Faith crumpled the letter, then let it fall beside her on her bunk. She buried her nose in the issue of People that had come in the same mail drop, giving her cellmate first crack at her new Cosmo. Angel always gave Faith magazine subscriptions for Christmas and for the day she had turned herself in to the police, saying that was the birthday that mattered most. Magazines weren't anything like as valuable as cigarettes, but, hey, they held what value they had. The Toyota of prison currencies.
Dear Miss Lehane, it is my sad duty to inform you...
Over the glossy color photos of the magazine, Faith saw only the handwriting she had originally taken for Cordelia's, all flowy on the Angel Investigations letterhead.
...that Buffy Summers has died.
Faith was glad Wes hadn't said "passed away." People shouldn't say "passed away" when they meant decapitated, defenestrated, disemboweled, all those "d" words she was getting from the dictionary during her library time. There was a word for everything she had ever done, even everything Angelus had ever done. Evil wasn't as special as it thought.
Given the less than private circumstances of your correspondence, I will simply say that she died as she lived — a hero.
If Faith's hand trembled, it was hidden in turning the magazine's page. Oh, look, some celebrities were getting divorced.
As you will imagine, Angel is quite shaken. He left California immediately after the funeral. I am sure he will visit you as soon as he has sufficiently recovered. In the meantime, please accept my condolences. We are all grieving in our own ways.
What did Wes think he was doing, comforting her? Like he didn't already have the permanent moral high ground, after what she'd done to him. Or maybe it was just some British thing you said when somebody died. She didn't even know what Americans said. She'd been alone when her first Watcher died. She'd been in a coma when Mayor Wilkins died. And now she was behind bars when the senior Slayer died.
If I may, I recommend that you take additional care for your safety now. Your situation is a matter of public record, and your name is widely known in our community.
When one died, the next was called. The Watchers all said that. Over and over to get it stuck in your head, like a fast-food jingle. B.'s first death had called Kendra, whose death had called Faith. Really put paid to that one-girl-in-all-her-generation refrain they also sang. But a little mouth-to-mouth by B.'s boy wonder Xander had guaranteed that Kendra had been the one and only Slayer for all of a minute, and Faith never had been at all.
B. had been kind to Faith. People who got kindness in the air they breathed didn't know squat about how you could be starving for it even as you shoved it away. Sitting tamely behind bars had been as much about someday, somehow making things right with B. as about surviving the guilt and mastering her own drives like Angel.
Everybody knew Angel had saved Faith's soul. But before, she had thought that no one — not even Angel — understood how B. had started what he finished.
Respectfully, Wesley Wyndham-Price
Faith didn't cry. She didn't break anything or anyone. But as she leafed unseeing through the magazine, she didn't fool herself about wanting to. She would have offered the universe her life for Buffy's, if she thought the universe were stupid enough to fall for such a cheat.
"They said my lawyer was waiting. So, what, are you a lawyer now, Wes?" Faith took her seat on the prisoners' side of the 'do not touch glass' windows and picked up the phone receiver. Déjà vu iced her spine, like the nightmares she'd been having ever since his letter about B.'s death came a month or so before. She shrugged it off. "Must be. Only two people visit me here, and the sun's too high in the sky for the one with a soul."
"Angel is in Tibet," Wes answered through the phone receiver on the visitors' side. He met her eyes steadily. While he still wore a button-down shirt and glasses and cut his brown hair like a six-weeks' army recruit, he had shed the tie, sportcoat and preening conceit that had pinned the tall, thin young man as more Giles than Giles back in the day. "Cordelia has had a vision."
"Goody for her." Faith sat up straight against the chair's plastic back and tried to remember what Angel had said about the premonitions that Cordelia had inherited from his friend Doyle. Agonizing. Obscure. Never, ever wrong. "Was I in it?"
"Then — while it's swell to see you, and do feel free to drop by any time — what gives?" Faith supported the receiver with her shoulder and adjusted the cuffs of her long-sleeved blue prison-issue shirt. "Do I, like, owe you a thank-you note for the news that... that Dawn is now an only child? 'Cause I am grateful, but my GED course hasn't reached the etiquette lessons yet."
Wes looked around. No one was listening, Faith could tell, and if they thought he was her lawyer, they wouldn't be recording. Softly, he said, "We seem to be facing a previously unimaginable reign of darkness radiating from Sunnydale. As soon as they can persuade Fred to stay with Anne at the shelter — Fred is still not comfortable with Lorne, which is perfectly understandable given her time in Pylea — Cordelia and Gunn will meet us in Sunnydale."
"Us? You and me? I was going to start with the 'who's who' of that rundown, but, hey, if you're sticking around until the end of my sentence, we can roll back to 'tell me about your childhood.' I'm up for parole in ten to never."
"It is a very long drive from Los Angeles to Stockton, Faith." Wes sighed, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyebrows. When he had replaced his glasses, he leaned toward the divider and dropped his voice even more. "What is with you and Buffy and the quips? I swear, there have been Slayers in history who did not feel it necessary—"
"Just part of our charm." Faith switched ears with the phone. "Back to the vision? I hate to shoot you down, but Cordelia's timing is off. It's still summer. Your basic evil overlord gathers force in the fall and winter and only then tries to off humanity in the spring. It's like clockwork."
"Tell that to the Saukant demon infestation we cleared out of a public pool last week."
"See? Summertime badness, you guys can handle on your own. Cordelia's visions, your books, Gunn's truck? And hey, down on the farm in Sunnydale, it's not like Giles and the Scooby Gang haven't come through vacations with flying colors before." Faith raked her free hand through her hair and met her former Watcher's eyes. "I'm doing the right thing for once — staying in here, paying my debt, rehabilitating my heart out. Aren't I?"
Silence fell between them. Other inmates' conversations, across other phone lines, suddenly sounded loud. Faith chewed the corner of her lip.
"Cordelia's vision showed all of us succumbing to darkness over the next two years — everyone except you. Willow, Cordelia herself, Gunn, Angel ... me." Wes swallowed. "I don't know that you can help, Slayer. But if you're not there, Angel will surely be damned. And the fire is igniting now, in Sunnydale."
"Meet me on the south frontage road in two hours." Faith saw that Wes looked tougher than he used to, but not so tough that she wanted to risk carrying him through the outside window with her after busting through the Plexiglas between them. She'd go with escape route nine, daytime edition. "It'll buy us a head start before they discover I'm missing."
"It's that easy?"
Faith laughed. "It could be even easier, but I don't want to break your glasses."
"No, I mean, your decision to leave."
Faith hung up the phone and shook her head at him through the Plexiglas. Wes knew darn well the trump card of Angel's soul had won them both. The one thing that could bring Wes to ask for her help, after what she'd done, was also the one thing that would make her move hell and earth to give it. The only other trump would be B., and however broken the loss had left them all, B.'s soul now was safely where it belonged.
Besides, there were the nightmares.
Faith jogged easily beside the rarely-used road. With a plain white t-shirt, black knit pants and her hair pulled back into a bouncing ponytail, she tried to pass for any soccer mom fitting in some aerobics before supper. Granted, nobody with two brain cells to rub together would run in this heat, but with nothing to shelter her on the drought-bare shoulder, she had to hide in plain sight.
Angel's antique black convertible pulled up beside her. She climbed in, and Wes hit the gas.
"You couldn't have left the top down?" Faith asked as she buckled her seatbelt. "I could have just jumped in, and you wouldn't have had to slow up at all."
"I didn't think of it," Wes admitted. "Mostly, I think of this roof as the only thing between me and the blazing Central Valley sun."
Faith winced when she couldn't spot an air-conditioner control on the dashboard. That was as bad as no heat in a Boston winter. "So, really long drive up from LA, huh?"
"Really, really long drive." Wes took the on-ramp to I-5 south. "Any problems extricating yourself from maximum-security incarceration?"
"Nah." Faith crossed her arms to get her bare elbows off the overheated seat, and enjoyed the view rushing by. It wasn't much, but it was new and changing every second. "Which is not to say that they don't do a fine job or that the people of California should be worried. They're just not Slayer-proof. It wouldn't pay, anyway. How many Slayers do you ever have to lock up?"
"Just one, apparently."
"Yeah." Faith pulled up her legs until she was sitting cross-legged on the car seat. "Look, is there any chance at all that there's another Slayer out there now, after — you know? I mean, the power wasn't halved between the two of us, so..."
"It doesn't work that way, Faith. I'm sorry."
"But how do you know? It's not like this has ever happened before."
Wes met her eyes for a second before looking back at the road. "In the mid-eighteenth century, a battle with a clutch of wendigo in a blizzard left an Ojibwa Slayer badly injured. Her Watcher thought he had found her just in time to keep her from freezing to death; and she did live. But a Slayer in Peking became active that day, too. This Chinese Slayer was eventually succeeded by a Spanish Slayer, while the Ojibwa Slayer had no successor besides the Chinese girl. There are other incidents, always chalked up to shoddy record-keeping and primitive communications — until Kendra and Buffy."
"So you could, like, build an army of Slayers, as long as you kept drowning or freezing the most recent and bringing her back?"
"I suppose. What a horrible thought." Wes shifted them to the middle lane and settled in at five miles over the speed limit: annoying some other drivers with their slowness, but just right to avoid official attention. "There's a bag of apparel and toiletries for you in the back. Cordelia donated them."
Faith looked over her shoulder at a bulging purple backpack. "Cordelia's cast-offs? I don't know what to say."
"You could try 'thank you.'"
"Yeah. I will." Faith unbuckled her seatbelt, climbed over the seat and began going through the pack as the car sped south. Cordelia surely remembered Faith's elbow to her face as well as Wes remembered Faith's fists and feet all over his body; guilt toward the living was a whole different ballgame than guilt toward the dead. She picked out a black tank top, then reconsidered and settled for a long-sleeved white blouse. Stupid distinctive tattoo. "Don't try this at home, boys and girls. Professional Slayer at work. Eyes on the road, Wes."
"Trust me, I have every intention of getting us to Sunnydale intact. Wouldn't it be wiser to change at the first rest stop?"
"Can't chance it, and we'd better hold that bathroom break as long as possible. Are you planning to drive straight through?"
"No. I, at least, require some sleep between driving the length of this state twice and storming the Hellmouth. Fresno is as far I believe we can get tonight. Is that acceptable?"
"Five by five." Faith rolled up the cuffs of a pair of blue jeans. "So bring me up to speed. Last I heard, Angel had his heart set on saving Darla. Then, total radio silence for months."
"Ah. Well, there is a lot to tell, then."
By the time Wes had related the rise and fall of Angel's hopes for Darla, Angel's firing of his team, their reincorporation under Wes's leadership, and recent adventures in the demon dimension Pylea, the sun had set and they couldn't put off that bathroom break any longer. Faith knew from People magazine that Wes and Virginia were no longer an item, but if he didn't want to bring it up, hey, far be it from Faith to pry.
California's rest stops were better than some she had seen on her trip west after her Watcher had been murdered, back when this all began. Plenty of lights illuminated the stone building with the men's and women's restrooms, a vending machine sat between them, and a grassy area offered picnic tables and little grill stands. One white pick-up truck shared the parking lot with Angel's black convertible. After using the facilities, Faith stretched and ran a quick circuit around the perimeter, just enjoying being out under the stars. Without light pollution from a population center, the sky really was as pretty as people always said. When a night breeze teased her shoulder, Faith turned full into it and ran her hands up through her hair to expose her neck to the welcome coolness.
"Hot day?" asked a man leaning against the pick-up. Under his "A's" baseball cap, his hair was red, and under his black t-shirt, his muscles were worth a second look.
Faith enjoyed his appreciative gaze, and returned it. "Very hot day." She shot a glance at Wes feeding the machine for caffeinated colas, and sauntered over to the stranger. This wasn't the time or place, but surely it couldn't hurt to enjoy a quick... The wind shifted. Faith paused for a split second, and then her smile grew even wider. She could feel her pulse quicken.
"No AC in that vintage ride, huh?" asked the redhead.
"Nope." Faith stepped close to him and ran her fingers up his chest, which was no warmer than the air. "I'm way out of practice at this."
"Baby, I don't think that's going to be a problem." He grabbed her wrist as he vamped out, brow ridges and fangs and unmistakable ugly bloodsucker all over.
Faith grabbed back and broke the wrist holding hers. With the elbow of her same arm, she gut-punched him so that he fell, and then kicked him toward the picnic tables. The vampire knew enough to roll to his feet, but by the time he did, Faith had smashed a bench to make a stake. He was ashes.
It felt so good that Faith raised her hands over her head, twirled, and screamed with joy. This! This is what she was made for!
If only she could keep it under control.
Wes handed her a can of cola. "Did I neglect to mention that the trunk is full of weapons?"
"You know, I think you might have said something like that, around all the impending apocalypse, Sunnydale style." Faith opened the can and took a swig.
"Just checking." Wes looked at the broken bench. "It's not only that public property is our tax dollars, you know. It's that this vandalism will end up in a report, and eventually it will be correlated with your escape."
"Buzz-kill," Faith sighed.
"Lovely staking, though." Wes held open the car door for her. "Excellent form and follow-through."
Faith's jaw dropped. She rapidly yanked it back up into a smirk. "Thanks," she said, holding her soda with one hand and belting herself in with the other.
Faith unpacked their McDonald's drive-through bags on one of the two motel room beds, while Wes sorted through a duffle bag on the other. He pulled out a notebook. She handed him a chicken sandwich and tore into a Big Mac. The air conditioner was loud and smelled funny, but she loved it and would defend it against all comers. Mmmmmm: cool air. "So what's in that?"
"My notes? There are two major prophecies involving Angel." Wes accepted his sandwich and reached for some napkins. "Or, rather, one major prophecy about many things that tangentially mentions Angel, and one obscure prophecy that is all about Angel. Both seem to say that he will play a pivotal role in the Apocalypse, and that he will become human. I'm trying to puzzle out how they relate to Cordelia's vision. It's rare that The Powers That Be show her so far into the future."
Faith felt a chill skip up her spine, much as when she had first spotted Wes through the Plexiglas in the prison. "Was, um, were any other Slayers in Cordelia's vision?"
"No." Wes reached for his fair share of the fries. "No Slayers at all. Why?"
"What do you know about Slayer dreams?"
"They're obscure, accurate, and often fill the Slayer with an unconquerable sense of purpose. Legendarily, Slayers can speak to each other across generations in these dreams, but not all Watchers believe that."
"Believe it, buddy."
"Have you been dreaming, Faith?" Wes set down his sandwich. Gently, he added, "Of Buffy?"
"My nightmares this past month sound screamingly like Cordelia's vision, except, yeah."
Faith nodded. "They started a few nights after your letter. I thought I was just, you know, grieving. I saw Willow as a murderer, you as a traitor, Cordelia as the vessel of some demon, Angel selling his soul... and her. B. Sometimes she said she forgave me," Faith swallowed, "that she understood and would always stand with me. Total wish-fulfillment, right?" Wes began to say something, but Faith rushed on. "But last night, it was Sunnydale in flames, like at the start of Cordelia's vision, and Buffy dug herself out of her grave while I watched. But there was another Buffy standing with me, watching with me, and she said, 'I'll come if they need me that badly. Please don’t let them need me that badly.'"
Wes looked at the motel phone. "I hadn't wanted to alarm anyone in Sunnydale prematurely, after all they've been through. Perhaps that was an error."
Faith swiped the back of her hand quickly across her eyes. "What would you say? Outlook evil, try again?"
"I was thinking more of: Cordelia has had a vision that you're in danger, and Faith has had concurring dreams. And that we're on our way."
"Oh." Faith finished her burger and snagged the backpack Cordelia had filled for her. "I'll take first dibs on the shower while you spread the word."
Whatever her personal feelings about Faith, Cordelia had been practical and generous in the prison-break kit she had put together. Faith wasted water like it was Massachusetts, not California, as she luxuriated in the shampoo, conditioner, bath gels and shaving kit. And while the flowered cotton pajamas could hardly be less her style, they were comfortable, and were for Wes's sake, anyway.
The one thing Faith didn't use was the hair dye. She sat on the toilet and read the directions, understanding Cordelia's point. Faith had to do what she could to avoid recognition. The 'wanted' flyers would show long brunette hair. This was a fast, easy step with a big impact.
But blonde? Like B.? She couldn't.
Staring into the mirror over the sink, Faith combed her damp hair out again. She found a tiny pair of scissors in a motel sewing kit in the drawer and tested the blades. Sharp enough. It would take many, many cuts, though.
"Are you all right in there, Faith?" Wes's voice came through over the weak ceiling fan.
"Yeah, almost done." She opened the door and gestured at her hair with the scissors. "I was just considering making myself harder to recognize."
He looked startled. "That's not a bad idea. But isn't that the kind of change women consider for a long time first?"
"Hey, I'm good. Just wondering whether we have any better scissors."
"Certainly." He went to his duffle bag and found an orange-handled pair in a side pocket. "Sit down there and let me. We don't want it to look hacked-off; that would draw more attention than it deflects."
Faith straddled the toilet seat, turning her back to blades in the hands of a man she had tortured. Half dare, half contrition. "You ever play barber before, Wes?"
"No, but I imagine I can do better than you can yourself, geometry and physics being what they are. How short were you thinking?"
Faith had a brief flash of her hair as short as Wes's. "Some people cut off their hair when someone dies, right, to show grief and respect?"
Wes nodded. "And other cultures let it grow to show the same sentiments."
"About here." Faith pointed below her ears. "It'll curl when it's short. At least, it did when I was a kid."
Wes began cutting.
Faith closed her eyes. She held still, and listened to each lock fall. "Wes, tell me how she... Tell me how Buffy died."
After many cautions from Wes to obey the speed limit and avoid attracting attention, it was on Faith's turn to drive that they reached Sunnydale late the next morning. Without thinking, she steered them to Sunnydale High, as if Giles and B. would be waiting for them in the library, as always. If she had thought about it, she would have remembered that the building was gone, the rubble hauled away, and the site fenced in for the first stage of reconstruction. Instead, her eyes saw it before her brain caught up.
Wes didn't say anything. She wondered if his memory had played the same trick on him.
Faith circled the parking lot to get back on the road and headed toward the Summers house. "So Giles was really going to leave today, if you hadn't called last night?"
"That's what he said." Wes rested one foot on his opposite knee. "He sounded shaken, as if this is the first thing — well, it is very hard when a Watcher loses his Slayer. Many never recover."
"Speaking as one of those to be 'lost,' you'd think your Watchers Council would have survivors' therapy or something."
"Perhaps the modern Council is just too English for its own good. Slayers come from all over the world. Why shouldn't the Council also rotate, like the Olympics, or the leadership of the EU?"
"I've never thought about it."
"Neither have they." He drummed his fingers on his ankle. "Neither had I, until I met you and Buffy."
Faith parked Angel's convertible across the street from B.'s house. Wes pointed out Gunn's truck directly in front of it, next to Giles's little car.
Dawn was waiting for them at the door. She was as tall as Faith now, and probably not done growing; her brown hair swung even longer than Faith's had before the styling session last night. Faith thought she recognized the t-shirt and jeans as B.'s hand-me-downs, and something tightened in her lungs. "Welcome back, Wesley," Dawn said. He patted her shoulder as he passed. "You, Faith, are not invited."
Faith paused on the doorstep.
Dawn huffed in exasperation. "That doesn't mean you can't come in, for goodness sakes. You're not a vampire."
"I'm not breaking down your door, Dawn. It's your home. You pick who comes in."
"Fine, fine." Dawn gestured her through. "You're invited. But your hair looks stupid and I don't like you."
"I don't like me, either. You have excellent taste, pipsqueak."
"And don't call me that!"
The Summers living room looked almost the same as Faith remembered it, with the same couch, table, chair, television and fireplace. The people, though, were entirely different. Wes was exchanging a formal handshake with a wan, worn Giles by the fireplace. Cordelia and a young, shaven-headed, Black man Faith presumed must be Charles Gunn sat on the couch. Faith blinked at Cordelia's hair, highlighted and shorter than her own.
Dawn closed the door and made introductions for Gunn's benefit — not for Faith's, she pointed out. Then she went to the kitchen to make lemonade — for Wesley, not Faith, though she supposed Faith could have some water from the downstairs bathroom.
"If y'all don't mind me asking, what does the kid have against Faith?"
Giles, Wes and Cordelia all looked at Faith.
She sighed. "I tried to kill her sister. Uh, three times? Also, I've murdered and tortured and stolen. But I'm getting better. Did no one fill you in on the whole Dark Slayer gig?"
"Not so much." Gunn raised his eyebrows at Cordelia.
"What?" Cordelia asked defensively. "Like I'm supposed to cover all Sunnydale's weirdness in one three-hour drive from LA? It would take at least five seasons. And maybe some holiday specials, or a spin-off."
A tiny smile twitched at the corner of Giles's lips. "As I was telling Cordelia and Gunn, the others are up at Buffy's grave. After your news last night, Wesley, Willow said that they especially wanted to visit and return before you arrived. Everyone is anxious to be ready to face whatever danger is coming. I admit it's quite frustrating that your vision, Cordelia, was not more specific. Rather like a prophecy that way, isn't it?"
"Usually, they're real specific." Cordelia crossed her arms. "Time, place, identifying characteristics of the icky thing doing what it's not supposed to. This was different."
Again, Faith felt the nightmare's chill wrap around her spine. Before Giles could get Cordelia to play pop-up video with her visions, Faith said, "I'd like to see the grave. We can meet the others there."
Wes met her eyes. "Yes, of course. Giles, would you mind staying here with Dawn? And Gunn? I don't want to leave the sister of the late Slayer unprotected while we're unsure what's coming. Cordy, you're welcome to stay or go."
The men nodded. Cordelia hesitated. "You know, I want to visit Buffy's grave before we go home to LA, but I think I want to do it alone."
Faith understood. She would rather speak to B. alone, too, given the choice. But the same Powers that sent Cordelia's visions were tugging at Faith's spine and yanking her by her dreams. This was what she was made for, too.
After Wes showed his full appreciation for a glass of Dawn's lemonade and Faith had some quietly in the kitchen, Wes took the keys and got them to the right cemetery — with only one wrong turn — a few minutes before noon. The many, many well-maintained cemeteries had been one of Mayor Wilkins's points of pride in his town.
Faith didn't try to reconcile missing the evil Mayor with missing the good Slayer, or missing her abusive mother with missing her protective first Watcher. Too deep for her. She just felt what she felt.
As she and Wes trudged up the grassy hill under the high-noon sun, Faith was the first to spot the four figures standing in a semicircle around a grave under a tree. Redheaded Willow was easy to identify, then familiar Xander, and two blondes Faith didn't recognize, at least not at this distance. Must be Tara and Anya. Willow held a vase or something, and the others held lit candles. Willow was speaking.
It didn't make any sense to Faith, but as soon as Wes could hear the words, he broke into a run. "Stop!"
Faith loped along beside him for a step, but one glance at his face sent her up the hill at full speed. She slammed into Willow, who yelped and twisted to keep the vase upright. Blood was smeared on her cheeks, like war paint in an old western. "Whatever you're doing, stop until Wes gets up here, capisce?"
Willow ignored her. "Before time and after. Before knowing and nothing..."
"Stop, I said!" Faith wrested the vase away from Willow and backed up.
"Give that back!" Willow yelled. "You don't know what you're doing!"
"Yeah, and I don't know what you're doing, either, but I've seen movies where people go to graveyards to do things other than kill vampires, and you don't exactly look like you're mourning."
"Blow out the candles," Wes panted as he came up behind her; Faith did. "Willow, how could you?"
"What were they doing?" Faith demanded.
"We're resurrecting Buffy," one of the blondes said brightly. "Hi, I'm Anya. You must be Faith, the Sociopathic Slayer. I love your hair!"
"You're what?" The vase tipped as Faith's grip loosened in astonishment.
"Careful with that!" the other blonde — had to be Tara — warned. "We can try again at noon and midnight as long as we have that, but once it's s-spilled, if the cycle is broken, it's all over."
"Pour it out," Wes told Faith in disgust. "Not on the grave. It's the blood of a betrayed innocent."
"What?" Tara turned to Willow. "No — it can't be."
"Stop it, all of you!" Willow yelled. The blown-out candles relighted on their own, and Faith felt a tug on the thing in her arms, even though no one else was touching it. She rearranged her grip. "Give me the Urn of Osiris, Faith. I need it to bring Buffy back. We need her back!"
Tara stepped in front of Willow. Faith couldn't see Tara's face.
"Does it really matter what's in it, Tara?" Willow pleaded. "Whatever it takes to get her back, it's worth it!"
"Is it worth your soul, Willow?" Wes asked. "Xander? Tara? She is staking her life and soul on the blackest of magics. This is more likely to initiate the horrors of Cordelia's vision than combat them. Is cracking the natural order to bring Buffy back worth that to you?"
Xander blew out his candle. "Will, Buffy would never trade your life for hers."
"Shut up!" Willow cried, and his candle lit itself again. "Xander, just let me do this. You brought her back when the Master killed her. Let me save her now!"
"Save her?" Faith repeated. "From what?"
"From hell," Anya supplied helpfully.
"You think B. is in hell?" Faith looked around at each of them. Willow appeared furious and desperate, Xander and Tara worried, Anya blithe. "Are you all crazy?"
"Angel spent centuries in a hell dimension when Buffy pushed him through to close Acathla's portal," Wes explained. "They must have deduced that Buffy trapped herself in Glory's hell dimension the same way when she sacrificed herself to close that portal. But Willow, it doesn't work that way."
"How do you know?" Willow hissed.
"Well, to begin, Angel's body went to Acathla's hell dimension with his soul. Buffy's body is buried right here with us. Her soul has gone where souls properly go in our dimension. I'm sure we all have our own traditions..."
"And, hello, B. is a hero. Heroes don't go to hell." Faith looked down at the urn in her arms and then over at the tombstone. 'She Saved the World. A Lot.' "I can't believe I'm the one pointing this out. I'm potential hell-fodder, sure. But B. is in heaven, if it exists. You're going to take that away from her?"
"What if it doesn't exist?" Anya asked.
"Then she's out of all pain, hon," Xander put his arm around Anya's shoulders, kissed her forehead, and blew out her candle and his own. "It was Buffy's choice. Faith and Wesley are right, Will."
"No! They don't understand!" Willow ran at Faith, muttering words Faith didn't understand, and tried to take the urn.
Suddenly, it was as hot as the candle flames, but Faith held on and took another step away from the grave. Then the urn was too heavy for even a Slayer to lift, and she sank to the ground to hold on to it. Part of Faith wanted to smash the urn and pound Willow to a bloody pulp. But another part of Faith was in charge, and Willow wasn't a vampire, or demon, or evil overlord.
She was B.'s best friend.
"Willow, listen to me," Faith met Willow's eyes, and could all too easily see them become as dark as in her nightmares. "If we need her that much, B. will come back. She gave her life for us. She'll give her death, too. But why are you asking her to?"
"I'm not asking her to— no, you're twisting it all around!"
"Am I? Do you really think she's in hell? Why are you doing this, Willow?"
"We can't do it without her! We can't— I can't... I need her!" Suddenly, tears rolled down Willow's cheeks, and the urn returned to its real weight and temperature. Momentarily unbalanced, Faith overcompensated for the vanished load, and Willow took back the urn. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." Sobbing, Willow spilled the urn out on unoccupied ground. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I'm sorry I couldn't save you. I'm sorry I was jealous of you. I'm sorry I never told you how important you are and how much—" But then Tara was there, and the rest of Willow's apologies vanished, with her tears, into their embrace.
Xander kicked the urn. From his wince, Faith gathered he had stubbed his toe.
"Allow me," she offered.
"By all means."
Faith stomped through the urn with one blow, and then continued stomping it into smaller and smaller pieces until Willow was ready to walk to the car, holding Tara's hand on one side and Xander's on the other. Anya carried the car keys, and the barely-used candles.
Faith lingered behind, looking at Buffy's grave. 'She Saved the World. A Lot.' Wes started down the hill, giving her space.
"They'll never stop needing you, B.," Faith said at last. "But I'll do everything I can to keep them from needing you too much."
Even with a Slayer on the home team, it took several weeks to convince Sunnydale's supernatural underworld that B.'s death certificate was not their license to kill. Faith laughed herself into fits when she first saw the Buffybot. Cordelia had words with Spike about his treatment of Harmony. Gunn joked to everyone who would listen that the reason Sunnydale had so few people of color was that they were the only ones smart enough to stay away.
Concerned for Willow, Giles sought out a former Watcher turned psychologist and got both of them and Dawn into grief counseling. After checking with the counselor, Tara broke the news of Buffy's death to Hank Summers over the phone, and he immediately drove up to see Dawn. Xander made sure that Willow and Tara both returned to their university classes when Dawn returned to junior high. Anya maximized profits at the Magic Box.
Wes commanded their patrols at first. As Willow pulled herself together again, though, he deferred to her more and more, until she was clearly the captain of their little brigade. Faith didn't have any more nightmares.
It was time to go home.
Faith told herself that she didn't have a home, and that this was nothing new. She was a Slayer errant, rurouni Slayer. Watcherless. Baseless. But when she walked into the Hyperion and it was her turn for a fierce hug from Angel, he said, "Welcome home."
And she believed him.
— End —