The Timber

Faith made it to an allowance in the woods that was small but, thankfully, bathed in that same blue-white moonlight that had lit up the farm lawn well enough to see which initial direction Spike had taken. The light had led her this far but she had lost his trail almost half a mile back and was now looking for any sign of movement or crumpled foliage that might point the way.

The woods were quiet and bone dry. The tall grass that reached out in patches here and there managed to scratch and itch any exposed skin as Faith made her way through the clearing. In the distance she saw a walker shambling towards something or other, and closer, another moaning and trying to get out of a patch of brambles and huge tree limbs that had fallen during a recent thunder storm, but slaying wasn't the task at hand so she didn't pay them much attention.

Between the distant throaty growls of the walkers and the rustle of whatever sort of varmints were skittering around in the mummified brush, the only clear sound Faith could make out came from her own breathing and her heart softly thumping in her eardrums.

"Well, look who they sent to fetch the big, bad monster?" Spike's pissy, snarky voice boomed suddenly in Faith's ears. It cut through the silence quickly, and took her by enough surprise to make her whip around to look behind her, expecting to see a jealous, whiney vampire standing there with a silly sneer on his face. Instead she came face to face with clouds of floating dust and forest yuck fogging up the beams of otherwise empty moonlight and the far off walker she'd seen earlier was now slowly making his way towards her thanks to the sound of Spike's voice. He continued, "Careful, now. Someone might think you care."

Frustrated, Faith sighed and rubbed at her forehead with the palm of her hand, "Perfect," She grumbled to herself, "It's disembodied douche boat time." She cast another glance around, looking a little worn out, "Man, I hate it when you play game show host. Before you start telling me some long-winded story about all the ways I'm hurting your baby feelings, how about we skip the stupid part and just head back? Don't exactly have much night left and I got this weird feeling that we gotta clear out after the stunt you pulled back there."

"Right. I suppose we'll just skip back to Sheriff Rage-o-hol, hand in hand. All is forgiven, and nobody gets staked through the heart." Spike muttered sarcastically, "Not in the cards."

"So, what?" The irritated note in Faith's voice was threatening to overtake her forced calm and she started to slowly walk through the small glade, her eyes still searching the forest around her for the source of Spike's voice, "You're just gonna sit out here and rot? Nobody likes you, everybody hates you, so it's Can-o-Worms time? What the hell is up with you, man? You been a little bitch since Colorado."

"What's up with me?" Spike's laugh was humorless and bitter, "Well, isn't that rich coming from you..."

"And here we go." She grunted her words and continued to look for Spike, using his voice as a guide, "So glad I got shacked up with Obsessive Guy. You're gonna give me fucking angina, I hope you know that and the guilt kicks your ass." she sighed, trying for funny to lighten the mood but Spike wasn't having any of it.

"Is it that hard for you to admit?" Spike continued his hissy somewhere in the dark, "We had something, and you felt it. But oh no, not Faith. Don't want to sully your precious reputation as lady Jack Sparrow, I suppose." He began to use his fake Angel voice for effect, "Faith Lehane needs no man. Faith Lehane is a warrior princess."

By this point Faith was fuming, what little resolve she'd had earlier was being eaten away with every word he spoke. Every accusation. Every stupid little chuckle. She hadn't noticed that, at some point, she had slid a stake out of the gun holster she'd taken to wearing beneath her jacket and was now thumping the rounded end against her palm in a nervous twitch, "You sure you wanna do this now?"

"Now's all we've got, Love."

Meanwhile: The Greene Farm

Andrea, Rick, Buffy and Hershel circled the hood of a pickup, leaning on it as if they were leaning on a table during a board meeting. They all looked over a map with Hershel holding a flashlight at ear height, "If he crossed the river we're not likely to find him. Not tonight."

A sigh escaped Buffy and she swept her bangs off of her forehead with her hand, her free hand holding the grip of a sword whose blade lay flat over her shoulder, "I wish there were another choice, but if I don't find him tonight I might not find him at all and I am not leaving without them."

"Guess she'll drag his ass back," Daryl's voice caused the small group to un-huddle as he approached the truck, the long bow Faith had left in his camp had been pulled over his head and now rested across his chest diagonally like a seat belt, the quiver was strapped to his back and he held his crossbow over his shoulder, "But somebody ought to get out there after em."

Rick nodded at Daryl's advice and looked around the group, "Buffy, Daryl, you two take the river. I'll take Hershel and head along that trail we scouted the other day, see if they're making their way back."

"And me?" Andrea asked, folding up the map. "I'm not going out there by myself."

"I need you here." Rick responded in a low voice, knowing how Andrea would react to the news, "In case they come back before we do."

Andrea put her hands on her hips and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, "Uh-uh. No. No way am I sitting it out when there's a vampire on the loose."

"Andrea, we don't have time to argue this. We already have too many people in the field, and I need to leave someone behind who can shoot." Rick tried to reason with her but Hershel stepped in and put his hand on Rick's shoulder.

"Take Andrea with you, I still have Shane to tend to. That wound is cleaned and stitched up. It isn't bad but I don't want to wander too far off until I know he's in the clear. If anything happens, it's better if I'm here to deal with it myself."

Rick listened to Hershel's excuse and started to nod, then began re-directing the parties, "Alright. Buffy, you're with me. Daryl, you and Andrea take the river. We can spare an hour or two, but don't push it. If you don't have one of them by first light, head on back."

The various parties nodded to each other then began walking towards the fence where the fight had occurred. Buffy tried to check her watch by moonlight and Rick busied himself with staring at the tree line for any movement.

Andrea sighed as they walked and mumbled, "A vampire. Did anyone see that one coming?"

"Tsst..." Daryl snort-grunted with a little sneer, "Knew he was a demon yesterday. Faith told me right off."

Andrea and Rick exchanged looks and Andrea smirked a little behind Daryl's back, responding with sarcasm, "You two, uh. Talk a lot, do you?"

Daryl turned his head slightly to give Andrea a bitchy look and his sneer became more pronounced,. He paused and turned back to the rest of the group, specifically to Andrea, "What you think we been doing all this time?"

"Honestly?" Andrea tried to contain herself but still managed to look amused and a bit accusingly back at him.

It took several seconds for Daryl to understand the look, then took a glance at the others and saw the same look staring back at him. He huffed, trying to force himself not to turn beet red in front of everyone and turned back around to lead the group through the gate and towards the trees. He aimed his crossbow at nothing, giving himself an excuse to shrug one shoulder up and put imaginary distance between himself and everyone else, grumbling under his breath, "Buncha dirty motherfuckers..."

Meanwhile: The Timber

"You wanna talk hugs and feelings so much? Fine." Faith turned slowly to scan the area behind her for Spike, but only spied the lone walker trudging towards her in the distance, "Come out and talk to me."

A moment passed and Spike piped up, "And have you shove that splinter through my chest for my trouble? Not bloody likely."

"Yeah, well I'm not gonna keep chatting it up with the Deadies," She felt her molars start to grind against each other and her tone slipped away from sarcastic, becoming low and angry, "You wanna do the whole girly couples counseling thing? You don't get to pull a coward on this one. You gotta show up." The forest was suddenly quiet and Faith knew that Spike was weighing his options. She noticed a soft rustling. Not in front of her, or behind her, so much as above her. Faith's brows slowly raised as she realized where Spike had been hiding and she suddenly asked, "Are you up a freaking tree?"

Spike paused against the trunk of the tree he'd been standing in, trying to keep his feet still on the base of the branch, miming, "Balls..." He couldn't think of a way out that wouldn't make him look silly, so he tried to laugh it off but it came out mirthless, "How... thick do you think..." but he sighed loudly and gave it up halfway, "Sod it." He climbed to a low branch and swung out of the tree to his feet on the ground below and landed in such a way that made it necessary to straighten up. He gave Faith an expectant look, shoving his hands into the pockets of his duster, "Happy?"

"Yeah." She spoke with a sneer and voice laden with sarcasm, "You just fill my life with sunshine. Talk."

"I'm not exactly a closed book." He spoke with a sigh, trying to pick leaves out of his hair.

"You were hiding up a tree."

Spike shrugged and mussed his hair with his hands, trying to get all of the dust and leaves at once, "Seemed like a good idea at the time. But if you'd like a chat, I'm all ears."

Faith took a sudden step towards Spike, folding her arms, "Are you really gonna act like I'm the bitch who wanted to play sharing time? You wanted to talk. Now you got one last shot to start yapping before I slap the blond outta your hair."

Spike took Faith's advance with a half step back in retreat and threw his hands up, 'give-in' style, "Okay, alright, white flag..." When Faith didn't back down or back up he sighed and forced himself to continue, "You're... you're in my head..."

"Well," She responded with an impatient grunt, "I could always crack your limey skull open and pull myself out if it's bugging you so much."

"I'm serious." Spike sighed and turned to pace away a few steps, "I know you're angry, and I won't insult you by apologizing..."

"Try." Her angry response cut Spike off. She watched him pause and turn around to look at her with features slightly contorted by confusion, as if her request was puzzling and out of place. It dawned on her that he had no idea what part of this was his fault and it infuriated her. She forced a painful half grin and shook her head, pushing the stake back into it's holster, "Oh, no. Fuck you," She started to angrily gesture at Spike as if he were the camera in a rap video, "You do not get to lay this at my doorstep. You left me, remember? Just can't stand that I moved the hell on with my life."

One of Spike's bushy, scarred eyebrows bent up with amusement and he gingerly touched the bridge of his nose with his fingertip, brushing tree dust off of his face, "I wouldn't call Sam Winchester 'moving on', Pet..."