Who Am I? by Pat Kelly
Feedback may be sent to Pat at: bandits@erols.com


| CH. 1-4 | CH. 5-8 | CH. 9-12 | CH. 13-16 | CH. 17-18 |

5
CHANGING TIME (OR - WANT, TAKE, HAVE)

Spike stalked the campus grounds, trying to fool himself into thinking he was still menacing. He was tired of everything. Being beaten and hated by demons, some he could have easily ripped apart if it wasn't for the chip, as well as taking beating from slayers with short fuses. His reputation as an "evil bad ass" who killed two slayers was no longer respected, and he decided it was time to do something about that.

Not being able to kill allowed him some freedom, however. Since he was no longer considered a threat, nobody paid him much mind. That let him watch. Let him learn. Let him gather information that could prove useful to him if he shared it with the right people. Might get him back in the game. Why?

Because he planned to snitch. In exchange for his un-neutering, of course. All he had to do was find one of the Initiative guys. Plus, he would kill two birds with one stone. He would be able to feed and taste human blood again, and would finally be able to strike back at Buffy without laying a hand on her. But when he was "restored", he and Faith were going to have a round or two.

He moved along the treeline now, and suddenly felt like he was being followed. He turned his head to see, using his vampire sight to scan the darkness, but saw nothing. When he turned back around, a blaster was an inch away from his face.

"This was a bad idea."

***

"This was a bad idea." Faith said.

Across town, Buffy and Faith were approaching her house, slowly making their way up the walk. It was the weekend, and Tara, Willow and the two of them were going to have a girl's night. They came straight from patrol, and Faith was just a little nervous.

"Why? Cause sleepovers aren't your thing?" Buffy asked.

"Never had one before, but yeah. I'm more a -"

"Dance club gyrator who likes to get all the guys hot and horny. I know. And that is fun and certainly has its place."

Images of their dance at the Bronze last year flashed through her mind. She had just let go, and it had been very enjoyable.

"I'll admit that sleepovers might be considered tame next to that, but they're nice too. Relaxing even. Besides it gets you out of Giles' for awhile."

"Yeah, that chick of his just blew into town, and it hasn't been quiet since."

"Bad images?"

"Nah. G was always kinda cute. The fact that I'm not getting any 'oomph' is driving me nuts."

"Once again ignoring the Giles comment, you and the grunting. You should see somebody about that."

"Didn't I just say that was the problem?"

"I guess�I meant�well, sorry I�can't help there." Buffy stuttered.

'I'm sorry you can't either. What the hell? Don't even go there.'

They made it to the porch, and Buffy reached for the door handle. Their two Wiccan friends were already inside.

"Your mom."

"Huh?"

"She doesn't want me in there. That's why I don't�"

"It'll be okay. She knows you're coming, and she's very forgiving, my mom is."

"She's letting me in just like that?"

"We might have�debated a little." Buffy said slowly.
"Always going to bat for me, aren't you?"

Buffy smiled at her, and turned the knob.

***

Spike stood in the open ' briefing area' of the underground complex, in the center of a circle of commandos who had their weapons pointed at him. They were ready to fire at a moment's notice. He was definitely beginning to think he made a big mistake.

The circle parted just enough for a man to walk through.

"Hostile Seventeen." Forrest said.

"It's Spike, Soldier Boy."

"Shock it." One of the men stepped forward and released an electrical charge from his weapon. Spike shook violently, dropping to the ground. Forrest knelt down. "Animals don't have names. Give me one reason why we shouldn't put you to sleep."

"Cause you're gonna wanna hear what I have to say, mate."

"Put it in a cage."

***

"We're here!" Buffy called out. "Oh, there's something I have to -"

Joyce walked into the foyer from the kitchen, and Faith cast her eyes downward.

"It went okay?" Joyce asked.

"Only one baddie tonight." Buffy whispered to Faith. "I promised her she could talk to you�um�alone."

Faith paled, and Buffy looked at her mother, pleading with her eyes telling her mom to go easy on Faith. She went upstairs slowly. Once her daughter was no longer in view, Joyce turned to Faith.

"Kitchen please."

"Uh, sure, Mrs. S."

Faith followed her into the kitchen, and immediately hopped up and sat on the edge of the counter. Joyce's look just as immediately told her to find somewhere else to sit. Faith removed herself from the counter and spoke apologetically.

"Kind of a reflex. Sorry." She saw the suitcases sitting by the back door. "Going somewhere?"

"Auction in Nevada to get some new pieces for the Gallery. But I wanted to talk to you first."

Faith nervously slid her hands through her hair. Just over a month ago she had held this woman hostage waiting for Buffy to arrive. The woman had also called her psychotic. At the time, and given the situation, she was right on the money. But how were they supposed to do this? She had always liked Joyce. She was Faith's idea of the perfect mom.

'Start by saying you're sorry. You're pretty used to saying it by now, aren't you?'

"Listen, I'm -" Faith started to say.

"Okay, I've thought about this for awhile. And I've decided that if Buffy has forgiven you, then you must be -"

"Sane again?"

"I wouldn't have put it exactly like that."

"It's okay. I'm happier now. You were right."

"Mother's intuition. I can't not forgive someone who makes an effort to turn her life around. Especially someone who helps my daughter."

"It's my job."

"I don't just mean the slaying." Faith showed her puzzlement clearly. "You don't know that she spent hours every day by your bed in the summer, do you?"

"She did?"

"The last thing she wanted was you to be in the hospital. She used to tell me how she thought it was her fault. That if she'd reached you sooner you wouldn't have left. If she had been more of a friend. She kept going to see you hoping you'd wake up.

"She thought since you both healed fast, you'd bounce back quickly. Every time, it was always the same, and she came home torturing herself."

"I knew she felt bad�"

"Well, I was surprised she talked to me about it. She said Xander and Willow wouldn't understand. I didn't really understand. All I knew was that she was hurting. The summer ended, and you were still there. She gave the hospital our number and Mr. Giles'. She called every night until you woke up a couple weeks ago."

"Wow." Faith said quietly.

"I like you, Faith, and so does my daughter. So I'll only say this once. Don't ever hurt her again."

The tone in Joyce's voice made Faith forget her enhanced strength entirely. She really didn't want to have to face, or imagine, the possible consequences.

"Never. I swear."

Joyce smiled. "Good." She went to the door, and began picking up the suitcases. "Then you�have fun, and�try not to drink too much."

"Drink?"

"I've got a daughter in college, I have alcohol in the house, and people are spending the night. I'm not that naive. But as long as there's no evidence when I get back, I can remain in denial."

"You're pretty cool, you know that?"

Joyce opened the door. "Please. That's a mother's worst nightmare."

Faith chuckled. "Later, Mrs. S."

***

Spike pulled himself up off the floor of the cell, trying to get his bearings. When he realized where he was, he cursed. He had already been locked away in the white, white, and more white, walled cell before. It was worse the second time. He saw Forrest staring in at him from the other side of electric field keeping him from escaping.

"Organizational problems?" Spike asked. "I heard things have been going downhill here lately."

"Is that right?" Forrest said.

"And since I got nothing to lose, and you've got everything to lose, you're gonna listen to what I have to say, caged or not."

"Then start."

"Slayer's been mucking up the works, right? Your leader is dead, your new leader is whipped beyond belief�but you can't do jack."

Forrest knew the vampire was right. The Initiative wasn't running very smoothly anymore, Riley, the next in the chain of command was never here, and when he was it was for very brief periods of time, and Buffy. He wanted her out of everything. When she arrived, that's when everything started to fall apart.

"What have you got?" Forrest asked, walking up close to the cage.

"You're military. You got rules. Well I can show you proof that your new commander is playing both sides trying to close up this place. Then you take action."

"The catch?"

"I show you, you take this chip outta my head, and I take care of your slayer problem. What you do with 'Mr. Iowa' is your call. Do we have a deal?"

Forrest locked eyes with Spike. He had so much hatred for this hostile. If he set him free, he could terrorize innocent people. But if he was right, the Initiative could be put on track again, and Riley and Buffy would be dealt with. He punched some numbers into the keypad, and the field shut off.

"Let's go. I want this proof in my hands before you get anything."

"Take it easy, Blade Jr. You'll get your proof. Riley's a big deal around here, so when you see it�"

"I do what needs to be done."

***

The four girls were in the living room watching the single television in the house. Faith and Buffy were lounging on the sofa, and Willow and Tara were lying on the floor. Boredom had officially set in an hour before. They were watching a re-run of South Park.

"You'd think with my time off they'd get their asses in gear and make new eps." Faith said.

"The animation isn't even that complicated." Buffy agreed. "Who wants popcorn?"

Three hands raised. Faith picked up the remote and started going through channels as Buffy got up to go to the kitchen. She stared down at the redhead and the blonde witch. Tara was looking at Willow, with the 'I love you and can't stand it' look.

Then it hit Faith. Willow didn't know. She had just assumed, but Willow didn't really know. It wasn't like she was going to play matchmaker; she just found it amusing. She needed to be sure of something before she would even consider getting involved in Willow's life anyway.

"Hey, Willow?"

Willow turned her head. "Yeah?"

"We're five by five, right?"

"We are." She smiled in reassurance.

"Okay that's it." Tara said standing. "I need to find out what that means or I'll go crazy."

Willow stood up too. "We could look it up on the net. Buffy's mom has a laptop somewhere."

Buffy walked in then, carrying a bowl of popcorn. "Feel free. It's gathering dust in her closet."

"Um�I've never really�used computers�that much." Tara said slowly.

Willow gaped, and the slayers' held their breaths. Buffy carefully put the bowl down, and made her way over to Willow. Just in case of fainting. Willow's lips were moving, but no sound was coming out.

"I think you broke her." Faith said.

Before Tara could respond, her hand was being grabbed, and Willow practically ran up the steps with her in tow. About ten minutes later they heard Willow's voice again, and the loud modem noises one would expect when connecting.

"We lost 'em forever." Buffy said, coming to sit on the couch.

"Then it's a good thing I didn't mention my lack of computer skills." Faith said.

"Probably." Buffy laughed. "So what do you want to do?"

Faith jumped off the couch then, and headed for the kitchen. "Make drinks."

***

"As in alcohol?" Buffy asked, following her into the kitchen.

"No, as in Shirley Temples." Faith said sarcastically.

"Beer and I really don't mix."

Faith was searching through the cabinets. "Who said anything about beer? There's a time and a place for it, yeah. Usually parties. I was thinking daiquiris."

"Daiquiris? Isn't that a little tame for you?"

"Normally, but I promised your mom there would be no evidence, and for me to stick to it, gotta go 'buzz only' tonight. She's gotta have -"

"Whoa. Whoa. Hold it. You told my mom we were going to drink?"

"No. She expects us to. And I don't want to disappoint her. Now are you gonna help me or not?"

"Yeah. What are you looking for?"

"Rum and strawberries."

Buffy went over to the fridge, and pulled out a bag of strawberries. She set them on the counter. In the cabinet below the sink, were bottles of rum and other assorted alcoholic beverages. She got out a bottle, and set that out on the counter as well.

"Now what?"

***

Spike kicked in Buffy and Willow's dorm room door, and walked in. Forrest followed from behind.

"So where is it?" He asked Spike.

"Here. Been watching them. He gives her files, and then she takes them back here. She didn't want to risk that ex-librarian's life by leaving them with him. Thoughtful girl, isn't she?"

Spike checked under the beds.

Nothing.

The bureau.

Nothing.

By Willow's computer.

Nothing.

That's when he opened the closet. First he only saw clothes, and then he looked up at the ceiling. There was a good-sized vent there. He pushed on it, and it moved. He slid the covering off, and stuck his hand into the vent. He felt something.

"Clever, Slayer, but not clever enough."

Coming out of the closet a few seconds later, he held a slightly bent folder in his hands that had the word classified on it printed in big red letters. He handed it to Forrest, who looked through it.

"This is a member list and history going all the way -"

"Great. I fulfilled my end, give me what I want."

Forrest stared at him, closed the folder, and grabbed his walkie-talkie.

"Deactivate HST Seventeen's implant. Now."

Before Spike knew what was happening, he was having some kind of a seizure, and had collapsed to the ground, unconscious. Forrest left the room, shutting the door behind him.

***

Later, Faith and Buffy were quite buzzed, but still coherent, sipping from their second daiquiris of the night. They had offered drinks to the girls upstairs, but they hadn't received any answer. Faith whispered to Buffy on the sofa.

"They're...you know�"

Buffy went wide-eyed, and then slapped Faith's arm. "They are not!"

"I'm wicked serious. They do, but Willow doesn't know. Don't tell me you haven't noticed."

"I guess�I�"

"Does that wig you out?"

"Hey if she wants to be gay, who am I to get all freaked out? We've been through too much for me to care about something like that. What kind of friend would be if I didn't stand behind her?"

"Good for you."

"Plus, if Tara makes her happy, I'm all for it. Especially cause of Oz."

"Yeah, what happened there? He knock claws with a she-wolf or something?" Buffy simply stared. "He did? And here I always thought he was a stand up guy. Guess they'll always stay an impossible dream."

"You said it."

"What are you talking about? You got Beefstick."

"Hey!" Buffy waggled her finger. "His name is Riley. And he's still got this blockage about not being equal to me. Macho and identity issues. It's a lot of work."

"You don't love him?"

"I�yeah, I do. But he's got�well, let's look at my men history. Angel nearly drained me of all my blood and then skipped town."

"You let him bite you?"

"Saved his life. Then he leaves. Then he comes back to," Buffy made quote marks with her fingers, "rescue me, doesn't say a word and leaves again."

"Can I call him an asshole?"

"I'll join you."

"Asshole." They both said at the same time.

"Scott dumped me cause I wasn't stable enough. But you took care of him for me." Buffy grinned.

"Which was major fun."

"Then I got used by Parker�he pulled a number on me."

Faith's eyes suddenly got serious. "The guy used you?"

"I got over it. Was kind of going through a self-image problem for awhile, but I moved on to Riley."

"Nobody should ever, ever, use you, Buffy. You're too�" Faith trailed off, still sober enough to know not to finish.

"Hey you said my name! Yay!"

Faith smiled again. "That 'uffy' part always trips me up."

"I like 'B'. I always know who's talking to me. I'd never let anyone else call me that."

They stared at each other in silence. They couldn't turn away. Both girls knew this conversation, this whatever, had to stop. They weren't thinking straight, and there could and would be complications. Of that they were sure. Buffy decided that now was the time to stop drinking, and get up. Possibly get a shower to clear her head. A cold shower.

She rose off the couch, and was about to say something when Faith pulled her back down, and kissed her. Hard. And Buffy responded, despite her better judgement. She didn't know what was happening.

Well she knew what was happening. Her tongue was dueling with Faith's. Her hands running through Faith's hair.

But she didn't understand why. Actually she did. Because she wanted to. But she really didn't know why she wanted to. Well, because it felt good. So she kept doing it.

***

"You think they're okay?" Tara asked Willow upstairs.

"I'm sure. What could possibly happen?"

Tara didn't know how much longer she could go without telling Willow her feelings. She was afraid, but she had never felt this way about anybody before. Not like this.

"Probably nothing." Tara sighed, seeing that Willow didn't catch her double meaning. "So what's URL mean?"

***

Back in the Initiative, Forrest was speaking to a group of his fellow marines and soldiers.

"We have a situation. It involves Agent Finn, and it'll have to be addressed as soon as possible."

 

6
FORCES - PT. 1 (OR - "WAIT! STOP! THINK!" "NO! NO! NO!")

Buffy was roused from her slumber by a hand on her arm that was trying to shake her awake. As she slowly opened her eyes, the massive morning hangover headache hit her like a Mack truck. She hadn't gotten THAT drunk last night, had she? Certainly not as badly as she had during her "devolving experience". Being a Slayer helped, because after about a minute, the cobwebs cleared, and the pounding lessened some.

Then she remembered the previous night. She and Faith mixing drinks, having somewhat of a bonding conversation thanks to some loosening up by aforementioned drinks, and then Faith had�she had�pulled her down, and viciously, forcefully, and with a loving touch in there too, had attacked Buffy's mouth with her tongue, and wouldn't stop. And Buffy had let it happen. Wait. Who was she kidding? She had been a very willing participant. Damn, it had felt good.

It had felt really good. And now the guilt was setting in. The confusion. Oh, and the guilt. She suddenly went wide-eyed, wondering how far they had actually gone. When she looked down at her body and still found herself fully clothed, she sighed in relief. That's when she remembered more. The seemingly never-ending kiss had ended. Faith was the one who stopped it. While Buffy was trying to remember how to breathe, Faith had mumbled a good night, and laid on the floor.

Faith. Where was she? She looked around frantically now, seeing no sign of the other slayer. That's when she began to worry.

"Buffy?" She focused on Willow now, who was standing over her. "What's wrong?"

"Faith, where is she?"

"She came and got us up like an hour ago. She said she was going to go for a walk, and that you were still asleep." Tara said, who had come into view.

"What time is it?

"Uh�noon. We cleaned up. Looks like you had fun last night." Willow said.

'You have no�whoo boy.' "Why didn't you come down?" 'You could've stopped us.'

"Sorry, but I was teaching. You know how I get."

"I'm not computer illiterate anymore, that's for sure." Tara said; her brain still a little fried.

Buffy, despite the flood of emotions running through her, managed to crack a small smile. "That's Will's other passion. You have my sympathy."

"Hey!" Willow looked somewhat offended, but then grinned slightly.

"I didn't mind. Not many people are as passionate as�she�I mean, about things, as she is. It's nice." Tara said slowly.

Buffy saw Willow smile widely at Tara. Oh yeah. Faith had the two of them pegged. She wanted to say something. Did Willow get the depth of feeling Tara had for her? The poor girl was so nervous, Buffy saw. But she couldn't intrude on her friend's life like that. A relationship had to develop on its own. At its own pace. Their moment would come.

Was that what she and Faith had? A moment? An opening of possibilities? But her and Faith? No, that was crazy. She was in a very fulfilling, and happy, relationship with�Riley. God, Riley. Well, he slept with Faith, and she kissed Faith. They were even. She quickly realized how wrong that reasoning was. A relationship with Faith would never happen anyway. It had been the drinks, and Faith was a 'get some and get gone' type of girl.

But Faith had stopped the kiss. She hadn't used her. So what did that mean?

"We're gonna go back to campus." Willow said.

"Yeah, okay. We'll meet up later." Buffy said, trying to get her thoughts in order.

What was Faith thinking? Where was she?

***

Spike came to on the dorm room floor. Shaking his head he wondered if Forrest had double-crossed him. He didn't feel any different, but he guessed he wouldn't know that until he had a chance to experiment. Standing up, he smelled the sun. And then he felt the rays hit him through the window. He quickly shut the blinds, frustrated that he'd have to wait.

Then he heard voices. Willow's voice. And somebody else's. He had to get out of there. Now. He heard them get closer to the door.

"Let me grab some Tagis root and we'll go to your room and try that new spell." He heard Willow say.

"I have some, don't worry about it." The other girl said.

"Oh. Cool."

Their footsteps got softer as they walked down the hall. Spike would've taken a deep breath and prayed in thanks if he were still alive and not evil. He quickly opened the door and looked down both ends of hall. They were gone. He took off down the opposite end, and ran into the stairwell.

He'd waited months to kill again. A couple more hours couldn't hurt.

***

"Why do I always have to screw things up?" Faith asked herself walking down Main Street.

She had a good thing going with Buffy. They were friends again. They were slaying. They were hanging. Then she had to go take advantage of her. To relieve her own "needs". That was what she was doing? Right? That's who she was. A user. One good lay, no emotional attachment whatsoever. But�she didn't go all the way with Buffy. She stopped, and she didn't know why. Well, she did, but she wasn't going to let that surface again.

The Bostonian slayer had been drawn to Buffy the first time she laid eyes on her. When she saw the walls Buffy had built around herself, the rigid, defensive attitude, she had devoted herself to breaking through it using whatever methods were necessary. And she had gotten under Buffy's skin pretty well. That's when the bottle blonde started to befriend her, and Faith started to like her. But she still pushed Buffy's limits.

She needed to see if Buffy would crumble under her taunts or hold her own. Faith had this way of either causing people to stay away from her, or making people lose themselves. But Buffy didn't do either of those things. And Faith continually grew to like and respect her. Buffy was strong, and her own woman. Something Faith wanted to find for herself. Because she wasn't strong.

Wesley had shown up, and that's when Buffy started to get drawn to Faith's way of life. And what a pitiful life it was. She was screaming inside for Buffy to run away from her. Buffy was too good for using her body to get a group of guys hot and bothered, to skip school, to rebel, to steal, all the things Faith had built her life around. But it didn't matter if she was screaming inside, on the outside, she loved the fact that Buffy was with her. And she hated it too.

After the murder, Faith had no choice but sink deeper, but Buffy pulled herself out. She had been strong enough to do that and to try and save Faith at the same time. It was then that Faith got hit with it. Love. Buffy Summers still cared about her after she had screwed up, and unlike Faith, still had that strength. But Faith didn't know how to deal with the love, because she had never felt it before. And by then, she was too far-gone.

So she turned the love, the respect, into the one thing she had always been good at. Hate. It was so simple. While she was killing people or hurting Buffy, it was killing her inside. Even if Buffy had reciprocated her feelings, Faith still wouldn't have been able to deal with it. She used people. Guys and girls alike. But she didn't want to do that with Buffy. And she was afraid that she would end up doing just that, no matter how hard she tried not to.

It was who she was. Buffy wouldn't love a screwed up person like her anyway. She had to push down her emotions. She didn't love. She knew Buffy had responded to the kiss, but she was under the influence and not thinking clearly. But Faith would always remember that kiss. She could still feel it. But she also had to remember that life wasn't fair, and that Buffy had a boyfriend.

***

Riley looked up from his desk when his dorm room door flew open. Three people, led by Forrest, rushed into the room, and began pulling stuff out of his closet, and removing the bedspread. They took down his mini-basketball net off the door, and continued to remove everything until the room was bare.

He watched for a few minutes as this was going on, and then watched as Graham walked behind him, and cuffed his hands together. Forrest stood in front of him. Riley stayed silent, not bothering to fight. It would have been pointless. He knew the protocol.

"Special Agent Riley Finn," Forrest began, "you are being taken into custody by order of the United States Military. You are charged with crime of treason against your country, by releasing classified materials to one Buffy Anne Summers, who is considered a threat to national security. Do you deny these charges?"

"Who told you?" Riley asked, monotone.

"Do you have anything to say in your defense before you're brought to a higher court where sentencing will be carried out?"

"You and I both know that's not what's going to happen. So let's get it over with."

"You heard the prisoner."

Forrest led the way to the mirror that was the entrance to the elevator, which carried them down to the Initiative. When Forrest's retinal scan was completed; they all entered the elevator and went below.

***

"What is it you want me to look for exactly?" Giles asked Buffy later at his home.

Olivia, his girlfriend, was on her way back to England. Her plane had taken off just over an hour ago. It had been a very enjoyable week for him, because he didn't get to see her very often. His good mood had faltered somewhat when Buffy had come over. She seemed distraught.

"Slayer stuff. You know."

"I thought I had gotten pretty adept at interpreting your vague explanations, but this has once again thrown me off course. Could you please be more specific?"

"Were you trying to be funny? Cause if you were I picked up on it."

Buffy thought about going to Riley's after leaving her house, but the guilt would have been unbearable. She even considered kissing him to compare. But that wasn't fair. If she did that she would've hated herself for using Riley in that way. It was also unfair to Faith, because if she had gone to Riley and kissed him, she would have been trying to push the kiss she and Faith had shared out of her mind. And she didn't want to forget it. At least not until they talked and figured things out.

Something had prompted her to return Faith's kiss, and it wasn't just the alcohol as she had tried to reason earlier. She didn't know what it was, but she intended to find out. Her next thought had been that since the two of them were both slayers, maybe they had a chemical imbalance�or something. She knew she was grasping at straws, but she needed an explanation. And as much as she didn't want to, she knew Giles was the only one who would have a clue.

"What do you want to know?" Giles asked.

"Do slayers have�a bond with each other?"

"You're the first slayer in history to fight alongside a second slayer. It used to be that slayers never actually came in contact with one another. Or, if they did, it wasn't documented."

"So you're saying you know zip."

"On the contrary, you and Faith have proven that there is without a doubt some form of connection between slayers. The dream you shared in the hospital last year, and more recently, the�nightmare, that played out in a rather prophetic fashion later."

"Okay�so dreams. But�I didn't have them with Kendra."

"Hmmm�that's true. Well, maybe you weren't meant to. Perhaps whatever bond slayers have only activates when both slayers feel certain emotions. A personal connection would be just as important as a 'built in' one, so to speak. The bond could then be triggered that way."

Buffy paled. Did that mean -? "I still don't get it."

"It's simply a theory, but Kendra was a very closed off person emotionally."

"So's Faith."

"There's a difference between being open about your feelings and showing emotion. Faith was not very open with any of us about her true feelings at first. She is just now, starting to do that. But she had no problem showing emotion, which might be why your bond grew in strength.

"Kendra on the other hand, controlled her emotions very carefully, as all slayers are trained to do, so the bond was never established. If she wanted you to see her feelings, and had been more emotionally driven, you probably would have built the connection. Also, she was not around very long. It might take time."

"Now that I think about it, I can just 'feel' what Faith's planning to do when we slay. It's like we're�a force."

It's like I just let go and became this force.

Yeah, I know what that's like.

I don't think you can. It's kind of�

"A Slayer Thing." Buffy whispered, remembering the conversation she had had with Willow and Xander right before she went with Faith to the vampire nest last year.

"What was that?"

"Nothing. So you think this bond has to do with us as people too? Not just cause we're slayers?"

"That would be my guess. Why the sudden interest?"

"Just something that's been on my mind. Thanks. You helped."

He helped, but he also scared her. Did that mean that she loved Faith and that the bond had grown over the past month bringing her feelings to the surface? Was it because Faith started showing her who she really was? Is that why she responded to the kiss? Faith was attractive, and there was no denying that, but why now? Why period? She knew one thing for certain. There were too many questions and not enough answers.

***

Willow returned to the dorm after she had finished spell casting with Tara. She loved being with her friend. When she was around it was like all the evil forces that surrounded her and her life, disappeared. A cloud of happiness was the only force, and it clearly dominated over all the others. She hadn't felt that way for awhile. Not since�

Something wasn't right. The door had been closed before. She lost her train of thought as she entered and scanned the room. Everything seemed normal, but it didn't 'feel' right. She walked over to the window. The blind was pulled down. Had it been down before?

She walked to the closet. Normal in there too. Except�she looked at the ceiling. The vent covering was off. How�that's where they kept the files Riley gave them.

Uh oh. She had to call Buffy. And then get Riley. Fast. She got the phone, and dialed Buffy's number. There was no answer. Where would she go? Willow tried Giles' then. It was too early for Buffy to be anywhere else. Besides, it was a Saturday.

"Giles? Hi. Is Buffy there?"

***

Faith now found herself at the docks. She had toyed with the idea of skipping town, but it quickly passed. Once Buffy said it would be too hard to be around her, and that the kiss was a mistake, then she would leave. But she was hesitant because she wanted to be sure that's what Buffy thought. She was in too deep now, and she wouldn't run from the best thing that had happened to her until her assumptions were confirmed. Right now she couldn't trust her assumptions or her instincts.

She loved Buffy. But was it really love? What if it was just her regular lust she was trying to disguise as love? What if�damn. She was questioning too much, and her head was pounding. She had to sit before she went crazy. She couldn't face Buffy yet. She sat on a bench that faced a dockside warehouse, but she was too absorbed to see the eyes watching her from inside the warehouse.

***

In the complex, Riley sat in a containment cell on the floor. Only the highest officials in the military and CIA knew the Initiative existed. That's how he knew there wouldn't be a trial. His "betrayal" would be taken care of internally and quietly. He knew after he had been dealt with the group would get back on track, and then Buffy would be next. So he had to hang on as long as possible. He saw Forrest sit against the wall beside his cell.

"So this is how you treat family?" Riley asked.

"I warned you, man. The chick was bad news. This is for the greater good."

"Leave her out of this. It has nothing to do with her. This whole operation's dirty, and you know it. We created a killer that's gathering HST's, and it's only a matter of time before he comes back."

"He'll be dealt with. We fix our own mistakes."

"Then what are you waiting for?"

"You have a stay of execution. I think you need some time to get your priorities in order. Maybe, if you promise to mend your ways, we can work something out."

"Hey, Forrest?"

"What?"

"Don't let your new position go to your head. We both know that people with power usually end up dead. Don't we?"

Forrest stood up, and looked in at Riley. "One day."

Then he walked away, leaving Riley alone with his thoughts.

***

"Who told you?" Buffy asked, bursting into Forrest's dorm room and shoving him against the wall.

"That's classified."

"Okay. How about this? Where is Riley?"

"You know where he is. But you can't get to him."

"Sure about that?"

"I'd be careful who you mangle, girl. If I'm not mistaken, you have a record. Colorful one too. One false move, and bye-bye college. Your boy's safe for now, but if you have any brains at all, you'll stay away."

"I've survived things you can only dream of."

"You can't survive a gun shot. And neither can he. If any one of us suspects you might be getting any ideas about some kind of rescue, he dies."

"How do I know you aren't planning to do that anyway?"

"I guess you don't." He pushed her off, and she cautiously left the room.

She cursed her own stupidity. She should have been with Riley. She had been so wrapped up in trying to figure out the 'her and Faith' thing, and now the guilt had multiplied. She was worried for him, and she couldn't do anything.

There was only one person Buffy could think of who could know where the files had been, and only one person who would even think about ratting her out. She thought it was about time they had a little chat. It was long overdue.

***

The sun had gone down, and over by the docks, Faith still sat, thinking. That's when Spike exited the warehouse, smiling at her.

"I thought we came to understanding, Fangless." Faith said.

"Things change. I think it's time we had a go. It should be more even this time around." He shifted into game face, and she was instantly on guard, not caring how he came to be back in action.

"I'm ready. I need a distraction. You'll keep me busy for a few minutes anyway."

Spike growled angrily, and charged her.

 

7
FORCES - PT. 2 (OR - IF YOU DON'T COME IN AFTER ME, I MIGHT�)

"I'm being babysat now?" Riley asked Graham.

They were the only two people left in the complex now. The rest of the members were either on assignment on just going about their lives. Not Riley though. He had lost track of how long he had been down there. Long enough, he figured, for it to be past nightfall. That meant Buffy was either slaying, or knew he was contained and was trying to figure out how to get him out. He hoped she wouldn't try anything, but he knew she would.

He'd have to try and make things easier for her then.

"It's the way it has to be. You know that better than any of us."

"Yeah, but that was before I found out we were all lied to."

"What are you talking about?"

"We were taken from other assignments to this town, and told that it was because we were the best. We were going to handle the problems the majority of the public would rather not know about. Demons. No�they told us they were animals. Dangerous animals, nothing more than that.

"But they are more than that. They're intelligent, resourceful, capable of things that�I couldn't even imagine in a nightmare. They've been around for a real long time, and most of them want nothing more than to kill for fun. Or end the world. But we don't kill these threats.

"We cage them and experiment on them. To learn. To create super soldiers. But the prototype must have gotten a few wires crossed, because he's loose, indestructible, and kills anything and everything. Instead of helping mankind to survive, we're helping to destroy it. You don't see anything wrong in that?"

"Nice speech."

"Come on, Graham. We've all been played, and I know you. I watched your back; I've saved your life. We're friends. Forrest has always been a loose cannon. Always wanted the highest rank, and given the opportunity, he would do anything to get it. And he has. You're better than that. I know you are. You know this isn't right."

Graham's resolve was melting. "You just want out."

"I don't think it's a secret that I don't want to be in here, but believe what you want."

Graham stood there for another second, and quietly walked away to think.

***

Faith bent over, and Spike was moving so fast that he did the only thing he could think of. He tried to jump over her. She straightened up, grabbed his leg as he was in midair, and tossed him down. She kicked him in the stomach quickly, but he just as quickly got to his feet.

In the blink of an eye, his hands were on her shirt, and he threw her over his head. She was able to flip enough so she landed upright. She had a small grin on her face as she turned around to face him, proceeded to pull a stake out of her leather jacket, and then they circled one another.

"You're a tricky one aren't you, pet?"

"And you're just as dumb as you look. I thought that hair cut was bad before, but with the ridges, it looks wicked gross."

He reached forward and grabbed her stake-free arm. She used the butt of the stake to hit has face, and he let go when it connected. She grabbed his wrist, twisted, and he had no choice but to move behind her so she wouldn't tear his hand off.

"Oh please. You're a randy slut. You've wanted to shag me as soon as you saw me."

"Don't flatter yourself. A girl has needs. You were just a convenient toy at the time. There are other ways to get off. Seeing you squirm did the job just fine."

He head-butted her, and she stumbled backward, releasing his wrist. He took advantage of her temporarily stunned state, and swept her legs, making her fall on her back. He stood over her.

"No, you didn't want me, did you? You want the blonde bitch. You want to shag her, discard her, and add another name to your list."

"Don't call her that!" She kicked her leg up, connecting with his groin. He dropped to one knee, and she flipped forward back to her feet, roundhouse kicked him in the side of the head, and he fell on his side. "And I wouldn't do that to her. I won't."

"You're only fooling herself. What? You think you love her? That's bloody rich. You have no idea what that is."

"And you do?"

"You�d be surprised."

She bent down over him. "I do love her. And if it ever�it won't be screwing."

"How will you know the difference?"

"I don't know. Guess I'll have to wait and see." She picked him up and thew him over the side of the docks. He hung on by his hands, keeping himself from falling down into the water below. "What's the matter, little rusty?" She stepped on his hand hard, making him lose half of his grip.

"God�I hate slayers."

Faith was quiet then. After a few seconds, he began to wonder what was going on. Then he felt a hand reach down, and he had no other than to grab it. He was dragged up back onto the docks, and stood up. Buffy was staring him in the face.

"How's the soldier?" He asked smugly.

"Dumb move." Buffy said.

She pushed him back hard into the warehouse wall, and used her weight to keep him there. He was able to get his arm up, and slug Buffy in the face. She was unfazed, and connected with his face next. Faith pulled him back, and kneed him in the gut.

He looked at the two slayers, and they stared at him. His chances weren't looking too good. He looked over the edge of the docks. "What the hell." He dove off, and plunged into the water.

They both ran to look, but they couldn't see him.

"Let's get him." Faith said.

"He's not worth the effort. Next time he's dead, though."

"Why'd you -?"

"He pissed me off." She took a deep breath. "And got Riley captured."

Faith went wide-eyed. "And you're just gonna let him slide?"

"As long as he stays away from me. Got bigger things to worry about, anyway. Listen, I�heard some of -"

"Forget it, B. Never happened." The brown haired slayer began to walk away. She had expected Buffy's reaction. She debated and debated with herself, but she knew Buffy wouldn't want her around after what happened.

"Wait." Buffy said, and Faith stopped.

She still wasn't sure of her feelings exactly, and things had gotten too complicated too fast for her to really figure anything out. But, she did know that she didn't want Faith out of her life. Not for a second.

"Yes it did. And I liked it. But I'm�there's circumstances, and I'm not very focused right now. I do know that I need you right now. Slaying, my life..."

"What did you say?" Faith asked, turning around with a look of disbelief on her face.

"I need you. And I want us to be, to coin your phrase, five by five. I really do want to talk about this, but�"

"We have a jailbreak to plan. Let's get it done." Faith said, smiling.

Buffy Summers just said she needed her, and right now, that was good enough.

***

Later, at Giles' house, Willow, Giles, Faith and Buffy were looking at blueprints and maps of the Initiative complex. They were laid out on the coffee table.

"These were the only files Riley gave to me." Giles said.

"Least we can figure out the best place to go in." Faith said.

"It has the alarm triggers marked too." Buffy said.

"And Tara and I could whip up a spell or two." Willow said.

"This is all great, but how are we supposed to take on a group of marines that have access to guns and other warped Jetson-like weaponry?"

The door opened then, and Xander and Anya walked in. The four people looked up, specifically at Xander, with small smiles on their faces.

"What? What'd we miss?" He asked.

***

Graham lowered the field so he could bring Riley in some food. Riley sat, holding his knees, up against the far corner. For a moment, he thought Graham had come to let him out. No such luck. The soldier simply set the tray down on the floor, backed out of the cell, and punched in numbers on the wall keypad to bring up the field again.

"First unit's due back in two hours." Graham said, and then disappeared from Riley's sight.

He went over to the tray. It had a turkey and cheese sandwich and a Coke on it. At least it wasn't bread and water. When he went to pick up the sandwich, he moved the plate a little. He noticed there was something underneath.

It was a Swiss Army Knife. That happened to have a pretty sharp knife and a screwdriver.

He went over to the wall of the cell that held the wiring for the keypad outside. His brain started to work as he realized what Graham had given him. If he could cut away the padding and reach the panel, he could shut off the electrical field by severing the wires, and then hopefully get and reach Buffy before she came down there.

He had two hours, so he pulled the knife out and began cutting away the thick padding, getting to work.

***

They sent Xander off to the army base, Tara had come over with a very old looking spell-book which she and Willow were currently searching through, and Anya, finally having some time to confront Faith, decided now was the time to make sure her territory had been clearly marked. Territory, meaning Xander.

She walked over to where Faith and Buffy were sorting through Giles' box of weaponry. Both slayers had a feeling his collection would be a bit too dated to be effective against marines. Before Anya could say anything, she saw Buffy pull out a couple bullet- proof vests, and turn so she was looking in Giles' direction.

"Where'd you get these?" Buffy asked him.

"Ah�" Giles was slow to answer. "The night your mother and -"

Buffy visibly shook, and held her hand out. "Forget I asked."

Anya walked up to Faith. "You can't have Xander."

"Got it. Does it count if -" Faith cut herself off when she saw Buffy shaking her head quickly. Anya eyed the dark-haired girl and eventually left them alone. "For someone who's getting it regularly she sure is a tight ass. And I know the problem can't be satisfaction."

"Can we not go down that down that road?" Buffy asked, a pleading edge to her voice.

"Yeah." She said softly.

Both of them were surprised how quickly she agreed. But Faith's emotions were becoming clearer to her. It wasn't just�lust with Buffy. Xander was a fun relief, but not Buffy. It was more than that with her. A lot more. She was sure of that now. She was still a little scared of the whole 'love' thing, but she knew. Buffy knew how she felt too, because she could see the shock on the older slayer's face.

"Faith�"

"So," Faith said grabbing a vest and getting them out of the tense moment they were currently in, "if we don't get shot in the face, these could be real useful."

"We won't be."

"If we pull this off, they'll be too busy to shoot at you." Willow called in their direction.

They went over to see what the two witches had in mind.

***

"You need help getting the vest on there, Buff?" Xander asked.

He had come back with two M-16's, seven clips, ten grenades, and a few flashbangs. It was getting harder and harder to come up with excuses to take the weapons, and if he had taken anymore, well�it wouldn't have been pretty. While he was teaching the two slayers how to use the equipment, Willow and Tara were setting up for their spell.

"No." Buffy and Anya said at the same time. The ex-demon stormed out of the house. "You're gonna go after her, right?"

He took a deep breath. "Guess I have to, huh?"

"How come you sound upset over that? You're gettin' boinked daily, aren't you?" Faith asked.

"You'd think that'd be enough, but boinking, much to my surprise, isn't enough. I wish there was more to us than that, but I don't think there is."

Faith was a little surprised. She thought guys were only interested in getting some. That's where she got most of her philosophies. The guys wanted quickies, so she learned to just get quickies and go. It was easier for all involved. But now that she was starting to change her thoughts on the matter, Xander's admission rocked her foundations just a little more.

"Maybe you should tell her that." Buffy said softly.

"Yeah. I�should�"

"Go. We've got it covered." Faith said.

Buffy smiled at Faith, thanking her for encouraging him. As he walked out, she went over to Willow and Tara.

"Everything five by - I mean�set?" Buffy said, stumbling over her words. She couldn't believe she said that.

"Mi lingo es su lingo, B." Faith said, a smile in her voice, while she was trying to get a feel for the sight on the M-16.

"Yeah, we're good." Willow assured her.

"It'll take us about forty five minutes to get through it. It's a pretty heavy conjuring spell." Tara said.

"But you'll have control, right?" Buffy asked.

"Hey, we're the two baddest Wiccans this side of the Mouth. We can handle anything." Willow said, looking at Buffy.

Buffy's gaze shifted to Tara, who had the biggest smile she had ever seen. As soon as Willow looked over, Tara looked down at her lap. Buffy couldn't stand it. She looked at Tara and moved her finger in a 'come here' motion.

Tara stood up nervously, and Buffy led her back to where Faith was.

"You better say something to her soon, or I will." Tara looked down again, and Buffy lifted her chin up. "Hey, it's cool. I think it's great. Or it will be once you tell her."

"She's practically smitten with you, Tar'." Faith added. "It usually makes me violently ill, but not in this case. What the hell does smitten mean anyway?"

"You think?" Tara asked.

"We know." The slayers said.

"So do I." Tara said, a small grin on her face as she looked at them knowingly. She went back over to Willow, leaving them speechless.

"Feel like kicking some military ass?" Buffy asked eventually. 'Riley, Riley, Riley�'

"Thought you'd never ask." 'Taken�don't deserve her�be happy with her friendship�'

As they walked out of the house, they heard calls of good luck.

***

Riley was now at the point where one screw up could ruin everything. Which wire to cut? Red, Blue, Yellow, or Green? Circuitry wasn't his specialty. He had to pick the right one, though, or else the alarm system would go off, and every marine would swarm the place in minutes. And Graham was "ignoring" everything he was doing, so the other marine wouldn't further implicate himself.

Red meant stop. So it had to be the red. Or maybe the green. Cause that meant go out. That's where he wanted to go, right? Out? Maybe it was�

"Just do it." He commanded himself.

He reached forward with the knife, and cut the red wire�

And the alarm sounded.

"Which one was it?" Riley asked as Graham came over.

"Red and blue. Sorry�sir."

Two wires? The only thing he could think was of how unfair it was.

"It's all right soldier. You were just doing your job."

All he could do now, was wait. It would all be over soon

***

As soon as Buffy and Faith slid down the cable in the elevator shaft, they heard the alarms sound. They had all their gear either around their shoulders, or stuck in pouches on their waists. Faith opened the hatch on the top of the elevator, and looked down into its white-walled, somewhat claustrophobic space.

"You ready for this? Will and Tara should be halfway through it by now." Buffy said.

"After you, girlfriend." Faith had this confident, somewhat cocky look on her face that Buffy drew strength from.

Buffy's thoughts got strangely focused right before she went into slaying mode. All those extra thoughts kind of took a backseat, and she would just become an instinctive machine. Looking at Faith now, actually seeing, without all those other distracting thoughts, allowed her to finally see the truth.

She did love her. She had for a really long time. It had started as soon as Faith come to town she realized. But not at the time. Faith was unlike anyone she had ever met, and she was drawn to it. The other slayer had kept her on her toes, connected with her, excited her, in a way no one else had. Of the three people she had opened her heart too, again discounting Parker and Scott, she was glad she had. They were all special.

Angel had been a beautiful, passionate experience, and even through all the pain she was glad she had gone through it. Allowed to love him like she had. She didn't think any relationship she had would ever be the same as that. But they were over now, and that was for the best.

Riley was nice and stable, and she loved him, and would get him safe, but even though he had been involved in an underground organization that kinda fought demons, he was still�normal. And that was great, it was a nice change from the cloud of darkness that had surrounded her and Angel for longest time. But there were just things he would never understand, things he had to know if they could hope of surviving. Their relationship had started out based on untruths about who they were, and that was never a good way to begin. They were too different.

Faith? She had lied, sure. So had Buffy. But they weren't involved then. They had been cautious. It wasn't just Faith who tested her limits; Buffy had been testing too. Now all that was over, the walls were crumbling, and they knew each other. They were friends. And she had wanted that for so long. Now she wanted to see what the next level would bring, as apparently, did Faith.

If Buffy wanted to know something, no matter what it was, Faith would tell her flat out. Nothing was toned down, and she knew Faith just by looking into her eyes. Buffy was the same way. If you looked hard enough, they were both open books. And Buffy wanted to read.

She didn't know how far they would go, what would happen�but she did know they both had a lot more in common then one would think. Sure their childhood's had been pretty different, but they both weren't perfect. Buffy knew that just one thing out of place, and she could have had Faith's life; and Faith hers. They both were cautious about whom they let in and shut out, and had a connection only they understood.

They made a pretty damn good team too. Buffy had been searching too deeply for a reason she liked Faith's kiss. A bond between them might have helped to reveal her feelings and brought them closer, but she liked the kiss because she loved Faith. It was a simple answer, however complicated. There were still doubts in her mind as to what a "relationship" with Faith would be like. But she could see Faith's eyes. They were scared too, but there was also love in them.

She realized that this dawning had come at a really bad time, but she was glad it did. Because it would've unfair to both Riley and Faith if she had tortured herself over it for months. She would feel guilty with him, and awkward with her.

Angel had been detrimental to her too. If she hadn't been so caught up in him last year, allowed herself to open her eyes and realize the dead end they had been headed towards sooner, she wouldn't have had to watch Faith or herself do those things to...but the past was the past.

She felt good now, and would feel even better once Riley was safe and this was over.

"B? You okay?"

"Huh? Oh. Yeah."

Buffy dropped down into the elevator, Faith soon behind her.

***

Just as Riley had expected, every soldier was standing in front of his cage within five minutes. Forrest approached Graham, and asked him what had happened. Riley watched as Graham simply said that he must have hidden the knife, and they just didn't pick it up when they patted him down.

After Forrest was finished, he turned to Riley looking angry and somewhat disappointed. Then he spoke into the to the small intercom on the opposite wall.

"Gas. Cell Seven."

Inside the cell, the hidden vents on the ceiling revealed themselves. The gas was tinted yellow, and Riley tried to prepare himself by holding his shirt over his mouth, but he was just delaying the inevitable. That's when they all heard the shots.

Before they could react, they were hit by the disorienting and nauseating effect of a flash bang grenade. More shots rang out, and the crackle of electrical sparks echoed off the walls. Hacking and wheezing from the gas, Riley noticed that the electrical field was down. He stumbled out, and was caught by two strong hands.

After a few more seconds, everything was clear and silent once again. Most of the Initiative was trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and then they saw. Supporting Riley a few feet away was Buffy, M-16 being held in her free hand; and Faith holding one as well. The marines quickly took their weapons into their hands.

"Gotta love a stand-off." Faith said, fire in her eyes.

***

Back in Giles' house, Tara and Willow sat in a circle on a cleared off spot on the floor, pink and blue powders surrounding them. At the center, their hands met, and they chanted as a mist swirled around them. They were both near physical exhaustion, their bodies shaking lightly.

Giles watched with extreme fascination as they said the final line of the spell.

"Let it be! Let him be the protector! Let it be!"

***

"I love having the advantage even more." Faith added.

The complex shook, and almost out of nothingness appeared a hulking form. The creature was massive, his blue-pinkish skin ripping with supernatural muscles. Near the bottom of his stomach, a small, yellow crystal pulsated, clawed hands balled into fists, and horns protruded from the side of his mouth.

First he looked back at Buffy and Faith, and they pointed to the group of commandos in front of him. He nodded, faced them, growled, then attacked. Faith joined him. Buffy helped Riley back against a wall, and told him to stay put.

The men were getting thrown every which way, their bullets having no effect on it. Faith turned her gun around, hit Graham in the head with it, and tossed him in the cell. Buffy ran up to Forrest who was trying to aim his gun at the conjured creature. She got behind him, and put him in a chokehold.

"Call them off, we walk out."

"Not an option." Forrest said.

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

She let go and pushed him in front of her, and then kicked him in the chest. He dropped to his hands and knees, and his gun clattered to the floor. Buffy went to join Faith, who wasn't even breaking a sweat.

"Ready to go?" Buffy asked while backhanding someone to the ground.

Faith shook her head. "They'll just keep coming. This is a war to them. Let's give 'em one."

"No guns unless absolutely necessary."

The two slayers fell in sync, and along with the creature, continued to thoroughly beat anything that crossed their path.

***

Riley, his eyes a tad blurry, watched the fight from his semi-safe position. As his vision cleared, he found Buffy in the crowd. Then he scanned the rest of the battle and saw Jackson aiming his gun in Buffy's direction. He shouted to her, and she looked in his direction, but by then the bullet was on its way, and she dropped to the ground.

He scrambled to his feet, panic and anger rushing through him, and noticed that Forrest was struggling to get up and reach his gun that sat a few feet away. Their eyes met and they knew what the other was thinking. They both got bursts of energy and lunged for the weapon.

Both of their hands latched onto the barrel, and they were struggling on the ground to get the upper hand. Riley used all his strength and drove the gun forward making it hit Forrest's cheek and cut it open. Forrest retaliated by bashing Riley's face with his elbow, and Riley lost his grip.

He got to his feet, gun in hand. Riley got up then too, and tried to kick out his ex-friend's legs. Forrest anticipated this, and got close enough so Riley couldn't do it.

"I told you, Riley. Should have listened."

He pushed the gun barrel into Riley's chest, driving him back, and shot him with extreme precision in the heart. Riley's eyes went wide, he dropped to his knees, and then finally all the way to the ground. He was gone, and his blood pooled underneath him.

***

The bullet had simply lodged in Buffy's vest, but it still took the wind out of her. She pushed herself onto all fours after a few seconds. Faith was about to help her the rest of the way when they both heard two shots. Buffy stood immediately.

One shot had come from a commando who hit the yellow jewel on the creature's stomach. The creature slowly faded away. The other shot was harder to place. Faith saw who had done it first.

"B! Over there!"

Buffy looked and saw Forrest, who appeared to be looking down at something. She looked to where she had left Riley then, and he wasn't there anymore. She fought her way over, Faith following.

'No. It's not what you think�it's not�'

Then she saw his body, and went completely numb. Faith wasn't though. She saw too, and quickly weighed her options. Forrest was a threat to her, Buffy, and had just killed Riley. It wasn't murder. It was war. So, she did what you're supposed to do in a war. Take down the enemy. Guns were definitely necessary now. She raised her M-16, and shot Forrest in the back. The man lurched forward, and fell.

Everyone stopped then. Buffy finally walked forward, and crouched by Riley's body. Faith turned to the rest of the team, and pulled a grenade off her waist.

"We could've just taken him and split. But no. One last chance. How do you want this to end?" She held the grenade out for them all to see.

They still had their guns aimed at her when Graham emerged from the cell, holding his head in pain. He looked around at what had happened. He was in command now.

"It's over. Back off." He told his men. "Now."

They lowered their weapons. Faith looked at Graham, and then tossed him the grenade. He caught it shakily.

"We're gone." She knelt down by Buffy and shook her shoulder. "Come on, B. Gotta go." She said softly.

Buffy gave her a look that broke her heart. She eventually stood, and taking one last look at Riley, she walked out with Faith, leaning on her for support.

When the two of them left, Graham walked up to the bodies of Riley and Forrest.

"Incinerate him." He pointed to Forrest. "He never existed."

"What about -" One of them started to ask.

Graham looked at Riley. "They say he's been ready. Hurry."

Two men grabbed Riley's arms, and dragged him towards a room. A room with the numbers '314' on the door.

***

Spike came to in the woods. He tried to remember what happened, and figured he must have hit something that knocked him out when he hit the water. But�how did he get here? That's when he saw a man's shadow looming over him. He looked skyward, and suddenly froze.

"What do you fear?" Adam asked him.

8
OUT IN THE OPEN (OR - WHAT ARE YOU DOING? HIDING IN THERE?)

It had been three days since the whole confrontation with the Initiative. Since Riley's death, since her run in with Spike, and Buffy was still closed off. To everyone. She stayed holed up in her dorm room, not moving an inch. Didn't go to classes, anything. The only one who saw her was Willow. She was allowed admittance, well, because she lived there. But Buffy wasn't really talking to her about anything either.

Faith had been happy to pick up the slaying. Willow, Tara, and Xander had even come with her. She was still amazed that she could call them her friends. But the solo slaying, group behind her or not, was growing tired. She was only half of the Chosen Two, and she wanted Buffy out there with her. She couldn't do it by herself. She knew people dealt with loss in different ways, but three days with minimal human contact wasn't healthy.

It hadn't helped her; that was for sure. The Mayor had been *too* human, and couldn't really be considered actual human contact. Point was, he had driven her to do some very, very bad things.

And she didn't want to see that happen to Buffy. A purely selfish part of her wondered, if she died, would Buffy take her death this hard? She had thought Angel was the only one who Buffy had taken the time to brood over, but if all the people she loved got this treatment�well that was rather assuming of her. She didn't know if Buffy did or not. But she had hope.

Riley had been a good guy. It had stung her that she hadn't been able to do her job and get him out of there. That's what made saving lives a lot harder than taking them. It was a lot more work. Physically and emotionally. But it was rewarding work if you didn't screw up. It wasn't like she had pushed aside his death. Far from it.

She had screwed up. If they had just left when Buffy wanted to, Riley would have been alive now. Then again, by staying, they had really hurt the Initiative, and Faith had a feeling the group wouldn't try anything for awhile. At least not to them directly. So she was into self-preservation. Was that really a bad thing?

But the fact was that Buffy was hurting over it. And that meant Faith did too. Not in the same way, but still hurting. But she had to look positive. If they had died down there, or shortly thereafter, there would be no one to save the world. She had tried telling Buffy that after Allan's death, but she had gotten a bit too carried away. Her simple point was that there was a whole five billion people that still needed them, and right now Buffy was putting them at risk by not slaying.

She wasn't a monster, she grieved, but she didn't let it consume her. And it was time to help Buffy get back on track. She went up to the second floor of Stevenson Hall, and saw Willow coming down the hall. They met each other half way.

"You gonna give it a shot?" Willow asked.

"No change?"

Willow shook her head. "I just came to give her homework. I have a couple more classes. I don't know what to do. After you two came back that night we did the usual, and I thought she'd be fine."

"Usual?"

"Crying after a traumatic event. Sounds really bad saying it that way, but over four years we've all got an unwritten rule. Cry, one day of 'me' time, and at least attempt to do the life thing. Even when�with Oz�"

Wow. Willow was opening up to her. "You don't have�I get it."

She smiled saying she wanted to continue. "I'm just saying that even though I felt�not so good�I still did stuff. But she's breaking the rule. Even when Angel became Mr. Bad Guy, she wasn't like this. It's weird."

"I'll get her back."

"You think she will?"

"She won't have a choice."

Willow had to smile when she heard the forcefulness in Faith's voice. She put her hand on the slayer's arm. "Thanks."

***

Buffy showed barely any reaction when she heard the voice call to her on the other side of the door.

"B, I'm coming in."

The doorknob turned, and she watched Faith enter from her position on the bed. The dark-haired slayer closed the door behind her, locked it, and came to sit against the side of the bed.

"Taking shifts now?" Buffy asked. She couldn't tell whether her voice was angry or not.

"Below the belt, Chica. We just care about ya."

"I know." Buffy sighed. "So how long are you planning to be in here?"

"Long as you."

"Then get comfy, cause I don't really wanna leave anytime soon."

"If you insist." Faith climbed up onto the bed, and laid down beside her.

"Hey!"

"You said comfy. Choose your words more carefully next time." Buffy moved to get up, but Faith pulled her back down. "That's a no no. Cause then I'd follow you."

"But then you won't be comfy anymore."

"Says who?" That was a little off-topic, but it did make Buffy's eyebrows raise slightly. It was a start. "I'll never get tired of you, B. You're too much fun to be around."

"Was that sarcasm?"

Faith grinned. "You're a quick one. But under normal circumstances you're loads of fun."

"And what exactly is 'normal circumstances'?"

"Anything that doesn't involve sitting here stone-faced and catatonic."

"That was harsh."

"Yeah, maybe. But Red already tried the comfort angle. Didn't work. So I'm giving it to you straight up. Start talking and I might be nice."

"That's supposed to be an incentive?" Faith cringed just the tiniest bit, but Buffy caught it. "Damn. I'm sorry. I didn't mean�"

"I know you didn't, but we have a choice here. We could throw daggers at one another," Buffy flinched now, "though not in the literal sense. And even though I can, I really don't want to, cause it doesn't get us anywhere."

"What's the other choice?"

"Talk to me. I know I'm probably the last person you want to�hey, you think if I get you drunk again you'd spill the beans?"

Buffy smirked a little. "Getting a tad suggestive, aren't you?"

"If we do that again, I want to be nice and sober for it. But you're just playin' on my weaknesses, B, and I don't like it."

The blonde went stoic again. "Talk or not talk, huh?"

"That is the question. And it's your call."

***

Tara paced outside the classroom Willow was currently occupying. She was going to come out and tell her. She was�she was�she was. But maybe it was a bad idea. Willow had been in love with a guy before. Really in love. Whereas she had never been in love with anybody. This was a big thing. Something that shouldn't be taken lightly.

She peaked in at Willow sitting in the first row. Then again, if Willow felt the same way, it could turn out to be really great. But what if she didn't? Then the friendship Tara had formed with her would be destroyed. The consequences of rejection were too great. Why risk an already good thing?

To make it even better, she told herself. She grabbed her head in frustration. A half an hour. A half an hour until the class was out. Then it would be decision time. Finally. One way or the other.

***

"Ice cream. Mini-fridge." Buffy said, pointing.

Faith got up off the bed, did as ordered, but was puzzled. "What's ice cream have to do with anything?"

"It's the non-alcoholic way to drown your sorrows. It's the only way I'm speaking." Faith brought back a pint of cookie dough ice cream, and resumed her previous position on the bed. Buffy opened it, and pulled out two spoons from her beside bureau. "Better."

"So�what's going on with you? Three days is a long time."

Buffy ate some. "Been thinking, I guess."

"About him?"

"That was the first day."

"If he was the first day, why'd you break the rule?"

"Will told you, huh?" Buffy smiled. "I've been thinking about my love life. And about how I screw up anyone who dares to love me."

"That isn't true."

"Oh really? I turn Angel evil and send him to Hell, I scared Scott off and probably scarred him for life, I got Riley killed�and�"

"First, there's nothing wrong with you. They chose to take the risks. It's your fault because you -?"

"Because I loved them, yeah. I didn't know what I was doing with Angel. I had never felt that way before. It was all so new, and I�he became my world. I rushed things because I couldn't handle my own emotions. Angel didn't know about the curse."

"You didn't either."

"But I should have made sure there were no risks."

"You think there's a 'How to Guide' on sleeping with souled vamps? There isn't, B. You can look back and say this now, but there's nothing you could've done."

"Okay then. Scott. Normal guy. I didn't tell him the risks. He really liked me too. I guess I really didn't "love him" love him, but I was trying so hard to get over Angel, that I rushed to try and date him when�"

"The A guy came back. Out of your control, B."

"But then I led him on. And that wasn't right."

"Why do you do this to yourself?" Faith took a deep breath. "You only got one left. I'm interested to see how you find yourself in the wrong on this one."

"Actually, I have two left." Faith was confused. "You wanna know how it's my fault? Cause if I had never�he wouldn't have gotten those ideas about breaking away�and he'd�still be alive."

"You gotta do better than that."

"What do you mean?"

"Buffy," Buffy figured she must really be serious if her whole name was spoken, "the guy was involved in an underground GI Joe operation that experimented on demons. Either way you paint it, the guy was in for a serious hurt eventually."

"So you're saying I did him a favor by helping what was inevitable anyway?" Buffy asked, her voice angry.

"No! I'm saying you didn't do anything. That's the point. I'm not the cold bitch you might think of am, you know. I'm sad about him dying too."

"I don't think you're cold. Or a bitch." Buffy said softly.

"Look, all I'm saying is, he chose that life. He had to accept certain possibilities. Death at an early age being at the top of the list. You didn't choose to kill demons, he did. Big diff."

"Well then fate seems to be against me, because apparently I'm not allowed to love anybody. And whoever's fault it is, Angel, Scott, Riley, and you, didn't deserve it."

"No. They didn't." Did Buffy just say -? "Me?"

***

As Willow came out of the classroom, Tara decided she would talk to her. If the conversation got to *that* point, then she would tell. She followed behind Willow, and eventually tapped her on the shoulder. The redhead whirled around.

"Oh! Tara. You scared me."

"Sorry." Tara said, nervousness in her voice.

"What's up?"

"I�can we talk?"

Willow couldn't figure out why Tara was so, shier, than usual. "Your place?"

"Could we walk? I just�we could get distracted there�by spell stuff�and�"

Willow squeezed Tara's hand. "That sounds nice."

They started to head out of the building. "So�how's Buffy?"

"The same. Faith's in with her now."

"You think it's working?"

"I hope so."

***

"Yes, you. Now's a good a time as any. I love you, Faith. Now you can get a head start and run away from me before your second chance is ruined."

"Hang on. Let me get this straight. You love me?"

"Don't act so surprised. But now we've got ourselves a situation."

"Do we?" Faith had a concerned look. It took all of her energy to not continue with the way the conversation had been going. "No�wait a sec. Explain to me why I should run away. I tried that already, and it led to trouble."

"And I caused it. I pushed you away over and over�and -"

Faith shot off the bed. Her face clearly showed anger as she turned to face Buffy. "We did this already! It was my fault!"

"It was my fault. I loved you all the way back then. Didn't really know, though, cause I was 'with' Angel. So when I first met you, instead of dealing and trying to be friends with you, I decided to just brush you off. After that, and when we started slaying regularly and stuff, cause I didn't have a choice, I thought maybe we could be friends. But then I started feeling guilty when I was with you, and I didn't know why.

"I started driving you away again after Christmas. And only then, when you went to the Mayor, did I realize what I lost. I wanted you back, but before I could really get a grip on what I felt for you, you turned completely to the dark side, and my feelings got buried cause I had to fight you.

"And when I stuck the knife�in my mind, I killed you in a way. Just like everyone else. We were given a chance to start over now. I don't know why, but I want to do it right. Friendship is good. We've built a nice thing here. Haven't we?"

"You tell me you�nobody has ever said that to me, and now you're telling me I can't?"

"You deserved to know. Do you love me?" Faith looked away. "Ha! You're afraid to say it because of what might happen. Well now you know how I feel."

"I love you." Faith said almost inaudible.

"What did you say?"

Faith turned around. "I love you, okay? Now we're both out in the open. And you're right. I'm scared as hell. Cause I don't want to mess up. We both know my rep. But I'll be real selfish right now. I've never needed much before. Always scrounged up enough to get by. But, and it's hard to admit this, I need you. Everything. And if you feel the same way, there's no damn way I'm going to let my 'what ifs' ruin what could be really good."

"That isn't enough."

"Not enough? Here. I promise that if I die, I won't blame you. Okay?"

"Not funny, Faith."

"Wasn't meant to be. You've gotta learn to let go."

"It's hard."

"You're too hard on yourself. I'd be cool with it if you needed time to deal with Riley, but if you're holding back because you're afraid you'll screw me up, don't worry. I'm already at the lowest rung of the ladder, B. Only place to go is up.

"I know the risks. We're in the same biz. And I'll say this one last time, and then this will never be mentioned again. I didn't think before I acted, I jumped to conclusions, and I screwed up. It was not your fault. I handled things badly, my mistakes, not yours. Say, 'Okay, Faith.'"

"Okay�"

"More?"

"Faith. Okay, Faith." Buffy smiled.

***

Willow and Tara walked around on the lawn outside campus not going anywhere in particular. They were in mid-conversation, and had been talking about little things for the past fifteen minutes.

"So I got a paper for -" Willow started.

'Just say it. Even if she says no, I'm sure she'll be cool about it. She's always cool about stuff.'

"I love you."

Willow turned and smiled at her. "I love you too."

"No�not just�like that."

They stopped.

"Well, what other way could you mean�oh." She looked at Tara for another second, and promptly fainted.

Tara caught her before she hit the ground. Not exactly the reaction she was expecting.

***

"Did it ever occur to that college girl brain of yours that the reason we were given a second chance is to do everything right again? Not just the friendship part?"

"It crossed my mind."

"You want to know why I respect you so much? Not cause you're a kick ass slayer, or because you have things I don't, but because you're real careful about opening up your heart to people. When you decide to love someone, you go all the way. And I'm not talking about screwing. You give everything. You risk everything. You care so much, and aren't afraid to take on other people's baggage."

"But I shouldn't. I mean, look where it's gotten me. I take they're baggage, sure. Then I try to help, and it all goes wrong. I don't know that the hell I'm doing."

"Guess what? Nobody does. It's called living life, B. Something I haven't done for a real long time. Cause I was afraid of getting hurt�and�sometimes you get a win, sometimes you get a loss. But when you get a loss, you keep going. You heal up, and try again. You don't give up."

"Cause giving up is bad. Wrong even. Right?"

"It's not a good way to go. Believe me. I never enjoyed doing those jobs for the Mayor. Not really. I had to act like I did so he wouldn't kill me. I got a little into it sometimes, and I felt myself slipping away every time. You definitely don't want to ever give up."

"What should we do?"

"I think I'm a little biased there, B."

Buffy grinned a little. "I trust you, you know that right?"

"I do now."

"Well I do. And I�it's just that�after my previous attempts�"

"Hey it's understandable. Um�Scott."

"What about him?

"He never really took off right?"

"Never got a chance to, really. But I still�"

Faith sat on the bed quickly, and put a finger to Buffy's lips. "No more of that." "Why'd you ask me about Scott?"

"Come on, you know what they say. Third time's a charm. If you're willing to give it a shot. If you're ready."

"Riley's gone. I loved him, and that won't change. But me sitting here any longer isn't going to bring him back, or help anything for that matter. I developed Angel's brooding habit, and it's time I shook it off."

"That means?"

"It means, I love you."

"And that means?"

"I want to give us a shot. If you're willing to trust me."

"That's all I have to do? Yes, I trust you. And here I thought there was a test."

Buffy swatted her. "Smartass. This was a test. For both of us."

"Think we passed?"

"God, I hope so."

She leaned forward and kissed Faith. It wasn't like anything Faith had felt before. It was so full of�oh. So this was what love was. It wasn't like the kiss she had initiated that night. This was Buffy's way. It was meant to convey feelings. And it was amazing. So amazing, that they both didn't hear the door bust open, and the handle bust.

***

They stopped reluctantly, and turned around to see Tara carrying Willow in her arms.

"Sorry. It was locked and�I didn't know I could kick that hard�"

"Forget the door, what happened?" Buffy asked.

"I kinda took your advice�and told her�and�"

Faith started laughing. She could just picture it.

"Faith!" Buffy said. "Put her on her bed Tara. I'll get some water."

Buffy walked out into the hall and towards the bathroom.

"Sorry. It's just, only she would just flat out faint like that." Faith finally said.

"Do you think she -?"

"She's loves you. Trust me."

"How do you know for sure?"

Faith thought a minute and smiled. "I just do. That's what love is. You just�know."

***

"How's he doing?" Graham asked a doctor.

"The last transplant went off without any problems. We won't make the same mistakes this time."

"I just hope you don't make new ones. We can't afford that. He's too well prepared to lose."

Graham looked down at the sheet-covered body on the table, and allowed himself a small smile. In the Initiative, they looked out for their own. Even if it meant tweaking a few things. Adam was a prototype. A promising, however, flawed prototype. But this one would be different.

Riley had taught Graham everything he knew. His mentor didn't deserve to die by a comrade's weapon. So Graham did the only thing he could to see that Riley was taken care of. He was always the best, and it was only fair that he be the next of them to achieve the status Professor Walsh had wanted.

It was the right thing to do.

Continue to Parts 9-12

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