Buffy sat at her table and swished the food around on her plate. God, this was such a rut. Every day she woke up to the same bland apartment, went to the same derogatory workplace, ate the same crap for lunch, went home and wished she was in Sunnydale. Then she went to sleep crying and woke up the next day. The cycle continues.
She made enough money to get by, especially since Lily had moved in. She saved what she could and hoped that someday she had something to spend it on. But for now she waited tables for a bunch of assholes who tip extremely poorly. It didn't help her minimum-wage pay. Eight hours every day except Sundays. What a joke.
Every day she hurt. Her mother had kicked her out, she'd gotten expelled from school, and she sent her boyfriend to hell. She'd thought she had nothing. What did she have to lose? She could leave and start over.
But she'd forgotten about her friends. Xander, Willow, Giles, Oz… God, even Cordelia. She missed them all beyond description. It was getting to the point where the weirdest things reminded her of them; food reminded her of Xander. Books reminded her of Giles. Shoes reminded her of Cordelia. Most music reminded her of Oz, and red hair reminded her of Willow.
Everything else reminded her of Angel.
That's what hurt the most.
"Summers!" came a voice from behind the counter. "Get your ass back here! Your break's been over for five minutes."
"Coming," she said, throwing the contents on her plate into the garbage and grabbing a tray that had just come up.
"Hey Anne, you okay?" asked Lily as she passed. After their hellish experience in… well, hell, Buffy had convinced her boss to hire Lily. They were splitting the rent on their shoddy apartment. At least she had that. After six months, at least she had one friend.
Buffy smiled. "Yeah. Just thinking."
"You've been doing a lot of that lately. It's weird. Stop it."
Buffy chuckled as she brought burgers to a couple of truckers. She felt better. It wasn't her best decision ever, but it was right. She just hoped her friends were doing okay with the demon-fighting.
"Xander, hold him steady!"
"I'm trying, Will. He squirms."
"Well, if you held onto him tight enough, I bet he'd stop squirming…"
"Just stake him, Willow."
The redhead leapt forward with a stake and tried to catch the vampire off-guard. She plunged the wooden object through the vamp's chest and it disappeared in an explosion of dust, but not before giving Willow a decent kick. She fell backwards and ran into Oz, who was fighting another vamp.
"Oh! Sorry, Oz…"
"No worries," he said, regaining his balance and stepping aside as the vampire ran at him. The vamp's momentum kept him going until he ran into a nearby tombstone, at which point Oz put a stake through his back. The vamp stiffened and exploded.
Xander helped Cordelia out of the bush she'd been pushed into. "Gee, the vamps really are out in full force tonight."
"We've got 'em covered," Willow proclaimed proudly as she put an arm around Oz.
"Yeah, well, we wouldn't have to if Buffy would stop being so self-involved and get over whatever her problem is so we don't have to risk our lives every night to do her job for her," Cordelia commented.
Xander looked away sadly. "Giles get anywhere on that last lead?"
Willow shrugged. "Not really. He went, and it turned out to be a couple of teenagers getting all fightey about nothing in particular. Neither of them were even girls, and both were alive."
"I hate to say it, but Giles needs to give it up. He gets his hopes up every time only to be disappointed every time. There's no way we're going to find her," Xander said as the two couples made their way to the school.
"I just think it's a miracle that some demon mob hasn't ambushed Sunnydale yet," Oz said.
"Shh!" said Willow. "Don't say that! Now some demon mob will ambush Sunnydale." Oz smiled and tightened his hold around Willow's shoulders. They walked in silence…
…until a vampire getting its ass seriously kicked went sprawling across the street. A woman wearing tight leather pants and an even tighter tank top ran after it, but stopped when she saw the Scoobies.
"It's okay," said Cordelia impatiently. "We know. Just slay it already before we have to."
The woman nodded skeptically and went about beating up the vampire in a very spirited way. Eventually she plunged a stake through its heart and the wind carried its dust away. She walked toward where the others stood. "I'm Faith. Who the hell are you?"
Xander stepped forward and extended his hand. "I'm Xander." Faith stared at the hand and chewed her gum with her eyebrows raised. Xander eventually dropped it and went to put his arm around Cordelia. She only looked at him with disgust and went to stand beside Oz with crossed arms. "Here's Willow, Oz, and that was Cordelia," he continued.
"Great, but that doesn't tell me much."
"Neither does just 'Faith'," Cordelia said. "You were really beating on that vampire. Either he was really slow and weak, or they sent a replacement Slayer for Buffy."
Faith gave Cordelia the one-over. "Good call. Well, I'm a Slayer, anyway. I'm looking for Buffy. Any thoughts on where she is?"
"Oh, don't we wish," Xander said.
"Well, worth a shot," she said. "Someone mind showing me where the party is in this town?"
"Actually, yes," Willow said. "We were headed to… someplace. And we're late. So we have to go there now."
"Actually, you should come," said Oz. Willow looked up at him slightly indignantly. "We're going to see Buffy's old Watcher. He'd want to meet you."
"Okay, cool," Faith said. "Plenty of time for partying tonight."
Willow picked up Oz's wrist and looked at his watch. She saw that it was after ten o'clock. She didn't look much older than them, and it was a school night. She suppressed her shock as they started walking again.
Cordelia decided to pick up conversation with Faith. "So, Faith. Why are you looking for Buffy?"
"Thought it was a good place to start. My Watcher got killed a while back by a real old vampire, wanted her help to kill it. I heard she wasn't here anymore, so I went searching. She's real good at hiding when she wants to, hey?"
"That she is," Xander responded sadly.
"So I thought I'd start where she was last seen. Someone's bound to know her, right? And here I am, wailin' on some vamp my first day here and I meet her old friends."
"We're still her friends!" Willow protested.
"Sorry Red, but if she hasn't talked to you in six months, I don't really think you're her friends anymore."
Willow pouted. Oz frowned. The rest of the walk was taken in silence.
Xander was first through the library doors. "Hey Giles, look who we found."
Giles hurried out of his office looking excited, but his face fell when he saw it wasn't Buffy with them. Then he frowned as he realized he had no idea who the young woman was. "Hello," he said.
"You're the Watcher?" she asked, looking pleased. "Well, if I knew they came this young and handsome, I would have ordered one years ago."
Xander snickered. Cordelia looked disgusted. "This is Faith. She's Buffy's replacement," she said without thinking. Giles looked down at his feet. "I mean, she's a Slayer, too," she corrected.
"Hey," Faith said, offering her hand to Giles. Xander's jaw dropped in annoyance.
"A Slayer? Really? How curious," he said, interested. "What brings you to Sunnydale?"
"Looking for B, actually. I was hoping someone 'round here had something to say about where she is. Looks like I'm wrong."
"Yes, well, we're still looking," Giles said hopefully.
"Yeah?" Faith said. "Well, good luck. I've been all over the country and I ain't heard nothin' about her."
Giles winced at Faith's grammar but said nothing about it. "There's always hope," he said offhandedly.