Mirror

By Norwalker

Part 21

Disclaimer: The characters appearing on the show " Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" TV Shows belong to Joss. That's right. Joss. And Mutant Enemy, Inc. And don't forget Fox( yeah, as if we could.)

Original Characters and the story belong to the author. And this isn't real life, so if you think I'm writing about you? Just a coincidence. Really. I don't know you. Really. I know you think I know you, but I don't. We never met. Ok?

Really. We never met. I promise. It didn't happen.

We never met. Get over it. Please.

Thank you.

1

" Hey Faith, Mrs. Weiss wanted to know if you… " Buffy's words trail off when she opens the door and sees Faith packing her duffle bag.

" Buffy, " Faith looks up, and walks over to Buffy. " hey."

" What's going on?" Buffy's gaze is locked on the bag." What're you doing?"

" Buffy, I gotta get back to Akron. I was only supposed to be here a week, and It's been nearly two months now. I've got to get back to work…"

" You're leaving?" Buffy moves into the room, and looks into the bag. " Were you planning on telling us ? Or just going to sneak away?"

" I was gonna tell you," Faith says, a little defensively, " I wasn't just going to up and disappear like…" She bites her words off.

" Like I do? Was that what you were going to say?" Buffy says, " So, it was gonna be " Goodbye, seeya?" and then you're gone?" Buffy sits on the bed, next to the bag. " What happened to ' We're here for you, Buffy' ? Or, was there an expiration date on that?"

" Buffy, I'm only gonna be in Akron. It's like 10 miles away. If you need me, I can be here in an hour or so…"

" What if I need you at 4 a.m.? What if I need to be held? What if I need to snuggle up to you, to feel real!0 miles might as well be a million miles, if you're not here… " Buffy stands up, walking over to the window. " Why? Why now? I don't get it, Faith. Why're you leaving now?"

" Because it's time, Buffy. You're better, you're doing good, now I've gotta go back and be the slayer again. I'm sorry, but you know I have to," Faith says, lying through her teeth, " don't make this harder than it is…"

" Hey, what's going on? Gram is… HEY! What's going on!" Willow, at the door, sees the duffel bag.

" She's leaving, " Buffy says, glumly.

" Leaving?" She goes to Faith, her face losing color, " What's this about? I thought we talked about this, Why're you leaving now?" She sits down next to the bag. " What about Buffy? She needs you here!" She nods at Buffy.

" Yeah, what about… wait, you talked about this? When? Why wasn't I clued in? "

" While you were in the coma, Buffy, " Willow says, " I thought…"

" Things haven't changed, Willow. It's still not going to work."

" What? Ok, I'm lost. I don't have the souvenir program. I don't know what's going on. Someone want to let me in on it?" Buffy turns to Faith. " What did you talk about? What hasn't changed? What's not going to work?"

Faith doesn't respond.

" Ok, nothing there, next witness," Buffy walks over to Willow. " What's the what, Will? What don't I know? What's she talking about?"

Willow looks at Buffy, seems as if she's going to speak, then stops. She looks at Faith. Faith looks at her. Both look away.

None of this is lost on Buffy. She backs up towards the window.

" Oh. I get it. This isn't about you and me, " She addresses Faith, " this is about you and her." She points at Willow.

Willow, angry that Faith is still leaving, despite Buffy being back, stares at Faith.

" Well, Faith, you wanna get that one?" She says, her tone a little on the sarcastic side.

Faith isn't exactly loving being put on the spot.

" Well, not just about me and Red, Buffy, " Faith says," or me and you, or you and Red, I guess. It's kinda all of it, mixed together."

" Oh… ok, It's so much clearer now," Buffy says, fully sarcastic. " What's that crap supposed to mean?"

" It means…" Faith begins

" It means, Faith can't choose, Buffy," Willow cuts in. Her tone is softer, more sympathetic. " She loves us both…"

" Oh, well, glad we finally got that one out in the open, then," Buffy says, " way you two been acting, like nothing happened between you…" she makes an impatient noise, " … don't look so surprised. I'd have to be blind not to see the way you two look at each other when you think I don't see." She sighs, and walks over to the bed, sitting down. " I'm not angry about it. What right would I have? I caused it, pretty much, didn't I?" Buffy leans her face on her hands. " pretty much, I've fucked up everything, haven't I?"

" Buffy, don't say that. This isn't your fault…" Willow turns to her, " it didn't have to…"

" Oh, c'mon Will, Of course it's my fault," Buffy says. She catches both their glances. " No, I'm not slipping back into … look, I get it … I didn't kill Dawn. Ok, I get that. I got that. But this… is my fault. I pushed you two together. I encouraged you to be together, all for my own selfish reasons. And I got …ok, still get to a degree… jealous of you when you're together. You can't lessen my guilt on this one, guys. "

" Buffy, doesn't matter how it happened. It happened," Faith says," Thing is, I love you both. I shouldn't feel that way, but I do. As you'd say, Buffy. It's just wrong. And, even if I could chose between you, what happens? The other's left out, hurt. That hurts me, because I'm hurting one of you. That hurts both of you, because you lose this fantastic friendship you've got. Only way I see to fix it? Get out. I go, you guys are still good, and well… eventually, we all manage to find someone else…"

For what seems like hours, but is really only seconds, silence descends on the three. Then Buffy makes a rude noise.

" You buying that crap Will?" Buffy turns to the redhead.

Willow makes a small shrug as if to say ' what choice have I got?'.

Buffy turns back to Faith. " Naw, I don't believe it at all. Oh, the loving both of us? Yeah, Ok, I'll buy that one." She stands up and walks over to Faith. She cups her face in her hands. " I can feel you love me, and I know you love Will. So, I'll buy loving the both of us. But the rest?" Buffy shakes her head. " No. Can't choose? Life's all about choices. The ones we make, the ones we don't make. But that's the deal, Faith. You gotta choose." Buffy moves back to the bed, sitting next to Willow. " So, here's the deal. We both love you back. Choose one."

" Geeze, what the hell are you playing at here, Buffy? You're guys aren't like competing brands of beer or something. I can't just choose one, and forget the other. It's not like that. No matter who I choose, everybody gets hurt. I figure it's better I just don't come between you two. You guys got somethin' special, and I'm not breaking that up."

" Not come between us? Way too late for that, Faith. You think if you just ' walk away' , it's not gonna affect us?" She turns to Willow again, " Did she give you the same speech?"

Willow nods.

" Thought so," Buffy turns back to Faith. " If you walk out on us now, how you think we're gonna feel? ' Oh, well, she's gone. Well, at least we still got each other.' Umm… sorry, but WRONG! We'll both be blaming ourselves, and probably each other, for this. Your not choosing isn't going to change that, girlfriend. All that'll do is tell us is that we weren't good enough for you to make a choice. Oh yeah, that's gonna really make the bond between us strong." She drapes an arm over Willow's shoulders. " Sorry, Faith. No clean getaway. Choose one of us."

" I can't… " Faith feels trapped. Shit, what the hell is she doing? " I'm sorry, I just…can't."

" Fine, " Buffy says," Then I'll choose for ya. Let's see, what'll be fair?" She thinks a second. " Ok, got it… Eeny meanie miney moe…Oh, screw that. I choose…." She pauses, " Willow."

" What?"

" What?"

Buffy gets up, and shakes her head. " Face it, Faith, that's what the what is. If you really were into me, it wouldn't be a hard choice. It's hard, because you two…" she sighs, "… look, Faith, what did we have together, really? A couple of nights together, maybe. And hey, I was crazy then, right? You've got some history with Willow. I mean, I was gone what? A year from SunnyD? More? Geeze, and even if you waited 6 months, that still lots longer than you and I had. You two… just got the idea what you did was wrong. I can't see it that way, not since I was like…encouraging it… oh, what the hell am I justifying it for? I lost for Christ's sake. Not my job to justify it, just accept it. So, I'm out."

" Buffy, nooo…" Willow says, getting up, " You and Faith… you…"

" This is nuts, Buffy. I'm not letting you choose for me…"

" Too late. I gave you a chance… two chances, Faith. And you didn't. So I did." Buffy turns to Willow. " Will, don't be an idiot. It's written all over your face what you feel. God, " She hugs her, " Just be a gracious winner, ok? Don't make me go on and on about this…"

Buffy walks to the door. " I'm going home. Back to SunnyD. I figure, I still got stuff I gotta do there. Things to fix, bridges to un-burn. So ummm… that's what I'm gonna do. Try to get my life back on track or somethin'. Ok, shit, I'm outta brave, I gotta go now," Buffy turns and walks out the door.

Willow is up and out the door, running after her. Buffy turns around.

" No, don't" She puts up a hand. " Don't try to ' fix' it, Will. And don't put up some magic barrier. This isn't fixable. Not that way. I don't hate you, I don't hate her, but right now? I'm real short on gracious. So just leave me the fuck alone!"

" Buffy, please, " Willow cries out to her, " I don't want it like this!"

" Yeah, well… we don't always get what we want, do we, Will?"

Buffy turns, and walks away.

2

Buffy sighs heavily, and starts dressing for work. She looks in the mirror on her vanity in her bedroom and leans in. " Well, happy now, Buff?" She asks herself. The mirror doesn't reply. Well, you're no help!

This getting life back on track? Not going so well. Buffy leans in, applying lipstick. Thought I'd come back here, try to forget them. Everything. Just throw myself into it, get a new life. Ha. Doesn't work that way, does it?

Buffy's been back in Sunnydale for 6 months, and it doesn't seem anything's really getting easier. One day follows on another which follows another, and she gets through it. But it's like swimming through molasses in winter; it's all slow, tedious, and really takes an effort to keep moving forward.

There have been some bright spots. The Dawn Summers Foundation, for one.

Buffy discovered on her return that she had been smart enough to insure the club to the max. She found out that she had a lot of money waiting for her . A lot of money. Like, a lot a lot. Over a million dollars. The Insurance company tried to wiggle out of the claim, saying it was an ' arson' fire, and suspicious in origin. But for once, the Council, being pushed by a certain British shopkeeper who will remain nameless but has a penchant for tweed, actually leaned on the insurance company and got her claim paid in full. With the double indemnity clause being honored, to boot.

Buffy couldn't keep the money. Her conscience, how she came by it, just wouldn't let her. So, after giving her mom some, she used the rest to set up The Dawn Summer's Foundation. It's a foundation to promote young women in the sciences, giving out scholarships and grants to deserving and needy students. Dawn had always been good in science, and Buffy felt this was a way to honor her sister. It gave her a major happy that she could finally do something to earn what she felt was Dawn's sacrifice for her.

Also, she found out that Giles and Joyce had grown … closer. A lot closer. Well, ok, not really sure how that's going down quite yet, but I can't remember when either of them have been happier. And hey, they're adults. Just as long as I don't get psychic again and see into their minds about the sex part. Ewww. Secretly, however, she really was pleased. Both had been alone a long time, and she loved them both. Kinda nice when the oldsters find somebody, you know? Just, god, don't ever let me walk in on them accidentally when they're like… ok, double ewww.

Giles and her mom getting together actually brought about another decision.

" Buffy, honey, I don't get it. There's no reason for you to leave," Joyce says at the dining room table the evening Buffy told her about her decision. " There's lots of room here."

" Mom, I'm pushing 25 years old, you know? … and still living at home. If I don't move soon, I'm going to be taking in stray cats and Oprah's going to be the center of my universe. It's time I'm on my own… without running away and begging on the streets."

" What about school? I thought you wanted to go back to school. That'll be hard to do while working and paying for an apartment…"

" I'm still planning on school, mom. But right now? Brain…" She points at her head,"… really full of rust. Not in school mode. Not going back to UC Sunnydale… not right away, anyway. Figured I'd try some night classes at the community college first. Kinda put my toe in the water before just jumping in again."

" I guess that's smart," Joyce admits," But I still don't see why you can't do that while living here. I like having you around, honey. This house gets kind of lonely with only me in it…"

" Mom, isn't it time you came out of the closet?"

" What? What're you talking about? I'm not gay…"

Buffy laughs.

" No, I mean about Giles, mom. You think I don't know about you and him?" Buffy gives her an amused look.

" I don't know what you mean, " Joyce tries the denial route.

" Oh, c'mon, mom. Since when have you been interested in the supernatural?"

" Oh, since my daughter's been all tied up in it for … god, going on 10 years now…"

" Uhhh… ok, but you've never been one to like visit magic shops before…until rather recently. I notice you hang out there, a lot, when you're not working. "

" Well, I've found I like talking to Rupert… Mr. Giles… he can be…"

" MOM! Not dumb, ok? I mean, you think I don't know where you're going on those mysterious overnight buying trips? Please! You're not even that clever about it. I mean, really. If you didn't want me to have a clue, it might be smart not to park your car on the street near his place. You know?"

Joyce goes a little pink in the cheeks." Buffy, really, it's …"

Buffy throws her hands up in mock horror. " Mom, please, DON'T go into it. I don't want even the barest details, ok?"

" Buffy?" Joyce gets a wicked grin.

" What?"

" SEX! Sex, sex, sex!"

Buffy rolls her eyes. " Oh god, well, thanks for ruining dinner, mom" Buffy laughs. Then she gets serious. " So, is it like, serious?"

" I don't know, Buffy," Joyce looks a little uncomfortable. " Really haven't thought of it that way. I mean, I like being with Rupert, and he's really a lot more fun once you get past the stuffiness. Now, if I can only get him out of tweed and into something a little less… formal sometimes…"

" Oh god, it's serious. She wants to dress him now. It's definitely going in the serious direction," Buffy teases her. " Well, just don't forget my invitation to the wedding, ok?"

" Buffy!" Joyce frowns." We have even thought about that kind of step…" But there's a little glint in Joyce's eye.

" Uh-huh." Buffy says, nodding." Sure."

" But anyway, that still doesn't mean you have to move out…"

"Mom? Love you, but not planning on learning to sleep with earplugs, you know?" She smiles at Joyce, " anyway, you should have some privacy here… and it's got to be more comfy being here… than there. Been to Giles' apartment. It's ok, but not all that roomy…" She catches Joyce's look. " No, not in THERE. I haven't been in THERE! Geeze, gross mom!"

" Right. Mom and sex, gross. " Joyce nods." Guess I didn't think of the noise. Been a little deaf ever since I had to turn up the TV to drown out certain noises I wasn't wanting to listen to…"

" When did that happen…?" Buffy trails off… then gets it. And goes red." Geeze, mom…"

Joyce smirks. Then her smirk fades, and she sighs." Ok, Buffy. I get it. You need ' your space'. I just hope you don't forget all about your dear old mom and become one of those daughters who never call, never write…"

"Nice try with the guilt card, mom, " Buffy grins, " Might work better if I were moving out of Sunnydale." She arches a brow, " Anyway, I'm going to cadge as many meals as I can from you, you know. I mean, I learned that while panhandling. Never turn down a free meal."

" Just thank goodness it was Mrs. Weiss doing the offering, " Joyce says, " God, Buffy. How could you do that? Not exactly the proudest moment of my momhood realizing my daughter's on the street, begging change from people."

" It was a bad time, mom, and I was in a bad place. That's over, ok?"

" I hope so, Buffy, " Joyce says, " I'm not sure I can take many more of these adventures of yours…"

" I'm sorry, mom," Buffy comes over and hugs her.

" I know, dear." Joyce says," Just do me a favor. If you must run away from home again, just tell me first, ok? Let me know where you are? That way, I won't worry quite so much."

" You're the best mom, you know that?" Buffy hugs her again, and kisses her cheek.

" You just figuring that out?"

Things otherwise weren't going so great, however. She did have a job, as a receptionist at a small local firm. Not great pay, most of the people were ok, if a bit stand offish. The worst were some of the guys, who figured her shoulders and/or ass were new forms of hand rests. Buffy just smiled, and removed the offending hand off herself, and if they guy didn't get the hint? She used her slayer experience to make it very uncomfortable to do it again. Nothing overt, just a night little pinch to the wrist nerves usually got the message home.

Her apartment was small… but it did its job. Provided a place to eat and sleep. And hide from the world when she needed it. She grabbed some unused furniture from her mom's to furnish it, and basically it was homey, if lacking in personality. There wasn't much in it to say it was ' her place' except for the bed and vanity, which she snagged from home.

Then there was school. Sunnydale community college. Not high school, not college. It was just… there. She enrolled in a couple of classes, but she found that her brain rust was deeper than she thought. Buffy wasn't dumb, just that her mind wasn't in learn/ study mode. Took awhile to get the swing of it, and even then, the motivation to actually get to it was weak at best. The worst part though was when she couldn't figure something out, or needed a push to study, there was no Willow there to help her. Damn, just one more reason to miss her.

That was the worst part of everything. No Willow, no Faith. Burned that bridge pretty good, Buff. Burned? I'd say burned, then dynamited, and for giggles? Stomped on the rubble after. She missed Willow in about a million and one ways, and she just missed Faith, period. All the time. The big sucky.

Of course, everywhere in Sunnydale she went, she was reminded of Willow, or Faith, or both. So letting go of them was made about 1000 times harder. Well, what did you expect, anyway? You'd just forget everything? You chose this, moron, so don't go crying about it now.

That worked most of the time. Except late at night, when she felt particularly lonely. Then pretty much nothing worked.

So, this is normal life huh? Highly overrated. Should come with a warning label.

" Danger. Excessive normality? Sucks!"

3

" Faith! Watch out, there' s another one coming up behind you!" Helen shouts out, " Oh, for goodness sakes!" She mutters, when Faith seems to ignore her.

She grabs the crossbow she's been keeping at the ready lately, and raises it to dust the other vampire sneaking up on Faith. At that moment, Faith jumps off the vampire she's been using as a punching bag, and swings around, stake in hand, dusting the upcoming vampire. Once that's done, she returns to her recreational drubbing of the first vamp.

Helen feels a strong pair of hands lift her off the bench she's been sitting on, and she feels the cold embrace of the vampire that snuck up behind her. She struggles against him, but he has her firm in his grip.

" FAITH! A LITTLE HELP HERE, IF YOU WILL!" Helen shouts out, as the vampire leans in for the bite.

Faith looks up, and rolling her eyes, stakes the vampire she's been beating on. She rushes over, and grabs the vampire clutching Helen, pushing him back and away. They fight briefly, kicks and punches, a few tosses around until Faith finally brings up her stake, dusting him.

Helen, shaken by nearly being a meal, stands by the bench, flustered and wound tight. She looks down at her notepad, trying to bring her heart and adrenaline back under control.

" You ok?" Faith asks, coming up behind her. Helen nearly jumps.

" I'd be better," Helen says, straightening her clothing to hide her shaking, " If you were doing your job properly."

" Hey, I'm getting it done," Faith protests. " Sorry if it isn't exactly a by the book slaying, but … vamp's still dead."

" Yes, and so nearly was I" Helen says, irritation showing in her voice. " You seemed obsessed with turning that one vampire you attacked initially into a bloody pulp, rather than staking it and moving on. That second vampire might have gotten you, if I hadn't warned you. And the third very well might have gotten me. This is absolutely unacceptable."

" Hey look, you Rex Reed wanna be, " Faith says, her own irritation rising, " I didn't ask you to come along on my patrols. That was your idea, remember? If you're not comfortable coming, then stay home. Ok?" Faith turns, starting to walk off.

" Stop right there, Faith, " Helen says. She takes off running when Faith seems to ignore her. She gets in front of Faith, and plants herself. " I said, stop!"

" Hey, Helen. If you hadn't noticed? Not wearing a dog collar. I'm not Lassie, and I don't stop on command," Faith says, starting to go around her.

Helen puts out her foot, and Faith, not paying attention, trips over it.

"HEY!" Faith growls from the ground.

" I asked you to stop, and you ignored me, " Helen explains as she kneels down by Faith." I had something to say, and I'm your Watcher, Faith, like it or don't." Faith starts to get up, but Helen puts a restraining hand on her shoulder. " Stay. We're not finished here."

Faith shakes off her hand. She gets up, and Helen grabs her by the arm. " I said, we're not finished here," Helen insists.

" Get your hand off me," Faith mutters softly, her voice edgy.

" Not until I've had my say, " Helen insists.

" Really not interested in what you've got to say, Hell," Faith uses the nickname she knows Helen hates, to irritate her, " I'm doing a job. That doesn't include babysitting watchers." She shakes off Helen's hand, and starts to walk away.

Helen, frustrated , shaken, and angry, hits her upside the head with her notebook. Faith whirls around, face angry and flushed.

Oh, so very brilliant, Helen. Now you've pissed her off. Helen starts to backpedal, to get away from the angry Faith.

Faith grabs her notebook, tears out some pages, and tosses it away. She tears the sheets to bits. She then tosses the bits into Helen's face. " I told you, I've got stuff to do. Quit bugging me."

" What is wrong with you?" Helen says, walking after Faith, who once again has started to leave. " you've been… bizarre since you returned from Kent. At first, I thought it was the stress of your friend being injured. But I'm beginning to wonder exactly what's eating at you. You're performance is abysmal. You get worse and worse, despite my notes and attempts to help you. Any suggestion is greeted by churlish remarks or worse, complete indifference. It's almost as if you're trying to get yourself killed. You slaying has gone from indifferent to downright sloppy. I can't have this. Unless you can explain you're behavior, I'll have no choice but to report my findings to the council. I can't just let this slide."

" You know what? Go tell the council. Do whatever you gotta do. I am. I'm doing my job. You don't like that? Tough. You don't like the way I do it? Tough. Frankly, not gonna lose any sleep over it." Faith shoves her away, and stalks off. " Who the crap gives a shit, anyway?"

Helen sighs, and decides to try another tack. " Faith please, I don't want to tell the council. I'm just worried about you. You're mind isn't on your slaying," She says, trotting along side Faith, " I want to be your partner here, Faith. I want to help if I can, if you'll only let me." Faith keeps moving, not talking. " Is it your friend? Is she still ill? Are you worried about her? Come on, Faith, please. Talk to me. Don't shut me out."

Faith stops so quickly, that Helen overshoots her. She turns around, and notices the change in Faith. She's no longer angry, she just looks sad… and a little lost.

" Is that it, Faith? You're friend? You're worried about her?"

" I'm sorry about earlier, ok?" Faith says, letting out a tired sigh. " I'll try… no, I'll do better. But frankly, I don't feel like ' talking about it'. I don't do that touchy-feely share your feelings crap, ok? So, just let it drop."

Helen, if she only looked at Faith's face, might believe her. But she takes in all of Faith's body, and notices her hands shaking. Instinctively, she grabs Faith's hands, and holds them firmly.

" Faith, let me help you, all right? You can tell me what it is, " Helen looks into her eyes, " You can trust me. I won't tell anyone else. I care about you, Faith. And not just as a watcher. I'd like to be your friend, if you let me. Sometimes it just helps to say it out loud. Did something happen to your friend? Something else? Do you need to go see her? I can cover for you, if you…"

" Don't you listen at all?" Faith says, shaking off Helen," God, I told you, I don't do that…" but something inside breaks, and her emotions well up, betraying her. She turns, trying to hide the tears coming to her eyes. " Just go, ok?" She says quietly, trying to hold it in. " I just need to… go now." Faith starts to walk off hurriedly.

Helen, however, intuits she needs to talk, and follows her after.

" Faith, wait," She says softly, putting a hand on the slayer' shoulder. " Just talk to me. It's ok."

Faith doesn't shrug her off. She just stands there, seeming to hold herself remote from her. She doesn't speak, only looks away. Then she turns, and Helen can see the tears leaking down her cheeks. Faith is biting her lip not to let out a sob.

Helen just gathers her in her arms, and holds Faith as the dam breaks. She gather's Faith closer, and strokes her hair.

" I think we've had enough patrolling for this evening," Helen says softly. " I suspect you could use a drink."

An hour later finds them in some small bar, sharing a table. A few empty beer bottles are scattered about on it, and both are tossing back another longneck. Helen has a sympathetic look on her face as she listens to Faith pour out her heart.

"… god, I don't know what those two have done to me. I never used to be this much of a wuss. Shit, throw a big old demon at me, and baby, I'm prime. I'm ready for a good fight. But those two? Shit, they don't play fair, and they scare the shit outta me… what they do to me, how they make me feel. God, two little women bring me to my fucking knees. I'm such a wuss." She looks up into Helen's blue eyes. " I'm totally fucked, aren't I?"

Helen looks at Faith. She's beginning to feel the effects of the three beers she's had, but no where nearly as strongly as Faith." Well Faith, you've certainly gotten yourself into a sodding mess, I've got to say, " Helen looks at her sympathetically. " Frankly? I don't think this ' walking away and forgetting them' scenario's working too well. Seems to me you're actin' like a bloody arse over them. And it's really screwing up you're slaying, " Helen belches a little, and colors, " ' cuse me. Guess the beer's getting to me."

" Three beers and you're blotto, Hell? Geeze, you're a cheap date, " Faith chuckles. " Shit, I think you're right… I do feel a little better saying it… though frankly, it's still the shits, you know? You know somethin?"

" What?" Helen takes another swallow of beer.

" I'm thinkin' this love crap is way overrated. Who needs this heartache and angsty crapolla? Can't tell me this is good for me. I say fuck it. Kill the little guy with the wings and bow, and hey, just forget the whole damn thing." Faith looks at her beer. " Empty. Screw it. " She pushes it with the others. " This sucks, you know?"

" I guess," Helen says, " never been there, myself."

" Huh? What? No like boyfriends, no nothing?"

" Hey, I've been busy. No time for … relationships, you know? I've been working my arse off just makin' a place for myself, you know? I had to work hard to be a watcher. Wasn't like handed to me…"

Faith cocks her head, " Well, gee, excuse ME, Hell. Not like I wanted this. I didn't choose it, ya know. I got stuck with it. So, screw you," Faith gets up, digging in her pockets for some money. She drops a bill on the table. " Thanks for the beer, but from now on, just butt out, ok?"

" Hey, sorry, " Helen gets up. " I just meant, I haven't like had it easy. I know you haven't either. I wasn't talking about you, Faith," Helen puts her hand on Faith's arm. " Come on, sit back down, all right?"

" Naw, I think I better get home. Gotta run in the morning… sitting here, getting blotto, only … aw fuck, what's another beer gonna hurt?" Faith sits down. " Look , sorry I've been a fuck up, ok? Another reason to really hate those two. They're screwin' up the one thing I do do right… shit, now I'm sounding like her… you say you've never been in love, Hell?"

" No. Never had the time, never met anyone made me want to take it, either."

" Here's a tip. You meet that person? Turn around, run like hell. Get as far away as you can, and thank whatever's lookin' over you that you got smart enough not to get stuck. All love does is make you dumb, and hurt," Faith says, emphatically. " It's a fact, Hell. I used to be way smarter ' bout this stuff. Get in, get some, get the fuck out. That was my credo. And why I ever broke it…" Faith shrugs.

" Maybe you don't get a choice in the matter, Faith, " Helen shrugs." What do I know, though? Never been there. Never been anywhere, actually…"

" What you mean, you've never been anywhere?" Faith looks at her with a strange expression. " Whoa…wait… you mean… never?"

" I told you, Faith, I was focused on my career. Never had time for romance or anything, " Helen says, blushing just a little. " Never had a real interest, you understand?"

" Yeah, ok, I get the no having a relationship… but never even with the humpity bumpity? No horizontal tango? Nothin?"

" If you're asking with all those euphemisms, if I've ever had sex? No, I haven't."

Faith looks flabbergasted. " Shit, girl. Are all the guys in England like, blind?"

"Faith, I hardly think discussing my sex life, or lack thereof, is appropriate. We're not talking about me, anyway!" Her blush is getting deeper.

" Well, we are now girlfriend. What? It's ok to talk about my romantic fuck ups, but you get a free pass? Don't think so!" Faith says," Like I said… they guys in England, they all blind? You're like model tall, and you got that freakin' hot red hair… of course, maybe if you…" Faith gets up, and goes behind Helen. She starts pulling out pins.

" Faith, what're you doing? Let my hair alone!" Helen reaches up to bat away her hands. Instead, Faith bats her hands away, and finishes the job.

" Now, shake your hair out." Faith says.

" I will not!" Helen looks offended. " What do you think you're doing?"

" Oh chill, Hell. We're off the clock, just do it!"

"Well, you've pretty much ruined it now anyway," Helen complains. But she complies, and shakes out her hair. So, that's how you want to play it, eh Faith?

" Yeah, much better, " Faith nods, returning to her seat. " Where was I? Oh yeah, you got great hair, and intense blue eyes… and legs that don't quit. I'm not seeing why you haven't been hit on majorly by those British dudes."

Helen gives Faith a strange look. " Did I ever say I was into…how'd you put it? … dudes?" She deadpans.

" Huh? You mean… oh," Faith smiles, and blushes. " Sorry, my bad." She feels suddenly very nervous and exposed. " Well, ok, then… still, why not with any … chicks?"

" I don't know, Faith," Helen has noted Faith's sudden discomfort, and is enjoying it thoroughly, " Maybe I have found the right one…" she gazes directly and Faith, and smiles, "… yet."

" Right!" Faith says, suddenly realizing that she feels like that fly in the spider's web. " Well, Hell, been swell, you know? But it's getting late, you know?" she stands up. " Gotta do this again soon. And hey? I'll work on not … Oh, crap, just go! … bye now!"

Shit, this is all I need. More women! Faith almost runs like her ass is on fire.

Helen, for her part, is desperately trying to keep from bursting out laughing. " Bye Faith. See you soon." She calls out after the retreating slayer. And she's off. Look at her go!

Nice ass, by the way. She starts to laugh as soon as Faith is out of range. She picks up her beer, and finishes it in another swallow. Geeze, do I scare them, or what?

Run all you want girl. Run, run , run.

You can run, but you can't hide!

Teach you to try to mess with me, Girl. She laughs and looks around a bit.

Hmmm… look at him. Isn't he just Smashing! Yummy treats. She licks her lips.

Laughing, Helen makes her way to the bar to settle their tab.

4

Buffy stands in front of Willow's house, a little puzzled.

Lately, she's been finding her way back to this house. A lot. It doesn't make much sense, really. Since she moved to her apartment, this really isn't on her way to or from work or school. There was no real reason she should keep coming by here; yet her feet seem to somehow bring her back again and again to this spot.

Today is different, however. There's some activity in the house. People moving around, packing up the furniture. And there's something new on the front lawn.

A " For Sale" sign.

Buffy walks up the sidewalk, and touches to sign, as if to reaffirm it's real. She stands staring at it, a small frown on her face.

Well, I guess this pretty much tells it. The house is being sold. Gotta mean, she's decided not to come back. Buffy feels a sudden hole open in her heart. Somewhere edging along at the back of her mind was the hope that maybe Willow would come back to Sunnydale someday. They'd be together like old times. But this pretty much puts the kibosh on that idea.

" Guess I should've expected this," She mutters to herself, kind of lost in herself. I mean, after the way I left? Smooth, Buff. You could've handled that better. Not much the gracious loser, girl. What were you thinking, anyway? What's she got to come back here for? No Family, no real ties; Faith is in Ohio, and probably will be staying there. What's here for her? Me? Well, that's pretty lame… Damn, still… I guess she couldn't…

" … see a reason to keep it anymore," A voice behind her startles her out of her reverie. She turns, and standing behind her, a little off, is Willow. Buffy feels frozen to the spot. " I mean, what's to come back to in Sunnydale, huh, Buff?"

For one of the few times in her life, Buffy is utterly, totally speechless.

" Not even going to say " Hey", Buffy?" Willow looks at her, a touch of sadness in her expression.

" Will.. I… " Then Buffy's feet kick in, and she's running towards Willow.

Willow, a little surprised, still manages to duck Buffy, and Buffy runs right on past, and almost falls on the ground when she grabs thin air.

" Umm… I'm assuming that was going to be a hug, Buffy. And, all considered, I don't think so, " Willow says, a little to the left of where she'd been standing previously. " I'm rather upset with you." She stands, arms folded over her chest.

Buffy looks at the air she's clutching in front of her, then over where Willow's voice is coming from. How'd she do that? She approaches Willow slowly and cautiously. " Will? Is that really you?" She reaches out and touches Willow's shoulder.

" Of course it's me, Buffy!" Willow shakes her head. " Cute isn't going to do it, Buffy, " Though cute does touch her a little. God, how can she be so … we're mad at her, remember, Will? " How could you do that, Buffy?"

" What?" Buffy looks confused, " Try to hug you?"

" Are you being deliberately dense, Buffy?" Willow sighs. " You know what I mean! How could you just walk out that way?"

" What did you want me to do, Willow? Hang around and looks miserable while you two made nice? Geeze, Will. Don't you think that's a little on the cruel side. Of course, I played pretty nasty with you… guess I had that coming…"

" God, Buffy!" Willow nearly explodes. As is, she throws her hands up and walks away before she wants to punch her. She turns back to Buffy. " You're pushing this blonde thing way too far. Do I have to draw a picture for you, or what? You just decided for me and Faith how things were going to be, and then you ran out. You didn't even ask what we wanted, or anything. Just " Here, you take her. I'm gone," and you were gone. Shit, Buffy, I don't get you sometimes. Do I know you, even?"

"Ok, big brained Willow. You tell me what I should've done. I mean, everyone was standing around, and Faith was about to bolt. Would you have preferred that? Faith just going? No one would make a decision, certainly not her or you. So I had to make some decision. Think it was easy to take?" Buffy turns away from Willow, muttering.

" What?"

" I said, Nosey, that you got the girl, and you're still bitching how you got her!" Buffy growls at her.

" Well, Dopey Blond, I didn't ' get the girl'. She left, anyway. I found myself going from having you and Faith there to pretty much … alone. Nice work, Buff!"

" I didn't know that, Willow, " Buffy says, tone softening.

" Yeah, well, no kidding. You didn't bother to hang around to see how your little bomb went over, did you? You just dropped it on us, then left before you could see the damage. Typical, Buffy. Drop a bomb, then run away. You're very good at that, Buffy. Real good."

" Will… I'm really sorry… I didn't mean…"

" Oh crap, Buffy. Don't do that. You know very well you meant…" Willow sighs. " No, I know you didn't mean anything bad, not really. But darn it, Buffy. You do more unintentionally than most do on purpose." Willow looks at her, frowning. " Do you know how frustrating it is to deal with you? How can I be mad at you, even though what you did hurt me terribly?"

" I didn't want to hurt you, Will. But she was leaving. Going to walk out. What was I supposed to do? No one was doing anything… I had to make a choice, and I made it. Not a good choice, I know, but I figured it was the best one I could make. It was logical, all considered. I think. Shoot, I don't know. I did my best, and I didn't do so good. " Buffy turns to her, face sad." I really didn't mean to hurt you, Will. And I'm sorry I rushed out, but it hurt too much to stay. I… what happened. Why didn't you and Faith…?"

" Buffy, I know what you were trying to do. Hell, even Faith got it. You were back in Buffy mode, trying to make things right. Buffy, some things? You can't fix. You told me not to fix it; but baby, that's exactly what you do. Try to fix things that maybe you just can't fix." Willow stands there, looking at her." The thing is? Much as it makes me mad, frustrates me to hell, and makes me want to hit you, it makes me love you all the more. Damn you, Buffy. It's not fair that I can't stay mad at you!"

" You're not mad at me?" Buffy asks hopefully.

" Oh, come here, dummy, " Willow says.

Buffy goes to Willow, and they hug. Willow whispers in her ear. " I've missed you, stupid!"

" I've missed you too, Will," Buffy hugs her tightly, " you don't know how much I missed you!"

" Missed you more!" Willow says, hugging her again

" Missed you most!" Buffy says, hugging her tighter. Willow gasps a little. " Oh, sorry."

" Kidding," Willow says, " but If you were still slayer strong, I'd probably have a broken rib." She teases.

" Can I mention… er… F… without upsetting you?" Buffy asks.

" I guess," Willow shrugs.

" I still don't get what happened, Will. Why didn't you and Faith just… you know, I was going to deal, why didn't you guys get together?"

" Buffy, think it's that easy? That's the problem. I don't even know if there is a solution to this. It was the same problem as before, Buffy, " Willow explains," We can't get together because this 900 pound blond gorilla keeps lurking in the corner. Even if it says. " Go ahead." It's still sits there, watching. I guess it's a guilty conscious thing that gets in the way, because of how it came about. But you leaving, saying " I'm out, I give you permission" isn't any different than you pushing us together before. You're still there between us. Maybe it's just never going to happen, for any of us."

" Then we're just giving up? Let her walk out of our lives? Like that?" Buffy looks at Willow, surprised." I can't believe we're just going to let her go."

" Oh, really? You did a pretty good job of doing that not all that long ago, " Willow says, pointedly.

" That was different, Will," Buffy protests.

" Didn't seem like it, seemed like walking away to me, rather like giving up. " Willow counters.

" That was different, because I thought you and she would be together. She wouldn't be out of our lives."

" What our, Buffy? " Willow shakes her head, " You walked away from Faith and me. There was no 'our'."

" Willow," Buffy looks at Willow, shocked. " We've been together for nearly 10 years. Except for mom, you've been in my life the longest. I can't imagine not having you in my life, somehow, no matter how mad we get at each other. It'd be like losing my heart, Will. Don't know if I could go on without you."

Willow just stares at her for a moment. Goddess, how does she do that? know exactly the right thing to say to melt me like a marshmallow in hot chocolate?" Gaaah, Buffy, there you go again. Making it impossible to be angry at you!" Willow cries out, frustrated and melty all at the same time.

" I thought you sorta felt the same way," Buffy says, quietly, " don't you?"

" You gotta ask that, Dopey Summers?" Willow shoves her." Of course I do." She sighs." I wish we could convince Faith of that." She looks at Buffy. " I think, honey, we're going to have to accept the fact that maybe, she wants to walk away. Maybe she can't deal with loving us both. Maybe she just can't choose."

They both go silent on that one. Buffy looks over at the " For Sale " sign and frowns.

" I hate this. You're going away." Buffy looks sadly at Willow.

" Buffy, there's just nothing here for me anymore," Willow says, " And there's just too many bad memories for me in Sunnydale. I can't live here without it all crowding up on me." She looks at Buffy, frowning. " I'm sorry, Buff. I just really can't be here anymore."

" I know. But what am I gonna do without my Willow?"

" Why do you have to be without your Willow?" Willow asks gently.

" Ummm…well, you're moving away! Pretty good reason, I think."

" Why can't you go with?" Willow asks her.

"Willow, my mom's here. And Giles. And I've…"

" Isn't your mom with Giles yet? I thought for sure they'd be together by now." Willow sounds genuinely surprised.

Not as much as Buffy, however.

" How'd you know that?" Buffy says, surprised.

" Well, for goodness sake Buffy. We're not all blind. I mean, when they were together in Ohio when you were there, it was pretty clear that they were together… if you get my drift."

" Ok, well, at least this time I have an excuse for not being percepto-girl. I was in a coma."

" Yeah. So, that takes care of mom. And Giles. What else? "

Buffy thinks about it… and thinks about it… and thinks about it.

" Nothing. Really… nothing." Job? Please, mega crappy. School? Like, they don't have those … " Where would we be going, again?"

" Well, I'm still finishing my masters at Kent State. So, Kent, for now, anyway."

" Conveniently close to Akron, too, " Buffy grins. " what a coincidence."

" I said we might have to accept her leaving us, Buffy." Willow says, quietly," I didn't say I'd accepted it yet."

" Ok, what's going on up in that head of yours?" Buffy ruffles Willow's hair, which causes Willow to giggle. " This sounds like another one of your crazy schemes, Lucy!"

Willow smiles enigmatically. " So, you never said. What's your answer, Buffy? For now, we'd live with Gram… but I'm sure we could afford an apartment or something later on…?"

Buffy just smiles, " What would I do without my Will, huh?"

" YES" Willow pumps her fist in triumph. She grins broadly.

" You little schemer… you had this planned all the time, didn't you?"

" YES!" Willow crows. She starts to dance around happily. Buffy starts to laugh. God, how could I…? She doesn't get to complete her thought, because Willow in her excitement grabs her and kisses her. Smack on the lips.

" Whoa!" Buffy says, breaking the kiss. " Where'd that come from?" She unconsciously licks her lips.

" Oh, just a lil something I've been jonesing to do every since I knew you didn't drive stick exclusively anymore," Willow says, smiling. " That was kinda nice."

" Oh," Buffy says, a little bewildered. It hadn't occurred to her before.

Willow, seeing her confusion, backs off a little.

" Was it … bad?"

" Mmmm… no," Buffy says. She goes over to Willow, and returns the kiss… with a little extra warmth. When they break the kiss, they just look at each other.

" This isn't going to complicate things, is it?" Buffy asks.

" You're kidding, right?" Willow looks at her, surprised. " Exactly how much more complicated can things get?"

Buffy doesn't have the answer to that one. Instead, she just kisses her again.

After it breaks, they look at each other again. Willow breaks the silence.

" So, " She says, panting just a little, " no matter how it shakes out, we're good. You and me?"

" Yup," Buffy nods. " I know no matter what, I need my dose of Willowosity on a regular schedule." She winks.

" That's my Buffy," Willow grins, " Cute, not too bright."

" HEY!"

" Hey, yourself," She smiles as she leads Buffy up her walk. " Just kidding."

" If you weren't so lovable, " Buffy grouses, " I'd have to spank you."

" Oh, no! That'd be terrible Buffy, " Willow puts on an anxious face, " Simply awful."

The reach the door, and Willow opens it, inviting Buffy in.

" So, you never told me… what's going on in that head of yours, " Buffy says, as she enters the house.

" Oh, well, " Willow says, " I've got this crazy idea…"

The door shuts behind her.

5

"Are you sure about this?"

Faith looks around the cemetery, then back at Helen.

" I'm absolutely positive, Faith. My source said the Glendale Cemetery. I'm certain there's a nest in here somewhere."

" Well, I think you're intel was wonky, Hell, " Faith says, starting to walk down the rows. " I'm sensing zilch in here. I'm thinking someone was pulling your leg. You should be familiar with leg pulling," Faith's tone is a little acidy.

Helen smiles slightly, but overlooks the remark. " There's a lot of cemetery here. Maybe the nest if farther in."

" You're sure this isn't another one of your little pranks?" Faith says. She gives Helen a look. " Maybe you've paid some guys to jump out at me with chopsticks stuck in their mouths." Faith grins wryly.

"Well, are you going to be crabby all night, or look for the nest, Faith?" Helen needles her, " It's not like you didn't have that coming."

" I was hurtin' there, kiddo," Faith grouses, walking farther up the yard. " You knew I was havin' some issues, and you do that." She shakes her head. " Got a bit of mean streak under all that British reserve, don't ya?"

" Well, it wasn't nice what you did to me, was it, Faith?" Helen snaps. " I didn't like being made to feel like some kind of…"

" Shhh, would ya?" Faith hisses, " want to broadcast to the vamps we're comin'?" She starts striding quicker, putting some distance between them.

" Oh, sod off, you great prat, " Helen mutters, hurrying to catch up.

She sees Faith crouching by a tombstone, and moves to join her. Faith waves her down.

"What?" Helen whispers.

" Over there, by the mausoleum. I saw two figures. Maybe that's where the nest is," Faith whispers back. She pulls out a stake, and waves behind her. " Maybe you should move back a bit. Might get a bit rough."

" Why'd you pull your stake, Faith? I thought we were going to recon the nest, then plan a strategy of attack."

" Screw that, " Faith says, moving around the tombstone, " I'm a slayer. My job is to slay." She starts running in a crouch towards the mausoleum.

" Faith, wait!" Helen, a little perturbed, follows her." You should really stick to the original plan. Taking out a nest without some planning is rather foolish." Don't you ever listen to anyone?

" I told you to get back, " Faith whispers. " anyway, I've done this before. Strike quick before they have a chance to get ready, you know?" She looks around the corner of the mausoleum. " Oh, great, they've moved off. They've probably heard us. Damn, why can't you do what I say?"

My thoughts, exactly." Maybe we should back off a bit and wait…"

" I can't believe it, " Faith says, looking around the corner. " They came back out. Whatta bunch of… " She turns to Helen," Now, go wait and be quiet." Faith moves around the corner.

" Faith, wait… there's something you should…" She hears the noise of a scuffle, and a thud. Followed by a groan. " …know."

Faith quietly sneaks up on the figure before her. Kinda of a shrimp of a vampire. Well, with them, size doesn't matter. Why aren't I getting any vibes though? Screw it. She gets within two yards, and leaps out, going to knock down the vampire. Then she finds herself flying through the air, landing hard on her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. " Uhhhh." She groans, pushing up off the turf. A foot comes down on her back.

" On the quiet-sneak –up-on-the-vampire attack?" a familiar voice says, slightly amused, " That was pretty lame. You guys made enough noise to wake the dead."

Faith, pissed and somewhat surprised, reaches back and grabs the leg holding her down, she flips her attacker over, and jumps on her, raising her stake high.

" Well, well. Buffy," Faith growls, not at all amused. "What the hell are you doing here?"

" Gee, Faith, it's good to see you too, " Buffy smiles up at her. " Well, isn't this interesting? Me on my back on the ground, you straddling me. This could be fun, " She chuckles, then sees the stake. " Well, maybe not so much fun with that!"

"Faith, no. Don't!"

Faith is blindsided, and knocked off Buffy. Her stake goes flying.

" What the …" Faith rolls over, knocking her next attacker to the side. She looks down. " Oh for …" She pushes up, stands, and reaches down." Red? What the hell is going on here?" She pulls Willow to her feet. " What the hell is going on here?"

A laugh from the direction of the mausoleum grabs her attention. She whirls around to see Helen, leaning against the edifice, laughing loudly.

" You!" Faith's anger grows. She strides over the mausoleum, and confronts Helen. " This is your doing! What the hell are you pulling on me?"

Helen continues to laugh at her, as Faith grows redder and redder.

" Stop laughing at me!" Faith says, shoving her.

Helen, surprised, flies away from the wall of the mausoleum, and lands on her butt. For a second she's silent. Then she starts laughing again.

" You… are… so funny…" Helen laughs, pointing at Faith. "… I guess the world…is safe from … the vampire threat now…" She continues to laugh. She finally gets herself under control, and stands up, brushing herself off.

" Very funny, " She turns around, glaring at Buffy and Willow, who are standing a little off, smiling. " You two get a nice chuckle out of it too?" She turns back to Helen. " What's your problem?"

" My problem, Faith, " Helen says, suddenly serious, " is you go off half cocked, acting like a fool. I told you this was reconnaissance, but no, you fly into staking action. What if that had been a real nest? You could've gotten yourself seriously hurt, or killed. I'm you're watcher, and I expect you to listen to me." She walks over to Faith, and lays a hand on her shoulder. " And for some reason I can't puzzle out, I like you. I don't want to break in another slayer."

Faith just looks at her angrily, " I'm the slayer. I do things my way. Works out better that way, mostly."

" Not lately, Faith. You've been distracted and frankly, sloppy and careless. I think we both know why, " Helen turns to Buffy and Willow. " I suspect those two have something to do with it. So, when they came to me to get in contact with you, I set this up. I figured, being the stubborn burke you can be, If I just told you they wanted to see you, you'd refuse. So…"

" … you set me up, right?" Faith growls." Real great way to build up the trust, Hell, " She turns to Buffy and Willow." What're you two grinning at?" She walks towards the pair. " You think this is funny? Did you get a good chuckle laughing at me, making a fool outta myself?" Her temper rises, "Well, morons, you could've gotten seriously dead. You know what can happen on patrol, " She turns on Buffy particularly, " And you… you know how something like this can go down!" She gets right into Buffy's face. " Or did you forget Alan Finch, Buffy? I sure haven't!" Frustrated, angry, confused and a little scared, she shoves Buffy, who loses balance and hits the ground.

" Faith!" Willow says, coming over to help Buffy up. "What the heck…"

" Don't start on me, Red!" Faith points at her, " You know better than to pulls something like that. You … If I'd… oh shit, screw you both!" She turns and strides back to Helen, who is standing watching the tableau. " Listen to me, Hell. Don't you ever… EVER … pull something like this on me again! Do you realize how close you came to getting them killed?" She stands toe to toe with Helen, "What if I'd decided to dust them with this?" She pulls out her crossbow." Think of that?"

" Faith, leave her alone," Buffy, on her feet, walks over to Helen and Faith. " We talked her into it. Don't get down on her."

" Why the hell not, Buffy. She's my watcher, " she turns and looks pointedly at Helen. " She's supposed to know better." She turns back to Buffy, " but don't worry, B. Lots of anger to go around. She's a novice, Buffy. This is her first assignment. Think of how she would've felt if she got you two morons killed! But you didn't think of that, did you?"

" Look who's talking!" Buffy says, her anger starting to rise. " Ms. Run-into-battle-without-thinking. You haven't changed a bit, have you? Always thinking you know it all. Never listening to nobody but yourself," Buffy shoves Faith, " Maybe if you'd listened, for once, and did what she asked, you wouldn't have come so close to….Aw, forget it, " She storms off.

" That's right, B. When things get tough, you just run away. Don't you?"

" Maybe we should…" Willow starts towards Faith and Buffy. Helen restrains her.

" Maybe we should have a little chat," Helen says, pulling Willow with her.

"But… But… Faith will …or Buffy will…" She points at the duo.

" No, they need this, and we need to talk."

" I need to …" Willow looks at Helen, still pointing at Faith and Buffy.

" Come on," Helen pulls her away.

" That's not true," Buffy stops, back to Faith.

" Really? From what I've seen, every time something becomes too tough for you to handle," Faith stares at her back," you bail."

"That's not so. I've handled lots of tough stuff, "Buffy says, " more than you."

" Oh, I think you do pretty good with the big stuff, Buff," Faith says, " but the normal stuff, the human size stuff? It scares you. And you run."

" Not running now, " Buffy says. " I didn't come here to fight, Faith."

" Yeah, why are you here, Buffy?" Faith's tone is cynical," last time I saw you, I was watching you walk away."

" I want to talk, Faith," Buffy turns around, " just talk. Can't we do that, and not fight?"

" Don't know why, Buffy," Faith says, " you seem so good at it. Fighting with me."

" I hate fighting with you, " Buffy says, her voice low, " every time I hear that tone in your voice, that angry, harsh tone, my stomach hurts." She moves closer to Faith. " I hate when you're mad at me."

" And yet, you keep doing things to make me upset Buffy. What's it about now?" Faith asks, stepping back a step, "Why're you even here? Last time I looked, you seemed to want to be away from me."

Over by the mausoleum entrance, Willow is talking to Helen. Her attention, however, is on Faith and Buffy.

" What do you want to talk about?" Willow asks distractedly.

" This was your plan, right? You seem to be the planner between you and Buffy. Is that right?"

" Yeah," Willow looks at her, " look, I didn't know Faith would react so… so…"

"I think it's more she's afraid, than anything," Helen says," for some reason, you two scare her."

" I don't mean to!" Willow declares.

" Hmmm…" Helen doesn't look convinced. " All I know is that she's not at her best. She's distracted, she's not concentrating on her job. That could get her killed. I don't want her killed. Do you?"

" Of course I don't want her killed, " Willow looks at Helen angrily, " that's a stupid question."

" I don't know what's going on with you three, " Helen holds up her hand when Willow starts to explain, " and I don't want to know. It's not my business. Faith is my business. Her staying alive, being the slayer. That's my business. Whatever's going on, fix it."

" That's why I'm here. That's what I want to try to do," Willow says, " Buffy too."

" I don't mean to be harsh," Helen says, " but I rather like Faith. I want her to be slayer until she doesn't want to be… then I want her to have a nice long life after that. I don't think… no, I know she's not happy, " Helen says, " that's the only reason I consented to help you meet with her. I'm hoping that somehow, you can make her feel happier. I want her to want something, something real, and here and now, so she has ties to here…and will be more careful."

" You care about her, don't you?" Willow says, " beyond just being her watcher. You care about her."

" Does that matter, really?" Helen asks, " I suspect under that rough tough as nails exterior is a soft, sweet heart. If that's what you're asking. One that's vulnerable, and easily broken. Do me a favor? Don't break it."

" I don't want to, " Willow says, " I want to make her happy. We both do."

" I hope so. But if you can't, then walk away, all right? Don't string her along, and don't intrude on her life anymore. Let her get over it." Helen looks at her with a firm expression. " Don't hurt her anymore."

" I won't," Willow starts towards the other two, " I won't."

" I thought I could make it better, Faith. You were leaving, and I thought it was because I made it hard for you guys again. I thought it would be better if I cleared out, " Buffy looks up at her, " I was wrong, wasn't I?"

" Oh yeah. I know you think you were helping, Buffy, but you were way wrong. It doesn't matter if you… what did you say that day? Dammit, I know this… accept it. That's it, accept it. That's not the point. I can't let me come between you and Willow. It doesn't matter if it's you, or Willow, either way, it ruins something really special. I don't know how many times I got to say this until you guys get it. I can't choose either of you. I wish you'd just accept that , and let it alone." Faith , feeling drained, sits on a grave marker. " Every time we do this, I just feel bad all over again." Faith sighs heavily. " I just wish you two would just let it alone."

Buffy doesn't say anything more. She just walks over to Faith, and sits next to her. She puts her hand over Faith's hand.

"Faith?" Willow says walking up, " I know this is hard on you. And I heard you say leave me alone, pretty much. But you're important to us. We want you as part of our lives, " Willow comes to the other side of Faith, laying her hand on her shoulder, " All I'm asking is an hour. Will you talk to us for an hour. Then, if you say it, we'll go… right Buffy?"

" Hmmm? Oh… right," Buffy says, " sorry, got lost in my thoughts."

Faith looks warily at Buffy and Willow. " You promise? I listen to you guys for an hour, and if I say blow, you're gone."

"I promise Faith, " Willow says.

" Yeah, me too, " Buffy adds.

" Fine, " Faith says, sounding doubtful," so where? I mean, not wanting to talk here, are ya?"

" No, " Willow looks around and shivers. The symbolism's too obvious." Is there somewhere we can go and talk?"

6

Not too much later, they find themselves in a small coffee shop sitting around in a back booth. Helen is standing talking to Faith.

" Since this is private, I'll take my leave now. I'll see you tomorrow at the usual time?"

"Yeah, sure, " Faith says, then she looks up at Helen. " Not sure if I should thank you or what. But I guess thanks."

" Just get it worked out, " This last directed at the whole table. She turns and leaves.

For a few minutes, no one says anything. They stare at a menu as a way to avoid looking at each other or talk to each other. Faith finally slams down her menu, startling the others and ending the silence.

" All right, what's the deal? You got me here, " Faith says, looking at the other two, " though I can't see jack comin' out of this. Pretty much a waste of time. But tick-tock, clock's ticking. So…?"

" Are you ready to order?" The waitress comes up, looking at the three of them. " Oh, hi Faith, how's it goin?"

" Doin' fine, Sheryl. This here's…" she waves at Willow and Buffy,"… some friends, Willow and Buffy. I'll have a burger, extra cheese, fries, coffee… they got the cheesecake?"

" Sorry hon, ran out about an hour ago."

" Damn… ok, gimme an apple pie, ok? Wait, make that a double piece." She sees the expression on the other's face. "What? I'm hungry." She gives them a shrug.

" How 'bout you two?"

" Coffee"

" Coffee"

" Don't your friends eat?" Sheryl asks Faith. Faith gives the other two a look, and then looks back to Sheryl.

" Naw, I think they pretty much lost their appetites." She smirks.

Sheryl shrugs and moves off.

" So, what's the deal?" Faith looks at the two of them.

Willow looks at Buffy, who shakes her head and nods at her, indicating she should start. Willow makes a face at her, then turns and grabs the water, gulping some down. She puts it down, and looks at Faith.

More silence, as neither Willow nor Buffy seems comfortable starting the conversation.

Faith signs impatiently. " Look, this was your idea, guys. Not waiting around all night to listen to you breathe. If ya don't start talking by the time the food arrives, just forget it."

" This is kind of hard Faith; and you're not making it any easier, " Buffy says, drumming her fingers on the table, " you seem to have already made up your mind about anything we got to say."

" Well, not seeing anything that you or Red can say that'll change things. I don't see the point." She almost glares at Buffy, " And I'm still trying to figure out why you're even here, you know? I thought pretty much you said ' Adios, chica' couple of months ago. Now you wanna talk. Time for talkin' was back then, Blondie."

" I want another chance, Faith, " Buffy says, quietly, " I want be part of your life, if you'll let me."

" Me, too, " Willow finds her voice, " I want to try to make us work."

" Ummm… see, that's where it starts to fall apart. There's no us, Red, " Faith says, and then to Buffy, " And no us, either, B. And I can't see there being one, cuz it just leads back to everything being all fucked up again. Someone gets hurt, the other two are screwed because of big fat daddy guilt. So, what's the point?"

" No, not talking about you and Buffy, or you and me, Faith," Willows says., " I'm talking about us… all of us."

Faith gets a cynical smile on her face." A ménage a trios, eh?"

Sheryl comes back with Faith's food, setting it down in front of her. She places Buffy's and Willow's coffees in front of them.

" Anything else hon?" She addresses Faith, figuring the other two are lost causes.

" I don't suppose you guys got straight jackets in the back for my friends here," Faith says, tongue in cheek. " They seem to have lost their minds somewhere."

Sheryl just smiles tightly, and puts the check down on the table.

" Well, why not, Red?" Faith starts in on her food, " I mean, last time we did it, it wasn't so bad. Of course, not saying I liked being tied down and all…" She stops, looking at them. " Ok, I can't do this. This is just plain nuts. " she shakes her head, " What makes you think I'd go along with a crazy idea like that?"

" Look, Faith, I wasn't suggesting like we all share a great big bed like a cheap porno movie, " Willow says. She turns to Buffy. " Was I?"

Buffy shakes her head no, no and no.

" Then what the hell ARE you talking about?"

" Look, Faith, Buffy and I talked about it, ok? We figure that losing you, really isn't an option. You mean a lot, a whole lot to the both of us. So, after some discussion…" She looks at Buffy, who nods, but tight lipped, " We share you, you know? I mean …"

" Whoa, share me? What am I? Some kinda toy for you guys to pass back and forth?" She puts on a mocking tone, " 'Gee, Buffy, I'm kinda of tired of her tonight. Why don't you take her?' ' Man, again? I had her the last 2 nights, Willow. Why can't you take her tonight?' . Yeah, that sounds peaches."

" God, not like that at all," Buffy says. She turns to Willow, " I told you she's be a stubborn ass about it, didn't I?"

" Buffy, give her a chance, ok?" Willow says. She turns to Faith. " Look , think you could treat this a little more seriously? I don't know about you, but I really don't like the way things are now. You wanna keep doing what we're doing, or not doing I mean?"

"What I want, " Faith says, putting down her burger, " is to go to sleep at night and not dream about you… or you" She nods at Buffy." I want not to think about either of you all the time. I want my life back. I want not to have ever met either of you. That's what I want!" she reaches for her coffee, but her hand is shaking. She withdraws it. " I guess, though, I'm not gonna get what I want. So, I guess I just don't want to do this merry-go-round no more."

" So, you don't want us, then? You don't want to be with us then?" Willow looks at Faith intently. " You're happier without us?" Her voice grows soft.

"Yes!" Faith says, pushing her food away. She's suddenly lost her appetite, too. " I'm way better off without you two messing up my life. At least, I can try to make a life for myself now. Not feel like I'm bouncing between to nut jobs who make me crazy!" She looks at them, an angry expression on her face, " What did you two expect from me? Some happy crap how this is perfect, why didn't I think of it? Well, dumb asses, here's the deal. It still doesn't change squat. All the jealousies and whatnot? Still there. Just now, there's the big tension in the air when someone gets hurt. And someone would wind up hurt, you know that. Cuz it just wouldn't … it can't be equal. Somebody gets hurt, and we're back at the same old thing, aren't we? What's different? Except the walking wounded is right there, rather than somewhere else. Yeah, great idea. Swell idea… if you're lookin' for a disaster!" she leans back in the booth, her stomach churning, " Why don't you two just get the hell out of my life?"

Willow looks close to tears. She turns to Buffy and tries to hide it, shrugging.

" OK, well, she's pretty much said it, hasn't she?" She starts to get up, " Let's go, Buffy."

" No, " Buffy says, her voice quiet, steely. "Not until I have my fucking say."

Faith smirks, " Sure, Blondie, why not? Let's hear from the runaway girl."

" No, Buffy, just let it alone. She's not interested…" Willow says.

" No, she doesn't just get off, " Buffy turns to her. " You know somethin, Faith? You're a real piece of work. You think you've got all the answers, but you know something? You're pretty damned stupid!"

" Well, I love you too, B," Faith mocks, " C'mon baby, don't sugar coat it. Give it to me straight."

" Glad to, F," Buffy snaps at her, " you come off as the wounded victim here, but you're not the only one hurting. And the thing is, you're not afraid of hurting me or Willow. You're just afraid for yourself. You're a big old coward, Faith, can't take the heat, so you decide everyone else should be on fire."

" That's a hoot comin' from you, B!" Faith jeers, " considering you're record of running out any time the heat even comes close to you."

" Yeah, I've run. But not because I'm afraid I'd be hurt. Well not like you anyway. Thing is, Faith, you run without even moving. You run because you won't even TAKE any chances. You're great as long as everything's easy-peasy, but let something go wrong, and it's ' Well, gotta move on now.' And you try to wrap it in some noble crap about it being the right thing. Hell, we're all guilty of it, but you're the worst!"

" Well, aren't you the Brainiac all of a sudden, B?" Faith sneers at her. " You know what I'm thinkin and feelin without me even having to do it. " Cool beans. Nice to know why I walked away. But guess what, you're so wrong-o its almost sad. I love the both of you so much, I really can't choose between you… and you guys, you guys got this thing that's so great, I don't want to hurt it? Why? Because it's part of you. You guys are stronger together, better together. It's like I told Red. Why couldn't you guys like be one together, that would be … but it aint. And shit if I'm going to ruin that, or yeah, hurt myself and whoever I chose, because there's no way it'd last. Not with that between us…so fuck you, B! You don't know crap!"

" I know you didn't give us half a chance to explain what we meant. But even beyond that, you're a coward, Faith, know why?"

" Buffy, let's go. She's not interested in hearing it, and I don't want to be here anymore," Willow says, " Let it go."

" No, Willow, she's got to hear this."

" Yeah, let her speak, Red. Let her get it all out. That way she can't whine that I didn't listen, ya know?"

" You're a coward, Faith, because you want some kind of guarantee that everything's going to just be perfect. No problems, no anger, no hurt… everything's just gotta be perfect, or hey, you don't want it," Buffy leans over, " Know how I know that? Cuz I'm a big fat coward too. I'm scared to death this is going to blow up in our faces. I'd like a guarantee that it's gonna all be great. I'm almost as big a coward as you. Surprised I admitted it? Thought you'd be able to throw it back in my face, didn't ya?"

" Not looking for no guarantee, Buffy, " Faith says," just don't want any more hurt goin' around. Not if I can help it."

" Shit, what do you think that is?" Buffy comes over to her side of the booth, and shoves herself in. " move over…"

" Hey, go back on your side of the table. I'm eating here!"

" Move!" Buffy says. Faith grumbles, but moves. Buffy sits next to her, and leans in. " Tell you something. When Will first told me this idea? I thought it was nuts too."

" HEY!" Willow says, from the other side of the booth, " you never said that!"

" I just got you back to not being angry at me? I'm going to tell you you're idea is nutso? Please Will." She turns to Faith, " I thought for sure, Will had lost it."

" Yeah?" She looks at Buffy suspiciously. " What changed your mind?"

" I haven't… entirely. There's times when I thinking, ' what the hell am I doing? This'll never work'. "

" Gee, Buffy… thanks for helping sell the idea," Willow says, sarcastically.

" Will, please, most of the time, I know you're right, ok?"

Willow's only partially mollified.

" Faith, the thing is? Life's got no guarantees. I want them, you want them. But not gonna happen. But think, and I mean really think, about the alternative, ok? You really want to be alone? Cuz, baby, if you look for guarantees, that's what you're gonna be. Alone. I don't care if you find someone solo, so to speak. Who's to say that won't blow up in your face? Especially when they find out what you do for a living? C'mon, who's gonna deal with that like we could? No, baby, you want guarantees, get the cats right now. Cuz it won't happen. You'll wind up alone. Relationships messy and nasty and lots of hurting. I know, I've been through enough to know how bad it can be. And my track record really sucks. But I'm willing to try again. Know why?"

" Why?" Faith's curiosity's been piqued.

" You're looking at her right there, " Buffy points at Willow.

" ME?" Willow looks flustered, and pleased." You didn't say that either!"

" Ok, Buffy, what? You got a thing for Willow?"

" Oh yeah. It's called a relationship we've had nearly 10 years, and still going strong. Hell, Will and I have fought like cats at time, we've yelled and screamed. We've broken up, and come back together. Know why?"

Faith shrugs.

" Because," Willow takes it up, " no matter how much Buffy irritates me, or makes me want to hit her, or just never see her again? I know that I have to see her again, because I know I'm better because she's in my life. At the end of the day, we're better together than not together."

" And if you think someone even as sexy and hot as you can come between that, Faith, you're pretty damned stupid!" Buffy adds.

" Yeah, you see?" Faith looks at Buffy, then across to Willow, " That's what's so special about you two. I'd love to have something like that with someone…"

" Then, dope, why won't you let us give it to you?" Willow asks, gently. She reaches over, and cover's Faith's hand with her own. " That's what we want to share with you."

" I don't get it," Faith says, " Why?"

" Faith, we're not total greedy guts," Buffy says," We've got to know you over the last couple of years. We like what we see."

" A lot!" Willow adds in, enthusiastically. " We both love you, and we want you to be part of our life. Because with or without you, Buffy and I are going to have a life together. We want it with, though."

She looks at the both of them. " You two?"

" Faith, we've been together for a lot longer than most couples. We've been through a lot together. More than most couples ever go through, " Willow reaches over, and squeezes Buffy's hand. " I can't think of being without her, and visa versa… right?"

" Oh yeah. What'd I do without my daily dose of Willowosity?" Buffy says." I learned that way too much the hard way when I went back to SunnyD without her. I need her in my life."

" Well, that's just great, guys, " Faith says, an edge to her voice, " but I don't know why you couldn't have told me that in 5 minutes, and not waste my time sitting here listening to the rest of this crap." She turns to Buffy. " Think you can move so I can go now?"

" She's not getting it, Will, " Buffy says.

" Faith, wait. You didn't let us finish. Give me a chance to finish, ok?"

" Anyway, I'm not moving, Faith. So unless you want to shove me out on the floor, and make a big scene, and not be able to come here again, sit your ass down!" Buffy barks.

Why did I let myself get bamboozled by the Terrible Twins? Shit and damn, won't I ever learn when it comes to them?

" Ok, fine, say your piece so I can get my ass outta here."

" Faith, all I'm saying is that, like it or not, you've been a big part of our lives too. Not always a happy part, but you've been a big part. And we've been pretty much a big part of yours. Wouldn't you agree with that?"

" Yeah, not by choice, " Faith says, tartly.

" Well, maybe this is the part you get to choose, Faith, if you'd listen to Will." Buffy says, a little impatiently.

" Faith, I know a lot of it's been unpleasant for you, and you've been through a lot. We have too. And we've both grown to care a great deal for you. Is that one way? You don't care about us, too?"

Faith feels boxed in, on more than one level.

" Yeah, so? What if I do?" Faith admits, " what's that got to do with it?"

" I remember you telling me once that if you ever found someone to love, who loved and wanted and needed you, you'd pretty much stick to them like glue. Pretty much like that, right?"

Shit!

" Yeah, ok, yeah I said that." Faith half grins.

" So, dumb ass " Buffy leans up next to her, " You've got two women who want and love and need you. Bonus. What more do you want?"

Faith looks at Willow. Then at Buffy. Then she thinks about it.

And thinks about it.

And thinks about it.

" This is nuts!" Faith finally declares. " You're both nuts."

" Maybe, " Buffy says, " but when has that stopped you before?"

" This can't work. It's just too…"

" You'll never know if you don't try, Faith," Willow says, " I can't promise you anything. Sure there's gonna be lots of bad times, probably. But I'm thinking, there'll be lots of good times, too. Lots and lots. I'm not talking about some weird porno sex thing either. It's about the three of us living together, caring and loving each other, and sharing a life. Where's the rule that it can only happen with two? Show me it."

" I can't make a decision like this on the spot," Faith squirms a little. " this is… I need time to think."

" That's fair, I guess, "Willow says, " What do you think, Buffy?"

" I think we should tie her up, lock her in the closet, and keep there until she has to pee so bad she'll agree to anything," Buffy deadpans.

Willow and Faith look at her like she's nuts.

" Oh, I must be channeling my dark side," Buffy chuckles. "I'm kidding Faith, don't bust a gut. Yeah, ok, it's fair. She can think about it… for awhile, anyway."

" Buffy, be fair! Give her the time she needs."

" Yeah, ok, " Buffy grumbles a little, " Geeze, what are we, like ugly? God, two hot women comes on to me, think I'm gonna sit there and contemplate my navel? " She looks at Willow, grinning. " But if that doesn't work, I'm all for my closet plan."

" Don't listen to her. I think being a vampire? Way over stimulated her hormones. She's always like that." Willow says.

" She's worse. She thinks I don't know about her little toy collection, " Buffy smirks. " Whirr, whirr, Will."

Willow turns bright pink.

Faith looks at Willow, then at Buffy. Ok, what happened to these two, anyway? Red at least, used to be sane. God, Buffy must be catching! " Ok, I've had enough chat for tonight. Like I said, I'll think about it. Get back to you, ok?" She turns to Buffy, " Move your ass, Buffy, I wanna go."

" Ok," Buffy shrugs. She gets up, and lets Faith out. She slides back in the seat after Faith is standing. " Nice. Still warm."

Faith rolls her eyes. " Later."

She starts to walk away, but Willow grabs her sleeve. " Really, Faith. Think about it, ok?"

" I will."

" We're at my Gram's house still. You can call us there, ok?"

" Sure," Faith says, grabbing the check, " Whatever."

She hurries away.

" What do you think?" Willow watches Faith hurrying away. " I think we scared her."

" Maybe, a little," Buffy says. " She'll be ok once she calms down and thinks about it a little. Stops thinking it'll be like a porno movie."

" I didn't explain it right, did I?" Willow says, a little worried.

" You did ok, Will. I mean, it's a pretty radical concept, " Buffy reaches for her hand. " She's just gotta get her mind wrapped around it." She catches Willow's expression. " Don't worry, she'll come around."

Faith hits the sidewalk and stops. It's a cold night, and she pulls her jacket tighter. The street looks somewhat dark and deserted.

She looks around, and thinks. Thinks about her room, and being alone again, and the fact that the two women she loves are sitting in the coffee shop behind her, and that she's standing out here like an idiot.

What the hell is wrong with me?

She turns and goes back inside.

" I don't know, Buffy, " Willow says, " She didn't look too happy."

" She's just … " Buffy looks up, and sees Faith fast approaching the table. "… here"

" Huh?" Willow sees Buffy staring, and turns around. Faith is standing there. Looking at them.

" Move over Buffy, " Faith says.

" Huh?"

" I said, move over. I didn't finish my dinner." Faith points at her plates.

Buffy slides over, letting Faith in. Faith pulls over her plates, and starts on what's left of her hamburger.

The two of them stare at her.

" What? I paid for it, and I'm hungry." Faith says, eating heartily.

Buffy smiles.

Willow smiles.

Faith smiles.


Fin.