Illyria stood outside the hotel, watching, waiting, the same way she had watched Caritas, waiting for her quarry to come out. She'd spent the time thinking of the long torturous death she would inflict on him, and then when the moment had arrived, she hadn't killed him. She saw the man leave the hotel. She followed him. He walked down the street, navigating the current of people, stepping around them, moving to accommodate them. Illyria didn't do that. She walked where she wanted to go and let others avoid her. They did, they feared her. He started toward a restaurant with a dragon on the sign. She reached out and grabbed his shoulder, dragging him away from the building, into an alley. "I wish to converse with you human."
Xander stared wide-eyed at the old one. "Illyria,"
"I wish to ask you questions."
He nodded. She could smell the terror in his sweat. "Is this about me helping Wesley?"
She ignored him. "I wish to know the names of some things. What is to look for something that isn't there? It was there, but isn't any longer, and when I look in the place that it was I see nothing. I don't even see a hole where it was. All trace of it is gone."
"Ummm," Xander's eyes flitted from place to place as he tried to formulate an escape.
"Answer me human."
"It's… missing something." Xander said
"You already did. When you look for something that is gone, you're missing it."
Illyria frowned. "This is not sufficient."
"What were you looking for?"
Illyria decided to move on to her next question. "What is it to be dissatisfied with the course of one's own actions? Not the results," She clarified "The actions themselves,"
"Regret," Xander said
"No that isn't it."
Despite his fear Xander was annoyed. "If you know the answer why are you asking me?"
"I do not know the answer." She said "But I know it is not regret."
"Why? Why not regret?"
"Regret is a human emotion. I am above such things. I remember that much."
Xander shook his head. "Look, I don't know you, or what this is about. I'm just trying to avoid getting killed. If you don't like your actions, that's regret. It's what the word means."
"Find another word." Illyria commanded
Xander sighed in exasperation. "Why are you dissatisfied?"
"I intended to kill Wesley. But when the time came I did not. I tortured him for my own pleasure, but the satisfaction did not come. My vengeance was… not…" Illyria faltered
"So are you dissatisfied because you didn't kill him or because you tortured him?"
"I… do not know." Illyria admitted "I do not know who or what I am anymore."
Xander nodded. He know the feeling. He looked at his watch. "Come inside,"
"What?" She asked
"Come inside the restaurant with me. I have to order some food for my friends and we can talk while I wait for it." Xander looked at her expectantly, all of his fear gone.
Illyria hesitated. "All right." They walked into the restaurant. Xander ordered the food and then found them a table. He gestured for her to sit across from him. "You helped him."
Xander nodded. "Is that why you chose to talk to me?"
"Yes," Illyria said "Your actions were senseless. He is your enemy and you do not like him. You should have left him there, or captured him and turned him over to your leader."
"That would have been inhumane." Xander said
"He was in pain. I can't ignore the suffering of a fellow human being."
"But you dislike him." Illyria said "Why should his suffering matter to you?"
"Because of empathy." Xander said
"Empathy," Illyria considered the word. "Explain," She ordered
Xander chuckled. "Empathy is the ability to feel someone else's pain as though it were your own. Empathy allows us to pretend we are somebody else, and imagine how they feel."
"Why would you wish to imagine yourself as someone you dislike?"
"It's involuntary," Xander said, an incomplete truth
"This empathy sounds like a disease." Illyria said
"It's just a part of being human." Xander said "A part of understanding each other. If we didn't have empathy, or didn't use it, we would be very selfish. We might hurt people to get what we want because we wouldn't care about their pain. We'd be…" Xander looked at Illyria.
Xander nodded. "We'd be like you."
"We, that is humans, all humankind?"
Xander nodded again. "Yeah,"
"I see," They were silent for a short while. "I have no empathy." Xander was unsure from her tone if that was a question or a statement. So he just remained silent, waiting for her to continue the thought. After a few moments she did. "But I could not kill him, is that empathy?"
Xander shrugged. "Maybe, maybe you just don't want to kill him."
"He betrayed me. Why would I not wish to kill him?"
Xander leaned back in his chair and exhaled heavily. "Why do any of us feel the way that we do?" He asked rhetorically
Illyria didn't get that. "That is what I came to ask you."
"Illyria just because I'm human doesn't mean I understand humanity, and I certainly don't understand you. Hell, I don't even understand myself. I don't have all the answers."
"Not me," Xander heard his name called and stood up to get his food. He paid and thanked the man at the counter. When he turned back toward the table Illyria was gone.
Faith hit the punching bag down in the basement. She threw punch after punch, ignoring form, paying attention only to the force applied. She hit the bag again and again, not counting her throws. She was unaware of how long she'd been downstairs. She was unaware of anything. She felt hands grab her shoulders and pull her back. She whirled on her attacker and raised a fist. The world came rushing back. She saw Angel step back with his hands raised to shield his face. She dropped her arms. "Faith," Angel said, deeply concerned "I called your name a dozen times."
She stood there, panting. "I didn't hear you."
"I was standing right here."
She wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Sorry,"
He stared at her hands. She looked at them. She had forgotten to wrap her hands or put on gloves. Her skin had been scraped away. Her hands were raw and bleeding. "Faith," Angel said
She shrugged. "It doesn't hurt."
Angel started to protest, but stopped. He sighed. "You're pretty good at that." He said.
"Best in the world," She joked
"Second best," Angel said with a sad resigned look
Faith took a step back. "What?" She asked, horrified
"I said apparently," Angel looked concerned "Why?"
"I… I thought you said something else."
She shook her head. She offered up a weak smile. "Nothing,"
Angel looked down at the arrow sticking out of his chest a few centimeters from his heart. He collapsed, feverish. Faith screamed. She took another step back and hit the punching bag. She slid to the ground, staring in wide-eyed terror. "Faith, Faith," Angel was standing over her shaking her shoulders. He was fine. "Faith what is it? Faith talk to me." He stared at her.
Faith stared into the distance. "She is here."
Fred ran downstairs and entered the bar at about the same time as Angel, who was walking in front of Faith. She looked horrified. "What happened?" Fred asked
"Faith saw something." Angel said
"I saw the past." Faith said in a monotone. "I saw my sins."
Fred ran up to the girl and took her hand. "Are you okay?"
Faith slowly nodded. "I saw it come back for me, the things I did."
"It doesn't matter now." Angel said
Fred raised Faith's hand. "What happened to your hand?"
Faith pulled her hand away. "It doesn't hurt."
"Come upstairs." Fred said "I'll bandage this and you need to eat something."
Faith nodded, numb. "Yeah okay," The three started up the stairs.
Wesley was sitting on the couch holding his baby. He was still in pain from his various Illyria-inflicted injuries, but he didn't notice when he held his daughter. Angel, Faith, and Fred entered the upstairs apartment. Faith's hands were bloody. Wesley stood up. "Faith, what happened?" He walked over to her and she shrank back.
"You don't want me to get blood on the baby." She told him
"Right," He said "Why were you screaming?" She stared at something past him. "Faith?"
"Don't do that!" Her loud petrified scream made them all jump. Lorne and Teresa ran out of the kitchen. Gunn and Anne came in from another room. "Somebody stop him!"
Angel took her by the shoulders and stared into her eyes. "Whatever you see, it isn't real." He told her "Listen to the sound of my voice." She kept staring at the distance.
Wesley noticed something. "Fred," He handed her the baby and tapped on Angel's shoulder. Angel moved away and Wesley stepped in front of Faith. "Faith, what happened to your hand?" She blinked and raised her hand up to her face. Her knuckles were still bloody, but her palm was burnt. The burn was fresh, as if it had just occurred. "Faith, what happened?"
She turned her gaze from her hand to Wesley. "It hurts." She said
"How did it happen?" He asked softly
"Burnt it on the stove," She whispered "I was a bad girl."
Wesley reached for her wrist and gently pulled her hand down to get a better look. He led her over to the couch and gestured for her to sit down. She did without complaint. He retrieved a first aid kit and started to treat her hand. When he put the disinfectant on her hand she hissed and yanked her hand away. "It's okay," He said "Trust me." He reached for her hand and she let him.
"I saw him and that little girl. Someone should stop him, he's going to burn her."
"Someone should have stopped him." Wesley agreed
Angel looked away, like he was intruding on something private. He caught Gunn's glance. Angel had always assumed Faith's childhood hadn't been great, but he hadn't known about this. Angel noticed Anne was looking away too. Lorne was visibly upset. Fred was cradling her baby; Angel couldn't see her face as her gaze was devoted to the child. Teresa was looking at the floor. Angel didn't want to look at any of them or at Faith, but his eyes were drawn to her like a commuter to a bad car accident. She was still staring at nothing.
"Faith," Wesley asked kindly "Do you know who I am?"
She looked at him. After a moment she nodded slowly. "I know who you are."
Wesley was wrapping her hand in gauze. "Who am I?"
Faith yanked back her partially wrapped hand. She put both hands to her ears and pressed against them in an attempt to block out sound. "No," She whimpered "I'm not listening to you."
"Faith," He reached for her wrists and tried to pull her hands away from her ears.
She jerked her head away and kept her hands over her ears. "Stop it!"
Cordelia began to cry. Fred tried to shush the baby. Faith lowered her hands and stared at the crying baby. "Did I make the baby cry?" She asked in a vulnerable voice
"It's all right." Wesley said "Look at me."
Faith stared at him. "Wesley," Tears began to leak from her eyes. "She wants me."
Faith nodded slowly. "She shows me things, terrible things."
"It isn't real." Wesley said "Just listen to me, ignore what she says."
"You hate me." Faith said in a terrified voice
"No I don't." Wesley said "I don't hate you at all."
"You should." She said bitterly "You don't because you're weak."
"That's not you saying that." Wesley said
Faith shook her head. "You think I'm bad."
"No I don't."
"You think-" She stopped. "He didn't say that." She said to some invisible person
"Say what?" Wesley asked
She tilted her head, staring at his eyes. Hers were inscrutable. "I see her."
"The little girl with the dark hair. She's a bad, ungrateful little girl."
"No she's not." Wesley said "She's just a little girl and her parents should have been kinder to her. She's a sweet innocent little girl who wants to be good and who isn't appreciated."
Faith shook her head. "No, they told her. They told her she was bad. The pretty flaxen maid. She's a hero from a fairy tale, went to Heaven and everything. But the dark lady is very bad and has to be punished. The pretty flaxen maid said so, put her in her place."
"That isn't what happened." Wesley said "I was supposed to watch out for you and I didn't do my job. I let you down, I let you get lost."
"She's right." Faith said "I did love her. I thought she was a picture."
"That's all right." Wesley said "There's no shame in that."
"But she was right. I proved all of them right. They told me I was a whore. I was. But for a little while I loved her. I wanted to be like her, wanted to play her game, but I messed up."
"Faith," Wesley put his hand on her cheek, and felt the moisture there. "You're somewhere else. Come back here. Come back to this room with these people."
She blinked. "I can't see. There's a fog."
"Can you hear me?"
"Then close your eyes and don't look at anything. Don't look at what she shows you. Just listen to me. Stay here, in this room, with us."
Faith closed her eyes. "I don't see anything."
"Good, that's good. Now listen to me. Don't listen to the things she says. You are a good person Faith. You don't deserve this. You are good and she wants to hurt you because you are."
"Tell me a story." Faith said "One about people without real problems."
"Okay, once upon a time there was powerful princess and her two friends on holiday in Messina…" Wesley had retold two and a half Shakespeare plays before Faith opened her eyes.
"She's gone." Faith said "She got bored and left."
"Are you okay?" Wesley asked
Faith nodded slowly. "How long were you going to stay here and keep talking?"
"Well I've read a lot of books." Wesley said
Faith grinned, and laughed at that. But her laugher turned to sobs and she slid off the couch, shaking. Wesley hugged her. "Don't let it get me, don't let it come back." She begged
"I won't." She was crying so hard she didn't notice his calmer more silent tears.
Illyria saw the door. She considered ignoring it. She opened the door. The red-black earth was scorched by the desert sun. There was not a drop of moisture anywhere. Bleached white bones lay everywhere, some had been pounded to dust by large desert beasts. The river of blood was gone. Illyria was kind of disappointed. She liked the river. "You are very disappointing."
Illyria saw the Hart step out of a ray of light. "I do not exist to serve you." Illyria said
"You were supposed to kill the child's parents. You said this was your desire."
"I changed my mind." Illyria said "I wish to torment them in other ways."
The Hart frowned. "What ways? What torments? You didn't even do any permanent damage. A missing tooth? Pathetic. The Illyria of old would have torn out his jaw."
"I have yet to decide how I will bring about their destruction." Illyria said "I may still kill the woman. I do not think I empathize with her. I wish to kill the former vampire and the other betrayers. They I still want to kill." Illyria realized she was rambling like a mortal.
"You have been putting too much stock in the words of humans." The Hart said
"You brought me back with the promise that I would be as I was before the problems of this body. You said I would be cleansed. I have not been. I have been changed by this woman."
"You can fix that." The Hart said "By killing her and her husband."
"Perhaps…" Illyria looked up at the fake sun, and it was fake; it came and went at the will of its creator, like everything in this world. I served no purpose, was purely for aesthetic value. Nothing here had any meaning to any other piece of this world. "Perhaps I don't want to."
"You want to be impure?" The Hart asked "You want humanity?"
Illyria felt the ground beneath her feet, but it wasn't real ground. She thought back to her long reign on earth. Everything there had been real. Blood had been warm, hunts had been arduous. A victory had meant something. That world, she was part of it again, but it no longer belonged to her. It belonged to the humans. Maybe she just wanted the same thing the senior partners wanted, a place in the world. If there was one for her, maybe it was among the humans.
"I see." The Hart did not wait for Illyria to speak, opting to read her mind. "Well it would behoove you to change your mind. Go now, I bore of this conversation, and of you."
The door appeared in front of Illyria. She stepped through.
Dawn moved her rook. "Check,"
"Hmm, oh," Xander moved his king.
Dawn moved her bishop. "Checkmate,"
"What?" Xander examined the board. "Damnit,"
"Either I just got really good at this game, or you're not really Xander, but a cleverly designed Xander clone sent to infiltrate the high ranks of the new watchers council but for some reason much worse at chess than the real Xander." Xander stared at Dawn.
"Or you're really distracted," Dawn said "It could be that."
Xander chuckled as he reset the board. "Is that your roundabout way of asking me if there's anything on my mind? If it is I have to say, points for… whatever the hell that was."
"Originality," Dawn said "The phrase is points for originality."
"No, that was something else." Xander said
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Everyone's a critic. So, what is it?"
Xander put the last piece in place. "What's what?"
Dawn glared at him.
Xander moved a pawn. "It's complicated."
Dawn moved a pawn of her own. "So explain it."
Xander stared at the board. "Life is confusing."
"Is the rest of this conversation just going to be you quoting stock phrases? Because that's the second one in a row and the third one is going to make me want to hit you."
"Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Xander leaned back to avoid Dawn's blow.
Xander moved. "You're going to think this is crazy." Xander sighed. "I saw Illyria. We sat down in a Chinese restaurant and had a philosophical conversation about empathy."
Dawn stared at him, slack-jawed. "You're right, I do think that's crazy."
"That's not all." He might as well tell the whole truth. "Do you remember when we found out that Wesley made his way back to Caritas after Illyria tortured him?"
"He didn't get there on his own, I helped him."
Dawn kept staring. For a while neither of them said anything. Finally she spoke. "What?"
"I know, it's weird."
"Xander, Buffy gave us specific instructions to bring Wesley in if we found him."
"I know." Xander leaned back in his seat again, not to dodge a blow, just to get a better look at her. At some point she had stopped being a girl and become a young woman. She had stopped being Buffy's little sister and become Dawn Summers, the watcher. "I couldn't."
"Why?" She asked, incredulous
"He was beaten and bloody. He looked so helpless, and I thought…" No half-truths with her. No vague proclamations about empathy. He cared too much about her. "I could have been him. I could have had the family and the life. If that were me, all I would want is to see them."
Dawn studied him. Her expression certainly wasn't approving, but it wasn't condemning either. "I don't know what to say Xander. You violated a direct order from Buffy."
"I know. But I feel like it was the right thing to do in that situation, at that time."
Dawn shook her head. "I can't agree but… I think it's admirable that you did what you think is right, even if I don't agree with your position."
"Thank you Dawn." Xander said "That means a lot to me."
"And I won't tell Buffy." She said
"I wasn't going to ask." Xander said "So thanks for doing that without me asking."
She shook her head, a smile on her lips. "What am I going to do with you Xander?"
"Love me forever?" He suggested
She laughed. "You're such a screwball." One of these days she was going to realize he was serious. Not today apparently, that was probably a good thing.
Faith stood just on the other side of the threshold to Conner's room. The boy was shaking with effort as a transformation tried to take hold of his body. She saw something running under his skin. She took a step back and saw him lift his head to look at her. It wasn't Conner. "Hello sister dear." It said. Its eyes were yellow. Its teeth were sharp marble. "How are you?"
"I'm not your sister." Faith said in her best 'fuck you' voice
"No, but you will be. You are already one of her favorites. She was watching when you mutilated your next daddy. You run through them like boxes of tampons." Faith stepped further back. "She was watching and laughing. She knows the truth about you. She knows what you really want from these men. She knows you don't want paternal love or tender care. You want to roll around in the dirt. You needn't worry, you are the dirt. You are the filth. You are the muck."
"Shut. Up." She clenched her fists. "You don't know anything about me."
"Conner does. I told him all the things you want to do with his father. He's disgusted by you. He thinks you're a diseased whore." The yellow thing grinned. "He knows."
Faith ran away. She couldn't stay. She couldn't go upstairs. She headed for the sewer access. She opened the grate and dropped into the muck. She thought about how fitting it was.
Buffy stood on the balcony. Willow opened the sliding glass door and walked to stand next to her best friend. "Faith has left the building. She's underground."
Willow nodded confirmation.
"We'll take Kennedy. It shouldn't take long to track her and put her down."
"Yeah," Buffy stared at the steel and glass jungle.
"What happened before, I… do you want me to do that again?" Willow asked
"If it's necessary. It shouldn't be. Kennedy and I should be able to do it." Buffy said
"Right, it's just that I… that was hard before. I didn't like it. I don't like using this power to hurt people. I know it's different, I know she's carrying the demon, but we know her."
"We all have to do things we don't like." Buffy said
"I know." Willow said "But I felt the killing power in my hands and it reminded me of what happened to me before. I felt like I did when I killed Warren." Each word was pronounced with great effort. Willow tried not to hesitate or stumble on any of them this time, but each word was shoved out violently, as it clung to her lips, wanting to stay in her mind where it was safe.
"I'm prepared to kill Angel if I have to, so you damn sure better be prepared to kill Faith." Buffy pushed away from the balcony and headed inside before Willow could respond.
Faith ran when she felt like it, and walked when she didn't. She lost track of where she was fairly quickly, but wasn't too concerned. She liked the darkness down here and found her thoughts fading away. Everything dropped away and she felt peaceful. Everything was great until she saw the movements in the darkness. She stopped, using her slayer senses to listen for the tell-tale sound of feet splashing through shallow water. Whoever was down here with her was fast and sneaky. The person was also very light, a child or a slight woman. She heard the figure scamper away. Faith ran after it on impulse. The figure picked up speed. Faith felt a rush as she pursued her target. The person tried to turn down an offshoot of the tunnel they were on, but Faith reached out and grabbed the person's neck. She slammed the figure against the wall.
The woman, it was a woman, clicked on a flashlight and shined in in Faith's eyes. "Hi, I'm Jersey. What's up?"
"Did you check the supply room?" Angel asked
"Yes," Gunn was now officially annoyed "We checked everywhere. The supply room falls under everywhere right? She's not in the building. She's gone."
"Why would she go?" Anne asked "She knows it isn't safe out there."
"We shouldn't have left her alone." Wesley said "Not after what happened."
"She said she wanted to be alone." Fred said
The occupants of Caritas were standing on the club floor. Fred was holding her baby close to her and the nine people were sharing concerned looks. Except for Harmony, she didn't look that concerned. "We need to look for her." Angel said "Spike, you and Harmony should check the sewers if you don't you know- mind doing that."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Come on Harm." They left.
"Lorne you and Teresa know this city better, or I'm assuming you do because you live here. Lorne you're with me. Teresa you go with Gunn." Angel said
"I'm not staying here." Wesley said
"Yes you are." Angel and Fred said at almost the same time.
"I'm not just going to sit around and do nothing." Wesley protested
"You're still recovering from getting tortured half to death, you're staying here." Angel said "I'm not even having this conversation with you." He turned to Gunn. "Let's go."
"You can't make me stay here." Wesley said
"Don't be childish." Fred said "He could knock you down with one good push, but he won't because you'll tear out all of your stitches and it'd be cruel. You're staying here."
Wesley frowned, but didn't respond.
Faith dropped Jersey, white spots swimming in her vision from where the light had shined into her corneas. "What kind of name is Jersey?" She asked the woman.
"What kind of name is Faith?" Jersey asked
Faith scowled at the woman. "How do you know my name?"
"You're in the upper echelon of the slayer hierarchy. Well you were before you were excommunicated. I may be out of the club, but I still read the newsletter."
Of course, this woman was a slayer. "Why are you down here?"
"I could ask you the same question." Jersey said
"But I asked you first." Faith said
"What are you five?" Jersey shone her light around the tunnel.
"Just answer the question." Faith snapped
"Sheesh, short temper much? I'm going to see my dad."
"And you have to use the sewers to do this because…"
"There's this thing with a vampire promising to kill me if I ever showed my face in the city again, and me not being allowed to kill him without getting on the council's hit list, and it's a whole big thing. Trust me, long story, not terribly interesting." Jersey smiled at Faith.
"So you're hiding from a vampire in the one place a vampire can move around during the daytime? In what inane universe does that make sense?" Faith asked
The smile slipped from Jersey's lips. "I said it was a long story."
"I'm sure, wait a vampire the council is protecting?"
"I know." Jersey said "Fucked up."
"Is it Spike?" Faith asked
"Yeah, how'd you know? Did he do something evil?" Jersey got very excited with this last question, shifting her weight on and off the balls of her feet.
"No, he's letting me stay at his place while a psycho hunts me down and tries to kill me."
"Oh," Jersey sounded extremely disappointed. "Well that's nice I guess."
"Yeah I guess," Faith said sarcastically
"I beg to differ." A familiar voice rang out in the tunnel. Faith directed her attention to the source of the sound. A yellow light came from Willow's hands, lighting up Buffy and Kennedy on either side of her. Buffy had a vicious look on her face, the look of a hunter.
"Language," Buffy admonished
"Fuck you Buffy." Faith said
"Wait up." Jersey said "Is she the one who wants to kill you?"
"Shut up and get lost Eileen." Buffy said
Jersey sighed. "Now I have to stab you." She sounded really put out about it.
Spike was following a weak sent trail when the trail became redundant. He and Harmony both heard the sounds of a knock-down drag-out fight further down the tunnel. "Oh the sound of slayer violence, I know it well. Come one Harm." He started toward the skirmish.
"See but the whole slayer vampire thing is-"
"Coming," Harmony ran after Spike.
When they arrived at the site of the fight they saw Faith and Buffy going at it no holds barred. Kennedy was fighting a woman Spike never thought he would see again. "Jersey?"
Willow stood in the background. Spike knew she could take them all out if she wanted to, but for some reason she wasn't. Maybe it was too dangerous in such close quarters. "It looks like she has it covered." Harmony said "Let's go home and wait for her there."
"You take Kennedy, I'm on Buffy."
"What else is new?" Harmony muttered
Buffy was doing a number on Faith. Faith's injured hands and emotional distress put her at a severe disadvantage to the fit and able Buffy. Faith was having a hard time just holding her off. On the other hand Jersey was doing pretty well against Kennedy. Kennedy was one of the council's most accomplished slayers, said to be second only to Buffy and Faith, so the fact that Jersey could even hold her own was pretty impressive and the fact that they were almost evenly matched with Kennedy having the slight advantage was even more so. Harmony grabbed Kennedy while she was off-balance from a well-timed blow from Jersey. Harmony flipped the slayer, who managed to land on her feet, but who was vulnerable to a severe blow to the kidney courtesy of Jersey. Kennedy stumbled and Harmony hit her in the neck. Jersey tossed Kennedy and this time the woman hit the ground. She tried to rise, but Jersey got on top of her, planting her knee on the other slayer's chest and holding her wrists. Kennedy struggled against Jersey's full weight (which wasn't a lot) being pressed against her breastbone, making breathing a chore.
Meanwhile Spike was lending Faith a hand. Buffy was good, but a team comprised of (an admittedly injured) Faith and one of the most powerful vampires in the world was a little much for even her to handle. "Willow I could use a hand!" She called out "Any time!"
Willow raised her hands to say a spell. "Get the witch!" Jersey said
Harmony rushed over to Willow and tackled her. Willow could have easily defended herself, but her reaction time was too slow. She felt Harmony's vampire strength bring her fist against Willow's cheekbone. Willow lay on the ground, declining to use magic to free herself.
Spike landed a well-timed jab to the throat at the same time that Faith kicked Buffy in the gut. "Let's go." Spike said "That's the best lead we're going to get." The slayer and vampire ran off. Jersey and Harmony were close behind. "I seem to recall saying I'd kill you the next time you came to New York." Spike said as he led them down the tunnels "Just my imagination?"
"No I was there too." Jersey said "That definitely happened."
"Harmony! Fucking Harmony! What are you a third grader who found a spell book lying around and thought hey let's try it out for a lark? You got taken out by HARMONY!"
They were all gathered in the hotel suite, listening to Buffy's fury. "While your girlfriend and I were risking our necks fighting a dangerous enemy, you were getting tackled by the ditsiest bitch to ever die in the history of Sunnydale High! How does that even happen?!"
"Buffy," Giles tried to interject
"No," Buffy said "No Buffy, no let's take a moment; I want an explanation."
Willow swallowed. "I'm sorry." She said "I couldn't do it."
"Why not?" Dawn asked
"I just couldn't. I couldn't use my power like that, not again."
"Fricken brilliant," Buffy said "I'm going for a walk." She stormed out of the room.
Willow flinched when she heard the door slam. Kennedy looked at Willow. She wanted to say something comforting, but she still felt the bruise from where Jersey had pinned her. No comforting words came to mind. Xander stood from his seat and approached Willow. "You did the right thing. It's not worth losing you, we can find another way."
"No," Robin said "She didn't do the right thing."
When they'd discussed the possibility of having to kill Conner or Faith before they'd went to Caritas and been rebuffed by the sanctorum spell Robin had neither spoken for nor against the measure. Now he spoke his mind. "We have to protect the world. Faith needs to die."
"We all agreed to that." Dawn said "That's not what we're discussing."
"Yes it is. I loved Faith, and I still love her. She doesn't deserve this, but she still has to die. We have to make these hard choices, we have to follow Buffy without question, because otherwise the world is doomed. If Faith lives, the world dies, and Willow, preventing that is worth losing you over. I'm sorry." He let the words lie there, marinating in their heads.
"We might not have another opportunity like this." Giles said "We may have to create one if we wish to confront her again."
Willow closed her eyes. She felt guilt and shame run through her. How could she redeem herself? "We have to find a way to disable the sanctorum spell." She said
"Can you do that?" Giles asked
"I can try."
"Conner, Conner," Conner felt hands shaking him. He opened his eyes and felt a wave of relief wash over him. They were his eyes. Wesley was shaking him. "Are you all right?"
Conner blinked. Anne was there too. She was holding an ice pack. She knelt down and placed it against his forehead. "You were crying out." She told him "Do you remember?"
He nodded. "A little, she was here."
"The Wolf?" Wesley asked
Conner nodded again. The cold ice felt so good. "They were talking."
"Who?" Wesley asked
"She said evil things. I feel bad about it."
"Conner what are you talking about?" Wesley asked
Anne kept the cold ice pack pressed against his forehead. Conner felt soothed, and wanted to go to sleep. It was strange that the Wolf would let him sleep. She always wanted him awake, weakening. But now she would let him rest. Something was wrong. "Faith,"
"The Wolf was talking to Faith?"
Conner was even sleepier now. It was important to finish. "It told her…"
Wesley looked down at the sleeping boy and resisted the urge to rouse him. Conner needed this sleep and besides, Wesley was pretty sure he knew what had happened. Anne continued to hold the icepack to Conner's feverish brow. Wesley heard a commotion and headed over to the sewer access. Spike, Harmony, Faith, and a woman he didn't know emerged.
"Found her!" Harmony said unnecessarily
"Thank God," Wes said "Are you all right?" He asked Faith
"Fine thanks for asking." Spike said sarcastically
"I'm okay." Faith said
"Good," Said Wesley "Are you insane?!"
"Somebody's in trouble." Jersey said in a sing-song voice
Harmony giggled. "I bet daddy's going to ground her."
Something flashed in Faith's eyes. She whirled to face Harmony. "Shut up!" Her fists were clenched and her tense body was shaking. "Shut your stupid vampire mouth!"
"She's a vampire too?" Jersey asked "You people," She said with a shake of the head
Harmony glared at Faith. "Hey I just helped save your life. Maybe a little-"
Spike pulled Harmony away, cutting her off. "Come on pet,"
Faith was still shaking. Wesley walked up to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She stepped back, breaking their connection. "Don't touch me." She warned "It's not safe."
"Not safe for who?" Wesley asked
She shook her head. "It's not safe."
"So who are you?" Wesley asked the strange woman
"I'm Jersey, rogue slayer," She explained "Not like evil rogue, just independent rogue. I don't agree with how the council does things. Plus that Buffy chick just kind of pisses me off."
"Right," Wesley said "And you were in the sewers because…"
"Don't ask." Faith said "It doesn't make sense."
Illyria heard the human approach. Illyria was standing in the parking garage of the hotel where the confusing human and his strange friends were staying. The youngest of the humans was the one approaching her. It was the slayer's sister. "Illyria," Dawn said, unsurprised
"You knew I was here?"
"I heard a couple of valets talking about a strange blue woman in the parking garage."
"So you came alone to speak to me. That was very foolish."
"You're a wild card. You could do anything." Dawn explained "I don't like wild cards."
"So you do not like me." Illyria stated "Should I care?"
"I just want to understand you." Dawn said "That's all."
"I do not even understand myself." Illyria said "How can you hope to?"
"Is that what you want?" Dawn asked "To understand yourself?"
Illyria considered this. "More than anything." Her voice carried none of the emotions she felt when saying those words. It had neither the fear nor the longing. It was missing the passion.
But Dawn seemed to understand anyway. "What would you do to achieve this understanding?" Dawn asked "What would you give in exchange for help in finding it?"
Illyria frowned. "I tire of being used by those who think they can leash the god-king."
"That's not what I want to do." Dawn said "I only desire that there should be payment for services rendered. Is that not just? If we were to enter into a contract, would that not be fair?"
Illyria examined the frail human. "I could snap you into kindling for the immortal fire."
Dawn showed no trace of fear. "What would that gain you?"
"I do not know. There was a time when the blood of my enemy on my lips was all the satisfaction I required. I had a throne built for me of the bones of kings I had laid down. I sat on this throne and looked over all the world. It was my domain. Now I do not know if even that would satisfy me. I held in my hands a weak man, a man who had betrayed me. I should have snapped his neck. I let him live. I wish to know why I did this. I wish to find my…"
"Your place?" Dawn asked
"I will help you, but you must do something for me in return."
Spike scowled when the Englishman and the two slayers entered the bar. "I thought you would have the good sense to skedaddle while I was elsewhere." He told Jersey
"As my father constantly reminds me, I am devoid of good sense."
Faith flinched at the word father, but only Wesley noticed. "Well get lost." Spike said
"But things were just getting interesting." Jersey said "I have to know the story."
"It isn't a story." Wesley said "This is our lives."
Teresa walked up and grinned. "I remember you." She said "The shiny lady,"
"What?" Jersey asked "I'm pretty sure we've never met. I'd remember."
"We're meeting now." Teresa said "I remember your future, you were shiny."
Spike sighed. "Please tell me this doesn't mean the bitch who tried to kill me is going to stick around."