FIRST THREAD: Part Twenty-One




"Damn," Faith muttered, as she slowed to a stop.

Turning in place, she checked her surroundings. The sun was well past set and the sliver of the moon in the sky did not add anymore illumination to that provided by the weak and sparse streetlights. She also wasn't sure how far she had run since leaving the motel. She was sure Kendra would come after her, but after almost half an hour there was still no sign of the other Slayer.

Maybe I hit her harder than I thought? she wondered. But then any concern she might have felt quickly faded when she remembered why she had run.

"How could I have been so stupid?" she whispered to herself. To be lured in like that. Faith did come to Sunnydale looking for help but she thought she would have more time before Kakistos and his pack showed up, to figure a way to bring up the subject. But somehow Kendra and her Watcher found out about Kakistos and figured he was after her. They didn't even know Kakistos had killed her Watcher.

But there was something tugging at the back her mind, that wasn't adding up. All she knew that it was better to not be around when the trouble started. If Kendra thought she could take Kakistos, Faith was more than willing to let her try.

And it looked like she was almost back to town. But where to go from there? she thought.

There was always the bus station, she figured, but then remembered her current status of not having any money. It was still too early to break into a store or filling station. Back when she had been stealing, during her cross-country trek, she would wait until the place closed before busting in. Sure there was hardly any money but it would usually be enough and she would stock up on other supplies to last until she reached the next town.

But with Kakistos here she didn't really feel like waiting until all the stores closed, and the vamp would probably have one of his flunkies watching the bus station anyway. If she remembered correctly, there was also a train station, but that would probably be watched too. However, it would be easier sneaking on board a train without being seen, so that was her best bet and she didn't even need any money for that.

What she did need, though, was weapons. And she knew exactly where to get those.

She picked up her pace again. Once she hit town, she would head straight for the high school. She just needed to get there before Kendra did.


******


"That must be the motel," Giles said, as he pulled his old Citroen into the parking lot.

"Yeah, but which room is she staying in?" Willow said.

"You don't know?"

"Hey," Willow sounded slightly offended, "Just because I have a four point grade average doesn't mean I have a photographic memory. And Faith only mentioned her place once . . . and come to think of it, I don't think she actually told us what room number she was staying in, so I think--"

"Willow." Giles was looking forward and pointed.

"What?" Willow looked and saw he was indicating an opened door that was pratically in front of the space they pulled into. She exchanged a look with the Watcher. "Wanna bet money that's Faith's room?"

"I doubt there's a bet there," commented Giles.

He and the teenager climbed out of the car and approached the room, warily. Giles stepped to the door first, rapping his knuckles lightly on the door, as they peered inside.

"Hello?"

"Faith?" Willow called.

They stepped inside and saw that the room seemed deserted, even though the lights were still on.

"Kendra? Looks like nobody's hom--"

The redhead trailed off as she and Giles saw the large dent in the wall. They were silent for a moment, contemplating what this meant.

"I take it Kendra's intervention with Faith didn't go over too well," Willow finally commented. Giles just raised his eyebrows with a slight tilt of his head in response.

Willow sighed and noticed the closed door on the other side of the room. "I'll check the bathroom."

Giles just nodded and looked around the room again. Willow doubted very much that anyone would actually be in the bathroom. Then a sudden image of Kendra lying unconscious on the bathroom floor flashed in her mind. She opened the door and quickly flipped on the light. Seeing it was empty, Willow breathed a sigh of relief. She was turning off the light again when--

"Willow!" Giles gasped.

Willow spun around and was shocked to see Giles clutching at the strong hand that was wrapped around his neck. But what was even more shocking was who was standing behind the Watcher.

"Spike!"

Leading Giles ahead of him, Spike took a few more steps into the room allowing the four vampires with him to step inside.

"Hello, Willow," Spike said. "My, have you grown. You look even more tasty than last I saw you."

Though disgusted by the way the blonde vamp was looking at her, her concern for Giles kept her from responding. Spike's grip tighten and Giles gagged, though the Watcher was trying to show as little pain as possible.

"And how is Buffy?" Spike asked, conversationally. "Still dead I take it?"

"Bastard!" Giles spat, through his constricted throat.

Spike shoved Giles forward and the man slammed into the TV knocking it and its stand over as he tumbled to the floor. There was a spark and a cloud of smoke as the screen shattered. Willow quickly knelt beside Giles and helped him to a sitting position as he coughed, trying to catch his breath.

"What do you want?" Willow demanded.

"Mostly to kill you," Spike said, matter-of-factly. "But I didn't expect to find you here." He glanced at the damaged wall. "Who's your decorator?" Then what little humor in his expression faded completely. "Where's Faith?"

Giles and Willow exhanged a look. Still rubbing his throat, Giles looked up at Spike. "Forgive me for sounding like the cliche'd captive . . . but who?"

Spike must have been expecting this kind response, for his expression didn't change. "Well, allow me to play the cliche'd captor." He took a threatening step towards them.

Willow frantically grabbed the side of Giles' coat, lying open, and felt for the inside pocket. There was something there and she plunged her hand in and pulled out a pen, instantly dropped it, and was reaching into the pocket again when Giles lifted his other hand.

"This?" he said, holding a small wooden cross.

Willow snatched it out of his hand. "It would help you know," she scolded him.

"Sorry," he replied softly.

Willow raised the cross up at Spike as the blonde stopped right in front of them. Then she realized he wasn't flinching away from the holy symbol, however, the vampires behind him did take a step back. In fact, it was as if it wasn't affecting him at all. She kept the cross pointed at him and the vampire casually knelt down on one knee and it was only inches in front of his face now.

"Uh, Giles?" she said, in a worried tone. "Do crosses have expiration dates on them?"

"Not that I'm aware of," Giles said, just as concerned now.

"Maybe you should put that down, eh?" Spike suggested.

Willow thrust the cross closer and this time Spike did flinch a little, but only because it nearly hit him in the face. His hand shot up and snatched Willow's wrist and the redhead gasped and the cross dropped from her hand when he squeezed. He released her and she tucked her arm against her chest, holding her wrist, tears in her eyes.

"Are you all right?" Giles asked.

She just nodded, because she wasn't sure she'd be able to say anything without starting to cry and she did not want to give Spike that satisfaction. Then she and Giles watched as Spike picked up the cross in his bare hand and tossed it under the bed. They could only stare at him with wide eyes and Willow noticed for the first time that Spike's long leather coat seemed a little on the charred side. Almost as if he had caught on fire. In fact, there was a burnt smell coming from it, as if it had just recently happened.

"But how is it possible?" Giles asked, his curiousity getting the better of him.

Spike just grinned. "You Watcher-types are supposed to be so smart. You tell me."

"A vampire who isn't hurt by crosses . . . or fire?" Willow ventured. Spike didn't say anything, but from his expression she knew it was true. "What about stakes? Holy water?"

Still, the blonde vampire didn't answer, but over his shoulder, Willow saw that the other vampires were listening in apt attention. Especially the black vampire in the sharp suit -- and she would also bet that there was a limo parked outside.

"Nor sunlight," Giles stated, and from his expression, Willow could tell that he knew something. "The Gem of Amarra."

"Good on you," Spike said. "I see you haven't lost your Watcher touch after all. I'd've thought for sure you would've retired after Buffy kicked it."

Willow saw Giles' expression become hard again, but she was sure there was an underlining pain there. Recognized it, actually, because she carried that same pain, as did Xander and the others. But she thought she saw something else there in his reaction to Spike's words and she wondered if Giles had considered retiring or even leaving Sunnydale all together. He had never mentioned anything to her or the others, but then from the awful night in the library till they had rescued Giles that night on patrol they had been out of touch. A lot could have happened during those weeks.

"A gem?" Willow spoke up.

"Purported to make any vampire in possession of it impervious to any harm," Giles explained, not taking his eyes off Spike. "It was thought to be a myth. The Holy Grail for vampires, so to speak."

"What does it look like?" She tried to make it sound as unimportant as possible.

Spike, knowing what she was doing, found this amusing and drummed his fingers on the knee his hand was resting on. Willow thought he wasn't going to answer the question when she finally noticed the ring on the finger on that hand. She exchanged another look with Giles who was looking at the ring as well.

"Right then," Spike said, "Now that we're through getting re-acquainted and all, let's get back to the matter at hand, eh? Where did your Faith run off to?"

"We don't know," Willow said. Giles shot her a look. "Well we don't. In this case telling the truth can't hurt us."

"Except relieve us of any value whatsoever we might be to Spike alive," Giles replied mildly.

Willow's jaw dropped, and it was a few seconds before she could say, "Oh."

Spike chuckled. "Normally, that would be true. But lucky for you there's also Kendra to deal with. She wouldn't dare attack us while we have you hostage."

Giles considered those words for a moment. "So Kakistos wants Kendra as well."

Spike seemed offended by this. "That rusty bloke isn't running the show anymore, as the boys here can attest to." Then the anger left his face and Willow could practically see his mind working. "So that's why she ran off, eh? She knows Kakistos was here." He looked over his shoulder at the vampire in the suit.

"She's probably outside the city limits by now," the vamp said. "if she sticks to her usual pattern."

Spike returned his gaze to Willow and Giles. "Which leaves only one Slayer to defend the whole town."

"Don't underestimate Faith as a Slayer," Giles interjected. "She came to us for help. It's the very reason she came to Sunnydale in the first place."

Willow knew he was bluffing --which he was very good at-- but did her best not to let her expression give anything away, and just tried to look scared --which *she* was very good at.

It didn't look as if Spike was completely convinced, as he regarded them. Then he glanced at the cracked dent in the wall again. "Even so," he finally said, "that doesn't change our plans."

"Which are?" Giles challenged.

"While I'd love to do the villian-tells-all-to-the-good-guys bit," Spike stood. "We don't have time. Cliff notes version . . ."

He reached down. Willow couldn't contain a squeal as he yanked her off the floor. Giles shot to his feet, but Spike grabbed a haldful of his coat with his other hand and tossed him to the other vampire who held the Watcher.

". . . we're taking over the town. We just need to get rid of the meddling element first."

Willow had been right. There was a limo parked outside.


*****


Xander stepped out of the Bronze for the fifth time tonight. Or was it the sixth? he wondered. He wasn't sure anymore. He had been loitering around the club since early this afternoon, searching all the surrounding alleys and streets for any sign that Buffy was still around. Like what? he asked himself. A strand of blonde hair? Another stake?

His hand closed around the small stake in his pocket. The only evidence he had that he hadn't hallucinated what happened last night.

And once the Bronze had opened, he only stayed inside for about five minutes before coming back outside to search the alleys and streets again. Then he would go back inside and repeated the cycle. If anyone in the club even bothered to care they would probably wonder why he was acting so strangely. But it wouldn't have concerned Xander. He just wanted --needed-- to find out what was going on.

He needed to find Buffy.

But other than standing around waiting for her to pop up again, he didn't have any idea where to find her. She hadn't been a vampire, that he was certain of, so she probably wouldn't be hanging out in the usual vampire haunts. But then again, she had been --is-- a Slayer, and Slayers spend a lot of time in cemeteries anyway. But not during the day.

So after leaving school his first stop had been to the house on Revello Drive.

Which, of course, he had found empty. Which has been void of life for almost four months now. Ever since Mrs. Summers had packed up and left town. It shamed Xander and the others that they hadn't noticed right away that Buffy's mother had left town. It wasn't until about a week after she vacated the house that they finally decided to check up on her. They had later found out from Giles that she had moved back to LA.

His next stop had been the cemetery.

Just as he had seen it last week, the grave was undistrubed. But he had resisted the urge to touch the headstone and had left, coming straight to the Bronze.

So how about coming at this from a scientific stand point, he thought. What would Willow do? What happened at the moment that Buffy first appeared? Well, I was about to be eaten by a vampire chick, he thought, when Buffy came out of nowhere and saved him.

This stopped him in his tracks.

Just like she used to do, he realized.

What if he was able to repeat all the events from last night? he wondered. What, wander around until another vampire attacked him and hope that Buffy will appear again just in time to save him? He scoffed at himself.

"Yeah, right."

But then he stopped again, and considered the thought once more.

"Hmm."

Looking to the right, he saw the same alley where he had been attacked last night. He stood there for a moment just gazing into the darkness.

He looked up and down the street again. He saw a group of teenagers heading towards the Bronze. Other than that, he was the only one outside right now.

Xander turned and disappeared into the alley.

So he didn't see the blue van that pulled up to the Bronze about three minutes later. Oz and Cordelia climbed out and walked inside the club.


*****


Kendra rounded the next corner and tried to pick up a little more speed as she ran down the next street. But her legs just refused to do what she asked of them.

She didn't know how long she had remained huddled against the car but when she finally forced her body to move, it was as if it was no longer her own. Like she didn't know how to wear her own skin anymore. She was a stranger to herself. Only the knowledge that Faith was in great danger got her to finally move. Otherwise she would have been content to remain where she was until someone, or some thing, found her.

She also didn't know how much of a head start Faith had on her. The logical part of her mind that was still working told Kendra that she shouldn't be taking the word of a demon, but the part of her that was The Slayer, that mystical instinct and strength, let her know that it was true. For whatever reason, Faith would be at the high school, and there she would meet her death.

Unless I can save her, she remembered what Anya had told her.

With her thoughts all over the place, she didn't even notice the twin bright lights bearing down on her, even when the roar of the engine filled her ears.

"KENDRA!"

She finally reacted to the shout of her name, stopping in her tracks, and turned her head. There was a long black limousine barreling down at her, less than twenty meters away. The next second it bounced over the curb of the sidewalk she was standing on and Kendra would have been a rolling tangled mass under its carriage had she not leapt straight up in the air. With her strength, despite the split second warning, her jump would have taken her at least ten feet into the air easily. But her shaky legs slowed her down the fraction of a second that would have taken her clear of the vehicle and she felt one of her legs clipped by the slanted glass of the windshield. The impact didn't really cause her any pain, but it was enough to send the rest of her body slamming down onto the roof of the car, and as the limo continued to speed forward, she tumbled the legnth of its long roof. Until it finally passed beneath her and she landed on the sidewalk on the exact same spot she had been standing.

Now the pain did hit her. She lifted her head and saw the limousine fishtailing in the parking lot, of the convenient store she had been crossing in front of, barely avoiding sideswiping a couple of the parked cars. The back tinted windows were rolled halfway down and Kendra was shocked to see Giles and Willow in the back seat sandwiched between Spike and another vampire, and realized it had been Willow's voice that had shouted the warning. The blonde vampire seemed to be yelling towards the front seat, probably ordering the driver to try running her down again.

Ignoring the pain from her body, she was pushing herself to her knees, when Giles and Willow shouted again. "Kendra, lookout!" she heard Willow as the redhead pointed behind Kendra.

The Slayer didn't even bother to look over her shoulder, she just dove to the side, rolling across the sidewalk. She did catch a glimpse of something big hitting the curb and when she was on her knees again, saw that it was an old Dodge that had nearly run her over. Now the second car screeched across the parking lot, fishtailing, and came to a stop just a couple of feet short of the limo. Spike poked his head out of his window.

"Hey! You wreck my car you pay for it, Lucius!" he shouted. "And then I kill you!"

At the same time, Kendra was getting to her feet, and her left leg buckled when pain shot through her knee. She stumbled but managed to stay on her feet. Then she saw Giles' head appear over Spike's shoulder.

"Run, Kendra!"

"Shut up!" Spike slammed the Watcher back against the seat, then the vampire shouted to the driver of the Dodge again. "Go after her. If she doesn't kill you, meet us at the school."

The Dodge's tires peeled in reverse and the front end angled towards Kendra again, but the Slayer was already moving, heading towards the side of the store. Though she was limping, she was still moving faster than most humans could have with a knee as damaged as hers. As she disappeared down the side alley of the store she saw the limo leaving the parking lot. Then the Dodge filled the mouth of the alley and she tried to pick up a little more speed as she rounded the corner to the back.

An eight foot high chain-link fence bordered the alley, separating it from the wooded area behind the store. And it also deadended. Unfortunately, the car would be on her halfway down the alley. With her injured knee, Kendra knew she wouldn't be able to jump over the fence, but there was dumpster not too far ahead, and when she leapt for it, she thought she felt the hood of the car brush against her boots. When she landed on the closed lids of the metal container she curled her legs up as sparks erupted as the Dodge scraped against the dumpster.

Standing on the container, the fence was now level with her waist, though the alley was about ten feet wide. The landing would be a little rough and would do her knee no good, but she didn't really have much choice as she watched the Dodge screech to a halt. There wasn't enough room for it to make a U-turn but it would still be faster than her in reverse. And as the car started to back up towards her, gaining speed, she realized the driver was intending to ram the dumpster, despite Spike's warning not to damage the car.

Pressing her back against the wall, she took two steps forward, launching herself off with her good leg just an instant before the Dodge slammed into the dumpster. Kendra tucked her legs as she arced over the fence, then uncurled them when the ground came up at her. Prepared for the shock of the landing, she immediately rolled with the impact, her knee letting her know its disapproval not without a little pain.

Kendra came up from the roll and brought her hands up in front of her to keep from hitting a tree face first. Leaning against the trunk, she clenched her teeth as she stood up, keeping most of her weight off her left knee. On the other side of the fence, she saw the vampires --three of them-- exit the Dodge and they began to scramble up the chain-link fence.

Then she noticed a long thin, but sturdy looking, branch above her. Reaching up she grabbed it at its base and snapped it from the trunk. She raised her injured leg and broke the branch in half across her thigh, ridding it of most of its leaves, but it was still nearly three feet long, and now with a lethal splintered tip.

Kendra turned and plunged deeper into the shadows of the woods.


End of Part Twenty-One






SECOND THREAD: Part Twenty-Two





"And you almost burned Buffy and Willow on stakes right there in the middle of City Hall?" Faith asked, in disbelief. She shook her head. "And I thought I had issues with my mother."

Joyce smiled a bit sheepishly. "Well, Buffy said it was a very powerful demon that heightened people's moral outrage." She glanced at her daughter. "I think I tripled her allowance the next day."

Buffy tried to put a knowing smile on her face, but knew she didn't succeed. Then she quickly turned her eyes to the other Slayer sitting across the table from her. Joyce was sitting at her usual place at the head of the table with Buffy to her left. The exact way they had been sitting that day her mother first met Faith just a few months ago. Which suddenly seemed so long ago, with everything that had happened.

Buffy had subtly tried to sit there just to keep herself between Faith and her mother but Joyce would have none of that, but, at this point, Buffy was almost convinced that the Rogue Slayer had no violent intentions during this "visit."

Almost.

Faith chuckled. "Seems like I always miss out on all the fun." She looked at Buffy. "Why hadn't you ever told me about this?"

Buffy's voice sounded plesantly conversational, which surprised even herself. Thankfully, as they always did when they had dinner, Faith and Joyce did most of the talking. "Well, it's not exactly something for the family photo album." Then she did hear an edge of hardness enter her tone as she met Faith's eyes. "And with all that's happened recently . . it's not like there's been time to bring up much of the past."

Faith didn't say anything for a moment. Then lowered her hands below the table. Buffy quickly ducked her head to look underneath the table but saw that Faith's lap was empty. When she sat up again Faith was innocently wiping her mouth with the napkin that had been resting on her lap and Buffy knew the brunette had done it on purpose and that Buffy couldn't risk the chance that she might be reaching for a hidden weapon of some kind.

"What is it?" Joyce asked her.

This was also the fourth time she had looked under the table and she was running out of excuses to her mother why she kept doing it. There was only so many times you can drop your fork before you start being accused of having a chronic fork-holding problem. She tried to sound nonchalant. "Oh, I thought . . I saw something."

"Not another roach, was it?"

Buffy shook her head as she poked at the food on her plate. "No. No. It's been a while since there's been any pests in this house." After a second she raised her eyes and looked directely at Faith.

The other Slayer didn't say anything but there was a tightness in her hands as Faith folded her napkin and laid it beside her plate. Joyce had missed the small exchange, her attention still on her daughter.

"You haven't hardly eaten anything," she pointed out. "Did I not get the sauce right this time?"

"No," Buffy said, quickly. "Everything's great, Mom. I guess I'm just not as hungry as I thought."

"You haven't really been eating much of anything, lately."

"Yeah, B," Faith added. "You do look as if you've lost some weight."

With a glance at the second serving on Faith's plate she was halfway through, Buffy replied, "And it looks as if you've gained some weight." And she felt a grin tugging at her lips.

To her surprise, Faith grinned as well, as she sat a little straighter in her chair. "Yeah. A little. But most of it was in the chest."

Joyce chuckled with Faith and her mother didn't notice Buffy's grin quickly fading.

"Well, you certainly have grown a lot--" Joyce stopped, bringing a hand to her mouth. "I'm sorry. That came out wrong," she said.

Again, Buffy seethed silently as the other two women continued to laughed.

"I just meant," Joyce went on, "that you have changed quite a bit since you first arrived."

"She certainly has," Buffy said. And realized she must have said it more bluntly than she meant to when they looked at her. After a moment she said, "She has."

Faith titled her head as she regarded the blonde Slayer. "I guess you can say that it was mostly because of Buffy." A meaningful tone seemed to enter her voice. "If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be where I am today." But the look in her eyes was about as soft as a razor blade.

Buffy knew exactly what she was talking about. A week ago when she pretended to be chained up in Angel's mansion she had listened to Faith rant about how everybody expected her to be just like Buffy. That Buffy was the one who got all the credit, despite the fact that Faith was just as much a Slayer as Buffy. She had to concede that Faith did have a point and, in her shoes, Buffy was sure she might have held a little resentment herself.

After a few silent seconds, Buffy finally lowered her eyes and nodded. "You have come a long way," she admitted, reluctantly, in a soft voice. "But the decisions that have brought you this far were yours alone." And when she raised her eyes, they were as hard as Faith's.

And Buffy was also just as sure she wouldn't have turned to evil and join the mayor, as a way to lash out at the world.

"I think you should be proud of that . . Faith."

Now it was Faith's turn to stew quietly and her nostils flared slightly.

"Well, I'm certainly proud of both of you."

Buffy couldn't keep herself from looking sharply at her mother in surprise. Could she not feel the tension in the room? she wondered. It wasn't as if the Slayers were doing a real good job of keeping the scorn for one another hidden very well. She knew her mother didn't like to dwell on such things as her daughter being the Slayer and putting herself in danger almost every single night. And it was mostly because of that denial that allowed Buffy to successfully keep her role as the Slayer a secret for the first two years.

But Joyce must have misread their exchange, for she didn't notice Buffy's expression. "You two are doing something I can't imagine anyone else in the world can really do by themselves." She paused, before adding, "I mean, how many can honestly say they've saved the world?"

As they all fell silent, Buffy looked at Faith again, but the brunette said nothing, and Buffy wondered what she might be thinking. That hardness in her eyes had seemed to fade for just a moment, but then returned.

Faith turned to Joyce, "Hey, uh, just when we were getting all Kodak-moment-y, I gotta split."

"So soon?" Joyce asked as Faith stood. "Wouldn't you like to stay for dessert?"

Faith seemed to hesitate, then she glanced at Buffy, who was already out of her chair. Finally, she said, "Nah. I wish I could, but you know how things are out there."

Buffy had been rounding the table, but the sound in Faith's voice had caused her to stop. It was as if there had been genuine regret there.

"Maybe next time?" Joyce said.

Again, Faith glanced at Buffy. The blonde Slayer could tell what Faith was thinking. That she knew this would be the last time she would ever be in this house again as a guest.

"I'd like that," Faith said, to Joyce.

There was another short moment of silence.

"C'mon, Faith," Buffy said, surprisingly, her voice without a hint of hostility. "I'll walk you out."

"Be careful out there," Joyce said, as the Slayers stepped out the front door.


****


Detective Stein was rotating his neck slowly, working the kinks out, and wished he still had some of that cold, stale, coffee left. But he had finished it a half hour ago. And he was wondering where Faith was. If she was planning on staying the night then this whole stakeout would be a bust. And if he stayed in this car any longer, he would have to change his mailing address as well, he thought sourly.

If the chief knew he was back out here he'd probably be suspended. Or fired. Well, if tonight turned out to be a deadend, he could hope that Detective Clark had come up with a lead on Faith's new place. Find out who the mastermind behind all this was.

When the small hairs on the back of his neck started to crawl he sat up a little straighter. The street in front of him was still clear. There hadn't been a car by in almost twenty minutes. Then he checked the rearview and side mirrors, and still didn't see anything.

Figuring he must have imagined that feeling of being watched he settled back against the seat and tried not to focus on the tightness forming in his stiff back.

***

Angel stood right behind the trunk of the unmarked police car. He thought for sure the cop was going to look over his shoulder and see him and had been prepared to duck out of sight, but the detective had just looked through the mirrors.

Angel recognized him as the same detective he had seen at the crime scene of the Deputy Mayor's murder and also leaving Faith's motel room after questioning her. Buffy told him that a detective stopped by her house to question her two days later and he assumed this was the same one. He wondered if she knew she was being watched.

Even though Buffy might not like his skulking around her house, he decided to call and warn her, and was about to backtrack his way to find a payphone. But he was stopped when the front door to her house opened and if his heart was already not beating he figured watching Faith step out of the house would have given him a heart attack. And then, to his relief, Buffy followed the other Slayer, but remained on the porch. But during that second before she appeared Angel had thought the worst. Seemingly hundreds of images of Buffy and her mother lying dead as Faith stood over their bodies, filled his mind.

Then he came back to himself, realizing he was still out in the open and ducked behind a tall hedge of bushes on the front lawn to his right.

Despite his keen vampire hearing, he was still too far away to hear anything the Slayers were saying, but from their body language, especially Buffy's, having a friendly conversation they were not.

***


Faith chuckled as she stepped off the porch. "Man, B. If I'd been wearing a skirt I would've thought for sure you were trying to catch a peek."

Buffy closed the front door and remained on the porch as Faith turned to face her. She crossed her arms and glared down at the brunette.

"What's your game this time, Faith?"

"No games," Faith replied, nonchalant.

"Yeah, right. You just happened to be there when my mother was attacked? Was that your idea or your boss's?"

All humor faded from Faith's expression. "Hey, believe what you want. The point is, out of all of you, Joyce was probably the only one who didn't expect me to be anything more than who I am. She never compared me to you." She paused as if expecting her to respond to that, but Buffy wasn't going to allow herself to be drawn back into that old arguement. "I figured it was the least I owed her," she continued. "Even though I was certain she wouldn't appreaciate it, because of you and me being enemies and all.

"But then I realized you hadn't even told her about me," Faith grinned. "And not only does she give me a ride home, she invites me to dinner. I mean, it would have been rude of me to refuse."

"And where is home, nowadays, just out of curiousity?" Buffy asked.

Still grinning, Faith shook her head. "That wouldn't make the game fair now, would it?"

"You know where we all live," Buffy countered, "I'd say it would level the playing field."

"And let all of you gang up on me? I don't think so. And don't bother asking Joyce. She dropped me off back at my old motel."

"So you had to huff it on foot back to your new place."

Faith just shrugged. "Hey, it was the thought that count, y'know."

They fell silent. But Faith didn't turn to leave, as if knowing Buffy had more to say. Finally, the blonde Slayer broke the silence.

"I wanted to kill you," Buffy stated.

Faith nodded, understandingly. "I figured as much." Then, to Buffy's unspoken question, "Xander told you he saw me with her, didn't he? Such a loyal sidekick, isn't he?"

"At least he knows what loyalty is," Buffy snapped. "He would never betray his friends."

"Right, because the view is great hiding behind the all-powerful Buffy," Faith sneered.

Buffy nodded. "It's true Xander doesn't have a Slayer's strength, and yet he's still done more good than you've ever done."

Faith didn't respond to that. Just glared at the other Slayer for several seconds.

"So why didn't you?" Faith said.

"What?"

"Kill me?" She indicated their surroundings. "There's nothing stopping you now. Only the air between us. C'mon, B. Let's dance right here!"

She looked at Buffy expectantly for a while, then lowered her arms. "You still don't have it in you. Sure, when you thought I was after your mom you were more than willing to take me out. I mean, what daughter wouldn't do that for their mom?"

Buffy made sure she was looking right at Faith's eyes when she said, "You know if you ever come near her again, I will kill you."

Faith did not break eye contact. "I know.

"And *you* should know, B," she went on. "That if you interfere with the Mayor's plans not even I will be able to stop anything from happening to her or any of your friends. They'll be fair game."

"This isn't a game Faith!" Buffy growled. "You might think walking on the dark side is fun and exciting, but you'll only end up hurting yourself and, more importantly, others."

"Why would you care what happens me?" Faith demanded.

This stopped Buffy, realizing what she was saying. She took a breath before she found her voice. "Because it's not too late for you."

This seemed to surprise Faith as much as it did Buffy to hear herself say.

The brunette narrowed her eyes. "Why do you say that?"

Buffy couldn't answer right away.

"Because you haven't killed anyone yet," she said, in a soft voice.

Faith was caught completely off guard by that. "You don't know that!" she spat.

"I do," Buffy said, calmly.

"How?" Faith folded her arms across her chest.

"The look in your eyes."

Again, Buffy's answer caught her off guard, and before she could reply, Buffy continued.

"You had the same look in them *that night* in the alley. When you found out it was a human you staked."

Faith opened her mouth but didn't say anything. Couldn't.

"That was the only time I saw that look in your eyes, Faith. Of regret. Remorse, over what you did. Then you hid it. Buried it. Until just now, when you turned down Mom's offer for dessert."

Faith slowly closed her mouth, letting her arms fall down to her sides. She lowered her eyes away from Buffy's, but the blonde Slayer had seen the conflict within those brown eyes.

Was it possible that I was finally reaching her? Buffy wondered. After all this time? After such a huge rift Faith had created, how deep she had fallen? Was there suddenly a chance to pull her out of it?

"Come back to us, Faith," Buffy took a step closer to the edge, ready to descend from the porch, as if she could reach the other Slayer by physically being within reach. "Please."

Then Faith raised her eyes to look at her again, and Buffy nearly took that step back. Her upper lip almost curled up in anger, Faith's eyes were cold once more, and Buffy realized there was no hope of bringing her back.

"Screw you," Faith hissed. She took several breaths as if she suddenly needed to catch her breath. "Like you said, B. I've come such a long way. Why stop now?"

The brunette Slayer turned to walk away, but stopped and faced Buffy again.

"Oh, and you were right to keep checking to see if I had a weapon." She reached into the inside of her leather jacket and let Buffy see the hilt of the silver knife in her hand.

Buffy's eyes widened slightly, her jaw tightening. "Why did you bring that if you weren't going to do anything?"

Faith slipped the knife back inside her jacket. "My protection. I didn't know how you were going to react to my being here tonight."

"You're not afraid of me, are you, Faith?" Buffy challenged.

Faith started to sneer, about to retort, but when she met Buffy's eyes again, it slowly faded. "No more than you are of me, B," she finally said, without sarcasm.

Buffy didn't reply to that. She couldn't deny it. I guess I'm not the only one who can read eyes, she thought. But she was surprised Faith would admit as much.

Straightening the sides of her jacket, Faith's expression hardened once more. "Be seeing ya, B."

"I guess so," Buffy said, as the other Slayer turned and headed towards the sidewalk.

Buffy just stood there watching the brunette walk down the street. Faith didn't look back once and when she was three houses away, Buffy finally turned and went back inside.


***


Angel watched Buffy return to the house. Faith was nearly to the corner of the street and, at this time of night, would be invisible to most human eyes from this distance. He was debating on whether or not to follow Faith or check in with Buffy. Get a heads-up on the situation with Faith.

Was she able to bring the Rogue Slayer back home? he wondered. From what he observed from watching their conversation, he doubted it. And if Faith was still the enemy, it might be a good idea to track her and find out where she was currently staying. But then, following a Slayer wasn't one of the easiest things for a vampire to do.

The engine of the unmarked police car came to life and pulled slowly away from the curb as Faith disappeared around the corner, heading in the Slayer's direction.

So the cop was here because of Faith, he thought. Then he realized this could work to his advantage. If he and the cop were both following Faith, Angel could use the detective as cover, so if she spotted the tail, she would only see the cop.

Taking one last look at Buffy's house, Angel followed the car on foot.


***


Buffy closed the front door again and was locking it when--

"You're not going to patrol with Faith?"

Buffy spun around and saw her mother standing in the entrance to the dining room. Joyce just regarded her daughter, not reacting to Buffy's surprise, calmly drying her hands with a towel.

"Uh, no," Buffy answered. "Like you suggested, I'm gonna stay in tonight."

Joyce nodded understandingly. "Sure. Being the only Slayer is a big responsibility."

Buffy couldn't reply to that right away. "Mom, there's still Faith."

"I suppose I should have said you were the only Slayer on duty, right now."

Joyce waited for Buffy to respond to that, but Buffy had suddenly lost her voice. She opened her mouth, searching for the words.

"When were you going to tell me?" her mother asked.

"You were listening?" Buffy said.

This seemed to offend Joyce and a slight edge entered her tone. "I respect your privacy, Buffy. I was in the kitchen."

Ouch, Buffy looked away. "I'm sorry."

"It doesn't take a genius to know you two aren't friends anymore, and I know this isn't your normal falling out. That it has something to do with . . ." She allowed herself to trail off, but Buffy knew what she was referring to. Joyce had been there when Detective Stein questioned Buffy.

Since Buffy was eighteen, legally, Joyce did not have to be present, but Buffy couldn't bring herself to ask her to leave the room. Not that she would have gone anyway, Buffy thought. That had been a torture worse than she could immediately recall. Not because of her lousy job of sounding convincing when she lied to the detective, but watching the horror on her mother's face when each question a little more was revealed about the Deputy Mayor's murder. To most people, the fact that Allan Finch was slain with a sharp wooden weapon would have been of no particular interest, but when your only daughter happened to be a Vampire Slayer, it held a frightening significance.

But Joyce had never asked Buffy if she had been the one holding the stake. Not even after the detective left, which had frightened Buffy even more. After a couple of days she seemed to put it out of her mind and never brought the subject up, for which Buffy appreciated.

"Something to do with the slaying," Joyce completed.

Buffy could only nod.

"And I assume Giles and your friends already know." Not waiting for an answer, she said, "I thought Xander was acting a little strange when he stopped by last night."

Again, Buffy nodded. "He saw you giving Faith a ride. He wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Is she dangerous?"

"She's a Slayer," Buffy said, softly.

"You're a Slayer."

If Joyce had slapped her, Buffy's reaction would have been no different, but the pain in her daughter's expression didn't seem to deter her. Feeling the beginning of tears burning her eyes and not wanting to break down right there, Buffy narrowed her eyes and allowed some of her pent up rage to come forth.

"If you had a feeling that Faith might be dangerous, why did you go through with having her over for dinner?"

"I don't know your reasons for not being friends anymore. Maybe those reasons wouldn't have been mine."

"Fair enough," Buffy said, after a beat. "But if you knew what was going--"

"Don't even think about finishing that sentence, young lady!"

Her mother's sharp tone quickly shut Buffy's mouth. Not since last year had Buffy heard her this upset. Not since after Buffy came back from running away last spring.

"How am I suppose to know what's going on in my daughter's life when she won't even tell me?"

"You made it perfectly clear that you want to know as little about my slaying duties as possible!" Buffy managed to respond.

"So, in turn, you tell me absolutely nothing?" Joyce demanded.

This time, there was nothing Buffy could do to keep the tears from filling her eyes. "I'm not a mind reader, Mom! And you never asked me about anything! Can you imagine what it's like waiting for your own mother to ask you if you're a murderer?"

"How about wondering if your daughter is a murderer?" Joyce countered.

"It was an accident!" Buffy shouted. "We didn't know--"

Buffy stopped, covering a hand over her mouth, and the first tear rolled down her cheek. Joyce quickly took the steps that were separating them and Buffy threw her arms around her mother.

"Buffy, it's all right," she whispered, letting Buffy cry into her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Buffy sobbed. "I wanted to tell you. I just . . . couldn't."

When the Slayer calmed down, Joyce steered her towards the living room. "Let's sit down and you can tell me what happened. I'm sure you'll feel a lot better."

Buffy, trying to regain her composure, wiped her eyes. "I thought I had already dealt with this."

"Honey, it's hardly been more than a month since it's happened. And keeping it from me couldn't have been easy."

"You have no idea," Buffy said, as they sat down on the couch. "Or, maybe you do. But . . . what happened when . . ." She still couldn't bring herself to say it, even now, when she was about tell her mother everything. "That was only the beginning."

Her mother took her hand, urging Buffy to continue. After that, there was no hesitation in her voice.



End of Part Twenty-Two