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like a break in the battle was your part in the wretched life of a lonely heart

The sun was too bright. It came through the drawn blinds in blinding strips from outside. Faith raised a shaking hand to cover her eyes, wincing as a sprained finger bumped her tender, broken nose. She attempted to shift her position on the couch, slumping sideways, and groaned as the movement aggravated the cracked ribs in her side. She gingerly laid her head back on the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. If she had made it upstairs to her bedroom rather than crashing out on the couch the previous night, she might have been comfortable.

The house was quiet, and for that Faith was eternally grateful. Xander's birthday was tomorrow. Dawn and the girls were out buying presents and party supplies while Giles had taken Xander on a walk for, at least as far as Xander knew, the purpose of finding the Hellmouth. Everyone else knew it was just to get Xander out of the house while party plans were being made.

Faith was glad to have been left behind. In the month since Buffy had been released from the hospital with a clean bill of health, Faith had stepped up to the challenge of nightly patrolling to glean as much information from the local demon population as possible. Unfortunately, the only thing she had gotten so far was jumped by an angry mob of vampires the night before. Luckily Vi and Rona had insisted on tagging along.

There had been too many of them, and Faith knew it going in. She had discovered a nest in a cemetery not a mile outside of town. She had cornered their leader and interrogated him with the help of a few sharp knives and lit matches. When he refused to give up any information, she lit him on fire in front of the rest of his crew. Needless to say, they weren't altogether happy with her actions and reacted as violently as any demons she'd ever had the displeasure of meeting.

Faith closed her swollen, sore eyes, the sun lighting up her eyelids in various shades of red. She didn't want to dwell on her actions the previous night, didn't want to consider how easy it was to let her darkest, most vicious tendencies take control. Didn't want to remember the terrified looks on Vi and Rona's faces when they caught up with her, not because of the vampires, but because of Faith herself.

As if on cue, a distraction to save her from her own self-pity, hurried footsteps sounded on the floor above her, followed by the bathroom door slamming shut. Faith kept her eyes closed, listening to sound of the bathroom's lone occupant retching and heaving, waiting for the tell-tale flush of the toilet. Her ears followed the water and refuse through the pipes and out to the septic system outside. While the spectacle of sound was worrisome, it didn't trouble Faith. She had almost gotten used to it as an alarm clock over the past three or four days.

She sighed before moving, ever so slowly, to get up. She sat up, cradling her ribs with her left arm, and placed her bare feet firmly on the wood floor. Her chin rested briefly on her chest while she breathed in, then out, preparing her muscles and tendons for the long walk upstairs. Keeping her eyes clenched shut and gritting her teeth, Faith stood in one swift movement, her knees screaming in protest. Determined now, she placed one foot in front of the other, using her good arm to balance on the banister as she plodded carefully up the stairs.

Faith hesitated for only a moment before rapping her knuckles lightly against the wood of the closed bathroom door. Not waiting for a response, she opened the door slowly and entered, surveying the scene inside the small room. She quietly retrieved a glass from the medicine cabinet near the door and filled it with water, handing it to Buffy who sat on the floor near the toilet.

The blonde's face was pale, and a light sheen of sweat was visible on her neck and bare arms. She took the glass from Faith with a grateful, if brief smile, sipping it cautiously. Buffy's eyes widened on the third sip and she hurriedly handed the glass back, turning to the porcelain god to expel whatever was left in her stomach.

Faith looked on for a moment, setting the glass down on the counter with a frown creasing her brow. She moved into the hallway to grab a clean washcloth from the linen closet, running it under the tap upon returning to the bathroom. She rung out the cloth in the sink and knelt down next to Buffy, wincing at the pain in her knees. Using the sprained fingers of her left hand to hold Buffy's hair back, Faith used her right hand to run the cool, wet cloth along Buffy's brow, cheeks, and neck. She took a moment to playfully scrub at the backs of Buffy's ears before gently slipping the cloth under the back of Buffy's shirt, spreading its respite along as much skin as possible.

Finally it seemed as though Buffy had expelled everything from her stomach and then some. She rested against Faith's hand as it rubbed soft circles with the cloth over her shoulder blades.

"Thanks,"she whispered softly.

Fire erupted in her raw and ragged throat and she swallowed convulsively. Faith handed the glass of water back to her and sat back on her haunches, placing the washcloth in the sink as Buffy sipped at the offered water.

"You feelin' any better?"Faith glanced up into Buffy's eyes. Where she was used to seeing hazel, gleaming sea green stared back at her.

The two Slayers settled against the wall behind them, a careful distance between them.

"If you're asking if I'm going to barf again, I don't know. I hope not." Buffy took another sip of water while her unoccupied hand rested against her rumbling stomach.

"You thinkin' you wanna go back to the hospital?"Faith asked quietly.

Buffy grimaced at the question and shook her head. "Oof, no."She squeezed her eyes shut, her head tilted towards Faith at an awkward angle as she held herself still. She blinked as the nausea passed. "No, I don't think so. It's just a stomach bug or something. I probably picked it up at the lake when you made me eat that corndog."

"Corndog? What, on the Fourth? No way, B,"Faith chuckled, a wry smile perking the corners of her mouth. "I don't think even Corndog Flu incubates for that long!"She turned to look at Buffy, ignoring the pain blossoming across the bridge of her nose as her smile widened. "You would try to blame me for your weak stomach, though."

Buffy chuckled along with her, attempting to keep her body still in case the inconsiderate nausea came back through their laughter. She peered up at Faith's twinkling brown eyes and felt a flutter of butterfly wings in her irritated stomach. Something had changed between them since she had been released from the hospital. Maybe even before that.

The ER doctor had told her that every test he could think of came back normal and the vaginal bleeding she had experienced was probably just a fluke, not unlike spotting between periods. Faith had been the first to demand he run the tests again. She had stayed in the room, letting Dawn take her seat by the bed, but never leaving sight of Buffy until they had gotten a second, and then third opinion that coincided with the first doctor's assessment.

Buffy was certain that Faith wasn't fully satisfied until Giles promised her he'd have Council-employed mystics flown in from England to explain the magical properties of Buffy's incapacitation. Until they arrived, Faith had seemed to appoint herself Buffy's silent protector, and just the thought of Faith's sweet and considerate actions that very morning in that very bathroom caused an involuntary thrill to shiver its way up Buffy's spine.

Words she never thought she'd say out loud filled her mouth, and she found, caught as she was in Faith's amused gaze, that she couldn't hold them in any longer. "You know, I think I had a little crush on you back in high school."Her voice, raspy still, was barely above a whisper but she knew Faith heard her loud and clear as her eyebrows rose one at a time.

For her part, Faith felt she held in her surprise at Buffy's confession fairly well. Her own stomach was starting to feel a little queasy, but she kept her face even, trying to remain nonchalant even as her ears pounded and she broke eye contact.

"Oh yeah?"she heard herself ask.

Buffy looked down at her hands, fidgeting with the glass of water in her lap. "Yeah,"she breathed. "You remember when we'd have Scooby meetings and I totally wasn't paying attention?"

Faith nodded, picking at a cuticle and feeling increasingly uneasy about the turn of the conversation. She found she couldn't lift her eyes back up to Buffy's face. The blonde shifted next to her, leaning her head back against the wall.

Buffy kept her eyes on the ceiling, but she was focused on that far-away memory. She smiled nervously. "Some-sometimes I'd imagine that, that we'd – you and I – that we'd sneak off together up to the stacks, and sometimes, y-you'd kiss me."Her mouth was dry, lips trembling, and her face burned in embarrassment.

Faith turned to look at Buffy still staring at the ceiling. ‘She looks like a teenager again,' she thought to herself. She tried to smile but it never quite reached her lips. "Look, B, I don't –"

"Hold that thought."Buffy scrambled across the tiled floor, knocking over her water in the process. She barely made it to the edge of the toilet bowl before another wave of sickness forced its way out of her body. Faith unconsciously followed behind, again using her injured hand to hold Buffy's hair out of her face. When it was all over with, Buffy leaned against the edge of the bathtub with her eyes half-lidded. Faith held herself rigid, looking away from Buffy with an embarrassed flush creeping up her neck.

"Say something."

Faith balanced on her haunches, hands dangling between her knees. "B, I don't – I don't know what you want from me."

Buffy sighed through her nose and rolled her eyes. "I don't want anything, Faith, just talk to me."She watched Faith shift uncomfortably and sighed again. "Just… tell me something. Anything. Distract me from the alien doing the conga in my gut, ok?"

Still, Faith hesitated, and Buffy decided to give her a break. "Ok, fine, I'll pick the topic. Umm… what was your favorite place while you were traveling the world, picking up Slayers?"

Buffy wasn't sure she actually wanted to know that, but the question seemed to peak Faith's interest. She rearranged herself on the tile floor, crossing her legs like a little kid in kindergarten. Buffy briefly wondered what Faith was like as a child, before the elder Slayer started talking.

"Oh, that's easy, B,"she started eagerly, fingers alternately pulling at the ends of her cotton shorts and drumming on her bare thighs. "Iran, all the way."

Buffy smiled, not expecting that answer or the way Faith's face lit up as she gave it. "Why Iran?"

She felt her stomach flip-flop, but she held back the flare of ripe nausea. She didn't want to interrupt.

"Oh man, B, I'm gonna have to take you there sometime. It's such a beautiful country with more history than I knew existed, outside the demon realm anyway. The people are just genuine, you know? Totally real. It was one of the only places I went where people were actively fighting to keep their way of life sacred. I think I related to it in more ways as a Slayer than any other place, but their methods, their religion and politics? Completely alien to me."She paused, the excited gleam in her eyes turning to sorrow in an instant.

"The mayor, he – he called me ‘Little Miss-Seen-it-all' one time."She shifted, her eyes studying the patterns in the tile on the floor between them. "I didn't feel like that in Iran. I'd never seen anything like it, before."

Faith lifted her eyes, not sure what she'd find when they rested on Buffy. The blonde's eyes were closed, and at first Faith thought that Buffy was relaxed, trying to imagine the place she was describing. Then she noticed how tense Buffy was, the muscles of her jaw straining against her cheek, her limbs shaking, temples sweating.

"Shit, B, we've gotta get you out of here."

She stood slowly, painfully, and stooped slightly to pick the blonde up off the floor. Her knees and ribs screamed their protests but she ignored them, too focused on getting Buffy securely in her arms, on not slipping in the spilled water. She strode out of the bathroom and winced her way down the stairs as Buffy clung to her. The blonde said nothing until they reached the passenger door of Faith's 4Runner.

"Faith…"she hissed through clenched teeth.

"Shh, B, don't try to talk, ok? We're gonna get you to the hospital in no time."Faith distracted herself by trying to figure out how to open the door with Buffy still in her arms.

"I'm sorry if I puke in your car."




damn the consequences! when i grow up, i'll be stable

Faith had had it. She had had it with the summer heat and humidity. She had had it with hospitals and the nurses giving her dirty looks in this hospital. She had had it with having to swallow her pride, call Dawn, and tell her that for the second time in a month her sister was in the hospital. But mostly? She had had it with the whiney blonde lying on the bed beside her.

"And what was with that nurse? I mean, how rude was she?! I just said I wanted to go home, and she gave me that look! I'm feeling better, anyway, I don't see why I have to stay here and –"

"B," Faith sighed in exasperation. "You puked in my truck on the way here and then you puked on the admittance desk. You're not going anywhere until a doctor sees you, and I'm not taking you home till you shut up about it, so just lay back, watch your soap opera and deal."

Buffy stiffened against the pillows propped up behind her back, a pout forming on her lips. "When did you become so logical?"she grumbled under her breath.

Before Faith had a chance to reply, the door to the room opened and a young doctor of Indian descent wearing blue scrubs and running shoes walked in with a smile. His almond-shaped brown eyes took in the two women in the room, lingering on the brunette sitting in a chair near the bed a moment longer than necessary. He caught himself staring and cleared his throat.

"Ah, hello, ladies. I'm Dr. Sharma. Which one of you is…"he looked down at the chart in his hand "…Buffy Summers?"Dr. Sharma looked up expectantly, his eyes again drawn to Faith, and he surreptitiously took in her broken nose; the cuts and bruises visible on her face, hands, and forearms. He also noticed that both of her knees were badly bruised and swollen before either of them spoke up.

"I am."

The doctor smiled briefly at the blonde woman on the bed who had spoken before turning his attention to the injured brunette in the chair. "And you are?"

Faith held her breath for a moment before blowing it out in a huff. She glanced at Buffy before shrugging her shoulders. "I'm Faith. A friend."

Dr. Sharma nodded and returned his attention to Buffy. "Well, then, what seems to be the trouble, Ms. Summers?"

"Please, call me Buffy,"she replied, smiling nervously. "Only my students call me Miss Summers."

Dr. Sharma nodded. "Students? You're a teacher then?"He shifted on his feet, ready despite the question to move on from the chit-chat so that he could finish his rounds.

"No, I'm just a counselor."Buffy's hands twitched in restless movement.

"Well, Buffy, what seems to be the trouble today?"Dr. Sharma repeated, looking again to his chart. "You complained of stomach trouble upon admittance?"

"That's right,"Buffy answered, her eyes shifting nervously to Faith, who sat uncomfortably still in her chair.

The doctor followed Buffy's eyes before consulting his chart, yet again, for more information. "And it appears you were admitted here just over a month ago for abnormal vaginal bleeding and unexplained unconsciousness, is that right?"

Buffy simply nodded.

"Ok, and how long has this stomach trouble been occurring? Are you experiencing any vomiting or diarrhea along with the nausea?"Dr. Sharma asked, matter-of-factly.

Both Buffy and Faith grimaced at the latter question, shifting uncomfortably in their respective seats.

"Um, for about, um, four days, I think? Usually it's just in the morning, by lunchtime I feel fine. Vomiting! I mean. Not the… other thing."Buffy gripped the bed sheets, pulling at them with her hands.

"Have you eaten anything lately that could've caused you any abdominal distress?"

"Well, there was a pretty suspect corndog, but I think we've ruled that out."

"A corndog?"

Faith snorted, quickly covering her mouth with her hand.

Buffy glared at her. "Yes."

"And how long ago did you eat this …corndog?"

"Um, Fourth of July?"Buffy smiled wanly, wanting this stupid question and answer period to be over with so that she could go home.

"Hmm… while I don't think the corndog itself is causing your symptoms, it could have left you with an intestinal parasite."

Buffy's eyes widened at the doctor's suggestion, and she whipped her head around to shoot another glare at Faith. Faith, for her part, was doing her best to keep herself from laughing out loud. Buffy thought she heard her say "See? Weak stomach"under her breath but couldn't be sure.

The doctor watched the odd behavior between the two women, still wondering to himself what had caused Faith's injuries. He made a mental checklist of the questions he had already asked Buffy and realized he had left out the most obvious. "Is there a possibility you could be pregnant?"

"Wha-huh?" Buffy sputtered incredulously, her attention back on the doctor standing at the foot of her bed. "Pregnant? No, no, a world of no to that. No."She sucked in a breath and again her eyes darted to Faith, who was trying her hardest to pretend she was suddenly engrossed in the soap opera still showing on the television.

The doctor looked from one woman to the other, studying their body language. "I'll order blood tests to rule out either possibility."

It seemed to both women that he couldn't leave them alone in the room fast enough. The hustle and bustle of the hospital reached their ears as the door opened and shut behind him. They sat for a moment in awkward silence until Faith slowly got to her feet.

"Well, I'm gonna head down for a smoke, see if your sis and the rest of ‘em are here yet."

She studied the pink blanket covering Buffy's legs, watching as the blonde wiggled her toes beneath it before looking down at her own feet.

"Shoulda asked Dawn to bring me some shoes when I called,"she muttered, frowning at the chipped polish on her bare toes.

Buffy leaned slightly to look over the side of the bed, hoping the motion didn't cause her nausea to return. "You know, you could've put shoes on before we left the house,"she said with a quirked eyebrow.

"Oh, yeah, that would've gone over well,"Faith replied. She pitched her voice a few octaves higher: "‘Dawn, you'll never believe what Faith did while I was busy puking my guts out: She actually stopped to put her shoes on! Here I am, practically dying and all she's worried about is proper footwear!'"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "You know they're just going to give you crap for being barefoot anyway. And I don't sound like that."She scowled playfully at the brunette standing beside her bed.

"Whatever. Least I got you here in one piece, and you're conscious this time."

As she turned to head out the door with a wave of her hand, it opened to reveal a pretty, husky blonde in colorful scrubs. She was pushing a cart carrying an assortment of medical equipment.

"Hi, ladies. I'm Angie, the phlebotomist. We're just going to draw a few vials of blood so we can send them to the lab for analysis and hopefully send you home soon, ok?"

She talked fast, all the while rolling up the sleeve of Buffy's hospital gown and prepping her arm for the insertion of the needle.

"Great." Buffy smiled but the look on Angie's face told her she probably looked more like she was about to throw up again. She looked away from the woman wielding the very painful-looking needle and noticed Faith was trying to get her attention to let her know she was leaving the room.

"Faith, wait!"

"What's up?"

Buffy stared with trepidation at the needle Angie was preparing. "Will you stay here? Just till she's done, I mean."She shrugged, a self-deprecating smile quirking the corners of her lips. "I hate needles."

Faith looked warily at the needle in question before nodding. "Sure thing."

She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the wall by the door, effectively putting as much distance between herself and the needle as she could in the small room.

Angie worked quickly, finding a vein in Buffy's arm in no time. Rich, red blood flowed up the metal stem and into the attached vial. Angie glanced from one Slayer to the other, smiling softly to herself as she disconnected the now-full vial and attached an empty one in its place.

"So, how do you two know each other?"she asked, making small talk.

"Work."Buffy answered quickly as Faith stiffened across the room.

"Oh, that's nice. What kind of work do you do?"

Buffy wondered why they needed so much blood as Angie started a third vial.

"Counselors," Faith replied after a beat. "At the high school."She shrugged at the incredulous look on Buffy's face, as if to say ‘Did you want me to tell her the truth?'

"Oh, that's lovely!"Angie exclaimed with a sweet smile, seeming to miss the silent exchange between the two Slayers. "It certainly is nice to have co-workers that look out for you. I know the medical staff here is very close-knit. Well, I guess we have to be, with the work we do. You ladies couldn't imagine the kind of things we see in here."

She paused, catching Faith's eye. "If you don't mind my asking, how'd you break your nose?"She smiled sympathetically before returning to the task at hand.

Faith shifted on her feet, glancing nervously to Buffy. "Uh, I was… mugged."

Angie simply nodded. "Sorry to hear that. Lots of unexplained injuries, unsolved crimes around here. Though these past few weeks haven't been so bad. July and August are usually pretty crazy months for the emergency room staff, what with the Fourth and all of the kids home from school, left to their own devices, but it's been quiet…. Oh, listen to me go on! Have you lived in the area long?"

"Um, a little over a year."Buffy glanced to Faith, who was staring wide-eyed at the five vials of blood lying on the tray next to Angie.

"Oh, not long at all! And here I am, probably scaring you both half to death."

Angie stood up, removing the needle from Buffy's arm and instructing her to hold a cotton ball to the tiny wound while she placed a piece of medical tape over the top. "Well, I'm all done here. These'll go down to the lab – now they make take awhile, so you just sit tight – and as soon as the results are back, a doctor will be in to discuss them with you. If you need anything, anything at all, just use the call button and a nurse will be right in!"

Angie gathered her equipment and whisked out the door just as quickly as she had come.



Minutes ticked by as Buffy and Faith waited. After Angie left, Faith had paced restlessly, limping around the room with a scowl on her face for a few long minutes before flopping back down in her chair at Buffy's side with a heavy sigh. The television droned on, changing from soap opera to game show on the hour, but neither Slayer paid it any attention.

"I thought you were going to go smoke?"Buffy asked softly.

Faith looked up from studying the pink blanket, squinting at the window and the afternoon sun behind it. "It's too hot, now. ‘Sides, don't really feel like stomping around a hospital parking lot barefoot, you know?"

"Ah, gotcha,"Buffy nodded. "You know, you could probably still call Dawn, see if she'll run by the house and grab shoes for you on the way."

Faith shook her head, distracted by something on the other side of the door. "Too late for that. I think they're here."

Sure enough, as Buffy focused on the noises filtering into the small room, she could make out the familiar intonations of her sister, her Watcher, and her best friend. One missing. She settled back into her pillows, dropping her eyes from the door. One would always be missing now, she supposed. Noticing the somber mood that had come over the blonde, Faith sat forward and hesitantly took Buffy's hand in hers.

"You ok, B?"she asked with a gentle smile. Buffy found a smile to give back, nodding slightly. Maybe Giles was right: one door was forever closed, but another one was opening right in front of her.

"Speaking of doors opening…"Buffy muttered as her sister burst into the room, Giles and Xander hot on her heels. Faith slipped her hand out of Buffy's light grip and stood, giving her seat to Dawn without a word.

"How are you feeling? You look better. Do you feel better? Are you still barfing? What did the doctor say?"Dawn asked, rapid-fire, as she took the offered seat beside her sister.

Giles assessed the scene in front of him more calmly, his brow puckered with worry. "Faith?"He waited until she was looking at him to finish the question. "Where are your shoes?"

It seemed as if time in the cramped room stood still as everyone turned to look down at Faith's feet. The brunette Slayer, for her part, simply rolled her shoulders and tried to look as relaxed as possible.

"At the house."

Xander tried to hold back a snicker, hiding his mouth behind his hand, while Dawn wrinkled her nose in an open display of disgust.

"We were in a hurry!"Buffy nearly shouted, feeling somehow obligated to come to Faith's defense. "I was, y'know, it was really bad, and – but I'm better now, we're just waiting for the doctor to come back with some test results."

"What do they think it is?"Xander asked from the foot of the bed. To Buffy, he looked so much taller than she ever remembered him being, standing there, his shoulders back and his gaze leveled on her face. She averted her eyes for only a second, feeling just like any other girl with a concerned friend by her side.

"Um, a parasite?"Buffy flushed with embarrassment.

"Could be that other thing, B. Don't wanna rule anything out, remember?"

"Hey! You shut up! I thought you were on my side?"Buffy glared at a smirking Faith, telling the brunette with her eyes to drop it.

"Other thing?"Dawn glanced skeptically from one Slayer to the other.

"Never mind."

"A parasite, huh?"Xander thankfully changed the subject, saving the conversation once again. "Could it be demonic in any way?"He looked to Giles, who pulled off his glasses slowly, stuttering before shrugging his shoulders.

"Well, I suppose it's worth looking into any mystical illnesses that could've been brought upon you, Buffy, depending on the analysis of your test results."Giles frowned, deep in thought for a long moment. "I don't want to be too rash in ruling out the medical side of things."

"You'd think being a Slayer would exempt me from things like parasites,"Buffy grumbled.

Her sister patted her arm sympathetically. "All the more reason to suspect demonic possession or something, right? I mean, this could be part of the prophecy we don't know about yet. A demon or something making you sick to get you out of the way, maybe?"

"Why would they want to, though? It's not like I've really been in the way of much of anything lately."

"You are the Slayer, Buff,"Xander supplied, looking around at the others. Dawn and Giles nodded in agreement.

The blonde crossed her arms over her stomach, drawing into herself a little. "I'm a Slayer." Her eyes met Faith's across the room all too briefly. "And I'm a semi-retired Slayer at that. What could I possibly be in the way of?"

"I dunno, B,"Faith shrugged, her voice low. "Could be that a demon wants you sick to freak out the troops or somethin'. Get the jump on us that way."

Before anyone had a chance to add their two cents to Faith's theory, the door to the increasingly crowded room opened and Dr. Sharma walked in, clipboard in hand and a bored look on his face. His eyes widened, startled by all of the newcomers. "Ah, hello."

He took a moment to compose himself, clearing his throat somewhat awkwardly while the others chorused their hellos. Dr. Sharma turned his attention to Buffy, who was sitting upright on the bed, nervously clutching the blanket covering her legs with one hand. "I have the results of your blood tests."He glanced once again at the other people standing awkwardly around the room.

Buffy looked once at the doctor, and then into the anxious eyes of her sister. She squeezed Dawn's hand. "Uh, guys? Could you maybe wait outside?"

Giles stepped towards the bed, uncrossing his arms with a worried frown. "Buffy –"

"I'll be fine, Giles."

Seeing the resolve on Buffy's face and the grip Dawn had on her hand, Giles reluctantly conceded, walking out into the hall with Xander in tow. Faith took a moment longer, reassured only when Buffy caught and held her eyes, nodding silently.

"So, what do you think it is?"

Faith grimaced as she pulled the door shut with her injured hand before turning to face Xander. "Dunno. Guess we'll find out in a few."

She pushed her hands into the pockets of her shorts as Xander did the same. They smiled awkwardly at each other as Giles paced next to them, absently cleaning his glasses. The sounds of the hospital rushed by, but seemed muffled at the same time as they waited with ears pricked for their cue to re-enter the small room.


"Oh my God!"

They didn't have to wait long, as Buffy's voice, followed closely by Dawn's, carried through the heavy door. Faith was the first to move, gritting her teeth against the pain in her knees as she rushed the door. Xander practically slammed into her back as she stopped short. The door opened in front of them to reveal a disheveled Dr. Sharma, who looked Faith, then Xander, and finally Giles in the eye before scurrying down the hall as quick as his legs would carry him. Giles pushed his way past Xander and Faith, holding the door open before it could close again and shooing them inside the room. He shut the door behind him with a nervous glance at an orderly passing through the hall. Turning slowly, his eyes fell on the two sisters sitting just as they were when he left the room only moments before. He wanted – needed – to know what was wrong, but before he could open his mouth, Xander was already forming a question.


She didn't look up at him when she spoke, her voice a strained whisper. "I'm pregnant."

Xander's mouth fell open as he dropped back a step, barely staying upright. Giles began to stutter, taking off his glasses only to put them back on again. Neither man seemed to know what to do with his hands.

Buffy risked a glance to Faith, who had resumed her place against the wall. Her eyes were wide, her face pale, and her mouth was forming "Oh my God"over and over again.

"B-Buffy, I-I know you're an adult, but after everything you went through with Angel, and, to a lesser degree, Spike, I-I would've, would've assumed you'd be more careful in –"

"I have been careful!"Buffy cried, indignant. "I don't even know how this happened! I'm pretty sure I want a second opinion, though. I mean, how can I possibly be pregnant? I haven't even slept with anyone since –"She cut herself off before saying Spike's name, her eyes wide. She risked another glance at Faith, who hadn't moved save for her eyes, which were impossibly wider.

Dawn frowned, catching the look her sister gave to the other Slayer and her jaw dropped. "You had sex with Faith? You had sex with FAITH?!"

"Happy birthday to me!"Xander smirked to himself, the information he had just been witness to only sinking in so far.

"Oh dear Lord."

"Yeah, I'd say that's the understatement of the year, British man!"

"What? No, Xander,"Giles grimaced in admonishment. "That's not what I –. The prophecies! Without anything concrete to disprove the theory, I've been working under the notion that this ‘Slayer Natural Born' and the Primal were one in the same. They're mentioned frequently together, in the same bits of the prophecies, and once we were certain that Dylan had become the Primal, well I-I moved on in my research."

While Giles continued thinking aloud on his findings or lack thereof, Dawn rose from her chair. Her legs were stiff, her movements jarring as she stalked over to Faith. She stood in front of the stunned brunette with her hands on her hips, using her slight height advantage to look down her nose at the other woman. "After all this time, I thought you were done using my sister."

Buffy pushed the blankets off of her legs, attempting to preserve her modesty in front of Xander, who was standing at the foot of the bed with a dopey grin on his face, and stand up at the same time. "Dawn, no, it wasn't like that."

Faith didn't hear either sister. A light seemed to pop behind her eyes, the panic from moments earlier draining away to clarity. Her shoulders squared as she pushed herself from the wall. She stepped forward as Dawn stepped back, toward Buffy, but her attention focused on Giles' mutterings.

"…the exact location of the Hellmouth could prove crucial…"

"The Hellmouth…"The room seemed to stand still as all eyes turned to Faith. She turned her head to look each of the room's occupants in the eye before she settled her gaze on Buffy. "It was the Hellmouth, B."

The blonde Slayer stared back at Faith, her head tilting slightly to the left in confusion. She noticed the change that had come over the other Slayer, the confidence exuding from that broken body, and wondered, not for the first time, how she had ever doubted the power held within her dark counterpart. "What was, Faith?"

"We fought it, once, me and Angel. You told me to go for the heart."Faith blinked, lines creasing her brow as she concentrated. "You, and Giles, and Willow were fighting off the guard with the three heads, but Angel and I were down in it. The heart, B, that sick, fiery red glow that was all over you, that went in you in the woods…. That's what Angel and I went after, with Willow's spell."She paused, blowing out a breath and raking a hand through her long hair. She could feel her heartbeat pounding in her ears in the stillness of the room.

Giles stood staring, a look of revelation dawning on his face. Dawn looked to her sister, her body rigid and her mind swirling with confusion. Buffy watched Faith, their eyes locked even as Buffy's head shook ever so slightly, back and forth. Only Xander spoke.

"Huh. So the Hellmouth got Buffy pregnant?"



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