Faith ran as the snow continued to fall gently around her. She was heedless of her surroundings, though she sensed occasional people walking by as she passed through, as the inhabitants of Sunnydale took in a new form of weirdness that they didn't feel inclined to forget any time soon. She stopped in the alley behind the town Starbucks, not tired but just surrendering to an irresistible impulse to regroup from what she had seen and the anger welling up inside her about it.
"Faith." The voice came from about twenty feet behind the Slayer, and Faith didn't recognize it for a moment. The tone was concerned, but insistent. It was also clearly male, and Faith felt a new stab of anger mixed with sadness as she realized that Buffy hadn't been the one to follow her.
Faith turned and saw Angel standing there, his hands at his sides. She scowled at him and snapped: "What do you want? Looking for a rematch after I almost staked you last time?"
Faith felt an odd urge to laugh at the momentarily puzzled expression that crossed Angel's face as he took an instant to realize what Faith was talking about. The vampire shook his head and replied, "You didn't do anything wrong that time, Faith. You thought I was trying to kill your Watcher, and as it happened you weren't far off the mark."
"Except the part where the bitch wasn't really my Watcher, and that she'd just tried to kill you with a shovel. Plus the later part where she tried to fry us all and you saved Red's ass. Nice moves there, by the way." Faith was a bit surprised by how chatty she was sounding, but Angel *had* helped lessen the effect of Ms. Post conning them, and she was perfectly willing to admit it. "OK, so you're not here to try to kick my ass--why are you here? B was freaking out about you earlier, and now you're safe and sound and even walking around when the sun should be out. Seems like you'd have better things to do."
"I saw you running off and I was worried," Angel replied, the expression on his face matching the tone Faith had heard earlier. "There are bad things going on, even by this place's standards--you shouldn't be alone."
Faith laughed, genuinely amused. "Hello, Slayer here--remember? I'm not a damsel in distress."
"The fact that you're here and a Slayer should remind you that in some cases that isn't enough to keep someone safe." Angel's tone was somber, and Faith winced as she remembered the circumstances of Kendra's death. Angel noted the reaction and added, “And you don't know what's been happening—Buffy and I think it's over for now, but I don't want you operating in the dark, and I know none of the others would want that, either.”
Faith bit back a snide comment about some of the others not having given a damn about keeping her in the dark before, then shrugged and replied, “So tell me already—I'm always up for a good story.”
Angel nodded, and Faith shivered involuntarily as the vampire told how The First Evil had tormented him with memories and taunting until he was ready to break. Her eyes widened as Angel described waiting to die with the sunrise, only to be saved by the miracle of a snowstorm in the middle of a heat wave. She shook her head and commented, “Wow. Guess someone was trying to tell you something there. Any idea what it was?”
“Other than 'not yet,' not a clue.” Angel frowned, then looked back at Faith with a hint of exasperation on his face as he added, “But if I'm being protected against being taken out of the game, they'll probably switch targets looking for someone vulnerable—and isolated Slayers have been dying on a regular basis since the beginning of recorded history. Don't follow their example, Faith.”
Faith shrugged again with a casualness that she didn't actually feel as she replied, “Maybe it's meant to be. Dead Watcher, fake Watcher, The First Evil coming to town for the first time in ever. . .maybe having two Slayers around at once isn't something the world is ready to put up with, and it's trying to punch our tickets to fix it. Maybe I should bail and take some of the trouble with me.”
Angel shook his head emphatically and took two steps closer to Faith. The Slayer tensed reflexively, but Angel's body language was completely nonhostile as he stopped and looked into her eyes again and whispered earnestly, “Faith. . .the reason that Buffy is alive today. . .the reason that The First Evil felt threatened enough to try its game with me rather than use its influence more subtly—this group of people who is standing behind Buffy is the best support team that any Slayer has ever had, and it's getting better.” Faith looked doubtful, and Angel added, “They're not perfect, but when it counts they'll do anything to back each other up. I know you've read Giles' diaries, so you know what I'm talking about.”
Faith nodded reluctantly. Reading wasn't her idea of a good time, but between her first Watcher insisting on her being prepared, and her curiosity about what had gone down with B in the time before Faith got to Sunnydale, she had made a point of knowing everything she could about that stuff. She remembered something and asked, “Did Xander really stick a cross in your face to make you take him to the Master to save B?”
“Yes.” Angel didn't hesitate, but his voice sounded like someone had just asked him to walk over hot coals. “I never said that they wouldn't annoy the hell out of you while backing you up. I'm eternally grateful to Xander for making me help save Buffy. . .and I really want to kick his ass sometimes. Don't let the annoyance get in the way. Don't give up on them—they won't give up on you unless you make them.”
Faith felt a moment of warmth, and managed a half-smile as she replied, “OK—I'll head back over to B's place and we'll touch bases on this whole thing. United we stand and all that Schoolhouse Rock stuff.” She nodded at Angel and turned to go, calling out, “Thanks, Angel—glad you're not extra crispy right now.” She was walking away when Angel spoke a single sentence that stopped her in her tracks:
“Don't give up on Buffy either, Faith.”
Faith froze, then turned back to Angel—who was watching her with an expression that blended pain and determination. *He can't know—he can't possibly know.* She feigned confusion and said simply, “Don't know what you're talking about, Angel.”
“Yes you do.” The vampire spoke quietly, but Faith could feel the intensity underneath as he again moved closer to Faith and added, “Just because you haven't seen me doesn't mean I haven't been around—and I have eyes. Not to mention a nose.”
Faith was long immune to blushing, but she took a long breath as she absorbed that statement and muttered, “You know that's kind of creepy, right?” Angel shrugged, and Faith added, “You don't have a problem with it?”
“Buffy and I can't ever be together—nothing has changed there, and probably never will.” Angel turned away from Faith, staring off at the dark clouds as the snow continued to fall. He bowed his head and added, “I want her to be happy—and whoever she is with should be able to watch her back.” He turned back to her and concluded, “And you're a lot less annoying than Xander.”
Faith laughed at the joke, then sobered before muttering, “I don't know where we're at. It's complicated, and we keep pissing each other off.”
“Congratulations—you're teenagers.” Angel snarked, managing a decent imitation of Giles' accent in the bargain. Faith laughed again, and Angel smiled sadly and added, “You two will have to decide what you want to make of it—just don't run away from it without giving it a chance.” He nodded to Faith, then walked away, turning the corner of the alley and vanishing from sight.
Faith shook her head, then turned to exit the other end of the alley and saw Buffy standing there, staring at her with unnerving intensity. Faith walked over to Buffy and saw that Buffy was holding the pendant that Faith had torn off and thrown away when Faith had seen Buffy and Angel together, before fleeing. She reached out and plucked it from Buffy's hand and deftly put it back on, whispering, “Thanks, B—I would have been bummed if that had been lost.”
Buffy blinked, then started: “Faith, I--”
“Let's get back to your house, B.” Faith interrupted, moving to stand next to Buffy and looking out to the street, where people were still walking by in the snow. “Your mom will be worrying, and there's plenty of time for us to talk about stuff later.” Faith walked on ahead, and Buffy looked after her for a moment before smiling slightly and following.