Part 4, Chapter 1
"Are we ever going to talk about this?" Buffy tried to mask her frustration as she watched her girlfriend toying with a newly risen vampire. The newest undead resident of Sunnydale tripped over her funeral dress as she rushed at the brunette slayer.
Faith laughed as she kicked the vampire in the butt, further hindering its uncoordinated attempts to climb to its feet. "Talk about what?"
"I know you're still mad at me." From her perch on a nearby headstone, Buffy watched the fight without joining in.
"Why am I mad exactly?" Faith skipped out of reach as the vampire lumbered to its feet.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about." The dead girl hissed in annoyance and managed to get a lucky tackle in.
"I don't," Faith insisted, rolling herself and her opponent so that she was on top.
The vampire frantically bucked, trying to dislodge the slayer.
"Sure you don't want a turn with this one, B? She's fun!" The slayer grinned at the infuriated newborn.
"Faith," gritting her teeth, the blonde conveyed all her annoyance with that one word.
"Fine." Faith rolled her eyes and cleanly brought her stake into the vampire's heart. "Way to ruin all my fun."
Buffy slid off the gravestone and approached the other slayer. "We haven't talked about our argument in the library. I know you're still upset."
Shrugging, Faith pocketed her stake. "We're five by five, baby."
"No," the smaller girl put her hand on her girlfriend's arm. "We're not."
Sighing, Faith extricated herself from Buffy's grip and ran a hand through her hair. "Fine, we're not. What do you want me to say, Buffy? We're both slayers, but when it's serious ass kicking time, you don't trust me to handle the job."
"It just sucks, that's all." Without waiting for Buffy's response, the brunette stalked further into the graveyard. There had to be something evil around that she could pound on.
"Damn it, Faith, wait up!" Charging after the quickly moving girl, Buffy tried to think of the right thing to say. She trusted Faith, of course she did! But Buffy had been the slayer all alone for a long time; letting someone else fight her battles didn't come easily to her. Especially when that someone else was Faith.
The dark slayer paused to allow her girlfriend to catch up. "Vamps to stake; people to save. You know how it goes."
"Girlfriends to avoid; grudges to hold," Buffy snarked in response.
"Only had one girlfriend to avoid, last I checked."
"Nice, Faith. Really nice."
"Look," the brunette sighed in exasperation, "I told you why I'm mad. Now can we just get done with patrol?"
"No!" Buffy shouted, her voice echoing through the empty cemetery. "We need to talk about this."
With an angry huff, Faith folded her arms. "Fine, talk."
"Thank you!" Buffy paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. "It's not that I don't trust you. It's just that I…" Her eyes swept across Faith's face as she struggled to find the right words. "I just found you. And we had so many misunderstandings and screw ups to get here. I finally have you. I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I couldn't live with it if you got killed fighting a demon that was after me." Buffy looked away, her eyes shining.
"Okay," Faith stepped forward to draw the blonde into her arms, "I get that. I'm not going anywhere, okay? You don't have to worry about this." She gently rubbed her palms up and down Buffy's upper arms.
"You can't promise that," Buffy mumbled against Faith's hair.
The brunette sighed, squeezing Buffy to her gently. "You're right, I can't. Neither can you."
Faith stepped a little backward, peering into Buffy's eyes. "We both know the risks here. But, B, I'm a slayer, too. I'm not gonna sit on the sidelines when I could be fighting." She cupped the blonde's neck gently. "You're my girl, right? I gotta throw down for you."
Her words gained her a soft smile from Buffy. "Okay, you're right."
The older girl feigned a stagger, clutching her chest. "Come again?"
"I said you're right!" Buffy laughed, smacking her arm. "Let's finish this patrol, I wanna get home."
"Got big plans?" Faith righted her stance and began trekking further into the cemetery.
"Not really. Maybe a nice, hot bath. Some body lotion that I'm gonna rub all over…" She let her words trail off suggestively.
Faith paused, staring dreamily into space.
With a bemused smile, Buffy sailed by her, rounding a mausoleum.
"Wait, you were inviting me, right?" Faith suddenly looked around for her girlfriend. "Buffy?" With visions of naked, soapy Buffy in her mind, Faith took off into the night.
Standing under the hot spray of the shower, Buffy let her head drop as the tension melted from her muscles. Behind her, Faith's strong, soapy fingers moved across her back, massaging out the kinks she encountered. They'd opted to skip the bath and get right to the rubbing on of lotion, with smoochies hopefully to follow. It was a school night, and since Buffy liked to think she was a least somewhat responsible, they were trying to get to sleep early. Faith's fingers started to get more exploratory, tracing over Buffy's ribs and veering off into breast territory.
Smiling, the blonde turned in her girlfriend's arms. "Behave," she commanded sternly.
"Can't," the other slayer dipped her head to nibble at the collarbone currently on display in front of her. "You're too distracting."
Reaching behind Faith, the blonde delivered a stinging slap to her butt.
"Hey!" Faith practically yelped, pulling away in surprise.
"I told you to behave."
Pouting, Faith shook her head. "It's not my fault. You're naked, B!"
"I know." Buffy squirted a little body wash on her loofah and motioned for the other girl to turn around. "But if you behave now, you'll be rewarded later."
There was a tense stand off as Faith considered this proposal. Finally, she turned her back as instructed. "Rewarded how?"
Before Buffy could answer, a light knock sounded against the bathroom door. "Buffy?" Her mother called, as she cracked open the door.
The two slayers froze. Buffy gripped Faith's waist in terror. Had Joyce heard Faith talking? Few things could petrify a slayer, but the idea of her mother finding the two of them in the shower together was one of them. Joyce didn't even know they were dating, and Buffy couldn't think of a worse way for her find out.
"Buffy?" Joyce asked again, slightly concerned now.
Faith's elbow connected harshly with the blonde's rib, knocking her out of her stupor. "Ow! Um, yeah?"
"How was patrol?"
"Good," Buffy said, trying to will her voice to sound normal.
"Are you okay?" Her mom asked, sensing something amiss. "Did you get hurt?"
Faith silently turned toward Buffy shaking her head frantically. Why was the blonde such a terrible liar? She pulled a series of frantic faces, which were answered with frantic faces of Buffy's.
"No, I'm fine," the blonde managed to call out. "Just a little tired."
"Well, okay," Joyce said doubtfully, "if you're sure."
"Yep, definitely," Buffy responded, "totally sure."
Joyce lingered in the doorway for a moment, clearly suspecting something was up. Finally she said, "Well, goodnight then."
Once the door closed behind her mother, Buffy sagged dramatically into Faith's arms. "Oh my God," she moaned quietly.
Faith gave her a bemused pat on the back. "It's okay, we're in the clear."
"She so knew something was up!"
Chuckling, Faith kissed her girlfriend's frowning mouth. "Trust me, she wasn't suspecting this."
Buffy silently worried for several more minutes, as Faith finished washing up. Not even the sight of Faith rubbing soap all over herself could break her out of her funk. "I think I have to tell her," she finally declared.
Turning off the faucet, Faith stepped out of the shower. "Are you sure you're ready?"
"No," the blonde admitted, accepting the towel held out to her. "But it doesn't feel good sneaking around like this."
Faith was skeptical. In her mind, the less Mrs. S knew about their relationship the better. For sure she was going to curtail their frequent sleepovers. Plus Faith sincerely doubted any parent would want their daughter dating her. It wasn't like she had a lot going for her. The more she thought about it, the more she thought this was definitely a bad idea.
The two dressed in silence after sneaking down the hall to Buffy's room. The playful mood of earlier was gone as both girls were lost in their own thoughts.
In the bedroom, they each pulled back a side of the bed covers and slipped in. Buffy smiled when she noticed it. They hadn't been together for very long yet, and already they were so domestic together. Under the covers, she wiggled toward the center of the bed, expecting to bump into her girlfriend's warm side. But Faith was still on her side of the small bed, showing no signs of moving.
"What's wrong?" Buffy asked.
"Nothing," Faith said. She was clearly lying. For all her tough girl bravado, Faith didn't miss an opportunity to snuggle.
Propping herself up on her elbow, Buffy looked down at the other slayer. "I know you too well to believe that."
Faith merely shrugged in response.
Knowing the brunette would elaborate if given the space to collect her thoughts, Buffy ran her fingers lightly through Faith's hair. The other girl's eyes slid closed, her head turning to accommodate more touching. Buffy snuggled in closer, pressing a kiss to her girlfriend's temple as she let her hand roam down to Faith's belly. She loved the softness of Faith's skin, so smooth and feminine in spite of the raw strength hiding within her slim form.
As Buffy ran light fingertips over her stomach, Faith finally admitted, "Just a little nervous about your mom finding out, is all." As if to cut off further discussion, she turned her face against Buffy's neck, pressing light kisses there.
The blonde made a faint hmm sound in her throat, trying to stay on point and not be distracted by Faith's lips. "I'm sure it'll be okay," she said, as much to convince herself as to convince Faith. "My mom's not one of those people."
"What people?" The dark slayer removed her mouth from Buffy's skin long enough to ask. "Homophobes?"
Faith's chuckle was strained. "I was more nervous about her finding out about the you dating me part."
Buffy wrapped strong arms around Faith, turning her so they were pressed belly to belly. Giving her girlfriend a tender look, she assured her, "My mom likes you. She's gonna be cool about it."
Faith was still uncertain. Some days she was surprised Buffy liked her. Joyce's seal of approval didn't seem to be in the bag quite yet. "Can we wait like a couple days at least?"
"Sure," Buffy agreed reluctantly. She ran her hands up and down Faith's back, trying to give her the reassurance that wasn't coming across with words. The brunette settled against her, head tucked into her shoulder, and allowed herself to be cuddled. Buffy held her, wondering why Faith was so nervous about this. Her mom had always tried her best to make the other slayer feel welcome in their house. She was going to take the news just fine. Wasn't she?
"I don't get it," Cordelia lay on the couch, flipping through the magazine she had brought with her. "What's the problem?"
"I don't know," Faith shrugged. She was busy rearranging her living room to maximize viewing pleasure on the slightly used TV she'd acquired. The little apartment was beginning to feel more homey, thanks in large part to gifts that come turning up. Joyce had given her a print from the gallery, a watercolor snow scene. It reminded her of one of the few things she liked about Boston. Although Wesley had already more than done his part by getting the apartment for her, he'd shown up with a small charcoal grill he'd deposited on her patio. Faith had watched him carefully arranging all the grill utensils, really more than one needed for such a small grill. It seemed he had purchased it for himself but discovered grilling was not his forte. His singed left eyebrow was a testament to that fact.
Willow and Oz had shown up with an older model stereo Oz promised was still in great working condition. Music was essential for the soul, he assured her. Willow had pressed an herb packet into her hand, telling her to hang it above her doorway for protection and chakra cleansing, whatever that was. Xander had given her dirty magnets, which were currently spelling out a variety of colorful phrases on her fridge. Cordelia had provided quite a lot of things, including throw pillows, curtains, a tablecloth, and several sets of bedding. Apparently, there were more textiles than Faith would have imagined. She didn't really need all this stuff, but it she knew it made Cordy happy to give it to her. Even Giles had sent a gift, although it had been dropped off by Buffy. The book of slayer diaries was clearly old and well-loved. It came with a small house plant in a bright container, which was seated on her window sill at the moment.
Buffy had brought candles and bubble bath, which they'd promptly used together. She'd also brought some of her own clothes and toiletries, which were laying around Faith's bedroom and bathroom now. This was actually the best gift, as far as Faith was concerned. Some people would be freaked out by their girlfriend nesting in their place, but Faith loved it. The more Buffy, the better, as far as she's concerned.
Cordelia's voice broke her out of her thoughts. "You really think Joyce would mind you guys dating? Hello, Buffy's last boyfriend was like 400 years old." She shook her head at Faith's mental deficiency. "Total beefcake though."
Faith shot Cordelia her most dangerous look. She did not want to hear anyone lusting after Angel.
"What?" Cordy shrugged. "Just because you've entered the land of Birkenstocks and flannel doesn't mean I have." She flipped through her pages, illustrating her heterosexuality by lingering longest on the topless men she found.
"I sure hope B's mom has as enlightened ideas about gay people as you do," the slayer replied, with exaggerated pep.
Rolling her eyes, the cheerleader tossed her magazine on the couch beside her and sat up. "Look, what's not to like about you?"
Faith gave her a look as if to say it was obvious, still fiddling with the TV.
"Okay," Cordy admitted, "so your makeup tends toward hooker chic. And who knows when the last time you were in a school for actual learning? And okay, fine, your table manners are on par with someone raised by wolves. But so what?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
"So what?" Faith repeated, incredulously. "You can't even find something nice to say about me. You really think Mrs. S is going to be down for me dating her daughter?"
"My point is that none of that matters. You're crazy about Buffy. Anyone can see that. Plus, you have a job now. You're almost brushing respectability."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Cordelia."
The other girl beamed widely. "You're welcome."
Faith stepped back to admire her handiwork in the living room. It looked really nice, like a place you would want to come home to. Faith couldn't say that about anywhere else she'd ever lived. It was safe, and clean, and hers. She loved walking into her apartment every night, just knowing that. "What do you think?" She asked.
Her friend gave an approving nod. "Better than my place these days."
Making some final, unnecessary movements to her coffee table, Faith asked, "Your mom doing any better?"
"No," Cordelia said wearily. "She's been in a Prozac haze for the last week."
"Nah, it's great. No one to bug me about curfew anymore."
They both knew it wasn't great, but Faith also knew Cordelia wasn't the type of person who would accept sympathy, so she let it drop. "Cool. So you wanna get a couple movies and break curfew then? I gotta try this bad boy out." She tapped the TV top demonstratively.
"Yeah," the cheerleader agreed.
Sometimes Faith wondered why the two of them were friends. She was sure other people did too. They made an odd couple—the dethroned queen of Sunnydale High and the juvenile delinquent who hung around the library for no apparent reason. The fact was that the two of them just got each other. Faith knew what it was like to have the adults in your life check out, and she knew Cordelia didn't want her pity. For her part, Cordy had latched on to the only person in Sunnydale who felt like more of an outcast than she did. They teased a lot, but there was real understanding underneath it.
"Alright," the slayer said, "but no action movies this time."
The other girl's eyes narrowed dangerously, as she stood up. "The Die Hard franchise is classic. You have no taste."
"My life is an action movie," Faith protested. "I can see every trick they do to avoid doing the real thing." She opened the door to the apartment, waiting until Cordelia stomped through to close it.
"You are such a killjoy."
"And you're a bitch." Faith patted her shoulder. "Get the car, princess."
The mayor stood in his office, gazing out the window into the bright afternoon sun. "What do you have for me?" He asked, without turning.
Standing in the shadows, Mr. Trick held a piece of paper. "The seer's been spitting out visions all morning, and we've got Franklin working overtime interpreting them." He stepped forward, offering the sheet of paper to his boss.
Mayor Wilkins closed the blinds with a flick of his wrist. It wouldn't do to have his employees bursting into flames in his office. Especially not ones as valuable as Mr. Trick had been so far. He accepted the paper, taking a seat at his desk.
"This one looks promising," the vampire said. "Franklin identified the demon depicted."
The Mayor glanced up from the crude drawing on the sheet. "And?"
"It's an Althesia. Nasty little suckers."
Studying the drawing again, the Mayor was not very impressed. The demon was diminutive, even pictured next to the dark haired slayer. "What do they do?"
Mr. Trick grinned broadly. "They fixate on a host to feed off that person's paranoia."
Now the Mayor was starting to understand. "This has potential."
"That's what I thought."
"Make sure the other one doesn't interfere," he ordered, still studying the drawing.
"Will do," the vampire assured him. He thought he might take care of this job himself.
Wesley couldn't exactly pinpoint when he'd lost all feeling in the palms of his hands. He truly did appreciate his slayer's enthusiasm for her training. It was the training with him that he found slightly less enjoyable. "Did Buffy say she was coming right after school?" He tried to sound nonchalant.
Faith gave him a shrug as she delivered a spinning kick in his direction.
The watcher blocked it with one numb hand.
"Hey," Buffy entered their workout room, waving a greeting.
"Oh, thank God," Wesley muttered, immediately dropping his padded hands to his sides. He'd never been so happy to see the other slayer in his life.
The two slayers exchanged a smirk. "You okay, Wesley?" Buffy asked.
"Hmm?" He was pulling the mitts from his hands. "Oh, yes. Yes, I'm fine. Faith and I were just doing some training."
"Mind if I cut in for a bit?" The younger girl asked.
"No," Wesley assured her. "Not at all! Not unless, Faith, you wanted to continue?" He prayed the answer was no.
"Thanks, Wes," Faith threw her arm around his shoulders, "but somebody's gotta hand B's ass to her."
"Of course," the relieved watcher said, scurrying from the room as soon as she released him. He was in dire need of some ice. Maybe some co-codamol.
As the door closed behind the watcher, Buffy bridged the gap between them. Smirk firmly in place she asked, "So you think you can take me?"
"Taken you before," Faith replied, raising one eyebrow. Her hand trailed suggestively down her girlfriend's hip.
"That's true," Buffy admitted, leaning in closer.
Faith didn't move as the blonde leaned into her space. Buffy tilted her chin up, parting her lips for a kiss. As always, the older slayer found herself mesmerized by the other girl. Not only was Buffy beautiful, the way she looked at Faith made her practically melt. Forgetting all about her threats of winning their spar, the brunette closed her eyes, leaning in to capture her kiss.
Abruptly, she felt herself losing balance, landing butt first on the mat.
Buffy stood over her surprised form, not even attempting to stifle a smile. "Hmm," she said gleefully, "my ass seems to be firmly attached. Yours however, has been handed to you."
Faith's hand shot out, gripping the blonde's ankle and flipping her into the air.
Buffy came down with a squeal, landing on her back. Instantly, Faith was on top of her. Leaning down, she gave Buffy a bruising kiss. When Buffy was panting for air beneath her, she pulled back and said, "You're such a smart ass."
"You love it," the blonde challenged.
Faith considered this for a moment, looking at the happy, squirming girl beneath her. "Yeah," she responded finally, "I do."
Buffy was tired. Patrol had been heavy on the vamps and they'd sparred really hard before coming out. She was ready to head home, get a yogurt and a shower, then pass out.
Seeing that Buffy was worn out, Faith suggested, "Let's do Shady Hill and then head home."
"Sounds good," the blonde agreed.
The two walked through the graveyard, hand in hand, alert for threats but not expecting much.
They were heading for the exit when Faith started to get the uncomfortable feeling that she was being watched. "B," she said quietly, and Buffy nodded in response. She felt it too.
The slayers strolled on, pretending not to have noticed anything. They were waiting for whatever was lurking in the dark to make its move. They didn't have to wait long. A small form stepped onto the path ahead of them. It wore a hooded robe, obscuring its face. The only skin showing were pale hands with disturbingly long fingers. It didn't move to engage them.
"Well, this is new," Buffy remarked.
Faith nodded. The feeling of unease was intensifying within her. She was sure the little demon was doing something.
"We don't have all night," Buffy called out, oblivious to the nervousness the other slayer was feeling. "Wanna skip to the part where I kill you?"
As she finished speaking, Buffy was roughly tackled from behind. Faith glanced down, startled to see the other slayer grappling with a vampire in a suit.
"Go," Buffy said, before head butting the vampire viciously. "I've got this."
Confident Buffy could handle things, Faith moved toward the short demon.
The blonde slayer followed her head butt with an elbow to the temple, knocking the vampire askew. He rolled away, climbing to his feet.
Buffy executed a rising handspring, landing neatly on her feet. When the vampire made no move to attack her, she rushed toward him.
He ducked her first punch. The slayer blocked his return cross, while shooting a clenched fist toward his abdomen.
He caught her arm, spinning them both around. Buffy went sprawling away from the vampire as he released her arm.
Buffy saw he had torn her sleeve and glared at him. "This was new," she complained.
"It wasn't a good look for you," the vamp replied with disdain. He leapt forward, and his scissor kick forced her to back up.
"Neither is that mustache," Buffy retorted. As she threw another punch, the slayer looked for Faith over the vamp's shoulder. The distance between them was greater than she expected. The vampire blocked her hit, scoring one of his own.
As she doubled over from the pain, he bowled her over. Another few feet appeared between Faith and her.
Buffy was starting to suspect this was intentional, and that didn't add up to anything good. Deciding to abandon the vamp, Buffy feigned a right hook, passing the vamp as he moved to dodge her fist. Faith was moving cautiously, almost at the small demon now.
Before she could call out a warning to her girlfriend, a tie was tightly wrapped around her neck. The vampire stood behind her, pulling the fabric tightly.
Buffy struggled frantically, watching as Faith drifted closer to the small demon. The other slayer seemed to be almost in a trance. She stopped moving right in front of the small form, falling clumsily to her knees.
The blonde tried desperately to get her fingers under the tie around her neck. Black spots swam in her vision and her lungs burned.
Thrilled with the way this situation was playing out, Mr. Trick pulled tighter.
The hooded demon extended its long white fingers, placing one hand on each side of Faith's head. The slayer's back arched, going rigid.
Buffy felt her limbs growing heavy. The noises around her became indistinct.
The demon released Faith, who sank forward onto her palms. It disappeared into the shadows before she sat fully up. She blinked dazedly, trying to remember what she had been doing.
Seeing the other slayer getting her bearings back, Mr. Trick released Buffy. He wasn't about to get staked to see the Mayor's plan through. He'd gotten what he'd come for anyway.
Faith remembered Buffy had been with her, and looked frantically around for her. The blonde was crumpled to the ground many yards away. Racing over to her side, Faith dropped to the ground beside her.
"B?" She called frantically.
The smaller girl coughed weakly, her hand going to her raw, damaged throat.
Faith pulled her into her arms, relieved she was conscious and breathing. "You're okay, baby."
Buffy shook her head, unable to speak and reveal what she had seen. She pulled free from Faith, climbing unsteadily to her feet.
"B, take a minute," Faith protested. An angry bruise was forming across the skin of Buffy's throat. She swayed unsteadily on her feet. "Where are you going?"
Buffy tried to speak, managing to rasp a name, "Giles…"
"Okay," Faith said, beginning to think she was missing out on some pretty big details, "we'll go get G."
Buffy nodded, leaning against her girlfriend when she pulled her close. She didn't know what the hell that demon was, but she knew it couldn't be anything good. And it hadn't been working alone. This added up to one vague, but definitely scary picture. She just hoped Giles would have the answers she needed.
Part 4, Chapter 2
Buffy watched Faith from the corner of her eye. Giles and Wesley had been researching the demon that had attacked Faith since the previous night, but they had no answers yet. Buffy trusted their ability to get to the bottom of it, but it still bothered her, not knowing what had been done to Faith. She supposed this was just one of the cons of dating a vampire slayer. In the pro column, there was the awesome sex. In the cons, the unfortunate habit her girlfriend had of constantly getting into life threatening situations.
"You keep watching me, some vamp's gonna catch you by surprise," Faith told her in a teasing voice. She'd noticed the blonde's attempts at nonchalance.
"Well, did you have to wear the leather pants on patrol?" Buffy asked, trying to hide the real reason she'd been staring.
Faith laughed. "B, as nice as I know my ass is, that's not why you're watching me."
Darn. Faith always saw right through her attempts at subterfuge… not that she made many. That was probably the problem, actually. She just wasn't practicing her stealthiness enough. "I'm just worried they haven't figured this out yet," Buffy admitted. She sidled closer to Faith, ducking under her arm so she could snuggle against her side.
The pair were walking through downtown Sunnydale, wrapping up after patrol. The streets were empty and dark, leaving Faith with a sense of foreboding she just couldn't shake. She eagerly curled her arm around Buffy, enjoying the warmth and comfort of having her girlfriend close. She opened her mouth to respond to Buffy, planning to tell her it was probably nothing to worry about, when a new thought came to her mind. Giles doesn't care about you. He's probably not even researching. He'd be glad to have you out of the way. The brunette blinked, considering it. It did make a certain kind of sense... "I'm sure Giles isn't searching too hard," she muttered finally.
Buffy was taken by surprise. She knew Faith wasn't Giles's biggest fan, with good reason, but she'd thought the brunette was starting to move past her issues with him. "He was up half the night researching," she protested. "You should have seen him this morning in the library. His shirttail was actually showing. For Giles, that's like showing up with your shirt on inside out and backwards."
"Whatever," Faith dismissed. He'd betrayed her once before. She had no reason to think Giles was on her side whatsoever.
"Are you okay?" Buffy's voice was filled with concern, and she reached out for her girlfriend's arm. Concerned, she stopped walking. She moved from under Faith's arm, to stand in front of her. Faith seemed a little off kilter. Was she sick? They had no idea what effect that demon had had on her. She might be dying a slow death by demonic poisoning at this very moment.
"Sure," the older girl said, "I'm five by five." Suddenly, her head whipped in the direction of a sound.
Buffy placed a gentle hand on her arm, waiting for Faith to look back at her. "That's a cat," she pointed out, exasperated. "You're not five by five. You're really jumpy, what's up?"
"Dunno," Faith admitted, "I'm just amped up. Maybe it's not knowing what that demon was after." Suddenly feeling very anxious to get home, she took Buffy's hand and began walking down the street again.
"Maybe," Buffy said doubtfully, as Faith powerwalked them down the block. "I hope they tell us something soon. You're starting to get me amped up too."
The brunette cocked a mischievous eyebrow at her. "Wanna go back to my place and work off some of that tension?"
Buffy was momentarily caught up in the sheer attractiveness that was her leering girlfriend. Faith's cheeks were flushed from the chill and slaying, and her hair was its usual wild, beautiful mane. She caught herself, and said dryly, "Well, when you put it so romantically, how can I say no?"
Faith bumped against her side, stopping for a moment. She wrapped an arm around Buffy's waist. "Let me try again." She lowered her chin, looking at Buffy through her eyelashes. "Baby," she began in a sultry tone, and the blonde could feel her heartbeat speeding up, "how would you feel about bumpin' some uglies?"
Slapping her arm, Buffy broke free from her hold. "Faith!" She quickly resumed walking down the street.
"Okay, okay," the brunette called, reaching out after her.
Buffy allowed herself to be pulled to a stop and snuggled under Faith's arm, although she did give a mean pout.
Kissing the pout away, Faith stroked her palm up and down Buffy's back. "Seriously, can you stay over tonight? We don't have to do anything; I was just playing."
"Sure," Buffy agreed, instantly dropping her pout. She was a little taken aback by this request. Faith didn't usually ask her to stay over on school nights. If anything, she stayed at the blonde's house with her. "I'll just call my mom. I can probably stay."
"Good," Faith said quietly. Her eyes were cast down, and her arms remained holding on to her girlfriend.
Buffy looked at her in concern. Faith sounded so down. She pulled the brunette into a tight hug. "You're really worried, huh?" She asked into the tangled strands of Faith's hair.
The brunette just shrugged, not wanting to talk about it.
Buffy pulled back enough to look the other slayer in the face. Her hands moved up to cup Faith's cheeks. "We're gonna figure it out, okay?" She gently kissed Faith's lips.
"I know," Faith replied, but she still seemed unsure.
"Let's go home," Buffy said, taking her hand and starting them moving once more. She just hoped they got good news soon.
"Hey," Faith said, as she walked into her bedroom. "Get everything squared away with Mrs. S?" She rubbed moisturizer up and down her arms as she spoke, preparing to climb in bed.
"Yep," Buffy replied, already under the covers and hogging all of them. Faith had grown accustomed to Buffy's complete inability to share the bedding, so the sight came as no surprise. The blonde patted the covers beside her invitingly, eager to get Faith into bed and curled up with her.
"Do you think she suspects something after the other night?" Faith asked, suddenly worried about it. Joyce knows about you. Knows you're sleeping with her daughter. She's going to stop Buffy from seeing you. You're worthless, who would want their daughter with you?
"I thought you said there was no way she would?" Buffy felt herself panicking a little bit now. Her mom had seemed perfectly oblivious on the phone… "No, I think it's fine."
"Okay," the brunette said uncertainly, as she got in to bed. Immediately, she pressed herself against Buffy's side, pulling the blonde into her arms.
It was obvious that getting home had not eased any of Faith's anxiety. Buffy held her tightly, rubbing her back in soothing circles. "Are you okay?" She asked gently. Her worry for Faith was making her own chest feel tight.
Face buried against her shoulder, Faith shook her head. She trembled within Buffy's arms. It doesn't matter if Joyce knows or not. Buffy's not gonna stick with you for long…
"What is it, Faith?" The blonde kept rubbing her back, trying to calm her down. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know," the other girl replied, voice shaking. She really didn't know. She just suddenly felt so afraid that Buffy might leave her. Her life prior to Sunnydale had been one of loneliness and neglect, and she was so afraid to lose what she'd gained here. Buffy, her calling, her watcher… they all seemed so precarious, as if they could disappear at a moment's notice. You'll lose everything. You don't deserve it anyway. You're worthless. "B," she said suddenly, her voice high and thin, "don't leave me."
"I'm not going anywhere," the blonde assured her, feeling more frightened by the moment. "I'm right here with you." Her heart broke at Faith's words. She cared so deeply for the other slayer; how could Faith not get that?
A quiet sniffle was her answer, and Faith held on tighter to her waist.
Buffy held on just as firmly, feeling helpless. She stroked Faith's long hair, trying to soothe the other girl. "I'm right here," she repeated quietly. "I'm not going anywhere. We'll figure this out together." Whatever was happening to the brunette, Buffy could tell she was seriously afraid. And Faith wasn't the only one who was scared.
The sun was shining when Faith woke up alone, her hand searching the empty side of her bed. Her eyes snapped open as she sat up. "Buffy?" She called, hating the waver she could hear in her voice. Suddenly, she felt certain that the other slayer had decided she didn't want to date her anymore, and had escaped while she was sleeping. Why wouldn't she?
A blonde head poked through the doorway, toothbrush dangling from her mouth. "Getting ready," she managed to say around the dental instrument. Buffy was already dressed for the day, in her marginally clean jeans from the night before and one of Faith's shirts.
Buffy's continued presence in the apartment should have assuaged Faith's concerns, but it didn't really. Her stomach tightened painfully when the blonde disappeared back to the bathroom. She couldn't shake the feeling that their relationship was about to come to an end. Buffy cares about me, she tried to tell herself. She wants to help me. Everything will be okay.
"You wanna come with me to school?" The blonde asked, as she came back into the room. "We can check in with Giles, see what they've found."
There won't be anything. Giles will make sure of that. Can't trust him… "Okay," Faith agreed, swinging her legs out of bed. She didn't trust Giles in the slightest, but at least it would give her more time with Buffy.
The smaller girl walked toward her, wrapping her arms around the still seated Faith. Brushing some tangled hair away from her face, she asked, "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Faith lied. Buffy was probably looking for reasons to get out anyway; she wasn't going to hand them to her.
"You sure?" The blonde studied her critically. Faith had been so out of sorts last night. Buffy didn't believe for a moment that the other slayer was really fine. Something serious was going on.
"Yeah." Faith leaned forward, planting a loud kiss on Buffy's stomach.
Giggling, Buffy slid back out of her reach.
The moment of levity over, Faith got up to get dressed. She had a feeling they weren't in for good news at the library.
In the library, the gang was gathered, musty tomes and a box of donuts spread before them on the table. Once the slayers were seated, Giles wasted no time in getting down to business. He placed a heavy book in front of Faith and pointed to an entry. "Althesia demon," he said without ceremony.
Across the table, Wesley nodded in agreement, barely looking up from the notes he was making.
"What does it do?" Buffy asked, snagging a donut from the box Xander had offered them. Faith hadn't helped herself to one, another sure sign that something was wrong.
"It feeds on a person's fears," Wesley replied, looking up from his notepad at last. "It elevates them to a hyper paranoid state."
"That does not sound of the good," Buffy remarked with a frown. Paranoia certainly explained some of Faith's behavior from the night before. "What happens to the person being fed on?"
The two watchers exchanged furtive glances. Giles tried to skirt the subject. "We've found the antidote and—"
"Giles?" The blonde interrupted. "You're scaring me. Why are you avoiding the question?"
It was Wesley who admitted, "Historically, victims have killed themselves when it becomes too much." He cast a concerned look in Faith's direction.
All eyes at the table now turned to Faith, as if she were about to commit suicide at any moment. Buffy was particularly horrified. This demon was going to make Faith kill herself? Not on her watch! She was going to find that demon, dismember it, and make it regret the day it had made the mistake of attacking Buffy Summers's girlfriend.
"Faith," Giles addressed the quiet slayer, "you've probably already been feeling some effects. Any thoughts or feelings you've had that might seem… out of the ordinary?"
"No," the slayer replied. All of her thoughts seemed quite ordinary to her. She didn't trust Giles, but what else is new? Buffy was probably going to dump her, but that seemed fairly grounded in reality too.
Buffy looked at the brunette in dismay. Faith was definitely not acting normally. Couldn't she tell? Turning to their watchers, she volunteered, "She was really jumpy on patrol last night." She thought of Faith's clinginess the night before, but decided it was too personal to share.
Faith shot back an accusing look. "I wasn't that jumpy. We're risking our lives, don't I have a reason to be nervous?" See how she sides with them? Buffy doesn't care about you.
"Of course," Wesley cut in smoothly. In reality, he knew his slayer was the type to fight first, think later. Nervousness was not usually on the menu for her patrols. Clearly, she was already being affected by this demon.
"How do we fix this?" Buffy asked anxiously.
"There's a potion," the younger watcher gestured to the book he was holding. "We have most of the ingredients we need. Willow is assisting me with it."
The redhead beamed with pride. "We'll have it done this afternoon, but it needs to sit for a couple hours before it'll be ready."
"Will Faith be okay until then?" Buffy asked, unconvinced. The others hadn't seen the changes in Faith like she had. Who knew how the brunette would be by later?
"I'm fine, B," the brunette protested. She thinks something's wrong with you. She doesn't believe you. She's just looking for an excuse to get rid of you.
Giles shrugged helplessly. "I hope so. All the same, maybe Faith, you should skip patrol tonight. If your mind is being influenced, you won't be at top form." Why doesn't he want you on patrol? He's up to something.
Wesley tried to sound more reassuring. "Everything will be fine, Faith. I'll come by this evening when the potion is complete."
Suddenly, terrifyingly, she knew that Wesley was planning to do something horrible to her. The council isn't happy you survived the cruciamentum. This is the second chance they've been waiting for… His betrayal stung much more than she had expected. She'd trusted him, believed he cared about her. But now she knew he had been plotting against her all this time. How could she have been so stupid?
"Are you alright?" Her watcher asked. The slayer had gone a little pale.
"Five by five," she assured him, getting control of herself. Wesley would not be getting the best of her. Definitely not. When he came over later, she'd be ready for him.
Faith paced the length of her living room, waiting for Wesley to make an appearance. Her weapons collection was spread across her coffee table. She had been cleaning it, but she had ulterior motives as well. She had to be prepared for whatever Wesley would attempt tonight. He won't be working alone. Giles will be with him. Probably backup from the council. Yes, that sounded right. They were obviously planning to hit her hard and fast. She wasn't as stupid as they thought she was. She'd be ready.
Anxiety gnawed at the pit of her stomach, and she found herself chewing at her cuticles. She wondered where Buffy was and how patrol was going. Maybe Buffy's in on this too. Faith paused her pacing. Could that be? Would Buffy do that to her? No, she decided. Buffy was a hero. A really good person. She wouldn't be plotting against Faith this way. Then she must be in danger too.
Faith's forehead beaded with sweat. That's why Giles didn't want you on patrol! He's planning to attack Buffy! Faith's hands shook at her sides. Buffy! How had she been so stupid? The other slayer was out on patrol, alone and vulnerable to the council's attack. Racing to the table, she gathered several weapons. She'd find Buffy. They'd take on the council together. You're probably too late already. Faith shook her head violently. She had to try. Charging from her apartment, she barely managed to slam the door behind her before disappearing down the hall.
Buffy staked the vampire in front of her without any of her usual fanfare. She was too worried to spend time quipping. Pocketing her stake, she turned back to her friends.
"You okay?" Willow asked, her eyes wide and sympathetic.
The slayer shook her head sadly. "I'm just worried about Faith. She practically begged me not to go on patrol tonight."
"She's really scared, huh?"
"Yeah," Buffy agreed, leading the way towards the cemetery exit.
Xander tried to reassure her. "It's gonna be okay, Buff. Will's potion will be done tonight and then Faith'll be back to her usual self."
"I hope so." Buffy couldn't shake the nagging feeling that something was wrong. She couldn't stop dwelling on her earlier conversation with Faith. She'd walked the brunette home, promising to check in after patrol. Faith had been paranoid and wanted her to skip it all together. She'd managed to extract herself from the other slayer's grip and get out of the apartment, but now she wasn't so sure she'd done the right thing. Faith was alone and obviously paranoid. She could be in trouble.
Willow placed a comforting arm around her shoulder. "Why don't we go home early and you can call her? We can go to her place so you'll be there when she takes the potion."
"Thanks, Will," Buffy smiled gratefully. "That's a good idea."
The trio entered the street, starting on the path to Buffy's house.
"Does Giles have any idea who this demon was working with?" Xander asked.
"I hate when they work together like this," Willow complained.
"Why are vampires even working with demons now?" Xander asked. "Don't they have any dignity?"
The redhead tacked on, "Vampires these days, sheesh. No integrity at all."
"Remember the good old days when they just wanted to escape mystical imprisonment and turn Sunnydale into an all you can eat buffet?"
"Those were the days," Buffy agreed wistfully.
As they neared her home, the slayer's skull started to tingle in a familiar way. "Faith's here," she said, surprised.
The friends exchanged a nervous glance. Faith had been expressly told to stay in her apartment. And from what Buffy had said, she'd been behaving erratically. The slayer charged up the walkway, her friends close at her heels.
As Buffy entered the front door, the sound of shouting drew her to the living room. Joyce sat cowering on the couch. In front of her, Faith bobbed and weaved, a gleaming knife in her hand.
"I just need to know where she is," she was telling Joyce, frantically. "They're going to kill her. Gotta save her."
"I told you," Joyce tried to remain calm. "She's patrolling."
"She's not," Faith screamed, as Buffy's mother tried to sink even further into the couch. The slayer seemed to make a conscious effort to get a hold of herself, and lowered her voice. "She's not. I couldn't find her anywhere."
"Faith," the frightened woman's voice cracked. "Please…"
The slayer stepped very close to Joyce. Her voice was low, as she considered the woman. "Did you know they were going to do something to her?"
"No!" Joyce cried, just as Buffy stepped into the doorway and said, "Faith? What's going on?"
"B!" The dark slayer turned toward her, launching herself across the room. She threw herself heavily into Buffy's arms. Immediately, she pressed her mouth against the other girl's, kissing her desperately.
Acutely aware that her mother was watching this whole scene, Buffy pulled back gently. She wrapped her arms around the shaking slayer. Over Faith's shoulder, Buffy met her mother's shocked gaze. 'It's okay,' she mouthed, as her cheeks flushed. They were in for a serious conversation later.
Faith's fingers dug into the blonde's arms as she began babbling. "The council's coming, B. They're coming for both of us. They'll kill us for sure this time. Gonna finish the job. I came to get you; gotta protect you."
Buffy nodded, trying to keep up with Faith's panicked ranting. "Okay," Buffy stroked her back reassuringly. "You found me. We're both okay."
Shaking her head wildly, Faith protested, "We have to go. We gotta run before they get here."
"It's okay, Faith. We're safe here," the blonde tried to tell her. She kept her hands on Faith, hoping she'd be able to stop any attempt at running.
Willow and Xander stepped into the room, moving closer to Joyce. Buffy noticed Willow had placed their cordless phone down on the table. She shot her a questioning look. Had the redhead called their watchers? Willow gave her an exaggerated nod, sitting down beside Joyce.
"Let's sit down for a minute, okay?" Buffy asked gently, trying to maneuver Faith's clinging form toward the loveseat.
"No!" Faith cried. "We have to go now!" She stepped out of the blonde's hold, suddenly looking at her suspiciously. "You don't want to go with me, do you?"
"Yes," Buffy replied immediately. "Of course I want to go with you."
"No," the older girl shook her head, tears rapidly filling her eyes. "You don't." Buffy doesn't want you. You already knew it. Just leave; you're making a fool of yourself.
"I do, Faith," the younger girl said sincerely. She reached for Faith, wanting to wipe the tears from her cheeks.
She's lying. "You're lying," the brunette said, slapping her hands away.
"I'm not," Buffy insisted. She desperately tried to remain calm, wondering what she could do to convince Faith, short of leaving the house.
Tears trickled down Faith's face, as she shook her head rapidly. She took another step away from the blonde. "You're lying. You don't want me anymore! I know it."
If Buffy was mortified to be having this conversation in front of her mother, she managed not to show it. "Faith," she said quietly, stepping closer and placing her hands on either side of the brunette's face. "I want you more than I've ever wanted anything." She looked deeply into Faith's eyes, willing the other girl to believe her.
The dark slayer didn't know what to trust. Her mind was finding these words hard to accept. She's lying. Why is she trying to get you to stay here? This is a trap! But somehow… she found herself questioning her own mind.
"Faith, look at me," Buffy commanded. She sensed the confusion and turmoil in the other slayer and knew it was the demon working on her.
Faith made eye contact.
"We're going to leave, okay?" Buffy's hands slid down her neck to cup her shoulders, squeezing them soothingly.
"Okay," Faith said uncertainly.
"I need to talk to my mom for a few minutes," Buffy told her. "Can you go up to my room and pack a couple things for me?"
Relief flooded Faith's body. They were leaving, together. She nodded her agreement.
"Thank you," the blonde said quietly, releasing her girlfriend. "I'll be up in a minute."
Faith all but ran upstairs to get started, and Buffy sagged slightly against the armchair.
"Wow," Xander commented in a whisper.
"Buffy," Joyce began, in a quiet, controlled voice, "what the hell is going on?"
Flushing, Buffy met her mother's eyes. "Faith was infected by a demon that's making her paranoid. She's not herself right now." She knew that didn't even begin to answer her mother's questions, but she didn't have time for more. "We can talk about the rest later," Buffy promised. "Right now, we don't have time to waste." She looked to Willow. "What did Wesley say?"
"He's on his way," the redhead assured her.
Trying to think of how to stall Faith until he got there, Buffy nodded. "Okay, I'm going up with her."
"Can you hold her until he gets here?" Xander asked.
"I have to," Buffy replied. "I just hope he gets here fast."
Leaving the living room, the slayer headed upstairs. Her bedroom door stood open. Inside, Faith frantically packed clothing and weapons. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her packing. Swords were thrown in with dresses. Mr. Gordo shared an oversized purse with one of Buffy's smaller axes. "All good with your mom?" Faith asked.
"She's upset," Buffy replied noncommittally. Stepping into the room, she moved toward Faith and drew her into a hug.
The brunette squeezed back. "You okay?"
"Why would you think I don't want you?" Buffy asked, rather than replying. It was really hard to process what was happening to Faith. She felt so sturdy in Buffy's arms. The blonde could tell the person she loved was still there; there was no denying the tenderness in Faith's touch. But she was behaving erratically and obviously fighting a losing battle with the paranoia in her own mind.
"B," Faith sighed, "we don't have time to talk about this right now."
"Well, you need to make time," the smaller slayer insisted.
Faith knew there was no time. The council would be there any minute to cart them both off. Or worse. "I don't know," she replied, hoping Buffy would let it go.
"I don't accept that." She'd been trying to stall Faith, but found her words were actually true. It hurt, seeing Faith doubt her and doubt them as a couple.
"I've just been thinking it lately," Faith admitted. "Please, B," she added desperately, "we can talk about this later."
"Faith," Buffy didn't think reasoning would work, but she had to try. "That's the demon making you think that."
The dark slayer paused, considering it. "No," she said finally. "It's not. I don't even think anything happened to me."
"What?" Buffy asked, incredulously. Faith didn't think she'd even been attacked by a demon? Downstairs, she heard the very faint sound of the front door opening.
Being less familiar with the house, Faith hadn't noticed the brief sound. "I think they were lying about that demon. They might even have sent it to the cemetery for me. It's all part of a plan they've got."
She sounded totally crazy, but Buffy pretended to agree. Knowing she didn't need to stall anymore, she said, "Maybe you're right."
Relief was obvious on Faith's face. "So can we get out of here? We don't have much time."
"Let's go," Buffy said, picking up the bag Faith had packed for her.
The brunette led the way downstairs, planning to head right out the door. As she stepped into the foyer, she detected motion in her peripheral vision.
Buffy barely had time to catch the potion as it slid from Wesley's fingers. Faith had thrown the watcher against the wall, pinning him there with her forearm against his throat. Wesley gasped for air.
"How many of you are there?" She demanded.
"Faith, let him go," Buffy ordered, tugging on the brunette's arm. Faith was out of control now, hurting Wesley. As much as she didn't want to believe it, she knew the other slayer could easily kill him if she felt threatened.
"He's here to kill us!" Faith shouted. Why didn't Buffy understand that? Faith was only trying to keep them both safe!
Buffy squeezed her arm, trying to calm her down. "He's here because Willow called him," she corrected.
Shooting a betrayed look in Buffy's direction, Faith asked, "What?" She was never on your side! She's working with them!
"He brought this," Buffy shook the potion in her hand, "for you."
"Poison!" The taller girl spat, her arm pressing harder into Wesley's throat.
"It's not," Buffy reassured her earnestly. Her worried gaze swept over Wesley's face. His skin was flushed, beginning to purple. He couldn't breathe.
Don't trust her. She called him here. She's helping them!
"Please, baby," Buffy pressed in closer to Faith, insinuating herself in front of the watcher. Faith was forced to ease the pressure of her arm or risk hurting Buffy. "Please trust me." If she couldn't get through to Faith, plan B would be to knock her out. She really didn't want to hit her girlfriend.
Faith shook her head, struggling to understand what was happening. Buffy wanted her to drink the potion. Maybe it wasn't what she thought. No! It's poison! They're trying to kill you!
Buffy kept talking, looking into Faith's eyes. "I only want to help you." She held the potion up for Faith to see. "This is going to make it better, I promise." Please let her believe me, she wished fervently.
"No," Faith protested, taking a step back now. Free, Wesley slumped down the wall, sucking in air. Willow, Xander, and Joyce stood in the doorway to the living room, watching the interaction between the slayers with concern.
Buffy stepped after the other slayer. "Just drink it, and everything will be okay."
"No," Faith protested again, starting to cry. She was so confused. Part of her mind was screaming at her to run, get the hell out of this house and away from the people who wanted to hurt her. But another part was speaking up, telling her to trust Buffy.
The blonde reached out tentatively, touching Faith's waist with her empty hand. "I promise. Everything will be fine."
Faith shook her head.
Buffy crowded into the brunette's space, slipping her arms around her. She ran her palm over Faith's hair, kissing her wet cheek gently. "I would never do anything to hurt you," she promised fiercely. "I love you."
Faith froze. Buffy had never said that before. She looked into the blonde's eyes, searching for any sign of deception there.
Buffy stared back at her with frightened, but clearly sincere, eyes.
Don't trust her! Run! You have to run! The voice in her head's screams became increasingly louder. Faith hesitated.
"Please," Buffy repeated, seeing that she was losing Faith. Her voice wavered.
Taking the bottle from Buffy, Faith uncorked it and lifted it to her lips. Over the sounds of screaming in her mind, she drank.