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

Episode Eleven: Turntable

They went out into the corridor, Paul in Brandon's arms, crossbow ready, Faith in Xander's arms continuing to lay lifeless. They moved down the hall, seeing the demon still lying on the floor where they had left it.

Glad that no other minion had noticed their intrusion, they made it through the hidden doorway, descended down the stairs, grabbed Paul's wheelchair, and back to the van.

When Faith was secured in the front seat and Paul behind the wheel, Xander and Brandon stood outside the van. "You are strictly to watch inside, warn me if there are any changes and/or movement," Paul said. "I'll help Faith recover, but then I need to study the notes that I've stolen from Ethan. He was actually stupid enough to have them laying around."

"Giles did say he wasn't the smartest of guys," Xander commented.

"No, but he's about to get much more dangerous." He saw the apprehension in Xander's face. "Don't worry; I already know what I'm going to do. Now, you've got the phone, Brandon?"

"Got it, Boss," Brandon said.

"Good. Be careful." With that, he put the van in drive and drove towards the bookstore.

* * * *

When he arrived, Hannah and Rachel were waiting outside the bookstore. Paul really didn't like either of them out in the middle of all that was happening, but he was sure they were there to ask many questions.

He asked Hannah to help, trying to assure Rachel that Faith was only sleeping for a bit. They placed her in the back room on a cot and Paul immediately went to find the right spell and ingredients to accomplish the counterspell he had in mind as Hannah and Rachel waited nervously out in the main area of the bookstore.

"Is she going to be okay?" Hannah asked, hopefully, as Paul exited the backroom where Faith lay peacefully on a cot 30 minutes later.

"I performed the spell, had her take what needed to be taken. All we can do now is wait." He looked at Rachel who stood next to Hannah with frightened eyes. "She'll be okay," he told her assuringly.

Rachel tugged at Hannah's sleeve, pointing towards the back room, while keeping her stuffed dinosaur under her arm.

"Oh, honey, you shouldn't ." She looked at Paul. "She wants to see her."

Paul wasn't sure how good of an idea that was. But maybe it would do Faith more good than harm. "No, it's okay. She can go in." He opened the door and gestured for them to come in.

Rachel hesitantly came in, holding tightly to Hannah's hand. Her finger was up to her mouth in uncertainty, especially when seeing Faith lying there with faint symbols still on her face from the ritual marks.

"It's okay," Hannah whispered. "Remember? Faith's just asleep, honey. Nothing to be afraid of."

Rachel let go of her mother's hand and approached the cot, looking worriedly at the Slayer's face. She reached out and touched it, shrinking back a little then relaxing when Faith didn't respond. She glanced back at her mom in confusion.

Hannah smiled, nodding, giving Rachel the okay that it was safe. So the little girl kneeled down next to the cot, putting the dinosaur next to Faith's arm. She began to lightly stroke Faith's long brown hair, raking her fingers through it as if combing it.

Hannah and Paul allowed some room for Rachel, but they knew the true extent of Faith's condition. "It's not a guarantee that she'll wake up, is it?" she whispered, looking sad.

Paul glanced towards the ground, staring at his feet propped up on the footrests of his wheelchair. "No," he answered, simply. "Ethan took a lot out of her. Right now, we just have to hope." He watched Rachel carefully, then looked up at Hannah reaching out for her hand and giving it a small squeeze. It seemed right then he realized how much was at stake with what was going on with Ethan. "Thank you for being here."

Hannah smiled down at the man. "Of course I am, Paul. You and Faith have helped me out many times. This is only a fraction of what I owe you. Plus, I know there are some bad things happening around here, and. I feel safe here with you."

Paul couldn't hold in the smile. "Well, if anything, Faith is the protector." He sighed, looking back at his notes. "Now, while we wait, I should look through what I have. Can you help me put two and two together?"

Hannah nodded. "Of course."

* * * *

Faith was swimming in a sea of blackness, images flashing in and out. She couldn't quite grasp every image. Some threw comfort, some threw confusion, even some threw fear. She saw death, smelled blood. then there was that spark of hope in the distance that she couldn't actually reach.

"Wake up, Faith."

The light was a little brighter, hearing the whispered plea. It was a small voice, but it struck Faith deeply. It took a moment to realize WHY it struck her, why she suddenly had the strength to reach into that light.

"Please wake up, Faith."

The voice wasn't recognizable yet it was familiar; it was familiar even though Faith had never HEARD the voice before. It was innocent, scared, child-like.

"Please? Faith? Ralph wants you to wake up."

Ralph? The name didn't ring any bells.

"Xander, too."

Faith slowly opened her eyes, the name doing more than ringing bells, fighting back to consciousness, back to life. "Wha.?"

"Faith? You're awake?"

She opened up her dark brown eyes and attempted to peer through the haziness. "Who-who said.?"

"Mommy! She's awake! Mr. Paul! Look!"

Paul and Hannah looked in the direction, surprised at the outburst. They both rushed over to the bedside, seeing Faith moving slightly, trying to regain control and consciousness. But the two adults' eyes quickly shifted over to the little girl.

"Rachel?" Hannah whispered. "Did-did you just say something?" She slowly, carefully squatted down to the girl's level. "Honey?"

Rachel met her mother's gaze. "I. wanted Faith to wake up."

Tears began to build in Hannah's eyes and as she threw her arms around her daughter in relief and excitement. "Oh, honey, say anything you want. Please."

"I'm sorry, Mommy," Rachel mumbled, hugging her mother back, thinking she had done something wrong. "I was yelling before and no one heard me except those scary monsters. I didn't want to . talk. I was afraid they were gonna come again."

Hannah hugged her tighter. "No, honey. Never again, I promise."

Faith was able to prop herself up halfway. "Holy shit," she murmured, her eyes meeting Paul's. She saw the smile on his face.

"Welcome back," he answered. "Looks like someone wanted to tell you something." He nodded towards Rachel.

Faith struggled to a seating position, noticing the stuffed animal almost falling off the cot. She quickly caught it, studying it before seeing Rachel looking back at her. "Hey, kiddo," she greeted the girl. She held out the dinosaur.

Rachel smiled and bypassed the dinosaur, throwing her small body into Faith, wrapping excited arms around the Slayer. "You're awake!"

Faith held in a small grunt of pain as she held the girl in her arms, hugging her in return. "Of course I am, Rach," she said, quietly. "I wasn't gonna leave you."

Rachel pulled back. "I know. I just wanted to make sure." She took the dinosaur from Faith's hand. "Ralph was asking about you, too. He wanted to know where Xander was 'cause I haven't seen him a lot. Is he gone?"

Faith's eyes automatically looked to Paul.

Paul and Hannah exchanged quick glances before the man turned back to her. "You should rest up, Faith. You've been through too much in the past few hours. When you're better, we can - "

"I'm better," she stated, her voice tightening in worry. "Where is he? Is he okay?" She saw the features in Paul's face hardened in hesitation. "Dammit, Paul, where is he?"

"He and Brandon are still where Ethan held you captive."

"What?" she cried, getting to her feet. She fought back the wave of dizziness that tackled her head for a moment. "Why the hell are they still there?"

Hannah went over to Rachel and took her hand. "Come on, sweetie. Mommy wants to talk to you."

The confused Rachel, sensing the tension, pulled back at first. "But Mommy, where's Xander? Xander should be with Faith. They like each other." She smiled hopefully up at Faith.

"I know, honey," Hannah urged. "But Mr. Paul and Faith have to talk so that he can come back, okay? We should leave them alone."

Rachel nodded, accepting it. "Okay," she said, waving good-bye towards Faith.

Faith stared at the girl, taking in her words. Xander should be with Faith. She snapped out of it a moment, waving back.

"Go directly back to the shelter," Paul informed Hannah. "Please. The next few hours are. uncertain."

Getting the message, Hannah led her daughter out of the backroom.

When the two left, Faith crossed her arms and stared at Paul. "Answer me."

Paul rolled over towards his desk. "We came to rescue you, which we succeeded in. But. we were still in the middle of finding out how to defeat Ethan Rayne. We couldn't leave him unattended. He received all the portions of the ritual, but nothing has happened quite yet. He may be waiting. And I think it may have to do with the stars not being the right. well, 'color' yet."

"So you let Xander - ?"

"He volunteered, Faith. He is only on watchdog duty until we can figure something out."

"And when the hell will that be?" she snapped. "Fuck, Paul, Ethan almost took me out. The guy's got fucking magical powers or some shit that I could barely fight! Xander and Brandon don't got the same Slayer stuff I have!"

"I know, Faith, but I'm very close to - "

"Um, Paul?" came Hannah's voice as she peeped her head in. "Someone is here to see you. Well, Faith, actually."

"We're a little busy. Tell them to come back later."

"But he knows. you're busy. He says he can help." She pulled back as someone came up behind her.

"I was summoned, actually," came the voice of a well-dressed Englishman. The roundish glasses sitting atop his nose were quickly adjusted as he smiled politely at Hannah. "I do think they were expecting me".

"Giles?" Faith asked, her arms slowly falling to her sides.

"Ah, Mr. Giles," Paul said. He tried to ignore Faith's expression, rolling up to the man. "Thank you, Hannah. Please, come in. I was expecting you, actually."

"What the hell is he doing here?" Faith asked, quickly becoming defensive. Was he here to take her away? Bring her back to the Council? To Sunnydale?

Giles shook Paul's hand. "It's okay, Faith," he replied, soothingly. "Xander called me. I apologize for being a bit late. I've been making numerous trips." He studied Faith, weariness still in his hazel eyes. "How have you been?"

"Mostly dead, actually," she answered, coldly. "What's it to you?"

Paul lifted a doubtful brow, looking back at Giles in question. "Um, you must excuse her, Mr. Giles. Xander did say she wouldn't be happy to see you."

Giles lifted his hand to stop him. "It's okay. I was expecting this. I'm not here to do anything except help you against Ethan. I can't believe he's escaped from ." He realized they wouldn't know what he was talking about. "Um, nevermind. He was contained a few months ago is the point." He shook his head. "What information do we have thus far?"

Faith watched as the two men gathered around Paul's desk, Paul showing the Watcher various books and notes.

She glanced down at her hands, noticing the scabs around her wrists from where the shackles had dug into her. Ethan was definitely going to pay. "Does B know?" she asked, still studying the marks on her hands.

Giles glanced up from the notes. "I was asked not to tell her - rather to keep it under wraps. Xander was very specific." He looked back down. "She probably doesn't even know I've returned from England." It was a mutter and afterthought not to be noticed.

Faith caught it, however, and wondered for only a moment what it meant. She went over to the cot where she had been laying on and sat down, running her hands through her ratty hair as the men spoke.

There was a banging from a door that was adjacent to the back room. She looked up at it.

Paul and Giles had obviously heard it, too, for they both looked in the same general direction.

"What the hell is that?" Faith asked, getting to her feet, body visibly tensed.

"Nick." Paul answered. He rolled back and out from behind the desk.

"Uh, who may Nick be?" Giles asked, adjusting his glasses.

"He was the one who knew where to find Faith," Paul replied. "After a particularly unnecessary bar fight, we found him next door to the bar. He used to be within Relin's gang and thus knew where Ethan was. We really didn't know what to do with him so I told my associate to place him in that room since - "

POW!!!!!

The door suddenly shattered into pieces. Splinters of woods exploded out into the room, making the occupants duck a little to avoid any painful wood.

Nick emerged, eyes glowing red, teeth bared like rabid dog. The visible tattoo on his arm glowed as veins stood out and throbbed with power and strength.

Giles backed away, slightly. "Oh, dear."

Faith quickly blocked the guy's path, ready for the fight that was inevitable. "Don't think you're gonna be going anywhere soon," she told Nick.

Nick just growled. He stepped up to her and swung a fist.

She quickly ducked and watched as his fist smashed into the concrete portion of the wall, breaking through it as if it were hollow. Her brows rose. "Whoa."

"He wasn't like this before," Paul announced as Faith avoided another punch.

"The marking on his arm," Giles murmured quietly to Paul. "It's glowing."

Paul's eyes landed on it. "So it is. I never noticed it before."

"Some rituals require the formation of a union," Giles said, his eyes still captivated. "You say that this has been an on-going ritual."

"A little even before I knew Faith."

"And you and she figured out that each member involved displays that tattoo, that marking, correct?"

"It was the only thing that would identify them." Paul knitted his brows. "But it wasn't there before. I knew he had been a part of the mentioned gang of Ethan Rayne." He blinked. "Lasered off."

"Pardon me?"

"The tattoo must've been burned off via laser. He may have tried to hide evidence he was ever a part of Rayne's group, but the marking is still there."

Suddenly, a shadow came flying towards them, causing Paul and Giles to break away from each other. Faith crashed against the small bookcase, knocking over the books.

"Fuck!" she snapped, getting to her feet. "Bastard's strong." She rushed back into the fight, even though it seemed like Nick just wanted out of there.

"Is that what Rayne is waiting for, then?" Paul mused aloud as Faith put her own strength into the fight. "For all his 'marked' minions to gather at the central place?"

Giles had a book already open, one that he pulled from his bag that he had left just inside the door. "It relies on its worshippers," he read aloud. "According to this text, that is partly where the power is drawn from, not only the 'bleu storra.'" He looked over at Paul. "Ethan has always wanted those to worship him."

"He's about to get his wish."

"Unfortunately for us." Giles continued to scan the book as a loud crash once again emerged from the fight. This time, it was Nick who had been knocked down. "So the best course of action would be to keep him here."

"That would be the logical," Paul answered as he watched Faith body slam him to the ground.

Nick barely felt it, however.

"Dammit! Paul, you got something I can use on this bitch?" She was backing away slightly.

Paul rolled over towards the cabinet as quickly as he could. He pulled open a drawer, retrieving a rifle. He quickly loaded it up with tranquilizer darts - heavy duty.

Faith smashed her fist into Nick's face again, using nearly all her strength to knock him onto his backside.

Giles took the gun from Paul's lap and fired at the brute that used to be Nick. The gun fired but the actual dart bounced off of the invisible field that surrounded him. "Oh, dear."

Faith frowned as the dart clattered to the ground. "Fuck." She felt Nick swing at her, causing her to drop down and tumble towards the dart. She grabbed it and stabbed it into his leg.

It actually went in.

Nick howled in pain and grabbed at her.

"Another one! This one ain't gonna hold him! Fire at him!"

Giles did as he was told, firing two darts in their direction. Amazingly enough, he watched as Faith snatched them BOTH out of the air while avoiding Nick's hands and slammed those two darts into his butt this time.

Nick growled again but the serum began to take over and he swayed. His glowing red eyes finally rolled back into his head and he collapsed onto the floor.

Faith let out a breath as she sat there. "Always knew it was faster in the ass."

Giles lowered the gun. "I think we could've done without that comment," he remarked. He glanced over at Paul, gesturing towards the books. "Well, shall we?"

* * * *

Xander and Brandon waited in the lobby of the building. They were ducked down behind what was the receptionist desk, leaning against the wall.

Xander was playing around with the ax that had been on Brandon's back, still sick to his stomach with worry over Faith.

"She's gonna be okay, man," Brandon told him quietly. "Paul's got it under control."

He smiled weakly. "Control? What's that again?" He sighed, letting the ax slowly slip to his feet. "I just wish she didn't have a direct line to Ethan's stupid plan of world domination and immortality."

"Tell her to stop being so damn good at what she does and maybe they'll leave her alone," Brandon joked.

"Right. That's about as easy as telling her to please take me back." His voice trailed, shoulders visibly sagging.

Brandon dipped his gaze, not sure how to go about this. He was a good fifteen years older than Xander and had experienced a few heartbreaks in his life. But their situation was confusing, as it was very different and complicated. About as complicated as the life they were living. "Look, man, I don't know what's going on with Faith, but I know she still loves you."

But Xander didn't look up. "Right. She loves me so much she can't keep her hands off me."

"She's messed. Things got bad, and I think she's just still going through stuff."

"'Stuff' meaning I think she's realized her mistake."

"Man, you aren't a mistake."

"Right, tell that to - "

The front doors practically busted open as ten or so lumbering figures came through like a herd of elephants.

Xander and Brandon peered over the counter, watching them head towards the stairs. Their eyes glowed red, their bodies looking almost energized with power.

"Holy shit," Brandon murmured. "What the hell's going on?"

Xander narrowed his eyes. "Is that. Relin?"

"Sure looks."

They glanced at each other. "I think it's started," Xander said. He stood up as the last of them entered the stairwell.

"Where the hell are you going?" Brandon hissed.

"We need to look to see where they're going." He hefted the ax in his hand.

"We gotta call Paul first."

"Not yet. First, we gotta see what they're going to do, then we inform Paul." He moved towards the door.

"Xander, man."

He turned towards the hulking figure, but eyes filled with determination. "Look, Paul's in the middle of something really important right now. I wanna give him the space he needs. We'll call him when we actually HAVE information to tell him; otherwise, we're wasting his 'helping Faith' time!" With that, he turned around.

Brandon sighed and followed after Xander.

* * * *

"I think that last sedative got him GOOD," Faith said as she carried the unconscious body of Nick and practically threw him to the ground of the other back closet. It was much smaller than the previous one he was kept in before his transformation.

"Be careful," Paul cautioned her. "He's under a spell but it's going to hurt whenever he returns back to normal."

"And I'm carin' 'cause why?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at the unconscious Nick. She shut the door behind her, dead bolting it. "Okay, so we're thinkin' that he's come here because he's being summoned by Ethan?"

Giles nodded. "Yes. I've a feeling that anyone bearing this tattoo shall have the incredible and uncontrolled feeling of going to wherever Ethan is."

Faith stepped towards them. "You mean, where Xander is."

Paul and Giles glanced at each other, picking up on her conclusion.

"Right?" she urged.

Paul's cell phone rang then. His eyes were still on the anxious Faith and answered it. "Hello?"

"Boss, it's me," Brandon answered, out of breath. "Man, things just got down and dirty here." There was a crash. "Shit, hold on." There was a rustling and footsteps could be heard. "Xander! Watch out!" There was another crash. "I think he's down in the room over there! Xander - wait!"

"Brandon? What's happening?"

"Shit. He's gone after Ethan."

"What?" Paul gasped. "Stop him! Wait until we get there!"

"Think it's too late." There was another loud crash, a shout, and then the line went dead.

"Brandon?" Paul called into the phone. "Hello?" He pulled the phone back from his ear and looked at it, confused - then worried.

"What happened?" Faith questioned him.

"We should go back to where Ethan is." He rolled back towards his desk to retrieve his keys. "I think Brandon and Xander are in trouble."

"What?" Her adrenaline, already hyped from the fight, was amped up even more.

"Go on," Giles said. "I'll keep working here. We've not found anything to defeat Ethan so I suggest it be a retrieve mission."

Faith was already at the door, hand poised over the knob. "I see Ethan, he's gonna go down."

* * * *

Xander ran down the hall, his sights set on the older man running ahead of him in a long robe. The commotion behind him wasn't even registering. He just kept the ax to him.

Ethan turned a corner. Xander took the same corner and stopped short when he realized Ethan had led them to a small room in the back of the 13th floor. He raised his ax a little.

Ethan stared back at him, the Cheshire cat grin on his face. It was Ethan all right - except for the blue glow to his eyes. "Well, well, I remember you."

"I'm a hard one to forget," Xander answered, trying to keep his voice steady. In truth, he had NO idea what he was going to do to stop him. Ethan had been an easier one in the past to deal with, but still, this was a different kind of Ethan.

How different, Xander didn't know.

"Yes. Especially when you run with Ripper's little Slayer." His eyes sparked a little. "How is Ripper anyway?"

Xander shrugged. "Don't know. Hasn't returned my calls."

"Yes. Ripper did tend to leave one in the dust just when you needed him." He raised a hand towards Xander. "Tell me, boy, what exactly you intend to do with me."

"I was thinking, hacking off your head?"

"Oh, now, is that any way to treat someone who can kill you before you can take a step?" A bolt of blue light flew out of Ethan's hand, towards Xander's head.

Xander's eyes widened and he fell to the ground, the beam hitting the wall behind him. He looked up at the mark left behind. "That could've hurt," he mumbled.

"If I wanted, that could've killed."

Xander looked up, realizing the voice was a lot nearer than when he last heard it. Ethan towered above him, glaring down at him with that smile. In a ditch effort, he rammed the top of the ax into Ethan's legs.

Ethan jumped too fast for Xander to react, easily missing the butt of the weapon. "No, no, now." He reached down towards the boy's arm.

Xander rolled away, barely missing Ethan's hand and got to his feet, ax still poised. He faced Ethan again, trying to gather the frustrations and anger towards everything back at Ethan. He side-stepped a little, waiting to see what his next move was.

Ethan just continued to grin. He and Xander circled each other. "Are you angry at me, boy?"

"Um, does the word 'pissed off' mean anything to you?" He tightened the grip on the ax.

"Aw. Now what could I have done to get you so mad."

"Actually, seeing you're still walking on two legs pisses me off. Buffy should've broken them a LONG time ago."

The sorcerer tilted his head to the side a bit. "You seem to be wherever Slayers are."

Xander shrugged. "I'm efficient like that."

"One thing with being all-powerful is that emotions are very easy to read. And I sense something much deeper than just me still being alive. Is it because I used your other little Slayer whore to become what I am at the moment?"

With that, Xander ran at Ethan with ax held high and swung downward aimed at Ethan's shoulder. He wanted the kill but the very last few steps made him reconsider his aim. Hacking off the bastard's arm would do just as well.

Ethan didn't move.

Neither did the ax as it made contact with Ethan's shoulder. It practically bounced off as if Xander just hit a titanium block. The reverberation echoed down Xander's arms, causing him to clench his teeth in pain. Surprisingly, Xander recovered and swing the ax at Ethan's neck.

But Ethan caught it, holding it fast. "Now you're going for the kill."

Pulling at it with all his might for his weapon back, Xander kicked the other man in the stomach.

With a small shove, Ethan had him flying across the room. He hit the wall and fell to the ground. "I'm stronger than you," he said, holding the ax in his hand. He slowly approached Xander. "I could pull at your head, making a deliciously nice sound of your spine leaving your body." He raised the ax. "But I find it more appealing to kill someone with their own weapon. Makes it much more poetic."

The ax whistled down towards the still groggy Xander, who realized what was happening and realized it was too late to move.

That's when a hand caught the handle just below the head of the ax, stopping it centimeters from Xander's head. He flinched, ready to be chopped in half right there.

An elbow connected with Ethan's face harshly, actually making him stumble back. A boot followed up, then a powerful left hook, driving him away from Xander.

"Bastard!" Faith cried, continuing to smash into Ethan.

Xander shakily got to his feet, seeing that Ethan had dropped the ax. He picked it back up as he watched Faith pound on the sorcerer.

But Ethan was stunned only for a moment. He let the blue light fly out of his hands, slamming into Faith. She flew back and hit the wall next to where Xander stood.

"Faith!" Xander cried, running to her side.

Blood dripped from her lip but she was still in fighting mode. She got to her feet. "I'm okay," she told Xander.

"Let's get out of here," Xander insisted.

Faith shook her head, wiping her lip. "No way." She ran at Ethan again and this time, somersaulted over the next beam of light that was thrown at her. She landed both feet right into Ethan's chest, actually slamming him into the other side of the room. Then she was on him again.

Somehow, however, Ethan's new powers allowed him to adjust accordingly to his opponent. He managed to stop a fist that would've busted through oak. He held it then backhanded her across her cheek. It was strong enough to have snapped a regular person's neck.

She bared the pain and tried to hit him with her other free hand while wincing at his vice grip. But he moved his face away and tossed her away from a simple flick of his wrist. His strength had tripled within the few minutes.

But Faith wasn't giving up, wasn't backing down. She got right back up and charged at him again, slamming him against the wall.

"Faith," Xander called to her. He winced when Ethan slapped her hard in the cheek. "FAITH!"

It was Ethan's turn to pound on Faith. He began to laugh with each hit, smacking her in the face four or five times. His moves weren't nearly as graceful or smooth as a trained fighter like Faith, but the strength and the damage behind them more than made up. He kneed her in the stomach, slammed her against the wall - all the while laughing.

Xander couldn't handle it anymore. Ethan was more than Faith could handle, at least with these new powers. And the sorcerer wasn't even using magic. He ran into the fray, smacking Ethan in the back of the head with the flat side of the ax, letting go of it as soon as contact was made. It wouldn't have hurt him.

Ethan turned around, eyes still sparking with raw power.

"Why aren't you destroying the world?" Xander asked, trying to stand strong. "It's not good enough for you or something?"

"Dear boy, it's not ready for me."

"Or is it you're not ready for IT?"

Ethan's face flickered a little at that statement.

Then Xander knew: something was still missing. But he realized that Ethan didn't like that he knew. He stepped back, swallowing nervously.

Faith managed to get to her feet. She picked up the ax, swaying a bit. She held it up like a bat and swung with what little strength she had left. Although not near enough to be Slayer strength in her current condition, it was still more than an average man.

It buried itself in Ethan's upper arm, making him scream in pain.

Xander's eyes widened then quickly reacted. He grabbed Faith's wrist, pulling her towards him. "Let's GO!"

"No," she mumbled weakly, then nearly collapsed.

He scooped her into his arms and began to run out of there.

"Let's go, Xander!" Brandon called. He was signaling them that way as Paul sat next to him in his wheelchair, reading something from a book. It was holding Relin's and his gang in the room across from the stairway.

Xander ran towards them, beginning to feel the fight and Faith's weight on his arms. He saw the elevator was working and that it did reach this floor somehow. Brandon was holding it open for them. He rushed in as Paul backed into it, still chanting.

"What happened?" Brandon asked, staring at Faith's bloody face.

"Ethan was a little too much," Xander said, quietly. He looked down at the girl in his arms. She was RIGHT there but he was missing her so much it hurt.

She actually opened up her dark eyes and met his for a moment - and only a moment.

The doors slid closed. "Let's take her to my place," Paul said, closing the book.

"Those goons aren't going to follow us?" Xander asked, worriedly.

"No. They were called here and this is where they'll stay."

"Ethan wasn't ready," Xander informed them. "I don't think he has everything he needs yet."

"That's what I was hoping for. We need to go by the bookstore before we go back to my place. I have a few more notes I want Mr. Giles to look at."

"Giles? He's here?"

Paul nodded. "Yes, he is."

Xander leaned against the wall, letting out a sigh. At least something had gone right.

* * * *

Faith lay in the bed in pain as Giles, Paul, and Xander stood outside the door. They talked in hushed voices, but Faith could easily hear them despite that. She stared at a spot on the wall, her breathing steady. Her body ached and she had a few bandages around her face.

"Maybe we should call Buffy," Giles suggested yet with uncertainty and hesitation.

"No," Xander stated firmly, forgetting to whisper for a moment.

"Xander, Ethan beat Faith to a bloody pulp. She'll heal, yes, but we need help in this situation."

"I know, Giles, but that's why you're here. I know you can help us." There was a pause. "I know she can do this."

At Xander's statement, the Slayer closed her eyes, hearing those words. It struck something deep in her. He never gave up on her. Never.

"She just needs help," Xander continued.

Another pause.

"Alright," Giles finally agreed. "There are more books in the back of the car."

There were footsteps then the front door opened and closed.

"Do you want to check on her?" Paul whispered to the remaining male.

Silence.

"No," Xander said. "I don't think she wants that." There was that twinge of pain and hurt.

Faith clenched her fists at the sound of it.

"You are a good man, Xander," Paul stated. Then he rolled away.

"The best." Xander murmured.

* * * *

Giles poured over the books he and Paul had been looking over for the past few hours. He was getting worried that the sedative they used on Nick would wear off soon. But he couldn't hurry, not when they were going over every note, every book with a fine toothed comb.

He leaned back in his chair, removing his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose. "There is something that's been bothering me about our research," the ex-Watcher remarked.

"That we're not doing any good?" Paul offered, weakly. "I'm sorry. I did mean to ask what you meant."

Giles smiled, glad that he had so much help from Paul. "Your notes are very thorough, Paul, so please don't take this the wrong way. But I feel like we are missing an integral part. From Faith's dream you figured out the location. From your reading of the ritual, you've figured out when it was to happen - 'bleu steorra.' And yes, by keeping Nick here, we're preventing him from fulfilling his power by preventing the Circle of Worshippers." He looked at the door that led to the room where Nick was. "But from what Faith and Xander encountered, it seems like Nick isn't that intergral a part as we thought."

"Maybe the Circle of Worshippers have already reached its quota."

"Prophecies and the such can be very misleading, so that is very much a possibility." He ran his fingers through his graying hair. "If that were the case, then we may already be too late, and none of what we're reading is giving us any clue on how to stop Ethan from using the full capacity of Merkirva's power."

The man in the wheelchair nodded. He stared at his notes, wondering if they were even on the right track to begin with. What if they've been on some wild circle of nothing? He sighed, staring at his notes.

Then it clicked.

He leaned forward, placing his finger on a particular sentence he had seen in nearly every book and note. "Here," he proclaimed.

Giles put his glasses back on, squinting his eyes at what the other man was pointing to. "'Dark magicks'?" he asked, confused.

"Xander explained to me briefly how you and Ethan use to, um, fiddle with dark magicks when you were both younger."

The Englishman cleared his throat, uncomfortably. "Um, yes, well Xander has the uncanny ability to speak entirely too much."

Paul grinned. "I'm not holding anything against you, Mr. Giles. But maybe this is the key to the entire scenario. If this particular anchor of dark magick is what Rayne is using to hone this larger magic of Merkirva's, then maybe you can interfere with it somehow, make him - um - weaker. Dampen his powers so he can be stopped."

Giles was contemplating what was said. They had read how the Bringer of the magicks had to have a pre-requisite of having his hands dipped into the black arts. "It could take days to figure out what specific dark power Ethan is calling upon."

Paul nodded, his hope faltering. "True."

". unless you knew Ethan well enough to know what he has always used." Giles looked over at Paul with a deliberate look.

"You know?"

Giles stood up with a small smile. "It's an advantage to running with him in our youth."

* * * *

"So let me get this straight," Xander said as they sat outside the van right outside the building. Lightning continued to streak across the sky, a slow steady rain falling. "Faith is going back IN there?"

Faith sat quietly in the back, most of the bruises healed within the few hours of rest. At least the visible ones.

"Yes," Giles said with a single nod. He was gathering a few books, putting them in a bag.

"Okay, anyone else see the wrong in this?" Xander lifted his hand. "He kicked her ass!"

"Thanks, Xander," Faith muttered.

Xander glanced her way with a wince. "Sorry. I'm just."

"Xander," Giles began. "I shall be going in there with her. I'm going to perform a spell that will hopefully damper his powers for a time, act as a sort of buffer. It shall hopefully interrupt the flow of dark magicks from the ether for about. well, five minutes, if I'm lucky."

"In the meantime?"

"In the meantime: payback," Faith stated, opening up the back door. "So let's motor."

Xander stepped up behind her. "Let's."

"Xander, you ain't comin'," she stated not even turning around.

"And you're gonna stop me how?" he challenged, meeting her eyes when she heard his reply.

"We're going to need as much back up as possible, keep the other members of his circle away," Giles stated. "I don't think Nick is going to be subdued for much longer. And once he joins, I don't even think me dampening Ethan's powers shall help."

"So we're all in," Brandon stated, loading up on available weapons.

Paul checked his crossbow, keeping a few sharp objects in his jacket pockets and keeping one of his spell books handy. "That we are."

Giles glanced over at Faith.

She met his hazel eyes, knowing they didn't have time to argue and hopped out into the rain.

* * * *

"Brandon and I will stay down here," Paul said. "If any more of his minions come, we'll try and fend them off."

"We'll need you to contain his worshippers," Giles told Paul. "Use the elevator, if it's possible, after 10 minutes."

Paul nodded. "Okay."

Faith nodded. "Let's take the stairs," she said, pointing at the familiar stairwell.

"Careful, guys," Xander told them as he followed Faith and Giles towards the stairwell. He held an ax in his hand.

Faith, Giles, and Xander went up the 12 flights of stairs and found the wall that led to the mystery floor. "What's the plan?" Xander whispered.

"Find Ethan and knock the shit out of him," Faith stated, body tensed for the fight ahead.

"Okay, sounds like a good plan, but. finding him might be the problem."

Giles was making sure the spell book he was going to use was ready in his hands. "As long as we can contain the worshippers that are already there, it shouldn't be too hard to find him. I just need for them to stay away from me as we do so."

Xander held up his weapon. "Well, um, I'll do something to that effect."

Faith really didn't want Xander there - not because she didn't 'want' in the deepest sense of the word; she was just worried. But she only glanced at the weapon in his hands. "You better keep your ass safe," she told him, quietly.

"Hey, ass will be as good as new!" he said with a grin. But it was tinged heavily with sadness. "Faith, after this, I - "

"Not now," she cut in.

He nodded, his eyes on the floor. "Right. Okay."

"Let's go then," Giles said, feeling uncomfortable. "Paul and Brandon shall follow after."

Faith went through the hidden entrance first. She noted that the hallway was clear. A demon similar to the one Xander had asked for information from earlier appeared through the door on her left. "I think I know how we're gonna find him," she said.

She walked up right behind the robed demon and grabbed him by the front of his shirt.

"Ahhh!" it cried.

She hauled back and jabbed him in the face. "Shut the fuck up," she ordered. "Ethan, where is he?" She slammed him once against the wall.

The demon shrugged.

"Hey, I know you!" Xander said as he came up behind the Slayer. "He was the one who helped me out in finding you."

The demon shook his head. "Cousin."

"Oh. Do you get that a lot?"

The demon nodded. "Quite often, actually. I used to get confused for my sis- " He suddenly felt himself being lifted off his feet.

"We don't got time for this!" Faith snapped, holding him up above her own eye level. "If you don't wanna be confused for a dead demon corpse, you better answer me."

"Think you better listen to her," Xander said, nodding towards Faith.

Giles was busy studying their surrounding area. "And it should be quickly," he added.

"I was given very specific orders from Mr. Rayne about his whereabouts," the demon answered.

Losing patience, Faith snatched the axe from Xander's hold without turning her head and pressed the blade against the demon's neck. "Good, it's what I like to hear. Means you know. So let's get those specifics before I specifically slice your head off."

The demon felt the blade dig into his tough skin. He squirmed in her grip more. "Uh, a-around the corner."

She pressed it harder. "That it?"

"Yes! It's the r-red door! The only red door in the hall. That is where he's g-gathering his powers."

"Now how hard was that?" Xander asked the demon as Faith gave him back the ax. For a moment, their hands touched in the exchange.

Faith couldn't help but turn to glance at him, while she slowly lowered the demon back on his feet. It was like a jolt - or just a feeling she'd been missing all this time.

"We should hurry," Giles piped in. "As in now."

That broke the stare between Faith and Xander, and the two brunettes noticed the ex-Watcher wasn't looking in their direction. He was looking down the hall where the lumbering group of worshippers that used to be Relin's gang was coming their way.

"Shit," Faith murmured.

The elevator dinged open and Paul and Brandon came out between their group and Relin's. Paul was already chanting something as Brandon stood guard.

"Go!" Xander urged Faith and Giles as he moved towards the other two men.

A shield had suddenly appeared within the hall, holding the gang back - for now.

Giles and Faith rushed down the hall, rounding the corner and right away saw the door that the demon had mentioned. Two demons were guarding it.

Faith took no time and rushed up to them, roundhouse kicking one while knocking out another with a 1-2 punch to its face. She rammed her shoulder into the door just as Giles joined her. "I'm going to stay back a moment," he quietly told her.

She understood and rammed her shoulder in a second time, the door finally giving way. She stumbled into a semi-lit room where Ethan stood, facing a wall with a large symbol painted on it. It was the same marking as all of Relin's gang had on them.

"You found me," Ethan said, his voice low. "But the power has already arrived as the sky brings in the new night." He turned around, his eyes still glowing the bluish light. "Your friends aren't going to be able to hold my followers. The circle has already been done, Slayer. You're too late to stop that."

"Yeah, well, I make up for good time in other ways," she stated. She came up to him, bracing herself. She wasn't going to be able to fight him and win, not by brute strength. Still, she was going to give Giles as much time as he needed.

She met up with Ethan and twirled, lashing out with her foot to his cheek.

Ethan stumbled onto the wall. He smiled as he righted himself. "Such goodness in you," he said. "Trying to fight off that darkness engulfing you."

She sighed. "Man, are we gonna go through this psychological shit? I'm over it."

"No, I don't think you are." He shot his hand out and fired a shot of lightning at her.

Faith dived out of the way, rolling back on her feet. She noticed a staff leaning against the wall. Without hesitation, she grabbed it and twirled it once in her hand. A weapon would give her more of an advantage. She charged at him, swinging the staff around.

He quickly ducked the hit, only to be met up with a knee into the stomach. He grunted but moved slightly faster than her, knocking the staff out of her hand. He grabbed her neck, squeezing and lifting her off her feet. "You're such a little bitch," he said, his voice calm and superior.

She struggled to undo his hand from her neck. But she could feel her face reddening from lack of oxygen.

"You could've been something of grandeur, Slayer," Ethan continued. "Warrior of the People. It's got a nice ring to it. And although I know once I kill you, another Slayer shall rise; it still would give me instant gratification at the very least. I do enjoy that euphoric feeling." He squeezed harder. "It was a nice try, though."

Suddenly, he stopped, glancing over at the figure at the door words slowly exiting the new person's mouth in a steady rhythm.

"Ripper," Ethan sneered. He dropped Faith, his sights set on his old "mate."

Giles finished the chant, his face placid as he looked at Ethan. "Hello, Ethan. Seems like you've moved onto something greater. Congratulations. Now, I think it's time to hand something over." He held out his hand as if expecting Ethan to give him something.

"I'm sorry, Ripper, but I've got all I want. Especially seeing you being brought down to nothing but. well, what does that make you? You're no longer a Watcher nor a librarian. Not even your own Slayer acknowledges you as such."

Faith was catching her breath, slowly getting to her feet. What was Ethan babbling about?

Giles only seemed affected for a moment. He held the book open in one hand then stepped closer to Ethan. "You had to gain power like this to be something," Giles informed his old friend. "I'd say between the two of us, you're the one who has been brought down to nothing but a lapdog to bloody magic."

Ethan snatched Giles' still extended hand, squeezing it. "But soon, magic shall be a lapdog to ME."

Giles grimaced as his bones began to grind together. But he managed to chant words again, growing faster and faster despite the pain.

Before Ethan could understand what was going on, he saw a blue force forming at their adjoining hands. He tried to pull away, but Giles held on as well as the power behind the glow. "What's going on?" Energy flowed down his arm into Giles. "What? NO!"

The two men pulled away from each other as the energy forced them to. Ethan nearly fell against the wall again.

Giles held in a scream as the dark magicks began to fill his being. He fell to his knees, but kept on channeling, pulling in as much of the magicks as possible from Ethan.

Ethan's eyes widen when he realized the success of Giles' spell. He felt the anchor of the black magic that melded Merkirva's power into his own being leaving. It was because they had a connection, he realized. Giles had found the particular magic and was using it against him. "NO!" he cried, moving to stop Giles.

But Faith was there. She stood between Ethan and Giles. "Let's see how well Giles is doing things," she stated, slamming her fist into Ethan's face.

Ethan lifted off the ground and landed five feet from her. He put his hand up to his bleeding lip. "No, it-it can't be." He could feel Mirkirva's fading along with the night. He looked up at Faith, scooting back. "You can't hurt me. You can't kill me. I'm not a demon."

Faith narrowed her eyes at him, rushing at him and grabbing him by the front of his robe, lifting him to his feet. She held him tightly. "Who the HELL do you think you're talkin' to? Buffy?" She slammed him hard against the wall. "You think I CARE if you're a demon or not? I got put in jail for murder, bitch!"

Ethan was visibly shaking now, his hands up. "I-I didn't know."

She grinned. "Not so tough now without chains on my wrists, are ya'?" She hit him in the stomach, doubling him over. "Not so tough without your fucking MAGIC to help you out, are ya'?" She placed her hand on his chest and shoved him into the wall again. "Wanna call me a bitch again?" She hit him in the face with her fist.

Ethan's head snapped back, hitting it against the wall. He put his hands up to his broken nose. "Stop!" he cried.

"Right," Faith said. "Like that's the way to tell me." She grasp his throat with one hand, squeezing. "I'll tell you something, fucker, I should put you six feet under!"

"Faith." Giles began, getting his bearings together. He could see through his haze what was going on between Ethan and Faith.

"All the trouble you caused me and my friends, there's only one thing that'll stop you from doin' anything again!"

Ethan was gasping for air, trying to pry her hand off his neck.

"Faith." Giles called again, urgency in his voice. He was trying to get to his feet. The book he was holding fell to the floor. "Don't."

She heard Giles, but ignored him. Instead, she threw Ethan to the ground. "I ain't gonna be the one to do it," she said.

Ethan coughed, trying to get his breath back. His hand was up on his throat, rubbing the sore spot left by the Slayer's powerful grip. "Th-Thank you."

Faith stood over him, glaring. She was holding back so much, but she was successful. Instead, she turned away and went over to Giles, helping the ex- Watcher to his feet. "You okay?" she asked.

Giles leaned on the shorter, but stronger, girl. He was taking deep breaths as he nodded. "Yes, thank you," he said, voice hoarse.

"You did it. That was wicked cool."

He nodded. "It was," he said. "Quite painful, too."

"Well, mission accomplished." She began to lead him over to the door taking on most of the Englishman's weight.

Brandon met up with them, looking worn for wear. There was a cut above his brow and bruises lined his forearm. "You guys did it," he said with a grin as his large figure filled the doorway.

"He did it," Faith said, nodding over towards Giles.

"We all did," Giles replied, most of his breath caught.

"Is there gonna be hugging involved between you two because I'm ready to get the hell out of here," Brandon teased.

Faith and Giles glanced at each other a moment then she nudged Giles towards Brandon. "Take 'em," she said with a grin.

Brandon grinned back but took Giles into his own support. "What're you gonna do?"

Faith glanced over her shoulder at Ethan who was still on the ground, but had remained quiet. "Turning this bastard in. Get Paul and Xander out of here."

"Uh, Xander's already left," he said.

Faith turned towards him. "Huh? When?"

"As soon as those gang guys got back to normal. He called the cops to take them in then left. Said he had some stuff to do. He was pretty banged up. Hope he goes to the ER or something first. Kid's stubborn, though."

"I can attest to that," Giles murmured, seeing the worried expression on Faith's face. "The police are coming then. We should go ahead and leave. I'm sure they shall make sure Ethan will get proper. punishment."

Faith turned and walked towards Ethan, her face void of emotion.

Ethan scooted back frantically, his hands up in front of him. "You heard Ripper; you don't have to deal with me anymore."

She continued not to say anything. Just kept walking until she was right in front of him. She bent down, her hand reaching.

He shivered, ready for the punishment she was going to deal out -

- when she reached for the book laying beside him. She picked it up and nudged Ethan hard on the leg with her boot. "Loosen up," she stated, then turned her back on him and went back to where Brandon and Giles stood. "Let's motor."

* * * *

Faith sat upon the step of Paul's apartment building, watching the sun begin to drop down beyond the horizon. It had been a long night and an even longer day. But the day had come, and Faith was relieved about it.

Giles had left after being attended to in his injuries. He said he needed to catch a plane back to England later on in the day. Faith noticed how much he talked about going back and forth to England; it struck her as weird but she was in no place to ask him about it.

Paul had informed her that Xander was okay and that he was going to come by Paul's place soon. Which was the whole reason Faith sat there.

She was waiting.

For him.

Sitting there, however, got her reviewing everything that had happened since the summer began. And out of the pain and strife and all the bad things that had occurred, she remembered one thing that Xander had said to her before she had pushed him away:

There were so many good people in his life it outweighed any badness.

She didn't see it then; but after the battle with Ethan Rayne, after she had seen the people who actually CARED to fight by her side even after the hell she had put them through, Faith had finally seen what that meant.

Rachel was right, a huge chunk of something was noticeably missing in Faith's life: Xander.

If it was good enough for it to be Rachel's first few words since going mute from trauma, it was more than good enough for Faith.

And Faith felt ashamed of herself for not seeing it.

But tonight, she was going to tell Xander. Apologize to him profusely, even if it was out of her character, to get him to see there was still something with them. There never was anything less.

Xander's large car pulled up to the front steps. She knew he was coming, but seeing it still gave her a surprise. She stood up when Xander exited the station wagon. He had a bandage over a brow, and some bruises from the fight.

"Xander," Paul greeted him, coming out of the building and rolling slowly down the ramp.

"Hey," Faith also greeted him a smile on her face.

"Hey," Xander said, looking at her only briefly.

Her smile faded slowly as Paul joined them, a paper bag in his lap.

"How are you feeling?" Paul asked.

Xander held out his hands. "Good as old," he remarked. "A little banged up, but I'm okay."

"Well, that's very good to hear." He indicated the object in the paper bag. "I think this blender will do for your everyday needs," he said, handing it to him.

Xander took it and peeked inside. "Hey, thanks. What's a new place without a blender, huh?"

"You. found a new place?" Faith asked. Paul hadn't told her much about Xander's reason for coming, just that he was stopping by.

Xander looked at her and nodded. "Yeah. Beats this piece of crap I've been living in for the past few weeks." He thumbed back towards the station wagon.

"But I thought you found a place?" Faith asked, surprised that his car was his place of residence for the past few weeks.

Xander stared at his car a moment. "I didn't wanna be a burden to Patrick. He was nice enough to let me stay at his place for a few weeks, but." He smiled. "I mean, hey, I found a new place and now have a blender to go with it." He held it up.

Now was the time to do it, apologize, tell him how much she did love him and how she never stopped. She opened her mouth, "Xander -"

Just as he said, "Faith -"

She stopped. "Go ahead," she offered. Maybe he would give her the opening she needed.

He paused awkwardly.

"Maybe I should go," Paul said, rolling back a bit towards the ramp.

Xander held up his hand. "No, it's okay. I. I just wanted to tell you both that I'm going back to Sunnydale. Should've caught a ride with Giles, but that car of his makes me all carsick. Plus, I knew the guy was in a hurry. So, uh, yeah, that's where my 'new' place is."

Paul's brows rose. "Oh?" He stole a glance at Faith, who just stared at Xander in what could only be shock.

"Wh-why?" Faith managed to ask.

"I got accepted to UC Sunnydale," he said with a weak smile of pride. "Okay, with some strings pulled ala Willow and Giles, but I got in. I've been working on it most of the summer. For awhile I didn't think I was going to." He stopped, leaving that thought unfinished. "Anyway, gonna live on campus, join Buffy and Willow on the college trek. Should be loads of unfun school fun."

"But." Faith averted his forced smile and couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"Congratulations," Paul said, shaking Xander's hand. It was all Paul could offer.

"You're leaving then," Faith stated.

Xander looked at Faith. "Yeah. I mean, you guys can handle it fine without me fighting the forces of evil. I got what I came for. I saw what I can and can't have. I found my limits. It was a good time, you know? But. I've got nothing keeping me here."

She looked up at that last statement.

He caught her eyes. "Do I?"

Who was she to hold him back for the one chance he had of getting back into his own life? It was obvious he wanted it. Maybe he needed it. And point of the matter was she had lost her chance; she saw that now. He had loved her and she had pushed him away. She didn't deserve him. "Don't think so," she said with pain in her voice stretching into what she didn't mean.

Xander smiled sadly. "That's what I thought." There was also unhidden pain in his tone. "Well, uh, good luck with everything. Both of you. Who knows, maybe one day I'll try to go on a road trip again and have old Bessy here break down."

Faith felt her chest grow heavy, feeling the sudden tears threatening her eyes. But in her typical Faith-fashion, she didn't let them fall. Not even for him. Because she wanted him to be happy, and Sunnydale was where it lay.

"Um, tell Hannah and all of them 'good-bye.' Don't want them to think I forgot about them." He reached out and shook Paul's hand one last time. "Thanks for everything, man."

Paul gave Xander a smile and one last nod. "Of course, Xander. You're a remarkable young man. Good luck with your endeavors. And you do have my number - in case."

"Yeah, I do." He looked over at Faith, seeing her looking away and trying to tell himself it was because she actually cared whether he was gone or not, even if that wasn't the case. He dipped his gaze a moment then held his hand out, carefully touching her chin to make her look at him. "You did it," he told her softly.

She was confused at the statement. "Did what?" she asked, keeping her voice even.

He paused a moment. "Tried to be better." He gently rubbed his thumb over her cheek. "Don't forget who you are, Faith," he said, quietly. "You're amazing. I mean, really - and. really again. You got this far, ya' know? This whole redemption streak?" He smiled. "You did it. Saw it first hand, and that's where you being so amazing comes in. I can't even tell you. Well, you don't want to hear it, I know." He smiled sadly, staring into those brown eyes of hers. "I."

She continued to gaze at him expectantly, wanting him to say it. If he said it, then she would know what to say, how to react.

"I. I'll see you soon." He dropped his hand and turned back to his car, pausing as he rounded towards the driver's side. "Later, guys." He gave a wave and hopped into the car, starting it up and driving away.

Faith and Paul watched the station wagon pull away from the curb.

"Faith," Paul began, watching the back of the car. "You love him, don't you?"

"Yeah," she stated without hesitation.

"You should go after him. You can tell he doesn't want to go. Maybe if you run - "

"Fuck it, Paul. He's got his own life in Sunnydale. I had him, and I fucked it up." She turned her gaze away from the disappearing car. She shook her head. "But I got my own life here, too." Her voice grew less angry as she turned to Paul. "I finally have one."

Paul smiled, looking up at her. Despite what had just happened, he realized how far Faith had come since even he first knew her. This young woman was more than just a sassy mouth with a tough attitude; she had gone through a lot but no matter how bad it had gotten, she wanted to come back.

And it took more than a tough attitude to accomplish that.

Unknown to Faith, Xander had told Paul a few weeks ago, soon after the fire that took down Faith's apartment occurred, the reason he had been in the apartment at the time of the fire was to tell her about UC Sunnydale and that he was planning NOT to accept it. Xander wanted to be with her.

Nothing much had been said afterwards. And nothing would be said today.

Paul watched Faith as she continued to stare in the direction Xander's car drove down. The sadness was radiating so strongly from her, Paul could feel it. But again, nothing would be said today because he knew it wouldn't matter. "I'm glad you think so," he commented.

She turned her gaze down to him. "Huh?"

"That you think you have a life here with us." He smiled. "I don't think many who have lived the life you have can say that."

She turned toward him and came up to him with a shrug. "I never thought I could."

"Wasn't quite an easy thing to find, was it?" he asked as he began to roll towards the ramp up to his front door.

She followed him, not daring to look back. As she followed him inside, she shook her head with pride that was slightly overshadowed by despair, and answered, "Nope. It sure as hell wasn't."

"And I wanna believe you,

When you tell me that it'll be ok,

Yeah, I try to believe you,

Not today. Tomorrow it may change." - Tomorrow by Avril Lavigne

- END OF SERIES -