The Varos Triad
By Rebelgirl

Part 3

Faith spent most of the next day repairing her bike. She went into town after assessing the damage more thoroughly and collected the parts she needed as well as purchasing a small tool kit. Fortunately, Angel paid her enough so that she had enough funds to cover the expense. If she'd taken more notice of her account, she would have realised that the Mayor had ensured that she'd want for nothing, but the young Bostonian used her cash card only when necessary, conditioned after years of deprivation. She forced herself into the local grocery store and shopped for the bare essentials, but was constantly on the lookout for anyone she might recognise and who might not want to see her. The brunette slayer also had the foresight to invest in some new clothes, knowing that by the time she finished working on the bike, she would be covered in grease and oil.

Now, cleaned up and sporting a bright red tank top and tight black jeans, Faith found herself hesitating as she looked at the entrance to the Magic Box. Buffy had been right, it hadn't taken her too long to find the place, and consequently she was early. However the Southie slayer knew that the others were already inside and braced for her arrival. Faith sighed and ran a hand through her thick black mane as she psyched herself up for the confrontation. She knew that this was going to be extremely difficult. None of the scoobs trusted her. In fact, it would be more realistic to say that she was hated by all of them, except perhaps Tara. Faith smiled slightly at the thought of the quiet blonde witch. She knew that the "old" Faith would never have given Tara the time of day and would have mercilessly mocked her. She hoped that she might be given an opportunity to get to know her. There was a calm aura about Tara that Faith found appealing.

Squaring back her shoulders, she pushed the door back and stepped into the shop. The rogue slayer was met by six pairs of eyes and a sudden silence that descended heavily onto the room. Faith looked at the faces trained at her steadily before moving fully into the shop and closing the door behind her. The Bostonian then continued to move and stepped up to Giles. She noticed a slight tic pulsing at the ex-watcher's forehead, indication enough of his discomfort. Reaching slowly into the left side pocket of her jacket, Faith pulled out the jade artefact and handed it to the British man. "The artefact," she stated just to take the silence away. "I think you need to study it."

"Er, yes. Quite," agreed Giles nervously as he accepted the object from Faith's outstretched arm. He pushed his metal framed glasses up his nose and slowly turned the statuette in his hand, inspecting the whole surface carefully. Within moments, he was absorbed in his task, drifting back to the counter to consult a large open tome, the bearer of the artefact totally forgotten about for the time being at least.

Faith raised her eyebrows at his actions but said nothing, feeling the others' eyes still fixated on her. She looked round once more and noted their defensive positions. Anya was behind the counter, using it like a barrier, with Xander close by but on the opposite side of the hard wood surface. Willow and Tara were seated closely together on a sofa, their hands entwined in an almost painful grip. Buffy stood near the ex-watcher, her hands folded across her chest and one hip jutting slightly in an aggressively defensive posture. Faith noted that Riley was nowhere to be seen but decided not to make any comment on anyone's presence or absence. Spying a free chair, she threw herself deep into it and looked nervously at her audience. "I know you don't want to hear this but I just wanna say..."

"Say nothing." Buffy told her venomously. "You're right. We don't want to hear anything you have to say."

"Wait up B," Faith interrupted. "I know you hate me but.."

"There are no buts, Faith. You used up your chances. In fact, you used up more chances than anyone has a right to. What makes you think you have the right to come back in here so you can do something that makes *you* feel better while the rest of us just remember what you did to us?"

Faith stood up angrily. "What's the matter Buffy?" She asked, barely keeping her voice under control. "Scared that if you hear me say the word 'sorry' you might just realise that I mean it?"

"You don't know the meaning of that word Faith," Willow spat at the brunette slayer. "How can you even use the word?"

Faith stared at Willow, and she saw open hatred displayed on the witch's features. "You're wrong Red," she whispered.

"I don't think so," demurred Buffy harshly. "You're needed here. It doesn't mean that you're wanted here. Just remember that."

Faith forced herself to sit back down in the chair. She looked at her clenched fists, her skin totally bleached as it was pulled tightly over her knuckles. She waited until they became less tense before she spoke again without looking up. "That's how you all feel is it?"

"Yes," reacted Willow instantly.

"Definitely," agreed Xander. Anya nodded her sentiment before realising that Faith couldn't see her. "I don't know you but I know I don't want you near Xander," she stated candidly.

"I want you here," said Tara softly.

Faith snapped her head up in synchronisation with everyone else except Giles who was still buried in the depths of a book.

"What?" Exploded her girlfriend. "You can't mean that."

"I do mean that. I t-t-told you l-last night that you should respect m-my opinion," the blonde wicca reminded her lover.

"But she's evil," protested Willow, ignoring Tara's last statement.

"Is she?" Tara asked. "How do you know that's still true, Willow. You haven't given her a chance to make any redemption."

"She had her chances," Buffy interjected firmly. "She blew them. I don't want to be made to feel the victim anymore and I'm not going to give her the opportunity to do just that." She turned to look at the younger slayer. "We'll just do what needs to be done and then you leave." Her tone left no room for negotiation. The blonde slayer thought she saw Faith flinch slightly at the words but she was in no mood for her acting. Buffy looked away and approached Giles. "Any luck?" She asked.

"Yes. I, er, rather think there is." The ex-watcher looked up from his research and adjusted the position of his glasses. "But it might be better to wait until the others get here. It would save me going through the same information twice," he explained.

Buffy nodded in agreement but stayed where she was, looking at Faith silently.

The silence stretched on and the atmosphere in the Magic Box grew more tense by the second. The Southie slayer decided that there was no point saying anything to the group and started watching the door surreptitiously, eager for some less hostile company. She could see Tara watching her with a concerned face and pulled her mouth into the barest of smiles in acknowledgement. Willow caught the look and began whispering to her girlfriend in an effort to divert attention away from the rogue slayer. Faith knew that everyone else was watching her but kept her face a neutral mask of disinterest and tried not to fidget under the scrutiny. The oppression continued and Faith knew that she had to leave before it got any worse.

Suddenly the door burst open. "Well, this *is* nice," exclaimed Cordelia, soaking up the ambience instantaneously as she swept into the shop. "Don't any of you know how bad tension is for the complexion?"

Instantly Faith grinned, all thoughts of leaving vanishing instantly. "Hey Queen C! You've obviously been having lessons. That entrance was almost dramatic," she complimented laconically.

"Thank you Faith." Cordelia turned to face the smaller brunette. "Oh and by the way, you don't have to prove how 'good' you are now by giving your patronage to the charity clothes shops, you know," retorted the ex-cheerleader, making her point obvious by looking the Bostonian up and down with an imperious gaze.

Faith opened her mouth for retribution but was stopped by Wesley as he followed Cordelia into the Magic Box. "Now, now, children," he warned good-naturedly. Both brunettes grinned at him and each other. The actress crossed the room and sat on the arm of the chair Faith was currently occupying. "You Okay?" She asked quietly.

Faith shrugged noncommittally. "I went up to about two and a half by five the moment you entered. I think I was actually in the minus up until that point," she answered softly.

Before Cordelia had an opportunity to continue the conversation, Gunn rushed through the door, holding a blanket over a body that ran in with him. "Hey Faith," he called, jutting his chin towards the younger slayer.

"Hey Gunn. You finished pretending being a body guard?" She asked, gesturing at the body still enshrouded by the blanket that was smoking slightly.

On queue, Angel shucked his cover off and pulled his lips into a small smile at the Seer and second slayer sharing the chair. "Faith," he greeted.

"Hey big guy," she returned, fighting but failing to stop the broad smile that broke out on her face.

"Well, now that your fan club's here, perhaps we can get down to business." Buffy's voice dripped sarcasm. She and the others had been shocked at the way the LA group had spoken to Faith. There was an obvious bond between them all, with no hint of distrust, even from Wesley. Buffy found it disconcerting. She didn't know what stunt Faith had pulled to trick all of them so successfully, but it put her on her guard to watch the rogue slayer even more closely.

Angel frowned as he looked pensively round the room, accurately gauging the mood of the scoobs. Before he could comment on the situation, Wesley stepped forward, a large ancient looking text book in one hand and the gold artefact in the other. He placed the object next to the Jade statuette and then stared at the two for comparisons. Giles quickly joined him.

"Fascinating," Giles breathed. He could not see a single flaw in either item. Nor could he see a single difference except the material they were made from.

"Absolutely," agreed the other ex-Watcher. "Have you got any information on them?"

"Yes." Giles stood up and took his glasses off, rubbing the lenses carefully with his handkerchief before returning them to his face. He picked up the book he had been studying and turned to face the room. "According to this, the Varos Triad is comprised of three identical figurines. Each artefact is made of a different material that is representative of the power of the earth. Gold, a pure metal, Jade, a precious rock or stone and the third is made of Yew, a tree that has long had it's roots, so to speak in the realm of magick and religion."

"Isn't the Yew tree one that's often found in graveyards, well in Europe at least?" Queried Faith. Her question provoked looks of astonishment from the other occupants of the room.

"I had a lot of time to read in jail," she reminded them.

"Not enough," murmured Willow under her breath. It was loud enough for both Buffy and Faith to hear the comment. Faith stared at the witch neutrally, feeling Buffy's intense gaze as she did.

"Quite. And, yes they are, Faith," Giles responded. "The Yew is regarded as an ancient and powerful tree, providing protection for the dead and warding off negative magick." He flicked his eyes over the open book on the counter before continuing. "When combined, the artefacts can be used to summon the demon Varos, who was a powerful warlock in ancient times. His obsession with dark magick became his downfall and he was turned into a demon when he tried to control all the dark forces and crush the world."

"Sounds like a familiar story," drawled Buffy, unimpressed so far.

"Sounds like the Mayor," added Xander vindictively, watching Faith's face carefully for any sign that his barb might have hit home. He was not disappointed as the younger slayer closed her eyes momentarily at the inference.

"The Mayor already was a demon, Xander," she reminded him, the timbre of her voice low with emotion.

"It's a shame you didn't realise that at the time," he riposted acidly.

"Yeah, it is," she agreed sadly.

The construction worker said nothing in response but was surprised by Cordelia's actions though as he saw her reach down and squeeze Faith's hand in a reassuring manner. Their hands remained connected as Wesley coughed, drawing attention to himself as he picked up the tale, glancing at the large book he had brought with him.

"When Varos was vanquished to Hell, it was done by a powerful triumvirate of witches. Using the power of the Earth, the witches bound his power within the statuettes and were then able to overpower him. The three figurines were then separated and hidden around the world."

"Not hidden well enough then," remarked Anya blandly.

"Er, well, no." Wes became nervous after the interruption but pressed on. "The summoning requires all three artefacts to be bound together during the invocation, in a basic reversal of the ceremony the triumvirate used to bind him."

"Wait a minute, back up," interjected Buffy. "Why didn't they just destroy the artefacts once they performed the vanquishing act?"

"Circumstances beyond their control," replied Giles cryptically.

"Which were...?" The blonde slayer prompted, gesturing with an open hand.

"They were exhausted after the binding spell and physically unable to perform any further spells that day. According to the books I've researched, a civil war broke out when it was discovered that Varos was no longer present and it was impossible for the triumvirate to invoke the spell to destroy the artefacts they created. The best and safest option was to use couriers to separate the artefacts and hide them in secret locations in the knowledge that as soon as the war was over, they could bring them back together and complete their task."

"What happened?" Asked Tara, fascinated by the tale.

"They were killed in the war," stated Faith dully, guessing the answer before either of the ex-watchers could answer the question.

Wesley nodded glumly. "With their deaths went the knowledge of the artefacts locations."

"What about the couriers who hid them?" Angel asked, equally intrigued by the story.

"They were ordered to commit suicide as soon as the artefacts were hidden," Giles supplied as he polished the lenses of his glasses once more.

"So who's behind their reappearance then?" Enquired Cordelia.

"Varos must always have been aware that his powers are trapped on Earth somewhere. I can only assume that he has found followers that have been looking for the artefacts," supplied Wesley.

"And they've been successful. So what do we do?" Pondered Buffy getting to the heart of the problem.

"Well, we could go searching for the third statuette as we already have two," suggested Willow, looking at the artefacts with a new respect.

"It might be easier to let these demons do the leg work and find the other artefact. After all, they found the others," suggested Gunn.

"They might already have the third artefact," suggested Tara. Her comment brought all eyes to her and she blushed at the sudden attention.

"Which will make them more than eager to retrieve these artefacts," reminded Giles, looking at the twin statues carefully.

"They were certainly on the case last night. I had two demons to contend with at the mansion." Faith rubbed her side unconsciously.

"Were you hurt?" Wes asked, stepping forward as if to check the young slayer out.

"I'm cool, Wes. Slayer healing." She grinned at her watcher.

Wesley found himself smiling back in relief. It had taken a long time and some quite extraordinary events to change Wesley's opinion of Faith but now that she had won his trust, he was totally devoted to the raven-haired girl.

"We need information before we can act. We have to find out where these demons are and whether they have the third statue," Giles was quite forceful in his reasoning.

"The first thing we need to do is find a safe stash for the pieces we already have," commented Faith.

"Oh, and who made you leader?" Asked Buffy scornfully.

"Buffy!" Admonished Angel, shocked at the blonde woman's outburst.

"It was just a suggestion, B," replied Faith, surprised by another verbal attack.

"Well we don't want your suggestions. Just do what you're told and then go home." Buffy was surprised to sense the whole LA group stiffen at her words but before anyone else could comment, Faith spoke again.

"So you're not interested in anything I have to say regarding how we deal with Varos then?" Faith lowered her voice to hide the emotion she knew would resonate through. Unfortunately, the lower tone gave her an aggressive timbre and the tension in the Magic Box heightened rapidly.

"I'm not interested in anything you have to say period," retorted Buffy icily, crossing her arms and looking directly at Faith challengingly.

Faith leapt to her feet with a grace she didn't know she possessed. "As I'm obviously not required for this meeting now that I've delivered the artefact that I recovered, I'll just head back to the mansion and wait around for you to call when you want some extra slayer muscle. No need for me to be involved at all really. Why break any old habits?" With that, Faith stormed out of the Magic Box, her hand just managing to catch the door before it slammed and instead allowing the door to close with a click that resonated with a far more significant impact than any slamming would.

"Great people skills, Buffy." Cordelia wasted no time in laying into the blonde slayer.

"Oh, and Faith has? None of us want her here. It's probably a good thing if she stays away until we need her." Buffy justified her outburst.

"Hello? You've just treated her exactly the same way you always did. Never allowing her in on the scoobie meetings. Never wanting her opinion. Just letting her sit in some shitty motel until you needed her for her slaying abilities. And you wonder why she couldn't talk to you. To any of us. How could she turn to the Mayor when she had such good friends as we all were?" Buffy didn't fail to notice how Cordelia included herself in the berating. "And then you wonder why she went evil? Wake up Buffy. How about treating her with a bit of humanity?" Cordelia was furious. She couldn't remember the last time she had been this angry.

"She doesn't deserve it," spat back Buffy, annoyed that anyone would question her actions.

"Take a good look in the mirror Buffy. In fact, all of you do it. You're so self absorbed and concerned that Faith is out to get you. News flash, the world does not revolve around you. And your behaviour is no better than hers was when she was psycho."

"How can you say that?" Gasped Willow in outrage.

"Easy. When she was rampaging through here, she didn't give a second thought to anyone else's feelings but her own. What are you doing now?"

Willow's mouth opened and shut several times as she tried to form an answer. Tara squeezed her lover's hand gently in support but the act perversely made Willow feel worse. She had deliberately blocked out what the blonde witch had to say about the rogue slayer, uninterested in any excuses or explanations as to her reappearance or new demeanour. All she had considered was that Faith had held a knife to her throat and had threatened her. An event that had occurred over three years ago. Judging from the look on Buffy and Xander's face, she was not alone in contemplating her behaviour.

Buffy, uncomfortable with what Cordelia had said, concentrated only on her last statement. "What do you mean when she *was* psycho? How do you know that she isn't now?"

"Because I saw her when she got out of prison. I saw what she had to go through. Have you even asked her what happened..."

"Cordelia!" Both Angel and Wesley interrupted her at the same time and Cordelia looked at them both with widened eyes as she realised what she had almost said.

"What happened when?" Tara caught the exchange and wanted to know it's significance.

"It's nothing," mumbled Cordelia. She reddened slightly before controlling her emotions. "It's not for me to say."

"In which case, let's get on with what we're doing and deal with her later," suggested Xander. He had never seen Cordelia get so emotional before except when events affected herself. Unfortunately, her outburst was also painfully truthful. But Xander didn't want to deal with that right now, so he diverted attention back to the original topic of discussion.

Satisfied that her point had been made, Cordelia stood up and emphasised her next sentence carefully. "I'm not *needed* here either. Angel has all the details of my vision. I need a bath to get all the travel dirt and tension out of me. I'll see you back at the mansion." She acknowledged the remaining members of the LA gang and left the shop quickly.

Buffy stood and looked at the closed door for a long moment. Then she focused on one aspect of Cordelia's parting statement. "Vision? What is she talking about Angel?"

The tall vampire sighed. He knew from bitter experience how difficult the road to redemption was. He wasn't sure if Cordelia's outburst had helped Faith or not, but he was glad that she had interjected. The Sunnydale crowd needed to see how much support Faith had. It might just help them deal with her. The more pressing need was to explain how the one time cheerleader and prom queen was now stricken with painful visions, and how her own suffering had spurred her onto helping others less fortunate than her. Angel considered himself to be a lucky man to know both Cordelia and Faith. He would make sure that Buffy and the Scoobs knew how he felt about them before the meeting was over.


Part Four:-

The black Lincoln pulled up alongside Faith as she strode purposefully towards the mansion.

"Get in, I'll give you a lift," offered Cordelia after she opened the window.

"I'm too angry Cordy. I need to walk this off," Faith replied, not breaking her stride.

"Just get in before someone spots me curb crawling and my rep is destroyed forever," Cordelia tried again, her head switching quickly between watching the road and looking at the renegade slayer.

The Southie slayer continued to walk for a few moments before she yanked the door opened and jumped in the car without waiting for it to stop. Faith put one booted foot onto the dash and stared out of the window, her hands clenched as they rested on her raised knee.

"Put your seat belt on," advised Cordelia as she picked up speed. Faith grunted but complied, tugging at the restraint several times before calming her actions down to feed the belt out enough to click into the buckle. She pushed a hand through her thick black mane and returned her gaze outside. For a moment, Cordelia thought that the entire journey back would be under a painful silence, but she sensed Faith becoming less tense and she relaxed slightly as she continued to drive.

"So what would ruin your rep then, Cordy? The curb crawling itself or who you're trying to pick up." Faith broke the silence suddenly.

Cordelia snorted with laughter. "Depends on who spots me," she replied honestly. "Though I'd rather have my rep dragged through the dirt than not be friends with you."

Faith looked at the ex cheerleader, astonished at the admission. Cordelia had gone a long way since her days as High School Prom Queen. The raven haired slayer smiled genuinely at her. "Thanks, Cordy," she acknowledged her own feelings softly.

Cordelia shot back a wide grin in response before returning her eyes to the road ahead. "Besides," she continued, "I couldn't bear another moment with Miss Self Righteous and her band of the self absorbed."

This comment provoked a short bark of laughter from Faith, and also succeeded in releasing some of the anger that had been bubbling inside her. "Well it hasn't exactly been a riot of fun and laughter since I got here," she agreed, her smile turning melancholy as she thought about the current situation.

"Yes, I noticed," Cordelia agreed. She tried to keep the conversation from teetering into the uncomfortably heavy side. "I thought I'd go for some less stressful entertainment and keep you out of trouble," the Seer told her passenger. "Besides, I needed a bath and a relax after the road trip from hell."

Faith sniggered. "Shouldn't that be the road trip *to* hell?" She asked, unable to take the smile off her face.

"Not when you have Angel and Wesley in the car with you. Take it from me, the destination was infinitely more preferable to the getting there," the Seer replied forcefully.

Faith found herself laughing again, and took a moment to enjoy the sensation, scarcely believing that Cordelia could have such a profound affect on her. "I take it Wes and Soul Boy were educating you on the way here," she guessed.

Cordelia rolled her eyes as she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. "Only from the moment I got in till the moment we pulled up outside the Magic Box," she verified, her voice clearly indicating how she felt about the trip.

"You should have told them to shut up," advised Faith.

"I did," the brunette driver responded. "They didn't."

Faith grinned again before her face became more pensive. "I wish I hadn't stormed out of there," she confided honestly, returning the conversation back to the events in the Magic Box in one sentence. "But it was just," Faith hesitated to try and find the right description.

"I know," comforted Cordelia softly. "If it's any consolation, I'm not exactly Miss Popular either now."

"Oh God. What did you say?" Faith was torn between dreading Cordelia's potential insensitivity and basking in the actress's loyalty.

"Only the truth. Although," Cordelia paused for a moment, wondering if she should mention her near indiscretion.

"Although what?" Faith was intrigued. Cordy was usually so forthright and confident. It was unlike her to be edgy.

The Seer decided that Faith didn't need to know. "I was perhaps a bit blunt with my truth," she suggested with a rueful look.

The Southie slayer kept her face impassive as she responded. "Unlike you to be blunt."

"Must be *someone's* personality rubbing off on me," the taller brunette shot back good naturedly.

"Well I did warn you that Angel was a bad influence," Faith rejoined, deliberately misunderstanding the ex-cheerleader's barb.

"Must be all the broody silences," Cordelia continued the joke for another sentence as they pulled up to the mansion. She popped the trunk release once they had stopped. "You can help me bring in the bags," she smiled at Faith as she exited the car.

Faith shrugged non committally as she unlatched her seat belt and joined the dark haired Seer at the back of the car. "Jeez C, you should have just screwed a handle on your wardrobe." Faith exclaimed as she saw the amount of luggage squeezed into the trunk.

"It's not *all* mine Faith," Cordelia sighed dramatically. "There's stuff for everyone in here. I even managed to gather enough courage to pick you out some clothes."

"You got me some stuff?" Faith exclaimed in surprise. "Hey did you pack my suede jacket?" She asked, suddenly excited.

"I'm not sure. I had my eyes shut for most of the time in disgust. How many cows can one girl wear?"

"I like leather," insisted Faith, knowing she was being baited, yet rising anyway.

Cordelia continued. "Still, at least I couldn't make a faux pas with clashing colours. It's difficult not to match black up with black," the taller woman teased.

Faith pulled a face and then hefted out the bags, slinging one over each shoulder and then holding another two. Cordelia picked up a small vanity case and left the two remaining bags where they were and made her way to the door.

The rogue slayer dropped a bag and dug round in a pocket before locating the keys to the mansion and unlocking the door. Shoving it open with her hip, Faith deposited the bags in the hallway and skipped back to the Lincoln, retrieving the last of the luggage and securing the car before returning to the mansion. She found Cordelia slumped in a chair, her head rolled back with her eyes closed. "You Okay?" She hurried over to the taller woman, fearful that she may have endured another painful vision.

Cordelia opened her eyes and smiled softly at the brunette slayer. "I would say five by five, but I don't know what that means."

Faith's eyes twinkled humorously. "Stay there. I'll run you a bath," she offered.

"Faith, you aren't some dogsbody," Cordelia protested, sitting up in the chair.

"Hey, it's no biggie. Which ones are your bags? I'll put them in your room."

"You sorted me out a room too?" Cordelia's eyebrows shot up in surprise at Faith's thoughtfulness.

"Yeah, well don't tell the others. I've only dusted yours." Faith suddenly found the strap on one of the bags to be extremely interesting.

Cordelia didn't think that her eyebrows could get any higher. The dark slayer just continued to surprise her. She also realised that her depth of feeling towards the younger girl was taking her into unknown territory. She wanted to be more than just a friend to Faith now but was unsure how to do it or even if she should do it. The some time actress had never thought of herself as anything other than straight, and the thought of going with another woman alarmed her not just because it was way out of her own boundaries, or so she had previously believed, but she knew that she was shallow enough to be really bothered by what other people might think of her. Or so she had told herself as she tried to sort her emotions out. However, the more time pressed on and the more time she spent in Faith's company, the more Cordelia began to realise that she was using that as an excuse. She knew she could put up with what anyone else said or thought. What she couldn't deal with was the thought that she might be rejected. Faith displayed an air of easy confidence and overt sexuality about her, but Cordelia knew that much of it was a front to hide her deep-seated insecurities. Since her release from jail, Faith had made innuendoes and mildly flirted with Cordelia but had done nothing else to indicate that she would be interested in a relationship with the actress. Cordelia herself spent much of her time hidden by a smoke screen of sarcastic barbs and put-downs and she enjoyed verbally sparring with the Southie slayer. She was frightened that if she took a risk and opened herself up to Faith, she would get hurt, or worse, lose the relationship they had and that she valued.

Frustrated by her indecision and self-perceived cowardice, the ex-cheerleader stood abruptly, gesturing to the largest bag and another one nearby. "They're mine," she told Faith. "And thank you. I appreciate it." She smiled at the shorter woman and made her way to the staircase and the bathroom upstairs.

Faith grabbed the bags and followed, pushing herself gently past the Seer when they reached the landing. She opened one of the doors and placed the bags just inside. "This is your room. The bathroom is opposite. Take your time. If I get *summoned*," she pulled a face as she indicated how she felt about her current situation again, "I'll come up and tell you." With that, the raven-haired woman retreated from the room and headed back down the stairs.

Cordelia pushed the door fully open and stepped inside, marvelling at how clean it was. She picked up one of the fresh towels that had been laid at the foot of the bed and wondered again what to do about her feelings towards Faith. She quickly got undressed and wrapped a towel round her before moving to the bathroom. As she stepped onto the landing, she called down stairs. "Faith, yours is the bag with the black tag on it." Hearing a call acknowledging her, she slipped into the bathroom and smiled again as she saw the steaming water collecting in the bath. Her smile became wistful as she recalled the events in the Magic Box and how Faith had been received by Buffy and the others. In some ways, Cordelia sympathised with the Sunnydale crowd. She hadn't exactly been rolling out the red carpet when Faith got out of jail and accepted Angel's invitation to stay at the Hyperion. But at least she had given the dark slayer an opportunity to prove herself. Faith hadn't wasted the chance and now Cordelia wanted her to be able to show Buffy and the Scoobies those changes.

Settling into the hot water, Cordelia felt her knotted muscles welcome the warmth and begin to loosen. She rolled her shoulders to encourage the process before leaning back to contemplate her next steps as she luxuriated in the steam filled room.

Faith was grateful that Cordelia had indicated which bag was hers. She had been reluctant to go through the contents of the remaining luggage for fear of encroaching into the personal property of the others. Before her stint in jail, such considerations would have been unthinkable or discarded, but Faith had learned to value privacy and secrecy in a location where it was almost impossible to achieve.

She found the bag quickly and pulled back the zip. Cordelia had not wasted any space inside the holdall and Faith frowned for a moment, wondering if the ex-cheerleader had stuffed the entire contents of her room into the bag. The renegade slayer allowed herself a smile as she noticed that her suede jacket was indeed amongst the items Cordy had selected and she pulled the soft tan coat free and sat on the sofa.

She searched the pockets carefully and carefully extracted a small parcel, wrapped in a brown paper bag with a piece of tape holding the bag closed. Holding the small item into her chest, Faith leant back onto the sofa and smiled in relief, closing her eyes as fatigue washed over her. The last two days had taken their toll.

Knowing that Cordelia would not rush her ablutions, Faith decided to catch up on some much needed rest. However, she couldn't stop her mind from racing over recent events. The Bostonian had been amazed by Cordelia's staunch defence of her in the Magic Box and her surprise had continued when the Seer had followed her out of the meeting.

Although starting on extremely rocky ground, Faith had managed to build a friendship up with Cordelia. It took time but a slow understanding and mutual trust developed. Faith's actions during one particular assignment had also persuaded both Cordelia and Wesley that she had truly changed. Their change in attitude had given Faith the opportunity to reveal more about herself and what had happened to her in prison. What she said was accepted and believed, rather than dismissed as fitting punishment. Wes had stepped back into his old role as Faith's watcher, and the Southie slayer treated him with a new respect and courtesy, astounded that he could ever want to return to that job. Cordelia turned into a loyal friend overnight, and spent most of her free time with her. Secrets and insecurities were shared between the two girls and they became confident enough to expose aspects of their personalities that they would never dream of showing to anyone else. They would bicker and be cutting to each other, but it was done in the security that they knew each other well enough to be able to banter without fear of upsetting each other. Faith treasured her connection with Cordelia. It was like no friendship she had ever had before. But now she was scared of her developing feelings for the chestnut haired Seer. She wanted desperately to take things further with Cordelia but Faith couldn't trust herself not to ruin it in the same way she had ruined every other good thing to come into her life. Besides, Cordelia had never indicated that she wanted anything more from their relationship. When Faith flirted with the older girl now, the Seer would simply respond with a sarcastic put down or one of her trademark stares. Faith wasn't prepared to risk their friendship over this. She had made that mistake before. She would have to keep things secret, and keep a firm rein on her emotions.

Faith sighed as she ran a hand through her thick mane but coming to the same decision as she always did when she mulled over her problem eased some of the tension keeping her muscles taut and the Southie slayer found her limbs getting heavier as she drifted off to sleep.

Cordelia stared at the sleeping woman for some time, studying Faith's face intently, as if she had never seen it before, which in a twisted way, was true. The young woman's visage displayed none of the tension or guardedness that was usually adorned on it. The tall Seer stood transfixed, wondering how she had failed to notice how beautiful the young slayer was and then she cursed inwardly for allowing her thoughts to continue along the dangerous path her feelings so desired.

She jumped as Faith's eyes opened without warning. "Jeez, do you always wake up like that?"

"Like what?" Faith's voice was thick with sleep and she struggled to sit upright and actually register what Cordy had asked of her.

"Never mind." The taller brunette brushed the comment away and then swung Faith's legs off the couch so that she could sit next to her.

"Take a seat," Faith offered belatedly, pulling her face into a wry grin.

"Thanks." Cordelia was quite happy to reply in the same sarcastic vein. "So no word from the blonde dwarf then?"

Faith's grin widened at Cordelia's description. "That's harsh Cordy," she reprimanded and then continued before the ex-cheerleader had an opportunity to respond. "Nope, no word from any of them. They're probably still discussing how bad I am."

"I'll have run out of clothes before they ever get to the end of that topic," Cordelia leant back in the sofa, shaking her head.

"Cordy, you'll never run out of clothes," Faith pointed out objectively, provoking a peal of laughter from the other girl and a genuine smile from Faith. Her look turned shy as she noticed the package still lying in her lap. She picked it up and rolled it in her hands for a moment before looking at Cordelia. "I meant to give this to you yesterday, but I kinda got caught up in something else." She held out the parcel for Cordelia to take.

Narrowing her gaze slightly, Cordelia took the package from the rogue slayer. "What is it?"

"Du-huh! Open it and find out," Faith told her.

Cordelia stuck her tongue out at the girl before pulling the tape at one end. "Brown paper wrapping," she commented, drawing out the tension. "I must have missed that from last month's Vogue."

"I never really got the idea of wrapping paper," defended Faith. "You just rip it off and put it in the bin."

Cordelia cocked her head to one side before nodding thoughtfully. "You do have a point," she concurred.

"Get on with it, already," Faith encouraged her, pushing at one of her hands in an effort to hurry the event along.

The older girl rolled her eyes at Faith's impatience but complied, pulling on the bag to reveal it's contents. Her eyes widened and then frowned slightly in confusion. In her hands was the most exquisite silver box. The lid was enamelled in cerulean blue with a delicate yet complicated border in black. On the middle of the lid in a clear, Gregorian style were the initials "C.C".

"This is beautiful. I've never seen anything like it before," Cordelia whispered, rolling the box around in her hands and looking at the craftsmanship carefully.

"Open it," instructed Faith quietly.

Cordelia looked at her for a moment before prising open the lid. Snuggled inside the box in a perfect fit, was a strip of Advil. It was then that Faith explained the gift. "I didn't know what to get you for your birthday, so I thought I'd get you something useful as I know our taste in clothes and stuff isn't exactly similar." She spoke quickly, still nervous of Cordelia's reaction. "I know it's only crappy, and you don't have to say you like it or anything, but I couldn't find anything in the shops. I had to make it myself.."

"You made this?" Interrupted the Seer. "Oh my god Faith, it's incredible. I never knew you could do anything like that."

Faith blushed and looked at her lap suddenly to try and hide her embarrassment. "Yeah, well. I picked up a lot of stuff in jail," she explained.

Cordelia was having none of the throwaway explanation. "It's amazing, Faith. And so are you. It's the most thoughtful gift I've ever had."

Faith snorted derisively. "I don't think so Cordy. You've had a car and bought out most of Prada. A crappy pill box for a birthday present hardly compares."

"Faith," the Seer explained carefully, "those gifts were just money. No thought or effort went into them. I just told Daddy what I wanted and he wrote the cheque. This is altogether different. It's the most personal gift I think I've ever had." Cordelia had to swallow to overcome the sudden tightness in her throat.

The dark slayer looked up at her friend curiously. "So it's Okay then? You like it?"

"I love it," Cordelia beamed. "Thank you." She threw her arms round Faith and hugged her tightly, revelling in her nearness before sitting back and looking at Faith intently. "You're the only one that remembered this year," she confided, her face darkening briefly as she recalled how depressed she'd felt the day before.

Faith rocked back in astonishment. "What? Not even a card from your parents? Angel? Xander?" Faith gave up listing people as she saw Cordelia shake her head at each name mentioned. "Boy, I'm glad you packed my jacket now," she remarked.

"So am I." Cordelia grinned. "I know it's a day late, but let's go out tonight and celebrate," she suggested, her eyes shining at the thought of spending more time with Faith.

The shorter woman smiled back. "I'd love to Cordy, but what about the artefacts?" Faith desperately wanted to go out with the Seer. She had been overwhelmed by the reaction to the birthday present and wanted to obliterate any sad memories Cordelia had already suffered on her birthday. Most importantly of all however was that she craved the woman's company and even if it was selfish on her part, Faith wanted to make the most of her time with her. Even if it meant going out in Sunnydale. But her sense of duty outweighed all these factors. She couldn't abandon that. They were all here for a purpose and Faith had resolved never to let anyone down again.

"You're right," Cordy acquiesced. "I just got caught up in the moment. They'll be another time to celebrate my birthday."

"Birthday?" Queried Angel as he opened the door. Both brunettes raised their eyebrows as they realised the sun had set and that it was dark outside. They had totally lost track of the time.

Wesley and Gunn followed Angel through the door and they made their way over to the sofa. "You never told me it was your birthday," the brooding vampire accused.

Part Five

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