Chapter One

Faith gazed out of her apartment window, the soft rain dribbling down the glass to the dead plants in her window box. She’d put them there to make it feel like more of a home, but nowhere ever felt like home. Never had. They’d withered and died without her even noticing.

“Tell me the part where I have to go with you again, ‘cause I’m not getting it,” Faith said, her arms crossed over her chest.

“You’re going because I’d like you there. Things are a little prickly between Buffy and I right now; I could do with having you around, as a friend as much as a slayer,” Giles responded, his voice drifting over Faith’s shoulder as he stood by the kitchen table.

Faith looked away from the window and down to her scuffed boots. It felt nice to be called a friend, especially by Giles, but that didn’t make her feel any less wary about making the trip to Scotland. She wasn’t sure it was a good idea; her last meeting with Buffy hadn’t exactly gone well.

“She’s gonna be pissed,” she told him.

“She’ll have to deal with it; I informed her I wouldn’t go without you.”

Faith turned towards the man stood in her gloomy kitchen. His hair had more flecks of grey in it every day, and his clothes always seemed a little more winkled these days, but he still had an air of determined authority that Faith couldn’t ignore. She’d rebelled against Giles on many occasions, but he was no longer her superior. . .he was a friend.

“You can deal with the fallout then, G. . .I’m just the backup,” Faith said with a shrug.

She uncrossed her arms and held the back of the chair closest to her, trying to fight the dread inside at having to face Buffy so soon after their most recent fight.

“You’re much more than that, Faith,” Giles pointed out. “And really. . .I don’t understand why the two of you are still fighting this way. I thought you were getting along ok when we were in LA. . .or better at least.”

“Yeah, me too,” Faith agreed.

She didn’t have an answer as to why they were in a weird place again. After Sunnydale had imploded they’d been ok, or at least on the right track. Just before they’d started to move out, Buffy’s attitude towards Faith had changed. Faith had tried to talk to her, but Buffy had closed down, insisted she was busy preparing to move, and ignored Faith for the rest of their time in LA.

“Shit happens though, G,” Faith continued. “I learned to roll with it way back.”

Giles pulled his glasses off his nose and gave them a swipe with the end of his jacket. He’d learned not to push the questions with Faith. It was always better to let her open up in her own time. If he probed deeper, she would cut him off completely. It didn’t seem like she was any wiser about Buffy’s change than he was anyway.

“They’re expecting us in a few minutes,” he said. “Let’s hope Buffy decides to step down from her high horse enough to allow us to assist.”

Faith nodded and grabbed her leather jacket from the counter top; she shrugged it on and made her way to get her bag. There wasn’t much in it, just some essentials, a change of clothes or two. She didn’t know how long they’d be there but she was sure it wouldn’t be for more than a few days. A few days still seemed too long. There were other things she’d prefer to be doing, like helping out the few slayers she’d made contact with in the last two weeks or so. They needed her help more than Buffy, but here she was preparing to drop it all for her again. It hadn’t taken much convincing on Giles’ part to get her to shove some stuff into a bag and agree to tag along.

They stood in the kitchen together, bags in hands, a dark look on Faith’s face that told Giles all he needed to know about how she felt.

“They’ll be teleporting us any moment now so hang on to your hat,” Giles informed.

Faith raised an eyebrow and wondered if she should tell him she wasn’t wearing a hat. He was British, though, so she guessed it was just some weird British travelling phrase and let it go. He was getting more pissed at her constant jokes about his phrases every day, and she didn’t want to irritate him right before they got zapped to. . .

Landing with a crunch, Giles and Faith arrived in Scotland, a fog of green mist swirling around them before it lifted to reveal the hub of Buffy’s operation.

“Welcome to sunny Scotland,” Xander said, greeting them with open arms.

“Yes, thank you. . .now please do pass a bucket,” Giles spluttered, losing his lunch into a bright red bucket that was quickly pushed his way.

“Bucket, Faith?” Xander asked.

She shook her head, forcing down the queasy feeling that teleporting always caused.

“No thanks, five by five here,” she insisted.

As Giles composed himself and Faith looked around - taking in the handful of slayers and the large screens and computers on the far wall - Xander stepped down from his platform.

“Glad you could both make it,” he told them with a smile, instantly letting Faith know they were still cool, despite the spat with Buffy she’d had.

Faith dropped her bag to the floor and smiled back, feeling anxious through her resolve not to be. “So, some scrawny vamp has our scythe?” she asked, knowing that’s why they were there, but eager to get right to it.

“My scythe,” came a familiar voice as Buffy stepped out from behind some of the slayers in the room. She turned to Giles then and asked, “What is she doing here?”

Faith shook her head and bit her tongue. It wasn’t her place to explain. It hadn’t been her choice to come.

“Don’t be impertinent, Buffy,” Giles responded. “Faith is here because she can help.”

Buffy looked Faith over, her green eyes piercing and questioning. Faith didn’t speak, deciding it was better not to react. Reacting always landed her in trouble, and this was Buffy’s turf. She would let Giles explain, and hopefully they could avoid another fistfight.

“I’m not happy,” Buffy pointed out, “but we need the scythe back so. . .I guess we’ll find space for her somewhere.”

Buffy had been warned Faith was coming, but she still couldn’t quite believe she was stood there – large as life – expecting to just fit right in again. It made Buffy edgy. She had her reasons; not least the fact Faith had almost drowned her during their last ‘get together’.

“Right,” Faith mumbled, feeling the urge to tell Buffy to fuck off, but holding it in.

“You’ll do more than just find space, Buffy,” Giles cut in, not planning to allow Buffy to get away with belittling Faith. “Faith has been more use to me than you probably know or could guess, and since the unfortunate incident with Lady Genevieve she’s proven herself to be a very astute and important role model for some of the less fortunate new slayers.”

Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but she couldn’t find appropriate words to put Faith back in her place, not when Giles was backing her up so vehemently. It irritated her, but she wasn’t ready to throw down with Faith again. It had shocked her that they’d fallen so easily into doing that the last time, but then. . .she’d also been under the impression that Faith had swapped sides again.

“Fine, Xander will get you settled, then we’ll give you the run down on what we’re gonna do,” Buffy informed them. “And we’ll talk tomorrow,” she added in Faith’s direction.

She hurried out of the room before she could fully catch Faith’s eyes with her own. Buffy didn’t have time for all the baggage that came along with Faith. Not only that, but her life was in a strange place lately and she didn’t feel quite steady enough to keep from tripping over all that baggage. They had to talk however, and deal with their latest mess so they could get past it, at least to some extent. She didn’t want bad feelings growing again. It was too destructive.

After Xander had led Giles to his room he continued on with Faith, rubbing under the string of his eye patch now and then as a slightly awkward silence descended over them. Faith hoped Buffy hadn’t filled his head with lies about the fight; Xander had become somewhat of a friend in LA and she didn’t want that to turn to shit.

“You look pretty good up there bein’ all in-charge-guy, Xand,” Faith said. “Suits you.”

He smiled and looked proud. “I do what I can. Hell, it’s the least I could do.”

“She treat you good?” Faith asked.

“She’s still Buffy, but she’s our Buffy,” he responded. “A little quirky sometimes, and quick to break my balls if I mess up. . .but I wouldn’t change it.”

Faith knew how much he loved Buffy. Not in the way that meant he wanted to get naked with her, but in the way that meant he was always there. . .taking her shit and turning a blind eye when needed. He’d always be by her side, and Faith couldn’t fault him for that kind of loyalty, no matter how many slightly drunken nights they’d spent together in LA chatting up a storm about how insane Buffy could make a person.

She’d never told him how much Buffy had always had the ability to make her need to cross her legs and look for a quiet spot, but she had a feeling he kind of knew.

“This is your room,” Xander said as they stopped outside a large door. “Not one of the best rooms, kinda chilly, but. . .Buffy didn’t want you too close to her.”

He shrugged apologetically and she chuckled. Yeah, same old Buffy, even after all the crap they’d gone through fighting The First, and the apparent bonding they’d done in LA. It was clear; whatever bridges they’d built had come tumbling down again.

“Thanks, Xand. Don’t worry about me, I’ve stayed in crappier places,” she told him, patting him on the shoulder.

He informed her of the small meeting they’d be having in the hall and pointed her in the direction to go, then he left. Faith ran a hand through her hair and pushed open the door to her room, trying to ignore the ominous creak.

It wasn’t too bad inside. There was a bed at least, clean sheets, drapes at the window. The only other things occupying the room were a large chest of drawers and an old chair. On one wall there was a mirror and on the other a painting of a sinking ship. It reminded her of nowhere she’d ever been, yet felt familiar at the same time. Just another room. Another place that would never be home.

Once she’d pulled her clothes out of her bag, and tested the firmness of the bed, she checked her watch and left the room. Trying to fill the time before the meeting didn’t seem possible when all she had to do was look out at mist-covered hills. There was only so much scenery she could stare at without finding her mind wandering into places she’d rather not go.

“Hi,” a friendly voice greeted as Faith strolled down the corridor. “I’m guessing you’re Faith.”

Faith raised an eyebrow and gave a friendly nod back, glancing over the girl who obviously had a thing for teddy bears. She seemed nice. Unusual but nice.

“Buffy told me you and Giles were here already,” the girl said. “Ready to kick some vampire butt?”

Faith held in a chuckle but couldn’t help the smile. The girl was obviously trying to be nice, but Faith guessed maybe she didn’t know a lot about her, or her past.

“Always ready for that,” Faith replied.

She’d seen so many new slayers since LA, each one different in their own way, yet similar in their enthusiasm. It was only now and then that she came across slayers who seemed capable of crossing the line into not so good territory; much like Faith had done herself. This girl was clearly in no danger of disappearing into the possible darkness of being called.

“I know Buffy’s kinda pissed you’re here. . .but I think it’s cool. The more slayers the better, and I hear you’re one of the best,” the girl continued. “I’m Satsu by the way.”

She extended her hand towards Faith and Faith shook it.

“Some might say I’m even better than Buffy,” Faith joked, “but most of ‘em probably didn’t live past that.”

Faith winked as Satsu’s eyes went a little wide. She had no doubt Buffy’s followers were all just as loyal as Xander. She was happy it was that way; it meant Buffy had good back up, and that she was safe. Safer than Faith was anyway.

“I’m glad you could come help,” Satsu said, “but I just thought I’d better let you know that Buffy has a lot of friends here. Including me.”

Faith took it as a note of warning, and Satsu’s dark eyes left her in no doubt. She understood it to mean what it did; no matter how ‘cool’ anybody thought it was to have her there finally, she would never be held in the regard Buffy was, and one foot out of place would send a ton of angry slayers after her. Satsu had some balls, Faith couldn’t deny that. . .and it was clear now that she probably knew at least some of the past Faith-Buffy rift. Just how much she knew Faith couldn’t tell.

“Gotcha,” Faith said, her smile still in place.

She wasn’t about to feel threatened by anybody, but she respected the attempt. It was just another hammer, bashing away at Faith and keeping her down, in her place, below Buffy.

They parted as the corridor broke left and right further down, Faith heading towards the sound of voices. She felt out of place. Lost in a big castle. The place was full of slayers but she still felt like she was on the outside; like she didn’t fit in. After rambling around the twisting corridors for a while she made her way to where she thought the meeting was being held, bumping into Giles on the way.

Once everybody in the know got situated in the hall for the meeting, Buffy breezed in with Satsu in tow. It was clear Satsu was Buffy’s top slayer. Faith could only conclude that must be the case, as only a handful of other slayers were there, and none of them had a seat right by Buffy.

It’d been three nights since the scythe had been taken, and they’d done nothing but plan for their counterattack since. Every detail laid out. Every possible angle covered. Buffy went over the plan of attack, briefing the slayers and the scoobs on what their roles were. She gave Giles a spot next to Xander in the comms room, and told Faith she would be with the slayers outside, dealing with the guards and minions. Buffy and Satsu would break in and get the scythe, calling for backup if needed. Faith didn’t need any more confirmation that Satsu was very much trusted by Buffy.

She looked away, staring out of the window into the fog, her thoughts slipping back in time to a place that hurt; to a place when Buffy had never given her the same amount of trust.

“So we’ll be ready by tonight. Any questions?” Buffy asked as the meeting began to wrap up.

Giles cleared his throat and stood from his seat. “Though I have no doubt about Satsu’s abilities, I was wondering if it would be more prudent for Faith to accompany you to get the scythe, Buffy. . .rather than have her outside with the rest of the slayers,” he said.

“She’ll stay outside. I’m used to working with Satsu,” Buffy replied, clearly agitated by his question. “If anybody has a problem with that say so now.”

A few of the slayers coughed uncomfortably, and Xander shuffled in his chair. Clearly there was some tension about something, but Faith couldn’t tell what it was.

“I think everybody’s fine with it, Buffy,” Willow spoke up from the corner of the room.

Faith had avoided eye contact with Willow since bumping into her on the way in to the hall. They were still a little uncomfortable around each other, but that was to be expected considering what had happened in LA just before everybody took off. Still, it wasn’t like they were enemies, or that they couldn’t or didn’t talk. . .it was just a little uneasy. She caught Faith’s eyes as she moved further into the room, no hint of animosity making her feel unwelcome. It made Faith feel a little better, even if she was still confused about the obvious tension amongst everybody and the fact nobody had said much about how the scythe had been taken.

The room went silent again and Buffy glanced over at Satsu. She didn’t want anybody questioning her authority because of what had happened on the night the scythe was stolen. She was aware that the girls were talking about it amongst themselves, petty jealousy raising its head a little as they grumbled about favouritism. She was still in charge, and Satsu was still her best slayer. . .regardless of whatever else had happened between them.

The hope to avoid any ill feeling in the camp had been shattered as soon as Xander – and everybody else - had walked in on them on their first night together. Word had spread quickly, and whispers behind hands were now commonplace. Buffy had wanted to quash it, stop the talking, and also stop any future involvement with Satsu that wasn’t purely professional, but that had gone out of the window by the following night. They’d ended up in bed together again, twice.

“We’ll meet back here then,” Buffy said, wrapping it up finally.

The slayers began to filter out, leaving only the major players behind. Satsu remained, and Faith watched as Buffy leant towards her, whispering something in her ear.

“Just one more thing,” Giles spoke up. “How exactly did Dracula manage to get past all the defences here?”

Buffy blinked and looked toward Xander, who looked toward Willow.

“Um, we’re not sure,” Willow replied. “It might have been Xander.”

“Ah,” Giles nodded, understanding. “I thought I’d ask just in case Dracula had been able to use his thrall on Buffy once more.”

Faith listened in but said nothing as Xander scratched his head and Buffy fidgeted as if she was anxious about something.

“It definitely wasn’t Buffy,” Willow explained. “She was. . .busy, when they came.”

“Too busy to notice you were under attack?” Giles asked, clearly a little dismayed that she’d allowed such a thing to happen.

Buffy stood from her seat next to Satsu and moved closer to Giles. “Hey, I’ve kept this place safe just fine. It just happened. Nobody’s fault, nobody to blame. I was with Satsu. . .talking, and Willow was flying Andrew around, and Xander, well he came just as soon as he knew something was wrong. It couldn’t have been avoided.”

She looked directly at Giles, almost daring him to call her incompetent. Faith wondered if maybe he just wanted confirmation that she still needed him. She could understand that; everybody wanted validation from Buffy. The way Satsu had glanced away when Buffy had practically stuttered that they’d been talking rang a few bells inside Faith, but she doubted the bells made any sense, not where Buffy was concerned.

Giles nodded, seemingly placated, and the gang started making their way out of the hall. Xander had arranged a small meal for just him and Faith before the killing began and Faith was thankful for the thought. Something was going on and she didn’t know what yet. Spending some time with Xander could only help clear things up; he’d never been very good at keeping things to himself.

As she followed him towards the kitchen she watched as Buffy walked some way ahead, side by side with Satsu. She thought that maybe they weren’t aware anybody was paying attention as they spoke softly to each other, but Faith certainly noticed. She also noticed the way Satsu gently touched Buffy’s back as they parted, and the smiles they exchanged.

“A lot’s happened since we last spoke, Faith. . .I don’t even know where to start,” Xander commented as Buffy disappeared around a corner.

Faith wasn’t sure she wanted to hear. There’d always been the idea of Buffy in her mind. Untouchable Buffy; the illusion of being out of reach had always been there. Even just the thought that another slayer had breached the barrier and reached in made Faith want to hit something. If her initial impression was right it made her feel jealous, angry, and sad all at once. It should have been her, Faith thought.

It should have been her.



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