Summary: Faith finds out about Buffy's Cruciamentum, and confronts Giles.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.

Time Frame: A couple of days after "Helpless."

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.

Authors Note: This series will explore moments in the canon timeline that we didn't see, but where important things would have had to happen. Rather than "what if?", I'm trying to get at "what would probably have happened to make what happened later make sense?"

Dedication: To Amanda, on the occasion of her 21st birthday. Congratulations!! : - )



INTERLUDES: CONFRONTATION


Faith walked down the quiet street, yawning as she basked in the mid-morning sunlight. She didn't usually see much of Sunnydale at this hour, but she had returned from a week-long roving vampire hunt early the last evening, and she had slept like a log for ten hours before waking up, refreshed and ready to find Buffy to tell her what had gone down. She grinned: she had staked ten wandering vamps in the first five nights, then beaten the location of a good-sized nest out of an eleventh before finishing that one off. The nest had contained five rather nasty vamps, and Faith had more than a few bruises from having disposed of them. Buffy would probably give her a seriously dirty look for taking dumb chances, but it would be worth it.

Faith blinked: she was walking down Buffy's street without even having realized it. She glanced ahead and noticed that Joyce's car was gone. She nodded to herself and was preparing to pass by without further interest when she saw motion in Buffy's bedroom window. The younger Slayer frowned. * What's B doing home at this time of day? * Curious, she jogged over to the front door and knocked.

There was no immediate response, and Faith knocked more insistently on the door, calling out, "Come on, B! Rise and shine. . .I know you're up there!"

After a moment, Faith heard footsteps, and the door opened. Faith blinked: she had seen Buffy in any number of emotional states over the last four months, but she had never seen Buffy look so. . .tired. Not waiting to be invited, she walked in and grinned at the older Slayer, asking, "Does Joyce know you're playing hooky?"

Buffy smiled wanly and replied, "I think I caught a flu bug somewhere. . .Mom's cool with me taking a couple of days off to fight it off." She frowned at Faith and added, "Being a Slayer doesn't make you immune to some of the bugs floating around, Faith. . .maybe you should keep clear of me until I'm feeling better."

Faith snickered, then replied, "Never been sick a day in my life: I think it's a family thing. At least I got something useful from that bunch of-" Faith stopped, and her eyes narrowed as she spotted the partially-healed gash concealed behind the hair on Buffy's forehead. She shook her head and whistled before asking, "Damn, B. . .what did that to you?"

Buffy was silent, and Faith reached out to touch the injury. Buffy flinched and drew back, and Faith's eyes widened. Buffy's reactions were slow, way too slow. Faith locked eyes with Buffy and saw the discomfort there, and knew that something was very wrong. She stalked off into the living room, with Buffy following. Faith stopped and turned on Buffy, snapping, "Cut the crap, Buffy. . .what happened?"

Buffy looked at her in silence, then sat down slowly. Faith just stood there, glaring at her with impatience and ill-disguised concern. After a moment, Buffy looked up at Faith and whispered, "I'll be fine in a few days, Faith. . .we can talk about it then."

Faith blinked, and her voice was angry as she retorted, "So that's it, then. . .we're back to keeping secrets from each other? I thought we were past that, B." She turned to go, and was surprised to feel the small hand on her arm. . .and still more surprised when her reflexive jerk easily threw off Buffy's grasp. She turned back to Buffy, who looked still more uncomfortable, and demanded, "What's wrong with you? No way a flu bug or a beating from a vamp's got you this screwed up. Tell me, NOW!"

Buffy looked at Faith, and the younger Slayer shuddered when she realized that Buffy was trying to stare her down, and failing miserably. She grasped Buffy's arm and led her back to the sofa, and took a moment to calm herself down before looking over at Buffy and commenting quietly, "You might as well tell me, Buffy. . .I'm not leaving until you do, or until Joyce gets home and I ask her instead. Your call."

Buffy sighed softly, then began to speak in a flat, low voice. Faith listened as Buffy described getting weak and uncoordinated, then explained that the whole thing was some sort of test dreamed up by the Council of Watchers. Faith's eyes narrowed, and she asked, "So how do they do it, anyway? Some kind of spell?"

Buffy shook her head, and replied, "Injections. . .it took a couple of them to make it happen."

Faith frowned, then retorted incredulously, "So some guy from the Watchers that you've never met before gives you shots and you didn't think anything was up? How-" Faith paled, then flushed crimson. Buffy cringed as Faith turned away, then looked back at Buffy: there was death on her face and in her eyes.

Faith stood mechanically, and Buffy stood up quickly, swaying from the suddenness of the motion as she called out weakly, "Faith, don't. . .there's more you need to hear."

Faith shook her head emphatically and replied in a low, deadly voice: "I've heard all I needed to hear." Without another word, she turned and stalked out of the still-open front door. Buffy moved to follow her, and noticed that Faith was walking at a normal, deliberate pace, which meant that it would take her some time to get to the school. She went to the phone and dialed a familiar number, but the library line rang repeatedly without anyone picking up. Buffy cursed under her breath and dialed another number, waiting anxiously as the phone rang three times before the receiver was picked up and Joyce began, "Hello-"

"Mom, I need you to get down here and pick me up right now." Buffy wasn't in a mood to waste any words, and Joyce's startled response was cut off again by Buffy's flat statement, "If you don't get me to the school library in twenty minutes, Giles is going to be extremely dead."

Buffy heard Joyce reply quietly, "I'll be right there," and the line clicked, then went to dial tone. Buffy walked over to the door and fidgeted; as was often the case in Sunnydale, waiting sucked.


* * * * *


Giles walked quietly down the empty hallway towards the library. He had spent the last hour in the teacher's lounge, secure in the knowledge that the chances of a student entering the library while he was gone were minimal at best, and needing to spend some time away from the place where he had betrayed Buffy. He knew that he would have to return, and took a moment to gather his determination before walking back inside the library.

Things were as he left them, and he sighed before walking over to open a new shipment of books. Intent on his task, he didn't hear the library doors open, and he was startled when he turned and saw Faith standing five feet in front of him, looking at him with a completely blank expression on her face. Giles smiled genuinely and greeted her, "Hello, Faith. . .I was becoming concerned after not having heard from you for so long. If you feel up to it, perhaps we could re-"

Giles saw Faith's face contort into a snarl, and was still reacting to that when a vicious right cross impacted on his jaw and sent him staggering back twenty feet into a bookcase, sending volumes tumbling to the floor. He was still standing, and after the stars cleared, he could see that Faith was slowly advancing on him with a grim expression on her face. Giles blinked, and a sense of great sadness filled him, mixed rather thoroughly with fear. He straightened, then looked calmly at Faith as she advanced on him.

Faith noticed Giles' calm reaction, but didn't care. She stepped forward and slugged him in the gut, causing him to grunt and bend over. She followed up with an uppercut to the jaw, carefully pulling her punches so as not to KO him too quickly. . .she wanted him to feel this.

Giles made no effort to defend himself, and Faith snarled, "Come on, Watcher man. . .fight back. . .or, better yet, why don't you stick me with that goddamned NEEDLE! That should even things up!"

There was a gasp from the door, and Faith turned to see Willow and Xander, looking horrified. Xander was already stepping forward, and Faith was thinking of how to stop him from butting in without hurting him when she heard Giles snap, "Xander! Don't interfere. . .this matter is between Faith and myself!"

Faith felt a cold rage fill her, and she turned back to the Watcher and whispered, "Maybe they should be in on this, Giles. . .she's their best friend, and you screwed her over, big time. If that stupid test had killed her, they'd be the ones with a dead friend, not me. . .I'm just an employee with a complaint about working conditions. . .I'm kind of pissed off that the guy I'm working for is trying to kill my co-worker. . .don't suppose you'd like to deal with that little complaint, huh Giles?"

"Faith, stop it."

Faith turned and saw Buffy standing there, still looking weak and pale. Joyce stood beside her, her face a mask of worry. The younger Slayer shook her head and replied coldly, "I don't think so, Buffy. Maybe you don't want to deal with what he did to you, but I'm tired of being stabbed in the back. . .if he did it to you, he'd sure as hell be willing to do it to me."

"Faith, I know you're upset, but there are things you don't know." Faith could tell that Joyce was trying to be calm, but the older woman's voice was quavering with tension. Joyce took two steps forward and continued, "I was furious when I found out, but you need to hear-"

"To hear WHAT?" Faith, who had always gotten along well with Joyce and knew that she would walk through fire to protect her daughter, was astonished to hear her defending Giles. She shook her head in disgust and asked, "Is anyone here willing to be pissed off at what happened to Buffy?" She looked over at Willow and Xander and took in the conflicted and helpless expressions on their faces, then turned back to see the grim expression on Buffy's face before concluding, "Come on, B. . .tell me that Giles didn't screw you over, big time."

"She can't tell you that, Faith. . .because it would be a lie." Giles spoke quietly, and several gasps were heard as Faith turned back to him and saw the resigned expression on his face. Faith locked eyes with Giles, but the Englishman accepted the glare without flinching as he continued, "I exposed Buffy to chemicals that caused her to be disabled, which led directly to both herself and her mother almost being killed horribly, and which did lead to them being traumatized dreadfully. I did this while in full command of my faculties, and knowing full well that it was a betrayal of-"

"For God's sake, Giles, shut up!" Buffy snapped, causing Giles to pause and flinch before looking at the older Slayer. Buffy shook her head in disgust and continued, "Aren't things bad enough without you trying to get Faith to beat you to death?"

Giles looked at Buffy grimly, and his tone was icy as he replied, "Buffy. . .this aspect of the matter is between Faith and myself: she has to decide on her own whether to trust me again or not. Furthermore, whatever grievances you have with me, I'll thank you not to address me in that tone."

Faith snorted, then snapped, "I've got a great idea: why don't both of you shut the hell up? I'm out of here." She turned on her heel and headed for the door, muttering, "I'll be damned if I'll be taking orders from you any more, Watcher."

"That's not an issue any more, Faith. . .and that title is no longer appropriate, I'm afraid." Giles spoke calmly, staring sadly at Faith as she headed out.

"Damned right it isn't an issue. . .huh?" Faith stopped in her tracks, then turned slowly back to Giles and asked, "What are you talking about?"

"The Council fired me for my performance during Buffy's Cruciamentum. . .I don't work for them any more, and any authority I have over you ended when they so acted." Giles' voice remained more or less calm, though a subliminal note of anger was discernable to everyone in the room.

"OK, now I'm confused." Faith walked back to the group, looking alternately at Buffy and Giles before continuing, "I mean. . .you did what they told you to, so why did they can you?"

"That's what we've been trying to tell you, Faith. . .there's more to it than I had told you when you took off." Buffy sounded tired, but determined to get her point across. "If you'd just listen to me for a minute-"

Faith shook her head and replied, "Not you, B. . .you're too damned close to this." Giles began to open his mouth, only to get a glare from the younger Slayer as she snapped, "I don't want to hear it from you either, Giles." Faith paused for a moment, visibly in thought, then turned to one of the other occupants of the room and requested bluntly, "Tell me what went down."

Xander blinked, startled, then asked, "Why are you asking me, Faith? I only know what Buffy and Giles told me about it."

For the first time since she had entered the library, Faith smiled slightly before replying, "Because I know that you'll tell it to me straight, even if you don't like what the truth is." She grinned at him and added, "Or am I wrong in thinking that you'd have been just as happy to see Angel in a king-sized ashtray the night that Gwendolyn the Bitch clobbered Giles?"

Xander, very aware of Buffy's eyes on him, swallowed hard and remained silent. Faith nodded and commented, "I thought so. . .and if you thought that Giles had really screwed B over, my guess is that you'd be in Intensive Care right now from trying to beat the crap out of him."

Xander nodded absently, then blinked and glared at Faith as he retorted, "Hey!"

Faith snickered and prodded, "Never mind the hurt pride right now. . .just give me the 411."


* * * * *


Xander spoke for twenty minutes, and as he did Faith occasionally glanced at Buffy and Giles to see how they were reacting to the story: both of them remained impassive. Xander reached the end of the story and stopped speaking, looking uncomfortably at Buffy. Buffy looked back at Xander and smiled softly at him, and Xander looked visibly relieved.

Faith looked at Xander for a moment, then turned and walked over to Giles, watching him as he stood there with a sad expression on his face. The younger Slayer looked up at Giles and commented quietly, "So, if you had just told the Council to screw themselves, they would have canned you on the spot and sent someone who would have done the test on Buffy. . .or something else if you spilled the beans about it to her." After a moment, Giles nodded slightly, and Faith shook her head in exasperation and snapped, "Damn it, Giles. . .you should have told us. I could have stayed and covered for B, and she could have faked the whole weak and helpless thing. We could have fooled those idiots."

"The thought occurred to me, but the Council already knew that you were spending a great deal of time out of touch, Faith." Faith flinched slightly, but Giles' tone was matter-of-fact rather than accusatory as he continued, "If I had ordered you to stay close to home right around the time of the Cruciamentum, it would have caused them to suspect something: their methods and ethics are archaic and suspect in many ways, but they're not stupid." Giles looked down and muttered, "Given what actually happened, I wish I had taken the chance. . .I'm sorry, Faith." He looked up and over at Buffy, adding a non-verbal apology to the older Slayer.

Faith walked over to a chair and sat down, looking at Giles and Buffy with ambivalence in her eyes before she sighed and commented, "All right. . .I guess if B can live with what went down I can too, particularly since I know that no one will be able to pull that crap on me now." She looked up at Giles, and there was visible rage in her eyes as she snapped, "But if that gang of idiots in England thinks that I'm going to follow the orders of whatever bastard they send over, they're seriously nuts."

"That is a matter that will ultimately be for you-and Buffy-to decide how you want to proceed, Faith." Giles' expression had become more neutral, but there was concern in his voice as he continued, "I should tell you, however, that ignoring the edicts of the Council can lead to grave consequences."

Faith smiled at him, then commented, "You're ignoring the Council's orders to stay away from Buffy."

Giles' eyes turned cold, and he whispered, "Yes, I am."

Faith stood up and walked over to Giles, looking him up and down in an appraising manner before snickering and commenting, "Always thought there was still a bit of a rebel under that tweed, Giles. . .OK, we're cool." Faith extended her hand, and when Giles reached out she locked forearms with him and looked into his eyes for a long moment before turning back to Buffy and calling out, "Come on, B. . .Joyce can drive us back to your house, and we can shoot the breeze while that crap works its way out of your system. I got some cool Slaying in during the last week, and I know that other stuff had to be going on while I was gone." Faith took Buffy by the arm and led her out the library doors, and Joyce glanced back at Giles and shrugged before following the Slayers.

There was silence in the library for almost a minute before Willow shook her head and commented bluntly: "Mood swing much?"

Xander chuckled, and Giles gave his protégé a dirty look before replying to her, "Willow. . .it's best not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Faith is willing to stay and help rather than beating me into a pulp and departing town. . .I think we should accept the situation gratefully and hope that it is enough to keep things relatively stable. . .I hope that the Council has the sense to send someone competent and tactful to serve as the next Watcher. . .at least then Faith might be willing to at least pretend to cooperate." Giles felt the room spin momentarily, and he looked over to Xander and concluded, "I seem to be about to pass out. . .could you keep things running smoothly until I recover?"

Xander nodded, and Giles smiled weakly before slumping back into Xander's arms. Xander and Willow looked at each other, sighed, and carried Giles back into his office. A major crisis had been averted for the moment, and seeing Giles through his latest minor concussion was a welcome return to a normal routine.


As before, comments are welcome and desired.