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 Five: No Better Feeling in the World

~I cannot help it; I couldn't stop it if I tried The same old heartbeat fills the emptiness I have inside...~

Faith stared into the grinning, mischievous face of Xander Harris, her roommate, her friend, and her boyfriend. She ran her fingers through his hair as they lay there in her room, facing each other under the covers even though it was a warm summer night.

"Betcha couldn't go another round," she remarked with a smirk.

Xander gained a thoughtful look. "Um, yeah, you're probably right. C'mon, I'm an average guy. Gimmie at least five minutes of breathing time. Then I'll be ready. I mean, after all, it is you. Any other girl, I'da dumped a long time ago."

"That a fact?" Faith asked, a twinkle in her eyes.

~And I've heard that you can't fight love, so I won't complain, 'Cause why would I stop the fire that keeps me going on?~

Xander met her gaze. "Yeah, that is so. You think you're so tough, don't you?"

She rolled over onto him so that she straddled him around the waist and grinned. "Wanna try to throw me out?"

Xander placed his hands on either side of her waist, gazing up at her with a slight tilt of his head. "You promise not to get angry if I tell you I don't want to try?"

To answer that, she leaned down and kissed him heavily, deeply. The way she had felt towards him in the past month had been beyond anything she could comprehend. Xander's search for another place to stay went from looking to "sortta" looking to "screw the hell outta that idea." She let herself fall for him; afraid, yes, but something she couldn't ignore.

And the chance to start to make amends with Buffy Summers was just more fuel to this passionate fire for Xander. For the one person whom Faith knew wouldn't approve, did. It was something that Faith had thought about since they had spent the small amount of time with the other Slayer a few weeks ago.

Though Buffy didn't straight out give her blessings, by forgiving Faith and not shoving Xander back in the Sunnydale direction, it was enough.

~Turn out the lights now To see is to believe I just want you near me I just want you here with me.~

She let up a little. "Just tell me when to stop."

"How's about never?" He lifted his head towards her to continue their kiss, gently rolling them over so that he was slightly on top. He ran his fingers through her hair then moved down over her neck, past her chest, and down to her stomach.

~And I'd give up everything only for you, It's the least that I could do.~

Aroused by his simple touch, she kissed him more slowly, her hands feeling along his chest, noting how well muscled it was. He never came across as someone who was macho or tough. But she bet if he tried, he could kick more asses than he let on. She gently nudged his shoulder, wanting to roll them over again.

They began to do the motion - then realized too late her bed wasn't as big as she thought.

FLOMP!!

"OUCH!" cried Xander as his body smacked against the radiator. He let out another pained groan. "Floor. radiator. unbearable pain."

Faith took the fall better, mainly because she fell on top of him. "Oh, shit. You okay?" She quickly got off of him, helping him up to a seating position. "Guess there was major miscalcs on the width of this bed." Then she couldn't help but start laughing.

Xander was too busy rubbing his bare back to join in the laughs. "Boy, I can't get anything romantic done correctly, can I?" Then he saw her laughing and couldn't help but chuckle himself. "See, Faith, you'll learn a lot more from me than you thought. Like how to be completely unsexy without even trying."

She leaned in and kissed him. "I don't think you could be unsexy if you tried."

"Ever heard me burp?"

"Yeah, and you've got nothing on me." She began to kiss him again when the clock caught her eye. "Oh, shit." She pulled back. "We gotta go."

"Huh?" he asked, still in a daze by what she wanted to keep doing.

"Work. Patrol." She stood up, letting the sheets around her naked body drop. "I promised Hannah I'd help out with some stuff."

"Oh, I don't wanna work," he pouted like a little boy not wanting to wake up for school. "I wanna keep doing what we were doing."

"Believe me, X-Man, it's exactly what I want to do. But Patrick ain't gonna hear that shit, and I don't wanna be the reason for him blasting your ass."

"Wonder if he'd let you blast my ass," he mumbled, thoughtfully.

She gave him a look and laughed again with a shake of her head before going into the bathroom for a quick shower.

~Why are we afraid to be in love? To be loved I can't explain it I know it's tough to be loved~

* * * *

"Faith, Xander!" Hannah greeted them as they approached the old, run-down warehouse. "How are you?"

The two brunettes greeted her in return with large grins. They came up to the woman who was carrying a box of some old junk in her arms.

"Let me get that for you," Xander volunteered, taking the box from her. "How's it going?"

Hannah gave him a grateful smile. "It's going good. We've gotten in a lot of good things this week. Very many people have been throwing away good things.

"Some people just don't know good things when they have it," Faith remarked, bringing in a deeper meaning to it - and now understanding it. She looked into the box Xander held in his arms. "Wow. There is some good shit in there."

A small figure came out, holding a purple dinosaur in her left hand as she slowly, shyly approached Hannah.

Faith caught the movement right away and her expression brightened. "Rachel, hey, there, girl."

Rachel came up beside her mother and smiled up at Faith. It always took her a moment to get used to Faith, no matter how many times the Slayer came by. But those moments grew shorter and shorter with each visit.

This time, all it took was Faith squatting and holding out her arms.

Rachel came up to her and gave the dark-haired girl a huge hug.

"Hey, kiddo. How're you doing?"

Rachel pulled back and smiled, holding up her stuffed purple dinosaur that Xander and Faith had given her about a week ago. It already had the look of a cherished toy, worn and loved.

"Oh, she's still loving on that," Xander commented. "Who would've thought purple dinos would be the rave?" He also gave the little girl a smile as her eyes wandered to him and also held up the dinosaur to him. "Glad you like it."

Faith brushed back the hair of the girl, still a bit saddened by the fact the girl still hadn't said a word since Faith had saved her from some children-loving vamps over a month ago. Still, Rachel was happy; even if words were never said, a smile was always on her face.

"You named that thing yet?" Faith asked, nodding towards the dinosaur.

Rachel tapped her finger up on her lips as if thinking then shook her head. She hugged the dinosaur, though, telling them she still would love it - named or not.

"It'll come to you."

"Name it Ralph," Xander suggested.

Faith looked up at him with a skeptical expression. "What?"

Rachel made a face at that.

"See, the kid knows a cool name when she hears it." She stood up, giving Rachel another rub of the head. She met Hannah's gaze. "So, you needed me to move some stuff?" She rubbed her hands together.

"Well, I gotta be off to work," Xander said, checking his watch. He dumped the box into Faith's arms, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "I did tell you I hate the moving deal." He grinned. Then he felt a tug on his shirt and looked down on Rachel, who pointed to her cheek. "Ah, little lady knows a hunk when she sees him." He squatted and gave the little girl a peck on the cheek.

She held out her dinosaur, pointing to its cheek, too.

Xander held up his hand with a small wave. "Uh, I'm not into purple. Or dinosaurs for that -ow!" He felt the tip of Faith's boot dig into his thigh. "Alright." He leaned in and kissed the dinosaur.

Faith couldn't help but grin. She was never into the cuddly, cutsy stuff but this was just too damn cute 'n' cuddly to resist a smile. "See, wasn't so bad."

He stood up as Rachel retreated to her mother's side. "I prefer brunettes, you know. I'll see you gals later." He waved and went on his way to his nightly job at the bar.

Hannah watched him go. "You two are so cute," she commented with a knowing smile.

Faith turned back to the woman with a quirk of her brow. "Not exactly the rep I planned to get."

Hannah giggled, leading the Slayer and Rachel towards the warehouse. "Oh, it never is."

* * * *

"I've found a bit of something about that gang that placed that spell on you a few weeks ago," Paul said as he sat behind his desk in the back of the bookstore he owned.

"Oh, good, 'cause I wanted to bring that up again," Faith remarked, sitting in one of the chairs across from him. She had come to him to check up after she had helped Hannah with some moving. She wanted to make sure he was okay, even though she had a feeling it would be more than just popping her head in.

She really hated it when she was right.

"Well, considering the situation, I thought it'd be nice to see what they're up to. They use magicks that, though aren't difficult to perform, are hard to obtain the spells to do such." He looked through a notebook. "Word out on the street says they are a dangerous bunch. I just want you to be ready in case they go after you again."

"If they're smart, they'll know not go get within a five-mile radius of me," she stated. There was no doubt Relin and his gang were on her black list for what they had done to her. But she hadn't heard one peep from them at all. She just had to forget about them, and she had - until now.

"Yes, but we all know how bad guys don't seem to be smart." He looked at her, setting his pen down a moment. "Faith, can I be honest with you?"

"Sure," she said with a shrug.

Paul closed his notebook and looked at her. "You know I was once a demon hunter."

"Funny, it still seems you still are." She quirked up a brow.

He smiled. "Yes, well, not officially. I do what I can, I suppose. I was disbanded from my troop when I had my accident that put me in this chair. The story is long, and probably not too interesting."

"Was it in the line of duty?"

Paul paused before nodding, slowly. "You could say that. And I'm not trying to probe or pry into your personal life, but. you told me you were somewhat of a demon hunter yourself. And it's quite apparent that you do that job well."

Faith held up her hand to stop him from going any further. "You wanna know what the hell I am, right?"

"I wasn't really going to. phrase it like that, but yes, I would at least like to know what demon hunter clan you represent."

Faith chuckled a bit. "I represent MY clan. I don't work with anyone - well, officially I don't. It's kinda a long story, too. Something I don't wanna talk about, actually. But yeah, if you wanna know, I thought since you were all into the book shit, you'd have figured it out. Vampire Slayer."

"Vampire Slayer?"

"That's me. That's what I am."

Paul sat there, dumbfounded. "You exist," he whispered.

"Dude, I've been working with you for the past month. Of course I exist."

"No, I mean, I know you, Faith, exist. I just didn't. I didn't think vampire slayers did." He leaned back in his wheelchair, truly taken aback by the news. "As a demon hunter, you come across many things. But more than half the time they are your enemy. I've read few books on vampire slayers, their myth. My clan and I joked how much we would love to have a vampire slayer on our side to help fight. Their powers sounded extraordinary and mysterious." He looked at her. "And I've seen it first hand. Wow."

"What'd you think I was? A girl on steroids?"

Paul blushed a little. "Actually, yes."

"Thanks bunches, there." But she grinned. "Secret's out. You got your wish: a vampire slayer fighting on your side."

"Amazing. I must ask you all these questions - about your powers, of course. How you came to have them, and if the myths that I've read are true or not."

"Yeah, sure. Ask away. My powers just showed up one day. I'm pretty sure it was the day I got called."

"And that enhanced everything, right? Your strength, your speed, your reflexes."

Faith nodded. "Best part about having this gig."

"How fast can you run?"

"Beats the hell outta me. I just know I can run pretty fast and for a long time. I don't know my limits. For awhile, I didn't think I had any." It was more than a slap in a face to find out what they were. "Can't outrun a train or lift it, for that matter. I ain't Superman."

"And you'd probably have to be the most powerful human living, then. Seeing as the myth says there is only one of you every generation."

"Yeah, about that, it's true only not until a few years ago."

"Oh?"

"Buffy, the one who was here a few weeks ago, she pretty much fucked up that theory."

Paul was confused. "Meaning.?"

"Meaning, B's a slayer, too. She died, which is the only thing that can call the next Slayer. You see a Slayer, someone died for her to be called."

"Oh." He shifted slightly in his seat. "So Buffy.. Died."

"Yeah. I don't know the whole sitch, obviously. Wasn't there. But it was only a moment. It was enough to call the chick called before me. And she died - permanently - so I got called. But since B's still around, there are two of us."

"Which is why she easily fought the dragon. and why Xander was a bit weary about her and you fighting."

Faith nodded. "B's always been better at this gig than me."

"I don't know. You seem to be doing really well." He looked back down on his notebook. "It's too bad the two of you didn't get along. Two Slayers working together might've been a great asset to the world."

Faith fumbled with her hands. "Yeah. Might've been."

"I just thought that maybe since the two of you - "

"You're movin' into personal territory, Paul," she warned.

Paul looked up, picking up on her tone. "Oh, I'm sorry."

She knew she was being more evasive than he wanted her to be, but talking about her past wasn't something she wanted to do. Hearing it explained to someone who wasn't a part of it probably would more than likely make her wonder why she was doing all this in the first place.

"I know you've had a tough life," Paul commented, but left it at that. "What did you say their symbol looked like?"

"Huh? Who?"

"Of the gang."

She sat up straighter, not realizing he had switched the subject so quickly. "Oh, um, some snake around this stick looking thing. Eyes glowing and shit. Sound familiar?"

"Not yet."

"You really worried about this gang?"

Paul didn't look up. "Yes. They've been around here for a long while. I never thought much of them until you brought up the fact they were attempting some sort of ritual. They are more than they seem."

"Hi, guys," Xander greeted them when he entered the back room. "What's the what?"

"Paul's trying to find out about Relin's gang." She stood up.

"Oh. Research. Did I tell you I'm allergic to research for the summer?" He smiled sheepishly.

Faith walked up to him, placing her hand on his chest with a pat of reassurance. "Don't worry, Xand, we're leaving." She looked over her shoulder. "If you find anything, lemme know. And. thanks."

Paul looked up. "Of course. Thank you. You do know I will have more questions."

"Why are we thanking each other?" Xander asked, glancing from one to the other. "And what questions?"

"I figured you'd have more." She tugged at Xander's arm. "I told him I'm a Slayer."

Xander faced Paul a moment. "Oh, she told. Neat, huh?" He smiled widely. "Did you tell them about Sunnydale and the Hellmouth?

"The what?" Paul asked, brows rose in pure interest.

Faith nudged Xander out the door. "One day, I'll let you know 'bout that. We've got places to go. Later."

Paul watched them go, staring at the empty space curiously. "A Hellmouth?"

* * * *

The next evening, Xander was in the lobby of Faith's apartment building, phone tucked between his cheek and shoulder. Slight confusion and frustration crossed his face as the voice at the other end of the phone continued to talk.

"I know, Mom." He was cut off for the fifth time within the minute. "But if Dad - yeah, I know Willow helped. she worked hard, and yeah, I appreciate." He sighed. "Okay," he said, his voice giving up. "I will, Mom. Okay, okay.. I AM happy with it, but. it's just." He closed his eyes, shaking his head. "Right, right. Bye."

He hung up the phone, looking down at what he had just written on the scrap of paper. He shook his head again, hopelessly, as he folded it up and stuck it in his jacket pocket.

He just wasn't going to think about it now. He couldn't think about it now, not when everything was just going well.

* * * *

The sidewalk was empty.

No cars.

No people.

No sounds.

It was a vast emptiness of the neighborhood in which Faith had grown to somewhat call "home."

She strolled down past Hannah's warehouse, but there were no signs of Hannah or her friends. Usually, there was some bustle around it, other homeless people trying to make heads or tails about the junk they had collected that day, or just hanging out.

"Hannah?" Faith called as she stopped in front of the warehouse, staring at it. She allowed her senses to find some noise to indicate she wasn't alone. "Yo! Anyone here?"

No answer.

"It's going to rain. It will be rain soon," whispered a voice from all around yet nowhere.

Faith swerved around. "Who the hell's there?"

The street remained barren.

"C'mon out here!" she challenged.

Suddenly, every building around her burst into flames. What was once a silent area was filled with the noise of chaos - minus the people. Windows burst outwards making shards of glass fall to the sidewalk. The structure that held up the buildings began to creak with weakness.

Faith could feel the heat all around her. "What's going on?"

"It will rain soon! It will rain. Rain. Rain."

The voice was familiar. The sound of the voice was usually comforting, usually something sweet to Faith's ears. But it was different this time - and it scared her to the core of her soul.

"Xander?" The fire seemed to leap out at her when she spoke the name. She jumped back as a fireball landed near her feet. "Shit!" A gripping urgency came over her, like she knew something was wrong. "Xander!?" she called, starting to run in all directions, knowing yet not knowing. "Xander!!"

Then the fire suddenly extinguished - leaving her in blackness.

* * * *

"Faith?" came Xander's real voice, shaking her gently as she began to move around in her sleep. "Fa-a-ith," he said in a sing-song voice.

"No," she mumbled, trying to pull away from his hand.

"Time to wake up, babe," he said. "Whoa!" He ducked as a fist came flying towards his face. The fact that she was asleep, thus a bit slower (to a human level), saved him from a very, very potentially painful impact. He shook her again. "Faith! Um, if you're dreaming about hitting me or something, it'll probably be easier if maybe we talk it out! GAH!" He had to fall backwards to avoid another one. He hit the coffee table behind him since she had fallen asleep on the couch, knocking over onto the floor and everything that had been on it.

The noise snapped Faith out of her dream, making her sit up quick. She looked over at the source of the noise right away and saw Xander sitting there on the floor, rubbing the back of his head. "Shit, you okay?" She quickly slipped off the couch and went to his side. "What happened?"

"You happened," he said, looking up at her with no anger. He raised his brows in concern instead. "Bad dream?"

Faith blinked, not getting right away what he was getting at. "Oh. damn." She looked away, a bit ashamed and rubbed her eyes. "Yeah. I mean, it was crazy." She ran her hands through her dark brown locks, getting her bearings together. "Sorry 'bout that."

Xander held her hand and squeezed it as he got to his feet. "A-Okay. Patrick gave me the night off. I was wondering if you wanted to paint the town some warm color." He smirked.

His smile melted whatever shame she had felt only seconds before. Damn, was he understanding. "I kinda like red, myself." She drew him close.

Xander obliged, face only inches from hers - always where he wanted to be. "Okay, where do you wanna go?"

* * * * *

The music BOOMED. Not just loudly - but LOUUUDLY.

"WHAT!??" Xander yelled when they went up to the bar of the nightclub. He leaned in to hear what Faith was trying to say.

"I said, do you DANCE?"

"I'm capable of moving my body!"

Faith winked at him. "Don't I know that well, hon."

Xander raised a corner of his mouth, feeling the heat already. "Well, yeah, but that doesn't require too much rhythm!"

"Says you." She grabbed his jacket and led him out into the crowded dance floor, the beat entering their chests.

Xander stood there stupidly, getting a bit bounced around, as there wasn't much room to move. He looked over at Faith, who was already slinking to the beat. His eyes followed her every curve of her body. "Gosh, you're good," he mumbled, though not sure she even could've heard that.

Her arms reached behind his neck, pulling him close. Her body touched his, grinding slowly, purposely. "Just feel the beat, Xand."

His hands found either side of her waist and he made a feeble attempt to match Faith's smooth moves. Xander Harris was never a guy of dance. If there was ever a "white-boy" dance, he was the advocate for it. "Hey, I think I'm getting it!" he said, happily.

Faith glanced down at his waist and hips. "Dude, no you're not." But it bothered her not one bit. His charm was in his goofiness, his ability to be so ungraceful and make it so damn, fucking sexy. She swayed a bit then pulled away, doing her own dance.

Xander tried to do his, but he was probably better off having Faith cover most of his moves with hers. Another hand reached around his waist and he turned around, coming face-to-face with a light-haired girl wearing definite clubbing clothes - all nice and sparkly. "Whoa, hi there," he said.

She didn't say any words as she took him and did a very similar dance Faith had done - only she was going a lot lower. Her eyes weren't directly looking at him, just immersed into her movements.

Feeling a bit uncomfortable, Xander squirmed a little.

"Having fun there?" came Faith's voice in his ear.

"Geez, don't scare me like that." He pointed down to the girl who was practically at knee level. "I have no idea where she came from."

Faith watched the girl, wanting to laugh at her attempts to out-dance Faith. "S'okay. One thing about dancing is it's a way to let loose, no restraints."

"Oh," Xander said, glancing over his shoulder and seeing she was half- dancing with some hunkier looking guy in leather pants. He didn't have leather pants. "Meaning, you and me aren't. together. Here. On the dance floor."

"It ain't exactly like that," she said picking up on his jealously of the stranger who had scoped her out. "It means that people 'round these kinda places are letting loose just as much so stuff like this don't mean shit."

Xander gritted his teeth, uncomfort growing more. "You mean, even when they kiss up and down your body?"

And the girl was doing just that, her body still moving to the beat. Lips kissed his chest then up his neck, licking it slow, then up to his lips.

Faith turned around and pulled Xander away from the girl. "HEY!" Faith snapped, stepping in between the two. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Xander liked the jealously - really, and a LOT. But Faith in a chick fight wasn't a pretty sight - for the other chick. "It's cool," he said pulling her away. "I mean, not 'cool' in the way that it was okay to do. nevermind."

The girl stared at Faith, not fazed. "I think she wants to take this outside," she said.

Faith stared back at the stranger, Xander's arm attempting to hold her back. "Girlfriend, I really don't think you wanna take this outside." But she stared at her more closely. "Though I'd be more than happy to give you opportunity."

"Faith," Xander urged, pulling at her again.

The girl laughed, giving Xander a seductive look, ignoring Faith's ever- flaring temper. "I think I want him as my trophy." She pointed in his direction.

"Me?" Xander asked, pointing to himself. "Me, a trophy?" He looked back at the guy who had been dancing with Faith earlier. "I'm a trophy!"

The guy clapped him on the shoulder. "Congrats, man," he said with a thumbs- up.

Faith nudged Xander hard in the stomach, telling him to shut the hell up. She heard his "Ooof!" and felt him double over slightly.

"Shutting.up," he gasped.

"Don't worry," Faith said, walking past her. "It's not like she's gonna win you anyway." Then she weaved her way through the crowd and out the door.

The girl watched her, the grin not leaving her face. She looked back at Xander. "You've got yourself a tough one. It's too bad she's going to lose herself one sexy guy."

Xander looked at her, finally able to straighten up. "Um, go easy on her. And... would you please tell her to do the same to you?"

The girl ignored him and followed the same path Faith took.

This wasn't settling too well with Xander. Not well at all. He shoved his way through the crowd, getting caught up in a dance or two, and finally got out the door of the club. He looked left and right, worry lacing his face. He realized Faith being jealous maybe wasn't the best thing, especially when girls didn't know the consequences in picking a fight with a Slayer.

He went in one direction and rounded a corner, stopping dead when he saw Faith slam her foot hard into the girl's stomach. The girl hit the brick wall with a SMACK.

"Oh, no," Xander whispered. "Faith, wait." He began to walk towards them before it got worse. Then he saw Faith bring out what looked like a stake. "Faith, no!" he cried.

But the quick reflexes that were usually an asset kicked in before Xander could even get the last word out in his two-word sentence.

The stake hit the girl straight in the chest, making him stop dead. Faith had done it. She had...

But less than a nanosecond later, the girl burst into dust.

Faith twirled the stake once in her palm and stuck it back in the pocket of her jacket. She turned and looked at him. "You were sayin'?" she asked, walking past him.

"I. I, uh." Xander stood there, feeling stupid and embarrassed, then turned back and caught up with her. "Hey, nice staking there. of the vampire girl. which I." He let it trail. "I'm sorry."

Faith stopped and looked at him, his eyes averting hers. She knew what he was thinking, and it only hurt for a moment to know he didn't fully trust her actions when it came to humans. It only hurt a moment because how could she think someone could fully trust her actions when she, herself, couldn't?

But for both their sakes, she was going to continue to prove control.

"Hey," she said, voice quiet and raspier. "No apologies, Xand. She was foolin' me for a little while there. Thought maybe some gal was gonna take you or something. I knew that sure as fuck wasn't gonna happen." She smiled, pushing up against the wall. "Right?"

Xander's eyes met hers as she drew nearer. "Right. Never. Ever." He closed the gap between them and kissed her. "I kinda liked that dancing thing. Wanna go to another one? Maybe you can get jealous again and start a brawl."

"Don't count on it." She pulled him off the wall by his shirt and the two of them went about the town, painting it the warm color they said they would.

* * * *

Before the sun peeked above the horizon, Xander and Faith found themselves laying in the roof of some rundown apartment building, watching the sky slowly light up with the new day. They had been dozing in and out of sleep for the past hour.

"You wished it, didn't you?" Xander suddenly asked. His eyes were fully awake, the silence between them causing him to think a bit about how far the two of them had come within just the month. But most importantly, what had happened before then.

Faith stirred a little, her head resting on his chest. "Wished what?"

"That another Slayer would come."

"What're you talking about?" she asked, picking up on his serious tone. She lifted her head a little to look at his face.

"When you came here, to L.A. You weren't here to. hang out, were you?"

Faith realized where he was getting at. She took a moment to reflect on the reason she had come to L.A. after leaving Sunnydale. At first, it was just to get the hell out of there. The ride to Los Angeles at the time, however, made her really think, made her REALLY see what she saw when she was literally looking outside in. She hated what she saw more than anything. She became something that wasn't worth shit.

Everyone but her had seen it. Then her eyes were opened through the eyes of Buffy. "I came out here to get myself killed." She sat up. "Thought maybe since I wasn't worth anything, I could do everyone a favor and get it over with."

Xander lay there a moment, looking over at her. "Things got so bad back in Sunnydale, didn't they?"

"Wanna talk understatement there, Xander?"

Xander sighed. "I know. I'm just glad. you didn't go through with it."

"Thank Angel, not me." She looked back at him. "Wanted so bad for him to do it. Even shot the guy in the leg. Tortured Wesley 'cause I knew it would bring Angel running." She snickered a little. "Him and B are a lot a like." She shook her head, remnants of what happened that night lingering in her head.

"In ways. Except Angel wouldn't look quite as hot in a halter top."

Faith looked over at him then smacked his shoulder. "You're fucking crazy," she said with a laugh. "Why'd you ask that?"

"I wanted your side of the story," Xander said, sitting up. "I heard Buffy's version through Buffy's eyes. And you're right; I didn't know the whole story. But now I know a little more. I'm just glad that you two are friends."

"Whoa, whoa, there," she said. "Yeah, me and B worked things out, be we ain't exactly gonna have a girls' night out anytime soon, even if it is slaying. We got a lot of issues we still gotta figure." But she smiled slightly. "Still, it's cool that she forgave me."

Xander nodded, pulling her close to him, just enjoying her body against his. "Hey, if I can work those big, bad issues between us out, then anyone can. Even the Buffster herself." He hugged her, something he liked to do a lot. "You do know I love you, right?"

Faith tensed a little at the word. It was the first time he had used the word; the first time either of them had spoken it. What she felt for him was something she had never felt before, but she didn't want to admit to herself it was love. Love was scary. but it was also comforting and just plain nice.

Maybe it was love.

Maybe what the two of them had - have had for the past month or so - was love.

Before she could open her mouth to respond, a scream rang out from below them.

The two brunettes reacted and separated, both reaching the edge of the rooftop, peering to the ground below. Two young women were running as hard and fast as they could, purses flailing behind them. One kept glancing back.

Both pairs of eyes looked to see what or who was chasing them, which was obvious.

Three guys, two in leather jackets, one in a jean jacket, all wearing bandanas and sunglasses despite the fact the sun had barely peeked over the horizon.

"Uh, oh," Xander mumbled.

Faith narrowed her eyes, recognizing the colors. "Well, fucking hell," she muttered. "It's a few punks from that gang."

"And I'll bet they're not chasing those girls for an early morning run."

"Rituals seem to be their thing," Faith replied. She hopped up on the ledge. "I'll be back." Then she jumped down to the fire escape a story down, and continued going as fast as possible to the ground below.

Xander just sat there with a grin on his face, watching as she reached the sidewalk and took off after the gang members. "The life of a hero's boyfriend."

The three members of Relin's gang continued to chase after the three women. They needed them for the ritual for tonight, knowing that Relin was already angry about everything that had happened in the past few weeks.

"Uh, uh-oh," the taller of the three said, glancing over his shoulder.

"Keep going," the smaller one ordered. "We don't get these two girls, we're gonna get shit from Relin after he gets it from the Boss."

"But Mahoney, she's chasing us!"

"Huh?" Mahoney turned around just as Faith gained on them, lunging at them with arms out wide, knocking all three of them onto the sidewalk.

Mahoney had been in the middle, thus taking the brunt of her tackle. He hit the concrete with a SMACK as his two companions did the same with less force.

Faith quickly got to her feet, watching carefully as the two taller ones got to theirs and gazed at her. She could see the fear behind their eyes, knowing her reputation was well set in their gang. "What's going on, fellas?" she asked.

The two tall ones glanced at each other, as if urging the other to make the first offensive moves against her. But both refused the other.

"It's okay, boys. Be happy to oblige." And before she could end the last word, her foot was already connecting with one's chin, lifting him a few feet off the ground while punching the other one across the cheek. He hit the nearest wall and slid to the ground just as the other one landed. "That was easy enough."

Mahoney scrambled to his feet, trying to get away. He managed to get to a steady run, leaving the other two behind without a second thought. There was no way he was going to go up against - SMACK!

An arm shot out of from behind a wall, nailing him straight across the chest and clothes lining him onto his back.

Xander stepped out from behind the corner, grinning. "Woo!" he said, pumping up his fist in victory. "I got the short guy!"

Faith caught up in no time, smirking at Xander's reaction. "Good job, X- Man. Grab 'em."

"Huh?" he asked, blinking.

"You know, do the tough guy thing. It'd be even sexier to me." She winked at him.

Who could resist THAT invite? He reached down and hauled the guy up to his feet and slammed him against the wall. Yeah, this he could do. "Okay, buddy, talk," he ordered, giving the guy a shake.

Mahoney tried to clear his head, comprehending what was happening. He stared at Xander, squirming. "What do you want me to talk about?" he asked with a sneer.

Xander opened his mouth then shut it. "Uh."

"Chasing those girls," Faith cut in, staring at the gang member in the face. "Why?"

"None of your goddamn business, bitch," Mahoney snapped.

Xander gave him an angry shake. "Hey! Let's leave the name calling to us, short stuff. Now, she asked a question. Would only be polite to answer the lady."

Faith came up to Xander's side and propped her elbow up on Xander's shoulder, leaning on him casually. "Yeah. I think I did ask a question. Mind answering it before Xander, here, sends the army after you?"

Mahoney stared at Faith, his hard expression not leaving his face. "Army? What army?"

"Yeah, what army?" Xander asked through the side of his mouth.

Faith pushed Xander to the side and grabbed Mahoney by his throat, a sneer suddenly forming on her face. She pinned him against the wall even harder.

"Ohhh," Xander said with a nod. "Yeah, that one."

Mahoney was taken too much by surprise, he barely had time to react. He felt himself being lifted to his tippy-toes. "I'm not talking!"

"That's too bad," Faith intoned with a sad shake of her head. "'Cause I really think you'll need those arms of yours in the non-broken way." She grabbed his right arm with her free hand.

"Okay!" Mahoney cried, cringing at the imaginary pain before she could do anything. "I-I'll talk. But-but I don't know much."

Faith chuckled, looking at Xander. "Did you hear that, Xander?"

Xander shook his head in shame. "Don't bad, evil guys EVER get a new script?" He reached over and flicked the guy in the nose, playfully. "C'mon. You can think of something better than that."

Mahoney sneered at Xander, squirming as if he were going to break out to punch Xander in the face. "I'll get you for that!"

Faith's casual attitude with Mahoney melted away again at his words. She took him by his jean jacket with both hands and easily lifted him above her eye level, slamming him once against the brick wall. "You wanna threaten him like that again, bastard?"

Legs dangling, Mahoney stared wide-eyed back down at her. "N-No. I'm sorry. It's... I mean, sorry." His eyes landed on Xander. "Sorry, man."

Xander spread hands out with a shrug. "I only accept apologies with an explanation to chasing people tacked at the end."

"Ritual," Mahoney quick put in when he felt Faith tense her hold. "We-we needed those broads for a ritual."

"Yeah, what's up with all these ritual happy guys like you?" Xander asked, crossing his arms and staring at him intently. "Do you like sacrifice THAT much?"

"N-No." Mahoney squirmed again. "They were needed."

"For what?" Faith asked.

"A ritual," he answered, weakly.

She tightened her hold. "You're fucking leading us around in fucking circles! That ain't the answer I was looking for!" She slammed him again against the wall. "I've got the right fucking mind to tear you to shreds for what you and your pals did to me!"

"Okay! Okay! Please, d-don't hurt m-me!" he cried, closing his eyes in pure fear.

Xander watched, getting a little uncomfortable with how intense Faith was becoming with the guy. Then he saw her glance over her shoulder with a small, knowing smirk and a wink - and he understood.

She turned back around face serious again. "I don't hurt you when you fucking TELL me what I wanna know!"

Mahoney looked like he was ready to pee in his pants, sweat beading on forehead, even in the cool morning air. "Th-The ritual. R-Relin needs the blood of two women - t-two freshly, uh, de-virginized w-women."

Faith looked at him. "Huh?"

"Girls that just lost their virginity," Xander whispered in her ear.

"Oh." She regained her hardened stance. "Okay, then, what for? What does this ritual do?"

"Brings more power to."

"Hey!" Xander cried as two pairs of arms grabbed him from behind.

Faith turned around just as one of the tall ones in the leather jackets slammed his fist into her face. Her neck snapped back, making her lose her grip on Mahoney.

His feet finally hit the ground, and he quickly scrambled away. "Let's go!"

"But, Mahoney-" the one holding Xander began.

Xander pulled out of his grasp and punched him in the face. He felt the sting from the punch, but tried to punch him again with the other hand.

The guy blocked it and punched Xander with the same force as the other one had punched Faith. Xander stumbled back and almost fell onto his butt if Faith wasn't there to grab him. He barely hung onto consciousness.

"Let's go!" Mahoney called again, already halfway down the block. "You wanna mess with her go ahead, but I wanna live another day!"

The two tall ones backed away when they met Faith's glare as she continued to hold Xander - and none too happy about the reason why.

They turned and ran in the same direction as Mahoney.

Blood was seeping from a cut in his cheek. "Ouch," he mumbled. "Man, I knew I couldn't hold up the tough guy act too long." He found his bearings and steadied himself to his feet as Faith supported him.

"Part of your charm," she said, looking back up towards the direction they ran to. "Looks like they bolted. Cowardly motherfuckers."

"Cowardly and smart," Xander said. "I'd get out of here, too, if I had to go up against you." He grinned then winced when the motion made his face hurt. "I think I'm done here." He put his hand up to his cheek.

"Yeah, me, too." She began to lead them down the sidewalk, her hand around Xander's waist partly as support. "I should go tell Paul about them. See, I knew if he mentioned 'em, it'd jinx the hell out of me."

"Well, for once, you can blame it on someone that's else. So, what'd he say when you told him you were a vampire Slayer?"

"He was kinda turned on by it."

Xander turned his head to look at her. "You're kidding, right?"

"Well, 'turned on' in the book smarts way."

"Ah, a brain erection." He nodded, understanding now. "Thought only Giles had those."

"He's heard of Slayers, but thought we didn't exist. Guess I proved him wrong."

Xander fumbled in his pocket for the keys to his car. "As you do often. Prove people wrong."

She caught his remark and stopped him. "You think?"

They met gazes and he gave a nod. "Oh, yeah, Faith. That's part of YOUR charm." He tilted his head to the side a bit. "You still don't see it, do you?"

She looked away with a shake of her head. "Nope."

"One day you will. But I guess for now, it's okay that the rest of us do." He put his arm around her shoulders, kissing her on the top of her head. "I'm sleepy. You really know how to wear out a guy."

She grinned as they began going towards his car again. "I do know, by the way. About what you said up on the roof."

Xander held the keys in his hand as he pressed the back of his palm against his injured cheek. "What'd I say on the top of the roof? Sorry, memory like a strainer."

"I do know you love me."

"Oh. Well, good." He left a pause, not sure how else to go about what he had said up there. He did want her to know it; whether or not she felt the same was something he may never actually -

"I think I kinda love you, too." She had said it. All her life, she never had said it to someone. Maybe she should've, but not in the capacity she was feeling now. And it actually felt good to say it, to admit it not only to herself, but to him: the man she did love.

Xander couldn't hold back the wide grin that formed on his lips as they reached the station wagon. "Suddenly, I'm not too worn out anymore. Breakfast?" He opened up the passenger side door, ignoring the parking ticket on his windshield.

"I'm starved." She gave his lips a light kiss before slipping into the seat.

Xander shut the door and rounded the car, giving a little hop of joy. Yes, life was good. Life was so good that Xander decided the conversation he had with his mom yesterday evening was not going to be thought about for a long, long while - if ever.

~'Cause when there's you, I feel whole And there's no better feeling in the world But without you I'm alone And I'd rather be in love with you...~

* * * *

Relin, sitting behind a new desk within a new headquarters, looked up when Mahoney and the other two came into his work area. "Did you get them?" he asked, though by the looks on their faces as soon as the question was asked, he knew the answer. He slammed his fist down on the desk. "Dammit, Mahoney, what the hell happened? We followed those girls all night!"

"I know, Relin, man. But... it was her."

"Her? Her who.?" He shook his head, knowing the answer to his own question. "Fucking bitch! It doesn't matter where we go - I chose that area for a fucking reason." He shoved a book off the desk angrily. "We need to stop her. If she doesn't wanna join in with the big boys, then we're just gonna have to shove her off."

"But how? The girl is. she's like this chick with muscles, lots of them, but she's not all muscle - ly."

"The boss is on it. He said he has an idea, but he won't get back to me until he's sure. I don't think I can wait. I told him if she crosses our paths again, I'd deal. Well, it's time we deal. Raise the stakes up - way up."

Mahoney liked the sound of it, though he wasn't sure how they were going to do it. "Um, we gonna gun her down?"

"No, you idiot. I want you to get some guys and watch her, monitor her. Do it good. You get caught, though, I'm not gonna save your ass. I have a good idea of the plan, but I gotta strike at the right time."

He pulled out a cigarette and flicked his lighter once to light it, watching the flame with a grin. "And the right time's coming so fucking soon."

- End -

** Song "I'd Rather Be in Love" by Michelle Branch (who else? ()