Things Change

By Norwalker

Summary: AU. What if things had gone a little differently that night Alan Finch died? What if it had been Buffy instead of Faith that killed Alan Finch? How different would things have been?

Rating: R

Spoilers/ Time line: Since this is an AU story, there are no real "spoilers" per se. However, references to seasons one through three may be present. Time line: Approximately 4 years after season 3

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Fox just own them. I just like to mess around with them.

Warning: Dark Fiction. Character Death. If this disturbs you, don't read it!

It's late afternoon when the car pulls up in front of the house. The passengers sit in the car, watching as the solitary figure, dressed in a rain slicker, boots and hat, rakes up debris from the previous day's storm. Huge piles of leaves, debris and branches are formed in the yard, and the person goes about the work silently, determined to get the front yard back into some kind of shape before the next storm hits.

It's been an unusually wet winter in Sunnydale. Storm after storm has hit the small community, bringing along with much needed rainfall some mudslides, flooding and all the attendant annoyances and damage. It's almost as if Mother Nature, or someone, is trying to make up for years of semi-drought in one season. The scene before the car's occupants has a wet, drenched look to it. The streets are still soaked and slippery looking, and everything has that muted coloration of an overcast sky just after a storm. The weather even seems to be affecting the mood of the car's passengers.

" Are you sure about this?" Willow asks, looking on as the solitary figure doggedly fights on against the weather and the mess in the front yard.

" No, I'm not at all sure about this, " Her companion replies, also looking out the window. Possibly she's avoiding looking at Willow, so she can't read her expression. " I haven't a clue as to why she wants to see me." She sighs wearily, as if this is some great burden. " 'Tis the season, though. So I guess I have to do this, know what I mean?"

" Jewish, remember? Not everybody worships Santa Claus, you know." Willow softens a little, looking at her companion's face, " hey, I get it. It's the charitable thing to do."

" Charitable, yeah, " Faith's face takes on a decidedly sour expression, " how come I'm not getting any warm fuzzies, then?"

Willow looks at Faith, and reads her accurately. " You can't still be holding a grudge, Faith. Not after all this time." She reaches out to touch Faith's face, but Faith pulls away.

" She accused me of murder, Red. She tried to blame Alan Finch's death on me. And you and Giles and all the rest of the scoobies were all so anxious to believe her!" Faith can't keep the bitter tone out of her voice.

" I know, I know. I'm sorry, Faith," Willow seems to withdraw into herself.

" I'm sorry, too, " Faith reaches out, and pulls Willow to herself. " God, I can't believe I'm still letting her come between us, after all this time." Faith leans in, and kisses Willow softly." I'm an idiot sometimes, I know. It took me so long to really find you, Red. I don't want to lose you, not over her."

" Shhh, don't be silly, Faith. Not going to happen, " Willow smiles, and pulls Faith back in for another kiss. "Anyway, it all worked out right in the end, didn't it? Giles realized she was lying to him, and got the truth out of her."

" The truth, and then some. That was damned ugly, you remember? I can't believe some of the things she said…" Faith stops, remembering some of the hateful things Buffy had said about Willow that day. " God, sorry… didn't mean to bring that back up…"

" That was a long time ago, Faith. I'm over it. Buffy tends to lash out when she's cornered, I know that now…"

" Yeah, well, you didn't know that then. I saw the look on your face. I wanted to smash her into the closest wall." Faith starts getting twitchy in her seat. " Maybe this aint such a good idea after all."

" It's up to you, Faith. This was your idea," Willow shrugs, " I mean… oh hell, I don't know what I mean."

"Not so long ago that you're over it yet, huh?" Faith observes.

" I don't understand it, is all. Why doesn't she want to see me? Why just you? She's been back a month, and this is the first contact she's made with anyone. Hell, we still wouldn't know she was back, if she hadn't called you."

" Maybe she's still ashamed of what she said, Red. She might be afraid to see you," Faith says quietly, " and there's no telling what the council did to her…"

Willow's expression turns pensive. " It almost might have been better if she'd gone to prison."

"Yeah, well, that didn't happen. The state couldn't make a solid case against her. So the council, in the form of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce stepped in," Faith makes a face, " They say they ' rehabilitated her, but no telling what that involved. I wouldn't wish that on anyone." Faith's voice grows weary, " and seeing Angel staked by the council right in front of her, when he tried to protect her? Not good, I don't think!"

" I'd forgotten about that, " Willow exclaims, " God, she must've freaked out. I'm surprised they let her out… or that she didn't kill them."

" I think Angel dying kinda took the fight out of her. At least, that's what I heard. After that, she just kinda gave up." Willow questions Faith with her eyes, " Giles told me. I believe him."

" How is Giles, Faith? I haven't talked to him since…" She trails off.

" He went back to England? Yeah, I know. He doesn't call much. I try to call him, but I hardly ever reach him. Last time I spoke to him, he seemed ok, but then, he has the British stiff upper lippy thing going. I think he still blames himself over Buffy, and what happened to Joyce."

" How could he blame himself for Joyce? He … Joyce died of a brain tumor. Or at least, the complications from the surgery. How is that his fault?"

" I know that, and you know that. Giles didn't get that, however," Faith frowns," Joyce really withdrew from life when the council took Buffy away. She cut herself off from her friends, and Buffy's friends. I mean, I went to see her once… she wasn't all that happy to see me, I know. Made it pretty clear she felt it was my fault her daughter … anyway, I didn't go back after that."

" I tried a few times, with Xander. But she … it was just so painful for her. It was as if she kept expecting Buffy to show up any minute."

" Poor woman, she died alone. It took nearly a week for someone to find her body. God, imagine how Buffy felt about that?" Faith's bitter tone returns, " Those bastards at the council wouldn't even let her come home for the funeral." Faith shakes her head in disgust. " I told them I would be responsible for her… but those creeps…"

Willow squeezes her hand.

" I really don't want to do this, Red." Faith looks out her window, and notes the figure in the yard is gone, " she can't really want to see me…"

" Faith, she's reaching out. She's all alone… she needs somebody…"

" Yeah…well, can't you go with?" Faith is almost pleading with her eyes.

" No, Faith, she doesn't want to see me, " Willow shakes her head, " I gotta respect that."

" Ow. Get a grip , Willow. Maybe not on my hand, however?" Faith teases her a little.

" Sorry…" Willow gently picks up Faith's hand and kisses it. " There? Boo- boo better?"

" Yeah. But now my lips are kinda hurting…"

" You're bad!" Willow admonishes her, but kisses her anyway. The kiss is brief, but warm. " You better get going."

"Do I have to?" Faith whines just a little. She sees it's hopeless, Willow's wearing her resolve face. Last time she went against that, it was a couple of weeks before they made with the sweaty. " Ok, lets get this over with, already." She looks out the window. " Shit, it's started to rain again." She grabs for her umbrella as she starts to let herself out of the car.

" Faith? Be careful, ok?" Willow calls out to her. " I'll be back to pick you up in a couple of hours, ok?"

" Don't worry, babe. I won't let the big bad slayer hurt me, 'k?" Faith grins, standing and opening her umbrella.

" Please, Faith, I'm serious!"

" Don't worry, honey. I'll be fine."

Faith turns and walks towards the house on Revello drive. Willow watches her walk off, then she starts the car.

She wishes she didn't feel so uneasy.

Faith stands at the door to 1630 Revello drive, feeling uneasy. Despite that, she knocks on the door.

- Isn't this the place in the movie where the audience screams " DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE?"- Faith shivers.- Ok, Faith, stop being a dope. Buffy so can't do squat to me, and anyway… she's not a monster, just a girl, right? Well, a girl with super strength, ok. But I got that too. So, stop having the heebie-jeebies and get this done.-

Faith looks around and realizes it's been nearly four years since she last stood on this porch. She can see attempts made to rectify 4 years of neglect, but still the house showed signs of some deterioration.- Well, hell, no ones lived here since Joyce died nearly 3 years ago. – Still, it just adds to her sense of unease … as if the house itself were telling her to walk away, now. She gamely stands waiting for the door to be answered, ignoring all the little tinglies that are screaming at her to motor…now!

She's just about to knock again, when the door opens, and Buffy is standing there, looking out at her. Faith has to bite her lip to keep from gasping.

Buffy's changed. A lot. She's thin, almost bone thin, as if she's been starving herself(-or been starved-). Her hair, once long and lustrous, is cut short, very short. Almost a boy's cut. There is a small scar, almost faded, but still visible, crossing her mouth, as if she'd been hit there with something heavy and blunt. It's her eyes that hold your attention, however. Since her face is gaunt, and her hair short, they seem larger, somehow. But they look old, as if they've seen too much in her young life. For a brief second there is a haunted, hunted quality about them.

But once Buffy realizes who it is , she smiles. It's a warm, almost affectionate smile, and it lights up her face.

" Faith, " she says warmly, reaching out and touching Faith on the arm, " I'm so glad you came. Please, come in."

Faith enters the house, and the first thing she notices is piles of boxes everywhere. It looks like someone's either moving in, or moving out. She smells the scents of soap and disinfectant. She looks around. Despite the mess, the place looks like it's recently been scrubbed.

" Sorry about the mess. I … just it's been hard… been trying to pack up some of mom's things, and well… with everything … it's been kinda hard," Buffy rushes around a little, clearing a space at the dining room table. " Please, sit here, ok? Sorry… everything else seems to be covered or buried under boxes. God."

" It's cool, B. Don't sweat it, " Faith says, walking to the table and sitting.

" Can I get you something?" Buffy asks, then rushes on, " Hey, I made soup. It's good soup, you know? I mean… I love soup when it rains like this. It feels good, you know?" her tone is wistful, " Anyway, there's lots…plenty for two…"

" B, I really don't…"

" Please Faith? I … I hate eating alone. It's been so long since I've had anyone to eat with…" Buffy is almost pleading with her. " Please? It's really good!"

" Yeah, ok, Buffy, sure, " Faith relents, and watches as Buffy's face lights up again. – God, what did they do to her?- Faith is almost more scared of this Buffy than a hostile, angry Buffy.- Something is really whacked here.-

From the kitchen, Faith can hear Buffy humming softly to herself. She takes the moment to look around, but all she can see are boxes piled on everything. Despite that, nothing seems to be packed, as far as she can tell, anyway. – What's with all the boxes? She's not packing anything… what does she need the boxes for?- At that moment, Buffy returns to the dining room, carrying two bowls of soup, rather precariously. Faith, seeing her predicament, gets up and gracefully as possible relieves her of one of the bowls, setting it down before herself. Buffy smiles, and sets her own bowl down. She hands Faith a spoon.

" Go on, Faith, try it. It's really good" Buffy encourages her. Faith takes a taste of the soup, and almost gags. –Damn, did she pour the whole shaker of salt into this?- Buffy catches her expression and her brow furrows. " Is something wrong?"

" Hot… too hot" Faith manages to get out, pantomiming waving over the soup. " Gonna let it cool a bit."

" 'K " Buffy says, eating her soup. Faith watches her in wonder, amazed she can eat it. But Buffy seems to relish it.

Buffy, feeling Faith's gaze, speaks between bites. " So, how is … uh… how's Willow?"

" She's ok, Buffy. Maybe a little…upset you didn't tell her you returned…"

" I…couldn't let her…I didn't want her to see me… not like this," Buffy gestures indicating herself.

" B, I don't think she'd really care…"

" I care, Faith. I'm a fucking mess, and I know it." Buffy looks down at her half empty bowl, and lets the spoon clatter into it. " I'm not hungry anymore, and this is pretty crappy." She picks up her bowl, and reaches for Faith's." I'm sorry, this is just…" she quickly makes her way into the kitchen with the bowls of soup.

Faith's on edge, trying desperately to find some way to get out of this house. It feels creepy, and Buffy is acting… creepier. Faith can sense that Buffy's semi-calm is paper thin, and she's ready to go over the edge at any moment. She doesn't want to be here when it happens.- This was a mistake. I never should've come here.­­- She's still trying to figure a way out when she hears a loud crash come from the kitchen.

"SHIT!" Buffy's voice barrels into the dining room, followed by " Damn!". There is more crashing, and Faith, concerned, runs in to the kitchen. She finds Buffy squatting on the floor, in the middle of a pile of broken dishes. Buffy seems to be lost, staring at the floor, picking up shards of broken dishes.

" B, you ok? What happened?" The kitchen is a mess, the sink full of dishes, various pots on the stove, sitting used, and unwashed. The floor is covered in broken china. Faith stands still, watching Buffy, who's chuckling on the floor.

" Ok?" Buffy giggles, a hysterical note underlying it, " Oh, yeah, I'm great, Faith, can't you see? Never been better, good as new". Faster than lightning, Buffy grabs one of the pots off the stove, and starts using it like a mallet on the remaining dishes on the sink, smashing them to bits." Why didn't I think of this before, no fucking dishes to wash." She continues to pound on the broken dishes.

" Buffy, stop…STOP!" Faith runs over to her, grabbing her around the arms to restrain her. That's when she notices the blood on Buffy's arm. " What the … you've cut yourself."

Buffy struggles in Faith's arms, trying to break free.

" Let me go.. dammit, let me go, you bitch!" Buffy screams at her. She strains against Faith's grip, trying to break free. Finally, she brings her foot down hard on Faith's and Faith cries out in surprise, relaxing her grip. Buffy kicks back at Faith, sending her flying on her butt, right into the crockery covered floor. She turns on Faith, and starts to kick at her.

" Don't want your fucking help" kick." Haven't you helped me enough, Faith?" kick. " Helped me right out of my life, didn't you… didn't you?" Kick, kick. "Goddamnit shit!" Buffy screams as Faith's kick hits her in the shin, causing her to reel back, lose balance and fall down. She falls flat on her back, and Faith is on her in an instant, holding her down. Buffy keeps struggling against her, but Faith is sitting on her heavily, not letting her get a limb free to move. She wriggles some more, but finally gives up, knowing she's beaten. She glares, tight lipped, briefly at Faith, and then turns her face away.

" Are you done?" Faith growls at her, holding her down. Buffy doesn't answer. She squeezes hard on Buffy's arms, and growls at her again. " ARE. YOU. DONE?"

Buffy nods. " Yes, I'm done, " She says weakly, just laying there, unmoving.

" God, get a grip, B. What's up with you?" Faith says, releasing Buffy and standing up. " You're acting crazy." She reaches down to help Buffy up.

" I know, I'm sorry, " Buffy says quietly. She grabs Faith's proffered hand, and then swings her other hand up and hits Faith on the side of the head with a pan she grabbed. Faith is stunned, but not out. Buffy swings again, quickly, and Faith falls to the floor unconscious. " I'm sorry, Faith. I lied. I wasn't done" Buffy stands up, brushing herself off.

She looks down on the unconscious form of Faith lying on the floor. She reaches down and grabs her, slinging her over her shoulder. Humming quietly to herself, Buffy opens the cellar door and closes it behind herself.

Faith wakes up, groggy, her head aching, her vision a little blurry.

And furious.

" Hey, wasn't sure you were ever gonna wake up, " Buffy, her face in Faith's, looks concerned. " Sorry about hitting you so hard , but damn, girl, you're head's hard." She reaches out to touch Faith's head, but Faith looks like she'll bite it, so she reconsiders. She stands up, away from Faith.

Faith lunges at her, and then realizes she's tied solidly to one of the support beams in the basement. She struggles against the ropes, but soon realizes it's pretty useless . She glowers at Buffy.

" What the fuck you doing , you crazy bitch?" Faith spits out at her. " Let me the fuck go!"

" Crazy? That's what you think… I'm crazy?" Buffy seems to mull that idea over. " Is it crazy to want your life back? I dunno… is it? Tell me, I'm serious."

" Your life back? What're you talking about? What's that got to do with this? Oh, and yes, it's … this is totally crazy. Insane. Nuts. Is that clear?"

" Is it? Really? I dunno… hadn't thought about it that way…" Buffy gets a thoughtful look on her face, as if seriously considering what Faith said." Maybe you're right. Maybe this is crazy… I hadn't thought about it. I guess… maybe I'm insane. I dunno… I don't feel insane. Do I look insane to you?"

" You look like a nut job of the first order, B. You're totally wonky. Don't you get that?" Faith growls at her.-Shit, she's bought the funny farm… for herself. I gotta get outta this… somehow.- Faith stops struggling against her bonds, and concentrates on her hands… the ropes on her wrists… -If I can get them loose, maybe..-

" I don't know… Faith, I really don't know. Maybe something went wrong… here," She points at her head.

Faith wants to keep her talking… anything so she can work on the ropes without her noticing.

" Buffy, " Faith calms her tone, " Maybe…this can change. We can change this. It doesn't have to be like this, you know… let me go, and we can work something out."

" No… no… already too many changes," Buffy says impatiently, turning away, " Some people can't change. Some people are born wrong, born broken…"

" B., it's ok, " Faith says soothingly, " Let me help, ok? Let me fix you…". Buffy stiffens, and Faith realizes she's said exactly the wrong thing.

" Fix me?" Buffy says, hollowly, " Like the Council ' fixed me' Faith?" Buffy turns, her expression hard and cold. " Oh yeah, I want to be ' fixed' again, Faith".

Faith notices that Buffy is carrying a wicked looking knife. She comes over to Faith, and kneels down beside her. She takes the knife, and places the flat of the blade on Faith's cheek. She draws it slowly across.

" Buffy," Faith says softly. Her heart is thumping in her chest.

" Wanna know how they fixed me, Faith?" Buffy leans in close, her breath tickling Faith's cheek, " First thing they did is put me in a nice, small cell, Faith. With bars, no windows…nothing but the cell, and a pad on the floor to sleep on. No lights… I spent… I don't know how long in there, alone, in the dark. Gave me lots of time to think, Faith. Wanna know what I thought about, Faith? Do you?"

"What?" Faith says softly, trying not to get Buffy mad… not with a knife so close to her throat.

" You, baby, I thought about you, " Buffy smiles, a smile to send a chill down your spine. Her voice is soft." I thought about how you cosied up to the group, Faith. Wormed your way in, until you were a part of it. How I stupidly thought you needed to be part of it, wanted to be part. But that's not what you wanted, is it, Faith?" Her voice hardens." Is it?"

" What…what did I want, Buffy?" Faith swallows nervously.

" Don't be coy, baby, it's alright. It's going to be alright now, " Buffy stands up, moving away. " What you wanted, Faith, was my life. You wanted me out of the way, so you could take my place… isn't that so?"

"No, B. That's not what I wanted, really, " Faith protests. " Honest, I didn't want them to…"

"LIAR!" Buffy shouts, and is on her in a second. She has the tip of the knife at Faith's throat." Don't lie to me, Faith." She stands up, withdrawing the knife. She kicks Faith in the thigh. Faith grits her teeth not to cry out.

- Shit. Am I getting out of this alive? Damn. She's whacked. She thinks that they'll take her back like this? … oh, crap, Red! She's gonna come back, and look for me when I'm not… oh, no… god, I gotta get out of this… don't even know how long…-

" They lied to me too, Faith. Said they would help me. Oh, they helped me alright, Faith. They sent me to a private 'clinic' the Council funds. ' So we can evaluate you, Buffy.' Uh huh, " Buffy pauses, her expression going blank, " they evaluated me alright… kept me in a padded cell, tied down… nice, huh? Oh , and the drugs… lots and lots of drugs, Faith, so I didn't think, or move, or do anything but float…" Buffy's breathing becomes labored, " but not floating so much that I … I …" She stands stock still, her back to Faith. " Seems the Council didn't check out the Doctor too deeply, Faith. He had a … real thing for girls. Young girls. About my age, you know? Liked to do nasty things to them Faith… over … and over… and over…"

" Oh, god… Buffy…" Faith is beyond horrified.

" Shhh, it's ok now, Faith, it's over." Buffy squats down by Faith, running her hand over Faith's cheek, " but I knew, then, I had to get by, co-operate, so I'd get out alive. And I did… I did it all, Faith." Buffy smiles wickedly, " Fooled them, Faith. Went along with whatever they wanted me to do…" runs her hand through her shorn hair, " this… they wanted to… make me more complaint, so they shaved my head…nice, huh? But I went along with it, cuz I knew it was my only way out…" Buffy's face hardens, " So I could be here with you, girlfriend." She takes the knife, and draws the tip across Faith's cheek. Faith grimaces, but doesn't cry out. Her eyes are wide, trying to keep tabs on that knife.

" Buffy, please… don't do this," Faith say softly.

" Do what, Faith?" Buffy looks genuinely puzzled. " Oh… you think I'm going to … no, I'm not going to torture you, Faith. Don't be silly, girlfriend. I know… that wasn't your fault… well, not really. I mean, you didn't tell them to… I know that. That would be… oh… crazy?" She stares at Faith. " I'm not crazy… am I, Faith?"

" No, of course not, " Faith affirms. She works on her ropes, trying to get loose.- Damn, she had to be a girl scout… these fucking knots are tight!- As she works them, her finger is pricked on something. She feels down, and realizes a shard of glass got into her pocket… if she can only reach it…

" ' No, of course not' " Buffy mocks her. " Well, crazy or not, Faith, doesn't matter. Don't want to torture you… not really. Scare you a little, yeah… kill you? Yeah… but no, no torture Faith." She stands up, and walks away

Faith remains impassive, working the shard up into her hands.

" No, Faith, I … took care of my tormentors already. See, I didn't just ' get out' , Faith. I've been out nearly a year. But… there was some unfinished business I had to take care of, first." She smiles, " All done now. Now… I can deal with you."

" Buffy, I don't want your life. I never wanted your life… I just want my life… you can still have your life, Buffy."

" Didn't I tell you NOT TO LIE TO ME!?!?" Buffy turns quickly, throwing the knife. Faith shuts her eyes, figuring it's over, she's dead. She hears the knife go in the wood above her, and she nearly loses her bladder. She looks up, and sees the knife quivering just above her head. Faith doesn't realize she stopped breathing until she takes a breath.

Buffy walks over and pulls the knife out of the wood, holding it in front of Faith's face.

" Don't lie to me again, Faith, or I won't miss next time." She stands up, and walks away from Faith, her back turned. She taps the dull edge of the knife on her palm, as if keeping time to some internal metronome.

Faith, having the piece of glass positioned, saws frantically at the ropes. She knows, instinctively, her time is running out.

" Know what really gets me, Faith? What really fries my butt?"

" No, what's that, B?" Faith replies, working the glass against the ropes…feeling them start to loosen.

"Well, that for one, F," Buffy sneers, " I'm so tired of you calling me that, I want to vomit. My name is Buffy, you moron… don't forget it!" She shakes it off, and calms down. " But really, do you want to know?"

" Ok, Buffy, what?" Faith says. She can feel her wrists loosen. Slowly, she works her arms up, trying to saw at the ropes binding her to the post.

" That when… when this happened… you… I thought we were friends… I really did, Faith. But you … you just let me take the fall. You didn't even try to stick by me!"

Faith stops her sawing. She sees red.

" Oh, that's a hoot, B!" Faith sneers at her. " That's really rich!"

" What? WHAT?" Buffy turns, staring at her.

" You're pissed off because I didn't stand by you? What about you, you …." Faith cuts it off. She still has the knife." You tried to make it look like I stabbed Alan Finch. You tried to pin it on me!"

" Liar, you fucking liar!" Buffy runs over to her, and kicks her in the stomach.

Faith makes a whooshing noise as the wind is knocked of her. But she manages to keep her hands looking like their still tied up. She pants heavily, trying to catch her breath. She stares balefully at Buffy.

" You… moron…" Faith gets out, her solar plexus feeling like it's on fire, " You… dumb… bitch… you thought … you could just…pin it on me… the bad girl… you thought you could get away… with it…you blame me… for your life … but it's you… you threw away your life, you bitch… you crazy, psycho… bitch…"

" Enough. I've had enough of you and your lies!" Buffy brings up the knife." Long past time I sliced your throat, whore!"

Faith starts to laugh. It hurts like hell, but she can't help it.

"What're you laughing at, bitch?" Buffy shoves the knife to her throat. " You think I won't do it?"

" Of course you'll do it, you're a nut job, " Faith laughs at her, " but it won't change squat. You'll still be a psycho, you still won't have a life, and when your friends find out? Well, think they're gonna love you for it?"

" They won't find out, " Buffy says, sounding a shade worried. " No one knows you're here."

" Wrong-o, B. Willow knows I'm here. She brought me. Matter of fact, she might show up any time. She was supposed to pick me up after a couple of hours…"

"You've only got a couple of seconds left, " Buffy glares at her. " When Will shows up, I'll just… well, I'll just say ' Hey, Will… gosh, I don't know. Yeah, Faith was here for awhile. She looked upset… seemed troubled. I don't know, Will. She just took off, pretty much without a word.' She'll believe me."

" Well, you see, Buffy, now that's where you'd be wrong!" Willow's voice comes floating down from the top of the stairs.

" Willow?" Buffy looks up, distracted.

Faith sees her chance, and takes it. Putting ever last bit of her strength behind it, she swings her arm around in a haymaker punch, hitting Buffy full force, knocking her flying. She hits a wall, and stunned, slides down it.

" Red, quick… the ropes!" Faith calls to her, seeing Buffy starting to recover

" LAXO" Willow calls out, and the ropes seem to fall off of Faith. Faith is up in an instant, but Buffy's just a little faster. She grabs a loose brick close at hand, and throws it at Willow, hitting her and knocking her off balance. Willow tries to balance, but loses it and tumbles down the stairs.

" Red!" Faith calls out, running to the stairs to catch the unconscious Willow. She sets her down on the stairs, and turns, only to be hit by the freight train known as Buffy. They both go flying, Buffy on top.

Buffy has lost all reason. Everything is wrong, everyone is against her. In her mind, it's all Faith's fault. She starts whaling on the stunned Faith, hitting her over and over, screaming, " I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill you… die, bitch!"

Willow, still half groggy from the fall, sits up and sees Buffy mauling Faith.

" Buffy… Stop… STOP!!!" Willow cries out, but Buffy is to far gone to hear her. She can only hit the source of her pain. And hit, and hit. " STOP… YOU'LL KILL HER!" But Buffy won't, can't, stop.

" Conicio suus absentis!" Willow says, using magic to repel Buffy off of Faith. Buffy flies towards the wall.

It wasn't Willow's fault; no one could see, in the darkness, the pipe sticking out of the wall. Buffy hits the wall and the pipe impales her, going through her chest. Her eyes go wide, and she screams in agony.

" Oh, my god, Buffy, " Willow yells, running over to where Buffy is impaled on the wall. But it's too late, much too late. Buffy hangs, eyes wide open, dead.

" Buffy… oh, god… Buffy…" Willow starts to lose it. She starts to sob, falling to her knees.

Faith groans, and forces herself up, feeling like a truck hit her. Groggy as she is, she hears Willow' sobs.

" Red? Where are…" She turns around, and sees Willow kneeling by the impaled Buffy. She feels her stomach start to come into her throat, but she forces it down, and shakily, rises to her feet. She walks over and sinks down next to Willow, putting her arm around her shoulders. Willow leans into her, sobbing her heart out. Slowly, gently, she gets Willow to her feet, and leaning heavily on her, leads her out of the basement.

It's all over, except the rain.

The front of the Revello street house is lit by the flashing lights of the ambulance and police cars. Faith, her face looking like a huge bruise, is standing next to Willow, her arm draped protectively around her shoulders. Willow stands quiet, not crying any longer, but pale and silent.

Faith is repeating her story again to the officers, telling as much of the truth as she can. She edits out the magic, and Willow's involvement, except to say she managed to distract Buffy long enough for Faith to stop her, permanently. The officer, seeing her condition, and knowing Buffy's history, looks sympathetic. He tells them they'll need to come down to the station later to file a report. But he offers that in his opinion, it's a clear case of self defense. After a few more offered sympathies, he turns and leaves.

The stretcher bearing Buffy's body is wheeled out of the front door, and both women turn away, not wanting to look at it. Despite what's happened, Faith and Willow are still having a hard time believing what happened; believing that Buffy is dead. They can't deal with it right now, it hurts too much. More than enough time later to mourn.

" I didn't mean to… I didn't want to…" Willow's calm façade starts to crack.

" It wasn't your fault, Red. There was no way you could've known about that pipe. You were just trying to save my life, baby." Faith hugs her closer, " She would've killed me."

" I killed her… god, Faith, I killed her," Willow starts to shake.

" Shhh… Willow, it was an accident," Faith says, " She was out of her mind. She … what they did to her… it drove her over the edge. She couldn't come back."

They stand quietly for awhile, watching as the ambulance and police cars pull away. All that's left is the rain, coming down hard, as if in mourning.

Willow looks up at Faith, and gently reaches out, touching her bruised face. Faith winces.

" Sorry… god, she hurt you so badly, " Willow murmurs.

" I'll be ok, " Faith tries to reassure her, " She was so twisted, and she saw me as the cause of all her problems. She couldn't be happy, be free, unless I was dead."

" Do you think… maybe she can find some peace now?" Willow says hopefully. Despite what happened, she pitied Buffy; she didn't hate her.

" I dunno, Red, I dunno, " Faith says, not having the answer.

They stand silently for awhile, watching the rain pour down.

" How about us?" Willow asks, " will we be ok?"

Faith doesn't answer. She doesn't have the answer to that one, either.