Summary: Faith receives an unexpected visitor. Fifth story in the "No More Be Grieved" series.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.

Time Frame: Approximately two weeks after "The Body" and "Epiphany". (spoiler alert!)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Author's Note: OK, I'm finally admitting it. . .these stories have become a mini-universe in their own right. How much longer it lasts is anyone's guess.



REHABILITATION



Faith rested quietly in the upper bunk, reading the book resting on her stomach with ferocious intensity. It was "The Three Musketeers", and Faith was interested in how the movies she had seen differed from the original book itself. She had read a lot in the time since she arrived at the women's prison: it kept her out of trouble (most of the time, anyway), and it gave her a sense of accomplishment, having stopped her education after the eighth grade.

"Faith." A guard had stepped up to the bars, and was patiently waiting as Faith put her book down and turned towards the door of the cell.

The Slayer was mildly surprised at being disturbed at that time of day, but showed no sign of it as she replied politely, "Yes, ma'am?"

The guard almost smiled, then arrested the expression. Faith had been an odd one from the start. . .the rumor mill had run overtime spreading word of the crimes that this innocuous looking young woman had allegedly committed, and there was a standing order that if she became violent with the staff, they were to shoot to kill, no questions asked. However, the new arrival had been a model prisoner, except for an incident or two where others had clearly been the instigators, and Faith had disabled them with appalling ease, including a two hundred and fifty pound weightlifter serving life without parole for breaking her husband's neck. It was hard not to like her, but the guard reminded herself what she had done, and it helped her keep her voice neutral as she responded, "You have a visitor."

Faith blinked in surprise: Angel had just been by three days back, after a prolonged absence, and he rarely came by more than once a month. Inwardly shrugging, she dropped to the floor of the cell like a cat, causing her cellmate to stir briefly. Faith took a brief look in the metal mirror sitting in a corner of the cell, deemed herself more or less presentable, and followed the guard down the hallway after the cell door was opened.

After some time, they arrived at the visitors' area, and the guard nodded towards one of the windows. Faith stepped forward, then blinked in shock when she saw who was waiting for her there: Xander. She picked up the receiver on her side, watched as he did likewise on his side of the glass, and was speechless for several seconds before managing to say, "Xander. . .it's good to see you."

Xander was silent himself for some time, and Faith took the opportunity to examine him minutely. Other than her brief guest appearance in that magic-fueled test that Xander had been forced to pass, she had not seen him since she was in Buffy's body, and only briefly then. She noticed that he had filled in somewhat in the past year, with lean muscle visible beneath the sleeves of the shirt that was nicer than she was used to seeing him wear. His hair was neatly combed, and the tan he had acquired indicated that he was spending a fair amount of time working outdoors. She looked at his eyes. . .she had always liked the humor in them, even at times when she hadn't thought much of him otherwise, but there was no visible mirth there now. Faith saw great sadness there, along with a genuine sense of relief that she could not identify. She locked eyes with him and asked urgently, "What's wrong?"

Xander blinked, and managed a weak smile before replying, "Lots of stuff, actually. . .but first I want to hear what's up with you. . .what you've been doing." Faith looked angry for a moment, and Xander sighed before elaborating, "Faith. . .you know I forgot everything that happened during the test last summer. . .well, Drusilla came to town a few weeks back because she didn't forget, and everyone had to get together to keep me from becoming Spike's replacement." Faith shuddered, and Xander continued, "Anyway, Buffy told me that she remembered everything that happened, and I asked her to tell me what I had said to you, and what you had said to me."

Faith looked down at the tabletop as Xander continued, "What you said means a lot to me, Faith. . .I've had a lot of bad feelings over the months about how I might have contributed to getting you where you are, and knowing you don't hate me means more than I can possibly express. . . and it would do a lot for my peace of mind to know what you've been doing. . .how you are."

Faith blinked a couple of times, suppressed an impulse to say "Damn it, Xander" and flee as she had when her part in the test had been completed, and quietly told him the whole story: the rumors that had branded her a monster before she set foot in the prison, the occasional challenges that had forced her to defend herself and tested her precarious control over his violent impulses, the way in which the attitude of the guards seemed to have changed from fear to contempt then finally to an odd sort of respect, and finally how she was trying to use the time in confinement to improve herself educationally and spiritually. She looked at Xander when she had finished, and she saw that the sense of relief in his eyes had changed somewhat, looking almost like a naked cry of hope. She blinked, and whispered urgently, "All right, Xander. . .tell me what's wrong."

Xander remained silent, and Faith was on the verge of snapping at him when he blinked, then replied softly: "Faith. . .Buffy's mom died two weeks ago."

Faith's eyes widened, and she just stared at him for several seconds before asking quietly, "How?"

Xander quietly told her the whole story, including Joyce's earlier illness, apparent recovery, and how Buffy had found her dead. Faith just stared, and her hands gripped the tabletop to the point where Xander was sure it would give way to her Slayer strength. After he had finished, Faith shook her head, then commented bitterly, "So that's it, then. . .she survives everything that goddamned town had to throw at her . . .and a stupid blood vessel breaking means that B and Dawn don't have a mother any more? What a useless fucking waste." She stared at the table and whispered, "So there's one I'll never be able to make it up to. . .Joyce was always nice to me, even after some of those blowups between me and B. . .never said a cross word to me. . .until I broke into her damned house and threatened to carve her up for B to find. . .she never backed down, not for one minute. She was the best, Xander." Faith blinked, and the tears came as she concluded, "And she went to her grave thinking I was the lowest scum on the planet. Well, at least she died with her good judgment intact."

Xander's jaw tightened, and he put his free hand to the glass as he spoke into the receiver: "Faith, look at me. . .please." The Slayer hesitated for a moment, then looked over at him with glittering eyes as Xander continued, "Faith, you have a right to know. . .that isn't how she felt, or at least not as bad as you might think. She was angry about what you did to Buffy, and terrified that you might come back to hurt her. . .but once you went to prison, she wanted you to be better. She remembers the good things you did, along with the bad ones, and I know that if she could hear what I heard today, she'd be as glad for you as I am."

Faith blinked again, and the tears flowed freely as she looked through the glass at the man who had once saved her life, and who now had refused to allow her to damn herself anew. She looked at Xander and shook her head, commenting, "It's too bad you and Angel don't get along. . .you two would be a hell of a team in the whole redemption gig." Xander smiled softly, and Faith asked, "Xander. . .there aren't words for what I owe you. . .but is there anything I can do to thank you for all of this that doesn't involve getting to the other side of this glass?"

Xander smiled, then replied, "Yeah. . .I was wondering if you wanted to talk to someone else."

Faith shrugged and responded, "Yeah, sure. . .who?" Xander gestured to the seat next to him, out of Faith's line of sight, and a small, lithe woman came into view. Faith's eyes widened in recognition, and she whispered, "B."

Buffy nodded, looking rather numb, and Faith realized that the older Slayer's acute hearing would have allowed her to hear the whole conversation between Xander and Faith. Faith waited a moment, as Buffy reached for the receiver and picked it up, then shook her head sadly and said, "God, B. . .I'm so sorry."

Xander got up and vacated the chair for Buffy, murmuring, "I'll wait over here until you're done." He waved at Faith and stood over against the far wall, watching as the two Slayers quietly talked. He blinked, and tears quietly rolled down his cheeks as he mourned for what both of these people he had long cared for had gone through, but as he watched he could see the horrid nervous tension that had possessed Buffy for the last two weeks seeping from her body, and the seed of hope that he had felt when he had heard Faith's story swelled within him, allowing him to dare to believe that sometime soon things would be all right again.





As before, comments are welcome and desired.