by Bobbi Manuel
I didn't even know how to turn on a computer back then, so I had no idea there was such a thing as fanfic, let alone "Fuffy". I thought I was some kind of genius who'd invented something new and fun, and it wasn't until I was halfway through "Barriers" that I found out that Fuffy was thriving in glorious online Technicolor all without any input from me. It was then I also realized I wasn't smart enough to cure cancer either. It's been over five years since I wrote this fic and there have been a lot of stories written before and after mine that are in a similar vein. That's why I was never going to post it, but some friends finally managed to convince me that somebody might want to read it, so here we are. It's long, but it's done and I'll be posting regularly. I hope you guys enjoy it : )
And ABC? *sigh* You win, just like always…Thank you : ) : ) : )
Author's Note #2:The story takes place after Season Six, even further along than that, but icky Season Seven never happened.
They were all laughing, Faith most of all, when it happened. She'd been out of prison for almost eleven months, and in that time she'd managed to find a home. The four years she'd spent on the inside had done a lot to her, and she was nothing like the person who had turned herself in nearly five years ago. Not by a long shot.
It had been a rough journey, especially in the beginning, and she never would have made it without Angel. She tried for a long time to push him away, but Angel would not budge. He came to see her without fail, even when she refused to see him, and he would sit waiting patiently in case she changed her mind. When visiting hours came to a close, he would leave as quietly as he'd come, always back at the very next opportunity; rinse and repeat.
Angel would not stop waiting for her and finally sick of having the guards nag her about it, Faith trudged out to show him just how unwelcome he truly was. She sat down across from him, picked up the phone on her side, then sat in silence the entire time. When the guard informed her it was time to go back to her cell, she uttered the only words she could:
"Don't fucking come back…not ever."
He was back the very next visiting day.
After several more silent visits, Faith realized the cold shoulder approach wasn't working and she changed tactics. She became cruel and abusive, saying the most insulting and hurtful things she could think of to him, but no matter what came out of her mouth, Angel never got angry or upset. He simply sat with her until the time was up and then left with a promise to return.
He was determined to see her, and it never mattered what she had said to him on their last visit. He always came back looking happy to see her again, and soon Faith was forced to resign herself to the fact that Angel could not be stopped. He was obviously going to be a part of her life, whatever that life was now, whether she wanted him to be or not, and Faith finally gave in.
She didn't understand the reason he couldn't be stopped, but Angel did, all too well. He knew exactly what she was trying to do, how she wanted to be left alone so that she could just disappear, and he understood how her guilt was trying to consume her. He knew all about the overwhelming desire to give up and sink down into the misery, never to be seen or heard from again, and he knew how hard it was to move forward to face the things that had come before.
But most of all, Angel knew just how much she needed a friend. Someone who could reach her through the darkness and despair, someone who could see the good in her and help her see it for herself. She needed someone who believed in her.
Evil was whispering to her constantly, trying its best to seduce her back into its welcoming embrace. It was calling to her day and night, hammering at her every minute with the hope that she would finally crack under the pressure, and Angel did his best to help her hang on to herself.
He talked to her as he had never talked to anyone else, telling her everything there was to know about him. He told her the unvarnished truth of his life, past and present, and he held nothing back from her, shied away from nothing. His successes and his failures, his joys and his sorrows, his good and bad deeds, he shared them all. He confessed his sins to her, as well as his fear that he would never be able to atone for all of the horrible things he'd done. But that was only part of the story.
He also shared with her all of the good he had done, all of the people he had saved, all of the bits of happiness he'd managed to find along the way. He spoke to her of the many people who had offered him their friendship and love, and how they'd given him the strength to carry on as he fought for his redemption.
As the time slowly crawled by, Faith began telling him of her own sins. She told him how the guilt was torturing her, how the pain was so intense she sometimes doubted she could live through it. Gradually she began trusting him when he told her they were in it together, that he would never leave her all alone. As more time went by she began believing in that promise…she began believing in him.
He told her she could make it, that she was strong enough to pull away from the darkness. He told her the strength and courage she needed was already inside her, and she clung to the belief he had in her like a drowning woman clinging to a life preserver. He was all she had, and she did her best to hold onto him.
She frequently asked about Cordelia and Wesley, wanting so much to find a way to make up for the damage she'd done to them, even though she knew in her heart there was no way. The pain and terror she'd inflicted upon them…There were just some things that could never be put right, no matter how much she wanted to.
Angel told her to be patient, to let time work its magic, and that piece of advice made Faith laugh. She'd never had the time for patience, and now she literally had nothing else. Time was everywhere, moving so slowly it was practically standing still all around her. Oh yeah, Faith had all kinds of time now.
It was about nine months into her incarceration when Cordelia accompanied Angel to the prison. She never said a word or even spared a glance in Faith's direction, and it was odd to say the least. But then for Faith, "odd' was now the new normal, and she took it mostly in stride, going over it later in her cell as she tried to figure out what the deal was.
She came to the conclusion that it was just the right time for Cordelia to get a look at the maniac who'd cracked her cheekbone. Maybe it gave her some kind of comfort to see that Faith really was behind bars, even though they all knew there were no bars strong enough to hold her if she didn't want to be held.
Regardless, that explanation was shot all to hell when Cordelia kept coming back, gradually making the occasional comment and letting her eyes meet Faith's and stay there. Things carried on like that for a long time until one day, Cordelia showed up on her own.
They sat in an uncomfortable silence for several long minutes while Faith struggled to gather her courage. She'd barely started on her apology before she was waved off in that imperious manner that was so unique to Cordelia Chase:
"Oh please, just save it. Talk is cheap, especially from a psycho like you. I'm thinking your actions from here on out will be your real apology. Let's see if you can manage not to kill anyone this time around and we'll go from there."
The solo visits continued regularly, and then one day it occurred to them: they actually liked each other. There was a spark between them, and they could somehow see one another clearly with very little effort. The fact that they liked what they saw was a big surprise to them both.
The bizarre situation they found themselves in only served to intensify their friendship. They had no time to waste so they cut to the chase, revealing themselves in ways they never had before. They forged a trust that soon became unbreakable, and despite the obstacles standing between them, they became friends for life.
Cordelia was an honest, some would say "harsh", person, and with Faith she made sure her words said exactly what she meant. She always told the truth whether Faith wanted to hear it or not, always giving it to her straight with no attempt to soften the blow. She simply spoke the truth and let the chips fall where they fell.
She was tough, really tough, but she was never mean. She gave Faith her honest opinion on everything, and her direct observations and assessments were always right on the money. She cut through all of the bullshit and went right to the heart of every matter, and her honesty was an enormous relief for Faith.
There was absolutely nothing secret when it came to Cordelia, she was all out in the open and Faith could relax with her because she knew there was nothing to fear, nothing lurking unseen that could hurt her. Cordelia was just Cordelia, a living example of "what you see, is what you get", and she was just what Faith needed.
Cordelia saw very quickly that Angel had been right all along: Faith was worth fighting for. There was so much good inside of her, and it was just begging to be set free. Faith had it well hidden behind the toughest mask Cordelia had ever encountered, but it didn't matter; she could see it anyway.
She could also see the lost little girl Faith tried so desperately to hide, and once Cordelia spotted her, she never lost sight of her again. Faith had so much to offer, and Cordelia was determined to help her find her way back. There was no reason not to, and she no longer really had a choice. She couldn't turn away from the person Faith truly was, she didn't even consider it an option.
She made it a priority to learn just what Faith's demons were, and she watched carefully for them to show themselves. When they tried to latch onto Faith and drag her down into the darkness, Cordelia held onto her. It wasn't always easy, but Faith always came back. Sometimes she was kicking and screaming, but she came back because Cordelia would not let her go.
Although Faith never spoke of her childhood, Cordelia could tell that it had been rough. Whatever had gone on had convinced Faith that she didn't deserve to be loved, and that was a belief Cordelia would not allow to go unchallenged. She never once hesitated to show Faith how much she loved and cared about her, and she demanded that Faith accept it.
Whenever Faith fell into one of her frequent depressions, it was Cordelia who had the most success in lifting her clear. She would simply plow ahead, knocking aside the barriers Faith tried to place in her path until she was able to grab her and pull her away from the darkness. She refused to be stopped, she was Cordelia Chase after all, and she would not let Faith give up.
She kicked Faith's ass when it needed kicking, but she always offered her understanding and concern as well. She made it undeniably clear just how much she cared and always would:
"Look, this friendship's a complete surprise to both of us, but it's here and it's real, so deal. We're stuck with each other now, and I'm good with that. It's obviously a lifelong thing, which when you consider that you're a Slayer and a convict, well, we could be looking at just moments here."
The truth of that made Faith laugh; her life expectancy wasn't exactly the longest.
"Anyway, however long it goes, let's not waste time acting like we can do anything about it. I've got enough on my plate having to see you in an orange jumpsuit or some cheap denim outfit every time I come here. Really Faith, if nothing else convinces you how I feel about you, the fact that I graciously never even comment on how hideous you look should be all the proof you need."
Their friendship was real, and like Cordelia herself, it wasn't going anywhere. She approached Faith as she did all things: deciding what it was she truly wanted, and then going after it with everything she had. She rode right into Faith's heart and she never left, bringing with her love, loyalty, and trust, the very things Faith needed the most.
They were the things Faith held close when the voices came for her at night. She would struggle to shut them out, but they had been with her nearly her entire life and would not be denied. She would pace in her cage doing her best not to listen, but no matter how hard she tried to block them out, she could always hear them.
They told her she was no good, that she had always been worthless and always would be. They told her she couldn't change, that she would always be just what she was right now and nothing more. They told her the sins she'd committed were unforgivable and that redemption was never for scum like her. They told her that her true purpose in life was to return all of the pain she'd been given, and that no one had ever cared if she lived or died and no one ever would.
She fought hard not to listen, clinging to the kindness offered to her by Angel and Cordelia. They believed in her, saw something good in her, and although Faith could not see it for herself, she held on as tightly as she could to their belief in her. Without them, she would have been gone. They were her lifelines and she hung on.
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was another matter entirely. He was afraid of Faith, and there was no getting past what she had done to him. He could neither forgive nor forget, and there was no turning off his memories of that horrible night. She'd taken something from him, something he could not get back.
She'd succeeded in breaking him, forcing him to confront things about himself that he'd had no idea existed. That night, still so incredibly vivid in his mind, haunted him. A year and a half had gone by, yet Wesley still found himself tied to a straight back chair while his whole world crumbled around him.
He could still feel her fists as she beat him, could still hear her footsteps resounding on the wooden floor as she circled him. He could still see her staring at him with eyes that were completely dead, yet somehow filled with hate and rage. He could still feel the pain as she rubbed and pressed her fingers into the wounds she'd created, could still feel her poking and prodding in all of his most tender places.
The memory of the glass was the worst. He could still hear the noise as she smashed the picture frame, then her voice:
"We'll switch to sharp for awhile."
He could still feel the agony as she cut into him, could still feel her twisting and withdrawing so slowly, he began praying for death to claim him. He still remembered how the pain struck at random intervals, how she kept her attacks irregularly timed to prevent him from accurately anticipating the next onslaught.
That strategy gave him no time to brace himself and it increased his fear, which in turn increased his pain, and it wasn't long before all Wesley had was the terror and the torment she was inflicting upon him. Everything she did was designed to hurt him as much as she possibly could, and she achieved her goal with great efficiency and ease.
He could still hear her voice, low and amused as she taunted him. He could still hear her laughing at his suffering, could still hear the delight she took in promising him even more. He could still hear her voice, containing not one shred of mercy as she gleefully yet joylessly listed out the five basic torture groups, cruelly asking him if he had a preference. He could still hear his last attempt at defiance as he felt his courage deserting him.
He could still remember every mocking word of her philosophical musings on fate and destiny, could still feel with absolute certainty within himself that he would not survive the next go around with her. He could still hear her contempt mixed with the horrifying sizzle of the cooking spray as she ignited it over and over again, bringing it ever closer to his face. He could still feel his skin heating up, a mere prelude to the pain he would be feeling all too soon.
He could still hear himself promising her that she would never hear him scream, but they both knew that was a lie. There was no way he would ever be able to stay silent, he was already on the verge of pleading for his life or his quick death. He knew pleas for mercy would only spur her on, and yet he also knew he would not be able to stop himself. The reality was quite simple: this monster had well and truly broken him.
It was all too fresh, each and every detail so clear he might as well have still been tied to the chair. He knew it was consuming him, but he had no idea how to save himself. He could find no way to move on, no way to accept the help his friends so willingly offered, and he began finishing what she'd started.
He drank himself to sleep almost every night, even though it didn't stop his dreams of her. He had trouble shaving, his hands shaking violently with the fear that he would cut himself and see the blood glistening on his face. He was slowly going under, a fact illustrated all too clearly one morning for everyone to see.
He was seated at his desk, and Angel dropped a mug. The sound of the glass shattering had Wesley lunging for the loaded gun he now kept in his side drawer. All eyes turned towards him as he smiled and lowered his weapon, struggling to keep that smile in place as he made an incredibly lame excuse that fooled no one. He turned back to his work trying his best not to shake with terror, as Angel and Cordelia exchanged worried glances. Wesley was sinking and he could not save himself.
Salvation came after a particularly brutal night. He arrived at the office looking all in because that was precisely what he was. He sat at his desk staring off into space, wishing only for one moment's peace to come his way. He was unaware that Cordelia was studying him closely.
She watched him silently for a while, then grabbed her purse and car keys as she walked over to him. She could see he was a million miles away, and her heart felt like it was breaking as she saw how much pain he was in. She knew he couldn't last much longer, so she decided to try something.
Despite the calm softness of her voice, he jumped as if she'd screamed in his ear.
"Goodness Cordelia, I'm afraid you gave me quite the start."
"Sorry about that. I was wondering if you had the time to take a ride with me."
He couldn't have been more puzzled:
"A ride? Is it truly necessary? I've a fair amount of work piling up and…"
"It's kind of life or death, Wes."
He got to his feet instantly.
"Yes, certainly I've the time. Are you quite all right?"
"Yep, it's just that I need some help. Nothing dangerous or anything like that."
He grabbed his jacket and turned off his desk lamp.
"Of course, you may rely upon my help as well as my discretion. Might I inquire as to the…"
"I'll explain on the way."
Her assurance wasn't quite truthful, and she remained less than forthcoming about their intended destination.
"Wes, just enjoy the ride and let me concentrate on getting us there, okay?"
He sat back then, more than a little apprehensive. It was all rather mysterious and somewhat off-putting, but as Cordelia so seldom asked anything of him, it made him feel a bit churlish denying her such a simple request. He decided to concentrate on the view, and to his surprise he awoke when she turned off the car.
He wasn't exactly surprised to see where they were, perhaps his subconscious had already known their true destination. The lack of engine noise left a silence that rapidly filled the car, but Wesley found that speaking was currently beyond his capabilities. Instead he stared straight ahead as he felt the fear he lived with beginning to overtake him.
Cordelia reached over to hold his hand:
"Wes, the person who did that to you doesn't exist anymore."
They sat quietly for several minutes.
"Wesley, you can do this."
"…No, I don't believe I can."
"You have to or you're not going to make it, and no way am I accepting that outcome."
Cordelia got out of the car and walked the few feet to the entrance. She placed one hand on the door, then turned back to face him. He surprised himself by walking over to her and linking his hand with hers.
She smiled, squeezing reassuringly for a second:
"It's going to be okay, I promise you."
He followed her inside, terrified as he sat down on a scuffed plastic chair to wait. The minutes seemed to drag by…and then suddenly there she was.
She was smiling at Cordelia, and he could see right away that it was a vastly different smile than the one that haunted him. This smile was warm and filled with affection. It wasn't cruel or mocking, and there wasn't the tiniest hint of danger in it. It was just the smile a friend gives to another friend, and it vanished in an instant when she saw him sitting there.
The terror his presence inspired in her was plain to see. He could tell she was shocked to see him, and he knew then that Cordelia had blindsided her too. She looked as if she might faint, and as she sat down she nearly missed her chair. Her limbs looked like they were brand new and she had yet to master how they worked.
No one did or said anything until Cordelia picked up the phone on their side of the Plexiglas. Faith sat perfectly still, staring intently at the floor, and Cordelia had to thump several times on the divider near the sign that prohibited any touching of the glass, before she would even look up. As Wesley stared at his torturer, he noticed her gaze came nowhere near him.
Cordelia continued gesturing at Faith to pick up the phone, and when she finally did, Wesley saw that her hand was shaking so badly, she had to use her other one to steady it. Before he could fully register what he was seeing, Cordelia thrust the phone into his hand. His first thought was to give it back or drop it, but then before he could move, his head was suddenly filled with a fast burning rage.
The terror that had ruled him for so long was gone, replaced by a hatred and anger he had not known he was capable of. This was the monster that had destroyed his life, and he wanted nothing more than to return to her all of the pain and fear she'd given to him. With that desire roaring through him, he somehow spotted the lone tear that leaked its way down her left cheek. The sight of it made him lift his eyes to hers and what he saw shocked him.
Her eyes were filled with a sorrow and regret that was far beyond anything he'd ever seen. Her eyes were more haunted than even his own, appearing bottomless in their guilt and pain. He'd never expected this from her, but before he could puzzle out exactly what it meant, he heard her voice.
It was not the voice he heard tormenting him every night nor was it the voice of the evil girl who'd nearly killed him. It was just Faith's voice, choked with unshed tears as she begged him:
"Wesley, please…I know I have no right…but please…please forgive me…I'm so sorry, Wesley…please forgive me…I'm sorry…Please…"
She began crying, sobbing really, and it took him back to that night in the alley when she began pleading with Angel to kill her. He had never thought about what he'd actually seen, what it had revealed, but now his mind was filled with those images, and he knew. Cordelia was right: his torturer no longer existed.
There was no one left to fear, no one left to wreak vengeance upon. There was just a lost young woman, and Wesley couldn't pretend she was anything else. It was then, right at that moment, that he was able to let go of much of his pain and terror. He could feel it as it spiraled off of him and went drifting away to die a quiet death because he no longer needed it.
He was a kind and rational man, but it still took almost a year of regular visits before he could truly forgive her. She never looked him in the eye nor did she ever laugh with him, but they were able to chat about various topics like battle strategies and fighting techniques as they both did their best to move beyond that awful night.
The problem was – that "awful night" seemed to be all they had in common and at the end of every visit Faith thanked him solemnly for coming, convinced that each time was the last time she would ever see him. He didn't know how to make it clear to her that wasn't true, so he tried instead to learn as much as he could about how her mind worked.
He learned from Cordelia just how tortured Faith was by what she had done to him. He learned about her frequent nightmares that it was happening again, and how when those times came, she would stay awake for days on end trying to avoid them.
She knew she had violated him, learning things about him she had no right to know, and Faith believed that there was no coming back from what she had done. Once not too long ago, Wesley would have agreed with her wholeheartedly, but his attitude towards her had changed dramatically over the last several months.
The more he saw of her, the more he liked her. She had a myriad of good qualities and for the first time since he'd met her, he was getting a chance to see them. As more time passed, he became fully convinced that she was nothing but sincere in her desire to make amends. He could see it in everything she did and he couldn't continue to hate her, she was someone totally different from the person she had been.
He found himself wanting to help her on her difficult journey, but he was uncertain as to what he could do. He approached it logically and he knew a big problem was that she had too much alone time. He knew it was then her mind was assailed by images best left unremembered, but how to most effectively occupy her thoughts?
One day he hit on the notion of books, and on his very next visit he brought her one of the classics. She seemed nothing but confused by the gesture:
"Uh…thanks. Not much of a reader though, so…"
"Perhaps not so far, but we both know things change. Please, just give it a chance. I believe you might enjoy it."
She couldn't deny him, so she read "Frankenstein". On his next visit they discussed it at length and much to their mutual surprise, Faith loved it.
"Nothin' like the movie. Why do ya think they fucked it up like that? Book's way cooler."
He brought her book after book, and she devoured them. They never ran out of things to talk about now, their love of good stories providing them with common ground that wasn't all pain and darkness.
To his astonishment, her insights on the classics were brilliant, and more than once she'd made him reconsider an old favorite. She eagerly awaited the next book, and the look of excitement on her face always made him laugh. His feelings about her had changed as completely as she herself had, and he liked her now and wanted to help. He could barely even remember the woman who had so traumatized him, she was nothing like Faith.
When she was finally released, Wesley greeted her as warmly as everyone else. He'd stocked her room with books and told her he was looking forward to continuing their discussions. She seemed a bit withdrawn, but he'd chalked that up to the difficult transition she was dealing with. He knew she would need time to readjust to being free again.
Everyone did what they could to make her feel welcome. Gunn and Fred liked her immediately, and they were immensely effective in getting Faith to relax. They had no past with her, so they judged her solely on who she was now, and the woman they met was smart, funny, loyal, and considerate. She also had way more than a touch of melancholy, and it brought out the protectiveness in all of them.
They could see her struggling to move forward and they could see her desire to make amends. They could also see the guilt and sadness that still ate at her, and they did what they could to ease her pain. She quickly found a place among them, and it didn't take long before it seemed as if she'd always been there.
Not to mention she could fight. Gunn and Fred had never fought beside a Slayer before, and they stood in awe of her. The speed and power she so gracefully displayed was hard to believe, but as time went by she became just "Faith". She was still amazing, but her Slayerness was simply a part of who she was, and it wasn't what any of them valued most about her.
She'd been out of prison for about five weeks when Wesley knew for sure they had a problem. Faith was still withdrawn around him, and she was also excessively cautious with him. She made sure she never touched him and she never moved suddenly when he was in the vicinity.
She would laugh and joke around with everyone except him, and apparently she was under penalty of death if caught alone with him, because she would move heaven and earth to prevent that from ever happening. But the thing that bothered him the most? She still would not look him in the eye.
He wasn't exactly sure what to do about it, but an opportunity soon presented itself. He'd come to work a bit early and found Angel and Cordelia engaged in a rather serious discussion. Faith lay sprawled on the sofa in Angel's office, clearly lost in thought.
When the two of them walked out to Cordelia's desk to examine some important documents, Faith failed to notice. Wesley knew it was his chance and he quickly placed himself next to the open door and waited.
It wasn't long before she took note of her surroundings and leapt off the couch. She hesitated when she saw his location, then headed out the door at full Slayer speed. As she flashed past, he grabbed her arm and used her momentum to spin her around until they stood face to face:
"Stop right there, Faith."
She looked scared, but she stopped. Wesley saw her eyes drop to the floor as he reached past her to close the door, isolating them even further. She flinched when he gently took her by the arm and guided her back to the couch.
"Please, would you mind sitting for a moment? We need to talk."
She sat, but her eyes began darting nervously from the closed door to the floor, and Wesley knew she was doing her best not to run. He sat down next to her and took hold of her hand, hanging on tight as she tried to pull away.
"Faith, this can't continue. I know what you've been doing, and whilst I very much appreciate the gesture, I can assure you it's most unnecessary. I've let our past go, and I am not the slightest bit concerned about being alone with you. You do not need to vacate the room just because we are its only inhabitants."
"I am not afraid of you. In fact, I'm well on my way to trusting you implicitly. I can see you've changed, it's evident in everything you do. I believe in my heart that you well deserve another chance, and I'm delighted to give it to you. I've changed too, and your skittishness only serves to remind us both of a most unpleasant past we wish to forget. We've a chance here to forge a whole new relationship, and I very much want that. You must try to forgive yourself, I've done so long ago."
"I was your Watcher, and I want you to know that I greatly admire your strength and courage. I'd very much like the honor of being considered your friend, if you'll allow it. Let's put the past firmly behind us and start all over again. Can we do that, Faith?"
She was quiet for a few long moments, and then she began to smile. She lifted her head and for the first time since that horrible night so long ago, her eyes looked directly into his. The guilt seemed to lessen as they sat looking at one another.
"I'd sure like to, Wes."
"Splendid! That's all settled then. Now, what sort of demon has Angel and Cordelia dithering about?"
"Called an I.R.S. demon."
"Oh dear, I believe those are the worst kind."
"Know for sure I'm scared."
"And that certainly doesn't bode well for us little people, does it? It's never good when a Slayer's intimidated."
"Ah, no worries. Cordy'll handle it."
They both leaned their heads back on the couch at the same time.
"Well, no fear. I'm sure something will turn up presently that's better suited to our talents. If not, we've always the option of watching Angel brood while Cordelia natters on about the latest in fashion."
They sat in silence with increasing gloom until Faith blurted out:
"That s'posed to be inspiring?"
"Not quite my best, was it? I seem to have exhausted myself on the prior discussion."
"Yeah, the prior kicked ass. Now I just feel like killin' myself."
"If it's any consolation, I'm rather wishing myself dead as well."
"Feel like grabbin' Gunn and hittin' the sewers?"
He was on his feet before she'd finished the question.
"Absolutely! May I have the crossbow?"
"All yours, Watcher. Let's motorvate."
Eleven months had gone by and Faith had found a place where she was welcome. She was a respected, well-liked member of Angel's crew, and she'd become a trusted friend to them all. They fought side by side and took care of each other, and they helped Faith stay strong, keeping her too busy to dwell on the past.
Gunn always asked her opinion on anything related to fighting, and he loved getting her to share her battle stories. He became her buddy and Fred insisted on mothering her, making sure she ate right and gave up smoking. She was incredibly gentle with Faith and Faith responded to them both with genuine affection .
Wesley continued to discuss books with her, and he was greatly impressed by the intelligence she continued to reveal. Her unique way of looking at things uncovered facets he'd never seen before, even in books he'd read many times over, and he was constantly amazed and delightedly by her remarkable insights.
As for Cordelia, she and Faith never missed a beat. They often talked the night away, sometimes laughing together for hours. They were in sync and both so comfortable with the other, it was as if they'd known each other all of their lives. They were the very definition of best friends, and they ran with it.
Angel was Faith's rock. He was there for her when her quest for redemption became so difficult, she doubted her ability to stay anywhere near the right track. He understood her struggle with the darkness, and he understood her even when she couldn't claim such knowledge for herself.
He always seemed to know what to say and when to say it, and his words helped her hold steady. They could talk about all of the heinous things they'd done, and see nothing but empathy and compassion in the eyes staring back at them. It was a blessing for them both, and that shared bond was essential in helping Faith face her past and the crimes she'd committed.
Despite her attempts to keep it hidden, everyone could see how haunted she was by her past and they did their best to give her a present to focus on. Their concern and affection made Faith feel cared about for the first time in her life, which in turn made her kind of happy…hence the laughing.
She was carrying Cordelia into the hotel, part of her punishment for breaking the heel off of one of Cordelia's brand new designer shoes. Why she'd chosen to wear them into battle had yet to be established, but no debate was needed to establish that when the Gareth demon attacked, he'd gone for Cordelia.
It was only thanks to Faith's quick and forceful shove that Cordy found herself still among the living, but she had chosen not to focus on that "small detail". Instead she had begun demanding that Faith pay her back, effective immediately. She claimed no amount of money could ever properly compensate her for her loss, so she firmly suggested that Faith work off her debt by performing various chores.
Her first task: carrying Cordelia back to the hotel.
"I'm not sure how I'll ever be able to forget the sight of my poor, poor baby dying like that. She was just four days old, and to see such a young life snuffed out like that…well, I don't think I can bear it."
Gunn was looking at her as if she'd gone insane:
"Cordy girl, you do know it was just a shoe, right?"
"Oh Gunn, you cut me to the quick. ‘Just a shoe'? No, it was more…much, much more. It was a part of me, a way classier part that goes to Hollywood premieres and owns beachfront property in Malibu. ‘Just a shoe'? Would you call the Mona Lisa ‘just a painting'?"
Angel spoke up then:
"You know I saw that not too long after I went to France, and that's exactly what I'd call it. I mean, what's the big deal? Sure it's okay, but I saw plenty of other paintings that were…"
"Oh my poor, uncultured, rather stupid vampire friend. How you've managed to survive for so long with such a pitiful appreciation of the finer things in life…Never mind, we have no time for such meanderings. Back to what's important: the blatant destruction of my beloved baby. Faith, I ask of you, how could you do this to me? Why ever would you treat me so?"
Faith barely even glanced at her:
"Figured it was your head or your shoe."
"I see. Poor decision making skills, it's so sad."
Cordelia's hand went up to her forehead:
"I believe I may be getting the vapors. Please carry me directly to my room and there I shall rest while you draw me a scented bath."
"Fuck, maybe you did take one to the head."
"Please Faith, we will speak of it no more. I hope after my bath, a long lunch at a restaurant of my choosing and on you of course, will set me firmly upon a healing path. Recovering from such a grievous blow will be a long journey, but I've no doubt your devoted servitude will be an immense comfort to me in the upcoming months."
She punctuated the end of her monologue with a great sigh as she snuggled her head into Faith's chest. Faith looked at her for a beat, then at the rest of the gang:
"What do ya guys think? Do I drown her in the tub?"
Cordelia answered before anyone else could, and although her voice was muffled from her close proximity to Faith's leather jacket, her "pain" came through loud and clear:
"You may as well…sniff, sniff…My life has lost all purpose now."
"Ooh, does this mean we get to have lunch at…"
Cordelia's head lifted slightly:
"No Fred, pain this severe requires much more than tacos."
They were all laughing, Faith most of all when it happened. They entered the lobby and the whole world changed in an instant.
Buffy Summers stood there facing the lobby doors, saying nothing at all. Cordelia immediately felt the tension that suddenly turned Faith's body into stone, and she looked up to see what the danger was.
Buffy was looking more unfriendly than Cordelia had ever seen her look, and she'd seen plenty of unfriendly Buffy in her day.
Murmured so softly, only Faith had any chance of hearing it.
The laughter had stopped abruptly, Buffy's silence dampening it so completely, not even an echo remained behind. Her very stillness seemed somehow ominous, and its effect froze everyone in place.
No one moved or spoke until Angel strode forward to wrap Buffy in a warm and friendly embrace. His enthusiasm wasn't returned, in fact Buffy's arms never even left her side.
He released her and took a step back, a smile valiantly clinging to his face:
"It's good to see you, Buffy. How are you?"
"I'm fine. My, everyone here looks so happy. How nice."
Her tone left no doubt that she wasn't at all sincere, but Angel pretended not to notice.
"Yeah, we're all doing good. So what brings you to L.A.? Trouble in Sunnydale?"
Her smile did not reach her eyes:
"I'm here to speak to Faith. I would have been here sooner, but it seems no one told me that a homicidal maniac was back in our midst."
Cordelia felt Faith flinch, and she noticed Buffy's laser stare had never once left her.
Faith looked sick, Buffy looked like the Slayer, and everyone else looked at a loss. Angel was still heroically trying to distract Buffy:
"Well great, let's get you all settled in, make you something to eat. I'm glad you're here, Wes can show you the new database he and Fred have been…"
"I'm not staying. I'm here to talk to Faith."
Again Cordelia felt Faith flinch, and she knew this was a complete nightmare. Even in the best of scenarios this reunion would be painful, and this was nowhere near the ‘best". This was the scenario from Hell, and Cordelia was wracking her brain for some way to help. She was coming up absolutely empty.
Buffy looked nothing but dangerous and Cordelia was afraid. She knew what Faith felt for Buffy, lots of prison conversations and late night talks had made that crystal clear, and she also knew this confrontation was going to hurt Faith. There didn't seem to be any way she could stop it; the Slayers were locked into an awful dance, and it was apparent that no one else could cut in.
Angel also knew how Faith felt about Buffy, even though no one had told him. He could see how angry Buffy was, and he knew just how badly this meeting was going to play out. Faith wasn't ready, she was nowhere near ready, and she needed to be a lot stronger before this showdown occurred.
So far they'd been able to pretend that Buffy didn't exist, and although he'd known that couldn't last forever, he'd been hoping for at least a little more time before reality came storming into their lives. Well, none of that mattered now because Buffy was in the hotel, and he knew at a glance there was no stopping her.
She was hurt and she was angry, never a good mix, and throw in the determination he could practically see vibrating through her…He knew there wasn't a worse combination anywhere in the world. He thought of demanding that she speak with him privately, but she was so furious with him, he was positive that would only make things worse.
Gunn and Fred were ill at ease and confused by the hostility emanating from Buffy. Every other time they'd come into contact with her, she'd been friendly and easy to talk to. They'd both liked her immensely, but that girl was not the one now standing in front of them.
This woman was incredibly intimidating, flat-out scary, and neither could understand the reason for the change. But when Charles and Fred stepped up to stand beside Faith, Buffy's gaze momentarily flickered over them. That was all it took, they knew who they were looking at now: this was The Slayer.
Wesley was practically sputtering as he ineffectually did his best to gain Buffy's attention, but she never even spared him a glance. Her eyes were for Faith only, even though it was quite clear that Faith wanted no part of them. She still hadn't made a sound and she looked just plain scared.
Cordelia was still searching every nook and cranny of her brain for a way to stop what was obviously going to be a train wreck, but she still had nothing. It was happening, and it was happening now. There was no way to stop it, and they all knew it.
Angel's last idea was to knock Buffy unconscious, but as soon as that thought came, it left. As angry as she was, he knew if he tried anything he'd most likely find himself a bloody pulp in mere moments. He wouldn't be able to catch her by surprise, she moved whenever he did, making sure not to let him get behind her.
He began trying to reassure himself in his own mind:
**Maybe Faith can handle this. Maybe she's stronger when it comes to Buffy than I'm giving her credit for……Right, that's why she looks like that. God, this is a disaster.**
"Faith, are we doing this here or someplace else?"
Faith knew that tone, not that she needed to hear it to know why Buffy was paying her a visit. She was under no illusions that Buffy had dropped by to be her new best friend, and she knew she deserved whatever was going to happen next. She made herself stand there, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't quite look Buffy in the eye:
"Uh…yeah, B…Buffy. We can…we can go…some…"
Angel stepped between them:
"Buffy, I understand that you're angry, but I think you and I need to talk first."
Buffy's eyes traveled upward slowly until they met his:
"Get out of my way."
Angel didn't move, although every instinct in his body was telling him to.
"Buffy, if you'd just calm…"
"I'm not asking you again."
Faith quickly lowered Cordelia to the floor and rushed over to Angel. She grabbed onto his forearm, and he could feel her trembling slightly:
"It's okay, Angel. Just step aside."
He didn't move or even look at her, his gaze trained fiercely on Buffy as he tried again:
"Buffy, you don't need to do this. Just let me talk to you first."
She said nothing, and Faith slid around him, both of her hands on his:
"Angel, come on. Gotta step aside now."
He looked at her and then back to Buffy, his eyes begging her to relent.
There was still no response and Angel knew he was going to have to fight her. He didn't want to, but he couldn't just let her…
"Soulboy, please don't do this. Just step aside, please. It's okay."
Faith's tone was outright pleading now, and he could only do what she asked. He stepped aside.
Her hands briefly squeezed his before she let go and turned to face Buffy:
"Let's go out h…here."
Cursing herself for the break in her voice, she led the way. She went out the French doors, hung a left and descended the stairs into the small courtyard below. She knew it was going to get physical and she didn't want anyone to interfere. Buffy had every right to do whatever she was going to do, and Faith wasn't going to try and stop her.
She didn't want anyone else to either, so she kept going until they were out of sight and she couldn't go any further. She stared at the wall for a few moments, took a deep breath and then slowly turned around.
They stood in silence for what seemed like forever, and then Buffy smiled. The sight wasn't reassuring and Faith fought to stand still.
"So living large, are you?"
Buffy was calm, and Faith knew that meant an explosion was coming.
"…Uh…everybody's been really…nice."
"Gee, that's so great, Faith."
Then there was only the silence again as Buffy's eyes bored a hole right through her. Finally the tension got to Faith:
"B…Buffy…I know I don't deserve to be happy, I get it, and I haven't forgotten one thing I did. If I could change it somehow I would, but all I can do now is say I'm sor…"
Buffy moved so fast Faith barely even saw her coming, but she did feel the hand around her throat and the pain radiating down her back as Buffy slammed her hard into the concrete wall.
"You crazy bitch. What did I tell you about apologizing to me?"
Buffy pulled her forward, then smashed her even harder into the wall. Two small chunks of concrete fell to the ground at the impact and Buffy's hand tightened, not quite cutting off Faith's air supply, but making her struggle for it.
"Shut up! I'm here for one reason: to tell you to stay away from Sunnydale. If I see you there, I'm going to finish what you started. They may buy your act here, but I know better. If you come anywhere near anyone I love, I won't hesitate to protect them. Don't test me Faith, I promise you won't like the results."
She squeezed off her air completely for several terrifying seconds, then flung Faith to the ground as she let go. Buffy's gaze was full of loathing and menace as she stood staring down.
Faith's throat hurt, but she struggled to speak anyway:
"Stay away from my town."
With one last look of pure revulsion, Buffy turned and walked away. Faith stared after her until she was out of sight, then laid her head on her drawn up knees as the tears began to fall.
Five weeks. Five weeks since Buffy had come and gone, and five weeks since Faith had retreated. It was bad, just as bad as Angel had feared it would be, and he couldn't reach her. None of them could. She'd gone back to a place Angel hated, one she hadn't visited in a long time, and she'd closed the door firmly behind her.
There wasn't room for anyone else where she was and it was so dangerous for her with only the darkness to keep her company. He knew it would be after her again with everything it had, and he was afraid for her. In fact, he was beginning to panic.
She looked awful. Her eyes were dull and guarded, they looked almost dead. She never laughed or even smiled anymore, and she had no interest in anything. She was all business now, and each day saw her retreating even further into her solitude.
No matter what he tried, she would not talk, shutting him down without even breaking a sweat. He heard her pacing for hours every night, and he knew she was falling. It was as if her light had gone out and no one could turn it back on, at least no one in L.A..
The situation was becoming desperate and Angel was all out of ideas. He felt helpless, not a feeling he enjoyed, especially when it involved someone he loved as much as he loved Faith.
They were kindred souls and she made him feel less alone in the world. Her kindness and compassion were always at the ready, especially when it came to him, and he loved her spirit, her strength, and her desire to make amends. She was a loyal friend, someone who would do anything for him and it was killing him that he couldn't figure out how to return the favor.
She didn't think he knew, but of course he did. He was an expert when it came to loving Buffy, and he'd seen all the signs in Faith a long time ago. She tried to hide it, she'd always tried to hide it, but to another smitten Buffy lover it was all too obvious.
Faith was head over heels in love and Angel believed that Buffy would return that love if given half a chance. He knew Buffy, knew the way her heart worked, and he could feel the passion that moved through her whenever she was near Faith. He'd felt it years ago in Sunnydale, and he'd felt it even more strongly five weeks ago.
Angel had been around for a long time, and he knew the intensity between the Slayers was rare and could really only mean one thing: they loved each other. He believed they would never be able to find true happiness until they resolved the situation between them and faced up to their feelings. He was positive about that, it was just that he wasn't exactly sure what he could do to help.
He wanted to talk to Faith, but she had cut off that option most effectively. It was hard to deal with because they always talked about everything, well, except for the Slayer-sized elephant in the room, and Angel missed Faith. The "Buffy" topic was something she had never once even hinted at, and he knew that was because she didn't want to hurt him.
In a way she was right; it did hurt to think that Buffy would never be his. He still loved her, he always would, but he knew now that they weren't meant to be together. His curse, her calling, and the lives they'd been forced to lead had separated them all too effectively.
As the years went by, they'd both changed dramatically and he knew without any doubt that he could no longer give her what she needed. He didn't have the first clue what that was anymore, and as time marched on, he realized he never had.
Buffy was no longer an unsure girl struggling against her destiny, she was now a mature, confident woman who knew who she was. She was The Slayer, and her acceptance of that had given her some small measure of peace. She understood her calling now, and she accepted it as what she was born to do.
He didn't fit in her world anymore, and he didn't belong at her side as her lover. They were friends, devoted and lifelong friends who cherished and adored each other, but that was all. There would always be love between them, their bond was unbreakable, but they both understood that their great romance was over.
She would always be special to him, how could it be otherwise? She was Buffy, the woman who had saved him and given him his purpose in life. She was also the finest person he'd ever known, and although he would always love her, he knew her path led to someone else now.
The fact that Faith was that person only made him happy. They were perfect for each other and…His hand slammed down on the arm of his chair. Why couldn't Buffy see anything?
He knew that wasn't really true. Buffy saw plenty of things, just not the right ones, and at the moment all she could see was the pain of the past. By staring so intently at that, she was missing the joy that was waiting ahead for her. All she had to do was let it in.
As he sat morosely at his desk, he heard Cordelia walking up the stairs. He glanced at the clock, and saw it read "10:00 p.m.", precisely the time Cordelia had said she was going to make her move:
"Angel, we've got to do something. She's slipping away."
"I know that, Cordy, but I don't know what else to do."
"Well, I'm not putting up with this anymore. She broods all day and night, you brood all night and day, and I'm caught in the middle. I've had enough of this."
He stood up then, his desk chair slamming back against the wall:
"'You've' had enough of this?"
He stalked over to her, his anger all too apparent:
"Well I've had enough too, but we need more than that! We need a plan, something that will…"
"I'm going to talk to her."
"I said 'I'm going to talk to her'. If you'd stop shouting, you might be able to hear me."
He stood looking at her before he went back to his desk.
"Angel, there's no sense in us being delicate anymore. We've given her space and all she's done with it is take herself further away from us. I'm going to talk to her."
His response was laced with sarcasm and frustration:
"Gee, great idea Cordy, but since she's already locked herself in her room for the night, how do you propose to…"
Now it was Cordelia's temper that flared as she looked at him like he was the dumbest man on Earth:
"God Angel, I'm going to talk to her whether she wants me to or not! Just stay down here out of the way so you don't screw everything up!"
He wouldn't hesitate to give his life to save either girl, and it just didn't get any more unique than that…except all of that could now apply to Spike as well…No, not quite. Spike would only give his life for one Slayer, Angel still had him beat.
Cordelia had finally reached her destination and Angel went to stand at the foot of the stairs. The noise she was making just by knocking was incredibly loud, and when there was no response, the noise increased in both volume and frequency. A smile began making its way across his face and he could feel his worry beginning to fade away. Cordelia Chase was on the job; enough said.
Faith ignored the knocking at first, hoping whoever it was would think she was out on the town or fast asleep. Her hopes were quickly dashed because whoever it was couldn't get a clue, and the sound was starting to annoy her. She took another belt from the bottle in her lap and waited, but it soon became apparent that whoever it was wasn't leaving any time soon.
In fact, they were getting louder and even more annoying, so with a resigned sigh, Faith stood up from her window spot on the radiator, put her bottle of whiskey down carefully as she passed the small table next to her chair, and walked over to open the door.
She was hoping it wasn't an emergency; she didn't feel like saving anyone tonight…not even herself.
Cordelia tried to enter the room, but Faith didn't move.
"Yes, I need to come in."
"Doing what, may I ask?"
"Listen Cordelia, I'm beat, so…"
"Faith, move your stupid butt out of my way."
Cordelia shoved as hard as she could, but Faith still didn't budge.
"I'm not kidding! Move!"
"Let's do it tomorrow, yeah?"
"I swear to God, Faith…if you don't let me in…"
Their eyes met, and after a few intense seconds, it was clear who had won. Faith stepped back.
"Okay, you're in. Make it fast, because…"
"Because I'm throwing you off your "stumble around drunk all night" schedule?"
Faith sighed tiredly:
"I don't wanna get into this now."
"Okay, so when's a good time?"
Faith stared down at the carpet, her voice coming out dangerously quiet:
"Let ya know."
"How about I let you know? It's right this second, Faith."
"We need to talk."
Cordelia walked around in front of her, trying in vain to make Faith look at her:
"About 'Little Miss Sunnydale'."
"I don't need to talk about her."
Faith started pacing:
"No, I really fuckin' don't. You wanna talk about her so bad? Go find Angel, sure he's up for it like always."
Cordelia grabbed her by the arm as she tried to stride past:
"Faith, stop. I know what this is, okay?"
Faith yanked her arm loose looking like she wanted to hit something, but instead she just sat down in the chair.
"Yeah? What is it, Cordelia?"
"It's another 'Buffy Summers Hit and Run'. God, I don't get how she does it. She makes the hottest people fall for her, then saunters off leaving your broken hearts all squished and bleeding in the dirt."
"What are you, deaf? I just said it's not."
Faith grabbed the whiskey and took a long drink. When she was done, she slammed the bottle back down onto the table and glared defiantly, her mask firmly in place.
"I understand why you don't want to deal with this, but you have to. Since she's left, you've started slipping and…"
Faith slowly rose from her chair, her eyes cold, a smirk on her face as she crowded into Cordelia's personal space. Everything about her screamed out danger:
"What the fuck's that s'posed to mean?"
Cordelia didn't back down an inch:
"Well, let's start with what you're doing right now. You're trying to scare me, something that would normally piss me off, but at the moment it's so ridiculous, it's all I can do not to laugh in your face."
Faith blew out a frustrated breath and backed off. She flopped down on her bed, hoping against hope that Cordelia would take that as her dismissal sign, but it only made her walk over to the bed.
"Cordelia, just get out of here, okay? I'm not in the mood for…"
She completely ignored Faith, carrying on as if there'd been no interruption:
"Besides playing 'Scary Slayer', you're not talking, you're doing your best to drink yourself to sleep every night, and you're smoking again non-stop even though you promised Fred you wouldn't. You're constantly throwing yourself into dangerous situations without thinking…or maybe you are thinking, which brings up a whole new set of problems. You never make eye contact which is always a dead giveaway that…"
"Alright! What's your fucking point?"
"My fucking point is simple: It's just me, Faith. Talk to me."
Faith glared stonily at the ceiling, saying nothing and Cordelia lay down next to her on the bed.
"…When's the last time you changed these sheets?"
"You know, fresh sheets. Basic hygiene?"
"Fuck you, changed'em like two days ago."
"Did you put clean ones on or were they…"
"Of course they were clean! Jesus, ya think I'm a slob or somethin'?"
When Faith flung her arm out angrily, Cordelia rolled over, placing her head on Faith's shoulder as she snuggled in and gave her a sneaky hug.
Faith let her arm wrap around Cordelia's shoulders and neither moved for several minutes. When she finally spoke, Faith's voice was barely louder than a whisper:
"It's just…Cordy, she hates my guts."
"And this is some big surprise?"
"No, it's…I knew she did, how could she not? Guess I was just hopin', ya know?"
"I get that. Listen, I've known Buffy a long time, want my two cents?"
That got a small laugh out of Faith:
"Cor, you can't give less than a dollar."
Cordelia slapped her lightly on the stomach before continuing:
"Buffy trusted you and you made her feel like a victim, remember? She's not going to just forgive that, you're going to have to make her."
"'Make her'? You can't make somebody…"
"Well, it won't be easy, that's for sure. But if you want her forgiveness, I think you're going to have to fight her for it. And good luck with that because she's got her high and mighty 'Slayer' shield up and that's going to make her an even bigger bitch to get past."
"But Cordy, I can't force B to…"
Cordelia sat up and took hold of Faith's hand:
"Faith, I know you love her and I know you're devastated. That means it all comes down to a choice."
"The first choice is that you let her go and stay here."
"I think it is. You can just stay in L.A. and fight the good fight with friends who love you. You'll never be whole, but it would be a good life, Faith. A happy life, as much as it could be."
"Yeah, I do love it here."
"The second choice is you go after her and maybe get yourself killed. That way's pretty much nothing but pain and humiliation, but there is a tiny chance you might succeed."
Cordelia stood and stretched, then walked around to Faith's side of the bed:
"It's your decision to make, but as your friend I have to tell you: If I had someone I loved as much as you love Buffy, I'd have to go for it. I won't think less of you if don't though. I mean, you'd have to be a total idiot to head back to Sunnydale."
"Think about it, Faith, but for God's sake hurry up. You're driving me crazy."
And with that said, Cordelia walked out, leaving Faith alone with her thoughts.
Was there even a choice? Buffy wouldn't really kill her, at least Faith was pretty sure she wouldn't, but then she was under no illusions either. Buffy would most definitely make her pay if she dared to show her face in Sunnydale, and for what? Regaining Buffy's friendship probably wasn't even possible.
Well it certainly wasn't possible from L.A., that was something she knew without a doubt. She had to be where Buffy was to have an actual shot at turning things around, but the problem there was that she could already feel herself cringing just thinking about the hatred and disgust she'd seen in Buffy's eyes. How could she face that again?
But then, when she thought about it, what did it matter? She kept seeing that look every day in her mind anyway, and she knew she couldn't live knowing that Buffy hated her. It hurt too much whether she was seeing it firsthand or not. She needed Buffy to forgive her and hiding out at the hotel didn't change that fact, nor did it change the reality that Buffy was holding onto a major grudge no matter where she was.
The more Faith thought about it, the more hopeless it all seemed; Buffy was always going to hate her, and it was clear that she should just stay in L.A. and count her blessings. She had a purpose in life, a place to be where she was welcome, where she was cared about, a place filled with people who liked her and wanted her around. Cordelia was right: it could be a good life, a really good life that Faith knew she could live out with a lot of happiness.
But she also knew as she stared up at the ceiling that she was just kidding herself. She couldn't forget, she couldn't let go, she couldn't pretend it would ever really be enough for her. The story couldn't just end where it was because this ending sucked, and Faith needed way more if she was going to survive.
She had to try, she had to go back to Sunnydale. It was a fucking nightmare, but there it was: right out in the open, all down to brass tacks. She couldn't let Buffy go because she loved her, plain and…well, plain and all fucked up.
Faith didn't expect it to go right. She knew the deck was stacked against her, but she also knew she had to make the effort. If she just let Buffy go without trying to make amends, she would never be able to look at herself in the mirror again, and that was already a hard enough task as it was.
And just like that, her choice was chosen and she knew it was the right one, the only one. She rolled over and sat up, her feet banging solidly on the floor.
"Just fucking terrific."
He'd always known this day would come, and here it was. No matter how well it had gone, he knew Faith couldn't stay with them, that someday she would have to return to her heart…and he knew that heart was Buffy.
It had always been Buffy and it always would be for Faith. That was something he could understand. Buffy was the one who had put them both on the path to redemption, her light shining so brightly that once they saw it, they could not look away. Lost in the darkness, it was Buffy who had offered them hope and light, making them believe that there was still something left inside of them that was worth saving.
He'd always known Faith would finally have to leave and head back to Buffy. For her, Buffy was the sun and she would never be able to truly break away from her pull. He understood completely what that pull felt like, and he knew just how impossible it could be to resist Buffy's heat.
But he was afraid for Faith. Could she get close to Buffy and not be consumed by the fire? Buffy could be her salvation and yet she could just as surely be her destruction, burning Faith right back into the depths she'd so recently fought her way out of. If that happened, Faith would be gone forever. She would be beyond anyone's reach, and she would never return. He knew that, and Faith knew it too.
But love? Well, love knew only one thing and that was the beating of a heart, even if that heart had quit beating a long time ago. Faith's heart beat only for Buffy, and he knew that no matter what, it always would. There was no way to ever change that, there was nothing that would ever make it any different .
The time Faith had spent in L.A. searching for redemption had only delayed the
Even with that knowledge, Faith still had no choice but to go to her. It was the only thing she could do, the only place she needed to be, and nothing could ever change that either. Her place was with Buffy or it was nowhere at all.
He understood it much too well: it was live or die time for Faith. He prayed that Buffy could be made to see it because if Faith didn't survive, they would both be lost. They were linked, and if one fell, the other would follow. He knew if that happened he wouldn't be able to bear it; they meant too much to him.
And yet despite all of that, or maybe because of it, Faith had to go. It was time. She could no longer avoid it or pretend it didn't exist. Their chance was here and they had to take it.
He pulled her close, feeling more useless than he ever had before. He couldn't help her, no one could, and he wanted to hold her where she was forever if that's what it took to keep her safe.
He kissed her gently on the forehead and turned her loose, smiling so the tears wouldn't come. He felt so damn helpless, but what else could he do?
He said it softly, and with a last look she was gone.
Back in good old Sunnydale. Fuck, she knew she really must be nuts. She'd returned to seek forgiveness from Buffy Anne Summers, and oh yeah, was this ever going to go well.
She was thinking maybe she should just stay in her room, no sense in actually seeing Buffy…Yep, she was truly out of her fucking mind.
"Bye, Angel. Bye, Cordy. Bye-bye, Wes. See ya, Fred. Hang tough, Gunn. I'm off to see my good pals in Sunny D."
She needed a drink or ten. That was a really great idea because showing up at Buffy's hammered, that would really impress the hell out of her.
"What in the fuck am I fucking doing?"
She took in a deep breath, let it out slowly and stood up. No time like the present was how the saying went, so Faith decided to get going. There was no point in just cowering in a corner waiting for Buffy to find her and beat her into a bloody pulp. She might as well walk to the executioner with some guts and class.
Off she went into the night, figuring she might as well get in a little patrolling along the way. The only problem with that plan was that it was two in the afternoon, and that realization had her talking to herself again:
"Fuck, maybe I'm havin' a stroke. Is that one of the signs? Maybe I oughta lay down, 'stead of marchin' like a wooden soldier over to Revello. Gotta figure havin'one of them guys in a lifetime oughta be enough for even her. Yeah, check it out: I might be dyin' here, but I'm makin' witty jokes right to the end. B's sure gonna laugh and laugh when I bring up Riley. That's just the kinda thing that'll really break the ice."
She managed to make herself stop talking, but inside her head her thoughts still made themselves known:
**Jesus, what the hell am I doing? I need to stop now…Just turn right the fuck around and head back to L.A.. This isn't gonna work, I'm gonna get my ass handed to me in pieces. Gotta stop and turn my crazy ass around…**
Her feet just kept moving, strolling along as they carried her to her death without listening to a word she said. She couldn't make them stop no matter how hard she tried.
"I am so screwed."
She opened the front door to see Faith standing there looking incredibly nervous, but still standing there nonetheless. Although Buffy couldn't quite believe what she was looking at, she recovered quickly:
"And here I was so sure I'd made myself clear."
Faith stood still, unable to speak.
"That's fine though, because I'm always happy to clarify things for you."
Buffy stepped outside, closing the door behind her, her eyes never once leaving Faith's. Faith struggled to hold her ground as she approached, but Buffy shoved her back, right to the edge of the steps. They stood staring wordlessly and then Buffy shoved her again.
This time Faith landed hard on the sidewalk, but before she could get back to her feet on her own, Buffy jerked her up by her shirt front. Faith instinctively started to break loose, then stopped herself.
"Oh please, Faith, make a move."
"I…I just wanna talk."
"Buffy, just let me…"
Buffy pulled tighter, her face showing nothing but a cold hatred as Faith's shirt twisted uncomfortably around her neck.
"I know it's a big complex word for you, but 'no' means no. Not now, not ever."
"Not here to hurt anybody, B."
"Not gonna get the chance, F."
Buffy shoved Faith away from her, making her stagger and fight to stay on her feet.
"All I want's to talk to you."
Buffy laughed, but there was nothing funny about it:
"Well sorry, but we're going to do what I want do, and what I want is you out of my town..now."
"I can't go anywhere 'til…"
Buffy pulled a knife from behind her back, and Faith couldn't help but retreat a few steps.
"What's the matter, F? Bad memories?"
Faith's eyes were riveted on the weapon, a small sheen of sweat breaking out on her forehead.
"Ooh, you're backing up all scared. That's probably the first smart thing you've done in years."
Faith swallowed hard and made herself peel her stare from the gleaming blade to meet Buffy's eyes. The gaze that met hers was as deadly as the knife.
"Leave here now and don't ever come back."
"Buffy, I just wanna…"
Buffy's smile was cold:
"I don't give a damn what you 'wanna'. You're wasting my time and trying my patience."
"I get you're mad, okay, but…"
Buffy moved closer, the bright sunshine catching the razor sharp blade just so.
"You're nothing to me, just a piece of unfinished business I should have taken care of long ago."
Buffy laughed, the sound all bitterness and hate:
Buffy went back up the stairs, then stood staring at Faith from the doorway:
"Get out of Sunnydale and stay out."
With a last contemptuous glance, she closed and locked the door.
Faith stood where she was for a few minutes, then turned and began the long trek back to her motel room. Oh yeah, she was off to a great start.
Faith did her best to keep a low profile over the course of the next few days, but it wasn't easy to do. She had to avoid Buffy as well as all of the Scoobies, and it was obvious that they were keeping their eyes peeled for any sign of her. She'd almost been caught a couple of times and had to use all of her skills to stay out of sight.
The smart thing would have been for her to stay inside for awhile and let things cool off, but Faith had to patrol. She needed to release some of the tension she was feeling, and there was no better way for her to do it.
She was as careful as she could be, first figuring out Buffy's route, then placing herself as far away as possible. It was risky though, because Buffy had to be unpredictable when patrolling. Demons could figure out routines too, and the smarter ones tried to steer clear of her as well. She often started off in one place, then suddenly appeared somewhere else in a terrifying surprise to demon and fellow Slayer alike.
It was on the fifth night that Faith's game of hide and seek came to an abrupt end. She had just dusted Vamp # 4 when she felt the familiar tingle. Hoping against hope that it was just another bad guy looking for a fight, she spun knowing full well who she was going to see.
Buffy didn't move. She stood there like a Slayer gazing at a wounded vampire, and Faith knew at a glance she was in real trouble.
"Wait B, I swear I'm not here to cause any trouble. I've had a lot of time to think and…"
"I don't care."
Faith's frustration came out as a question:
"Really gonna make it better if we fight?"
"Let's find out."
Buffy rushed at her with a speed fueled by an all consuming fury and Faith braced herself. She kept her arms down, refusing to even raise her hands into a defensive position as she stood there waiting for the impact.
Buffy hit her with everything she had and it wasn't pretty. It took a couple of minutes before she noticed that Faith wasn't defending herself:
Buffy pulled her off the ground and hit her in the stomach. They both heard the cracking noise.
"Fight back, damn you!"
Buffy's fist connected with Faith's cheekbone, and blood sprayed as she went down again. Buffy advanced on her quickly as she lay sprawled on the ground.
"Not doin'…this, B."
Buffy grabbed her by her jacket and hauled her to her feet:
"Well I am..."
Buffy delivered a blow that lifted Faith into the air, and she couldn't stop the groan that escaped as she landed in a heap on the hard dirt.
"…so you'd better defend yourself."
Buffy pulled her up, their faces inches apart.
"Then you're going to die."
Faith said nothing and Buffy hit her again. Faith felt two more ribs break as she smashed into a tombstone, and Buffy was on her, pulling her upright.
"Fight me, Faith!"
Buffy slapped her:
Buffy threw her down roughly, and let out a scream of pure frustration. Faith struggled to stand, and when she found she couldn't, she sat back heavily on the ground. Buffy began pacing back and forth in front of her, looking furious.
"Goddamn you, Faith."
Neither girl spoke until Buffy stopped in front of her:
Faith's head snapped up to look at her:
"Because I know I can't take it back…but I have to try, B. I'll do whatever you want me to…but please…don't ask me to walk away. That's the one thing…I can't do. I gotta try, Buffy, please…just give me the chance."
"I meant: why did you do it?"
"Answer me, Faith."
Buffy's wall practically reinforced itself as Faith watched.
"Didn't you just say you'd do whatever I want?"
Faith felt trapped, what answer could she give? The truth was unfortunately not an option and she didn't want to lie.
"Well, what I want is the answer to my question."
"It's…it's not…I mean…I…"
"So despite all of this agonized soul searching you supposedly did, you never thought about 'why'?"
"I…of course I did."
Buffy's smile was mocking:
"Great, so then what's the explanation?"
"I was…I went crazy and did crazy things."
"Yeah, I know that. I was there, remember? Sitting front row center while you tried to destroy me. The question I want answered now is 'why'?"
"B, look…it's not the right time for this."
Buffy laughed then, the sound sending a chill down Faith's spine.
"Really? When will it be the right time, Faith? When you carve up Willow and choke Xander for real this time? Will you have an answer for me when you murder Giles and Dawn? No? How about while you're torturing me to death?"
"That's…None of that's gonna happen. I've changed and I'd never hurt…"
"Yeah, so you keep saying, but you know what? I don't see any difference at all. You're still a liar and a coward, and I still can't get a straight answer from you. 'New' Faith seems just like 'Old' Faith to me."
Faith struggled, just barely managing to stand.
"So what's the game this time, Faith?"
"There's no game, I swear. I'm just…"
"You 'swear'? Boy, is that ever a relief! I mean, of course your track record speaks for itself and if you give me your word on something, well, gee whiz, Faith, that's all I need."
"What, no snappy comeback?"
"Hard to be a smartass about the truth."
Buffy looked her up and down, and her eyes glittering in the pale moonlight:
"I don't trust you. I don't like you. I don't believe one word that comes out of your mouth. I'm not sorry I hit you, in fact I'm very much looking forward to doing it again. You say you're here to make amends? Fantastic. But when this turns out to be another one of your stunts, I'm going to be right here and I'm going to make you pay. When you step out of line even one inch, I'm going to make you wish you were dead. And, Faith?"
She waited until Faith's eyes met hers:
"If you hurt anyone I love, I'll kill you. Are we clear?"
Faith called to check in, keeping the promise she'd made to Angel. The hour was late, it had taken her a long time to hobble back to the motel, but it didn't matter. Angel would be awake, that was one of the upsides to being friends with a vampire.
He answered on the second ring:
"Still in one piece?"
"Yeah, everything's still attached."
He laughed, but she could hear the worry in his voice.
"Buffy couldn't have made it easy."
"She s'posed to?"
"No, but would've been nice for you."
"Pretty sure that's not her priority."
She gasped slightly as she shifted position on the bed and he waited until she'd settled.
"So how bad?"
"No. She's the fuckin' Slayer, Angel."
He laughed again, but the worry was still there.
"She's also a forgiving person, but you're going to have to work for it."
"Yeah, well, pretty sure that's my new full-time job."
"She'll come around, Faith."
"Good to get an expert opinion. Gotta go rest now, she pounded the piss outta me."
"Okay…Take care of yourself and stay in touch. Promise?"
"Give ya my word."
"That's all I need."
It was her turn to laugh and Angel was totally confused:
"Did I say something funny?"
"Nah, just me. Tell Cordy an idiot in Sunny D says: 'Hi'."
"I will. You hang tough, Faith."
She missed him the second she hung up.
She stared around the room wondering what she was doing and why. Why was she voluntarily letting herself get the shit beaten out of her when she had a place she could call home just waiting on her? It was a place filled with people who actually cared about her and wished her well, why wasn't she there with them?
She eased back gingerly on the lumpy bed, shifting the ice packs a little to the left and up. She thanked who or whatever that her room was right next to the ice machine. It was going to be a long and painful night, but at least she didn't have to go far to get a little relief.
Buffy could still hit. She proved size really didn't matter, because she hit harder than anything Faith had ever fought. Despite being small, Buffy was as tough as they came and Faith couldn't help but smile, pulling painfully at her split cheek. At least she wasn't in a coma or stowed away on a train this time.
She knew nothing had changed. She still saw the hatred in Buffy's eyes, the anger hadn't diminished at all. Buffy could erupt at any time…To hell with "could", Faith knew it was a very definite "would". She was going to have to watch her step closely because there was no way she was up for another beating any time soon.
She winced and groaned out loud as she tried to get comfortable. She was wondering if she'd somehow missed the part of the fight when Buffy had picked up a sledgehammer, because her ribs? They were killing her.
There was some good news though: Buffy was letting her stay in town. As much as Faith wished the reason for that was Buffy's impending thaw out, she knew it was simply a "keep your enemies closer" kind of deal. Buffy wanted to keep an eye on her, figuring that Faith was going to make her move sooner than later, and when that happened, Buffy planned to be right there to drill her.
Faith laughed, then groaned as her ribs weren't all that amused. It sure was great to be back in Sunnydale. The place had it all: demons, vampires, witches, and last but not least, a mad as Hellmouth Slayer who was out for blood. Cordelia was right: only a total idiot.
God, how she hated this town. She shifted around again searching for a spot that would ease the pain, but there just wasn't one. She closed her eyes anyway and didn't even know she spoke out loud, a smile sneaking its way across her face and pulling on her cheek again:
"Damn, B sure can bring it."
Giles heard the bell ring as the door to "The Magic Box' opened, but before he had time to react, he heard Buffy calling out to him:
"Back here, Buffy."
She walked into the workout room where he was busy hanging the new body bag. She had already destroyed two in the last few weeks and Giles was considering buying them in bulk.
"Perhaps you wouldn't mind tightening these screws a tad more? I can't get them to budge, but I'm sure you can manage a few extra turns."
She took the screwdriver and hopped up onto the chair. The screws turned easily for her at first, then became much more snug. After a few moments of watching her in silence, Giles broached the subject:
"Based on your demeanor, I assume you encountered Faith last night?"
"How badly did you injure her?"
"Not as badly as I wanted to."
"And that means?"
"It means she's still alive."
"Buffy, could I please have a more accurate…"
Buffy jumped down and handed him the screwdriver.
"I hit her a little bit."
"'A little bit'?
"Maybe a lot of bit, I didn't keep track."
They were silent again, and this time it was Buffy who spoke first:
"Okay, I hit her a lot, but not as much as she deserves."
"I see. And do you feel better now?"
"Yes…no…maybe…I don't know. At least we got some of our feelings out."
"Ah, so she fought back?"
"…No. That's what made me stop, she wouldn't do anything."
Giles walked over and returned the screwdriver to the toolbox while Buffy lightly punched the new bag.
"Have you considered the possibility that she truly does wish to make amends?"
"Yes, and I've also considered the possibility that this is all just another set-up."
"Whilst I agree we'll need to keep a close watch, all indications lead me to believe that Faith has truly changed."
"Buffy, it's been nearly five years since we've last seen her, and I feel we must take into consideration that Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley, as well as all the rest of Angel's associates, have complete confidence in her. I think it most likely that Faith has indeed…"
The bag flew back to its limits, the leather creaking as it did.
"Whatever, Giles. I don't trust her as far as you can throw her. If she wants complete confidence, then she should head back to L.A.. I've got no confidence in her, nada, zilch, well, not unless you count my absolute confidence that she's going to pull something."
"Perhaps you should consider that Faith…"
"Can't, I'm all considered out. Did you bring the sword with you?"
"…Yes, I left it secured in my car. But Buffy, I feel the 'Faith' situation needs to be discussed further. You cannot just…"
He stared at her a moment, and then with a sigh tossed her his keys. She smiled brightly at him.
"I'll be right back, then we can figure out our next move."
He watched as she went out into the alley and he felt at a loss, just like he always did whenever the subject of Faith came up.
He knew his Slayer and he knew how upset she was. Faith's appearance had stirred up a lot of issues that Buffy would have greatly preferred were left undisturbed, and the whole situation was going to be hell on everyone.
Giles was not a stupid man. He loved Buffy as if she were his own child, but he knew she wasn't at all rational when it came to Faith. She would make this, whatever "this" turned out to be, extraordinarily difficult.
She had never recovered from Faith's betrayal, and he knew that the hurt was with her all the time. She had held out hope right until the very end that Faith would somehow come back, but then when Angel was poisoned, all of Buffy's hope just died.
It was then that she finally accepted Faith was truly lost and that Buffy herself was the only one who could stop her. As the Slayer, she had known it was her duty to do so and so she had done it. The battle that had resulted from Faith's actions was a topic that Buffy never spoke of, not to anyone.
She'd given them all the barest of facts and then she had never mentioned it again. Even though she refused to speak of it, Giles knew it was never far from her thoughts. It had changed her, made her doubt herself and the things she believed in. It had wounded her in ways that he still didn't fully understand.
Faith had forced her to act out the role of the villain, pushing her far beyond her normal scope of morality, and for that Buffy had suffered and suffered deeply. With one startling moment of violence, Faith had devastated a large portion of Buffy's soul, pulling her down into the darkness and causing her to lose sight of who she really was.
And yet despite all of that, Buffy's reaction when she first heard the news that Faith had regained consciousness was to worry that Faith was afraid and alone, and sorry for the things she had done. Buffy had wanted to help her, but right out of the gate it became apparent that nothing had changed. Faith's actions in Sunnydale and L.A. had done nothing except pour fuel on the fire.
It was then that Buffy shut herself down where Faith was concerned, and as the years passed, the hurt and anger grew. Buffy refused to acknowledge any of the other feelings she had for Faith, simply filing everything away under a "Faith is Bad" heading, and then leaving it all there to fester. And fester it did.
Giles had tried numerous times to discuss Faith and all of the attendant issues surrounding her, but Buffy would have none of it. As far as she was concerned the topic was closed and she would not reopen it for anyone, not even her Watcher.
It seemed almost unfathomable now, but when Faith had first appeared on the scene, Giles had been delighted. He'd found her refreshing and he'd very much liked the effect she had on Buffy. She'd appeared to be a godsend, just the thing to lift Buffy from the depression her grief for Angel had trapped her in.
Giles saw right off that Faith understood Buffy. It seemed as if she had analyzed her at a glance and knew exactly what it was that Buffy needed. Faith began challenging her, infuriating her until against her will, Buffy began to respond.
Faith embarrassed her, teased her, angered her, and made her laugh. She introduced fun back into Buffy's life, and gradually Buffy seemed lighter, as if a great burden were being lifted from her shoulders. Suddenly, Buffy seemed to be coming back to life.
It was wonderful to see, and Giles couldn't have been happier. Also from a personal standpoint, he had always liked Faith. She was full of "zest" as he had once said, and it wasn't long before that enthusiasm began rubbing off on Buffy.
Faith loved slaying, but it was just one of many things she liked to do, and she began showing Buffy how she could have a "real" life as well. It was as if she somehow brought a balance to Buffy's world, and Giles marveled as he watched it all unfold.
Then of course it had all gone horribly wrong, and he could never quite figure out exactly what had happened. The death of Alan Finch had been a terrible tragedy, but he knew that wasn't what had caused the breach. There was something else, some catalyst he couldn't identify no matter how hard he tried.
So instead he chose to focus on his own failures, and unfortunately he found himself more than guilty of neglect. He had let Faith down, as her Watcher and as a grown man who should have known better. It was a mistake he wanted the chance to atone for.
As unbelievable as it was to him now, he had never once inquired after her, had never offered her any living assistance, had never expressed any concern or interest in her whatsoever beyond the slaying. He never got to know her and he certainly had never treated her like the lonely, troubled teenager she so obviously was. He'd let the Mayor fill that role quite nicely instead, and Giles would never forgive himself for his own thoughtless behavior.
While it was true that the ultimate responsibility rested with Faith herself, there was more than enough blame to go around. He hoped that this was truly another chance for all of them, that Faith was sincere about making amends. Everything he had learned about her since her incarceration had led him to believe that she was, and if so, that would be nothing but wonderful on a myriad of levels.
They could use her help, and more importantly Buffy would benefit immensely from the chance to lay some very old and painful ghosts to rest. Assuming that Faith was on the up and up, the biggest problem was going to be Buffy herself. She would not be welcoming Faith with open arms any time soon, Giles was certain of that, and he could only hope that Faith was strong enough to last through the long haul that Buffy would undoubtedly make it.
The ringing of the bell jarred him from his reverie as it announced the arrival of the day's first customer. With his mind still filled with worried thoughts, he headed out to greet the newcomer and offer his assistance. To his great surprise, he found it was not a customer who awaited him, but a badly beaten Faith. She was more than a little unsteady on her feet.
"Faith! Good Lord, please sit down."
She took him up on his offer immediately.
"Looks way worse than it is. Tough vamp gang caught me just before sunrise and…"
"Pardon me, but Buffy has already informed me of your altercation last night. However, it seems she left out the severity of the beating."
"Whoa, not her fault. I shouldn't have fought back, so…"
"Faith, she also informed me that you did not in fact, retaliate."
She didn't smile, but she looked amused:
"Well shit, ain't B just the big blabbermouth. Look, I deserved it Giles, every single punch. 'Sides, really does look way worse."
He knew that was another lie, but this time he held his tongue. He understood she was trying to protect Buffy, and he was greatly heartened by her efforts. It was a dramatic change from the past, and it had the effect of convincing him that this was truly a different Faith sitting in front of him.
That worked out perfectly because he was a different Giles as well, and he was not going to make the same mistakes he'd made with her before. He always took advantage of second chances, and this one was being handed to him.
"'Sides, not exactly my first beating, ya know?"
"And it won't be your last either."
Buffy ignored her completely, turning to Giles with the sword in her hand.
"I'm going to talk to Willy, see if he's heard anything about the new kids in town. I should be back in an hour, hopefully with lots of info."
"Yes, all right. Everyone will be here shortly and we'll go over what I came up with last night while we await your return."
"Great. Keep your fingers crossed that he knows something."
And with that she was gone, leaving behind her an awkward and uneasy silence. Giles had no idea what to say, and he diligently cleaned his glasses while he searched for the right words. Before he could speak, he heard Faith clearing her throat as she stood up:
"Giles, can I talk to you?"
"Of course, but please sit back down."
"Think I oughta be up for this. I want you to know I'm sorry, for all of it. No reason in the world you should believe me, and I know B's your girl and you gotta stand with her. Totally cool with that, but she's wrong about me. I'm not here to hurt anyone, 'specially not her. I'm here to make amends. Just wanted to tell you that."
He placed his glasses back on his face, his expression thoughtful as he looked at her:
"I hope you're sincere, Faith. Everything I've heard and seen indicates that you are and if that's true, it will just take time for Buffy to see that for herself. Don't worry though; if you mean what you say, she'll come 'round, they all will. As for myself, I'm delighted to give you another chance. Welcome back, Faith."
"Would you like something to eat or drink? I believe I have some…"
"Nah, think I should head back to the motel now. Not exactly at my best, and probably be better if the gang didn't see me so banged up. Got an image to keep, ya know?"
He smiled at her:
"Yes, I believe I know exactly whose image you're worried about keeping. All right then, some rest will do you an immense lot of good. But, Faith?"
"Please don't hesitate to call if you should need anything at all. I'll be most happy to assist you in any way I can."
Her face simply lit up, there was no other way to describe it. Giles was amazed at the difference it made in her appearance, she looked like a radiant ten year old, and her smile was impossible to resist.
"…No, I'm all set. Angel pays really good, but…well, thanks for the offer. Thank you, Giles."
Four nights later Faith found herself out on patrol with a Slayer who was just waiting for the opportunity to kick something's ass, and she was doing everything in her power not to be that something. She'd just fully recovered from the last "Buffy" beating and she had no desire to experience another any time soon…not that she was exactly loving her chances of avoiding it.
They were out together because Giles was worried about some new and as yet, unknown demons who'd recently hit town. The Scoobies were in full research mode, but until they came up with something solid, Giles wanted to play it safe. He'd asked them to patrol together, and Buffy hadn't cared much for the idea. In fact, it seemed more than safe to say that Buffy had violently despised the idea.
She had resisted angrily, but Giles had held firm:
"Buffy, I am your Watcher and I feel it imperative that you patrol together. I know it's somewhat awkward, but…"
"No, it's not 'somewhat awkward', it's outright stupid! You're worried about my safety, so you're sending me out with someone who's tried to kill me? No thanks, I'll take my chances alone."
He slammed his fist down on the table as he got to his feet:
"No, you bloody well will not! We've absolutely no clue what we're dealing with and the rest of us must continue on with our research. You simply cannot go out alone, and having another Slayer at your side…"
"Or more likely at my back with a knife sticking out of it. I'm not going with her, Giles! I don't trust her and that makes her more of a liability…"
"…than anything else. I don't need any surprises if I get into another huge fight for my life."
"…please allow Faith to accompany you tonight."
"Please, Buffy, as a favor to me."
Buffy stood glaring at him defiantly, then practically snarled at Faith over her shoulder:
Faith followed her outside, never uttering a word. She wasn't an idiot, at least not about most things, and she knew Buffy was ready to explode. Faith was positive the slightest thing, like the sound of her voice, would cause Buffy to blow sky high, and she didn't want to be there if and when that happened.
The situation wasn't being helped by the slow night they were dealing with. So far there'd been just one vampire to dust, and he was only a newbie who'd been unlucky enough to claw out of his grave just as two Slayers were passing by. Buffy staked him without even breaking stride, and that kind of kill wasn't nearly good enough, not by a long shot.
It was coming, Faith could feel it in the wind like a thunderstorm rolling in. The air was electric and heavy, and there was a sense of danger in the atmosphere. She was wishing she was back at her motel, but the patrol still had a couple of hours to go and she was stuck where she was.
She was so busy dreaming of the safety her motel room offered, she stumbled over a slight depression in the ground and bumped into her slaying partner. Buffy reacted instantly to the contact, shoving Faith off of her and pinning her with a deadly gaze.
"So is this where it starts?"
"Jesus, B, I just tripped."
Buffy waited until Faith began walking again before she resumed the patrol. She made sure that this time she stayed a step or two behind, and Faith couldn't quite stifle her irritation. It escaped from her in a loud sigh and Buffy was all over it:
"What's the matter, Faith?"
Faith stayed quiet hoping she would just let it go, but Buffy couldn't let it go, not when she hadn't even gotten it started yet.
"'Nothing'? It sounds to me like you're bored."
Faith's desire to be somewhere else suddenly skyrocketed:
"I'm not bored. Let's just keep…"
"Talking would pass some time..."
"I don't wanna…"
"…and we're way overdue for a talk."
"B, c'mon, don't."
"Let's discuss all the fun you have every time you come back here."
Faith felt sick and tried to end it:
"Look, maybe we should just call it a night and…"
"Now these won't be in any order since they're right off the top of my head, but let's see how many I can remember. Ready?"
Faith stopped walking, but she didn't turn around.
"Okay, you tried to frame me for murder, tried to torture me for your own sick enjoyment, then there was the whole body stealing thing, that was a good one. Did you know I came this close to getting killed by the Council's spiffy 'Scumbag Squad'? It wasn't really their fault, they thought I was a disgrace to my calling, which when it comes right down to it, is a pretty fair description of you."
Faith turned slowly to face her:
"You don't need to do this, okay? I'll just…"
"Then there was the whole 'sleeping with my boyfriend' trick. It's so great you got to hear him say he loved me for the first time. And let's not forget how you tried to kill Angel slowly and painfully, that was probably your best boyfriend thing ever. Ooh, I've got one! Remember how you hurt my mom? And what about that time you tried to kill Willow? Lucky for her the Mayor walked in when he did. And how great was it when Xander tried to help you and you responded by trying to choke him to death? Those were some good times, weren't they, Faith?"
Faith stood where she was. She could feel the pain running through her, and she tried to push it away.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. I didn't…I don't…"
"Right, right, that makes complete sense. Now I understand."
Buffy looked so bitter, her hatred spilling out of her and taking over everything she was, and Faith could barely look at her. Years ago she had wanted to hurt Buffy, she had wanted to break her, and now she was getting the chance to witness firsthand the damage she'd done. All of the pain and suffering she'd caused, it was all coming back on her…just like it was supposed to.
"So what's next on your agenda? I can't even guess, but then I'm not a professional murderer either."
"B, you don't need to worry, I'm not…That's not me anymore. I'm just tryin' to…"
"Poof! Hey look everybody, it's a brand new Faith."
"Boy, I sure wish I had my sunglasses on, you're just so shiny and new!"
Faith pushed her hair from her face with a shaky hand.
"I know it's gonna take time for you to trust me, but…"
Buffy began laughing:
"Trust you? Are you insane? No wait, don't answer that, just listen to me very carefully: I will never trust you again, and as for time? There's not enough time in any dimension to get me to change my mind about you."
"…Look, maybe if we just sat down and talked it over…"
"You want us to 'talk it over'? That's never going to happen. I'm not the slightest bit interested in anything you have to say."
Faith could feel her temper flaring and she tamped it down, but a bit snuck out around the edges:
"So what do you wanna do then, huh? Ya wanna beat me to death, B?"
"I don't need to."
Buffy had an amused look on her face and as she stepped closer, Faith tried to step back. Buffy moved too fast and had a tight grip on Faith's arm before she could really go anywhere.
"See, in case you're not aware, you look like hell. What is it, the guilt? Whatever it is, it means I don't need to do anything except get comfy in my new front row seat and watch while you do it to yourself."
Faith tried to pull loose, but Buffy held on.
"And, Faith? I'm having a great time."
Buffy released her and Faith stumbled back. She could feel the tears rising up, but she fought to keep them out of sight. Her voice betrayed her though, coming out all shaky as it forced her to clear her throat more than once:
"…Guess I know…how you…how you feel about me."
"Awww, is this the part where I'm supposed to be all sorry for you? Don't hold your breath."
"You're here, that's your choice. But this time, I get a choice too and I choose to make your stay with us just as painful as I possibly can."
"Don't expect any sympathy from me. You're the one who chose to betray everyone and destroy everything you could get your hands on. Now just because you've suddenly decided to come back and play nice, everything's supposed to be forgiven? What is that? The newer, crazier version of 'Want, Take, Have'?"
Faith's eyes blurred and she struggled to stop the tears from falling. She knew she couldn't hold on much longer, Buffy's words were hurting her more than anything ever had, and yet still she stood there. This was what she had caused, and she knew she deserved to feel every ounce of it.
"Let's get something straight, just between us Slayers…"
Buffy moved close again, her hand grabbing Faith's wrist in a punishing grip, her voice dropping to a whisper as her lips brushed along Faith's ear:
"I hate you. You're nothing to me and you'll never be anything else. I can't stand the sight of you, you disgust me. No one here gives a damn about you, even Dawnie hates you now."
Buffy kissed her cheek and then let go.
"Gee, you look all upset. Was it something I said? I'm sorry, Faith…Does that make it all better?"
She laughed as she took in the sight of a silent Faith staring intently at the ground:
And with that, Buffy strolled off into the night, leaving behind her an extremely wounded girl.
"Wounded" wasn't really the right word, maybe they hadn't even invented the right word yet. All Faith knew was that there was pain, and then there was this. And 'this' made her legs buckle until she found herself sitting on the grass crying, wishing a vampire would come by and finish the Slayer's job.