting thoughts here and there. She kept worrying about what the Mayor would say if he found out I was there, like she was more afraid of him than committed to the cause."

The Slayer stopped and took a slow breath. Giles was coming up the stairs and the added pressure of his thoughts jarred the temporary balance she'd forged in her mind. Seconds later, the ex-Watcher entered the room. He seemed surprised to find the Summers women huddled together. "Buffy, my dear, is everything alright?"

"Yeah, Giles, just having a little chat with Mom," Buffy replied.

"Are you sure you're up to that?" he questioned, moving further into the room and taking a seat on her desk chair.

The Slayer smiled at the concern in his voice. "Yeah. I'm good. I was telling Mom that I picked up some thought and feelings from Faith that make me think we might be able to get her back on the team."

"Really?" Giles sat forward in the chair. "Are you certain?"

"Rupert, let her finish telling us about Faith," Joyce interrupted.

"Oh, well, yes. Of course," the older man mumbled.

"God, you guys, get a room, please," Buffy pleaded at the thoughts streaking into her mind. "If you can just focus on what I'm saying, maybe we can help Faith and find a way to beat the Mayor." She waited for a response but didn't get one, at least not verbally. Glaring at her audience, she continued, "Faith was kind of all over the place. Angry one minute, scared the next. If I hadn't been able to read her thoughts and feel her emotions, I…"

"Buffy, you shouldn't have been able to feel her emotions. Empathy isn't part of the Aspect," Giles interjected.



Buffy stared at Giles in disbelief. "What? How can it not be part of the Aspect?" Panic coursed through her before a thought calmed her. "Oh. So, maybe it's part of the Slayer bond thingie."

"Well, I suppose that could explain it," the ex-Watcher announced slowly. "However, you've never noticed it before."

Buffy could hear his thoughts as they raced in circles, trying to find something soothing to say. "Hey, let's worry about this one later, OK? I mean, unlike the thought sensing ability, this one doesn't seem too terrible. And, Faith is the only one I can feel." Thank, God. I don't even want to imagine picking up Mom's and Giles' emotions about the night they slept together. Just listening to their thoughts is freaky enough.

The older man sat back in the chair. "Indeed. I apologize for getting sidetracked. I believe you mentioned having doubts about Faith's allegiances."

"Um, yeah, if that means I thought she might want to play for the Scoobies again." Buffy saw Giles wince at her phrasing. "I remember once, when we were talking about our not liking to do research, she felt, I don't know, kind of mad and sad at the same time. It made me think she wasn't sure if she wanted to stay with the Mayor. So I asked her if she was happy working for the Big Bad. She made her usual tough girl comment, but she was thinking if things had happened differently last year, she'd still be one of us."

Giles looked pained at Buffy's statement. "I wonder…" He took his glasses of, absently chewing on the earpiece. "As much as we might wish otherwise, I'm afraid we can't focus our attention on bringing Faith back into the fold. Although, if your instincts are correct, she might be willing to provide information on the Ascension."

"That's just it, Giles. I felt her need to be part of a family. If we hadn't been so busy treating her like a tool – a cheap tool – she would have been happy in our little messed up group. But she's with the Mayor now. He's her family. Even if she's scared of him or of what he's going to be, he's her family." The Slayer fell silent as voices surged through her. The fragile barrier holding back the waves of sound crumbled. Moaning, she grabbed her head, rocking in an attempt to alleviate the agony.

Joyce, still sitting next to her daughter, turned anguished eyes to Giles. "How long ago did Angel leave?"

Holding the knife lightly in her right hand, arm away from her body, Faith watched the demon carefully. It was easily over six feet tall, its small red eyes sunken into its face. The doorway wasn't a great place for a knife fight. The Slayer began a slow, sliding movement to her left, trying to get into the crypt's antechamber. Adrenaline surged, sharpening her Slayer senses. Gaining a little space, Faith went on the offensive. Feinting left, she brought her right leg in, sweeping low. The demon anticipated the move, though, lightly jumping over the leg sweep. Landing on the ground, it leveled a blow at the Slayer with frightening speed. Faith felt bones crunch when it made contact and her grunt echoed in the stone chamber.

Bending over the blow to lessen some of the impact, the brunette grasped the offending fist and dropped backward. Her feet came up, catching the demon in the stomach, tossing it into the wall behind her. When its body made contact, the wall cracked, stone chips and dust wafting into the air. Faith ignored the shooting pain from each breath and movement. Tossing the knife into her other hand, she moved toward the groggy demon. Grabbing it by the throat with her free hand, she picked it up and pressed it against the wall. The Mayor's knife slid easily into the captive's neck, a thin line of white ichor oozed from the shallow cut. Silently congratulating herself on having the foresight to wear gloves, Faith applied more pressure to the blade. It sank deeper, the trickle increasing to a steady stream.

Poised for the kill, the Slayer paused. An image of Buffy in her apartment blocked her sight of the demon.

Hands linked together, Faith pressed into the smaller, blonde girl. She could smell the vanilla body wash and shampoo the other Slayer had used that morning. Buffy's hazel eyes looked at her, at the press of their bodies, but she didn't move away. Instead, she said, "I'm offering you a spot on the winning team. Good friends. More chances to slay together. This is a chance to do what we were born to do, Faith. Slay demons, protect people from the Bad Guys."

The knife moved a fraction from the demon's throat, the hand holding the blade shaking ever so slightly. Fuck. What the hell am I thinking? The Mayor wants this thing's heart. Just need to close the deal here if B'll get outta my head. Gritting her teeth against the fiery pain from her broken ribs, Faith tightened her grip on the demon's neck, tilting the head back farther. Banishing the memory of Buffy's visit from her thoughts, she slashed the sharp blade through the white flesh.

Staggering under the dead weight, the Slayer dragged the carcass into the middle of the room. Time for a little organ donation, pal, she thought. Pressing the tip of the blade against the demon's chest, she drew it expertly down the middle of its body. She began a second cut, but stopped abruptly. Her Slayer senses pinpointed a vampire entering the crypt. Easing away from the body with slow deliberate movements, Faith shifted her grip on the knife.

"It wasn't a very exciting fight, Faith. I missed all those little quips of yours and the flashy moves. What's the matter, losing your love for the job?" The unexpectedly familiar voice taunted from behind her.

"Fuck you, Angel. Still doing the Scooby's dirty work?" She turned slightly so she could see the tall vampire. "I hate to break it to you, but you're too late to save your girlfriend. The demon's mine."

Angel glided into the room. "Seems to me, you haven't gotten the prize yet. Why don't you go tell your Boss you lost the fight. I'll take the heart back to Buffy, and nobody has to know you aren't the bad ass you pretend to be."

Faith snarled at the final comment. "What is it with you, Soul Boy? Think just because you feel the need for redemption the rest of us have to fall in line, too? It's not going to happen, got it?" She stood watching for any sign he was going to attack.

It didn't seem Angel was interested in fighting. He put his hands in the pockets of his leather coat and dimply watched the angry teen. "Still afraid to do what's right? Or is it admitting you made a mistake that keeps you on the wrong side of the fight?"

The question jarred the Slayer. Buffy's visit had planted a tiny seed of doubt in her mind and heart over her allegiance with the Mayor. Now, Angel threatened to water the seedling that had already begun to sprout. The two centuries-old demon smiled slightly, noticing the delay in Faith's answer. "Come on, Faith. Drop the act. You may hate Buffy; although, I doubt that. But hate is a long way from being a murderer. Give me the heart. Without it, Buffy will die."

The Dark Slayer stepped away from the demon's body. He was getting to her, just as he had in the Manor after Allan Finch's death. "Nice try, Angel. You must have missed the memo, though. I'm already a murderer."

"Finch was an accident. You know; I know it; Buffy knows it." The vampire tilted his head, considering the teen before him. "Stop clinging to the image of the Mayor as a surrogate father, and do the right thing." Angel knew he'd miscalculated with the last statement. Faith's eyes went cold and the trademark smirk appeared.

"Almost had me, there. Guess I just don't learn, huh?" the whisky-rough voice purred seductively. "So, Big A, what are you going to do to stop me from taking this heart and leaving sweet Buffy to her fate?"

Anger overrode the knowledge that the young girl was pushing his buttons. Vamping out, he charged the Slayer. Faith sidestepped the rush, but just barely. Pivoting, she brought the knife down, but the thick leather of the vampire's coat deflected the blow. The two faced each other across the dead demon. The time for talk was over. In silent agreement, Slayer and vampire moved away from the body and began to circle, each waiting for an opening. The younger brunette knew she had to end the fight quickly. The ribs broken early on against the demon burned with every breath and limited her movement. Counting on greater size and strength, Angel moved in with a quick right. As the teen dodged, he followed with a series of kicks and punches, driving her across the room.

For her part, the Slayer worked to avoid, rather than block, the powerful blows. She slipped past a hard right hook, dancing inside the vampire's defenses. A sharp, hard punch doubled Angel over and Faith was waiting with a raised knee. A satisfying liquid crunch indicated a broken nose. Shoving hard, the teen threw the large vampire across the spacious crypt. He landed hard but rolled to his feet. The blood spewing from his nose brought the girl up short.

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

Faith's sudden lack of motion startled the bleeding vampire, but didn't stop him from lashing out with a booted foot. He connected with already broken ribs, and the Slayer dropped to the floor, gasping. He left her there, not concerned with finishing the fight permanently. Instead, Angel pulled a slim poniard from a wrist sheath and headed for the prone demon. Finding the incision Faith had begun, the vampire quickly finished the job. Dropping the poniard onto the stone floor, he used both hands to wrench open the demon's chest cavity. Sparing a glance for the teen, Angel noticed she had regained her footing; although, she was swaying badly. Holding one hand to her damaged ribs, the Slayer still seemed determined to keep him from taking the heart. Whatever the girl thought, Angel knew she posed no threat in her current condition. Dismissing her, he turned back to his task. Reaching into the demon's chest, he grasped the still heart in his hand and sliced through the blood vessels and muscles holding the organ in place. With prize literally in hand, Angel brushed past the injured Slayer, running for the Summers' home.

Giles and Joyce stood in the hallway, peering in at Buffy. The blonde girl tossed and turned, begging in broken moans for the thoughts to cease.

"I can't stand this. I keep wondering if I'm hurting her with my thoughts," Joyce said, glancing back at the ex-Watcher.

The Englishman stood just behind the older Summers, head lowered, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. "You're not," he answered. "She can't pick one thought out of the…" He hesitated, searching for words. "Out of the din," he finished. He was about to go on, when a frantic knock sounded at the door. Both adults rushed down the stairs.

The Scooby gang waited at the bottom, looking for some signal that it was OK to let visitor in. Not bothering to say anything, Giles brushed past Willow and Oz, wrenching open the door. Angel stumbled in, hands filled with the demon's heart. Xander made a choking sound and rushed from the room at the gruesome sight. "I've got it," the vampire said unnecessarily.

Motioning the demon into the dining room, Giles and Willow gathered supplies. Mixing ingredients in a shallow wooden bowl, the older man held his creation out to the young witch. The redhead chanted and waved her hands over the offering. A brief flash of light exploded from the bowl followed by billowing smoke. "OK, Angel, carve the heart into pieces," the ex-Watcher ordered. As the vampire began his grisly task, Giles dumped the contents of the still smoldering bowl into a beaker containing a thick blue liquid. Swirling the contents, he waited impatiently for Angel.

Scooping up the heart pieces, the vampire dropped them into the beaker. As soon as the organ fragments hit the liquid, the blue darkened and light glittered the fluid. After several seconds, the volatile mixture seemed to stabilize. "That's it," Giles announced. He raced up the stairs with the rest of the gang trailing behind. Once inside Buffy's room, Joyce sat on the bed, pulling her daughter into a semi-seated position. The older man forced the beaker to the twitching girl's mouth, liquid trickling over her lips and down her chin. Some must have gotten passed the closed lips, though, because the Slayer coughed and choked. More liquid rushed into her open mouth. The beaker swiftly emptied and the young girl stopped fighting Joyce's hold. Hazel eyes scanned the room before slowly closing again. Buffy's breathing evened out as she dropped into sleep.

Faith staggered through downtown Sunnydale. The fight with Angel had ended hours ago, but the Slayer was just now getting close to home. Her ribs needed professional attention, but the teen continued in the opposite direction from Sunnydale General. She crossed Main Street in the middle of block, focused so intently on reaching her apartment that she missed the tingling of her Slayer senses. Cold, inhuman eyes watched her slow progress. Speaking into a cell phone, the watcher said, "Yeah, she's back – empty handed."



Faith breathed shallowly to minimize the pain from her ribs. The adrenaline high from the fight was wearing off, and it was becoming harder to ignore the pain . Just a couple more blocks, and she'd be home. Digging a hand into the front pocket of her jeans, the brunette fished for the keys to her apartment. The small motion was enough to send her reeling against the nearest building, panting for air. Fuck, this is bad. Shoulda gone to the hospital, she thought. But the Slayer was too close to her own bed to turn around now.

The brunette teen pushed herself mostly upright and continued her slow and pain-filled journey. Finally, she reached the doors to her building and carefully opened them. The elevator took forever to arrive, and Faith limped inside the carpeted car, propping her body against the mirrored wall for the ride. Despite her attempts to shake off the pain, the young girl was near tears as she unlocked the door to her apartment. Stepping into the small foyer, the Slayer dumped her keys and jacket on the chaise and headed straight for the bathroom.


Barely stifling a scream, the brunette spun to face the Mayor, who sat at the kitchen table in the dark. "Fuck, Boss. What are you doing here?"

Standing and flicking on the light over the table, he walked toward her. "Why, I was just concerned. After all, my Slayer didn't report back with the status of the job I gave her."

The shivers running over the brunette's body had nothing to do with her damaged ribs. The Mayor's voice, under its usual humorous delivery, held a note of warning the girl had never noticed before. "Uh, yeah. About that job, Boss. I had the heart, but…"

"You had the heart?" His voice was cold.

"Well, I was cutting it outta the demon when Angel showed up," Faith hurried to explain. "I guess the Super Friends figured everything out, too. He caught me in the ribs after they'd been cracked by the demon, and I couldn't hold him off."

"This isn't a free ride, young lady." The slight man shook a finger at her. "You know, I'm beginning to think that someone's getting a little spoiled. Maybe I should take all this away. Send you back to that little motel."

The Slayer recoiled from the menace in the quiet tone. "I'm sorry." She hesitated. He didn't seem to be in a forgiving mood. "Sir," she added. If Faith hadn't been looking at him so intently, she might have missed the immediate change in his expression.

Suddenly, the Mayor smiled. "That's my girl." He made a stopping motion with his hand. "Now, I left cookies for you in the kitchen. Let's get you cleaned up and we'll have some cookies and milk before you go to bed."

Cookies? What the hell? I'm not five. "Um, sure, Boss. Let me just clean up and take some pain meds. I'll be right back." Faith finished the trek to the spacious bathroom. Gritting her teeth, she reached into the mirrored cabinet and fished out a couple of pills. The label said to take two every four hours. Mentally shrugging, the Slayer grabbed two more. Her Slayer healing should be able to handle the double dose.

The brunette rejoined the Mayor in the kitchen. The older man flashed a quirky grin when she walked slowly in. "There you are! I was starting to think you'd climbed out the window."

"Nah, Boss. I wouldn't do that." She lowered herself into a chair. "So, what kind of cookies ya got?" Deciding it wouldn't hurt to play nice, she reached for the foil covered plate. "Hey, chocolate chip. Nice" She munched on a brick hard treat and watched the man seated across from her.

The Mayor twitched with restless energy. Fingers drumming on the table, he scanned the room continuously. "Everything OK, Boss? You seem kinda wired tonight."

"What? Oh, no, Faithy, I'm just fine." He glanced over at the Slayer, still crunching the cookie. "I forgot the milk! How could I do that?" He jumped out of the chair and rushed into kitchen. He returned with a large glass of milk, sitting it gently in front of the teen. "Here, it'll help your teeth and bones stay strong."

Resisting the impulse to roll her eyes, Faith dunked the last of the cookie in to the beverage before finishing it off. "So, uh, is it OK if I go on to bed? Think some sleep might help with the healing, you know?"

"Of course, Faith, of course." The Mayor helped her to stand and kept his arm around her waist as she made her way to the bed. Once there, the Slayer dropped onto the bed fully clothed, eyes closing almost immediately in exhaustion. "Call me in the morning, Faith. We need to discuss your performance this last week. I've got another job for you – but I'm going to need some assurances it will get done. No more chances for you, young lady."

Faith kept her eyes tightly closed, but sleep wasn't so important anymore. "Gotcha, Boss. You want me to call or drop by the office? 'Cause I'd be happy to come to City Hall if ya need me to."

The older man lay a gentle hand on her head. "Why don't you come to my office, then? Whenever you get up. Good night, Faith." The Mayor stood and walked toward the door.

"Night, Boss," Faith answered. As soon as the apartment door closed behind the departing Mayor, the Slayer's eyes shot open. What the hell am I gonna do now? She thought.

Buffy woke and lay still for a moment, checking to make sure the only thoughts in her head belonged there. Deciding no one else was invading right now, she smiled and rolled out of bed. A quick shower and a change of clothes saw the Slayer at the dining room table, trying to study. Flicking in confusion through the assigned biology reading, the blonde hoped she could catch Willow before class. The redhead always knew how to explain things so she'd understand.

"Buffy?" The Slayer turned her head as her mother walked into the room. The older Summers looked stunned. "When were you going to tell me?"

The teen paused, trying to find an answer that wouldn't land her in more trouble. Of course, it would help if I knew exactly what she was talking about. Deciding she'd stalled enough, she answered hesitantly, watching for a response to lead her in the right direction. "Alright, busted. I didn't think you'd mind, Mom." She looked back at the textbook, waiting.

Joyce laughed a little. "You were accepted to Northwestern University? Honey, I am so proud of you." She smiled in amazement.

"Mom?" Buffy really didn't want to have this conversation. She hadn't seen her mother this happy with her since before the move to Sunnydale. "I can't go; you know that."

The smile dimming somewhat, the older blonde looked at her daughter in confusion. "Why not? I mean, I know it's not cheap, but if your father pitches in, we can afford it."

Avoiding meeting the hazel eyes staring at her, Buffy stood up and walked into the kitchen. The short walk gave her a little time to come up with a way to explain the situation. On cue, Mrs. Summers entered the room seconds after the Slayer. "Buffy? Honey, what's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong that wasn't wrong last night, Mom." She forced herself to look directly at the older woman. "I can't go to Northwestern. I can't go anywhere that isn't here. I'm the Slayer. It doesn't matter that I didn't sign up for the job. I am the Slayer and I can't just leave the Mouth of Hell unprotected."

Silence fell over the Summers kitchen. "Honey," Joyce began, but she stopped, frustration clear on her face. "Surely there's a way for the Council to find someone else." She brightened a bit. "What about Faith?"

"I don't think she's an option, Mom. I mean, even though I think she's thinking about helping out again, the Council would never let her stay here." Buffy shrugged. "If they don't kill her, they'll lock her up and try to rehabilitate her." Seeing the disappointment staring back at her, the younger blonde sighed. "I'll talk to Giles; maybe he can come up with a plan, alright?" Her mother nodded, and Buffy said, "I should go, then. I need to have Will's help with the homework I didn't get to last night and I'll get with Giles about the college thing."

"OK, honey. Try to have a nice day." Joyce hugged her daughter before the girl left for the day.

Buffy wondered just how long one day could be. She had met with Willow – and Oz and Xander – before classes. But the conversation hadn't gone as planned. No biology had gotten done. Instead, the Slayer replayed the conversation with her mother.

"Sounds like your mom's in a state of denial," Willow commented.

"More like a continent. She just has to realize I can't go away."

Working hard to cheer up the depressed blonde, the young witch tried, "Well, maybe not now, but soon, maybe?" Receiving a fond but reproving look, Willow grumped, "Or maybe I, too, hail from denial land."

"It's OK, Will. I always knew college wasn't really for me. I thought, just for a minute, that maybe I could, when Faith showed up. With her on the Dark Side, I'd say my chances just went from slim to none." The Slayer shrugged and stood up from the bench. "I need to go check in with Giles. See you two at lunch?"

"You bet, Buffy," Willow chirped. Oz, of course, said nothing, just nodding and smiling slightly.

"How about you, Xan?" she called to the other Scooby.

"Oh, yeah. I'll be there," the brunette boy replied. "I'll share some knowledge from my new manual on life." He brandished a worn copy of Kerouac's On the Road.

Trying to contain her laughter, Buffy shared a smile with Willow and Oz. "Alright, then. See you guys." She grabbed her bag and headed indoors. Dodging a throng of students, the Slayer made her way to the library. Of course, Giles wasn't there. Wesley, however, was.

As soon as he saw her, he attached himself to her hip and began rattling off a stream of suggestions about finding information on the Mayor. Finally, in self defense, Buffy jumped into the conversation, "Wes, I want to leave."

The stiffly pressed Englishman faltered. "Well, I, um, of course, Buffy. If you have class, then…"

"No, Wes, I mean college. I got accepted to Northwestern."

Looking confused, the Watcher mumbled, "You're a Slayer," as if that were explanation enough.

"Yeah, but I'm also a person," Buffy responded angrily. She tossed her backpack onto a table. "You can't just define me by my Slayerness. That's," she searched for the right word, settling for, "that's something-ism."

"Buffy," Giles interrupted quietly from his office door, "I know we've talked about you going away."

The Slayer turned to him. "Giles, I got into Northwestern." She watched him shift from slightly irritating Watcher to father figure. He had the same look on his face her mother had when she'd discovered the news.

"That's wonderful news. Good for you." He smiled and walked toward her.

"OK, people. Monsters? Demons? World in peril?" Wesley's nasal voice shattered the moment. "You cannot leave Sunnydale." He crossed his arms and laced his fingers over his heart, looking for all the world like a little kid about to lie. "By the power invested in my by the Council, I forbid it."

The Slayer looked at Giles before rolling her eyes at the pompous Watcher. "Look, I know this is complicated. But what if I beat the Mayor?" She looked directly at her former Watcher. "What if I," she emphasized her next words, hoping Giles would understand, "capture Faith? Then all you guys would have to do is keep the run of the mill demons at bay until I came home for vacation."

Giles nodded slightly to show he caught Buffy's real purpose. "Indeed. That might be a workable option. However, at the moment, we don't know how to defeat the Mayor"

"I'll find a way." Both men looked up at her vehemence. "I'll find a way," she repeated. "I'm tired of waiting for Mayor McSleaze to make his move while we sit on our hands counting down to Ascension Day. Let's take the fight to him."

Part 7

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