Shared Destiny

Author: Norwalker

Part 12 of 12

Summary: Faith asks, in Enemies, " Everybody asks why can't you be more like Buffy. But does anyone ask why Buffy can't be more like me?" So, what if , after season 3, Buffy became more like Faith?

Rating/ Category: Rated R Romance/Angst

Spoilers: Possible season 3 and after spoilers.

Time Line: Departs after season 3

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon , Mutant Enemy and Fox own them.

Warnings: Dark fiction. Character Death happens, please be aware of this. Strong language, sexual situations between members of the same sex. Violence. Possible racial/ethnic slurs that the author in no way supports or shares.

"Oh, crap!"

Everybody turns at Buffy's exclamation. As they watch the procession led by Willow/ Set, and you can almost see the eyes widen, the jaws drop and hear the stomachs churn. The fear is palpable. Buffy's expression hardens. She takes Faith's arm and pulls her to the side.

" This doesn't look so good" Buffy says, whispering to Faith. Faith looks at her, an expression of amused disbelief on her face.

" No shit?" She says, almost chuckling. " Gee, B … hadn't noticed."

"What's so funny?" Buffy says, irritated." This is serious!"

" You're joking, right?" Faith says, her tone mocking, " This is serious!???. You're just getting that? It's been serious. Did you really think Red was going to play fair?"

" Well, thanks Faith. Glad to know you're so on top if it. Got any bright ideas?" Buffy says, sarcastically, " or did you think you'd just trade barbs with them til they gave up?".

"Buffy" Faith says, her tone turning serious," We've got a couple of civilians, two vampires, two slayers and one witch against…what? One witch/God, a horde of demons, and her group of devotees. Lets face it, B… we're kinda outgunned here. Not a whole lotta good going on here. Most likely we're gonna be piles of ashes by the end of the evening. But, I'm here, ready to fight.. and so is everyone else. We might go down, but we're gonna take some with us…hopefully, the bitch God. Here's my brilliant plan. We go in, we kick ass, til we can't anymore. Like it?"

" Not really, " Buffy replies, "but I don't have any really better ideas. One thing, though. I don't know what the creepy robe guys are doing over at the high school, but I don't think it's good. I think we should use Tara to stop them first."

" Yeah, I agree. Best to stop their little games. Got a bad feelin' about them" Faith says, looking over at the ruins of Sunnydale high. She gets a strange expression on her face "Course, it could be just the high school giving me the wiggins".

" Don't worry Faith, don't think anyone'll be coming to pull you back into school" Buffy teases her. She turns to give Faith another jibe, but suddenly Faith is up in her face. Before she can react, Faith has her arms around her, pulls her close and gives her a kiss. The kiss lingers for a second, then Buffy breaks it. She looks at Faith, her eyes blinking. She's totally taken by surprise.

" W-What was that about?" Buffy asks, surprised, pleased, embarrassed and a little shocked. Faith strokes Buffy's lip with her fingertip.

"In case I don't get another chance" Faith says, her voice low, her expression intense. They stand staring at each other for a second. Now it's real. Faith continues, "We better go see Tara about those guys", she says, pointing at the acolytes.

"Yeah " Buffy says, still looking a little shell shocked.

They walk over to where Tara is standing.

"Hey, Tara" Buffy says" See the creepy guys with robes and stuff? Ummm.. not sure I'm liking what they're up to."

"Anything you can do about it?" Faith finishes Buffy's thought.

Tara thinks for awhile, then says, " I guess I could throw a spell of confusion."

"What's that?" Faith asks, not hip on magic particularly.

" It's a spell that'll essentially disrupt what they're doing. They won't be aware of the disruption, but they won't be able to complete their magicks."

" Sounds good to me" Buffy says." Go for it".

Tara takes a small powder bag out of her purse. She pours a small amount on her palm.

Per illa lacuna EGO iacio is alica

with these words I cast this spell

Quis vos operor vadum non vado puteus

what you do shall not go well

Permissum vos reputo vos es uxta solutio
let you think you're near solution

Ut totus est iustus turbatio

when all is just confusion

Permissum is exsisto sic

let it be so !

On the last line of the spell, she blows the powder. It swirls about, and travels to where the acolytes are preparing for the ritual. The powder forms a ring around them, with swirling sparks. They stop what they're doing, and just stand, looking happy.

"Wow, nice, Tara" Buffy says, appreciative. " That should put them out of commission."

Tara looks puzzled. "They were just supposed to slow down. Not stop. That's odd".

" Dunno what ya did, Tara" Faith says, looking across the street, "but when this is all over , I might want some of that!"

" Let's survive this first, shall we?" Buffy says, quietly. She's looking down the street at the advancing demons. She doesn't look happy.

" Damn! Always the gloom and doom, B" Faith says. " We're gonna win this." She nods her head towards Tara. As in, not in front of the kids, ok?

" Yeah" is all Buffy says. She's thinking Faith first assessment is much more realistic She sighs, and with Tara in tow, the Chosen Two join the rest of the group.

. They watch as the horde slowly advances on the ruins of the high school. No one is smiling anymore

" It doesn't look too good, Buffy" Angel says, " You sure you want to do this?"
" Oh, now I've got a choice?" Buffy says, rolling her eyes " Let's just go. It's not gonna get any better".

Buffy heads towards the street where the Willow/ Set and demons are making their way to the high school. The others follow, forming a line behind her.

" Remember, guys, we have to get Willow separated from her 'group' " Buffy says, " get her positioned close to where Xander has the lights. Once the lights weaken her, Faith, it's your job to hit her with the Eye of Isis. You DO remember the spell Tara taught you?"

" Not a moron, B" Faith says, a bit irritated, " I can remember a couple of lines of verse, ya know".

" Just checking. Ok, once Set is drained, it's up to you Tara. Try to separate him. But we don't know how long it'll last, so be ready!. … and if it doesn't work…."

" It'll work" Tara says, with conviction

" Ok, Tara" Buffy says, a little softer, "But if it doesn't , you know what I have to do…"

Tara nods, not looking at Buffy.

They start walking towards the advancing mass. The closer they get, the bigger the crowd seems to get. Buffy feels anger. It's always this way, she thought to herself. The bad guys get the money, the power, and the big back up. What do we get? Laughed at because everyone thinks we're crazy. Ignored because people don't want to see the evil around them. Scorned because facing the truth is too frightening. Yet, here we are again, putting our lives on the line for a bunch of people who don't care, and certainly aren't grateful. What's really wrong with this picture? How much of a moron am I? Worse, how crazy are these guys behind me, believing in me, that we'll somehow defeat these baddies, and live to tell the tale. If they don't believe that, if they don't believe we'll win, they're crazier than I am … out here fighting for what? Goodness? Yeah, uh huh. It's nuts, we're nuts, and we're really gonna do this. I should turn around, tell them to run, hide, get outta Dodge. Whatever, save themselves. So why don't I? Cuz I know it'll do no good, they'll still do it. I was right. We're nuts.

Willow/Set, advancing on the slayers and their group, stops her army about 20 yards from the slayers. He stands, looking at the slayer, an amused expression on Willow's face.

But is it really ' Willow's ' face anymore? The basic form is still Willow, but it's changed. The physical features have coarsened, and there's a rippling to her form, as if the flesh was constantly changing and reforming. Her hair is no longer just red, it's shot through with black; her eyes are red, burning with a malevolent fire, the white of her eyes now black. Her mouth formed a rictus of a smile… it was a horrible parody of Willow's smile. Her whole body seemed to be in metamorphosis, fluctuating between what it was now, and what it was trying to become. She walked to meet Buffy halfway between her lines. Buffy was accompanied by Faith

"So, this is it, Buffy? This is the best you could do?" He looks at the small group opposing her, " It's downright…pathetic."

" You know I always go for quality over quantity, Will" Buffy replies.

"Always the lame attempts at wit, Buffy" Willow/Set says, cuttingly, " Kinda stupid since I'm about to crush you and your little friends."

"Ya know, B? Seems I keep hearing that, and somehow, we're still here, and the ones doing the threatening? Kinda dead" Faith says, smirking.

" Doesn't seem to me you were always on Buffy's side. Matter of fact, seems that you were trying to slit my throat last time we met" Willow/ Set interjects.

"Yeah, screwed up on that one. Seeing how things turned out, shoulda finished the job" Faith says. Buffy gives Faith a hard look. " God, just kidding, B."

" Listen, Buffy" Willow / Set says callously, " Why don't you just run away? I mean, hell, who could blame you? And you're so good at it now, especially when things get rough".

"Oooo, I'm all hurt!" Buffy mocks, " This is the part where I'm supposed to get all weepy and frightened? Puh-leaaase. This from a woman who still gets the shakes around frogs?"

There is some laughter from the demons behind him. Willow/Set, pissed, throws up his hands, and the laughing demons suddenly catch on fire. She turns back to the slayers.

" So, you're really gonna do this, Slayers?" Willow/Set asks." Last chance. Run now… maybe I'll just let you go".

" Nawww, think I'll get some pleasure pounding your lopsided bony ass into the ground" Faith says, grinning. " Been wanting to do that for a long time, Red".

" Sorry, Will. Hate to miss a good party" Buffy says, " Anyway, kinda rude to run out after you went to all this trouble".

"Fine. You're funeral" Willow/ Set replies, " enough chat, I think. Getting bored now. Time to open the hellmouth". With that, Willow/Set waves his hand, telling the Demons to attack. Before they can get too close, however, Tara casts a spell.

Ut illa lacuna have been orator

when these words have been spoken

Permissum vestri tractus sic exsisto infractus

let your movement so be broken

Vestri advancement ero coma

your advancement shall be stalled

Pro pro vos est a parietis

for before you is a wall

The demons stop, as if hitting a wall. Not being the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree, they attempt to pound at the barrier, with no success. Willow/ Set makes a face, and looks over to where Tara is standing

" Magic" Willow/Set says, " I'm impressed… not! But seeing you like spells, Tara, see what you think of this?

Verrimus absentis ut quod punctum mihi

sweep away that which annoys me!

Tara, as if pulled by a rope…fly off across the street into the park. She lays there, stunned.

"See, now isn't that better? She looks all peaceful and resting like" Willow/ Set says. "Enough with these games" He casts another spell

Permissum is parietis exsisto infractus
let this wall be broken!

The barrier that Tara erected falls. The demons, some falling over each other in their eagerness, start to advance on the group. Willow/ Set smiles malignantly.

" NEXT!!!" He calls out. Then his expression changes to one of surprise. He halts the advance. Willow/Set seems to be looking over at a point behind the little group in front of her. Buffy, seeing Willow/ Set's expression, and hearing a noise behind her, turns and looks. She sees what must be an army behind her. They are dressed in medieval garb, and are carrying a variety of weapons. Some are on horseback. They are led by a man on horseback, carrying a javelin and shield, with a strange tattoo on his head. Buffy's heart hits her toes. God, now what? Bad enough an army of demons in front of her… now this? She's really beginning to think they're doomed.

The man in front puts up his hand, and his army stops. He rides up to the slayers, who kind of back up, not sure what he's about. They tense, ready to fight. He sees their expressions, and speaks.

" I come in peace. Which of you is the Slayer?" He asks, modestly. He bows his head slightly

" I am" Buffy says.

" I am" Faith says, almost simultaneously. They look at each other

"We are " They say together.

The man's brow furrows. His expression, already grim, becomes puzzled.

"Two slayers? I didn't think that was possible" he utters, musing over the concept.

" Long story. Maybe we can talk about it later? … er, that is, if you came her to not kill us" Buffy adds, still not sure what this guy's intentions are.

A small grin comes to his face. " No, slayers, I haven't come to kill you. I'm Gregor, commander of the Knights of Byzantium. Our god has sent us to aid you against …." His expression sours, " the filth ". He points at where Willow/ Set and her army of demons are standing.

Willow/ Set, seeing the slayers conferring with the army, is getting nervous. He orders the demon army to attack, and suddenly they are running at the opposing army.

"Umm… sewer broke, time for clean-up" Faith says, " We can chat later".

Gregor, seeing the advancing the army, calls over his back.


The Knights of Byzantium surge forward, and the battle begins.

Willow/ Set watches the battle with a mixture of amusement and annoyance.

He is amused, because it's all just a game to him. A delaying tactic. He knew the slayers would come out in to try to interrupt his plans. But he gathered together the demon army to kill them, or at least delay them until he could complete the ritual. It really doesn't matter if the demons kill them or not. Once the hellmouth is open, and eternal darkness falls over the land, his power will be complete and absolute. If they're still alive, he can take his time killing them slowly, torturously. Except perhaps, for the fly that used to occupy this body, and keeps buzzing around in his head. That one, he wants gone quickly.

He's annoyed, maybe a little frightened, because he didn't expect the reinforcements that came to the Slayer's aid. It was a large army, moderately strong, with the look of fanatics. That's what worried him. Fanatics tend to go on til the last man is down. Problem was, these were the Knights of Byzantium. They don't stop until their mission is complete. They keep sending more until the job is done. He suspects there are more, many more, waiting in the wings in case this contingent isn't enough. What he thought would be a short battle, is turning out to be much more difficult than he suspected. He didn't anticipate this, and he should've. His thinking had been… off lately.

The fly, or better known as Willow, is observing Set. She's been manipulating him, using confusion spells to alter his thinking, throw off his plans. They'd been small and subtle, enough to confuse him, not enough to alarm him. She'd been probing him, looking for his fears and weaknesses. Nothing really great had turned up, but there was one thing that kept showing up in the shadows: Ra. The Sun-God, personified by the sun itself. More, she learned that Ra had forged the Sword of Horus personally, to give Horus the edge against Set. Set feared the sword more than anything, because it was the one means to permanently destroy him. He'd set his followers on its trail, trying to capture it, and destroy it if possible. But they hadn't found it. She could see the sword, sheathed in a scabbard on Buffy's hip. It called to her, it's power absolute and dominant. She carefully guarded her thoughts, in case Set detected them. But she has confidence that this might turn out right.

However it turns out, it meant the end of her. She's gone beyond the point of return. Set has destroyed her connection with the physical world. She's gone, except for her essence and thoughts. Even if , somehow, he could be 'removed' from her body, she wouldn't be able live long. Her hold is too tenuous, the only reason she isn't gone already is because he's holding her here. She can't understand that. She believes that Set wants her gone. But for some reason he keeps her here. She thought at first it was to torture her. But she's beginning to believe differently. But why? Why hasn't he destroyed the last of her?

It hits her in a flash. He can't destroy her. Not yet. His hold on her is based upon possession of her body. He can only do that if some part of her remains. Until the ritual is complete, he can't remain in the body alone. It would be like reanimating a corpse. He'd soon lose his grip, and would float out of the body… and be destroyed! The truth is before her, and it's scary. She has to die, soon. Otherwise, Set will have full control, and will be restored to life…permanently. She has to die a mortal death, so he will die, also.

Despite knowing she will die anyway, it's still a hard thing to accept. She's not ready to die, not really. While she lives, as tenuous as it is , there is hope. But, now she sees there is no hope. She has to die. She doesn't want to die. She's too young, too much life left. Dying means no more Tara, and that's the most frightening thing of all. She again curses herself for bringing herself to this point. If she'd only been wiser, hadn't tried to cheat the magicks, but accepted the rules… but it was too late for that. It was done, and she was done.

But, if she had to die, she wasn't going to go out crying and all wimpy. She owed it to Tara, to Buffy, to all of them, her friends, to help them. Slowly, she went into a trance state. She was going to gather together her powers, whatever was left, and attack Set full on. Enough anyway to make him more vulnerable, so they could attack him, and destroy him!

Buffy and Faith, in the heat of battle, paused.

The Knights seemed to be a match for the demon army. Neither side was clearly winning, but the demons seemed to be gradually fading away. They'd been promised an easy victory by Set and it was anything but that. They were slowly deserting, and the tide of the battle was just beginning to break for the slayers. They looked at each other, and without a word came to an agreement. It was time to take on Set.

One by one, the slayers went around, pulling out the scooby gang. They herded them away from the battle, back to where they started from.

"Giles, have you seen Tara?" Buffy asked.

" Not since …Willow? Set? … knocked her out" Giles replied.

" Go check on her. See if she's ok. It's time we take on Set . We'll need her to perform a few spells" Buffy says, firmly.

"Xan-man" Faith says," Are you're lighting guys ready?"

" Oh yeah. They've been ready. Just waiting for the word" Xander says.

" Check to be sure. We don't want things to go poof at the last second" Faith says.

" It won't Faith" Xander assures her. He calls to check on them, anyway.

"Angel? Spike?" Buffy says, addressing the Undead Two, " You're job is over there" She points at the acolytes.

" What's the plan, pet?" Spike asks.

" You're to keep them out of the game. Tara put a spell on them, but I don't want any trouble with them. Do what you gotta do. Don't kill them if you can help it, but make sure they don't interfere. Clear?" Buffy says.

" It's done, Buffy" Angel says. He starts towards the high school

" Hey, Pouf, wait up" Spike says, running after him.

The Chosen Two are alone. Buffy turns to Faith, looking at her with an intense gaze. Faith squirms a little, not understanding.

" Faith, you ready?" Buffy asks, quietly.

" You betcha, B. Ready to take out the biotch God." Faith says, grinning a little nervously. Buffy is still staring at her.

" Promise me something, Faith" Buffy says, firmly.

"What, B?" Faith asks.

" Don't do anything stupid. Do what you're supposed to do, then back off. Everybody's got their role in this. Don't try to be the hero, ok?" Buffy says, searching her face.

" Don't sweat it, B. I'm cool. Not gonna fuck it up, promise" Faith says. But she's not gonna let B do what she plans. She's not gonna let B go down that road… no matter what she says.

"Ok, then, " Buffy says, apparently satisfied. She turns to head towards the school." Lets party!"

" B? One more thing?" Faith says from behind her.

"What , Faith?" Buffy says, turning back towards Faith.

Faith makes to sucker punch Buffy. But Buffy was expecting it, and blocks the punch. She then throws a haymaker of her own. Faith doesn't block it in time, and the punch lands square on her jaw. A look of surprise comes over her face. Right before her eyes roll up in her head, and she drops like a stone.

Buffy catches her, and picks her up. Sighing, she carries her off to a sheltered place in the park, and lays her down gently. She takes the amulet from around her neck, and puts it on.

" Sorry, Faith. Not this time. You can't save me this time" Buffy says, gently. She leans over, kisses her sister slayer on the forehead, and turns towards the school. As she walks towards the confrontation with Set, she wishes Faith were with her. But she at least has the comfort that Faith will be safe. She fingers the amulet around her neck, and notices it's warm. The cartouches on the amulet are glowing. She knows Set is near.

Buffy joins Giles and Tara at the steps of the school. She looks around, and sees Set approaching

" Ok, Tara, you're up. Cast the sealing spell, so that Mr. Ugly can't escape into any alternate dimensions." Buffy says.

Tara pulls out a small bottle from her pack. Fortunately it wasn't broken when she went flying. She starts to chant the spell.

"Hecate, Goddess of Death and Birth, guild to the souls, hear me.

Seal within that which seeks to escape

:Let not the evil pass through the cracks, but let him be bound in this space and time

I implore thee, Goddess, to set a shield, one that cannot be broken, between this place and all others that adjoin it

Keep that which is within, within, that which is without, without.

Hear me Goddess, and grant my wish!"

Tara takes the bottle, and throws it to the ground. A small spark appears, which grows and expands…soon it expands beyond the visible, but its power can be felt, even by those not familiar or practiced in magicks.

" Fools! Do you think you can stop me with your petty magicks?" Set says, approaching the three of them. " that stupid spell won't prevent the hellmouth from opening, or the completion of my ritual. I tire of you and your interference. Begone, the lot of you"

Set raises his hands, which begin to glow. A dark, red-purple flame seems to erupt from his fingers, and shoots at the three of them, knocking them away from the steps. He ascends the steps, standing at the entrance of what was once Sunnydale high. He looks at the three stunned Scoobies.

"Soon, I will be complete. I will rule this planet, as was foretold millennia ago. I will take great pleasure in torturing you, making your pitiful lives….." Then he stops, looking confused. His aura, dark and vibrant, seems to pale, and his face becomes frightened. He screams, clutching his head.

"WITCH!!!" he screams, " I'll KILL YOU FOR THIS!!!! You'll die a thousand times, each time worse!!!". He sinks to his knees, and his form begins to waver. He seems to flicker between Set and Willow, each attacking the other. Sparks and small flames seem to shoot from his eyes, nose and mouth.

"XANDER… NOW!!!" Buffy calls out. In the next second, the front of Sunnydale High is lighted by rows upon rows of portable stadiums lights. The light is so intense, it's nearly blinding. Set screams out

" The LIGHT… it hurts…it BURNS!!!" He tries to call on his powers, but the lights do their work. He is severely weakened. His form wavers more, Willow seeming to be more and more present. She continues her attack on him

Buffy steps in front of the kneeling Set, and chants the spell she learned( just in case Faith was out of the picture).

Oculus of Isis EGO postulo vos

Eye of Isis, I command thee

Aufero vox illae turpis res

take the power of this foul being

Quod reddo him inops

and render him helpless

The cartouches on the amulet glowed brightly, and sent out a swirling mist of light. It surrounded the kneeling Godling, and covered him in it's light. The light swirled around him, faster and faster. It then concentrated and shot towards the amulet, which absorbed it.

The God looked more and more like the old Willow. It's physical form solidified, back into her normal form. Even so, it's eyes remained red, and its expression remained one of hate.

"This won't last forever, slayer. When it wears off, I'll kill you!" Set threatened.

"Heard that before. Strange, I 'm still alive, isn't it?" Buffy mocked. She turned to Tara, and said, " OK, Tara, here's your chance. Try to separate them. And hurry!"

Turpis res genitus

foul thing begone

licentia is somes quod phasmatis

leave this body and spirit

exsisto infligo hinc

be knocked out from this place

quod habito hic haud diutius

and dwell here no longer !

The kneeling form looks up, and the eyes are emerald green. Willow is in control, and she smiles. She attempts to get up, but falls over.

"Tara?" She says, her face smiling, "Tara!"

" Baby!" Tara cries, running over to the prone Willow. " Rest honey, it's over"

Willow's expression saddens. She looks up at Tara, and reaches out and touches her face.

" No, Tara, it's not over" She says, weakly, " He's knocked out, but not gone".

" No…that can't be so!" Tara cries, " He's gone! He has to be. That spell should've driven him out!"

" It's too late, Tara" Willow says, her voice low, " He's too powerful. He can't be driven out. There's only one way to defeat him".

" No… Willow, NO!" Tara cries, " I'll do it again, I know I can get him out…."

"Tara baby, please" Willow says, "It's ok… it's ok… I already knew it was too late. Shhh" Willow says, calmly, trying to comfort her love.

" No… No… You can't…you can't leave me. You can't die… not now… we have so much to do…." Tara starts to cry.

Willow, with great effort, sits up. Her face is a mask of pain. She's dying, but she doesn't want Tara to suffer anymore

" Honey, I love you. You know that. I'll always be with you love, here" she touches Tara's heart. "But, we gotta do this now, before he returns". She gently disengages, and pushes Tara away. " I need you to be brave for me, baby. I … I can't do this alone!".

Tara fights back her tears. She kisses Willow softly, lingering for what will be their last kiss. They part, and the love between them is stronger than ever. Her face sad, she gets up… and walks a bit away.

" Buffy…now" Willow calls out weakly, "There isn't much time… you have to do it now!"

Buffy hesitates. When it was just an abstract, something that might have to be done, she was resolved. But now she's faced with the truth. She has to kill her best friend. She sees Will sitting there, weak and helpless, and her heart breaks. How can she kill her? How can she do this? It's too hard. It's too damned hard.

" I can't, Will" Buffy cries, " I can't do it!"

" Buffy, you must!" Willow says, weak but resolved, " If you don't, he'll come back, and I can't stop him anymore!"

Buffy knows she has to. She can't let Set win. Not now. The whole world is at stake. She has to do it. But it feels as if her guts are being twisted inside. Slowly, she withdraws the sword from the scabbard. She holds it up, and approaches Willow. She stands before the sitting woman, and puts the point of the sword to her chest. The sword glows. Try as she might, she can't drive it home. Her mind, her body won't let her.

" Buffy, please!" Willow pleads, " I'm dead already. I'm begging you, release me!"

Buffy, the tears streaming down her face, says, " Oh God, Will, forgive me!" Her voice is thick with emotion. Before she can change her mind, she drives the sword home.

Willow falls back, her eyes wide. A small gurgling gasp comes from her, followed by choking. Her eyes fix, and her breathing stops.

After a few seconds, a dark cloud of smoke seems to pour out from inside her. It floats up, growing into a mass with many red, malevolent eyes. Buffy, in a rage, takes the glowing sword, and strikes at the cloud…

As it cuts through the dark mass, flames and white hot bolts of energy burst from the golden blade. The mass becomes unstable, the energy shooting through it causing it to rupture and expand. Finally, in one loud explosion, it blows apart, scattering the remnants to the four winds.

It's not over. As if compelled by a force way beyond her, Buffy raises the sword over her head. She brings it down hard upon the cement steps of the school.

Energy shoots out from the blade, and where the blade hit the steps, a crack appears. It widens, and the earth itself begins to rumble and tremble. The ruins of the school, hardly safe to begin with, shake and rattle, and begin to collapse upon themselves. The crevice started by the blade widens, and splits apart, sending cracks in the earth in all directions. The shaking gets more violent.

"RUN" Buffy screams at the people around the school. "GET OUT OF HERE NOW!" She turns, and seeing Tara standing there, looking frightened and lost, grabs her and runs down the steps, away from the school. She runs as fast and as far as she can.

Angel and Spike, feeling the rumbling, knowing this can't be good, turn and run. Angel, looking back, sees Willow's body. He's torn. He might not make it if he stops to recover it, but he just can't leave it there. He runs over, picks it up and bolts out of there as fast as he can.

The members of the cabal, frightened, scurry away, but at that moment the side wall of the building comes down on them. Some make it, most don't.

The rumbling wakes Faith. She looks across at the school, and cries out.

" OH….. SHIT!!!!!"

She jumps up from where she was laying, and bolts away from the school.

The armies of demons and knights, feeling the rumbling, look towards the school. Seeing the cracking of the earth, they turn from the field, running in the opposite direction as fast as their feet( or whatever moves them) will carry them.

The cracks around the school widen, and the ruined structure collapses into the crater formed there. After a few minutes, the earth rocks again, and a huge , blinding beam of light shoots straight up into the sky. This lasts for five minutes, the ground around the school becoming liquid under the intense heat. Finally, the beam plays out, and the liquid earth pours back into the hole, sealing off and filling the crater formed there.

From a few blocks away, the scoobies, surrounded by the Knights of Byzantium, watch the destruction. The demons, scared out of their minds, break off and flee.

Some of the Knights, awed by the experience, fall on their knees. Others wander around, dazed. Yet others just watch with no expression at all.

"What in hell happened?" Xander says, looking at the spot where the high school, or its ruins, used to stand.

" Dunno. Ask Giles. He's the mystic powers guy" Buffy answered, her face a neutral mask, her tone cold and dark. Xander looks at her strangely, then moves away to talk to Giles.

Faith, seeing Buffy staring at the debris, walks over to her. She waits for some reaction… a reaction that doesn't come. She finally speaks.

" Buffy, you alright?" Faith asks, gently

Buffy turns to her, and Faith's feels a chill run through her. The look in Buffy's eyes… lifelessness … is disturbing.

" No, Faith. Actually, I'm not" Buffy replies. She wearily turns, and begins to walk towards home.

The funeral for Willow Rosenberg is well attended.

Her parents, Ira and Sheila Rosenberg are there. Odd how that it took death to make them pay attention to their daughter. Sheila is inconsolable, muttering how ' she always knew associating with that Bunny Summers would turn out badly '. Ira stood holding his wife, looking severe. They were clustered with other family members who made it to the funeral.

Tara stood opposite them, flanked by Xander and Giles. She stood quietly, the tears rolling down her cheeks. Always quiet and shy, she's withdrawn more since Willow's death. The calm peace which was her trademark has been replaced with a calm sadness. It's as if part of her soul is being buried today.

Xander, trying to be strong and stoic, cannot keep the tears from his eyes. Willow was his best friend since forever. He holds Anya's hand, their fingers laced, drawing what comfort he can. He's still in shock from learning that Buffy killed Willow. It's as if someone took a hammer and shattered his world. All he believed in is in pieces. He just can't believe it.

Giles looks weary. Beyond weary, he looks drained. As if the life has fled him, and his body just hasn't realized it. The lines on his face are more deeply etched, as if the events of the last few days have aged him years. His expression is truly stoic, not a tear rolls down his cheek. He's trying to be strong for Tara, who needs someone to be cool headed and patient. But his eyes glimmer , his tears unshed. He wonders how many more people he cares about will be buried before he cracks.

Faith stand next to Giles, holding his hand. Her face is grim, her expression unreadable. The presence of death is with her always, but that doesn't make it easier to accept. She and Willow were never close, they never had that chance. But Faith liked her, often was amused by her, and knew before this that she was trustworthy, if a bit eccentric. Being here, knowing that Willow would never breathe again, never love again, never laugh again, saddened her more than she could believe. It was the waste… the lost potential of what Willow could've done, could've been. Gone. Forever.

Beyond that, however, Faith was worried. One person who should be here, who played an important role in Willow's life was absent. Buffy.

The night that Willow died, Faith had come home to find Buffy sitting on the sofa, staring off into space. She neither spoke nor moved, she just sat, as if made of stone. She didn't cry, she seemed devoid of emotion. Faith knew all too well that this wasn't good. That the pain Buffy was feeling went beyond grief, beyond everything she'd experienced before. She was in shock, and nothing Faith tried brought her out of it.

The next day, Buffy seemed more normal She went around, doing what she had to do to prepare for Willow's funeral. But she only spoke when spoken too, and Faith knew she was just going through the motions. That Buffy, the real Buffy, was far away. Faith knew the weight of killing someone, she'd done more than she cared to admit. It was a soul-killer. It was worse for Buffy, however; she'd been forced to kill someone she loved. What she felt, what she must be going through, was even beyond Faith's experience. She did her best to be there for Buffy, if she needed her, but kept out of her way.

The night before Willow's funeral, Buffy simply slipped away. They'd just finished dinner. Faith wanted to clear away, but Buffy insisted, saying she needed to keep busy. Faith heard the radio in the kitchen go on, everything seemed normal. Until an hour later, when Buffy still hadn't come out of the kitchen. Faith went in, and found the dishes clean, the radio playing, and no Buffy. She was just gone, as if she'd vanished.

Faith searched everywhere she could think of. The Bronze, the Espresso Pump, the graveyards, the parks… but no Buffy. She spent hours running through alleys, backways and dead-ends, all with the same results. She finally called Giles. They searched together for awhile, checking the train and bus stations, but no one remembered her coming through. They stopped after awhile, certain she hadn't left town. After some discussion, heated in parts, they agreed to wait. See if she would come home by herself.

The day of the funeral dawned, and Buffy still hadn't returned. Her bed hadn't been slept in, she'd been out all night. Faith was getting near hysterical. She wanted to go looking for her. But Giles prevailed upon her to hold off until after the funeral. Wherever she was, she needed to be alone, Giles reasoned. She might still show up at the funeral. Best to wait and see. Faith, never particularly patient, found it hard to rein in her concern. But she calmed herself, and readied herself for the funeral.

At the service, Faith looked around, but Buffy wasn't there. At the gravesite, she still hadn't appeared. Faith looked beyond the crowds, seeing if she was standing off, but no lone figure was present. She hadn't come. Faith knew something was very wrong.

So here she is, standing by Giles, worried sick. Buffy might have been injured…or worse. Or might have… Faith doesn't want to think of that. Losing Willow had been bad. The idea that Buffy might… that they might lose Buffy, too, is beyond anything Faith wants to consider.

Faith had spent 3 years in a coma, living in a twilight world of dreams. A large part of those dreams had involved Buffy. She didn't know what she felt for Buffy. She couldn't define what kind of relationship they had. If it ended now… she couldn't think that way. She'd go mad.

As the funeral broke up, Faith started to walk away, intent on finding Buffy. She was so focused on that, she didn't hear her name 'til it'd been called repeatedly.

"Faith… Faith!…FAITH!" Xander yelled, running to catch up. " Wait up!"

Faith halts, waiting for Xander to catch up.

" What is it, Xan? I'm kinda in a hurry" Faith says, a touch of impatience in her voice.

" So I noticed! I was wondering where Buffy was" He stops, panting a little.

" I don't know, Xander, " Faith says, " She's gone… missing"

" Missing? I don't get it" Xander says, puzzled.

Anya catches up to Xander, hearing the last part of the conversation.

" Missing? Who's missing?" Anya asks.

" Buffy's gone" Xander says to Anya, " That's what Faith says, anyway".

"Missing? Maybe she ran away… like when she killed Angel and sent him to hell" Anya says. She starts to say more, but Faith interrupts her.

"What did you mean, ' That's what Faith says, anyway' ?" Faith asks, suspiciously.

"Maybe she's not 'gone' at all" Xander says, " Maybe she's at home. Just can face what she's done".

" Oh? And exactly what IS that, Xan?" Faith asks, her voice low.

" She killed Willow" Xander says, harshly, " She killed her!"

Faith flushes red. She's already upset over Buffy. Xander being an asshole just really is lighting her fuse. She starts to move towards Xander, who backs up.

" What the hell are you saying, moron?" Faith hisses, her anger rising.

" You heard me, I think" Xander says, flushing himself.

" Well, then you're wrong, Xander" A quiet voice floats from behind the group. They all turn, and Tara is standing there.

"Tara?" Xander said, surprised

" I was there when Willow died" Tara said quietly," She was already dying before Buffy … did what she had to do. That thing…killed Willow, not Buffy. Willow knew she was dying… she begged Buffy to end it for her. She hated what that monster had made her" Tara stops, her voice cracking, " I thought I could save her, but Willow knew it was too late. Buffy didn't want to do it. I could see it tore her up to have to do it. I saw her face, her eyes when she did it. She died a little herself. So, Xander, if you're really Willow's friend, you better stop saying that. She'd really be angry with you for being such a fool".

Xander stood, head bowed. "I'm sorry…I wasn't thinking straight. I hate this place. Willow's gone, and she shouldn't be. She was too young, it was too soon…". His control fades, and he starts weeping. Tara hugs him, trying to comfort him. Anya moves to his other side, and the women try to calm the emotional Xander down.

Faith turns away, more determined to find Buffy. She's in a fragile place right now. She's too… broken to be alone. She starts off again when she hears Tara calling her.

" Faith…wait, please!" Tara calls, running to catch up, " Where's Buffy?"

" I dunno, Tara. She just … left last night. Without a word." Faith says, worriedly, " She was so…god, Tara, she was so…she was going through the motions, but she… that night she had to kill Willow, she … was … it was like she was broken. She didn't sleep, she didn't talk… she just sat there, staring." Faith feels the tears coming, and brushes at her eyes impatiently. No time for that. " She…I'm so afraid, Tara. She might do something stupid…" Faith chokes off, the emotions too heavy.

" Faith, surely she wouldn't…" Tara says, a little shocked.

" She tried to kill herself once, Tara. In L.A. … she …it's been hard for her for awhile." Faith says, quietly, " She's been … so messed up for awhile. God, this is my fault. I thought if we came back here, if she fought something, won…she'd find purpose again. But…oh, god, Tara what're we gonna do?" Faith looks almost as hopeless as she feels.

"We'll find her. We'll talk to her" Tara says, her voice gentle, " It'll be ok, Faith".

" How?" Faith says, her voice carrying an edge of desperation." Giles and I looked for her most of last night. We… I can't think of anywhere else to look!".

" I'll do a locater spell" Tara says simply, " We'll need something of hers. Lets go back to your place"

The two head for the house on Revello Drive. Faith is uneasy. She's never put much stock in magic, despite her calling.

She hopes this once it comes through.

She sat close to the edge of Hillman's bluff, looking down on the panorama before her.

On her left was the ocean. The mother of life, constantly renewing and destroying. It was nurturing and cruel, a cradle for the living, a mausoleum for the dead. It was relentless, yet the sound of its waves could sing to the soul, bringing a measure of peace.

To her left stood Sunnydale. Her home for years, now just another place. It looked so bucolic, so peaceful down there. Small, insular, it offered shelter and comfort. Except for the place where the high school had stood, it looked the same… never changing, constant. Yet get close, and the illusion drops away. People walk around in blissful ignorance while evil gnaws at the vulnerable belly of the town. Strange disappearances and stranger deaths plague the town. Beneath the veneer of small town closeness lies a definite feeling of unease. All wasn't what it seemed.

Buffy wasn't seeing any of that now. All she could see was a shy, sweet red-headed girl, a girl who had grown into a smart, powerful and self reliant woman. A woman who'd been her closest friend for 3 years, before circumstance drew them apart. A friend she told her secrets, who comforted her when she needed it, scolded her when she needed it. They'd talked about everything, but were comfortable together talking about nothing. More than a friend, she'd been like a sister.

She'd loved life. Even at it's worst, she'd embraced life in all its joys and pains. Even though she could be so serious sometimes, she never took herself too seriously. She could babble on nervously for minutes, and it was just … too precious. It took so long, and a woman named Tara, for her to see how special and beautiful she was. She had something, a special spark for life.

" And I put it out, extinguished it. I stole her life, took away her chance to live a long happy life". Buffy looked over the cliff at the sea below. "I never should've let them close. I should've kept her out of it, along with Xander. It was my battle, not theirs. I was the chosen one. I should've kept them safe, but I failed. I let them in, I depended on them. I let them see the darkness, and it killed her in the end. My fault. My fault. I was weak. She died because I was weak."

Buffy moved listlessly, her body weakened. She hadn't eaten or had anything to drink in nearly 20 hours. Her metabolism, geared high for being a slayer, was working on empty. The day was hot, and rivulets of sweat poured off her neck and face. Her mouth was parched, but she didn't care. Nothing mattered, really. It was a joke, a big fat cosmic joke, and she was the butt of that joke. Fight evil, hold back the darkness, save the world. That was her mission. But it always cost her. It cost too much. She'd been tried, and imprisoned for 'saving ' the world. She'd sent her first love, Angel, to hell to save the world. She'd died, briefly, yes, but she'd died to save the world. Now, she'd killed her best friend, to save the world. She knew that somewhere someone was laughing at her stupid cloddish attempts at protecting the world from evil. They were the jokers, and she was the joke.

She wonders what it's like, being dead. She can't remember what it's like. It was over so fast. No thinking, no worrying. No pain. Just quiet, that must be it. Just peace. No one depending on you, no one caring what you are, what you do. It's over , the struggle is over. You just float…

She hates her life. " Why did you kill her? Why not me?" Buffy cried out to no one but the air, "Why? She loved life, she wanted to live. I don't. I don't want to live anymore. Why couldn't you take me? Why do you hate me so? WHY ?". She lay down, not caring anymore, she just wanted to sleep. To stop the thoughts, to escape even for a few seconds the pain." Why? … why?" She mumbles, her head on the ground, her voice soft and hopeless. " I don't understand it. Why?"

"B?" Faith says quietly, seeing Buffy lying on the ground. Her heart beats slowly, heavily in her chest. Is she already too late? " B?"

"G'way Faith" Buffy mutters, " lemme 'lone. Go away" She doesn't even lift her head. She's so tired. She feels the earth calling to her.

" No, can't B. I'll leave you alone, but I won't go away" Faith says, sitting down on a rock. She looks around, and says, " Nice view. I remember this place, now. You brought me here once… long time ago".

" Hmmm?" Buffy says, half asleep. She rallies a little, " oh yeah, the picnic. I remember. Yeah…" She settles back down, " Had to show it to you… my secret spot. Dunno why. Kinda stupid, huh? Not very secret if you show it to someone, is it?"

"Not stupid, B. Not at all. " Faith says, remembering back on that day, " I was so damned mad at you, for waking me up, I wanted to kill you" Faith thinks about her words, and continues, " Ok, not kill, but really, really hurt you bad. I was so pissed. And, the funny thing is? It turned out to be the best day of my life".

"Huh?" Buffy says, drowsily, " It was just a stupid picnic, Faith. No big".

" Maybe to you, B. But not to me" Faith says." It meant…god, it was so special to me. No one ever wanted…." She trails off

"What?" Buffy says, irritated. Even so, she perks a little. Why won't she just go away?

" No one ever wanted to just hang with me" Faith says in a low voice. " They always wanted something from me. B-But you just wanted to be with me. I … I didn't get it then. I was too… messed up. But I get it now".

" It was no big, Faith" Buffy says, but her voice gets a wistful note to it, " I guess… it was kinda nice. Just hangin' out, not having to be the slayers for once. Just girlfriends enjoying the day. Yeah, ok, it was nice." She lifts her head, as if realizing Faith is really here for the first time. " What're you doin' here, Faith?" Buffy asks

" Looking for you, B. " Faith says simply.

"Well, ya found me. Now you can go" Buffy says, sitting up. " I don't need a babysitter".

" Not going, B. I won't talk to you, if that's what you want. But I'm not going" Faith says, firmly.

" 'K,. fine, stay. I'll go" Buffy says, getting up. She starts to walk away.

" Why didn't you come today, Buffy?" Faith asks, to Buffy's retreating back.

Buffy stops, her back stiffens. She doesn't turn, but calls over her shoulder, " Didn't want to". She starts to leave.

Faith stands, and calls out, " Didn't want to…? I don't understand, Buffy. I thought Red was your friend".

Buffy stands still. Her fists clench and unclench, but she's not aware of it. She calls back, " Yeah, well, … she wasn't there, anyway. Just a body. A stupid, stinking corpse. Why would I want to go see a corpse? Haven't I seen enough of them in my life?"

" Liar " Faith says, " I don't buy that for a minute. You didn't go cuz you were ashamed to go".

"That's a load, Faith" Buffy says, getting angry, " What do I have to be ashamed of? I saved the world, didn't I?"

" Oh, yeah, I guess you did" Faith says, " And you killed your friend, too".

" I had to, Faith" Buffy says, turning around, " that thing would've taken over, and the world woulda ended. So, what choice did I have?"

" Not what I heard. Willow was there. Not the thing, Willow. You killed her, not that thing" Faith said. " You stabbed her!"

" That thing was still there. Tara couldn't get rid of it. Nothing could. I did… what I had to do!" Buffy says, defensively.

"Maybe, Buffy" Faith says, " or maybe there was more to it".

"What do you mean?" Buffy says, feeling her anger rising, " I had to kill the beast. I had no choice".

" Oh, no doubt, Buffy" Faith says, quietly, " but maybe it wasn't so hard for you."

" It was my…duty. I had to do it" Buffy says.

" Oh…so, jealousy had nothing to do with it then?" Faith asks, her tone having an edge of sarcasm.

" What're you talking about? I wasn't jealous of Willow" Buffy says, heatedly.

" You weren't the least bit jealous that she got to have a life, and you didn't?" Faith says, quietly, " Tell me another one, B. She got away scott free, while you had to go to prison. She got to go to college, have a life, while you sat behind bars. Wasn't she just as guilty? Wasn't she the one that 'conveniently ' discovered that it took the blood of a slayer to save Angel? Didn't she encourage you in your quest to kill me? Isn't that the truth, Buffy? didn't it make you mad that SHE got away with it, and YOU had to pay for it? That she got to have a lover, a life, and opportunities. And you got a prison record? That she was respected, and you were an ex-con? That she would be ok, and you had nothing to look forward to but crap work and dying one night when you're guard was down, and some vamp took you out?"

" No! You're wrong. I wasn't jealous" Buffy says, her anger getting hot, " You're lying!" She advances on Faith.

" Really? Why so hot then, B? Why're you getting all angry?" Faith says, " Truth hurts, don't it?"

" Not the truth!" Buffy says, " You're a liar, just like you always were! I'm gonna beat you into the ground, you bitch!"

Buffy runs at Faith, but she sidesteps Buffy.

"C'mon,. B. You can do better than that!" Faith laughs at her, "What's wrong? Guilty conscience?"

" I'm so gonna kill you, Faith" Buffy says. She punches at Faith, but Faith blocks it.

" Face it Buffy, you liked it. You liked killing her. She had it coming, didn't she?" Faith mocks her. Buffy runs at her, and lands a blow. "Oooo, must be hitting a nerve, B. You're really pissed. So, how'd it feel, killing her. Made you feel powerful, didn't it?"

" No, it was awful. I hated it" Buffy says, doing a sweep kick on Faith. Faith just jumps over it, and lands, laughing at her.

"You're a liar, Buffy, and a bad one at that… almost as bad as you fight" Faith says, punching Buffy in the chest. Buffy doubles over,

" 'Fess up, Buffy. It was her fault, wasn't it? Her fault that she got killed. She messed with magicks she didn't understand, she had a good life, and rubbed your nose in it. Her fault, all of it, wasn't it? You're life being ruined, her fault. She being evil, her fault… right, Slayer? Isn't that what you think? Isn't that the truth???".

" NOOOOO!!!!! IT'S MY FAULT!!! ALL MY FAULT!!! SHE DIED BECAUSE OF ME!!!! " Buffy screams coming up and tackling Faith. She sits on her, and starts punching her. Faith protects herself, but doesn't fight back. " My fault, all my fault. I failed I FAILED. I killed her, because I didn't see. I didn't stop it in time. I … deserted her, I let her be attacked by that monster. She died, because I failed her. I .. failed… her… I … it shoulda been me…I SHOULDA DIED!!!! … she wanted to live, why didn't she live? I didn't protect her. I shoulda protected her… I failed… I failed… I…." Buffy blows weaken as her emotions start to pour out. " It was my duty to protect her, Faith…I shoulda protected her… she shouldn't have died… I shoulda died…why? WHY? WHY? I WANT TO DIE!!!!!" Buffy rolls of Faith, her body crumpled into a ball. She shakes with sobs," Oh god…IT HURTS…it hurts…so bad….I killed her Faith. I killed her. God… I see her eyes … she tried to spare me… but I see…them looking at me…accusing me… I …killed…her… it hurts…I want to die…it hurts so bad…" Buffy is incoherent. She isn't making sense, her emotions are running wild. Faith moves over, and gently holds her. She light rubs her, trying to calm her… but Buffy is hysterical…" nothing" Buffy continues sobbing," … it was for nothing…what do they care? They don't care! They don't…she…she was so smart… Faith… she coulda …done so much…and I killed her!… what've I done? Oh God….I …oh God" Buffy's words are lost after that, the sobs taking over.

Faith just holds her, letting her cry. She knew this wouldn't fix it, but it was a start. Buffy had a lifetime of crying ahead.

Faith knew that. Faith knew that all too well.

"Are you sure about this, Buffy?" Giles asked, standing next to her in the Bus station.

It's a month after Buffy's catharsis on Hillman's bluff. Demon activity in Sunnydale has dropped to nearly zero. She waited while Giles called in some mystics, but evidently whatever happened with the sword of Horus that night Willow died, it sealed the hellmouth. Sunnydale was almost normal, mystical energy wise. The evil aura around Sunnydale had dispersed.

One would like to think with the cessation of evil, things changed in Sunnydale… but they really didn't. The surviving members of the Cabal still retained their power. The corruption continued, just in a more subtle way. The demons had left, but the human monsters remained. Buffy was persona non grata in Sunnydale. She had decided it was time for a change.

She'd waited a month, until Giles could verify what they already knew. But it was time to go… long past time. Faith, somehow , had wrangled a motorcycle, and had left two weeks ago. She said something about taking a tour of the country, finding the evil, and kicking its ass. She'd asked Buffy to come along, but Buffy wasn't ready to leave yet. Faith, never patient, said she couldn't wait, and maybe they could hook up again sometime. It'd been painful for Buffy, but she knew she had to let Faith go. Faith needed her freedom. Maybe Buffy did too. She needed time to figure out who she was, and how she wanted to live her life. But it still was sad to see her go. She put on a brave front for Faith(never let 'em see ya cry, B), but later, alone, she'd cried. Now that she was gone, she missed her terribly.

"What's left for me here, Giles?" Buffy asks, a little sad. " You're going back to England. Xander is moving away. Faith is gone. Willow…"She stops, a stab of pain hits her heart, " … Will is gone. My mom is …dead. The hellmouth is sealed. There's absolutely nothing left in Sunnydale for me. Time to find somewhere else to be." She looks at Giles, and grows sadder. He looks so… old. She laughs bitterly to herself… I guess we all do. She feels another sense of loss. Giles is the last of her "family". She's going to miss him terribly.

" I got you a little something to remember me by" Giles says, a little embarrassed. He fishes in his pocket, and pulls out a small box.

Buffy opens the box, and inside is a small gold chain. The pendant on the end is a small gold cross, formed by the crossing of two stakes. She smiles at him. " It's lovely, Giles, " She smiles. She hands him the box, and lifts her hair in back, " Would you?" She asks.

" Of course, Buffy" He says, smiling. He fastens the clasp, and smoothes down her hair . She stands fingering the cross, a small tear itching at her eye. She turns, and smiles. " Thank you" She whispers, and reaching up on tiptoe, kisses his cheek.

" I got something for you, too, Giles" Buffy said, quietly. She opens her bag, and fishes around in it. She pulls out a box, and hand it to him. " Figured since you were retiring, so you say… well, you got this coming" She smiles, watching him open the box.

Inside is a gold pocket watch. Giles eyes widen. It's beautiful. He opens the cover, and inscribed on the inside cover is the legend

" To Giles,

So when you check the time,

You'll remember me



Giles closed his eyes, trying to hold back the tears. He'd hardly need this as a reminder of Buffy.

" Thank you, Buffy, it's very lovely" Giles says, his voice thickening with emotion.

They stand awkwardly for a moment. Then Buffy moves to Giles, and wraps her arms around his neck.

" I'm gonna miss you, Giles," She whispers, kissing his cheek again.

" I'll miss you too, Buffy" Giles says, hugging her. He kisses her forehead." You do have my number in England?".

" Yes, of course." Buffy says.

" Call me when you get settled, " He says, " I want to know you're ok".

" I will, I promise, " She says, " Might be awhile, though".

" I understand, " He says, quietly. He hopes not too long.

" Passengers for San Francisco, Portland and Seattle /Tacoma, bus number 1765 is now boarding"

" That's my bus" Buffy says, " Goodbye, Giles." She starts to move away.

" Goodbye, Buffy, " Giles says, " good luck!"

Buffy gets about 5 yards. She stops, turns around and runs back to Giles. She hugs him tightly

" I love you, Giles, " She says softly. She turns and walks away.

Giles watches as she disappears amongst the rows of buses. His face has a nostalgic expression, like any father watching his daughter move out into the larger world beyond.

" I love you too, Buffy" he says quietly, turning to leave the bus station.

Buffy watches out the window as the scenery flies by.

She isn't really sure where she's going. San Francisco is nice, but kinda pricey… maybe she'd head up the line, stopping in Portland or Seattle. Right now, it doesn't matter. She's getting away from Sunnydale, and all the bad memories associated with that place.

Or is she? Her life has changed so much in the last 3 years… hell, in the last year. She knows that no matter what happened in the future, she can't go home again. She could never be the innocent teenager that fought vampires, was a cheerleader, and thought shopping malls the height of sophistication and culture. Her life, whatever it's supposed to be, is starting now.

The dreams are still very intense, and she often finds herself waking to a wet pillow. She knows deep inside it would take years, maybe a lifetime, to heal . Willow's death has rocked her world in ways nothing has before. Try as she might, she can't shake her feelings of responsibility for it. She hopes someday, she'll find the wherewithal to forgive herself.

There is one thing she's sure of. She's going to carefully think about her life. She's tired of life taking control of her. She wants to control her life from here on out.

She glances out the window of the bus, and just barely made out the " Welcome to Santa Maria" sign as it flashes past. She smiles, thinking that she wants to know every detail about her life from now on. She's going to take charge of things, and plan ahead. She isn't going to be caught by surprise any more.

"Nope" she thinks, confidently, " No more surprises for me".

Without warning, the bus comes to a screeching halt. Buffy's nearly thrown into the passenger in front of her. What the hell? She thinks, pissed off that the PtB already had decided to give her a surprise. Damn, I hate when they do that!

She stands up, and walks to the front of the bus. She looks out the window, and makes out a helmeted figure on a motorcycle. Whoever it is seems to be trying to stop the bus. Well, pal, good one. You succeeded. Now what?

In the next moment, Buffy's jaw hits the floor.

The biker removes his…no…her… helmet, and a mane of flowing raven colored hair is revealed. She turns to the bus, and grins … and Buffy nearly faints.

Faith !

How the … what the… oh my god, she's coming towards the door!

Buffy stands as if rooted to the spot. Faith knocks on the doors, and the bus driver opens them.

" Hey…you seen this woman?" Faith holds up a picture, " Been looking for her...and…" Faith sees Buffy. She continues, " Never mind…I think she's right there!" Faith boards the bus. She walks towards Buffy.

" Hey…you can't do that!" the bus driver complains, " I gotta schedule to keep… and get that bike outta my way, or I'm running it over!"

" Hey, pal, hold your shorts" Faith growls, putting her hand on his shoulder and squeezing…he grimaces, " Don't get all sweaty. This aint gonna take long."

" Faith, what the hell are you doing?" Buffy asks, surprised, annoyed… and maybe just maybe secretly pleased?

" Hey Blondie" Faith says, smirking, " How ya been? Miss me?"

" God, how do you fit that swelled head of yours under a helmet?" Buffy huffs." I so haven't missed you!" Yeah, sure.

" Aw, c'mon, B. G spilled the beans. " Faith grinned, " I rode down from San Fran to meet this bus. But dammit, he forgot to give me the bus number. Do you know how many buses I've stopped in the last few hours lookin' for ya?"

" You're hopeless, you know that?" Buffy says, irritated. So, how come butterflies were dancing in her tummy?

"Yeah, yeah, yeah" Faith says, " You comin'? Don't think Bus Boy here's gonna wait much longer… and I like my bike. You, I'm not so sure." She grins.

" Boy, you know how to romance 'em, don't ya?" Buffy mocks.

" B… you comin?" Faith says, moving towards the front of the bus." Cuz I'm goin' ".

Buffy looks at the bus… then at the bike…then back at the bus.

"C'mon, lady, make up your mind" The bus driver growls.

Buffy runs back to her seat, and gets her carryon. She walks towards the front of the bus, and descends the steps. Moving quickly, she moves to where Faith has the bike parked in the middle of the road. She hops on.

" That's it?" Faith says, amazed, " Usually you carry enough luggage to equip a small army."

" Screw it. That's my old life. Time to start fresh" Buffy says. " Let's motor!"

Faith grins, and closes her visor. She kick-starts the bike, and yells back at Buffy :

" Hold on, B! It's gonna be a bumpy ride!"