TITLE: INNER DEMONS

Author: Monet

RATING: PG-13, for language

TIME: AU which happens somewhere in the beginning of season three - before "All Men are Beasts"

DISCLAIMER: I own none of these characters. They all belong to the genius that is Joss Whedon and his Crew.

NOTES: A sort of short story I wrote a while back so it may not make sense. but 'yay' for effort, right? This is a little twist on the familiar tale of Faith and Buffy, told from Faith's POV.

================================================================= "She still has a lot to face before she can put this behind her. But yes, she has a real chance. Because you didn't give up on her." - Giles, "Consequences" =================================================================

I've never seen it; yeah, bad ass Slayer like me had never witnessed anything like it in my life - and I've seen a lot. I just never thought it'd come down to this: that I'd see it come to this first hand. And fuck, did it happen - wicked badly.

It even left my big mouth speechless.

Oh, I've walked the darkside, sure: the day my first Watcher died. Even BEFORE I became the Slayer, the darkside was all around me. But coming here to Sunnydale, I saw a whole new darkside to face.

And even I got fears about it.

Demons. A shit load of them here. Sometimes, though, the real bad ass demons don't hafta come from the Hellmouth. Sometimes, it's the inner demon that's the scariest. Yeah, the real life demons can bring out that inner demon. But I also found out that a demon can be human...and sometimes, that human demon turns out to be you....

* * * *

This all went down when B and I had gone patrolling in Restfield Cemetery. This town is full of 'em. I had been trying to convince her to out and out kick it with me at the Bronze afterwards. B had refused, blamed it on being a school night or something. I never understood that excuse. We go out late every night.

Never could talk her out of the goody-two-shoes routine. I always try anyway.

"C'mon, B," I encouraged, walking backwards in front of her for a few steps. "It's Tuesday night. Ain't nothing going on in Wednesday schooling.

She just smiled that innocent smile of hers. "I can't. I already had to tell Willow I couldn't study with her tonight. And I'm the one who needed it."

I just made some dismissive motion with my hand, possibly containing a bird in it. I never cared for school. "When are you ever gonna use that subject in real life anyway?"

"English?" B asked.

"Oh." I just shrugged. "Alright, B. You just continue being the good sister."

"The good sister who dusted four vamps tonight?" A twinkle sparked in her eye as she said that.

I grinned, catching the challenge in her voice. B did kick ass when it came down to the slaying. She could pull the cheerleader act easily. Even come off as meek and innocent, especially toward the boys. But even she couldn't deny the certain fire ignited in her whenever we went off on the vamps. Okay, so my "fire" shows a bit more in my non-style of wailing on them; but B has just as much high for the hunt and kill.

She just learned to hide it better.

"You got one up on me," I admitted with a kick of a rock.

"It's not a contest, Faith. It just means more vampires attacked me. Some might think that's a bad thing."

We walked out of the cemetery and headed towards the high school to check up on B's Watcher, Giles. I guess you could say he was mine, too. The guy practically lived there and he was actually kinda cool. Yeah, he still had that British 'tude about him, but his handsome, Sean Connrey looks made up for it.

"Well, I'm up for vamp ass kicking any day."

"I know how you are."

"Do ya?"

"Caught up in the Moment Gal. That's you." She hadn't been looking at me when she said that.

With a shrug, I just said, "Hell, B, I like to call it impulsive."

"Giles likes to call it more training."

That irked me then. As great a guy the Watcher guy was, I couldn't help but think I'm somehow less superior to B. Like I'm some reserved Slayer - just in case. Sure, she's got the years, but he doesn't see how many vamps I dust every night.

I let it roll off my back, though. There wasn't any use in starting something.

We got to the school library and went in. That's when we came up to them: Giles and Xander. They were sitting at the table with these wicked serious looks on their faces. Even I could tell that there was a bit of sadness in their eyes.

"What's wrong?" B asked right away. She scanned the library for other people, I guessed.

Xander looked up only for a moment. I didn't think he knew we had come in, though it seemed like they were waiting around for us. The guy had the saddest look on his face - and that isn't something I've seen on him. He was usually goofy guy, always wanting a laugh, even when it wasn't on purpose. I dunno. Something about him made me find some sort of charm that I actually liked. Deep down, I knew he had the balls when it came down to the nitty-gritty of slaying.

Giles barely looked at us when he grimly told us to sit down. Only thing B and I could do was follow what he said. When we had gotten into the seats, we glanced at each other. I saw the fear in B's eyes, wondering if I was giving the same look as her. I was thinking we had done something wrong - don't know what she had been thinking.

Giles stood in front of us, kinda like he didn't know what to do with himself. I kept looking at him then back at Xander, but neither of them would make damn eye contact with me. It hadn't looked good at all.

"I'm afraid something terrible has happened," Giles said finally. I saw how much he struggled to find the words to say. "Oz. He's...he's in the hospital in critical condition."

"What?" came B's voice as I leaned back, trying to take in everything he was about to tell us. Oz in the hospital wasn't a thing of good. "Oh, God. How... I mean, what happened?"

Giles had to take a big breath, like he couldn't go on if he didn't. "Uh, he - he was stabbed in the stomach...numerous times."

"Holy shit," I muttered.

"Vampires?" B asked.

"No."

I shook my head. "Run-of-the-mill punks," I spat, flatly.

"Yes. Nine of them, actually. They...ran off before the police were able to find them. I believe they were part of some street gang." His voice kind of choked up all of sudden. He looked back down on the ground, like he couldn't look at us anymore.

"Giles, what is it?" Buffy asked. "What gives? Is Oz gonna be alright?"

Giles took another breath, running his fingers through his hair. "Yes. Well, they anticipate he will. But...Willow was with Oz at the time."

I was beginning to put two and four together. I slowly put my knees down from the chair, suddenly not able to look at him in the face.

There was a pause from B. Then, "Oh God. H-How is she?"

And it was at that moment that I knew. Outta the corner of my eye, I could see Xander react uncomfortably to B's question. His fists were tight on the table and his jaw was clenched. And I knew.

"Buffy," Giles began, his voice above a whisper. "They...they killed Willow."

I had known.

The words got into my head and they rang fucking hollow. I didn't think words like that could get to me. But I had to close my eyes a moment, get them drilled in, before I could react - if at all. When I opened them, I couldn't look at anything else except the ground. "Fuck," I whispered.

Red - Willow - had been a cool girl. She had brains, knew how to use 'em. And she had class, not to mention a wicked sense of loyalty that I really hadn't seen in anyone in my life. She had a spark to her, too. I couldn't believe....

"No," B's voice finally said from my side.

The silence was almost gettin' to me when Giles spoke up. "I'm afraid so." His voice was really choked up by that point. "They jumped them both but - - five got to Willow." He stopped then, his own shock of the words getting to him, too. "They all had knives. They all -- "

Suddenly, Xander shoved himself out of the chair, knocking it over against the nearest bookcase. "They used them on her," he fumed, fire practically leaping off of him. "They took their goddamn blades and stabbed her as many times as possible." He kicked the chair he just knocked over, making all of us flinch. "And they didn't even catch the ones who did this! The ones who..." His voice cracked then. "Who took her away."

I couldn't say nothing. There was nothing for me to say. Sure, I liked Red, cared about her enough that I'd risk my life for her. I called her a friend. She never once tried to rule me out, even though I was stomping around in B's territory; and she even helped get me in good with B and Giles. The girl wanted nothing more than to make me feel like I belonged...when I still wonder 'bout that.

But I knew I couldn't belong in this situation. From what I put together, and the stories these guys have told me, they all go way back with Willow, especially Xander. I've heard all the crazy stories these guys have gone through and it's something I can't ever touch

Didn't think I wanted to.

B was just so quiet when I finally came back from my thoughts. I had to look beside me to check if she was still there. And she was - physically. Her eyes just gazed to the floor in front of her, nothing showing on her face. Sadness, yeah. But not much else. No tears - something I expected from her. She was probably still taking in the news. Probably.

For some reason, her non-emotion made me uncomfortable, though. I couldn't figure it out; she was so calm.

"Where is she?" I finally asked, breaking the silence.

It took a moment for Giles to register that someone had even said anything. "Uh, the hospital," he answered. "They ran tests to determine if...well, if they had only stabbed her without doing other...things." We knew what he meant.

B still wasn't saying anything. I just shook my head. "Bastards."

"Understatement," Xander said, almost snapping my head off. "Don't think there's a word for them."

I didn't take any offense to his tone, though. I knew he had to be going through lots of feelings.

"I want to see her," Buffy blurted out, seeming to come outta the trance just enough to talk. She even stood up.

"Buffy, it may not be something you need to see so soon," Giles offered, looking at her.

She was already turned toward the doors. She stopped and faced us again, her face still holding no emotions whatsoever. "Yes it is."

"C'mon, B," I said, getting to my feet. "Don't do this to yourself."

Those unfeeling eyes shifted to me before I could finish. "One of my best friends just died, Faith. I pretty much can do whatever I want." Her words were cold, then she stalked out of the library in long strides, leaving me staring at where she stood.

Xander moved passed me and followed after her. I just watched them both, knowing Giles was the only one left. I turned to him when the doors stopped swinging. I didn't like those words B had left with. "You going, too?" I asked the Watcher.

The older guy rubbed his eyes. "I must." He gathered his things. "You're more than welcome to come," he told me, trying to sound like it mattered - when I knew it didn't.

I shrugged. "Don't think I should. Not now."

He just nodded in understanding. "Well, get some rest." He gave me what passed for a smile, putting a hand on my shoulder, then left. I stood in the empty library a moment, running through what just happened over in my head. I let out a sigh and plopped down in the chair, wondering what I should be feeling now.

* * * *

I didn't rest, though. Not until near sunrise. I dunno; maybe I didn't know what I was doing at the time. I scouted the town looking for the motherfuckers who did this. There was anger in me that I didn't realize was bubbling until I moved back out into the night and came across a newbie vamp and wailed on him. I even asked him how many people he killed before I staked him. His buddies came along but they weren't any better at throwing down than him, so I wasted them easily.

It was all I could do to try and calm me down. I didn't know what those bastards looked like, what they were decked out in - just a bunch of guys with knives. Knives with Willow's blood on them.

Soon I found myself back at my trashy motel room and got to sleep a bit.

After a few winks, I got up and got gone. It was near lunchtime at the high school. As I walked there, I wondered what I was gonna say to them. To any of them. Actually, as I neared the school, I had a feeling that none of them would be a show. Giles, maybe.

So it surprised the shit out of me when the first person I ran into - almost literally - was Buffy herself. "Hey," I greeted her, though I could tell right away that she had been crying.

She looked at me, her eyes puffy and bloodshot. I got no greeting in return. "I-I can't talk right now, Faith," she said instead, trying to get passed me.

I let her go by, but I said to her as she passed, "Just seein' how you were." It still didn't seem to grab her attention. "And that I tried to find those murderous bastards last night."

That got her. She stopped and faced me. "Did you find?

I saw the anticipation and suddenly felt bad for bringing it up. "Had nothing really to go on. Maybe if I had an idea of what -"

"I saw," she intoned, a coldness in her voice. "Sketches. Symbols." Her eyes seemed to cloud for a second. "I'll see you." Then she turned to go.

I caught up to her when she was outside. "B, I'll help you find them."

"No. This isn't..." She wanted to say something more, but brushed it away. "There's nothing to find, okay? What's done is done. There is a doneness to them."

I stopped as she kept going. "So you're not gonna go find them?" I called out to her. But she just kept on walking and never once glanced back. I wondered what that was saying...

* * * *

A few days went by and I was getting a bit ticked. I waited around in front of Buffy's house almost every night so that we'd hit as many haunts as possible. But each time, B was a no show. I thought that maybe the girl needed to wail on some to make her feel better. When I saw her in school, though, she seemed...well, not fine. She was almost robot-like, in fact. I tried to let Giles know about her no shows, but he kinda brushed it off like it ain't nothing. Then I just stopped telling him all together, let him figure out what B's slackerness would do.

I attended Willow's funeral. Got the best clothes I had and hopped on over to it. It was actually my first one. Sure, I knew a lot of folks who've died, but I didn't go to the funeral - a few times, I could give a shit; the other times, I didn't think I could.

But this time, I knew I had to. Family, friends, they were there. I stood in the back, just watching, silently praying. I kept careful watch on B, though. She was there, standing next to Xander and her mom. Giles was also among them, none of them with a dry face - except Buffy.

It seemed odd - people all around us, crying in sobs. Even Xander looked like he was about to break down then. But not B. When she got in front of the crowd to talk, she talked. Told about the times she had spent with Red...but never once shed a tear, no emotion in her voice. Then she stepped down and that was it.

I tried to catch her after the ceremony, but she bailed outta there quick. I hung around till practically everyone was gone, then I saw my opportunity. I moved toward the burial site and stood staring at the closed coffin. That thing was wicked nice. Even Red had to go out with class.

I didn't say anything for a long time. Then I stuffed my hands in my coat pockets and gave Willow a shrug. "Hell, Red, I don't know what's going on with B, but I know you wanna know. So do I." I reached out and placed my hand on the coffin. "See ya' 'round, Red." Then I left.

* * * *

The next day, I did my usual thing of going to the library. Xander was sitting there pouring over some books. Didn't know if it was demon stuff or normal school stuff.

Xander was still bummed, but he'd at least have some sort of convo with me when I paid the library a visit each day. He seemed to be there more and more while B was there less and less. Pretty soon, even G was getting worried about it. He'd ask ME if I've seen HER and I'd give it to him straight: "All I hafta to say is if you see her, tell her to stop by the cemetery some day and give me a buzz."

"Well, I'm gonna go do the Slayer thing," I said getting up.

Xander put his hand on my arm to stop me. "You going to Bronze it tonight?"

"Thinking of. Get a load off. Why?"

"I need to talk to you."

He was so serious. Damn, the Xander of goofy hadn't been around for a long while. I couldn't turn him down. "Sure. I'll be there after patrol."

"Thanks." He gave me a small smile and returned back to his homework.

* * * *

I made it to the Bronze just as the second band got up on stage and did what passed as a routine. To me, it was a bunch of asses who could strum a few chords on the guitar and try to get laid with every girl in the place. The first thing I did was look for Xander.

Sure enough, I found him on the couch alone. He was staring off into Never Neverland again. I hadn't seen beauty queen, Cordelia in a long while. At the funeral, yeah. I came up to him, plopping myself down with a newly cooked muffin in my hand and a drink in the other. Damn, I was hungry. And damn did he look good to jump - it was the whole "after-slaying" feeling. "Hey," I greeted him.

He looked over at me when he realized I had arrived. "Faith," he said.

After setting down my cup, I popped a piece of the muffin in my mouth. "Where's Cordelia?" I asked, scanning the room.

"The Bahamas."

"Must be nice. So, B's a no show here either, huh? Guess I shouldn't feel so bad, then."

Xander sat up straighter as soon as I mentioned Buffy's nick. "Faith, I don't know what's going on with Buffy," he said to me.

I took another bite of the muffin. "Girl's pissed. Go fig. She's just got a funny way of showing it."

But he shook his head. I saw the worry seep into his eyes where the sadness was. "No. She's -- I don't know. You know..."

"What? Skipping out on patrol?"

He nodded.

"Hell, Xander. I've been doing fine on my own." I wasn't about to admit that I had hurt feelings about it. "B's got a lot of issues to work out. I ain't getting in her way." I finished my food and leaned back into the couch as I wiped my hands on my pants.

"It's not that." He sighed, obviously trying to tell me more than he was. "She's cold. I can't even talk to her. Giles can't either. And I'm sure you've tried."

"Hey, Xand, I'm five by five with it."

"Well, that's not it. Buffy's BEEN out every night since...well, you know. But you know she hasn't been patrol bound. I know she's been hitting some local gym for God knows why. Giles isn't happy British guy about it 'cause she hasn't really spoken to him, either. But then Cordy found out from one of her friends that three bars on the rough side of town got trashed in one night."

I shifted my eyes toward him in question. "Trashed?"

"More than half the big, bad biker patrons got pulverized and had ribs broken and stuff."

"And you think B did it?" He met my gaze in reply and I had to laugh. "Oh, hell no! B's got more class. She'd never drop her prissy ass in one of those bars."

"Those bars happen to be three out of the five hang out spots of the gang that killed Willow." He glanced down at his hands like they'd give him the answers he wanted to hear.

I sighed, leaning forward. "You want me to talk with her or something?"

"Go out with her tonight. Just see what you think."

"I think B's just working out the issues she's been holdin' in. Ain't nothing wrong with that. Besides, I know what I think, and I think I don't like it." I grabbed my cup and downed my drink, putting it on the small table beside us when I was done. I dusted off any extra crumbs, then realized Xander was looking at me expectantly. I grinned a little. "Hey I've got your back, Xand."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It's been tough. For all of you."

He just gave me a nod. "And you, too."

So he had noticed, huh? Kind of surprised he cared. But I didn't linger on it. "Where is she now?"

That seemed to help him brighten up a little. "I think at the gym, five blocks from here."

I stood up. "Gym, huh? Alright." I back peddled away to keep facing him, pointing to him with both index fingers. "You owe me a dance, dude." Then I turned, letting that grateful smile he gave me linger in my head...

* * * * Xander was right. I found B at the gym, making all the beefsticks drool over her in her sports bra and jogging pants. There was no denying that B had this sex appeal that I didn't think she used as much as she should've. It was a weapon all its own. She was in a corner of the weight room, pulling on one of those new fangled BodyZone 2000 machines or something.

And damn she was pressing a whole hell of a lot of weight. I think she out benched me. She wasn't hiding nothing. It's no wonder the beefsticks were keeping their distance - looking but not touching.

"Gonna fight Godzilla in the ring soon, B?" I greeted her, leaning against the frame of the machine casually.

She didn't give me one glance. "Go away, Faith."

I watched the weights behind her move up and down, noticing her arms weren't even strained. "Sorry. Not one to go away when I don't feel like it."

"What do you want?"

Okay, so I got her attention. "You've been bailing on me on patrol."

She continued to stare at nothing straight ahead and kept on pressing as she spoke. "So? Gives you a better opening for more vamps to attack you. Thought that's what you wanted."

Oh, so that's the game she wanted to play. I wasn't gonna let her do it this time, though. Not when there's nothing to put on me. "That ain't the point, according to Giles." I watched as she paused, holding up the weights steadily in the air.

That got a reaction.

Then she let all that weight drop - HARD. It even made me flinch at the noise. I had to step back a little.

"So tell me the point," B said, those eyes finally looking at me.

Damn. I coulda sworn those pupils darkened two shades then. It wasn't going to get to me, though. I had to make sure of this. "Point is, you've been the slack." I gave it to her in no other way but direct. It's all I ever knew.

"If you don't remember -"

"Yeah, yeah. Willow's dead -" I KNEW as soon as I said it - and in that damn tone I couldn't help sometimes - I was in DEEP, DEEP shit.

Understatement.

I almost didn't see her move when she flung herself at me and grabbed me by my throat, throwing me against the wall and pinning me there. All in a manner of 2 seconds. I found myself a full foot off the ground by this chick that was shorter and smaller than me, holding me there with one arm! I could barely get air in, she was holding me so tight.

My hands automatically tried to pull her hand away. But it was like she was on steroids on steroids.

"Don't you ever say it like that," she growled. Her eyes were burning holes in mine.

"Cool it, B," I tried to explain. People were starting to stare at us. "I fucking didn't mean it that way." She was beginning to piss me off. "Now let me go."

At first, I didn't think she was gonna listen. I was about ready to REALLY throw down there and then. But I felt my feet finally touch the ground again. My hands automatically reached for the sore area on my throat, rubbing it soothingly. "Shit, B."

She slowly looked away, heading toward her things, ignoring all the guys and gals in the weight room with us. Wasn't even gonna apologize like I thought she would. This was definitely a side of B I didn't think she had in her.

I sighed. I wanted to walk out. I wanted to just fucking forget about it all. B could have her issues and shove it up her ass for all I wanted to care. I had my other hand balled into a fist, my body ready to stalk outta there. But I couldn't help and watch Buffy as she walked away.

This wasn't her.

"Buffy!" I called, catching up to her.

"I said, go away." She harshly stuffed her clothes in her gym bag.

"And you asked me for a point." I tried to move in front of her, wanting her to pay attention to me again. In some way, what she just did was something she needed to do. I knew Giles had been trying to talk with her - Xander, too.

But I think they were afraid.

Yeah. Of her.

And I think she was afraid she'd hurt them. She probably lashed out easily with me 'cause I could actually take it. Plus, I wasn't as close as those other two so it was probably easier. I'll take my bumps if I gotta.

"You want them, don't you?" I asked.

"Who?"

"The bastards that killed Willow."

Buffy paused, letting what I just offered sink in.

"You know what they looked like, right? Said you knew the symbols they had on 'em?"

She didn't look at me this entire time. She just started packing again. "I've seen a sketch of what the leader looked like. Oz knew. And yes, I do know the symbol of their gang."

"Let's do it, then." I rubbed my fist into my palm. "I'll go with you."

She finally met my eyes, and I saw fire in them. "Will you?"

I nodded. "I've been itching for a good fight." And it was true. The past few vamps have been way too easy. "And Red was a friend, too. You know what's the what. I'm right behind you."

Buffy zipped up her bag and slung it over her shoulder. "Follow me then."

I did...and truthfully, I really wished I didn't.

* * * *

Later on that night, as B and I walked quickly toward the fourth bar this so-called gang hung out in, I began to wonder if encouraging her was a bright idea. She hadn't said anything to me, just moved to the destination, hoping I'd follow. The few weeks I've known B, she was always the cautious one, the voice of reason. When I knew what I did wasn't really the norm, I did it anyway. When she knew, she said something - told me it wasn't good, that I wasn't going about it the right way.

But not this time. I didn't know what was about to go down, but my gut feeling knew it wasn't gonna be pretty. There was some part of me that didn't think so, though. This was Buffy Summers after all.

She came up to the door, gave me one look, then jerked it open. She stalked in with more confidence than I ever saw her with - or was it anger?

Right away, a bouncer came up to her, putting a hand up. "Excuse me, darling. But I need to see your I.D."

I could see nine guys hanging out in the back, chugging away at some beer. Somehow, I KNEW - they were the ones Buffy was looking for. And apparently, so did she.

She grabbed the large bouncer guy by the lapels of his jacket and flung him at me. "Take care of him. I don't have any time."

I easily caught him as he shouted in protest and probably surprise that she handled him so piece of cake-like. She continued toward the group.

"What the hell?" the bouncer asked.

"What can I say, hon?" I replied. "When she gets her mind on something, she goes to it." I ran my hand down his jawline, trying to distract him. "I get that way, too."

He wasn't as gullible as he looked. "Whatever, sweetheart. Why don't you ask your middle school pals to do the diddy in your own part of town?" He started to move off after Buffy.

I grabbed him back, turning him around. "Dude, it's good to have 'em fresh and young."

"Get away, bitch."

I gripped his wrist and twisted it behind his back - HARD. He tried to hold in a painful yelp. Poor, big guy. "That's really not a way to call a lady...especially one who could kick your ass. Now, we've got business to do and I'd really like it if you didn't keep interrupting us."

He wanted to say something that probably was along the lines of "fuck you, no way" so I twisted it harder, just in case. "Sorry. Didn't get that."

"Alright!" He cried in mercy.

I let go, giving him an innocent smile. "Thanks, hon." I moved away from him, ignoring the look he gave me. Please, I've seen scarier - and even then, I still kicked their asses. I got to where Buffy was; she was standing in front of the group of nine as they stared at her. I had no idea what was going on.

"...whatever, bitch," one of the nearest ones to her said to her.

"You don't want to say that to me," she said in return, her voice seething with anger. "I'm already beyond pissed right now, and it's YOU that I want to talk to - outside. All of you."

"Ooo!" they all mocked her, then laughing.

Then she did it: she grabbed the pitcher of beer in the middle of the table and splashed all the booze on as many of the dudes as she could. That shut them up real quick.

"Buffy," I whispered, coming up behind her. "What the hell are you doing?"

She gave them a challenging glare then moved passed me and out the door. I watched her go. The guys wiped themselves off as best they could, but mostly, they were just beyond pissed, too. They got up roughly from their chairs, shoving most of them onto their sides, and followed her out.

A rumble? Brought on by B? This I had to see. I went behind them, out into the night. I spotted the last three of them round the corner into the alley next to the bar. I could see them pull things out of their pockets.

Didn't take a genius to figure out what they were.

B really dug herself into this. She had more anger in her over Willow's death than I thought.

Right when I was about to turn the corner, the body of one of the smaller guys came flying out of the alley. He pretty much sailed over my head. My eyes followed him until he hit the pavement, knocking him out right away. Even thought I heard his skull crack against the sidewalk. "Ouch," I muttered.

Even before I got into the thick of it, I heard them close in on Buffy. "Hey!" I called, coming up to the stragglers and kicking them in the head. I could see that five of them were advancing on B, but the girl was in a fighting stance already.

I smacked a guy in the face with the back of my fist when he thought he was sneaking up behind me. I didn't look back. I usually never have to. My eyes were on Buffy. I knew her fighting style. I knew I was the aggressive and she was the passive.

But not this time.

This time, she reached out for the first guy and rammed her knee ass hard into his stomach. Then she elbowed him on the back, and he smacked onto the ground - face first. Blood splattered on the concrete.

While I concentrated on her, two other guys managed to grab a hold of me - one on each arm. I gave them a look and easily swung them off of me, letting one dude fly into a pile of trash and the other one fly into my fist.

Three other guys moved in on B at once. But the girl was working on pure fury or adrenaline or something. Next thing I knew, all three were flying up against the wall - all leaving bloody marks on the bricks. "B! Chill a bit!" I told her.

Then I saw him: the leader guy. The one who got away from the cops - but not without the sketch to help identify him. He was backing away from it all, right when he saw B take down four of his guys in less than a minute without breaking a sweat.

Nine guys weren't all they had. I found out the hard way as one that wasn't of the nine came barreling at me with a pipe in his hand. He swung down in an arc, guess not too ashamed to hit a girl. Even though I wasn't ready for him, my Slayer reflexes were and I caught it in one of my hands, holding it there. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I asked, glaring at him.

He was trying with all his might to wrench that pipe outta my hand. Bastard. I jerked it away, throwing it to one side then grabbed him by the throat. "This is your lesson for messing around with girls that can't fight back," I snapped, then slammed my fist into his face. "And this is another lesson for messing around with one of my friends." I hit him again. Then I kicked him, making him lift off the ground for a sec.

He was unconscious by then - and no fun. So I tossed him into the pile of trash his other friend still laid in. It was then I heard Buffy's voice.

Well, it was her voice -but it didn't sound like Buffy.

"HOW COULD YOU DO THAT!?" she screamed, angrily. She had the poor bastard high in the air by his throat, easily choking him by her grip. If not choking him, then crushing his windpipe. "You took her away from ME!" She threw him against the wall but caught him so that he still didn't touch the ground.

"I-I don't...know...wha...you're talking about," he gasped. Yeah, he must've been pissing in his pants by now. I would've been proud and impressed by what Buffy was doing - if I didn't see something more to it. Something more sinister.

"YES YOU DO!" she yelled, slamming him onto the ground. "You're the face she saw before she was KILLED. You're the one who did it!" She was straddling his waist by then, holding him by the lapel of his jacket with one hand and shaking him for all he was worth. "You KILLED Willow!"

It was kind of hard to see, but I could see how she was treating him. Not as nicely as Buffy would've wanted it. "Buffy, stop!" I told her. But she was far from listening.

That anger she had in her had finally exploded. And in the worst way possible.

B made this quick gesture with her other arm that was too quick and too dark to see. She still held his head off the ground. "You KILLED her! You stabbed that last stab that KILLED her!"

He had stopped struggling. At first, I thought it was 'cause he knew he couldn't do anything. But then, I caught a glimpse of his eyes, his face. Blood trickled down the side of his mouth and his eyes were wide in fear. He tried to move his mouth to say something - but not one word came out.

Suddenly, Buffy just held him there. She didn't move; just stared at him.

Then I saw it: the life being taken out of the guy's eyes. It wasn't the fear of her in them; it was the fear of death in them. And his light was burning out fast.

"What's going on?" I asked, confused. Then I noticed her other hand. It was beneath her, right under her - right in the area of his chest. A reflex in our line of work. It was still hard to see but it was balled up in a tight fist.

Then it hit me.

I rushed over to her and grabbed her in a bear hug from behind, carrying her away from him. She struggled but I let her down as the dude's head fell like a rock, making a sickening sound on the floor of the alley.

And he just laid there, unmoving.

I turned to B and saw in her hand a stake, glistening under what little light was in there.

"Holy shit," I mumbled, knowing it was soaked in blood.

The guy's blood.

Her stare was cold as she gazed at the guy who was still not moving from when she had left him. She was so indifferent, so unemotional, it gave me the chills. I automatically ran over to the guy, trying to get some sort of reaction outta him.

But like the good Slayer B was, she hit her mark: his heart. Blood gushed out with the last two heartbeats it managed while I knelt beside him. Then the light was gone for good.

I shook him once before I realized it. There wasn't anything left to do to save the bastard's life. I stood up, glancing at all the unconscious bodies all around us.

We had taken down ten men all in a span of two minutes. But the body at my feet was snuffed out permanently in less than two seconds. And it was a LIFE. No waking up. No turning back

My eyes shifted over to Buffy who still stood there, gripping the stake. Her expression was hard and unforgiving, and it was at that point I saw B in a whole fucking different light.

Or really, NO light.

"He's dead," I finally said, my voice carrying out into the dark alley.

She still didn't move.

"Did you hear me, B? The guy's gone."

"Eye for an eye," was all she said, coldly.

Damn, did my blood run cold then. Her compassion, her golden girl, righteous self, left her in that one moment. This is what Xander was trying to drill into my head about. This is what he was worrying about. And there I stood, playing on his doubts - and losing.

I slowly shook my head. "No, B. This isn't right."

"Like killing my best friend was?" she stated flatly. Her voice could barely be heard, and I had never heard that much hatred from her - ever. She threw the stake off to the side and moved as if she was just gonna leave.

I stood there, next to the dead guy, staring at her like I didn't even get who she was anymore. Funny, there was plenty of times since I met B when I wanted her to loosen that tight ass a bit - uncorking, I think was the phrase I used. I wanted to make her walk on the edge of the wildside, see the fun a little. Wail on vamps, revel in who we were, who were stuck to be: powerful.

But as much vengeance I thought I had in me, it was nothing compared to what was in Buffy. Seeing the blood on her hands was haunting, was crazy, was wrong.

I knew it then: no matter how tough I wanted to be and wanted others to see me, it never occurred to me that dusting a vamp and killing a demon was one thing - killing a person was another.

Something else entirely.

"B, we better do something," I said, unsure.

Her mouth was stick straight. "We did something. Now let's go." She actually turned on her heel to move outta there.

I did what I had to; I moved toward her and caught her on the shoulder. "We ain't going anywhere."

She stood frozen a moment, turning her head to stare at her work of art. "It's not what I did, her voice carried out evenly. "It's what he did. What he did to Willow, to Oz, to Xander...to me."

I couldn't hear this, not from her. I didn't like her reasoning - as I have in the past. "Yeah, B, I know okay? But it isn't your right to - to kill him. This isn't YOU, period. You got something else whirling around in that head of yours. I don't like it."

Her eyes came to me, this time. Angry and cold. "I thought being bad was good? Isn't that what you've been trying to tell me, Faith?"

I met her glare, not flinching or reacting to it. It might be able to make vamps cower, but not me. Not with what she was doing. "No. You aren't gonna turn this around on me." I was determined to stand my ground. "You're standing there knowing this is bad. Fuck, B, this is worse than bad."

"He KILLED Willow!" She pointed at the dead body for emphasis or something.

"I KNOW that!" Our voices were loud as hell in that quiet alley. At this point, though, I don't think either of us gave a shit. I surely didn't. "Damn, Buffy, you don't gotta be in my face about it. It's why the hell I'm here."

"So why are you doing this?"

I raised my brows in surprise that she even asked that question. "What? Telling you that killing's a no-no?"

"No! That what I did was wrong! It's because of who he is, what he did."

I stepped nearer to her, waving my arms around in frustration. "It IS wrong!" I suddenly let my hands drop, cocking my head to the side as I looked at her. Buffy seemed so old, as if all the slaying she did before I got here was finally getting to her. "You killed someone," I said a little more evenly. "Don't tell me it ain't wrong...not for what you are, for what you do."

"What? What does that have to do with anything?"

I pointed to the body. "He's just a guy, B." Then I pointed to her. "You're the Slayer. He didn't have a chance with you, fighting-wise. You knew that. I saw it in your eyes when you fought all these guys. You knew you were stronger than them, that their asses were toasted before they even thought about going up against you." I pointed back to him again. "And you used that against him. You took it a step way outta line."

She didn't say anything right away; probably surprised I had something that passed for wisdom and/or ethics. Her face didn't soften, though. Instead, it grew harder. "So what if I did?" she snapped. Whatever was keeping her here wasn't doing it anymore. She shook her head as if she was finally fed up and moved toward the alley's entrance

There was something in me that was ready to just let her go. I wasn't gonna be the fall guy for what she did. Hell, it wasn't my problem! And I didn't want it to fucking be my problem. What was I? Her guardian angel? "Fine, B!" I yelled at her, fed up too. "Do what the hell you want!"

I didn't have any hold on her. She didn't give a damn about what I said.

With one last glance over her shoulder, she actually did begin to walk out. And she might've kept going until a figure got in her way.

Buffy recognized it right away. "Xander," she whispered, stopping right in front of him.

I saw his face. Serious, gloomy...everything I never knew Xander to be. He even looked like he'd been crying or something. The guy was having it rougher than I thought he was going through. I thought he was getting better. Maybe he'd been standing there longer than we thought and heard things. Obviously, he wasn't happy. If I caught it, B saw it even better.

"Don't do this, Buff," he said, almost like he was begging. "I lost Willow. I don't wanna lose you, too."

She seemed to stand there beyond stunned. "Xander, I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

He shook his head, looking over at me a sec, then back down to the ground. "No, you're not," he whispered. If I didn't have wicked sensitive hearing, I probably wouldn't have heard him. "Buffy wouldn't do this..."

She realized that Xander wasn't on her side, like she probably hoped. "Xander, look what he did to Willow!"

"I know what he did. And I know that I wanted to do the same thing you just did." He stuck his hands in his pockets. "Believe me, Buffy. I know what he did to Willow. But look at what he did to you."

Buffy furrowed her brows a sec, taking in those words. Those words even got to me because of the truth in 'em. She searched his face, trying to find the words, trying the same act on him like she did on me. Probably was taken to a whole new level now. "It was my job as a best friend to give him what he deserves."

Xander didn't flinch. His face didn't harden like mine did after she pulled that shit on me. He always seemed to have some knack for telling Buffy like it was without getting his ass kicked by her. "Job?" he asked. "Buff, I thought your job as a Slayer wasn't actually.murder."

Buffy looked like she just got a slap in the face. "Xander, I didn't." But the words she wanted to say didn't seem to be coming out like she wanted. She looked confused for a minute there. Then her voice grew tight again. "No. Don't you start the righteous act with me!"

"It's not an act. It's you, Buffy. The whole righteousness. It's you. And I know you're hurting. Like me. I'm still hurting. A lot." He glanced down a moment then back up at her. "But we haven't had a chance to tell each other how bad we're hurting. I just didn't know you were.gonna hurt like this."

I stood there, facing out of the alley, Xander facing me, Buffy in between us looking in the same direction as I was. I hadn't known Red long, but Einstein definitely wasn't needed to see Willow had the biggest heart I ever saw in someone. These guys saw it even more.

Us standing there, it seemed like fucking forever. We weren't really looking at one another, yet we shared the same space. Unconscious bodies surrounded us. One dead. It was so damn quiet, I could hear the rats running around behind the trash cans and stuff.

"Buffy, talk to me," Xander pleaded. "Don't push me away when I need you more than ever."

I could see her hands move up toward her face, the streetlight nearby capturing the red on them. I could also see they were shaking. Her head shook from side to side in some moment of what was really going on. Because the next thing I knew, she was on her knees at the point of melt down. "I should've been there for her," she whispered. "I was going to meet her that night. I-I could've stopped it."

For a moment, Xander and I just glanced at each other. Then he knelt down beside Buffy, his arm draping her back. "How could've you known, Buffy?" he asked, quietly.

"Because I'M the protector!" she yelled. "I'M the Slayer! I'm supposed to stop any of this from happening! That's how this works!" Her sobs came then. All the hurt, the pain, the guilt of everything came rushing to her then.

For a sec, Xander just held her but couldn't find the comforting words he was hoping for.

Then it hit me. Buffy was using our status, our specialness, as a guilt tool or something. But with Red's death, I began to realize something I never think about.never really had to until now. "We're human, B," I said aloud, coming closer to 'em.

"You don't underst - "

"Fuck it, B, I do," I cut in. "I'm a slayer, too. I know. I know how it's like to feel the way you do. You think you're super human. You think nothing can touch you. You think you can save everything. Then something fucks up. You get bloodied. You see the red stuff coming outta your nose and lips after a heavy fight. Then you know: everything you thought before was a bunch of shit. You can get hurt..and you can't save everything." I dropped to a whisper. "Not even Willow. Shit happens. But blaming yourself isn't gonna help. It just leads to shit like this where you think you gotta make up for it somehow. You lose the control you thought you had and you do shit that you'll regret."

Boy do I gotta a lot of experience in that department.

Buffy had quieted down and seemed to be listening to what I was saying. So I went on for a bit more. "You can't just walk away from this. You do and you'll be at the otherside, B. You don't belong there. And I don't wanna see you do that. Giles doesn't. Xander doesn't. And Willow definitely doesn't. You know that. It's why it's eating you up inside that we're telling you all this."

She just knelt there, trying to control the sobs. "God, I tried so hard to keep you all so safe from my life," she whispered. "I can save everyone else in this damn town, but I couldn't save one of my best friends. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Xander gathered Buffy in his arms and sat down, hugging her shaking body tightly. "Willow doesn't blame you, Buff," he said, quietly. "You know the Willster. Always taking things for how they are, never blaming anyone for why they are. It's why we love her so much. And we chose to stand by your side. We could've left at any time. But we didn't. We knew the risk of being your friend, Buffy. But we never cared."

I stood there when Xander looked up at me, so sad yet a bit of relief from Buffy finally giving into her true feelings, as painful as they were. All I could do was offer a very faint smile.

In all this, it was weird about how much I learned - yet I hoped I gave something to B as well.

But I'd understand if anything I said to her went in one ear and out the other.

* * * *

It was weird walking into the room. People were seated, some waiting patiently, others just gotten done talking with whoever they wanted to talk to. The guy led me to a seat, which I took.

It had been about a week since that damn sitch went down. I've done a lot of thinking.

I think we all have.

I thought that maybe this whole thing would some how bring me closer to these guys. For once, I realized it's what I wanted. But it seemed that maybe it brought me further away from Buffy.

'Cause I haven't heard from her ever since the cops took her away that night.

Until today, when I got the balls to come to the slammer to come visit Buffy. Didn't even think she knew I was coming or who was coming to visit her.

Funny how I always imagined myself on the other side of this place.

Funny how I never thought Buffy would be the one there.

They brought her in, B looking good even though I knew she's probably been through hell. Luckily for her, despite that fact she was charged for murder, the guy himself was a murderer. It made her sentence a little less - and the fact she was a minor.

Still, B was in here for a long ass time.

She sat down behind the other side of the glass, her face not showing whether she was happy or not so to see me. But a smile spread across her face as she picked up the phone and I did the same.

"Faith," she said. "Hey."

"Hey, B. Guess orange is sortta your color," I dared joke.

But she laughed. "Well, I try to make a fashion statement when Cordelia's not around." She sat there, leaning in a bit. "How are you?"

"Five by five, B. You?"

"I'm good. A little tough here, but I'm making it okay. How's patrolling been?"

"Easy as hell. No biggies to deal with. No worries."

"I never thought I'd have to," she said. She looked down on the counter a moment before looking up at me again. "Uh, thanks, Faith."

I blinked, not really prepared to hear that from her. "For what?"

"For being there." She wasn't looking at me again. "God, I was totally out of my mind. I. I was scared of. of myself, really."

I leaned in a bit, watching her. "Shit, B, you scared ME. And you know I don't scare easily." Our eyes met then. "But it's cool. I knew you were goin' through a lot. I just. I didn't think what I did, what I said, meant shit to you, though. I think Xander got you through it okay."

Buffy's face grew really serious then. "Yeah, Xander did. But don't think you didn't do anything, Faith. You did so much for me - more than you think. Yeah, okay, so most of the time it was me lashing out at you with words and fists, but - "

"You needed to do that," I finished. "Lash out, I mean."

"I guess I did." She smiled softly. "You may not have known me as long as Xander or Willow have, but . you sometimes have a better understanding than they ever could about me."

"Maybe." I shrugged. "I know what we do has a big ass effect on how we act, so yeah, a little."

"It's more than enough. Thank you," she said.

I couldn't help but smile back. I never really got to hear those things: the thank yous. "No prob."

We sat there in silence a moment.

"I'm sorry about Willow," I suddenly said into the receiver. "I never got to tell you that."

Buffy nodded. "Yeah. But I knew." She seemed to go off into another world in that moment. "Willow really was something. She. she was the best. She just always seemed never to find the dark in anything." She shook her head. "I miss her."

"I know you do. I miss Red, too."

"Wonder what she's thinking seeing me now," she murmured, not really sure if she wanted me to hear her. "Probably in the very disappointed department."

"I think Red's just glad she's got a pal that loves her so much," I said, sincerely.

Buffy came back to harsh reality. "How's Oz?"

"He's up and about. Stubborn little guy. He wanted to come, but he ain't ready for much traveling. Plus, I walked here."

With an understanding look, her smile faded. "Take care of them for me? Xander, Giles, my mom? " Buffy said.

I looked at her, surprised. She was pretty much asking me to look out for her friends and family. I nodded firmly. "Yeah, B. Of course I will."

She just smiled wider. "Thank you."

"Time's up, girls," the guard told us.

Buffy looked up at him and nodded, then looked back over at me. "I'm glad you came by. Really. Don't be a stranger."

"You'll be outta here in no time, B. Believe that. You're too much of a goodie-goodie for them NOT to let you out for good behavior. Then you can have your title back."

Tilting her head to one side, she seemed to study me. "Right now, I think the title is right where it belongs. You helped me kick those demons' asses good."

"Demons? What demons?"

She placed her free hand over her chest. "The ones in here. In me. The hardest ones to defeat, but you helped me." She paused to let me digest those words. "I'll talk to you later, Faith."

"Sooner than you think, B." I smiled as she and I hung up at the same time, then watched the guards take her away back to her cell.

I stood up, glad I got the guts to come here. I checked my watch. "Shit." I was supposed to meet Giles a few minutes earlier. The Tweedman would be mad. But for some reason, that gave me comfort to what I promised Buffy.

To look after Giles. To look after her mom. To look after her friends. To look after Sunnydale. To be the Slayer.

Because in some way, when I helped Buffy slay her own inner demons, I think some of mine got slayed, too. Maybe there was more to me than I ever thought I could be. And in knowing this, I wasn't going to let that go - ever.

-END-