Title: Breath Of Heaven

Rated: R

Summary: S/7.  The gang has to figure out exactly what's going in Sunnyd, but they have a bigger problem on their hands then they realize.  And who's this mysterious girl and what does she have to do with anything?  And what's with Faith? And what's the First so happy about?

Ships: B/S, A/C, D/Cn, F/G, L/W (for sure I know those are in here)

Disclaimer: I own nothing; Joss, UPN, and WB own everything.

Spoilers: Anything through "Him" and a few possible spoilers and lots of speculation.  Also, spoilers through "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" in Angel, along with a few possible spoilers as well.

AN: Okay, found several theories floating around about this season on BtVS and AtS, and decided to take my favorite ones and write a story (at least that's how it started).  There could be some possible spoilers for either one of those shows, but most of this is just speculation or completely made up. Also, I feel I should tell you there will be strong religious themes and legends incorporated into the story.  It's not meant to offend anyone, but I'm telling you now that they are in here.  

***********************************************************************

Chapter 1

Somewhere down the street, a Salvation Army bell rang out for donations, a car horn blared as the car is cut off by another, and the local club's faint music was being carried on the wind.  Somewhere down the street, an annoyed mother pulled her son along the sidewalk away from the toy store display, a local group of musicians prepared to play Christmas carols on their instruments, and a couple held on close to one another to fight the bitter cold.  Somewhere down the street, people felt safe, felt cared for, felt…loved.  But that was somewhere down the street, not here.

The young teenage girl dug her hands deeper into her oversized coat, trying to warm her numb fingers.  The city really wasn't that bad, once you got used to the constant rain, but it still wasn't home.  She missed home sometimes, like when she hadn't seen the blue sky for three days, or when she saw a pair of sisters laughing at the café on the street corner.  But she didn't miss the pain, the mistrust, or the secrets. 

Holidays were the worst for her; they always made her think of her mother and what she would have done to make the event special.  On the Fourth she would have drug her and her sister to watch the fireworks out at the beach.  Then on Memorial Day, the others would have come over for a barbeque in the back yard.  And Thanksgiving there would be an enormous feast complete with a huge stuffed turkey and all the trimmings. The thought of the bird was enough to make her mouth water even now.  But she had no turkey this year, no barbeque, no fireworks.  All she had was herself, and the damp city of Seattle, Washington.

She turned the corner and felt a chill crawl up her spine as she passed the musicians who were sharing their instrumental rendition of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."  Someone was following her.  Her steps began to speed up as she approached 'home' or the abandoned warehouse on Elf Street that she shared with several other kids.   The foot steps began to speed up as well, and, before she realized it, they were both in a full run.

Chancing a glance over her shoulder, she could see a dark figure racing towards her faster and faster.  It would only a few mere seconds before the black clad person caught her because her body would not allow her to move any faster.  Her heart began to pound and her throat went dry as she tried to force herself to go faster without much success.  The figure was so close now and she could feel his deadly intent.

She raced around a corner, and ran into something that grabbed her by the arms.  With a terrified shriek, she began to wildly hit at the figure that held her.

"Hey, watch it, kid!" a male voice answered her.

The girl opened her eyes and found that she was now being held by a rather large, rather annoyed police officer.  His eyes were locked onto her as if he were trying to decide exactly what to do with her.  Behind him, the other kids that lived in the warehouse were being lead out in handcuffs and placed into the back of police cars.  Great, she ran right in on a raid.

"Where you goin', kid?" the officer asked.

She glanced over her shoulder, wondering if the black clad man where still out there waiting for her.  A shadow moved out of the corner of her eye, telling her that he was waiting there, and would pounce as soon as he felt he could.  The girl swallowed hard, knowing it was either go with the cops, or surely be killed.

"Home," she answered, nodding her head towards the building.

The officer sighed as he yelled to the other officers.  "We got another one!"  He then asked her in a normal voice, "What's you name?"

"Max," she answered lowly. "I'm Max."

**********

Faith jerked in a breath as she awoke from the dream.  It hadn't frightened her like the others; she hadn't woken up in a cold sweat with Cynthia, her very large, very angry cellmate, yelling at her to shut her damn trap so she could get some sleep.  Still, that uneasy feeling she had whenever she had seen the other girls that were killed was washing over her as she thought about this girl Max.

The slayer rolled over onto her back and looked straight up at the ceiling, with one arm resting behind her head as the other rested at her side.  The cell was dark except for the dim street light that bled through the thick, filtered window.  Below her, Cynthia snored loudly.  Faith hated that sound, and jerked her body to move the whole bunk beds.  Below, the large woman gave a snort, then rolled over onto her side, stopping the offensive sound.

Max.  What kind of name is Max?  People name their pets Max, not their children.  At least, not if they're girls.  Well, and if they were on TV, like in that James Cameron show that had been on Fox.  She liked that show; she wished they wouldn't have taken it off, but that new show was pretty good.  What was the name of it?  Lightening Bug or something like-

A cold hand reached up from beneath her and latched onto the wrist that rested at her side.  She jerked up and found a pair of dead eyes staring back at her.  It was a man creeping up from Cynthia's bunk, his eyes and lips white, while his skin showed years of decay.  There was a large wound in his chest, ruining the nice suit that he was wearing.  Faith recognized him; it was the deputy mayor she had killed all those years ago.

He held on tight to her wrist, and refused to let go no matter how much she tired to jerk it away.  His lips turned up to show a toothy, bone white smile that would send chills down Satan's spine.  "From beneath you it devours," he laughed before she heard a shrill, girly shriek.

Something kicked her hard in the back, nearly knocking Faith out of her top bunk.  "Damn it!" Cynthia yelled from below her as she awoke for real.  "Shut the hell up!"

The slayer lay there, gasping for a small breath.  That had been intense, the worst one yet.  She reached up and rubbed her hands over her face, but paused when she took the hands away.  The wrist the deputy mayor had grabbed had the impression of fingers wrapped around it.  Unconsciously, her whole body began to shake as she looked at the evidence that maybe it had been more than just a dream. 

One thing was sure, though; she wasn't going to get any more sleep that night.

**********

She hated early mornings.  Well, she hated mornings in general, but she really hated early school mornings.  Buffy couldn't help but snort at the thought of school mornings.  She thought when she had actually graduated from high school she wouldn't ever have to worry about that ever again.  Shows what she knows.

From the kitchen, the sound of the latest pop music and soft talking rose along with the scent of pancakes and bacon.  Oww.  Willow must have an early class. 

She didn't mind early school mornings when Willow had an eight o'clock class because that meant breakfast and coffee, the nectar of the gods, would be waiting for the slayer.  Dawn liked Willow's early classes too because it meant she actually got something besides cold cereal.  And on these cold winter days, a warm breakfast is much better than cold.

"Mmmm," Buffy said, taking a deep breath as she walked into the kitchen.  "What smells so good?"

Willow looked up from the stove, smiled at her friend, then walked with a pan of bacon over to an eager Dawn and her waiting plate. "Bacon, eggs, and pancakes," she informed the slayer.  "And there's fresh coffee."

"Have I mentioned how much I love you living with us lately?" Dawn asked, stuffing another fork full of eggs into her mouth.  "Cause, this is so much better than Frosty Flakes that Buffy shoves at me."

"Hey!" the blonde exclaimed as she poured the black liquid into a cup.  "Would you rather I try making eggs over easy again?"

"No!" both Willow and Dawn exclaimed at the same time.  The two looked at one another, before Dawn continued, "One visit from the fire department was enough, thank you."

Buffy pouted holding the cup of coffee up to her lips.  "It was only a tiny grease fire."

"They made us promise to never let you cook again," her little sister added dryly.

"They did not!" the slayer bit back.  "They just suggested it."

Willow shook her head before going and pulling another plate from the cabinet.  She placed it on the counter in front of Buffy, who had taken a seat next to her sister.  Sometimes it felt like she was having to mother the two Summers girls, not that she minded.  It gave her something else to think about then worrying about her magic and that nagging voice that was constantly scolding her for not finishing that retreat.  Maybe it was the fact that she wasn't the type of person to walk away from things like that that bothered her so much and not the magic itself.  Yeah, that was it.  She had quit; that's what was bothering her.

"Yo, earth to Willow?  You there, Willow?" Dawn spoke up from the island.

Willow jerked her head, shaking the thought away.  "Sorry, kinda spaced there for a minute."

"We can see that," Buffy said, starting to eat her own breakfast.  "So, what class do you have this morning?"

"Objective Oriented Programming," she beamed.  "We have a test today."

Buffy and Dawn stared at her for a moment as if she had completely lost her mind.  "Wills, I hate to say, but you just beat Xander as the strangest Scooby," Buffy sighed.

"I'm not strange," Willow answered, horrified by the very thought that her friends thought such a thing.  "Xander's way more strange than me.  I mean, hello, he almost married Anya.  That qualifies as way stranger than me wanting to take a test.  I mean, she's all demony again, or she was.  And, and Xander was still all 'I love her even if she did rip those frat guys hearts out.'  And, and, and I'm babbling again, aren't I?"

"Just a little," Buffy smiled.  She glanced down at the her watch, then said, "Come on, Dawn. We're going to be late for school."  The slayer froze for a second.  "Whoa, deja vu.  Quick, let's get going before I start going on about the cute boy in homeroom."

"Trust me, none of us want you to go there again," Dawn said, grabbing her bag off the ground to follow her sister.  "Unless you want to think another one of my boyfriends is your lover."

Buffy's eyes widened as the teen walked by.  "Just…shut up," she said, following her out of the house.

**********

Spike stood there, staring into the empty bathroom mirror, the faucet steadily running as he let his mind wander.  That was a dangerous thing for him to do, especially now that his mind was warring against him and his nature and his soul.  His mind didn't pick sides; it hated all of them.

There're times, like now, when it would mock him, replaying every vile, evil thing he had ever done.  Over and over they would come, in full Technicolor, until he was reduced to nothing more than a whimpering pile on the cold floor. 

The favorite one it had to taunt him with was her, lying on the floor, telling him to stop.  Sometimes it would be intermingled with the scene of her lifeless body on top of the debris, reminding how he was just as responsible for that as he was for the bathroom incident.  When the scene played out like it had actually happened, and she was standing there, clutching her robe closed, her bottom lip almost trembling, and that look of utter disgust, fear, and hurt in her eyes, that was what killed him; even more than the memories of her dead body and her grave. 

She had spat at him about why she could never trust him, but there was a problem with what she had said.  She had spoken as if she had never trusted him, but he couldn't have hurt her as badly as he had if she hadn't already.  No, she had said, "Ask me again why I can never trust you."  Instead, she should have said, "Ask me why I can never trust you again."  The placement of one word could make such a difference.  He had hurt her worse than anyone else before; he could see it in her eyes that night.

Hurt.  He had hurt the girl.  The girl he had sworn to have loved.  Love.  Did he really know what that was?  He thinks not.

"Stop it," he muttered to himself, his hands clutching the edge of the counter.  "Just shut the bloody hell up."

The voice never listened and it and his mind would laugh at him as they continued their attack.  It wouldn't listen, but when he refused to listen and focused in on something else, like the running water, it would quiet down.

Spike let out a sigh as the voice began to soften and play in the back of his mind like an old song that you couldn't remember the words to.  This was the closest he came to silence.  This was the closest he came to peace.

A billowing cloud of steam was steadily rising from the sink as Harris's hot water flowed unused down the drain.  Not exactly an evil act to feel guilty over; he had been using it until that brain of his decided to take a minor detour into Guilty Land with a small stop over in Insanoville, but he guessed he should go ahead and turn it off.  After all, the whelp had been nice enough to let him stay here, but only after the slayer had practically threatened bodily harm to both of them if they didn't agree.  And who says she doesn't care?

Shut up! he snapped at the inner monologue silently before reaching over and turning off the water.

Spike looked up into the empty mirror and jumped upon seeing a girl staring back at him.  She was young, maybe the Niblet's age, with long brown hair that was going wild on her head.  Her face was white and looked drained, and her eyes were dark with death.  But he didn't see any injuries on her.  She lifted her hand towards him and the tips of her fingers were covered in blood.

"Help me," she pleaded, her voice echoing as if she were far away.

Upon jerking back, Spike slipped on the fuzzy, green bathroom mat, sending him crashing to the ground.  His head banged hard against the wall, probably cracking both his skull and the sheetrock.  Groaning, he touched the back of his head and found the beginning of what was sure to be a large, nasty lump.  He pushed himself back up off the floor, and was torn between relief and dread when he found the mirror empty once more.

Buffy had been wrong.  It wasn't the basement that was driving him insane.  He was doing that all on his own.

**********

Principal Wood stood at the entrance of the school, watching as teachers and students filed in for a new day of school.  Some where polite enough to stop and speak with him, mainly the teachers, but he hardly listened to them anyway.  His mind was else where at the moment.

He glanced up when he saw the familiar truck pull up, and both the Summers women file out.  Dawn was laughing brightly as she said goodbye to the driver then headed up towards the school.  Buffy followed suit, but held back for just a moment to speak with the dark haired boy.  Her face fell slightly at something he said, before she followed her sister up the stairs.

Wood smiled brightly at her when she approached, and she returned the gesture, but it didn't reach her eyes.  "Something the matter, Ms. Summers?"

"No, not really," she lied.  He could tell she had.  Using the patented trademark principal eyebrow raise that he used to get students to tell the truth, he effectively made the young woman cave.  "Alright, I just got some news about a sick friend of mine."

"Not doing well?" he asked with a hint of false sincerity.

"He's better than he was," she sighed.  "But not as good as I hoped he'd be by now."

"Just give him time.  I'm sure he'll get better."

"I hope so," she sighed.  "Kind of miss patrolling with him."

"Pardon?" Wood said; confused by where that came from.

"Um, nothing," Buffy answered sheepishly, trying to make as hasty retreat into the school.  "I should, you know, get to work.  Yup, want to do a good job.  Help the kids and everything."

As she disappeared back into the crowd of children, Wood could only stare at where she had been.  He shook his head, and then said to himself, "Strange girl."

At his side, a black beeper began to shake feverously, drawing his attention back to what he had been waiting for.  He pulled it from his side, lifted it up, and read the words carefully. 

WE FOUND HER.

A small smile crept across his face.  Today promised to be a very good day. 

**********