Hear No Evil
by Queen Zulu
Faith wasn't following the rules.
Faith grabbed the latest X-Men comic off her pile of reading material and cranked the volume on her CD player. She propped her feet up on the table and flipped to her place, leaning the chair onto its back legs. She'd just settled in to the story when there was a knock on the door.
"Come on in," she yelled over the music. "It's open." She figured if it was somebody complaining about the noise, she could just toss them out on their ass, and if B and them had somehow found her, she could do the same.
The Boss came in, tsk, tsking as he locked the deadbolt behind himself. He looked at Faith and shook his head. "That's not very safe, in a neighbourhood like this one," he said. "Who knows who might waltz right in?"
"I'm a Slayer," Faith said. "Not a problem, way I see it."
"You're a tough one, firecracker, but we don't need the world knowing that." The Boss walked over to the CD player and shut it off. "Now, I have some things to discuss with you." He frowned. "Hey. Faith. Feet off the table. That's not polite...or sanitary."
Faith shrugged and slammed her feet to the floor. "Okay, Boss. What's up?"
The Boss took out a handkerchief and wiped the table where her boots had been, then tossed it into the garbage can. The world could do with more neatness and fewer slobs like her. Ah, well, to each tool its purpose.
The Boss raised an eyebrow. "I haven't started yet."
"No, what you said just now--" Faith stared at him suspiciously. "Didn't you say--"
"Yes?" He looked at her patiently, but his voice continued somewhere just on the edge of hearing. I might miss my tee time if she takes long to understand some simple instructions. If that PTA dad plays through past me one more time I swear I will roast him like a chestnut. I wonder if they still roast chestnuts somewhere in this town?
Faith jumped to her feet. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Really, Faith! Language!" Stupid little girl. If I could use anyone else to kill the Slayer.then, I suppose, beggars would ride. He shook his head and smiled.
"You--you want me to--" Faith cut herself off. The Boss peered at her suspiciously, and she knew better than to feel comfortable with that curious, amused gaze focused on her. She'd seen what happened to others who earned his interest like that. But what the hell was going on? How could she--was she hearing his thoughts?
"Nothing too important, really," he said, but he was staring at her like she was suddenly all too interesting--like a vamp finding a puppy tied up in a cemetery. "Just a few little distractions for Buffy Summers." She won't kill her without a struggle yet. Really must do something about those pesky morals. If I have to act proud and paternal around her one more time I think I might be sick...I hope I have enough moist towelettes.
Faith took a step back, feeling like she'd been sucker-punched by B. He'd been faking all this time--he didn't give a shit about her. She didn't even know why she was surprised.
"Are you feeling all right, Firecracker?" His eyebrows drew together in a frown of concern, and Faith nodded.
"Fine. I'm--" Faith shook her head to clear out the extra voice swirling around inside, but it insisted on being heard.
If I have to kill this one, too, I don't know where I'll get someone to take on her responsibilities, it said. It was soft, reflective, with just a little edge of cheerful good humour. Fuck, it sounded exactly like the Boss when he talked out loud. It can be so difficult finding appropriate candidates for these positions...and without Alan I'll have to interview them myself, I suppose.
"--fine." She didn't know what was going on and there was no way she could ask him. He'd kill her for sure if he knew she could hear what he was thinking. "You want me to distract B? Got something in mind? Maybe I could just knock her around a bit."
The Boss laughed. "Now that's my Faith." She's up to something. "But it's not very subtle, is it? After all, I think you'll agree Buffy and her vampire outplayed you last week, hmm?"
Faith scowled. She shifted from foot to foot, hating B for that psych-out, but hating the Boss more for what he'd been thinking. "I nearly took her out."
Good, she's still bothered by that. Such an easy one to manipulate. Well, as long as she follows instructions, I'll let her live. "And you can again, I'm sure. Now, Faith, I need you to find her weaknesses.what would hurt her the most. Removing Angel? Her mother, perhaps?" The Boss smiled gently. How far will she go? "Remember, these are just ideas. We don't want to be hasty."
"Yeah. Whatever." Faith kicked at the table leg. He thought she was soft, that she wouldn't do what he asked. If she wanted to keep her skin intact, she'd show him she could hurt B with the worst of them. "I could dust soulboy if you wanted."
Of course she's jealous. Poor, petty girl. Probably doesn't even know she's in love with the Slayer. "Well, it's something to keep in mind." The Boss took out another handkerchief and wiped his hands, then put it back. "For now I want you to watch her. No confrontations, now, you understand?"
"Yeah." Faith tried to grin, like she was excited, like she hated B and wanted to hurt her. Like she hadn't heard that about her loving B. Because she didn't. That was just stupid. Even the Boss could have some stupid thoughts now and then.
He smiled back at her. "That's my girl." I wonder if my new putter is ready?
"Right." Faith edged towards the door, trying to get him to leave. "No time like right now." He finally left, and his thoughts faded away as he went.
Faith grabbed her jacket and headed out. She needed to know what the hell was going on, and there was only one place she figured she could get help--Sunnydale High library, and the Scoobies.
That is, if they would even listen to her.
Faith snuck into the high school when she knew everyone was in class. As soon as the door closed behind her, voices came in a wave that nearly overwhelmed her--thinking if x is pi then y is.huh? and damn kids wouldn't do their homework to save their lives and I can't believe she wore the same thing as me and I wish I was dead.
Faith put her hands to her ears and glared at the empty hallway. If she concentrated, she could block out most of it, but it still felt like she was surrounded by the entire school, all having different conversations at a yell. She shook her head and went to the library, taking a roundabout route to avoid Snyder's approaching thoughts.
Maybe it was just the regular library quiet, but everything calmed down once she was through the doors. She could hear Giles in the back office, reading, the words of his book coming in loud and clear. She went up to the check out desk, cautiously, knowing that she wasn't exactly going to be winning any popularity awards around here any time soon. Not as long as they all had Little Miss Perfect to take care of their evil for them.up to and including her.
Hmm, should check the Codex.maybe cross-reference it with Humphrey's Grimoire. Giles stepped out of the office, a cup of tea in one hand, the book he was still half-reading open in the other.
"Hey, G-man." Faith tapped her fingers on the countertop, trying not to look as nervous as she felt.
Giles looked up and froze, his fingers tightening on his cup, and closed the book with a snap. Faith grinned at him, trying to look as badass as possible. She was pretty impressed with him, really--Wesley would have screamed like a girl and probably pissed himself if she'd startled him like that. But he didn't need to know that. He put down his tea and the book, slowly, like he was trying not to provoke a mad dog. Which was pretty much what his thoughts were saying.
The tranquilizer gun under the counter.I think I can reach it before she comes closer. "Hello, Faith."
Faith watched his hands slide out of sight. "No offense, G-man, but we both know I'm the quicker draw, right? And if I was here to mess you up, I think I could still get a few good ones in before the tranqs kicked in. So maybe you want to get on this side of the counter before I start thinkin' you aren't being very friendly."
There was no outward sign that he'd been affected by her words, but the fear in his thoughts was very satisfying. He brought his hands back up and came around the counter. "What can I do for you, Faith?"
Faith shoved her hands in her pockets. She didn't want to be here, and she hoped to get out before any of the Scoobies showed up. This hearing thoughts thing was pretty awesome.she could hear enemies coming, she could have the upper hand in confrontations, and she could out-think even Giles. But she knew better than to trust any ability that suddenly popped into her head on a Hellmouth. Plus, her hand still itched, and she was getting a monster headache from being around so many people--the thoughts of everybody in town pressing against hers. This was obviously not going to end well if she just ignored it. She eyed Giles up and down, noticing how tense he was, and decided he was even less impressed with her being here. Best to get it out of the way all at once. "I got a problem."
"And you think I would be willing to help you?" Giles asked, his voice steady and dangerous. His mind was still scared, though, and Faith gave him a lazy grin.
"Yeah, I think you will." She walked towards him, wondering if he'd flinch. He didn't, but his thoughts said it had been a pretty close call. She brushed by him to sit in Buffy's regular chair at the Scooby table. She'd show him. She was a Slayer, too, Goddamn it, and it was about time he started acting like it.
"What seems to be the trouble? Does betraying your calling not sit well with you anymore?" He'd turned to watch her, but he was standing stiffly, as far from her as the space allowed.
Faith felt a flash of anger--the G-man would defend his Slayer to the death, no matter what a bitch she'd been--but she didn't show it. Much as it hurt her pride, she needed him. "I go where I'm appreciated," she said. It started out sounding strong, defiant, but halfway through she remembered what the Boss had been really thinking about her all this time, and she trailed off into a mumble. Damn him. Damn Giles.
"Listen, I killed these demons the other night--" she started.
Probably utterly innocent creatures.
"You don't know that!" she said, thumping a fist down on the table. "All demons are evil in the end. What do you think, I go looking for the ones that haven't done anything wrong.at least, not while they're sucking up to B about being reformed?"
Giles' eyebrows rose and he started to clean his glasses, but she'd caught the trailing image in his mind: Jenny.lying on the bed...rose petals on the stairs and Bolero floating in the air... "You heard what I thought," he said flatly.
"Yeah. I did. And I wanna know what it means."
"I have no intention of helping you, Faith. The fact that you believed otherwise shows that you might be able to read minds, but you are still deluding yourself. You are a tool of the Mayor's. You're still refusing to face the consequences of your actions." Giles settled his glasses back on his nose and turned his back on her.
She tried to hear what he was thinking, but all of a sudden it was like a door had slammed down. His thoughts were a bunch of nonsense--'Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe.
"Hey!" Faith jumped up from the table and grabbed him by the shoulder before he could get back to the office. She spun him around, fighting not to hold him too hard and hurt him. "Listen, G-man." She saw his frown, and amended, "Giles. Look. I know, okay? I could hear him, the Boss.I mean, the Mayor. And you're right, okay? That make you feel better?"
Giles brushed her hand off his shoulder. "No." And as in uffish thought he stood, the Jabberwock with eyes of flame came whiffling through the tulgey woods, and burbled as it came.
Faith backed up a step, trying to shake the poetry out of her head. "Could you lighten up with the Jabberwock?" she asked. "I...my head hurts."
Giles looked at her more closely. "It's painful?"
Faith rubbed the back of her neck with one hand, frowning at him. "It wasn't at first. But there's a lot of people around, you know? They think too much."
"How far can you hear?"
"The whole school...maybe more." Faith closed her eyes and fought to get back to the point where she'd been in charge of this conversation. "Lay off my case, G-man. You help me, or--" She paused and glared at him, trying to find his worst thought. "Or I'll tell B how you and Mrs. S. bumped uglies on the hood of a cop car."
Giles opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. The last stanza of the Jabberwocky faded out of his mind. Pressing her advantage, Faith added, "Twice."
Giles went red. "Fine. You have my co-operation. But, Faith.there can be no going back to the Mayor once this ends. If you know his thoughts, you know he cannot possibly truly care for you."
"Yeah." Faith turned away. "Let's just get this over with. I want to get out of here--"
Before she could finish, she heard them coming--Red, Xander, Oz, and Cordy. She spun to face the library doors, her fists clenching. The doors swung open and they all walked in, their words and thoughts babbling together. They shut up as soon as they saw her, but their thoughts kept going. It sure as hell wasn't flattering.
Xander opened his big mouth first. "You know, I was just thinking it would be great if people who turned traitor on us and hurt our friends visited us more often."
"No, you weren't," Faith said. "You were thinking about getting Cordy into the broom closet during study hall."
"What?" Xander asked, looking sideways at Cordy. "That's really...what?"
"Why are you here, Faith?" Red asked, glaring at her through narrowed eyes.
"That's cold, Red, it really is." Faith put her hands on her hips. "I'm giving up evil, I came to see if Soulboy had support group I could join. Because you guys forgive just about anybody once they say they're going good, right? I wanted to jump on the bandwagon."
She's laughing at us because she thinks she can get away with it. She's probably just here to spy on us. Why hasn't Giles thrown her out?
"As if he could," Faith muttered, mostly to herself, but Red heard her anyway.
"You were listening to me think!" she said. "Giles, Faith was listening to me think! Wait, how'd she do that?" She looked suspiciously at Faith and thought, Skank!
"Thanks." Faith matched Red's glare with her own. "It's better than dressing like a runaway circus tent, anyway."
Giles stepped between them and held his arms out as though to separate them. "It would appear that Faith has gained the ability to read minds," he said. "We're going to research the problem and see if we can reverse the effect."
"Research it? Why not just let her suffer knowing what we all really think of her?" Red said.
"Would you prefer that someone who has proved willing to join with the Mayor be able to know exactly what our plans are?" Giles asked. "It's better that this ends, as soon as possible."
"But we don't have any plans," Xander said. The other three turned and glared at him. "What? We don't. She probably heard it from Giles first."
"Actually, as a Watcher, I have ways of shielding my mind against telepathic intrusion," said Giles. Faith grinned at him--he was a pretty smooth liar--but he ignored her and continued, "But thank you, Xander. Confirming our lack of strategies was an excellent idea."
I don't see how any of this concerns me. "I don't see how any of this concerns me," Cordy said with an impatient sigh.
"Giles is right," Red said. "The sooner we figure this out, the sooner we can get rid of her. And when Buffy comes--"
"There will be no fighting," Giles said. "Faith came to me of her own free will. She is not our prisoner."
"Too bad," Red said, and went to the table. Oz followed her, passing Faith with only a mild glance.
We are the sum of our thoughts. If Faith knows all we think, then she knows all that we are. If she knows all that we are, then we are within her. We are in Faith. Faith is all of us. "Huh," Oz said.
Faith just stared at him. "Whoa, Oz, that's deep."
Oz looked at her sideways. If Faith is me, then I am Faith. That which she does, we have all done.there is no evil in her that is not in all of us. When she looks into the abyss, the abyss looks into her. "I guess."
"Thanks," Faith said. "I think."
She knows what Oz is thinking. I don't know what he's thinking. She's going to know him better than I do.that's not fair. She's evil. Why couldn't someone good get telepathy when we need it?
"Hey, Red, it's not like that. And I'm not fucking evil, okay? I just--" Faith stopped. There was really nowhere to go from there, and Red wasn't going to believe her anyway.
I hate how she can hear what I think. I don't want to be here, near her. She's just going to screw us over.she's going to hurt Buffy again.
"When did I hurt Buffy?" Faith asked. "She's the one who played me. She got herself into that. Deadboy didn't even go for me. His loss."
Red stood up, her face set and resolved. "Get the hell out of my head, Faith." I can't stay here. She's going to hear it all...I've got to warn Buffy. "I'm leaving. Giles, I'll come back and research later, okay?"
"All right, Willow." Giles set a stack of books on the table. "But be aware that we might not have much time to work on this. It could get worse before it gets better."
Faith fidgeted, watching Red and Oz leave the library. "That's not very reassuring, G-man."
"It wasn't meant to be." Giles pointed to a book. "You may start with that one. Look for pictures of the demons you fought before this began."
Faith took the huge volume and tried to settle down with the others to a bout of researching. She tried to shut out the sound of the words they were reading and push aside her growing headache. But soon Xander was thinking so loudly that it was impossible to ignore him. Faith shoved herself back from the table and eyed him. He was pretending to read, but she could hear his internal babble.
Don't think about sex. Don't think about naked Faith. Oh, my God. Sex. Naked Faith. Sex with naked Faith. Stop it! Think about something else. Buffy's something else! Buffy. Naked Buffy. Naked Buffy with naked Faith. Sex with naked Buffy and naked Faith...
She rolled her eyes and burst out, "Jesus, Xander, tone it down, would you? It ain't gonna happen. Ever again." Faith paused, grinned at the others, and then quirked an eyebrow at him. "At least, not with you there."
Oh, my God. She heard it all. And she--does that mean--with Buffy--oh my God.
Cordelia smacked the back of Xander's head. "Stop thinking!"
Xander cringed and lifted a hand to his head, his face still beet-red. Buffy and Faith. Faith and Buffy. Buffy and. "I, um, I think I gotta--I mean, uh--sorry. Bye."
"Yeah, don't ruin your pants over me, stud," Faith called after him, disgusted with the fading sounds of his thoughts. She met Cordy's glare evenly. "Hey, not my fault if your boy's not satisfied by the broom closet."
Bitch. "You know, bitch is a good look on you, Faith," Cordelia shot back. It makes last week's fling with utter stupidity seem like the good old days. "It makes last week's fling with utter stupidity seem like the good old days." I don't see why we're helping someone who's gone evil. "I don't see why we're--"
"Yeah, Cordy, I get it. Think faster, maybe your brain won't miss your mouth next time." Faith slammed herself down into her chair sideways, dangling her feet over its arm. Cordelia gave a disgusted snort and stormed out of the library.
Giles stared at her mildly. "You do have a talent for alienating people who could be your friends," he said. Poor child. She's had a difficult life.lost her Watcher.now this. If only they could forgive her; if only she didn't insist on hiding herself behind her independence. Hard to believe she's only just turned sixteen. Though, of course, I was just like her at that age. Perhaps I'm not one to talk.
"I don't need your pity," Faith said. "And you suck at shielding your thoughts."
"It's not pity. It's compassion." Giles tilted his head. "You'd do well to know the difference." And I am capable of shielding. If I choose not to, it is only to show you that minds cannot lie. This is trust, Faith. Value it for what it is.
Faith didn't know what to say. She wanted to think he was trying to trap her by playing nice, but she couldn't. He was right; she could feel it. His mind couldn't lie to her. The things she was hearing were true, no matter how people felt about them. And after coming here in broad daylight, she knew she couldn't go back to the Boss. He'd make her into fondue. Maybe she could come back, sort of, apologize to Red and B, and try to make it right. Maybe--
Again, she heard the babble of thoughts before the library doors swung open. It was B, bright and airy and unconcerned. Obviously Red hadn't found her and told her Faith was there. She came in, smiling, but the smile disappeared the moment she saw who was sitting at the table.
"Faith," she said, quietly, but her mind was screaming rage and revenge and jealousy and embarrassment. Faith stood up and walked towards her, Giles following behind her.
"Listen, B--" she started, and then one voice rose over all the others in her head.
THIS TIME TOMORROW I WILL KILL YOU ALL.
Faith stumbled and fell forward into B's arms, clutching her head, and the world went dark around her.
Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay...
That thought was running in circles through Faith's mind as she woke up, wondering where she was and how she'd gotten there. Wherever it was, it was soft and warm and--moving. She was being carried. She'd fallen...and apparently B had caught her. The slimy horror of the last thought she'd heard--this time tomorrow I will kill you all--was still there, in the back of her mind, but it was overtaken by the sheer closeness of B's worry and concern.
What had happened to all the anger she'd been about to blast Faith with in the library?
Faith didn't have time to find out, because waking up brought back the headache, and she moaned in pain. All at once B stopped and set her down. She squinted her eyes open and saw they were on the lawn across the street from the school. Giles and B leaned over her, both of them thinking at once.
Is she awake?
I was wrong to make light of this.
I need her...Faith...damn it-- It could kill her...
--after everything she's done I still--
...or worse. It could
drive her insane...
Faith pushed herself up, holding her head. "Shut up! Shut up, just--both of you--stop thinking!"
"What's she talking about?" asked B, staring at Giles. "Why's she like this? Why's she even here?" After what happened last week...she came back...
"Faith slayed a demon whose blood imparted an aspect of itself to her," Giles said.
"Giles! English would be helpful here." B was looking angry again, the cold and distant anger that she'd shown when Faith had staked that guy...Alan. But now Faith could see behind it to the fear. Why is it hurting her? Will she be all right?
Why did B care so much?
"She can hear thoughts," Giles said. "It's not something that she can control, and it seems to be getting worse." Will Buffy react like Willow did? Can no one help her? It's no longer my duty, but I am still a Watcher...
She can hear me? Oh, my God. What was I thinking? Did she hear it all? When I was carrying her? She was so soft and--shut up, shut up, she can hear you--
Faith shook her head, knowing it would do no good but needing to distance herself from all the minds around her. She didn't want to know what B was thinking, even. It felt wrong--worse than knowing about everyone else around her--like she was invading B's privacy. And none of it made sense, anyway. B hated her. She knew that. "I--I'm fine. I gotta go back." She shoved herself to her feet, but nausea and dizziness gripped her and she nearly fell. B was holding her again, helping her to sit back down.
"Stay right here. You need--" B waved one hand helplessly at Giles. The other one was still wrapped around Faith's shoulders, keeping her upright. "Giles? What does she need?"
"I don't know yet. I had only just found the information on the demon she killed when she fainted. I'll need to do more research."
"No!" Faith struggled in B's arms, but it felt like all her strength had leaked away. "You gotta listen to me--there was someone in the school who was gonna kill everyone. I mean, there was a voice--thought--whatever. I gotta go back and find 'em."
"Wait a moment, Faith. You can barely stand." Giles sighed. This is affecting her quite badly...it's best if we keep her away from too many people's thoughts. "Buffy, do you think you could gather the others? We need to find a cure for Faith as well as, apparently, a murderer in our midst."
"You believe her? About the voice? And--well, everything?" B asked. She was still trying to sound harsh, but Faith knew it was just a front, and hated that she knew. Enemies she understood. This was getting weird, complicated. She shivered in the breeze and B hugged her tighter. Faith's so warm...
"Yes, I do. And, Buffy...I haven't told the others, yet, but she has promised not to go back to the Mayor." Giles took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I trust her."
He does, too. And I want to believe her...I want her to be good again. I want her back...
"No, you don't," Faith said. "You can't. I--you--I'm bad. I'm bad. You don't--"
"I promise you, Faith, it's true. Your actions were wrong, but that doesn't mean--"
"Not you," Faith said. "B. You don't. Not really."
B's face turned pale, then went bright pink. She really did hear me. What do I think now? She's listening to me--I can't deal with this, she'll know everything, and then...
"I'm sorry, B." Faith scrambled away from her, trying to escape her thoughts with distance. She got to her feet, still shaky. "I don't mean to do it, I'm sorry. Just--go get the bastard who's killing everybody. You can do it."
"What exactly did you hear, Faith?" Giles asked, standing beside her and putting a steadying hand on her elbow. I must get her somewhere safe before long.
"Sounded like--it was weird." Faith felt like pulling away from Giles' hand, but she knew he was only trying to help. Somehow the thoughts were stronger when she touched somebody. She concentrated on the voice she'd heard. "I couldn't tell if it was a guy or girl, but they said, 'This time tomorrow I will kill you all'." She paused, then added, "And, before--when I was coming into the school--I heard a guy thinking he wished he was dead."
She looked up when she heard Willow approaching, towing Oz and Xander behind her across the school grounds. She nearly backed away from them--from the anger she felt from Red, especially--but she was a Slayer, and she didn't back away from anything. Giles' thoughts were smooth and calm, coming to her from the touch of his hand, and she drew on his strength to face the other Scoobies.
"Buffy!" Red cried as she nearly ran across the street. "Are you okay? Faith can read minds! I just thought--uh..." She trailed off with a glance at Xander and Oz. "Uh, that you would...want to know. With the...hearing thoughts. And. Um." Did Faith hear what Buffy thinks? What will she do? Probably just laugh. She would, too, just to hurt her...And now I'm thinking it. Stupid brain--
"Yeah, Will, I heard." Buffy glanced at Faith and then deliberately stepped away from her, closer to Red. "She says there's someone in the school who wants to kill everyone. We need to find out who it is, who has a motive." And find a cure...
"I think the lunch lady's been trying to kill us for years," Xander said. "But then, who hasn't idly speculated about just blowing this place up?"
"Xander, you're not helping," B said.
"Idly, I said!" Jeez, nobody can take a joke. If it turns out I'm right about the lunch lady, I'm going to say 'I told you so' every day for a month.
Red tugged at B's arm, pulling her to one side, as if three feet of distance could stop Faith from knowing what she said. "Are you sure she's not just telling us this to get us busy, distract us? She's still evil, isn't she? Working for the Mayor? And what about--" Red made a little nodding gesture and raised her eyebrows, like some secret code. --that thing you told me before, her thoughts finished.
B glanced over her shoulder. Faith looked away, like she was completely absorbed in Xander wondering why Cordy hadn't met him in the broom closet and Oz's metaphysical debate with himself. I shouldn't trust her...but I do. I haven't spoken to Angel once about what happened, and Willow's right. But I don't want her in my head.
Faith yanked away from Giles' hand and stalked over to them. "Why the hell are you just standing around? You've got until lunch time tomorrow to find some crazy killer."
"Oh, and here I thought one was standing right in front of me," Red said, all false-innocent.
"Willow--" B put a hand on Red's arm, but she shook it off.
"I'm sorry, Buffy, but this stinks." Red glared at Faith and then turned back to B. "After the way you psyched Faith out last week, I think she's just trying to get back at you. She's probably faking that this telepathy is even hurting her. She's going to find out everything in our heads and then go running back to the Mayor to tell him." Buffy needs to know...Faith's not like Angel. She can't just turn back time. She's not what Buffy thinks. It's not just a Slayer thing, it's Faith. That's all. Just a friend-stealing ho who doesn't have a clue what's going on right in front of her.
"Willow's right, Buff," Xander added. "This is no time to go all Oxygen Network. You can't just cry and hug and forget what she's done." What she did to me.
Faith looked to Oz, but he only looked back at her mildly. They're right...even if they're wrong.
"Fine," she said. "I'll find out who it is myself." She rushed past them, back towards the sea of thoughts that was Sunnydale High. If it was possible, they were even louder than before, screaming and laughing and crying. Going towards them was like pushing against a physical barrier, pressing against her own mind's resistence. It hurt like a motherfucker, like a thousand nails driving into her head, and she was hardly back on the school grounds before she collapsed to one knee, then fell forward again. She pushed for the information, for the scent? sound? feel? of whoever the killer was. The pain came in waves, rushing over her, dancing in black spots across her vision.
Then there were hands on her shoulders, pulling her back. She can't do this to herself. She came back, she needs our help. I'm not going to screw it up this time. There's still so much I need to say to her.
"Come on, Faith. I believe you. I'll find them." B helped her up. "Whoever it is." I'm going to take her home. Mom still wants to help. She can stay there. "You hear me? You're going to rest."
Faith leaned heavily on her, walking to the parking lot where Giles had brought his old battered car around. "I can do it," she mumbled. "Red's wrong. I'm not going back, B. I promise."
"Okay," B said. "That's good." Thank you.
"You're welcome." Faith had lost track of what B was really saying and what was only in her head. She felt drunk and like she had the universe's worst hangover all at the same time, and she couldn't think. She let herself be manhandled into the front seat of Giles' car, still trying to apologise, to explain. "Angel didn't want me, you know. I didn't want him either. Guess that didn't work. We were both thinking--thinking too much."
Thinking about what? Why can't Angel tell me what really happened? Why can't I tell him how I really feel about him--about what we did?
"'Bout you, I guess," Faith answered, letting her head roll back onto the seat. Giles got in beside her, his worry blasting out at her, the rest of his mind busy on his remembered research. He started the car, thinking about demon genera and sub-species and magical influences over Slayers. B thumped the passenger side door shut.
Please don't die, Faith.
"Okay," she whispered, slumping down in her seat. B's mind was wide open to her now, even as they were driving away, and before she passed out again, B's was the last thought she heard.
I love you.
Buffy stared after Giles' car until he turned a corner, trying for one last glimpse of the dark head pressed against the window. Willow and Xander ran up behind her--she'd left them all in the dust rushing to get to Faith. Oz followed more slowly, hands in his pockets, watching her with particular mix of curiosity and understanding.
"So what now?" Xander asked. "Back to the caf for some yummy Jell-O snacks? They're putting grapes in it today. It's crazy, I know, but darn it, it just might work."
Buffy fought down the urge to give Xander a friendly throttling. "No. We're going to research. Will, I need you to look for anything that can cure Faith. Giles said he'd found what kind of demon caused it--the book's on his desk. Xander, you and Oz make a list of anybody who might want to go postal on the school. Find them, question them, tie them down if you have to."
"But, Buffy--" Willow made an apologetic grimace. "We have that quiz on Othello in English today, and..."
"You think that matters?" Buffy asked incredulously. "This is more important. This is--well, there's a killer on the loose."
"But we still don't know that," Xander said. "Okay, I agree, Faith's really sick...but are we just going to believe her?"
Willow shrugged. "I guess Buffy's right. We can't afford not to. I mean, if we don't do anything, and everyone gets killed tomorrow, saying 'Oh, Faith, turns out you were right, oops', isn't going to help."
"Well, I think we should all work on that, then," Xander said. "There's like, eight hundred suspects if we're talking about the whole school. Narrowing it down isn't going to be easy."
Buffy folded her arms against the breeze. That night in the alley, she'd been the one to shove Alan Finch to the ground, caught up in the energy of the slay. She'd been happy, finding the fun, like Faith wanted her to. She'd come so close to saying something--or just grabbing Faith and showing her exactly what kind of fun she wanted to find. And then--she'd almost staked that man herself. One second later, or if Faith had been the one to push him down... It was Ted all over again. That had been the first time she'd lost control, and killed a human--or so she'd thought. Why hadn't she ever told Faith about that? Why did she have to back down when Faith had closed her out? She'd been scared, afraid of what she felt, of what she'd almost done, and now--
She looked up at Willow and Xander, both of them staring at her with concern. Would they have condemned her like they had Faith, if she'd been the one to kill Finch? They didn't know how close it had been...and they never would know; they'd always assume she could restrain herself. But Faith was the poster girl for recklessness, so they just let it all rest on her. They didn't see what Buffy could--that the brash, sexy, overconfident Faith hid someone deeper, someone scared. That was the Faith who had driven off with Giles, her mask stripped away by the pain and the confusion of the demon's aspect.
"We're supposed to be the good guys," she said, finally, quietly.
"Yeah...we are," Xander said, with a confused frown. "See, saving people, right? No mass murders on our watch."
Buffy shook her head. Why couldn't he understand? It was too easy to be self-righteous, play the game as if everything was black and white. "You guys keep saying Faith's evil, but...if we let her die, then what does that make us?"
Xander's face fell, and his dark eyes were solemn. "This is really what you want to do?"
"No," Buffy said honestly. "It's not." What she really wanted to do was to go home and sit beside Faith. She wanted to watch over her, as if being there were the only way to be sure that she didn't fade away. But Xander was in no way ready to hear that. "But it's what we have to do."
Willow reached out and took Oz's hand. "We have to help her," she said. "I know. But it's just--"
"It's Faith, Will," Buffy said. It was all she could say, and it came out sounding weak and lost. She didn't want this--she'd hidden her feelings for so long, and she thought she'd buried them completely. She could have been Faith's enemy, so easily. She could have hated her, turned back to Angel for comfort, forgotten all about this. Left Faith, and all the difficulties she represented, behind. But now, it seemed, everything was forcing her feelings to the top again.
Oz nodded decisively. "So we do it," he said.
Willow smiled at him. "Right. And the sooner the better." She poked Xander in the ribs. "Xander?"
"Yeah. Okay." Xander tried a grin. "Scoobies to the rescue. I won't even hold it against you if we have to write a make-up essay for English class. Come on, Oz, I'll let you play sappy good cop to my tough-as-nails bad cop."
Oz raised an eyebrow at Buffy, gave Willow's hand one last squeeze, and followed Xander.
Willow gave Buffy a little half-smile and touched her hand. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know...with everything...and, okay, I'm supporto-girl, here. I am. But you need to know--I still don't trust Faith not to go running back to the Mayor. And--well, I just don't want to see you get hurt."
Buffy shook her head. "That's not really up to you, Will."
"Yeah...but if it was, I'd kick Faith's butt five ways from Sunday," Willow said. "She--"
"She needs your help," Buffy interrupted. "I need your help."
Willow sighed. "Okay. Right. I am in full research mode. But what are you going to do?"
"I have some things to take care of," Buffy said. "I'll get back as soon as I can."
"All right...if you're sure." Willow tried to hide her worried frown behind a supportive smile.
"Yeah. Go on." Buffy waited until Willow had entered the school and stopped giving her worried glances over her shoulder. Then she set out at a run for Angel's mansion.
Angel looked up from the book he was reading when she burst through the thick curtains, bringing a swath of sunlight behind her. "Buffy," he said. "I wasn't expecting you..."
Buffy nodded. She stepped towards him, then stopped, and started pacing in front of the fireplace. This would be so much easier if she were the one who could read minds--she'd just see what he thought about her, about what he'd done with Faith, and then... Well, and then she'd be the one going insane, slowly and painfully, but somehow right now that seemed preferable to having this particular conversation.
"Last week--" she started, and hesitated. "When you were pretending for Faith..." She glanced over at him, but he was sitting there with a blank look on his face. Not that that was any different from his normal look, but this one seemed more purposefully blank. She bit her lip, then plunged ahead. "You didn't, uh--I mean, you kissed her, but you didn't--" She tried to finish the sentence by jutting out her chin and making a little hand motion.
"No." Angel set his book down. "Is that what you've been worried about this week? Whether I slept with Faith? Because, Buffy--"
"No, it's not." Buffy stopped pacing and faced him. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, watching her with gentle concern. His eyes were dark, nearly the same colour as Faith's, but so different--instead of her wild brightness, Buffy could only see the shadow of a hundred years of brooding. He'd been truly happy just once in all that time, and it was her fault. It hurt, that she still felt guilty for making him happy. And even then it had been a kind of tender, unhurried yearning, because he'd thought he had all the time in the world. If it had been Faith--
Buffy felt her face warm. If it had been Faith, it would have been like getting caught in a thunderstorm, dazzling and unstoppable.
"Buffy, I didn't sleep with her, and I didn't want to sleep with her. Even if it was safe--I don't feel about her the way I do about you." Angel stood and wrapped his arms around her. He was cold, as always, but she remembered how Faith had felt when she'd carried her from the school, the heat surrounding her body like an aura. She shivered, and turned her head into Angel's chest so that she wouldn't have to look at him.
"Do you ever think about the future?" She closed her eyes, listening to the silence where a heartbeat ought to be, feeling the stillness where there should be the movement of his breath.
She made a small humphing noise, half muffling her words in his shirt. "But not the real future, right? You think about the future where this all somehow works out. I mean the future where the Mayor or a demon or some random vamp kills me, or the one where I get old and you just...keep going."
"I have thought about it, Buffy." His words were set and emotionless and again she thought how different Faith was, how every word she spoke was filled with something, innuendo or anger or laughter.
"And...it's not going to, is it?"
Faith would have understood what she meant. She sighed. "Work out. You and me. This. Us."
Angel took a step back and lifted a hand to her chin, trying to make her meet his eyes. She shrugged away from his hand and moved away from him.
"What are you saying?" he asked. "That it's over?"
Buffy picked up the poker and prodded at the dead ashes in the fireplace, keeping her back to him. "When I sent you to Hell..." She swallowed, but forced herself to continue, to talk about the things that they'd refused to acknowledge for so long. "I didn't say goodbye then. I kept thinking that somehow..." She shook her head. "But later--after Faith came--I had to let you go. I came back here. Left your ring on the floor. And the next thing I knew you were running wild in the woods, and then it was just so easy to fall back..."
"Is this about Faith?" At last, she heard something in his voice, hurt and anger, but it felt like it was coming from so far away.
Buffy took a deep breath and turned towards him. "Yes. And no. She--Faith's sick. A demon hurt her. She came back, and--"
"Like I did." Angel was frowning, his eyebrows beetling together. "And you want to think she's reformed?"
"I don't want to think that, I do think it...well, sort of. I mean, I think she wants to be reformed."
"Before Wesley showed up with those idiots from the Watcher's Council, I might have believed you," Angel said. "But now? She doesn't think she can trust us. And, frankly, she might be right. Last week you were holding knives to each other's throats. Now she's making nice, because she's sick? Maybe she's using you to find a cure, and then it's back to business as usual."
"She knows she can trust me," Buffy said simply.
"How?" The word was a challenge.
"The reason she's sick is that she can read minds," Buffy said. "It's killing her."
Angel stalked a few steps away and gave a frustrated sigh, staring at the black-curtained windows. "And this made you decide to come here and tell me you're ending it?"
"It's been ending for a long time," Buffy said. "That's what I came to say."
"I'll stay, you know." Angel's gaze was dark, helpless. "To be with you in the fight against the Mayor. But after that--"
Buffy nodded. "You'll leave Sunnydale?"
"Yes." He hesitated, then added, "You and Faith..."
"It's not what you think," she said. Yet.
"You don't know what I think." Angel's lips were tight. "That night I found you in the alley, with blood on your hands--you think I couldn't smell her on you?"
Buffy felt the blush staining her cheeks, but refused to turn away. He thought he could treat her like she was a criminal, but she'd done nothing wrong. "We'd been dancing."
"I know. I saw you. But I thought it was just her. I didn't know you wanted--" He shook his head. "I thought we were forever."
"I think you know," Buffy said, "that I don't have forever. And you just wanted me to say it first."
"Wait," Angel said.
She stared at him, waiting, but thinking of Faith, sick and helpless.
Finally, with a hopeless shrug, he said, "You're right. I didn't want to be the one to say it. I couldn't hurt you like that."
"I know," Buffy whispered.
She pushed through the draperies blocking the door and walked away from the mansion, and she didn't look back.