TOO LATE by Joseph B

Disclaimer: As much as I try to deny it, I do not own Buffy nor any characters related thereof. They belong to Joss Whedon and his company Mutant Enemy. But I still like playing in his backyard.

Author's note: This story takes place during the episode "Consequences." Those who have seen it will understand immediately what's going on. To those who have not seen this episode, I'd advise you to do so. But it's not necessary. Be warned though, this story does contain minor --in my opinion-- spoilers for said episode as well as "Bad Girls."

Oh, and this story is the result of an overdose of Mountain Dew.


Faith was all over him. She was straddled across his waist and he clenched his teeth as she leaned down over him, on the bed, kissing him hard, then trapped his bottom lip with her teeth. She pulled but released his lip before he could cry out. She had been running her hands under his shirt, caressing his chest. Now they slid up to his neck as she looked down at him, her eyes just inches away from his. That post-battle wildness, that he mentioned to her just a minute ago, was filled in her dark eyes now. Wide, crazed.

And frightening.

"I could make you die," she said, in a heavy, sultry voice.

Again, she leaned in and kissed him. Again he tried not to respond to it. It wasn't very hard to do, especially the way she was looking at him right now. Most vampires hadn't scared him this much.

She pulled away and he was suddenly finding it hard to breathe. Faith's hands had tightened around his neck, and she was leaning her weight behind them. His head started pressing into the mattress. He couldn't get any air into his lungs now and he tried to pry her hands from his throat. Even though he was almost twice her weight, with her Slayer strength it was like trying to budge stone.

As he grew desperate for air he began to claw at her arms, his nails digging into the sleeves of her shirt. She seemed not to notice as she continued to leer at him with those wide, frightening eyes. Her lips were parted in a maniacal grin.

Her grip tightened.

His arms suddenly became heavy and they fell back to the bed. Darkness was creeping around the edges of his vision and his heartbeat was filling his ears.

Then he thought he heard a noise, over the slowing pound of his heart, but he wasn't sure. But it must have been real because Faith noticed it herself and looked over her shoulder toward the bathroom.

She threw herself away from him and off the bed, but not fast enough to escape the swinging bat, completely, and it connected solidly against her shoulder. She cursed loudly as she fell to the floor, opposite of Angel, her back slamming against her dresser.

He instantly knew something was terribly wrong. Faith was no longer strangling him, but he still could not breathe. He tried to bring his hands up to his throat, but he couldn't move. His vision was still fading.

"Xander?" he heard a voice above him.

He saw the blurry image of Angel leaning over him. He couldn't really tell, but it seemed as if the vampire was concerned about him. He thought that was funny and wondered if Angel saw the smile he felt form on his lips.

As consciousness was leaving him, he heard a door opening and slamming.

"Faith!" Angel shouted.

Then he became aware of nothing.

* * *

Buffy found Angel leaning against one of the less than white walls as she burst through the swinging doors of the emergency room.

"Angel!" she called as she rushed to him.

He stepped away from the wall and looked at her. The expression on his face stopped her in her tracks and she was only a few feet in front of him.

Her voice sounding empty, she said, "Xander?"

Angel's eyes dropped away from hers and he opened his mouth. He finally managed to say, "I'm sorry, Buffy."

Buffy's face blanched as she just stared at him for a few seconds. Then she looked past him and saw the opened door leading to one of the trauma rooms. Taking small steps, she walked around him. She saw the shape of a body under a sheet before she entered. Everything around her faded out of existence as she approached the bed, the heels of her boots ringing an eternity as they fell against the linoleum. Standing next to the bed, she just looked down at the shape for a few seconds, trying to fight the truth that lay underneath. All the strength given to her as the Slayer and she was suddenly powerless against what was hidden under a flimsy sheet.

She raised a hand toward the sheet, but she could not feel herself moving her arm, as if it were detached, moving on its own accord, determined to shatter her life with what it wanted to show her. She was breathing very hard as her fingers gripped the sheet and started to pull. Gently, it slid away from his face.

A tear fell from her eye as she just stared into the face of one of her best friends. More tears filled both eyes and her vision became blurry. She blinked and they trailed down her cheeks clearing her vision.

"Xander?" she said, in hoarse whisper. "Wake up."

He looked so peaceful. How could he be dead? He was only sleeping. Angel was just playing a joke with her, that was it. He finally became friends with Xander and they were pulling a prank on her. A very cruel prank. Any minute now, he was going to sit up and say "Gotcha!"

Of course, that did not happen.

She raised her hand to his face. This time she was aware of its actions as she stroked her fingers slowly through his short black bangs. If they were just an inch longer they would form that Superman-curl on his forehead just like when she had first met him during their sophomore year. When they were sixteen.

A lifetime ago. She missed those bangs.

"No," she whispered. She leaned in closer. "What did you do? Why were you out there?"

She slid a hand on his cheek as she kissed him on the other cheek. Then she pressed her own against the side of his face. A loud sob escaped her lips and her body shuddered uncontrollably as she began to weep.

She wasn't sure how long she had remained that way, crying. Buffy finally pulled away and saw that his face was damp with her tears, almost as if he had been crying himself. Gently, she wiped them away with her fingers. Then her fingers fell to the sheet just covering his neck and she pushed it down. Ugly dark bruises surrounded his neck.

Then the world around seemed to return to her and she looked over her shoulder as she became aware of someone standing in the doorway.

Willow was standing there, a shocked expression on her face.

Oh, God, Willow, she thought.

She was still wearing the long red sweater she'd been wearing earlier today. She and Xander usually wore oversize sweaters. They were complete opposites of each other, put in a lot of ways they were also very much alike. And they had known each other for almost their entire lives. They knew one another in ways most people could not.

And Buffy once again found herself powerless to stop the horror that spread on Willow's face as she looked at Buffy, then at her closest friend lying so very still.

Oz was standing behind her, looking out of breath, but trying to be strong for Willow. He put a hand on her shoulder. Willow didn't seem to notice.

"No." Her face crumbled and she ran forward.

Buffy had to side step quickly to avoid being bowled over by the young redhead. She immediately threw her arms around Xander and cradled him against her chest, laying her cheek on his head.

"No, no, no, no, no," she was saying over and over in a harsh voice.

Oz had tried to keep up with her and he stepped up beside Buffy and exchanged a sad look with her. Then they both watched as Willow grieved for her friend. Buffy wiped the tears from her eyes. She was still hurting over Xander's death herself, no where near close to start healing. But as bad as she was feeling right now, Willow's pain had to be far worse. She needed to be strong for her. She would not allow herself to lose another friend, she swore.

She started to reach out to Willow, offer her support, let her know she was not alone. But her hand stopped before she touched her shoulder. Buffy could not stop herself from breaking down and her own resolve fell. She pulled her hand back and covered her face as new tears and sobs overcame her. She felt a hand rest on her shoulder and immediately threw her arms around Oz. He didn't seem to mind as she cried into his shoulder. He rubbed a hand on her back soothingly.

Maybe it was his strength, she thought, but Buffy composed herself with new determination and found she could contain her sobs as she pulled away from him. Giving him her thanks with her sad eyes, she stepped aside and he walked up behind Willow. The world must have fallen away from the redhead, for it seemed the only thing she was aware of was the friend she held in her arms.

Oz stood there for a few moments, giving her this time with Xander. He and Buffy could not make out what Willow was saying to him, her voice was so soft and her sobs so hard, but it must have been about things they had shared together in their lives.

As if somehow sensing it was time, Oz finally closed the last step to Willow and laid a hand on her shoulder. Reluctantly, she pulled her arms away from Xander, lying him gently back on the bed, and buried her face into Oz's shoulder and he held her tightly as her sobs started anew.

"Oz," she cried. He made soothing sounds in her ear as he stroked her hair. "He can't be dead!"

Buffy moved in and laid her head against Willow's other cheek wrapping an arm around her back, this time able to add to Oz's strength with her own, creating a blanket of love for her.

The three friends held each other for what seemed like hours. Willow's crying was becoming weaker, from fatigue. Soon she would no longer have the energy to cry. Buffy and Oz were now supporting her entire weight.

"I'm sorry," a voice said behind them, "but you cannot be in here."

"Get out," Oz said, bluntly, to the intern who had entered the room.

"I'm sorry, only family members are allowed in here."

This time Buffy raised her head and looked at the man. "We are his family," she said, in a tone that dared the intern to challenge that truth.

The man looked at them with sympathetic eyes and nodded. "The police will be here soon." Then he quietly left the room.

Willow had fallen silent and her eyes were closed as she leaned, exhausted, against Oz. Tears filled Buffy's eyes as she brushed a long red bang from her face. She looked at Oz.

"Can you take her home, Oz?" He nodded. "I don't have to ask you to stay with her." She made it a statement.

"Nothing on this world can take me from her," he said. Buffy gave him a sad smile. "What are you going to do?"

This time her eyes became cold. "I'm gonna find whatever did this. It's not gonna live to see another night."

She walked with them out of the room. When they reached Angel out in the hall, she reluctantly stopped and watched them leave the hospital. Once they disappeared through the swinging doors, she turned to Angel.

"Did you call Giles?" she asked.

He nodded. He started to reach for her. She took a step back and held up her hand.

"No. I can't afford to start crying again. If I do I won't be able to stop. And right now, I need to be together."

Concern filled his expression. "What are you going to do, Buffy?"

"What do you think?" she snapped. "I'm going to kill whatever did this to Xander."

Angel hesitated. "You should really stay with Willow. She needs you more than ever, right now."

Buffy nodded. "And I will. As soon as this monster is dead."

"I'll do it," he said. "You stay with Willow. She's more important."

"No. I have to do this. I have to do this for Xander."

"Don't you think Xander would want you to look after Willow?" This got him daggers from the Slayer's eyes.

"How dare you--"

Angel cut her off. "A part of Willow just died in that room. She needs you."

"Don't you think I know that?" she was almost shouting. "A part of me just died in there, too! I have to do this!" She looked at him pointedly. "You know what did this. You were there. What was it?" she demanded.

"Buffy, let me do this."

"What was it?!"

He turned away from her eyes. In a low voice, he said, "It was Faith."

Buffy could not have been more shocked if he had told her that the Master had been resurrected, especially after she had turned his bones to powder with a sledgehammer almost two years ago. Gaping, she was unable to speak as she looked at him with wide eyes.

"Faith?" she finally managed to say. "Faith did this?"

"Xander had gone to her motel." He stopped, suddenly finding it hard to continue. "She had him on the bed. He must have been trying to call for help, because I was able to come in. I tried to--" He turned away again. "I was too late."

"Faith," Buffy repeated. She was staring blankly past him. "Faith."

"Buffy," he said.

She looked up at him. "Wait here for Giles. Tell him what happened. And stall the police."

She started marching toward the doors.

"Buffy, what are you gonna do?" he called after her.

Buffy turned around, not slowing down. "I told you what I was going to do. Pay attention!" She hit the swinging doors with her back and stepped out into the night.

* * *

Just last night --God, that now seemed like a lifetime ago, she reflected-- Faith had told her that if she needed to she could always hop a freighter at the docks if things got too hot around here. Buffy cursed herself for being so blind and not seeing how far gone Faith had become. Even after later that night when she had went to Giles, trying to pin the deputy mayor's murder on her, she had still held onto the hope that she could somehow help Faith accept what she had done. They had even met with Willow and Xander early this morning in the cafeteria to discuss how they could help her.

Pain stabbed through her heart as she recalled this morning. It was just the four of them, the way it had been when they had their first meeting in the library when Giles had explained to them the truth about vampires, demons, and Buffy. It had only been Buffy's second day at this new school and already she had changed their entire lives forever, bringing them into the horrors that she faced and fought. And despite all that, they never left her side, never ran away from her.

And now one of her dearest friends was gone forever.

Because she had been stupid. She realized now that what happened to Xander was her fault. If she had gone to Giles immediately after the murder this may have been avoided. Hell, she thought with bitter irony, she should have gone directly to Wesley. If Giles was right and the Watcher's Council would investigate the incident and decide if punishment was warranted, that would mean that Faith would have been taken to England to face them. It would have kept her away from Xander.

True, Xander was the one who went to Faith. Went to her motel alone. But he had been trying to help her. God, she should have watched him. Should have known he would have tried something like this. Xander may act like a goofball at times, but his heart was bigger than was sometimes good for him.

But he was her goofball. Hers and Willow's.

Had been.

Tears threatened to overcome her again, and she shut her eyes against them, clenching her teeth together so hard she thought she heard them begin to chip.

That momentary lapse had caused her to stop. Once she was sure she wasn't going to cry, she started running again. She swore nothing was going to stop her. Not until it was over. Once and for all.

As she rounded the next corner, the dingy motel, that had been Faith's home for the past several months, came into view. Buffy was running down the middle of the street, which was practically deserted, her heels pounding the pavement in a machine-gun rhythm. Even though she was sure Faith would head straight for the docks, there was a chance that she would return here to grab some of her things, especially if she was going on a long trip.

She began to slow as she saw a large van parked along the curb of the motel. Like one of those large delivery vans, or SWAT vans. But this one had no markings on the side.

Then Buffy came to a complete stop when she saw an incredible sight. Wesley walked away from the motel, leading the way for the three burly looking men who were hauling a small struggling form in their grasp. She realized it was Faith. She was entangled in some sort of heavy net, but she was still using all her Slayer strength in an effort to throw the large men off herself. One of the men was actually flung to the ground hard, but then one of the others aptly clubbed her in the back with a crowbar. This took some of the fight out of the brunette as the young Watcher opened the rear doors for them.

A pang of sympathy ran through Buffy as she watched them load the Slayer into the back of the van. But then an image of Xander lying cold in the hospital flashed briefly through her mind, and all such feeling was expelled from her.

Still standing in the middle of the street, Buffy was suddenly uncertain what to do next. With Faith in Wesley's custody --wait, how did he find out about Faith? Giles said he wasn't going to tell him, but that really wasn't important-- the young murderer would soon be on her way to England to face the Council. Buffy amended that what happened to the deputy mayor could be argued as an accident, voluntary manslaughter at the most, but what she did to Xander.....

That had been cold blooded murder. And she had to pay for that. Maybe God would forgive her for that.

But Buffy never would.

"No way!" she hissed and ran for the van.

She was still thirty yards away when Wesley had both back doors closed and, with a rumbled cough of the engine, it started down the street away from her.

"Wait!" Buffy shouted. "Wesley! Stop, dammit!"

By the time she reached the spot where the van had been parked it was already rounding the next corner. The direction it took was heading toward the airport, she thought. If she cut across some of the open fields close by she should be able to cut down the distance she would have to travel. Hopefully, she'll be able to make it to the airport before they took off. There was no way she would get there before them.

With as much speed as she could summon from her body she started her way around the motel.

* * *

She wasn't sure how long she had been running, she had been going flat out without slowing down, but she figured it had to be for about twenty minutes or more. With as hard as she was breathing and the sweat plastering her long blonde bangs to her forehead. She had ditched her coat about a mile and a half back, without a second thought to its cost, could hardly recall dropping it, actually. Her black sweater was becoming damp with the perspiration flowing from her face and neck.

But still, she did not slow down.

Thank God for the California dry weather. If there had been even a little rain recently, she never would have been able to clear these fields in the Olympic time she was making. The thinnest layer of mud would have slowed her down severely.

The lonely highway appeared up ahead, which was the final stretch to the airport. She was even able to see the lights from this distance. Without slowing down she cleared the fifteen foot ditch with no effort and her dirt crusted boots landed on the pavement with a cloud of dust, which she quickly left behind her. She was running down the middle yellow broken line as there were no cars in sight. High above her, a 727 roared across the night sky, but she hardly noticed. Her intent focused on one goal, Buffy almost didn't register the sight of the van until she was practically in front of it.

It was pulled over to the side of the road, almost halfway into the ditch, as if it had swerved sharply when it stopped. Light from inside the back was spilling onto the highway from one of the open back doors, illuminating the body that was lying on the left side of the road.

Buffy slowed as she reached the body and one look at it told her he was dead, and she would have sworn that his dead open eyes followed her as she walked past him. She saw Wesley slumped against the rear bumper of the van, head hanging down against his chest and he was not moving. As she knelt down in front of him, she noticed his left arm was hanging by his side in an odd angle. If he were still alive, she would not wish to be him when he regained consciousness.

She touched his chin and lifted his face up slightly. She could feel his breath on her hand. He had lost his glasses during the fight. Fight, she scoffed at her own description of this slaughter.

"Wes," she said. "Wes. What happened?"

The young Watcher slowly opened his eyes. At first disoriented, then they focused on her and realization returned to him. Then he suddenly hissed in pain as he became aware of his mangled arm.

"Don't move," Buffy told him. "What happened?"

"Faith," he said, through clenched teeth. "She has gone quite mad."

"If it weren't for the very dead guy just a few feet from us, I would say `duh'!"

"She killed Johnson, too."

Buffy took a quick look around, then saw one of the other Watcher thugs lying inside the back of the van. His neck was to the side at an unnatural angle.

"Smith went to get help," Wesley told her.

Smith must have been the one driving, which was probably the only thing that saved him from Faith's wrath.

"Which way did she go?" she asked.

"She headed back into town."

"It would be the fastest way to reach the docks," Buffy said, almost to herself. And if Faith had cut across the same fields she had, it was possible she may have just missed her on the way. So intent was she on reaching the airport, more than likely she would not have noticed the fugitive brunette unless she had ran smack into her.

Then she noticed that Wesley was looking at her with a stern gaze, which was far less than intimidating, but the Watcher did look very pissed.

"You and Mr. Giles should not have tried to keep Faith's murderous act away from me. If we had worked together to bring her in this may not have happened." The tone of his voice made it clear to Buffy that he clearly blamed them for this.

Not doing a very good job of hiding her own anger, more to do with the fact that she almost agreed totally with him, she told him, "Just try not to move until help arrives. I'll deal with Faith." She stood up, ready to leave.

"You must wait for assistance," he told her, the pain cutting through his anger. "You can't bring Faith in by yourself."

Buffy took a step back as she met his gaze. "That may be true, and would've proved to be a problem if I had any intention of bringing Faith in."

With that she turned and was quickly running as fast as she could, backtracking the path she took to get here. Behind her she heard Wesley's fading voice.

"Buffy? Buffy!"

Then she could only hear the pounding of here heels against the hard pavement of the highway. Not even the commercial jet that passed over head brought her out of focus from her set goal.

* * *

When Giles got to the hospital, he went inside the trauma room to see Xander. Seeing the young man lying in the cold empty room sent a stab of pain through his heart. Being Buffy's Watcher, it was his responsibility to keep her safe, but since Willow and Xander, Cordelia, and now Oz, had found out about Buffy being the Slayer, Giles could not help but feel responsible for the rest of the children as well.

Angel informed him that Willow had already been here. Out of all of them, Willow had known Xander the longest, ever since they had been very young. She must be in great pain, right now, he thought. When he asked Angel where Buffy was, Angel told him that Faith was the one who killed Xander, and that the police were on their way to investigate his murder.

Beneath his shock at finding out that a Slayer could ever do something like this, he briefly thought how insufficiently the Sunnydale Police operated to not already be here. To avoid the police, Giles suggested they should return to the library, where they could plan what to do next.

They were walking across the parking lot when they saw Cordelia running towards the emergency room entrance. She looked harried, her usually well kept hair was slightly mangled. She stopped in front of them, breathing heavily.

"Where is he?" she asked.

"He's inside," Giles said, in a shaky voice.

"What happened?" she demanded.

"I'm afraid, uh, he was . . . murdered."

Cordelia burst in tears. "Oh, God." Giles reached out to her. She quickly backed away. "He should have gotten away from you people! Like I did! If he had never met Buffy or you he would still be alive!"

Even though Giles could argue that without Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Cordelia herself would more than likely have died long ago, he kept that to himself. Cordelia was just lashing out in pain right now. She and Xander had broken up a few months ago, but it was obvious that she still held some feelings for him.

"And where are you two going?" she asked, angrily.

"We're on our way to the library. The police will be here soon to begin their investigation."

"You're going to try to find this monster first?"

"This really isn't something the police should be involved with."

"I'll join you." She saw the surprised look Giles gave her. "What? Just because I hated Xander's guts doesn't mean that I wanted him dead. And if you all and Buffy are gonna hunt this asshole I want to be there to help!"

Giles was about to protest, then decided against it. "It is a little more complicated this time."

"I don't care!" She looked toward the entrance. Her voice became almost a whisper. "I'm just gonna go in and see him. Then I'll meet you back at the library."

Giles let out a breath. "Very well."

Cordelia turned and hurried into the hospital.

As soon as they reached the library, Giles had phoned Willow's home. He was not at all surprised when Oz answered. He told him that Faith had killed Xander, and warned them that they should stay clear of her if they should happen to see her. What he hadn't counted on was how Willow would react to this news. The young redhead had made Oz bring her to the library, despite her boyfriend's protests and they had arrived shortly after Cordelia had.

Willow seemed slightly surprised to see Xander's ex-girlfriend, but did not say anything as she took a seat at the main table, away from the brunette. For the most part, she just stared blankly at the floor, as if not hearing what they were saying. After finding out that a Slayer had killed Xander, Cordelia had also fallen silent.

Oz, sitting next to Willow, holding her hand in both of his, looked toward Giles and Angel who were standing by the counter. "Do we have any idea where Faith might go?"

"She won't stay here," Giles said. "Not after what she did to--" He let himself trail off and glanced at Willow who did not react. He was growing more concerned for the young girl. She should not be here.

"We can try her place," Oz suggested.

Angel spoke up. "She's had plenty of time to go back there and grab some things, if she even went back there."

"We can split up. Try the airport, bus station, and the docks."

"That's a good idea," Giles said. "But I don't want anyone by themselves. If Faith should spot you, there's no telling what she might do."

"Buffy seemed to know where she might find her," Angel said.

"And she didn't say anything to you?" Worry filled Giles' voice.

Angel glanced at Willow, who was still staring at the same spot on the floor. On the way to the library, he had told Giles the last thing Buffy had said to him before she left. "No."

The phone rang and broke the silence that had descended. Giles quickly picked it up.

"Yes?" There was a pause. "What?" The urgency that entered Giles' voice got everyone's attention, except Willow, who continued to stare at the floor. "For God's sake, man, don't tell them anything! You're a Watcher, for crying out loud, you're trained in not telling the truth. Just don't tell them anything else. Just keep your mouth shut! We'll handle it from here!"

He hung up and faced the others. "Wesley. He and a few other members of the Watchers had taken Faith into custody. They were on their way to the airport to take her to England to face the Council. She killed two of them and hurt Wesley when she escaped."

"Is he okay?" Cordelia spoke up.

Giles was grabbing his long coat. "Yes. His arm was broken in several places, but he should be fine."

"I thought you weren't going to involve the Council?" Angel asked.

"I didn't. Wesley must have overheard us talking about it. Apparently, Buffy saw them taking Faith from her motel and had followed them on foot. By the time she reached them, Faith was already gone."

"Did he know where she was going?"

"Wesley heard Buffy say Faith would have to go through town for the quickest way to reach the docks. That was about forty minutes ago." He finished slipping into his coat.

"We have to stop her," Angel said. He and Giles were about to start to leave.


The one-word question, soft spoken, stopped them in their tracks and they looked at Willow. The redhead had finally taken her eyes off the floor and was looking at them. Cordelia was now standing. Oz was still sitting next to Willow, holding her hand, looking on with concern.

Gently, Giles said, "Because Buffy is going to try and kill Faith."

Willow's eyes suddenly became cold. "And the bad in that?"

Everyone in the library could only stare at the anger emanating from the teenager. Oz seemed about to say something to her when she stood up and stepped away from the table. Oz stood up with her but gave her a little space.

Her voice was practically burning with rage. "As far as I'm concern, Faith is a monster. More so. Not only did she kill someone and tried to blame it on Buffy, but she *did* murder Xander! Faith did not lose her soul, she chose to do this. She can't blame this on a demon." She looked pointedly at Angel. "Which makes her a demon herself. Worse! And it is Buffy's duty to destroy all demons, isn't it? She is the Slayer!" Her gaze swept the entire group. "And if Buffy wants to kill the . . . *fiend* that murdered one of her best friends, then I say `faster pussy cat! Kill--' "

Willow stopped and suddenly broke down. Cordelia had also started crying at the last part of what Willow said, and rushed over to the redhead as she sank to the floor. Oz reached her just as Cordelia wrapped her arms around the smaller girl and Willow cried hard into her shoulder.

She cried for nearly two minutes as Cordelia and Oz comforted her. Finally, she seemed to regain some control and they helped her to stand. Slowly she raised her head to look at them all, tears staining her face.

"We have to stop her," she said.

* * *

Mr. Trick was standing in front of Mayor Wilkins' desk as he gave his report. "It seems as if one of the Slayer's friends was just murdered tonight. The Summers girl's friend. It was the chump in their little group."

Mayor Wilkins was sitting behind his desk. He had just opened a new pack of pre-sharpened pencils and was now lining them up neatly in his desk drawer, one by one. He glanced up at the vampire in his office. "I didn't authorize a hit on any of her friends."

"Wasn't one of our people. Preliminary reports indicate he was strangled. His larynx was crushed by someone incredibly strong." He raised his eyebrows. "And if it wasn't a vampire. . ."

The Mayor paused in his pencil packing to consider this. "Summers?"

Trick shook his head. "She was seen at the hospital, grieving. And a little more than a tad ticked off."

"You don't think it was the other Slayer?"

"Faith. Shortly after that, there was another incident on the highway, just short of the airport. Two more men were killed, not by vampires. There was an injured man there who looked suspiciously like a Watcher. And it seemed as if they were transporting someone in chains." "She must have been the one who killed Allen," the Mayor said.

Trick smiled mischievously. "I guess she liked the way it felt."

The Mayor chuckled. "One murder and this little firecracker goes on a spree. And not a very good kind. If she wasn't such a psychopath I'd say we should have her work for us."

"What should we do about her?"

"I'm sure Summers is not going to take her friend's death lying down." He rested his elbows on his desk as he thought about it. "Let's have the police give these girls plenty of space, for now. Let them settle this between the two of them. Of course, they should remain close by, there's no telling what kind of damage two rampaging Slayers could cause. With any luck, maybe they'll kill each other and save us the trouble."

The Mayor chuckled again and went back to arranging his pencils, a smile on his face.

* * *

Buffy had just rounded the corner on Main and scanned Sunnydale's busiest street. There were quite a few people out tonight. She had entered the downtown area just a few minutes ago but there was still no sign of Faith. She must be trying to stay low, she figured. Maybe she thought at this point they would have the police after her now. Which would be to Buffy's advantage. Trying to keep out of sight would slow Faith down considerably.

Buffy had no need to worry about the police car cruising down the street towards her. She stopped where she was on the sidewalk and watched it as it passed, then it disappeared around the corner. She was about to start walking again when movement in an alley across the street caught her attention.

Faith stepped out of the alley, looking to where the police car had disappeared. The brunette had not yet seen Buffy and the blonde quickly ducked behind a car parked along the curb. She watched as Faith started down the sidewalk, glancing over her shoulder one last time. She was passing the Espresso Cafe' and stepped into the street to cross it, walking directly across Buffy's sights.

Unaware of the peculiar stares she got from the people who walked by her, Buffy inched her way around the car, putting herself in position in Faith's blind spot. Right behind her left shoulder. The street was clear of any moving cars at the moment. Buffy moved from her hiding place and started walking quickly to catch up with the brunette. Before she closed even half the distance she had broke into a full run, her speed building with her rising anger.

She must have done something to get the other Slayer's attention, she may have even shouted her name; she wasn't sure, for Faith turned around at the last instant just before Buffy plowed into her. The tackle sent both Slayers smashing into the front fender of a small VW parked on the curb on that side of the street. The impact crushed the fender and the front end fishtailed forty-five degrees as if struck by another car. Both young women fell to the sidewalk in a tumble.

Faith was a little more dazed then Buffy and she was trying to get to her feet. "You crazy bitch!" she shouted.

Buffy was next to her, also on her knees. "You're not one to call anyone crazy!" Then she swung a hard right hook into the brunette's face, sending her spinning to the sidewalk again.

Buffy got to her feet and grabbed Faith by the front her denim jacket, hauling her back to her feet. Then she swung her around and threw against the concrete wall of the dress shop. Faith's back slammed into it hard and she slumped to the ground again.

"You murdering bitch!" Buffy shouted as she continued to stalk her. Faith was trying to rise to her knees and Buffy promptly kicked her in the stomach, sending her against the wall again.

Buffy tried to kick her again, but Faith caught her boot this time and swept her supporting leg out from under her. The brunette rolled away as Buffy fell to the sidewalk. She was on her feet, in front of the large display window of the shop by the time Buffy was up again.

"Goddamn!" Faith shouted at her. "Is this because of those Watcher creeps who tried to kidnap me? I was just defending myself."

Buffy glared at her. "So tell me, what sort of a threat was Xander to you? Huh?"

Faith met her gaze. "Threat? How `bout a threat to my nerves."

"So you killed him for it?!" Buffy shouted.

"He's dead?"

"You crushed his neck!"

Buffy saw something flicker through Faith's expression and her eyes lost focus for a moment. Then she turned her gaze on Buffy again and sneered at her. "Man, what a whimp."

This threw Buffy into a furious frenzy and she charged her again, swinging wildly at her head. Faith easily ducked and sidestepped the punch and Buffy's fist went through the glass of the display window. It exploded from the impact sending glass across the sidewalk. Before Buffy could regain her balance, Faith stepped back in with a sharp fist to the blonde's ribs, followed with a hard left across the face, sending her spinning. But with the adrenaline fueled by her rage, Buffy shook those blows off and swung at her again. And once again, Faith easily dodged the blow and sent a round kick into the blonde's midsection, then backhanded her in the face. This sent Buffy stumbling back and Faith moved in to grab the front of her sweater and she threw her to the VW. Buffy tumbled across the hood and landed hard on the street.

At this time, the Slayers' battle had drawn the attention of everyone on Main and a growing crowd was starting to form around them. But they dared not get too close. There were a few shouts for someone to call the police.

Faith hopped onto the hood of the small car just as Buffy got back to her feet and the blonde swept her legs out from under her with a round kick. The brunette landed on the hood, her head and shoulders hitting the windshield, but it did not shatter. Buffy was immediately on top of her, grabbing her jacket, and sent a fist straight at her face. Faith jerked her head to the side, barely escaping, and Buffy's fist buried itself through the windshield. Before the blonde could pull her hand out, Faith used her fists to cymbal-smash her temples, thoroughly dazing her, then sent the heel of her palm against her chin, snapping her head back. She got a boot against Buffy's chest and kicked her off the hood and she hit the street on her back.

As she laid there, stunned, the world spinning around her, a small part of Buffy, that part still capable of rational thought, told her that Faith was kicking her ass because she was using her training and Buffy was just striking out in a beserker rage. Of course, Buffy paid that small voice no attention.

She heard Faith landing on the street next to her, then she was pulled roughly to her feet. Before she could do anything, Faith swung her around and threw her into the same part of the wall that Buffy had thrown Faith against just a couple of minutes ago. She hit the concrete with her back and felt the back of her head smack against the wall, sending a wave a darkness across her vision, even though her eyes were still open. Before she could slide down to the sidewalk, Faith grabbed her again and slammed her hard against the wall, once more. Again, Buffy felt the back of her head striking the concrete with a loud crack, but this time she felt the stone itself cracking and crumbling under her.

Buffy knew she had just been seriously hurt. Her entire body felt weak and Faith holding her was the only thing keeping her on her feet. She felt the other Slayer's breath against her cheek as she leaned in close.

"When you see Xander, ask him if it was as good for him as it was for me?" she hissed in her ear.

This sent another fury of rage through Buffy and it fired her system. She lashed out and kicked Faith hard between the legs. She cried out in pain and, as she bent forward, Buffy grabbed her by the hair and drove a knee into her face.

Both Slayers collapsed to the sidewalk.

Buffy was on her hands and knees, on the shattered glass, and the sidewalk was wavering under her. She could not make the world around her stop moving. She reached a hand to the back of her head and when she looked at it, she saw her palm smeared with blood.

She turned her head to look at Faith and was kicked in the face. She flopped onto her back and when she opened her eyes again, she saw Faith straddling her. She had a knife-size glass shard in her hand and somehow Buffy caught her wrist with her hands, staying the sharp point from stabbing her through the chest. Faith put her entire weight behind the glass weapon and Buffy saw blood sliding down the edges of the blade from where her hand was gripping it. Their arms trembled as they struggled against each other.

The glass point was slowly descending to Buffy's chest.

"I'm gonna make you die, B," she sneered, through her maniacal grin. "Just accept it. You're not the best. You never were."

Buffy couldn't respond. It was all she could do to keep the blade at bay. But she wouldn't be able to for long. She released her right hand from Faith's wrist and quickly slammed her palm into the side of the glass shard, snapping it in half, and slicing her hand open in the process. Before Faith could react to being disarmed, Buffy swung the same hand in a backhand across her face. Then she slammed both open hands against the brunette's chest and managed to throw her off.

Going on will power alone, Buffy rolled onto her hands and knees and crawled toward the other Slayer, not noticing the glass biting into her skin. When she reached her, Faith was trying to sit up. Buffy quickly punched her in the face with as much strength as she could muster, and sent her on her back again.

Now Buffy straddled her, grabbing a handful of her jacket and started to slam her bleeding fist into her face.

"Xander was only trying to help you!" Buffy started screaming, emphasizing the words with punches. "He was worried about you and you killed him!" She had the brunette effectively subdued at this point. But it wasn't enough.

Buffy wrapped her hands around Faith's neck and the brunette gagged and clawed weakly at her grip. "Angel told me you had him on the bed like this, didn't you? Didn't you?!" She tightened her hold, feeling the desperate pulse in Faith's neck. "And you just kept squeezing and squeezing until you crushed his neck. He had to watch as you slowly killed him! A Slayer! Someone who was supposed to protect him! Well, fortunately for you, I can't wait!"

Buffy pulled her bleeding hand away from her neck and shoved her fingers in between one of the cracks in the shattered concrete wall. She ripped off a chuck of stone the size of a bowling ball and raised it high above her head, ready to bring it smashing down on Faith's head. The brunette watched helplessly with wide eyes.

"I'll just decorate this sidewalk with your brains!"


Buffy looked up and finally noticed the large crowd that their little fight had drawn around them. And it looked as if the police had finally arrived as well. There were a few uniforms doing their best to keep the people back. Actually, it didn't look as if the people were too eager to get any closer. But there were a couple of blurry images that the police did have to hold back and Buffy thought they looked familiar.

She started to shake her head, to clear her vision, but that instantly sent pain shooting through her skull, so she settled for blinking her eyes instead. Squinting, she was able to recognize the blurry figures. It was Giles and Angel. And even Cordelia! There were two cops restraining Angel from running to her, which Buffy found funny. If he wanted, Angel could have broken free, but he probably didn't want to do anything vampy in front of the police, that may send them on a trigger-happy spree.

"Buffy, no!" he shouted.

Then she realized she recognized one of the men standing away from the crowd. This man was holding a gun aimed directly at her. It was Detective Stein. The same guy who had questioned her, at her home, about the deputy mayor's murder just last night.

"Drop it, Buffy!" he shouted.

"Buffy, please put it down!" Angel shouted.

"For God's sake, Buffy! Don't do it!"

"Giles," Buffy said, in a dazed voice. The rock was starting to become heavy. "She killed Xander. She killed him!"

"I know," her Watcher said, in a soothing voice. "But this won't bring him back."

A tear ran down Buffy's cheek. "She deserves to die. She's already killed four people."

"Buffy, I will shoot!" Detective Stein shouted.

"NO!" Giles, Angel, and Cordelia shouted.

"Please, don't fire!" Giles pleaded. "Buffy, the police will deal with Faith, now."

Buffy had to fight to keep the rock steady. Her eyes blazed with anger. "Did you see Xander, Giles? Did you see what she did to him? He never hurt anyone!" More tears were flowing down her cheeks. She looked at Cordelia. "Cordy! You were close to Xander! You know I'm right! Faith should die!"

There were tears in Cordelia's eyes as she looked at Buffy. "Yes. She should die." This got shocked looks from Giles and Angel. "She should die of old age in prison!"

Buffy sighed resignedly, and looked for anyone who would agree with her. She looked at Angel, pleading with her eyes. Angel shook his head.

"Buffy, if you do this, you'll become Faith."

Buffy looked down at Faith who was still pinned under her. Her other hand was still around her neck, but she wasn't strangling her, just keeping her still. Faith was looking at her with those wide eyes, frightened of Buffy. Buffy liked that.

"This is your last warning, Buffy!" she heard Detective Stein say. She ignored him and her grip on the rock tightened.


It was a soft voice, that hadn't shouted, but it cut through all the other voices around her. She looked up and saw Willow standing between Giles and Angel. It seemed as if she had just managed to push her way through. Oz was right behind her.

"Willow," Buffy whispered.

Willow stepped away from the others but a uniformed cop stopped her. She didn't try to struggle to pass him, her attention was focused on Buffy.

"Buffy, please don't do this."

"Willow." More tears were streaming down her cheeks. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect Xander. I'm sorry I didn't see Faith for what she'd become. But I can make sure she pays for it."

Willow sank to her knees and the cop stepped back, ready to restrain her if she tried to move forward. This brought Willow eye-level with the blonde Slayer. She was pleading with her. "Buffy, you're hurt. You're not thinking clearly."

"She killed Xander!" Buffy cried.

"Yes, she did," Willow said, in a soft voice. Tears were filling her eyes. "But Xander wouldn't want you to do this, Buffy. Please." Now the tears spilled down her cheeks. "I couldn't go on if I lost you, too. Please, Buffy!"

Buffy just stared at her best friend, seeing the pain in her eyes. "Willow," she said, in a hoarse voice. She let her arm drop at her side and the rock rolled out of her hand. She pushed herself off of Faith and got unsteadily to her feet. Detective Stein lowered his gun slightly. Willow got to her feet also as Buffy started to walk uncertainly toward her.

Then she watched a look of utter horror come over her face and she shouted, "Buffy!"

Now more people were screaming and Buffy saw Detective Stein raise his gun again, directly at her and knew he was going to shoot. She threw herself to the street just as his gun went off. She landed on her side and her temple knocked against the pavement, sending torrid waves of pain through her head.


She opened her eyes and saw Willow kneeling beside her. She helped her to a sitting position and Buffy looked over her shoulder. Detective Stein was approaching Faith, who was lying very still on the sidewalk. The stone was right next to her hand.

She looked at Willow again. "She was going to kill you," she said.

Tears filled Buffy's eyes and she hugged Willow fiercely. "Willow! I'm sorry!"

"Buffy," she whispered as she let her friend cry into her shoulder. She stroked a hand through her hair then noticed the blood she got on her hand. "Oh, God. We need to get you out of here. Giles!"

This time, the Watcher was able to push his way through and reached them to help her get Buffy to her feet. "We need an ambulance!" he shouted.

Over the crowd they could see the flashing of an emergency vehicle and it sounded like paramedics were wheeling a gurney in their direction. Willow and Giles were helping Buffy to walk when she suddenly pitched forward. Angel was there to catch her and took her into his arms. The others hurried in front of him to clear a way through the crowd, Cordelia leading the way.

"C'mon! Get out of our way! Can't you see she's hurt!? Move it! Give her some air! And you, get a life!" she shouted at a photographer.

Angel laid her onto the gurney and the paramedics immediately strapped her in.

"Willow, go with her," Giles said. "We'll catch up with you at the hospital."

"Right," she said. She gave Oz a quick kiss and climbed into the ambulance after they had loaded Buffy inside.

Detective Stein approached the group as it sped away. They eyed him warily.

"Is she under arrest?" Giles asked.

"Right now, Buffy goes to the hospital. When she's able to we will have many questions she'll need to answer." He eyed the librarian with a critical gaze. "I trust, this time, I'll get the truth?"

Giles gave the detective a surprised look. "Of course," he lied, in his most sincere voice.

* * *

As the paramedics worked on Buffy, Willow held on to her hand. Her left hand. Her right hand was badly cut and one of the medics was busy bandaging it up, saying it would need several stitches. They had already bandaged her head and had radioed ahead to alert the hospital they were bringing someone suffering head trauma.

But despite all the drugs they were giving her, Buffy managed to stay conscious. And she was looking at Willow.

"You're gonna be okay, Buffy, do you hear me?" she said.

"If you say so, Will," Buffy said, trying to smile.

"You just hang on!"

Buffy started crying.

"Buffy, don't."

"I'm sorry. I'm supposed to look after you. I tried to be strong for you! Xander was your friend longer than I was his."

"Don't say that! You loved him just as much as I did! And I couldn't love either of you anymore than I already do."

"It never occurred to me that I would be the one without the strength to make it through this." Buffy closed her eyes.

"Buffy. Buffy, look at me." The blonde finally opened her eyes. "You are strong. Listen to me. You're the strongest person I know. But there is a time when everyone needs a little help, no matter how strong they are."

Buffy just stared at her for a moment.

"God," Willow raised her voice, looking at the paramedics. "How long does it take to get to the hospital? Sunnydale is barely a spec on the map. Hurry!"

"We're almost there," one of the paramedics assured her.

When Willow looked down at her again, Buffy was smiling.


"No one is as strong as you, Willow."


Began June 21, 99; finished June 27, 99.