Road to Redemption - a Faith Series (between 4th and 5th season of "BtVS") By: Monet

Episode Three: Sweet Misery

"Uh. Uh-oh," Xander Harris replied, looking over one of his patrons' heads. In the back of the bar, two men began to argue over a pool game. The place wasn't too hopping for a Wednesday night - then again, it was a Wednesday night - LATE NIGHT. There was a smack as one man hit the other in the cheek.

"Hey!" Patrick, the owner, bellowed across the room. "What'd I say about the fighting!?? Take it outside!"

But the men were in full-on 'me man, you puny' mode, getting into a brawl. The other pool players didn't help; they just encouraged.

Xander slapped his forehead. "Patrick, you really need to get a bouncer in here," he said.

"Isn't that why I hired you?"

"I thought you did for my charming good looks and movie-star smile." He put the rag over his shoulder and came out from behind the bar just as a bottle nearly hit him in the head. Ducking, he watched as it harmlessly hit the wall. "Hey!" he called, cupping his hands to his mouth. "C'mon! This is so high school!" He made his way through the crowd as they continued to cheer on, finally reaching the two fighters on the ground.

Faith came into the bar dusting herself off from the latest fight she had with a stray vampire. They were far and in between, but did she really love it when she caught them. The commotion behind her went unnoticed as she went right up to the bar.

Patrick was closely watching the fight when he realized Faith was sitting in front of him. "Hey, there," he greeted her with a smile.

"Xander here?" she asked, grabbing a handful of beer nuts and stuffing them in her mouth.

Patrick looked at her, surprised at her obliviousness to what was happening behind her. "Um, yeah."

Faith looked up at him, seeing his eyes on the attention of something else. Finally realizing the ruckus, she looked over her shoulder. "Shit, what's going on?"

"Fight."

Faith turned her seat around and leaned back against the bar casually. "Are you gonna stop it?"

"I sent in Xander about a minute ago. I haven't seen the kid's head since."

"OUCH!" came the familiar voice. "Is no one wanting to help me here!" Faith brushed her hands against each other. "I'll go help," she said, almost as if it was a big but "not-that-huge-a-deal" chore.

"Whoa, you sure you wanna do that?" Patrick asked. "I know you play a mean game of pool, but this is the kind of stuff gals like you don't wanna get involved in."

With a knowing smirk, she raised a brow. "Dude, it's exactly what girls like me get involved in." She weaved her way through the crowd of mostly men who pumped their fists, downed their beer, and shouted out as if they were in a stadium, and came to the center where the two-man fight grew to a six man one.

Xander was still gingerly trying to grab one of the men off of another.

"Woo, honey!" one man called as they spotted Faith. "You are a hottie!" He whistled loudly.

"Hey!" Xander cried, pointing a less than threatening finger at the guy.

Faith smiled, winking at the guy. "Thanks, hon." She casually grabbed one guy by the belt loops and jerked her arm back, tossing him back into the crowd. She did it for each one of the fighters, the crowd dying down as she did so.

The ones involved in the fight looked at her in disbelief, but they got to their feet without another word. They parted for her when she grabbed Xander by the wrist and pulled him back towards the bar.

Patrick was shaking his head when they got back. "Wow. How'd you do that?"

"All in the wrist," Faith said, seating herself back onto the stool she just left.

Xander was wiping the sweat off his forehead, collapsing in the chair. "Where were you about five minutes before that?" he asked.

"Ever consider becoming a bouncer for this place?" Patrick asked, passing Xander a glass of water. "This kid's no good to me."

Faith shrugged. "Gotta keep a low profile. He's done, right? Shift over?"

Patrick nodded. "Yeah, sure. He's earned his keep. Go home." He tapped Xander on the forearm as he gulped down the liquid. "She's a keeper. Brave as shit." Then moved off to tend to another patron.

Xander lowered his glass, wanting to give his boss a "but she's not mine to keep!" and instead threw his rag over the bar. "Where we going?" he asked as she stuffed more peanuts in her mouth.

"Doughnuts. I'm starving!" She began to walk right back out into the night/early morning when Robert came up to her. She stopped. "Hey," she said.

"I haven't talked to you much lately," he said, leaning against the nearest table. "Not ever since that night." Xander caught the statement and paused a moment in putting on his coat. He tried not to look like he cared, though. He just stood behind her, continuing to fiddle with his jacket even when it was perfectly on him.

"What can I say?" Faith said with a shrug. "I come in and out of this place. I played pool the other night; you weren't around. That ain't my fault. I did get about $400 from your buddies, though."

Robert frowned but acted just as casual as she was being. "Well, they do suck. That was pretty amazing stuff you pulled off back there."

"Thanks," she said. "The things you learn in jail."

That stopped Robert short. "Huh?"

"She's kidding," Xander cut in. "Hi. I'm Xander." He stuck his hand out to Robert.

Robert stared at him with disapproval, nevertheless shaking his hand in return. "Robert. Hoping to get another date out of your friend here."

Faith pulled Xander by the front of his jacket. "I'll call ya'!" she said to him as she led them out of the bar. She shook her head when they were a block from the place and laughed. "Dude, that guy just doesn't know when to give up."

"You slept with him?" Xander asked.

She shrugged. "Yeah. But it was quick."

They walked on in silence, Faith uncomfortable enough to have a small urge to explain herself and Xander uneasy enough to be bothered by her usual antics. It had been about two weeks now since he had come into town, and even though they were getting along a lot better than they ever thought they could, there was still that bit of tension between them.

And little things like that always made them more aware of it.

Xander even tried less and less to find a place to stay for the summer. Occasionally, he would flip through the paper, but they were the same places available over and over again. And he knew they were available for a reason.

"I sent a postcard to Sunnydale," Xander suddenly blurted.

Faith raised her head, blinking at him. "You did?"

He nodded. "Well, I haven't gotten in touch with Willow or Buffy or Giles since I took off. Well, Willow knew I was going on a road trip, but I never really told her where I was going."

"So now the whole gang knows, huh? Bet they won't like the part where you're hanging with me for awhile." Her eyes shifted back to the sidewalk.

"You mean, the part I left out?" He turned his head. "Sorry, I just. I didn't think it would be a good thing to put."

Faith shrugged off the hurt she felt, as if he was ashamed to tell any of them that he was even in the same neighborhood as Faith, much less staying in the same apartment. But she couldn't blame him at all. If he even put a slight clue that she was around him, Buffy would be on the first bus out there and assume Faith was holding him captive in her apartment - then whipping her ass to get him back.

"You did the smart thing," she told him. "B wouldn't be too excited to know Angel's helping pay for the place anyway."

"Oh. I didn't know that either."

"How'd you think I scoped out this place straight out of jail? Angel's been a big help to me, to B's disgust. But I don't wanna keep looking to him for every little problem."

Xander frowned, his jealousy for Angel not a hidden talent of his. "Well, most girls like the big, brooding guy with a girl's name to help them out."

Faith pulled the door open to the 24-hour doughnut shop with a grin on her face. "Most girls. But some of us don't care for it." She went in.

"Wait. what's that supposed to mean?" he called to her as the door began to close. But it was left unanswered.

* * * * *

Xander went on back to the apartment to get more sleep after they snacked on doughnuts. Of course, she had an entire dozen and then some. She tried to see how much she could gross him out, but he seemed more attracted to it than grossed out by it. She had to smile.

Faith, on the other hand, still had the buzz from the sugar going through her to go to bed. So she patrolled through the neighborhood some more. At times, it was tough being alone. She never thought she'd admit that to herself, but it was true. Being by herself meant being with her thoughts. Sometimes, that was a dangerous thing.

And ever since Xander came to stay with her, she's had rare times where she would be alone with her thoughts except when she was out doing this. Unlike Sunnydale, though, once a vamp was dusted, the other ones - if they were around - fled like little girls.

She passed by a condemned store. What served as the display windows were covered in wooden boards. The door was taped over and over with duct tape. The one thing, however, that caught Faith's eye was the flickering of candlelight from inside. She would've just dismissed it as homeless folks camping out, only there was something tingling in the back of her neck that told her it was something more.

She stopped and tried to peer through the cracks between the boards. Moving around a bit, she saw four or five guys gathering around in a circle. Candles were lit around them. Their attire was like any other gang members that were roamed around the neighborhood. Only, they didn't seem to be dealing anything - but performing something. A ritual was what it looked like. She could make out someone chanting.

"Don't think that's gonna fly around here," she murmured, cracking her knuckles. It nearly made her laugh at the thought that one day, she was going to try to kick a door in, and it wouldn't crack. How sitcom-like it would be.

But she hadn't come across a door that she didn't like.

This one being no exception. Ramming her foot into the duct taped glass door, it caved in off the hinges with a satisfying crash. "What's up, guys?" she greeted the surprised hosts. Her eyes followed towards the girl laying on the floor, hands bound and mouth gagged. She lay strategically in the circle the gang had performed. "Should I even ask what this is all about?"

A guy with silver-tinted sunglasses sneered. "Get out of here!" he demanded.

"Not without that sacrificial looking chick you got there," Faith replied.

Sliver Shades let out an angry grunt. "Get her!" he ordered two of his guys. "This has to happen tonight!"

The ones that were the nearest to her, she coined Butch and No-Brain, turned and decided their hands were good enough weapons to deal with her.

Faith put up her hands innocently. "Hey, now, don't want anyone to get hurt." She let them get near enough for her to execute a roundhouse kick that arced across both their cheeks. "Well, yeah, I kinda do want some of you to get hurt." Watching as they were rocked off their feet, the dark Slayer met the others' gazes. They had expected for Butch and No-Brain to easily take care of her and were trying to get on with whatever they were doing.

Silver Shades' brows went up. "No." He motioned for three others to go after her, though it looked like sending them meant having to wait to continue.

Which was fine by her.

The first one pulled out some brass knuckles and slipped them on, coming at her with his fist. The second one behind him kept some weird spiked nun chucks at bay.

Faith easily dodged Brass Fist's attack, grabbing into his arm with one hand and placing her other one on his back as he kept moving, and using his momentum and her own strength to throw him out through the broken door. She turned around just as Nun Chuck came at her, doing fancy moves with his choice weapon.

She followed them with her eyes, a smug smile on her face. "I feel like I'm in a fucking Jackie Chan movie."

He did a 360 turn, lashing out the nun chucks toward her. She ducked, hearing them swish inches above her head, and had to dodge again to avoid another quick execute of them, barely missing her arm with the spike. She turned from him so that they had exchanged places.

He didn't even take a moment and swung the nun-chucks.

Faith shot up her arm to block them, intentionally allowing the chain to wrap around her forearm one time.

Nun Chuck seemed satisfied with the outcome, adjusting his hold on the other end, ready to jerk her towards him.

"Ain't gonna happen," she replied, feeling someone coming up behind her, knowing it was the third guy that had been called to 'stop her.' She smirked at the one she was facing and took hold of the chain, swinging him around like a bat, using both arms. He tried to hold back but found he had NO chance.

His feet actually left the ground as she used him as a human nun-chuck to smack into the third guy who had been ready to grab her from behind.

Both men flew back and hit the floor hard.

Faith had held onto the nun-chucks and began to play around with them, trying to mimic the fancy moves Nun Chuck had done. She did it rather clumsily. "Aw, fuck it," she said, tossing them to the side.

Silver Shades and the last of his group, glanced at each other, not knowing how to deal with this sudden turn of events.

Faith approached them in long strides. She watched as Silver Shades reached into his jacket. She had a very good idea of what he was going to pull out. She whipped back and kicked him straight in the chest before he had a chance to do it. Ribs cracked from her force as he bounced against the wall. She then looked at the last one standing.

He stood there staring at her, hands visibly shaking as if trying to decide if he should pull out his weapon.

"Nice tat," she commented, nodding towards the one showing on his forearm. It was of a staff with a snake twisted around it, eyes glowing. She thought about getting another one herself but hadn't been able to decide what she wanted. "Think maybe we can avoid this little confrontation and let me get the girl?"

He opened his mouth, but decided against that and nodded.

Faith passed him and scooped the girl up in her arms. She walked towards the door, having to pass by him again. "Thanks," she said, but not before hooking her foot around his ankle and jerking him off his feet.

She kept walking as she heard his ass hit the floor in a groan of surprise and pain.

Carrying the girl down three blocks, she set her down and undid everything that held her. She watched as the girl let out a deep, shaking breath and started to cry. She couldn't have been any older than 21. "Thank you so much," she whispered, clutching onto Faith.

Faith shrugged, not sure how to handle it from here. "Uh, yeah, sure. No big. Now get outta here." She helped the girl to her feet and waited until she was sure she could stand on her own.

The girl slowly left, but Faith followed closely behind to make sure she got on a bus okay.

* * * * *

Faith woke up later on that day to a stormy early afternoon. Thunder boomed in the sky, lightning streaked across the clouds. She liked rain, even the loudness of the thunder. It was relaxing and exciting at the same time.

She came out into the living room to find Xander at the table, reading the paper. "What's good?" she asked, yawning and stretching.

"I think Garfield just ate something," he informed her, not looking up. "News at eleven." He popped another chip into his mouth. "You came back pretty late this morning. Everything okay?"

"Yeah." She joined him at the table. "Had a run in with some cult doing some ritual."

Xander lifted his eyes over the newspaper. "Wow. That's a new one. I mean, around here. Did you know what they were trying to summon?"

Faith shrugged. "Beats the hell outta me. I don't care anyway. They didn't get to do it, so all's just fine."

Xander nodded; he was just used to finding out more about what the cult was all about. It must've been a Giles thing. He returned back to the newspaper. "I might've found a place to stay," he announced.

Faith jerked her head up more sudden than she intended. Then again, the words were so sudden. "Really?"

He nodded, keeping his eyes on the print. "It's about five miles from here," he answered. "It sounds nice. well, relatively speaking, of course. It wouldn't take me long at all to get to work. I'll be out of your hair pretty soon." He looked up and forced a smile.

"'Bout time," she said. "Housing your fucking ass was getting to be irritating."

Xander folded the paper. "Wanna go see it with me? I mean, the place, not my ass. Though you might be more impressed with one than the other."

Why did she feel like a part of her just fell off then? She had to shake the feeling off. This was expected, and it was necessary. right? She forced her own smile. "Well, we'll see how much five miles changes the scenery." She shrugged. "Yeah, I'll come." She got up to get ready, not noticing Xander's look falling into sadness and disappointment as she shut the door behind her.

* * * * *

A few hours later, the weather had let up so that it wasn't raining, just wet and cloudy as Xander and Faith went down the stairs of the apartment building they had just looked over. It really was better than the ones Xander had seen and mentioned. At least there was hot water and the walls weren't as cracked as the others.

"Plus, I didn't hear the cockroaches too bad behind the walls," he commented as they hit the sidewalk to go back towards the bus stop. He tried to get a reaction out of Faith, who had been uncharacteristically quiet since they had gotten there. "I just wish there was an empty one in your building. Your building's pretty nice, if you can ignore the dangerous part of the neighborhood. Uh, Earth to Faith."

Faith finally looked up. "What?" she asked.

"You're just. quiet. Did you not like the place?"

"No. It's cool. I mean it's up to you." She casually glanced at different windows as they passed by them, various little shops on the way to the bus stop. "Let's walk back," she said.

"Five miles?" Xander asked, a pout on his face. "And. it's raining."

"Dude, it stopped, and it ain't that long a walk." She couldn't help but smile.

"So says someone who can run around the entire city three times without breaking a sweat!"

"I'll carry you home if you get too tired, okay?"

"Ooo, is that a promise?" He nudged her with an elbow glad to see he got that smile he tried so hard not to melt from every time he saw it. They walked on, when Xander spotted a blue Volkswagen beetle. He automatically punched Faith in the arm a few times, realizing how much it felt like hitting a metal pole under her sleeve. "Punch buggy blue!" he called out with a grin.

Faith looked up at him from surprise than the actual feeling of the punch. "What the hell?"

Xander slowly stopped his punching. "Uh, punch buggy game?" He raised his brows high into his forehead at her blank look. "You never played that?"

"No."

Xander mocked a horrified gasp. "Wow. And you said you've tried about everything. See, I thought that was more of a myth than vampires and Slayers."

Again, Faith had trouble holding back a grin. "Well, can't try it until I know what there is to try. So show me, then."

"Rules are simple: you see any of those Volkswagen beetles from the 1970's on up, and you punch the person you're playing with in the arm, calling out 'punch buggy' and whatever color it is." He pointed down the road. "I saw a blue one. I punched you in the arm, and I said, 'punch buggy blue.'"

"That's pretty lame," she stated, honestly.

He shrugged. "It was a game Willow and I played sometimes when we were kids - well, okay, so last time I played it was a few months ago."

True, the game was beyond lame, but the lameness was kind of . beyond not lame. Besides, it would give them something to do. "Okay, I'm game."

About ready to quit the game, Xander brightened. They continued to talk about a few more odd things when he stopped in front of a particular window of a comic book shop. It was open, but he just wanted to peek at the display. "Oh, wow," he cooed.

Faith stood next to him, trying to see what he was drooling over. She saw the two rows of comic books. One caught her eye that was nearest to her. "Fucking cool. They got that X-Men one I loved when I was a kid."

"You collected comics?" Xander asked, looking over at her.

She shrugged. "Well, not like big time collect. I'd steal a few from one store in Boston whose owner hated me. But I also just kicked back at this other store and read whatever was on the rack." She recalled the interior of the small convenience store-type shop. "I'd sit my ass down on the floor and read. Most of the time it was Batman, but I thought the X-Men kicked some major ass." She pointed to the one she was focused on. "I got to read that one 'cause the owner actually liked me so much and knew how much I loved reading them, that he pulled his original one out and let me read it as many times as I wanted. Woulda knocked my head off, though, if I wrinkled one page on it."

"Dad hated comic books," Xander replied, looking back to the window. "I had to hide them a lot. Once, he got really drunk and somehow I got him mad - I don't know, I breathed or something - and he found three of my mint condition Spideys and shoved them down the garbage disposal. Best Spideys that took forever to find down the drain - literally."

For some reason, it was still hard for Faith to imagine Xander didn't live in the perfect life Buffy or Willow seemed to live. She always assumed any of from Sunnydale was an incarnation of the Brady Bunch, in some way.

"Sorry," she mumbled. "Mom wasn't too keen on a lot of things, too."

He only nodded, but it was nod of deep understanding to be living under a roof with parents or parent that loved the bottle more than their kid. He tried to veer the conversation away from the subject, looking back at the comic book. "Hey, I've read that one. The Dark Phoenix Saga!"

Faith nodded, glad to see the subject had been changed. "Wicked ass plot."

"One of my faves, too," Xander said, his smile returning. "Ultra awesome bodied women aside."

"Have you seen the way they draw them now?" she asked. "If they take any more after Britney Spears, I think I might blow chunks."

"Hey, what's wrong with Britney Spears?" he asked.

"Nothing except the chick annoys the hell outta me." She would've gone on only that an object in the reflection of the window caught her eye. Something bright and yellow against the dreary environment. The actual excitement caused her to not think about what exactly she was doing. "Punch buggy yellow!" she declared and slugged a fist into his arm.

He actually propelled about four feet from where he had been standing before stumbling and landing hard on his butt. "OUCH!" he cried.

She blinked, just realizing what had happened. "Oh, shit. Sorry," she said, though a laugh erupted with it.

He pouted some more, rubbing his butt gingerly. "No, you're not," he said.

"You're right, I'm not," she said, going to him and reaching out to him. "Hey, didn't anyone tell you it ain't smart to play around with a Slayer?"

"Yeah, yeah," he mumbled. Xander found himself reaching out and holding onto Faith's hands as she pulled him to his feet. Only, he didn't let go, feeling her smooth skin under his thumbs. Powerful, sexy hands. His brows rose a bit when she saw she squeezed back. He lifted his dark eyes to meet hers and found her staring back at him. Those dark, full lips moved and he watched them, dazed by them - awed by her.

"Faith," he breathed, drawing a bit nearer to her. Their bodies touched as he pulled her to him, faces inches from each other.

"Xander," she whispered, her eyes never leaving his face.

"We keep saying our names like that, we'll give Buffy and Angel a run for the money," he joked with a small smile.

She grinned back, but the moment got to her and she leaned in, meeting her lips to his. And she kissed deeply, passionately, her hands roaming around the back of his head and neck, not caring where they were, though she pushed him more towards the crook between the stores. She could feel him return with as much fire as she was giving, his hands moving across her waist to the small of her back.

And it was all familiar to her again. The smell of his clothes, of him, the reminder of his touch - simple, gentle yet full of comfort and oh, so bona fide. That night they had made love the first time, Faith knew it had been different with him. She didn't know why as they did it... At least, not until the end of the night.

It was the look he had given her. The way his hand had slowly brushed back a strand of her hair as they lay there afterwards, then lightly stroked her arm. He didn't fall asleep right away. It was weird - other guys had gotten what they wanted then rolled over and gone to sleep.

But he hadn't. He just stared at her - a twinkle in his eyes. More than a look of "Wow, I just scored my first girl!" It was a loving look, a caring one, a longing one.

She quickly pulled away. "I can't," she said, removing herself from his embrace.

For a moment, he stood there, arms out as if still holding her. "Uh... okay." He let them drop, almost defeated. "What is it?"

"This ... we can't do this, Xander. This is so fucked up."

"How?" He ran his fingers through his hair, a part of him knowing exactly 'how.' "Faith. I like you. A lot."

"Stop it," she demanded, flashing an angry glare at him.

"No. I don't want to." He put his hands to his head. "Oh, God. listen, Faith. There's this part of me that's been trying to do the whole avoidy thing about these feelings I have for you."

Faith stared at him, not believing what she was hearing - some part of her wanting to but knowing it wasn't right. "You can't like me," she said to him.

"Believe me, I thought the same thing. But. you keep doing these amazing things. You keep just being amazing, and I can't. seem to get past it."

"I don't know what the fuck you're talking about, but you're gonna have to get past it," she demanded. She was acting angry. Anger is what she could handle. Anger made it easier for her to deal with this situation, to avoid admitting the complicated feelings she had in return. She turned to leave but was surprisingly grabbed in the arm by him. She looked back.

He was staring at her with intense eyes. "What was that kiss for then?" he asked, quietly. "I know what it was for me, but. you didn't pull away within the first two minutes of it."

"Xander, don't you get it? It's what I do. In the moment. It's gone. Let's just leave it." She tugged her arm but only felt his grip grow stronger.

"I don't believe that."

"You're gonna have to!"

"You said it yourself: you've changed. And I know you have. I've seen for myself how you have."

"Oh, yeah?"

"You keep saying how you don't wanna be some hero, but you can't help it. You wanna help people. You want to do good. I've always known it in you, Faith. Remember, I was one of the ones that didn't want to give up on you."

She let her face soften for just a moment, but she quickly let it harden again. "And yeah, remember I was one of the ones that tried to kill you!"

"Minor setback?" he put in sheepishly. He sighed when she finally jerked her arm out of his grasp. "Faith, I'm willing to deal with the past if you -"

A noise caught their attention above them. A guy was atop one of the building around them. He stared down at them while three others appeared from both sides.

Faith recognized them right away as Silver Shades and his goons - at least, those that healed better. She shoved Xander behind her, alert and pissed off that this all had to be happening all at once.

"Guess you guys just don't know when to quit," she snarled at Silver Shades who stood in front of her.

"You ruined our little party," he stated. "Think you caused enough damage."

"Uh. did I miss something?" Xander asked, looking over her shoulder to the three in front of them. He didn't like their easy manner. Most people would gather more members after dealing with someone like Faith.

"Whenever you get the chance," Faith hissed. "Run your ass outta here."

Xander swallowed, scanning for something to help fight with. A muffled shot rang out, making him duck his head a little just as Faith shoved him up against the wall, her back to him. He looked around at himself, at her - but saw no blood anywhere, causing relief to go through him.

"Shit," Faith murmured, angrily. She looked down at her left thigh and saw something protruding from it. A red dart.

Xander looked down at where she was looking, a fear grabbing him. "That's not good."

Faith held onto it and jerked it out, glaring hard at Silver Shades. "What's this?"

He seemed a little astounded, a long pause before he said anything. "A surprise," he answered, though his voice wasn't as confident as it should've been.

"Really?" Faith answered, staring at it then tossing it to the side. "Well, it wasn't surprise enough." She stepped toward them, fists clenched. Whatever it was wasn't doing a lick of good, to the others' dismay.

Silver Shades backed up. "I thought that was supposed to be for a goddamn elephant!" he hissed to the one on his left.

"It-it was supposed to take into affect as soon as it hit her," Lefty murmured in total confusion.

Faith moved towards them so quickly, the three men had no time to react. She went straight for Silver Shades, grabbing and hurling him down the sidewalk. Lefty and Righty stared at her, not knowing what to do now, only that they didn't want to deal with her.

Xander came running and tackled Lefty down. They both landed into the nearly empty streets just as lightning streaked the sky and a steady rain began to fall again. Lefty took a punch at Xander's face, and Xander shook it off and gave him one in return. They exchanged a few blows, while Righty looked from where Lefty was to where Silver Shades was. He decided it was safer to join in the brawl in the street.

Faith followed after Silver Shades, even as he tried to crawl away from her. He let out a yelp as he was hauled to his feet and a fist met up with his cheek, feeling something break. He was still hurting from his ribs being cracked and bruised earlier. Then his back slammed into the wall. He desperately tried to fight back, but any time he took a swing, it was easily blocked.

Faith shoved her forearm against his Adam's apple, holding him in place. "What do you fucking WANT from me?"

"You messed up our one chance." he managed to choke out, trying to pry her arm off of him. Rain soaked both of them, and he couldn't understand who this girl was or what she was in order to fight so hard, to be so strong, and have the constitution enough to resist the dart.

"Yeah, that's what I was aiming for," she snapped, applying more pressure.

"Watch out!" Righty cried just as a car came barreling down the street. He had been knocked away from the fight by Xander's fist. He was yelling at Lefty who was still locked in a struggle on the ground with Xander.

Faith saw this, her lips parting in fear. "Xander!" she cried, releasing Silver Shades and sprinting toward the fight. Lefty had already rolled away, leaving Xander trying to get his bearings together. He wasn't going to get out the way in time - at least, not without help.

Forcing her legs to carry her as fast as possible, she rushed at Xander and grabbed him from under his arms dragging them both to the other side of the street, seconds before the wheels of the Suburban raced over where they had been. Something went through Faith then and she stumbled, falling against the sidewalk.

The fire hydrant - it could've hit me. I could've fallen onto it.

The SUV reversed and pulled up to the curb across the street from where they had landed, letting Silver Shades and the other three into it, then sped back down the street.

Xander shook his head, a little stunned by the entire situation. He finally realized they were gone and sighed. "Nothing's ever too simple with you, huh, Faith?" he remarked. He didn't hear an expected remark right away, making him look over at her.

To his surprise, she was curled up on the sidewalk, shivering as if she was freezing, letting the rain patter on her.

"Faith?" he replied, worry lacing in his tone. He crawled over to her, putting his hand on her shoulder. She jumped at his touch, her eyes wide in. fear? "Hey, it's me. It's just me." He looked her over to see if she was hurt anywhere. She shook under his touch. "What's wrong, Faith? What is it?"

"I.I don't know," she said, unsure. "I don't wanna be here."

Lightning flashed again, followed by a loud boom of thunder.

She screamed and curled into herself more.

He looked at her in shock, his heart beginning to race in his chest. He couldn't tell, but he thought he heard her crying quietly under the shield of her arms. "Faith. oh, God," he murmured, knowing it had to have been that dart that had done it.

Whatever it had done.

"We need to get out of here," he said, quietly. He put his hand on her arm, making her jump again. "It's me, Faith."

"X-Xander, I'm. I can't." She shut her eyes tighter, the lightning making her flinch, and she clapped her hands over her ears when the thunder rumbled. "I'm sc-scared."

"You're.what?" Xander ran wet fingers through his drenched hair. "It's just thunder. It's okay. There's nothing to be afraid of. C'mon, you're not afraid of anything. You just fought off three big guys." But she wasn't listening.

Something was definitely up, and they weren't going to find out by being out there in the rain. He gently got to a squatting position, his hand not leaving her. "We're going home, okay?" he told her. It was painful to talk to her like a little kid. But at the moment, it was how she was acting - like a scared little kid.

Faith's wide eyes darted around as if expecting something to jump out at them. But she nodded slowly, letting Xander get her to her feet. She pressed her body against his.

Something is going to jump out at them. Those guys are going to come back and try to shoot them or break their necks.

It can't happen. It can't. It can't..

Xander felt her draw closer to him and, despite the utter confusion, automatically wrapped a secure arm around her body. They began to amble slowly down the sidewalk. "I bet walking back to your place doesn't seem like a keen idea now, does it?" he teased.

But she didn't respond. Her eyes were on full alert still, jerking a little at the thunder that boomed off in the distance.

He sighed, tightening his hold as they approached the bus stop. "Maybe you just need to get some sleep. You're probably tired or something." He knew that wasn't it. He knew it was something more.

He knew something had to be done.

* * * * *

Xander led her to her bed, both of them drenched from head to toe. He let her sit down. "Um, why don't you get dressed in drier clothes."

She rubbed her arms as Xander helped slip off her jacket. "They aren't gonna find us here, are they?" she asked, her eyes moving around the room.

"I don't think so." He saw the alarm as she stared up at him. Had to change to that comment quickly. "I mean, no! They won't. They're long gone."

"Are you sure?" They could come back. The lightning might come through the window. The thunder might bring the entire roof on them. All these weird thoughts came tumbling into Faith's head, and she couldn't stop them.

"Promise," Xander said with a smile. "Go ahead and dress up, and I'll make something warm like. uh, warm water or something." He moved towards the door.

"You're not going far?"

Xander looked back at her, his eyes sad at hearing her ask that. Any other day, it'd be something of a dream: for her to want him near her. But not this time, not for this reason. "I'll be right out here if you need me." He slowly shut the door behind him.

When he reached the living room, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. All he could see was a look in Faith's face that he had never seen before. The look of terrifying fear. The dart. Whatever was in it had to be the culprit.

He opened up his eyes and stared out the window. "Great, from one brain to half a brain we go," he mumbled, running a frustrating hand through his hair. He went directly to the kitchen, trying to think about what his next move was. It was obvious Faith was out of commission. She seemed to be at the very opposite of the courage spectrum. From one of the bravest people he ever knew to a scared, almost paranoid girl.

So not Faith. So not Faith at all.

His first instinct was to call up Giles in slight panic. Only the G-Man knew how to do anything. Or even Willow. Willow was getting very good at her magic musings. But he couldn't bring himself to tell his best friend WHO he was hanging out with. And he wasn't sure how Giles would react as well. And if Buffy ever found out.

Talk about Faith being afraid of something.

Wheelchair guy and his bodyguard. What was his name?

"Paul," Xander recalled to himself as he fixed some hot chocolate that he found in the pantry. He needed to get out of his own wet clothes. As he set the small kettle on the stove to get it warmed up, he grabbed up some clothes from his bags and went into the bathroom to change.

Faith had changed clothes and was carefully walking around the room, trying to push away this gripping fear in her. It's going to get me, she thought. They're going to try and hurt me. The lightning. it could hurt me. She jumped as another rumble of thunder resounded through the sky.

It was going to hurt her. She felt it was. She rushed to the door and jerked it open, forgetting her strength and almost ripping it off its hinges in panic. "Xander!" she called, scanning the room and finding it empty.

It got him. Some demon or monster got him. I'm alone. I can't be alone. They'll come get me.

"Oh, shit," she murmured. "Xander?!"

Xander rushed out of the bathroom, just getting his pants on and almost tripping over one of the pant legs. He hopped on one foot to get it all the way on and looked at Faith. "What? What is it?"

She turned to look at him, scared from him opening the bathroom door. "What the fuck's wrong with me?" she whispered, her face falling.

Xander, now fully dressed in dry clothes, moved to her and pulled her into him. "It's probably some spell or something in you. The dart that hit you, remember? It probably had some weird serum that's making you just the opposite of what you are. But we'll figure this out."

"Shit, Xander, I'm fucking scared," she whispered, hugging him in return, her head resting on his chest.

Her proximity was making Xander a bit uneasy - in the excited sense, but he knew this was so NOT the time to feel this way. He said it himself: whatever was in her was making her act the opposite of what she was. And what she was didn't involved liking him. "How about Paul? Do you have his number?" He pulled back slightly to look at her.

She nodded. "On the fridge."

"C'mon. Sit over on the couch and we'll call him."

Within about an hour, Brandon had carried the crippled Paul, the bookshop keeper/demon researcher, up the two flights of stairs, into Faith's apartment. She even flinched when they knocked on the door.

Xander opened it up. "Guess this place isn't exactly handicapped friendly, huh?" he asked, sheepishly.

Brandon set his friend/boss down on the nearest chair. "I needed a workout today, anyway."

"And I'm very used to many buildings around here not having wheelchair accessibility," Paul replied, taking off his wet slicker. He looked over at where Faith sat, her back to them. "How is she?"

"Scared," Xander whispered. "I don't know what they shot her with, but it's got her so jumpy. All scared about everything." He looked over at her with concern. "Not a fun thing to see."

"Did you grab the dart before you left the scene?" Paul asked.

Xander shook his head. "Funny how I was thinking about it, but didn't go through with the thought." He knew he had just been too worried about what was happening to Faith to think about picking up a small object.

"It happens. Why don't you go with Brandon to find the dart. You would know where it is, right?"

"Yeah. That I can remember. You two will be okay?"

Paul nodded. "I'll try and."

"No," Faith said, standing up. "I can still hear you guys. I don't wanna be here with him." She pointed to Paul. He could hurt me. He could try and break my neck. He could be one of those gang guys. "I don't' even know him. We just met, pretty much. He might. do something to hurt me or-or something."

Paul exchanged a look with Xander, brows raised in what he was hearing. He looked back at Faith, his voice as gentle as it came. "I'm not going to hurt you, Faith. I promise."

"How do I know that?" she said, though the usual tone in her voice not reaching her words of anger. "I just met you. You-You could pretend to be all nice then t-try to hurt me."

"I seriously doubt that," Paul answered, remembering their first meeting clearly. She had lifted him out of his chair by his shirt like he weighed nothing. "We do need to find the thing that went into you, but I think it's safer for you to be here."

Xander gently took Faith by her shoulders and looked at her. "C'mon, you'll be okay. Paul helped you out before. Nothing's going to get you here. But if you go out, something might." The Faith of old would've seen that as a catalyst to WANT to go where something might get her, just for the challenge of it.

But this Faith took it as it was intended.

"What if." She glanced over at Paul. "I don't want it to happen again."

Xander knitted his brows. "What to happen again?" He watched her dip her head a little. "Faith?"

"Nothing. Screw it." She shook her head. This was stupid. It's not going to happen. Not like when she was a kid, left alone with her mother's boyfriends who always got off on young girls. "Just go. I-I'll be okay."

I'm strong. I could beat the shit out of him if he tried.

Problem was she wasn't sure. She tried not to show it as she turned away from them.

When was this fucking storm gonna stop?

Xander and Paul exchanged quick looks of concern. Then Xander went to the door, giving Faith one last glance before he and Brandon went back downstairs to find the dart.

Faith heard the door close behind her. "This is so fucked up," she murmured.

"What are you thinking right now?" Paul asked, sitting patiently at the table. He studied her carefully. Yes, he did help these two young teens a few days ago. But they were both more a mystery to him as he was to them. Faith was the most mysterious of all. But Paul did not want to probe those that didn't want to be probed.

"Whatta mean, what am I thinking?" She turned to him, her face full of fear instead of the anger she so desperately wanted to convey. "I'm thinking: you need a damn wheelchair. And if-if something was gonna come through that damn door right now, you couldn't run."

"You wouldn't be able to protect me?"

Faith paused, her gaze falling downwards. "I-I don't think I could."

"Why not? Are you not capable?"

"I am. I could kick its ass, whatever it would be." She sighed. "But I'd be too scared that it'd be able to whoop my ass. Probably too damn scared to move and run." She stomped her foot on the ground in frustration.

Paul sighed, trying to piece together anything that would help her out. It sounded like the dart contained a sort of 'fear' serum. He had seen it before, done to many of his fellow colleagues to keep them at bay. But this one was extreme. From what he had seen of this girl, Faith feared nothing. She jumped into the fray not thinking about being scared of anything. She just fought amazingly. Too amazingly, he thought.

So she knew what to do, how to do it, but it was the fear that was keeping her from doing them. Clever. "Once Xander and Brandon find the dart, I'll find the answer to this, okay?" he told her. "Are you still afraid of me?"

Faith gave him a sideways glance. She hesitated. "Yes," she murmured. She rubbed her bare arms, trying to desperately NOT be afraid of him. Why should she be?

Thunder rolled in the distance, and her eyes darted to the window.

Paul watched her, studied her moves. She was like a frightened animal. Magic and anything of the sort still surprised him, how easily it could manipulate the strongest of constitutions. If was magic, that is. It could easily be some sort of brain manipulation serum. Pure scientific rather than magical.

"How about you turn on the television," Paul suggested, the uneasiness almost overwhelming as they sat there. "It would drown out the storm if you're afraid to hear it."

Faith nodded, feeling so stupid for being talk to like a stupid little kid. But he was right. She moved cautiously to the television and turned on the knob, the screen coming to life. The channel it had been left on was fuzzy, mainly from the storm. She hit the side of it gingerly, trying to get a better picture. With a small sigh, she flipped to the few channels that were able to come in.

Meanwhile, Paul pulled out a small notebook from his jacket and began writing down notes. He had been fascinated with Faith since his first encounter with her, no matter how scared he had been of her. She was a normal looking young woman. About 5'5, no more than 120lbs, 18 to 19 years old. Her dress wasn't too trendy but audacious and bold, matching perfectly with her attitude. He noticed one lone tattoo on her arm, a barbed wire deal. A tough-looking, young 19-year-old girl at the least. but underneath all the normalcy was something more.

An extremely strong, agile, fast human being. Someone who can take hits that would knock someone her height out, yet able to give back ONE hit that would knock someone as large as Brandon out. Someone who has apparently dealt with those of the supernatural during her young time.

Paul was thoroughly fascinated. And he, himself, had come across many superbeings in his time.

"What are you writing?" Faith asked, her head still turned to the television.

Paul looked up, looking over at her. "Um."

"I can hear the pen on the table. I know you're writing something." She turned around. "Is that some kinda diary?" She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Was he part of the Council? Was he here to take her away? Faith shook her mind again of those border-paranoid thoughts.

"I'm just jotting down notes as to what could be in you," he said, more truth than false with the wording of his sentence. Sharp hearing, he wrote.

She turned back around and continued to watch the television. Her attention was finally focused on the movie. it turned out to be a horror movie, watching the girl go through a creepy house at night. Faith almost stood up and changed the channel. But she willed herself to not do it. She couldn't be scared of something on the screen.

It ain't gonna get me.

However, she found herself actually covering her eyes as the movie continued on. A man with an ax was wandering around in the house, stalking the girl. When he jumped out of a hall closet, Faith screamed and cowered into the couch, her face buried into the cushion.

Paul snapped to attention and blinked. "Uh, maybe it isn't such a good idea to watch that certain channel. I would change it for you only."

"This is so fucking stupid," Faith stated, punching the cushion. "It's a fucking movie! I can't be scared of a fucking movie!"

"Faith, it's okay," he tried to sooth gently.

"No, it's not," she said, getting to her feet. Her manner should've been angry, should've been determined. Instead, it was timid and frustrated. "I can't be scared. How can I be the Sla."

The door burst open then, cutting her off, and a ragged-looking Brandon stepped into the apartment. He was out of breath. "We've got problems," he said.

"Do you have the dart?" Paul asked.

Brandon put the object on the table. "That's not the problem."

"Where's Xander?" Faith asked, looking past Brandon to the hallway.

"That's the problem. Some group of teens jumped us when we went back for it. It looks like they were looking for the same thing." He rubbed the back of his head. "Almost knocked me out with a bat. Xander . he. I tried to help the guy, but he kept telling me to just take this to you. Maybe he ran away, I'm not sure."

"You LEFT him?" Faith asked, walking up to the two men.

"I didn't want to," Brandon replied, automatically stepping back a notch. "The kid insisted."

"Alright," Paul spoke up. "Let's get into the car. All of us. Is that okay with you?" He looked at Faith.

Faith met his gaze reluctantly. They're going to get you if you go out there. They'll make sure you get hurt for messing up their plans. She let her gaze drop again.

"Actually, you don't really have a choice," Paul stated, tucking his notebook into his pocket.

"Whatta mean I don't have a choice?" She stepped back one step.

"Brandon, help her into the car," he said.

Brandon looked at Paul, brows raised. "You. want me to help her?"

"Yes. If she's not going to go quietly. I don't think she should be left here."

Faith shook her head. "I'll be fine here," she said.

"You'll be alone. And I don't think you're in a condition to take care of yourself." He saw her move even further away, and he frowned. "You mean, you won't help us get Xander back?"

That stopped her. Xander. He was in trouble, and here she was trying to avoid getting hurt. She looked around the apartment. The rain poured outside as the evening began to fall.

Paul decided to go back to the gentle approach. "Look at me, Faith." He watched as she finally met his gaze. "You'll be safer with us. We won't hurt you, I promise. We're going to go to the bookstore, get some needed books while I study this dart. Then, we'll go find out where they -"

"I'll go," she said, trying to sound confident. It was faltering fast. "Let's just. hurry." She moved past them and out the door.

Paul and Brandon exchanged looks, but were just happy they got their results.

* * * *

After going back to the bookstore and grabbing some books, Brandon drove the van towards the last place they saw Xander, which was the same block where the gang attacked Faith and Xander earlier. The rain had subsided for the moment.

Faith sat in the back, scrunched in the furthest corner. The van didn't have any more seats than the ones up front. It was mainly used for hauling various equipment and Paul's wheelchair. She tried to keep herself occupied by observing the weapons Paul had stored. "What were you?" she asked.

Paul was busy looking through some portable electronic microscope. "What do you mean?"

"You have all these weapons back here." She wanted to reach out and touch one, but something kept telling her how dangerous it was to do so. "You planning to fight something?"

Paul continued to peer through the small lens of the mechanism. "I thought I told you. I was a former demon hunter."

Faith looked up towards the front of the van. "Demon hunter? You mean, normal guys goin' around and killing . demons?"

"As a demon hunter would do. I thought maybe you are one yourself." He slipped it in very casually. He lifted his head a little. "And exactly what do mean 'normal guys'? Are you saying you aren't normal?"

Faith rested her chin on her arms as she placed them forearm over forearm on her knees, not answering.

Paul left it at that just as the van began to slow down.

"This is the place," Brandon said, shutting off his headlights. He automatically scanned the area. It was empty. "How the hell are we going to find the kid?"

Paul jotted down something in another small notebook, tapping the pen lightly on his chin. He looked up. "Stop the van here," he said. "They know this place. They know when people cross it. If they see us here, I'm sure they'll come right up and find us."

"Th-They will?" Faith asked, pressing herself against the walls. She was tensed as if ready to spring out of the van and run.

"Don't worry." He pulled open a book, running through some pages as Brandon pulled out some binoculars and began to really scan the area. "I think I may know what they used on you in the dart. It's mainly a potion with a certain 'fear factor' spell placed into it. Somehow, they liquefied it but it works the same."

"So what's our plan?" Brandon asked, pulling down his binoculars. "Get her going and wait for them?"

"It's what I'm hoping," Paul murmured. "It's just too bad things don't usually work out the way you want them -"

Suddenly the back windows of the van smashed in.

Faith screamed and crawled towards the front of the van as arms reached in and looked for the lock.

Paul and Brandon turned around at once, seeing what had been done. They looked at each other.

"Sorry," Paul said, referring to his statement that had been cut off. "I think I have the right ingredients with me. we just need to buy time to perform the counterspell."

"Buy time?" Brandon asked, trying to rev up the van. A bat came crashing through his window. "Easier said than done, sir!"

The back doors flung open and three gang members rushed into it just as Brandon began to pull the van into drive.

Faith pressed herself against the front seats, her eyes wide in fear as they approached her. Their eyes were focused on her, trying to keep their balance.

Paul held onto everything in his lap. "Faith, fight back!"

But Faith shook her head, trying to press herself more into the back of the seats. "No. they're gonna hurt me!"

Paul felt his seat begin to give under her desperation. "She's going to break it," he muttered, holding his arm out to push back as much as he could. "If you don't fight back, they will hurt you!"

Brandon turned the wheel to the left, trying to throw the gang members off their feet. One slammed against the side of the van, but the other two thrust themselves at Faith as they fell.

"Get her legs," one told the other. He saw the hesitation in his buddy's face. "It's cool. The stuff's working." He grabbed her leg while his partner did the same and they began to drag her back out.

"NO!" Faith cried, feeling herself being pulled along the van's floor.

Brandon pulled the van over to the right, attempting to get the same results.

But the gang members had found their center of gravity and continued to drag Faith towards the doors.

Faith got so scared, she actually lashed out her leg, sending a guy flying up to the ceiling, denting it, then slammed to the floor. The impact frightened her further, making her flinch.

"Boo!" the third one cried, grabbing her from behind. When she jumped, he couldn't help but laugh. Then he shoved her forward. "You better stop this van or your friend's gonna end up part of the pavement!"

Brandon gritted his teeth and didn't slow down. He kept taking the sharp turns, continuing to throw them off balance. But he could tell it wasn't doing them any good.

The one who had been slammed into the ceiling got his bearings together and rushed to the front, taking Brandon into a chokehold. "Stop the damn car!" he demanded.

Paul grabbed a book and smacked it against the guy's head while Brandon used a free hand to grab behind him. His large arm managed to grip the back of the guy's jacket and he tried to pull him up.

The guy let out a yelp of pain with each hit from the book, and his eyes went wide when he felt himself being lifted off his feet by Brandon's one arm. He looked back at his comrades and knew he had to do it. Tightening his hold on Brandon's neck, the guy put on more momentum and with Brandon's help, flipped forward right into the steering wheel - and into Brandon's line of vision.

Brandon couldn't help but slam his foot into the brake as he lost sight of where he was going.

They all lurched forward, but the other two gang members quickly pulled Faith out of the doors. They felt her struggle but every time they sneered at her, she would wince and her struggles would lessen. They chuckled at each other, loving every moment of this.

Soon a familiar Suburban pulled up and they threw her inside and took off before Brandon could get his bearings together. He jumped out of the car and cursed at letting them take off. "They're gone," he told Paul.

Paul had taken out a crossbow from the side of his seat and was pressing the tip of the bow against the temple of the remaining gang member who was awkwardly sprawled out between the seats. "I think this guy will cooperate with us," he said. "If we ask nicely."

* * * * *

They're gonna hurt me. They're gonna hurt me.

Faith wasn't even struggling by the time they reached the destination. It was a warehouse right at the end of the street where the whole incident happened. However, to everyone else, it looked like an empty lot. A simple glamour spell. The car drove right into it and disappeared, ending up in a large holding area of a warehouse.

They pulled her out from the backseat, holding her by both arms as they led her to a backroom and shoved her into a chair. The back room was walled in but it didn't have its own ceiling.

"She's such a pretty thing," one of them replied as he pulled out a length of rope. He squatted next to her, smiling as he began to tie her hands behind her back and her legs to the chair.

The second one took another piece of the same kind of rope and wrapped it around her upper body, drawing his face close to hers. "She is gorgeous. Aren't you honey?" He leaned in and kissed her on the neck. He felt her slink back and he laughed. "Relin said this gal's dangerous. I kinda like it when they're scared. Isn't that right, dude?"

Faith wanted to be angry. She wanted to break out of the ropes and smash the smirk off the guy's face. But she couldn't. Frozen in fear she was, she didn't even notice the other presence in the room.

When the second gang member moved from her line of vision, she saw Xander seated on the other end with the same type of bondage done to him, except he was gagged. From the big welt over his right eye, it seemed like he didn't want to shut up.

"Mmm!" he said, his eyes wide in seeing her there.

"Xander," she replied, though her eyes were wide in fear. "W-What do you want from him?"

"It's not what we want, honey," the first one explained. "It's what Relin wants."

And as if on cue, Silver Shades came in holding a gun in his hand. He grinned, seeing the situation had taken a new kind of twist to it. And he liked what he was seeing. "Hello, again," he said. He sat on the desk next to Xander and pressed the barrel of the gun against the side of Xander's head. "I think we need to talk." He nodded towards the two guys and they took that hint to leave, shutting the door behind them. "Now then, I think we're understanding each other." He lowered the gun and pulled down Xander's gag. "See, and you said we'd never fucking get away with it."

Xander sneered at him, though concern still showed in his eyes. "Yeah. It's too bad Faith's got the best of you so much, you had to drug her just so you could get close enough to her."

"Shut up." He backhanded Xander.

Faith squirmed a little in her ropes, but it was less than a feeble attempt. She froze when Relin pointed the gun at her.

"You're going to talk, or I'm going to shoot her," Relin warned.

"P-Please don't," Faith pleaded, her eyes slowly shutting.

The sight was still too much for Xander to see. It was obvious Paul hadn't found the reversal spell. They had to try, but in order to do so, they needed to get out of there and live. Which seemed impossible to Xander.

"What do you want me to talk about?" Xander asked.

"You KNOW what we want to talk about. Talk. Who is she?"

"Why? So what if she ruined a little illegal ritual of yours? This, you didn't have to do."

"You know why," Relin answered. "There's something about her that's. different. I don't like it, and at the same time, I wanna know what it is."

Xander shrugged. "She's special. Aren't we all, though?"

"You know what I goddamn mean!" he bellowed, shaking the gun around. "She fought my guys like they were five-year-olds. I saw how strong she was! You tell me or I kill you."

"Do you know how many times I've heard that, pal?" Xander asked, calmly.

Relin punched him in the jaw. Xander grunted in pain while Faith flinched again in her chair, looking to be on the verge of tears. She looked away, unable to watch without feeling so frightened.

Stars danced in Xander's eyes as blood began to seep from the cut on his lip. Yet he held onto consciousness.

"So what if I tell you?" Xander asked, breathing hard in pain. "What then?"

"We've got things up our sleeve that you can't imagine," Relin said with a smug grin. "She can't help but wanna work with us. We'll make sure of it. But I gotta know what I'm dealing with. Which is where your sorry ass comes in."

"She won't work for you."

Relin's smile only widened. "She will. I might not know much about her, but I've done some research. Seems like she fits a description of someone who's done bad things in the past."

Faith couldn't hear this. She didn't want to hear this. Her past was her past. And she feared it.

"It's over," Xander stated, firmly. "That's over."

"She's done things of bad; it's NEVER over." He stood in front of Xander, trying to read the boy. "And I'll even wager a bet she's done bad things to you."

Xander couldn't help but stare back at Relin in response. His eyes drifted over to Faith.

She stared at him, eyes still wide in fear. But she was meeting his gaze in return. I did bad things to you. I did fucking bad things to you. But you said it's over. Is it? I'm afraid it's not.

I'm afraid of you.

"Can you shoot me already?" Xander sneered, giving Relin another glare. "You don't know one thing about her, or me, so let's keep the wannabe know- it-all comments to one's self."

A crash sounded from above them.

It made all three occupants of the room look up to one of the four windows near the top of the warehouse's ceiling, about four stories up. One now had a large hole in it and an object came flying down towards them.

It was a container that landed in the middle of them, making all of them recoil from it in case it was something more.

Which it was.

As soon as it hit the floor, the cylindrical glass object broke in half and a dust flew up into the air, nearly filling the room with it.

Relin swatted it away, coughing a little as did Xander.

"What the hell's going on?" Relin muttered, almost wanting to get out of the room. But the dust disappeared as soon as it came and not an evidence of it was on the floor. He blinked, approaching the broken container carefully. Just by the look of things and experience, he knew it was magical. "Shit." he muttered.

"Are we gonna die?" Xander asked, not knowing what the big deal was. He squirmed in his seat, really not wanting to know what he just inhaled.

The sound of ropes being torn made Relin's own fears come into reality. He looked up to see the binds that held Faith fall to the ground uselessly. The chair that held her was kicked back, smashing angrily into the wall. He barely had a chance to stand up when Faith flung herself at him with a fist to his face.

She grabbed onto his wrist that held the gun so that he didn't fly anywhere on impact. No, she wanted him as near to her as possible. Without thinking, she crushed the bones in his wrist, making him drop the gun. She kicked it away and pulled him near to her. "You wanna see fear?" she snarled in his face as he cringed in pain. "You should've thought about what the fuck you were doing before leaving your sorry ass in a room with ME."

She shoved him hard with both hands, flinging him up and over the desk in the room. He landed onto the bookcase behind it, making it topple over and all the books fell on him.

Xander jumped a little at the sound of the crash. He looked to the door, knowing fifty or so goons would be in here any minute. Well, at least he knew Faith was cured.

Faith went after Relin, shoving the desk over to the side instead of going around it, grabbing him by the jacket, and punching him again. "You wanna mess with my mind, huh? You wanna get me so damn scared, you'd finally have a chance to nail me?" She punched him harshly in the chest, breaking more ribs. "You just better make sure you finish the goddamn job!"

Xander cringed by the sound of the abuse Relin was getting. Faith wasn't holding back this time. "Faith?" he called to her, hearing racket outside the room. "We should really get."

She held up Relin's limp body and heard the door rattling. "Let 'em come in here," she snapped.

"No. Bad idea. There's about enough of them to fill an auditorium. Not looking to be part of the stampede." He saw her considering ignoring him. "Faith, come on. Get me out of this chair."

With a frustrated sigh, she tossed Relin back into the pile of books and went over to Xander, ripping the ropes, and helping him to his feet. She looked around, seeing the door the gang was trying to get through was the only proper way of getting out of here.

Relin groaned in pain just as Faith realized the window above them was the best way out. "You'll regret this," he murmured.

Right as Faith led her and Xander to a good spot, she caught Relin's remark and turned back to him. But Xander tugged at her arm. "Whoa, there. Forget him. In about two seconds, we'll be bullet-ridden ornaments for this place."

She looked back to Xander, face still intense, but knew he was right. "At least I know where this place is next time," she remarked. She pointed above them. "Gotta go up there."

"Uh. got any rope on you?" he asked.

"Nope."

"Oh."

She thumbed towards her back. "Piggy-back."

Xander looked at her, raising a brow. "I prefer doggy-style but." Without any more remarks, he got on her back, feeling a bit awkward being carried by a person smaller -but oh, so much hotter- than himself. He felt her bounce on her knees, aiming for the lowest beam above them just as he glanced back at the door.

Right when she jumped and grabbed onto the beam, the doors finally busted open, revealing about five gang members coming into the scene. It was taking them awhile to realize what had happened.

"Eeks," Xander remarked, looking WAY down from where they were, now only one beam away from reaching the window.

"Up there," Relin mumbled, pointing weakly to them.

Xander flinched as bullets began to fly all around them. He jerked his body a little to avoid any grazing of the arms and/or heart.

"Don't move so damn much!" Faith hissed as she pulled them up onto the last beam. She ignored the bullets around them and tight rope-walked across the beam to the window. "Better hang on!" she announced as she leapt straight through the window, just as a few more bullets missed them by inches.

Xander tried not to yell as they began to fall towards the ground. But Faith managed to twist them around so that she landed first, taking the brunt of the fall. They landed hard, but Faith was quick on her feet and she grabbed Xander's hand, pulling him up and tugged him into one direction.

Paul's white van met them at the edge of the property.

Faith blinked at first but flung open the side door and saw the stray gang member in the back, hands tied behind his back. Suddenly, she remembered he was the one who had mocked her with a simple "Boo!" when they had taken her out of the van. She glared at him, feeling the fury rise in her.

"Uh,oh." the guy muttered.

"Be gentle," Paul remarked with a smirk. "He's the reason we found this place. Even helped me and Brandon out with the ingredients for the counter spell."

Faith stood there a moment before making a sudden move towards the stranger, watching him flinch in reaction. She smirked. "See how you like it, bastard." She reached in and pulled the guy out by his shirt, throwing him to the ground. "Ain't even worth it," she scoffed, letting Xander in first. "Let's motor."

And they did just that.

* * * * *

"Ohhhh." Xander moaned, holding an ice pack to his cheek. "Remind me next time not to provoke a guy when tied up. Geez, I give myself the dirtiest images."

Faith stood at the window, staring at the drizzle that fell into the night. The experience of feeling that scared, that vulnerable, had been keeping her mind busy since they had gotten back. She never wanted anyone to see her like that - never. And now, an entire gang of foes had seen her at her worst.

And the one thing it did to her was make her think about what she had been afraid of, even before the spell.

"Hey, glad to have you back, by the way," Xander said, lowering the ice pack.

"It's not like I went anywhere," Faith murmured. "It was same old me just." She shook her head. "Xander, you gotta go."

"Huh?" He blinked at her, even though she wasn't looking at him.

"You can't stay here. Go back to that place we looked at before all this shit happened, and get it."

Xander's heart dropped down to his feet, and everything about the conversation they had before the madness started all came tumbling back to him. "Right," he said with a nod. He painfully got to his feet. "Thought maybe it was like hyena-spell where things before it happened were all forgotten." He unzipped his jacket halfway and pulled out a small flat paper bag, placing it on the table.

He turned around and moved towards his bags, trying not to fall into the total hurt he was feeling. "I should get used to this whole 'I like you, but you're not attracted to me' act. I think I practiced it enough."

Faith turned around, surprised that he had gone straight to his bags. Mixed emotions began to flood into her. She had been afraid of everything and everyone while under the spell. But not Xander. She wasn't scared of him at all. In fact, because she had been so scared about everything else, she had felt a surge of trust and comfort in him. "Who said that was the case?" she said aloud.

Xander looked up at her, stopping in his motions. "Uh. you lost me. Or else, veered me off this road here." He stood up. "That's NOT the case?"

She needed him out of her apartment because she wanted him so much.

"Wanna know what I'm the most scared of right now?" She couldn't believe what she was doing by letting him in on how she felt.

"Reality shows?"

"No. You."

He pointed to himself. "Me? Me, the one who shrieks in the face of danger? Faith, I think you've challenged me before. Not looking for the fight to last more than a length of a sneeze."

"No, not you... I mean." She fought for the right words. "To like you. I'm. scared to like you."

That caught Xander by right field - possibly even past the foul line. "Oh, I think I need to sit." But he continued to stand there. "So. meaning there is a possibility of likage here."

"Fuck it, Xander, yeah. It's where I'm getting at."

"What's there to be afraid of, Faith? Nothing in this canyon of likage here to be scared of." He spread out his arms. "See?"

"Dammit, Xander, stop trying to be so funny!"

He lowered his arms, growing serious. "I'm not really trying to be that. I mean, there isn't anything to be scared of. Hey, if it makes you feel better, I'm kinda scared to like you."

"Yeah, but that's 'cause I tried to kill you last time."

"If that were really the case, I'd be scared OF you, and I don't think I'd really be able to get INTO the liking stage."

She crossed her arms. "Well, that's the reason I'M scared, okay?"

"What? Because you tried to kill me?"

She shrugged, the conversation too deep to get out of now. "Yeah."

"Faith, it's not going to happen again."

"How do you know?" she asked.

"Because. you're Faith. The real Faith." He slowly made his way closer to her, yet still kept his distance. "And that's a Faith that won't hurt anyone like that again. Because that Faith told me she learned a lot while she was in jail, and I'm seeing it, and loving it."

"Do you trust it?"

Xander didn't hesitate to nod. "Yeah, I do. Issues, yes, we have. But. I wanna get this all behind us because I don't want it to get in the way of what could be ahead of us. And hey, I'm here for you, Faith. I mean, look at me, crashing here for the past couple of weeks. I know it's still hard being out here in this world, but I'm here to help you in any way I can. And I know you don't like 'fucking' help, but I'm stubborn like that."

"Why do you care about me so much?" Faith asked.

"Does it matter?" Xander answered. "I do. It's what counts. And anyway, like I said, you definitely haven't done anything that's given me a reason NOT to - recently, I mean." He smiled at her. "Um, but if I do have a slim chance with you, I don't wanna ruin it."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll leave. I don't know if I want that apartment we just looked at, considering just down the street, I was almost shot a few hundred times, but I'll find something." He moved towards his bags.

Faith watched him, not intending to stop him. In some ways, he was right: there was something of a chance between them. But was she willing to let them take it? She glanced over at the coffee table and saw the small paper bag lying flatly there. "You might forget this," she said, quietly.

Xander didn't even look up as he began to pack. "It's yours."

Faith picked it up and pulled out what was inside. Though a bit wrinkled from being in his jacket the entire time, she saw clearly through the plastic what it was: the X-Men comic book they had been talking about earlier. Her favorite one. Now one for her own.

She shut her eyes a moment, telling herself that this guy really did want to give them a chance, even when he admitted he was scared. Faith needed to be true to herself. One thing she had learned today was that she did look fear in the face and smirk at it.

"Xander," she said, opening her eyes and looking at him.

If she was going to face it on a daily basis as a road to where she could look at herself in the mirror, she was going to have to deal with EVERY fear. This would be one small step into a very large thing.

Was she going to take it?

He looked up.

"Let's go get something to eat," she said, slipping the comic back inside the bag. "I'm starved."

"Um, well, okay. I'll just finish this when we get back." He pointed to his half-packed bag.

She put the comic book on the table and rounded the couch, coming up to him as he stood patiently by the door. "How 'bout we screw that stupid idea." Kicking his bag further away from where they stood, she pushed Xander up against the door and kissed him, continuing the fire she had in their earlier kiss, yet making sure she wasn't hurting his injuries.

Xander was a bit taken aback, but he quickly fell into it and returned the favor. After a minute he pulled back. "I wouldn't happen to be dreaming right now, would I?"

She grinned, tracing his jaw line with her fingers. Again, she fought the urge to want to take him back into her room and do the usual. That was something she would do with any other guy. But this wasn't any other guy. "I dunno, X-Man," she said, huskily. "If you are, I don't even think I want you to wake up."

She couldn't help listen to herself for being so mushy. It wasn't her style. But she knew how she felt, and no, she didn't want this moment to go away.

Was she willing to give them a chance? Take that small step into a very large, uncharted arena?

Hell, yeah.

After all, she didn't have anything to be afraid of.

* * * * * *

"I was blind, But oh, how you could see, You saw the beauty in everything, everything and me.

And in my heart I see ,oh, What you're doing to me, And in my heart I see, oh, Just how you wanted it to be,

Sweet misery." - Michelle Branch, "Sweet Misery"

- END-