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

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Faith or any of other characters from "Buffy" and/or "Angel." They all belong to the incredible genius of Joss Whedon.

Episode Four: Stay Inside the Lines

"So, this is the hunk of junk that's been worked on all this time," Faith replied as she sat in the passenger seat of the large station wagon. She looked around, taking in the boat of a car.

"Okay, so it probably looks worse than it did when I brought it in," Xander Harris replied, tapping the steering wheel. "But hell if it's not gonna take us all the way to Beverly Hills."

"Right. I wasn't holdin' my breath in making it past the end of the block."

Xander glanced over at her with a small glare. "You can get out right now and walk to the mall, Missy."

"I'd probably be able to beat you - walking."

He sighed, hitting the steering wheel of his car shamefully. "Yeah, you probably would."

The two were heading to the brighter side of L.A., to Beverly Hills for a day of shopping. Well, it was more about getting out of the dank neighborhood they resided in. They barely had enough money for a late lunch.

But over the past week, things like that hardly mattered. Though still very much in the beginning stages, Faith finally allowed herself to fall for Xander - and follow through with it. And it hadn't been because she wasn't attracted to him. It was because she WAS attracted to him, and during his stay with her as a favor, she had grown feelings for him. No matter how much she tried to push them away, these feelings wouldn't go anywhere.

When she found out he had similar feelings for her, and always had, she decided to give it a try. She fought a lot of things, but this was one thing she wanted to give into.

And so far, so good. So very good.

If he was willing to at least put their past to the side and see what was now, then she really didn't have anything to wonder or worry about. She reached out and rubbed the back of his neck soothingly as they continued down the road towards Beverly Center Mall.

"How's Rachel doing?" Xander asked, a fluttering in his chest with every time she and him made contact.

Faith stared out the window, her hand not leaving him, enjoying his warmth, enjoying what they had. "Not a peep from the kid," she said, thinking back to her last visit to Hannah and her friends. Xander had joined her at that time during the short visit. "Damn vamps really fucked the kid up."

Xander sighed. "Vampires can do that to you." He knew that Faith hoped each time she visited Hannah and her friends, that Rachel would be better. Not that the little girl wasn't happy, despite everything she had been through, but it still seemed to saddened Faith when she saw Rachel couldn't talk because of the trauma. "Hey, we should get her some cool toy or something at the mall. Screw lunch!"

"That's a wicked cool idea," she said, looking back at him. "Well, except for the skipping out on lunch. I made some good money the other night."

Xander raised a brow as he briefly glanced at her, knowing she was referring to her nightly dealings at the pool table. "What did I tell you about kicking that hooker habit?"

She grinned, leaning over and teasingly bit his earlobe. "You love it, and you know it." She felt the car swerve slightly as Xander was a bit too distracted. She laughed and settled back down in her seat right as the entered the parking lot.

The day was bright. It was going to be a nice time alone.

* * * * *

"What about I try THIS on?" Faith asked, holding up a skimpy tank top from the Gadzooks they were browsing in. "I kinda like the barely there material, whatta you think?" She grinned wickedly.

Xander studied it. "I like the barely there material myself. Now let's go see what barely there material looks like on you." He nudged her towards the dressing room of the store. He watched her go in and couldn't keep the grin off his face, wondering what he did to deserve such a hottie.

He moved to another rack of clothes, pushing some to the side to get a better look at a shirt. His elbow hit the person next to him who was looking at another rack of clothes. "Oh, sorry," he said.

"Xander?"

He turned around only to stare into the face of the pretty, petite blond girl that happened to be one of his best friends he had left back in Sunnydale. "B-Buffy?"

Buffy Summers stared up at him in slight shock. "Hey." After a moment of soaking in whom she was seeing, she reached up and hugged him tightly. "God, Xander, where've you been?"

He hugged her back, not realizing how glad he would be to see her. "Not in the girl's section of Gadzooks." He pulled back, a genuine smile on his lips.

She smiled one of her own, relief overcoming her. "Do I have to beat you up for not writing?"

"What do you mean? I wrote you gals! Giles, too."

"I know, but postcards from LA aren't enough. Plus, you kinda just took off." A concerned expression took over then. "Has everything been okay?"

He nodded with a shrug. "I'm fine, Buff. I just had to do another road trip."

"Because of Anya?"

"Mostly, at first. I'm sorry about the taking off thing."

Buffy smiled understandingly. "Right 'cause I'M one to talk about taking off without letting anyone know. I'm just glad to see you're okay." She patted his arm. "We miss you. It's been almost a month."

"I miss you guys, too. How're things? All's well in Sunnydale?"

She nodded. "Yep. No earth-shattering apocalypse to speak of."

"Oh, good. Probably makes for a boring summer, huh?"

Buffy shrugged. "Nowadays, boring summers are the best. Hey, have you heard from them about the letter?"

Xander shook his head. "I won't hear anything until the end of the month. Maybe the combo force of Giles and star Willow will help me."

"I hope so. I mean, how cool would that be?"

Xander smiled a little too forced. But he recovered. "How 'bout Riley? He's good?"

Buffy nodded. "Yep. He decided to go home to Iowa, though, for a few weeks. Meanwhile, Dad and I wanted some quality daddy/daughter time so here I am for a few days."

"And Will?"

"She's doing great. She and Tara. She wonders about you all the time. If you didn't write those postcards, she might resort to some sort of transport spell to send you back. And Giles is Giles. He's been in England for the past two weeks. He'll be back next week." She tilted her head a bit. "And you? What've you been doing here? Or is it one of those things that nothing on this earth would get you to tell me?"

Xander opened his mouth to answer just how awesome it has been and quickly shut it, realizing something. "Actually, yeah, it is ." He looked around, mostly towards the fitting rooms. "Um, what about food court! Hungry?"

"I just ate." She felt him nudge her towards the front of the store. "What are you doing?" She held up the merchandise in her hand. "Xander, I'm still holding onto -" She turned around and saw someone coming up behind him, eyes widening in shock.

Faith was holding the tank top, looking at it at arm's length. "Yo, X-Man, this thing itches my boobs. I might hafta start wearing a bra -" She stopped when she saw whom Xander was with, stopping her cold.

Xander looked from one Slayer to the other. "Uh." Oh, boy, was this not a good position to be in. He'd already had the pleasure of coming between the two Slayers in a fight. Couldn't be really called pleasure, though, when you're being hurled into the air. Ouch.

Buffy pulled him behind her protectively. "What the hell are you doing here?" she asked, glaring hard at Faith.

Faith frowned, putting the tank top back on the rack. "And 'hey' to you, too, B. Happens I live near here." She put on the cool act, not wanting to provoke the other Slayer in any way. Buffy was one person she had trouble trying to stand up to, physically and emotionally. But she wasn't about to show it. "Thought Angel would've told you I was outta the slammer."

Xander held up a finger to try and cut in. "Um, Buffy -"

"We don't really talk as much anymore," Buffy answered. "Especially about you. Touchy subject and all. Do the police even know you're out?"

Faith clenched her jaw, trying to be as civil as possible. She had to remind herself the reasons behind Buffy's cold manner. "Yeah, they do. They are the ones who let me out." She held up her hand as a gesture to just not jump into any conclusions. "Look, B, I'm not here to cause any trouble."

"Funny, that's all you seem to cause."

Faith knitted her brows together in irritation. "I'm not lettin' you try and make me out to be the baddie here. I'm just shopping, alright?"

Buffy seemed to want to say more but she saw some other customers glancing their way. She took Xander by the wrist. "Come on, Xander." She tugged at him towards the front of the store as she put up what she had in her hand.

Faith closed her eyes and shook her head, then looked back at Xander. She had a feeling that between her and Buffy, Xander had more loyalties to the other Slayer, even with the current situation. It sent a twinge of hurt through Faith as she waited there patiently to see what was going to happen.

Xander tried to pull back. "Wait, Buffy."

The blond Slayer turned around in surprise. "Wait for what? Until Faith goes psycho and starts, I don't know, slashing all the pastel colors?"

Faith let out a hopeless grumble. "Whatever, B. I'm outta here." She pushed past them and walked out of the store into the mall.

"Faith!" Xander called but let out a sigh when he realized Buffy wasn't letting go that easily and Faith had taken off way too fast. His eyes shifted to his friend, finding an almost shocked, suspicious look on her face. "Buffy, I think we need to talk."

* * * * *

"I can't BELIEVE this," Buffy said, her hand going up to her head in pure disbelief (thus her comment). They were seated outside the mall at a small table of a restaurant inside. It was the first statement Buffy had said since Xander went into his story of staying at Faith's place since he arrived. "Xander, have you completely lost it?"

"Buffy, it's not bad. I mean, she's not bad. She's done so good." He expected this reaction. One of the obstacles he would have to face in having a relationship with Faith would be his friends, Buffy especially. At the moment, he was glad he didn't straight out say he was actually DATING Faith.

Buffy leaned back in her chair, in complete numbness. "This entire time, you've been staying with someone who's ruined my life over and over again since I've known her. How could you?"

"I know what she did, Buffy. Believe me, she did it to me, too. But." It was hard to explain everything, to get someone who has been burned by Faith more than any of the others, including himself, to see what he was seeing in Faith. After all, Faith got under Buffy's skin like no one could. "If you'd just give her a chance to show you how much she's changed -"

"If you haven't noticed, Xander, I'm fresh out of chances here - especially with HER."

"I know. Hey, you're talking to the guy who's not too forgiving, remember? But she's really, really changed. I think she's good at heart. She just tumbled down Elm Street of Trouble when she was in Sunnydale."

He could tell that Buffy was fighting to be as well-mannered as possible when talking about Faith. "Xander," she said, voice deadly calm. "That's Faith. She wants you to feel sorry for her so that you'll totally forget the hoopla of ruining our lives and almost ENDING them - and everyone in Sunnydale - a few years ago. How many chances did we give her, huh? We cared for her. I cared for her. And I don't think the scars show anything in the vicinity of appreciation."

Xander looked at Buffy straight in the eye. "Yeah, she does want us to forget. But she knows it's hard for us to. SHE wants forget, too. She wants another chance, Buffy. And this time, she's going to make sure it's the chance that'll show her true self."

"I've seen her true self, Xander. Not loving what I saw."

"No, that wasn't her. That was her under so much crap, that maybe she just didn't know how to deal with it."

"So killing off everyone in town is dealing?"

"Buffy."

"I'm sorry, Xander, but I don't want her near you. She's pulled this stuff before with Angel, got him to believe the helpless damsel in distress gig. Shed a tear here, sad face there."

Xander frowned. "You haven't been here; you don't know how great she's been to me. To everyone in the neighborhood."

"Wrong. I HAVE been there. I HAVE seen what she's done to everyone in the neighborhood. Mainly, try to kill my mom and all my friends, not to mention my boyfriend at the time, and -oh, wait- doing my NOW boyfriend, on purpose. and with my BODY!"

Xander sat back in his chair, trying to hold in his frustration.

And the two friends both sat there in silence, trying to figure out how to convince the other about the two perspectives they had on the dark Slayer.

* * * * *

Eyes searched from the shadows. How easy it was to melt into any shadow the sun provided. To watch, to observe, to formulate.

A girl and a boy - both connected with the one he wanted dead. He would not be defeated again. He would make sure of it. He sensed great disturbance. And he wanted to use it to his advantage.

* * * * *

Faith perched atop Xander's car as it sat in the parking lot of the mall. She had hoped Xander would be there soon after she had stormed out of the store. But two hours had already passed and there was no sign of him. She shook her head, angrily picking lint off her jeans.

What was she thinking? Of COURSE Xander wouldn't follow her out of the mall. With Buffy there, he didn't want to. He didn't want to embarrass himself in front of his precious blond Slayer. Of COURSE he would choose Buffy over herself.

Buffy had never tried to kill him. The worst she ever did to him had been rejecting him for the school dance.

And Buffy, she was another entire novel all together. She was probably feeding him pages of lines - and it hurt Faith to know they were all true. There was no way Buffy would get past everything Faith had done to her.

Hell, Buffy didn't even allow Faith to say, "I'm sorry."

"Screw this," she muttered, jumping down from the roof of the station wagon. She planned to grab a bus back to the apartment when a crowd of screams rang out.

Faith turned back towards the mall, seeing a few people scrambling out from the side of the building. A loud roar resounded from that direction, making her tense. She quickly sprang into a sprint towards the source of trouble.

She reached the building, having to weave through a crowd of people running the opposite way. Rounding the corner, she stopped short in what she saw. "Holy fuck."

Though not as large as they looked in the movies, the dragon was still just as big as life - and just as dangerous. The trees and any shrubbery around the outside eating area were on fire.

Buffy was on top of a trash bin, gracefully balancing herself on it while holding one of the metal tables. She was scanning the crowd, making sure they were running out of the way while using the table as the only source of a weapon to keep the creature at bay.

Xander held a chair in his hands as defense, doing his best to urge the people to get going - though they didn't need to be told twice.

The dragon set its sights on Xander, its red eyes focusing on him as he sucked in breath.

"No," Faith mumbled, already beginning to move to stop it from blasting a stream of fire at him.

But Buffy also caught the subtle intake of breath and flung the table at the dragon's head, hitting it squarely on the temple. "Hello!" she called to it, trying to get its attention. "I'm the one giving you a hard time, you moron!"

The dragon roared and used his blast of fire on Buffy instead.

She quickly jumped off the bin, flipping once in the air before landing on the dragon's back and holding on tightly, trying to rear the dragon back. "Xander, RUN!" she cried, wrapping her small but powerful arms around its body as best she could.

Xander hesitated leaving Buffy alone.

Faith could tell Buffy wasn't going to be able to handle it by herself - at least not before the dragon caused even more damage. She rushed into the scene, grabbing Xander by the arm. "You heard her, get outta here."

Xander looked up at Faith and smiled, then moved away from the scene, only to be OUT of the way. He didn't go too far, though.

Buffy struggled to crawl up the scaly body to reach the dragon's neck. "Ew, ew.." she muttered, not liking the feel of its skin. She didn't like snakes all too much to begin with.

But the dragon was rearing like a wild, huge, green bronco. It leaned back against the building, smashing Buffy against the wall. The wind was nearly thrown out of her, but her grip remained.

"Yo!" Faith called, grabbing another chair and throwing it like a baseball at the dragon's chest. "Betcha want something tastier than what's on your back!"

The dragon roared in a mixture of pain and anger. For a moment, it did ignore the Slayer on his back and focused on the one on the ground who was grabbing another chair. He swiped a huge claw at her, only she moved twice as quickly as he swung.

She whacked his outstretched hand with the chair, feeling the reverbs from the force through the metal in her hands.

"Faith," Buffy grunted. "Let's try not to get it too angry!"

"Hey, I'm doing you a fucking favor!" Faith snapped back, swinging the chair and hitting its chest.

"The legs!" Buffy cried. "Of the chair!"

Faith looked at them, curiously. "Yeah?" She ducked as the dragon tried to hit her again.

Buffy was beginning to lose her grip. "Use it! Stake it!" Just as she said so, the dragon reached behind itself and grabbed Buffy by the back of her jacket, easily pulling her off of it. "Uh, oh." she said as it lifted her in front of its mouth, snuffing in a breath.

Faith gritted her teeth, rearing back both arms.

Buffy knew she was going to be barbecued in about two seconds. In one last ditch effort, she lashed out her leg. Because it wasn't exactly long enough to reach, it didn't have as much force behind it as she would've liked.

But the dragon wasn't too happy about it nonetheless; only it didn't have time to react to Buffy's hit until it felt an even more painful one in its abdomen area.

The chair legs didn't go through its hard skin, even though it made a nice deep dent in it. "Shit," Faith muttered. The roar of the dragon caused her to do it again even harder, hitting it in the exact same place as before. "Come ON!"

The dragon roared again, tossing Buffy across the eating area. She smacked harshly into the wall and landed near the burning shrubbery, unconscious.

Faith clenched her jaw as she pounded the legs again into the stomach, finally breaking skin. One of them buried itself into the scales, making green blood ooze from it. She let it go and the chair stuck out from the wound.

She let loose a side kick, shoving it even deeper into its stomach. The roar almost ended up being a painful yelp and it beat its wings it had keep tucked to itself the entire time. It began to fly up in the air, pulling out the chair and throwing it at Faith.

She threw herself to the side, feeling the chair barely miss her head. She looked up from the floor, watching as it flew high above the mall then continued on out of sight. She slowly raised her head. "Huh."

Xander came into the scene, rushing over to Buffy. Blood was seeping from a cut on her arm and probably where her head had hit the wall. He winced. "Should I move her?" he asked.

Faith joined him, looking down at her fellow Slayer. "I think she'll be good if we carry her. We should just bail. Don't want people wondering any more to what the hell that was."

Although Faith gave him assurance about moving Buffy, Xander remained cautious as he took the blond Slayer into his arms easily. "We should take her back to your place. She's not looking too good here." He stared worriedly at Buffy.

Faith caught the look, trying to ignore it. "I dunno about that," she admitted. "B's not gonna like waking up in enemy territory. Don't wanna get my apartment all fucked up if she goes bozo." But she saw him meet her gaze, a very deep concerned look on his face. "Alright. We'll nurse her back to health and . well, whatever."

Xander smiled, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. "It'll be okay, Faith. I promise."

Faith quirked a brow at him. "Tell that to your pal there, and we'll see who'll be okay by the time all this is over."

* * * *

Xander placed a cool cloth on Buffy's head after wiping off the blood on both her head and arm. Faith had helped him find a bandage to go around the arm, then left to find something to eat and bring back.

Buffy stirred, her eyes barely fluttering. "Mom?"

"Sorry, Buff, it's just me."

She slowly opened her eyes. "Xander." She moved her bad arm up to her head and flinched a little "OUCH." It had healed a lot in the short amount of time it took them to get back to Faith's apartment. But it still stung.

"Don't move for the next 30 minutes," he said with a smile, glad to see his friend was okay. "I mean, for me, I probably wouldn't be able to move for the next thirty days so." He placed a comforting hand on her arm.

"Oh, headache, too." She shut her eyes tightly. "Do I remember a dragon? I remember a dragon."

"Yup. You remember quite nicely." He stood up and went over to the kitchen to get a glass of water for her. "It flew away, if you're wondering."

"Did I make it fly away?"

"You helped." He came back and handed her the glass for which she gingerly took.

Buffy opened her eyes and slowly tried to lift herself up a little on the couch. She sipped the water and looked around as she did so. "Um. where are we?"

Xander was wishing that question didn't come up. "An apartment," he answered lamely.

"Thanks bunches. I meant is this your apartment?"

The door opened and Faith came in with a bag of some fast food she picked up. "Got the grub," she said and stopped when she saw Buffy had awakened. She avoided the gaze and went directly to the fold out table that served as the kitchen table, setting the bag down. "Thought you said Buffy liked chicken sandwiches. I got us the usual phillies."

"What is SHE doing here?" Buffy sneered, her voice suddenly cold.

Faith didn't answer, just continued to unpack the food absently.

"Buffy, she lives here," Xander answered, trying to coax her back to looking at him. He was a little surprised at how harsh Buffy's voice was. He thought she would be a little nicer since she and Faith had worked together against the dragon.

No such luck.

"What?" Buffy cried, setting the glass down on the table. "You brought me HERE of all places?" She quickly swung her legs to get into sitting position, only causing a stab of pain to go through her.

"Hey, whoa," Xander said, placing a restraining hand on Buffy's shoulder. "Take it easy."

"Yeah, you might strain yourself," Faith muttered, not looking up.

Buffy suddenly leapt to her feet, totally ignoring Xander's hand almost knocking him aside. She moved around the couch, actually approaching Faith with fists clenched.

Faith turned to face her, putting down the sandwich, and giving the other Slayer a hard glare to show how unintimidated she was of her. "Better not do it, B," she intoned, clenching her own fists.

Xander rushed over to get in between them, holding out his hands more toward Buffy than Faith. "Hold up here," he announced. He looked at Buffy in surprise. "Buffy, she didn't mean anything. Come on, she got us food."

"She probably poisoned my sandwich," Buffy snapped, her eyes still drilling a heated hole into Faith.

Faith shook her head. "There's nothing I can do right with you, is there, Buffy?" she asked. "Not get food, not say 'sorry' - nothing."

"You lost your chance a long time ago," she stated.

Xander tried to get in their lines of visions of each other. "Buffy, I thought we talked about -"

"I know I fucked up!" Faith bellowed, getting more than frustrated by Buffy's hostile attitude. "And I'm sorry, Buffy. I really, really am. But I'm not letting you make me out to be some fucking villain when I'm trying so hard to be good."

"It's too late for you," replied Buffy, moving one step to the side to keep her eye on Faith. "WAY too late. Can't you see? All the chances you got from me were nothing but little minor details to be stomped on. Now you have XANDER on your side? It just keeps on coming, doesn't it?"

Faith felt like knocking the entire table over, but she had to hold back. She couldn't lash out in front of Buffy, no matter how hard she was provoking her to do so. Doing so meant Buffy was right. "No," she stated calmly. "I don't got Xander on my side. He's got nothing to do with you and me, B. Nothing. Leave him outta this."

"I can't leave him out of this if you're going to lure him into your sexcapades then try and kill him - again."

Xander had enough of Buffy's goading. He took her by the shoulders tightly. "Buffy, whatta you say we stop this," he said. "You need to rest."

Buffy looked at him, a slight tilt of her head. "What are you doing, Xander? Can't you see how wrong this is? How much she's messed up?"

With a frustrated sigh and a rough crushing of the paper bags the food came in, Faith turned on her heel and threw the trash in the trash can. Before the bag even hit the bottom of the container, she was out the door, slamming it behind her.

"She's good at that," Buffy mumbled.

Xander stared at the closed door then let his eyes fall on Buffy. "I can't believe you're being like that, Buffy," he said.

She turned to him, indifferent to what she had done. "So? She gets what she deserves." She brushed past him and looked at the food out on the table. "I don't even trust what she brought here."

Xander's jaw tensed, staring at his long time friend mostly disappointed in how she was handling the situation. "Buffy, I hate to tell you this, but this IS Faith's place," he stated. "It's usually not polite to come to a place and start insulting the hostess."

Buffy turned to him, her face a mask of non-emotion. "And I had a choice in the matter?" she asked. "I didn't ask to come here."

"No, but Faith could've easily said 'no' to the suggestion. And she didn't. She wants to be good, Buffy. She - "

"I don't care what she wants," Buffy said, narrowing her eyes. "I know what she deserves, and believe me, she'll get it."

Xander frowned, not liking the odd tone in the Slayer's voice. "What do you mean by that?"

"Nevermind," she muttered.

"Are you feeling better?" he asked.

"A dull ache, but . I'm healing okay."

"Good. Now I think you should go." He purposely walked to the door and opened it. He gestured an almost gentlemanly sweep of his hand outwards.

Buffy stared at him in slight shock. "What?"

"Love ya, Buff, but you can't go around here driving people out of their own homes. I'll see you back in Sunnydale, okay?"

Buffy stood there as if not about to move. "Xander, she's got you. She's going to totally pull one over on you and it'll take you by surprise because of the blind-sideneses of it all. I'm just trying to help you."

"Well, going would help me right now."

She sighed, walking towards his open invitation out. "Where do you think she went?"

"Why do you care?"

She shook her head. "Question is, why do you?" Then she went out the door.

* * * *

Faith sat on some old crates, watching her feet dangling as she plunged deep into her thoughts. No, of course she couldn't hope that Buffy would be reasonable and listen. The blond Slayer did have every right to feel the way she did, but Faith just couldn't see how she could still hold the huge chip on the shoulder.

Faith was willing to say "sorry" and an apology is of no good if the person won't even hear it.

"Screw her," she muttered.

But it wasn't Buffy, per se, she was in slight sadness over; it was the fact that Buffy was Xander's friend. Xander's BEST friend and Xander's big time crush.

How could Faith compete with that? A few weeks being his girl and that'll rocket her to the top of his list?

Not likely.

"Hello, Faith," came Hannah's voice as she peered around the corner.

Faith looked up. She forced a smile when she saw the homeless woman whom she has grown somewhat attached to. At least enough to visit her every night to make sure she and her daughter and their friend, Amber, were okay. "What's up?" She hopped down from her perch.

"I was passing by to find you," she said, still a little intimidated when talking to Faith on a normal basis - as opposed to a crisis-basis.

"Trouble?" the dark Slayer asked, ears perked.

"Well, not exactly. We need help in moving something in the warehouse. This large wooden beam fell on part of our space and Amber and I can't seem to get it off. I'm sorry to bother you with such a menial job."

Faith grinned. "You kiddin' me? I like the easy ones. Push and shove sort of deal. No prob."

They began to walk in the direction where Hannah and the others stayed.

"Thank you," Hannah said. "Um, I stopped by your place, and I saw Xander and this girl talking out on the steps."

The dread feeling came over her again. "Short, valley-girl type with a blond top?"

Hannah nodded. "Is she a friend of yours?"

"Thought she could be again. Old pal of mine. Not anymore."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. What happened?"

Sticking her hands in her pockets, Faith got a pensive expression to Hannah's simple question with a very complicated answer. "To make a long story damn short, I screwed her over."

"Oh." Hannah didn't quite know how to respond to that.

They reached the warehouse, and to Faith's surprise, Buffy was waiting at the steps of the warehouse. She stood up when she spotted Faith with Hannah.

"Buffy," Faith said, the tension returning in the air.

Hannah looked between the two Slayers, not knowing the extent of how bad this could get not only emotionally but for the property within a three- mile radius.

"We need to talk," the blond Slayer state, flatly.

"Oh, NOW you wanna chat?" Faith asked, not helping the cold attitude.

"Um, I'll leave you two alone," Hannah said, the tension so thick, even she could feel it on her skin.

"It's okay," Buffy said. "I want to talk with Faith in a more private area." She nodded over in one direction, not even checking to see if Faith was going to follow.

Faith looked at Hannah then over at the back of Buffy as she kept walking.

"Good luck," Hannah said, sincerely. "This could be your chance. If she really listens to you, maybe she'll forgive whatever you've done in the past."

"Seriously doubt it. I'll be back." Then she followed after the other Slayer.

She had walked about four blocks before finding Buffy standing in small lot behind another warehouse. There was something familiar about this place that bugged Faith as soon as she stepped onto the pavement. Had she been here before? Recently?

"Look, B, you gotta hear me out before you get back on your higher than thou 'tude," Faith said up front.

"So talk," Buffy stated, her back slightly turned away from Faith.

"You gonna listen?"

She turned her head slightly, a shadow falling on the right side of Buffy's face. "Why should I? From what I remember, I think you totally screwed me over more times than I can count. From what I remember, I don't think I have any reason to hear what you have to say, do I, Faith?"

"Dammit, Buffy, no I don't think you do! But I don't give a shit. What I do care about is me telling you this: that I'm sorry, okay? I know I did things that are unforgivable, but I am sorry for 'em. I didn't know what to do as soon as I killed the guy. I just. it was this uncontrollable feeling, that no matter how I tried to get out of it, it'd still be on my chest and that wasn't something I wanted. So I fell into it. And it was fucking wrong. I see that now. I see all the shit I put you and Angel and the others through."

"Do you see it? I don't think you do." Her entire body faced her now. "I don't think you know the scope of what you've ruined." She walked closer to her.

Faith refused to flinch, or back away. "I DO, B. I seriously do." She eyed the other Slayer then realized something: Buffy wasn't there to talk. She could see that glint in Buffy's eyes. Not a glint that was usual in Buffy's eyes. at least not toward anything she considered human.

That's when Buffy's fist came fast and hard right into Faith's cheek.

The dark Slayer's head snapped with the force and actually stumbled back a few feet before landing harshly onto the gravel that surrounded the pavement. Bits of it dug into her hands, she landed so hard.

Faith looked up at the other Slayer in shock more than pain, although pain was definitely a factor. Buffy hadn't been holding back. One more ounce of Slayer strength, and it would've knocked Faith out. "What the FUCK!?" she cried, getting to her feet.

Buffy looked at her fist then back at Faith, a smirk on her face. "You didn't seem to like that," she said. "I didn't think I'D like it so much."

Faith fought back the urge to lunge at the other Slayer. "Buffy, I don't wanna do this!"

"Oh, but I do," she said, going after Faith again.

Faith sidestepped away from Buffy, kicking her in the back. It was a weird situation: to be on the defensive instead of the offensive. To hold back, even though all her adrenaline was screaming at her to GO GO GO.

It was Buffy's turn to land on the gravel, but she quickly got to her feet and let loose a roundhouse kick.

Faith lifted up her arm, making her forearm take the brunt of the fierce kick. That hurt even more than the punch. Gritting her teeth, she hooked her foot around Buffy's ankle and jerked, pulling her leg out from under her.

Any of the bastards she's come up against since she arrived in L.A. would've easily fallen to the ground, quickly giving her the upper hand.

But there was a reason Buffy was the toughest opponent Faith has ever faced.

The blond Slayer let herself fall but planted her left arm on the ground and did a one-handed back flip as swiftly and gracefully as any gymnast. She was already facing Faith again, twirling once and trying to backhand her across the face.

Faith ducked and instinctively slammed her fist into Buffy's stomach, hearing a satisfying grunt from the other Slayer. But then a small hand clamped hard on Faith's wrist and Buffy smacked Faith across the face again, kicking her hard into the side of her ribs as a cherry on top.

"Face it," Buffy sneered. "You can't handle me. Which is kinda on the lush side, if you think about it. Then again, you should've thought about it before ruining my life!"

Faith fought for breath. "Buffy. I don't care who's a better who, okay? I just... I wanted to talk to you. not fucking doing this!" This was worse than Faith ever imagined - and she knew she wasn't going to go down without a fight.

* * * *

There was a knock on the door as Xander sat mopily at the table, wondering what to do next. He had tried to talk Buffy, trying to ease what he had done in telling her to leave. He really didn't want her to leave. He just needed her to understand.

But Buffy could be as stubborn as a hard-headed mule.

He opened the door and found Brandon standing there with the crippled Paul in his large arms. "Hey, guys," he said.

"Hello, Xander," Paul greeted as Brandon smiled. He was set down in one of the chairs at the fold out table. "How are you?"

"Um, let's just say that Nancy Kerrigan had it better than me right now."

Paul raised his brows. "Oh, I'm sorry."

"Lover's quarrel?" Brandon asked, leaning against the refrigerator for which was ALMOST as large as him.

"Well, it did involve a quarrel, but not between me and Faith." He swatted the subject away. "So what's up? Faith's not here right now."

Paul pulled out some notes from his pocket. "That demon Faith defeated the other night. I found some information on it."

"Oh really?" Xander leaned over slightly to peer over Paul's shoulder. "I don't think Faith really cares what she fights."

"I got that impression." Paul unfolded the notebook paper with a wry smile. "But I think it'd be good if she knew what she was fighting. This demon, for example, is an interesting individual."

"How so?"

"Well, it's a vengeance demon that - "

Xander's eyes widened. "Whoa, whoa. don't speaketh that around me. It doesn't grant wishes does it? I don't remember Faith saying it was female - or, I guess she'd call it a 'bitch.' But. about it being a vengeance demon. she didn't have brown hair, did she?"

Paul stared at Xander, confused. "No. actually, I don't think it has a gender at all. And it's not really a vengeance demon in the sense of the word. It's more. it feeds off hostility for its own needs. Really interesting, if you ask me."

"But Faith said she killed the demon guy that was attacking the two hustlers. Big red guy with horns or something."

"Yes, but I have sources that indicate that that kind of demon isn't hostile, despite its appearance. That's why I was curious as to why it was attacking those two people. Those demons like to hide, believe it or not."

"So what was it doing attacking?"

Paul flipped over some notes. "I think it's another demon that was really attacking them. The one that feeds off hostility. If I'm right, this demon has the ability to control other demons. One at a time, of course."

Xander let out a whistle. "Wow, that doesn't sound good."

"No. It's good defense, though. Never really show yourself yet get the job done."

"Wait, if it was that hostility demon, then how come it control gentle big, red Ben?"

"Well, it doesn't take much. Maybe those hustlers took over its hiding place, driving him out. If the red demon was even slightly mad, then this demon - ememite - would feed on it. And probably enjoy it."

"And they say demons never know how to have fun," Xander murmured. "Well, guess this 'it' didn't like the fact Faith came in and stopped Big Red, huh?"

Paul looked up from the paper. "Probably not, which is why I think she should be careful in the next few days. She hasn't run into problems since then, has she?"

Xander shrugged. "A dragon."

"A what?" Paul and Brandon asked together.

"Wow," Brandon said. "Don't see many of those around here."

Xander nodded. "Yeah. I thought so. At the mall. It just. came down on us. Can it control a dragon?"

Paul ran his fingers through his dark hair. "Yeah. I bet it could. Though a dragon is pretty unheard of."

"Well, maybe it controlled it to get Faith back." That thought was a little scary to Xander.

"Did she kill it?"

"No. She hurt it, then it flew away."

"Dragons are hostile creatures, at least most kinds are. I'm sure it didn't take much to control it and use it to try and attack Faith, or draw her to it. Funny, how it just flew off, though. We should be on the look out for one, and you should warn Faith about it."

"That girl's amazing," Brandon remarked. "Fought off a dragon by herself? Definitely don't want to get in a ring with her."

"Well, she didn't fight it alone," Xander mumbled.

"You helped fight it?" Paul asked, a small smile forming on his lips. "Very impressive, Mr. Harris."

"Ri-ight. Sorry, but this image is pretty much what you get. No, um, another friend of mine helped fight it. I was. with them at the time." He didn't think Faith had mentioned who she was exactly.

"You've got very brave friends. Is he still in town? Maybe we can talk to him and get more information."

"Yes, they are still in town. And it's a 'she' not a 'he.'"

Paul and Brandon couldn't help but gape at Xander.

"Man, you've got girls flocking all around you, don't you?" Brandon commented with a chuckle. "Girls that aren't afraid of dragons. Do they have any friends? Of the older kind?"

"Don't think so," Xander replied with a shrug. "And she and Faith don't exactly get along so it was of the pretty cool to see them fight beside each other instead of. well, each other." He sighed, wishing Buffy would just remember that moment. Maybe the blow to the head knocked whatever sense was in her back out. "It's just a good thing that demon only controls other demons."

Paul was folding his notes back up, done with his explanation. "Actually, they can control humans, but only under certain conditions."

"Certain conditions?"

Paul nodded. "It's more psychological than mystical, but the ememite thrives in the shadow. It's really why its true form is not really known. Humans, especially those with good intentions, have a mind basking in light. Demons theoretically have 'shadowed' minds, easier for the ememite to take control over. Only when a human is asleep or unconscious can the ememite put a hand in to control, and even more so if the human is hostile. More shadow to thrive on. Might explain a lot of crimes where the murderer says 'a voice told me to do it.' Though I don't think there is a voice to hear."

Xander's eyes widened, remembering the unconscious Buffy they had to take back to this very place. He stood up straight, nearing them. "Oh, God. Buffy! My-My friend! She was unconscious when the dragon attacked!"

"What?"

"When Faith helped fight it! It swatted Buffy away and she got knocked out. Do you think the demon would use Buffy?"

"Um, well, you said they don't get along. Who has hostility towards who?"

"Buffy... more... especially lately."

"Oh. Well, that is a great possibility. But Faith would know if your friend were suddenly becoming violent. And I'm sure Faith could handle her and detain her safely. We could then take -"

Xander shook his head. "No, you don't understand. If you think Faith's King Kong in those Japanese movies, then Buffy is Godzilla!"

"Your friend can. take on Faith?"

Xander nodded vigorously. "I know, it's weird. I mean, it's not. we just need to find Faith before Buffy does if that's what the 'problem of the week' is."

* * * *

This human girl had more than the ememite could ever imagine. It stared steadily in the shadows of the sparse shrubbery behind the warehouse where it had taken control of another demon. The two girls fought viciously, and the human blond girl seemed to be stronger, more powerful.

And so much hostility toward the dark-haired girl.

How delicious.

* * * *

Faith slammed hard against the wall of the warehouse, her teeth rattling in her mouth. Her head rang from the constant beating she was getting. Something was making her hold back, making her not attack Buffy back. but she had to defend herself which was why her fist contacted with Buffy's face again.

Buffy fell, her face just as bloody and beaten as Faith's.

Faith hadn't felt this worn out in a fight since. well, since fighting Buffy last. "What the fuck is going on with you, B? What happened with being Miss Righteous?"

Buffy got to her feet, wiping the blood from her lips. "Get over it, Faith. If you're going to try and screw up my life, righteousness doesn't play any part of it now. I think I gave you enough chances. At least, I remember giving you enough."

"Jesus, B, you did. And dammit if you won't hear me, but I'm tellin' you -"

"Do you actually THINK I care what you're telling me? You don't matter, Faith. I'm the Slayer, and you screwed up any chance you had in keeping that title."

Those words stung Faith harder than she could imagine. She stood there, blood seeping from cuts above her brow, on her cheek, from her lips. But it didn't hurt as much as those words being flung back at her like jagged spikes hurtling into her stomach - because it was coming from the one person Faith needed to make amends with.

That's when Buffy lunged at Faith again, throttling her with both hands, pinning her against the wall. "You ruined everything," she spat. "Everything you touch."

Faith at first struggled against Buffy's immensely powerful grip, holding her wrists to pry her hands away from her neck. But she looked straight into Buffy's eyes, into the anger, the hostility, and Faith knew then; she didn't deserve Buffy's forgiveness.

So she stopped struggling.

A van tore into the lot then, the beams on high, blinding anything that looked directly into them.

The door flung open, Xander jumping down and rushing at the two girls. "Stop!" he cried. He came up from behind Buffy and attempted to pull the smaller girl away from Faith. He managed to get her off her feet, but Buffy wasn't letting go of Faith.

"Just let her fucking do it," Faith croaked, stars beginning to dance around her eyes.

"No, Faith, you don't get it," Xander said, pulling harder. He tried to ignore the horror of what Faith was allowing. "Buffy's being. controlled by something! Get her off you! This isn't her! She doesn't want to do this!"

"Says who?" Buffy snapped, her eyes still fixated on the one she was slowly killing.

Xander looked at Faith imploringly, noticing Faith's lack of fighting back. "FAITH."

Faith took hold of Buffy's wrists again and successfully jerked her hands off of her throat, causing her to cough up a storm once she was free.

Xander stumbled back, still holding Buffy off her feet. She may be really strong, but she was light. He firmly, yet carefully pushed her away from Faith, standing in between them as Faith tried to get her bearings together. He put his hand up carefully. "Buffy, you need to just slightly do the backing off thing. I know you feel like you have to challenge Faith in a no holds bar smackdown match, but this isn't the way it's gonna go."

Paul and Brandon soon came up behind Buffy, powerful flashlights in hand, scanning around the nearby area.

Fists never unclenched, Buffy's eyes were stillriveted to Faith. "I don't know what you're talking about," she intoned towards Xander.

"Of course she doesn't," Paul spoke up. "The ememite is doing all the actions, making her think this is the way it's suppose to be." He pointed the flashlight at some broken, rusting shells of what used to be a few cars. Something moved away from it. "There!"

Brandon tried to catch the shadow in his beam, knowing the ememite feared the light.

"What's going on?" Faith finally managed to ask, seeing Paul and Brandon heading to that section of the lot.

Not letting Buffy out of his sight, though knowing if she attacked, he'd be a part of the pavement, he filled Faith in a bit. "Demon's been controlling Buffy."

"Is that why she attacked me?"

"Yeah."

Faith coughed one more time. "Fuck, and here I thought we were enemies or something."

Xander glanced briefly at her, concern over his face. "You okay?"

"Been better." She nodded towards Buffy who continued to stand there, on edge. "Whatta we do?"

"Um. find the demon and kill it?"

"Yeah, was thinking the same thing. But how do we find it? I haven't seen any demon around here." She followed Paul's and Brandon's movements as they dug around behind some scraps. The familiarity of the area suddenly came to her. "Hey, I was just here a few nights ago."

"Big Red, right?" Xander asked, his eyes still on Buffy. "Yeah, he was one of this demon's little remote control toys, too. I think he has it out for you. It controlled Big Red, then got Buffy when she was unconscious. That's its way of getting to humans."

"This is what I get for saving a bunch of bad gamblers' asses?"

Xander just grinned, but he stepped closer to his friend as she seethed with hatred. "Buff, now, I know you don't wanna to hurt me. Please say you don't wanna hurt me."

"Careful," Faith warned, watching him anxiously. Controlled or not, she was not going to let Buffy hurt Xander. Ignoring the pain still on her throat, she stayed on edge herself.

"Don't worry," he told Faith. "Not looking to get my bones crushed today." He put his hand up as some sort of peace offering to the blond Slayer. "Okay, now, you're going to fight whatever urge you have to hurt Faith, okay, Buffy?"

"Faith." she almost hissed.

"Oh, uh, not a good sign, there." He took whatever last steps it took to reach her and grabbed her hard on each arm. "Look at me, Buffy."

She didn't even seem to notice what he was doing; she just continued to try and get another glimpse of Faith.

Xander gave her a firm shake. "Buffy, look at me. It's Xander. Bestest bud in the guy land. Gimmie a good look. C'mon." He tried to smile to ease the tension he was feeling at the moment.

"We got him on the run, I think!" Paul announced as Brandon began running in one direction out of the lot. "Brandon has a fix on it!"

Both Xander and Faith looked up as Paul began to push himself towards the same direction as Brandon. The two men disappeared around the corner.

Just as they did, Buffy blinked shaking her head. It seemed that all the bruises and scratches on her face were finally registering just how painful they were. A hand went up to the largest welt on her cheek. "Ouch," she mumbled.

"Buff?" Xander asked hopefully as his eyes landed back onto his friend. "You okay?"

"What happened?" she asked, then it seemed the memories came back to her. "Oh. yikes." Bewilderment flashed across her face then slight shame. "I. didn't get into a fight, did I?"

"Hell, yeah, you did," Faith spat, not nearing them even though it was apparent Buffy was back to herself. Being back to herself didn't exactly send good signals to Faith.

Buffy shut her eyes a little. "Oh, God. I do feel like hell. I remember a. thing at the mall. A big."

"DRAGON!!"

"Yeah, one of those." But she realized it wasn't someone finishing her sentence, but someone in big time warning. She turned her head just as Brandon was pushing Paul back around the corner they had disappeared around.

Xander backed away just as a stream of fire barely missed Brandon's heels. "Uh, oh."

Buffy backed away as well, keeping Xander behind her. "Yeah, that's the one I was talking about. I didn't think any of you needed a visual for it, though."

"We didn't."

Faith knew Buffy was going to keep Xander safe, so she stepped out from behind them and out into the open lot to face up to the large creature as it finally turned the corner. Craning her neck way upward, she readied herself. "Jesus, you look like you've gotten bigger since I saw you last."

It roared, seemingly remembering Faith's face as it clutched the area where she had rammed a chair into its stomach. Although it had healed, there was still a nasty remembrance of it.

Faith just grinned, always glad when she could leave some impression on those that were lucky enough to get away.

"Faith!" Xander cried, not liking the match up for the night. He tried to go forward but Buffy held him easily behind her. He glanced down on her but her eyes were on the two contenders in the empty lot.

The dragon slashed a huge claw at the dark-haired girl, but she easily jumped and used his wrist as a pivot point for a back flip over it. It growled again and spit fire at her. Again, she threw herself away from its target, rolling once and getting back to her feet.

"What do we do?" Xander asked as Paul and Brandon stood off not too far from them.

"Find the ememite and capture it in our beams of light," Paul said. "It can't be too far since it's still controlling the dragon."

"Where did that thing come from?" Buffy asked.

"It may have been nested around here. I don't know."

"Well, whatever controlled me and that thing, find it." She stepped forward.

"Buffy, where you going?" Xander asked.

She looked back at him, a half-smile on her lips. "Where do you think?" She turned and sprinted towards the fight.

Paul and Brandon watched in awe, then looked back at Xander. "We've got a job to do," Paul informed the two men. "Turn off your flashlight, Brandon, and give it to Xander. We're going to take a different approach on this."

Meanwhile, the two Slayers stood on each side of the dragon, both in fight stance.

Faith couldn't help but look over at Buffy curiously with a touch of suspicion. "You gotta plan?" she called to her.

Buffy kept her eyes on the dragon. "Try not to die?"

"Ain't that always the plan?"

"Well, we hurt it before. Maybe opening up old wounds will do it."

"If you didn't notice, B, I don't have anything handy for the kill."

Buffy finally met Faith's gaze. "That's why there's two of us, right?" She quirked a brow then looked back up to the dragon. "Hey, 'Lord of the Rings' reject prop!" she called.

Distraction. Of course. As the dragon's sights were on Buffy, Faith searched the scraps of metal all around them. She went over to a not too rusted frame of an old Pinto, hearing the fire burst out from behind and just having to know that Buffy could handle herself.

Finding part of the axel sticking out from the bottom, Faith grabbed onto the end and began jerking at it, trying to rip the metal object from its place. It wasn't really as easy as it looked, taking into consideration she had just been through a fight that would make the Ultimate Fighter Champions jealous. Her arms actually ached as she tried to put more muscle behind it. "Motherfucker, come ON!" she muttered.

"Faith!" came Buffy's voice.

Before Faith could turn around, Buffy had flung herself from Faith's right side, tackling her as far as possible before a huge burst of flame hit the Pinto right where Faith had been two seconds earlier. The force of the tackle helped Faith wrench the metal object from below the car, and the tip of it got caught in the flame.

Both Slayers landed in a heap on the ground.

Faith sat up and looked down at Buffy, seeing she had hit her head on a tire. She could see the blonde's eyes beginning to roll back into unconsciousness. "Oh, don't do this, B!" she said, slapping her lightly on the cheek. "Xander said it got to you 'cause you were knocked out. I'm not going up against you again, especially with dragon boy behind us."

"Wha.?"

Faith gave her a small shake. "Fight it off, B. I need you to help me, not fight me, got it?"

Buffy shook her head slowly enough not to cause even worse head trauma. "I'm up, I'm up," she murmured, pushing herself into sitting position.

Faith got the other Slayer to her feet, grabbing the axel part in her hand. "It's my turn." She left her there and went back to the center of things, noticing the tip of the rod was still burning red-hot.

"I've got it running your way!" came Paul's voice.

"Uh, my way?" came Xander's voice.

Faith had to buy them just a little more time since it sounded like the boys were handling it okay. The dragon faced her and let out another breath of fire.

Instead of totally throwing herself away from it, she sidestepped it and stuck the rod right into it, making it even hotter. She pulled it back before it heated up the entire rod and ran towards the creature, holding the rod like a spear. Before the dragon could react, she jammed it as hard as she could into where the previous wound was healed.

But it still was a slight soft spot in an otherwise hard skinned area.

Green blood oozed out immediately as the dragon growled in more pain.

Buffy came up from behind Faith and slammed the rest of the rod further into the dragon's stomach with the heel of her foot. Whatever organs were in the way, they were vital ones. Once the rod disappeared into the dragon, it let out some sort of gurgle, a puff of smoke emerging from its nostrils for the last time.

"I think that got it," Buffy remarked, looking up to the slowly fading dragon.

"Since when did we become dragon slayers anyway?" Faith commented as the dragon poofed out of existence.

Buffy looked over at Faith. "Ha. Ha."

"We've cornered it!" Paul cried from the nearest wall of the warehouse. He stood there with his flashlight beam aimed on one end while Xander was on another end. "Xander keep it at bay there. Brandon, now!"

And the van pulled right in between where to two others held their beams of light and flashed on its brights - right where a shadow remained, caught in the beams.

It screamed a scream that reminded everyone of fingernails on a chalkboard, then like the dragon, it faded into non-existence.

Xander let out a sigh, wiping a bit of sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. "Bracing, wasn't it?" He turned and saw the two Slayers coming up to them right as Brandon turned off lights. They were battered and beaten, but they weren't bickering and at each other's throats. "Hey, girls."

Buffy joined them. "Can someone tell me what just happened here?"

Paul wheeled into the group. "I'm glad to say we've just ridden ourselves of an ememite." He smiled in victory. "It was controlling you."

"Oh. Right." Buffy scratched her head in confusion, noting how messed up her hair was. She automatically tried to comb it out a bit, staring at Paul and then Brandon. "Um, who are you?"

Faith stood off a bit from the group, not sure if she would ever fit into a group when Buffy Summers was a part of it. Instead, she busied herself with checking out her bruises and cuts. No matter how much Slayer healing power she had however, the cuts and bruises that counted would not go away. She knew that now.

"We'll drive you kids home," Paul said after the quick introductions were made. "I'm sure you two want to get some rest." He nodded towards the girls. "I'll explain everything on the way back."

Buffy nodded. "Right. Okay." She looked over at Xander. "He's not in any way related to the Council, is he?"

Xander shook his head. "Not that I know of. Kinda scary, though, isn't it? He doesn't know about you or Faith, though." He found Faith standing over to the side a bit. "Are you okay?" he asked, concern on his face.

"I will be," she said.

Buffy slightly avoided eye contact with her as they approached the van. "Um, Xander, I need to talk with you - alone."

Xander blinked then gave one nod. "Oh-kay." He met Faith's gaze but found her looking away and climbing into the van without a glance back. He let out another sigh.

* * * *

Xander sat next to Buffy on the steps of Faith's apartment as she put her hand up to her cheek painfully.

"Ouch," she remarked. "Remind me never to do any movement of the mouth again."

Xander gave her a sympathetic look, then looked away at his hands.

Buffy could see his movements out of the corner of her eye. "Xander, I don't know about all this. This stuff with Faith. I mean, she did help, and don't think I don't appreciate what she did, but."

"Buff, just hear me out here." He looked at her. "I know what Faith did in the past singed us both to no end. But tell me how you felt when you killed Ted, pre-robot knowledge?" He saw her features shift right before she looked away. "You were wigged, Will and I could see that. But we were there to try and help and you weren't exactly Miss 'Yes, Please,' either."

"No, I wasn't. but I cared what happened."

"She did, too. You know she did. That was why you tried to help her, even after it all went down. You were lucky; Ted turned out in the unhuman kind. Faith wasn't lucky. Yeah, she didn't handle it well, in the understatement category, but then, I don't think she knows help when she sees it. Or at least, back then she didn't. Just think about being in that place where you thought you had killed your mom's boyfriend. Think about being stuck there, feeling like no one could understand."

Buffy sat there, listening, thinking.

"I think Faith just needed longer to heal, to figure out herself. Maybe she needed something as harsh as being in a coma or going to jail. But whatever got her, it got her."

"I know. I mean, being out there, fighting that thingy thing beside her; it was weird, but it was good." She shrugged. "She seemed really hurt when Paul said something about how the demon was controlling me through how I felt about Faith."

"I bet it did."

Buffy sighed, her eyes meeting his as they finally faced each other. "Xander, if Faith is on the mend, fine. That's good for her. But I don't know about you staying with her. What if."

"There is no 'what if.' Only what is. I know what is, Buffy. I've seen 'what is' first hand." He smiled a little. "She's incredible, Buff. You'd be so proud of her."

"Who's doing the 'Ode to Faith' now?" Buffy remarked, reminding him of how he had used that same term during high school when she had tried to tell them about her and Faith's experience in the sewers - right before everything went to high hell.

Xander caught it. "I've got better reason. I. I have something to tell you about us."

Buffy's paused in her movements, the tone of his voice getting to her right away. "What do you mean?"

* * * *

Faith grunted in pain as she moved her aching arms around to get better comforted on the ratty couch. It had been a long night, both physically and emotionally. She sat there, the silence of the apartment almost hurtful. Yes, she and Buffy had fought side by side against that nasty dragon, but in the end, the tension between them was greater than anything she had ever felt.

After all, Paul had explained that the demon could only control humans if they were unconscious - and if they had hostilities towards someone. And it was more than apparent that Buffy had more than her share.

Knowing Xander and Buffy had been friends way longer than Faith was even a Slayer and that Buffy wanted to be alone with him, she was sure Xander would be in to pack his bags and go back to his precious way of Sunnydale. Buffy had that much power over him.

The door opened behind her. She didn't turn around. She knew who it was before she even had to turn around. It was that weird Slayer connection they had when they really honed in on it, or when there was nothing else to hone in on. For a moment, Faith thought maybe she should start locking that door - not that it would've stopped Buffy if she wanted to come in.

The blond Slayer walked over the living room and didn't move to take a seat. She was glancing from the floor to the other Slayer on the couch. "I need to talk to you," she said.

"I'm here," Faith answered. "Talk. Tell me the words of wisdom you gotta get in before you go on your way outta here."

Buffy stared at her hands, a habit she has always had when she had stuff to say from deep in her. "I'm sorry," she stated.

"About what?" Faith asked but not showing the words true in her ears.

"Everything. About what I said about Xander when I first got here."

Faith shrugged, staring at the imaginary show that was on the TV in front of her. "Demon had you, remember?"

"Yeah, but. well, you know about the demon. All that stuff I said when I was being controlled, well, there had to be something already there to control. I won't lie to you on that." She sighed, lowering her hands. "But, I'm also sorry about trying to push you away last time I was here."

"As I remember, B, you wanted to shove me off the roof of the building."

"Okay. you're right. I did. Issues. Just everything coming together into one big 'Let's see if I can hurt Faith' ball in my stomach." She sighed. "I. I just."

"Can't blame you," Faith said.

"What?" She lifted her eyes to look at Faith.

Faith's eyes finally tore away from the screen towards the ratty coffee table in front of her. "I didn't want your pity, B. When you came back, found out I was trying to kill Angel, it wasn't pity I wanted from either of you."

"What was it then?" Buffy asked, listening intently.

She looked up at the other. "What do YOU think?"

"At the time, you killing Angel and spreading his ashes over my bleeding stake wound." She quickly regretted that. "Sorry. What was it?"

The single-word answer caught in Faith's throat, and she couldn't say it. She didn't realize how much this moment meant to her because she had been denying what she truly wanted for so long - at least, until the last time she had seen the other Slayer. "Nevermind," she said, instead.

Buffy let out a small sigh and finally perched herself on the armrest of the couch, her eyes back to her hands as she played with one of the rings on her finger. "I do."

"Huh?" Faith looked over to Buffy.

Buffy met her gaze with a look that had been absent so long since Faith had seen without it being a glare. "Forgive you."

For a moment, Faith was speechless at what she just heard. Not because it wasn't the word she was looking for; in fact, Buffy had hit it right on the dot. "Oh, so Xander talked you into it."

"He had a hand in giving me reason to say it," she answered. "But he doesn't have that shadow demon's talents."

"Of controlling you?"

"Well that, and controlling what's already there. I do forgive you. but I can't get past not forgetting about what you did."

Faith looked away again. "I know. Like I said, I don't blame you."

"But I'd like to try."

"To what?"

"Forget. I did mention the 'TRY' part, right? It's been so many years already and I sometimes still can't."

"You don't gotta explain yourself, B. I got the same problem."

She nodded. "It was hurt more than anything," she mumbled, but quickly going onto the next sentence. "And. I know about you and Xander."

Faith chuckled quietly. "Bet that just made your day."

Buffy shrugged. "Does a gasp and an 'oh.' count as the makage of my day?"

"Hey, I know what you're thinkin' and I'm sure hearing him tell you that -"

"He likes you a lot," she cut in. "And it wigged me out to hear him say that, yeah, but I know Xander. And I know what it's like to be on the other end of that kind of love from him. It's true and sincere."

Boy, did Faith know as well. The thought of him made her smile inwardly. "He's definitely got a thang for Slayers."

"Well, only the good ones," Buffy said with a smirk.

Faith looked up at the other Slayer and for the first time in a long time, they both shared a smile. It felt a bit weird so she had to turn away.

"I told him to come back to Sunnydale," Buffy added. "I said he didn't need to be here."

"Figured you would," she said. "His bags are in my room." She stood up, knowing that shared moment couldn't last longer than it did. This was reality, after all. She knew it was bound to happen. "I'll go grab 'em."

"Why?" Buffy asked, watching her but not moving from her seat.

Faith turned to the other girl. "I know how he'd bow down to your every whim, B. You've got that kind of thing over him."

"What makes you think that if he doesn't have any control over me that I have one over him? Faith, he may not need to be here, but he wants to be. He's happy here, for the summer at least." She shrugged. "And I hear there's someone in this room that cares for him as much as I do and wouldn't let anything hurt him."

Faith blinked at her as they stared at each other from either end of the couch. "Well, you sure as hell heard right." She tilted her head slightly to the side. "So he's not going anywhere?"

Buffy shook her head. "Nope. Well, he went to get dinner, but he'll be back. I told him I needed to talk to you." She laughed a bit. "I swore that I wouldn't lay a hand on you. Not that I wanted to." She shifted a bit on the armrest. "I know it wigged you out to see what's in me towards you when the demon got me. But. it scared me, too, to know it was that strong. I don't want it to be that strong anymore. And I knew the only way for me to tone it down was to actually listen to you, to talk to you, to have a decent convo with you - minus the demon and the fists."

"Did it work?"

Buffy regarded the other Slayer carefully. "We're not exactly best buds. I don't even think we're bitty buds."

"I know," Faith said, never thinking anything more. "Colleagues. Can't really get away from being that."

"No. We can't. But, yeah, it worked. I understand how much you're trying. I couldn't believe it until I saw it. And tonight, I did. But we've got a long way to go."

"Long ass way," Faith finished.

They stood there in silence for a moment, each gathering their thoughts on what just happened. Their injuries, most inflicted by each other, dissipating just a little more.

Buffy's last statement hit Faith, though. A long way to go? It meant that Buffy actually wanted to go that way.

Xander popped his head in, peering into the apartment as if afraid at what he was doing to see. "Everyone decent in here?" he asked.

"Yeah," Buffy answered.

"Darn," he muttered, coming in with two bags in his arms.

"I don't EVEN wanna know what you think we'd be doing where we wouldn't be decent," Buffy remarked.

"You're right; you don't want to know." He grinned, relief intertwined in it. He set the food down, hoping it would actually be eaten this time instead of ending the way it had last time the three of them had tried to eat together.

But Buffy moved towards the door. "I guess I'll go," she said.

Xander looked up. "Already?"

She nodded. "Might be too much too soon. Besides, Dad might be a little worried about me. It being past dinner time and all."

"Give 'em a call," Faith said, pulling out a quarter. "Don't got a phone. Hafta use the one downstairs."

"It's okay. He'll know I'm late when I come in. well, late."

Faith walked over to the other Slayer close enough to hand her the quarter. "No, I mean, call him to tell him you're eating dinner here, you being a colleague and all. It's only polite."

Buffy stared at Faith, slowly taking the quarter from her. "Yeah. I guess."

"Since when did you know what being polite is?" Xander remarked, only to get a hard jab in the ribs from Faith. He doubled over slightly. "Kidding." he grunted.

A smile escaped Buffy's lips then and she gave an agreed nod. "Yeah, okay. I'll be back." She went out the door to the lobby downstairs.

Xander put his arm around Faith's shoulders, kissing her on the cheek. "Wow, I didn't believe it until I saw it. You and Buffy."

"Don't get too excited, X-Man," she said, patting his chest teasingly. "You might still gotta hold us back at the dinner table." But she couldn't hold in the small smirk.

It was another small victory.

No, it was a huge victory in overcoming and getting what she needed: forgiveness. And it was from one of the people she never dreamed would speak that word to her, or for her.

But she heard it.

Yep, she heard it loud and clear.

-END-