Mirror

By Norwalker

Part 1

Summary: Alternate Buffyverse. Suppose Buffy didn't win one of those fights? And some Vampire with a wicked sense of humor decided to change things forever?

Pairings: They vary. Nothing is forever. Is it?

Rating: M

Disclaimer: The characters depicted in this story are the intellectual property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Fox. All rights reserved by the owners. I'm just using them in the story and not making anything on it. The story is mine.

1

The mirror cracked, from side to side …

Alfred, Lord Tennyson " The Lady of Shallot"

She stretched and yawned, awakening from her sleep. It was dark out; it was always dark out when she woke these days. Not like before.

Swinging her legs off the bed, she padded towards the bathroom and a nice shower. Even with how everything was different, she still liked a daily shower. Reaching in, she turned on the taps, then doffed her sleepwear, entering the shower and letting the warm spray stimulate her. She loved the feel of the water as it pelted her pale, smooth skin. Shaking her blond hair, she luxuriated in her shower.

It was one of the few things that seemed to carry over into her new life. Everything else had changed, but she still had showers to look forward to. Soaping down, she carefully washed each and every bit of herself. There's no excuse to be stinky, she thought, as the mild herbal fragrance clung to her skin. Smiling, she turned in the shower, letting the water wash away the soap. Fully awake now, and refreshed, she cut the water and reached out for a towel. She dried off and then sat on the toilet, brushing out her hair.

Sitting there, she thought of how odd it was that a lifetime of habits clung on, even after they were no longer needed. She didn't really need to go through these rituals anymore. Like her old life, it was superfluous to what her life was like now. But every evening, she showered, brushed her hair, put on her makeup and went through all the habits she so carefully acquired through her life.

My old life, she corrected herself. Not her life as it was now. It all seemed like a dream to her, that old life. She remembered what she was, her friends, her family, what she liked and disliked. What she believed and didn't believe. Her mores and values. All still there, the memories intact. It just didn't mean anything now. None of it.

2

The words came to her unbidden. The words she'd lived by, fought by, and finally, died by.

" Into every generation a slayer is born…"

She remembered being ambushed, and knocked unconscious.

" One girl in all the world…"

She remembered being chained up. Being tortured by a Spike. Falling in and out of consciousness as the pain got worse and worse.

" A chosen one ..."

She remembered wishing it were over, praying that it would be over. Waking up screaming, the pain was so bad… and Spike looking on, laughing at her…

"One born with the strength and skill to fight the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness …"

That was the worst. The feeling of helplessness, the weakness. The fear.

"… to stop the spread of their evil…"

Her anger, her hatred at watching that sadist taking pleasure in humiliating and torturing her. The rage, how she thirsted for revenge.

" … and the swell of their numbers."

And finally, tiring of the game, Spike took her. Bit her while raping her, sucking the very life from her. She remembers the pain, and the strange feeling of ecstasy as her life drained away… and the cares… everything falling away, leaving only the darkness.

" She's awake!" Spike crowed as he knelt beside her. " Hello, pet, we weren't sure you were going to make it."

She struggled to sit up, and realized the chains were gone. She felt weak, very weak. Abused and bruised and cut, and weak. And hungry. Hunger like she'd never felt before.

" What… where…" was all she got out, her voice hoarse; her throat dry.

" Now Spike, our daughter needs a little snack. She's all new, and confused, do be good and show her." Drusilla watched her carefully.

What is that nut job saying? She wondered to herself. But she was weak, and so hungry. God, she needed to feed…

" C'mon along, pet, don't be shy now. You know what you want, " Spike grabbed her arm, and hauled her to her feet.

She felt wobbly and woozy and weak. She looked around, and saw the victim tied up, looking scared, trying to escape his bonds.

The hunger, the need in her flared, and she knew. Knew what they'd done to her, what she was. She felt sick. It was her worst fear, realized. She was a vampire. Like them.

But she looked at the human, the prey, and her mouth watered. She needed it. Desired it. Wanted it. She looked at Spike questioningly. He just nodded and shoved her towards him… it. It wasn't a him to her anymore. It wasn't anything but prey.

She felt her face change, and her teeth grow into fangs. She saw the fear on the victim's face, and it only made it sweeter, more desirable. She tried to fight the feeling, but it was too strong, she needed it too much. She fell upon the prey, and sank her teeth into it. The screams were like music, and the fear, the utter fear tasted like honey and clover. She fed, grasping her victim to her as her strength increased. She felt the hot blood in her mouth, in her throat, and it was nearly as intense as an orgasm. She fed until there was nothing left.

When she finished, she leaped up, feeling strong. Stronger than she'd ever felt before. Drusilla's right, she thought, the warmth of the blood pumping through her body. I am new… powerful. Everything was sharper, clearer. Her senses were enhanced. She felt as if she could do anything, anything at all.

" Oh, look at her Spike. She's magnificent. She'll be a wonderful addition to our little family," Dru clapped her hands, insanely happy.

" So, pet, welcome to our world," Spike said, " I always sensed that little bit of darkness in you. Now you can use it, free of all that conscience crap." He walked over to her, smiling. " How do you feel?"

She smiled, and reached out, putting her hand on his face. " I feel…" She grabbed his face, and with a quick twist, snapped his neck. He looked shocked, before crumbling into dust. "… strong!"

" Oooooo…." Drusilla moaned, up and racing towards her, hand extended like claws. " What have you done?"

She was fast, faster than even Drusilla, and before Drusilla could reach her, she'd picked up a piece of scrap wood, and plunged it into her heart. Drusilla kept coming, dusting on the fly, scattering across the floor.

" I've killed him, and you, bitch," Buffy answers the dust cloud. " No one fucks with me in my town."

She felt the laughter bubble up in her, insane laughter that needed to be released. She laughed at her idiot sires, at the world, at everything she'd believed before. It was new now; new and different. She was strong, stronger than ever before. Powerful in a way she never expected.

And she was hungry. Very hungry. The snack had been nice, but now she needed to feed. So much blood, so little time. She chuckled to herself.

Time to hunt, she thought to herself as she neared the door, time to kill.

She felt an almost sexual thrill go through her as she walked out the door, into the night.

Mine. All mine.

3

" … all mine, " She murmured, looking out the window on the moonlit Sunnydale. She stood framed by the window, the moonlight playing on her naked form and pale blond hair.

And it was all hers. From the first, she made it her town. Using her skills as a slayer, she'd one by one eliminated any vampires that thought to be competition, leaving only those that were in thrall to her. In one sense, she lived up to her old mission: she kept the vampire population low. Lower even than when she was alive. No new vamps dared come to Sunnydale to challenge her. And she strictly controlled who would be 'sired', keeping the vamp population well in her control. Anyone defying her will found themselves quickly on the wrong end of a stake. She didn't tolerate disobedience.

She sighed, knowing she would have to dress and go out soon. She loved being naked these days, enjoying the night air against her skin. Unlike when she was alive, she enjoyed her body, and what pleasure it could bring her. She often took human lovers, male and female, using them, hurting them and then feeding off them after she came. It made the sexual pleasure more intense when the fear kicked in and the hot blood flowed down her throat. The sex and the blood, the pain and the fear, all became one for her; one giant never ending pleasure.

She went over to the closet, and pulled out the clothes d' jour. Strangely, even though she was a completely different being in so many ways, she still dressed much like she had when alive. Maybe more butch now, preferring tight jeans and tops and boots to other looks, but still, she could dress all girly at a drop of a hat. She often did, finding it added to the pleasure when her prey found out she wasn't so ' sweet and innocent' as she looked. She smiled thinking about the looks on their faces when things got a little wild.

But tonight was a dress casual night for her. Things might get physical. They might get weird. And anyway, why dress up to see old friends, huh?

She smiled to herself as she pulled on the jeans.

4

"Have you lost your mind?" Willow paces in the alcove off the main floor of the Bronze. " That… that's just insanity."

" Things are desperate, Willow. Without a slayer…" Giles is trying to hold his patience, knowing what he's proposing is difficult for the others to accept.

"We don't know that Buffy's… " Willow can't bring herself to say it. " She might be in hiding, or… she might have run away…"

"You saw that place, Willow, " Giles says, going to her, " you saw the blood…"

" It was Buffy's blood, I could smell it…" Angel, in the shadows, comes out in the light.

" Well, considering, you'd know, wouldn't you?" Xander says, hostility plain in his voice, " I mean you did feed off her…"

" I had no choice, Xander. I didn't want to. She made me feed from her."

" Right. She held a stake to your heart and said,' bite me or die!' ".

" She didn't need to put a stake to me, Xander. I was dying… remember?"

" I remember that when things got tough, you turned to the one you said you loved, and nearly killed her drinking from her…"

" Xander, stop it. Angel has nothing to do with this. We don't even know for sure she's… gone."

" Will, stop it. Stop living in a fantasy, she's dead!" Xander turns on her." Wishing it weren't so? Not going to change things. She's dead, and turned…" He turns back to Angel, his face suspicious, " and I'm not convinced that dead boy here didn't have something to do with it!"

Willow reacts like Xander slapped her in the face. She looks stunned, then sits down, holding her face as she leans over the table. She starts to sob.

Angel, on the other hand, pushes Xander up against a wall, holding him by the neck, his feet off the ground. His anger is boiling over.

" You'd think I'd want this for Buffy? I know what it's like … to feel the hunger, the craving… I swear, Harris, if you weren't one of her friends, I'd tear your head off…" His face is bare inches from Xander's. " I loved her, moron. I'd never do something like this to her. I wanted to protect her from …"

" Yeah, fine one, wanting to protect her. Running to L.A., because you couldn't deal. Fine way to protect her, " Xander tries to swing out to hit Angel, but Angel's grip is too tight.

" Stop it!" Giles says. Seeing they're not listening, he goes over to them, trying to come between them." I said, STOP IT!" He shouts the last bit, startling the both of them. " Let him go, Angel!"

Angel looks angry, but complies, letting Xander go suddenly, so he drops to the floor. He stalks off to the other side of the room. Xander gets up, and seeing Willow still crying at the table, goes over to her.

" Hey, I'm sorry, Will. I didn't mean to snap at you like that…"

Willow looks up at him, face wet with tears, eyes red. " You just said what you thought, Xander. I think… I know you're wrong, but …"

"We've gotten off the point here, I believe, " Giles interrupts, " without Buffy, no matter what her current state," he says the last as a sop to Willow, " the Hellmouth has no guardian. We need a slayer here, to watch over things."

" See, that's what doesn't make sense, " Willow says, piping up. " If Buffy is really gone, why hasn't the demon/ vampire population exploded? Things are quiet around here. Someone is watching things. That's Buffy…"

" I admit that's rather strange," Giles muses, " but that doesn't mean it's attributable to Buffy's presence. It might be just a quiet time for the Hellmouth. That's all the more reason we need a slayer here. There's no telling when the Hellmouth will kick in, drawing more demons and vampires."

" Why isn't there another slayer, then?" Willow says, quietly.

" I'm not following, Will." Xander puts in.

" One slayer dies, another is chosen. Where's the new slayer?"

" Buffy died and had a new slayer created from that death, " Giles says. " Back when she fought the Master. She died briefly, and Kendra was activated. When Drusilla killed Kendra… Faith was activated."

" Right, so if Buffy's dead, shouldn't another … what? Another slayer be activated?"

" No, because that only occurs once. The line no longer runs through Buffy. Faith is the latest slayer. A new slayer will only be called if she dies."

" We can only hope, " Xander touches his neck, remembering how Faith nearly strangled him to death.

" Faith isn't the same as when she left here, " Angel puts in, " she's changed. A lot."

" This from the guy who nearly killed every one of us, and tried to destroy the world. Yeah, that's really making me feel better about it, " Xander taunts.

" Xander? Shut up!" Willow almost yells at him. " Angel didn't have his soul. He's not like that now. So stop sniping at him, and help."

" I don't want her here," Xander subsides, but is still sniping. " I don't trust her." He stares straight at Angel, making his meaning clear.

" I don't trust her either, " Willow supports him. She turns to Giles. " Isn't there something else we can do? Maybe when Buffy comes back…"

" Willow, you have to accept the fact that Buffy isn't coming back," Giles tries to make it as gentle as he can, but also needs her to face the facts.

" I don't believe that. There's no proof…"

Angel walks over, and puts something on the desk in front of Willow. It's a small silver cross. She looks up at him.

" I found this at the warehouse. There was blood on it. I gave her that…" He stops, the feelings the memory evokes are painful, "… when I first met her. She's never taken it off… that I know of."

Willow holds the cross in her hand, her thumb rubbing over it. Something seems to weigh down on her, as if a great weight has been put on her. She looks up and whispers softly. " Ok, Angel. I don't like it. I don't. But if there's no other way…"

" No! Not you too, Will. No!" Xander walks away from the table, and turns on the group. " Are you all insane? Don't you remember what happened the last time she was here? What's to say she doesn't turn on us again? Who can guarantee that?"

" I will "

Everyone turns to the voice that just spoke up. Faith, a very changed Faith dressed much more conservatively than any of them remember seeing her, is standing near the alcove entrance.

A pin could be heard to drop.

" What? She's here?"

" I thought we were going to talk about this first."

" Swell, I guess our opinions don't mean jack here."

" Give her a chance."

" Oh, right. Like last time? So she can like try to kill us again?"

Faith watches the others going ballistic on her. The only sign of nervousness at being here is her hands; she's twisting and untwisting them.

" How is she out of prison, anyway? She should be in there for a couple more decades, right?"

" She's changed."

" I'll believe that when I see tigers wearing spots."

" So, you here to gloat, Faith? Must be pretty sweet, now that you're the only slayer left!"

" Xander!"

" Will, you know it's true."

" There's no proof."

" What about the cross, Will? You were ready to accept that."

" HEY!" Faith finally speaks up. The others just go on.

" Angel, how could you bring her here? At least before we talked about this?"

" Giles and I agreed that we needed her here. With Buffy gone, we need the Slayer on the Hellmouth."

" She's not the slayer. Buffy's THE Slayer. She's just a murdering, betraying bitch!"

" Can I say something?" Faith tries to cut in. No luck.

" Buffy's dead, Willow. You're going to have to accept that."

" Show me a body. Show me her body, and I'll accept it."

"I don't care if Buffy's dead or not, " Xander puts in, " I don't want her…" he points at Faith," … here. She's bad news, and she'll turn on us like before!"

" That's enough, Xander. All of you. She's here, and we need her here," Giles shuts down the discussion. " We need a slayer on the Hellmouth, and Faith is our only choice. End of discussion."

There is some grumbling when Faith speaks up.

" Thanks for that vote of confidence, G. It was heartwarming, " Faith turns to the group. " Look, I get it. You don't want me here. I don't want to be here, either. But with Buffy gone…" She sees Willow glare at her, "… wherever, we don't gotta choice. Like it or not, we're stuck with each other. You don't trust me? Good. Maybe you shouldn't. I'll have to earn that back, I know that." She sees the looks on Xander's and Willow's faces. " I've changed. But I know you don't believe that, so I can only do my job, and stay out of your way. That's it" she shrugs, moving back.

" So that's it? That's all?" Xander says, rising. " funny, I didn't hear one word about being sorry."

" Me either, " Willow stands. " I guess that doesn't really matter though, does it? Like our opinions."

Faith looks at Willow. " If I'd said it, would you believe me?"

Willow frowns at her. " You haven't changed a bit, have you? You might've fooled Angel and Giles, but you're the same. No, I don't think I'd believe you're sorry, cuz you're not."

" Willow, at least give her a chance," Angel says, frustrated over how things have gone.

" We gave her plenty of chances, " Xander pipes up, " Buffy did her best to keep her out of trouble. She went to the wall for her. And she paid it back by… why am I wasting my breath?" He makes a disgusted noise, grabs his coat and leaves.

Willow picks up her purse.

" I hope you don't regret this, Giles, " She looks at him; for the first time, she doesn't understand what he's doing. " This is a big mistake."

She turns and starts to follow Xander out.

" Willow, please. Think about this. Don't walk away." Giles walks over to her. " I know it's hard to accept, but I really do know what I'm doing here."

" I hope so, Giles," Willow leaves.

" Well, that went smashingly, I must say, " Giles sighs.

" Yeah, didn't have to break out a knife, or nothing, " Faith mocks herself." Just being her drove them away."

" Faith, don't beat yourself up over this, " Angel says. " They'll come around."

" It's ok, big guy. Not like I didn't have it coming," Faith stares out of the alcove. " If you guys are right, and B's turned, I don't want them around if I gotta stake her. They'd never get over that one."

" Faith, you just need to be patient. They'll accept it in time, " Giles says softly.

" No they won't, G. I mean, sure maybe they'll accept B's death after awhile, but not me. Not here. This is B's town, and it's always gonna be that way. I'm the intruder here. That hasn't changed." She sits in one of the couches. " This sucks."

" Just give it time, " Angel sits next to her, " they'll deal."

" How 'bout you, Angel? You dealing?"

Angel's face tells her the whole story.

" Yeah, didn't think so, " Faith says, softly. " I'm sorry, Angel. I really wish none of this happened. Ever."

" We were over long ago, Faith, " Angel straightens up. " She was a slayer, she knew the risks."

" Sure," Faith says, unconvinced.

" So, Faith, now you're here, where will you be staying?" Giles asks.

" I dunno," Faith shrugs. " I guess the Sunnydale Motor Inn's still there. That'll do. Hell, after my cell, it'll be like Shangri La."

"Actually, I've made other arrangements for you, if you don't object."

" Oh, really?" Faith's suspicious. " Nice little cell at the police station? I want a view, ya know."

" Faith," Giles' exasperation shows.

" Sorry, guess I still got trust issues of my own. So, what's the skinny on the digs?"

" I've arranged for you to stay with someone…"

"Giles, you dog!" Faith deadpans, " I didn't know you felt that way!"

Giles is perplexed for a second. Then blushes when he gets it.

" I wasn't referring to myself. That would be inappropriate, so say the least."

" Always so proper, Giles. Well, who is it? Who's gonna be my keeper huh?"

" Keeper? No, it's not like that," Giles insists. "But, you have to admit part of your problem before was being alone too much of the time."

" Yeah, yeah, so who's my jailer?" Faith is getting tired of this.

Giles pulls a slip of paper out of his pocket. " You'll go to this address. There's a room there for you."

Faith takes the paper from Giles. She looks at the address, then looks up at him.

" This is Buffy's address." She shakes her head, " No way. There's no way I can live there. Think I don't remember what I did to Mrs. Summers that time?" She stares at him. " Does she know it's ME she's renting a room to? There's no way she could've agreed to this."

"Actually, when she heard we were bringing you to town, she came to me. She asked me to have you stay with her."

" Mrs. Summers? Buffy's mom?" Faith can't process this. " After what I did to her and her daughter? I'd think she'd want to take a shotgun to me."

" Joyce Summers is a pretty special lady, Faith, " Angel interjects. " She forgave me, after I almost killed her daughter." He grins ruefully, " of course, she did want us to break up…"

" I can't do this. I tied up the lady, and terrorized her. What do I say to her? ' Sorry, didn't mean to almost kill you.' ?"

" Faith, Joyce always cared about you. Actually, I tried to convince her not to put you up." Giles admits.

" Not hard enough."

" But she wouldn't hear of you living in one of those sleazy motels downtown. She insisted you stay with her. And I think she's a little lonely with Buffy gone."

" I'm not B, Giles."

"She's well aware of that, Faith. But, as Angel says, Joyce is a very special woman. I think it behooves you to give her a chance, anyway."

"I don't like this. I really don't like this. It's like I'm taking over Buffy's life. I know the other's are gonna think that. Buffy wouldn't want this."

Giles sighs , pinching the bridge of his nose.

" Buffy's gone, Faith. It doesn't matter what she would want now."

" That's harsh, coming from you, Giles, " Faith looks at him. " And that doesn't change the fact that I can feel Buffy's eyes boring through me at the moment." She shivers. " At least, it feels like that."

From a catwalk far above, a figure emerges from the shadow. There's a cynical smile on her lips. She nods to herself.

" Well, now, isn't this a hoot?" Buffy murmurs, leaning on the catwalk railing. " the surprises just keep on coming. Welcome back, Faith. This might get interesting yet."

She slips quietly back into the shadows.

5

" What do you think they're talking about in there?" Xander is sitting at a table with Willow, opposite the alcove. Both are watching the others carefully.

" What do I care?" Willow says, turning away. " Not like they listen to me … us anyway."

" Will… what's going on in that head of yours?" Xander tries to read her. " Don't tell me you're still thinking Buffy's alive?"

" You guys are so ready to bury her, what does it matter?"

" It matters because my bestest friend in the world is holding onto this crazy hope that her best friend is still alive, when everything points to not."

" What? Buffy can't bleed and still be alive? She might've crawled away after, hurt. She might be in a hospital somewhere…"

" We checked all the hospitals."

" Yeah, in Sunnydale."

" Where do you suggest we check? Seattle? Tucson? Barstow?"

" Maybe she didn't go to a hospital . Maybe she's just lying up, hurt, trying to heal. Alone…"

" Will, it's been 6 months. If she were…"

" Amnesia!"

"What?"

" Amnesia. She could have amnesia. She might not know who she is…"

" Willow, stop!" Xander pounds the table in frustration. " I don't want her dead, either. But you're over the edge."

" Just because I have hope, Xander Harris, is no reason for you to talk to me like that! Buffy's strong, and she's resourceful. She …"

" Dammit! Face facts, Will. Buffy's gone. She's dead. If she's around, then it means she's…."

"No, no!" Willow insists, in a soft, quiet voice." You're wrong. I won't believe it, Xander. They couldn't… didn't make her… like that. She's too good, she's… it's wrong, and you're wrong!"

" She's human, Will. Anyone can be turned. Me, you… her…"

" She's the Slayer! That means something. It has to, Xander. It has to!"

Willow shakes her head, but it's in defeat. She knows in her heart of hearts Buffy's dead… maybe even a vampire. But if I admit it, if I believe it, it makes it true. It can't be true, it just can't be.

" Will, I'm sorry, " Xander reaches over, covering her hand.

" I know."

" Look, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she is…"

" I know she's dead, Xander. I've known it for a long time. I just … I just don't want it … I …" She puts her head on the table. Not crying, just all the fight gone out of her.

Xander quietly strokes her hair, for once keeping quiet.

" What're we going to do, Xander?"

" I dunno, Will. I guess we just have to deal with her death, every day. Try to get past it, go on."

" I mean about Faith. What're we going to do about her?"

Xander looks as if he's smelled something bad." I don't know or care, Will. Frankly, they've made up their minds. Pretty much tells me how what we think rates. They want her? Fine, let 'em have her. But I'm out."

" Xander!" Willow lifts her head.

" Don't, Will. Don't even try. No way I'm … she tried to kill me, Will. Remember? I went over there to support her, and she winds up strangling me!"

" In her bed," Willow says quietly, " where you'd been before."

" She threw me there, Will. I didn't want to be there! God, the last thing I wanted was sex with Faith."

" Like the first time?"

" That was totally different. We'd been fighting one of those she demon thingies, and we escaped from it, back to her place. And she got all … squiggly, and god, I was 17, Will. I had raging hormones 24/7. It just happened. It didn't mean anything."

Willow just smiled.

" So, what? Are you just going to quit?"

" I dunno. Maybe. Look, Will, we were in this because, well… because of Buffy. We hung in because we were like… family. You just don't walk out on family. But… it hasn't been right in awhile. Even Buffy wasn't … she didn't feel it at the end, Will."

" Xander! She's the slayer!"

" That's why she hung in, Will. It was her deal, her destiny and all. But be real. Her heart wasn't in it. Not anymore, not since…"

" … Dawnie died," Willow finishes in a whisper.

It had been terrible for all of them. Glory, the hell goddess, and Dawn, the key… made human and Buffy's sister for her and the world's protection from Glory. Who found her, and used her… and Dawnie, after the rituals were performed, and the portal was opened, jumped into it to save the world.

Buffy never really came back from that. She knew in her head that Dawnie wasn't her sister, but in her heart, it was as if she lost more than a sister. She lost a big piece of herself. She went on, she continued her sacred duty, but it no longer meant what it had to her. In a moment of black despair, she'd confessed to Willow that she often wished it had been her that died that day.

" Xander, we can't quit. She didn't, even when she lost so much. How can we? We owe her that."

" I just don't feel it anymore, Will. I dunno. I'll talk to Anya, see what she says."

" So when are you two going to make me an Aunt, already?" Willow smiles. " It's been nearly 2 years you guys have been married. What's the hold up? I want a baby to rock."

" That's another thing. I don't feel right about having children… here." Xander waves his hand around." This place is cursed."

" The Bronze?" Willow teases.

" No… Sunnydale. That's why we're thinking of…"

" Moving? Gosh, Xander, I thought you were just kidding!"

Xander shakes his head. " We both don't feel right here. And children? I think I'm going to seriously consider it now."

" Where you going to go, Xander?"

" I dunno. We'll find someplace. All I know I want to get away from Hellmouths, and demons and all the rest. Someplace that isn't Demon party town."

" Oh gosh. Look at the time!" Willow glances at her watch. " I've gotta go, before visiting hours are over!" She pushes away from the bar.

" How… how's Tara doing?" He puts his hand over hers.

" I really… I think I see real progress, Xan. I mean, she doesn't really react much. But sometimes, I can see her seeing me in her eyes. I know she's there, Xan. I really do. If I could only find the right spell…"

" Will…" Xander sounds tired. They've talked too many times about this.

" No, Xander, she's there. If I could only find her, bring her out… She'd be fine. I know it. I know it."

" Ok, honey, " He rubs her shoulder reassuringly. " Hey, how 'bout I walk you over?"

" No, I'll be fine, " She smiles at him. " Anyway, you better get home to Anya. She still thinks I'm trying to steal you away from her."

They both laugh at that.

" She just doesn't get the concept of gay, Will."

" An 1100 year old vengeance demon, who's seen everything, and gay is a stumper for her." Willow giggles.

" She just doesn't get how you can have fun without… how does she put it? Oh yeah. The interlocking body parts."

They both push off from the bar, and start towards the back exit. Willow stops before they reach the door, and stops Xander with a touch.

" Xander? Don't… make too hasty a decision, ok? At least, promise you'll think about things before you make up your mind."

" Are we back to Faith? I'm sorry, Will. I just can't accept her in place of Buffy. I really don't think she's changed all that much. It's going to end badly. I just know it."

" At least think about it. Think of what Buffy would want. I don't think she'd want us to just … quit. Faith's here now, and we're going to have to accept that. And that she's the Slayer now."

" If Buffy were here, she'd kick her skanky ass out of town."

Willow shakes her head. " No. She's bitch about her, and she wouldn't trust her, and watch her like a hawk. But I'd think she'd give her a chance. I'm not doing cartwheels here, Xander. And I'm not sure I'm ready to count Buffy out yet. But … I think we have to at least try."

" I'll think about it. But I don't think I'll change my mind."

" You're a stubborn man, Xander Harris."

" Maybe. But that's why you love me, Willow Rosenberg."

" Yeah, don't you forget it either, Mister!"

They hug at the door, and leave, going their separate ways.

6

Faith walks slowly down Revello Drive. After the warm welcome home at the Bronze, she rather relishes the alone time. The street has a lot of memories for her; some good, most bad.

She's still not convinced this isn't a mistake. Coming back here to Sunnydale.

They don't want me here, and hey, not doing the dance of joy being here. So, why am I here? Her face takes on a harder expression. Probably because the council had such a bitch of a time trying to kill me in prison. Not sure they aren't going to keep at it now that I'm out. But for now, I'm what they got, and this is my gig. Yay team!

She stops in front of 1630 Revello, and stands looking at the porch. Geeze, why didn't I con Giles or Angel to come with? What the hell am I gonna say to Mrs. Summers?

" Hey, Joyce, Long see no time. Remember me? Faith? The murdering bitch that tied you up and almost cut you to get back at Buffy. Oh yeah, and I switched bodies with her. Sorry bout stealing your cash and credit cards. So, how's tricks? "

Yeah, that'll do it. This is really a mistake. Big time.

Faith starts to turn, ready to leave, when the porch light comes on. The front door opens.

" Faith? Is that you?" Joyce Summers calls out. " Mr. Giles phoned, letting me know you were coming."

" Yeah, it's me, Mrs. Summers." Faith calls back.

" Think you could come closer? A bit late in the evening to be shouting at each other."

" Right…right." Faith walks to the porch. " Sorry."

" Hello Faith, " Joyce says, giving her the once over." You look … different." She smiles, realizing her faux pas. " I mean, you look well."

" Kinda not like the teenage slut like before?"

" Well, I see that hasn't changed. Right to it, huh Faith?" Joyce smiles. There's an edge of sadness to it.

" I'm sorry, Mrs. Summers, but I don't get it. Why did you volunteer to put me up? I haven't forgotten what I've done to you and …" she trails off.

" It's ok, you can say her name. I'm not going to fall to pieces, Faith," Joyce gestures, " Want to come inside? Might be more comfortable."

Faith shrug, and starts to walk inside, but stops before the doorway. " No." She shakes her head, and backs off. " I'm sorry, but no. This isn't going to work, Mrs. Summers…"

" Joyce. Call me Joyce, please."

" I can't be here. It's too weird. It's like I'm…."

" Taking over her life?" Joyce says with a small edge of sadness. " But isn't that kind of what you're doing?"

" No, I'm not her. I'm me, " Faith says slowly, with emphasis. " I can't be her, Mrs. Summers. Ever."

" That isn't what I meant, Faith. I'm not saying you're replacing her. But you are taking over her responsibilities, right? I mean… where she left off when…" Joyce trails off. "I'm sorry, it's still difficult…"

" Mrs. Summers… Joyce…" Faith lays a hand on her shoulder.

"…accepting what she is now. After fighting them for so long." Joyce has a strange look on her face.

Faith feels a coldness in the pit of her stomach. " You know? For sure… that she… B's a …"

" Vampire?" Joyce says it almost casually. " Yes I know."

Faith feels suddenly wary, as if the trap just sprung. She backs off a little. " How? "

" Buffy's been to see me, of course. A lot of times. I'm not psychic, you know."

Faith lets the stake she keeps up her sleeve slide down into her hand. She holds it towards Joyce. " I think I'm going now…"

" I'm not a vampire, Faith. Don't be ridiculous," Joyce pulls out a large silver crucifix from her blouse." Buffy didn't bite me or anything. We just … talk."

The coldness in her stomach is accompanied by a shiver up her spine. " What's the real deal here, Mrs. Summers?" Faith still feels like something is going to jump out at her. " Why didn't you tell the others?"

" So they could what? Kill her?" Joyce's tone suddenly becomes bitter. " Didn't they do that once already?"

" So that's what this is about, " Faith gets the picture. " That's why you 'volunteered' to put me up when you heard I was coming… you want … you want me to promise not to stake her." Her voice goes flat. " What? Room and board for not doing my job? Is that it?"

" You're job?" Joyce asks, " Killing my daughter is your job?" She laughs, unpleasantly. " I thought it was just a hobby with you, Faith."

" I never wanted to kill B, Mrs. Summers, " Faith paces. " Scare her? Oh yeah. Make her worry? You betcha. Beat the crap outta her? In a second. But I never woulda killed her."

" Like you didn't kill those others?" Joyce asks. " Face it, you were a killer, and my daughter was high on your list."

" I didn't want to kill her, I wanted her to suffer, " Faith says quietly, simply. " I wanted to hurt her back."

" She never did anything to you."

" I know that now. But then I didn't. I thought she hated me, and I didn't get why." She stops pacing, and looks at Joyce. " I know the 'why' now. I've had lots of time to think about it."

" Buffy never hated you, Faith."

" No, I get that now. But she didn't really want to like me either, did she? She wouldn't have been to broken up if I'd walked off a cliff somewhere. I kinda ruined her exclusive little club, her not being the only one anymore… right?"

Faith feels a stinging slap, and chuckles. " Yeah. Thing is, she was a kid, and so was I. We didn't get it, either of us. That we could've worked together, but neither of us got that. It was jealousy, both sides." She looks at Joyce, piercingly. " You guys were the adults. You should've figured it out… and didn't. That was your job, right?"

" I hated her life," Joyce sounds angry and guilty. " I hated what she was. Always being in danger. She was my baby, Faith. My little girl. And every day, she was at risk to die. I didn't want her to do it. I was hoping that with you here, she could quit. Be a normal girl again. But that didn't happen, did it?" Her tone goes tart. " You went bad, didn't you? You turned on everyone. And she was back in it again, fighting someone as strong, as quick and more dangerous than ever. Then you went to jail, and she was stuck. Again. And she did her job. And I got to worry about her, every day. Knowing that the smiling girl in front of me could be dead at any time. That I'd be looking down at her one day in her coffin. I couldn't do my job, to protect her. Could I? Because she… they… wouldn't let me!"

" Joyce…" Faith reaches out to her.

" Now I've got another chance. She needs her mother, now more than ever. Everyone's against her, and I won't let them do it. I won't"

" Joyce. That's not her. That's not Buffy. It's a demon taken up residence in her body. It looks and talks like her. It has her memories, but it's not her! Buffy's dead. She died when …"

SLAP!

"Get out, get out, " Joyce almost snarls at her. " You're no better than the rest of them. I thought at least maybe you'd understand. Just get out"

Faith backs away, down the stairs, holding her now throbbing cheek.

" Be careful, Joyce. She'll turn on you. Don't turn your back on her, and don't ever invite her in."

" Get OUT!"

Joyce goes inside, slamming the door behind her.

Faith looks briefly at the front door, then turns to walk down the street.

Smooth, Faith. Way to handle a grieving mother. A cynical smile curves her lips. Why is it Summer's women always go for my face? She sighs, starting down Revello Drive. Now what? I guess it find some dump to live in. Good one, Faith. No money, and no job. Guess I'll have to bum some cash from Giles til I can find something to support myself with. Oh, he's gonna love this one.

" Alright, knock it off, " She says suddenly to no one. " I know you're there. I'm tired, and I don't want to play. Show yourself!"

She hears a light footfall behind her, and whirls, stake in hand. Standing in front of her is Buffy, grinning broadly. Startled, her instincts kick in, and she starts to shove the stake at her. Buffy grabs her hand, and pulls her close.

" Hey, cutie, " She says with a half sneer, " What's up?"

Before Faith can free herself, Buffy head butts her, stunning her.

" Still so hostile, huh Faith?" Buffy grins at the groggy slayer. " Well, let me give you a special welcome back."

She brings her fist around, hitting Faith in the face. Faith falls like a ton of bricks.

Buffy laughs, and slings the unconscious slayer over her shoulder.

" And I thought this was gonna be hard."

Buffy slips quietly into the night.

7

It's dark.

That's the first thing she notices when her eyes open reluctantly, her head throbbing. Shit, where the hell am I? The second thing she notices is she's tied to some kind of post. Her arms tied extra tightly behind her, she's sitting on a floor. Her legs are also bound.

Faith struggles against her bonds, but quickly realizes that whoever did them knew how to tie somebody up. Buffy, of course. She leans heavily against the ropes around her chest.

" Hey, you're awake!" Buffy calls out cheerily. She brings a candle over, setting it beside Faith. " Sorry, forgot you can't see so good in the dark."

" Really sweet of you, B. But then, you always were the thoughtful one, weren't you?" Faith licks her lips.

" Dry? Want some water? Maybe something a little stronger? I got some whiskey around here, somewhere."

Faith hears some rattling.

" Knock it off, B. Woulda? Just kill me and get it over with."

" Kill you?" Buffy laughs. " God, what gives you that idea? Just wanna talk, girlfriend. It's been ages since we had a nice lil chat, don't ya think?" She looks through some other cabinets. " Ah-hah. Knew it. " She looks at the label. " Well, it's scotch, but anything in a storm, eh?" She pours some in a glass, and comes over to Faith.

"Lame, B. Real lame, " Faith looks at her. " I know what you are."

" Gee. Me too. Kinda cool, huh?" She squats down, putting the glass to Faith's lips. " Sorry 'bout the ropes. But you're always so hostile around me. Is it me? Do I bring out the bad Faith in you?"

Faith spits out the scotch. " Thanks, no thanks. Not in the mood to drink, especially with you.

" Now, don't be that way, Faith. At least, have some water." She puts another glass to Faith's lips. Faith sips, tasting it, then drinks the water greedily. "Careful, honey, you'll choke." She pulls the glass away. " There, better now?"

" Cut the crap, would you Buffy? I know you're gonna kill me, the little miss hostess act's not fooling nobody. Just get it done, so I don't have to look at your skanky face anymore, 'k?"

" So rude. But that's you, isn't it?" Buffy smiles at her. She leans in closer. " Don't you get it? Not going to kill you. Not yet, anyway. What's the fun in that?"

" So what's this all about then, B? Just a new twist on the old game? Get into B&D? " She gives Buffy a once over. " Well, you are kinda dressing more Butch these days."

" Told ya, just wanna chat. But you get all stake-y, and wanting to dust me. I don't get that, " Buffy shrugs. " You shoulda taken the deal, Faith." Her tone loses its lightness.

" The Deal? Oh, you mean… well, what? I'm supposed to like look the other way while you suck your way through Sunny-D? Sorry, not gonna happen. You vampire, me slayer. We know how that works out."

" God, when did you get all by-the-book, Faith?" Buffy pouts a little. " Not like I'm asking you to ignore your ' sacred duty ' or anything. I would've made sure you had plenty of vamps to stake, demons to kill. No skin off my nose, you know?" She grins. " Just, when you see me, you go your way, I go mine, nobody's hurt. Nobody important anyway."

" Don't work that way, B."

" God, Angel's really done a number on your head. What a waste!" She looks at Faith with some amusement and disgust. " What happened to you? You used to be so… cool. When did you get the cork surgically attached to your ass?"

" I'm guessing about the same time you went on a liquid diet, B."

" It's a shame you know? We could've had fun. Butch and Sundance, Bonnie and Clyde…"

" Abbot and Costello? Get real, Buffy. I'm a slayer, and I kill your kind. That doesn't change. You know that. I'm sorry you got turned, Buffy. But that's the breaks. And you know if I get outta this, I'm gonna have to dust you. That's the breaks, too."

" Yeah. Life sucks. Well, for you, anyway," Buffy nods. " Me, I'm liking it. Being un-dead? Best thing ever. All the power, all the fun, none of that pesky morality crap. Really too bad." She sits down by Faith, patting her thigh. " We could've had a blast, you and me. I forgot how cute you are…" Buffy leans in, her face next to Faith's. " Could be fun, you know?" She licks Faith's neck, which send shivers down Faith. " You and me. You really as wild as you made out? I'm betting you're a little hottie in bed." Her tongue licks Faith's ear, as her hand slides up Faith's thigh." I wouldn't mind test driving that body, " She whispers throatily in Faith's ear. " C'mon, baby, just give in to that darkness. You know you want to. Think of it. Getting back at all those creeps."

" Back off, B." Faith says shakily.

" Aw, now don't be that way. You know they screwed you, without so much as a kiss. I mean, they sent you to prison, but look that them. Giles, he's no saint. When he was a kid, he did some pretty nasty stuff. And Angel? Where's he come off? He's killed more people than anyone could count. But they send you up for killing a few stiffs? How's that fair?"

" You're getting senile, B. Must be the blood on the brain. I gave myself up, remember?" Faith's breathing is heavy. She's scared and aroused at the same time.

"They tricked you, Faith. All that talk of goodness, and doing the right thing. Turning you against the darkness, when… if you want to be truthful, that was the best. That made you alive, that made you strong. But they cut that from you. Or tried, didn't they, baby?" Buffy moves, so she's crouching over Faith. " Tried. But it's still there. I can taste it." She tears a little at Faith's t-shirt, revealing a little of Faith's chest. She leans over, kissing just at the top of her breasts. She looks up. " I know you remember how good it felt. How clean, how simple things were." She hooks her nail, and rips Faith's shirt a little more. " C'mon baby, I know you want it. You want that darkness again." She reveals a little of Faith's breast. She nips playfully at its edge, then nibbles it. " So sweet." She moves up, taking Faith's head in her hands. " It can be so sweet. Just say yes, Baby. " She leans in, to kiss her.

" Buffy?" Faith breathes heavily?

" Yes, lover?" Buffy smiles in anticipation.

" Fuck off!" Faith head butts her.

" Ow!" Buffy laughs. " God, you've got a hard head!"

" Get off me, bitch."

" Or what?" Buffy leans in, leering at her. " Whatcha gonna do?"

Faith has managed to loosen her leg bindings. She brings her legs up, kicking Buffy away. Buffy goes flying, hitting a wall. She bounces off the wall, and before Faith can blink, she's back at her. Grabbing her legs, she kneels on them.

" Well, look at you. All defiant and good and … what a dumb ass, " Buffy laughs at her. " Face it Faith, you can't win. Not against me. I know everything you know, and more. I'm stronger than you, and faster than you. And I fight dirty." Buffy's fist shoots out, punching Faith in the stomach. Faith groans. " Get smart, Faith, like you used to be. I'll even let you live. I can use somebody that can go out in the day. Just, don't be a dumb ass. It doesn't suit you."

Faith looks at her. She smirks, and spits on Buffy.

Buffy frowns for the first time. She wipes the spittle off her face.

" Well, I said I wasn't gonna kill you, and I won't, " Buffy half grins at her. " But that doesn't mean, I can't hurt you a little." She punches Faith in the crotch, hard. Faith's face scrunches up. " Not as effective as with boys, but it still hurts, don't it?" She laughs, then sitting on Faith's legs, gives her two chest punches, right on her breasts." Now, that hurts, don't it?" She starts to punch Faith repeatedly in the stomach. " Know what, Faith? Not gonna kill you, because that would just make your suffering way too short. Nope, I got plans for you."

She turns, and starts punching Faith in the face. " Gonna kill the others. One by one." Punch. " Not because I have to, because I want to." Punch." Wanna know why?"

" Why?" Faith, not really caring, asks.

" Cuz, baby," Buffy hits her again. " You'll know that it didn't have to be that way. I wasn't going to touch them. But you being a stubborn bitch," She slaps her," caused it. To hurt you. To haunt that precious conscience of yours." She keeps hitting her, not enough to knock her out, just enough to hurt. " So, what do you think of that?"

" Fuck… you… B"

" Naw, you had your chance." Buffy delivers the knock out blow. She stands up, and kicks her a few times in the ribs for good measure.

Buffy stands there, looking down on her. She spits on her. Turning, she heads for the drawers by the sink.

But it's the expression on her face that's strange. It's not anger, nor joy at just beating the shit out of her enemy. Her expression is one of sad bemusement. As if she can't understand why Faith turned her down, nor why she just beat her up.

She rifles through the drawer, at last coming up with a large, wickedly sharp looking knife. She goes back over to Faith.

For a moment, it looks as if she'll plunge the knife in Faith. Then, carefully, she starts to cut the ropes, loosening her bonds. Setting down the knife, she almost tenderly lifts the unconscious slayer. Looking at her, bleeding, starting to bruise, she leans over, and licks the blood from her mouth. But there's no triumph in her face, only sadness. She kisses her softly.

" Time for you to go home."

Carrying Faith, she walks to the door.

8

It's near morning, and Rupert Giles is at his desk.

Asleep, his head laying on a book. He's still wearing the clothes from the night before. Before him sits a bottle of scotch, half gone, a glass sitting beside it. He's snoring softly.

Buffy's disappearance, and to his mind, death, has hit him hard. He has no right, he knows, to feel this way. It's only my slayer. Slayer's do die. He's told himself, repeatedly. But that doesn't help the heartbreak he feels. She was more than that, more than he can ever even admit to himself. All he knows is that she's gone, and the only way he can sleep these days is to drink himself to sleep.

He awakens when a loud pounding jars him out of his sleep.

" Just a minute, " He half slurs out, still feeling the effects of last nights binge. What the hell? He looks at the clock on the wall. 4 a.m. ? Who could it be ? Angel? Dammit, why can't this wait?

The pounding repeats itself, and he loses his temper.

" I said, just a minute!" He yells, uncharacteristically. " I'm coming!"

Stupid sodding git. Should've staked him long ago. Giles stands, pausing a second to steady himself. He walks, a little stiffly from the cramps in his legs, to the door. Grabbing the knob, he pulls it open suddenly.

" What in heaven is so important it couldn't…" He starts, anticipating Angel. Instead, he sees nothing before him. Except a movement in the shadows. He stares, but it's not repeated.

" What in …" He looks down.

Laying at his feet is the Faith, beaten, bruised and a little bloody. It takes him a second to recognize her, her hair half plastered to her face.

" Oh my god." He kneels down by her. He touches her neck, feeling a pulse. " Thank god." He murmurs softly.

Faith stirs, and looking out of an eye that's blackened and swollen, sees a blurry Giles kneeling over her.

" Hey," She croaks out between swollen lips.

" Faith, what happened to you?"

" She's … back…" Faith loses consciousness.

To be continued