Author's Notes: This fic is complete as I wanted to have it done entirely before beginning to post so there will be regular updates for you guys! Feed me and you'll get more. My muse is a hungry beast ;)
Thunder crashes as the rain comes pouring down from the sky. I shiver as I huddle inside the phone booth, furiously checking my pockets for the quarter I know I have. I give up and slam my hand against the glass. Grumbling angrily, I pull out my cigarette pack and light one, my last one, with a shaky hand and a lighter that refuses to light on the first try.
I lean against the wall and watch the storm raging outside. I'm in Boston, the last place I ever thought I'd be again. I left this part of me behind years ago when I went running to Sunnydale with Kakistos hot on my trail. I have demons here I can't face without losing parts of my soul. These are demons I can't fight physically and I'm not emotionally strong enough. Might not ever be, but I'm okay with that.
I start searching through the pockets of my drenched jean jacket again, finally finding the elusive quarter in the front top pocket. I pick up the receiver as I slide the quarter in the slot and I dial an ever familiar number and wait as the line begins to ring.
"Giles, it's me," I whisper into the phone.
"Yeah, it's Faith."
"Do you have any idea what bloody time it is?" Giles asks and he sounds pissed. I know it's late, but he's usually up at all hours of the night. "It's been a while," he says when I haven't said a word. "Where have you been?"
"Boston," I reply and take a long drag of my cigarette.
"How's things going in Cleveland?"
"As good as expected. The school has been up and running for four years now. Faith, do you realize nobody but myself has heard from you in six years?"
Damn, it's really been six years already? Time sure flies. I've been travelling all over the country, even went over to Europe for a while. I convinced myself after Sunnydale that I had to find my own way and continue down the path of redemption in any way that I could. Saved a lot of innocent people from meeting their fate, killed a lot of demons and vamps along the way. But six years? Feels more like two.
"Yeah, I realize that," I mutter into the phone. "Been going from place to place, never stayed anywhere too long. You know me. Always on the move."
"With no way to contact you in event of an emergency or impending apocalypse."
Not like they'd need me around for that. Plenty of young slayers all over the world. Buffy has an army of slayers, what's one less? I don't say that to him, but I got a feeling he knows that's what I'm thinking.
"Do ya think Buffy will try to kill me if I showed up at the school?" I ask him.
He's quiet. Too quiet but I know he hasn't hung up since I can still hear him breathing. I haven't even been to Cleveland since they headed there from LA six years ago. I avoided it like the plaque and Giles knew I did so purposely. I'm willing to bet he's in a state of shock right now too. I basically just asked him if I could come to Cleveland.
"Erm, I'm not entirely positive of how she'll react," he says after a moment. "Are you asking to stay here with all of us?"
"If it's a problem, forget I even asked," I mutter and I drop my cigarette to the ground and crush it out with the heel of my boot.
"I told you before when you first contacted me after we went our separate ways that you are always welcome to come here and stay. The years haven't changed that, Faith, but I can assure you that everyone will have their own opinion on the matter."
"Of course," I chuckle bitterly. "I'm gonna need an address. When ya gave it to me the last time, I pretty much misplaced it that same night fighting some demons on the way back to my motel room."
Giles gives me the address and I pull out my empty cigarette pack and the pen tucked inside my inner pocket next to my stake. I jot it down quickly on the inside of the pack.
"When shall I expect you to arrive?"
"Couple of days. Do me a favour, Giles?"
"Don't let the others know you're coming."
"Got it in one. I'll call you when I'm in town," I say quickly as the phone beeps and the operator tells me to insert another quarter in thirty seconds. "I gotta go."
I hang up the phone just as the line goes dead. I fold the inside of the pack carefully and place it inside my well-worn wallet. I slip it in my back pocket and take a deep breath as I open the phone booth door.
I make a run for the motel across the street even though I'm already drenched from the rain. The place I've been staying at is shit. There's not even a phone in the room, the water has one temperature, lukewarm, and I'm pretty sure from the stains on the walls, ceiling, carpet and bed spread that the place hasn't been cleaned in years.
I unlock the door and step inside. I flip on the lamp beside the bed and toss the room key down on the shoddy dresser by the door. I grab my duffel bag and toss it on the bed. I've been living out of this bag since I left LA. None of the clothes I left with have made it through all the fights and the travelling except for the pair of black jeans I wore when we left Sunnydale.
I pull open the top drawer of the dresser and quickly shove my clothes inside the bag. I know there's no way I'm stepping foot on a place, not even a bus with any weapons, but I'm used to that. I leave the dagger that's usually tucked in the sheath inside my left boot and the stake I whittled out of an old oak chair I found on the street. The stake inside my jacket is staying there until I'm going to leave.
I know I told Giles a couple of days, but I have this urge to leave Boston tonight. I check the inner pocket to see how much cash I have left. Depends on where I am, how long I stick around for, I always pick up odd jobs just to make enough cash to get through the next couple of weeks and get me to the next town or city in another state. Definitely enough for a bus out to Cleveland, a few hundred short of getting on a plane.
It's late, going on four in the morning, but I know the bus depot a few blocks away is open twenty-four hours a day. I leave the room key on the dresser and double check to make sure I grabbed everything I own before I head back out into the rain and start walking to the bus depot.
At least the rain has let up a little, but it doesn't help. It's the middle of July, yet the rain is cold and there's a chill in the air. I shiver as I keep up my pace, exhausted from being awake for the last two days. I couldn't sleep. Not here in Boston. I don't even know why I showed up here in the first place. I knew before I came here that I wasn't ready, that I couldn't deal with the things deep down I knew I had to face at some point or another.
"Yo," I tap on the window of the tickets box. The man inside is asleep in his chair with the small TV on beside him. I tap again and he jolts awake and leans forward as he glares at me through the glass window. "Got any busses headed for Cleveland today?"
"One in an hour," he grumbles. "Forty-seven dollars one way. Hundred for a round trip."
"One way," I say and I take out a fifty dollar bill, sliding it through the slot at the bottom of the window.
He prints off a ticket and slides it under to me. He slides the change with it and I flash him a smile as I walk away and head for one of the bus shelters across the parking lot. I sit on the bench, shaking for two reasons, one because I'm freezing and wet, and because I'm really going to Cleveland to face Buffy and the Scooby gang after not seeing them for six years.
Over the years, whenever I called Giles, I avoided talking to him about any of them. Then again our conversations were brief and I think a part of the reason why I even bothered to call him every once in a while was to let him know I was still alive. The first time I called was when I realized he cared about me and was concerned because it'd been five months since we parted ways and nobody had heard from me.
I'm willing to bet everyone has changed, is different yet still the same. I know I have changed and in a way I'm still me, just with a better head on my shoulders and I think before I act, but not always before I speak. Running my mouth has always gotten me into trouble, but I've learned to bite my tongue in certain situations to avoid the consequences I know would follow.
A man, probably close to fifty with greying brown hair and soft blue eyes sits down next to me. He closes his umbrella and leans it against his worn, tattered old suitcase. He looks over at me, smiling. I bum a smoke from him when he pulls out a fancy silver case and thank him for it.
"Going to Cleveland as well?" He asks, his voice raspy and low. I nod and take a long drag. "Names Charlie."
"Faith," I say as he reaches out to shake my hand. I smile and reach out and give him a firm yet soft shake.
We don't speak again and I'm fine with that. Haven't been one to make conversation with complete strangers lately. When the bus arrives, we board it, Charlie letting me go first. The bus is nearly full and I spot a seat near the back. I head down the aisle, making note that a lot of the people on the bus are dressed in suits and dresses. Business people, I'm guessing and from New York City and Jersey that I can tell from the accents I hear as a few people talk amongst themselves. I settle in my seat, placing my bag on the seat next to me. Charlie is up near the front, already chatting with a man around his age. He looks back and smiles and I return it before I lean back and close my eyes.
I fall asleep as soon as the bus is on the highway headed out of Boston. I finally start to feel more relaxed than I have in days and I let sleep take over, the rumble of the bus lulling me into a deep sleep.
Two days on the road and it's midnight when the bus pulls into the station in downtown Cleveland. I slept most of the ride, only waking up whenever the bus made a pit stop at a roadside diner. Charlie bought me lunch yesterday and a carton of smokes since I kept bumming a few from him. It's not like I couldn't afford to buy them myself and I tried to tell him that, but he shrugged it off and told me just to take them.
"Faith," Charlie nods as I am the last one to step off the bus. He's waiting by the door on the sidewalk. "It's been a pleasure," he says as he reaches out to shake my hand goodbye.
"Take care of yourself, Charlie," I smile at him, shaking his hand and I sling my duffel bag over my shoulder.
I head down towards the bus station building. It's closed but there's a row of pay phones along the wall by the main entrance. I pull the quarter I made sure I had this time out of the front pocket of my jeans and dial Giles' number. Our conversation is brief and I tell him I'll come around tomorrow early in the afternoon. I hang up and grab the phone book sitting under the phone. I open it, flipping through the pages as I look for a motel that's close by.
I find one in the yellow pages, a small little advertisement for a room for twenty a night. I know it's probably a dive, but it's all I can afford right now. I rip the ad out of the phone book and head for the street. I flag down a cab and give the driver the address. I'm running low on cash but I know I got enough for a cab ride to anywhere in this city and to pay for the room for tonight.
By the time I find the place and get a room for the night, it's almost two in the morning. The room isn't that bad, I've definitely been in worse but have been in better for the same price per night. I leave my duffel bag on the bed and head for the bathroom. I test the water in the shower and sigh in relief to find the water hot.
I strip out of my clothes and step into the shower. I stay under the hot spray for a good twenty minutes with my eyes closed and my mind solely on what is going to happen tomorrow when I show up at the slayer school.
Keep wondering if I made the right choice coming here or not. I'll find out once I work up the nerve to show up there tomorrow. I shake my head and use the scentless shampoo the motel provides. At least it gets my hair mostly clean. I rinse and step out, sniffing the towel to make sure it was clean before I dry myself off quickly.
There's a slight chill in the room as I step out of the bathroom. The air-conditioner is on and the low humming fills the room as I get dressed in fresh, clean clothes. I lay on the bed and close my eyes, willing sleep to come.
It never does.
It's just after seven and I've been sitting here against the headboard watching as the sunlight pokes through the curtains over the window. I light the first cigarette I've had all night and watch as the smoke curls toward the ceiling, the rays of sunlight catching parts of it as it rises.
I don't know if I can do this. Boston screwed with my head and I ran to the last place I want to be. No. That's not entirely true and I know that deep down. Truth is, for the longest time, all I ever wanted was to be a part of them, their group, their family. Even with six years gone by just like that, I still want to be a part of that whole dynamic they have even though I know how impossible it is to become one of them.
It's degrading and humiliating just thinking about it. I've spent the last six years pushing it deep down and now that I'm here in Cleveland, it's all coming back to the surface. What am I even doing here? I know I'm tired of being on the move all the damn time. I know I'm tired of not having a place to call home. I feel I have a purpose in life and that purpose was once saving those abroad. It's not enough anymore. I don't feel like it's enough.
I sit there on the bed for another hour before I grab my bag and head out, dropping the room key off in the office before I go. I head down the street to a small Internet café. I order a large coffee and pick out the sugariest looking donut they have and order a half an hour of time on one of the small computers lined along the wall.
I type in the address Giles gave me and the results pop up not just a map with instructions on how to get there from my current location, but also brings up an article. Curious, I open that and see that the school they are living in used to be a prestigious boarding school in the 1950s, closed down after a fire on the third floor killed fifteen young girls.
I close the page and go back to the map. The school is about ten miles out of town. It'd take me hours to walk there and I barely have enough cash for a cab. I sip my coffee and lean back in the chair as I look around the small café. It's still too early to draw a crowd and there's two others in the café aside from the cute young brunette girl working behind the counter.
I rub my temples as I try to figure out my game plan. Sipping my coffee, I vaguely memorize the route to get to the elusive Slayer HQ. I'm feeling wound a little too tight today, but I shrug it off as I always do. I log out of the computer and take my coffee with me, slinging my bag over my shoulder as I walk out the doors and onto the street.
I start walking, pulling my shades out of my pocket and slipping them on as I round the corner. I told Giles I'd be there early in the afternoon. That gives me a few hours. Better get a move on. Wanna prove I can keep my word.
"Thanks for the ride!" I call out as I hop out of the driver's seat. A mile out of the city, I started hitching. A nice old man, a farmer from what he told me, stopped and picked me up.
"Any time, darlin'. Was on my way back home anyway," he smiles an almost toothless grin. He leans out the window as I sling my bag over my shoulder. "You're in the middle of nowhere. Sure you don't want me to drive you someplace else?"
"I got a place I'm going to. Not far from here."
"Only place is the old McMillan school, closed down fifty years now."
"Thanks again," I smile at him as I start walking down the road.
His old pick up truck whizzes past me, the engine whining as he steps on the gas. I stop at the side of the road, watching as it disappears out of view. I light a cigarette as I try to clear my head. Mile marker one hundred which means I got about a twenty minute walk ahead of me before I read the end of the driveway that leads up to what's now known as Slayer HQ.
I don't think as I walk. I can't. If I let myself think, I'll talk myself outta showing up and hightail it outta here as fast as I can.
It's getting hot as hell out here too. I stop when I'm almost at the end of the gated driveway and I take off my jean jacket. I tie it round my waist and continue on, hopping over the gate with ease and feeling the nerves come to life as my feet hit the gravel driveway.
It's a long walk up the winding driveway through the forest that looks like it surrounds the property. At least under the shade of the trees it's not as stifling hot. I stop when I reach the opening in the trees and look up ahead at the school. The main building is completely huge, I'm actually surprised at the size of the place. There's a few smaller buildings to the left and I head towards them, figuring I'd find Giles there.
Sure enough as I get closer to the first smaller building, Giles is sitting on the shady front porch sipping a cup of tea as he reads the paper laid out on the table in front of him. Damn he got old. His hair more grey than brown, the lines on his face more defined. I walk up the three steps to the front porch and place my bag down with a thud.
"Hey, Giles," I say with a small smile as he looks up from his paper.
"Hello, Faith. You look well," he replies, returning the smile and motions for me to take a seat next to him. "It's a long way from the city. If you called I could've arranged to have someone pick you up."
"It's all good. I'm here now."
"Would you like some tea?"
"Water would be good, a cold beer even better."
Giles laughs as he stands up. "I'll be right with you. There are a few things I would like to discuss before the others know that you are here, which I am certain Andrew and Xander already know as they monitor the security around the campus."
I nod and slide the paper towards me as Giles disappears inside the building. I flip through a few pages and out of habit I check the obituaries. Giles returns in a few minutes with a cold beer and places it down in front of me. I smile as I close the paper and he takes a seat. He's just staring at me, looking like he can't hardly believe I'm here. I can't believe it myself either.
"How have you been?" Giles asks me.
"Good as can be expected. You?"
"Wonderful. Summers here are rather relaxing. Most of the girls that come here have returned home to be with their families. Some have stayed behind. Those are the ones who made the decision to stay on, to continue their studies throughout the summer. Some don't have families to go home to and this has become their home in a sense."
Giles turns the conversation around to me, asking about the places I've been, the things I've done and seen. I tell him what I can, trying to keep it short and straight to the point. Trying to sum up the last six years of my life and all that I've done is harder than I thought. Giles is listening intently, asking questions here and there when I skim some of the details of demons I've encountered.
I don't tell him much about being in Boston. There's not much to say. I can tell by the way he's looking at me that he knows I can't talk about the demons of my past I went there to face in the first place. That's the thing about Giles I like, he doesn't push me to say anything more than what I'm ready and willing to talk about.
Giles heads inside to grab me another beer when I finish off the first one and he returns with two bottles, one for me and one for himself. I smile and take a generous swig and lean back in the wicker chair, sighing heavily.
It's quiet here and just looking around the grounds it feels like I'm in a whole other world right now. It's actually kinda nice here. I can see why they chose this place to bring in the young slayers from all over the world to teach them the ways of a slayer, to train them, prepare them.
Giles spends about an hour telling me everything I need to know about this place, what they did to turn it into the school and headquarters that it is now, the way they operate things, how the young slayers are found and brought here and how they are given a choice whether they want to come here or not. The curriculum is three years and most of the girls arrive here when they are fifteen years old, 'graduating' when they are eighteen, much like high school. There's more offered here than just learning what being a slayer is and training. There are courses the girls have to take so that they can acquire their high school diploma as well.
I can see all the good things they've been doing here from the things Giles is telling me and I feel a little bit gutted that I chose not to come here with them and be a part of this. I made a difference out there in the world in my own way, sure, but I could've had a greater impact here too in a sense. No use feeling or thinking this way though. I can't turn back time and change the past. I just have to keep moving forward and hope for the best, right?
"Shall I give you the grand tour?" Giles asks as we both finish off our cold beers.
"Love to see the place. Lead the way," I reply with a smile as I get up. I go to grab my bag and Giles motions for me to follow him inside the house. "This all yours?"
"Andrew unfortunately lives here with me," he replies and yet despite his use of words, he's smiling. "Come, I'll show you your room."
I don't say a word as I follow him towards the stairs. He leads me up the stairs and down the narrow hallway to a room at the end. He unlocks and opens the door and steps aside so I can go in. The room is huge with a big queen size bed and matching end tables and a dresser, all in dark wood. The walls are white and bare and the drapes are white as well as the bedspread. Very neutral and blah.
"Fix it up however you'd like," Giles says with a smile. "I will freely admit that I kept this room just in case you one day decided to join us here."
"Thanks. Appreciate it more than you'll ever know," I say, smiling as I toss my bag on the bed.
"Here's the key to the room, the only key," he stresses as he hands me an old looking key after he pulls it off his keyring. "Please do not lose this or else you'll be locked out of your room until a replacement has been made and that is both timely and costly."
"No worries," I reply as I slip the key into the back pocket of my jeans. "It just you and Andrew in here?"
"It is. Kennedy and Willow live in the house next door. Buffy lives in the old dean's house just down the end of the driveway in the woods a little ways. Xander and Dawn live in the gardener's cottage near her."
"Cool," I say with a smile even though I saw this look in Giles' eyes when he mentioned Buffy that tells me there's something he's not telling me about her.
Giles give me the tour of his house. It's not big, three bedrooms with a decent kitchen and a big living room. No basement either. It feels homey though, so that's a plus. He takes me to the main building and as soon as I step through the front doors, I'm blown away.
Now I know about six months after everyone split from LA, most of them going to Cleveland to set up shop there, Giles unearthed the Council's funds and money hasn't been an issue. But damn, this place is top notch. Nothing too fancy, but nice. Nicer than I expected.
"These are where the offices are located," Giles says as he points to a large door that's slightly ajar. "Willow and Buffy have the larger offices and some of the ahem, teachers have their own. There are a few that are empty, mostly used for storage, but I'm sure given a couple of days we can set you up in one of your own."
"What would I need an office for?"
"You've come to stay here indefinitely, have you not?" Giles asks and I nod my head slowly, wondering what it is I'm getting myself into here. "Since you are the second oldest slayer next to Buffy and just as experienced and she is, I would like it if you joined the faculty."
"Defense training classes," he replies. "Just three of them a week when the school year begins in September."
"I'm down with that," I reply, smiling as he motions for me to follow him down the long corridor.
"The second and third floor is where the girls are house in the dormitories. The main floor is where the classes are held. Gymnasium to your left," he says as we pass by tall double doors. "Library," he points to the other side of the corridor with matching doors. "Research facilities with all the updated equipment to your left."
I follow him along until we reach the room he calls Command Central. He enters a code on the keypad on the door and it unlocks. Wearily I follow him inside and am completely shocked at the setup they have here. Security cameras covering just about every inch of the property, even out in the woods along the hundreds of trails that run through them. There are easily a hundred monitors on the wall, a control panel that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie and Andrew sitting in the oversized chair looking right over at us.
"Ah, Andrew, I suspected I'd find you in here at this hour," Giles says and Andrew nods and looks over at me.
"Hey, Andy. You don't look too surprised to see me," I joke and he chuckles as he gets up from the chair and walks over to me.
"Saw you hop the fence earlier. Almost sounded the alarm until I recognized you. You haven't changed a bit, Faith."
"Neither have you, except for the hair. Digging the long haired look on you."
"Thanks," he says with a slight blush. "Rupert, is she joining us?"
"That she is."
"This will be wicked cool!" Andrew gushes and he grabs my hand and leads me over to the control panel. "Let me show you what this does."
"Wild guess but you guys have a state of the art security system going on here."
"That's not all, look," he says as he points to the labels under some of the controls.
Artificial sunlight, streams of holy water in form of a sprinkler system, UV lights. Damn, they sure got this whole thing figured out. I just stand there in a bit of an awe as Andrew smiles wide.
"I designed the system myself. This is the best protected property in the world. Not a single vampire or demon can get within a mile of the campus. We're working on keeping out evil Wiccan types," he explains and I bet if I let him, he'd go on for hours about this.
"Faith, if you will? I would like to show you the gymnasium," Giles says as he clears his throat to get my attention.
"Be seeing you, Andy."
I laugh as I follow Giles back out into the corridor. "What a laugh riot. Andrew is still the same."
"Quite unfortunate, isn't it? The boy has proved his worth. He is an essential member of our team and quite the excellent cook. His pastries are simply delicious."
"I can see that," I say as I look at Giles' pudgy stomach. Giles laughs and heads down the corridor towards the gymnasium. "Well, damn," I laugh as I take a look at the place. "This is pretty wicked, Giles."
"We have everything we need here in this room not just to properly train the girls, but the occasional basketball game is played in here on weekends and there is also the monthly dances the girls request. A group of boys from a military school an hour away come to join in the festivities. It's one of the highlights for the girls. Being teenagers, they crave the interaction with boys their own age."
They really got a good thing going on here. I'm kinda upset I was being selfish and staying away for so long. I follow Giles back out into the corridor and I'm greeted with a hard right hook to the face before I even make it out the door.
Grinning I turn to look at Buffy as she stands there with her hands on her hip, a scowl on her face and her eyes glaring at me.
"Hey, B. Long time no see."