Disclaimer: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and lots of people in expensive suits. I'm not making any money here, just trying to create a happier Buffyverse for my favorite characters.

Spoilers: Starts during the events of "Earshot," and contains spoilers for the remainder of S3.

A/N: Another big thank you to Val, Zigpal, and Zenithar for keeping me focused with this one.

Buffy watched Giles shelving books. "Is this the thing? The Aspect thing?" She stepped in front of the librarian, blocking his access to the shelves. For one second, Giles, can you just focus on what I'm saying? "Cause if it is, I gotta say, it's way better than a tail."

With an expression of annoyance, the Watcher reached over the blonde's head and removed several more books from the shelf. Holding his precious cargo carefully, he walked away from the excited Slayer. "Really, Buffy, calm down. I'm not even sure if this is actually mind reading. You could just be projecting…"

Buffy followed the older man down the stairs to the large table in the center of the library. Perching on the edge, she replied, "When I first walked into the library, you thought, 'My God, look at those shoes. If a fashion magazine told her to strap cats to her feet she would.'" Find a way out of that one, Giles. It is mind reading; I know it. She watched in amusement as he pursed his lips and stared at her in bewilderment.

Of course. The demons are telepathic. That's why they don't have mouths. I should've known.

The blonde smirked, waiting for Giles to vocalize the thoughts she'd just heard. Right on cue, he turned to her and said, "The demons are telepathic."

"I know." At Giles' questioning look, she continued, "You just told me. That's why they don't have mouths. And you should have known. I mean, it's weird. Think about all the things I could do with this

Finally, the Watcher seemed to catch some of the Slayer's enthusiasm. "Extraordinary. It could be very useful. You could use it to anticipate your opponents every move. You- you could turn his plans against him."

Well, I was thinking something a little different, but OK. "Right, Giles. So, is this a permanent thing? Do I get to keep the Aspect or does it go away after a few rounds in the spin cycle?"

"Buffy," he said, disapproval clear in his voice, "this isn't the time for levity. We are on the eve of the Ascension. And, we still have very little information to go on."

"Sorry, Giles." She slid off the table. "Well, I'd love to stay and research with you, but class, you know," she said, gesturing toward the doors. "Maybe Will, Xander, and I can come by after classes and help out."

"Of course, Buffy. Your help is always appreciated." Although, I'm not sure help is the proper phrase. Do they still teach reading here?

The Slayer bit back an angry remark, and flounced out of the library.

The thrill of her new powers hadn't lessened an hour later as English class wound down. Picking up the thoughts of her classmates gave the Slayer an edge she hadn't anticipated. For perhaps the first time, the blonde and underachieving student had been the center of attention. It was so worth it to see everyone looking at me like I was the brain, and not Willow, Buffy thought. And what was up with the 'Buffy understood the reading' comment anyway? Her internal debate continued as the Slayer walked down the crowded hallway.

She spotted Xander and Willow by the lockers and joined them. "Hey, guys. How's it going?"

Willow glanced at her and smiled. "Good. So, Buffy," she said, leaning close, "looks like someone decided to hit the books last night. Shoulda let me know. We could have had a Study Party."

"Ooh, yeah, Will. Cause everyone wants to hang out and read plays by dead Englishmen," Xander chimed in. He yelped and jumped back when the redhead smacked him on the arm. "Hey, watch it, I bruise easily."

"Sorry, Wills. No studying for me." Buffy made sure no one was close enough to hear their conversation. "It's the Aspect. I found out what it is."

"What?!" Willow's voice squeaked out. "I don't see a tail, and-and no horns, either."

The Slayer laughed. "Relax. It's OK. In fact, it's pretty cool. I can read thoughts. That's how I knew all those answers in class. I listened to everyone thinking about the question. Cool, huh?"

She wasn't expecting the silence that followed her statement.

Finally, Willow smiled. "That's great. I mean you enjoy the rest of your Slayer powers."

"Exactly. Giles thought I might be able to use it against some of the bad guys; you know, figure out what they were up to and stuff." Hmmm. Maybe that's not a bad idea. I bet Faith could tell me more about the Ascension than I could find in one of Giles' dusty books.

"Wow, Buffy. That sounds really great," Willow went on. But Buffy heard what her friend hadn't said. She's hardly even human anymore. How can I be her friend? She doesn't need me.

"No, Will. That's not true. I do need you." She grasped the hacker's arm. "Come on. This doesn't change anything. You guys are the Scoobies; I can't do this without you."

"Um, sure, Buffy." Willow sounded anything but sure.

The Slayer patted the arm she'd latched onto. "Great. Look, I know we need to talk more about this, but I've got something I want to check on. I think I have a lead on the whole Ascension thing."

Xander piped in from the sidelines, "Really? That's cool, cause Giles and Wesley don't seem to have a clue. So, Buffy, if you can read thoughts, what am I thinking?"

The blonde didn't even hesitate. "Xander, do you really think about sex all the time?" And, if you think I'm going to check out which fantasy is floating through your head, you've got another thing coming. The male Scooby flushed. "Don't worry, Xan. I won't let Cordelia know you still have the hots for her."

"Thanks," he answered. Then, "Hey, I didn't say that! Oh, right, guess I didn't have to," his voice trailed off.

"Right, then," Buffy said with a determined nod. "I'm off to see just how well this Aspect works on the enemy. Tell Giles I'll fill him in later."

The brunette barely heard the knock over the sound of fist meeting bag. Cursing, she stopped and wiped sweat out of her eyes. Another knock sounded. "Damn. All right, I'm coming."

"Whatever it is…" Faith flung the door open and stared at the blonde standing in front of her. "B."

"Hi, Faith. Can I come in?"

"Whatever," the younger girl muttered, stepping back and opening the door wide.

"Thanks." Buffy stopped a few feet inside the apartment and looked around. "Wow. Nice place. Guess working for the Big Bad pays well."

"Can't be any worse than Slayer pay," Faith snapped back. "Oh, that's right, you're not getting paid. So, I doubt you got lost in big old Sunny D. Say whatever you came to say and then get out. I got work to do."

After a moment's hesitation, the blonde said, "OK. Um, can I sit down? This might take a while. I don't really know how to say this." And that's the truth. I can't believe I came over here without a plan. How do I get her to think about the Mayor and the Ascension?

"If you got to." The other Slayer was anything but a gracious host.

Moving slowly, Buffy wandered farther into the apartment and sat on the rose-colored chaise. "Nice fruit basket; I've never seen one with daggers in it before."

"Yeah, look, B. Nice as it is to see ya and all, this really ain't a good time for me." Hurry up and spill, B. If the Boss finds out you're here, don't know what he'll do.

Buffy could see the brunette was nervous; although, she was making efforts to hide it. "Sure, Faith. Didn't mean to interrupt. Anyway, I wanted to warn you that there's this really creepy demon in town. Seems with the Ascension coming up, the Hellmouth is a popular place." She paused, staring intently at the other girl.

The stare didn't bring forth loads of information like Buffy had hoped. Instead, Faith looked at her in disbelief. "You came all the way over here to tell me that? What's the what, B? Why are you really here?"

"No joke, Faith. I came here to tell you about this particular demon. It's tall, kinda white, with no mouth. Apparently, you've got to be real careful around it. If it bleeds on you, you end up with some unknown Aspect of the demon."

No shit. I wonder what you get from tall and freaky? "Any idea what toy comes in the box, B?"

"Giles is looking into it. It's taking him awhile, though. Wesley has him researching the Ascension around the clock," the older Slayer answered.

Faith turned away quickly. Ah, yes, Wesley. Hope he's the first one the Boss eats after the transformation. "Still don't have a clue what's gonna happen, then, B?"

Buffy shrugged. "You know me, I never was one for the research."

"Yeah. Me neither."

Buffy had been listening intently to the brunette's thoughts when she was blindsided by a wave of bitterness. What the…? Damn, Giles didn't mention the demon could feel emotions, too. "So, Faith, I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this question, but…Still sure you made the right decision? I mean, it might be a bit bumpy at first, but we could really use your help with this one."

The blonde Slayer was braced for the reaction to her last statement. But, it wasn't what she expected. There was no anger – well, maybe a little. But the strongest emotion she sensed was sadness. Hell, B, ask the easy questions, why don't ya? Too bad you didn't realize I was worth your time a year ago. Maybe none of this would have happened.

When the brunette voiced her answer, nothing showed but contempt. "Fuck you, B. I'm sure your little Scoobies would welcome me with open arms. We'd all have a freakin party. And right after that, the Council pricks would show up to take me back to the Motherland."

Buffy couldn't mistake the fear that thought brought the younger girl. She needed to get the information about the Ascension. But between the mind reading and the emotions she was picking up, the blonde wasn't sure which side the other Slayer was really on. She stood up and walked over Faith.

"Come on, Faith. What do you say?" She reached out and touched the brunette's shoulder. "The Chosen Two together again. I miss that. A lot."

Fuck, so do I. Ain't never felt anything like that. Faith moved closer to her blonde counterpart and lowered her voice. "What are you offering, B?" She slid a hand up Buffy's arm, linking their fingers.

The younger girl was so close, Buffy could see her eyes darken and watch the flush crawl up her neck. Desire traveled through the emotional link. Damn, B. Just once, I wish this was real. Mind numbing grief and a sense of self-hatred mixed with the desire and Buffy nearly moaned at the painful combination.

"I'm offering you a spot on the winning team. Good friends. More chances to slay together. This is a chance to do what we were born to do, Faith. Slay demons, protect people from the Bad Guys."

She was getting to her. Buffy was ecstatic. She could feel the other Slayer's need to say yes. "Please, Faith. We're you're family. We need you." Buffy closed her eyes as Faith's emotions tumbled into her. Family. My God. How did we miss that? All she's ever wanted was to have a family.

"B, in case you missed the memo, I got a new family now." The harsh words clashed with the feelings Buffy shared with the other Slayer. "Don't need you or the Scoobies. The Boss takes real good care of me."

"I'm sure he does, Faith. But what happens after the Ascension? Will the Mayor still be able to give you what you want?"

Good question, B. Don't know

Faith's thoughts fuzzed out. Buffy shook her head slightly. She was picking up random thoughts from other people in the building. It was like listening to a dozen conversations all at once.

The brunette watched her closely. Something wasn't quite right. "B, you OK? Lookin kinda pale."

"Just a headache. Sorry. You were saying?"

"Hadn't said anything, B. But, the way I figure it, the Boss'll be there for me no matter what."

The blonde Slayer was having a hard time staying focused. The random thoughts that zipped through her mind were steadily increasing. She had a mission, though. She still needed to get information about the Ascension. Gritting her teeth against the growing pain, Buffy taunted. "Come on, Faith." Buffy took a stab in the dark and said, "Your Boss won't even be human after the Ascension. How can he possibly be family?" A little of Faith's anguish trickled through the clamoring voices. Softening her approach, the older girl continued. "Faith, I know we – I – didn't handle things well after Allan Finch died. I was scared. But, Giles and I were on your side. You're one of us, Faith. You always will be."

The brunette was listening again. Buffy stifled a sigh of relief. Concentrating on isolating her companion's thoughts, she said, "Please, Faith, give us another chance. Come home. You're the only one I can talk to who really understands the slaying."

Yeah, B. You got that right. Man, I miss the rush of slaying together.

The thoughts disappeared again, drowned out by other voices. Struggling to speak through the noise in her head, the blonde brought both hands up to massage her temples. It felt like the voices in her head were shouting. She swayed, gripping Faith's arm to stay upright.

"Buffy, what the hell is going on?" The brunette Slayer's voice faded in and out.

It was too much. The blonde screamed and doubled over. In an instant, Faith's thoughts were drowned out by hundreds, maybe thousands, of other mental voices. The older Slayer crumbled under the onslaught. "Faith, help me," she gasped out, just before everything went dark.