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Faith always loved watching the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

That was one thing she had learned while growing up in Boston: no matter how much her life sucked the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, she could always count on that one day being her escape. The entire city went all-out when it came to celebrating that holiday, and even the poorest residents could watch the firework shows that lit up the sky.

When she left Boston for Louisiana after becoming a Slayer, knowing that she wouldn't see the Fourth of July celebration was her only regret. Then she discovered that Louisiana had its own unique way of celebrating, and she quickly realized that it wasn't Boston or even the holiday itself that she loved. It was the fireworks.

There was something about them that drew her attention. They were beautiful, but at the same time they were wild and unpredictable. Even though people thought they could control them, thought that they knew exactly what would happen once the fuse was lit... that wasn't always the case. They ran on the unpredictability of fire, and they depended on the fickleness of the weather.

"They're both the mistress and the servant," her Watcher had told her during that one Fourth of July spent in New Orleans. "Fireworks are like a Slayer. They have the power, but unless they pay heed to those that control them, it results in disaster."

Almost six months later, on the other side of the country and just days before New Year's Eve, she bought a handful of cheap fireworks. In Boston, she had never had the chance to watch fireworks welcoming in the new year. The city didn't offer shows for the public that night, and she had learned at a very young age that stealing fireworks from the vendors was an act that rarely succeeded.

She had money to spend on ushering in 1999, though, thanks to Giles leaving his wallet laying out in the library where anyone could find it. Ten minutes before midnight, she gathered up her purchases and made her way to the roof of Sunnydale High. Then, without saying a word, she lit the fuses and stood back, smiling as she watched the bursts of bright colors light up the night sky.

After they faded away, she climbed back down and hurried away as the sound of sirens made their way towards the school building. Even though the view had been worth it, she didn't exactly want to spend the rest of the night locked up in a jail cell while the Sunnydale police found out that she was a minor living on her own in one of the most dangerous parts of the town.

Even though she spent the following Fourth of July in a coma, Faith dreamed of fireworks lighting up the Sunnydale skyline. Mayor Wilkins was there, smiling as he watched her link arms with Buffy and enjoy the show. "Enjoy the show while it lasts," he told them. "Once the dawn breaks, the cities will eventually fall."

"Heroes will fall with them," Buffy said, the smile on her face mirroring his.

Faith didn't see fireworks except in her dreams for the next three years. The concrete and metal of the jail couldn't keep her inside if she really wanted out, but she had made a promise. Not only to Angel, but to herself. It was during those three seemingly endless years that she realized exactly what it was that the fireworks represented in her mind.

Freedom.

Even though she couldn't see the real ones that she knew appeared in the sky outside, Faith pictured them in her mind whenever she wanted to escape reality for just a little while. She learned how to travel backwards in time, revisiting her childhood in Boston as she watched the familiar skyline lit up during the yearly festivities and even, at times, visiting the Watcher that she had barely even gotten to know.

She only watched the fireworks in Sunnydale while she slept, when she couldn't control the paths that her mind chose to travel. And even then, those dreams only slipped into her mind three times during her period spent in jail.

Every single time, it was the Fourth of July.

The first time, it caught her by surprise to find familiar faces watching the fireworks with her. Buffy was there, of course, as were Giles, Willow, and Xander. Instead of picturing Oz there, though, she saw the blonde girl -- Willow's friend, Tara, the one she had briefly met in Sunnydale. The former demon, Anya, was there too, holding hands with Xander, and B's new boy toy was there with them as well. Standing to the side was Joyce and a teenage girl with dark hair, and it had taken Faith a moment to remember that the girl was B's little sister, Dawn. What had surprised her the most, however, was seeing the blond vampire, Spike, hanging at the edge of the crowd.

None of them acted like she was there, and it was almost as if she was nothing more than a specter.

When she didn't dream of fireworks in Sunnydale again until the following Fourth of July, Faith started to become suspicious. Instead of being a mixture of her memories of happier times, her dream seemed to come entirely from the new details that she had heard of from Willow's letters. Because of that, it was a much more somber affair. The past year, she had dreamt of laughter... this year, there were tears. Giles was there, as were Willow and Xander. Anya and Tara were clinging to their respective others, while Spike and Dawn hung in the shadows. Neither Joyce nor Buffy was there, and the others seemed to be having a hard time accepting that. They watched the fireworks, but there was no joy in their eyes.

The following year, Faith was worried when she woke up from her yearly dream of Sunnydale and fireworks. Buffy, Xander, and Dawn were there, watching the sky being lit up while their eyes shone with wonder. Anya was there too, but she stayed further back as if she knew that she didn't truly belong with them. Giles wasn't there, and neither was Willow or her girlfriend. Faith saw the hint of sadness in the others' eyes, letting her know that she was missing part of the picture.

She never again dreamt of watching the fireworks in Sunnydale.

The following Fourth of July, Faith found herself wandering familiar ground. She had places to be, jobs to do for the new Watchers' Council... but she felt that she owed herself this.

She left Robin at the motel with promises that she wouldn't be gone long, then she rode out to the crater that had once been Sunnydale. Standing there on the edge, she carefully planted the small rocket-shaped firework in the ground and lit the fuse. As it lit up the sky above the chasm, sending streams of green, gold, red, blue, and what seemed like millions of other colors streaming across the sky, Faith pictured the faces of all those who lay buried in the rubble beneath her. Mayor Wilkins, Joyce, Tara, Anya, dozens of Potentials... possibly even Spike, though the rumors she had heard from L.A. seemed to say otherwise.

In her mind, they smiled with her as they looked up at the fireworks that represented freedom.

Then one turned toward her. "Enjoy the show while it lasts," Mayor Wilkins said, his smile fading as he shook his head sadly. "Once the dawn breaks, the cities will eventually fall."

"Heroes will fall with them," Joyce said sadly, turning towards Faith as well.

At that, Faith turned and walked away. She still loved watching the fireworks... but she couldn't help but feel sadness mixed in with the joy they had once brought her.