TITLE: For the Viewing Audience
TIME: During third season
DISCLAIMER: None of these guys are mine. One can only wish :)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: An answer to a challenge a long while back, so if it seems outdated, yeah, it probably is.
DEDICATION: To Paul - he may have his dislike for a certain character, but at least he gives me encouragement to write a certain other one...

The candle was lit. A black one. The flame danced around in the utter darkness, making the shadows wave back and forth.

It was all the light she needed for the show that was about to be put on. She was tired--tired of worrying, tired of crying, tired of almost everything. She felt at the end of her rope.

Yes, she was almost there.

She put in the videotape, her hand usually so steady, so strong, shaking. The VCR sucked it up with a hum and automatically pressed play.

Settling herself on the bearskin rug in front of the screen, she sat very still.

A face appeared on the screen, one so familiar, so innocent. Her red hair tucked behind her ears as she stared into the camera.

"Uh, is this already on? Oh. Yeah. Red light means 'go.' Or at least on a camera right? Not in traffic 'cause then..." She took a deep breath. "Okay, well, hi! It's Willow, but you can see that. I-uh-guess if you're watching this then well, I'm not really around
to...to tell you all this stuff."

She had to pause.

"Anyway, you're probably mad right now, or maybe sad, or both. And I totally am on board with that. We kinda did it without you knowing. But see, we had to. Giles said so...uh, well, he mentioned it and we did the volunteering thing. Well, I don't have much time, but we decided that we couldn't...leave...you without saying good-bye. Please don't be mad. Have the understanding that we did this because, well, for you. 'Cause the world needs you and for all the stuff you did for us and Sunnydale, this was nothing. I know you probably think you don't have the worthiness or anything, but believe me, you do. Please, please know we are your friends. Not WERE...ARE. And we love you." A tear began to fall from Willow's face. "Okay, I'm done."

The TV flickered as it switched to another face.

The boyish face of Xander Harris filled the screen this time, making her smile.

"Hey." He gave her his goofy, but sincere grin. "And here I am, making this video 'cause I actually did something boarding on heroic. Depending on who you ask, of course. Ya' know, I could pretend to be a stripper and do a lap...no? Okay, edit that. You probably think it's some feeble attempt to impress you, but...well, okay MAYBE. But actually, this maybe it." He held up a
letter. "It's called a love letter, at least that's what I think it is. And it's to you. But I really don't wanna read it on this so I'm gonna leave it in your mailbox. I just think I'd sound even more
pathetic than I usually do. Then you can read it yourself and make me sound like some Hugh Grant/Tom Hanks or some other romantic actor."

She looked at the said letter she had picked up at the front, right where he said he'd leave it.

"I really did like you a lot. But I think it's my thing for Slayers or something." He chuckled, but it was laced with sadness. "We lived a rough life, but it was a good ride, knowing you, knowing each other. What we did, this big, old sacrifice thingy we're about to
do, it was more for everyone else. Because they'd still have you to protect them, like you've always protected us. Kinda like true friends. And I know you, at one point, doubted the friendship thing. I'm glad you gave us the benefit of the doubt, though." He
looked down then back into the camera. "I guess we'll see ya' around."

The TV flickered again, revealing the last face of the tape.

"Hi." Buffy Summers flashed her sad smile that she
seemed to be famous for. "I hate these things. Uh, not
the fact of what I'm doing, 'cause I don't do it
often, actually this is my first time, but the saying
it in front of this camera thing. But Willow and
Xander thought it would be cooler to do it this way.
Great, right? Buffy gets to babble for five hours.
Last thing you wanna hear." She smiled again, then let
it fade.

"Look, I didn't want Willow and Xander involved in this, like I didn't want you involved. This is my fight. I brought this on and I wanted to finish it. But it's got this crazy thing where three
people needed to be involved. And Willow and Xander, well, they got this crazy notion thing that like me, they wanted to be the ones. I tried to fight 'em but a Slayer can only do so much. I know you're
pissed that we left you like this. But it's not like that. We didn't leave you; we just went on and are kinda waiting for you, but take your time. I mean, if you're watching this, eveything went okay, right?

"I know it was tough to come and fall into routine with me. And I hated it, yeah. Chosen ONE and all. But you brought such a different perspective. We had our spats like friends do, except not usually with fists, but I guess it was more of a sybling thing. We just
wanted to do the right thing. And I know it doesn't feel like the right thing, but it was. You're going through so much with the vamps in full and all; this was the only way to stop them. This was the only way everything would get back to Sunnydale normal. Don't be mad at me or Xander or Willow. Don't even be sad. We didn't leave you, okay? Everyone there needs you. Keep my mom safe, tell her I love her. And Giles, too. I know he's mad." She smiled the sad smile again. "And you. Thanks for everything. For putting up with me and

Buffy sighed, tears beginning to flow down her face. "I'm sorry we did go. And to put this whole Slayer burden on you. But I know you'll do better than me. You've always got that warrior thing in ya' that I never had. But we'll miss you. Well, at least until
you...not anytime soon, I know." She shook her head. "We gotta go."

She turned away, moving her hand to the one behind the camera. "Turn it off."

Then a snowy screen.

A hand touched her shoulder, causing the viewer to jump.

"Faith?" came Giles' voice.

Faith looked up into the British man's tired, weary face. "I hate them," she spat, lashing a kick at the TV. It fell over and smashed into pieces.

Giles gave her shoulder a comforting squeeze. "I know. It's hard to take what they did." He looked out the window of Faith's small hotel room. "But the sun is coming up, and that may have not happened if they didn't..."

"But they left me! They made me go fight some stupid-ass vamps just so they could go and get themselves killed. And all for what? For ME? Dammit, Giles, who are they to do that? To say I'm worth all that? I was never worth anything."

Giles knelt beside his now only Slayer. "To them, to us, you are. They thought very highly of you, Faith."

The flame continued to dance even as the sun's beams slowly entered the room.

"Want to get some rest?" Giles asked.

Faith shook her head. "No."

"Then are you up to investigating the site where Buffy and the others....went?"

Faith hesitated and sighed. "Yeah. Sure." She got to her feet, staring at the broken TV. "I hate them, Giles."

Giles nodded as he stood. "I know, Faith. I know."

-a stripper*
-videotaped message from dead character*
-a black candle*
-bearskin rug*
-a love letter*