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by Alex Wert



Author Notes: Takes place during End of Days. The second half of Season 7 was really bad. This would have helped.
Story Notes: I've always loved the Buffy/Faith gray area from the show. Therefore I was disappointed in the last five episodes of the series because, even though Faith had returned, there was so very little interaction between the two. And Faith could've had such a great conversation with the First (much better than the lame one she had), so combine the two and voila. I've also pinned it down to a particular shade of gray that I like. But then again, I like all of them.
Oral's Notes: No email address available for Alex Wert. Please leave a story review at fanfiction.net

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Chapter One: Jenga

Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why can't I ever just say what I mean to say whenever I'm talking to her? How come I can manage enough courage just to get the depressing part out, but when I need to tell her the important things it's just wisecrack and make stupid jokes to keep from choking up?

I mentally chastised myself as soon as Buffy had risen from my side, taking the scythe downstairs to join in the revelry of the household's new-found optimism. One of these days I'll learn to talk like a normal person. Yeah, right. It's hard to be anything but a loner when everyone thinks you're a freak who can't carry a conversation unless it's porny.

Buffy was leaving the room, the swagger and bounce returned to her step, with ancient magical weapon in hand. I watch her ass disappear through the door, my brain turning soft as those fleshy cheeks jiggle with each step. Just when Buffy disappears down the stairs do the wheels in my head start turning again.

"Hey, B! Could you close my door?" I shout down to Buffy but, after a few seconds of no one coming back up, I realize that Buffy hadn't heard, probably overwhelmed by the noise of the boisterous teenage girls in the living room. Damn shrill screaming is going to keep me up all night and I'm too weak from the explosion to get the door. Lousy legs just won't move yet. And my ears are still ringing. So compound that with the noise from downstairs and the first-class headache from being blown up and I can tell it's going to be a long night.

I know I shouldn't be so rough on myself. I had managed to say some important things to Buffy - just not the things I really wanted to say - the things that could potentially rescue my from the quagmire that is my pathetic excuse for a life. Okay, so realistically they'd probably only get me one helluva beatdown, but that's not deterring me one bit. That fear of beatdown is only rational. Rational I can handle, as much as I ignore it most of the time. The irrational part of my brain... That's a different story. That part is a bastard. It makes me do all manner of stupid things. But the worst was when it stops me from doing something smart. Instead of being a big girl and saying or doing what needed to be said or done, I'd end up curled up in a ball on the ladies room floor down the hall from where she was, unable to make my feet move the extra few steps to reach her, with my mouth clamped shut, throat closed, and I'd have difficulty breathing, let alone saying anything.

Fuck, those kids are loud down there. Damn. And damn. Nothing I can use as a stick to reach the door from here. Anything to lower the decibels just a little bit. No Jedi tricks to force the door closed. Yes, I'm a nerd, but no one will ever find that out. If they do, I'll kill them, violently and painfully. Redemption be damned.

Okay, not really.

Maybe when we're facing death the day after tomorrow the nerves will be pushed to the side. "That's great optimism there, Faithy," I mutter under my breath. "B, I just wanted to tell you that... I'm bleeding on your shoes."

I wish I could work out, hit the punching bag or something. Instead, I get to be stuck here with legs that don't quite work, listening to irritating little kids having irritating conversations in irritating voices and oh my God I'm brooding. "Well, stop that right there, missy," I mutter to myself.

"Yes, I agree. It makes you look older than you really are, and I'd hate to see you have to use so much makeup."


He just appeared right in front of me. My jaw drops, but since I'm lying down I guess it really just opens sideways. The Mayor, Richard Wilkins, as big as life and twice as cheerful; a part of my life I wished I'd never have to experience again. How I'd hoped that he wouldn't visit me again after I told him off last night. I can't deal with him or the First's antics right now. I really don't feel like I can deal with anything. The sight of him still sends shivers up my spine, knowing that he's dead, but it also brings a warm and cuddly feeling that I haven't felt in so long. I almost can't remember the last time. I think it's what you feel when you know someone loves you. It's a wonderful feeling, so rare for me that I'd almost forgotten, and haven't felt since before my coma - when I last laid eyes on this tall, redheaded, evil man. I tried not to look at him when he was here last night. Damn, he's just like in my dreams. If anything, he's put on more weight and is more jovial than before. He's smiling at me and looking at me like I'm the bestest thing in the whole world. God, I've missed that.

"Hi Boss. Back again?" I say, though I know I really shouldn't. I know what he is. And I know this can only lead to trouble. I should just yell at the top of my lungs for help, get everyone else here so he'll - it'll - be forced to leave. But I don't. Damned irrational brain.

"Aw, my dear little Faith," he beams at me. "That's a much better greeting than the one you gave me last night." That warm smile is just melting my heart. I've never told the Scoobies how I felt about him. They probably think it's something pervy or shallow. It's not, and never was. I want to say something else, but he continues talking. "I'm sorry for being so gosh darned confrontational yesterday. I fear I may have been talking down to you like a child. I'm a proud man, but not too proud to admit when I've made a mistake. You're all grown up now. And what a lovely woman you've become."

He kneels down beside me and he really looks like he wants to nudge my chin with his knuckles the way he did when he was feeling overly affectionate. While he was alive, I had never let him; being little old macho-me I had always scowled and then he'd kid me about being such a stick-in-the-mud and I'd scoff, but I'd secretly loved that. He reaches out to me - I don't do anything but stare - but his hand just passes lightly past my chin.

I can feel the sadness in his eyes. And I can feel it creeping into my eyes too.

But it only reaffirms what I already knew. Like everyone else I'd ever loved (which isn't much of a list), the Boss is dead and/or gone, and I've become the target in someone else's game.

A frown darkens my (boss, friend, tormentor, father)'s face and he leans away from me. I miss the closeness.

"Now, Faith, I know that you never bought my explanation of who I am," he says, as I knew he would. "You think I'm not who I appear to be. That I'm merely an apparition created by The First Evil to confuse you, use you, and discard you, and you'd think that because you've listened to Buffy Summers and her band of troublemaking misfits again. And as much as it pains me, my dear, you're part right. I'm dead, and nothing is going to change that, and I only stand here before you as this," he looks at his arms disdainfully, "painfully limiting ghostly apparition at her bequest."

A word pops into my head. That word is 'bullshit.' Instead I say, "It's good to see you again," and I feel so weak. I'm smarter than this. I'm stronger than this.

I miss my daddy.

"It's good to see you again too, pumpkin," the Boss says again, softly, sweetly, with a renewed warm smile. "Oh, I've been watching you, but it isn't the same. This is better. It's like watching the stars from the beachhouse instead of from the city."

The putdowns and the tell-offs were so easy last night. Last night I was in charge. I was in a mean-spirited mood, ready to go busting down some doors and cracking some heads. Today I just don't have it in me. Getting some girls killed, crippling yourself, and accomplishing jack-all takes a bite out of you. "I, uh, I guess if you've been watching, you must not be thrilled with what I've been doing with my time. The whole jail-time thing, and becoming a white-hat again thing. Blowing myself up." Why am I bleeding my heart out to him?

Instead of slamming me for switching sides (again) or heckling my disastrous raid as any normal evil genius would, his response is different and it shocks me.

"Not at all, Faith. It shows that you've matured into a wise and caring woman. We all make poor decisions sometimes. Why, I could tell you a story about that one occasion when I was making a land deal with the Scourge - but I don't think you want to hear about that right now. What I'm trying to say is that I couldn't be more proud of you. Well, I'm not happy about what you're trying to do now, helping those... friends of yours..." he seemed reluctant to say friends for some reason, and it gnaws at me in the back of my brain, "... hurt my close friend, The First."

He seems to read the incredulous look on my face even before I've noticed that I'm making the expression. Yeah, I still don't believe him.

"Oh, come now, my dear. We knew each other so well, and you know that I couldn't have lived as long as I had and traveled in such circles as I did without making some friends in high places, even the highest places. Despite my demise I was able to, on this one occasion that is so important to me, to call in this favor from her, and get to see you. Faith, I'm afraid this isn't a social call. It is vitally important that you listen to me."

I don't like the way this is churning up my stomach. Anger, hatred, possibly remorse: these are the feelings that seeing Wilkins again should bring up in me. Instead I'm overwhelmed with affection, and sadness at losing him. I feel like shit for telling him off last night. Even if this was truly him, not some conjuration by whatever it is that's trying to kill us all, even if the Boss had managed to weasel his way back here to talk me into something, I know in my heart that I shouldn't listen. I'm good now. I'm good now. And he only ever made me do evil things. Things that end up hurting my... friends? Whatever. I don't do that anymore. I don't want to.

"They don't care for you. You know that, don't you?" he reads my mind. It's the same argument as before. It's still not going to work. It can't work. "I love you like a daughter, Faith. They only want to use you for their own purposes. That British fellow, who helped you out of jail. Darn it, I've met him before. What was his name?"


"Right!" he snapped his fingers, looking pleased. "Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Awful, stuffy, imperial name. Gives me the willies." He shivered. It was almost funny to see him act that way again. "Reason I came to America in the first place."

"The point?"

"What did Wesley want with you? Did he care about you in all this?"

I close my eyes. I understand. "He wanted me to get Angel back for them. He didn't trust me, but he didn't want anything bad to happen to me."

"But." Not a question. A statement. I answer.

"But he was perfectly happy to sacrifice me to do it. Boss, I love Angel. And I tortured Wesley. I wanted to help, and I deserved what I got."

"It's a pity our dear Angel doesn't love you the same way," and that brings back a flood of memories that I didn't want to resurface, at least not in front of any living being. Or not living beings, for that matter. The English language wasn't designed for the Sunnydale type of conversation. Angel... Am I just a project in redemption to him? He always seemed like more to be, but I was always so shitty at reading him. I can't reply: my eyes are itching, and it takes all my concentration to make sure they don't start leaking. Wilkins takes this opportunity to whisper conspiratorially in my ear, "Exquisite technique, by the way. I know I didn't teach you to torture like that." No. I learned that kind of rage from Kakistos. I learned the necessary physiology from Giles. And I learned the methods from Watcher textbooks.

"And now you're here. And why? You can't tell me that if it wasn't for this little war they wouldn't have sent you back to Stockton, crisis over, no need to visit Faith or to think about her ever again."

"I'm here only because Willow thought I'd be useful..." And that's a truth that stings. I can't tell if it hurts more or less that I already knew.

"I see you understand," he takes his patronizing, fatherly tone and comfortable stance - practiced political ease. "I'm not going to lie to you. Things are messy now, but they're going to get much messier very soon. I'm sorry you were caught up in my friends' pyromania. It was never meant to be you. But, as they say, 'All's fair in love an war', though I always like it better when there are well defined rules and a referee to keep the game honest."

I swallow the lump in my throat and I have to ask. "And?"

Wilkins lowers his voice to a whisper; powerful men never shout. "And I've been able to secure for you, my little firecracker, an exemption. The First and I both think that you could make for yourself quite the position of power in the new regime. All you have to do is stay clear of main battle zone, and we'll make sure the Bringers leave you alone until the dust settles, so to speak."

"What? Ditch Sunnyhell in the middle of the fight? That's not my style!" I try to sound indignant. It's not as if the thought hadn't crossed my mind a few times already. "Why don't you want me fighting on your side?"

"Faith, we can't guarantee your safety if you stay. I know that you want to get back at Buffy for all that she's put you through, but rest assured that she will be dealt with, in a most destructive manner. But believe me when I tell you, when the you-know-what hits the fan you won't want to be around. You'll need to get as far away as possible."

No one has ever accused me of being smart or particularly observant, but something goes click in my brain. I thought they wanted me dead. My unconscious mind is screaming scam! My nerve finally returns.

Welcome back, nerve.

"Fuck you." It feels good to say it, because I know I'm not talking to the man I loved as a father - I'm talking to the big bad who spawned all evil and wants me dead more than Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Wesley combined. And that's saying something.

The First doesn't seem to realize this. "Language, language my dear!" it exclaims, as my eyes bore into the illusion. "I know you feel obligated to stay and help Buffy out of some misplaced feeling of loyalty but she doesn't feel the same way. I know you've only ever looked for love from her but she'll merely give you scorn in return. Believe me that you're doing her no favors by sticking around here. Things would be much better for everyone invol-" the not-Wilkins snaps his gaze to the door. "Someone's coming. We'll continue this talk later." And with that he pops out of sight, and I can hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. Buffy makes her way through my open door, and scowls at me.

"I can't believe you!" she hisses at me. Damn, girl's trying real hard so that no one downstairs hears her yelling but she's doing a good job putting the fear of God in me. The feeling only heightens as she slowly insults me, overenunciating every syllable, "You self centered bitch!"

"Sorry?" comes my whimper. I have no idea what she's on about, and she's scaring me. Apologies from me are rare but dammit, I'm confused. She had been trying to do the whole comfort-thing just a few minutes ago, for Chrissakes!

Buffy turns around, barely controlled rage simmering over her rim. "I've tried to be civil. I really have," she says quietly. "But I just can't do it anymore. You being here is driving me crazy."

My heart jumps into my throat. Did my feeble little brain take this the wrong way? I swallow down the misplaced organ. "It is?" I manage to say.

"Dammit, Faith!" Buffy is hissing again, "You think there's any way it wouldn't?" She's gotten real up close to me, well, not as up close as I usually like, but at least she's looking at me. "After all you've done to us you think you can just ride back into town and have things your way again? God, I hate you! You're nothing but a ticking time bomb and you're going to get us all killed!"

And with that she stomps her pretty foot down on my little wandering heart - too slow to escape - and squishes the poor thing into the carpet.

"I'm only here because me and Willow thought you could use the help."

"Willow thought bringing you here was a good idea. I disagree."

"I thought Willow would hate me more than you," I say. After all, I thought me and B had gotten along pretty well at one time, maybe even gotten to like each other. It dawns on me, not for the first time, that I'll never be able to redeem myself in their eyes. I'll forever be the one who turned on them, tried to kill them - a murderer. A bloodthirsty crazy psycho-bitch. Evil.

"She hates you all right," says Buffy about Willow, "but this is more than about just hate. I was your friend. You only tried to kill her, but you betrayed me. I can't trust you, guaranteed that one-day I'll find you stabbing a knife in my back and twisting, wearing that maniacal grin of yours. I don't need you here."


Oh damn. That was the wrong letter to say. Her eyes grow wide with fury, a look I've only seen on 'roid-raged hockey players up to this point. "Don't you 'B' me. You constantly undermine my mission. You take your stupid risks. You do stupid things. You get people killed." Buffy breathes out a sigh and steps away from me. When she speaks again, it's quieter, almost sad. "I want you gone. I'm not a total heartless bitch. Wait until after you're healed first, but I want you out of here as soon as you can walk. Clear?"

My eyes are misting over. All I wanted to do what make up for what I had done, try to do some good in the world before I die. Maybe find a little acceptance from the people I should've treated better the first time. Ever since I busted out of the pokey I've done nothing except gotten beaten up. The Beast. Angel. Caleb. The Turok-han. A bomb. I figured that as soon as I stepped into her house that I'd be heading right back out again - except flying through the window. X-man would have appreciated that. But she didn't do it. There were no punches, no kicks.

This was worse than all of those put together.

"I came here to make things right, Buffy." It will always be awkward every time I say her name. "How can I find redemption if you won't let me?"

And she laughs in my face.

"Redemption," she sneers, "You're no Angel. You're a lost cause. Even when you try to do good you always do more harm. Just ask Mr. Finch. Oh wait, you can't ask him because he's dead. You can help us out by getting out of Dodge. Then you can do whatever you want as long as me and my friends never see you again. Find your redemption anywhere but here," she turns away with theatrical pomp, "as if I'd actually believe you were looking for it."

My anger boils up - I'm bursting at the seams. Turning myself into the cops, two and a half years of prison, saving Angel, fighting by her side for weeks: how dare she say that! With a scream I grab the phone from the nightstand and throw it with every ounce of strength I have at the back of her head...

...and it passes right through!

I sit there, stunned, as The First in Buffy's guise slowly gets down in my face and sneers at me, a look of pure contempt and unadulterated evil that sends chills up my spine.

"Caught me," she says, as if it's just a game to her. It might be.

"You were lying." I hope with every bone in my body that what I said was true. I'm not going to get a straight answer from this version of Buffy, though.

Not-Buffy just smiled and inspected her nails, as if they were suddenly more interesting than me. "I never lie," she said, light and breezy as if they were talking hair care products, "I just twist the truth to serve my own nefarious needs. It's a cop-out, I know, but don't think for a minute that our dear little Buffy would give you any better answer. The only difference is that I tell you what she's too polite to say. You know this to be true."

I do.

"Go away," I say, trying to appear menacing, but being pretty sucky at it.

"Oh come now, Faith, darling. If I go away you wouldn't be able to stare at my backside anymore." Ah, shit. Am I so easy to read? Okay, so I am. The fact that my jaw has gone slack is making me an easy mark for the First. I'm so screwed. "Yes, Faith, it's so plain to see that you adore me," she says, carefully enunciating each word in the way that B always did when they were teasing each other, way back when.

"You're not Buffy."

"That is so true. The real Buffy would never do this." Not-Buffy crawls up on my bed, slinking toward me with feline grace. Her weight does not sag the mattress. That's how I know it's not real. But my brain is screaming 'I don't care!' as she makes her way up my body, mischievous smile gracing those pouty lips, thin blouse draping down from her body so I can almost see down... She's at my ear, whispering - God! Oh so dirty things that I could only imagine B saying.

Not-Buffy is straddling me! She has me surrounded but her body is cold like the air. She's a mirage. Not there. And evil. And I want her to touch me so badly!

"I make you so wet down there..."

I shut my eyes. I don't want to see this! I don't want to see her writhing on top of me like any other whore. I can't look at Buffy this way. But I can hear her moaning and panting all around me. Just the sound of her is making me unbearably hot. My heart is pounding so hard in my chest it feels like my ribcage is going to explode!

"Look at me, lover."

My head is filled with all sorts of images. Wrong, naughty images that I shouldn't be thinking, but I can't help myself.

I look.

Her golden hair has fallen in a cascade - no, a waterfall - before my eyes. Her face is flushed, a healthy shade of pink, the sweat beading on the delicate furrows of her brow and, I swear, a droplet clinging to the pucker of her lip. Her eyes are wide open, pupils dilated, and she's staring directly at me. It's like she's staring right into my soul, so deep she's almost stealing it. A gasp escapes her mouth... that pretty, pouty mouth... It opens, pretending to suck in air, and she smiles devilishly at me.

"Don't deny it. You lust for this body..."

Yeah, I do.

As she lowers her head next to my ear to whisper sweet nothings once again, I see her bare shoulder. When did she lose her clothes? Oh, this is not good. I swear I'm going to pop! The smooth skin of her back looks just so inviting. If only I could reach out and grab that firm little ass... but I can't. My hands pass through her body. The shock brings me momentarily back to my senses. I just tried to fondle the First. It tears me up inside that I still want to. Almost - almost - my hand goes between my legs, but I use every ounce of willpower I have to stop myself. Instead, I sink my fingers into the duvet as hard as I can. I need to feel something. Dammit, I need to control myself. Not let her get to me. Not to let her see me masturbate to my golden girl.

"I want you to come for me, baby..."

"I'm not going to give you the satisfaction." I hope that's true, but I'm sure that I will. She's smiling at me. I think she sees it as a challenge.

She moans like a porn star into my ear. "Oh yes, I think you will. You are itching for a good ride." She moves down my body and buries her head into my breasts. Delightful sucking noises make up for the lack of physical contact. Her hands travel up my thighs and I start twitching and rubbing my legs together involuntarily. Phantom caresses glide over my most sensitive parts and my mind substitutes memories of intimate contact I know is nonexistent.

Not-Buffy has learned a very clever trick. My hands, still clutching the sheets in a futile attempt to save myself from myself, are now intertwined with hers, and I feel her holding me. I yelp and let go abruptly at the illusion of contact. Oh, devil woman. I pop open the button fly of my jeans and have slipped my hand down my panties before I even think of stopping. God, it feels so good, and I'm already terrifyingly wet. I let out a moan.

"You are such a dirty girl..."

I imagine it really is Buffy's face between my legs, licking and sucking at my clit, making those tantalizingly sexy little mewling noises, her tongue lapping up my juices, stimulating me as I edge closer and closer to orgasm. Her pert little breasts are sliding down my bare legs. I must've somehow squirmed out of my pants. I just can't think straight. My mind is filled with images of her and there's nothing I can do about it. Oh, that feels so good. My body convulses as I come, and I bite my lip to keep from screaming. My teeth draw blood in my mouth.

And the First smiles...



It's a long, long way down. I didn't count but it looks like ten stories - the tallest building in Sunnydale. Only the best will do. Nothing like the towering skyscrapers of LA or Boston - just peering out of those give you vertigo - but just nicely tall. Things sure look different from so high up. The mailbox down on the sidewalk is just a little speck, and the one remaining car looks like a dinky toy against the silver road. The halogen streetlights make it so pretty reflecting off the rain and all. Odd that it's raining - just a light drizzle - at this time of year. It'll be burned off in the morning when the sun comes up. I guess the weather for my exit just couldn't be any other way.

When will any of them realize that I'm gone? They wouldn't be expecting it. Little, maimed ol' me, still infirm, still bedridden. It was a mighty struggle to get out of bed but I realized that this was the only way. I just feel so ashamed. It's like I violated Buffy and violated me. And that just sucks. It hurt too much to risk meeting people when I was leaving the house. I don't want anyone to know about what I'm doing, at least not until after the deed is done. Then one of the girls will suddenly be super strong, and everyone will be happy. Well... almost everyone. The only one who had really accepted me was our guestage, B's former archnemesis-s-es, Andrew. And that is so sad it makes me want to cry.

I struggle to hear the pitter-patter of the rain as it hits the roof. It's a soothing sound. If I'm going to be checking out, I want to enjoy a few of my senses. Mortal ears probably can't hear this. Never tried when I was just a little girl. Wasn't really important at the time. Now... nah, I can't ask anyone. I'm gonna be hurling myself off this building in a moment. Hope it works a little better than last time.

There's a crunch on the roof's loose gravel at my six.

I hadn't heard her sneak up on me. So intent on listening to the rain that I had let my guard down. It always seems to happen with her... For some reason I'm reminded of that night on wolf watch when I slugged her accidentally. I still don't know why she was there instead of slaying or out with the Scoobs or Angel.

If she had come there that night to get to know me better she certainly wasn't going to be snuggling up to me after I decked her. Sure it's funny now, but at the time it was... actually it was still funny was hell, but I was mortified. She looked so hurt, not physically but mentally, and her eyes were sad. If I was thinking, I would've - should've - stayed. Instead I scrammed.

"Hey," she says to me when I don't respond. Sorry, B. Caught up in my thinking for once. I fumble in my pocket for a second or two then fling a quarter at her. It catches her squarely in the forehead before bouncing to the rooftop's rock covered concrete slabs.

"Hey!" she says again, this time with more annoyance. Sometimes I forget my own strength. She's rubbing at the red welt that's appearing on her face.

I shrug. "Sorry. Just needed to make sure you were you."

"As far as I know I'm usually me. Although not so much around you, come to think of it..."

Not what I wanted to hear. I can't blame her, though. She has no idea what's eating me. And I really shouldn't have thought that word. Flashbacks to her face between my legs. Just once I'd like my mind to get out of the gutter. "Shit happens," I say, trying to sound calmer than I feel. It's hard, though. My heart is going a mile a minute. "I got paid a visit by a you that wasn't a you."

"A what that wasn't a who?"

Somehow I want to say 'Horton.'

I actually say, "A Buffy-shaped First tried to get under my skin." Which is a little more of a double-truth than I had in mind. I'm expecting some sort of General Buffy (un)motivational rallying speech or a snide comment about my mental problems. I get neither from her.

"Shitty," she says.


Buffy fidgets for a bit. I turn back to the ledge.

"Wanna talk?" she finally asks.


"I don't know. Something about the way you're about to hurl yourself off a building kinda hints at some issues that you may just want to discuss. Unless you're just feelin' nostalgic. I've already seen your lemming impression once. I don't need to see it again."

My brain is screaming at me to just tear down my self-imposed walls and gush out everything that I've ever wanted to say to her. Little voices are fighting in my head for the chance to jump out of my mouth screaming of jealousy!, loneliness!, betrayal!, and 'I'm so sorry', 'I hate you', 'I love you', or any number of other things, but my subconscious just lays another row of bricks.

"I'm five by five." Those'll probably be my dimensions in a minute.

She's snuck up a little closer to me. In retaliation I nudge a little closer to the edge of the roof, balancing like a high diver at the lip of the platform.

"Y'know, normal people talk about what's bothering them. We're not normal but we could give it a try? I realize that I haven't exactly been there for you in the past, but I'm here now." Buffy can be so sweet sometimes. Like a friggin' afternoon sitcom. "Dish?"

When I don't say anything for a few seconds she pulls out a twist on me. "You don't really want to go without at least telling me why." She's starting to sound desperate. This much I can give her.

"I've been spending some quality time with my old boss, Wilkins," I say. "I think the First likes me; I'm damaged goods. So much easier to mess with, I guess. Anyway, he tries to offer me a free ride if I turn my back on you guys and get out of town. I pretty much figured out already that the First just wanted me out of the way; leave you one slayer down for the fight. No big deal. It hurt seeing him again, but no big, right? Then you come in to give me grief and I get a real good dose of no-holds-barred objective analysis of how much of a fuck up I am. You wanted me out of the fight for a different reason. And I get that. I'm dangerous to everyone. A - a liability. You're better off without me."

"That wasn't me, Faith." There's a tear crawling its way down her face. She's crying now. God, she's actually crying over me - and not over some shit stunt that I pulled, either. "I don't want you to go," she says with a rough voice. "I need you here."

"You need a slayer," I bite back, "And one who doesn't lead girls to their grizzly deaths, or who could snap and go insane at any moment. The First wanted a slayer out of the fight. I'm not going to give that to her. This is a good solution. I get to do something noble. I think this is my redemption." I'm crying too.

"You ever thought about what you killing yourself would do to us? To me!" Buffy snaps, choking back a sob. "Some of us actually care about you. You should know that! Or are you that self absorbed?"

Was that a threat? I respond to threats. Maybe she has been paying attention to me? "You'll get over me. Forget. Get on with the business at hand. Like always," I retort. She won't get it.

"We visited you in the hospital."

"Liar!" Dammit, that wasn't what I wanted to say. The coma... I never checked. I don't know if she's telling the truth or not. Maybe she is a liar and is just telling me this to convince me not to jump. No one was at my bedside when I woke up. There was no chair next to my bed. There were no flowers. When I dropped in on them, all they cared about was bringing me to justice - or maybe just killing me outright. The First doesn't lie; it just bends the truth to serve its own purposes.

"Faith, I'm telling the truth. I don't want you to jump. I know you're freaked out and everything, and things aren't good, but it doesn't have to end like this."

It doesn't have to be like this, you know.

"Actually, I think it has to be exactly like this."

Buffy shivers, hugging herself. "Why? Why do you always make this so difficult?"

What the fuck? Me making things difficult? I'm not the one constantly running off after deadboy the first or deadboy the second, who's always 'me! me! me!' about absolutely everything. That little voice inside my head - the one that went away for a few unfortunate months then came back all covered in bruises - starts nagging me. Gotta listen to that chicka more often, so says Angel, though not in so many words.

"Okay," I say. "So I fucked up before. I was scared and confused and didn't feel like I could trust anyone but myself. I'm sorry I turned on you, which, I guess, is what things between us has boiled down to for what? Four years now?" I look to her for confirmation. Yeah, we both know the answer. "That's a shitty reason to turn us into enemies, isn't it? I didn't think. Thinking is not my strong suit." That brought inappropriate chuckles from both of us. "Look at me!" I shout, "Master of the frickin' obvious!" The immediate downer physically hurts me, as I try to recompose myself to say the important things. "Yeah, so... Did some thinking this time. That's why I have to do this."

"Huh? I'm still standing on the platform but your train of thought has left the station. Why is it good that you do what the First wants?"

"Look, B. The First doesn't want me dead. Not yet. If she had it her way, I'd be on the first bus to Idaho by now, out of your hair, out of their hair, and out of the way until you're all dead and they can kill me at their leisure. I'm not that bright, but I'm not that stupid. I'm not going to give her what she wants."

"Then why are you doing this? What could the First have possibly told you that would make you think it was a good thing to throw your life away?"

Aw... Here it comes. The exposition I've been so desperate to give for so long, yet have been dreading for even longer.

"I couldn't move too well last night, you know that, right? Been blown up and all. No surprise, really. Couldn't even get up to close the door after you left. Sure, I get visited by the Mayor, but there's nothing new there, nothing I can't handle. Then a pretty convincing impression of you - pissed me off actually, so you can tell how spot on it was. Accidentally found out it wasn't you when I threw the phone through her."

"So that's what happened to my cordless. You owe me a phone, missy. But it doesn't explain why we're on the roof of a tall building."

"She said a lot of bullshit to make me mad, but what she said was true, mostly. You can't think with me around. The Scooby Gang can't trust me. The girls all stand around slack jawed like I'm God or a circus freak or something. The boys think with their other brains when they're around me. You're better off without me. So I'm going. But before I go I'm giving you another Slayer."

Buffy mulls this over, cute, furrowed puzzled brow etching on her fine features. "That's a good story, F. Nothing there that convinces me that a prescription from Doctor Kevorkian will fix what ails you."

"Getting to that part, Geez." I take a deep breath to calm myself. Then I take another one. "Well, then she - I guess you could say she raped me, as much as a ghost can rape a person."

Buffy's face went ashen. "God, I'm sorry. I can see why that makes us a little more strained than usual. But it wasn't real. It wasn't me. You couldn't stop the First from doing it to you."

"I enjoyed it."

"I don't understand."

"Yes, you do, B."

Slowly, she nodded. The world spins a one-eighty.

"I was never one to be subtle."

"Dropping innuendo like bombs," elaborates Buffy. The haphazard use of the word causes her to wince, but I ignore it. Not like that was the worst thing to happen to me this week.

"Just couldn't get up the courage to say it out loud. Funny. Me - chickenshit. All bravado and balls but feelings make me so scared I have to piss myself. Now, since nothing really matters anymore, there's just one question, I guess." We lock eyes for really the first time, bloodshot from crying, pupils wide from the darkness. I finally ask. "Can you ever love me the way I love you?"

Her voice was barely a hoarse whisper, inaudible to all but my slayer hearing. "No." The gentle rain roars against the silence. I take the time to choke down the rest of my broken heart.

"Well, this is where I check out. Tell Angel he was right." I step off the edge.

"NO! Don't!"

Buffy runs frantically toward me, but she's too late. I see the wide-eyed horror of her face, which breaks my heart, but then she recedes into the sky as I fall away from the building, catching up to the rain on its speeding path to the ground. I never got around to asking Angel what Hell was like. Would've been nice to have a heads up.

The pavement is getting closer and I close my eyes, content to let the darkness take me away, just enjoying the ride and cool, moist air blowing in my face. That's it. I played my hand and lost but it's a relief to finally make the game, and now I'm going without that last regret that would've ached like a sonofabitch the entire way down. "Love you, B," I whisper, and wait for death to claim me.

Something's wrong. The building wasn't that high, but I'm still falling. No, not so much. The rain is pitter-pattering on my back. I look down and curse.

"What do you think you're doing?!" cries Willow. Her outstretched hand is pointing directly at me and I slowly realize that I'm being levitated a couple of yards above her and the sidewalk. She looks pissed. "I didn't bring you here just for you to off yourself."

"Dammit, Red! I'm trying to do something noble here!"

"Bull shit!" shouts an equally pissed off looking Kennedy, who obviously isn't happy about being dragged out in the rain.

I'm flailing about wildly, trying to right myself in the air. "Fuck, Will. Let me down!"

"Fine!" she says, pure malice glinting in her eyes. Willow drops her hand and I crash to a less-than-graceful landing. I brush myself off with what little dignity I can muster and stalk off. Kennedy is about to stalk off after me, no doubt about to give me a piece of her little mind, but Willow stops her and for once I'm grateful. It'll let me brood.

"Fucking, no good witch," I mutter. I only had the courage to do this once.



Chapter Two: Picking Up the Pieces


Robin looks wacked. He doesn't look like he's going to die anytime soon though, for which I'm grateful. Couldn’t stand losing anyone else today. He's sleeping and there's just something... really messed up about him - something in the face... maybe the eyebrows and those high cheekbones. It's him, but it don't look like him, and - what is it? Peaceful? Is that really it? With my crazed drunken mom's fitful hangover sleeps, the ladies and their night-terrors in prison, and girls alternating crying themselves to sleep and screaming, I really haven't had much of a chance to see people just lying there relaxed. If I hadn't thrown out all those boys I'd slept with, I might have a better point of reference. Live and learn.

It goes against my rep, my character, 'Badass Faith,' but I'm holding Robin's hand as Giles skedaddles the bus away from Craterdale at a blistering 58 mph. It’s not just because I'm holding someone's hand - I haven't done that since... ever - but because Robin's sprawled out on the very first bench seat behind the stairs and I'm strictly a back of the bus kinda girl. His hand feels a little clammy against my skin, but that's to be expected. He had lost a lot of blood before we managed to stop the bleeding so we decided that it would be best for him if he got the front seat with less jostling. I always thought that the point of the bus was to sit at the back so you would get a jostling. Then again, I didn't go to school to learn, either.

If only my high school teachers - especially Mrs. Pengelly the bitch - could see me now. I'm in a friggin' relationship with a friggin' principal. Karma must have fallen off the wagon for that to happen.

The wounded girl laid out on the opposite bench seat yelps in pain as she tries to shift position. She quiets down immediately but the noise snaps my concentration. I lock eyes briefly in the bus's rear view mirror with Giles when he tries to look back to check on the girl. His expression softens when he meets my gaze and I give him a weak smile, which he returns before focussing again on the road.

It's freakishly quiet on the bus. After the weeks of girl army noises, the clash of swords and grunts of battle, speeches from General B, and THX special effects, all that I can hear now is the rumble of the road beneath the tires, the bus's engine straining as it revs uphill, and muted breathing from the survivors. Everyone is too tired to talk. No one would be talking anyway. They already all said their happies when the battle was over. Now things are starting to sink in and words aren't enough to describe it. Most of the crew is sleeping. Those who aren't are staring out the windows, watching the desert roll by, though I doubt any of them are actually paying attention - it's just background imagery for their thoughts. The background for my thoughts is the strangely innocent looking Robin, the worry lines smoothed from his face, a slight smile on his lips. I wonder what he's dreaming about?

It had better be me.

I have a long way to go. That egocentrism is something I have to work on - something I realized I was still guilty of, even when I thought I was trying to look out for others. My little suicide stunt proved that. The ol' brain churned out that nugget of wisdom eventually. I've been staring at Robin for a while.

My blood is screaming for nicotine. Has been for an hour now. Reluctantly, I let go of Robin's hand and fumble for my pack - almost empty - and lighter - dented. I don't want to smoke around the wounded that are clustered around the door. Fear of infection or irritation or generally just not a nice thing to go through when you're dying or close to it. I'm especially worried about what it would do to B (who's lying down on the seat behind Robin's). I know she doesn't want to admit it, but the smoke'll remind her of Spike, which will open up a whole can of worms that she also wouldn't want to admit. So instead I stand up, stretching the tired legs, and look for a seat at the back.

Farther along the aisle there's Willow snuggling up with Kenny. Willow's asleep, all tired out from the wicked mojo she pulled, and she's cradled in Kenny's arms with a big smile on her face. Kenny is staring out the window. She's not as happy. I think she knows what I know: they won't last. Maybe a few months, maybe even a year if they're lucky, but there's too much light/dark conflict for them to get along with each other forever.

I'm putting off lighting my cigarette until I find somewhere to sit. Xander's there, I can see his eyepatch but not his eye as he too gazes over the passing dirt and scrub brush. I don't think I could look at him right now. Some of the newly activated Slayers are huddled together; others have positioned themselves away from the group. Right now none of them look like a friendly face.

What right do I have to sit with them? I didn't lose anyone I cared about in the battle or in any of the months leading up to it. Each and every one of them - the Slayers, Xander, Dawn, Willow, even Andrew - share the loss of lovers, friends, teachers, and family. I haven't lost anyone since I was evil, and that puts me in a different category from them. I can't comfort them; I don't know how. I don't want to, either. Not now, anyway. Redemption can wait until tomorrow.

Choosing a seat at the very back of the bus, I crack open the window to let the smoke out, then light up. Yup, them scrub bushes are going by fast.

I had given fuck all as far as planning what I was going to do after this is concerned. Now... I don't have a clue. Pretty much expected to be dead by now, so long term plans weren't on the agenda. When I busted out I didn't think at all. When Willow brought me from LA I didn't think at all, either. Come to think of it, I'd been being jerked around for months now. What shit is this?

Then again, when I do my own thinking, things sure get fucked up in a hurry. Maybe I'm better off just following along and being Buffy's lap dog. Then at least I could hump her leg - Whoa! Bad thought! Trying to integrate into society, here. That type of imagination is better off left in the bedroom - possibly bathroom - but definitely not on a school bus sitting across from Andrew. I hope no one is looking at me because I'm sure my cheeks are a dead-giveaway shade of red. A quick look around: everyone is concentrating on his or her thousand yard stare except Andrew, who's rummaging around in his backpack. At least one person on this expedition was smart enough to bring supplies.

I take another calming drag on the cigarette and let the nicotine soak into my bloodstream. There's a thought... I might live long enough to get lung cancer. Not going to stop anytime soon, though. Everyone's happier if I'm not cranky.

Or fat.

My cigarette is burning down, but I'm not smoking it, not really. I'm too busing gazing down the aisle at the legs and feet of Robin and Buffy, protruding from between the bench seats where the two of them lay asleep, recuperating from their serious wounds. It's weird, contemplating the woman I've loved since... before I can remember, anyway, and then the man that I - well... not love, exactly, but it really does feel like it's getting there, y'know? Feels like a shitty thing to do: I've been obsessed with B forever yet she's there, right in the same bus and right there next to Robin who I'm knocking boots with and will continue knocking boots with for the foreseeable future (not a long time in our circles) and who I met only because of B in the first place.

For the first time in my life I can do whatever I want to do and it won't be called running away from anything. I could start a new life with Robin; travel the continental US killing things that need killing and fucking like bunnies in our spare time. Or I could continue mooning after Buffy like I've been doing. Not much of a choice when you look at it that way.


I'm startled by a bright flash right in my face. Click! "Fuck!" I shout, and I try to hide the fact that the camera has sent me three or four inches into the air off my butt. "Andrew! Geez." Trying to recapture my badassness, I flick glowing ashes at him and he backs off tentatively away from me - at least until he trips over his seat. "Give a girl some warning if you're gonna be whipping that thing out and pointing it at people."

Andrew cringes and tries to make himself look innocent, but he's always good at doing that. "Sorry. You just looked so perfect, like Captain Janeway when she takes her authoritative pose staring down aliens on the bridge of Voyager."

Outward, I cringe, showing utter disdain for his stupid fanboy obsession, but inwardly I'm chucking at his innocent silliness. I'm half convinced he's only putting on this act to maintain some concept of self-image. It just wouldn't be him without nerdliness. He's just like me that way. Who am I without the badass, the wicked-cool, sex-bomb hotness and attitude? I've never wanted to just be anyone else, even now, not just another slayer. Though sometimes I feel like all I want is to have a normal life, be a normal girl with a normal job, normal friends, and a normal relationship or two. But then I come to my senses. If I were normal I wouldn't be me. So I continue to play the part.

"Gimme that," I say, tearing the camera away from his hands, relishing the little yip! of shock he makes as I reach out at him with superhuman speed. Yeah, that's why normal sucks. "Why'd you bring a camera anyway? I thought you were all 'I'm gonna die.'" I snap a picture of him as he looks back at me with the ineffective indignance he gets, which, God help me, I think looks kinda cute on him.

I have to grow some standards one of these days.

"Don't break it," he whines and tries to grab at it, but I, like the bully I am, hold it away from him then take another picture of Andrew reaching vainly for it.


Andrew pouts. "Fine." He rummages in his backpack again and quickly produces a note, which he reluctantly hands to me. I recognize this. It was taped to the zipper on the way out here, but had since been stuffed inside. I don't need to look at it long to realize that it was instructions for the survivors to document the aftermath of the battle as his last wish. If I know Andrew, and I think I do, he wanted to leave some sort of overly melodramatic account of the heroics but not really thinking ahead to realize that any heroics would be overshadowed by the misery of loss and human suffering. "I hoped that Anya would take some pictures for everyone after I died," he says, "and I didn't put any thought that I'd live and get the chance to be the photographer - that I don't deserve. I'm angry with myself that I forgot to get some shots at the crater. You all had such great relief and lightness on your faces..." he trails off, not really knowing where he was going with this, I think anyway.

I have some ideas. "You mind if I?" I ask.

"Please. They won't beat you up like they will with me."

I smile. "Cool." I spot the subtle look of dismay on his face. "Don't worry," I say softly. "I'll get everyone." He smiles now, too.

The Potentials - Slayers - take little offence or interest of any kind as I snap pictures of them. I guess they're either in too much shock from the battle or basking in the afterglow of their new powers. So many faces are missing, but even the ones that are there I have a hard time connecting names to. That's just my normal detachedness, but now it feels like a cop out - or worse - just mean. God, here's the guilt flooding back.

One of the girls is crying. I don't know who she is, but I'm guessing she lost some friends in the fight. She's holding herself, wrapped in blood-splattered arms and, when she looks up at me, all I see is sincere emotions: sadness at her loss, joy at the victory, admiration for me – how fucked up is that? I give her a hug, and she holds me tight for a long time. She manages to crack a smile when I take a picture of the two of us together. I think her name is Shannon, but my memory for details like that is still crappy.

Xander wordlessly waves me off. I hate to see the guy alone in his misery like that, but there's nothing I can do, or at least nothing I feel comfortable doing yet. Kennedy gives reluctant permission but makes sure I get mostly Willow in the shot. I don't give Giles a chance to say if he wants in or not. I just snap a picture of him from the side/back, then another of him getting annoyed with me, and then another of him getting more annoyed with me and gesturing Britishly at me, then a final pic of him frantically grabbing at the steering wheel after accidentally heading onto the dirt shoulder. I laugh and he swears at me (I think – honestly I have no idea what it is he called me at all). Yeah, our relationship is patched up.

Robin still looks so sweet and babyish. If I take this picture he'll never forgive me. He's a proud, vain, macho man who relishes the rugged, mysterious look he no doubt has spent years cultivating. Click!

"Huh? What?" murmurs Buffy, startled awake by the click and the flash from the camera after I capture Robin in a candid snapshot. She flails about and tries to sit up, but winces in pain instead.

"Shhh... Go back to sleep, B," I whisper.

She's so cute when she's groggy. "Faith? Where the hell'd you get a camera?" she asks.

"Andrew wanted us to take a few documentary photos," I say, shrugging like it's no big deal. I chuckle inwardly, watching her face scrunch up in faux-furious rage and mock anger.

"Where is the little twerp?! I'll kill him!" She doesn't mean it. I hope. "So? What, you just going around taking pictures of everybody?" she coughs. There's blood on her hand when she pulls it away from her mouth. "Got a career as a photographer lined up after this?"

"Nah, I got no focus. Xander's got more eye than me. I'm just taking over so Andrew doesn't get the shit beat out of him. It needs to be done." I let the camera drop and I put my hand on her thigh. Nothing sexual, for once, but just comforting. At least, I hope comforting. "You alright?"

"Never better," Buffy says between grimaces. "I'm gaining newfound appreciation for what you've been through."

"How's that?"

Buffy pulls up the hem of her ruined sweater. "We've got ourselves matching punctuations."

I'm confused. "Perforations?"

"Isn't that what I said?"

"God, B, I thought I was the high school dropout. No wonder kids have no respect for guidance counsellors."

B flips me the bird. Kid's got spunk, even with a hole running through her. "Actually, I'm thinking of packing it in. Don't think I can handle the pressure. All those kids looking up to me? Truly frightening. That and your boyfriend fired me. And on that note I think I hear children around the world rejoicing."

"What are you thinking of doing now?"

"Geez, a little soon, F? I'm missing some blood, you know. I think I read somewhere about brain functions requiring the stuff. My brain has a hard enough time as it is." Buffy let out a long, slow breath and closed her eyes, deep in thought. "I don't know," she finally says. "I promised Dawnie I'd show her the world. As it is, all I've shown her is the living room. I guess take a break. Travel a bit. You?"

"I don't know either," I shrug. "Everywhere I go I gotta keep an eye out for the pigs. Still got some redemptioning to do." I don't tell her about the wrestling that's going on in my mind - the stuff about my guilt wanting me to go back to prison, finish atoning for what I'd done. "What do you think? Until you decide to retire from the profession, what's your expert opinion on what I should do with my life, oh counsellor lady?"

Click! Whoops. Accidentally took a picture of Buffy's groin. She scowls at me. "If you're subject matter's any indication," Buffy says, "I'm thinking Playboy photographer."

"Sorry. I'll burn that one. But seriously..." I prod. I can't rely on my brain for decisions like this. Or any decisions, really. At least nothing bigger than what I want on my pizza. Which is usually the carnivore special. Which will kill me with cholesterol. I shouldn't make decisions.

"If you can get over yourself - your issues with uh... us, I mean - I'd like it if you stuck with us." Buffy took my hand from her leg and grasped it firmly in her own. "I know we don't get along. Historically. We've spent a good chunk of time carving chunks out of each other. But I'm willing to let bygones be bygones. Somewhere in the world something needs its ass kicked, and I can't think of anyone better than you for the job."

That brings a smile to my mouth. "Aw... that's sweet, B."

"I thought you should finally know for sure how we all feel about you. We've had some rough times, but everyone has rough patches, any group of friends, any family," Buffy sniffles, and it's contagious. "Damn, I must be getting sentimental in my old age." Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she struggles to continue, "You're part of the family now, and that's something we should have said back in the beginning. None of us want you gone. None of us want to see you try out for the USAF parachuteless skydiving team again."

"Yeah. If they won't take me after two auditions, I should give up on the dream. Bastards don't know quality when they see it." I guess I've misjudged her. My mushy gray matter runs her words through my sarcasm filter and the BS detector and finally I understand. "Thanks." I've wasted too many years on old vendettas, concentrated too much effort on a feud that never should have existed in the first place, and nurtured an anger that was undeserved. The pent up horniness I'll keep to myself.

"So, you and Robin, huh? How is that working for you? Please leave out the icky stamina ickiness."

"The boy's got some skills-" I start, but that's not what she's asking about. It's not what I need to talk about either. "He makes me feel something - inside," just saying it makes the tingling in my stomach start up again, makes me feel a little nauseated, to tell the truth. "I don't know what it is, but I know it - it just feels good, y'know? I can't help but want to be with him, get to know him better. You know, that feeling you get, right here," I say, touching my chest, "that sense of just feeling totally drawn, like you were meant to know them, and as if you've known them forever?"

B smiles a wicked little smile. "You've got it bad."

Half of what I'm saying is meant for her, though.

"You two make a cute couple," Buffy suggests. "Whatever baddies you two go after, you'll give ‘em hell. I see a happy future for you two… adventuring… saving the world. And someone needs to take care of Robin." That causes me to scoff, but Buffy is insisten. "Hear me out," she says. "He may act all macho, but he's really a puppy."

"I'll need to take him for walks and scoop up his shit?"

That earns me an eye roll. "Yes, that's it exactly."

"Thanks. Love you, B."

"Love you too, F."

I give her a high five. Click!

"So, we're good?"

"We're good."



Chapter Three: Playing Again

I needed time to think. So why the fuck did I come here?

Big, awe inspiring, empty places are supposed to be good places to think, but thinking wasn't anything I'd ever done well here; it's like I'm impaired or have a learning disability or something in this town - or at least what's left of it, with my legs dangling over the edge of the crater walls and all... It's a big, imposing vista, yo. Should be great for collecting my troubled thoughts - and coming up with a new way to fuck things up. Should've gone somewhere else if I really wanted to make things right. Boston had worked real well though.

Then again, my thinking sucks wherever I am, so this is as good a place as any.

If I was the kind of chick to pay attention to this sort of shit, I'd be making a big stink about it being the one year anniversary of my glorious (yeah, right) return to Sunnydale. Instead I'll give not a flying fuck about it at all, no siree.

One year since I met Robin fucking Wood. I chuck a stone into the crater, listen to the satisfying plunk! as it plunges into the water. A storm had breeched the seawall, allowing the Pacific to come flowing in. Now the water was up to about two-thirds of the way, almost a pretty lagoon, and would make a killer condo community if people weren't so scared about more of the underground cave system giving way - not that there actually was one, but whatever.

One of the things I learned in the slammer, not that there was anything particularly important about it, was that the Pacific was named by Magellan - the first guy who circumnavigated the Earth but didn't because he was killed part way through - and means "peaceful" not because it was calm, but because they wanted it to be. I get the feeling that my mom was thinking along the same lines when she named me. I lost faith in everything pretty early: family, friends, God, the government of the U.S. of A... cheering for the Sox wasn't helping any either.

I'm good at procrastinating. I'm supposed to be thinking about Robin.

I think I'll go for a walk.

Ah... the docks. On the outskirts of town, they managed to avoid most of the cluster-fuck that swallowed up the rest of Sunnydale. It's really no surprise that I ended up here at the end of my long walk. No one else may have any memories attached to this place, but I've got a shit-load, so naturally my feet take me here. Also, there's no other place left. Some parts of the beach, maybe, but I've never been there, so why start now? I'm in a nostalgic mood, dammit.

Hope no one steals my bike while I'm out here.

I pick my way through the rusted cargo containers that the shipping companies just left on the pier; easier for them to call it a write off than to retrieve the goods. I think this spot here is where I saved B from Trick, but my mind may be playing tricks on me (ha, ha) and could just be making shit up again. Probably not, though, since I recognize the warehouse over here... hey wait! There's tracks leading into that building. I look around and pick out telltale signs of human(oid) habitation, and that's enough to send my spidey-sense (yes, I read comics) tingling. Not vamp - I could tell if it was - but someone or something right behind the door, and it doesn't feel kosher. I pull out the knife from my back pocket and crash through the door, slamming into the inhabitant and instantly putting the knife to his throat. Just as I'm about to slit it wide open my brain kickstarts and I realize to my horror that he's human. But only just.

"Willy! What the fuck are you doing here?" I holler as I get myself off the snitch as quickly as superhumanly possible. I really don't want him to get any ideas while I'm on top of him. That's just icky.

Willy, for his part, pulls off a pretty convincing impression of nonchalance as he brushes himself off. "Nice to see you too, Slayer." He checks his neck for blood. There's some, but not much. If it was anyone else I'd feel bad for doing that.

"You living in a warehouse now? I thought you would have had more connections or a place to go."

"Yeah, woulda thunk so too. It turns out that there are quite a few people and not-people who, for some mysterious reason, don't seem to like me so much." No duh. "And so I've decided to hunker down for a bit, wait until some of the heat cools off a bit, and I can go on with my life." Willy looks around at his current squalor, "Such as it is. What about you? Would of thought that you of all people would be like 'voom'! out of here."

Nothing special. Just Robin and I are going through one helluva rocky patch right now - that's probably my fault. I don't really want to go into it. "It's complicated," is all I say, and hope the little maggot drops it.

"Is it one of those Slayer dream dealies?" Willy asks. "Not some other apocalypse I hope. I'd rather not lose my - ah, what the fuck. Go ahead and blow up everything again. See if I care." Willy slumps himself down in a battered old office chair and pulls a flask from his jacket.

"How do you know about Slayer dreams?"

To that, the snitch just shrugs. "I hear things, you know? Well, used to hear things. Now I might as well have my eardrums ripped out - don't get any ideas. The only demons I get around here are the sightseeing kind. I sell t-shirts." He holds up a sloppily done up shirt that reads 'I visited the Hellmouth and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.'

"Man, that's so lame."

Willy scoffs. "Like you could do better with factory second shirts and a magic marker? So, is it one of those prophetic dreams? Y'know, I think I had one of those a while back. I dreamt that I was rummaging through my desk drawers and I found this old pastrami sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. I was hungry so I ate it, and when I woke up I had explosive diarrhea. I think I may have said too much. So, briskly changing the subject before you dwell too much on the explosive diarrhea, what does bring you here?"

I try, I really try to get the explosive diarrhea out of my head, but it's burned in there with a laser and no amount of scrubbing can ever wash it clean. "I'm the sightseeing kind," I say, but what I'm thinking is 'eww' followed by the uplifting knowledge that Willow is supposed to be pretty good with mind wiping spells.

"Oh. You want a t-shirt? Slayer special, 50 off, for you, sixty."

"I think I'll pass, thanks."

"Your loss. So, how's life treating you?" he asks.

I try to answer without really saying anything. "I'm five by five. Nice to be out of jail. Doing good work. You?"

"My life's good. I can relax in the sun." He's still as pale as ever. "I visit the beach. I sell t-shirts to passing tourist demons. I fish. One time I caught this big fish monster thing, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It ate my pole. Now I need a new pole. But I can't complain. No one bothers me. I rarely have Slayers barging in here and breaking my nose. And I get all the sneakers I can wear from that crate over there. Hey, you want some sneakers? I'm sure I can set you up with your size."

"Nah. I'm not really a sneakers kind of gal." I point to my boots. "Unless you have something in a black leather."

"Sorry, Slayer. I can do you tennis shoes, basketball shoes, even bowling shoes, but nothing tasteful. Hey, does that goofy kid still hang around you guys? Least I can do for the $28 bucks he gave me."


"Never mind."

"Well, it's been a hoot catching up. The gang will be thrilled to hear from you, but I'd better be going." We shake hands amicably, which is something I never thought I'd ever do with Willy. Some nagging insecurity is still bothering me though, and I feel stupid for asking but I really have to know. "Hey, how come you never asked me to do the tasteful artistic nude photography like the other girls?"

"I have this thing about living, in that I'd rather stay that way." Makes sense.

It's about four o'clock in the afternoon when I finally make my way back to where I started from. I'm so relieved that my bike is still there. It's a 1986 Harley-Davidson Lowrider, a bike I fell in love with when I was a kid but only now could afford (it's hard to find one you like to steal - and even tougher to keep it).

I haven't found the answers I came here for. That deserves a smoke, so I light up before getting ready to leave this hellhole. Hey, that's funny, because it is. "I'm a friggin' comedic genius," says I.

"No, you're not." The voice startles me, makes me nearly jump out of my skin. This is because I was so sure I was alone. Also because its Buffy's voice, and I know for a fact she's in Italy. This time I'm a little more clever than last. It's the First for sure, so I spit through her and, sure enough, this B hasn't kicked me into the gorge.

"Hey, good to see you!" I lie.

"Faith, you're missing a good opportunity here. There's this nice deep cliff right beside you for you to throw yourself off of. What are you waiting for?"

I smirk. "I was hoping for another rough and tumble with you, sweetie," I say while I give her my best sultry smile. "You caught me a little off my game last time, but now, if you're up for it, I can rock your world," I let out purr as I stretch out over my bike, letting the neckline of my shirt fall from my breasts and making sure she gets an eyefull and a half. "I've got a pretty good ride here, but maybe you'd like to provide a better one."

"You'll never change, Faith," taunts the First, "always thinking with your libido. No wonder Robin's leaving you."

"Nah. If anything he's only put up with my shit as long as he has because of the sexin'."

"I know you," Buffy purrs back at me, grazing her substanceless fingers across my face. "You're thinking that this would be your chance to fly to Italy and get your rocks off with her, now that your relationship is dead and Buffy is only dating a hulking slab of man-meat of ambiguous moral alignment whom you can't stand."

I smirk at her. "Unless you're here to warm me up for the actual game, you think you could vamoose?"

She abruptly pulls back from me, and I honestly miss the proximity. "Not this time. I'm here to make you realize the hopelessness of your life and to finally send you to hell where you belong."

"Huh? That's pretty blatant. Is this attached to any particular evil scheme of yours? You usually take a while to put these things together."

A slow smile crosses Buffy's lips. "Do I need a plan? I'm going to turn you against yourself and have you end your life here, at the edge of the mouth of hell."

"So this is just a revenge thing for you? That's petty."

"Maybe if I sit here, bleeding, and dying, you'd figure it out, Faith." Buffy's disappeared, and I look down to meet the eyes of the long dead deputy mayor Finch. "Maybe meeting again the first man you killed will convince you of your worthlessness," Finch gurgles, with the blood dribbling from his mouth, his eyes rolling up and staring glassy-eyed into mine.

"You know that I'll always feel bad about Finch, but it was an accident, pure and simple. Sure, I didn't do right in the follow up, what with trying to frame B and dumping the body, but he's not exactly a symbol of unredeemability for me. Hell, I didn't even know what he sounded like until right now, if you're not faking it, that is. If you're trying to get me to off myself, you've got it way wrong. I'd expect better from you."

The First appears next with a voice that I did have the chance to recognize. I didn't match it until I saw him though. Not Mr. Spock (note to self: kick Andrew's ass), but the old, lonely vulcanologist I murdered for the Boss.

"Was I an accident, Faith?" the old professor asks me. His puppy dog eyes are so sad, but it's just a trick. "Did you slip that knife into my chest thinking that I was a demon, bumping along in the night? How long will you continue to run away from your guilt, Faith? Will you finally surrender to the self-loathing that you deserve?"

And that bothers me. "For an all-seeing non-corporeal being, you sure miss the point a lot. I've spent a few years in prison. Not as many as I should have, but enough for me to dwell on my past deeds. I will always feel sad about what I did, but I've made peace with myself over it. Actually, I really must thank you. So, thanks, First."

His curiosity bells just went ding! He'll almost inevitably ask why - and he does. I answer. "Because if it wasn't for you I'd have had nothing to do after capturing Angel and I'd probably have gone back to jail and I wouldn't have reconciled with my ex-friends or met Robin. In fact, I've had a blast and I owe it all to you."

The First morphs into Angel. "Faith," he says, "I've always tried to help you get back on the good side, but I've always been disappointed in the way you turned out."

"Hey, that's pretty good," I say. "Except that you're not broody enough and it's daytime. But other than that, I'd say SNL quality - featured performer only. Not Darrell Hammond quality. Don't feel too bad, Firsty, nobody's perfect. I'm sure that in a few more hundred years you'll get that spot on. But I wouldn't try the whole world conquest thing until you've got that fixed up. You're just not very good at it."

That incites some quality anger from the First. "I have existed since before time began," she says, in full aristocratic uberbitch mode, "I have caused the rise and fall of civilizations, and I will continue to exist until the end of the universe. I shall prevail."

"Yeah? I've existed since 1982, and plan on existing for a few more years yet. And we kicked your ass last summer, so nya!"

"Now stop being so fucking childish, Faith. Won't you ever grow up, you stupid brat." Mom? Wow, I never expected to see her again, even in this way. That brings up vague memories, events that I know I was there for, that I do remember, but feel as if I had read them in a book; so much has happened since then, and I really can only think back to the last apocalypse or two. I want to feel something for her - I really expect to - but I get nothing. That chapter's closed. I let out a ponderous "huh," that interupts my mother's tirade of insults that I really haven't been paying attention to anyway.

"You have something to say to me, you little slut?"

I have nothing to say to the First. If it really was mom, I'd tell her that things have worked out okay, and I've forgiven her. But since it isn't, a scathing critique feels more in order.

"Yo, Firsty. As far as superpowers go, yours is pretty lame." That gets a rise out of 'er. Noncorporeal superbeings can get really ugly when they're pissed off. "I mean, seriously, you have all the power of a busker while not being able to collect the coins at the end of the show. We'd be really scared of you if you had a wicked cool superpower like, I don't know... maybe the Green Lantern or say... ME. But you don't, so..." I half turn, bend over and slap my ass. "Right here, bitch."

The First just scowls at me.

"Now do Richard Nixon."

"I'm the neverending source of all evil. I'm not Rich Little."

"Ooh! Do Rich Little!" I don't know who Rich Little is. I wonder if he's anything like Little Richard.

The First keeps scowling at me. "Rich Little is still alive."

But I keep talking without paying attention. "Hey, I always wanted to meet Babe Ruth. Can you do him? Or Gandhi. Or Colonel Sanders."

I smile as I watch the First do a passable imitation of Yosemite Sam shaking in rage, then disappears with an audible pop!into the air. Yeah, I've still got the quality bitch. And I keep smiling as I launch the bike back on the highway to civilization.

Maybe I have found my answers after all.




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