Disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & Fox. Numb3rs belongs to Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci…I think. (NOT me!)
Warnings:…This probably doesn't come as a surprise, given the direction the story's been going & the episode it's mostly based on, but there's talk of suicide in this chapter. If this disturbs you, you might not want to read it.
Also, there's some profanity in the dialogue. I'm not a fan of swearing—though I tend to do it when I drive—but some times it just fits the character I'm writing. As a result, it makes it in there. Honestly, I should probably use it more with some characters that are rough around the edges, etc., but like I said: I don't like it. So there shouldn't be too much. I just put this warning here because I noticed a few instances of it in the first scene on the read through and figured that if I noticed it, I should probably put a warning about it here, in case someone else doesn't want to read it… Which if you've gotten this far would be odd, since I know there was a little bit of swearing before now. But to each their own!
I can't think of any other warnings: if you see some thing that bothers you, I'm really sorry, but please tell me so I can add the necessary warnings.
Author's Note:…Well, here's the next part of M&M. Sorry—once again—for the horrifically long wait.
Once again, thank you to NeverTooOld for beta-reading! :-D
Regarding the holiday: thank you to all our veterans. And to those currently serving: thank you, and best wishes for the future.
Now on with the long-awaited chapter! Enjoy!
Part III in Mathematics & Magic
By Jess S
Chapter 3: Balancing
Somewhere in Boston, Massachusetts—Friday, December 13, 1996
Don grimaced as he finished swallowing the last of his—now cold—coffee.
"Well, I guess it's a good thing you're headed to—Where was it? New Mexico?"
Don rolled his eyes, knowing full well that Coop hadn't forgotten, but answering anyway. "Yeah, Albuquerque. Why?"
"Well, for one thing, we haven't had anything to talk about for the last half hour. This way I'll get a new partner who I can slowly weasel personal shit out of."
"I guess," Don agreed with a sigh, shaking his head. "I'm gonna miss some of it though."
"Not the cold."
"No," the southern-California-born man agreed immediately. "Visiting the cold places I won't miss one bit. I'll miss some of the scenery though."
"No, I mean, I've seen a lot more of the country since joining F.R. than I did at any other point in my life. Sure, most of the places we had to go to were crappy, but we drove through some nice places on the way, too."
Coop snorted, shaking his head slowly. "I guess."
Don rolled his eyes again. "You've been at this longer than me, Coop. If you don't like it so much, why don't you get out?"
The older man's laugh was on the harsh side. "This is what I'm good at, Don. I've told you that, lots of times before now."
"Doesn't mean you wouldn't be good at anything else."
Coop shook his head, "No thanks, big brother. Don't really care for the responsibility that movin' up'd entail." He sighed, "You'll do good though."
Don winced slightly at the not-so-subtle reminder of part of the reason he'd chosen to go into Fugitive Recovery when he left Detroit. While he liked to help people, he also knew that pretty much every victim he'd be dealing with would be undergoing some heavy emotional trauma. Unless the victim was a corpse, which came with its own emotional traumas on top of the heartbroken loved ones. He wasn't looking forward to witnessing a lot of that; no matter how much he might be able to help them in the end.
"Nah, I wasn't meant for suits and ties, Don. Or most of the crap that comes with 'em. But then there aren't any geniuses in my family, either."
"Charlie's got nothing to do—"
"If you hadn't run into all that trouble trying to look into your little brother's mugging, do you really think you'd have accepted the first offer to move up that came after that?" Coop continued before Don could respond. "I know about the offers you turned down before that: a few of 'em." He shook his head. "Don't get me wrong; I'd've been surprised if you were still here a year to two from now. You'd a moved on eventually either way. You and me are cut from different cloths."
"What? Coop, no—"
"Yeah, we are. I'm the type that's okay with pickin' up the marked trash and makin' sure it gets to the dump. That's too small for you; and it doesn't give you the power to help too many people."
Don knew his soon-to-be ex-partner was right. The main thing he didn't liked about Fugitive Recovery was the fact that all the lives they stumbled through were already torn apart and destroyed, and there was nothing that could be done about it. And yes, he'd still see some of that when he became a field agent, but at least then he'd be really involved in investigations—not answering phones like he had been for most of his time in Detroit—and maybe he'd be able to make a difference.
And Coop was right. Not being able to get anywhere on what'd happened to Charlie—either when his little brother had been attacked in their childhood home or when his girlfriend had been shot with some kind of dart—hadn't sat well with him. He probably wouldn't be able to do much more from Albuquerque, not before he managed to work his way up a bit, but there was no way around that.
"Show time," Coop's sudden comment cut into his thoughts, and he looked up to see that Jonny Stade—the parole violator they'd followed from Texas to Massachusetts—had finally showed up at his ex-girlfriend's house.
Eppes' Home, Pasadena, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
Charlie was having a decidedly difficult time sleeping. Or, actually, just getting to sleep. He hadn't been able to all night.
He thought it might be Sineya. She'd remained relentlessly discontent for the past several days; even before the weird vision she'd sent Annie, though especially so after that.
But she wasn't growling at anything.
She wasn't sending them visions or trying to communicate in any way, as far as Charlie—or Annie—could tell.
She was just…unhappy.
And if she had her own body still, she'd undoubtedly be pacing. As Charlie had been fighting the urge to do just that for hours now.
He'd already spoken to Annie twice this evening.
Once after a routine—and rather boring—patrol with Faith, who Annie thought might also be picking up on some of Sineya's distress as she'd been quiet and unsettled for the whole patrol. Though, really, that wasn't much of a change from what she'd been for the last few days either, so it wasn't something strong enough to base any hypothesis on.
The second time had been several hours later. That was when Annie had decided to head out for another patrol.
It worried Charlie, of course. Everything about Annie's 'calling' worried him. But it made sense, too, so he hadn't protested to strongly. Annie's second search for demons to slay tonight didn't seem to be calming the First Slayer down much, though. If anything, she was becoming continually more and more agitated as time passed.
Charlie nearly fell out of his computer chair as his cell phone's demanding ring startled him. He felt a momentary jolt of relief, but it was quickly doused by the realization that this wasn't Annie calling.
Annie had only left for her second patrol twenty minutes ago. Her having to call back so soon could only mean trouble.
More than that, though, that wasn't the ring that indicated his girlfriend was calling; Annie was one of the people he'd set his phone to identify, and unless she was calling from a pay-phone, it couldn't be her.
Hopefully she wasn't calling from a pay-phone.
But Charlie really didn't think it was her; he still wasn't sensing anything other than Sineya's aggravation.
This time he remembered who he'd assigned that particular ring to: all of the witches he knew in Los Angeles that'd given him their number.
Finally Charlie managed to grab the phone, quickly bring it to his ear even as he activated it. "Hello."
"Dr. Eppes, good evening—"
Charlie almost fell out of his chair for the second time that night as he recognized the voice. Though he'd met with Madam Ward several times at her insistence, he'd never spoken to her on the phone. In fact, he didn't think she used them. Whenever she needed to see him, she insisted he come to her, the message usually relayed through one of the younger sisters of her coven.
"—I apologize for the late hour."
"Oh—um. Don't worry about it, madam. I was awake anyway. What can I do for you?"
"You young people never sleep…" A weary sounding sigh came out of the phone's speaker. "Though in this instance, it may be a good thing."
"Ma'am?" Charlie asked hesitantly when she hadn't continued a fairly lengthy moment later. "Have you discovered anything else about the, um, body-snatching burrower…thing?""
"No, I'm afraid the seers have been decidedly distracted from that objective." The sigh that came through in response sounded just as weary as its predecessor. "My apologies again, Dr. Eppes. But I'm going to have to ask you to simply accept what I'm about to tell you and work with it."
Charlie blinked, but was nodding obediently even before his eyes had opened from the first motion. This woman had been teaching him some pretty strange stuff the last few weeks, and even Sineya respected her. So—given all the wacky stuff he'd seen already—it wasn't that hard for him to believe that she might be calling with something strange that he couldn't ignore. "Of course. What is it?"
"It has come to the attention of several covens that the young Slayer is in danger."
He felt the blood drain from his face even as he frantically—almost unconsciously—reached for the always active bond he shared with Annie. "What? But Annie's fine, I mean, I think she's agitated by something, but—"
"You're forgetting, young man, that your girlfriend is no longer the only Slayer. And that she is the elder of the two."
"Faith's in trouble?"
"Yes. From what the seers are seeing; she has been targeted by…" Madam Ward took a deep, fortifying breath, "…by the First Evil."
Giles' Apartment, Pasadena, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
Buffy shook her head, "I just don't get why she didn't tell me—tell any of us?"
"Miss Lehane has not led an easy life, Buffy, you know that," her watcher chided her gently, even as his gaze remained fixed on the scrolls and books he was trying to tear answers out of. "And I'm sure you know—better than anyone else ever could—that it is not in the nature of a Slayer to admit to weakness of any kind."
Buffy winced, but then nodded. "No. I guess it's not."
Really what bothered her was the fact that she hadn't picked up on this more than she had. She'd thought that Faith was still stuck in nightmares of her former Watcher's untimely—and horrific—end and that only time could really help her moved past that. Sure, she'd tried to talk to her a few times. But obviously she should've tried harder. Much harder. She should have known that nothing would be that simple for any of them… Faith and Buffy in particular.
"Perhaps you should head back home, Buffy? Miss Lehane may return there—"
It bothered Buffy, a little, that Giles was so good at lying. Because her empathetic senses were telling her what her eyes and ears couldn't from watching him; he didn't believe what he was saying. "No. She won't."
Giles sighed, "Perhaps not," he conceded, before glancing at the clock.
"Mom's up anyway, she'll call if Faith comes home." she added, trying to ignore the heavy bags under Giles's eyes and the weary droop in his shoulders made Buffy feel a little bad—her Watcher didn't have superpowers and needed much more sleep than she did. But that couldn't be helped anymore than how worried Buffy and her mother both were for the recent addition to their family.
"You could try looking for her. You know Miss—"
"Faith, Giles. Her name's Faith." Buffy cut him off, shaking her head when he frowned at her, "She doesn't like going by her last name. If she has a choice, she doesn't even introduce herself with it."
"Uh, well, yes. Very well. You know Faith, and you know Sunnydale. If anyone can find her out there, it would have to be you, I think."
The Slayer nodded, knowing that more than anything Giles just wanted her to go, and that since she had a cell phone now he could—and would—call her if he found anything. "Okay. Call if you find anything."
"Of course," he agreed, eyes back at the books and not bothering to watch as she strode through his front door, pulling it shut behind her on the way out.
"Where are you, Faith?" Buffy muttered, only half her attention on where she was walking; the rest of it turned inward, hoping her Slay-dar, Sineya or maybe something else in there could lead her to her sister Slayer before it was too late…
Kingman's Bluff, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
"You don't have to do this, Faith." The ghost's words sounded hollow as the Slayer stared at the horizon, where the sun should be peaking up out of in the near future.
"If it's me or B," Faith shook her head forcefully, "I ain't killin' B."
"This is a waste of your potential."
The youngest Slayer snorted, shaking her head again. "What potential? I'm not supposed to exist, remember?"
"No!" Di spat, sounding angry—the first time any emotion had entered her words since they'd arrived here. "You were called as the Slayer after Buffy Summer's death. She died, Faith! She was supposed to stay that way. And you're supposed to be the only Slayer, now."
"Why? B's better at it anyway."
Di didn't answer right away, but Faith could feel her stare boring into her back like an ice pick. "You're younger, and you're both different people, Faith. That doesn't mean she's better than you. You just haven't realized—"
"My potential?" Faith spat, then chuckled darkly. "What kind of potential could the brat of a druggie that got knocked up by one a her john's have?"
"…Only you can decide that."
"B's better than me, Di. I know it—everyone does. Even you."
"So you're just going to give up, then?"
Faith nodded, a little shakily. "It's me or B. Not a hard choice. Not really."
A few moments of heavy, expectant silence hung between them before the ghost spoke up again. "Then what are you waiting for?"
Faith's chuckle was still dark, "Sunrise is soon. A few more minutes shouldn't hurt the world too much, right?"
RING. RING. RING.
"That'll be your better, calling to talk you of this, no doubt."
"She won't." Faith shook her head. "But that's not B's ring."
RING. RING. RING.
"Still, you shouldn't answer it if you've already made up your mind."
"Why would math-man be calling now?" Faith wondered aloud, even as she slipped her phone out of its holster on her belt.
She'd already flipped the phone open and brought it up by her head. "Yeah?"
"Faith!" the genius somehow sounded equal parts relieved and worried. "Are you okay?"
"Y-Yeah, 5 by 5, math-man." Faith lied, while her confused brain rolled back to the ghost's previous statement. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Why would Buffy be worried about her?
Why was Charlie worried?
"You're in danger. The covens' seers say—"
A loud burst of static made Faith wince as she jerked her head back a little.
"Faith? Can…hear me?"
"You shouldn't be talking to him, Faith. He's not helping."
Faith turned around just enough to frown at her former Watcher, but she kept talking to Charlie. "You're breakin' up, math-man. I can't hear you."
"You can't go back, Faith. Not unless you've realized the truth: that Summers is the one that should die."
"No!" Faith glared at her, whatever pain she'd previously felt at looking upon her deceased mentor's image banished by the anger aroused by the threat to her sister.
Faith bit her lip, "I've gotta go, Charlie," she shook her head again. "I'm sorry."
The Slayer snapped her phone shut a little more forcefully than she should've, wincing a little as her ears caught the somewhat familiar sound of plastic cracking under the stress of supernatural strength. But it hardly mattered, so she ignored it as she pressed the power button a bit more carefully, waiting until the sound that meant it was turning off came out before she dropped the device.
It bounced off the hard ground by her feet, and then fell over the edge of the cliff to the rocky waters that awaited her, drawing the brunette's eyes downward.
Lily's House, Pasadena, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
"No, Faith!" Charlie winced as a dial tone abruptly started assaulting his ear.
"No luck?" Lily asked, as worried as he was.
"No." Charlie sighed as he ended the call and hit a different speed dial.
"Annie, I think she's near the ocean. I could hear waves in the background."
"How—you called her? Why didn't I think of that?"
"You can try, if you want. But she hung up on me: I don't think she'll answer again. I'll keep trying, though."
"Thanks… So, either this first-thing has some kind of trap set up for her by the beach, or—"
"The seers said it wants her to kill herself."
"…So, what? It's gonna try and make her drown herself? Don't think that'd work well with a Slayer. I mean, it only worked on me when I was unconscious."
Charlie nodded in fatalistic agreement. "That'd probably give her too much time to change her mind, too. No, if anything it's going to try and get her to jump from somewhere high enough to either kill her or knock her out, so that she'd then drown. I know the oceans not that far from Sunnydale, but can you think of any really high cliffs nearby? Over three stories, or thereabouts. No, actually more, since she's a Slayer, it'd want higher, if possible."
Annie thought for a second, and he felt the realization hit her when it did. "Kingman's Bluff! It's gotta be."
"Alright," Charlie nodded, crossing his fingers as he continued. "You should go there. I'll keep trying to get in touch with her."
"Right. I'll call you soon."
"Be care…" Charlie trailed off as the annoying sound of a dial tone came at his ear, but he immediately ended the call on his end and dialed Faith's phone again, before putting the phone back to his ear.
"Come on, Faith."
Charlie started talking as soon as he heard the phone pick-up, "Faith, please listen—"
"The person you are trying to reach is not available now. Please leave a message after the tone."
With a frustrated groan, Charlie slammed his thumb down on the end call button, before lightly dropping the phone on a nearby table as he dropped down onto Lily couch, dropping his head into hands to rub at his brow as if it could chase some of his frustration away.
"She didn't answer?"
"No," Charlie confirmed, looking up to meet Lily's concerned gaze. Agatha Ward, Constance and Deborah looked equally worried. "She must've turned her phone off." Then he winced, remembering his angry action of a second before and just how strong his girlfriend and her sister Slayer were—as Slayers. "Or she might've broken it."
"There must be something we can do!" Lily insisted, looking towards the older witches, whom Charlie also turned hopeful eyes to.
"You can't hope to grasp the scope of the foe the Slayers now face." Madam Ward sighed, shaking her head. "But we are open to suggestions?"
Charlie stared at her for a long moment, before almost jumping as images from Sineya—memories, his memories—dashed across his eyes.
Everything around him blurred. Charlie closed his eyes, hoping to stop the confusing onslaught of imagery, or at least the painful pressure that had suddenly built up behind his eyes. Physically, his eyes closed, but the muddled impressions kept coming and the pressure kept building and he couldn't stop the cry of pain that sprang from his throat. Then, just as suddenly as it all started, the chaos stopped, and the genius was left in the darkness behind his closed eyelids with Annie's warm concern washing over him.
Charlie blinked to clear his sight, and wasn't surprised to see all four witches were watching him closely—though he was rather surprised by Sineya's suggestion, since she'd been so opposed to it the last time he'd tried it. "Astral projection," he said, putting as much confidence—though it was feigned confidence—into the words as he could.
Madam Ward frowned deeply at him, but it was Deborah who objected.
"Are you insane?" her dark eyes were wide with the horror that was also coming off her in waves right now. "You want to try and beat The First Evil in its own plane?"
"It's the only magic I know how to do—and you're already here. You can pull me back if I go astray again—"
"Last time you were almost pulled under by the Hellmouth; a barely apperceptive presence on the astral plane, though it's specter is far-reaching and stronger the closer you get to it," Constance shook her head, also displeased. "You're talking about taking on the cause of all evil in existence in the one realm where it's still almost omnipotent."
Charlie shook his head, "But—"
Madam Ward cut him off, "If you lose yourself in The First Evil's presence, Doctor Eppes," she shook her head slowly. "It will destroy you. And we will not be powerful enough to stop it."
"Of course we wouldn't…" Deborah shook her head, though now she was staring at the silver-haired elder. "You can't be thinking of really doing this, Madam!"
The eldest witch shook her head, closing her eyes as she replied. "Every seer in California with even the slightest connection to the covens in Los Angeles received visions about this from the Powers That Be. They want us to intervene." She opened her eyes, and her mouth was set in a firm line as she arched an eyebrow at the younger witches. "Who are we to deny them?"
Charlie frowned slightly, the dislike he'd been developing—towards the 'higher beings' that supposedly gave Buffy her 'destiny'—over the last few months rearing it's head for a second, before he shook it off. "If we're going to do this, it'll have to be now."
Madam Ward nodded, before waving her hand towards the far end of the living room. Immediately, all the furniture there pulled away from towards the walls, leaving only the thick rug there. Several of the candles Lily had lit around the room rose in the air and floated towards the same area, till they'd formed a circle in the air, levitating a few inches above the rug. Then the same crystals that Lily had used last time floated over also, the whitish clear ones coming out of a drawer that opened itself to do so; the almost clear crystals formed another hovering circle, just outside the candles. Then the larger green crystal took its place to the north, the red to the south, the blue to the west and the yellow to the east.
"Lily, you will face the East. Deborah, the West. Constance, the South. I will be the North. Dr. Eppes—Charlie, you will sit in the center, facing Sunnydale—to the northwest." She moved towards the circle with quick, sure steps that her aged body probably shouldn't be capable of as the others following her. "Charlie, you must remain focused on two things: finding Faith and holding true to yourself."
Charlie nodded, understanding what she was talking about easily now. The first was the thing he'd tried to do to help Buffy some time before, which'd gotten him into considerable trouble—and afterwards, agony—because he hadn't had the proper training for it. The second was the most important, and most basic, lesson Madam Ward had been drumming into his head every single session he'd had with her. Useful both for astral projection and the bond he shared with Annie and Sineya. And, apparently, Faith.
"Ladies, it will be our task to protect him. To shield him—and the Slayers—as best we can."
Fear was the dominant emotion in Deborah's psyche as she spoke up then, "We won't be able to—"
"Every coven in Los Angeles tonight is focusing their collective powers into sending The First Evil away from our world." Madam Ward told her, voice now gentle but still firm. "It will be struggling to hold its purchase here."
"But Madam," Deborah objected, "the astral plane is where The First Evil is at its most powerful in our dimension, we won't stand—"
"We cannot force you to take part in this, little sister," Madam Ward interrupted again, and again sighed. "Though we cannot do it without you, either. Will you help, or not?"
Charlie turned his eyes on the nervous witch, suppressing the urge to try and influence her decision with the empathetic powers he was still just getting used to. For one, it wouldn't be entirely ethical to do so, for another, he wasn't sure he could influence a witch as powerful and practiced as Deborah or Constance. Because, while neither was Agatha Ward, he knew from the respect that was directed there way whenever he met them near any member of their coven—or other covens—that they weren't lightweights in power or in the wiccan community either.
After a long, tense moment, the brunette sighed, nodding with obvious reluctance. "Very well, we'd best be quick."
"Thank you," Charlie breathed to her, even as he hurried to the position Agatha gestured to, watching them take their positions around him, all sitting down carefully.
A moment later, Charlie saw the rejuvenating glow of magic highlight the oldest witch, somehow turning her hair whiter but making her look younger all the same as the green crystal in front of her suddenly lit up. All the other crystals followed suit, glowing brightly, but it was a second before the blue crystal to the west glowed more brightly than the clear crystals, another second before the yellow crystal to the east matched it, and several more seconds before the southern crystal's red light matched them.
Several moments afterward, Charlie could just barely perceive the spell they were casting: in the form of the barely visible, golden dome that appeared just outside of the floating crystals, enclosing them all.
"Now, Charlie," Madam Ward instructed.
Obediently, Charlie closed his eyes and started carefully breathing even as his most of his mind immediately focused on Sineya's growling presence within. 'Sineya? Help me help Faith, please.'
Her distant growl became a little softer, he thought, but she didn't otherwise respond as he started to chant the same words he'd used before.
"Ego sum procul pacis. Ego sum universa. Ego peto scientia. Ego transporto meus plasmatis absentis—"
Again, he didn't finish as everything blurred around him. Though this time he could feel Sineya's presence even through the chaotic whirlwind his senses perceived around his astral form.
Nearing Sunnydale's Outskirts, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
Although she was quite capable of outpacing a professional sprinter in high heels, there were times Buffy regretted her adamancy in maintain a fashionable figure. This was one of them. Because no matter how fast she was in high heels, a part of her wondered if she might be just a little faster in sneakers. And if that ever-so-slight lack of speed might cost her the life of her sister-Slayer; a girl that'd quickly become a member of her family over the last few months.
"Help! Someone help me!"
Buffy growled as she detoured down a nearby alley, not slowing at all as she approached the vampire that was getting ready to bite its struggling victim. Instead, she just slipped around behind it, a stake flipping smoothly into hand with the ease of far too much practice to shove down into the vamp's heart from behind.
By the time the vamp's dust had settled and the idiot that was out in the pre-dawn hours on Sunnydale's dangerous streets looked around for her savior, Buffy was already darting out the other end of the alley, turning back on course in the direction of the bluff that she thought Faith was contemplating jumping from.
"Please let me be on time," Buffy prayed, not entirely sure of whom she was praying to, but earnest in her prayer nonetheless.
It was as her feet flew across the ground that was really considered the 'border' of the town proper that Buffy stumbled slightly, feelings of fear and doubt and hate—self-hate—slamming at her from the direction she was headed in.
"Hold on, Faith," she muttered, leaning forward and struggling to make her legs move faster, "Just hold on."
Kingman's Bluff, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
"She's going to try to stop you if you wait too long," the ghost spoke up again, after several long moments of letting Faith stare at the horizon that'd just started turning a lighter shade of purple than the almost-black purple that the sky usually was at this hour, when the sun was just starting to reach its life-giving rays out to this area.
Faith smiled slightly, nodding. "Yah. B's a hero, you know. She's gotta try."
"And you're not a hero?"
Faith snorted, shrugging her shoulders. "I may be a Slayer, but I'm not like B. I've slain vamps, and the occasional demon. But B's the one with the world on her shoulders mosta the time." She shook her head. "I don't know how she does it."
"You underestimate yourself, Faith. You have the potential to be just as—"
"No, I don't. I really don't." Faith shook her head. "No matter how much B, Mrs. S, math-man, G-man and B's other friend's try ta help; I'll never be able to shake my roots."
"…However feeble and twisted a few roots of a young oak might be, it can still grow more, and become a mighty tree."
Faith closed her eyes as she winced as she remembered all the times her first Watcher had said those very same words to her. "You always said that." She shook her head, "I don't get it. Why do you believe in me so much?"
"You were Chosen, Faith. Out of every other girl in the world, you were Chosen to become the Slayer; humanity's mightiest protector against the demonic tide."
Faith frowned a little as she shook her head again. "I wasn't the Slayer when you first took me in."
"No," Di chuckled softly. "You were just a little girl, then. But you were still a Potential; a girl who might one day be the Slayer."
"I thought…" Faith trailed off, trying to ignore the painful pang in her heart. She'd known that that was why Diane Dormer had found her and taken her in off the streets in the first place. She hadn't been homeless then, but she'd been smart enough to know that there were times when living on the streets was safer than going home. That was one of the times. A respected Harvard Professor wouldn't do that for just any abused pick-pocket, after all. But she had, honestly, believed that she'd meant more than that to the woman after spending several years in her care. After all, Di had always introduced Faith to everyone as her daughter. That word had warmed Faith's heart each time… and left it all the more susceptible to being torn in two when she'd seen the sweet old woman die in Kakistos' hands. To hear that she'd always been just a job to her Watcher hurt.
"Thought what, Faith?" Di asked, in the same gentle voice she'd always used when she'd waken her up from a nightmare or when she was waiting for Faith to figure something out; usually the meaning behind one of her high-minded lessons.
Faith shook her head again, "'S not important." She looked at the horizon again, unsurprised to see that the edge of purple area was gradually becoming a lighter purple still.
Kingman's Bluff, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
"Faith!" Charlie reached for her form, but was only able to make his astral form move a little on his own before Sineya shoved him towards the youngest Slayer.
That same burst of alarm he'd felt the last time he'd tried this hit him as his sank into Faith's shoulder, trying—but unable—to grab it.
"What?" Faith frowned as she looked around, looking right at Charlie but not seeing him. "Di, what's wrong?"
Behind him, he could sense Sineya—and hear her deep, guttural growls.
"Nothing, my dear," a woman's voice murmured—and Charlie turned his head in surprise to look at her.
The woman was older than Charlie's mother—old enough to be his grandmother, probably. The hair that almost reached her shoulders was more gray than brown. And her face looked as kind as her voice sounded…
But Sineya was tensed between Charlie and Faith and the old woman, growling more ferociously at her than he'd ever seen—or sensed—her respond to anything before.
And, on top of that, his empathetic senses were growing crazy around her. At first thought, he might think something was wrong with Sineya, but no…
Sineya was ancient, and far more animalistic in nature then human, but she wasn't evil.
And what Charlie was sensing was, for lack of any better word; evil.
Dark and twisted emotions that didn't remotely match the gentle look the old woman was giving Faith as she spoke softly to her.
"But, I'm afraid my time here has come to an end."
"What?" Faith objected, staring at her in clear bewilderment. "But, Di, I thought—"
"I'm already dead, child. I was only given so much time to try to help you," the old woman shook her head gently, though Charlie saw her glance at Sineya several times even as she seemed to be focused on Faith.
She didn't spare him even the slightest glance, though he was floating right next to the youngest Slayer.
"But I see I cannot change your mind; so I will be waiting for you. To welcome you into heaven, as is your right." She cocked her head to the side slightly. "Or Buffy's, if you chance your mind."
Charlie felt his 'astral eyes' widen in horror.
"But, Di, can't you stay till—"
"I'm sorry, Faith. But I will be waiting, whatever you decide."
Then she vanished, and all the darkness and horrible emotions that'd surrounded her like a cocoon of evil went with her.
Sineya continued to growl softly, but she noticeably relaxed nonetheless.
Charlie turned his full attention back to Faith as she turned towards the cliff's edge again, staring off into the distance where the first hues of red were starting to stain the horizon. A little hesitantly, he tried to talk to her, hoping she'd hear him how ever she'd been able to before. "Faith, you don't want to die."
"I don't want to d-die," Faith mumbled, her lower lip trembling slightly before she bit it, shaking her head or furiously. "But if it's me or B…"
"You don't need to die."
"Me or B…"
Charlie stared at her for an all too long second, before his brain latched onto just whom The First Evil must have pretending to be. "That was not Diane Dormer."
Faith's brow furrowed in clear confusion even as a tear slipped out of her right eye and down her cheek. "Not Di?" Then she shook her head furiously, self-hatred and anger rolling of her. "Gotta do this, for B. For Mrs. S. Math-man. Everyone."
"No!" Charlie threw every bit of emotion he was feeling behind the word even as he made the mistake of trying to pull her back from the cliff's edge, only for his hand to slip right threw her shoulder again. "You don't have to do this, Faith. That thing was not Diane Dormer. It was a demon!"
"Di—a demon?" Faith shook her head again, "No, gotta do this."
And to Charlie's utter horror, she took another step towards the cliff's edge.
He snapped his head towards Sineya, who was still growling softly, but watching them closely. "You've gotta help. I can't stop her from—"
Sineya actually rolled her eyes as she came up beside him, reaching out to grab Faith's shoulder just like he was—but she could actually grab her and toss her away from the edge of the cliff—
Right into Buffy.
Charlie breathed a sigh of relief.
Kingman's Bluff, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
Buffy almost stumbled again as she took in the sight at the top of the bluff. Because right next to Faith were Charlie and Sineya's see-through forms hovering a little ways off the ground. Though unlike the last time she'd seen him like this, Charlie was glowing a faint golden color.
Shaking her head, she kept running, barely managing to stop in time when Sineya suddenly tossed Faith right through Charlie and into her arms.
Both Slayers went down, tumbling back down the hillside Buffy had only just run up. But at the bottom, Buffy managed to lock herself around Faith in a hold that even a Slayer would have trouble breaking—especially since another Slayer was the one doing the holding.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Buffy demanded of her sister Slayer.
"B?" she could hear the frown and the confusion in the brunette's voice, but it wasn't there with her next words. "Let me go!" she demanded, only then starting to struggle.
It took some effort, but Buffy was nonetheless able to keep her where she was.
"Let me go! I've gotta do this!"
"Do what?" Buffy demanded again, shaking her head as she kept shifting and grappling and twisting to keep the younger girl where she was. "Kill yourself? Make some other girl step into the shadows to handle our job?"
"Buffy, she thinks The First Evil is the ghost of Diane Dormer, her old Watcher," Charlie called to her from the top of the bluff.
Buffy blinked, but followed his lead anyway. "Faith, that thing you were seeing, it wasn't Di's ghost—"
"What? Yeah it—"
"No, it's some kind of demon—a major big bad—called The First Evil." Buffy insisted, before asking, "How long have you been seeing it?"
Faith was still shaking her head, "No… she's been helping me with my nightmares."
"It's probably been causing your nightmares, Faith!"
"But it was Di! It sounded just like her! Knew me, just like—"
"So it did its research!" Buffy snapped, shaking her head. "Do you really think a Watcher—especially one that cared about you as much as it sounds like your 'Di' did—would want you to kill yourself?"
Faith stilled, and was quiet for several seconds, before she finally admitted, "She doesn't want me to kill myself."
Buffy blinked, "…It doesn't?" the turmoil of emotions wafting off her friends was as confusing as the words she was hearing.
"B—you've gotta let me do this!"
"What does it—" an elbow in her cut halted her words with a gasp, but didn't make her release her furiously struggling friend as she forced out the sentence on almost no air, "What does it want?"
"Di doesn't want me dead, B! The world does!"
"Faith, I told you, that wasn't—"
"How would you know? You never even met her!"
"No," Buffy agreed, still struggling to hold her friend, and silently thanking the two years more of experience that made her capable of it, despite Faith's strength being equal to her own. "But I know you, Faith! And I know how much Diane meant to you!"
"And I don't think you could care half as much for someone who was capable of wanting you to commit suicide!"
"That's what Watchers do, isn't it?" Faith snapped. "And I told you—"
"Not Merrick! Not Giles! And not Diane Dormer, either!"
"She doesn't want me to kill myself! She—"
"Wants you to do something worse?" Buffy demanded, shaking her head—and then just barely managing to move her head out of the way of Faith's elbow as she tried to get her under the chin. "Wants you to do something that you'd rather die then do?"
"And you think your 'Di' would want that?"
"If it's that or the world—"
"The world's doing just fine, Faith! And the only ones in it that want us dead are the demons!"
Faith suddenly stilled under her, her shoulders heaving on the same exerted breaths that were escaping on bursts out of Buffy's lips.
Buffy didn't release her hold, though she did shift slightly to a position that gave her more leverage in case Faith started struggling again.
"Buffy, please," Faith finally said, her voice very quiet. "I'm trying to do the right thing here, to be strong about—"
"Strong is fighting!" Buffy cut her off again, shaking her head and glaring down at her furiously, "The right thing to do is to keep fighting as long as we possibly can! It's hard and it's painful, and it's every day! And it's what we have to do. For everyone else, and for ourselves."
Faith didn't say anything in response, just staid where Buffy had pinned her, face almost pressed into the dirt, self-doubt rolling off of her.
Buffy sighed several seconds later, continuing more gently, "And we can do it together, Faith. The Chosen Two, remem—"
When Faith shifted this time, Buffy let her roll, and the brunette's face came 'round right into the swing of the older Slayer's fist; the blow more than strong enough to knock Faith out of the realm of consciousness for a little while.
"Damn it!" Buffy swore, before turning her head slightly to glare up the hill even as she got to her feet as she sensed her boyfriend's exasperated amusement. "Not. One. Word."
"I didn't say anything," Charlie objected, shaking his head. Though the amused look left his face as his eyes went back down to Faith, "What are you going to do now? I thought you'd convinced her for a second there."
"Me too," Buffy sighed, shaking her head. "I guess I'll take her to Giles, see what he thinks we should do," she grimaced. "And I know he has chains strong enough to restrain a Slayer—don't ask me why, I've never wanted to ask him. Though Faith probably will, once she's out of this funk." She shook her head again, even as she leaned down to pick the brunette up, gently shifting her over to shoulder till she had her in a fireman's carry.
"She's been having nightmares for weeks now, Buffy. It may take that long, or longer, for her to recover from this," Charlie pointed out, the sadness she could feel through their bond audible in his words, too. "Make sure she talks to Dr. Platt about it, he should be able to help."
Buffy nodded her agreement, before frowning at him. "I'm going to get her away from temptation," she gestured at the cliff behind him. "You need to get back to your body."
Charlie chuckled, but nodded, "Yes, ma'am."
She rolled her eyes even as she watched him start chanting.
"Ego sum procul pacis. Ego peto peractio." He slowly started to fade from view, "Ego transporto meus mens domus. Ego transporto meus phasmatis dormus. Ego peto meus somes. Ego peto peractio." When he finished the last word, he was barely visible, and then he wasn't. 
Sineya looked at her, nodded, and also vanished.
Buffy sighed, turning back to Sunnydale to take Faith to their Watcher.
Lily's House, Pasadena, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
Charlie couldn't suppress the instinctive rush of alarm that rushed through him when he found himself back in his body again. Because, while he was no longer roaming the astral plane and had, according to all his senses and the limited magical training he'd had, made it back to his body; his body didn't want to move. He could barely breathe! He couldn't even open his eyes!
"Ah, back with us once again, Dr. Eppes? Very good." Madam Ward's voice sounded somewhat odd to his ears. Warm and confident, which were both normal, but ragged and weary, too. Especially audible in the deep breath she took before she spoke again, her words a little slower than normal, as if carefully chosen to conceal something. "Just a moment. I'm afraid we had to lock your body in place for this particular venture; to avoid some of the pains you faced after your last astral journey across the Hellmouth."
As she was finishing, he felt the rush of warmth he'd come to associate with the wise old witch's magic flow through his body. Then he was able to breathe more deeply, pulling in grateful gulps of oxygen as he pulled his eyelids apart. Only to blink at the utter destruction that'd occurred all around him.
Lily's living room looked like a mini war had taken place there.
The furniture that the eldest witch had waved to the edges of the room were no longer lining the wall in her orderly fashion; now they were all tipped askew, and whole chunks of them had been knocked out somehow.
The edges of the thick, circular rug they'd sat down upon were charred back, with smoke stretching towards the ceiling. The same ashy circle had been burned into the ceiling itself, though the black mark stretched further inward, as if whatever magic that'd kept them safe on the carpet had been stretched too thing up there.
Lily's candles were almost entirely gone; though with careful scrutiny he could see a few spots of wax cooling on the floor not far from the rug's burnt edges.
And everywhere there were little bits of sparkling sand. Some scattered across the floor. Some blasted into the walls, the furniture, the ceiling and the floor. It took Charlie a few long seconds to realize that that sand was what was left of the clear crystals that'd formed the hovering circle of protection inside the circle of demolished candles.
The largest crystals were still there, but had clearly taken a beating, too. The green one in front of Madam Ward had fared the best; the side facing out only a little scorched. The red crystal by Constance was also scorched, and it looked like a bit of the tip had either exploded or been blown off by a nearby explosion. The blue crystal—Deborah's—and the yellow one—Lily's—were now both in two pieces, the inner edges jagged from where they'd exploded away from their matches, and melted by obviously intense heat. Like Madam Ward, Constance was at least conscious, though clearly worse for wear. But Deborah and Lily were both slumped over, their eyes closed; but thankfully breathing.
"What happened?" Charlie questioned quietly, unable to keep the horror he was feeling from his voice. Sineya's mood wasn't helping; she'd started growling as soon as he'd opened his eyes and seen all the chaos around him.
Instead of answering him, the white-haired witch asked; "I hope you were successful?"
Charlie swallowed, fighting the urge to make demands he had no right to voice as he slowly nodded his head. "Yes, Annie got there in time. But what—"
"This," Constance—who'd moved over to maneuver Lily into a more comfortable position, resting the girl's head in her lap—sighed, "is what happens when we take on entities as powerful as The First Evil." She nodded towards the other unconscious witch's form, "Deborah was right to be wary. We were lucky."
"Lucky," Charlie shook his head as he looked around, eyes wide.
"Yes," Madam Ward replied, "We were very fortunate. Our defenses were able to withstand the First's wrath, if only just."
"Thanks to you, madam," Constance nodded to her, a clear gesture of respect; particularly with the almost-reverence in her eyes. "I thought we were dead when Deborah collapsed, since you were already holding Lily's point then. I can't imagine how you were able to hold three points for so long; I could barely handle my one."
The older witch's answering chuckle was decidedly rueful, "Put away your awe, child." She grimaced as she pushed herself up off the floor to stagger towards the nearest window, sitting gingerly on the edge. "It was not easy; I merely did what needed to be done."
"But, I was only gone—" Charlie glanced towards the wall where Lily's clock in this room usually resided; but like several pictures on the wall the surface had been both burnt and blasted, and was thus unreadable. He shook his head, aghast; "I couldn't have been gone even ten minutes!"
"Minutes, maybe," Constance sighed as she finished laying Lily out on her back, before moving onto her other coven sister. "But for us it may as well have been years."
Seeing his confusion—mingled with horror—Madam Ward spoke up again. "You must understand, Dr. Eppes, that a being like The First Evil, is no mere demon. Though it has no physical presence on this plane; that does not mean it lacks real power." She shook her head then, "Though an assault like this should certainly tip the balance in favor of good for a while, at least."
Looking around the wrecked room, Charlie thought that the assault also made it very clear that, for whatever reason, The First Evil—the cause of all evil, if what the covens believed was true—saw him as a very great threat. That he could be so great a source of good was something to be proud of; though it could cause him—and Annie, too—no end of worry in the future.
Giles' Apartment, Sunnydale, California—Friday, December 13, 1996
Faith winced as she started to come to, a recognizable ache radiating from her jaw. Obviously she'd been clocked there, and she fought the urge to frown as the memories came back, knowing that frowning would just make it hurt more.
"'…shall be born of man and goat and have two heads, and The First shall speak only in riddles…'" Buffy's voice changed from her 'reading something stupid' voice to her teasing one as she closed a book with a solid slam of pages. "No wonder you like this stuff. It's like reading The Sun."
"Yes," was G-man's distracted agreement. Then a moment later was a more pleased, "Ah."
"Find something on the priests?"
The Watcher didn't answer right away, and Faith suppressed the urge to shift, especially since she could feel the chains around her wrists and ankles and the ropes binding her arms to her sides.
"Uh—Yes, but, uh, it's more…more posturing, I'm afraid. Um," he started reading then, "'For they are the Harbingers of death. Nothing shall grow above or below them. No seed shall flower, neither in man nor…'" he sighed, as he trailed off, and Faith thought he might be shaking his head as he looked up from the book. "They're rebels and they'll never be any good. Nothing specific about their haunts."
Buffy sighed, but it wasn't Giles she directed her next question at, "How are you feeling, Faith? Sorry about the jaw."
Faith grimaced, but opened her eyes to glare at the older Slayer and the slightly startled Watcher. "You shouldn't have stopped me."
"It's the right thing for me to—"
"No, me stopping you was the right thing to do." Buffy held up a hand to forestall her protests, and Faith kept glaring at her, but otherwise complied as the blonde raised an eyebrow at the Watcher they shared. "Giles, you should probably get with the explaining, she's not listening to me."
"Uh-uh, be a good Slayer and listen to your nice Watcher."
Faith couldn't help but snort at that.
"Like you do?" the Watcher asked, smirking slightly.
"I listen," Buffy shrugged, "I don't always obey, but I do listen."
Giles chuckled softly as he walked over to couch that Faith was tied up on, sitting down in the chair next to her. "Faith, what does The First Evil want you to do?"
"Diane Dormer was a wonderful woman, Faith. But she is now dead. Were she to return as a ghost, it would've been long before now. And it certainly never would've been to call for your death."
"One of The First Evil's perhaps most awful powers, is it's ability to assume the forms of loved ones that have died, in order to influence the living, just as it has been influencing you."
Faith shook her head, "But I was having Slay-mares—visions—"
"They weren't visions, they were nightmares, Faith." Giles interrupted her once again, shaking his head, his serious gaze locked with hers. "Slayers have simple dreams and nightmares, too. Some powerful spirits can plant dreams and nightmares, and The First Evil is more than powerful enough."
"But…" Faith trailed off, shaking her head just a little, "She helped me—"
"I'm sure it put a great deal of effort into making you see what it wanted you to see; believe what it wanted you to believe."
Faith squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head in denial.
"It doesn't make you weak, Faith," Buffy spoke up again, very softly. "With how long it took, and how powerful this thing's s'pose' to be, I'd say it proves that you're a lot stronger then even you think you are."
"Very much so," Giles agreed, and his eyes were warm when she finally opened her own to look at him again. "Now, Faith, that The First has actually found a way to have even this slight purchase on this plain is problematic, and we need to banish it once more. But we need to put a stop to it."
"What did it want you to do, Faith?"
"She…" Faith trailed off, then closed her eyes before continuing. "It wants one of us to die."
After several seconds of silence, Buffy spoke again, "No. It wants me dead, doesn't it?" When Faith looked at her, she shook her head. "You said it didn't want you to kill yourself, not really, so it must be me it wants."
"Not necessarily," Giles cut in, drawing both Slayers eyes back to him. "The being we speak of is, quite literally, the source of all evil. It has been around for a very long time, and…plays very complex games. It may want one or both of you dead, or it may want something else entirely, and haunting Faith was a means to that end. We can't ever really be sure."
Faith narrowed her eyes at him, again trying not to frown since she knew her jaw would really not like it. "But you said you needed to know what Di—what it wanted me to do!"
"Yes, to help you recover, we do." Giles looked towards Buffy then, "But to put an end to this haunting, we need to stop whatever ritual its priests—the Harbingers of Evil—are performing to help it access the Hellmouth."
"So stop the priests and The First goes away?" Buffy grimaces, "But isn't there anyway to stop The First itself?"
"No," Giles shook his head. "The First Evil is only a spirit on this plane, and one with little real power at that. But only the higher powers can actually do anything against it directly, it is far beyond the abilities of any mortal—even a Slayer—to fell."
"No, Buffy. It's simply not possible." Giles sighed, plucking his glasses off his nose to start cleaning them as he tried to explain. "The Balance is, more or less, an agreement between The First Evil and The Powers That Be, which governs how good and evil co-exist in our world. It makes our world what it is." He was shaking his head as he put his glasses back on and stowed his faithful handkerchief in his pocket again. "However much we might like to change that, we can not."
Buffy sighed, looking down, and Faith watched her fists clench several times as she clearly fought for control of her emotions.
It made the younger Slayer stare at her, honestly surprised by just how angry the blonde was.
Finally, Buffy looked up, "So I need to find these—Harbingers, right?"
No jokingly screwing up the name. No jokes to lighten the mood at all. B was well and truly pissed.
Faith couldn't blame her. She was starting to feel pissed, too; except the anger was kind of echoing up from more violent side, having to get through the self-doubt and distress that still held her head hostage.
"Yes," Giles nodded, glancing at a nearby clock. "Will you be attending school to—?"
"No. Call my mom, let her know what happened and have her call the school for me, so I can take care of this." Buffy looked down at her then, giving her a small, somewhat weak smile. "I'll be back soon, okay? Try not to get into too much trouble while I'm gone."
Only just catching onto the fact that the older Slayer was planning on hunting their latest enemy without her, Faith struggled against the chains and ropes still binding her, while calling, "B, wait!"
Buffy stopped, already halfway to the front door, and turned to raise an eyebrow at her.
Faith stilled under the look, trying to focus on her anger through the self-doubt still as she insisted, "I need to go with you."
The blonde slowly shook her head, frowning at her. "Faith—"
"I won't try and kill myself, B. I swear. I'll swear it with magic if G-man can teach me how." Faith was pleading as she finished; a large part of her completely sure of what she was saying, even though she wasn't really thinking while the words flew out. "But I need to do this."
"If you don't let me help, B, a part of me'll always wonder if it really was a demon or the woman who was like a mother to me that wanted me dead. Please."
Buffy stared at her for several seconds, and Faith met her eyes squarely, though she had to crane her neck from her tied up position to do so.
"Buffy," Giles interjected after a few moments of silence, "I think—"
"Alright," Buffy sighed as she cut their watcher off. She nodded at Giles, "Get the key, I'll untie her." As the Watcher obeyed, the older slayer came over to kneel beside the couch, slowly starting to undo the well-tied knots. "Don't make me regret this," she murmured too quietly for anyone without supernatural hearing to hear.
"I won't," Faith swore, more relieved then she could express that her sister Slayer still trusted her enough to give her a chance. And that she'd be able to hurt someone for everything she'd had to go through the last couple of weeks.
NOTE FROM WITHIN THE CHAPTER:
 Again, I used an English to Latin online translator for the Latin chant. "Ego sum procul pacis. Ego peto peractio. Ego transporto meus mens domus. Ego transporto meus phasmatis dormus. Ego peto meus somes. Ego peto peractio."
It (probably roughly) translates to: "I am at peace. I seek completion. I send my mind home. I send my spirit home. I seek my body. I seek completion."
Author's End Note: And apparently those are the only things I felt I needed to reference while writing. This shorter chapter thing is (still) a little weird for me…
I was actually planning on this being the final chapter before the epilogue of Holiday Horrors, but it was getting a bit long. And I wanted to update on 11/11/11. Just because.
Plus you guys have waited long enough for an update, so here you go!
Hope it was worth the wait.
So Faith's mostly out of the woods now; hope that wasn't too quick. Though, to be fair, the episode I based this on was much worse. I mean, really, it snows and suddenly Angel's not suicidal anymore? Yes, the snow was neat, but that always seemed a little off to me. Which was why we had to knock Faith out and tie her up. Even then, it'll take Faith a while to get through this.
But we still have the Harbingers of the First—and possibly the First itself—to deal with! So I'll try to get the next chapter to you ASAP. Hopefully that's sooner than it normally works out. Especially since I'm honestly more focused on trying to write my own novel—and a few other fan fics—right now. *sigh* Sorry. :-(
Anyway, hope everyone liked this chapter and this segment of the series thus far!
I'll try to get the next bit out soon. And I'm sincerely sorry for how long it's been between updates (for all my fics) but between work, life, and-more recently-trying to write my own novel, the time and energy I have to spare for fan fiction's been limited. But I do intend to FINISH this series (M&M), which keeps going through the end of BtVS Season 7 and (at least) into Numb3rs Season 1. So, while I can't say how long that'll take, you should see it eventually. Sooner rather than later, I hope. *fingers crossed for wishing, not fibbing*
To Be Continued in…