Faith was grateful for many things in her life.
One of those things was the cheeseburger she'd just taken a bite of and she closed her eyes as if to try to burn the feeling into her memory. Though it probably wasn't the best food she'd ever had, the greasy cheeseburger in front of her proved that the prison food she'd had the last two years was far from good.
She wanted the time to savor every bite of the food, her first meal where she didn't have to pay attention to who was around her and what their intentions were, but she knew that wasn't going to be the case. On the other side of the booth, Andrew picked at the sandwich he'd ordered and mumbled something about the diner they were in being unsanitary.
Faith was not grateful for Andrew though she was thankful that she didn't have to put up with him on a bus or anything. No, apparently the new Council had their own plane.
"Faith, we do have a schedule."
She looked at him and narrowed her eyes. "Look here, Andy, I agreed to go with you but if you think I'm gonna rush off to Cleveland without even eating a decent meal you're crazy."
"This is not a decent meal."
A waitress scowled in their direction and Faith tried to smile apologetically at her. It didn't quite work and Faith had feeling that if they ordered anything else the cook would get a little creative with how it was prepared. "Just shut up and let me eat."
He sighed and tapped his fingers on the table, much to Faith's annoyance. She figured this was part of her punishment, having to have someone who was utterly annoying accompany her, but she didn't want to dwell on it. All she really wanted at the moment was to enjoy her burger and truly relax for the first time in two years.
The cheeseburger was gone much too soon and Faith ate a couple of fries as she looked at Andrew. He was nervously looking out the window, like he needed to be somewhere else. "What's the problem, Andy?"
"I'm needed back in Cleveland."
"Oh, really?" Faith leaned back against the booth. "If you're so needed why didn't someone else come and get me? Hell, why didn't Buffy since she's the one who sent you?"
"She couldn't exactly leave when she's teaching slayers," Andrew said as if it was obvious. "This is taking too much time. Cooking for all those young slayers is a nightmare and they will destroy my kitchen if I'm away too long."
Faith bit back a smirk so she wouldn't laugh at the fact the guy that started with the group as a prisoner that in the end wouldn't leave while they were fighting the First was now the cook. She wondered if he took to doing that so he could stick around. There didn't seem to be any way that the core group would let him just hang out. She knew firsthand they didn't let people in without a reason.
At least, they didn't for her.
"So . . . how was prison?" Andrew almost whispered the last word, as though he didn't want others in the diner to know Faith was a new ex-con.
"How do you think it was?" Faith asked back as her brow furrowed. "It was what it was. I kept my head down, did my time and now I don't wanna think about it anymore."
"We know you stayed out of trouble."
Faith didn't like how he kept saying "we". She really wanted to know exactly who had decided to keep track of her even though she wanted nothing to do with what was going on outside of the prison. Now wasn't the time to ask that question though. It would need to wait until they got to Cleveland. She wanted to save that question for Buffy.
"I told everyone when I turned myself back in that I wanted to be left alone."
He looked nervous, like he didn't want to make Faith angry. "No one contacted you but we wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I thought it was implied that no contact went both ways," Faith said.
Andrew only shrugged and started picking at his sandwich again. Faith thought about continuing to question him about why exactly it mattered so much that she went to Cleveland but she knew he was just the messenger. She wanted real answers instead.
Her plate was empty and she was still a little hungry but after the comment from Andrew she knew ordering something else was a bad idea. Instead, she stood up and looked down at Andrew. "Let's get out of here."
"So we lived in Italy for awhile," Andrew said as they got into a taxi outside the airport after what Faith figured was the longest flight ever.
Faith had wished there would've been time for her to spend a little of Angel's money on some new clothes or even some earplugs to block out her companion but Andrew insisted there wasn't time. Before she even had time to think they were on a plane to Cleveland and the only good thing about the adventure so far was that she was happy not to be on a bus to Cleveland with Andrew. The plane ride was long enough.
Once they were on the plane, Andrew seemed to get over his nervousness and talked her ear off about the goings on of everyone and everything that happened while she was in prison. She wanted to point out that she hadn't asked about any of it but she thought that wouldn't stop him. It would've been pointless to attempt to stop him.
Mostly, Andrew talked about how much of the gang went their separate ways for about a year before coming back together again. From what Faith could figure out Buffy and Dawn had really liked living in Europe, even if it was with Andrew, so she didn't know why they were in Cleveland.
"Why is B in Cleveland?"
Andrew looked at her as if he didn't expect a question. Not that he would since Faith had stayed silent throughout most of his talking. "A few months ago there was some trouble on the hellmouth there, kind of an all hands on deck type of situation. Everyone came together for that."
Faith nodded and stopped herself from asking more about it. There was a part of her that didn't want to get drug into whatever drama was going on in Buffy's world. She kept telling herself that all she was agreeing to do was listen to why Buffy wanted her to come to Cleveland. There was no promise that she'd actually stay.
"We have this big house now," Andrew explained excitedly as the taxi sped along. Faith hoped they were close by now. It felt like they had been traveling for days and not hours. "It's very nice."
"How much longer until we get there?"
Andrew looked at her as if she shouldn't want the time spent with him to end. "About five minutes."
Faith nodded and looked out the window. It seemed like everything felt different now that she was out of prison, like not only was she different but that everything around her was, too. She didn't know how to deal with the feeling and decided it made her a little uncomfortable. Part of her wanted to jump out of the car and get as far away as possible.
She knew which house they were going to before the taxi had even slowed or before Andrew pointed it out for a couple reasons. One, it looked like it was the biggest house in the area and it was further back from the road than the other homes, though there weren't many on the street. They were more on the outskirts of Cleveland and Faith figured Buffy had picked the place because it looked like they had privacy.
The other reason was that Faith began to feel a barely noticeable buzz when the car got within a few blocks. She knew that only meant one of two things: either there were a few vampires in the area or there were slayers nearby. Since the sun was shining she figured she was close to all the slayers that lived here or more accurately, close to Buffy. The connection she had with her was much stronger than with any of the others.
"Here we are," Andrew said as they pulled up to the house. "Nice, right?"
The house looked a little old and like it had once been a dormitory or maybe a children's home. She could see how a setup like that would work for housing a lot of slayers. Plenty of rooms, larger kitchen, some common areas. Faith could picture what it would look like before even walking in.
It was definitely big enough for a decent number of people and Faith wondered how many actually lived there. She couldn't imagine someone like Giles wanting to live with a bunch of slayers or Robin for that matter. Over the last two years she only thought of him a handful of times but now was curious about where he was. Hell, she was curious if all of the gang were actually here. It was something Andrew had yet to elaborate on, choosing to concentrate more on when he hung around Buffy and Dawn in Europe.
She followed Andrew into the house and saw a couple teenage girls pass her as they walked down the stairs and into another room. Faith had no idea who they were but by the looks on their faces they knew exactly who she was. The thought that someone had warned them she was dangerous crossed her mind.
Faith turned to look at Andrew. "Where to?"
"I think Buffy should be in the library."
"The library?" Faith said as she bit back a laugh. "What, is she all about research now?"
"You're not the only one who reads," Andrew commented which only irritated Faith. The extent of which they kept track of her was beginning to feel stalker-like. "And she's probably on the phone with Giles."
They walked toward the back of the house and Faith tried to determine how many rooms there were. The place was big enough so that there could have been maybe ten bedrooms upstairs if she were to guess. The group must have located money somewhere in order to pay for a house like this, especially given the huge living room and media room the passed on the way to the library.
Andrew opened the double doors of the library and the first thing Faith saw was Buffy sitting on a table, talking on a phone. She drummed her fingers on the as she talked, making it look as though she would rather be doing something else.
"Yes, Giles, I know," she said, not noticing she wasn't alone. "No, I don't think I'm rushing things. We can't baby them forever." She turned toward the door and noticed Andrew and Faith standing at the entrance. Her eyes seemed to move over Faith before returning her attention to Giles. "Giles, I have to go." She paused. "Yeah, they're here. We'll talk later."
She hung up and opened her mouth to speak but Andrew started up before she could. "As you see I have brought Faith back and she came willingly."
Faith raised an eyebrow at the comment and it looked like Buffy was fighting an eye roll. "Thanks, you can go . . . do whatever you do. I need to talk to Faith alone."
He left without saying anything else and once the door was closed the two slayers looked at each other. Neither said a word or even moved, only stared as though they were waiting for the other to speak. Faith figured that if Buffy wanted to talk to her so much that she sent Andrew to come get her she could start the conversation.
"Thanks for coming."
Faith raised an eyebrow again. "Didn't know I had much of a choice."
Buffy looked momentarily hurt by the comment but seemed to recover quickly. "Of course, you had a choice." She paused. "I thought you would want to come here once you got out."
The comment took Faith by surprise and she tried to hide it. Not once during the last two years did she think she would be welcome back with the rest of the gang after she turned down the original offer. She had assumed she would be on her own once she got out and she had been okay with that.
"I thought that after I turned you down the first time the offer was no longer good."
Buffy sighed and it looked to Faith like she was struggling to find the right words. When she looked at her, Faith couldn't read her expression. "What were you going to do?"
Faith thought for a moment, the question catching her off guard. For some reason she didn't think Buffy cared and then couldn't remember why she had that impression. She had left the group on good terms, even though she'd turned them down. It seemed like the old thoughts she'd had of the other slayer were still influencing her and she tried to make them stop. The whole purpose of going to prison was to get a fresh start, to fully pay for what she'd done, and she wanted to wipe the slate clean with everything, including what she had originally thought of Buffy.
She shrugged. "Wasn't completely sure, I guess. There was a bus station close to the prison. I was gonna walk there and pick a place to go. Angel gave me a few hundred dollars so I was gonna use that to get some clothes and a place to stay. Didn't think much past that."
"You know he probably wanted you to use that to join him."
"Yeah, I know but he should know better than that, too."
Both of them were silent for a minute and Faith hated the tension in the room. It felt like one of them wanted to yell at the other and she couldn't tell who should be doing the yelling. She hadn't come to fight with Buffy. She just wanted know why she had bothered. Of course, then she remembered why she was angry with the situation.
"You know, I thought I had made it pretty clear I didn't want to be bothered while I was in prison. I didn't want to be kept track of." She sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Just 'cause I don't know about it doesn't make it okay."
Buffy narrowed her eyes. "It was necessary."
"Why? And who said to do it? You?"
"Yes," Buffy admitted.
Faith shook her head. "You couldn't let me do my own thing. You have to have your own way, just like always."
"Yes, let's make you out to be the big martyr." Buffy shook her head. "How were we going to know you were okay when you didn't even want to talk to any of us?"
"You didn't care the first time."
The phrase disgusted Faith even though deep down she kind of liked that Buffy cared enough to check in on her. Mostly though, she wanted to think that the only reason they wanted to know how she was in prison was so she could do what they wanted once she got out. That was not part of her plan and she turned toward the door when Buffy said something to make her stop.
"Did you know I visited you in prison?"
Faith turned back to her, a look of disbelief on her face. "You think I wouldn't remember if I had visitors? All I saw was Angel once and my lawyer a couple times when I first got there. After my sentence was reduced," she waved her hand in the air, "nothing."
"You know Willow's really powerful now? She can teleport people." Buffy let a small smile show. "There was a small riot at the prison you were in, what, about eight months ago? I was afraid you were hurt and it wasn't like we could call and ask you. So after we figured you'd be asleep I had Willow teleport me into your cell, just for a couple minutes so I knew you were okay."
"You saw me in my cell?" Faith managed to ask though it was hard to form the words.
She remembered that day. It hadn't been so much of a riot as a large fight that broke out in another cellblock. Since Faith didn't exactly gossip with the other inmates all she'd heard was that a couple inmates and a guard were injured. The only thing she knew was that it meant the prison was essentially locked down for the day and she was in her cell all day, which was okay since that was one of the few times she hadn't had a cellmate.
Buffy nodded. "It looked like you'd fallen asleep reading. There was a book in your hand. It was dark so I couldn't see what it was. I did see that you weren't injured so after a few minutes Willow teleported me back."
Faith didn't know what to believe but she had fallen asleep with a book that night. That happened a lot of nights. "All that didn't happen near me."
"That's good." She looked down for a second, like she wasn't sure what to say next. "Were you okay in there?"
"It was prison, Buffy." Faith looked at her as though the answer was obvious. "Wasn't supposed to be easy." She paused. "What else did you keep track of?"
"I know you got your GED," she said. "Didn't think you cared about that."
Neither one of them spoke for a minute and Faith looked out the window. She had to admit it was a nice place but she wasn't sure she belonged there. More importantly, she didn't know if she could keep with her path to redemption by taking the easy way out and staying.
"Why did you want me to come here?"
Buffy looked at her and Faith thought she almost looked a little sad. "I thought you could help with the operation here but if you don't want to . . ."
"B, I don't know what I want to do," Faith said quickly. "I thought I'd be figuring that out on my own."
There was another awkward pause before Buffy sat down at the table she'd just been sitting on. "Sit down, okay?"
Faith grudgingly walked over and sat across the table from her, trying to figure out Buffy had an agenda. Her mind kept going back and forth on whether or not she should trust anything that was said. She was starting to get a headache.
"Look, I'm not gonna try and make you stay or anything," Buffy said. "I'm not exactly a big fan of Cleveland either. You can still help out with the slaying stuff and not stay."
"You said you didn't know where you wanted to go," Buffy said calmly though Faith could tell she wanted to say something else. "There are a couple slayers who travel for the Council, which Giles is in charge of now. Kennedy's one of them."
That seemed a little strange to Faith. "What about Willow?"
Buffy seemed to know what she meant by the question. "Off and on. More off recently."
Faith nodded and from the way Buffy was talking to her she figured she was okay with asking questions. "So why are you here, B? From the way Andy tells it you, him and Dawn were living it up in Europe before coming here. And he talked about it a lot."
"Sorry about that," Buffy said as she laughed quietly at the face Faith made as she said it. Faith hoped that meant the tension would ease. It was making her uneasy. "Believe it or not he volunteered to meet you. I had to deal with a situation here but I at least wanted Xander to go. Andrew insisted he was the right person."
She paused before continuing. "Dawn wanted to go to Italy and it seemed like as good a place as any. I wanted to live a normal life for once and we did for a few months. After that whenever there was a problem I helped and then tried to go back to normalcy. Then there was a pesky apocalypse here and it became pretty obvious after that we needed to set something up in Cleveland permanently."
"Sucks," Faith said quietly. She knew unlike her, the only thing Buffy seemed to want after Sunnydale was to have a normal life.
"It is what it is."
There was another silence between them and Faith couldn't think of what to say. She was a little confused by the situation she was in. By now she should have been on a bus going to Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis or even somewhere on the East Coast if she could afford it. She shouldn't have been in Cleveland hearing about what was going on with Buffy.
And Buffy wasn't supposed to be as nice as she was being.
"You don't have to decide anything right away," Buffy said as she stood, "and if you don't want to do any of it I understand."
"Really?" Faith asked as she stood.
"Well, no, I wouldn't but I'd try." Buffy let out a nervous laugh. "I, uh, had a room set aside for you when we got this place a few months ago. You can stay there until you, uh, decide."
Faith nodded, not knowing what else to say. A part of her wondered what it would be like to stay and work with Buffy. The other slayer was being nice to her now but that could change after awhile and she didn't want to make up for her mistakes by taking orders from Buffy.
"I don't know if staying here is a good idea," Faith said quietly.
Faith thought back to the two young slayers and how they'd looked at her when she walked in. She knew that those looks would keep coming as long as she stayed at the house and did whatever Buffy had in mind. If she was out on her own, those looks wouldn't come at first glance. No one would know her wrongs straight away.
"It seems I already have a reputation around here and I don't wanna have to be looking over my shoulder at some junior slayer who's waiting to prove herself by taking out the bad slayer."
"That's not what would happen."
"B, you've never been that naive before," Faith commented.
Buffy sighed. "Can you promise this: just stay the night and make up your mind in the morning? Maybe we can talk about it again?"
Faith wanted to say no, that her mind was already made up, but she was tired and the thought of sleeping a full night in a room that was her own was too tempting. She figured she could eat another good meal, get a decent night's sleep and then pick a place to go.
"Okay," she agreed after a minute's silence. "I'll stay the night."
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