TWICE CHOSEN
Part 17 (17A-17B-17C
)
By DragonWriter17

 

Rating: R (mainly for language)

Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation.  I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only.  No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below.  No copyright infringement is intended.

My Website: http://www.dragonwriter17.net/

Feedback: Yes, but only if it’s of the non-flamey variety: DragonWriter17@aol.com

Distribution: The Watchers Forum, The Mystic Muse, and my personal site (If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.)

Spoilers: BtVS Season 3’s “Faith, Hope, and Trick” (and beyond)

Pairings: Buffy/Faith

Author’s Notes: (1) See the first three chapters for detailed notes on the origin of this story. (2) This chapter picks up where Part 16 left off. It continues in mostly original territory. (3) I had to split this chapter into three parts: 17A, 17B, and 17C. (4) I’ve added an original character to the story; she was featured briefly by phone in Part 16. Her name is Dr. Helen Fielding. She is a psychiatrist who used to be in the employ of the Council but isn’t any longer. She’s an old friend of Giles. For the purposes of this story, I’m mentally casting Jane Seymour in that role. (5) For Faith’s backhistory for this series, I am using the novel Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary by Robert Joseph Levy (excellent book, by the way). I may not use all of its plot details or use them exactly as they appear in that novel, but I am assuming that Faith’s past in “Twice Chosen” is very similar to Faith’s past in Go Ask Malice. (6) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit!

Number of Chapters: Unknown

Complete: 17C

Chapter Summary for 17A: While Buffy prepares herself for Intervention Part Two, Faith has her first session with Dr. Fielding.

Chapter Summary for 17B: After enduring a contentious Team Talk, Buffy and Faith then have to face Angel.

Chapter Summary for 17C: As more secrets are revealed, the demonic threat behind the animal mutilations escalates.
 


PART 01     PART 02     PART 03     PART 04     PART 05     PART 06    

PART 07     PART 08     PART 09     PART 10     PART 11   PART 12

PART 13     PART 14     PART 15     PART 16    

PART 17     Part 17A     Part 17B     Part 17C     PART 18

Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories
 

PART 17A

While Buffy and Faith were settling into bed at the Summers home, Giles was at the Hyatt, standing outside Dr. Fielding’s hotel room, his leather satchel at his feet. He nervously straightened his tie and smoothed the front of his jacket before knocking on the door. When he heard the locks being disengaged, he picked up his leather satchel and waited.

“Rupert,” Dr. Fielding said with a wide smile after she opened the door.

“Helen,” Giles replied, returning her smile. “I-I-It’s good to see you again. You look…” He stopped to take in the sight of his former colleague.

Dr. Helen Fielding was in her early fifties but looked as if she were barely into her forties. She was wearing heels and a shimmering brown cocktail dress that matched her long, light auburn hair. Though she usually wore it up in a neat bun, her slightly wavy hair now lay spilled about her shoulders. Her grayish green eyes appeared nearly hazel in the context, and she cocked an eyebrow at Giles as she waited for him to continue his compliment.

Giles’s smile grew bigger, and his eyes sparkled as he finally drew his gaze  back to hers. “…absolutely stunning,” he finished.

Helen pursed her lips and purred, “Flattery will get you everywhere.” Then she stepped aside and gestured Giles into the suite. “Have a seat,” she said, pointing out the sofa in the sitting area as she passed it on her way to the bedroom just a few feet away. “I haven’t had time to change. I packed my car earlier today and drove straight here from the party.”

Giles watched her disappear into the bedroom and then sat down on the sofa, setting his satchel on the floor. He noticed that she hadn’t closed the bedroom door.

“Some special event?” he called out to her.

“Just a reception for a friend of mine at the university,” she called out in answer. “I had promised him that I’d be there.”

“Oh. Well, of course,” Giles said, fidgeting a bit. “I, I, I do hope you didn’t cut things short on my account,” he stuttered apologetically.

Now dressed only in her slip, Helen peeked partially out of the bedroom door and gave Giles a smirk. “Do you really?”

When Giles blushed in response, Helen merely chuckled and popped back to finish changing her clothes. Within a few more minutes, she came out, her petite and trim form now covered by a pair of black yoga pants with a matching hooded jacket and a white tank top underneath. She padded in her bare feet over to the sofa and sat down at the end opposite of Giles. She curled one leg under her and propped her arm on the back of the sofa.

“It’s good to see you,” she said sincerely. “It’s been too long.”

“Indeed,” Giles said.

After a moment of quiet staring, Helen broke the silence. “So…tell me about these slayers of yours, especially Faith.”

***

Meanwhile, across town, Willow was stepping onto the front porch of the Harris home. She had seen the television glowing behind the living room’s curtains, so she figured Xander was up. She gave the doorbell a lengthy buzz.

When Xander opened the front door, he didn’t seem happy to see her. Willow refused to be deterred, however; she matched him glare for glare as they engaged in a mini-standoff at the threshold.

Before he could tell her to leave, she abruptly announced, “We need to talk,” and pushed past him to enter the house.

Xander scowled and shut the door. “Well, come on in and make yourself at home,” he said with exaggerated sarcasm. “I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Then he followed her into the living room. He planted his feet and crossed his arms. “I don’t want to talk,” he said defiantly.

“Well, you’re going to, mister,” Willow told him. “Whether you like it or not.”

“Is that so?” Xander replied. “You can’t make me talk if I don’t want to, so why don’t you just—”

“ ‘Kick his ass’,” Willow interjected angrily, cutting him off.

Her statement threw Xander completely. “Um, what?” he asked, totally confused.

“ ‘Kick his ass’,” she repeated. “Is that what you told Buffy I said before she went after Angelus?” When Xander didn’t answer right away, she demanded, “Is it?!!

Xander ducked his head in shame but only for a moment. When he raised it back up, there was fire in his eyes. “I did what I had to do,” he stated firmly.

She shot him an indignant look, though her expression was more pained than angry now. “My god, Xander…do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

“I was trying to help save the world,” Xander defended. “Buffy needed a nudge, and I gave her one.”

“The spell would’ve worked,” she said sadly. “In fact, it did work. Buffy told me that Angel’s soul was restored—right before she had to kill him. He didn’t remember what he had done—what Angelus had done—but she still had to kill him. Can you imagine what that must have been like?” Willow paused to let that question sink in; then she pressed on. “What if it had been Cordelia who had to die? Or me? Could you have done it? And if you had, could you have lived with yourself afterwards?”

Xander actually managed to look somewhat guilty as he lowered his gaze.

Willow took a deep breath and let it out. Then she went on in a rueful voice, “If Buffy had known to stall, maybe she could have prevented Acathla’s activation in time for the spell to kick in. Maybe we could have saved the world without making our friend kill the man she loved.”

At first Xander said nothing and kept his eyes fixed on the floor. But then he uncrossed his arms, lifted his head, and looked directly at his best friend.

“What do want from me?” he asked wearily.

Willow moved to stand in front of Xander. “I want you to try to work things out with Buffy.”

Xander let out a small huff of a laugh, but Willow ignored him and went on.

“We’re having another ‘intervention’ tomorrow,” she told him. “A ‘Team Talk,’ actually. At two, at the library. I want you and Cordelia to be there.”

When Willow saw Xander start to shake his head, she reached out and grasped his arm.  

“Xander, if we don’t deal with this, it could tear the whole team apart. Is that what you want?”

Xander clenched his jaw several times before meeting Willow’s pleading gaze. “Fine, I’ll come,” he said. “But if you’re expecting me to be the whipping boy for all of this, forget it. Ain’t gonna happen.”

Willow gave Xander a ‘fair enough’ nod before slipping around him and heading for the front door.

***

Hours later, Giles and Helen were sitting next to each other on the sofa with an open folder spread across their laps. Giles had already given Helen a brief summary of the events of the last year, focusing most of his attention on the weeks since Faith’s arrival in Sunnydale. Helen was now frowning at a document many pages in length—a report from a psychiatric facility near Boston. Finally, she sighed and shook her head and then closed the folder.

“She’s very troubled,” Helen said, turning to Giles. “Very…damaged.”

“Yes, she is,” Giles agreed. “But…I-I-I’m encouraged by the recent events, despite their severity. I haven’t known Faith long, but I’ve seen a definite change in her. When she first arrived, she was so…insular. Of course, she was quite capable of being charismatically social when she wanted to be, but she never let anyone get close.”

“Perfectly understandable, given her history,” Helen commented as she set the folder on the coffee table and then stood up to stretch.

“But she’s beginning to open up,” Giles said as he too rose to his feet. “Just a tiny bit, mind you, but it’s a start. And she’s asked for help. That alone speaks volumes.”

“Very true,” Helen said, continuing her stretches.

Giles reached out and touched Helen’s shoulder, causing her to stop and look at him. “You can help her, can’t you?” he asked worriedly.

Helen smiled warmly and touched Giles’s cheek. “I helped you, didn’t I?” she said earnestly. Then she pulled her hand away and made a mock buffing of her fingernails on her jacket. “And I hadn’t even finished my residency yet.”

Giles took her hand in his. “You were a master even then,” he said gently before kissing the back of her hand.

“I told you…flattery will get you everywhere,” Helen reminded him before tugging him toward her and kissing him on the lips.

Giles eagerly returned the kiss, moving his hands to her hips then up her back to pull her even closer.

When they parted to catch their breaths, Helen whispered, “Stay with me tonight…”

Giles smiled but averted his eyes. “I…I wish I could but…” He backed out of their embrace until he held only her hands. “…I don’t think it would be appropriate…given the circumstances.”

Helen tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “It wasn’t appropriate before, either, but we still—”

“I know,” Giles told her, “and I have no regrets about that. None at all.” He gave her hands a squeeze to emphasize his surety. “But this time…it isn’t just us.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Helen admitted reluctantly while giving him a playful shove. “Damn you.”

Giles gathered his belongings into his satchel. “I’ll, um, see you tomorrow morning then,” he said as he swung the strap over his shoulder and moved toward the door.

“Ten o’clock sharp,” they both recited at exactly the same time. They paused for a second then burst into laughter.

Helen gave Giles a small slap on the shoulder. “Get outta here, you.”

Giles did as he was told and headed down the hallway. Helen followed him with her eyes until he disappeared around the corner. Then she softly shut the door, her smile still lingering on her lips.

***

The next morning, Joyce arose early. She’d been second-guessing herself all night on the decision to allow Faith to sleep over. Now she donned her robe and tiptoed down the hallway to her daughter’s bedroom. She peeked her head in the door and let out a sigh of relief when she saw the two girls sleeping soundly but separately (and thankfully clothed). Then she took a full step into the room and watched them for a moment.

Buffy lay on her side, near to Faith but facing away from her. Faith was on her back with the sheet and blanket crumpled across her legs as if she’d shoved the covers off herself some time in the night. Now that Joyce was closer, she could see that Faith was frowning and mumbling in her sleep, apparently dreaming. Joyce frowned with her until she saw Buffy turn over and, without waking, snuggle against Faith’s body. Joyce was amazed to see the tension instantly drain from the dark slayer’s face. Faith’s mumbling ceased, and her body relaxed as she unconsciously returned Buffy’s embrace.

In that moment, Joyce felt her misgivings about her decision slip away. She had done the right thing. It might not be the right thing in the future, but for this one night, it had been what the girls needed. Secure in that knowledge, Joyce turned and left the room.

***

About an hour after Joyce’s check-in, Faith woke up. She took a deep breath and blinked her eyes open. When she realized Buffy was snuggled up against her, she smiled and hugged the sleeping blonde closer.

Gotta admit, she thought to herself. I could get used to this.

Faith glanced at the clock radio. It was almost eight o’clock. She had two hours before she was due to meet Giles—two hours before she’d have her first meeting with the shrink. She felt her stomach tighten and her heart begin to race.

Seemingly sensing Faith’s discomfort, Buffy woke up. She too blinked her way into alertness and then smiled when she saw Faith beside her.

“Hey you,” she greeted happily. “Did you sleep okay?”

Faith thought a moment and then said, “Yeah, I think I did.”

“Me too,” Buffy noted. “Felt good.” She leaned up on her elbow. “This feels good…waking up with you.”

“You read my mind,” Faith said with a grin before planting a kiss on Buffy’s lips.

Just then they heard Joyce call out to them from down the hallway. “Girls! Breakfast’ll be ready in ten minutes!”

Faith gave Buffy another kiss, then hopped out of bed and headed for the bathroom.

As Faith exited the room, Buffy rolled out of bed, stood up, and stretched. She pulled back on her overhead stretch when she felt a twinge in her stitches. She walked over to the dresser, lifted her shirt, and examined her stomach. The wound was still a little tender, but otherwise, it was healing nicely.

Buffy opened the bottom drawer of her dresser and pulled out a pair of sweat pants and tugged them on. She figured Faith would need to do the same, so she pulled out another pair and tossed them on the bed. Then she sat down to brush her hair.

As she picked up the brush from her dresser top, she noticed a small bundle tucked into her jewelry box. She glanced at the bedroom door to see if Faith was coming back yet. When she didn’t see Faith, Buffy grabbed the bundle and unwrapped it. Inside was the small gold dagger that Buffy and her mother had bought from the pawnshop—the item Faith had sold to buy a dress for the Homecoming Dance. Buffy smiled widely as she thought about Faith’s upcoming birthday and how excited Faith would be to get her dagger back.

For just a moment, Buffy balked when she considered the fact that she was keeping an important secret from Faith. After all, they’d just gone through a whole lot of hell because of a secret, so maybe it wasn’t a good idea to keep this one from Faith either.

But this is a good kind of secret, Buffy justified in her mind. Like when you keep a surprise party secret. Suddenly, a mischievous sparkle entered Buffy’s eyes. Yeah…a surprise party…

As Buffy tucked the gold dagger back into the box and began brushing her hair, she let a full grin cover her face. When she finished brushing, she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and secured it with a band. While perusing her reflection in the mirror, she couldn’t help but notice the bruise along her jaw where Faith had punched her. Buffy frowned as she gingerly touched it, her mind taking her back to the fight at Angel’s mansion.

I’ve got to talk to Angel, she told herself. And right away.

Just then Faith came in from the bathroom. “These for me?” she asked as she pointed to the pants on the bed.

“Yeah,” Buffy answered as she rose to her feet. “I laid those out for you.”

“Thanks,” Faith said, then quickly donned them. She ran her hands through her hair and turned to Buffy. “Do I look decent enough?”

“You look fine,” Buffy replied. “But I want to talk to you about something first.”

Faith eyed Buffy a bit warily. “Okay.”

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but…I need to talk to Angel today.”

“What?!” Faith demanded incredulously.

“Just hear me out, okay?” Buffy pleaded. When Faith appeared to comply, Buffy went on. “I need to talk to Angel so that I can ask him to leave town. I don’t think it’s good for any of us if he sticks around.”

Faith didn’t say anything. She just balled her hands into fists and clenched them tightly at her sides. Finally, she announced bossily, “Well, you’re not going there alone.”

Faith’s tone immediately pushed Buffy’s buttons. “What?” she shot back. “You don’t trust me?”

Faith turned angrily on Buffy. “Well, duh! You just lied about him to my face a couple of days ago, so yeah, I’m runnin’ a little low on trust right now.”

Buffy instantly held her hands up in a surrender gesture and blurted apologetically, “You’re right, you’re right. I’m just having a knee jerk. No, I’m a jerk.” She took a deep breath and added, “I’m sorry. You are totally right about the trust thing. I’m sorry.”

Judging Buffy’s apology to be sincere, Faith slowly calmed down. So Buffy went on.

“I guess I’m just feeling defensive,” Buffy explained. “With the team meeting and everything.”

Faith nodded in acknowledgement, but she didn’t say anything in reply.

Buffy put on a pleading look and then said, “Plus, I really want you to believe that it’s over between me and Angel.”

“I know you do,” Faith said, “but I can’t just forget what I saw.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

The conversation stalled at that point, and the two slayers fidgeted in place for a long, awkward moment before Buffy spoke up once again.

“So…are you saying that you want to go with me when I see Angel?” Buffy asked for clarification, wincing a bit at the thought of Faith having to go through that. “I mean, I can get Mom or Will to go with me…”

“No, I can go,” Faith said. She tried to make her voice sound bravely nonchalant, but she wasn’t sure she succeeded.

Buffy forced a smile and said, “Okay. How about right at sundown?”

Faith shrugged her shoulders and shoved her hands into the pockets of the sweat pants. “Works for me.”

“Great,” Buffy said without enthusiasm. Then she added, “I guess we’d better get downstairs.”

“After you,” Faith said, gesturing at the bedroom door.

At that, they headed out of the room and down the stairs in silence.

***

Within minutes, the two slayers were at the dining room table, digging into piles of pancakes, courtesy of Buffy’s mom.

Joyce watched the girls for a moment, pleased that they both showed a good appetite. As she poured syrup over her own stack of pancakes, she asked, “Did you girls sleep okay?”

The two slayers glanced at each other and smiled. Then Buffy said, “Yeah, we did.” Then she turned to her mother. “Thanks, Mom.”

“I’m glad,” Joyce replied. “You two seemed to be sleeping very peacefully when I checked on you this morning.”

“Mommmmm…” Buffy whined in mild embarrassment.

“That was the reason for the open door, remember?” Joyce reminded.

Buffy pulled her shoulders back and proudly stated, “Well, as you saw, we were completely fooling-around-free. Right, Faith?”

Faith had just stuffed a forkful of pancakes into her mouth when Buffy elbow-nudged her. All Faith could do was nod enthusiastically in response to the question.

Joyce raised an eyebrow at the girls but smiled as she did so.

***

After they had helped Joyce with the breakfast cleanup, Buffy asked Faith, “You wanna hang out until it’s time for the ‘Team Talk’?”

“Sorry. Can’t,” Faith answered. “Got some things I gotta do.” When Buffy tilted her head in puzzlement, she said, “You know, laundry and stuff. Plus I’m meeting with Giles.”

“What about?”

“Just some personal stuff,” Faith replied, glancing away momentarily. “And patrol,” she added to change the subject somewhat. “Gotta get back on that animal mutilations thing, ya know.”

Though her curiosity nagged her, Buffy didn’t press further, especially since her mother was still within earshot. “It’s okay,” she said with a smile. “I don’t need to know the details. Giles is your watcher, too. You’re entitled to private chats.”

Faith cocked her thumb over her shoulder. “Is it okay if I grab a shower before I go?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant. “That motel room shower really sucks. Never know when it’s gonna have hot water or not.” It wasn’t a lie, she told herself. It just wasn’t the whole truth.

“Of course,” Joyce said. “Help yourself.”

“Thanks!” Faith replied before heading upstairs.

As she watched Faith leave the room, Buffy frowned unhappily. She didn’t like the living conditions Faith had to endure at that ratty motel. Not one bit. A glance at her mother told Buffy that Joyce felt exactly the same way. Would her mother consider allowing Faith to move in with them?

No, Buffy thought. Not likely. She smirked to herself as the wheels turned in her mind. But not impossible. I just need to play my cards right.

***

A short time later Faith had finished her shower and had changed back into her own clothes. Just as she was leaving and telling Buffy that she’d see her at the school, Giles was calling Faith’s motel room. He wanted to make arrangements to get Faith to Dr. Fielding’s hotel at the proper time. Although he had let the phone ring for a long time, he never got an answer. As he hung up the phone, he glanced nervously at his watch. He’d wait another ten minutes and try again.

***

By the time Giles had made another fruitless call to the motel, Faith arrived at the bus station. She quickly got her duffel bag out of her locker and headed for the restroom. As she hurriedly changed into a fresh set of clothes, her thoughts went to her impending session with Giles’s shrink. She felt her stomach start to churn with dread.

After brushing her teeth and finger-combing her hair, Faith gripped the sides of the sink and gave herself a good stare in the mirror. She forced herself to take in a deep breath and then slowly let it out.

“You can do this,” she told herself.

Then she left the restroom, returned her bag to her locker, and rushed out of the bus station on her way to Giles’s apartment.

***

Just as Giles was about to call Faith for a third time, he heard a knock on his door. He replaced the receiver and answered his door. A look of relief passed over his face when he saw Faith waiting outside.

“Faith! Excellent!” Giles said with a smile as he invited her inside. “I was just trying to contact you to see if you wanted me to pick you up at the motel, but I didn’t get an answer.”

“Yeah…the, uh, the phone’s out,” Faith lied, still unwilling to explain the motel situation. “Told the manager. He said he’d get to it when he got to it.” She shrugged and forced a smile. “Crappy place, I know, but hey…better’n sleepin’ at the bus station, right?”

Giles let the phone issue slide for the time being and said, “I’d like for you to patrol tonight. If you’re able, that is.”

“Sure, I’m up for it.”

“You’ll need to be careful,” he reminded her. “You’ll be on your own.”

Faith tried not to think of the reason why she’d be patrolling alone. Instead, she flashed a cocky smile. “Don’t worry, Jeeves. I can handle it..”

Giles rolled his eyes and then guided Faith toward the sitting area. Once they had both sat down, he said, “I want to brief you a little before your appointment. The woman you’ll be meeting is Dr. Helen Fielding. She’s a very gifted psychiatrist. She used to work for the Watchers Council, but now she’s a professor at UCLA. She still practices, however, accepting only a few clients a year. She’s taking you on as a favor to me.”

“She must owe ya big time.”

“Actually, I owe her. When I was going through a very difficult time, she helped me. If it weren’t for her intervention, I sincerely doubt that I’d be alive today.”

“What did you do?” Faith asked before correcting herself. “I mean, why were you in such a bad place?”

“I don’t know if Buffy has told you or not, but when I was young and at university, I was quite the rebel. I refused to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a watcher. In fact, I did quite the opposite. I began to dabble in the dark arts. I had a talent, and I found the danger and power associated with dark magic to be especially thrilling. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before I was in over my head.”

“What happened?”

“My friends and I tried to summon a very dangerous demon. It went very badly, and one of my friends died. My father and the Council intervened and forced me into a sort of rehab. Dr. Fielding was my primary counselor during that time.”

“And she helped you get better?”

“Yes,” Giles replied. “It took quite a long time, but she persisted, and eventually, I recovered.”

Faith thought deeply on all of this. Then she asked, “So…what does she know about me?”

Giles glanced at his watch. “I’ll explain on the way,” he said as he rose and gestured Faith toward the door. “We mustn’t be late. Helen always insists upon promptness.”

***

About five minutes before ten, Giles and Faith arrived at Dr. Fielding’s hotel suite. Faith’s stomach twisted and turned, but when she looked at Giles, she realized she wasn’t the only one who was nervous. Grateful for the distraction, she watched as Giles straightened his vest and tie before knocking on the door. As he waited, he repeated the unnecessary clothing adjustments. When the door was opened, Giles’s face lit up in a beaming smile.

Dr. Helen Fielding was dressed in a sleek gray suit with a crisp white shirt that flared open at the collar. Her long auburn hair was up in its usual bun, but the look was professional, not severe. She wore simple but elegant jewelry—just enough to complement her clothing without being pretentious or gaudy. Her gray eyes shined warmly as she greeted her guests.

“Good morning,” she told them. “Come in, please.”

After being led to the sitting area, Giles began making introductions. He turned to Helen and said, “This is Faith Lehane, the slayer I’ve told you about.” As Faith and the doctor shook hands, he said, “Faith, this is Dr. Fielding.”

“Hey,” Faith said.

“Very nice to meet you,” Helen replied.

“Well, I-I-I won’t keep you,” Giles said. “I’m sure you want to get straight to work.” He smiled at Helen again before turning to Faith. “Would you like me to pick you up later?”

Faith waved him off. “Nah, don’t bother. I’ll walk.”

“Miss Lehane, why don’t you have a seat,” Dr. Fielding said, “while I see Mr. Giles to the door?”

“Sure. Thanks.”

As Faith sat down on the loveseat, Helen followed Giles to the door. “Shall I call you later?” Giles asked.

“Please,” Helen replied. “I imagine we’ll have much to discuss.”

“Would you be interested in holding that discussion over dinner?”

Helen smiled widely. “Sounds perfect.”

After seeing Giles on his way, Dr. Fielding returned to the sitting area. Faith had her elbows on her legs and was nervously wringing her hands. When she saw Dr. Fielding take her place in the chair opposite her, she straightened up and waited.

“Miss Lehane,” the doctor began before immediately interrupting herself. “May I call you Faith?”

Faith shrugged. “Sure.”

“Thank you. Faith, has Mr. Giles filled you in on my background?”

“Yeah, a little,” Faith replied. “Said you worked for the Council, but now you don't. Said you helped him once when he was in a really bad place."

“Did he tell you that he spoke with me and gave me your Council file to read?”

Faith nodded.

“Good, then you have some idea of what I know about you. According to the Council, at any rate. I’m actually much more interested in what you have to say about it all.”

“Okay.”

Dr. Fielding picked up a notepad from the end table and then went on. “There are two more things I’d like to clear up before we get started. First of all, how much information about your sessions do you want me to share with Mr. Giles? We can make our sessions completely and totally confidential; I share not one minute speck of data with Mr. Giles. Or you can give me permission to share only certain information with him, such as your overall progress or current state of mind, but no deeply personal details of any kind.”

Faith thought for a minute. Then she asked, “If you tell Giles about our sessions, what kinda stuff are you gonna tell him? And is all that gonna end up in another file going off to the Council?”

“I will tell Mr. Giles only very general information and only what you want him to know or feel comfortable with him knowing,” Dr. Fielding assured her. “None of these sessions will be part of your Council file. This arrangement is between me and you, and tangentially Mr. Giles.”

Faith was still hesitant. “But who’s paying for this? I mean, somebody like you don’t come cheap.”

“I’m doing this pro bono, as a favor to an old friend.”

“You and Giles go way back in the Tweed Brigade, huh?”

Dr. Fielding’s lips quirked into a smile at Faith’s choice of words. “Indeed, we do.”

Faith thought a moment more, then shrugged and said, “You can tell him stuff.”

Dr. Fielding made a note on her writing pad. “All right. The second thing is I’d like to give you an idea of what to expect in these sessions. I don’t even like to call them ‘sessions’ really. I prefer to call them ‘talks.’ That’s what they are, really. Just two people talking. But talking isn’t always fun. We’ll be discussing some difficult topics. I may ask you to share—and struggle with—things that make you extremely uncomfortable.”

“I don’t care about that,” Faith said. “I just know I gotta do this.”

“All right, let’s get started then. What I’d like to focus on today is the purpose of these talks—specifically, why you asked for these sessions, why you think you need them, and what you hope to gain from them.”

Faith couldn’t answer at first. She had been so determined to do this, but now that she was here, actually in a session, she couldn’t seem to come up with the words.

Emotions rushed through her as images flashed in her mind: the sense of righteous satisfaction she felt when she first punched Buffy at Angel’s mansion and saw the look of shock on her face; the black, boiling rage that consumed her as Buffy recoiled in fear; the exultant revenge that changed to horror when she realized she had staked Buffy and not Angel.

“Faith?” Dr. Fielding prompted.

“I…I hurt Buffy,” Faith finally answered.

“Buffy…your girlfriend…the other slayer?”

Faith nodded.

When Faith didn’t elaborate, Dr. Fielding prompted her again. “How did you hurt Buffy?”

Visions of the mansion fight assaulted Faith’s mind once again, but this time other images slipped in. She saw herself at seven years old being slapped by her mother and called a ‘worthless little bitch.’ She saw herself at ten being dragged by her hair into the kitchen before being beaten with a broom handle. Then she saw her current self gleefully stabbing Buffy in the heart during her Kakistos nightmare.

“I hit her and…stabbed her with a stake.”

“This was the incident at…” Dr. Fielding consulted her notes. “…at Angel’s mansion, yes?”

Faith nodded. “Yeah.” She hung her head and stared at the floor for a moment. When she lifted her eyes, they were damp with tears. “I didn’t mean to hurt her…” Faith looked away again. Great. You’re lying already, and you’re barely five minutes into your first session. She let out a sigh and added, “Not like that, anyway.”

“How did you mean to hurt her, then?”

Faith balled her hands into fists, opened and closed them several times. Then she looked back up. “I wanted to take Angel away from her. I wanted to make her watch while I sent him straight back to hell.”

“But she didn’t allow that, did she?”

“No,” Faith responded testily. “She protected him.” Faith then shook her head. “But that only made me madder, more determined than ever to get him—and her.”

“So the hitting and the staking you mentioned…they occurred during this altercation over Angel?”

Faith shrugged. “Basically, yeah.”

“Who hit first?”

“Huh?” Faith asked, confused.

“Who threw the first punch?” Dr. Fielding clarified.

“Oh. Um…” Faith thought for a few seconds. “Well, Buffy yanked me away from Angel, but landing an actual punch? I guess I did.”

Dr. Fielding gave her an eyebrow raise. “You guess?”

Faith gritted her teeth. “I did,” she repeated with annoyed emphasis.

“And how did it feel?”

‘How did it feel?’ ?!” Faith shot back, disturbed by the question.

“Yes,” Dr. Fielding replied simply before waiting calmly for Faith’s answer.

Faith huffed and looked away, but then she forced herself to consider the question. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat as she remembered the surge of energy she had felt when she had seen Buffy’s head snap from the impact of her fist.

“It felt good,” she admitted. “I wanted to do it again.” She dropped her gaze to her hands in her lap. “If Buffy hadn’t been a slayer…”

Faith frowned in pain as she imagined herself savagely beating a powerless Buffy. Faith’s stomach clenched into a knot, and she wrapped her arms around herself and bent over slightly.

“God, I’m sick!” she said in disgust. “I’m fuckin’ sick for wanting to do that!” She rocked in place a few times. “I said I loved her. How can I love her and want to do that?”

Dr. Fielding waited until Faith looked up and met her eyes. Then she gently said, “Because you are sick, Faith.” She quickly added, “Not in the way you meant the term, but sick nonetheless. But you’ve done the right thing. You’ve sought out a doctor, and I can help you get better.” She paused and then went on. “But this isn't something that can be cured overnight. I can’t hand you some pills and say, ‘Take two and call me in the morning.’ Do you understand that?”

Faith nodded.

“This ‘illness’ of yours is deeply rooted in your childhood.”

Faith couldn’t help herself. She gave the doctor a weary groan and eye roll.

“I know,” Dr. Fielding chuckled. “The last thing a patient wants to hear from her psychiatrist is ‘We need to talk about your childhood.’ But in your case it truly is crucial. Do you believe that?”

“I guess,” Faith said before correcting herself. “Yes, I believe that. I mean, I know I’m screwed up, okay? And I know my mother did most of the screwin’ up. But...I just don’t see how talking about all that crap is gonna help. It’ll just make me mad all over again...make me hate her even more. Which has nothing to do with me and Buffy.”

“Trust me. It will help. And yes, it will make you mad, and it will hurt, and it will make you feel that hatred for your mother more intensely than you’d care to. But that’s what it’s designed to do. To make you feel. To make you experience those emotions that you wouldn’t allow yourself to feel when you were a child. You couldn’t handle them then. You weren’t strong enough. But you are now.”

Faith stared at her intently as if taking it all in.

“Will you trust me?” Dr. Fielding asked. “Will you let me lead you through this?”

After a long moment, Faith nodded. “Okay.”

 

PART 17B

 

While Faith poured out her heart to Dr. Fielding, Giles paced the floor in the school library. Having been through intensive therapy himself, he had some idea of what Faith was going through. However, being familiar with many of the tragic details of his slayer's past, he shuddered to think of what Faith would be forced to relive. He hoped that she would be strong enough to endure it.

He hoped that both she and Buffy would be strong enough to make it through the difficult road ahead. They'd hurt each other very deeply, and Buffy's deception with regard to Angel's return had fractured not only her relationship with Faith but also the unity of the entire group. He hoped that Willow's "Team Talk," which was scheduled for that afternoon, would at least initiate the healing process.

Giles brought his pacing to a halt and sighed wearily. Then he shook his head and scolded himself. "Stop wasting time, and do something productive."

At that, he headed for his office desk, where he had laid out a number of volumes from his library. His intention was to research the spell Buffy had used on Angel--the Repertus Animus. It was critical that he determine the efficacy of the spell and evaluate Buffy's casting of it. If there was even the slightest chance that Angel was actually Angelus, action would have to be taken.

***

About an hour before the Team Talk was set to begin, Buffy and her mother arrived at the school library. When they entered, they found the sitting area empty. Buffy frowned as she glanced around the room.

"Will? Giles?" she called out.

Giles immediately stepped out of his office. "I'm here," he called back, joining the Summers women near the study tables.

"Hello, Rupert," Joyce greeted.

"Joyce," Giles replied.

"Where's Willow?" Buffy asked. "I figured she'd be here, plotting out the seating arrangement or something."

"She and Oz are picking up the requisite donuts," Giles answered with a small smile.

Buffy echoed the smile then sobered. After rocking nervously on her feet and making pretzels with her fingers, she said, "I, um, I was hoping we could talk. You know, a little pre-talk talk?"

"Of course, let's go into my office."

As Giles led the way, Buffy glanced back at Joyce. After getting a nod of encouragement from her mother, Buffy turned and followed after Giles.

***

Once they got into the office, Buffy shut the door, and Giles sat on the corner of his desk and crossed his arms.

Buffy twisted the fingers of her hands together then took a hesitant step forward. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Angel being back. I should have. I didn't think about how it might have hurt you, and I'm sorry."

Giles uncrossed his arms and let his hands rest in his lap. "Thank you," he replied sincerely.

"A-A-And I do respect and appreciate what you do as my watcher." She moved closer and touched his arm. "I owe you my life, Giles. I know I wouldn't have made it this far without you."

Giles smiled briefly then dropped his gaze. After a moment he squeezed her hand, stood up, and cleared his throat. "Yes, well, I must say that I was impressed with one thing you did with respect to Angel."

"Really?"

"Yes, the Repertus Animus," he replied, turning to pick up some papers from his desk. "You did the necessary research, discovered the appropriate spell, and apparently completed the ritual successfully--all on your own. It was excellent work."

"Thanks. I was so scared, though...that it wasn't the right spell or that I wouldn't do it right or worse that I would do it right and--" She stopped, ducked her head, and didn't go on.

"It would show that Angel didn't have his soul," Giles finished for her.

Buffy just nodded, tears forming in her eyes. Then she looked up and said, "I couldn't bear to think of killing him again, I just couldn't…"

Giles looked on with sympathy. However much Buffy's actions had hurt him, he had to remember that she was still just a girl--a seventeen year old girl who had already seen and done things that no girl should ever have to see and do.

"I understand," he said simply. Then he cleared his throat again and glanced at his clock. "Since we have a few minutes, I'd like to discuss the spell itself…if you don't mind?"

Buffy wiped the tears from her face and nodded. Then she proceeded to answer Giles's questions about the ritual.

***

A short time later, Giles and Buffy emerged from the office to find Willow and Oz setting out the donuts and drinks they had picked up. Buffy glanced around the room but didn't see Faith, Xander, or Cordelia yet. As Giles drifted over to speak with Joyce, Buffy headed for Willow and Oz. Willow immediately stopped what she was doing and walked over to her friend.

"How did things go with Giles?" Willow asked.

"Good," Buffy replied. "I think we're okay."

"Good, I'm glad," Willow said.

Buffy glanced around the room again. "Faith's not here yet?"

Willow looked around, too. "She didn't come with you?"

"No. She said she had some stuff to do," Buffy answered before frowning a bit.

Willow noticed Buffy's uneasy expression. "She's still gonna be here, isn't she?"

"She said she would be, but honestly…I wouldn’t be surprised if she decided to skip out. Especially after this morning."

"What happened this morning?" Willow asked, concerned.

"I told her I needed to talk to Angel tonight--to ask him to leave Sunnydale. She didn't take it well."

"She should've been glad."

"She was. About the Angel leaving part. But she refused to let me go see him alone. So we'll be heading over there at sundown."

"So you think she might skip this meeting because of that?"

Buffy shrugged. "I don't know. She might be on angst overload. I know I am. I think that's why she suddenly 'had stuff to do' this morning. I think she needed the space. And I get that, I do, but I sure wish she would be here."

Willow smiled as her eyes caught a figure coming in the library doors. "Looks like you're getting your wish."

Buffy turned around and saw Faith walking her way. Buffy smiled in relief and walked over to meet Faith in front of the checkout desk.

"I'm so glad you came," Buffy said as they hugged briefly.

"Well, I said I would," Faith replied.

Buffy could sense that something was different about Faith, but she didn't know what it was or whether it was a good change or a bad one. "I know, but…"

"C'mere." Faith took Buffy's hand and led her into Giles's office.

Unsure of the reason for Faith's abrupt need for privacy, Buffy felt her stomach tighten in dread. Thankfully, that dread slipped away when Faith shut the door, yanked her close, and kissed her fervently.

When the need for air made them end the embrace, Faith placed her hands on Buffy's cheeks and said, "I love you. You know that, right?"

Buffy gave a small smile and reached up to pull Faith's hands into hers. "I do. I love you, too." After another passionate but brief kiss, Buffy got a puzzled expression on her face. "Something happened today," she said, casting a worried look into Faith's eyes. "Didn't it?"

"Yes," Faith admitted. "Something good, I hope."

"What was it?"

Faith pulled away, shaking her head. "I don't wanna jinx it, okay? I'll tell you about it soon, I promise."

Buffy warred within herself before replying. Although her curiosity was itching to be satisfied and her insecurities were planting suspicions in her mind, she forced them all down. She knew she was in no position to demand full disclosure from Faith. "Okay," she assured her.

Just then there was a knock at the door. When the door cracked open, Willow stuck her head inside. "Sorry to interrupt, but Xander and Cordelia are here now, so we can get started whenever you're ready."

Buffy glanced at Faith, who gave her a nod. "We're ready," she said before she and Faith followed Willow back into the main library.

***

Despite Willow's best hopes, the Team Talk wasn't going well. Xander and Cordelia had arrived with their sarcasm sharpened and their defenses fully up, which only served to set Buffy on edge. It didn't take long for the discussion to devolve into a shouting match of blame and accusation. Even Willow finally gave up the "I" statements.

"You weren't even close to Miss Calendar!" she shouted at Xander. "Why do you keep throwing her in Buffy's face like she's the one who killed her?"

"Because she did get her killed!" Xander countered. "Every day Buffy went without killing Angel was--"

"Angelus…" Willow corrected harshly, hinting at the Angel vs. Angelus argument that had occurred earlier in the discussion.

"What. Ever," Xander growled in an annoyed tone before continuing his point. "The truth is…every one of those days was a day somebody died. A day when one of us could have died."

"It wasn't that simple," Willow defended. "She--"

"No, Xander's right," Buffy said, gently interrupting. "I should've killed Angelus sooner. But I didn't. And people died."

Buffy cast a sad glance at Giles, but his look was neither forgiving nor blaming. Buffy went back to her explanation.

"But that was then, and this is now," she said. "When Angel came back, I did not, for one second, put any of you in danger. I locked Angel up until I confirmed who he was."

"And, as I noted in our previous meeting," Cordelia snarked, "you then proceeded to suck face with him."

"I did not 'suck face' with him!" Buffy yelled before taking a breath to calm herself. "It was one kiss," she said, looking at Faith, who stoically met her gaze. "It didn't last long. I pushed him away and told him I was seeing someone else." She turned and made deliberate eye contact with the rest of the group. "It wouldn't have happened again."

"But you still kept Angel a secret," Oz noted, surprising Willow.

"I should have said something," Buffy admitted. Then her voice took on an accusing tone. "But would you all have listened? Or would you have started gathering stakes and lighting torches like a lynch mob?" She let her eyes meet Xander's for a moment. "I couldn't let you guys go all vigilante on him when I didn't even know if he was really Angel or not."

"But, once you did the spell and you knew it was Angel, you still didn't say anything," Oz continued, much to Willow's dismay. "Not that day, at least."

"No, I didn't," Buffy confessed, "and I'm sorry." Then she turned to Willow and added in her defense, "But-But I told you and Xander before I left that I did have something to talk to you about, didn't I? I said I just needed a little more time."

Willow nodded vigorously in agreement. "She did," she told the group. "She did say that."

"A little more time for what?" Xander shot back to Buffy. "Enough to give Angel another 'happy'?"

Faith jumped up from her chair and pointed furiously at Xander. "She said it wasn't like that! Okay?!!! If you'd get your Underoos out of your ass long enough, maybe you'd hear what Buffy's trying to say!"

"Oh, Jesus Christ, Faith! Are you really that stupid?" Xander said. "Even after she knew what she had done to you, where did she run? Huh? Right into Angel's arms!"

Faith's eyes darted around the room as Xander's words re-ignited all her inner fears. Buffy reached out and touched her arm, but Faith didn't respond other than to pull away from Buffy’s touch and ease mutely back into her seat as if on automatic.

"I won't do that again," Buffy pleaded with her, tears filling her eyes. "I swear!"

The whole group was quiet for a moment, the air roiling with a tumult of emotions. Eventually, Oz broke the silence when he addressed Buffy again.

"You can't blame us for being scared, Buffy," he said gently but truthfully. "I mean, one slip-up, and we'd be deja-vu-ing a very unpleasant last year. We want to believe you, but…we know people are weak."

Buffy didn't even turn in Oz's direction. Her gaze was fixed on Faith as she waited to see her girlfriend's reaction. Finally Faith lifted her eyes to meet Buffy's.

"That's why she's gonna ask Angel to leave Sunnydale," Faith said without emotion. She turned toward the group, and Buffy reluctantly did the same.

"She's gonna 'ask' him," Cordelia commented sarcastically.

"Yes," Buffy stated, clearing her throat and sitting up straight in an effort to regain her confidence. "I am. I'm going over there tonight, as a matter of fact."

Cordelia merely snorted in response.

"Do you really think he'll go?" Xander challenged.

"If I ask him, yes," Buffy replied.

"He thinks you're his soul mate, Buffy," Xander said, sounding as if he were speaking to an idiot. "He's not gonna leave when he feels obligated to hover over you and protect you."

"I'm telling you he will," Buffy insisted.

"And if he doesn't?" Joyce asked, giving a surreptitious nod of her head toward Faith for Buffy's benefit.

Buffy paused uncertainly for a moment. Then she affirmed, "He will. He won't stay here if he knows it will hurt more if he does. He'll do what's right, I know it." She glanced at Faith, but the dark slayer didn't return her gaze.

When another awkward silence fell over the group, Giles took the opportunity to make a comment. "I spoke at length with Buffy about the Repertus Animus spell that she cast. I'm confident that she performed the ritual correctly and that its results were conclusive. Angel does have his soul. As such, he's no threat to us or anyone else."

Xander was ready to refute that point, but Buffy spoke up first. "Look, I know it seems completely weird that he's back," she tried to explain, "but this happened for a reason. I really believe that. The Powers-That-Be must have some kind of plan--"

"Maybe it's not the 'Powers' that brought him back," Xander pointed out. "Maybe the 'Plan' is for him to get horizontal with his favorite slayer again and hello hellacious--Heeeeeere's Angelus!"

"Well then the 'Plan' won't happen!" Buffy barked, her anger toward Xander returning.

Willow reached out and placed her hands on top of the table. "See…maybe that's why they brought Angel back now," she tried to explain. "Buffy's moved on, found love again. Maybe they knew there was no way the happiness clause could be reactivated. It was safe for Angel to come back and fulfill whatever destiny they have for him."

Cordelia sighed and shook her head. "Sounds like a whole lotta 'Maybes' to me."

"Look, this is pointless," Xander said, rising to his feet. "Buffy is never going to admit that she was wrong, and neither I am. So all this talk is a total waste of time." At that, he turned and headed for the exit, followed by Cordelia.

"Xander…" Willow complained to no avail. As the doors swung shut, she turned back to Buffy and tried to put on a hopeful expression. "He'll come around…"

"Maybe it's better if he doesn't," Buffy said wearily.

"No, don't say that," Willow replied. "We're a team, and we need to find a way to deal with this."

"Some things take time, Willow," Giles pointed out.

"Rupert's right," Joyce said before standing up. "We've done all we can do for today. We should all go home and get some rest."

Reluctantly, Willow packed up her donuts and drinks, and she and Oz trudged out of the library.

Giles turned to Faith and said, "I, um, I know it's been a difficult day, but I'd still like for you to patrol tonight if you feel up to it."

"I'm ready, trust me," Faith nearly growled.

"Don't worry," Buffy said to Giles. "I can--"

"--stay home and continue to recover," Joyce emphasized, intercepting Buffy's intent to accompany Faith on patrol.

"Mommmm," Buffy whined.

"Your mother's right," Giles told Buffy. "You're not ready to resume patrol yet. However, you can monitor Faith's progress by radio. In fact, I have a new radio set I'd like you to try out."

He led them over to the book cage and unlocked it. As Faith claimed a few weapons for patrol, Giles dug out a large box and placed it on the nearby table.

"Willow picked it out, actually," he said as he started to point out things printed on the box. "It has a base unit and six handheld radios with headsets, each with a thirty-five-mile range, and they're, um…" He hunted for the proper line in the product description. "…voice-activated. Yes, that's right." He held up his hands in the air. "Hands-free, as it were."

"Cool," Buffy said in a pleased voice. "We'll take it home and figure out how it all works. Right, Faith?"

"Yeah, sounds good," Faith said but without Buffy's enthusiasm.

"Come on, girls," Joyce instructed. "Let's go pick up some comfort food. I'm thinking one of Crazy Bob's BBQ Bonanza party platters is in order."

At that, Joyce led the two slayers from the library.

***

A little over an hour later, Buffy and Faith were sitting on the couch in the living room of the Summers home, tinkering with the new radio--or pretending to at least. Faith had been semi-social at best during their meal with Buffy's mom. Once Joyce had gone upstairs to read, Faith had retreated into distracted silence. Seeing the tension in Faith's body, Buffy moved closer and put her hand on Faith's back.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"What do you think?" Faith shot back.

"Sorry," Buffy said, removing her hand and ducking her head. "Stupid question."

Faith got up and walked over to the window. She clenched her jaw several times then turned around to face Buffy. "I mean...it wasn't enough that I had to go through your betrayal once. No siree, I had to hear about it all over again from Xander. Guess I really am 'that stupid'."

Buffy rose to her feet. "He shouldn't have lashed out at you like that. He--"

"And what if he's right, huh? What if Angel won't leave, what then?" Faith's expression was anguished as she went on, her voice beginning to crack. "How can I know you won't betray me again? I want to believe you, I really do, but...God, it's just too much..." She turned back toward the window.

With tears rolling down her cheeks, Buffy rushed to Faith's side. "I won't betray you," she promised. "I swear I won't."

When Buffy put her hand on Faith's shoulder, the dark slayer slipped out of her grasp. "I need time to think," she said, backing toward the front door. When Buffy looked at her with stricken eyes, Faith stopped in place. "I'll be back," she assured her. "I just need to clear my head, work off some of this energy."

Buffy wiped the tears from her face and nodded her understanding. At that, Faith turned and headed out the front door. As soon as she heard Faith's footsteps leave the porch, Buffy let the new tears come.

***

Not looking back at the house, Faith strode quickly toward Revello Drive. As soon as she reached the city sidewalk, she moved into a jog, letting her body fall into a comfortable rhythm. After a few blocks, she upped the pace, just enough to work up a sweat. Her inner voices, though, refused to be silenced by the physical demands of her exercise.

You can't trust her, one voice warned. She's already hurt you once. She'll hurt you again.

She can't help herself, another voice added. Not when it comes to Angel. He's her 'once in a lifetime,' remember? You can't compete with that.

You'll see tonight, the first voice predicted. He'll refuse to go, and she'll make excuses for him. Soon they'll be manufacturing reasons to see each other, and the next thing you know, she'll be ripping your heart out with another slayer/vamp kiss...or worse!

Faith growled at herself in annoyance and took a sharp turn into Elmwood Cemetery. Then she pushed herself into a grueling run, darting in and out between markers, hurdling rows of headstones, and occasionally vaulting onto the top of a larger monument before leaping off it in a forward flip, never losing her stride. For over an hour, she drove the voices from her mind, forcing them into the background, as her body focused on the rigors of her workout.

Eventually, though, exhaustion took over, and she collapsed onto her back on a grassy knoll. As her limbs trembled and her chest heaved for air, Faith stared up at the late afternoon sky, enjoying the momentary brain silence.

It didn't take long, however, for those nagging inner voices to return. Faith groaned in frustration and crawled to her feet. After brushing herself off and taking a few deep breaths, she reluctantly started back toward Buffy's house.

***

As the sun slowly dipped behind the trees, Buffy paced the living room floor. For the umpteenth time, she questioned whether or not she should go out looking for Faith. Just as she prepared to once again answer herself in the negative, she heard the front door open. She turned and saw Faith come inside. Buffy's face lit up in both joy and relief. Not wanting to crowd her girlfriend, though, she curbed her urge to rush into an embrace.

"Hey," she said.

"Hey," Faith replied.

"Did you have a good...?" Buffy trailed off, not sure what to call Faith's temporary absence.

Knowing what Buffy meant, Faith just shrugged and glanced away. "I guess," she said before looking up to meet Buffy's eyes. "Sorry I had to take off like that..."

"No, it's okay," Buffy immediately insisted. "I understand. You've got a lot to deal with."

More than you know, Faith thought, remembering the intense session she'd had with Dr. Fielding that morning. She shook off the painful memories and focused on the task ahead. "It's sundown. Are you ready?"

Buffy straightened her posture and answered firmly, "Yes, I am."

"Let's go and get this over with, then."

At that, the two slayers left the house and headed for Angel's mansion.

***

The short walk to Angel's place was a quiet, uncomfortable one. With their thoughts and emotions awhirl inside them, neither slayer had much to say. Buffy worried about how Angel would react to her request and how Faith would react to his reaction. She kept remembering the uncontrollable fury she saw in Faith's eyes during their fight at Angel's mansion.

Faith, on the other hand, was trapped in a vicious loop of repeating pain, rage, and horror as her mind kept replaying scenes she wished she could forget--the kiss between Buffy and Angel, the first punch Faith had landed in her fight with Buffy, the moment when she realized she had staked Buffy. By the time the two slayers arrived at Angel's mansion, they were both very much on edge.

When they got to the front door, Buffy stopped and turned to Faith. "Okay, I know you're not gonna like it, but I want to talk to Angel alone."

"What?!" Faith demanded.

"I know you don't have any reason to trust me, but I need you to anyway. Angel will be a lot more receptive to the idea if you aren't in there glaring at him."

Faith scowled and huffed and glanced away.

"Faith, please..."

The dark slayer shook her head then looked back at Buffy. "If you aren't outta there in two minutes," she warned, "I'm comin' in."

"Deal," Buffy said. Then she turned and knocked on the door.

***

When Angel opened the door and saw Buffy, his face lit up with relief. “Buffy! Are you—?” He stopped mid-question when he realized Faith was also there.

“I’m fine,” Buffy interjected immediately. “I-I-I was hoping we could talk.” She gestured between herself and Angel in order to clarify. “You and me, I mean.”

“Sure,” Angel said.

As he held the door open for Buffy, he locked eyes with Faith. She stared right back, clenching her fists. Buffy noticed the stare-off, so she turned around to speak to Faith before going inside.

She grabbed Faith’s hands in hers. “I won’t be long, I promise.”

Faith, however, was still glaring at Angel, so Buffy touched Faith’s cheek to make her turn her eyes to Buffy.

Nothing is going to happen,” Buffy reassured her.

When she saw a flash of pain in Faith’s eyes, she gave her a fervent kiss. She made eye contact once more before turning around and going inside.

***

Once the door had been shut, Angel waited until they had walked a few yards into the great room before stopping Buffy and giving her an urgent look.

How can you still be with her after what she did?” he demanded. “She's not like you. She's violent, unpredictable, she's…dangerous!”

Buffy remained calm and merely said, “Sounds like what everybody told me when I started seeing you.”

“And they were right,” Angel reminded her.

Buffy was immovable. “I love her, and she loves me,” she stated. “And we’re going to work this out.”

Angel moved closer and looked at the hint of a bruise along Buffy’s jaw line where Faith had hit her. Angel lifted his hand to gently touch it, but Buffy backed out of his reach.

Angel let his arm drop back to his side. “Doesn’t it bother you that she hit you, that she wanted to hurt you?”

“Of course it does,” Buffy answered. “But I can’t blame her. I hit her first. Sucker-punched her. Right here. When I kissed you.”

“It was just a kiss...”

“It wasn’t...and you know it,” Buffy said, shaking her head. Then she looked Angel in the eyes. “It was a betrayal, and it hurt her…so badly. And it can’t happen again. Ever.”

“It won’t. I promise.”

“A promise isn’t good enough,” Buffy replied. After pausing to gather her resolve, she announced firmly, “I can’t see you anymore.”

Angel’s mouth dropped open in surprise, but Buffy forged on.

“I know that I won’t make that mistake again,” she told him, “but Faith doesn’t. She wants to believe—to trust me again—but how can she? She's too hurt right now, and I don’t want her hit with that doubt, that fear, every time our path crosses with yours.”

Realization came over Angel’s face. “You want me to leave.”

Buffy nodded sadly. “I’m sorry, but yes.”

Angel turned away and didn’t speak for a moment. Then he turned back around and said, “And if I don’t?”

Buffy seemed surprised for a moment. But then she shook it off and shrugged uncertainly. “I don’t know. I can’t exactly make you go, but...you have to know...you don’t really have any friends here. Not after Angelus.”

“I don’t need friends,” Angel said. “I need to know that you’re safe.”

“If you mean safe from Faith, I am,” Buffy emphasized. “But if you mean safe in general, well, I’m as safe as a slayer ever can be. More so, actually, because Faith is with me.”

Angel didn’t answer, but his posture indicated that he didn’t buy either of Buffy’s statements. She stepped closer and softened her tone.

“I know you’re hurting, Angel...I am, too, and so is Faith, but we can’t change what’s already happened. All we can do is try to make things better now, and if you stay...it’s only going to make the hurting last longer. For all of us.”

Still Angel didn’t speak, but it was clear from his expression that Buffy’s words were having an impact.

“You have a destiny somewhere else,” she said. “I don’t have any proof of that, but I feel it. Don’t you?”

Angel looked away. He did feel that, but he didn’t want to feel it. After nearly a minute of silence, he finally said, “Fine. I’ll go. As soon as I’ve gotten my strength back.”

Buffy’s tense expression relaxed. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “And...I’m sorry.”

As she turned to go, Angel called out to her. “I want to talk to Faith.”

Buffy froze in place then slowly turned back around. “Ummm...I don’t think that’s such a good idea...”

Angel crossed his arms over his chest. “Ask her.”

Reluctant to comply with his request, Buffy walked to the door, opened it, and stepped outside.

***

As she waited for Buffy to come out of the mansion, Faith wrung her hands and paced the small stone stoop. When she realized what she was doing, she shoved her hands into her back pockets and forced herself to stop walking. Just then, she heard the front door open.

When she saw a somber Buffy come out of the mansion, Faith immediately stepped towards her and asked, "Are you okay?"

Buffy nodded and gave her a small smile.

“How did he take it? Is he gonna leave?”

“Yes, he’s going to leave, but...he wants to talk to you first.”

Faith’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What does he want?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy replied. “You don’t have to,” she then told her. “I mean, if you don’t want to, then we can just—”

“No, I’ll talk to him,” Faith said, pulling her hands out of her pockets and heading for the door. “If it’ll get him outta here faster, I can handle a little chat.”

As Faith started to open the door, Buffy reached out and grabbed her arm. “Please don’t hurt him...”

“I won’t. Not unless he gives me a reason to.”

At that, Faith opened the door and went inside, leaving a very worried Buffy behind.

***

After closing the door, Faith stepped cautiously into the great room. She put her hand in her jacket pocket and closed her fingers over the handle of a wooden stake.

“You think I’m gonna try something?” Angel said after watching Faith’s wary progress towards him.

“Don’t know,” she replied. “Not gonna take any chances.”

“First of all, I’m not strong enough right now. And, even if I were, it wouldn’t do any good because Buffy and I can’t be together because of the curse. But even if we could be, I still wouldn’t do anything.” He gave her a snide stare. “Unlike you, I would never try to kill the person she loves.”

Faith scowled at the implied insult. Then she crossed her arms in defiance. “She’s not in love with you anymore.”

Angel flashed Faith a knowing smile. “She does love me. She always will. But you know that. That’s why you wanted to kill me.”

Faith had no response. She just glanced away.

“But you’re right,” Angel said. “She’s not in love with me. Not anymore.”

He walked up to Faith and began to circle around her. She matched his moves.

“Do you even know what you have?” he asked. “How lucky you are to have it?”

“Yes. I do,” she answered. “And I’ll do whatever it takes to protect it—to protect her.”

“How are you going to protect her from yourself?” he shot back, stopping in place to glare down at her.

Faith clenched her jaw several times. Then she said, “I’m workin’ on it.”

“Work fast,” Angel warned menacingly. “Because if I get word that you’ve hurt her in any way, I will hunt you down.”

“So much for not tryin’ to kill the person she loves...” Faith snarked back, rolling her eyes.

“Oh, I won’t kill you. I’ll just make you wish I would.”

Faith gave a disgusted huff. “Yeah, well, take a number,” she said before heading for the door. “If I do hurt her—and I won’t—you’ll have to get in line behind everybody else. First up’ll be Willow and her shovel. Or maybe Joyce and her baseball bat. Buffy tells me she’s got a helluva swing.”

Faith didn’t wait for a reply. She yanked open the door and strode outside where Buffy was waiting.

***

When Buffy heard the door open, she turned to check on Faith. Before she could say anything, Faith stomped right past her, causing Buffy to have to hurry to catch up.

"Did e-e-everything go okay?" she ventured to ask. "I was getting close to rushing in to check on you, but since I hadn't heard any smashing furniture, I figured I could wait another minute."

"Oh, he just had to get his little 'unhappy-ex' jabs in," Faith said over her shoulder. "You know...'if you hurt her, I'll get you'."

Buffy grabbed Faith's arm to stop her. "He threatened you?" she asked, anger now entering her voice.

"Yeah, and I took it about as serious as I did Willow and her shovel," Faith replied before trying to resume walking.

"That arrogant jerk!!!"

The sudden exclamation stopped Faith mid-stride. She turned back around and glanced at Buffy, who was now seriously pissed off.

"I bend over backwards to break the news as gently as I can," Buffy growled, "and he turns around and threatens my girlfriend?!!"

Faith's eyebrows rose in surprise at Buffy's outrage.

"Who the hell does he think he is?!!" Buffy continued to rant. "I'm gonna go back in there and set him straight. Stupid jerk..."

As Faith's mouth quirked into a pleased smile, she quickly grabbed Buffy before she could barge in on Angel.

"What are you doi--?" Buffy objected before Faith cut off her words with an ardent kiss, which Buffy eagerly returned. When they eventually separated, Buffy asked, "Mmmm...what was that for?"

Faith leaned in and pressed the tip of her nose against Buffy's. "For being my hero." At Buffy's smile, she added, "I've never had a defender before."

"Well, you've got one now," Buffy told her. Then she grew serious and reached up to caress Faith's cheek. "I'd do anything to protect you. Anything."

Moved by Buffy's words, Faith felt a lump form in her throat. She glanced away long enough to clear her throat; then she met Buffy's gaze once more. Flashing a grin, she said, "Back at ya." She linked her arm with Buffy's and guided them away from Angel's mansion. "Come on, I need to get ready for patrol. Unfortunately, the vamps won't dust themselves."

"They are so inconsiderate," Buffy joked. "Somebody should teach them some manners."

"That'll be me," Faith replied. "Just call me Miss Manners."

Buffy snorted and shot a smirk in Faith's direction. "Miss Something..."

"Watch it, girlie, or I'll start with you."

"Yeah, yeah..."

***

About a half hour later, Faith was finishing up her preparations for patrol. As Buffy held up a long black coat, Faith eased her arms into the sleeves. After settling the coat onto her shoulders, Faith opened the left side of the coat.

Inside the left front panel was a scabbard sewn into the lining. When Buffy handed her the short sword, Faith placed it into the scabbard. A dagger and a couple of stakes went into similar places inside the right front panel.

Faith tested her range of motion and practiced removing each weapon. When she was done, she turned to Buffy and smiled. "This coat rocks!"

"Yeah, it's pretty handy," Buffy commented. "Especially when the weather's cool. In the summer, not so much."

"I totally need to get one," Faith added.

Buffy's mind immediately reminded her of Faith's upcoming birthday. Smiling to herself, she made a mental note to talk to Giles and her mother about getting Faith a similar coat of her own.

"Okay, time for the fancy-schmancy radio," Faith said, popping Buffy out of her thoughts.

Buffy handed over a small walkie-talkie. Faith turned it on and locked it in the on position; then she clipped it onto her belt at the small of her back. Buffy placed a small headset on Faith's head and then stuffed the cord down Faith's back between her coat and shirt. Buffy came around to Faith's front and reached around her to retrieve the end of the headset cord and plug it into the radio at Faith's belt.

As Buffy groped blindly for the cord, Faith teased, "Hey now, no funny stuff. Don't have time for you to feel me up. Least not with your mom in the other room."

Buffy chuckled but finally got the cord and radio connected. Then she pulled Faith into a real hug, which the dark slayer gladly returned. "Guess we'll just have to arrange some alone time, then, won't we?" Buffy whispered suggestively.

"Hell yeah," Faith whispered back before capturing Buffy's lips with hers.

After kissing themselves breathless, they reluctantly parted and started to test the radio. Just then, Buffy's mother entered the room.

"Everything good to go?" Joyce asked.

"Looks like," Faith answered.

"Now you be careful out there," Joyce instructed. "Let us know where you are at all times."

"Yes ma'am," Faith dutifully replied.

From behind Joyce's back, Buffy silently mouthed the word "ma'am" and made the motions of a mocking snicker.

Turning away and heading toward the front door, Faith rolled her eyes and sighed. She's never gonna let me live this down. Guess I better get used to it.

***

Later that evening, as Faith patrolled Sunnydale under the watchful ears of Buffy and Joyce, Giles was having dinner with his favorite psychiatrist, Helen Fielding. In a candlelit corner of the local French restaurant, Giles and Helen caught each other up on the details of their lives since their last meeting. They also laughed and reminisced, reliving special moments from their past. It was only when they had nearly finished their desserts that Giles raised the question of Faith's progress.

"How did Faith's session go this morning?" he asked. "I didn't have the chance to speak with her privately this afternoon."

"It went well," Helen replied. "She seems committed to doing what is necessary to get better. She answered questions thoughtfully and honestly, though not always as thoroughly as I would have liked. For the most part, she allowed her emotions to show, but there were times when she shut down completely. This being our first meeting, I didn't push her too hard."

"I'm glad the meeting went well," Giles said. "You'll be meeting with her again tomorrow morning, yes?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Good," Giles said. "After today, I imagine she'll have a lot to discuss with you."

"The ole 'Team Talk' didn't go well, I presume."

"Unfortunately, no. I'm afraid the group remains bitterly divided over the Angel issue. Some very hurtful things were said."

Helen reached across the table and covered Giles's hand with her own. "What about you? This must've been very difficult for you as well. After all, it's been less than a year since you lost Jenny."

"It has been difficult," Giles confirmed. "I was very angry with Buffy for keeping Angel's return secret. But we spoke this morning. She apologized for the pain she had caused me and also explained her perspective in more detail." He looked away for a moment and then met Helen's eyes once again. "You know...I sometimes forget how young Buffy really is. Although her life as a slayer has certainly forced her to mature more rapidly than her peers, she's still just a teenaged girl who can't be expected to have the judgment of an adult. Particularly not in matters of the heart."

"You're a good watcher, Rupert Giles," Helen praised. "Buffy and Faith are lucky to have you."

Giles actually blushed a little, but he covered it up by turning to summon the waiter for the check.

***

After walking back to the Hyatt, Helen and Giles stood in the lobby making their good-nights.

"I had a wonderful time tonight," Giles said.

"So did I," Helen replied. "Thank you for inviting me."

"You're most welcome," he told her, nodding his head a bit nervously.

Helen brushed his arm with her fingertips and tilted her head. "Would you like to come up to my room for a nightcap? Annnnd perhaps more?"

Giles loosened his tie and cleared his throat. "I, um, I'd like to, of course, but, um, I really should check in with Buffy about Faith's patrol...I-I-I should be home and available in case they need me..."

Helen shot him a sultry grin. "My room has a phone, and besides...you don't have to stay all night, although you're certainly welcome to."

When Giles still hesitated, she changed her tone from seductive to sincere. "I told you this summer...no strings. You're still mourning Jenny, I'm still mourning David, a part of us will always mourn them, I suppose." She gave his arm a squeeze and then said, "Think about it. You know where to find me."

At that, Helen turned and headed for the elevators. While she waited for the car to arrive, she couldn't help being a little disappointed at Giles's refusal. Her attraction to him certainly hadn't waned over the years, so her situation was rather frustrating to say the least.

Just as the elevator beeped to announce the car's arrival, however, she noticed Giles walking up beside her. When the doors opened, he stepped inside with her and stood right next to her without speaking a word. She punched the button for her floor, and as the doors slowly closed, a smug smile spread over Helen's face.

***

While Giles was accompanying Helen to her hotel room, Willow was knocking at the front door of the Harris home. When the door opened, she was surprised to find Cordelia, and not Xander, on the other side.

When Cordelia saw who was at the door, she didn't waste words. "He doesn't want to see you," she announced.

Willow frowned worriedly. "Like, at all? Like, ever?"

"Like, today," Cordelia corrected. "That's all I know."

"He's still pretty upset then, I guess."

"Well, duh," Cordelia stated, shutting the door and joining Willow outside. "He hates vampires, he especially hates Angel/Angelus, and you took sides against him. Not a lot to be happy about."

"I'm not 'against him.' I just think he made a mistake, and I think he needs to own up to it."

"Oh, and I suppose Buffy the Perfect Hero is blameless in all this."

"No, I think she made a mistake, too," Willow said, "but at least she's admitted that she screwed up."

Cordelia gave a small shrug of acknowledgement in reply.

"Buffy should have never kept Angel's return secret. That's true. But I can kinda understand her point of view. If I had been in her shoes, I would've been freaking out, too."

"I get it, okay?" Cordelia huffed in frustration. "Mentally I get it. The whole Angel-Angelus distinction, the epic love, how it must have crushed Buffy to kill Angel. But all I can think about is Angelus--how if Angel's back, then the possibility of Angelus is, too."

"That's not going to happen," Willow insisted. "Buffy is with Faith, and Angel's leaving town, so therefore, it won't happen."

"What if Angel falls in love with someone else?" Cordelia offered. "The curse isn't specific to Buffy. So, what if Angel gets all Shiny Happy People with somebody else down the line? It could be Angelus all over again."

Willow seemed momentarily stumped by this scenario, but then she said, "Angel didn't know about the happiness clause before. He does now. He’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again."

Despite Willow's prediction, Cordelia didn't look reassured.

***

Meanwhile, Buffy and Joyce were watching TV while manning the radio base during Faith's patrol.

"Yo, Dorothy-Do!" came Faith's voice over the radio. "Are you there?"

Buffy rolled her eyes while her mother smirked at her. Buffy pressed the talk button on the radio. "I read you, Boston Butt," she replied.

"Good one," Faith chuckled. "Anyway, I'm over in Glenwood Park now, this side of the bluff. So far, nothing. I'll do a sweep and then--Wait!"

Faith's voice stopped and was replaced by the sound of her running through brush.

"Faith, what's going on?" Buffy asked worriedly.

"Heard something," Faith answered in huffs as she continued running. "Hang on."

Buffy and Joyce moved closer to the radio base. When Faith's running stopped, they heard what sounded like a dog squealing in pain and a large beast snarling viciously.

"Hey! Get away from him, you ugly excuse for a hellhound!" they heard Faith yell.

Frightened beyond words, Buffy and Joyce reached for each other's hands as they hung on every sound coming from the radio.

Suddenly, Faith's call erupted into a cacophony of blows and tumbles, grunts and growls. Buffy slammed her hand on the talk button and frantically called out Faith's name, but all they could hear was the sounds of the ongoing battle.

At one point the beast seemed to be snapping right at Faith's face, as if it were very near her headset. Then they heard Faith give a kind of roar, and the snarling moved away slightly. A second later Faith cried out in pain. There was a thud, then nothing. The radio signal went dead.

 

PART 17C

 

"Faith!" Buffy practically screamed into the radio. "Faith!"

When she got no answer, Buffy jumped to her feet. "I'm going after her."

"I'll drive you," Joyce replied, following after Buffy.

Before the two women could get to the front door, though, they were stopped by the sound of Faith's voice coming back onto the radio.

"B, you still there?"

Buffy rushed back to the radio. "Oh my god, Faith, are you okay?"

"I'm good...just...a little out of breath."

"Thank god! You just scared the daylights out of me and Mom. We were two seconds from heading over there when you came back on."

"Well, don't send the rescue squad yet," Faith laughed. "I'm fine. Damn thing got away, though. I'm gonna start tracking it as soon as I catch my breath."

"Oh, no you won't," Buffy said. "Not by yourself."

"I can handle it," Faith insisted. "Besides, this is the first break we've had. We can't let it slip away."

"No, it's too dangerous," Buffy countered. "It already gave you a run, and there could be more of them out there. You need to wait."

Faith was silent for a while. Then she let out a big sigh. "Okay," she agreed. After letting out another sigh, she said, "It's just as well anyway. Damn thing messed up my clothes. What is this? Demon slobber? Ugghh!"

Buffy and Joyce shared a laugh.

"Look, do me a favor and call Giles, will ya?" Faith asked. "Let him know the sitch? Tell him we can get with the research tomorrow now that I've seen one of these things. Maybe I can I.D. it in his dusty old books."

"I'll call him," Buffy radioed back. "We can meet at the library first thing in the morning."

There was a noticeable delay in Faith's answer. "Uh, no," she said, "actually afternoon is better for me."

"That's right. Grumpy doesn't do mornings," Buffy teased. "How about 1:00?

"Yeah, sounds good. See you then."

"Love you," Buffy said, smiling warmly.

"Love you, too," came Faith's reply.

***

After ending her call with Buffy and turning off her radio, Faith finally let herself groan in pain. She was lying on her back on the ground in a wooded area along the rear side of a residential area. She reached into her coat pocket and fished out a small flashlight. Grimacing, she sat up, turned on the flashlight, and shined the beam onto her body.

Although her shirt was indeed covered in what appeared to be 'demon slobber,' the right leg of her jeans was wet with her own blood. Above the knee, the jeans had been ripped, and beneath the torn denim, ragged claw marks ran down her leg.

"Damn," Faith said.

After steeling herself for the pain, she got to her feet and started limping her way to the bus station.

***

When Faith got near the bus station, she buttoned her borrowed coat to keep her bloody leg out of sight. Once she reached the sidewalk out front, she forced herself to walk normally. Gritting her teeth, she went inside to her locker, removed her duffel bag, and then headed for the handicapped restroom. Once she had locked the door and set down her bag, she pulled off her boots and coat and then carefully stripped off her jeans. After wiping the blood off her leg, she gave the wound a good look-over.

"Not as bad as that clawing I got a while back," she told herself, "but still...it's probably a good thing I didn't go after that demon after all."

With a sigh, Faith dug her first aid kit out of her duffel bag and began cleaning the wound.

***

Meanwhile, Buffy was in the process of calling Giles. She had already called once but had gotten no answer. She shot a puzzled look at her mother as the phone continued to go unanswered.

"He's not home," Buffy said. "Huh." When the answering machine picked up, she left a message, "Hey, Giles, just checking in about Faith's patrol. She ran into that demon we've been looking for. Fought it pretty hard, but it got away. She got a good look at it, though, and wants us to do the research thing tomorrow around 1:00." She started to hang up the phone but then brought it back. "Oh, by the way, Faith's phone in her room is still out, so if you need to talk to her before then, you'll have to drop by her place. I don't recommend it, though, 'cause you know she's not a morning person." She shot a smirk at her mom before saying goodbye and hanging up.

"Faith's phone isn't working?" Joyce asked, worry on her face.

Buffy paused, unwilling to share the real reason for the phone's demise. "Yeah," she finally said, "half the stuff over there doesn't work." Anymore, she added in her mind as she thought of the demolished motel room.

"I don't like the idea of her being in that room without a phone," Joyce said. "That motel is not in a good part of town."

"I agree completely. We should get her out of that place," Buffy announced. "If only someone had an extra room..." she added in an exaggerated tone while batting her eyes at her mother.

Joyce merely rolled her eyes and gave her daughter's arm a swat. "Get to bed, young lady. You've still got some healing to do."

"Okey-dokey," Buffy chirped before heading up the stairs.

After Buffy left the room, Joyce stared off, thinking intently.

***

Later that night, after getting ready for bed, Joyce picked up the phone on her nightstand and called Giles's number. It rang multiple times before the answering machine picked up. She let out an impatient huff and waited for the requisite beep.

"Rupert, where are you? You need to contact that motel Faith's staying at and get them to fix her phone. It's simply unacceptable for her to be without a working phone. What if something happened? And just this morning, Faith said that the shower has hot water only about half the time. It's not right. So do something."

Joyce hung up the phone with a flair, satisfied that she had fulfilled her motherly duty to nag others into action.

***

Meanwhile, at the Hyatt, Giles lay naked and sated in the bed of Dr. Helen Fielding. The two were entwined in each other's arms with Helen resting her head against his shoulder.

"I'm glad you stayed," Helen said.

Distracted by his own thoughts, Giles took several seconds to answer. "What? Oh, yes, yes, I'm glad as well." He gave her a kiss on the top of her head.

Realizing that Giles was preoccupied with his slayers, Helen let out an amused snort and gave him a playful shove. "Go!" she ordered. "I know you. You won't be able to concentrate on anything else until you check on your girls."

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "I don't mean to be distracted, but..."

She waved away his apology. "You're a watcher through and through. I know you'll do whatever you must to see that your slayers are taken care of."

"Thank you," he said with a smile. He got out of bed and began hurriedly redressing. "I'll see you tomorrow, yes? When are you leaving for Los Angeles?"

Helen rose from the bed and walked over. "Well," she said, dragging her index finger down Giles's chest, "I was planning to leave after my morning session with Faith unless someone could persuade me to stay another night."

Giles pulled her into his arms and gave her a passionate kiss.

Helen chuckled and said, "Consider me persuaded."

***

When he entered his apartment, Giles headed straight for his phone, intending to call Buffy. His eyes grew worried when he saw that he had two messages. He rushed to press the play button.

His expression showed relief as he heard via Buffy's message that nothing bad had happened to Faith on patrol. When he listened to Joyce's message about the motel, however, his expression changed to irritation.

"Bloody, useless manager," Giles grumbled as he punched the delete button.

His mind took him back to Helen's earlier comment. You're a watcher through and through, she had told him. I know you'll do whatever you must to see that your slayers are taken care of.

Giles drew his shoulders back in a posture of resolve. "I'm going to give that manager a piece of my mind right now. I don't care how late it is."

At that, he was out the door.

***

Giles strode up to an unnumbered door around the corner from the tiny motel lobby. He banged loudly on the weather-worn wooden door. After a few seconds, an irate voice could be heard inside.

"Go away!" yelled the manager. "I'm not on duty!"

"I insist on speaking with you this instant!" Giles yelled back.

After cursing freely, the manager flung open the door. When he saw who it was, he looked nervous for a moment. Then he returned to his usual, obnoxious personality. "Oh, it's you. The British Benefactor."

"I need to speak with you. Now."

The manager glanced nervously up and down the sidewalk outside as if checking whether anyone could see them. Satisfied that no one was watching, he pulled Giles inside and shut the door.

Once inside, the manager walked to the other side of the room, shaking his hands in denial. When he turned around, he said, "Look, I don't know what that bitch told you, but I didn't touch her…"

Giles appeared confused, but the manager just kept going.

"I mean, I mighta grabbed her 'cause I was pissed about her trashin' the room, but I did not touch her. You understand what I'm sayin'?"

Giles's confusion suddenly became realization. With icy fire behind his eyes, Giles put on a bland smile and said, "Yes, I believe I understand everything now."

Just as the manager's lips began quirking into a smug smile, Giles rushed him and grabbed him by his shirt. The manager started to protest, but Giles just shoved him back until he had the pudgy man pressed against the wall.

"You didn't touch her?" Giles demanded. "You didn't touch her?!"

Giles swept his hand to the manager's crotch and applied a crushing squeeze to the man's private parts. When the manager cried out with a squeal, Giles covered the man's mouth with his other hand. Then he got right in the manager's face.

"You and I are going to have a lengthy chat," Giles told him, "and you are going to tell me everything I want to know, yes?"

The manager let out a high-pitched whine and nodded.

"Now," Giles slowly growled, "where exactly did you 'not touch' her?"

***

After leaving the manager whimpering on the floor of his motel room, Giles went to search for Faith. He tried the all-night diner and the donut shop, but then he remembered something from their conversation earlier in the day, before they had left for Faith's session with Dr. Fielding.

Crappy place, I know, she'd said about her motel room, but hey…better’n sleepin’ at the bus station, right?

Without delay, Giles headed for Sunnydale's Greyhound terminal.

***

Once at the bus station, Giles wandered through the facility until he found his missing slayer. She was in the waiting area, curled up in a corner chair, using her duffel bag as a pillow.

When she heard her name being called, Faith jerked awake. She looked startled for a moment then sat up.

"Giles...hey..." she said, pasting on a fake smile. "What's up?" Seeing her watcher's grim expression, she quickly added, "I-I-I wasn't trying to run or nothing. I was just--"

Giles held up a hand to halt Faith's impending explanation and probable lie. "I know what happened at the motel," he said as he sat down beside her.

"Oh." Faith dropped her gaze to the floor. Hoping he didn't know the whole story, she decided to focus on the room trashing. "I'm sorry about the room. I--"

Giles cut her off once again. "I don't care about the room!" he replied more harshly than he meant. He took a breath and let it out, then reached out and touched her arm. "Did he hurt you?" he asked with sincere concern. "In any way?"

Faith cringed, refusing to meet Giles's eyes. He knew. God, he knew. What the manager had done to her, what he had tried to do to her, what she had nearly done to him.

"No," she answered in a small, quiet voice.

After an almost unbearable period of silence, she felt Giles remove his hand. When he didn't say anything else, she ventured a look in his direction. He sat with his elbows on his knees. With one hand, he massaged his forehead right above the bridge of his nose.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I-I-I should have gotten you into a better place. I never should have allowed you to stay there after Kakistos..."

"It's not your fault," Faith replied. "Hell, if it wasn't for you payin' the bill, I woulda been sleepin' here in the bus station all this time."

"Still..." Giles said, not willing to forgive himself. After another long moment of silence, he cleared his throat and looked her way. "I, um, I got a message from Buffy. She said that you encountered our missing demon on patrol?"

"Yeah, it was attacking somebody's dog. I tried to take it down, but I couldn't. It was a lot tougher than it looked."

"Were you hurt?" he asked worriedly.

"Nah," Faith said with a shrug. "Nothin' major, anyway."

Knowing his slayer's proclivity for underestimating her injuries, Giles raised an eyebrow at her.

"It's just a scratch," she insisted.

Deciding not to press the matter, Giles got to his feet. "Well, gather your things. You're coming home with me," he informed her.

Though secretly relieved, Faith made a show of sighing as she picked up her duffel bag. Once again willing herself not to limp, she followed Giles out to his car.

***

After getting Faith settled into his living room, he sat down to speak with her once more.

"I know you're a very private person," he told her, "but it concerns me that you didn't ask for help when you were evicted from the motel."

"It was my fault. Didn't think you oughta have to deal with it. That's all."

"I want to 'deal with it,' as you say. Faith, you need to realize that you have people who care about you now, people who can help and who want to help."

"Just not used to that," she mumbled embarrassedly.

"Well, get used to it," Giles told her in a lighter tone, "because you're stuck with us. Now get some rest. We'll talk more in the morning, before your appointment with Helen. And...be sure to tell her what happened at the motel," he said as he got to his feet. "In your own way and time, of course."

Faith nodded and gave a small smile in return. "Thanks," she told him sincerely.

At that, Giles retired to the loft, leaving Faith alone in the living room. She sighed heavily and slumped back against the couch cushions.

Great, another shining moment in my life to share with my shrink, she thought ruefully. Yeah, can't wait to tell Buffy either. 'Woo-hoo, guess what, honey? You're girlfriend's so screwed up she has to see a shrink! That'll earn me brownie points with your mom, won't it?'

She growled in frustration at herself and sat back up. As her thoughts went to her next therapy session, her stomach started to churn. Although the first one had gone well, she knew that the sessions to come would be much more intense. She'd have to go places she really didn't want to go.

As unwanted images from her past began flashing in her mind, Faith closed her eyes and shook her head. She drove the memories away and then stood up. After grabbing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts from her duffel bag, she trudged off to the downstairs bathroom to shower and change her clothes for bed.

***

The next morning, Giles and Faith rose early, got dressed, and shared a simple breakfast of tea, toast, and jam.

Afterwards, as they walked out of the kitchen together, Giles asked nonchalantly, "Did you sleep all right?"

He knew quite well that she hadn't. Unable to sleep himself, he had heard her jolt awake at least twice that night. She hadn't woken up screaming, but she had gasped aloud as if a nightmare had frightened her from her sleep. He hadn't let on that he had heard, not wanting to cause her to feel even more self-conscious. Even now, though, it made his stomach clench to think of the memories she must have been reliving in her dreams.

"Yeah, fine," came Faith's answer.

He chose not to dispute her claim. "Excellent," he said, turning to face her. "I'm glad to hear it."

Faith nodded her head and then shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. "So...you wanna talk about that demon thingee I saw last night?"

"I do indeed," Giles replied. "But...I'd like to ask you something first."

"Okay."

"Is it your intention to continue keeping your appointments private?" When he saw Faith's expression show alarm, he hurriedly went on. "I just wanted to know so that I can prepare an appropriate response, should anyone ask your whereabouts."

"By 'anyone' you mean Buffy," Faith challenged.

"Yes, for the most part."

When Giles simply stared at her, waiting for her reply Faith pulled her hands from her pockets and walked a few feet away. "I'll tell her, okay?" she huffed defensively. "I just don't know when yet."

"Faith...seeing a psychiatrist...it's nothing to be ashamed of."

Easy for you to say, she thought to herself. "Can we just talk demons?" she said as she turned back around. "You know, the literal kind?"

"Of course," Giles replied. "Let me get my notepad."

***

Meanwhile, an unhappy and poorly rested Buffy woke up in her bedroom. She'd had bad dreams about Faith all night--about her being hurt or about losing her somehow. She frowned as she recalled some of the images from her dreams. Wanting to check on her girlfriend, Buffy immediately reached over for the phone on her nightstand. She set the phone right back down, however, when she remembered that Faith's phone in her motel room no longer worked.

"Stupid phone," Buffy grumbled, poking her bottom lip out in a significant pout. Then she cocked her head and rethought her statement.

I probably shouldn't blame the phone, though. I mean, it's not the phone's fault it got smashed to smithereens. It was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her expression saddened. It was just an innocent bystander in all this. Just collateral damage. Poor thing.

Buffy's frown returned when the ridiculousness of her thoughts finally hit her. "Oh, god, I need coffee..."

Buffy dragged herself out of bed and headed downstairs.

***

When Buffy entered the kitchen, she expected to find a pot of coffee already brewed and her mother in the process of making breakfast. She found neither. Her pout returned, accompanied by a whine. Then she noticed a piece of paper lying on the counter. When she picked it up, she saw that it was a note from her mother. The note read: 

I went in to the gallery to get some work done.
How about a mother-daughter brunch at Sophia's?
After all the upheaval lately, we could use a little
pampering, don't you think?
Call me when you get up. -- Mom

Buffy smiled at the note. "Mmmm…Sophia's. We haven't done that in, like, forever." She picked up the phone.

A short time later, Buffy was showered and dressed for brunch. After bounding down the stairs, she stopped and glanced at her watch. "Plenty o' time to run by Faith's and visit for a while."

***

When Buffy arrived at Faith's motel, she found the door crossed off with fluorescent yellow caution tape. She knocked on the door several times and called out Faith's name, but there was no answer. Buffy hurried away toward the motel's main office.

As she entered the tiny lobby, she saw the manager, bruised and limping, slowly making his way back behind the front desk. She walked toward him.

"I saw my friend's room taped off," she said, pointing her thumb over her shoulder toward the front door. "Room 3? Did she move to another room?"

"Hell no!" the manager barked, his face reddening in anger. "I'm not lettin' her stay here after what she did to that room. Kicked that bitch's ass to the curb two days ago."

Buffy was too confused to take issue with the manager calling her girlfriend a bitch. "Two…? Two days ago?" she asked, completely baffled. "Well, where did she go? Where is she staying?"

"I don't know, and I don't care! So fuck off!!!" he yelled before going into his office and slamming the door.

Buffy stood there in shock for a moment. Then she rushed out of the lobby and ran straight to Giles's apartment.

***

After Faith had left for her session with Dr. Fielding, Giles had turned on some soothing music and settled in at his desk to sort through his mail. A banging at his door nearly caused him to fall out of his chair. When he answered the door, a very upset blonde strode right past him and into the living room.

"Have you seen Faith?" Buffy frantically asked as she turned to face her watcher. "Do you know what happened at her motel?!!"

Giles opened his mouth to speak but hesitated since he wasn't sure what Buffy knew or didn't know. It didn't matter because Buffy didn't wait for his answer anyway.

"She got kicked out! Like, two days ago! I went by there this morning and found her room all taped off, and the manager said he had kicked her out for trashing the place. But that was two days ago, and she never said a word, and now I don't know where she is!"

Giles held up his hands to calm Buffy down. "Faith is fine, I assure you. She stayed here last night."

"What?" Buffy exclaimed, looking a little betrayed. But that quickly gave way to concern, "Well, where is she now?"

He cleared his throat and spoke the lie he had prepared. "She's, um, making a quick run to where she encountered that demon last night. To see if there are any visible tracks or additional clues before our meeting this afternoon."

"Oh, okay," Buffy said, her indignation now somewhat deflated. She plopped down onto Giles's couch, and he sat beside her. "So…how did you find out the motel thing?" she asked. "Did she just show up at your doorstep?"

"No, I'm afraid not," he answered. "I discovered it much the same way you did. When I found out what had happened, I went out looking for her."

"Where was she? Why didn't you call me?!"

"I would have called if I hadn't found her, but I did," he told her. "She was at the bus station, asleep in the waiting area."

Buffy stared off for a moment and then let out a small huff. "She didn't say anything when she went off patrol last night. I mean, I knew she had trashed her room, but I didn't know she'd been kicked out because of it. Why didn't she say anything? She could've stayed with me!"

"I don't know, but I imagine she was ashamed. You know how sensitive she is about asking for help."

"But she has help now. She doesn't have to do everything by herself."

"I know, and I reminded her of that last night. But just remember, Buffy, this is all very new to her. She's never had any kind of support, any kind of stability. She's never had a family before."

"Well, she's got one now, and I'm going to prove it to her," Buffy said, getting to her feet. "I'm gonna go find her, and we're gonna have a nice long talk about--"

Giles instantly rose and stopped the blonde from leaving. "I don't think that would be a good idea right now. I know you want to help her, but she needs to handle things in her own time. Just be patient. I'm sure she'll confide everything to you very soon."

Buffy was divided. She knew Giles was right, but she certainly didn't like it. Not one bit. Eventually she rolled her eyes and sat back down. After Giles also returned to his seat, she asked, "So is Faith gonna be staying here now?"

"For the time being. Until I can arrange for a room at another establishment. Hopefully one that isn't so…"

"…sleazy?" Buffy supplied.

"Quite," Giles said. "I suppose it was all she could afford when she first arrived in Sunnydale. I've assured her that we'll find a more suitable place of lodging."

"In the meantime," Buffy added, "I'm gonna start working on my mom. We have an extra bedroom. I don't see why--"

"Just tread very carefully, Buffy," Giles interjected. "For your mother's sake and Faith's."

Buffy let that sink in then nodded solemnly. When her eye caught the clock, she stood up. "I gotta go. I'm meeting Mom for brunch, but I'll see you at 1:00 at the library?"

"Yes, of course. Give your mother my best."

"I will."

At that, Buffy headed for the door.

***

Meanwhile, Faith was in the hotel restaurant with Dr. Fielding. Having completed her morning session, the dark slayer was now enjoying the Sunday brunch buffet, courtesy of her psychiatrist. And, much to chagrin of the restaurant's host, Faith wasn't holding back. Currently on her third round, Faith had one plate heaped high with eggs, fried potatoes, and biscuits as well as bacon, ham, and sausage, while a second held a Belgian waffle smothered in syrup and melted butter.

Having finished the main portion of her own meal, Helen now had a generous helping of strawberry cheesecake before her. As she sipped her tea and nibbled at her dessert, she watched with amusement as Faith enthusiastically consumed the feast in front of her.

Good lord, the doctor thought. I knew slayers could eat a large amount, but this is incredible. I've never seen the like. Thank goodness it's a one-price, all-you-can-eat. If I had to pay by the pound, she'd bankrupt me.

"Didn't think I'd feel like eatin' after all that talkin'," Faith commented, "but this is good stuff. Thanks!"

"I wanted us to close on a positive note," Helen said. "And food always gets a plus sign in my book."

"Mine too," Faith agreed. "Especially when it's this good. Don't ever get food this good 'cept when Buffy's mom cooks."

"She's a good cook?"

"Oh yeah! Real good." Faith snickered a little. "Doesn't look like Buffy inherited any of her cooking genes, though."

"No?"

Faith shook her head. "Nope. She's about as useless in the kitchen as I am. Us slayers…we're made for throwing knives, not chopping up onions with 'em, ya know?"

Genuinely curious, Helen leaned forward and said, "Tell me what you like about Buffy, what you love about her."

Faith lowered her fork and finished chewing. "Well, she's hot, for one thing," she stated with a smirk, earning an eye roll from Helen. Faith gazed off in thought for a moment. "She's got eyes you can dive right into. I don't think she has a clue how sexy she is." After thinking a bit more, she said, "She makes me laugh. She is so damn funny. And she can totally kick ass as a slayer. She may look all petite and helpless, but she's not. She's amazing."

Helen grew a bit serious and asked gently, "What else?"

Faith shrugged and picked at her food for a while. "I don't know how to explain it, but…when she looks at me, she sees me. She sees the real me, but she doesn't…"

As Faith trailed off, Helen teasingly filled in the blanks. "…run away screaming into the night?"

Faith snorted a laugh. "Basically, yeah."

***

A short time later, Buffy entered the Hyatt and walked through the cavernous, atrium-like lobby to the back, where the hotel's main restaurant, Sophia's, was located. She was early, so she chose to wait outside the restaurant rather than go inside.

A good portion of the restaurant's seating area jutted into the open air of the lobby; decorative rails, planters, and trellises marked the perimeter. On the near side of the boundary lay several clusters of leather chairs and sofas. To the right of this area was the alcove containing the elevators.

Wanting to keep an eye out for her mother, Buffy headed for a sofa that was backed against a trellis that served as the corner of the restaurant's border. She plopped down, picked up a magazine that was lying on the coffee table, and started leafing through it.

After a few moments, Buffy heard her name being called out. She looked up, expecting to see her mother, but it wasn't Joyce who had spoken. She was surprised to find that it was Faith.

Just as surprised as her girlfriend, Faith couldn't do anything but repeat herself. "Buffy?"

Buffy stood up to answer the greeting and then noticed that another person was present--a woman she didn't recognize. "Hey…uh…hey."

"What are you doing here?" Faith asked.

"I'm, um, I'm meeting my mom," Buffy answered. She cocked her thumb over her shoulder toward the restaurant. "We're gonna do the Sunday brunch thing." Her eyes briefly darted to the mystery woman and then back to Faith. "What are you doing here?"

"Uhhh, same thing. Basically," Faith said, somewhat flustered. " 'Cept not with my mom. Obviously. Since she's…you know…dead and everything." She made an inner groan and gave herself a good mental kicking. God, I sound like a total idiot.

When Buffy's gaze fell on her again, Helen stepped forward and stuck out her hand. "I'm Helen," she introduced. "I'm an old friend of Mr. Giles, in town for the weekend."

"Oh," Buffy commented in surprise as she shook Helen's hand. "I'm Buffy, Buffy Summers. I-I-It's nice to meet you. I-I-I didn't know you were going to be here. In town, I mean. Giles didn't say anything about it." She instantly waved her hand in the air to correct her words. "Not that he has to. I mean, he's a grownup. H-H-He can have visitors any time he wants. It's not like I have to know about it, right?" Holy imbecile, Batman, could I sound any more moronic?

Helen made no adverse reaction to Buffy's babbling; instead, she merely excused herself with an apology. "I'm sorry to rush off," she told the two slayers, "but I have an important call to make in my room. I enjoyed your company at brunch, Faith. And, Buffy, it was very nice to meet you." At that, Helen strode away toward the elevators, smiling to herself about serendipity.

After Helen had left, Buffy and Faith found themselves in a highly awkward position. Buffy knew there was more to this Helen story, but she didn't know how or whether to ask. And Faith knew that Buffy knew, but she didn't have a clue about how to start explaining it all to her. As the seconds of silence ticked by, both slayers just rocked on their feet, wrung their hands, and glanced at anything but each other. It was Buffy who finally bit the bullet and spoke up.

"So, I, um, I thought you were out patrolling. You know, checking out that demon spot during the daylight hours. At least that's what Giles told me."

For a moment, Faith considered lying, but then she decided against it. "I wasn't patrolling," she admitted. "I was here. He only said that 'cause I asked him not to say anything about me coming over here."

"Oh...okay," Buffy said, although still confused. When her girlfriend didn't elaborate, Buffy felt compelled to press the issue. "Faith, what's going on? This is really wiggin' me out, and I don't even know why. Who is that woman, and why are you meeting with her, and why are you and Giles keeping her a secret?"

Faith sighed and then gestured at the sofa. "Let's sit down. I don't think I can have this conversation standing up."

As the two sat down on the sofa, Faith felt a streak of pain in her injured leg. She grimaced in response, which Buffy instantly noticed.

"Are you hurt?" Buffy asked. Then her tone became accusing. "Did you get hurt last night and not tell me?! God, Faith! What else are you keeping from me? Being kicked out of the motel...then getting hurt...then whatever it is you're doing with that woman!"

"You know about the motel?" Faith looked worried.

Buffy nodded. "I went by there this morning. The manager filled me in. Quite colorfully, I might add." She reached out and took her girlfriend's hand in hers. "Why didn't you tell me? You could've stayed with me."

Faith's expression scrunched into a small wince. "I'm on thin ice already with your mom..."

"She would've understood. Especially if we'd known you were hurt!"

"It wasn't bad," Faith insisted, pulling out of Buffy's grasp. "It's not like it needed stitches or anything."

"That's beside the point," Buffy countered curtly.

"What is the point, then?" Faith shot back.

Buffy took a calming breath and let it out. Then she met Faith's eyes. "The point is that I love you, and I wanna know when you're hurting, when you're going through something."

"Like you let me know when the whole Angel thing was going down?"

Buffy glanced away in pain and shame.

Faith immediately apologized. "Sorry. That was a low blow."

"Not that low," Buffy admitted. "But it seems like you're trying to get me back with triple the secrecy."

"I know," Faith said. "But I did tell you the truth yesterday. I said I didn't wanna tell you yet 'cause I didn't wanna jinx things."

"Things with this Helen person, you mean?"

"Yeah. I was gonna tell you about her, I swear. Just as soon as I knew it was working."

Buffy shook her head in confusion. "It?"

Faith sighed, resigned to telling Buffy everything. "Her name's Dr. Fielding, and she really is an old friend of Giles's. She used to work for the Council, but now she works at UCLA. She, um…" The dark slayer ducked her head in shame. "…she's a shrink."

Buffy's eyes widened. "A shrink? As in psychiatrist?"

Faith nodded ruefully but still didn't raise her head. "I'm fucked up, Buffy. You just don't realize how much and how bad."

"No, you're not," Buffy insisted. "You're--"

Faith held up her hands to stop Buffy's objection. "And don't give me your 'we all are' speech again, okay? As sweet as it was, it didn't really tell the whole truth, did it?"

Buffy looked on with sympathy but didn't speak.

"The truth is, " Faith continued, "some of the 'walking wounded' are a lot more wounded than others. Some of 'em have been ripped apart so much they're hardly worth saving. They're like…pit bulls, you know? That've been trained to fight? They get beat down so much till hurtin' and fightin's all they know."

Buffy reached out and put her hand on Faith's arm. "You're not like that, Faith. You're not."

"I am," Faith insisted, pulling away again. "You think this thing with Angel's the first time I went berserk-o-violent? It's not. When the Council found me in Boston, when I was still a potential, I was in a mental hospital at the time." She let out a breath and then leaned over, resting her forearms against her knees. "I attacked somebody," she explained. "Just yanked him outta his car and bashed his head against the curb over and over. I didn't even know the guy. There were others before that, but that one…that one got me locked away."

Buffy was momentarily struck dumb. How was she supposed to respond to such a confession?

"So I guess the cat's outta the bag," Faith went on sadly. "Your girlfriend's a certified psycho. Literally."

Faith held her breath and waited for Buffy to react. But Buffy only remained silent as she continued to process the information Faith had shared. The longer it took for Buffy to respond, though, the more Faith's fears assailed her. Luckily, when Buffy finally did reply, it wasn't what Faith expected.

"I guess it takes one to know one."

Faith's head shot up in confusion. "What?"

"Wanna know what I did on my summer vacation before moving to Sunnydale?" Buffy asked and then answered. "Oh, I spent a lovely series of weeks at Spa Lunacy, courtesy of my parents."

"No way!"

"Wayyyy," Buffy replied. "After I became the slayer and blew up the school gym and ran away to Las Vegas, my parents thought I was losing my mind--can't imagine why--so they had me committed. I wasn't crazy, but…I was pretty messed up…for a lot of different reasons. So, what I'm trying to say is…if you're 'certified', then I am, too, and you know what? I don't care."

Faith smiled for a second, but then she said solemnly, "I care. If we're gonna have any kinda chance, then I can't be like that. But the problem is…I don't know how to not be like that. That's why I asked Giles to get me a shrink."

"You asked? I just figured Giles must've suggested it…"

"No, I did."

Buffy thought for a moment and then asked, "When?"

Faith glanced away for a few seconds; then she turned back and answered. "The morning after you stayed with me at the motel."

Buffy thought back to how they woken up that morning--with Faith screaming and shaking, so rattled that she couldn't even speak. "It was that nightmare, wasn't it? It was about us?"

Faith nodded. Then she said, "It wasn't just that, though. It was everything that had happened. I had to make sure it never happened again. And if that means I gotta sit through sixteen hundred hours of ink blots, then I'll do it. I love you, B, I really do."

"I love you, too," Buffy said before pulling Faith into a fierce hug.

***

A few minutes later, Joyce arrived at the hotel and made her way to the sitting area beside Sophia's. It didn't take her long to spot her daughter, but she was surprised to find that Buffy wasn't alone.

When Buffy saw her mother walk up, she smiled and stood up. "Hey, Mom!" she said cheerfully before pointing at Faith. "Look who I found."

"Hello, Faith," Joyce greeted amiably.

Faith gave a small wave and got to her feet. "Hey, Mrs. S."

"Have you recovered from last night's excitement?" Joyce asked.

"Oh yeah, totally," Faith replied. When Buffy slightly cleared her throat, Faith amended her description. "Mostly."

"Good, I'm glad you're okay." Joyce then pointed out the restaurant. "We're about to head into Sophia's for the brunch buffet. Would you like to join us?"

"Oh, um...nah," Faith answered, waving her hand nonchalantly. "I just ate, actually. Totally stuffed my face."

"You could come sit with us," Buffy suggested. "You know, while we stuff our faces." She looked to her mom for confirmation.

In invitation, Joyce tilted her head toward the entrance. "Come on, let's go."

When the three women got to the host's desk, the dour older man scowled when he saw Faith in their party.

Faith raised her hands in defense. "I'm not eatin' this time, I swear."

"She's just going to keep us company," Joyce told the host.

"Very well," he grumbled. He pointedly grabbed only two napkin-wrapped sets of silverware and then nodded his head to indicate that they should follow him. "Girl eats more than a football team," he whispered under his breath as he led them toward their table.

Having overheard the host's muttered comment, Buffy snickered and gave Faith an elbow nudge.

Faith smirked and nudged back. "Hey, I'm a growing slayer," she defended.

***

An hour of so later, Buffy and her mother trudged slowly out of Sophia's with Faith following behind.

"Mmm," Buffy said, smiling and gently patting her stomach. "I love all-you-can-eat."

"Me too," Joyce added without the smile. "Until the end of the meal when I'm miserable."

As the three slowly made their way toward the hotel's main entrance, they passed through a sitting area where a large television was built into the wall. The TV was currently showing a local news program. Something about the program caught Buffy's eye. She stopped and looked, causing Faith and Joyce to do the same.

Together they read the banner beneath the reporter: "Breaking News: Mutilated Human Body Found at Kingman's Park."

Turning to each other, the two slayers exchanged grim and worried looks.


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 18...

 


Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories