Buffy slept very well that night, better than she had in a long time, and that made her nervous. Whether it was emotional and physical exhaustion or whether she had just given in to it all, she wasn't sure, but she didn't think that it was safety. Because she didn't feel safe here. She was very clear with herself on that point. She knew she was supposed to feel safe, that as a facility Effulgent purported itself as a closed community where its clients could express their experiences and struggles in a protected environment, but…

Well she didn't want to be here did she?

Should. But didn't.

She kept to herself all through the next morning, staying – not hiding! - in her room as long as she could, waiting until the hallway was still and quiet before heading downstairs to the little dining room on the first floor. She'd timed it well; most of the girls were out and gone to their different appointments and activities, or just headed back up to their rooms. She was relieved to find Fred sitting on a stool at one end of the long bar that separated the kitchen from the light, open dining room, laughing and smiling prettily at a joke one of the two girls cleaning up had just told.

"Morning Buffy!" she called when she noticed her standing in the doorway, gesturing her over with one hand. "Are you hungry?"

Buffy gave her a non-committal shrug, frowning when the movement pulled at the sling around her neck. Fred's eyes sharpened, followed her fingers as she touched her shoulder, the heavy cast on her arm, but she didn't say anything. Slipping quietly onto a stool two places away from the bubbly young woman, she darted a nervous glance at the two girls standing in front of the sink, chastising herself internally for not being able to steel her spine and greet them the way she would have before.

"Buffy," Fred smiled, gesturing across the countertop, "This is Cassie and Faith."

One of the two, a pretty blonde with curly hair streaked purple, only blushed and ducked her head shyly, concentrating on drying the bowl in her hands, but the other, darkly beautiful with big, bold eyes and a strong, curvy mouth, smiled and deposited a plate in front of her piled high with scrambled eggs, bacon, and orange sections.

"Hiya B," she grinned.

"Faith's volunteered to be your big sister while you're here," Fred explained. "All the new girls are paired up with someone who's been here for a little while. She'll show you around till you get the hang of the place."

"Sure thing," Faith smiled. "You ever need anything come find me. I'm always around somewhere." The heavy Boston accent sounded just right on her, and Buffy wondered how this tough-looking girl had found herself here. She seemed strong and confident, ready to take on the world, the perfect opposite of how Buffy was feeling inside. "You've gotta visit the gypsy chick this morning right?"

Buffy looked to Fred, totally at a loss, but the little Texan nodded an affirmative, her gentle laughter like the chime of bells. "What Faith means is that she'd be happy to take you over to the clinic to see Dr. Calendar this morning before she goes for her run."

"Wait," Buffy began, suddenly stirred to speech. "How do you know…"

"Aw don't worry about it B," Faith replied, drying her hands on the black running shorts she wore as she tossed Buffy a wink over her shoulder. "Haven't been reading your file or anything. Everybody's gotta visit the doc on their first day. Chow down and we'll head out."

Buffy frowned but stuck a piece of bacon in her mouth anyways, eating quietly while Fred chatted with Cassie about a summer barbeque that was coming up in a few weeks. Faith had pulled out a thick hard cover book and begun pouring over it as she leaned against the counter top, ignoring all three of them until Buffy got up and began rinsing her plate.

"Ready to go?" she asked, snapping her book shut and tucking it under her arm. "Fred…"

"Oh!" Fred exclaimed, jumping up from her stool and jamming her hand into the pocket of the flowered skirt she was wearing. "I'm so sorry Buffy, I almost forgot! Here you go."

Buffy reached out automatically, accepted the small grey chip that Fred dropped into her palm. It was made of plastic, tear-drop shaped with a hole in the top, only just larger than a quarter.

"This is basically your key-card," Fred explained. "It's electronic, so all the doors can recognize the computer code on the inside. Your chip number was assigned to your file in case it gets lost."

Buffy only just managed to bite back a grimace and a sharp retort. To keep track of her more like. To know exactly where she went all the time, every door she went through…

"You can keep it on a keychain or in your pocket," Fred continued, "But most of the girls put it through a hair-tie so they can wear it like a bracelet. I have an extra if you'd like?"

Buffy accepted the elastic band that Fred had slipped off her own wrist haltingly, threading the little plastic chip onto it as she chewed on her lower lip. "So I just wave it in front of the door, or…"

"Oh no, you don't have to do anything special," Fred reassured her. "If you're close enough to the door to open it, the scanners can read the chip. Didn't Spike tell you yesterday?"

Buffy's head came up sharply. "Who's Spike?" she asked. The name made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, like someone had slid an ice cube down the back of her shirt.

"She's talking about the cowboy," Faith purred, cocking out her hip and crossing her arms in a way that pushed up her boobs in her tight elastic tank-top. There was a faraway look in her eye and a rather predatory curve had come over her mouth, a look of feminine prowess that Buffy would not have expected to see in this place. It made her stomach jump.

"Faith!" Fred said sharply, the first less-than-sunny look that Buffy had seen marring the young woman's face. "I'm sorry Buffy, I was referring to Will."

"What?!" Buffy took a step back, confused by the interaction between the two women, by Faith's response and Fred's correction, both of herself and the other girl. Cassie was watching on silently with frightened eyes, twisting a towel between her hands. "He… he lied?"

"Not at all," Fred replied, her voice calm and smooth. It was a tone meant to be reassuring, but it made Buffy squirm, made her feel like her skin was too tight. "His name is Will, he just hates being called that. He prefers his nickname, so we call him Spike."

"What kind of a name is Spike?" Buffy asked without thought, dangerously close to snapping as she was caught in a swirl of emotion.

Fred just chuckled, smiled gently. "What kind of a nickname is Buffy?" she asked. "It's his."

"Hmm, and what a nickname," Faith added.

"That's enough," Fred said flatly but firmly. "Spike is what he likes to be called, but if you're more at ease with Will, or Director Pratt, or even Boss-man, he won't hold it against you, I promise. He would never want you to feel uncomfortable, so as long as you're respectful, he'll answer to pretty much anything. You should hear what his secretary calls him."

That last bit was tacked on the end with a wink and a smile, clearly meant to lighten the strange tension in the room, but it did little to calm Buffy's anxiety, the odd sense of anger swirling in her chest. Fred patted her on the shoulder, cast a contemplative look at Faith who ignored her, and then headed out of the dining area, calling out a good morning as she left them. Faith drummed her fingers on her book for a minute, the small, hollow, thudding sounds lighting on Buffy's skin like a drumbeat.

"Hey B, I'm gonna drop this in my room," the girl declared, and her voice was harder and more abrasive than it had been. "Be right back."

Buffy didn't even have a chance to reply before Faith had turned and gone in quick, purposeful strides. Swallowing back a protest, she dropped down onto a stool to wait, ignoring Cassie who went silently about putting the dishes back into their cupboards. She was too preoccupied to press the other girl for conversation, half a dozen feeling bucking and curling in her insides that she didn't understand. God, she hadn't even been here a day and they'd put a tracking collar in her hand, and now she was finding out they'd lied to her. He had lied to her. The blonde who made her nervous and intrigued and irritated all at the same time. The one who had pushed and prodded at her, tested her all afternoon, and if he thought she didn't know that that was exactly what he'd been doing then he was an idiot.

Buffy huffed, crossed her arms.

He had the right to a nickname, she supposed. That wasn't the problem, despite Faith's allusions that it was based in… ugh, male pride. Personally Buffy would have been content to stick with the original image her brain had conjured – a fat, drooly bulldog with a studded collar, something dumb and lazy and safe, and definitively not sexy. So much for that. No, no the problem was that the guy had lied about it. A weird, twisty sort of omission-lie, but still a lie. You didn't see her walking around telling people that her name was Elizabeth like it really was, and then letting them flounder when everyone else called her Buffy.

Jeez, he was supposed to be making her want to trust him!

That was the whole point of this wasn't it? For staff to make themselves available, as confidants, willing ears. Maybe not friends, but… safe. Trustworthy.

"He didn't mean to lie to you."

Buffy blinked, looked up from her shoes to find Cassie watching her intently, her eyes depthless.


"He didn't mean to lie to you," the young girl repeated. "He'd be sorry, if he knew he had."

"I don't understand," Buffy confessed, her anger draining away to confusion and a strange sort of sadness that seemed to be coming off of Cassie herself.

"He's a good man," she asserted. "Both of them, all of him. He just doesn't know it. Not yet, anyways."

"How would you know?" Buffy muttered sullenly, disturbed by the girl's pattern of speech and annoyed that she seemed to be trying to change her opinions about the man who'd offended her.

"Some things I just know," she replied, and her voice was soft and far away. "I don't know how, I just do. He's a good man. Hurting. Sorry. He'll tell you. One day, he'll tell you."

And then she was gone, wandering out of the dining room with a moony look on her face, brushing past a striding Faith without so much as a flinch, unaffected by the rather snide look on the other girl's face.

"What's with her?" Faith asked, jerking a thumb over her shoulder in Cassie's direction. She'd apparently chosen to change while she'd been upstairs, now clad in only a shiny black sports bra and an even shorter pair of running shorts, leaving an alarming amount of toned, tanned skin.

Buffy shrugged.

How was she supposed to know?

For her part Faith shrugged back, pulling her hair up into a tight bun as she led Buffy towards the front doors. True to Fred's word, they opened without a problem, a click and a hiss denoting the hydraulics of the lock. Pushing through the heavy doors out into the mid-morning sun, Buffy raised her face to the light, felt a breeze lift her hair. She could feel a tension bleed from her shoulders that she hadn't known she was carrying, and for a few minutes she was content to just breath in the smell of fresh cut grass, walk quietly across the ground at Faith's side.

They were just crossing in front of the main building, the one where Wesley had first brought her, when the raincloud that seemed to be hovering over Faith's head apparently decided to crack open and unleash the thunder. She slowed down considerably, a strange look coming over her face as she stared hard at a shiny black motorcycle parked in front of the building.

"Umm, Faith?" Buffy began nervously, only speaking because the girl's sudden stop was making her feel horribly on edge. "Are you ok?"

"Sure thing B," she replied, reaching up to snap the shoulder straps of her bra. "Five by five. Just, uh… really, really want my cigarettes back, that's all."

"They took away your cigarettes?" Buffy asked. That seems a little bit summer-camp, since it was a totally legal thing for Faith to be doing.

"Yup," Faith confirmed, but Buffy noted she didn't seem too distraught. More distracted, really. "They're pretty chill here, don't want to make it feel like a prison I guess, but the gypsy's real big on the health thing. The only 'drugs' you can get around here are the ones she writes a script for."

Buffy watched as Faith scowled, put finger quotes around her words. She was staring intently at the doors of the lobby, tracing the lines of the motorbike with her eyes, and Buffy shifted anxiously from foot to foot, looking off towards the building at the top of the hill that she thought she might remember as being the medical station. She didn't know how schedules ran around here, but she had a feeling that she was late already. Suddenly Faith snapped to attention at her side and she turned slowly towards the lot, only to find him, Will, Spike, whoever the hell he was, emerging from the front of the building, looking down at his cell phone as he walked.

He looked… different today.

And maybe that was an understatement.

He looked dangerous.

He was wearing what appeared to be black cargo pants, the kind you might see on cops or FBI agents, black army boots laces tightly up his ankles. A grey t-shirt clung to the muscles in his chest and upper arms, a view Buffy might've appreciated in another place, another time. But she wasn't that girl anymore, and he certainly wasn't her type, with his bleached-blonde hair slicked back sharply and his piercing blue eyes. Eyes that were now drilling into her, as he came to a hard stop a few yards away, having only just looked up from the device in his palm.

"Hey Spike!" Faith called, and there was a seductive smile on her lips so sweet Buffy thought she might contract diabetes.

"Faith," he replied, leveling her with a flat look that was all calm professionalism. "Aren't you supposed to be showing Miss Summers here to the clinic?"

Buffy frowned, confused by his use of her last name when yesterday he had been all murmurs and pet names.

"Just thought we'd say hi to our favorite director first!" Faith grinned, and Buffy took a surreptitious step away, supremely uncomfortable with the scene playing out in front of her, the one she was beginning to understand all too clearly.

"Hello," he deadpanned, and Buffy couldn't help it.

She giggled.

It was short lived, slipping out before she could get a hand over her mouth to catch it. She hadn't meant to, it was just… a bit ridiculous really. Here Faith was, in a program designed for battered women (whom by all reasoning should be turned off of men for life), flirting way too hard with a man who for all intents and purposes appeared entirely uninterested, even if it weren't the height of impropriety for him to reciprocate.

She felt a blush hit her cheeks hard when the man in question turned to her and cocked a scarred eyebrow, embarrassed that she'd made a jerk out of herself and still uncomfortable around him. Faith just hummed, bumped Buffy with her hip conspiratorially, as though she were in on some joke.

"On your way then," Will… Spike, urged finally, flipping his wrist to check his watch. "You're already late."

"Sure thing," Faith smirked, grabbing Buffy by the wrist and practically dragging her away. "Come on B. See you later Spike!"

Stumbling along at Faith's side, Buffy cast a glance back over her shoulder to find Spike standing right where they'd left him, as though he were frozen, staring after them with half a frown on his face. Snapping quickly away from his gaze, Buffy shook off Faith's hand, stared straight ahead. It wasn't half a minute before they were standing in front of the clinic doors, but she could feel his gaze burning between her shoulders the whole way there.

"I'm going for a run," Faith said, breaking through her distraction. "I'll pick you up out here and we can go to lunch, yeah?"

"Oh, you don't… you don't have to wait for me," Buffy stammered, thinking it wouldn't be the worst thing to have a few minutes away from Faith. She was clearly a vibrantly strong personality, and to be entirely honest she was just a little bit exhausting to try and keep up with. Maybe once she would've relished a friendship with such a girl, but now… now she was just tired.

"It's all good," Faith grinned. "You shouldn't be that long, the gypsy's pretty good about first times. Besides…"

Faith began to walk away, tossing a wink over her shoulder.

"It's my job. I always wanted a little sister."

Buffy swallowed, unable to respond as she watched the brunette turn round and head off towards the track looped around half of the grounds, her ponytail swinging as she went. She got the feeling that Faith would either turn out to be a real asset here or else she would constantly be dragging Buffy into trouble. If she had to put money on it, she was betting on the latter.

You guys thought I quit on this huh? Hah! No for real though, I know it's been forever but I promise, I have not abandoned this or any of my other stories. I'm just dealing with adult life and my dissertation, which is an undertaking of epic proportions. Why can't it be as easy as writing fanfiction? Oh well. ENJOY!