Standard disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all such related things, © Mutant Enemy and many other people with big scary lawyers. We're borrowing them without permission, but you said you were done with 'em, so we're hoping you won't mind so much. Stories, images, characters you don't recognize, those are all by 4Paws. Yes, we'll take the blame.

Setting: Set in the continuation-verse, which picks up about three months after the end of "Chosen". So, spoilers for pretty much everything, including any "episodes" in this series that have come before it.

Notes: Here we go with my most ambitious 'fic project ... well, ever, basically. A virtual continuation of a show with a whole heck of a lot more story to tell. Since deciding to do this project I've discovered that there are, in fact, many Season 8's ... but this is the only one with the Jet Wolf Seal of Involvement, so that guarantees freshness. Or something.

Episodes are posted to weekly, at 8pm EST on Tuesdays, all pretty and HTML'd with graphics and oo! Credits. We have credits, too. Eps will appear the following Friday or Saturday on So if you don't want to wait all that extra time (and really, how could you?), the site is the way to go.

(30 June 2004)

The Chosen: A Buffy Virtual Continuation

Episode 9: "Ex Post Facto"
Story by: Jet Wolf & Ultrace
Written by: Jet Wolf & Novareinna

Act Four

Entering the hotel room, Faith emptied her pockets onto the nightstand...a wad of bills, some spare change and a key ring bearing the Harley Davidson insignia. Crossing to the television, she grabbed the remote control and then cursed when the coiled lead attached to the side of the set refused to stretch to the head of the bed. Randomly punching buttons, she finally settled on a local station, not really caring much what appeared on the screen. Throwing herself down onto the comforter, Faith leaned back against the pillows and folded her arms beneath her head. Staring at the ceiling, she concentrated on the bygone images that began to form in her mind.

Seated on the steps of the fire escape, Faith took a deep drag of her cigarette while Skeeter blew a chain of smoke rings. Faith took a sideways glance at the nasty scar marring the younger girl's face. It was healing nicely but still stood out red and angry in the moonlight and puckered the skin around her left eye. It would probably never fade completely, but Skeeter didn't seem to care – instead, she bore the mark proudly, like a newly-acquired trophy.

Leaning forward, Faith watched the people and cars below. The area was busier now than it used to be, which was good. Meant it was easier to get lost in the crowd. Still ...

"Ever think there's more'n this out there?" asked Faith.

Skeeter pondered the question for a moment and then scrubbed at her nose. "There's that boutique on Eastern. New place, got some decent stuff. Zero took a scarf the other day, says she thinks it's real silk or something."

Faith gritted her teeth. "No, more'n this," she reiterated, waving her hand in frustration to encompass everything within her field of vision. "Where're we goin'? We gonna be fifty an' still bustin' up vending machines for smokes?"

"Way prices keep going up, probably," chuckled Skeeter.

"I'm bein' serious," snapped Faith. "I mean ... you're still young. Hell, I'M still young. An' I just keep havin' this thought, like this itch on my spine, y'know? That there's more out there."

"Like what? School? Job? Corporate husband and two-point-five kids? Can't see any of that sticking, can you?" accused the younger girl.

"Suppose not. So what's left then? Just wanderin' day to day, 'til we run outta luck an' the cops catch us? Get shot an' dumped in an alley?" Faith sighed.

"That's cheery."

Faith nodded and huddled further into her jacket. "Guess it's that kinda mood."

"Know what I think?" asked Skeeter. Then, without waiting for a reply, she added, "I think you're thinking too much. Someone told me once, life's simple. Got a few basic rules. Follow those rules, and everything else'll work out."

Smirking, Faith puffed at her cigarette and stared at the vacant lot across the street before flicking her butt over the railing. She tilted her head and watched the flickering glow as it fell before lighting up another. "Wise woman," she acknowledged.

Skeeter snickered. "She sure likes to think so. When she's not tryin' to be brainy and retrospective."

"That's a two-dollar word. I'm impressed," mocked Faith.

"What, you got the corner on brainy? Skeeter demanded. She turned her head to look at Faith. Beneath the harsh and unforgiving glare of the street lamp, her face was pale with huge raccoon-like eyes. The scar stood out raw and livid.

Faith chuckled at the display of aggression. It showed that Skeeter had come a long way, for better or worse. "Not always sure 'bout my advice though. Between you an' me, sometimes I talk outta my ass."


Faith's temper moved up a notch and she glared at Skeeter threateningly. The younger girl lit another cigarette from the stub of the first and treated Faith to an amused grin. "Nah, seriously," she insisted. "It's good stuff. True life stuff. You do a lot for us, Faith. You've done a lot for me. Kept me outta trouble."

From beneath lowered lids, Faith stole a brief but guilty look at Skeeter's scar and then shrugged. She regarded the tip of her cigarette with great interest for a moment and then went back to staring down into the street below.

"Ever wonder what might'a been? If we'd got better cards?"

Skeeter considered this before answering, biting savagely at an irritating hangnail. "Sometimes. Then I figure, doesn't really matter. Gotta make the most of what you got."

Faith's eyes fixed on the younger girl, who appeared to be totally impassive to the scrutiny. There had been a time when Skeeter might have cowered or looked away, but those days were long gone. Faith sighed with a tinge of regret, seeming to miss the Skeeter of yesterday ... the Skeeter who was always lost and looking for something better. As for the Skeeter of now, she simply met Faith's gaze unflinchingly, almost like a challenge.

"You got a brain in there, Skeet," said Faith with unusual gentleness. "Think you're wastin' it around losers like us. You could be more." She shivered as a blisteringly cold wind cut across from the vacant lot.

"Maybe I could," scoffed the younger girl. "Maybe you could be too. Guess until we try, we'll never know, huh?" Her fingertip traced the scar's contours in an absent-minded fashion. "Our experiences make us who we are, Faith. The good and the bad. It's up to you what you do with 'em."

Wearily, Xander dragged himself downstairs and into the living room, blinking at the mid-morning sun that streamed in through the large window behind the couch. Willow was stretched out in the sunshine, leaning back against the arm of the sofa and thoroughly engrossed in the novel she was reading, American Gods.

Upon Xander's entrance, she peeked over the top of the book and smirked at his disheveled appearance. "Mornin' Mr. Sleepyhead," she greeted cheerfully.

Yawning, the carpenter scratched the back of his head and cast a glance toward the kitchen. "Missed breakfast, huh?" He crossed to the couch and sat down as Willow pulled her legs up to make room for him.

"Don't worry. Between Buffy and Dawn, much food was inhaled. It was just like you were there!" Taking note of Xander's bleary attempts to join the waking world, she asked, "Late night?

Xander nodded, rotating his neck to work out the kinks. "Yeah. Cleaning up from the fair. Then I got to work on some new design ideas. And doin' some thinkin'," he added.

"That's good," Willow quickly assured him. "Thinking's good."

Turning, Xander regarded Willow thoughtfully. "We've been through a lot, haven't we?"

"I'd say our share, plus," she confirmed.

"Anything you regret?"

The witch laughed at that, and closed her book, setting it on the coffee table nearby. "Only every second of every day."

"Me too," admitted Xander.

He lapsed into a silence, clearly organizing his thoughts. Willow waited patiently.

Taking a deep, steeling breath, Xander declared, "I'm gonna pass on the spell."

This news seemed to genuinely shock Willow, and she sat up fully, curling her legs underneath her as she leaned forward. "You're gonna ... But ..."

"Like I said, doin' a lot of thinkin'. About the choices we make." He motioned vaguely to his missing eye. "A few we don't. I've done a lot of stuff I'm not too proud of. I've been a me I haven't liked for a while."

Chuckling lightly, Willow showed she understood only too well. "See Jane. See Jane relate."

"But lately, I think I got a pretty good shot of becomin' a me I could not want to throttle," he continued, his voice becoming stronger the more he explained his decision. "An' you know, that feels nice." Willow smiled at that, and Xander couldn't help but reciprocate with one of his own before ducking his head sheepishly. "We're all together again, hopefully to be better than ever. Trillium's not such a bad place, and I hear there are actual winters here, which should be a refreshing change. An' you know the carpentry thing? Turning out to not only be enjoyable, but also profitable." He paused, before adding in a proud voice, "I'm actually thinkin' about opening my own business."

Upon hearing this, Willow's expression became one of complete joy. "Xander that's wonderful! You should totally do that! Oh! Oh!" The redhead flapped her hands in the air as her eyes grew wide. "And I could help you make a web page! It'll be so neat! We can call it, 'Spruce Up', or 'Elm-entary', or 'Just Fir You'!"

Visible wincing, Xander stared at his friend with something akin to disgust. "Will? Havin' a moment. Don't make me hurt you."

"That wood be just pine," she replied happily, a huge, proud grin on her face at her own humor. It was difficult, but she managed to forcibly sober under Xander's stern glare. "Done now," she assured him.

Xander remained cautious for a moment, but was convinced when Willow simply smiled innocently and kept her dreadful puns to herself. "So yeah, me likin' me," he resumed. "An' the eye thing, or lack thereof ... it's kinda me now, y'know? Part of Today Me. If I'm truly gonna start likin' that me, it means takin' the good with the bad, not wipin' out the bad and pretending it never happened." Frowning, Xander tilted his head. "Does that make sense?"

Nodding, Willow smiled, pleased for Xander but a touch melancholy. "Yeah. Kinda does."

"And we of course can't underestimate the power of the patch," the carpenter pointed out, obliterating the mood. "I've convinced myself it makes me appear entirely three times more intimidating."

"Just the three?"

"And only when I paint on a giant scar."

Twisting on the couch, Willow scooched next to Xander and curled up on his arm, resting her head on his shoulder. "I think this is good," she reaffirmed, giving his arm a little shake. "Great even. I'm totally, 1010% behind this."

"Good," responded Xander sincerely. "I was hopin' you wouldn't be upset I said no."

Gesturing in the air, Willow dismissed the very idea. "Pish. This is fantastic. An' like I said, there's no time limit. If you change your mind later, we can just do it then."

Smiling down at his best friend, Xander nodded, very obviously satisfied with the turn of events. "Sounds like a plan."

"In the meantime," she began excitedly, "let's think up some names for your business, oak-ay?"

Xander groaned, long, loud and very, very pained.

"Don't make me kick your ash," he threatened.

"Ooo," Willow responded in mock appreciation of his verbal sparring. "Keep that up, mister, and I'll leave you in the larch."

Giles was hunched over his desk, barely visible between the mountains of paperwork closing in on all sides. Two cups of tea, both cold and neglected, sat nearby, but he ignored their presence. He seemed to be ignoring everything, in fact, before a knock at the door caused him to jump. His pen jerked across the paper and the Watcher rolled his eyes in a resigned and thoroughly irritated manner. Somehow, he managed to call out, "Come in," without snapping.

Spencer, his burly assistant who had freed him momentarily from the training room insanity, stepped inside and closed the door. "Sir," Spencer greeted in his deep baritone. "I have the final copies of the Watcher assignments and rotation schedules. Free of duplicates this time, I'm happy to report. I triple checked them myself."

"Thank you," Giles replied, weary but grateful. "Just set them down there and I'll review them as soon as possible."

Warily, Spencer eyed the teetering stacks of papers, and very carefully placed his folder on top of the pile nearest to the Watcher. Still clutched in his hands was a large but relatively thin volume. Judging from its cover, it was quite old.

"And we've processed the last of the shipments from the old Watcher's Council storage facilities. This—" Spencer lifted the book into plain view "—is the original inventory log of all the items that should have been held there." A frown appeared on his face and he considered Giles with a hint of concern. "Disturbingly, several items appear to have gone missing."

"Missing?" Giles echoed sharply.

Spencer nodded, and proceeded to outline out the facts. "Yes sir. A few, thankfully, seem to be of little importance ... some old paintings – non-mystical. Several texts on demonology. But there are a few items that could be worrisome. And still more whose purpose was never fully documented." Again, he lifted the book. "I've marked those that we cannot account for in the log."

With that, Spencer extended the slim volume to Giles, who accepted it with an extremely unsettled frown. "Thank you, Spencer," Giles stated in a distracted tone as he examined the cover carefully.

"No problem, sir. Enjoy your crippling paperwork, sir."

The large man turned and left, and Giles was alone with his thoughts. He considered the book for a moment longer, regarding it almost with reluctance. He then opened one of the drawers of his desk, carefully placed it inside and slid the drawer closed again. Casting it a final glance, the Watcher returned to the work in front of him, getting no more than another few scribbles completed before there was another knock at the door. Irritation flashed in his eyes, and didn't fully dissipate as he barked out, "Yes?"

The door opened again to reveal Mina, moving with the same efficiency as always with her ever-present clipboard close at hand. "We have a problem," she announced without preamble.

"Of course," sighed Giles, seeming already reconciled to whatever it might be.

"Zaira, the representative from the Strabane Coven has been called back on an emergency."

"I was just wondering if it were possible for things to become any more ominously disturbing." Giles rubbed his forehead, wincing at the onset of a headache. "I'm so pleased to find out they can."

Mina was unconcerned for his plight and continued as though he hadn't spoken. "She didn't say much else, except that they would keep you informed as soon as they knew something concrete."

"Tell me there's some good news in there somewhere," the Watcher requested hopefully.

"Your meetings with Zaira have been postponed until we can reschedule."

"And the bad?"

Poking at the appropriate notations on the clipboard, Mina replied, "I've moved up your all-hands and begun scheduling one-on-ones earlier."

"Thank you." The words carried no trace of true gratitude, but the brunette didn't appear offended. She simply nodded and left Giles to return to work.

Sighing heavily, Giles ran a hand through his hair and reached for the closest teacup. He lifted it a quarter inch from the saucer before remembering that it was very, very old and with a grimace set it down again. He picked up his pen instead.

As was becoming the trend, he got no more than a few words written when there was another knock. Slapping the pen down on the desktop, Giles glared balefully at the door. "Unless you're here to deliver nothing but good news that involves no increased work for me whatsoever, go away."

The door opened and Hannah's head appeared, her eyebrow raised and a stack of folders visible in her hand. "I'm sensing this is a bad time," she surmised.

Taking note of the folders, the Watcher emitted a low groan. "Not you too."

Hannah eyed the paperwork for a moment, then tossed it almost casually onto one of the nearby bookcases. "It can wait," she decided, closing the door behind her and settling into one of the vacant chairs. "Rough day?"

Pulling his glasses free, Giles rubbed his eyes. "Rough day, rough week, rough month ..."

The blonde regarded him in a manner that somehow managed to be both sympathetic and devoid of sympathy. "You know I think you're working too hard."

"I do," he agreed, inclining his head.

"So I shouldn't say it again."

"But you will."

"You're working too hard."

Replacing his glasses, Giles glanced at Hannah, a look of near desperation crossing his face for a brief moment. "Someone has to."

She leaned forward, resting her forearms on his desk and clasping her hands together. "Rupert, the Watcher's Council has existed for ... How many years is it?"

"Many," he replied simply.

"...many years now. It will likely continue to exist long after you've burned out." Hannah waved her hand up and down at Giles to encompass his state of being. "Which at this rate may very well be tomorrow. My point is, if you stop, someone will take your place. That's the nature of these sorts of things. They're self-perpetuating."

The tone of her last comments made the statment appear uncomplimentary, but Giles didn't stop to dwell on it, instead meeting her words with the strength of his own. "Yes, but without a moderate hand to guide it, I've seen what it can become. And believe me, Quentin Travers was by far the lesser of a great many evils."

Leaning back in the chair, Hannah sighed and beseeched the ceiling for answers. "Are you happy, Rupert?" she asked point-blank.

Giles tilted his head to one side, a puzzled frown on his face. "What?" It sounded as though Hannah had just asked him to describe the taste of the color pink.

"Are you happy?" the blonde repeated, her frustration fading. "I mean, don't you ever wonder? If you hadn't let them annul the marriage? We could've spent the last 30 years living in Bora Bora, sipping decadent tropical beverages under a dazzling blue sky."

The Watcher blinked. "I hate the sunshine."

"Yet more proof that you let your work dominate your life," she quickly dismissed, staring at her ex-husband intently. "Which brings me back to my question: Are you happy?"

Before Giles could answer, his door flew open again. It appeared for a moment as though an extremely impressive shout were about to emerge from his mouth when he saw that it was Dawn and he swallowed his initial reaction.

For her part, Dawn didn't even seem to notice. "Hi Giles." She turned to the older woman and greeted, "Hi Mrs. Giles," then quickly turned back to the Watcher and launched into a babble that would've done Willow proud. "I got a thing to ask you. See they're doing this absolutely lame thing at school all to do with career week or some other laughable attempt to get us all enrolled in the army or something, and anyway, can you really tell what kind of work you're suited for by answering twenty stupid, transparent questions? What-ever. But so they're having this parental picnic lunch thing where we bring Mom or Dad to school, which, I know, so feeble – but I was hoping, would you go with me?"

Dawn's final question carried a hopeful note, which completely undercut the nonchalant attitude applied to the rest of the speech. A second or two passed, in which Giles' brain worked to filter down the important parts of what she said, and he smiled, large and proud. "I would be honored," he replied.

The teenager beamed immediately. "Great!" she chirped, then her face rapidly fell again. "Oh, wait, I-I didn't tell you when. I know you're all busy with—"

"It doesn't matter," the Watcher smoothly assured her. "I'll be there."

"Really?" Dawn asked excitedly.

"Miss an opportunity to attend a school board sanctioned social event?" Giles smirked, but still sounded sincere. "Those were entirely the highlight of my librarian years."

The grin Dawn flashed was almost impossibly bright, and she swept out of the room, obviously in high spirits. Hannah had watched the exchange without comment, and once the door was closed again, she turned to Giles with a cocked eyebrow. "I thought you were far too busy next week for anything unscheduled?"

"I am," he replied, reclaiming his previously abandoned pen.

Jerking her head toward the door, Hannah queried, "How do you explain that?"

"Oh, it was scheduled. She had a date and a time. And I just conveniently happen to have an opening whenever that might be." Hannah chuckled, and Giles considered her thoughtfully. "I'm very happy," he finally answered in response to her question.

Saying nothing more, Giles bent back to his paperwork, immersing himself in the files and reports with considerably less scorn.

Dusk was settling across the sky as Faith wandered along the street. It was fairly busy, a sharp contrast to the streets the Slayer had been frequenting and the area was perhaps a little less run down than others. She didn't pay much outward attention to her surroundings, however, with her hands thrust deep in her pockets as she walked.

"Faith!" Hey, Faith!"

Turning to look behind, Faith saw Roxi jogging toward her. She didn't stop, however she also didn't speed up, maintaining the same steady, unhurried stride.

The younger girl came up alongside Faith, and easily matched her pace. "I been lookin' for ya," Roxi announced, pleased to have located her target.

This declaration didn't seem especially engrossing to Faith. "Well now y'found me," she replied in a flat voice.

"I was thinkin', now there's two of us, we can probably upscale a bit," the girl mused as though Faith had demonstrated interest. "Maybe find us a place? Be good if we got somewhere. Won't be long before we got girls comin' t'find us."

"The hell you talkin' about?" the Slayer snapped, glaring angrily as she spun toward the girl, still keeping up her steady walk to nowhere.

"You an' me. Us. After last night—"

Faith's gaze returned to straight ahead as her temper faded. "Last night wasn't nothin'."

Roxi gaped at Faith, full of disbelief at the other girl's nonchalance. "You're kiddin'. You save me from the pigs in blue, an' it don't mean nothin'?"

"That's right."

Lashing out, Roxi's hand closed around Faith's elbow and she brought the Slayer to a halt. Faith jerked her arm free, but made no move to resume her walk, simply glowering down at Roxi. The faint electronic hum of the neon lights overhead blinking to life filled the void between them. Neither girl paid the Clarke Electronics sign any notice, instead fully intent on glaring at the other.

"Bull," Roxi spat. "It was you realizin' this is where you belong. This is who you are, Faith, an' the sooner you figure that out, the sooner you can get back t—"

"To what?" retorted Faith, tossing her hands in the air. "Wanderin' through my day, lookin' for somethin' new to steal that night? Drinkin' too much an' gettin' in fights I don't care if I win or lose?" She jabbed her finger in the younger girl's face, her expression dark. "Tell me, since you got all the answers – why the hell would I wanna come back t' any of that?"

There was no hesitation. "B'cause it's easy. You do what you want when you want. Don't gotta worry 'bout nothin' an' no one but you. You see something you want, you take it, you have it." Roxi laughed, a mocking and unpleasant sound as she examined Faith up and down. "See I lookit you, an' y'know what I see? I see someone tryin' so hard to find out who she is, when all this time she's known damn well. Someone somewhere's made you think it's wrong, but you don't really believe that, do you?" She thrust her finger down the sidewalk in the direction Faith had been walking. "Out there, you don't matter. What can you give anybody?" Roxi pointed in another direction, to the spot between her and Faith. "But here, you do, an' you love it."

"I make difference! I matter!" The Slayer was yelling now, her fists trembling as she barely maintained what was left of her composure.

The girl either had no idea how far she was pushing Faith, or she didn't care. She remained calm, almost aloof as she crossed her arms. "Name me one. Just one name of someone you really think you've been good for."

Faith wanted to. That much was obvious. But after several seconds, she still hadn't answered.

Roxi didn't dwell on the Slayer's inability to produce the requested evidence. She simply smiled warmly. "Well I can: me."

The Slayer started at this revelation, and widened her eyes at Roxi. Faith's expression was one of surprise, but even more, a deep yearning that had she seen it in her own eyes, would likely have shocked her.

"I used to hear, from my sister, about all the stuff you used to do. An' I couldn't wait to grow up an' be part'a that." The girl shrugged sadly as she added, "It was all over before I could, but I remembered. I remembered everything, an' I've tried t' do it myself." She straightened, her stance and bearing proud. "I wanna be just like you, Faith. You're my hero."

Instantly, Faith was stricken. Whatever she had wanted – needed – to hear, this was clearly not it. "Livin' on the streets, stealin' candy bars an' bad music ..." She laughed bitterly. "That's my legacy."

"Hey, we all gotta start somewhere," replied Roxi encouragingly, unoffended.

But Faith didn't comment, lost in her own world of thoughts and disappointments.

Tilting her head to one side, Roxi considered the Slayer with wonder. "You don't even know why you saved me last night, do you?" Faith glanced up, but remained silent, and the girl flashed her an expression of understanding. "When you figure it out, go to the old place. I'll be there."

Roxi spun on her heel and walked back the way she came. Faith watched her every move, but made none to follow. The girl's voice rang out, carrying reaching Faith easily even though the small brunette never turned her head. The smile in Roxi's tone was evident, as was her confidence. "You got a lot to teach a girl, Faith. Sooner you figure that out, happier you'll be."

Soon after, Roxi had vanished sight, becoming an undefined detail of the city streets. Faith turned first one way and then the other, unsure of where to go next. She seemed ready to move again, to just pick a direction and head that way, when her ears perked up and she swiveled toward the televisions displayed in the window of the electronics store behind her.

As they had been a few days earlier, all the sets were tuned to a generic 24-hour news station, showing highlights from local, national and international stories constantly, usually the same ones several dozen times a day. What had caught Faith's attention was the newscaster, her voice drifting into the street from the door that was propped open to allow the occasional breeze to waft into the store.

"A devastating fire swept through a small apartment block in Trillium, Pennsylvania earlier today," the newscaster was reporting in the same level yet overly fake interested voice that seemed unique to that particular breed of human.

Faith stepped closer to the window just as the scene changed to footage obviously shot on location. Fire trucks were surrounding a blazing building, and teams of firefighters were assisting the dirty and shaken residents who were gathered on a lawn nearby but well out of harm's way.

In voice over, the newscaster continued. "Luckily, no one was hurt, but they might have been were it not for one young girl, who rushed inside to save a elderly woman trapped in her apartment."

The footage cut to a picture of Hazel, looking disheveled, soot-covered, and even a little embarrassed by all the attention, but she was grinning regardless. Her eyes widening, Faith regarded the image before her with wonder, unable to fully suppress a smile as the Hazel on screen ducked her head nervously and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

Another voice, this one male and speaking with a rushed urgency that attempted to infuse every scenario he encountered with excitement and energy, spoke over Hazel's image, and the girl looked up, focused on whoever was speaking off-screen.

"Rushing into a burning building without hesitation – that's an unbelievably brave thing to do, especially for someone so young." Hazel blushed and ducked her head again. "What was going through your mind?"

A microphone was thrust in Hazel's face, and she jerked back slightly in surprise, then leaned forward and spoke into it tentatively. "Uhm, not a whole lot. I just, uh ..." She glanced over her shoulder at the still-blazing apartment building. "I just saw someone trapped and ... and I knew I had to help."

The microphone disappeared, and the reporter's voice overlaid Hazel's image again. "You didn't worry about the fire?"

"Well sure I worried," Hazel responded when the microphone was once more presented to her. "I mean, kinda hot, you know?" She laughed at her own joke, then shrugged. Nonchalantly, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, she simply stated, "But I just thought, 'What would Faith do?' ... and then I did it."

Hazel was replaced by more images of firemen discussing what might have caused the accident, but Faith was no longer listening. She stared at the screen without really seeing it, but focused intently on it as though it held the secrets to life. Then a smile – small and nearly imperceptible but undeniably present – spread across her face. Turning to the left, Faith considered the direction that Roxi had taken. Then she turned right and walked down the street.