Buffy walked into the house feeling good. Life was going along just about as perfectly as it could, and things with Faith were getting better every day. They loved being together-patrolling, watching movies, "Bronzing" it, making love, even cleaning the house. It didn't matter what they did as long as they were with each other. Life was perfect, and Buffy should have known that meant it was time for all hell to break loose.
Faith was in the kitchen making dinner, a welcome sight, and Buffy knew right away that something was wrong. It was just the way Faith was moving, the way she was holding her body tight. Buffy pushed a bit on their Slayer connection and was met by a steel barrier. Okay…
"Honey, I'm home!"
"Hey, B. Dinner in a few."
Buffy strolled over to give her a kiss, but at the last second Faith subtly turned her head so that Buffy's lips barely grazed her cheek. That wasn't good or normal, but Buffy decided to play it cool. She hopped up onto a barstool and tried to start a regular conversation:
"So what did you do all day?"
"Why, you gonna write a report?"
Faith's voice had an edge to it and she was almost completely shutdown. Her face was blank except for her eyes which were filled with the pain she was trying to disguise.
"No report writing for me, although I did pick up my application, so you're now looking at next semester's Big Slayer on Campus…maybe…possibly…okay, there's at least a chance anyway."
"Glad you're gonna try."
Buffy snagged a cherry tomato from a salad and popped it into her mouth.
"That I am, thanks to the fact that my girlfriend's the best cheerleader ever. Wow, now that's a pleasant visual…Can you move the pom poms slightly to the left?"
Faith didn't laugh, nor did she respond in any way at all, and Buffy decided to go back to the direct approach.
"So what'd you do today?"
"Already covered that."
"No, we covered me writing reports. I never got to hear if you did anything exciting or interesting."
Faith checked inside the oven, then straightened up and adjusted a couple of dials:
"Let it go for ten, then broil for three and it's set."
"You're going to let me cook? What are you…"
"I need some air. Start without me."
And with that Faith was gone, leaving Buffy alone in the kitchen.
She stayed seated at the bar for a minute, then turned off the oven and headed out the kitchen door. She found Faith sitting on the bench by the birdbath, staring out blankly at the approaching dusk. Buffy sat down next to her:
"Just go eat dinner."
"What's going on?"
Faith exploded off the bench:
"Go the fuck inside!"
Buffy stayed where she was as she watched Faith pacing back and forth.
"What happened today? You were fine this morning."
"Not gonna play 'Twenty Questions' with you."
Buffy stood and walked up behind her. She placed her arms around Faith's waist, but Faith flinched and pulled away.
"Let me guess…I'm suddenly repulsive to you?"
"Of course not. Stop bein' stupid, Buffy."
"So tell me what's got you so upset."
"I don't want to."
"Yeah, I got that, but…"
Faith headed for the gate, but Buffy beat her to it:
"Are you planning to go through me?"
Faith stared at her, trying to look all tough and scary.
"It's not working, F. Talk."
She stomped back to the bench, patting herself down as she searched for her non-existent cigarettes:
"It's no big, just a bad day, so stop makin' a federal case."
Buffy watched her for a minute before she spoke:
"I don't know how many times you're going to make me ask, but I think you should know I'm nowhere near my limit yet…Why are you so upset?"
"Just fuckin' told you! Sorry you don't like it."
"What I don't like is you hiding stuff from me. All I want is for us to talk about it."
"Too bad for you."
Buffy sat down next to her again and took her hand:
Faith jerked loose.
"Look, I came out here to be alone, alright? Don't wanna splash shit all over you, so get away from me."
When Buffy didn't move, Faith looked at her:
"What, you worried about later? Don't be, I'll be ready to fuck on command."
Buffy said nothing. She simply stared and it wasn't long before the shame crossed Faith's face and her eyes dropped to the ground.
"I'm sorry, B."
"Then stop trying to make me mad and just tell me what's going on."
"…Saw some of the old gang today."
"'The old gang'?"
Faith laughed, but it clearly wasn't funny to her.
"Yeah, Mayor's boys came right up to me like we were old buddies or somethin'. Seems they been workin' on a plan and they wanted to lay it all out for me."
Buffy didn't say a word and Faith kept going.
"See, most of the Boss' crew scattered, but there's still a few key guys layin' low just waitin' for me to claim what's mine. Wouldn't be tough to fill out our ranks and we'd be off and running in no time. I could take over the whole town, have all the money and power anybody could want. Course there's a problem, but the boys got it figured. I just gotta catch the Slayer off guard and then we're home free."
"You'd never do that."
"How the fuck do you know? I tried it before."
Buffy scooted closer to her:
"Faith, you would never do that. Not ever."
The tears came to Faith's eyes, but she struggled to hold them back:
"What if I told you that some part of me just wants to let go? That there's somethin' in me that…"
Faith stood up:
"B, it's more than that. Sometimes I feel like I'm barely hangin' on, like I'm gonna let everybody down."
"You're not going to let anyone down."
"You can't know that. Way I felt today……I remember it, Buffy, how good it feels to just…"
Buffy got to her feet and pulled Faith into a hug. She struggled to break loose, but Buffy held on tight. She could feel the tears hitting her shoulder and although she spoke quietly, her conviction rang out loud and clear:
"Okay, so you felt it, so what? That's not who you are anymore, Faith, it never will be because you won't let it to be. I know you, and I know with everything in me that you would never do anything like that. Never."
Faith leaned into Buffy then, her arms coming up to return her embrace.
"Our love's the most important the thing in the world to you, and I don't care what anyone else offers, it's always going to come up short compared to that. Just forget the other stuff, it doesn't mean anything…not like this does."
Buffy kissed her with every bit of the love she had, and Faith suddenly couldn't feel anything dark or ugly anymore. It just floated away from her until all she felt was clean and beautiful and safe.
They kissed forever and when they stopped, they stayed wrapped in each other's arms. Faith laughed and Buffy shivered at the feeling of her breath against the skin of her neck.
"Damn B, sure think you're hot shit, don't ya?"
"I tamed you, didn't I?"
"Yeah, definitely Slayer-whipped here."
"I think I know just how that feels."
Faith linked their hands:
"Thank you, B."
"That's what I'm here for."
"Yeah, and a few other things."
"Really? Maybe you could teach me some of those after dinner."
They headed back into the kitchen. Faith opened the door and gestured at Buffy to go ahead.
"I'd really like to talk things over with the 'old gang'. I have a few ideas of my own I'd like to share with them."
"Already dead. I killed the fuckers soon as they mentioned takin' you out."
"I can't say that news makes me sad."
They went inside and as soon as she had the door closed, Faith lifted Buffy into her arms.
"What are you doing, F?"
"Forget supper. Wanna teach ya those things right now."
She headed up the stairs, her haste making Buffy laugh.
"Okay, but can I tell you about the mean lady at the Registrar's Office while we do it?"
"Can try, but I got other plans for your tongue."
Faith smirked as she tossed her down on the bed.
"Just watch what I do with mine and when I'm done, we'll see if you learned anything."
"I'll try, but you're probably going to have to do it for a long time before I get the hang of it."
"Fine with me, already admitted I'm Buffywhipped."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"Not one damn thing, B."
Buffy was wondering how she could be any more bored than she currently was. She was patrolling all alone, wandering through the cemetery in a vain attempt to find something to kill. She and Faith had decided to split up for the night to entice some bad things to come out and play, but so far the "bad things" weren't cooperating.
The whole night was a waste, as far as she could tell. It was unusual too because whenever they patrolled alone, the vamps seemed to come out in droves. Maybe they figured the presence of only one Slayer gave them a fighting chance, but whatever the reason, they couldn't wait to engage in fisticuffs every time the Slayers went solo. She had no idea what made tonight any different, she just knew she wasn't having any fun and she knew Faith wasn't either.
Of course it couldn't always be about what they wanted. Sometimes duty called and they had to answer. And maybe Faith was having better luck, which wouldn't really take all that much. So far all Buffy had run across was a newbie vamp, he'd still had the dirt in his hair from crawling out of his grave. Even though he'd given it his all, the fight had only lasted about fifteen seconds and Buffy hadn't even broken a sweat.
Since that skirmish, there hadn't been another being in sight, living or other…
"What? Just me, Slayer!"
"Yes, I see that now, Spike! Why were you sneaking around like that?"
He was clearly offended:
"Wasn't 'sneakin'! Walked right up to you."
She put her stake back into her pocket.
"Fine. Why are you here?"
"Nothin' on the telly and was after a spot of violence."
"Well, good luck because unless you're planning on fighting me, there's no one else around."
"Yeah? Well after that pitiful display, not takin' your say-so on it."
"Oh shut up."
She started walking again:
"So how'd you know where to find me?"
He grinned as he fell into step with her.
"Didn't. Just blind luck, is all."
"And three cheers for 'blind luck' because I felt like staking myself before you got here."
He was trying to light a cigarette, but couldn't find his lighter.
"Missing the Dark One?"
"Yeah, I just really like patrolling with her."
He angrily tossed his cigarette to the ground.
"Lost my blasted lighter again! Think the Little Bit takes'em."
"Why would Dawn take your lighters?"
"Can't get it out of her head that it won't kill me to smoke. That's how brainwashed they got kids now days. Got a teenager worried about a vampire enjoyin' a fag."
"That is British speak, right…or do you have something you'd like to tell me?"
"Sorry, no. You're the only lesbian in the vicinity. Speaking of, your better half's where?"
"Somewhere that's else, and I'm not happy on this side of town."
"Cheer up, pet. Know you got the DTs now, but you'll soon get your fix."
"It's not my fault she's addictive. She's like choco…"
Something darted out of the bushes and made its way across their path.
"Just a dog, Slayer."
Buffy put her stake back into her pocket:
"Couldn't it have at least been a hellhound or even a werewolf?"
"So what was we on about?"
"I was just saying how lucky I am to have Faith."
"Havin' the one you love, love you back…nothing better than that."
"Oh Spike, I'm…"
"Easy there, luv. Just bein' philosophical is all, not pining away. You know I'm nothing but happy for you birds. Clear as day you were made for each other, never seen a better match. I'll find mine one day, got all eternity in my favor."
She bumped his shoulder with hers:
"Don't wait that long, William. I want to see you happy."
"Yeah, well don't hold your breath. I…"
The vampire charged them, and Spike staked him with barely any effort.
"Mind, you stupid git? Havin' a bit of a chat here! Where was I 'fore that wanker…?"
"Talking about finding your true love."
"Yeah, right. Quite a challenge when all the women who understand the whole 'vampire with a soul' business are married or gay or Dawn."
Buffy laughed, but it was true.
"That's not exactly helping you, is it?"
Spike's face lit up:
"Say…you positive all's right with you and your honey? Could take her off your hands if…"
"Like you'd have any chance even if I…"
"Guys, it's just us!"
Buffy practically screamed at them:
"Why were you sneaking up on us?!"
"'Sneaking'? Xander, were we 'sneaking'?"
"No! Besides, we figured a vampire and a Slayer would hear, see, or smell us coming."
"Hubby's got a point, Slayer."
"Yeah, and he almost got one."
She put her stake back into her pocket and Xander was all goofy "Xander" smiles:
"So whatcha up to?"
"Well, I'm patrolling…alone."
"Geez Buffster, what's with the attitude?"
Anya pulled him aside and whispered a little too loudly:
"She's tense, Xander. She probably needs a good orgasm. The two I had before we came here really helped me relax."
She decided to let everyone in on the information:
"You know how they say sex decreases after you're married? We've found it to be just the opposite. For example: today we did it…"
"Anya, they don't want to hear about our sex life."
A wicked grin crossed Spike's face:
"Speak for yourself, mate. Not havin' one myself, so…"
"See Xander, Spike wants to know."
Buffy had had enough:
"Hello? Not that 'Sex on Parade' hasn't been great, but I'm trying to patrol here. Maybe a little less with the talking and more with the stealthing would…"
"What the matter?!"
"God Willow, you scared us!"
"I scared you? Buffy, you're the Slayer."
Buffy put her stake back into her pocket:
"So then why were you sneaking up on us?"
Willow looked confused:
"I wasn't. I guess the four of you weren't paying attention."
Anya tapped her on the shoulder:
"Excuse me, Willow, but would you like to hear about our sex life?"
"What?! Xander, I would never sleep with Anya!"
Anya's confusion cleared quickly:
"Oops, my bad! English is such a difficult language sometimes. I meant, would you like to hear about our sex life, Willow? Mine and Xander's. He says that no one wants to, but I think that's just ridiculous."
Willow blushed and cleared her throat:
"Great! See Xander, you were wrong again. What time, Willow?"
Anya was looking at Willow like she was brain damaged and she spoke to her slowly:
"What time do you want to hear about our sex life?"
"Um…I guess after this meeting."
"Perfect! It's going to be very exciting for you. We've already done it three times today, and I think we're going to do it again when we get home."
Spike was all over that:
"High five, Harris! Three times in one day, all with your own wife? Really think you can go another round?"
Xander was all smiles again as he smacked Spike's hand:
"If I do, it'll be my personal best and..."
"Xander Harris, stop right there! It's called your 'personal best' because it's personal."
Now Anya was mad:
"What's wrong with you, Xander? Don't spoil it for her by giving away all of the highlights early. You're just going to have to wait, Willow."
Buffy was completely exasperated now:
"Yoo hoo! Everyone, listen up!"
They all stopped talking and turned to face the Slayer.
"This is not a party or a reunion. I'm trying to patrol, and I can't be stealthy with all of you laughing and talking and…"
Spike's snort derision interrupted her tirade:
"Oh please, Slayer. Never been 'stealthy' in your life. You're a 'walk up to a bloke and kill him' kinda girl, you are."
Xander chimed right in:
"Yeah, Buff. You always just walk around until something…"
"What's all this then?"
"Good Lord, why are you all screaming?!"
"Because you scared us!"
"Well I'm sorry, Buffy, but when I saw all of you gathered as I was driving by, I knew immediately we must have a situation on our hands."
Buffy put her stake back into her pocket:
"No, there's no situation. There's just me on a quiet patrol."
Spike snorted again:
"Rupert, tell 'Miss High and Mighty' here that she's never been stealthy."
Giles was already lost:
"Excuse me, Giles?"
"Would you be interested in hearing about my sex life with Xander? Now before you answer, you should know we've already done it three times today, and if we do it again, it will be Xander's personal best."
"My, how excruciatingly…lovely."
Willow grabbed Giles' arm:
"Giles, there was a really neat looking spell book in this afternoon's shipment. I've never even heard of it before, so I didn't touch it just in case it's evil. Can we look at it tomorrow before I have to go to class?"
Spike pulled out a cigarette:
"You know, when I was evil, she just charged in and beat the hell outta me. There was no sneaking about at all. Say, anyone got a light?"
Giles looked at him sternly.
"Fine..Giles. I just wanted you to know I'm definitely getting started on the renovations Tuesday. I should be done by the following Wednesday, Thursday at the latest."
"Like anyone could think of you and forget books? Nope, I've got your back, G-man."
Again he received the look, and Xander almost whined his question:
"How come Faith can call you that and I can't?"
"Because. And you won't forget the ends are to be slightly taller and wider?"
"Nope, my mind's like a…like a trap of some kind, Giles-man…Fine…Giles."
Willow laughed at the disgruntled look on his face:
"Xander, I think you mean your mind's like a 'steel trap'."
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean, Willow. I guess my memory's not what it never used to be."
Anya was eyeing him closely:
"Xander, have you been masturbating?!"
"Well, have you?"
It didn't seem possible for a face to flame any brighter or redder than Xander's.
"I've heard that masturbation can cause memory loss as well as hairy palms. I'd assumed it was just an old wives' tale, but clearly…"
Buffy turned slowly to greet the new arrival.
"B, knew something had to be up. My side was dead, so figured I'd better come runnin'. What's the big?"
"Oh, it'd be best if you heard it for yourself."
"I mean, please. Kicks in doors when a knock would suffice, saunters through the cemetery dressed to kill…hahaha…Christ, I'm funny…Stealthy, my ass. Could produce a hundred vampires to back me, if they weren't all just dust blowin' in the wind, and there's no denyin' she beat the pants off me nearly every time…figure of speech. The point's this: Slayer's got all the stealth of a runaway tank."
"Yes, Anya. I'm quite certain onanism does not produce blindness either."
"Honey, can we just drop this now?"
Anya looked at him as if he'd gone insane, then turned to Willow:
"I'm very sorry, Willow, but we'll have to postpone our discussion. If Xander's been masturbating so frequently, clearly he's not getting enough sex. We need to go home now and have some more."
"Oh I understand, of course. Some other time, then."
Anya smiled big:
"Tomorrow at 2:30 works for me. Call if you're going to be late. Come on, Xander."
"Anya, this really isn't necessary. I haven't been…you know."
The look she gave him was not a good one:
"What's that supposed to mean? Are you saying you only have sex with me because it's 'necessary'?!"
"What?! No, that's not what I meant at all!"
"I know what I heard, Xander!"
She stormed off with him close behind:
Giles shook his head as if to clear it:
"Willow, if I'm not imposing, perhaps you'd care to take a look at that book now? It should prove most fascinating, and I'm quite keen to get your opinion on it."
"That'd be great, Giles!"
He offered his arm to her:
"Right this way then. My car's just over there."
Buffy looked at Faith:
"So there you have it, F. There's the 'big'."
"Fuck, no way there's a vamp within ten miles of here."
"My thoughts exactly. Wanna call it?"
"Might as well. 'Sides, was missin' ya like crazy anyways."
Buffy kissed her:
"You are so sweet."
"Yeah, I know. Come on, last one home runs the bath!"
Faith took off before she finished the sentence.
"Wait up, you big cheater!"
"I'd wager she doesn't even know how to be stealthy. 'Sides, can't just sneak up on a master vampire anyway. Heightened perception and years of experience means I've picked up a thing or two in my hundred plus years and…"
He suddenly looked around:
He spun in a complete circle, but there was no one in sight.
"Fine then, just leave me nattering on like a nutter. Least one of you could have left me a bloody lighter or a book of matches. S'posed to be mates! Humans."
The nightmare woke Faith up again. She got out of bed as quietly as she could, but Buffy was already stirring.
"It's okay, go back to sleep."
Buffy rolled over and turned on the light, and Faith quickly swiped away the tears on her cheeks as she began getting dressed.
"This is the sixth night in a row. What's going on?"
"Just a bad dream. I'm okay."
"No you're not. Is it a Slayer dream?"
"Nothing like that. Just a 'Faith' dream."
Buffy didn't seem to like that answer any better:
"Why don't we talk about it? Maybe that would…"
"Just need to take a walk. I'm fine B, really. Go back to sleep."
She leaned down and kissed Buffy, then turned off the light.
"Faith, wait. I'll come with you."
"Nah, you stay put. It's after three and you need your sleep. Don't worry, I'll be back in a few."
Buffy watched her go, concerned, but trying to give Faith the space she so clearly wanted. She turned the light back on and sat up to wait, but when six a.m. rolled around Buffy got up and got dressed. Faith had been gone all night and that meant something serious was going on.
Faith hadn't been herself for the last couple of weeks. She'd been moody and irritable, snapping at everyone, even Dawn. On patrol she'd been a lot like the Faith of old, almost relishing the pain she was inflicting instead of efficiently staking the vampires and moving on.
She was beating them, torturing them just like she used to, and she seemed to be enjoying it. She was also becoming reckless, leaping into situations without thinking, and it was worrying Buffy. When she brought it up to Faith, she seemed genuinely unaware of any changes:
"Not sure what you're gettin' at B, but I'll try to be more careful."
Buffy locked the front door behind her as she headed off to Giles' house. She stopped on the way and picked up some jelly doughnuts, hoping they would offset her arrival at a bright and early 6:30 a.m..
He opened the door to her looking slightly rumpled, but awake.
"Buffy, what brings you 'round at such an early hour? Are those perhaps…"
He smiled as he took the bag from her.
"I figured a small bribe was in order. I need your help."
He put two mugs on a tray and began placing some of the doughnuts on a plate.
"Although I very much appreciate the jellies, no bribe is ever required to obtain my assistance. Now what seems to be the matter?"
She smiled gratefully at him as she sat down on the familiar couch.
"I'm not really sure."
He carried the tray over and began making her a cup of tea.
"I assume this is about Faith? I've noticed she seems a bit on edge of late."
"Yeah, you could say that. She's been having these nightmares every night. I don't know what they're about, I'm not sure she does either. She always wakes up screaming or crying, and last night she went for a walk and still hasn't come home."
He stirred her drink thoughtfully before handing it over:
"I assume as well that you've spoken with her about the situation?"
She took the cup from him and grabbed a doughnut.
"I've tried a bunch of times, but she just keeps saying everything's fine, that it's just a bad dream."
"Are these perhaps 'Slayer' dreams?"
"She says no, and I haven't had any. I don't know Giles, maybe I'm making a big deal out of nothing."
He prepared his tea, his mind clearly on Faith.
"Buffy, you've proven time and time again that your instincts are to be trusted. If you feel uneasy and concerned, I'd wager you have good reason. No one knows Faith better than you do, so let's try and make sense of what's happening here."
He took a bite of his doughnut and sat back.
"My, these are quite delicious."
"Fresh from the oven."
He finished it quickly and reached for another:
"Perhaps we're dealing with a delayed reaction to stress."
"You mean from the 'Faber' thing? But that happened months ago."
"Yes, and that's why it's called 'delayed'. Faith went through quite the ordeal, we all saw the physical wounds, but what of the emotional ones? As you're well aware, she tends to push her feelings down deep inside herself, and it's entirely possible that the guilt and pain she felt are just now beginning to force their way to the surface."
Buffy was listening closely, but she wasn't quite convinced.
"But we've talked about it, and even though she was nowhere near 'gung-ho girl', she got a lot of stuff out."
He offered her another doughnut, which she took, and then he sipped his tea.
"It's a difficult journey she's on, and I'm afraid her recovery will follow neither a straight nor consistent path."
"But Giles, she's made so much progress. She talks to me about stuff all the time, why would she go backwards now?"
"It wouldn't necessarily be a conscious choice, Buffy. In times of great stress, we all fall back on what is most familiar to us. The Faber episode was quite traumatic for Faith in a number of ways. She did things such as hitting you, beating Angel, playing a role to deceive us all, and that must have made her feel a bit too close to the person she once was."
"So she's trying to shut down like she used to? I guess that makes sense."
He couldn't resist and took a third doughnut.
"I caution though, this is all merely speculative. Until we know for certain what her dreams actually contain, there's no way to be certain as to the source of her current distress. We need some specific answers."
"Well, I'd happily ask some specific questions if I could just talk to her. I don't have a clue where she is though."
"When you do find her, I'd be happy to speak with her if you'd like. Perhaps if her Watcher broaches…"
"I definitely want you to talk to her, but Giles? No one buys anymore that you're just our Watcher. We know you love us."
"Oh, I see. Well, then."
"Boy, don't get all sappy on me. Anyway, when we find her, you're totally involved in the whole talking process. Besides, she always listens to you."
He rolled his eyes as he prepared his second cup of tea.
"Please Buffy, the pastries were more than sufficient, there's no need to flatter me as well. I'm aware that neither of you listens to a word I say unless it suits your purpose."
"But you still love us anyway."
"I believe we agreed upon that a moment ago."
She smiled affectionately at him:
"God, you're so English you should have the Union John stamped on your forehead."
"That's 'Union Jack', Miss Sunny California."
She stood up and stretched:
"I'm going to call and see if she's home yet."
He was muttering under his breath, but plenty loud enough for her to hear:
"I seriously believe if it rained for two days straight you'd not survive the hardship."
"Hey, remember who got you the delicious doughnuts? Stop with the picking on me."
"All right, I suppose early morning pastry deliveries do compensate nicely for your rather alarming need for sunny weather. Go and make your call then."
Willow answered on the third ring:
"Nope, she's not here. You sound all worried, is something wrong?"
"I don't know. I need to talk to her though, so can you tell her to stay there until I get home?"
"When she shows up, I'll make her stay put."
"Thanks, Will. I'll see you in a while."
Buffy hung up feeling incredibly uneasy.
"She's not home and I'm kind of starting to freak."
"Let's remain calm, shall we? Perhaps now would be an optimal time to track her using your Slayer connection."
"I guess it couldn't hurt anything."
"All right then, get comfortable and relax."
She sat back down on the couch and took some deep breaths to calm herself. Giles sat quietly in his chair, his voice soothing as he guided her along:
"Center yourself. Feel the Slayer inside of you weaving and winding its way throughout your being…Reach out to the Slayer in Faith…See the connection between you…a strong, unbreakable thread running from you to her…Open your mind and see…"
"Giles, would you please be quiet? All I can see is you."
"Sorry, got a tad carried away."
She relaxed again, concentrating on all the things Giles had just mentioned, and it took only a few minutes before she could see it. The thread wound all the way around the world, and she knew it was connected to all of the Slayers who had come before her and all who would come after she was gone. She could feel their strength and energy, but she only wanted one.
She narrowed her focus…and then she had her. She was fiery red, glowing brilliantly with an intense and dangerous heat, but Buffy smiled and let herself be drawn to the raging inferno that was Faith. As she got closer, the fire blazed up, then cleared a spot at its center as it welcomed her approach.
The heat was severe, but she still headed for it, completely unafraid. She began to slide into…She jerked and her eyes flew open.
"Buffy? Did you find her?"
"Yes…I just don't….Why would she be there?"
"She's at the apartment."
Giles needed no further explanation, he knew what apartment she was referring to, and he was confused as well.
"Buffy, perhaps I should go with you."
"I wish you could, but I think I need to do it alone."
"And you're basing that belief upon what exactly?"
She blew out a big sigh as she got to her feet:
"Slayer intuition, Buffy gut feeling, I don't really know."
"All the more reason then that I should accompany you. I don't like you having to go there, and I like the thought of you going there alone, even less."
"I know, Giles, but it's just a building, and I go into them all the time. In fact, in some countries they'd call me a 'building expert', that's just how skilled I am at entering them."
He smiled, more for her sake than due to his own amusement:
"What could she possibly hope to gain by going there?"
"I don't know, but I doubt it's anything good."
"Well, I don't like this at all, Buffy."
"Me either, but I have to go."
He stood up too, his face worried and unsure.
"Are you absolutely certain you wish to go alone?"
"It'll be easier to talk to her, to get her to tell me what's going on."
"Yes, I suppose that's right. I don't quite know what to say except keep your chin up."
Buffy gave him a tiny smile:
"I'll try, but that place makes me feel pretty chinless."
"I know it does."
"Well, no time like the present."
She walked to the door with Giles right behind her.
"Buffy, what if I come along and just wait outside?"
She hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek:
"Thanks, but no. I'll be okay."
"But I shall speak to you soon, yes?"
"Yes. Buffy promise, Buffy keep word."
He couldn't help but chuckle as he opened the door for her.
"I'll be at The Magic Box all day."
"I'll find you…Hey, chins up all 'round, Watcher."
"Abysmal accent aside, quite right. Try not to worry, I'm certain you'll be able to sort this out, but should you need my assistance in any way…"
"You'll be my first call."
Then she was out the door, and Giles watched her go. He wasn't at all happy that she was going alone, but like so many times before and undoubtedly so many more times to come, he had to let her proceed on her own. He didn't have to like it though, and he didn't.
He watched her until she was out of sight, then sighed and closed the door. He milled around, cleaning up the cups and putting the remaining doughnuts in an airtight container. He knew it was time to head to the shop, but he merely wanted to hurry after Buffy.
"Damn that accursed place!"
He should have burned it to the ground years ago. In his Ripper days, he'd become quite adept at arson, and he was certain it was just like riding a bike. Even if he got caught, spending some time in jail would have been preferable to seeing the look on Buffy's face when she realized where she had to go.
Why was Faith even there? It was true that she still owned the building, courtesy of the Mayor, but she'd shown not the slightest bit of interest in it since her return. Surely she wouldn't want Buffy to find her there, not when she was well aware that the events that had transpired within its boundaries were Buffy's most painful moments, bar none.
Perhaps she'd simply lost track of time, which meant she'd likely been there for hours tormenting herself with memories best forgotten. The situation was not a good one, no matter what angle he looked at it from, and Giles was more than a tad uneasy. It seemed likely that his delayed stress theory was spot on.
**Woot, bloody woot. Three cheers for Rupert Giles!**
He should have insisted on going with her, but she was a grown woman who deserved the right to make her own decisions, and so he grabbed his car keys and drove instead to "The Magic Box." It was his morning to open the shop and he hoped being busy would keep his mind occupied until he heard from her.
"A father's love for the girl."
They were his family now, and he cherished each and every one of them. They'd enriched his life far beyond anything he could have ever imagined, and there was no going back. His Slayer had entrapped him quite completely, and he was more than happy to be caught.
Sometimes it was hell to be the pseudo patriarch to such a diverse and willful group, but he wouldn't have given up his spot for anything. The Slayer was a marvel: brave, strong, caring, smart, and delightfully funny. He knew he couldn't do without her, he'd known that for years.
As he puttered along to work, he was amazed at how quickly the day had been reduced to a simple equation: Giles loved Buffy, Buffy promised to call, and Giles would wait for the sodding phone to ring.
Buffy stood still outside the building. It was a beautiful day, but she couldn't feel the warmth of the sun as it beat down on her. She couldn't feel anything other than the pain, fear, and shame this edifice had always invoked.
She hated this place and everything it represented. This was where Faith had gone when she'd decided to give herself to the darkness, and this was where Buffy had almost killed her. It was the site of nothing but pain and despair, and Buffy wanted to get Faith and go anywhere else.
A small breeze blew lightly against her skin and Buffy shivered, still frozen in place. Her mind was in turmoil, lost in the memory of stabbing Faith. She had done many things in her life, but slamming that knife home was the one thing she could not get over. She couldn't forgive herself for what she'd been willing to do, and she couldn't forget it either.
They'd talked about it several times, but it hadn't helped. Buffy still looked away whenever she saw the scar and she refused to touch it, doing her best to pretend it didn't exist. That strategy, while not the most healthy, always got her through the rough spots…until the night Faith had decided to shake things up.
It had started off like it always did, with Faith explaining how the scar served as a reminder of what she never wanted to become again.
"Just think of it like a tattoo that keeps me on the right side of shit. 'Sides B, I got lots of scars and…"
"Not from me."
"Yeah, okay, but this one actually does me some good. Ya gotta let this shit go, ya know?"
"…I can't. Let's stop talking about it, okay?"
Faith stared at her for a minute, then laid back on the bed. They weren't touching, then Buffy felt Faith reaching for her hand.
She tried to relax and let the tension and pain drift away, but as she turned to Faith she found her hand being pulled towards the scar.
"No Faith, stop!"
"B, it's okay."
"No! Let go!"
But Faith didn't let go, and an all-out struggle ensued.
She had the advantage as she was stretched out flat on the bed and Buffy was being pulled down towards her at an awkward angle. In a matter of moments she slammed Buffy's hand down on the scar and held it there while Buffy struggled to pull back.
"No! Let go! Stop!"
"Shh…it's just skin. See? It's okay."
Buffy became frantic in her efforts to get away, and when Faith looked up and saw the fear and pain on her face, she let go instantly.
The slap Buffy delivered rocked Faith's head to the side and left a dark red mark.
"Don't you ever do that again!"
"Buffy, I'm sorry. I won't, I promise."
They stared at each other for a few moments, and Faith could barely stand it when the tears began rolling down Buffy's face.
"I'm sorry, B. I just thought if…"
She reached out to her, but Buffy stood up.
There was nothing Faith could say, and she watched as Buffy grabbed her pillow and walked out of the bedroom.
Buffy slept on the couch that night and every night for the rest of the week, and when she came back to their bed, Faith asked no questions and pushed for no answers. Buffy had made it more than clear: if she ever came to terms with it, it would be in her own way and in her own time.
Yep, bad memories of all kinds were getting stirred up, and Buffy shook her head as she tried to stay focused on the present. She couldn't just stand outside all day, no matter how tempting it was. Faith was inside and Buffy needed to get her out of there and go someplace else…anywhere else would do.
Her hand shook slightly as she opened the door and started up the familiar steps. She could feel herself starting to tremble the higher she climbed, and her legs felt like they were having trouble supporting her. This had to be the delayed stress reaction Giles had been talking about. Right diagnosis…wrong Slayer.
When she reached the apartment, the door stood wide-open and she could see Faith staring out the window, the window they'd gone crashing through during their fight to the death…Oh God, Buffy wanted out of there.
Faith finally turned to face her, and Buffy recoiled slightly. In all the time since she'd returned, Faith had never once looked like this. Buffy could feel the years falling away, leaving her alone with the Faith who was deadly and insane. She stood there trying to gather her wits to say something…anything:
"Faith, I was worried. You've…"
"Pretty easy for ya, wasn't it?"
"What? Finding you?"
Faith's expression wasn't pleasant:
"Tryin' to kill me."
"Damn, not a trick question. Ya sayin' ya don't remember?"
Buffy was confused and she had to force herself to answer:
"No, it wasn't easy."
"Yeah? Sure about that?"
"I'm sure. Why are…"
"'Cause to me, looked like it didn't faze you one fucking bit."
Buffy flinched, the words and the venom with which they were said felt like…a knife in her stomach.
"But my choice was a little tougher. See, I loved you and I loved the Boss."
"…I had to choose between you and Angel."
Faith hopped over the railing and began walking towards her:
"Oh yeah, that musta been rough. Love of your life or the psycho chick you hated. Man, talk about a hard decision."
"I know you're upset about something, but this isn't…"
"Course guess that explains why the knife slid in so easy."
Buffy couldn't think what to say, she could barely remember how to think. She felt like she was there again, feeling the blade sliding in with barely any resistance, looking up to see the pain in Faith's eyes and wishing at that moment she could take it all back and not make either of them who they had just become.
"You came here, all that hatred drivin' you, all that burning passion for your dying lover."
Buffy had to clear her throat:
"I never hated you, I loved you even back then."
"Oh yeah, that cozy little plan ya had to feed me to Angel, that was all about the lovey-dovey stuff."
Buffy had gone white, her face full of disbelief.
"Faith, you need to stop now. This isn't good, we need…"
"What, B? You tryin' to sell some story about a Slayer torn between the two great loves of her life? I was there, baby, 'member? You couldn't of cared less about me, but your corpse of a boyfriend? Well, all I can say is it musta been quite a screwin', 'cause for him you tossed all them high and mighty morals right the fuck out the window."
She was close enough to run her hand along Buffy's hair:
"One down and dirty fuck, and Little Miss Perfect…"
Faith laughed, her eyes glittering meanly as she let her hand fall back to her side.
"Ouch, guess the truth hurts. But any way ya slice it, B…Oh shit, you're not carryin' a blade, are ya? Not lookin' to get carved up again."
"Hey, no need to get so upset. Just sayin' you chose Angel without a second thought. He was the winner, and I got the runner-up prize – a cold, shiny piece of steel in the gut and eight months of my life ripped away."
"W…Why are you doing this?"
"Why the fuck not? Seems past time to take a good look at the facts."
"Nothing you're saying is a 'fact' and you know it. You tried to kill Angel and Xander and Willow. You……Faith, please just stop."
"Oh c'mon, let's get the saintly side from the holier than thou Slayer."
"I'm not doing this. We need…"
Faith's hands grabbed Buffy's shoulders and she pulled her close until their lips were just a whisper apart:
"Want me to fuck ya, baby? Help ya loosen up a little?"
Buffy shoved her away:
"You want the 'facts'? All right, fine! You killed people, the Mayor was trying to kill the whole town and you were helping him. It wasn't about loving anyone, it was about doing my job. You backed me into a corner and forced me to come after you. I didn't want to, but you made it so I had no other choice. You wanted me to kill you and…Damn it, stop this!"
The smile on Faith's face made Buffy sick.
"What's the big problem here, B? You're always so hot on the sharing, why's this got ya so jazzed? Is it 'cause deep down you know how easy it was for ya, how much you liked it?"
"Shut up! Yes, I stabbed you, but you tell me what else I could have done? You were gone. You ran right into the biggest evil you could find and you were gone. I knew I was going to have to kill you to stop you, and Angel was going to die unless I gave…God, can we please just stop?"
"Yeah, sure we can. Head on home, B. I'm hangin' here."
She blew a kiss and walked up the stairs to stand in front of the window again. Buffy stood where she was, shocked and wondering what was happening.
Obviously something was very wrong. Faith was off in a big way, she was just…she was just all wrong. She was glaring out the window again, and she still looked just like the Faith from years ago. Buffy pushed on their bond and saw nothing, but it felt like her mind was touching ice.
"Why still here?"
"Because I want to be. Faith, what's…"
Faith laughed and turned to face her:
"How could I ever forget? The Golden Slayer always gets whatever she wants. Everybody's always all lined up and just ready to do whatever you tell'em to, aren't they, B? You hold the hoops up and people start jumpin' through'em just to get some attention from you."
"What are you doing? What is this?"
"It's me in livin' color, baby. What's the matter? Ya had to expect this sooner or later, right? Put your trust in the Bad Slayer, gonna get a knife in the back for your trouble. Course the good Slayer loves to ram it in too, right from the front looking ya right in the eye. I even got the scar to prove it."
"Best mindfuck's gotta be the one you laid on Solider Boy. Dumb ass never did figure out it's only the murderers that get you wet. Course what can ya expect from a guy who could barely even find the right hole? Still, gotta feel for him. You fucked him up so bad, he had to turn himself into a vamp snack just to get ya to look his way. Man, sure is easy to see why everybody finally gets their fill and hauls ass away from you. Can't really blame us, can ya, B?"
Buffy felt the tears streaming down her face and she was having trouble breathing. She wanted to run and never come back, but this was Faith and as much as it hurt, Buffy couldn't just leave her. Faith couldn't mean any of this, not the Faith who loved her so passionately.
Faith felt like she wasn't really there, like she was somewhere outside her body just watching and listening while she said the most horrible things she could think of to the woman she loved. She fought for control, wanting nothing more than to stop herself because she had to stop…and then finally she did. She once again had possession of her mouth and she shut it.
**Oh God, look at Buffy…**
She looked so small and hurt, like she'd been stripped bare. She was shaking and crying, and Faith had been the one who had done that to her.
**What did I do? How could I say those things? Why did I just keep going? God, what have I done?**
Faith could feel the darkness coming for her, rolling over her in thick, black, cold waves. She struggled to keep her head up above it, but she couldn't. She tried repeating the mantra that had saved her so many times before, but in her panic she couldn't remember it. She had only one thought in her mind:
**I've lost Buffy.**
She had made her hate her again and she didn't even know why. All she knew was that she was sinking and if she went under this time, she was never coming back. She fought to hang on, but there was nothing to cling to. She felt the familiar surge of terror as she began to lose herself in the blackness, and as she sunk into its depths, she knew without a doubt that this time she had destroyed Buffy too.
She wanted to fight, but she couldn't. She was so tired and empty, and the darkness was too heavy as it began covering her. She felt herself going under for the last time, and then warm arms slid tightly around her waist from behind. A voice that sounded faraway, yet still so strong, whispered in her ear:
"Faith, we have to get out of here. I don't know if you meant what you said…"
She turned and clung to Buffy:
"I didn't mean it, B, I swear I didn't mean it. I'm sorry, I don't know why I said any of it. I hate myself for talking to you like that. Please Buffy, please don't leave me alone. I'm sorry…Don't let go of me, B, don't leave me alone, please."
"Shh…Okay, it's okay. I'm not letting go, I'm right here. It's okay, Faith…Shh, it's okay. Let's just go home."
They staggered down the stairs and out into the sunshine, holding tightly to one another. Buffy felt as if she'd been thoroughly beaten and Faith felt drained and confused. They headed home slowly, hanging on all the way.
"I'm sorry, B. I didn't mean any of that, none of it's true. B, please…"
"I know, it's okay."
But of course it wasn't okay, and they both knew it.
When they finally made it home, Willow greeted them:
"Hey, I see you two managed to find each…"
Faith broke away from Buffy and ran upstairs.
"What's going on? Buffy, are you guys okay?"
Buffy could feel her lips quivering as she fought back the tears:
"No, no we're not anywhere near 'okay'. Spike's still in L.A., right? Can you take Dawn out for the day?"
"Yes to both questions, but what's going on?"
"Later, all right? I…I need to talk to Faith."
Willow looked worried, but she didn't say anything else as she pulled Buffy into a hug. Buffy grabbed her and had to make herself let go after a long minute.
"We'll leave right now…Buffy, whatever it is, it's going to be okay."
In just minutes Willow had Dawn in the car, leaving Buffy and Faith alone in the house. Buffy sank down onto the couch with no idea what to do because she had no idea what was going on.
Faith had been so cruel, and it had seemed to come out of nowhere. Since she'd been back, Buffy had seen her in all kinds of moods, but the anger and deliberate intent to inflict pain that Buffy had just experienced…It was like the Faith of old, and it made absolutely no sense at all. They had to talk.
When Buffy entered their bedroom, she found Faith sitting on the floor in the corner. Her legs were drawn up and she had her arms wrapped tightly around them. Her forehead rested on her knees, and she looked exactly like a terrified child.
"Got no answers for you, B."
Her head never lifted, and Buffy walked over and sat down next to her. She reached out to take her hand, but Faith pulled back the instant she felt Buffy's fingers grazing her own.
"Don't. I don't deserve to have you comforting me, not after what I just did to you."
Buffy persisted until she captured Faith's hand. She raised it briefly to her lips, then lowered their firmly entwined hands to her lap.
"So why did you go there?"
"I was…I don't know."
"What were you thinking about before you went there?"
"…I was…I don't know."
"But Faith, why would you…"
"B, please…Can we just go to sleep? Please, Buffy?"
Her head lifted, and when Buffy got a look at her eyes she saw just how close Faith was to falling completely apart.
"I think that's a good idea. I'm feeling tired myself."
They took off their shoes and pants and slid under the covers, each as close to the edge as they could get. There was no way to be further apart and still be sharing the same bed.
Buffy's mind was racing as she tried to understand what had happened. None of it made sense, not at all, and…Her thoughts were interrupted when she felt the bed shaking from Faith's muffled sobs.
She rolled over and pulled Faith close, wishing she could offer up some explanation that would make everything okay again.
"B, I don't know…I'm sorry."
"Shh…it'll be okay. Just rest now."
Eventually they both drifted off, the long night and intense emotions finally getting the best of them. Two hours passed peacefully until Faith suddenly shot up in bed, her heart nearly hammering out of her chest. She remembered the dream clearly this time.
The sounds, the smell, the blood, the screams…No…No, she couldn't…she wouldn't ever do that. She would never…She looked down at Buffy sleeping next to her…so beautiful, so small, so trusting, so defenseless, and so unaware.
Faith knew she had to go somewhere, anywhere but where she was. She moved quickly and quietly, and it wasn't until Buffy awoke two hours later that she discovered Faith was gone…again.
She searched the house, confused and scared, but Faith was nowhere to be found. She simply wasn't there and Buffy had no idea…
"What in the hell is going on?"