Xander was afraid of her; she supposed getting nearly choked to death would cause that reaction in just about anybody. He spent all of his time with her watching her closely, as if hoping to catch her a split second before she did whatever it was that he thought she was going to do.
It was laughable because he wouldn't be able to do anything to stop her if she did in fact decide to do some damage. She could simply snap him in half before he even managed to move, and she knew that he knew that. She also knew it didn't matter in the slightest. Xander would take her on without any hesitation, and she had always admired that about him. The guy loved his friends and he had a lot of guts.
Then there was Willow. There was nothing amusing about her at all, and although she seemed much more casual than Xander, Faith knew she wasn't missing a thing. She was an incredibly powerful witch, details provided by Cordelia Chase, and although she still seemed calm and sweet, her eyes told a far different story.
They were filled with an animosity that was hard to describe, but one look at them let Faith know just how dangerous Willow truly was. She learned that firsthand when she'd made a stupid mistake, the kind of mistake that had almost gotten another Slayer called and had left Faith calling herself lucky and a fool.
She'd been sitting at a table, idly watching as Giles carried some books from there to there. The last stack was a little too tall, and as it began tilting, Faith moved quickly to help him. Too quickly as she soon found out, because the instant she sprung into action, so did Willow.
Her head whipped around and the eyes that met Faith's were a solid black. Before Faith could say a word, she felt her skin tingling and then suddenly it was burning. It hurt, and it hurt enough to make Faith stagger back to her chair.
She sat down quickly, doing her best to look harmless. It wasn't hard to pull off because the pain had become so intense, she could barely even move. Everyone else seemed oblivious to her plight as they helped Giles pick up the fallen books, but Faith was just seconds away from whimpering and pleading.
The pain stopped, but Willow's eyes stayed the same scary black for several long minutes, and she sat there smiling at Faith the entire time. Faith had never seen anything like it, and she had no problem admitting that she'd been scared shitless and didn't ever want to see it again.
Anya was Xander's ex, and she was funny as hell. She was also incredibly blunt, way worse than Cordelia even, and she frequently said things that were better left unsaid. Everyone else just took her in stride and let her carry on, but sometimes Faith found herself a little thrown.
Still she was amusing, like the time she'd been doing inventory on the Magic Box's new shipment and had suddenly blurted out to everyone that she missed Xander's "rather large penis". Before anyone could react, she turned to Faith:
"I know you only had it the one time, but do you ever miss it too?"
Faith nearly choked on the apple she was eating. She'd had no clue what she could possibly say that wouldn't piss somebody off, so she'd mumbled some completely non-related bullshit and hightailed it out of there. It had been an awkward moment for sure, but alone in her motel room, Faith had laughed until she could barely breathe.
Spike was still out of town on some big demon investigation, and only in Sunnydale would a vampire head out on a road trip to play detective for the Slayer…and only if that Slayer was Buffy Summers.
Faith had met him once, but since she hadn't been in her own body at the time, it probably didn't count. She knew he'd had a thing with Buffy, and she also knew that it was long over. Now he was just a full-fledged member of the team, and it was obvious they all loved and missed him. He was one lucky bastard.
Dawn was a whole separate issue. Buffy had declared her off limits, and Faith went out of her way to comply. She knew how much Buffy loved her baby sister and she knew if she defied her on this one, she would truly be risking her life.
When it came to Dawn, Buffy wouldn't hesitate for an instant. If Faith didn't follow orders, Buffy would take action and it wouldn't be pleasant. There was no way Faith wanted any part of that scenario and she stayed away, even though it was hard to do.
She missed Dawn. They'd always been close, and it bothered Faith a great deal that Dawn hated and feared her now. She wished she could apologize and maybe even explain, but Buffy had made it very clear that was never going to happen.
Faith knew it was her own fault, and just like with everything else, that made it much tougher to deal with. There was nothing she could do about it except carry on, but she became quite skilled in the art of eavesdropping. She eagerly took in every detail she could about Dawn, and it pleased her to hear that the younger girl seemed relatively happy. She still wished she could see her, but she was grateful to know what she knew, and she left it at that.
It was a habit that earned him many an angry glare from his Slayer, but he simply pretended not to notice and carried on. Faith didn't want to get him into trouble and she tried to avoid him, but he sought her out and she was struck once again by what a cool guy he was…He was still way cute too.
Buffy stood in direct contrast to her Watcher. She hadn't relented an inch, and she wasn't going to. She went out of her way to nail Faith at every opportunity, and so far she had never missed. She always seemed to know just where to strike, and she hit all of Faith's most painful spots on a regular basis, day in and day out. It hurt, and Faith felt like she was being rubbed raw.
She did her best to hide the pain, but that was becoming increasingly impossible to do, especially from Buffy. Faith tried hard to remain an invisible presence, but the other Slayer never forgot about her for a second, and Faith dreaded the times when Buffy's gaze would turn her way.
Faith would meet the hazel eyes just long enough to recognize the ever present anger and contempt, and then she would fix her stare firmly to the floor. She knew what was coming, and despite always wishing herself someplace else, she was always just sitting there when Buffy laced into her.
She would struggle to keep her face neutral while she waited for the sharp pain to fade to a dull ache. It was becoming harder every day, and Faith began wondering how much more she could take. She knew she deserved it, but it still hurt, and it hurt bad.
Buffy would not let up, and Faith could do nothing to make her stop. She'd somehow forgotten just how mean Buffy's mean streak could be, but it was all coming back to her with a literal vengeance.
She began lying in her phone calls to L.A., and their frequency was diminishing as well. Despite Angel and Cordelia's attempts to get her to talk, the calls never lasted long, and she was becoming a master at dodging their questions. She tried to sound cheerful whenever she spoke to them, but the trouble with that strategy was that Faith didn't do "cheerful" well in even the best of times. Her attempts at pulling it off now were the opposite of reassuring, and both Angel and Cordelia began calling her daily.
It was obvious to everyone that she should just give up and head back to L.A.. The situation was hopeless in Sunnydale, that much was clear…and yet…every once in a while Faith could feel Buffy, just like she used to.
The warmth of their connection would suddenly settle over Faith, making her feel like she was exactly where she belonged. It was a feeling she could get nowhere else, and she found she just couldn't give it up, no matter how seldom it occurred.
It was hard to believe. She was Slayer # 2, feared by all, wicked hot and able to seduce just about anyone on the planet, and yet here she was hanging around, clinging to the fleeting bond she occasionally felt with a woman who could quite happily kill her. It was so fucked up she couldn't really explain it, not even to herself.
No wonder Angel and Cordelia were so worried, it was a huge mess with no end anywhere in sight. Faith was spending all of her waking hours trying to figure out what she could say or do to fix things, when she knew in her heart there was no such thing to be found anywhere. Buffy wasn't going to relent, she was never going to hand out another chance, and yet still Faith stayed right where she was.
It was a classic stalemate, the kind that hurt like a bitch. There was no getting around it, no way to fancy it up. She was one hundred percent completely fucked, and not in any kind of good way. No matter what she did, nothing was ever going to change, they were locked in now.
The worst thing about it was that Faith knew she was going to stay put as long as she was alive. She was going to keep trying to make things right until Buffy killed her…physically or emotionally, it was all the same thing in the end.
And that was the whole deal in a nutshell: Faith was totally and eternally screwed. She was going to take whatever Buffy wanted to dish out, and she was going to take it forever because she deserved it.
She'd been paroled from prison, only to hand herself over to a death sentence. There was no doubt who the executioner was going to be, and it was easy to see that it was going to be death by torture. The only unanswered question remaining was the exact time the killing blow was going to land. It was coming for sure, but its approach was slow and its arrival unpredictable.
When it finally showed up, Faith was going to be right where she was, never moving a muscle to get out of its way because she couldn't. And that had to be the very worst part: the fact that she was a willing volunteer in her own destruction. There were no bars, no locked doors, no guards needed to keep her right where she was. It was just her, back in a prison of her own making for everyone to see.
All of that was true, but she also knew that sitting alone in her room brooding and going over everything for the millionth time, well, that wasn't going to help anything either. It had never worked for Angel, and he'd been doing it a lot longer than she'd been alive. If he couldn't pull it off, she knew she couldn't either.
Her best shot was to try and get some of the pain out with some aggressive slaying. Killing a few bad guys just might help her feel like she was worth something besides being Buffy's all-purpose punching bag.
Yeah, probably not, but she figured what the hell. It was time to move, so she was going to move. Sometimes life was just that simple if you let it be, and Faith wanted simple now more than almost anything.
"Just fucking terrific."
Her voice sounded loud in the near silence of the night.
She'd been wandering around for an hour and Sunnydale remained irritatingly quiet. The resident bad guys had finally figured out that two Slayers on site did not bode well for them, in fact it bode pretty bad. The end result was that they now tended to make themselves scarce, picking their spots and otherwise trying to stay out of sight.
Normally all of the good, but not tonight. Not when she was going nuts, not when she desperately needed some action. If she'd been looking for peace and quiet and time to reflect upon her life, she would have stayed in her motel room.
But she wasn't in her room, she was traipsing up and down the streets of Sunnydale, home of the terrifyingly evil Hellmouth. Considered the most dangerous place on Earth, but tonight it seemed as safe as Podunk, U.S.A. She felt like she was going to explode and she couldn't get her brain to stop thinking.
The question on her mind now was: how in the hell had she gotten herself into this mess, and the answer was: one determined step at a time. She'd taken off into the darkness on purpose, leaving Buffy and Co. behind like they had nothing to offer. All they could do was stare after her as she slipped further and further away, fitting right in when she got where she was going.
She did it all and she did it willingly: the murdering, the torturing, the hurting and the betraying, all of it done to pretty much anyone she could get a hold of. The scariest part was just how much she liked it…Fuck that, she loved it.
She loved the feeling it gave her when she held someone's life in her hands. She loved seeing their fear, loved feeling them shake, loved hearing them beg. It was sick and it was twisted, and she loved everything about it.
It took her almost two years in prison before she could finally get rid of that desire to hurt and kill. She'd had to fight it like an addiction, and it was the hardest thing she'd ever done. It was probably the hardest thing she'd ever have to do.
She took a lot of abuse during her imprisonment because she knew she could not afford to fight back. She would lie in her cell and dream of all the things she longed to do to the guards and other prisoners, and almost every night she would wake up screaming in the darkness, wanting nothing more than to make someone else scream.
Instead she would sit on her bunk, shaking and sweating like a heroin addict going cold turkey. She would pace and sit, pace and sit, until she would try to go inside, repeating the simple mantra that Angel had taught her:
"I am Faith. I am not the darkness. I am Faith."
Those few words saved her time and time again.
When the guards beat her, when the other prisoners attacked her, she repeated those words silently to herself and hung on. When it got so bad she was forced to defend herself, she would say it out loud to prevent herself from going too far. When she felt the violence beginning to surge inside, felt it roaring through every part of her until her whole being was screaming at her to kill, she chanted relentlessly until her throat ached and her voice disappeared.
It was all about control, and she fought to be the one in control of herself. Her dark side pushed at her constantly, trying to get her to lash out and hurt anyone she could get her hands on. It tried to get her to leave prison so that she could live free again and become the monster she once was.
She struggled to block out its seductive voice until the urges passed. She would stay in her cell and chant her mantra, sometimes for days, and the guards quickly learned it was easier and safer for everyone if they just left her alone.
One morning she awoke in her cell feeling lighter. She quickly realized what was missing: her need for the darkness was gone. It had lost its hold over her, and she could finally see herself again. She still didn't like what she saw, but she liked it a lot better than what she'd seen the day before.
That had been the start of her journey back, a journey that she was currently in the middle of on the silent motherfucking streets of the deadliest town in the whole son of a bitching universe.
"Too fuckin' much to ask for some goddamn action?"
Suddenly all hell broke loose, and Faith smiled as she ran towards the commotion. She saw two girls surrounded by seven vampires and jumped right into the fray, staking two of them before they even knew she was there. As another spun to face her, she rammed her stake through him from the side with Slayer force.
It looked painful, and it was effective too. He was dust on the ground in an instant, never getting the chance to do a thing except scream briefly in agony. Unfortunately, the impact with his ribs reduced her only stake to kindling, so not a good thing in any way.
One of the girls escaped when the other staked a distracted vampire all by herself. Props to the helpless vamp snack! Faith's amusement quickly turned to horror when she saw that "Little Miss Slayer Wannabe" really was "Little Miss Slayer Wannabe".
Dawn didn't look the least bit horrified. She simply grinned, tossed her stake to Faith and quickly backed away from the fight, giving her plenty of room to move. The Slayer and the three remaining vampires squared off, but it didn't take long before only one vampire remained.
As they fought, the ground behind Dawn suddenly erupted and a newbie climbed out of his grave. He grinned, grabbing for her with his fangs at the ready, and Faith's stake went whistling past Dawn's head. He dusted without even getting close to a taste.
Faith turned back to deal with the last threat and heard Dawn scream out a warning. Before she could react, she felt something solid smash into the side of her head and she went down hard. She was hit at least five more times, but she lost count because all of her concentration was on staying conscious. She knew Dawn's life depended on her success.
When the beating finally stopped, she opened her eyes. Dawn was cornered by three vampires: two who'd apparently come out of the woodwork to get in on the fun. They were toying with their prey and Faith rose silently to her feet, dizzy and weak.
She was in bad shape, but she knew what she was looking at. It was a choice: her or Dawn.
Without a moment's hesitation, she stumbled into action. Drawing on some mystical well of Slayer strength, or maybe it was just her, Faith shakily scooped up the broken shovel handle at her feet and leapt into the air. She landed in perfect position to dust Vamp #1 and she kicked the legs out from under Vamp #2.
She continued forward, using her momentum to knock Vamp # 3 to the ground, and she felt the pain shoot through her left leg as she landed awkwardly against a headstone. She ignored it as she kicked Vamp # 2 in the head when he tried to rise, falling herself as she did. With one vamp dusted and the other two sprawled out on the grass, Dawn now had a clear path to safety.
In a voice that brooked absolutely no argument, Faith shouted at her:
Dawn never hesitated and she was quickly out of sight.
Faith lay on the ground in considerable pain. She knew her leg was broken, and based on the pain she was feeling, she suspected it wasn't alone. She was weak and had no time to recover as the last two vampires were already on their feet and smiling down at her.
She yelled as she felt the boot slam down on her leg, then yelled again when she was dragged forward by her left arm. She guessed it was broken too, and she was sure there had to be an easier, less painful way to assess the damage. She felt the laughter bubbling up inside and knew she must have concussion as well.
The vampires began beating her then, and they seemed to be having a blast. She had no idea how long it went on, but her best guess was right about at forever. There wasn't a spot on her body that didn't hurt, and she knew she now had several more broken parts.
She could barely move, but she wasn't going to just lie there like the corpse she was soon to be. Obviously she was going out for good, okay then, fine. But she was definitely going to go out fighting.
She put all of her weight on her right hand and tried to get to her feet. Her feebleness soon had her new pals roaring with laughter:
"Oh no, the Slayer's getting up. I'm so scared!"
"What should we do, Steven? Should we beg for mercy?"
Faith screamed and fell when Steven kicked her broken leg out from under her. Blackness appeared on the edges of her vision as she began fading in and out.
"Slayer! Hey now, Slayer, no passing out. We want you awake when we drain you. Come on, it's more fun that way."
Faith was yanked upright until she was standing face to face with Steven. She gathered what was left of her strength and spit right in his eye.
He knocked her to the ground, then hauled her up again:
"I'll bet a feisty girl like you has some great last words, don't you?"
Faith wanted her last words to be, "Fuck you", but she couldn't get her mouth to work right. No last words then, but at least she'd done something right: Dawn had managed to get away and was hopefully safe by now.
Steven slapped her across the face as she swayed in place, her head lolling:
"Oh come on, Slayer, say something."
The other vampire dusted immediately, a crossbow arrow dropping to the ground on the spot where he'd been standing. Steven was so shocked, he never even felt the stake Buffy threw into his unbeating heart.
She ran to Faith, sliding the last few feet on her knees.
"Faith! Oh my God! Okay, it's okay. An ambulance is on the way. You're going to be fine…don't try to move. Please Faith, stay still…Okay…Alright…I need to stop the bleeding…Faith, hang on…you have to hang on…Please Faith…"
Faith figured she must be dreaming as a suddenly shirtless and crying Buffy leaned over her. But then Faith felt the tears splashing onto her face, and she knew it was real. Buffy was crying and that could only mean one thing:
"She's fine, she's safe. Please, don't try to talk…There's so much blood, why won't it stop? Faith please, don't die. Come on, hold my hand…I hear the ambulance! Okay…we're okay. Just…Oh God…Faith…"
Faith felt weird and she knew she was dying or passing out. At this point it all seemed like the same thing to her, and she struggled to say what she needed to say:
"B…B, I'm s..orry…So…sorry…Buffy."
"Shhh…it's okay. But you have to hang on…I won't forgive you if you die…I mean it , Faith...Open your eyes! That's right, just hang on…Where in the hell is that ambulance? Faith! Don't do this…Please…stay with me. Come on Faith, keep your eyes open…Faith, please…"
Faith awoke slowly. She knew she was conscious because of the intense pain she felt in her ribs, back, legs, arms, head, neck, shoulders…even her eyes were killing her. It was bright, much too bright, and she guessed she was in Sunnydale's very finest medical facility. Of course they only had one, so she wasn't claiming she was Einstein for figuring it out. However, it did prove some of her brain cells were still functioning and that was a big positive.
She hated hospitals with a vengeance, and she hated this one the most. Of course she wasn't exactly in any position to criticize; with the beating she'd taken she was lucky to be in any position at all. Clearly Sunnydale's citizens, living and dead, were kicking her ass and loving it. They should probably be selling tickets.
Her eyes had adjusted somewhat to the glare and she began looking around as carefully as she could. She knew she had to go slow. The room was already spinning and unless a lot had changed while she'd been out of it, she damn well knew it wasn't supposed to be doing that.
Her head was throbbing with every little movement, and she was thinking a little Slayer healing would be really nice right about now. Nothing was improving but she kept looking, and she was shocked when her eyes made it to the other side of her bed.
Buffy Fucking Summers was sleeping in a chair that had been pulled up close. She looked exhausted, like she'd been there for days, and Faith was completely confused. Buffy was sleeping by her hospital bed and didn't that mean someone cared when they did that? It looked incredibly uncomfortable, so why else would anyone do it? It didn't make any sense, and Faith groaned because there was way too much thinking involved this early in the land of the awake.
The instant Buffy heard Faith's moan, her eyes flew open and Faith could have sworn she saw happiness staring out at her. Before she could be sure, whatever it was was replaced by Buffy's usual look of late. But even that was...different somehow.
It was maybe not friendly or warm, but it wasn't cold either.
"Faith, are you okay?"
Her mouth felt incredibly dry and her throat burned like she hadn't used it in years. Buffy spooned some ice chips into her mouth, and Faith swallowed them gratefully. After a couple of more spoonfuls, her eyes met Buffy's and again she saw…something. Before she could get a handle on it, Buffy was pushing more ice her way.
It felt like heaven as it melted and slid smoothly down her throat, and she savored the next few mouthfuls before she tried again:
More chips came at her, and Faith obediently swallowed them before she asked her next question.
"How long this time?"
"Five days. We were worried because of…because of before."
"Guess my hard head keeps payin' off."
Buffy offered more ice, but Faith declined:
"Thanks, I'm set for awhile."
Buffy put the little Styrofoam cup down on the table, wedging the plastic spoon in tight as it tried to make its way to the floor.
"Are you in a lot of pain?"
"Nothin' I can't handle."
That statement seemed to rattle Buffy and she hurriedly pointed out a gizmo on the bed:
"You can, um…You can push the button right there…right here if you need…"
"Maybe later, B. Not a big fan of drugs."
"…Okay, but they said you can't overdose or anything like that."
Then silence filled the room as neither knew how to say what they wanted to. Buffy was relieved when she finally realized that she actually had some information Faith needed to hear:
"Oh, Angel and Cordelia left just a few hours ago. There was some big crisis and…"
"They outta reach?"
"Okay. I'll try'em later."
The silence was back, but Buffy didn't let it last long:
Her voice cracked and she tried again:
"B, don't gotta say shit. It was Dawn."
And with that simple statement, Buffy's mind took her back into the past.
She could see Dawn and Faith together: running around, laughing, watching TV, stealing each other's food, listening to music, just talking.
Dawn loved Faith, hero worshipped her really, and Faith loved Dawn. She had never hurt her, not even when things were at their worst and there had been plenty of opportunities to do so. There'd been even more than Buffy had been aware of at the time, and yet Faith had never come anywhere close to hurting Dawn. In fact, she'd continued to protect her.
Buffy remembered the day she'd had to tell Dawn that her hero was now their enemy. It had been just three days before Graduation Day, and Dawn was late getting home. Buffy was becoming worried, but just as she was leaving the house to go look for her, Dawn came bouncing in like she didn't have a care in the world. Normally just how you wanted a twelve year old to act, but there was nothing normal in the Summers' household back then.
"Dawn, where in the hell have you been?!"
"Hey, no swearing, Buffy!"
'Where were you?"
"I was at Janice's working on our science project…and I lost track of the time."
Buffy was furious:
"So you just decided to walk home alone? Right before sunset? And how many times do I have to explain this thing with the Mayor before…"
"Buffy, I'm not a dumb little kid! I didn't walk home alone, I was with Faith."
"Oh my God!"
Buffy grabbed Dawn and began looking her over:
"Are you hurt?! Let me see!"
"'Hurt'? No, I'm…OW! What are you doing?"
"Just stay still and let me check."
"Check for what? Buffy, I'm fine. I told you, I was with Faith."
Buffy let go of her then, but she could feel the rage building inside.
"What did she say to you…exactly? Did she do anything to you?"
"Have you gone crazy? She didn't 'say' or 'do' anything. She asked how Janice was and we talked about movies and music, you know, the usual."
"Did she say to tell me anything?"
"No...She asked me about my grades and said she was glad I was doing better in math. She walked me to the front door and I asked her if she could stay for dinner since we haven't seen her in like forever. She said she was too busy, but she didn't say doing what."
"And that's all she did?"
Dawn was looking at Buffy like she had two heads.
"What else would she do?"
"Just answer me, Dawn."
Dawn thought it over:
"Well, she hugged me goodbye and told me to be safe, then she left…Buffy, what's going on?"
Buffy didn't want to tell her. She knew how much it was going to hurt, but she didn't have a choice anymore. She'd stupidly assumed that Faith would keep Dawn out of it, an obviously way off base assumption, and not telling Dawn was only putting her in unnecessary danger.
She took her sister by the hand and led her over to the couch:
"I have something to tell you, and it's going to be hard for you to hear."
Dawn refused to believe it at first, and Buffy was forced to give her more specifics than she wanted to. Dawn kept asking her why, and just like everybody else, Buffy had no real answer. All she could do was hold her while Dawn sobbed like her heart was broken, and Buffy knew it was.
"Dawnie, I'm so sorry. I talked to Mom and you guys are leaving tomorrow. I won't be able to stop the Mayor and Fa…I won't be able to do my job if I'm worrying about you guys. I need to know that you're both safe."
"We can't just leave you here alone."
"I won't be alone. Giles, Will , Xander, Cordelia, Oz, and Angel are all staying."
"Yeah but me and Mom…"
Buffy pulled her close again and Dawn hugged her back.
"You have to go."
"…I don't like it, but okay."
Buffy smiled as reassuringly as she could, kissing Dawn lightly on the forehead:
"I don't like it either, but it's for the best."
"Yeah, I get that."
"I also need you to promise me you'll stay away from Faith."
Buffy knew that look and she grabbed Dawn by the shoulders:
"She's not the same person you knew. It isn't safe to be around her, not in any way. You have to promise me you'll stay away from her."
"I know it's hard to understand, Dawn, but you can't be anywhere near her."
"…Alright, I promise. I won't go near Faith."
Buffy pulled her close for another hug:
" Are you going to be okay?"
"I guess…I just…I just don't get why this is happening."
"I don't either, I just know it is."
But of course Dawn couldn't leave it there. Buffy got all of the details later and while the story had surprised her in a way, in another it didn't at all.
Dawn skipped school the day after her talk with Buffy and she went looking for Faith. She checked all of the places she knew Faith hung out, and then she started going to all of the places she was never, ever supposed to go. Places only demons and bad people frequented, and it was at the second one of those bad places that she found Faith.
The demons hanging around seemed to know right away who Dawn was, and most of them ignored her. They already had enough trouble, there was no sense in having the Slayer on a rampage because they'd killed her sister. But of course there was always at least one in every crowd, and the demon world was no different when it came right down to it.
"Well, lookie what we have here! The Slayer's cute little sister came to do lunch. I call first dibs! Now don't you worry little girl, this will only hurt for…well, a really long time, but I'll…Ack!"
His lifeless body hit the floor with a soft thud as his head landed somewhere behind the bar, and the silence was deafening.
"Anybody else wanna try and touch her?"
"Not me, Faith."
Normal service resumed and Faith gave Dawn her full attention.
"What the hell are you doin' here? Are you okay? Is somethin'…"
"Is it true?"
Faith's eyes began roaming:
"Shouldn't be here. Let me walk ya."
"Is it true?'
"Let's just get you outta here and…"
Dawn pulled her arm from Faith's grasp:
"I have to know…Is it true?"
Dawn stared at her, shocked and disbelieving.
"'Yeah'? That's it? 'Yeah' ?"
"C'mon, you shouldn't be here."
"Well, neither should you! Why are you doing this?"
Faith finally managed to propel her outside and back into the sunlight.
"Dawnie, please, we gotta go. It's not safe for you here."
"And how am I safe with you?"
Faith finally met her eyes again:
"I would never hurt you, Dawn, I swear. Never."
Dawn's face was incredulous:
"But what? You'll hurt everyone I love? You'll hurt Willow and Xander? What about Angel and Giles? Oz? Cordy? My mom? What about Buffy? Faith, would you hurt Buffy?"
"We need to get you home."
Again Dawn pulled loose.
"Do you hear yourself? You'll hurt everybody but me? That's crazy, it doesn't even make any sense. You're saying you're on the Mayor's side now? Against Buffy? Faith, are you going to kill my sister?"
"This doesn't make any sense, it's totally crazy! You'd never…I know, you're undercover, right?! Faith, you need to tell Buffy, she thinks you're really…"
"I'm not undercover. Look, there's a lot you don't understand and…"
Dawn was staring at her like she couldn't believe what she was looking at.
"Of course I don't understand, it's way too crazy to understand!"
"Squirt, just let me walk ya home now."
Dawn slapped her as hard as she could, her voice filled with emotion:
"Don't you call me that."
"Faith calls me that, and you're not Faith. You don't get to call me that, not ever. I don't know who you are, but you're not her. She would never…You can't be Faith…you just can't be!"
She ran all the way home, and that was where Buffy found her two hours later, crying as she explained everything through her sobs. The tears were still flowing when Dawn told Buffy she loved her and Joyce tried to back out of their agreement.
Buffy held strong
"Mom, you guys will get me killed if you stay. Please, you have to go. I need to know you're safe."
They left then, and that was the last time Dawn had seen Faith until the other night.
Of course, all of those old memories weren't real. Dawn and Faith had never met until Faith had saved her life just five nights ago. The "memories" were fake, each one provided courtesy of the monks, and Buffy found it strange that it seemed so impossible to them that Faith would ever hurt Dawn.
It was just another mystery on the Hellmouth, one she didn't have time to ponder because the pressing concern now was how she was going to handle Faith. There were so many issues involved, but the time had come to try and make sense of them all, or at least as many as she could.
They were going to have to deal with their past, and Buffy didn't have the first clue how to go about doing that. Her head was spinning almost as much as Faith's as she tried to figure out how they going to begin to…
"Want outta here."
"I know, but it's going to be at least a few days before…"
"No way am I stayin' that long."
Buffy spoke calmly:
"I understand how you feel, but you need to stay…"
"No, I don't."
"Faith, you almost died. You can't just stroll out of the hospital after…"
Faith laughed, then winced:
"You know I'll be better in a few. Gotta love bein' a Slayer just for that."
Buffy shook her head:
"Well, being a Slayer doesn't mean you're invincible and don't need …"
"Please, Buffy? I can't stay here."
Buffy saw the fear and determination in Faith's eyes, and she sighed as she got to her feet.
"I'm supposed to tell them when you wake up, but I doubt they're planning on anything like this. All right, stay there."
The second she left the room, Faith began pulling out all of the tubes and wires that connected her to the hospital. The nurse who appeared shortly after she got started, did not look amused.
It was a tense time until Buffy returned with Faith's doctor in tow, and as he started to speak, Faith cranked the tension right to the limit:
"Save it. I don't give a shit what you think, recommend, or want. I'm goin' and I'm goin' now."
He was pissed to say the least. He nodded at the nurse, then dragged Buffy out into the hallway. As the nurse went about freeing her completely, Faith could hear Buffy getting an earful. The nurse heard it too and after she'd finished up, she just stood there looking at Faith with a disapproving stare. When Buffy finally walked back into the room, the nurse said her piece:
"Ms. Summers, I've seen how much you love your girlfriend. You need to talk some sense into her before she kills herself."
Buffy turned completely red as the nurse strode out, and Faith had to struggle not to laugh right out loud.
"Uh…Um…The uh…The doctor left directions…instructions…some kind of 'tions' at the nurses' desk…station…thingy…I'll be right back."
With that she whirled out of the room, narrowly missing the doorjamb as she made her escape.
Faith began laughing the second Buffy was out in the hallway, and even though it hurt, she couldn't stop :
"And there she goes: The poster girl for straight chicks everywhere. Christ."
She wanted to call her a big dyke if she got the nerve to come back, but Faith didn't think Buffy would find it funny, not in the slightest.
She smiled, remembering how she used to tease and flirt with Buffy just to see her face turn that same cute shade of red. She was so easy to embarrass, especially when it came to sex, and Faith loved to get her wound up because it was just so damn funny to watch.
Buffy was always so in control, and Faith could never resist making her lose it. Oh yeah, those were good times, so good she'd fucked them all up…She had to get out.
She tried sitting up, but she was incredibly weak and sore. She had no clue how she was going to take care of herself, but just like always, she was going to have to figure it out. Whatever. She'd worry about it later, right now she had to get clear of the hospital and everything it brought back to her.
After a while, she managed to sit up on the side of the bed, but she had to hang on tight. The room was spinning again, which she didn't consider fair since she'd already been there, done that. Everything hurt and she was more than ready for the Slayer healing to start making itself known. The way she saw it, now was the perfect time for it to kick in.
Faith was contemplating trying to stand up when Buffy came walking back through the door. She was just regular "Buffy" color now and she was all business, holding a sheaf of papers and frowning in concentration as she read them.
"Okay, this doesn't seem too complicated. They're not very happy with either of us, in fact your doctor just told me about five million times that you were going to kill yourself if you left."
She looked up from the papers then, her face all serious:
"Faith, maybe you should stay. Just another day or two wouldn't…"
"I'm motorin'. Can ya grab my stuff?"
Buffy walked over to the narrow little closet and pulled out some fresh clothes.
"Giles and Dawn went by the motel and got you some new stuff. What you were wearing was totaled."
"I'll help you get dressed, and by then the wheelchair should be here."
Before Faith could make a sound, Buffy cut off her protest:
"Don't say anything, it's hospital policy. You'll have to sign some papers saying they told you not to go, then we can leave."
"Yes, I'm taking you to my house."
"Don't think so, B. I'm just gonna…"
Buffy began removing Faith's hospital gown as gently as she could:
"Can you straighten out that arm at all?"
"Forget it, I'll just tear the stupid…"
"Buffy, stop! I'm not goin' home with you. Gonna head to the motel and…"
Buffy's face went hard in less than a second:
"You don't have a choice."
"Sure I do, and…"
"Faith, you've been unconscious for five days after a beating that would have killed anyone else. We're going to get you dressed and then you're coming home with me. I couldn't care less if you want to or not."
"Yeah, well I care and you're not gonna fuckin' boss…"
"So you're actually going to try and fight me on this?"
"Can take care of myself, Buffy."
Buffy rolled the tray around in front of Faith and lifted the hidden mirror.
"Really? Take a good look."
Faith couldn't believe how bad it was, no wonder the doctor and nurse were freaking out.
"If you want to keep arguing, that's fine. If you want to make it physical, that works too…I'm sure there must be some spot on you that's not already bruised, bloody, or broken."
"So, are you coming to my house willingly or am I dragging you there?"
"Good, now hold still while I rip this off."
They arrived at Buffy's all too quickly for Faith and to say she was nervous and uncomfortable was an understatement of epic proportions. After the humiliation at the hospital with Buffy stripping her bare and re-dressing her like she was an invalid kid, she didn't think it could get any worse, but she was wrong…way wrong.
The last time she'd been inside the house looming in front of her, she'd used Joyce as a punching bag and then capped that off by switching bodies with Buffy after beating on her…She could feel herself starting to panic. She couldn't do it, no way could she go in there. She wanted to explain how she felt, but what could she really say?
"Hey, B, I'm feelin' kinda stressed about smackin' your dead mom around and takin' your body out for a little joyride. Think maybe you could help me feel better about it?"
No, she couldn't say that. All she could do was sit silently in her seat, praying that she could somehow get out of going into the house.
Buffy hadn't spoken since they'd left the hospital, and the closer they got to their destination, the more she felt like punching Faith. By the time they turned into the driveway, she wanted nothing more than to grab and pummel her passenger into a bloodier, pulpier version than she already was. Buffy had no idea what she'd been thinking when she'd insisted that Faith come home with her.
She was about to give shelter to the enemy, comfort and aid to the person who had tormented her and everyone she loved. She was inviting a psycho killer into her home, and she was wondering why she didn't just send out a general "Come on in!" invitation to every vampire in town. It seemed way less dangerous than what she was planning to do.
It wasn't going to happen, she couldn't do it. There was no way she could do it, no way she should do it. What she wanted to be doing…well, that involved plenty of pain and punishment for Faith. Buffy didn't owe her anything else, and she was fine with that.
She couldn't help her, Faith didn't deserve it. She didn't deserve anything good, not from Buffy and probably not from anyone else either. She was evil, she was twisted, and she was a monster who wasn't really sorry for one damn thing she'd done.
With the anger rolling through her, Buffy shut off the engine and turned to Faith. She had every intention of explaining to her in great detail that she wasn't welcome, that she would never be welcome, and that this had all been a huge mistake brought on by temporary insanity. But when Buffy looked at Faith, what she saw made her lapse into a stunned silence.
Faith was completely white and she was shaking. Her eyes were filled with a regret and sadness that Buffy had never seen before. It was heartbreaking, and without thinking she reached over and grabbed Faith's hand with her own.
Faith didn't respond, but she didn't pull away either, and Buffy spoke to her as gently as she could:
"It's okay, Faith. We want you here, it's okay."
It was like comforting a scared animal.
Buffy kept repeating herself, and after a couple of minutes, Faith calmed down. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then opened the door as she exhaled. She eased out gingerly and Buffy dashed around the car to help her.
The going was slow and painful. Buffy wanted to pick her up and carry her into the house, but she knew that wasn't the best idea. Faith would not appreciate being made to feel even more helpless and vulnerable than she already did, and so Buffy was left to hover behind her as she hobbled up the walk.
They'd just made it through the front door when Dawn came barreling into the entryway. She was clearly on a collision course with Faith, and Buffy just managed to get between them in time to prevent a full on body slam. It was a normal greeting for the two of them, but since Faith was struggling just to stay on her feet, Buffy knew she had to intervene.
"Whoa! Easy there, tiger. She should still be in the hospital."
Faith's face brightened the second she saw Dawn:
"Hey. You okay?"
"Thanks to you. Can I hug you if I do it really carefully?"
Dawn paused nervously:
"I don't want to hurt you."
"Hug from you's never gonna hurt. Come here."
Buffy saw the pained wince when Dawn's arms wrapped tight around Faith, but when they finally let go of each other, they were nothing but smiles.
"Thank you, Faith."
"Just glad you're okay, Squirt."
Dawn began leading her carefully to the couch:
"I'm not a squirt anymore. Look, I'm even taller than Buffy now!"
"Yeah, but so are midgets."
They both laughed, and Buffy couldn't help but fall into her usual role:
"Hey, standing right here!"
"You're standin', B?"
"Ha ha, F."
"Just sayin' you got a height sitch."
"I make up for it with other things."
Dawn was giggling and actually bouncing in place, she was so happy:
"Yeah Buffy, you dress so crappy, no one notices how short…"
You little brat!"
She took off running as Buffy tossed a pillow at her.
The house seemed to shake as Dawn slammed the door.
Faith was trying not to laugh because her body clearly didn't have a sense of humor, but it was just like old times, well, "old times" when things were actually good. She'd always loved goofing around with Buffy and Dawn, and it had always made her feel like she was a part of something wonderful…a feeling she'd appreciated so much, she'd betrayed them and tried to kill everybody to show her deep gratitude.
This wasn't going to work. She couldn't be here with them, not in this house and not anywhere else either. She had to get out.
"Faith, are you okay?"
Buffy's face was hard to read because Faith was looking nowhere near it.
"You don't sound fine…you don't look fine either. What's wrong?"
Buffy didn't speak and Faith quickly began fidgeting under her gaze. It wasn't long before she was struggling to her feet:
"Listen B…think I should just clear out and…"
"Nah, it's cool. I'm just gonna head to the motel."
"It wasn't a request."
Faith risked a glance at Buffy's eyes, and what she saw had her sitting back down. Buffy had something to say and Faith knew there was no way she going to let her leave without hearing it. There wasn't much she could do about it anyway; she wasn't exactly in peak condition to fight her way out.
"Faith, if we're going to have any chance at all, we have to be honest with each other. I'm still so furious with you. Half the time I just want to beat you, and the other half…well, the other half I don't know. What I do know is this: you're here and that means something."
Faith sat perfectly still, afraid to move.
"It doesn't mean I trust you, but it does mean I'm willing to keep an open mind. If you hold things back from me, start lying and keeping secrets, I won't be able to do this…whatever 'this' is."
Buffy couldn't believe what she was saying, but she knew she meant it. She sat down in the chair facing the couch, doing her best to keep her expression neutral.
"All right, so I'm going to ask one more time: What's wrong?"
Faith sat there fighting with herself. Talking had never been her strong suit, at least not about her feelings. It scared her and made her feel stupid for making herself vulnerable. She'd always avoided it at all costs, but this time the cost was the woman sitting in front of her.
This was it…Buffy was giving her a chance.
She took a deep breath, said a quick prayer to whoever the fuck it was who listened to people like her, and then she went for it:
"Was thinking how happy I always used to be here, how I ruined it all and don't deserve to be back. I was thinking just how fucking much I hate myself for what I did."
Buffy never even blinked. She sat as still as a statue until Faith nervously said her name:
"I've definitely been there, done that. I mean, the hating of myself, not you…although I've got that covered too."
"I loved coming to this house. It was like this little safe spot and…God, B, the horrible shit I pulled…I'm sorry, Buffy."
"Maybe I'm starting to get that, but as much as I might like to say everything's going to be just fine, I can't. It's going to take a lot of time and effort, and even then…I don't know, Faith. I guess we'll just have to take it one step at a time."
"However you wanna do it, B. Whatever you need, I'm good with that."
Buffy stood up:
"I imagine you'd like to rest now?"
"Yeah, think my body's gettin' ready to throw a shit fit."
"I'm going to carry you upstairs whether you want me to or not, so don't make a big deal. You'll be staying in my room for the next few days, no arguments."
Buffy picked her up, cradling her in her arms carefully. The door slammed and Dawn came rushing in, talking excitedly about the cute new boy from across the street. Buffy could barely get a word in to tell her that they'd talk about him later.
It finally seemed to register that her sister was holding Faith:
"Oh right, sorry. It's just that he's so cute and…"
The look on Buffy's face got Dawn back on track:
"I changed the sheets for you, Faith."
"Yep, no 'Buffy' cooties for you. Get a good rest, okay?"
Dawn smiled big:
"I'll see you later."
"Count on it, Squirt."
Then Buffy was carrying her up the stairs, and Faith suddenly realized just how weak and sore she really was. Her body was one big aching pain, and she felt like she could sleep for a year.
Some people would call it a low point, but not Faith. There was an unfamiliar feeling flowing through her, and although she wasn't positive, she thought it might be "hope". Whatever it was it felt good, better than anything she'd felt in a long time.
She didn't want to jinx herself, but she couldn't help thinking that maybe somehow, some way, she really could get Buffy's friendship back. She wanted to keep thinking about it and figure out how she could maybe make it happen, but against her will she was almost asleep by the time they got to the bedroom.
She felt how gently Buffy placed her on the bed, carefully removing her shoes and loosening the drawstring on her sweats. Maybe, just maybe, Buffy didn't hate her anymore.
As Buffy covered her with the sheet and blanket, she wondered why Faith was smiling. She looked like nothing but an adorable little kid and…Buffy knew she had to get a grip, and she had to get it right now.
This was Faith resting in her bed. She might look all cute and helpless now, but she was the most dangerous thing Buffy had ever come across. And yet that smile…It made Faith look so young and happy that Buffy found herself struggling not to smile in return.
She stood there looking calm, but inside she was furious:
**Damn it! She always does this, just shows up, waltzes into my life and turns everything upside down. Why do I keep letting her do this to me? I mean, how many times do I need to get burned before I finally figure out not to stick my hand in the fire? I'm not going to fall for it again just because she's all hurt and helpless. Sure she almost died saving Dawn, but I'm not stupid. I know what she's capable of, what she's probably going to end up doing. She must be out of her mind if she thinks she's going to trick me again.**
Buffy angrily turned and strode from the room just as forcefully as she could, her thoughts now being uttered aloud:
"Well, no more chances, not from me. She's lucky I'm even giving her a place to stay. She'll get basic medical care because that's what decent people do, but that's all she's getting. If she doesn't like it, she can just leave."
Buffy stopped walking, let out a huge sigh, and went back into the bedroom. She adjusted the covers, then pulled a chair up close to the bed. As she sat there, she knew: Faith was getting to her all over again.
It was just like when she'd come to class and drawn a heart on the window in front of everyone. It was just like when they'd danced and laughed and then had to escape from police custody. It was just like when she had tried to convince Giles that it was Buffy who had killed Allen Finch, but then saved Buffy's life without hesitation. It was just like L.A. when she'd asked Buffy how to make it better and then turned herself in. It was just like every moment since they'd first met.
Buffy sat there thinking about a lot of things and nothing at all. It was a long time before she got up to leave, and when she did, Faith began crying softly in her sleep. Buffy reached out and gently smoothed the hair back from her forehead.
Faith looked scared, and Buffy wondered what her dreams were filled with. She stood there stroking the dark hair, and it seemed as if her touch calmed Faith. She settled back into a restful sleep, her face once again unlined and untroubled.
Buffy reached over and tucked Mr. Gordo in next to her. Mr. Gordo was good at chasing away bad dreams. He'd keep Faith safe until…
Faith woke up several hours later feeling much better. She stretched carefully and was relieved to find that her ribs were a little less tender. She pushed them to their limit and inhaled deeply, smelling the freshness of clean sheets and all things Buffy. It hurt, but the tradeoff was well worth it to her.
She looked around the familiar room and smiled. If anyone would have told her she'd be rehabbing in Buffy's bedroom, she'd have told them…
"Gordy! Where the hell'd you come from?"
She decided to test the waters and began sitting up slowly. Just as she got started, she heard a quiet tap only a Slayer would, and then Dawn's head was peeking around the opening door.
"Faith, can I come in?"
"Course ya can."
Dawn bounded in with a huge smile on her face.
"You look a lot better."
"Feel better. Guess regular sleep gets the Slayer healing jazzed."
"Are you coming downstairs or eating up here? We ordered pizza and Buffy got one just like you like it, everything but anchovies."
"Sounds good, I'm starvin'. Whole pie mine?"
Dawn smiled big and nodded :
"Of course! It's not like Buffy doesn't know you."
"Yeah, guess once ya see me eat, ya never forget it. Just let me use the bathroom, then I'll be down."
"Okay! I'll go tell Buffy you're coming."
Dawn took one step out of the bedroom, then screamed:
"She's coming in a minute!"
When there was no response, Dawn hollered again. She listened carefully to the silence, then rolled her eyes:
"She must be in the kitchen or trying to teach me a lesson about not screaming in the house."
She took off running down the stairs, repeating the same thing over and over like a demented Paul Revere and Faith laughed. It was cute and nobody else was that enthusiastic about her presence; she'd take it where she could get it.
She made her way towards the bathroom slowly, taking stock of her injuries as she went. She'd definitely had a wicked beating, especially when she considered she was five days out. She made a mental note to start packing a flamethrower.
Dawn suddenly appeared on the stairs yelling at full volume:
"Faith, Buffy wants to know if you need help! Oh sorry, I thought you'd still be in the bedroom."
"Nope, motored all the way out here. Tell her I got it."
"Okay, but come on. Your pizza's going to get cold."
Faith did her business, and as she was washing her hands, she tried to remember if Dawn had always been so loud. All of her screaming was making Faith's head pound, but it was a small price to pay to see her so happy. Faith knew she would have paid a helluva lot more to…And that was when she made her mistake.
She headed out of the bathroom and let her eyes wander, her gaze falling on Joyce's room. She felt herself take a faltering step in that direction and she became dizzy as the memories came flooding back.
There she was, terrorizing Joyce while she ranted and raved about how Buffy had left them both behind. She saw herself picking up the knife and then saw Buffy crashing into the room. She remembered the violent fight that had followed that entrance and she…
Faith jumped and almost fell, but Buffy reacted quickly and reached out to steady her.
"What's wrong? Faith?"
Faith stood there looking at Buffy, but not really seeing her.
"I scared her."
"What are you talking…"
Buffy let go and took a step back:
"Was gonna cut her up."
Dawn chose that moment to come upstairs:
"Hey, come on you guys, the pizza's…..What's going on?"
Buffy could barely speak:
"Da…Dawn, go back downstairs."
"Why? What's happening?"
"Just go downstairs."
Buffy didn't want her exposed to this. She didn't want herself exposed to it either, but there didn't seem to be any way out of it. Meanwhile, Dawn continued to stand there:
"What are you doing?"
"Remembering how I almost killed your mom."
Dawn visibly recoiled, but she didn't leave. Buffy was standing completely still, fighting her anger at the memory of Faith hurting Joyce. It wasn't going well and she was afraid if she moved at all, she was going to lunge for Faith and beat her to death.
As she stood there desperately trying to regain control of herself, she became aware that Faith was suffering. She could see it, in a way she could even feel it, and to her great surprise she found a part of her wanted to help. As a result of those conflicting emotions, Buffy couldn't do or say anything at all.
It was Dawn who reached out to Faith:
"Faith, we know you're sorry, okay? Come on, just come downstairs and have some pizza. Please, Faith?"
Faith's eyes went to Buffy:
"B…if you need me to leave…"
It took Buffy several moments to answer:
"No…No, Dawn's right. You two head down, I'll be there in a minute."
Dawn held Faith's arm and helped her down the stairs. She babbled the whole time about the new pizza place they used: how the regular delivery boy was so cute, how the crust was so thick and the cheese was so cheesy…
"…but in a totally good way, not like in a cheesy bad movie way".
She was doing her best to distract Faith and lighten the moment, but Faith said nothing, her mind obviously still focused on the past.
As they disappeared from view, Buffy stood in the same spot wondering again just what she was doing. Faith had caused so much pain and damage, yet here she was in their house. Even if she had truly changed, how was Buffy supposed to get past the history they shared?
It didn't seem possible, but maybe that wasn't the issue anymore. Maybe what she should be asking herself instead was: did she want to get past it? She knew the honest answer, whether it made any sense or not, was: "yes". She wanted Faith back in her life.
The life of a Slayer was so complex. There was the thrill that came from facing danger every night, knowing that it could easily be your own death you were fighting towards. There was the strength and power that provided the courage to face the things that everyone else feared, and there was the call of the night.
It was a far different urge than the one vampires and other creatures of the darkness felt. For Buffy it was a call to arms, a battle cry to protect, and it began beating its rhythm inside her when the sun set. It was something only a Slayer could feel and Faith understood it all without any explanation.
But it wasn't just the bond they shared as Slayers that Buffy missed, it was Faith herself. She'd always understood Buffy, had always known who she was and what she was about. Faith had teased her, flirted outrageously with her, and pushed her at every opportunity because that's who Faith was…and she made Buffy feel alive.
Buffy was so sick of carrying around the pain and anger. She'd spent years trying to forget the good times they'd shared and she was tired of pretending that she hated Faith, that she didn't care about her. They were the Chosen Two, they were supposed to be the best of friends.
The pain of losing Faith was still a burning ache inside of Buffy, and it had been from the moment she knew Faith was gone for good. She'd spent the years between then and now wondering what she could have done to save Faith, and she went over and over it, trying desperately to see what she'd failed to see the first time around.
She tormented herself with the memory of stabbing Faith, and she hated herself for ever letting it come to that. Buffy worried all the time about her, wondering if she was okay, if she'd ever be okay again, and she had fantasized more times than anyone could count about Faith coming back strong and whole to resume her slaying duties at Buffy's side.
Well, Faith was back now, and Buffy wanted so much to believe that she really had changed. But how could she? The things Faith had done...there was just no way to wipe the slate clean, it wasn't possible no matter how much Buffy wished it were.
It was all so confusing anyway. Just minutes ago, Buffy had wanted nothing more than to beat Faith to death. How could anything ever change when she still felt so much anger and…
"Buffy, will you come on?!"
Dawn's screaming jarred Buffy out of her…Well, with that voice, Dawn could jar anybody out of anything. At least she sounded normal again, and that was something Buffy could very much get behind. There was a lot to be said for normal.
And so Slayer #1 walked down the stairs to eat pizza with Psychotic Slayer #2 and The Key. That was Buffy's version of "normal", and she'd learned long ago that when you lived on The Hellmouth, you had to take what you were given and make the best of it. Whatever, she had pizza waiting.
The rest of the evening passed quietly. Once dinner was done, all three girls headed into the front room to watch TV. Faith hadn't spoken much since she'd come downstairs, but then Buffy hadn't either. They each sat on opposite ends of the couch with Dawn on the floor between them, and they gave their attention to some program about nature.
After about an hour Faith fell asleep, her legs resting comfortably on the ottoman that Dawn had pulled over, and Buffy covered her with a blanket. The sisters went back to watching the show which seemed to have no ending anywhere in sight, and they let their guest slumber on peacefully.
Faith woke up a couple of hours later to the smell of fresh popcorn, and she looked around surprised:
"Damn, don't usually nod off like that."
"Well, you're not usually all beaten up either. Here, Buffy loaded it with lots of salt and butter."
Faith grinned as she took the bowl from Dawn:
"Just like I like it, thanks."
Buffy came into the room carrying two more bowls:
"Dawnie, can you grab the drinks on the counter?"
Buffy sat back down on the couch:
"Is there enough butter?"
"It's perfect, B. Thanks."
"Hey guys, there's only two root beers. Sorry Buffy, you'll have to have this disgusting Diet Coke!"
Buffy snatched it out of her hand:
"Give me my drink."
Dawn opened Faith's can and handed it to her with a big smile, then sat down on the floor with her own bowl of popcorn on her lap.
"So how long do we have to keep watching this?"
Buffy couldn't believe what she was hearing:
"What do you mean? I thought you wanted to watch it."
"Me? No, I thought you were into it."
Buffy began clicking through the channels:
"Okay, so that's three hours we can never get back."
They ate their snacks while they surfed through all of the channels repeatedly, and an hour later Dawn called it a night.
"I'm think I'm gonna go to bed, guys."
She gave them both a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Faith, tomorrow's Saturday. Do you wanna…"
"'Justice League' on?"
"Yep, at 10:30."
"Got a date, Squirt."
"Great! See you tomorrow. Night, Buffy."
"Sweet dreams, Dawnie."
She ran up the stairs and Buffy couldn't help but smile. She hadn't seen Dawn so happy in years.
"What's the smile about, B?"
"Huh? Oh, I was just thinking how happy Dawn is to have you here."
"Know how she feels."
The smile left Buffy's face as she turned off the TV.
"Faith, I think we should talk about what happened earlier."
"…Maybe not such a great idea, B."
"Maybe it's not, but I know for sure that not talking got us into trouble before."
Faith looked like she was facing a firing squad:
Buffy gathered her thoughts carefully before she spoke:
"I know you feel terrible about hurting my mom."
The sadness was back in Faith's eyes and she struggled to speak:
"She…she was so nice to me, B, and I hit her. Now she's gone and there's no way to try and make it up to her."
"I think I understand how you feel and I believe you when you say you feel bad…it's just…God Faith, you went after my mom. And now she's dead and I know it's crazy and not fair, but it almost feels like you killed her…"
Buffy burst into tears and Faith wasn't sure what to do. Should she just leave? Maybe go upstairs? Act like she didn't notice? Kill herself? This was why she hated "talking". Stuff like this always happened and she never knew what to do.
She opted for pulling Buffy into what she hoped was a comforting embrace. She didn't have much experience when it came to offering consolation, but she figured Buffy needed it and as Faith was the only one in the immediate vicinity, she was going to have to do.
"It's just been hard, Faith. I miss her so much…I've tried to look out for Dawn, tried to be strong for her, but there've been so many times when I needed Mom…I don't even know if she knew how much I loved her."
Faith leaned back, her hands on Buffy's shoulders as she looked at her in surprise:
"B, are you kiddin' me? Your mom was so proud of you. 'Member that Christmas I spent with you guys? You had to go help Angel, and after Dawn went to bed, me and your mom stayed up all night just talking."
"Yeah, and she told me that the best thing about being a mom is the love your kids give you. She said she'd made so many mistakes with you and you still loved her anyways. She knew, Buffy. She absolutely knew."
Buffy didn't say a word and Faith kept going:
"And I'll tell ya, B: the confidence she had in you was fucking amazing. When I was threatening her, she was so calm. She flat-out told me you'd be comin' to kill me soon and even when I got pissed, she didn't back down an inch. She had complete trust in you, and she was right to. Don't do that to yourself, don't ever doubt your relationship with your mom. I saw it B, and it was beautiful."
Buffy stared at her, speechless. When she finally managed to find her voice, it was to say something she thought she'd never say again:
"Thank you, Faith."
Faith turned red and let go of Buffy as she mumbled her response:
"Uh…yeah, well…okay then. Oughta turn in. Feelin' a little tired."
"Me too. I guess crying like a mental case can exhaust you."
"Trust me B, pretty much anything you do as a mental case is exhausting."
They shared their first real laugh in years and it felt good. Somehow it felt right.
Buffy stretched and yawned as she tried to wake up. Willow's bed was nice and cozy, and she could have kept sleeping if the TV wasn't so loud. She knew the noise meant Faith and Dawn were completely immersed in cartoons and bad movies, and she was sure they'd polished off the leftover pizza as well as some doughnuts, all chased down with root beer. It was like having two little kids in the house.
She glanced at the clock: 9:18. Willow would be coming home in less than five hours. Buffy had asked her to be elsewhere yesterday to give Faith a chance to settle in, and saying Willow wasn't too happy with the idea of Faith staying with them…It was very much like saying the sun was hot.
"What?! Buffy, have you lost your mind? You're going to let Faith stay in the house with us?"
"So did you get us all t-shirts with big red bull's-eyes on them?"
"I know it seems crazy."
Buffy had to hold the phone away from her ear:
"And you know why that is? Because it is crazy! Are we supposed to go to sleep with her in the house? What's to stop her from gutting us all in our beds? What's to stop her from wearing our internal organs as…"
"I know Will, it's just…I don't know how to explain it, but I have a feeling about her. I know she might be dangerous, but I don't think she is, not anymore. I need to do this, can you please try and understand?"
Willow was right on the verge of pulling out her famous "Resolve Face", whether Buffy could see it or not, but her friend's next words stopped her in her tracks.
"I know I'm asking a lot, but please, Will?"
Willow knew it was most likely a disaster in the making, but what could she say…although she was going to be saying plenty in the afterlife, starting with a never ending litany of: "I told you so."
"Buffy, are you sure?
"Buffy! You're supposed to be rallying the troops!"
Buffy was confused:
"Wait, that was a 'Rally' moment? I thought it was 'best friends' time."
"I guess it doesn't matter, we're all going be dead soon anyway. All right, but just don't expect me to be nice to her. And I'm not leaving my door unlocked either. It won't stop her, but at least I'll hear her coming."
Buffy smiled and wished she could hug her:
"Thanks, Will. You're the best, you know?"
"Just doing my Scooby duty, plus you've got the whole 'best friends' thing working for you too."
"Yeah…I just hope we're not going to be sorry."
"Buffy Anne Summers! Could you just pretend to be a little confident? Geez, just for that you're on bathroom duty for a month."
She laughed when she thought of Willow trying to be tough. She could pull it off sometimes, but hardly ever with Buffy. She was such a softy, and it was one of things Buffy loved best about her.
She rolled out of bed and thought again about last night. Faith had actually made her feel better and more than that, she had been so kind and thoughtful that Buffy was still blown away.
The old Faith would have never said those things. She would have tried to laugh it off because she would have been uncomfortable, and that reaction would have just made Buffy feel worse. But instead of playing games, Faith had helped her out, and it was a huge change. A change that Buffy liked a lot.
As she made her way down the stairs, she heard Faith laughing. It was her real laugh, not the one she veiled with cynicism or the one filled with bitterness. This laugh was joyous, and Buffy was smiling in response as she walked into the living room.
"Hey you two, what's so funny?"
"Buffy, you have to see this! This old movie is about vampires and they've got everything wrong. The vamps are…they're…Buffy, they're sleeping in coffins!"
Dawn collapsed onto Faith, barely able to deliver the information. The two of them were laughing hysterically and Buffy couldn't help but laugh too. But it wasn't really that funny, was it?
"Okay, no more sugar for either of you today."
Faith was snorting, she was laughing so hard:
"B, check this out! This chick can't…she can't run without fallin' down. That's like the third time now!"
They went crazy again and Buffy escaped into the kitchen, desperate for coffee.
"And no more sugar tomorrow either."
They didn't hear her, they were too busy fighting for the last slice of pizza:
"But you already had four, Faith."
"So? You had five doughnuts."
"Don't try lyin', Squirt. You even ate that icky plain one."
"Oh yeah…I forgot about that."
"Not that I blame ya for blockin' it out."
Buffy stood silently in the doorway, sipping her coffee while she watched them.
"Well, then it doesn't count because I didn't enjoy it."
Faith pretended to think it over, all the while holding the last slice just out of Dawn's reach.
"Yeah, ya make a good point. Tell ya what, I'll flip ya for it."
Dawn rolled her eyes:
"Come on, I haven't fallen for that since I was a kid and you almost tossed me out the window."
"Man, was that ever funny. The look on your face…Okay, sorry. How 'bout fifty-fifty?"
"But Faith, I'm starving!"
Faith sighed dramatically:
"Cripes, what a pig. Alright, here ya go."
"Yeah, well don't forget it when…What the fuck? Those s'posed to be rats? Dawnie, you see that?"
"Yeah, those were armadillos! Buffy, hurry! You have to see…Never mind, too late."
Then they were giggling again, and that was when Buffy knew for sure.
If Faith wasn't on the level, Buffy was going to kill her.
Faith was sitting on the bed in Buffy's bedroom. She was also hiding. Willow had arrived and although Faith knew she was going to have to say something to her eventually, she had no idea what that "something" should be:
Faith decided to stay in Buffy's bedroom for as long as it took Willow to go away, which she knew could be a long time since this was Willow's home. Faith didn't care, she was going to wait her out and she was ready to use her special "Prison Patience" if she had to.
Just as she made her decision and began to hunker down, the door opened and Buffy walked in.
"…So, are you planning to hide in here all day?"
"Was thinkin' maybe a lot longer than that."
"Faith, you're going to have to face her some time."
"Yeah, but it'd be way easier to do if she wasn't there. Let me know when it's clear."
Buffy smiled slightly, but her hands were on her hips:
"Come on, let's go."
She led a reluctant Faith into the living room and there sat Willow, looking none too happy either. A strained silence filled the room, and after a couple of minutes Buffy piped up:
"Okay, you two. Willow, this is Faith. Faith, this is Willow."
Another silence descended, and Faith decided she should be the one to start:
"Hi Re…Willow. Thanks for lettin' me crash here. I'm feeling way better, and oughta be gone in a coupla days."
"You're feeling better, Faith? That's just great, there's nothing more heartening than knowing you're almost back to full speed. I'll sleep so much easier now."
"Willow, I…I'm not gonna hurt anyone. I know that's hard for you to believe, but I mean it. Can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate you guys givin' me another chance."
Willow stood up then, her anger and dislike written all over her face:
"Thank Buffy, not me. I still remember what it felt like when you punched me and I can still see the look in your eye when you got ready to carve me up. Guess I owe the Mayor a big special thanks for being able to control his psychotic Slayer."
Faith stayed quiet and didn't argue. What could she say anyway? It wasn't like it hadn't happened, it had, and Willow obviously wasn't going to be forgetting about it any time soon.
"Understand this, Faith: if it were up to me, you'd be suffering in a Hell dimension right about now…but it's not, so you're here. Well fine, but I'm warning you: if you hurt Buffy again, I'm going to help you understand what 'sorry' really means. I'm not kidding, and I think I made that clear at 'The Magic Box'."
Faith didn't move, she was positive her skin was already tingling slightly.
"I'm going to take a nap, I want to be ready for tonight. See you then."
Faith jumped as she felt a short but painful blast of heat, and then Willow stomped off upstairs. Her door slammed and Buffy and Faith sat in silence, the room still vibrating with her anger.
"Well okay, that went the kind of good that's not."
"…B, maybe I oughta just clear out."
"What was Will talking about? What happened at 'The Magic Box'?"
Faith looked at Buffy worriedly:
"Um…Kinda 'tween me and her, ya know? I'm not pullin' one, B. Just don't think it's my place to tell."
"Okay, I can respect that, but it seemed a little on the serious side."
"No big. Red just explained the rules to me."
"I'll bet that was loads of fun. She just did something a second ago too, right?"
Buffy put her hands up in mock surrender:
"Okay, I don't need to know and you don't need to leave."
"Are you sure, B? She's your best friend and she's just doin' her job. It's me who's in the wrong."
"I love Willow, she's the best best friend ever. And she's not kidding, so I'd advise you to watch your step until she feels a little better about you."
"Don't gotta tell me twice."
Buffy walked over to stare out the front room window:
"You say you've come back to make amends. Well, there are plenty to be made, that's for sure."
Faith stayed quiet, barely daring to breathe as she waited for Buffy to continue.
"Boy, this just couldn't be any weirder, could it? You want me to give you a chance and to do that I have to take one."
She stood looking out until she exhaled a huge breath and turned to face Faith:
"Okay, you want a chance, you've got it. But understand, Faith: it's the only one you're ever going to get from me. Screw it up and the only question left will be which one of us is still alive when it's over."
"I'm not gonna screw up, B, not like that anyway."
"I really hope that's true, for everyone's sake. I guess I'd better go talk to Will."
She started to head out of the room, but Faith stopped her:
"B, thank you."
"I hope you're welcome, F."
Spike pulled up in front of the house he now called home and smelled the delicious night air. Back in good old Sunnydale. He laughed – the whole world was his for the taking and yet he chose to stay in a little Hellmouth of a town. He knew he was never leaving, not while even one of them was still breathing.
It had all started when he'd fallen in love with The Slayer. That one crazy twist of fate had led him to fight his demon, battle to get his soul back, and learn to live with his sins, all while joining forces with the woman he loved and her comrades as they fought the good fight.
He didn't know how exactly, but somewhere along the way they'd become his mates, the family he'd always craved. He stood beside them through it all, risking his life for them time and time again. At first he did it for her, but as time passed he soon realized he did it because they were them. They meant something to him, and the longer he was around, the more they came to understand who he truly was.
They finally began seeing what Buffy had seen so long ago: he was a man of uncommon character. He'd done the impossible, he'd fought for and won his soul, and there was no way to ignore what that victory meant. He'd done it for Buffy, to be a better man for her, and they could all see that he'd become what he'd set out to be. His love for Buffy had changed him, and it had earned him their respect and trust. He was incredible, and he was one of them.
It was a difficult transition from lovers to friends, and neither Spike nor Buffy knew how to handle it. Finally one night while out on a quiet patrol together, Buffy had simply spoken from her heart:
"Spike, I don't love you like you want me to. I never did and I never will. I do love you though. I think you're the most amazing person I've ever met and I'm proud to call you my friend. You'll always have a place with me wherever I am, I'll never turn you away. You're in my heart forever, and nothing will ever change that."
Her eyes glistened with tears as she took his hand in hers:
"I want you to stay here, but you have to accept that we'll always just be friends. I don't want to hurt you anymore, and I'll understand if you have to leave. But please know that with all my heart, I want you to stay. If you decide you can't, then know I'll always miss you, William…for the rest of my life."
He was incredibly moved and recognized the truth in what she said. He'd known right from the start that she didn't love him and he also knew that he would always love her. It hurt, but there was such joy in knowing that he had her friendship. In a way, it was everything he'd always wanted.
"I do love you, s'pect I always will, but I understand what you're saying. I want to do some good in this world and the best place for that is at your side. Owe you anyway, Slayer. Saved me, you did. Gave me back myself and that's not the sort of debt a bloke just walks away from. 'Sides all that, you're the most beautiful person I've ever known and I'm not goin' anywhere. Got your back for the rest of my life, and I'll never wish it any other way. Makes it easier you want me around. Be a helluva fight if you didn't."
And so with that clearing of the air, Spike began his journey with the Slayer and her Scooby Gang. He was included in their plans, asked for his advice, turned to for comfort, and teased just like everyone else. They trusted him, worried about him, and loved him.
He finally had a home and a family, and he treasured every single minute of it. William the Bloody had found where he was meant to be, and he was staying put until he was dust.
He got off his motorcycle and stretched with relief. It wasn't an easy trick for a vampire to travel all around the country, especially on a motorbike. He could have taken a car, but he was fond of his bike, and it didn't hurt a thing that he looked so cool astride it, his long black coat billowing out behind him.
It had been a long trip though, and he was glad to be home. He smiled when he thought of how excited the gang was going to be when they heard all of the information he'd brought back. He'd hit the mother lode in of all places, Topeka, Kansas, and he'd hit a few other things there as well. All in all, Topeka had been a great time.
He found the front door locked with no one answering his knock. He had no idea where his own key was, it had gone missing during a little dust-up in Phoenix. He'd nearly met his own dusting there too, but there was no way in hell he was going "poof" in Arizona.
He hadn't care much for that state, and wasn't about to blow around in it for all eternity. A vampire ought to be able to pick his place, and he was counting on
He rattled the doorknob one last time, then gave up. It didn't matter, he knew where the spare was hiding. He couldn't wait for a cold beer and a hot shower, preferably together, and he'd been dreaming of his own bed forever. He knew however, that total comfort would have to wait…he had way too much vital information to impart. Still, just being home and surrounded by the people and things he loved sounded like a slice of heaven to him.
Walking into the backyard, his senses filled with the sweet smell of jasmine. He'd insisted on planting it, in fact he'd fixed up the entire yard. Xander had teased him mercilessly, calling him a "girly vamp", but Spike didn't care.
He loved flowers and the beauty they provided. Jasmine was his favorite, it was night blooming and it smelled great. Xander was a wanker, and besides, Buffy loved the scent so much she left her window open just to…
He was knocked on his ass by a powerful blow to his head, and it left him more than a little dazed. Not so dazed though, that he didn't notice the woman straddling him as she prepared to ram a stake through his heart.
He smacked her hard in the face and jumped to his feet, ready to battle an obviously worthwhile opponent.
"Don't know who or what you are, but not fancying a big knockdown drag out. How 'bout you get the hell out of here, and I pretend I never saw you? Can come back tomorrow, be happy to kill you then."
Faith knew him the second he spoke. Spike had returned, and as best she could tell in the dim moonlight, he looked tired. Tired, but also more than ready…just maybe not to be ridden at a gallop. She was really hoping he had a sense of humor about that.
"So, Spike the Prodigal returns."
"And who the bloody hell are you?"
"Slayer # 2, at your service."
He said her name with a snarl and was on her.
There was no way to tell what hit her first, his fist or his boot, but she did know for sure it hurt like hell. He was vamped out and growling, and she knew it was a dangerous situation. Clearly he hadn't received the update about the new and improved Faith, and he was determined to eliminate the old one.
She managed to throw him off, but before she could get a word out, he was on her again. She hit him for real then, and winced as he smashed hard into the bench she'd been sitting on just moments before.
"Geez Spike, be careful. That bench is real wood."
He came up still growling:
"What did you do? If you've hurt anyone…"
"Yeah, I know. Gonna have to get in line. Look, I'm gonna put my stake down, okay? This is a mix-up, lemme explain."
She carefully put her stake down on the ground, then gently kicked it over to him.
"I been stayin' here. Got to town just after you left and me and B are tryin' to work shit out. I haven't hurt anyone, not here for that. If ya take a look at that chair, you'll see I was just havin' a beer. Everybody else is at The Magic Box, oughta be back any sec."
"Last I heard, Buffy wanted no part of you."
"Still doesn't, not really. I came to town, she kicked my ass. Dawn got in a little jam and when I helped her out…"
"Nibblet was in trouble? Was she hurt? Is she all right?"
"Whoa, she's fine."
"She was tryin' to help a friend and got cornered by some vamps. I took some of'em out, Squirt bagged one by herself, then B finished'em off."
"How's that get you here?"
Spike had de-vamped, and Faith was taking that as a good sign. He was still standing at the ready though, and she knew any sudden movement on her part would have them back at it.
"I got a little banged up, and ya know B. Always feels responsible for…"
"Yeah, I do know Buffy. You must have saved Dawn's life and nearly died yourself if she's letting you stay here. Care to share all the details this time?"
The darkness was suddenly pierced by the backyard lights as Dawn came running out.
She ran into his waiting arms for a huge hug.
"That's right, Little Bit. The Big Bad's back, baby!"
Dawn was laughing as he twirled her around.
"Did you meet…"
"Was just gettin' to know our new houseguest."
"Can you believe it? Isn't it great? Hi, Faith! How was your quiet time?"
Before she could answer, Buffy spoke up from the porch:
"Judging from the pile of wood 'formerly known as bench', I'd say you two had a little trouble introducing yourselves."
Faith smirked and shrugged as Buffy walked out into the yard.
"Ya know how it is, B. Never was much for playin' well with others."
Spike set Dawn back on her feet and looked indignantly at Buffy:
"Bloody hell, ever consider keepin' a fellow updated on the goings on?"
"I'd be happy to if the 'fellow' would check in regularly as promised."
"Well excuse me, Slayer, was a bit busy gettin' us all the info we needed. Didn't have time for a bit of chitchat with the girls."
Buffy's entire face brightened with excitement:
"You got something?"
"…Well? Let's hear it!"
He made a great show of straightening his coat:
"First I'm havin' a beer and a shower."
"Spike, what did you find out?!"
"Buffy, I've been traveling 'round this hideously sunny country of yours for months now. Finally make it home, only to get jumped by a Slayer in my own backyard. Not exactly the welcome home a hero dreams of. All I want's my cozy flat in the basement. I'll be taking an hour to myself."
"You get fifteen minutes, William."
She smiled at him:
"It's good to have you back."
"Good to be back, luv."
He gave her a peck on the cheek as he went into the house through the kitchen, hollering out as he snagged a beer:
"Ho, Master Carpenter! Got a big job out back. Best bring all your tools and Will's mojo. Slayer # 2 broke the bench."
Dawn was tagging after him:
"Spike, did you bring me anything?"
"Bloody hell, Nibblet. Not like I was on vacation. 'Sides, think you're well old enough to appreciate the gift of my mere presence."
"Spike, c'mon! Did you?"
"It's in my bag. Fetch it off my bike for me, it's yours."
She kept following him as he began descending the stairs:
"What is it?"
"Go find out."
"How big is it?"
She took off in a blaze of teenage excitement, making Spike grin. It was good to be home. It was a bit of a surprise too, what with the other Slayer making nice. It was going to be interesting to see how that all shook out.
He took off his clothes as he walked, being careful not to spill his beer. He turned on the shower, waited for it to heat up, then hopped in. He had to hurry, the Slayer probably already had the stopwatch going. Home sweet home.
The Slayers were alone in the backyard and Buffy bent down to pick up a piece of wood:
"I guess the bench is dead."
"Yeah, Spike sure busted the shit out of it."
She leaned over to get a closer look and Buffy saw a streak of red.
"Faith, I think you're bleeding."
"Huh? Yeah maybe, but not a problem."
"So, wanna tell me what happened?"
Faith was clearly amused:
"Not much to tell. Mindin' my own, starin' up at the stars, then this vamp comes strollin' by. I jumped him, introduced myself, and then he jumped me. Just gettin' it all squared when you showed up."
"Okay sit down, you're still bleeding. I'll grab the first aid kit and…"
"Nah, I'm fine. Don't gotta…"
Buffy headed for the house:
"Faith, do I have to force you every time?"
"Depends on what we're doin'."
"Just sit down, smart ass."
Buffy disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Faith to stop the fluttering sensation in her stomach…and other places. She was a good deal calmer when Buffy came back out with a first aid kit and two beers.
"Damn B, how bad's this gonna hurt?"
"I got you a fresh one and thought I'd partake too."
"Thanks. Didn't know you partook."
"I don't usually; really bad experience. But sometimes I like to get all wild."
"Yeah fuck, hope I can keep up, Party Girl."
Buffy sat down and opened the box:
"All right, sit this way…no, turn to the left a little…back now…perfect!"
She slowly raised Faith's shirt until she got to the wound.
Faith was right, it was already healing, but Buffy couldn't stop from gasping at what she saw.
"B, how bad can it be? Not even feelin' it."
"No, it's okay. Just let me clean it up a little."
Faith closed her eyes and willed herself not to make a sound as she felt Buffy's fingers moving softly on her back. She took a giant swig of her beer and tried to ignore that she felt like she on fire wherever Buffy touched her. It was torture, good torture, but torture nonetheless.
Buffy sounded so serious, Faith's heart stopped. She must have somehow revealed just how affected she was by the delicate contact and she didn't know what to do other than bluff her way out of it:
"Sounds bad, Slayer. I gotta bite down on a bullet?"
"…How did you get these scars on your back?"
She felt Faith's body tense up immediately. Her back, which just seconds ago had been warm and pliant, was now as cold and hard as steel.
"No big. Finish up."
They were silent for a minute, neither daring to move until Buffy lightly traced along one of the scars with the tip of her finger:
"Please don't shut me out."
Faith barely managed to control the shiver that shot through her at Buffy's gentle touch:
"…Then how did you get them?"
"Just leave it alone."
"That's kind of hard to do when you…"
Faith drained her beer:
"Done with the patch up?"
"Faith, it's okay. You can tell me any…"
"Oh, sorry ladies. Didn't know this was the triage area, but since it is, got this chunk of wood in my back and…"
Faith yanked her shirt down and sped off into the house without so much as a glance.
"… a bit hard to treat a back injury by yourself."
Buffy's eyes watched Faith until she was out of sight.
"I think I'm learning that."
"Where's she off to? Not somethin' I said?"
Buffy shook her head:
She got a needle and some tweezers out of the box and went to work.
"I can't wait to hear all the juicy info. If it's as good as you say, you're going to be a hero around here."
"Oh, you've got no idea, pet. Not only do I have…Ow! Mind takin' it easier? I found out…OW! What ya got, the bleedin' hedge clippers in there?"
"Stop being such a baby, I've almost got it."
"Well I've changed my mind, just stake me. Be less painful."
She smacked him on the shoulder, her face screwed up in concentration:
"Will you please hold still?"
"No wonder the other Slayer ran for her life."
Spike tried to look at the surgical site:
"Any major organs come with it?"
"You are such a sissy."
"I am not! You're a butcher, you are."
She began putting the supplies back into place:
"Come on, tough guy. Time to go play hero."
"Am I bleeding?"
"No, you're not bleeding. "
He stared at her sadly until she rolled her eyes and handed him her drink:
"Alright, fine, you can finish my beer."
"Got anything to go with it?"
Buffy didn't answer, walking back to the house with Spike dragging along slowly behind her. She quickly became exasperated with his snail's pace:
"Doin' my best here."
"Why are you limping?"
"Because I'm hurt."
Buffy rolled her eyes again and stood with her hands on her hips:
"Spike, you had a splinter the size of an ant removed from your back. I hardly think that justifies limping like you were shot in the leg."
"Three words: wood, vampire, ow."
"Yeah? How about: tweezers, Slayer, bloody pulp?"
"Fine be all uncaring. You go on ahead, leave me behind."
"Oh, my God."
She walked back to him:
"Okay, you can have the leftover wings."
"We got any of that…"
"Yes, there's ranch dressing."
He strode off, leaving her several paces behind.
"Well come on with you, Slayer. Don't have all night."
"I should just stake you."
He waited for her to catch up, then put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed lightly:
"Missed me, did you?"
"Of course I did. Who else annoys me like you do?"
His kissed the top of her head:
"Vampire's job to get under the Slayer's skin."
Buffy smiled and bumped into him:
"Then consider it a job very well done."
"Thanks. You know how I take pride in my work."
"As you should."
He opened the door, then crowded in ahead of her to get the wings from the refrigerator. He dumped a huge amount of ranch dressing on top of them, then headed into the living room:
"Right then, now that I've finally got the Slayer focused, what 'bout you lot? Whoa, hands off the food, Harris. Promised a lady I'd handle it, and can't break my word. Got to be the gentleman, no matter the cost."
Spike's boast had been more than true, he'd brought back all kinds of valuable information, but Buffy was only hearing bits and pieces of it. Her attention kept wandering to Faith, who in turn was paying closer attention than Buffy had ever seen her pay to anything. Apparently she was just mesmerized and fascinated by every word that came out of Spike's mouth.
Buffy wasn't fooled in the slightest. She knew Faith, and she knew the other Slayer was doing everything she could to avoid meeting Buffy's eyes…and wasn't that just terrific. She tried to focus on business and give Spike her full attention, or at least most of it.
"…so they're called 'Faber' demons. Normally inhabit someplace called the Castell Dimension. Some ritual went balls up, there was a rift or a temporal anomaly, some sort of 'Star Trek' rot, and 'bout twenty of'em got stuck here. Buggers have a narrow window to crawl through to get home, and it's got to be done at just the right time and place or the whole lot'll incinerate."
Willow said what they were all thinking:
"So what's the bad? I mean, is there even a bad here? Either they leave or they kill themselves. It sounds like a definite win/win for the good guys."
"Yeah, but scuttlebutt's they need a Slayer to open their portal. Gotta use her energy in some kind of sacrifice."
"Okay, no volunteer here. What about you, Faith?"
She looked like she was a million miles away, and it took her a few moments to respond to Buffy's joking question:
"Huh? Uh no, not too likely."
Buffy pulled her eyes away with a big effort:
"So Spike, any idea where and when?"
"Not exactly, but do know we still got some time. Brought Rupert a few otherworldly documents that are rumored to say. Sorry about the blood, Ripper. Least it's not human."
"A small blessing to be sure."
"Tried readin'em myself, but couldn't make heads or tails."
Giles unfurled them carefully:
"Yes, it appears they've been written in some archaic dialect. Deciphering them should prove quite the challenge."
Anya walked to the desk and peered over Giles' shoulder:
"Giles, given my extensive inter-dimensional travels, maybe I can help figure these out. Or maybe I know someone who can."
He looked up with a smile:
"Your assistance would be greatly appreciated, Anya. But please, no more offers of a virgin slave. That made the last negotiations rather tense."
"I still don't think it was as bad as all of you thought. Besides, only Dawn was in any real danger since she's the lone virgin and…"
"Hey, personal business here!"
Anya smiled at Dawn like she was a slow-witted child:
"That's cute, honey, but your virginity isn't a secret anymore, not that it ever really was. Tell you what: if they ask again, I'll say you're off limits. Still if I were you, I'd keep my head down and my legs crossed. Some demons just can't take 'no' for an answer, although I suppose in a few years none of this will be a prob…"
"What do you mean 'a few' years? And 'keep my head down and my legs crossed'? Anya!"
Giles interrupted using his best Watcher voice:
"Girls, I believe we've drifted somewhat off track. Buffy, Faith, you must be particularly vigilant on patrol. Since we've no idea of the time and place your presence is required, we must proceed as if it could be at any moment. Therefore stay together, no matter the enticement to separate, even if it's just for a moment. It's entirely conceivable that what appears to be a perfectly innocuous event, is in fact an elaborate charade to…"
"Damn G-Man, can't ya just tell us to be careful?"
"Ahh…well yes, I suppose that is my main point."
Buffy looked at Faith with a smile, but she had already gone back to studying the table top. She struggled not to let the loud sigh escape as she turned to Spike:
"So we're positive they need a Slayer? How sure of your information are you?"
"Oh, I'm sure. My sources were very clear about that part of it…eventually. The paperwork should spell out whatever we're missing soon as your Watcher knows which end is up."
"Hey, guys? Potentially dumb question here."
Giles looked up from the scrolls with a slight smile:
"Nonsense Xander, no such thing."
"Beg to differ, Ripper. Master Carpenter's asked some real…"
Xander reached over and punched Spike's shoulder:
"Shut up, Spike. I'm wondering why Buffy and Faith don't just leave town until the deadline passes. Then the demons couldn't use them and it'd all be over but the crying, well, and the part where we kill them all."
"Hey, takin' back all the mockery, Harris. That's bloody brilliant!"
"And I quite agree. It's a most intelligent option, Xander, one I believe we must keep firmly in mind as things progress."
Giles looked at his Slayers in surprise:
"Sorry, is there a problem?"
Buffy was staring at him as if he'd lost his mind:
"Yes there's a problem! Giles, speaking for all Slayers present and past: we will not be running away any time soon or any time later either."
"Damn straight! Thinkin' you can toss in all future Slayers too. What a crazy fuckin' idea."
Giles attempted to reason with them:
"No one said anything about 'running away'. Xander merely made, what on the surface seems to be a good…"
"Don't try kiddin' a kidder. 'Leaving town' is just code for 'haulin' ass like big pussies'. No way's that ever gonna be a possibility."
Buffy was nodding enthusiastically:
"I totally agree. Giles, we've got two Slayers, a witch, a vampire, a vengeance demon, a carpenter, and a hair pulling key. Add in a brilliant Watcher, normally that'd be you, and I think we've got more than enough firepower to stop these guys. If anyone's going to run, it's going to be them."
He took his glasses off and massaged the bridge of his nose:
"Yes Buffy, I understand why the idea of clearing out might be a tad distasteful to the two of you, but…"
"Again with the code. Still all just the same to me. 'Clearing out' means 'runnin' like scared pussies'. Ain't gonna happen."
"Faith, your objections are duly noted, but…"
Buffy stood up:
"Then stop with all the 'buts'. There are no 'buts'. Faith just summed up the official Slayer position perfectly: we're not leaving."
Giles placed his glasses back where they did the most good.
"I hear you both, loud and clear. I just don't want us ruling out anything at this early juncture. Xander has raised a most interesting option…"
"Yeah, so stop trying to ruin my big moment, guys."
"…and although it's not necessarily the right course of action, we must at least keep it in mind until we're able to rule it out completely."
Xander's disappointment was plain to see:
"So now it's probably not even right? But I didn't even get a chance to savor being a genius."
"That's sounds way short of a sincere apology, Buffster."
She laughed at his pouting expression:
"Maybe, but it's all you're going to get."
"In that case, I most graciously accept."
Giles was carefully rolling up the scrolls:
"The bottom line is that right now we've no way of knowing what the right course of action is. We've got quite a bit of research ahead of us, so I suggest we all sleep here tonight and get right to it first thing in the morning. All in agreement?"
There were several murmured assents.
"Splendid, bright and early it is then."
She tried her best to remain calm as she repeated the question she'd already asked several times:
"I don't get it. What's the big?"
"'What's the big'?"
"Yes, that's what I'm asking you."
Willow had been going over the same topic for ten minutes, and she was still no closer to understanding what was going on. Buffy just kept standing in the same spot as if waiting, and Willow had to force herself not to yell.
"Okay, let's try it this way: Yes, we're all crammed in, but everybody gets a bed or a couch, right? So what's with the crazies? This isn't the first time we've had a Scooby sleepover, so why are you…"
"…I guess I'm just not sure where we're all at."
Willow was perplexed, clearly there was something Buffy wasn't sharing.
"Buffy, are you saying you want me to go over it…again?"
"Would you mind?"
Willow did mind, she was tired and wanted to go to bed. But Buffy was upset about something, so instead of going to sleep, Willow was going to go over it again.
"Okay, I'm with Dawnie in her room. Giles and Xander are in my room, Spike stays in the basement, and Anya's on the couch."
Buffy hadn't looked up from the floor since she'd pulled Willow into the kitchen, and it didn't seem like she was going to any time soon either.
"…And so where does that leave me and Faith?"
"I thought you guys could sleep in the bathtub. Buffy, that leaves you guys in your room."
"…In my bed?"
Willow was considering lying down on the floor if that was the only way she could get eye contact with her best friend.
"I guess that's up to you. I think Faith's too big to sleep in a drawer, although maybe you could squeeze in."
"So okay then. Problem solved, right?"
Willow had reached her breaking point:
"Buffy Summers, would you please look at me and tell me what's going on?"
Buffy glanced up, then down. Willow waited and saw her take a deep breath before she finally looked up again:
"Willow…I have to talk to you about something."
"Okay, do you want to sit down?"
"I don't know."
"Buffy, it's just me. Whatever you have to say, it'll be fine. Best friends for life, and even longer, right?"
"No, but as soon as you tell me, I'll help you figure it out."
"Okay…here goes. Willow, I…"
"Hey, you guys figure out where I'm bunkin' yet?"
Buffy turned red and Willow was baffled.
"Um, almost. Everybody's all settled except you Slayers."
Faith looked unperturbed:
"The easiest thing would be if you guys shared Buffy's bed."
"Faith, come here! Hurry!"
"Comin'! Be right back."
Faith took off for the living room at Dawn's summons, leaving chaos behind her when she left.
"Willow, how could you do that?"
"Tell her that!"
Willow was confused again…still.
"Buffy, why is this a such big thing? I'm not going to sleep with her and I'm pretty sure she's not going to sleep with Spike…although he probably wouldn't mind. Anyway, you and her is a good idea, a great idea."
"'A great idea'? 'A great idea'? Are you insane?!"
"No, but I'm starting to think you are."
Buffy began pacing in a tiny circle that made her look even more crazy.
"This is so awful. It's like an awful that hasn't even been rated yet."
"You know, if I didn't know better I'd think you were……Oh my Goddess…Buffy?"
Buffy walked over to the backdoor and opened it, gulping in large quantities of the night air.
"Is this what I think it is?"
Willow walked over and closed the door, but Buffy continued gazing out at the night through the solid wood.
"So you don't have feelings for her?"
"'Feelings'? Well, sure I do. I mean, I have feelings for lots of people all the time. I even have feelings for you, Will."
"Yeah, but I'm pretty sure you could share a bed with me without having a nervous breakdown."
Buffy whirled to face her:
"I don't know what's happening to me. I think about her all the time. I keep staring at her, she's almost caught me like a million times. There's this little dent in her bottom lip that I just wanna touch with my...I make up excuses to be around her…Willow, I'm freaking! I don't know what's going on!"
"Well, I'm not exactly sure I know either."
Buffy's panic escalated:
"You have to know and you have to know exactly!"
Willow grabbed Buffy's hands, trying to calm her down.
"Buffy, I don't have all the gay answers."
"But I need them, Will! Good, educated gay answers!"
"Well, I guess I'd have to say you might be…"
"No, don't say it! I'm not attracted to her, I can't be. I've never been attracted to a woman, you know that. Not that it's wrong for other people and you, of course. You're a gay lesbian, and good for you, Will!"
Willow led her over to the sink and splashed cold water on her face. It helped, Buffy was much calmer as she dried her face with a paper towel.
"I'm sorry, Willow. I told you I'm freaking, and it's not the 'gay' part of it either. It's just…how can I like Faith of all women? That can't be right, can it? I mean, shouldn't I have other women, like 'starter' girls or something before I even think of Faith?"
"I don't think that's really a require…"
"Geez, kid's a spaz sometimes. Tryin' to tell me Christina Aguilera's all about the talent. Like her tits flying all over the place…B, you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
Faith stared at her with suspicion, then figuring it wasn't any of her business, let it go as she carried on with what she'd been saying:
"Yeah, well I guess she's sorta okay, but not my type. She's…"
Willow spotted an opening and took it:
"So you have a female type, Faith?"
"I didn't know you liked…"
"I don't. Way more into heavy metal and good old rock and roll. Not many chicks play that shit."
Buffy was back to staring at the floor.
"B, you thinks she sucks, don't ya?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"What? You even listenin' here?"
Buffy looked up, a deer caught in the headlights.
"Oh, sorry. Ha ha ha, that's so funny."
"What in the fuck are you…"
Willow stepped in to perform her best friend duties:
"So about the sleeping arrangements…"
"Yeah, B's bed works fine for me. You cool, B?"
"I'm frigid, I mean frosty! Not in a sex way! I'm normal that way, I'm have no complaints…I'm cool."
Faith expression was confused and concerned in equal measure:
"B, you sure you're okay? Maybe Willow gave ya a blow…"
"…to the head while I was gone."
"Nope, five by five here. Hahaha! No need to touch me…it…examine me…my head. No worries!"
Faith looked them both over carefully:
"You guys been drinkin'?"
Buffy was beet red:
"Not me or her. Have you?"
Faith didn't answer, her attention now on Willow.
"Willow, why the fuck are you starin' at me?"
"Me? No reason! I was just wondering if you still slept in the Buffy…I mean, the buff…like in the nude, the naked, and the raw…Goodnight!"
Then she was gone, leaving her best friend to the wolves.
"Man, she was even more nuts than usual."
Faith reached out to steady her, but Buffy moved away quickly before there was actual contact.
"What in the hell is going on with you guys?"
"Yeah…okay. So you ready for bed, girlfriend?"
Buffy turned red again and her voice cracked:
"For crying out loud, B! It's s'posed to mean 'let's get some sleep'. We got a big day tomorrow."
"Right, right. I'll be up in just a minute."
Faith walked off, mumbling under her breath:
"And I'm the crazy one? Fuckin' Three Stooges all by yourself."
Buffy was way too flustered to walk up the stairs with Faith, so she puttered around in the kitchen until an irritated Anya finally ordered her to bed.
"Buffy, I'm already sleeping on the couch. Could you sort out the junk drawer tomorrow?"
She trudged upstairs feeling like she was marching off to her own execution.
Once she made it to the second floor, she decided she should check on everyone to make sure they were comfortable. It was entirely possible that they needed something, and what kind of hostess would that make her if she just…
Xander's loud snoring answered her question before she could ask it. The whole house was quiet, everyone was all snuggled in except for her. She stood outside the closed door of her own bedroom, feeling more nervous than she'd ever felt in her entire life.
She decided to give herself a pep talk, clearly she needed it:
"Okay, Slayer here. I can do this. It's just Faith in there, and she's good now. So just walk right in and act normal. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk right in there…Here I go."
She wasn't moving.
The thing was: Faith had changed. She was no longer an unstable psychotic maniac, she was just "Faith" now. She had pulled herself back from a place few people ever returned from, and just what that had cost her, Buffy could only guess.
Faith was determined to make amends and they could all see that she was for real. They could also see her for what she was: a kind, funny, brave, insightful young woman, and Buffy very much liked the person she saw. A lot.
Their checkered past was rapidly fading as they rebuilt their friendship, and although there were still issues to deal with, their history, once so all-consuming and important, now seemed to mean almost nothing at all. Faith was back, and she was making Buffy happy just by being there.
She had stayed at the house since saving Dawn, and Buffy felt electrified whenever Faith was near. She could practically feel herself humming with the energy that existed between them, and she felt alive in a way she never had before. It felt good and she wanted to keep feeling it, forever wouldn't be long enough as far as she was…
It hit her then.
**Oh my God, am I in love with Faith?**
She stood still for a moment, shocked and yet not really surprised because she'd always intense feelings for Faith, right from the beginning.
The last several weeks had been good, they'd been wonderful, and Buffy relished the closeness she and Faith had managed to attain. They'd gotten closer and closer, but now the question was: closer to what?
As Buffy had let her anger and mistrust recede, her true feelings of affection had surged to the surface. She'd always liked Faith, had always wanted to be her friend, and now, well now it had developed into so much more…was it really love?
She knew one thing with absolute certainty: she couldn't just stand in the hallway all night. With a deep breath, Buffy squared her shoulders and entered her bedroom.
Faith was lying in bed with her back to the door.
"See ya finally figured out which one was yours."
"I had some stuff to clean up downstairs."
"So you weren't stallin' 'cause you're pissed at me?"
Of all the things Faith might have said, Buffy hadn't been expecting that one.
"'Mad'? Why would I be mad at you?"
"Because I didn't talk to you before."
Faith sounded like a small child, afraid of disappointing her parent.
"No Faith, I'm not mad, not at all. I wish you'd talk to me, but I think I understand why you won't."
Buffy stood there awkward and unsure.
"I don't know what to do here. I know you're way more upset than you're letting on, and I want to help you if I can."
"I also want to respect your feelings, but every instinct I have is screaming at me to push this."
They were silent again, and Buffy could feel her mind whirring as she tried to figure out what to do.
"I don't talk about my past. Not ever, B."
"I kinda figured that. The only time I remember you ever mentioning your family is when you and Angel had me chained up and…"
The atmosphere in the room changed just like that.
"Faith…I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking and I…"
"God, I just wanted to…"
"Look, I appreciate the concern way more than you know, but I can't talk about it, okay? Just gimme a little time and I'll be five by…"
Buffy took a step closer to the bed and Faith's back:
"But maybe if you did talk about it…"
"Just let it go…please, B?"
"…Okay…but if you ever want to…"
"I know where ya are. Thanks."
Buffy felt awful and she still felt like she should push it, but if Faith didn't want to talk about, who was Buffy to force her? It wasn't like they were girlfriends.
With no idea why she'd thought that, Buffy headed to the bathroom hoping she could get herself under control. She went about her nightly routine trying to pretend it was just another night, and when she thought she had a handle on herself, she headed back to her room.
She closed the door quietly as she reentered the bedroom, and saw that Faith hadn't moved an inch. She was still facing away from the door, and Buffy thought her back looked like steel again. She stood there for a minute, struggling with the almost overwhelming urge to pull Faith close to her just to offer her some comfort. But she knew Faith would never allow that, and so she turned away reluctantly.
Buffy felt helpless, and she hated that feeling more than any other. She was used to attacking problems and being in motion as she solved whatever crisis she was faced with. In this situation, there was nothing she could do, and she became more and more worked up as the seconds ticked by.
She wished she could just slip out and slay something, but she knew Giles would kill her if he found out. His long lecture about the importance of safety was not something she could just willfully ignore, no matter the circumstance. Besides, with everything else going on, she didn't need to see her Watcher's disappointed face staring back at her in the morning .
She looked at Faith again. Should she say something else? What exactly would help her? She didn't know, and she doubted she was going to figure it out any time soon. Besides, Faith would be fine. She was used to dealing with whatever it was she was dealing with.
But what a horrible thing to have to live with. Buffy's heart went out to her; no wonder she'd been so screwed up. It was clear what she needed was somebody to love her and…
Alarm bells sounded in Buffy's head.
**Not me, though. Not like that. Although she does need a lover and I haven't had sex since...I'm just going to go to sleep now and when I wake up, things will be all straight...not in a gay way…Shut up, Buffy!**
She spread some blankets out on the floor, then laid down, doing her best to get comfortable. Sleeping on the floor, worrying about Faith, going over Spike's info, wondering if she was gay and in love with Faith of all people…Yep, Buffy was expecting sleep to find her any second now.
"B, what the hell are you doin'?"
"Why are you on the floor?"
"…Because that's where my pillow is?"
Faith leaned over the side of the bed to look down at her:
"Why aren't you up here?"
"I…I didn't want to crowd you."
"B, it's a big double bed."
"I just thought you needed your space."
"Thanks for the thought, now get up here."
Buffy couldn't remember the last time she'd be more reluctant to do something. She felt strange, like she was making the most important decision of her life without really even knowing what it was she was deciding.
She was nervous again, way beyond her previous all-time zenith of the hallway. She'd never been so shook up in her life, and she was wondering why the night couldn't just end.
"For fuck's sake B, can ya shake a leg? Rate you're goin', be time to get up by the time ya get here."
She edged onto the bed like she was expecting it to explode, and she stretched out slowly and stiffly as Faith clicked off the light.
Buffy was balanced on the edge of the bed, using nearly all of her Slayer skills to stay in place as she desperately tried to put as much space between Faith and herself as was superhumanly possible. She was so tense, she was actually…
Faith rolled over to face her, and the sudden movement flung Buffy off the bed. She landed in a loud heap on the floor.
Faith snapped the light back on and peered over the edge of the bed at her again:
"Did you just fall off the bed?"
Faith laughed as she stared at her:
"Christ B, what's the prob? Wanna sleep over here?"
"Heard of people who gotta do the same side all the time or they can't…"
Buffy stood up quickly.
"No, I don't want to sleep on you…your side. I don't have a side."
"So then what the hell's the…"
"Just antsy, I guess."
She climbed back in, trying her best to relax. She made herself move off the edge, but she didn't make it very far.
"Ahhh…there. Okay, all snuggled in. Goodnight, Faith."
She'd never been more uncomfortable in her life.
As Faith turned off the light, she tried to figure out what was going on with Buffy. It was almost like she was nervous, and Faith could empathize with her there. She herself was freaking out, but then she was the one in love, not the other way around.
Still, it was clear that Buffy was on edge, but why? The best that Faith could figure out was that Buffy wasn't all that thrilled to be sharing her bed with a murdering scumbag. It had to be a little on the nerve wracking side to try and sleep with one lying right next to you.
Or maybe it was because of the whole "scar" thing. Buffy was probably disgusted to learn just how low class Faith's background really was, and Faith was thankful they'd barely even uncovered the tip of the iceberg. She could only imagine just how revolted Buffy would be if she knew the whole truth.
She cursed herself for letting Buffy see what she had seen. It was such a stupid mistake, and she couldn't believe she'd just forgotten all about her scars like that. Even all banged up in the hospital she'd managed to prevent Buffy from getting a good look at her back, but now it only took the thought of Buffy touching her with concern to wipe everything else right out of her mind.
Buffy let out a muffled sigh, and Faith felt a shiver roll down her spine at the sound. She knew it was going to be a long night, one of her longest ever. She had her childhood memories running around in her head and Buffy Summers was lying mere inches from her in the dark…in a bed.
Talk about a fantasy almost coming true. Granted her version of the current scenario always tended to be X-rated, but somehow the real life version was better than anything she'd ever managed to come up with.
Buffy smelled great and as Faith inhaled deeply, she tried to decide if it was her shampoo or her body lotion. She knew she was just kidding herself, that smell was all Buffy and nothing else, and it made her want to edge closer.
Of course there was no way she could do that, not that she needed to. They weren't even touching and Faith could feel Buffy's warmth as if she were right up against her. Her head was spinning with the things she wanted to do, the things she wanted Buffy to do.
**I can hear every breath she takes, feel every move she makes…Fuck right off, Sting. Okay, this is torture, maybe I should just make a move on her…Yeah, great fucking idea. Then I can see how fast the straightest woman on the planet can run.**
Buffy let out a little sigh again, and Faith looked at her:
**Maybe I should tell her how I feel about her…Oh yeah, she'll love that as soon as she stops laughing. Nobody wants to get hit on by a crazy slut. I just need to keep my mouth shut and my hands to myself…What am I, nuts? Like I'd ever deserve her anyways…Just need to shut up and enjoy bein' in the same bed with her. Way more than I ever thought I'd get, and it's sure as fuck more than I got comin' to me.**
She stayed still and kept inhaling, wishing she could just pull Buffy to her.
It took a long time before they finally drifted off. On her side of the bed, Buffy was hyperaware of every sound and move Faith made, and she felt like she was going to jump out of her skin. She kept breathing in deeply because Faith smelled like fresh apples, cinnamon, and some other delicious spicy thing that she knew was just Faith. She wanted to pull her close to her…
**God, what's happening to me?**
She laid there listening to Faith breathing in and out like it was the most fascinating sound in the world, and she tried desperately to come up with some other explanation for what she was feeling:
**I cannot be in love with her…I can't be. Maybe I'm just…**
At first she thought she'd been hit with a stun gun, but it was just Faith's leg accidentally brushing up against hers, and she literally had to fight with herself to stay where she was. She felt herself being pulled to Faith every time she inhaled and Buffy wanted her. She wanted Faith like she had never wanted anything in her life.
She forced herself to turn onto her side away from the temptation, and she focused on her own breathing, doing her best to clear her head and relax. For a long time, all she could feel was the desire to turn over and take Faith, but she refused to give in to it. After what seemed like forever, sleep finally came to claim her. She drifted off with a smile, her senses filled with apples and cinnamon and Faith.
It seemed she began dreaming the instant she fell asleep, but she felt weird and out of place, as if she didn't belong where she was. She was confused as she looked around the filthy apartment she stood in, certain she'd never seen it before or anything quite like it.
There was a little girl playing with a doll that had no head. She was sitting on the floor and appeared to be about four or five. Her clothes were dirty, her feet were bare, and her hair was tangled and unbrushed. None of that diminished how sweet she looked, and when she raised her head for a moment, Buffy saw the sad dark eyes she knew so well. This little girl was Faith.
That barely had time to register before a man entered the room and approached Faith. Then he…Buffy couldn't believe what she was seeing.
She screamed at him to stop, and when he didn't, Buffy ran at him. Her plan was to separate his head from his body, Slayer code be damned, but she found she couldn't move. All she could do was watch as the horror went on.
The scene changed many times as Faith got older. There were many people and they all did sickening things. It was terrifying, horrifying, and Buffy could do nothing except watch it unfold. She knew she was somehow in Faith's mind, that what she was seeing was Faith's nightmare of a childhood.
She saw firsthand how Faith had received the scars on her back. Her mother beat her with a belt; sometimes when she was drunk, she used the buckle. Buffy saw Faith abused in every way imaginable and in many more ways that were not. She saw it all in hideous detail, and there was nothing she could do but scream and cry.
The scene changed again to a rainy night, Buffy could hear it pelting the windows, and then there was Faith. She took all of the money from her mother's purse, then snuck into the bedroom and carefully took the money from the current man's wallet. She stood there debating, then eased all of the drugs out of his jacket and made her way silently into the front room. She stuffed everything into a ratty backpack, and then opened the door.
Her face filled with terror as it made a loud squeaking noise, but when no one came to investigate, she ran out the door and out of Buffy's sight. She couldn't have been more than twelve years old.
Buffy awoke with a gasp, drenched in sweat and shaking. She was crying and her throat felt raw. She turned to Faith not knowing what to say, only to discover that Faith was gone.
She switched on the lamp and saw the note left on the pillow:
Buffy's first instinct was to run to the motel, but she realized she needed to think things through carefully. A quick glance at her bedside clock told her it was 5:11 and she had no idea how long Faith had been gone.
Did she know that Buffy had seen what she had seen? That seemed doubtful, the "dream" Faith had never once looked in her direction. Should Buffy tell her? Obviously she couldn't keep it from her forever, but was now the best time to inform her?
Buffy started crying again. How could Faith have been hurt like that? How could she have survived such a horror show? Buffy felt a rage building inside her, and she wanted to hunt down each and every person she could find. Before she was done with them, they would beg to die.
How had she shared Faith's mind like that? What should she do? She didn't know and she felt so shook up, she didn't think she could do it even if she somehow figured it out.
She needed Giles. She looked at the clock again: 5:22. She hated to wake him so early, but she had to have help. She had to have him.
She crept into Willow's room, glad that Xander always slept like a dead person.
"What's the danger?"
She couldn't help but smile. He was instantly alert, his voice pitched so softly that only a Slayer would be able to hear it.
"There's no danger, but there's a situation. Can you come to my room? Please Giles, I don't know what to do."
He was up and moving before she'd even finished her plea:
"Of course, I'll be right there. Don't worry, we'll sort it out together."
In just a couple of minutes, he was seated on Buffy's bed patiently awaiting her explanation. She tried to compose herself and organize her thoughts:
"Something happened, and I don't understand how or why. I guess that doesn't matter right now, but I don't know what to do about it. I have to do something Giles, I can't just ignore it, but God, if I do the wrong thing that could be way worse than doing nothing. But nothing would be worse than doing nothing if…"
He managed to snag her hand as she paced by:
"Buffy…Buffy, take a breath and start by telling me what happened."
She did as he said, and sat down next to him.
"Okay, Faith and I went to sleep. It seemed normal, but then I was in her dream or her head, and all I could do was watch. And then…Giles, I can't tell you the specifics because that's Faith's personal business, but stuff happened, and when I woke up she was gone."
"And I gather this 'stuff' was upsetting?"
"Horrifyingly gut wrenching would be closer, but still not anywhere near bad enough."
He began cleaning his glasses:
"Do you believe it was a shared Slayer dream?"
"I thought so at first, but no. It was different, we couldn't communicate. It was like I was in her mind."
He placed his glasses back where they belonged, his face a study in concentration.
"Did something transpire between the two of you last evening? I thought I detected some tension."
"Yes…We had a conversation about something Faith didn't want to get into."
"By chance, was the same topic prominent in your mind walk?"
They were silent for a few moments as Giles absorbed the information.
"Well Buffy, I'm not quite sure what to say. There are many mystical ways for two people in intense relationships to enter into one another's minds. I'm sure you recall your experience with Willow? But I've never heard or read of it being done without some supernatural catalyst or the performance of some ritual."
Buffy began pacing again:
"Well, no rituals or catalysts that I know of. There was just us."
"And frankly, that baffles me. I cannot imagine how it could be accomplished without either of those stimuli , and certainly not to the extent you're describing. It's far beyond the abilities of the human mind, or at least what I and others believed those abilities to be."
"Can you research it? Find an explanation?"
"I will most certainly try, but my best guess at this time is that it must have everything to do with your Slayer connection. If that's an accurate assumption, there will be no true way to research anything. You and Faith are, for lack of a better term: 'one of a kind'."
Buffy sat back down, scared and sad:
"Okay, I guess that makes sense, but right now the big problem is what I saw. I don't think Faith knows that I know what I do, and I don't know if I should tell her or not.
"Yes, I do. What you saw was obviously extremely distressing to you both, and it's most likely something that Faith has never fully dealt with. It can only do her good to get it out into the open, but Buffy you must understand the gravity of the situation if you decide to go that route."
The worry on her face was evident as she listened to his words:
"What do you mean?"
"Faith is on a good path now, and cannot afford for you to start something you may be unwilling to finish. If you bring this topic up with her…"
"Giles, I'm her friend, okay? With everything that goes along with that. This mind meld thingy just convinces me that I was right to give her another chance. She needs help and I want to give it to her, no matter what's involved."
He smiled at her affectionately:
"Then you should absolutely tell her the truth. Most likely, she'll react badly at first. Even those of us used to meddlesome, well-intentioned friends value our privacy. For someone like Faith, this will all seem extremely threatening and invasive. You shall need to tread lightly and expect it to be a painful and difficult process."
"I can do that, I can. It was…Giles, it was just so bad. Why did that have to happen to her?"
Her tears came again and Giles pulled her close as she cried.
"I don't know…There, there…Don't worry, she's going to be all right. Shhh…She'll be all right, Buffy…We'll see to that, I promise you."
By 7:00 a.m., Buffy was seated at the bar in the kitchen waiting for Faith to return. At 7:30, Giles was ushering everyone else out the door for breakfast on him, and insisting that their meeting now needed to take place at The Magic Box. When Buffy volunteered to remain behind to wait for Faith, Anya immediately had questions:
"Why can't you just leave her a note? You look awful this morning, did the two of you have a fight? Xander always looked like that whenever we'd have a lovers' quarrel. Buffy, are you and Faith lovers? When did this happen?"
Xander stepped up, an apologetic grin on his face as he looked at Buffy:
"Come on An, let's go to breakfast."
"But Xander, something is clearly going on here and…"
"Free breakfast, remember?"
Anya's face lit up:
"Excuse me Buffy, perhaps we can continue this later?"
They headed out the door, and Dawn followed them:
"Tell Faith the early bird gets all the best doughnuts!"
Spike prepared to dash for the nearby sewer access:
"See you all at Magic Central. Will, chance of some French toast?"
Willow squeezed Buffy's shoulder as she walked past:
"Sure. Le toast with extra syrup is yours."
Then everyone was gone, and it was just Buffy waiting, still with no real idea what to say. She felt the tears welling up again and pushed them back.
"Come on, Slayer, get a grip! You can't keep crying, you have to help Faith. Now toughen up!"
The sound of her own voice had the desired effect and she managed to regain control of her emotions, at least to some extent. That was nothing but a good
thing because if she knew nothing else, Buffy knew that Faith would not react well to the sight of Buffy crying about her. The situation was already difficult enough, there was no point in making it worse before it even got started.
She had to handle things just right, there was no room for error at all. She wondered as the time drew closer if she should have taken Giles up on his offer to stay, but despite the fact that she desperately could have used his help, she also knew that Faith wouldn't want anyone else there. She was going to be extremely uncomfortable as it was, and adding someone else to the mix would only guarantee that their meeting would turn into a total disaster.
Buffy had almost called L.A. a hundred times, finally deciding to wait to see how it went before involving Angel and Cordelia. She was hoping if it went badly, Faith's desire to stay and make amends would prevent her from just taking off for who knew where.
But the closer the clock ticked its way to 8:00, the more Buffy began doubting her decision. She became convinced that she should have at least called for some advice, and now it was too late. She was going to screw everything up beyond repair.
She closed her eyes and willed herself to relax. She could do this, she wanted to do this, and it was too late to back out now. Besides, she didn't want to back out. She wanted to help Faith, and it was just the stress of waiting that was getting to her.
At 7:58, the kitchen door swung open slowly. Faith's head was down as she entered silently, and because she'd yet to see Buffy, her usual mask was nowhere in sight. She looked awful.
It was easy to see the pain she was in. She looked shaken, tired, sad, and haunted, and it was heartbreaking to witness. Buffy wanted to start crying…again.
Instead she cleared her throat to speak, and the noise had Faith spinning towards the door as she closed it. When she turned back to face Buffy, everything was neatly hidden behind a perfectly constructed façade. She still looked tired, but her smile was in place and everything seemed just fine.
"Hiya, B. Am I late? Crappy motel ran outta water right in the middle of the rinse part. Talk about a bitch. Anyways, guess it ain't rollin' if you're sittin' here, so…"
"I was waiting for you."
Faith smiled big:
"Well, wait no more, Slayer. Let's get to…Hey, what's up with the quiet? Gang oversleep? Bet Giles is wicked pissed."
Buffy hadn't moved from her seat, she wanted to stay as calm and still as she could.
"No one else is here. They went out for breakfast."
"Cool, I'm starvin'. Where at?"
"Faith, we need to talk."
Faith was heading for the door, but she glanced back at Buffy:
"Great, but let's jaw on the way. Otherwise Baby Sis is gonna nail the best doughnuts."
"Could you sit down?"
Faith finally seemed to register Buffy's serious attitude and walked over to her, obviously a little worried as she started talking:
"Okay, I know what this is about."
"Yeah, it's about me cuttin' out last night, right? B, house was packed, so figured to give you guys some space. Had a room all ready and waiting, ya know?"
"Faith, the deal we made is still in place. If you don't want to talk, that's one thing. But you agreed to be honest with me, and I'm holding you to that. You didn't leave here sometime after two a.m. because you wanted to give us more space. Stop lying to me."
Faith looked at her then, her face apologetic:
"I'm sorry, B. Truth is, I just had to get out. I needed to move."
"I understand, and I'm not mad."
Faith's smile made another appearance:
"Okay, so now that we got that straightened out, can we…"
"I have to tell you something, and you're not going to like it. I need you to promise me you'll stay and hear me out, that you won't just take off."
Faith laughed, but she was nervous.
"Wow, helluva set-up, B. Okay, promise I'll stay put. So what's the big deal?"
Buffy had spent over two hours trying to figure out how to say what she was about to say, and it turned out there was no other way than just saying it:
"…I saw everything last night."
Faith's face registered nothing but confusion:
"You 'saw everything last night'? That supposed to make sense?"
"I was in your head last night, and I saw…everything."
"……You were in my…What the hell are you talking about, B?"
Buffy stood up then, her heart in her throat:
"Faith…I saw…I saw your childhood."
"I saw what they did to you."
"You 'saw what they did' to me?"
Buffy moved closer:
"Yes. I don't know how or why, but I did."
Faith was stunned, standing so still she seemed to be frozen in place.
"What's the deal here?"
"I don't know, I don't have any answers. I just know I saw what happened to you and I…"
"Stop right there."
Buffy moved nearer, and Faith stepped back:
"No, we're done."
Buffy grabbed her arm and hung on as Faith tried to shake her off.
"Let go of me, B."
"Don't run from this."
"You promised me you'd stay and let me talk to you."
Faith laughed, the sound a mixture of fear and bitterness that Buffy had never heard before.
"You fucking saw everything. What's left to talk about?"
"I want to help."
"I don't need it."
"Faith, you're hurting. Please just..."
She tried to jerk her arm loose again, but Buffy held on tight.
"Ya wanna help so bad? Then stay the fuck outta my head."
Buffy was getting desperate:
"I'm sorry. I don't know how it happened, but now that it has, we can…"
Faith's face was blank, only her eyes revealing any emotion at all.
"No, we can't. We're not gonna share, we're not gonna grow, you're not gonna help 'cause I don't need it. Now take your hand off me."
"Faith, don't do…"
"Big talk's over, Buffy. Now let go."
Buffy slowly let her hand fall back to her side.
"I'm sorry, okay? We don't have to talk, I'll do whatever you want. Just don't go, please Faith, don't leave."
She could no longer hold back the tears and they began streaming down her face. Faith turned away from her and headed for the door. Outwardly she appeared unruffled, but inside she was in a panic as the voices assailed her, letting her know in no uncertain terms that it was well past time to leave and that she was an idiot for having stayed.
**Hey, shit for brains, get moving! You're such a weak, useless piece of garbage, you're just disgusting.**
She opened the door, fully committed to leaving, but the sound of Buffy crying made her pause. It was heartbreaking and…
**So she's bawling, so what? Ignore the little bitch!**
But Faith couldn't ignore her. Buffy was sobbing now, and there was no way Faith could leave her like that. She closed the door and walked back over, placing a hand on Buffy's shoulder.
"C'mon B, it's alright."
Buffy spun and threw herself into Faith's arms, crying even harder. Faith held her, patting her back soothingly as she tried to calm her down.
It took a few minutes before Buffy regained control of her emotions.
"I'm sorry Faith. God, I'm such an idiot, you shouldn't be consoling me."
"It's okay, B. Pretty tough stuff."
"I want to kill every last one of them."
"Dead already. Junkies don't last long."
Buffy reluctantly broke their embrace, sniffling all the way.
"Died years ago."
She struggled not to say any of the things she wanted to:
"I'm not, so why should you be?"
"I just wish…"
"Me too. Okay B, so now ya know, but you gotta promise me it won't matter. None of the stuff I pulled had a goddamn thing to do with this shit. Was my own deal and I don't want you forgivin' me outta pity, I wanna earn my way back."
Buffy was still sniffling and trying to keep the snot from rolling down her face:
"…I promise, Faith."
"Okay, good. Thanks."
They stood there looking at each other, uncertain what their next step should be.
"Are you okay?"
"Five by five."
"'Sides, you're the one who looks like shit, B."
That made Buffy laugh, even though she knew it was true.
"So, I'm still starvin', you?"
"I could eat, but I can't go out yet."
"What's that mean?"
Buffy took her by the arm and led her to the counter.
"It means you have to make us breakfast."
Buffy sat down on a stool at the bar and Faith gave up, sighing as she opened the bread and pulled out eight pieces:
"It's not hard, B."
"It is if the bread always burns."
"Works fine for me."
"Hence my suggestion that you be Toastmaster General."
Faith put fours slices in and went over to the refrigerator. She got out the butter and strawberry jam, placing them on the counter as she reached for two plates.
"B, there's a dial on the side you adjust to…"
"You lost me."
Faith laughed as she opened the drawer containing the silverware:
"Christ, you are absolutely nuts."
She switched out the toast for more bread and began slathering on the butter and jam.
"Could you cook us cereal too?"
"What, too tough for ya to pour some flakes in a bowl?"
"No, I'm just milking it for all I'm worth."
The research meeting went well. Spike insisted that everyone give him a round of applause…twice.
"What? A certain bloke came through in the clutch. Shouldn't have to beg for a spot of appreciation."
Giles did his best to take control of the meeting:
"Yes, well now that we've the hugs and kisses portion mercifully dispensed with…"
"Ooh, hugs and kisses. Great idea, Rupert. Alright all, line up single file, ladies first. Fresh breath always a plus, so if you need a mint or…"
"Oh alright, Watcher. Be all business then. "
Giles ignored him and got right to it:
"Willow, perhaps you'd care to sum up what we have so far?"
She grinned happily:
"Sure! Well, we know these guys have been quietly sneaking into town for the past few months, and we know they seem way smarter than other demons."
Anya wasn't happy to hear that:
"Whoa! And just when exactly did we 'know' they were smarter than other demons?"
"Present company excluded, of course. Sorry, I just meant they were going out of their way not to attract attention, which is not exactly the usual demon way."
Buffy chimed in:
"Except that one time they made me kill them, because I'd have to say that was a definite attention attracter."
Xander shook his head:
"That was clearly an accident, Buffster."
"An 'accident'? Excuse me, Xander Harris, have you never noticed my finely honed Slayer tracking skills?"
"Maybe, but I'm pretty sure sitting behind a tombstone eating chips with me until some demons literally fall over us…"
Buffy clamped a hand across his mouth:
"No one asked for a big in-depth report. I killed them, that's the main thing."
He grinned as she released him:
"Yep, they're the dead like demon doornails."
"And I rest my case."
"Guys? I wasn't done with the big sum-up."
Buffy pretended to lock her lips and throw away the key.
"Yeah, what she said."
Willow smiled at Xander and then glanced down at her legal pad:
"So we had zip on the intricate markings on the sword, but thanks to Spike, we now know they help to open this portal thing they need to open. We also know, thanks to Spike…Do I really have to say that every time?"
The look on his face was one of deep sorrow:
"Did I happen to mention how I was almost dusted in the sunny deserts of Arizona?"
Willow rolled her eyes as she looked at him:
"Only about forty times…Okay, fine. Thanks to Spike…"
His smile was huge.
"…we also know what their goal is and that they need a Slayer to achieve said goal. Thanks to Spike, we also know what kind of demons they are and where they come from."
He couldn't have looked more cocky, nearly preening in place as he sat there grinning.
"Thanks to Spike, we don't have a clue where the ritual will take place or when."
"Hey! I got you buggers a lot of bloody information. Can't just spoon feed you all the time. "
Willow smirked at him before she continued:
"Thanks to Spike, we're no longer in the dark. We've got a flashlight going now, people, and not one of those common household ones either. Nope, we've got us one of those big industrial babies, the kind you can use as a weapon if you get into trouble. Those things are so cool!"
"Ah yes…Willow, if I might?"
"Sure Giles, I give you back the floor."
"Thank you. Spike's information is extremely helpful, invaluable actually. Very impressive work indeed, Spike. I'd say you've really outdone yourself this time."
"Thanks, Rupert. I am quite something, yeah?"
"Indeed you are. All right, I'll need time to collate all of our new information with our previous research, so might I suggest we break and reconvene this evening? Willow, would you be able to…"
"I have a Chem test in an hour, then I'm all yours."
"Splendid! Dawn, you too would be most useful…"
Her excitement was palpable:
"I'm already late, so I'll just skip school today!"
"…after your classes conclude this afternoon."
Buffy walked over to her:
"Here Dawnie, I wrote you a note."
"…That's so great, Buffy. You're my hero."
"Just for that? Gee, I do way cooler stuff all the time."
Giles moved to cut off the sisterly spat before it could get going:
"In keeping with this morning's meal, I shall supply dinner this evening as well. Pizza and pig's blood all 'round?"
Dawn depression lifted at the promise of pizza:
"Don't forget the anchovies, please."
"Ooh, and an extra…"
"Cheesey cheese one, I do recall, Willow."
"Giles, can you get some ginger ale too?"
"Yes Xander, and I plan to purchase Coke, Diet Coke, and root beer as well."
Say Ripper, any chance you could get me some…"
"Weetabix will be included as always, Spike."
"I for one, don't care what you buy us to eat."
"Thank you, Anya. It's most refreshing to…"
"All I care about is that you're providing me with another free meal. Go, Giles!"
They all headed out the door, everyone except the Slayers. Giles could see how exhausted they looked, but he was grateful that Faith was at least still in Sunnydale. She hadn't spoken once during the meeting, but her presence there indicated her willingness to participate and that had him hopeful that she did not intend to run.
"Faith, I very much hope you will not feel as if I'm imposing. It's not at all my intention to intrude, and yet…"
"Relax G-man, figured B had to spill at least some of the beans. What do ya got?"
"I'm sorry to say I've absolutely nothing concrete at this point. Time constraints limited my research of course, but as of yet I've uncovered no mention of any two people experiencing what you girls did."
He shifted a few books around on the table, as he tried to gather his thoughts:
"There was no incantation, no offering, nothing but the two of you. Even when considering all of the primary and secondary facets, I dare say one could even include the tertiary mystical aspects as well, and giving each their due merit even after exponentially factoring in the increased and always fluctuating…"
Buffy looked at Faith who was looking at her and sporting the same confused expression.
"Giles, could you please speak using English as your language of choice?"
"So then, what do you think happened?"
"I'm afraid I'd just be guessing, Buffy."
"Bring it, Giles. Got more confidence in your guesses than anybody else's facts."
He smiled at the compliment:
"Thank you for that, Faith. My supposition is that your Slayer bond has somehow intensified. My theory would be that as you two are now on the same wavelength more so than ever before, you're bonding in a most unprecedented way. I suspect that as time passes, your connection will only deepen. Eventually you might be able to track one another's location and read each other's thoughts. There's really no way to know until it happens."
"Giles, this is pretty intense."
"Yes it is, Buffy, and it's something we'll need to learn how to use appropriately. We're in completely new territory, but I'm quite confident that between the three of us, we'll be able to…"
"Look, I gotta go."
"'Go'? Go where?"
"No big, B. Just got stuff to do."
Buffy was on her feet, and Faith stepped back as she approached. Buffy pretended not to notice:
"Want some company? I'm free today, so we could…"
"I'm good. Thanks for the explanation, Giles. See you guys later."
"Of course you're more than welcome, but Faith, perhaps you should…"
She was out the door before he could finish and he turned to Buffy, expecting her to say something. Instead she was staring after Faith with a passion that brought a surprised smile to his face:
"Ah, and things become a bit clearer."
Buffy finally managed to give him her attention:
"Did you say something?"
"No, just thinking aloud."
"Well, I think I'd better go after her."
"Perhaps she just needs some time alone to process…"
"Giles, it's never been a good idea to leave her alone."
He stood and stretched, suddenly feeling his lack of a full night's sleep.
"I suppose that's true, but I believe it necessary to remind you once again that this must be an incredibly frightening situation for Faith to find herself in. She has always protected herself by hiding her true feelings, and I just informed her that may no longer be possible when it comes to her relationship with you. It cannot be a comfortable feeling for her."
Buffy gathered up her belongings:
"I get this is serious, Giles, that's why I have to stay with her. I'll check in later, I promise."
"Of course, and Buffy?"
She paused, her hand on the door:
He smiled at her:
"Nothing. I'm just proud of you."
"Because you're Buffy."
Buffy was starting to worry. She'd been looking for Faith for almost four hours, and Faith was nowhere to be found. She headed back to the motel, more out of desperation than any real sense that this time would be any different. She was beginning to think she had to call L.A..
As she approached Faith's room, she felt the familiar tingle she always felt when her fellow Slayer was nearby, and she said a silent thank you that Faith hadn't left town. She was safe, now Buffy had to see if she was all right.
She knocked loudly and waited. Nothing. She began pounding, and it took almost five minutes until she finally heard:
Then Faith was unlocking the door and motioning Buffy inside, bowing sarcastically and gesturing with her arm:
"Right this way, B!"
She slammed the door shut and flopped back down on the bed. A bottle of whiskey tipped over, but since it was nearly empty, Faith managed to grab it before any of it spilled.
"Hi. I've been looking for you."
"And here I am."
"…Are you okay?"
Buffy wanted way more than a one word answer, especially when everything about Faith said she was just barely hanging on.
She leaned against the door as she looked around the room. There were several empty bottles on the table and floor, and the television set was in pieces.
"You've been drinking."
Faith lifted the whiskey bottle up and toasted her before downing a huge slug.
"So what's going on, Faith?"
"Not much, B. What's goin' on with you?"
"…We should talk."
"Nothin' to say."
"Of course there is."
Faith drained the bottle, then sent it whizzing right by Buffy's head. It smashed into bits as it slammed into the door.
"There's my official statement."
Buffy tried to keep her voice calm:
"It's a little on the terrifying side, what Giles thinks is happening between us. I mean, I can't speak for you, but it's pretty scary for me."
Faith grabbed a fresh bottle of whiskey from off of the nightstand and laughed:
"It's just not enough for you bein' the Slayer, is it, B? Gotta be a shrink now too."
"Sorry, I'm just trying to get you to talk to me about…"
"So this is the plan? Keep insulting me until I get mad enough to leave?"
"Don't have a plan, but you don't like it here, well, you're leanin' against the exit."
Buffy didn't budge .
"Just so you know—the 'Old Faith' wall you're trying to put up between us, it isn't working."
One of Faith's hands rubbed across her face, then fell to the bed and began toying with the blanket.
"What do you want from me, Buffy?"
"Honest answers would probably be a good start."
"Well, you sure as fuck don't need my help for that."
She took a long swig of whiskey, grabbed a quick breath and took another, longer taste. Her eyes watered and it took a few moments before the burning stopped.
"Just gotta wait awhile, then ya can charge on in and see for yourself."
"Faith, I'm never going to 'charge' into your mind, I wouldn't do that to you. I just want you to let me in a little bit. That's what friends do, and I want us to be friends, the kind who are there for each other no matter what. Let's just talk about this."
Faith didn't hesitate:
"I don't wanna talk to you."
"That's not an answer."
"It's all I got."
"Well, you're going to have to do a lot better than that."
Faith's eyes finally met hers, and Buffy saw all of the pain and fear she was feeling.
"Look, you did your job. You're off the hook, all safe and sound. Now head back to your life 'fore I fuck it up…again."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"Just haul it, we'll both be better off."
"We've never been better off without each other."
Faith exploded then, her anger bellowing out of her:
"Leave me the fuck alone!"
This time the bottle headed for the already destroyed television set. A spray of alcohol arced through the air until the impact shattered the glass and the liquid puddled on the floor.
"Okay, what's it gonna take? I gotta fuckin' beat your ass out the goddamn door?"
"You've got to stop holding everything in, Faith. You've got to trust somebody."
Faith laughed again and Buffy hated the sound.
"And that somebody's you?"
"What, you forget what it was like, Twinkie? How ya got shit splashed all over ya right there in your front row seat? Looking for another go-around?"
"I remember it all, Faith, every single thing. But guess what? I don't care about any of it anymore. What I care about now is you, and no matter what crap you choose to say to me, that isn't going to change."
That silenced Faith, and it took a couple minutes before she could say anything in response.
"B, look, I don't need this. You're all 'Buffy Rides to the Rescue', and..."
"I'm not trying to rescue you, I'm trying to be your friend."
"You can't just shut me out anymore."
"'Yeah? Why the fuck not?"
"Because this time I'm not going to let you."
Faith blew out a huge and frustrated sigh as she looked at her:
"Okay, I get it, alright? You're tryin' to be nice, but I…"
"We need to talk about what I saw last night."
"…Told ya already, I don't talk about that stuff."
"You need to…we need to."
"Maybe, but never gonna happen."
"Not even for me?"
Faith tore her eyes off the small hole she'd ripped in the blanket:
"Not even if I beg you?"
"C'mon B, don't do this."
Buffy moved forward:
"Keeping this in is hurting you, and I can't just back off and do nothing. Things between us are so good now, but if we don't deal with this, it'll just get bigger and bigger and we won't be able to get past it. I know it's going to be hard and I know you're scared, but Faith, I'll help you, I swear I'll help you. Just trust me and talk to me about what happened to you. Please Faith…for me."
Faith slid quickly off the bed and stood still on the other side, more afraid than she'd ever been in her life. Time had stopped for her, the moment slowing until she could see a future that was suddenly within her grasp. It was a future where she could speak a secret she had always buried deep inside, a future where she could rest and share her burden with someone who would willingly carry it. As much as she wanted that future, as much as she wanted that person to be Buffy, her voices did not.
**What are doing?**
She couldn't do it.
The voices were all she could hear, all she would ever hear, and she knew that was the way it was always…
"Faith, you're not alone anymore."
"Turn around, I'm right here."
"……B, I can't. Just go."
Buffy could see the war raging inside, but she knew without a doubt that Faith needed to do this.
"Look at me."
"I won't leave, Faith, I'll stay right with you."
She tried with everything she had to resist, but she couldn't stop her body from responding to the soft pleading in Buffy's voice. Their eyes met and Buffy began approaching slowly.
"B, this isn't a good idea."
"You can do this."
"I…I'm gonna take off."
"It's going to be okay, trust me."
"Just get outta the way."
Buffy reached out and gently entwined their hands:
"I'm not moving."
Buffy led her back over to the bed:
"Nothing can take us, Faith, not when we're together."
And then Buffy smiled.
For the first time ever, she stood looking at Faith as if she considered her the most important thing in the world, as if she really mattered to her, and Faith felt something beginning to crumble inside. It was something that had always been there, something that had seemed so solid and permanent, and yet it was collapsing under the weight of a smile.
She felt it go and she knew: she was going to do it. She was going to talk about something she'd never spoken about before to anyone because right at that moment, Faith could do anything. Buffy Summers was standing in front of her being Buffy Summers. That was it, that was all, but for Faith it was way more than enough.
It was everything.
Three hours passed before Faith was finished. Three hours spent pouring out a hell that Buffy still couldn't comprehend. She had never imagined that things like that could happen to a child, and she couldn't begin to fathom how Faith had gone through it all and still come out on the other side even remotely sane.
Faith had been abused for almost her entire childhood, and Buffy had only witnessed a portion of what she had endured. Faith had managed to escape from that nightmare, only to struggle to survive on the streets of Boston at the age of twelve. She had done whatever she'd had to do to stay alive, and she had lived like that until her Watcher found her.
Buffy tried hard not to cry, but at some point the tears just came and she couldn't stop them. Faith never shed a tear, not one, as she told her story. She showed no emotion at all, not even when some of the details were so horrific, they made Buffy sick to her stomach. But Faith? She never even so much as flinched.
"…and that brings it up to Sunnydale, and you know the rest."
"…I…I don't know what to say."
"Nothin' to say. You asked, I told."
"I'm so sorry, Faith."
"Not your fault. 'Sides, all five by five now."
Buffy swiped at the moisture on her own cheeks:
"How did you make it through all of that? I can't even…"
"Just did. I dealt with that shit a long time ago, and…"
Her voice cracked.
"Wanna go patrol?"
Her eyes were filling with tears and her whole body began shaking.
"Goddamn it! Not gonna do this…"
She was up and heading for the door, but Buffy was right behind her.
"This is bullshit!"
"Just let it come out, Faith, it's okay."
They stood there unmoving until Faith slowly turned away from the door.
"It's…it's not okay, B. It's never been…okay."
She collapsed into Buffy's arms, sobbing as if she were never going to stop. Buffy held on tight, crying silently along with her and wishing she could take away her pain. But she couldn't, all she could do was hold her…and so she did.
Faith cried for a long time before she could get herself under control. She gradually became aware that she was wrapped tightly in Buffy's warm embrace, and she had never felt so safe in her entire life. She didn't want to move, she wanted to stay right where she was forever…but then she heard them loud and clear.
It was past time to move before it all blew up in her face. She had already shown so much weakness by having the most embarrassing meltdown in the history of the universe. Was she really such a dumb fuck that she was just going to keep sitting there making it worse?
She had never been so pathetic in her whole life, what a pussy, and if she let it go on, she was going to get crushed. No matter how good it felt to be held and comforted, it was wrong, it was dangerous and it was stupid. She had to get Buffy off of her, she had to make her let go.
Besides, Buffy probably wanted to take off and get as far away from her as she could. She probably couldn't even stand to be touching her, she was probably so disgusted that she was trying not to puke all over the place right now.
**Enough of this crap!**
Just as she opened her mouth to speak, Buffy's grip tightened and her lips brushed softly against her cheek:
"Shhh…I'm not leaving you, Faith."