image of women sitting in armchair writing

Not That Kind series

Chapter 2: One Way Ticket

One way ticket, take me anywhere
Northbound, southbound, I don't even care
I know the grass is greener there

***

I felt the faint prickle of wolfiness rush across my skin as I passed the sign that told me that there was 20 miles between the van and Sunnydale. It was rustier than when I first saw it, 15 years ago or something. I'd always felt bad when I saw it. Just reminded me of stuff I'd rather forget.

***

He stared out of the car window, bottom lip trembling, eyes red and puffy, cheeks flushed, his crimson face barely providing a contrast to the tousled shock of red hair on his head. It stuck up at the back where he'd rubbed it against the seat, and he hated the world even more for that. His vision watered up again, and he blinked, sending a tear streaking down to join the rest that moistened the tee-shirt. Although the garment – newly purchased as yet more compensation for leaving behind Berkeley – was emblazoned with a conquering He-man astride a ferocious Battle-cat, Danny was in no mood to be bribed into happiness. Only Brown Ted, threadbare but ever smiling, provided some comfort, and the toy was clutched tightly to the small chest, rising suddenly as the small boy took in yet another gulp of air so that he could expel it in a soft sob.

James Osbourne turned in the passenger seat to look at his son, who met his eyes with the same look of utter betrayal he had worn since the last of the family's possessions were loaded onto the removal van. Danny almost immediately broke the gaze, and hiccuped. Another fat tear, hitherto gently swelling at the corner of Danny's eye, set off down the child's face with the jolt. The older male sighed softy. Meredith, his new wife, lifted one hand from the steering wheel to squeeze his arm, meeting his anguished expression with a sad smile.

No-one told you how to cope with a child's grief. He knew that he hadn't made it any easier on Danny by remarrying only 9 months after Charlotte's death – something his in-laws from that marriage were all too eager to tell him. But Merry was a lovely woman, and she would make a wonderful mother – if Danny would ever let her. For the moment, though, all his son wanted was his mother, and not this interloper that, in his view, tried to be her.

His father knew that the boy certainly didn't want to move to Sunnydale. It may have been only Southern California, but James knew that as far as Danny was concerned it might as well have been Mars. The decision to take Danny away from his close relations and friends – if, at age 5, they were really that – wasn't one James had come to lightly. But he thought it best to take his son – and his bride – away from a house that was so clearly marked as Charlotte's. Not to mention the increase in pay that his new job would bring.

In any case, his brother Kenneth lived near to the place, and from what he could tell, the town was too good to be true. James might not have Brown Ted, but he was comforted by the fact that from all accounts, he couldn't have brought Danny to a nicer, safer town. In time, his son would accept that it was the right thing to do.

Danny clutched tighter to Brown Ted as they passed the sign that stated Sunnydale was 20 miles ahead. In his short life, Danny had made some absolute decisions. Brown Ted would always be his favourite, the white squidgy bit in Oreos would always taste better than the biscuit bits, cartoons would always be better than shows that had people, and he would never forgive Dad for doing this to him. It was the wrongest ever thing to do, and the sooner Dad worked that out, the better.

As Sunnydale drew nearer, Danny wondered how long it would take to walk back to Berkeley.

***

Look up at a passing train
And there I am
No matter where I am
I'm passing through
One way ticket, take me anywhere

***

I glanced round to the back of the van. Faith had finally fallen asleep on the pile of blankets; she'd spent most of the journey sitting in the passenger seat staring out at the road. Her eyes were bloodshot, both from not having slept much in the last couple of days, and the grief I guess.

She had barely mentioned Buffy since we set off from LA, except to sob her name once when I figure everything finally sunk in, about 10 miles out of Oxnard. She’d cried for a bit - which, despite the situation, still surprised me. In my head, I'd though Faith would be the type to deal with Buffy's death by going out and killing something.

Maybe that will come.

She'd crawled into the back of the van after that. We hadn't really said anything at all since the police station; I'd picked up my stuff from Eve's. She'd been pretty cool about everything; helping out with Faith's alibi, then not minding that I was leaving her kinda stuck for a bass player.

"You're not coming back," she'd said, when I loaded the last of the stuff into the van.

"Maybe."

Eve'd shaken her head at that. "Nah, you're not. It was cool, while it lasted. And I'll have my hair to remind me. For a while, at least." Then she'd kissed me on the lips, winked and went back to the apartment.

I thought that might have raised a smirk or a sassy comment from Faith. I don't think she even saw.

I can't blame her. I think I'd go a bit catatonic if it were Devon, or Willow. As it is I'm a little stunned: I was just as willing to believe, like the rest of them, that Buffy was immortal. I guess at this stage I'm supposed to think about my own mortality, realise that life is short, get some perspective. At least, I'm sure that's the movie script for it. 'Cause if Buffy of all people can't survive 'til 21 then the rest of us are screwed. But the Hellmouth teaches you that sort of lesson when you're in elementary school so it's really only revision. The thing is that I don't feel as... terrible now when people I know are killed as I did before. Will I get to the point where I just won't care?

No.

If I go there... I become Veruca. I'm close enough as it is. Veruca was only a danger three nights a month, but if I start to think like her, believe that life isn't important, then I'm much more of a problem. But I won't let myself. And I do care about Buffy dying, I do. It just... doesn't have the same impact.

At least on me. But Faith – she's lost someone she loved. I can remember Buffy and Giles when that happened to them. Plus Buffy was a Slayer – and I guess that must be even more frightening – after all, it proves to Faith that she was lucky before. Buffy isn't invincible, so neither is she.

That actually brings up a good question – did another Slayer get called when Buffy died, or was that Jamaican girl the next jump? Is Faith the only Slayer? Will she want to take it all on, if she is?

I suppose we won't know until we see Giles.

Until we get back.

Sunnydale.

Well, it'll be interesting.

Faith moans in her sleep, and I realise I've been daydreaming. I turn the radio on – low, so it doesn't disturb Faith – and smile as "California Dreamin'" is played.

***

She was in the Boss' office. The big leather chair was turned away from her. It swivelled around and Faith met Buffy's eyes.

"Hey, Grandma," Faith said.

The blonde laughed. "Hardly, I can't cook pumpkin pie."

Faith smiled. "Your eggnog was good, though."

Buffy shrugged, and examined the stake that was imbedded in her chest near her heart, congealed blood in a black-red halo around the wound. Faith's mouth went dry, and she opened her mouth, but found she couldn't speak. Then Buffy was Finch, but the wound remained. Faith gasped, and Finch just smiled a smile without humour. Then he spoke, his voice a mixture of himself and Buffy. "Just think. If you'd just thought instead of acted, we could have stopped this."

Another voice called Faith's name. Faith turned, and there was Joyce, sitting on her bed, hands tied behind her.

"You try so many things," the woman told her. "You tried my lipstick, you tried Buffy's boyfriend, you tried Buffy's body. But I doubt you're ready to try on her shoes."

"You're creasing the bed," said Faith, with a touch of anger, "Buffy and I just made it."

Joyce snorted. "You got blood everywhere."

"No! I washed that out!"

Joyce gave Faith a look of pity. "My dear, those sheets are still in the machine."

Someone put a hand on Faith's shoulder, and the Slayer whirled around, fist clenched, only just stopping herself from punching Buffy, who reacted by grabbing Faith's wrist.

"Don't do that!" Faith cried, wrenching her hand away.

"I think it's too late for that now," Buffy said, sadly. "If I could turn back time..."

"Don't quote Cher on me, please."

Buffy was fading into white. "You'd love me, like you used to do."

"Who said I'd stopped?" Faith called after her, but Buffy was gone.

***

Faith opened her eyes. The van had stopped, and the engine had been turned off. She pushed herself up, running a hand through her hair. The van's radio was still on, and she could hear Cher warble tinnily through the speakers.

"Oz, man, turn off the radio."

Oz complied.

"Where are we anyway?" she asked. "Sunnydale?"

"Yeah." He looked out of the window. "I wonder if Giles is in."

***

"I wonder if Giles is in."

Faith's mind just closed down at the mention of Giles' name. It was palpable. They were back. No longer just an idle idea that she'd considered for months but concrete reality. Sunnydale - Buffy's town. Without Buffy because Buffy was dead. She felt the sob rise in her throat again and swallowed it. Maybe if she kept thinking about it then it would become easier, she'd feel less like she was exploding into a thousand million tiny shards of grief. Buffy. Dead. Buffy. Dead. Buffy.

Faith let out a low shuddering breath. It was all she could do these past couple of days to remember to keep breathing. So hard, just to draw breath, to make her lungs expand and contract. And the musty, cloying odour of two people's day-old sweat in such a confined space wasn't helping.

Suddenly she needed to be outside, to feel the night breeze on her skin. Her hands shook as she reached for the door handle. "I need air," she said in explanation to Oz when he quirked an eyebrow in question. When her feet touched the sidewalk, she opened her mouth wide, taking huge swallows like a fucking drowning man. She wanted to lie on the sidewalk, let the weeds grow around her, the night and the day shift, the ground swallow her whole. Instead she leaned against the van for support, gasping for air.

She wasn't even aware of the tears as they burned down her cheeks, and she didn't care that she must've looked weak and damn stupid. What good was pride anyway? It was only armour and she'd used it against Buffy and now that B was gone...

There was the click of the door at the driver's side and Oz jumped out of the van. He walked around the vehicle, his sneakers scuffing on the tarmac and he stood beside her.

"I don't think I can do this, man," Faith admitted, smearing tears away from her eyes with the back of her hand.

Anyone else would've been laying the platitudes on thick, trying to be all sympathetic and understand about her pain. Thank fuck Oz wasn't like that. He wasn't trying to get inside her head, he was just *there*. And with the stuff that was going on in her head, well, let's just say Disneyland it ain't. There was just the pain and she was too raw to articulate it even to herself.

Shit, she had to get it together.

She gave a bleary half-smile to Oz because she wanted to reassure him. Whether he needed it or not. There had to be something going on in that cool head of his, some ripple of emotion below the surface. She could see it sometimes, when she caught his eyes. She knew that she could spend the rest of her life trying to figure out this guy's deal, never quite getting there. Even then, you'd only learn what he wanted to tell you. Mainly, Oz was different from what she was used to and that was an appealing thing right now.

"We can come back later," Oz suggested without much conviction.

It was early evening after all and Giles probably wouldn't be home. He was probably away doing some Giles-y thing with books and tea. Faith could come up with a hundred excuses for not crossing that courtyard and ringing that doorbell. But she didn't. "Nah, let's do it now." Oz gave a look that said 'are you sure' and she nodded determinedly. Like the way Buffy used to. So damn fucking cute when she put on that resolve face...

Faith clamped down on that thought. She didn't want Giles to see her in a flood of pathetic tears. She didn't want his pity. So Oz locked the van and they sauntered up the street and across the cobbled courtyard until they were in front of the door to Giles' apartment. Assuming of course that he still lived here. Well, only one way to find out. Exchanging a glance with Oz, Faith reached up and pressed the buzzer.

It was a couple of minutes before she heard the latch open and she was all ready to walk away when the door opened. It was Giles, that's for sure. Greyer around the temples but still the G-man. Looking wicked 007 in that black suit and she realised too late... oh fuck, they'd gatecrashed the wake.

"Who is it, Giles?" Willow's voice in the background.

"Um," he faltered slightly. "Just a moment." He was staring at Faith like she was a demon from one of his fucking books. Like, if only he could remember the right incantation to banish her or something. He looked a little scared actually. Well, now that Buffy was gone, Faith could easily murder them all if she wanted to. Guess he was right to assume the worst but it still bothered her.

"Look, I'm not here to kill you," Faith said bluntly. "We just came to pay our respects."

With an almost relieved nod, Giles stepped aside. "You'd, well, you'd better come inside then."

Steeling herself, Faith accepted, Oz following closely behind.

To say their entrance was a conversation stopper would be a gross understatement. Not to mention, they weren't exactly dressed for the occasion, Faith clad in leather and Oz in a Spiderman tee-shirt. And wow, Xander scrubbed up good in a suit. He'd even had that damn shaggy hair of his cut. She watched his girlfriend slip a possessive arm through his from where they stood beside the window. Willow, her face like thunder, was sitting on the couch with Tara who looked shit scared. Couldn't blame her, she'd probably heard all the scare stories. Over in the corner, Riley had been talking to Joyce and Faith watched him bristle, his clean-cut GI Joe jaw clenching. Commando boy made a movement towards the newcomers but Joyce put a hand on his chest to stop him.

Oz just nodded to the room but he must've known that he was the enemy by association.

Giles appeared beside Faith. "Well, this isn't at all awkward," he muttered under his breath.

"Giles?" Willow demanded in an accusatory voice, her eyes rimmed with red. The G-man just stared at the carpet and Red stood, her fists balled with fury. "How could you?" she spat at Faith, stalking a few steps towards her. "After everything you've done? This is *her* day!"

"I'm not here to..." Faith started to explain.


Xander moved to stand beside Willow. Sidekicks fucking unite. "She's right. You're not welcome here." His voice was quiet, his words cutting deeper than Willow's outburst. Well, well, well. Sometime over the last year, Xander had grown a backbone. "You don't belong here, Faith."

By the window, Anya was shovelling snacks into her mouth like popcorn and Joyce just looked at Faith with silent disgust. Still sitting on the couch, Tara looked uncomfortable, like she just wanted to get the hell out of here. That makes two of us, girlfriend.

Faith shrank back slightly. She hadn't felt this small since... well, since B told her she was a loser. And those words had never rung so true until now. "I'm sorry. For what I did, for Buffy being dead. But I didn't kill her and that is one thing you can't put the blame on me for."

Giles exhaled slowly, his lips pursed. "I - I think you should leave now. You've paid your respects, Faith, thank you. But you really aren't welcome here."

If this was the way it had to be. Fine. Brushing past Giles, Faith made for the door but she paused at Giles' next words. "Oz, you're welcome to..." She glanced over her shoulder, watching Oz as he surveyed the room. 'Course, she'd understand if he wanted to...

He shook his head after a moment, his eyes fixed on Willow. "I think... I gotta pass, for now."

The look on Willow's face was a picture. Some part of Red obviously still expected Oz to jump to command. Man, Faith felt sorry for that Tara chick... There was still enough bad in Faith to get a kick out of Willow's humiliation but, for Oz's sake, she tried to conceal her amusement. For the most part.

She was about to let out a small chuckle once they were back out in the courtyard but then she saw the look on Oz's face. Like someone had walked over his grave. Guess she hadn't realised just how difficult this would be for him, coming back here and seeing Willow living a whole new peachy life that didn't include him. So he'd left, but his friends continued without him. They probably didn't even think about him that much anymore...

But what really surprised Faith was that he'd stuck by her, the Scoobies had dealt him an ultimatum back there and he'd come through for her. So the least she could do was not laugh in his face about his ex-girlfriend. Not to mention the fact that Faith had just ruined B's wake which wasn't exactly humorous at all. Actually, she was feeling pretty shitty about it now.

As they turned to walk back to the van in silence, they came face to face with Angel.

"Faith," Angel said in surprise and glanced at Oz beside her. "Oz." He cleared his throat. "I didn't know you were, well, invited."

"We weren't," Faith said. "I think we managed to kill the already dead mood."

"Oh," Angel said, wincing.

Just then all three heard two others approaching, bickering loudly. They stopped when they saw who Angel was with. The female widened her eyes and her jaw dropped.

"I will hate you if we've missed anything gossipworthy!" what could only have been Cordelia complained through gritted teeth, swatting Wesley's arm. It had to be Wesley because he yelped like a girl. Angel just rolled his eyes.

"Um, you're not crazy again, are you?" Cordelia asked Faith suddenly. "' Cause, you know, I'm sure we could give this wake a miss if you're planning on the wreaking of havoc. Feel free to wreak." Cordelia gave a nervous laugh. "Just not in the vicinity of us."

Faith just swapped glances with Oz and Angel. "She always like this?"

"Pretty much, yeah," Angel and Oz replied in unison.

"You gonna be in town for a couple of days?" Angel asked them.

"I'd say that was a given," Oz responded.

"Good, well, see you around," Angel nodded and continued towards Giles' place, Cordelia and Wesley following.

"Are you sure she isn't crazy?" Cordelia insisted, when she thought she was out of earshot and Faith shook her head.

"How does Angel put up with those two?" Faith wondered aloud as she and Oz walked back to the van. "Especially Cordelia. She'd fucking craze me, man."

Oz considered that thoughtfully. "Incredible patience. Or sedation."

Once inside the van again, they sat for a moment in silence. Oz reached for the ignition, cranked it, and pulled away from the sidewalk. They just drove around town for a while, taking a tour of the old haunts but somehow they ended up outside Buffy's house. They looked up at the dark window of B's room.

"I bet Joyce hasn't moved a thing," Faith murmured. She wondered if Buffy's diary was still stashed in the second drawer of the dresser. Yeah, she'd snuck a peek at it while Buffy showered the morning after they'd... There was nothing, absolutely no mention of B's feelings about her. Just endless passages about how much B struggled with wanting to jump Angel's bones. Faith had been gutted, angry, but she couldn't say a thing because she knew B would get all self-righteous about her privacy. She'd make Faith feel like she was in the wrong. B could always do that so damn easily.

Faith sighed and turned to look at Oz. His fingers rested on the wheel, tapping an unknown rhythm in Black Cherry nail polish. "Isn't it weird to be back?"

Oz nodded. "Pretty high on the list of weirdness."

"Fuck, man, what are we doing here?" she said in an exhalation of breath.

Oz didn't answer the question, instead he started the engine again. "Let's get some sleep."

They drove to the nearest motel in silence, booked a twin room and as Faith lay awake in the dark, she thought about how she'd come full circle to be back in a fucking trashy motel. Just like her Ma had said, the scum always floats to the surface. That's why she was still here and Buffy was dead. One day, she'd be dead too and another Slayer would come along and maybe that girl would make the right choices.

Faith didn't believe that she and Buffy were gonna end up in the same place. It didn't matter how many demons she killed, vamps she slayed, apocalypses she averted. She'd killed innocent people. Unlike Angel, she didn't have some ancient scroll that said everything would turn out fine. That was the truth of it all, there were no certainties.

******

Faith rolled over with a groan, the insistent knocking that swam through layers of consciousness becoming louder until it finally registered in her brain that someone was at the door. Her eyelids opened too quickly, the bright wash of sunlight that bathed the room almost blinding her. She glanced over at Oz, whose sleep-flattened spikes rose from the pillow at the disturbance, and then at the small digital clock on the bedside table. 7:37 am. What kind of fucking weirdo hammers on someone's door at this time in the morning?

"I'll get it," Faith muttered to Oz as he propped himself up on one elbow.

Cursing, Faith threw back the covers and padded angrily towards the door. Flinging the door open, she stared, suddenly robbed of her anger. The kind of fucking weirdo that wears brown corduroy trousers and a knitted sweater in California.

"Faith," Giles said with a trite expression.

Faith just leaned in the doorway, awaiting an explanation 'cause there'd better be a pretty damn good one.

"May I come in?" He hesitated, peering past her shoulder. "Unless you have, er, company."

G-man obviously thought she had some guy in here. Some cheap one night stand. She smirked. "Just Oz."

"Oh, I see." Giles flushed slightly.

Faith let him squirm for a moment. "We aren't screwing. We're friends." She'd always had a policy of not getting horizontal with friends. It was less messy in the end. Admittedly, there were precious few friends so it was a policy she never really had to enforce. Until now. Because Xander and Buffy were never friends. "C'mon in."

Closing the door, Faith sat on the bed and Giles stood. He hovered beside the door, not entirely sure where to settle his gaze but he briefly took in the sight of a sleep-rumpled Oz. "Oz, good morning," he said in subdued greeting.

"Hey," Oz responded.

Giles focused on Faith, clearing his throat demurely. "The Watcher's Council have been in contact with me," G-man said without preamble and Faith nearly fell off the mattress but she remained quiet. "I needn't remind you that when one Slayer... dies, another is called. In Buffy's case, a replacement was called several years ago when she briefly... well, I'm sure you know the story." Giles took off his glasses carefully and glanced at his feet. "Having two slayers was an unprecedented situation, obviously. The Council weren't sure if another Slayer would be called if Buffy died." His voice wavered slightly there. "There wasn't; Kendra was Buffy's replacement and you, in turn, are Kendra's."

Faith's mouth went dry. "Guh?"

"I've been appointed as your Watcher in the interim. Training starts tomorrow and I expect you to be at my home at 9am sharp."

"Hold on," Faith stood, running a hand through tangled hair. "What if I don't wanna do this?"

Giles stared at her pointedly. "I would've thought it was the least you could do. For Buffy's sake."

Fuck, now that was low. "Giles, I can't." Faith sighed, stared at the ceiling as if it held all the answers. "I'm not Buffy."

Giles paused at the door. He didn't look back. "No, you're not." Then he turned the handle and was gone.

******

"Do it!"

Danny looked at Merry with mistrust, and sullenly hit a few keys.

His stepmother returned an expression of exasperation. "Look, I've told you, when you can learn to play the piano, we'll see about letting you have a guitar."

Not what Danny wanted to hear. He applied the logic of a nine-year-old. "But... the other kids'll laugh at me. The piano is so... dumb."

Merry rolled her eyes. "They won't and it isn't. I'm not asking you to play it at school assembly; and I want you to learn music, but I want you to learn how to play proper music - trust me, you'll thank me in the long run."

"I'll remember that when my head is in the toilet and I'm being called a fag."

"It's the piano, Danny. It really isn't that uncool. Stop being melodramatic."

He pouted and played some more chords.

"See? That wasn't so hard." He just glared at her, and carried on.

Meredith sighed. She was hoping that music might bring Daniel out of his shell a bit. Ever since they'd moved to Sunnydale he'd been withdrawn and shy, and though he was at least used to the place he didn't seem to have that many friends - though he had some - but she was just trying to get him to be more sociable. It never helped that he still hadn't quite accepted her as a replacement mother.

Just then, he hit the wrong keys and an off-key note rent the air. Danny slammed his hands on the keys in frustration, muttering, "I am so going to have wet hair at school."

"Danny... whatever you do, someone somewhere will disapprove. You gotta learn just to not worry about what people think of you. Do the things that are right for you."

He looked at her. "Does that mean I can ignore these piano lessons and get a guitar?"

Sly little... "Parents don't count."

"Mom!"

He went back to his chords and Meredith smiled. It was the first time he'd called her that.

***

I pick at the strings on my bass, which without the enhancement of an amp sound odd. Not that that doesn't fit in with the atmosphere. Faith is a bit spaced out, staring at the morning television, some trashy talk show with secretaries getting makeovers whilst their bosses watched or something. I wonder if there was just static whether Faith would notice; she is either just looking in the direction of the screen, or really engrossed in the show.

Since Giles had left she's just sat there. It occurs to me that it might be how the new Faith deals with traumatic events; instead of going out and staking the frustration out of her system she just goes... quiet. I'd think it was meditation, but I know better. There is less 'om' about her manner than would be expected.

If my theory is right, then this was of the good. Faith is dealing stress in a calm manner. But I can't help thinking that this could be less anger management and more volcano style build-up of violent tendencies. Maybe though it's just the recurring thought of Buffy being dead (and therefore an entirely understandable reaction), or possibly just the effect of daytime television.

Whichever it is, I decide I need a smoke.

"Weed?" I ask - I figure she might want some.

Faith gives me a grateful look. "Yeah."

I nod, and go about rolling a J. We don't say much until it's lit and Faith has smoked half of it. She turns to me and passes it on, exhaling smoke through her nose. "I've been waiting for ya to tell me it'll all be ok."

An eyebrow twitches. "Nah, I'm a werewolf. Cordelia has the prophetic visions."

She gives me a droll smile. "Sorry, what with your obsession with boys and make-up I got confused for a minute there.

"It was just one boy. And I don't know if it was obsession, exactly. A mild fixation at best."

The lips curve slightly. "Glad we got that one straight. So ta speak."

"Well, I wouldn't want rumours to spread."

There is a conversational lull, and I use the opportunity to take some draws on the joint.

Then she speaks again, and she sounds almost nervous. "Do you think I can hack it? The Slayer deal? This whole 'saviour of the Earth' gig is a little, uh overwhelming."

I shrug. "You're the Chosen One. I think it's your destiny."

"Either that or I'll be dead soon."

"Well, that can be said for us all."

She runs a hand through tangled hair. It reminds me that we both need a shower. "It's just... I know G-man doesn't think I will, and the sidekicks hate me..."

"Well, they kinda have this image of you as the bad guy. You need to do some good PR."

She throws up her hands in disgust. "Aw, c'mon Oz! I don't know what to do: I've said sorry. What do they want? Blood?"

"Actually..."

"They're your friends. Willow used to be your girlfriend. Can't you get them to get over themselves?"

"I think with you they aren't likely to listen. Not right now. Not so soon... you'll need to let them adjust."

She turns away, back to the tv, waving a hand in indifference. "I don't know why I care. Buffy needed them, but I don't."

I sigh. "I'll try to talk to them, but... "

"Whatever. Don't bust your ass on my account."

I decide that this could be a good time to let her be. I finish the joint, stubbing it out on the metal ashtray on our creaky bedside cabinet, then grab my jacket.

"I wanted to see Devon now I'm back in town. Will you be ok if I go?"

Without conviction, "Five by five. See you around."

"Yeah," I say, and head for the door.

***

He answers the door just in his jeans; naked chest with the red scratch of nails evidence of what I've probably interrupted.

"Oz! Fuck, man! When the Hell did you get back?"

"Last night."

Dev grabs me in a hug, then just as quick pushes me away. "I should kick your ass, you know that? You said you'd at least send a postcard." His expression is still happy, but there is a little annoyance in his voice.

"It's nothing personal. Parents haven't heard from me either."

He shakes his head. "Dufus," he says, and thumps me on the arm. We stand smiling at each other for a second, then I hear a voice in the background. Female.

"Honey, who is it? Hurry up, will you!"

He winks at me. "Look, I'll get you for lunch at the Espresso Pump. 12.30?

"Cool."

Another wink and he's back inside, undoing the jeans even before he shuts the door. I realise I'm vaguely jealous. Of the girl.

It's only just gone eleven, so I jump back in the van, and find myself driving home. I stop outside my house, but stay in the van. It looks the same as it always did, although they've changed the curtains in the front room. It'll be empty; they'll both be out at work. Which is just as well; I don't think I'm quite ready for that reunion yet.

***

Devon crams some fries into his mouth, then asks through half-chewed potato, "Are you staying long this time? Or is it another quick stop?"

I shrug, slurping from a cup of coke. "Maybe."

He grins. "Hey! You ain't bein' vague with me. Well?"

"I don't know Dev. Things are weird."

He gives me a pissed off look. "Ain't they always with you nowadays?" He grins again. "So, where are you staying?"

"The motel on Harbor Road."

"What you doin' there? You can crash at mine if ya need to."

I shake my head. "I'm sorta... looking after someone."

His eyes glint. "A special someone?"

"Special, yeah. But not like that."

"So?"

"What?"

"Who are they?"

"She's called Faith. I think you met her."

"Yeah, dark haired chick. Something to do with Willow and her gang?"

"Yeah. So how are the Dingoes?"

He takes the hint and lets the subject drop. "We're good, man. Got a few gigs, the new bass player is pretty ok, and y'know, we're making it happen. Like, we had an A and R guy round at a gig we had in Ventura. We're getting known, buddy."

"That's great Dev, I'm glad."

He smiles at me. "It is. But it'd be even better with you."

I avoid his eyes. "I can't." I really want to, but I can't. I can't give him that commitment. And he knows it.

Devon looks out of the Pump's windows. "I figured."

We spend the rest of the time talking about the old days, before I was a wolf, when it was just me and him - and a few groupies. Then about gigs we did in Sunnydale and Oxnard and LA, the songs we wrote and the names for the Dingoes we rejected. They cause me to worry about our mental health at the time.

Then we talk about the songs we never finished and the trip to Europe we never took and the stuff we planned to do when we got famous. And I realise, clear as day, that we've got the part where our friendship is just that, memories and promises unfulfilled.

If I knew I was staying, if I knew I had the time I could repair it. But right now... I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow, let alone after that. Devon knows. And we both know I probably won't be there with him.

So my afternoon was sorta depressing after that. But it was that sorta day.

Which made my meeting Spike and Harmony on the way home really kinda perfect.

***

Even after Oz had left, the door clicking softly shut behind him, Faith sat watching the old TV set. It kept flickering from colour to black and white and she just didn't have the energy to get up and give it a good slam with her fist. Because that was the answer to everything, wasn't it? She watched with a faint smirk as the guests on Jerry Springer - caption 'My son is Satanist and he sleeps with a goat!' or something similar - started swinging for each other. Watched the beefy security guys rush the stage and tear the Satanists and their trailer trash mothers apart while Jerry smugly worked the audience into a frenzy. And she thought *her* family had been fucked up.

After a while she wondered if watching this crap could endanger your mental health. Like she wasn't screwed enough as it was. A small chuckle left her lips, completely devoid of humour. Pushing up from the mattress she was sat cross-legged on, she stood and flicked the power switch on the set. It hummed and powered down slowly, fading to black. Hands on leather clad hips, her eyes swung around the room. Torn wallpaper, light switches that didn't work, carpet with all kinds of dubious stains, lumpy beds and a shower that didn't seem to produce more than a light drizzle of water. Home sweet home.

She sat on the bed again. She wished she could've gone with Oz now but she knew he had stuff to do. Now was no time to start attaching herself to a guy. That was the way to drive someone away, that's what momma had always said. Don't let 'em see how desperate you are. But... it wasn't like that. They were friends. Not that she had any benchmark to measure this against. All she knew was that he'd been kind to her, supported her, and she 'd always responded well to that. The Mayor was a case in point and Buffy...

Buffy. It kept hitting her again and again, kept making her feel more desperate every time. She wanted to be sick and sometimes she was. It didn't provide any comfort because that thin sliver of vomit just reminded her of how very much alive she was and how B... wasn't. She wondered if, up there, wherever the hell it was B had gone to, Buffy was watching her. Disapproving, like she always did.

Faith wasn't good enough, even in her grief. Felt like she should have been crying more, or slipping into a catatonic state, ceasing to exist beyond the silence of loss. She felt she should have faded away into the background and just disappeared like Giles and Willow and everyone else wanted her to. Or maybe she should've been wearing clothes more respectful of the dead. Blouses and skirts and sensible shoes. Comb her hair and put it up real nice. To show them that she felt it just as much as they did.

She reached under the bed and pulled out her holdall. She rummaged through dirty clothes, throwing worn t-shirts and underwear onto the unmade bed until she came across a soft toy - a pink, snub-nosed alligator she'd stolen from Buffy's room the morning after they'd slept together. It'd been small enough to hide inside her jacket without creating too much of a bulge. Buffy hadn't noticed it as Faith had walked her to school that day. They'd made lame conversation about teachers having secret affairs, and all Faith could focus on was Buffy's mouth and remembering where it had been.

Faith's smile faltered as she took the furry and slightly dirty toy in her hands. Maybe later she'd wash it in the sink, to get rid of that grey grime. She placed it carefully on the pillow and returned to raking through her belongings and found what she was looking for at the bottom. She lifted the bottle to the sunlight streaming through the window and eyed the ridiculously brightly coloured pills inside. Shook it -- enough to last her to the end of the week before she'd have to go to the local hospital dispensary. She had the prescription safely tucked away in an inside pocket of her bag. Who'd have thought salvation came in a bottle?

But these fucking child safety caps were a pain in the ass. Only a kid could open them. When the lid eventually came off, Faith looked at the pills gleaming with their so-called easy-to-swallow coating. She needed a glass of water. But, somehow, it was too much effort to get up and go to the bathroom. Instead she replaced the cap and stared at the fading flowery pattern on the bedcovers.

How was she going to do this? Giles didn't believe she could and she knew they were all standing, watching, waiting for her to screw up again. It was inevitable, wasn't it? So why bother, why make the effort, why leave this fucking motel room? Why even take these damn pills?

Dropping the bottle back into her bag, Faith grabbed her nearby jacket, stuffing the soft toy into her pocket. She had to get out of this room before it drove her crazy. Crazier, whatever.

******

It wasn't exactly a surprise to find herself in front of the Summers' house. The meandering walk she'd taken -- past the new, shiny and modern Sunnydale High, through several cemeteries, and circling back towards the residential part of town -- was always going to lead her back here. Just a slice of suburbia on the surface of it. Could've been any white bread house in any white bread street in America.

There was no car in the drive and the house looked empty. Joyce was obviously at the gallery, throwing herself into her work. The world doesn't stop, even when you lose the most important thing to you. There are still bills to pay, food to buy, whatever the fuck normal people have to deal with. They don't have time to crack up, or at least the cracks don't show so much.

Faith took a few steps down the driveway, hesitating. She almost felt like she was disturbing consecrated ground by just being here. Well, too late now, so she took a seat on the porch steps. She hadn't been here since that stupid, hare-brained mistake -- taking Buffy's body, and the rest, which she was trying to forget. She'd lived in this house for a couple of days, lived the existence that she'd always wanted since she was a kid. Sober mom, real friends, pretty house and pretty garden. When she wore Buffy's body they treated her like someone worth giving a shit about.

And now she was expected to take Buffy's place for real but without all those props. In Buffy's body it was so easy to believe that she could be a hero. Now the odds were stacked against her and she didn't believe she could pull off this 'saviour' gig, no matter what Oz said about destiny.

She looked up to see a familiar green jeep pull sharply into the driveway and she froze. She knew she should motor, just get the fuck out of there because she wasn't ready for the look of thunder on Joyce's face as she stepped out of the vehicle. The woman didn't even bother to shut the door behind her, and Faith wondered if Joyce wasn't going to get back in and point that jeep right at her. Her palms were sweating, she realised, and she wiped them on her pants as she slowly rose.

She tried to smile, because it seemed like the right thing to do, but judging by the expression on Joyce's face she'd got that far wrong. "Get off my property before I call the police." Joyce ground out the words slowly, never taking her eyes off Faith.

The fight or flight instinct rose in her gut. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the soft toy, holding it toward the other woman almost in supplication. She watched Joyce's brow furrow in confusion and recognition. "Where did you get that?"

Faith didn't answer. She just approached Joyce slowly, holding the toy out to her. Joyce was looking at it like it was a hand grenade or something so Faith just placed it on the hood of the jeep. Funny -- it didn't explode. "I wanted to give this back," Faith said softly, her voice permanently thick with all kinds of emotions. Like, by having a good cough she could clear it all away.

Joyce was staring at her with this unreadable expression, no longer furious. "Faith..." she began and faltered.

"It's cool, I was leaving anyway," Faith said, shrugging. "I am sorry, for what it's worth."

Joyce looked like she was about to say more but she didn't, just closed her mouth into a thin version of a smile.

******

The sun had set by the time Faith made her way back to the motel. She'd been wandering again, taking in old haunts. She'd spent a long time at the swing park, just sitting, watching the clouds shift in the sky, feeling the breeze on her skin. It wasn't like she was needed anywhere else. Maybe if Oz had arrived back at the motel and found her gone, he'd have worried but, right now, it didn't seem to matter.

It wasn't until she saw that vampire... Spike and some slutty blonde chick railing on Oz that she started to feel bad. But she restrained the urge to go postal and slunk up behind a car, watching and waiting for the vamps to make a move. Spike was leaning against the side of the building, arms folded, while the blonde chick, whom Faith didn't recognise, talked to Oz. Her posture was all condescension, hands propped on her hips as she looked down on him. Funny thing was, Oz didn't look all that concerned, the stake in his hand down by his side.

Sneaking closer, still hidden behind another car, Faith listened, catching a snatch of conversation. "...and anyway I never liked you. You were one of Buffy's friends," the blonde chick said with clear distaste, "and it's not like her sorry fashion-deprived ass is gonna save you now. Because, y'know, she's, like, dead, and everything."

Faith saw Spike roll his eyes. "Are you done yet, Harm?"

This 'Harm' chick turned to Spike. "Spikey..." she dragged out his name and spoke in a stage whisper. "Can't you see I'm being all intimidating? You 're supposed to be supporting me. That's what good boyfriends do."

Faith nearly laughed and she was sure she saw Oz's lips twitch slightly. "Enthralling as this is, I'd kinda like to go inside," Oz said, jerking his thumb towards the motel.

"Yeah, well, I've got a message for the Slayer," the girl said, all haughty, and making her fingers do air-quotes. Damn this chick was begging to be dusted. "Tell her, killing a Slayer is like riding a bike."

Oz just looked at her.

Harm flicked her hair in annoyance. "It's not difficult, okay?"

Spike grabbed her forcibly by the arm and she protested loudly. "Come on, you stupid bint..."

Faith blocked his path. "Not so fast, Blond and Blonder."

"Slayer," Spike said, wetting his lips.

"Her?" Harm said in disgust, looking Faith up and down. "Where'd they find her? Ho's 'R' Us?"

"Shut up," Spike said, casting a look of contempt at his girlfriend. He directed a thoroughly false smile at Faith. "We were just... in the vicinity. Nice evenin' for it."

The sucked-in cheekbone charm failed with Faith. "So, what's this about B?"

"Nothing. Silly tart was just mouthing off," Spike said. Harm shot him a murderous look and sulked. "Likes to think she's a big bad just 'cause she wears leather now."

"That right?" Faith asked Oz. He just shrugged. She stared back at Spike. "Better tell your girl to watch her mouth. No one talks about B like that."

Spike's eyebrow rose wearily. "Don't worry, I'll gag the bitch in future." Pushing past Faith, he dragged Harmony off by the elbow.

Faith watched them go, bickering as they went. She was aware of Oz beside her. "You're just gonna let them go?" She turned and stared at him hard. "Not a criticism," he continued in his usual neutral tone.

Once inside their room, she allowed her shoulders to sag. She watched Oz pull off his sneakers and socks as she sat on her bed, remembered that he'd had a heavy day himself. "How'd things go with Devon?"

Oz sat opposite her, elbows resting on his knees. "We talked."

"And?"

"He basically offered me my place back in the Dingoes." Oz must've seen the surprised look on her face because he shook his head. "I said no."

"Right," Faith said, trying to keep the relief out of her voice. She'd had half a feeling that when Oz left today, that maybe he wouldn't be coming back except to collect his belongings. So she didn't know what to say. She settled on the word that she'd been using a lot lately. "Sorry." Angel was right, it was becoming easier to apologise.

A very small, almost not-there smile touched Oz's lips. He looked at her. "I 'm not."

******

To be continued...