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Chapter Thirty-Two: Step Back...

San Francisco

Passing the time when you've nothing to do is damn near impossible. Faith was just grateful Aaron had yet to show his ugly mug today. Though that worried her as much as it reassured her in that she'd rather he was where she could keep an eye on him.

Shawna, Corrine, and Janice were still at school and Faith was fairly certain Diana was studying for something. Or at least that's the conclusion she'd come to when she'd checked in on her earlier and spied several textbooks open on the bed amongst sheets of paper. That left Faith with very few options. That was the reason she found herself entering the library off the living room.

A faint smile creased her lips at the smell of leather, wood, and aged books. She'd never admit it aloud, but she'd always held an appreciation for books. With few avenues of entertainment, it had at times been a comfortingly familiar pastime. She'd often used reading to escape her reality as a child and now as a Slayer, she spent countless amounts of time doing research.

Running her fingers gently over the spines of a random row of books, she eyed the shelves in search of something of interest. She somehow doubted that Aaron would have fictional books. Not that she had anything against nonfiction. She was just in a particular mood.

Her gaze fell on two massive dark brown leather bound volumes and her expression turned amused. They were first addition Grimm's Fairy Tales, volumes I and II. The books were her childhood favorites, written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Once upon a time, Giles had ruined them for her by telling her that the majority of the tales contained within were based on reality.

With a mental shrug, Faith reached for the first one, "What the Hell."



"Bored, much?" Shawna's amused voice came from near the doorway.

"Eh, a little," Faith drawled, reluctantly tearing her gaze from the page she was reading.

She rolled her shoulders, feeling the tension coiled beneath her skin. It was obvious she'd been seated for entirely too long. She hadn't noticed the passage of time as she'd sat curled up in the armchair near the library's single window. It was only Shawna's presence that told her that it was four thirty at least, and a glimpse at the position of the sun was confirmation enough.

"Tell me somethin', kid," Faith started, gaining a mildly annoyed look in response that she cheerfully ignored. "How do you keep that MP3 player of yours hidden from the Asshole?"

"I run the bud wire up my shirt instead of letting it dangle and I keep it on me at all times except for training. Then I keep it stashed in the tampon box in my nightstand," Shawna shrugged. "Why?"

"Huh," Faith nodded and smiled. "Wanna go AWOL for a couple of hours? I think I need to pay a visit to the mall and then maybe somewhere with internet access."

Shawna studied her for a few seconds. She was obviously weighing her options and the consequences. Then she flashed a devil-may-care grin. Her decision was apparently made.

"How do you plan to get us there?"

"Thought I'd use a magic carpet," Faith quipped, shaking her head as she dug a set of keys out of her pocket and then she waved them at her. "We're borrowin' Di's car."

"Did you actually ask?" Shawna inquired, growing suspicious.

"Maybe," Faith chuckled, setting the book aside as she stood.

"Ummm," She hesitated, torn. "Maybe you should talk to Di first."

"Nah," Faith declined, approaching her. "It'll be fine."

"What if she gets pissed off?"

"She won't."

"How can you be so sure?" Shawna asked worriedly. "You don't know her that well yet."

"Would I lie?" Faith asked as she slipped around Shawna and out the door.

"Ummm, Faith—" That was all Shawna could manage as she followed her out of the house.




"Ava, this is Buffy Summers," She said pleasantly. "Is Juanita available?"

"Hold on just a moment, Ms. Summers," The young woman said. "I'll check."

Buffy sighed as music began to play indicating that she'd been placed on hold. Despite the fact that it at least wasn't opera or country, she still wasn't thrilled. There was a distinct possibility that she disliked pop music even more than the latter two. When it clicked off, she sighed.

"Buffy?" Juanita asked.

"Hey," She greeted. "Do you think the buyers would be available in the next hour?"

"You're rather anxious, no?" Juanita teased gently.

"It hasn't been so long since you went through your own divorce," Buffy rejoined easily. "I think you can recall how much relief you felt once everything was over and done with, no?"

"True," Juanita admitted. "Anyway, if you can stay on the line a minute or two, I could give them a call and see if that would be too late of a notice for them to rearrange their schedule."

Their schedules wouldn't have generally been an issue, but meeting the buyer was one of Buffy's stipulations. She'd made far too many enemies in her lifetime. It wouldn't be too much of an assumption that one of them one of them could use this situation to their advantage. She wanted to meet the buyer to ensure herself that that wasn't the case in this situation.

"I'll be here."

"Great," Juanita said enthusiastically just before the music began to play again.

Buffy shared a look of amusement with Willow who was seated opposite her in the booth. They'd just finished dinner at Bucky's when she'd recalled that she was supposed to get back to Juanita. Dawn had disappeared off to the restrooms just minutes before. They'd agreed to accompany Buffy to the agency's office to prevent her having to take a cab in the sunset rush.

Buffy had just reached for her drink when Juanita came back on the line, "Buffy?"

"I'm still here."

"They've agreed to meet here at my office in thirty-five minutes. That's enough time for you to get here, right? I have Mr. Donahue on the other line waiting for your confirmation."

"That'll be more than enough time, JJ," Buffy said, flashing Dawn a smile as she returned.

They exchanged goodbyes and then ended the call. Buffy finally got her sip of Coke and then she finished it off. Then she began to gather her belongings, shooting Dawn an impatient look. Buffy shrugged into her black leather jacket as they stood in unison, Willow following suit.

As they were exiting the restaurant, Willow asked Dawn, "Isn't this the place Faith intended to take Buffy to once the sale of her and Satsu's place went through?"

"Huh?" Buffy managed in unison with Dawn's reply.

"Yup," She confirmed succinctly, shooting Buffy a bratty smile.



San Francisco

Faith often found it amusing just how many of the juvenile things she'd learned in her misspent youth were applicable to her job. She would never, even under threat of torture, admit how often she'd had to resort to hotwiring a car in pursuit of, or while fleeing, demons, or Slayers. And she had lost count of just how many times she'd been forced to pick a lock, such as now.

Luckily, however, interior doors were always easier than exterior. There were rarely any alarms to fret over and the manufacturers tended to provide such simple locking mechanisms. When she felt the faint click as the lock turned, Faith closed and pocketed her knife. Then she eased the door open and let herself in, gently closing the door behind her before crossing the room.

Slayer eyesight paved the way around the desk and she booted up the computer as she pulled the chair from under the desk. Settling herself in the seat, she waited for it to load. Her knee bounced absently as she silently drummed her fingers against the oak desk. A faint smile creased her lips.

While shopping wasn't the most pleasant task to Faith, she'd enjoyed the chance to get to know Shawna outside of Aaron's earshot. The girl had revealed a sarcastic sense of humor that Faith just knew would drive Buffy insane. It was her enthusiasm that was going to drive Faith nuts.

Shawna might show caution at times, but if she was discussing something of interest to her, there was apparently no stopping her. It reminded Faith of a cross between Dawn and Buffy, with a little bit of Willow's geek genes thrown in. She really wanted to introduce those three and step back to let the fireworks blow. There would be no little amusement, she suspected.

The visit to the electronics boutique at the mall had proven interesting, to say the least. Her love of music rivaled Faith's own. Of course, Faith was fairly certain that she was going to regret having let Shawna handle downloading the music for her new MP3 player. She just hadn't been able to tell her no when she'd given her that pleading look at the internet café they'd visited.

Shaking off the memory as the computer prompted for a password, she scowled as she considered the screen. She'd suspected from Diana's comment that he'd kept it password protected, so she wasn't surprised, just a little irritated. Then again, Faith smirked as she set her fingers typing. She was fairly confident she knew what his password was.

Shortly after she and Giles had returned to the fold, Willow had forced Faith and Giles to take a crash course in the systems she'd programmed and set up at the castle. Over the years, as their operation expanded, Willow had become responsible for their servers and systems worldwide. So Faith was very much aware of the standard password that Willow set for each system ordered.

"Guess the tool didn't get Red's memo about changin' the passwords monthly for security purposes," She muttered as the hourglass appeared on the screen, signaling her success.

She waited for the desktop, toolbar, and Council menu to finish loading. She didn't want to slow the process down. The desktop displayed the Mozilla Firefox icon, along with several others, including the icon for Willow Tree, Willow's personal security software. The toolbar contained the typical icons one expected to find, plus a tiny tree and a scythe.

The scythe was the icon for the Council's menu, which was all ready displayed in the lower right hand corner above the clock. The options on the tiny menu read, `Watcher', `Slayer', `Wiccan', `Administration', and `Support'. Feeling a streak of mischief, Faith used the trackball to guide the pointer over the menu and clicked `Watcher'. A page popped up and Faith held back a curse.

She wasn't going to question her own luck. He'd been stupid enough to save his login. She winced internally at the implications of that for the Council's security, though. Thinkin' maybe I should just turn his ass over to Red and let the fuckin' fireworks blow.

A few seemingly random clicks and a couple of memorized codes brought her to the Council's internal servers and she snickered. It was always so much fun to play with Willow's programs. A couple more clicks brought her to the current investigation reports. Of course, that wasn't in the label, but anyone who actually knew Giles, knew that `Pending Inquiries' was a euphemism.

Faith searched the titles until she located the file with Shawna's name as the header. She entered the file and scrolled down until she reached the complaints filed against the girl. Briefly scanning each of the reports filed by Aaron, her teammates, and several caseworkers, Faith frowned. It seemed on the up and up, but it just didn't ring true to her, not even in the least.

Shaking her head, Faith began the highly, and annoyingly, convoluted process of backing out of the programs and servers she'd entered. Then she exited Aaron's personal Council menu and turned her attention on his documents. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she figured she'd know it when she saw it. She was hoping for an unedited journal of sorts like Giles kept.

And much to her surprise, she found it. He had an unencrypted folder in his documents labeled `Grave Matters' that she stumbled upon. Within were seven documents, each one baring a label for each Slayer under his care, including Faith. It was the fifth and sixth documents that caught Faith's attention and forced her to reevaluate the questions she'd come in here with, however.

She hadn't once considered the reason there had been a vacancy on the team for her to fill. She hadn't even thought about the Slayer there before her. Faith's mind began to race as she accessed the files. And the horrifying thought occurred to her that whatever the reason behind the sudden vacancy, it would explain why Giles had brought her in despite Diana's presence.



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