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by Elaine M

Feed Me Back With The Feedback: Please
My Ribs Hurt: Rub Me
Print Version: Adobe Reader PDF


Have you ever woken up in the morning with the feeling that something weird is about to happen? Granted, I am the slayer, and weird stuff is pretty much part of the day job, but this morning... I don't know, I just couldn't shake that feeling...

In retrospect, the day was fairly average. I ignored my incessantly buzzing alarm clock for a good ten minutes, before Mom's yells were thrown into the mix. Not even three pillows and Mr Gordo wrapped around my head could drown out the sound of her banging on the door and announcing the time every thirty seconds.

I dragged myself out of bed, winced at morning hair/luggage carrier sized bags under eyes, showered, dried hair, brushed teeth, sighed at pitifully sparse offerings in closet, pleaded for use of car, (to a resounding 'NO' and sardonic laughter) and stormed from the house clutching a cold pop tart.

School was hellish as ever (particularly so, given location.) Snyder slapped me with a detention, I feel asleep during History, watched through glazed eyes as Giles proudly unveiled the newest in his collection of dusty tomes written by ancient Siberian elves. or gnomes. or... Well, you get the idea.

Patrolling was of the norm. I staked five vamps to Faith's three (Ha HA!!), laughed off Faith's excessively liberal talk of sex and the ass slapping that followed, wondered fleetingly at the prolonged placement of her hand on same ass, and headed home for a low fat yoghurt and some much deserved sleep.

Which brings me to now -and the weirdness.

I'm lying in an alley off Main Street. I think it's the one behind The Espresso pump (God, it's so sad that I can actually differentiate between the alleys of Sunny D...) Anyway, the fact is, I'm lying between a stack of old newspapers and a sole less shoe, and I have absolutely no idea why, or how I got here.

It looks to be about dawn. The sky is brightening and an entire nest of birds are squawking noisily on a telephone wire above me. I left Faith at about midnight, which leaves a good five hours unaccounted for.

I remember walking through town. I said goodbye to Faith at the movie theatre and she headed west towards her motel du jour. I continued on... not a single vamp, demon or non-human entity in sight. The only person I passed was some kid from school, Warren something or other, and he pretty much ambled past me without meeting my gaze. Nothing odd there. I'm generally avoided by my S.D High peers, given that the rumour mill has me pegged for a stake-wielding weirdo. Ok, so the stake wielding part is true, but I'm NOT weird! God, I'm the slayer! Where's the credit?!

Ugh, it's too late and I'm too tired to deal with this. Bed first and I'll get Giles on it tomorrow.

A quick once over confirms that all bones are of the unbroken variety and I'm without scales and/or *shudder*, a tail.

I hurry home, scale up the tree conveniently located right outside my window, wrestle for a few seconds with said window (the damn thing is stuck, as though it hasn't been opened in months), and fall onto my bed fully clothed, lapsing into a dreamless sleep.

Waking up this morning, that sense of the strange is even stronger than it was yesterday. My clothes are horribly wrinkled, and I can't imagine that I smell too hot.

The sun is streaming in through my partially open window, the curtains unclosed, billowing slightly against a light breeze. I glance at my bedside locker, wondering why the alarm has yet to assault my eardrums, and I'm bewildered to find that my clock isn't there. In its place is an unfamiliar photo of me. It looks like an enlarged yearbook photo, but I can't for the life of me remember when it was taken... Or why the hell I have a giant photo of MYSELF in my room. That's Cordelia's terrain.

Hauling myself out of bed (and trying to ignore my own nasty scent), I notice that a lot of things look different. For one, Mr Gordo is nowhere to be seen. There is also a giant yellow 'UC Sunnydale' banner posted above the door, and my weapons cabinet seems to be AWOL. The room also has a creepy 'unlived in' feel to it, as though it's been vacant for a long time...

Maybe Mom took to it with a feather duster last night, hauling most of my stuff into the spare room and adding the college banner for an, as yet, unfathomable reason.

Shrugging, I make my way to the closet and, swing it open to be confronted with... pastels! Lots and lots and lots of pastels!

Either Mom went shop crazy (while accompanied by Laura Ashley and her buyers), or a complete-lack-of-style demon (which lets face it, could be any demon) has infiltrated my wardrobe, replacing all my passable outfits with apparel I'd NEVER wear - not in a million! God, this is too bizarre!

Shower first, question later.

The bathroom is over-flowing with girly products, and now I'm CONVINCED that Mom's gone crazy. Three toothbrushes rest aside three lady razors, none of which, I note, are mine. The counter is stacked with make-up, sanitary products and a virtual hygiene counters worth of cleanser and moisturiser.

I shake my head and step into the shower, relishing the torrent of warm water that streams from the showerhead.

Feeling decidedly refreshed, (and distinctly less toxic to the human nose), I throw on a pastel skirt and tank combo (not a decent item of clothing to be found. Note to self: find mother and have SERIOUS words!), and head towards the kitchen.

As if they could, things have just gotten weirder. Faith is sitting at the kitchen table clad in a pair of oversized boxers and an undersized tank top. Her head is buried in a comic book as she simultaneously shovels a heaped spoonful of Captain Crunch into her mouth and chews noisily.

She has yet to notice me, and I clear my throat loudly to draw her attention. She turns distractedly in her seat in her seat, her eyes widening and her mouth gaping when she sees me. A stream of milk flows from her mouth and dribbles down her chin, and she drops the spoon to the floor with a clatter.

"That's attractive," I smirk, gesturing towards the milk spewage.

"B...?!!" Ok, she looks like she's having a heart attack. I briefly wonder if she snuck in here for breakfast, thinking that nobody was home.

"Actually, my name's Buffy, but you seem insistent on calling me B, so, yeah, guess I'm 'B'."

This is followed by a long silence during which Faith stares at me as though I just entered the room butt naked and straddling a donkey. I'm beginning to think that maybe she DID sneak in here for a bowl of the Crunch.

"It's ok Faith, I'm not that attached to my cereal but for future reference, we in polite circles tend to ASK before inviting ourselves over for breakfast in the home of others."

"Oh God... it's really you..."

Have I mentioned yet how freakin' bizarre these last two days have been? Faith is walking towards me tentatively, her eyes brimming with tears.

Yes really, Faith.

She reaches out and touches my face gently, running her fingers over my cheeks before whispering, "God, you're real..." Seriously, is there any reply to that?

I'm all set to applaud her for setting up the world's greatest, if not downright strangest, practical joke, but she's hugging me now, as in the real tight bear variety, and hollering for Willow and something about Dawn.

There is a sound of pounding feet on the stairs, and Faith releases her grip on me as the kitchen door swings open. Willow walks in followed by a brunette and a blonde girl. I recognise neither of them.

They all stare at me, transfixed. I also note that none of them blink for a good twenty seconds.

"B-Buffy?" The blonde girl stammers.

Yes, and who might you be? And while we're on the topic of introductions, why are you and that other girl in my house, wearing pyjamas? But I say nothing. I simply watch them watching me, my expression a combination of amusement and downright freaked-out ness.

"Is she real?" The brunette girl steps forward and, mirroring Faith's gesture of moments ago, brings her hands to my face. Then she's on top of me, arms wrapped around my neck, tighter than Faith's were, if that's possible. She's crying, shaking against me while repeating my name as though a mantra of disbelief.

"Sh...She's not the Bot?" The blonde girl speaks again, looking to Willow for confirmation. Willow shakes her head slowly, her gaze never leaving me.

"No... the Bot was destroyed. That night... This is Buffy. She's back."

"Back." Faith echoes in barely a whisper, her hand grasping mine.

Back? Where the hell was I?


The brunette girl still has her arms wrapped around me, and I'm beginning to get seriously pissed off. What the hell kind of stunt are they pulling? Is this supposed to be funny, coz if so, I'm sure as hell not laughing.

Disentangling Faith's hand from my own, I wrench the girl's arms from around my neck and shove her forcefully away from me. She stumbles slightly, her back slamming against the kitchen door. Four faces stare at me with identical expressions of shock. I glare at each of them in turn, my cheeks flushing with anger.

"What's wrong with her?" the brunette enquires tearfully of Willow, who shakes her head slowly by way of reponse.

"What's WRONG with me?!!" I'm giggling now. I sound slightly hysterical, and they all gape at me as though I am. This makes me laugh even harder until tears spring from my eyes, and my stomach begins to cramp. I finally pull myself together, and look from one to the other, almost expecting them to yell 'SURPRISE!!' in unison, before Ashton Kutcher sweeps into the kitchen to tell me I've been Punk'd.

But no crew. Just me, Will, Faith and the two inexplicably present, pyjama clad strangers, all of us looking as confused as the other.

"Listen," I'm surprised by the composure of my tone given that I should be kicking each of their respective asses right about now. "I've had a really awful night, what with missing a few hours of my life and waking up in a spot usually reserved for homeless Harry, so whatever game you've concoted to 'freak the hell out of Buffy,' well, you win. I'm about as freaked out as is possible to get, so Faith, Willow... whoever the hell you two are, if you'd kindly leave my house and let me simmer quietly in my rage for a few hours, this urge to beat you all to death may cease."

"Buffy... It's me, Dawn- don't you remember?" 'Dawn', a.k.a brunette pyjama girl looks to me imploringly, as though I'll suddenly click my fingers, grin animatedly and shout "AH! Yes, Dawn! Of COURSE I remember you!"

I'm suddenly tired, drained even. I give up, really I do. If they want to continue this little charade, then they can do it without me. I turn to leave the house via the back door, but I'm blocked by Faith who curls her fingers gently around both of my wrists. I'm about to protest, drawing my eyes level with hers, when I see it. That look... so like Angel's it's frightening. You know that old saying about the eyes being the windows to the soul? Well, right now, I'm staring right through those windows, and what I see scares me more than any vamp or demon ever could... and I know this isn't a joke.

"Faith, what's happening?" Faith exhales shakily, and closes her eyes. I grab her arms, digging my fingernails into the soft skin. Her eyes shoot open.

"God, I'm not dreaming..." she breathes.

"Dammit Faith, tell me what's happening! You said I was back. Back from where?!"

There is a moment of silence in which only my own ragged breathing is audible. Then Faith whispers, her voice frayed and alien, "Back from death B... you were dead."

Faith has somehow steered me into the living me, and I'm sitting on the beige couch Mom bought when we first moved to Sunnydale. She had enlisted my help in picking it out, and I dutifully spent an entire day roaming through the furniture warehouse, feigning interest in the various fabrics Mom debated over while trying not to stare too obviously at the hot salesboy. Right now, that day seems like an eternity ago.

Since Faith's admission, I haven't spoken. The whole thing is so ludicrous, I mean, when did I die? Ok, so I've been there before, but that was for all of two minutes and I was pretty much party-hardy as soon as Xander brought me back. Did I die again, and if so, what the hell am I doing here, alive and well and frightening the crap out of two of my friends and two complete strangers?

Faith sits down beside me, so close that her leg is almost wrapped around my own. I instinctively grab her hand in mine, and she rubs her thumb gently over my knuckles. The sensation and her presence relax me somewhat.

Willow, the Dawn girl and the nameless blonde kneel around us, and I'm uncomfortable all over again. I look to Faith, and she seems to understand.

"Hey guys, maybe we should give B a little space for now." Willow and the blonde nod and stand, but Dawn remains where she is, her gaze locked on me as though I'll disappear if she looks away for one second.

"Dawnie, hon, let's let Buffy alone for a minute." Willow gestures for Dawn to come stand with them, and the brunette's face falls but she complies.

"Faith... when?" I don't really want to know, but I have to. I'm not sure why I believe any of this, but I know it's true, as true as the existence of vamps and slayers.

"Ten months ago." Faith is staring at our entwined hands, her thumb no longer gliding over my knuckles.


How did I die? How can I not remember ANY of this? How is it that patrolling with you seems as though it happened only twenty four hours ago.

Faith is silent, and I repeat the question. "How?"

"You gave your life for the world, for Dawn. You died to save your sister, B. You died to save us all."

"Faith, none of this makes sense... I can't remember any of it! I died to save the world and my sister?!! Faith, I don't have a sister!"

My shoulders slump and I fall against Faith. As though far away, I hear myself crying, hear an unfamiliar voice calling my name. I force my eyes apart, and through a blur of tears I see Dawn's face, watch as her own tears spill down her cheeks.

I welcome Faith's sudden embrace, burying my head in her hair, turning gratefully from this unfamiliar girl who seems to know me so well...

"Who is she?" I whisper softly, so only Faith can hear.

She strokes my back gently, and I'm momentarily distracted by how un-Faith-like a gesture this is. But then she answers, in a whisper of her own.

"That's Dawn B...your sister."

"No, no, no, no, no-" I'm curled against Faith, hanging on to her, rocking back and forth, wetting her bare shoulder with my tears... She's rubbing my back, making soothing sounds, and I'm reminded of my childhood nightmares, those nights after my cousin Celia died... Mom would come running when I screamed, take me into her arms just as I lay in Faith's now, whisper soothingly until eventually I fell asleep.

"Mommy?" I need her again. Need her to tell me that everything is going to be ok... Faith's arms stiffen around me, and I realise that it was her rocking me and not the other way around, as now we're still.

I pull away from Faith and look to her. Our eyes lock for a moment before she glances away hurriedly. She doesn't have to say a word, because I know. She's gone too, just as I was... The Summers family wiped out, but for a sister I never knew I had...

I stand and walk, dazed, across the room. I guess I'm in shock, coz none of this is hitting home. The tears, falling so freely only moments earlier have dried up, and I just feel numb. I stop at the coffee table and stare at the heaped magazines and newspapers. And then it catches my eye, right beneath the headline of 'Sunnydale News.' I grab the newspaper and scrutinise it, blinking and re-focusing to make sure I'm reading it correctly.

"What date is it?"

Faith is at my side, her eyebrows creased with confusion. "B, you should-"

"Faith," my voice is eerily calm, even to my own ears, "I asked a question. WHAT. DATE. IS. IT?"

I fix her with a resolute stare, and await her reply...


"B, it's March 3rd or 4th. Not too sure which..." Faith shrugs apologetically.

"It's...it's the third." The mystery blonde confirms, speaking in her seemingly omnipresent stammer.

"Year, What year?" I know the answer before it leaves her mouth, but still it shocks me to hear it.

2002... March, 2002. The rooms seems to be spinning, and maybe it is. I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. The newspaper slips from my fingers and falls to the rug and I'm following its descent, rescued from carpet burn on my ass by Faith. Gotta love that slayer speed. She catches me mid-fall and half carries/half drags me to the couch.

Time to process.

Faith said I died ten months ago, which would roughly have been May 2001. My last memory is of heading home, post patrol, in January 1999: Something horribly wrong with this picture, no? Seems as though a giant chunk of my life has been eroded from memory.

I clutch my head in my hands and sigh. Not very productive, but it's about all I can do right now, bar attempting to figure out what the hell is going on.

Ok, so my memorie's pretty much shot, but I'm fairly certain that pre the abyss that is the last three years of my life, I was sibling-less. No sisters or brothers, not even a cat. Well, unless you count that zombie cat which I don't.

Something doesn't add up.

"I have to see it." I don't know if this will help any, but it seems like the only thing to do. Faith looks to me, momentarily puzzled, finally nodding as though in understanding. I offer her my hand, and she accepts, smiling faintly as I lace my fingers through hers. Leading her towards the front door, I ignore the quizzical and imploring gaze of my 'sister' Dawn.


She saved the world.

A lot.

So this is disturbing. I'm standing here staring at my own grave, my plot located in row eighteen of the all new and improved section. The cemetary has pretty much tripled in size since last I was here (or last remember being here, in any case.)

Mom is buried beside me. Me and Mom, side by side. Mother and daughter and their lovely neighbouring graves. I remember reading Romeo and Juliet, as a freshman in L.A. One of the characters, on dying, clutches his stomach and tells his friends that, were they to seek him the following day, they would find him a "very grave man." His friends, unaware that he had been stabbed, laugh as he breathes his last. They think he's joking.

I must be laughing - or maybe I'm going crazy - coz Faith is by my side wrapping her arms around me and pulling my head to her shoulders. The leather of her jacket is cold against my exposed arms. We stand in silence, as we are, neither of us moving. And it feels good. I almost feel like me again.


The ground is solid beneath my feet, the earth completely settled as though it had not been dug up only ten months before- and then it hits me- Now, I don't know too much about resurrection. Ok, so I'm the slayer, but my expertise pretty much lies in the staking, beheading and snacking on low fat yogurts part of the job. Not too big on the theory. What I do know, though, is that the majority of vamps who are formally introduced to Mr Pointy, have crawled out of a grave at some point in their sorry ass undead lives. But this grave- my grave-it's undisturbed...has been for a long time. My body, my DEAD body, lies six feet under, exactly as it was when the coffin lid dropped.

Of that much I'm sure.

As for the rest of it?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Faith drapes her jacket over my shoulders as we make our way through town. I'm shivering, my teeth chattering audibly despite the early afternoon humidity. I welcome the gesture, linking my icy fingers through hers. She squeezes my hand in response, locking my fingers in place as though afraid I'll bolt, or die again, or get zapped out of whatever godforsaken alternate universe I've had the misfortune of stumbling into.

Sunnydale town is almost exactly as I remember it. Posters are pinned on the windows of the Espresso Pump advertising the latest gig at the Bronze: Same display, different bands. The Magic Box is boarded up, as is often the case. Strangely enough, there's a pretty high mortality rate in that line of work - almost on par with that of a slayer.

Rovello drive is much the same; Mr Nolan's prized fuschias still spew forth their nauseating scent, and the evil dog of number 1811 is still alive and barking - It's all so familiar, yet so surreal...

Dawn is sitting on the porch as we approach my house. She has yet to notice us, and I appraise her with detached interest. She looks to be about 15 or 16. She looks nothing like me. Nothing like Mom. Nothing like DAD, for that matter. She's a stranger to me. A kid I'd pass on the street without glancing at twice...but right now... right now, the very sight of her is making my blood boil. She CRIED when she saw me! Christ! Rushed over to me, embracing me with her stranger arms, calling my name with her stranger voice... She's nothing BUT a stranger, sitting on my porch as though she has any right to be there!

I pass her on the steps, trying not to make obvious the fact that her very presence makes my skin crawl. She reaches out a hand to stop me, and I pull away as though burnt.

"Buffy-" Her voice is horrible, alien to me and yet overly familiar as though she knows me. Knows everything about me... "Buffy, please..." She drawls the last word, stretching the 'e' for as long as her vocals will allow. "Talk to me Buffy! I'm your sister, and I've missed you so much- Willow says that maybe you forgot some stuff because of... well, because you just came back."

"I DIDN'T come back from anywhere, 'Dawn'." My tone is harsh, and I release her name as though that of an unspeakable disease. "The Buffy YOU know is napping at the cemetary in a great big box, a few layers of crap piled over her to keep her all snuggly. If you want to see her, I suggest you take a shovel."

Dawn pales and her eyes fill with tears as she brings her hands to her ears, covering them. Faith, who had remained silent throughout the 'sibling' exchange gapes at me unblinkingly, as though unable to process my words. The front door swings open and, oh joy, out walks Willow and that damn mystery blonde. I turn to blondie and glare at her. "Who exactly ARE you?!"

She stammers, and I feel like shoving my hands down her throat and re-adjusting her vocal chords. "I...I'm Tara. I know you d...don't remember me Buffy, but we... we were friends. I'm W...Willow's..." She's blushing now, glancing timidly from me to Will.

"Goddamit! Spit it out!" So I'm acting like a bitch. Sue me.

Willow looks furious, like she wants to slap me. "She's Tara, Buffy. My GIRLFRIEND Tara. You knew her, we were all friends. Me, you, Xander, Anya and Dawn." Anya, who the hell?

Wait, back track a second-

"Your GIRLFRIEND?" I'm pretty much channeling the hysterical laughter of earlier. To briefly synopsise the last 12 hours: I supposedly died but came back to life again. My memory of the last three years has all but failed me. I have a sister and, OH, as the cherry on top of the cake (bizarro flavoured) Will is a lesbian.

Willow's features soften, and I notice her exchanging a look with Faith and the now named blonde. Tara. Willow's girlfriend Tara.

This is all too much! I'm still laughing, clutching my sides as though they'll fall out. Once again I'm the centre of attention drawing stares from one and all as my eyes cloud with the tears of hysteria.

Fairly convinced that I am, in actual fact, going crazy.


Willow tells the story nervously glancing every so often at Tara, who smiles reassuringly. For my part, I sit still and listen, nodding for Willow to continue whenever she stalls. Faith must have left the room at some point because she's handing me a large mug of coffee, which I accept gratefully.

"And now you're here."

I guess the stories over. They look to me for a reaction, and I oblige by sipping from my steaming cup and replacing it on the mahogany table. Faith forgot coasters - Big, bad stain.

"Buffy," Willow reaches across the table and grasps my hand gently. "I can't even begin to imagine what you're feeling right now. This must seem so surreal to you."

"Not really." I blow on my coffee, watching as the ebony liquid swirls arbitrarily. And again with the silence, as all eyes are glued to me awaiting an explanation. Sighing, I test the coffee. Still too hot.

"I've been sitting here listening to all this talk of monks, energy balls turned to sisters and Cordelia-esque hell Gods, and I've figured it out."

Ugh, the coffee tastes like shit.

"Damn Faith, how much sugar did you give me?"

I wince in mock disgust, contorting my features and shuddering. Faith's not amused, nor are any of the others. Geez, find the fun!

"B, what exactly have you figured out?"

I glance past the impatient Faith, to Dawn. She's staring at the table, tracing doodles with her thumb. Now that I know, now that I've got this all worked out, all the animosity I've been feeling towards her is gone... almost. I even feel a little sorry for her, I mean, none of this is her fault, and I'm sure that she's an alright kid.

She's just not my sister.

I'm so relieved that I'm not of the certifiable-nut variety, that I grin as I relay my conclusion.

"Willow, what you said... *everything* you told me about Glory and the key and my dying to save the world... it never happened."

Willow frowns, all set to protest, but I continue on.

"What I'm trying to say is that it never happened to *me*. I wasn't there. Maybe Buffy was there, but not me."

Ok, big with the confusion.

"Call it a slayer sixth sense, but I know for certain that none of this ever happened to me. I can feel it - it's not a case of memory loss, or short-term resurrection related amnesia. Buffy is still dead. The Buffy of *your* world. To me, this is an alternate reality, and all I want to do is go..."

"B?!! Shit, you alright B?"

"Yeah, I'm fine... head rush."

I cover my face with my hands until the dizzy spell passes. Faith clutches my shoulders to steady me.

"Sorry for the wait B, know my keys are around here somewhere."

Faith shakes her jacket, spilling the contents onto the ground.

"I can never find the bastards-"

She's on the ground, rummaging through a pile of make-up, coins, paper and other assorted crap.

"For Fuck - Ah, here they are!"

She stands, offers a lopsided grin, and plunges the keys into a lock.

"Faith, what happened? Did I pass out?"

The door swings open and Faith ushers me inside a relatively spacious studio apartment furnished with two beds, a couch, a TV set, and a mountain of clothes.

"Nah, you just got the spinnies for a second there is all. Don't worry, I'm not gonna start with the interrogation just yet. Make yourself comfortable- if you can find the room that is."

She smiles self deprecatingly, shoving a pile of clothing from the couch to the floor.

"Where are the others?"

Not a good question, apparently. She frowns, and looks away from me.

"Listen, why don't I get you something to drink? Or eat? You hungry? We got some frozen pizza in the freezer, or chinese leftovers... some shrimp infested crap that Dawn seems to like. I think the only reason she gets it is so I won't inhale it all post slayage"



Faith retrieves a container from the fridge and dumps the contents onto a plate.

"Oh, that's right, you never met Dawn. She's my little sis from back in Boston. She was in foster care until I turned 18 and was awarded guardianship - Actually, it's a longer story than that, but I'll bore you later. Here. Is water cool?"

She hands me a plate of rice and shrimp, and returns to the kitchen to fill a glass of water.

"Faith, what are you talking about? Willow just told me about Dawn. She's *my* sister: Or at least my sister in this reality."

And back to the damn confusion. It's starting to get boring.

"B, maybe you should sleep for a while, y'know, get yourself all rested and then we'll talk." Faith avoids eye contact.

"Faith, what the *hell* is going on?! First, I get transported to Wigsville, then I'm told that I died to save my sister, who, by the way, turns out to be a mystical key that opens portals to evils unknown. Now you're telling me that my newfound little sis is actually *your* sister, we're sitting in an apartment which, by the by, seems to have appeared from nowhere coz I sure as hell don't remember getting here. Actually, memory and lack of and me seem to be best of buds lately... To top it all off, Willow, her lesbian lover and "Whose sister?" seem to have disappeared!"

Faith stares at her hands, and I realise that she's trying not to cry. When she looks up, her eyes are full of tears. "B, Red - Willow - She's dead."


For a second I stare blankly at Faith, my face devoid of expression. She inhales deeply, as though steeling herself for a reaction. I spoon a forkful of lukewarm rice into my mouth, chewing slowly. This isn't a dream. none of it. For one, dream food is pretty much of the tasteless.

When I was about 7 or 8, I dreamt that it was my birthday party. Everyone was there; all my school friends, my grandparents, Mom and Dad; even my cousin Celia was there as though nothing had ever happened to her... Mom came from the kitchen struggling beneath a 3-tiered chocolate cake, decorated with hundreds of flickering candles. Everyone sang 'happy birthday', and applauded as I extinguished all the candles in one blow. Then Dad scooped me onto his lap, grinning with pride as he handed me a fork. The cake was all mine; chocolatey and perfect and just for me. Everyone watched as I started on the first tier, their eyes wide with anticipation. I shoveled a forkful of cake into my mouth, but nothing... It was bland and textureless and decidedly un-chocolatey. I ate all three tiers, crying with disappointment because I knew I was dreaming.

The shrimp is processed and rubbery and the rice brittle, yet it has a taste, albeit not a very delectable one.

"B, it happened a long time ago." Faith is nervous, wringing her hands together. "It was a few months after you-"

"Died?" I supply, looking up from the remnants of my plate.

"Died?" Faith's brow furrows with confusion. "B, we never found out what happened to you- You didn't made it home that night. Red got the call from Mrs S about four in the morning saying you hadn't come back, and..." A tear escapes Faith's eye, unnoticed. She's far away, back in a place that I know nothing of.

I feel like a non-entity, as though my skin belongs to someone else. My hands are unfamiliar and my voice so foreign when I speak. "Faith, please... What's going on?"

The plate on which my shrimp concoction is heaped falls to the floor and shatters. Faith jumps, startled from her reverie, and looks to me as though seeing something... Seeing what?

"Shit B, all this time-" Her tears are flowing freely now, but her voice is barely a whisper. "Where were you? All this time... I couldn't feel you B, and I was scared. Fuck, I was downright terrified. But, you know, I knew that you were still alive. Don't know why or how, but I knew it... knew you'd come back."

She joins me on the couch, broken china crunching under the weight of her boots. Her hands find my face, calloused fingers caressing my cheek before coming to rest beneath my chin. She tilts my face towards hers and guides my hand to her mouth, resting my fingers upon her lips.

"I was so scared that I'd lost you", she breathes, her tongue lightly grazing my fingertips. My fingers remain held against her lips, her ragged breath shallow and warm against my hand.

The moment is strangely erotic, and Faith stares at me with what can only be described as... No! I pull away abruptly, casting my gaze downwards. Faith stands hurriedly, grabbing a brush from the kitchen and sweeping the remains of the broken plate into a pile, before picking up the shards with a magazine and binning them.

"So, you ok? I can make something else for you; a sandwich or a pizza..." She avoids looking at me, her gaze evading mine.

"No, I'm good Faith." My heart is thumping, hammering a hole into my chest. For a second there... I shake my head, willing the thought away. "Faith, I just... Willow, please tell me."

Faith shoves a frozen pizza into the oven, her hands shaking. She closes the oven door, and without turning around, begins.

"Willow turned up on my doorstep soon after your Mom called her. Shit, she nearly dropped dead when I opened the door and she clocked the twins in all their naked glory." Faith laughs humourlessly, but remains where she is, her gaze intent on the oven.

"We spent all night looking for you, B. I rasseled with a record number of the undead, and shot any chance Willie had of reproducing. Shit, we even got good old SDPD in on the search, but nothing. Not a fucking word. It was like you had just disappeared.

"Weeks went by and still nothing, but we wouldn't give up. I still patrolled and partook in my sacred dusting duties, but most of my time was spent kicking the shit out of some ugly or other, trying to get information.

"Giles followed up on every single lead, flying all over the country at the vaguest sighting of a female blonde teenager invloved in a possible brawl... but still nothing: dead leads, all of 'em.

"Cops closed the case. Put it down to another missing Sunny-dalian, and got back to the productive pursuit of scratching their asses over the bizarre local homicide rate, and eating doughnuts."

Faith must realise that she hasn't switched the oven on, coz she's fiddling with the dial. The oven fan shudders to life, and she finally turns.

"It hit Red real bad. She couldn't accept that you were gone... Shit, none of us could! But Red... She'd been dabbling in magicks here and there, nothing major really; floating pencils and shit..."

Faith pauses and distractedly re-checks the setting on the oven. Her back is turned to me again, and I notice that she is trembling. Despite the exreme wigginess between us only moments ago, I'm drawn to her. Compelled to comfort her.

I make my way from the couch and wrap my arms around her waist. She inhales sharply, angling her head so that her profile is only inches from my face. Her lips, full and coated a deep red, part, and she continues.

"She never told us, but she came across a spell in one of those damn Bibles of Giles'. The spell was supposed to transport her spirit to another plane so that she could find you or something. Shit, never was too good on the details. You know me B, slay and screw, not much good for anything else." Faith smiles disparagingly, the grin never reaching her eyes. I tighten my embrace, and her eyes close as her body shudders against me. Her voice is almost breathless when she speaks again.

"Only thing was B, to perform that spell, she needed an anchor on this plane. Someone strong enough to keep her from crossing over entirely... Red thought she could do it. I should've known she'd try something like this! She was too confident in her abilities, thought she was more powerful then she really was...

"Oz found her the next morning. He'd wolfed the night before, and she'd used the babysitting time to realm hop."

What's real here? Are my arms wrapped around Faith, comforting her over the death of my best friend? A best friend who only an hour ago told me of my own death?

I don't know, and right now, I don't particularly care. I turn Faith in my arms, her tear stained face appearing so vulnerable. Moist eyes I once thought so knowing stare into my own, echoing my confusion. She's scared, not of this situation as I am, but of me. She's scared of me.

If I let go, if I just forget for a minute, it wouldn't be so wrong, would it? I can't figure any of this out, and I'm so tired of trying. Just for a minute...

Faith stares away, the intensity of my gaze disconcerting. One arm remains around her waist while another grazes her neck, my fingers trailing her spine from base to shoulder. My stomach somersaults and I shiver. Suddenly this doesn't feel so wiggy anymore.

Her lips, full and dark are so near, and if...

We both jump as the door swings open and a teenage girl bounds into the room dumping a book bag onto the floor. A cigarette hangs from her pierced lips, a length of ash breaking away from the tip and floating haphazardly to the floor. She runs a be-jewelled hand through spiky pink hair and grins.

"Fuck me big sis, getting some action while the sun's still shining? I'm impressed."

Faith smiles at me shyly and looks to the teen.

"This is Buffy... she's, she's back. B, this is -"

"Dawn." I answer for her.


My sister.

Faith's sister.

The damn key.



"So, where've you been lurking these past three, Buff?" Dawn has a deep Bostonian accent, and her manner reminds me of Faith, way back when. When? Three apparently. I'm guessing years.

I uncoil my arms from around Faith, suddenly conscious of our questionable stance. Dawn sniggers, and lights another cigarette from the butt of her first.

"What's with the silence? Suspense can kill keys too, y'know."


"So you're a key here too?"

Dawn drags from her cigarette, exhaling a perfect smoke ring, and looks at me as though I'm an idiot.

"Why, am I a key somewhere else? Crafted by monks from a blob of energy into a teenager with a 'tude?"

She laughs sardonically, sliding a frayed denim jacket from her arms to reveal a tattoo of a large black key on her bicep. She points to it with the glowing end of her smoke.

"Cute, isn't it. So I'll never forget my roots. Always gotta remember where we come from, right? Only thing is, alls I remember is big sis leaving home one day."

She sneers at Faith and winks.

"Yep, good old sis leaving me with Daddy. Can you guess who was flavour of the month once the door smacked her on the ass? Yep, Daddy loved his little Dawnie"

Dawn pauses, tilting the cigarette towards her face, the smoke shrouding her features. She remains still until the smoke has dispersed, watching as it billows towards the ceiling before disappearing. When her gaze again locks with mine, her eyes are cold. Aged from exposure to a world I've never seen. And I recognise them. I've seen them before.

In Faith.

Dawn inhales deeply, blasting the excess smoke through her nostrils. "After that, Buff, were the foster homes with all my new Daddies and big brothers. Thing is, turns out none of this shit ever happened, only I'm stuck reliving every goddamn wonderful moment of my non-life, over and over -"

Her cheeks are flushed as she drops the cigarette to the floor, crushing the still burning ember with a Doc Martin clad foot.

"So Buffy, it's great to finally fucking meet you. I'd love to sit around and swap stories all day about the 'missing years', and my one *actual* year of life, but I have this 'deviant Key' rep to live up to." She pulls her jacket back over her shoulders, and stalks towards the door her hand grasping the handle. But she hesitates. She turns slowly and looks at me, a sneer gracing her lips. Without further deliberation, she swaggers towards me until her nose is mere centimetres from my own. We are about the same height, but right now she seems so much taller.

"Buffy Summers in the flesh. Everyone's fucking hero." Dawn stares at me with bitter intensity. "Forget about everything else, we gotta find Buffy. Boo hoo, slayer supreme is Missing In Action, so lets devote the rest of our lives to searching for her. Forget about the kid, she can take care of herself. And what's she good for anyway, bar endangering the world? Nothing, that's what. But Buffy - there's a golden girl if ever there was one."

Dawn is shaking with rage as she turns to glare at Faith. "What's the holy word again Faith? Oh, that's right. Buffy; goddamn fucking..."


Suddenly I'm lying down with Dawn looming over me. Well, what looks to be Dawn anyway: minus the pink hair and piercings. Maybe I should start numbering everyone according to dimension.

"Buffy? Guys, she's awake!"

I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping to God that this isn't happening. Again. But, as testimony for the day, it is. Let the fun roll on.

Reluctantly, I prise my eyes open, to find Willow and Xander by my side; a decidedly alive Willow and a broad shouldered Xander. Looks like my little buddy with the big crush is all growed up.

"Buffy" Xander grasps my hand gently, his eyes filling with tears.

Enough! I'm so damn sick of this; the tears and the crying and the, "you were dead", versus, "no, you just disappeared off the face of the planet for awhile." All I want now are answers.

I shove Xander aside, harder than I had intended apparently, as he stumbles backwards landing awkwardly on the coffee table. Back in the homestead I see.

"Still with the strength of 10 men, Buffster." Xander jokes, although his eyes betray hurt.

"Where's Faith?" I'm impatient. Reunions, apologies and big fluffy hugs can wait. I'm starting to get that time is not too much for the siding with Buffy, and if I want answers then I'll have to hurry or risk being zapped back to the pink haired fake sister doppelganger, and dead Willow freakiness.

"Right here B. How's sleeping beauty?" Faith enters the sitting room, carrying a tray of sandwiches. The scene is so at odds with the Faith I remember, that I can't help but laugh. And I'm relieved. Damn, I'm so relieved. Just seeing Faith has placated me somewhat, and I can't get off the couch quick enough. The tray crashes to the floor as I throw my arms around her, and after a moments hesitation she reciprocates, clutching me to her.

"Don't leave me."

Faith returns my whisper. "I won't, B. Not ever."

For a second, it's like nothing else exists. Just Faith and me, entwined, her familiar scent enveloping me, making me wish we could stay like this forever.

"Hello Buffy. Glad to see that you are alive again." Suddenly, I'm sheathed in a three-way embrace with a girl I vaguely recognise as a member of the Cordelia appreciation society. "We missed you when you were dead."

I look to Faith for help, and with a wry smile she unravels us from the unsolicited ménage-a-trois and nods to our newest arrival.

"B, this is Anya, Xander's girlfriend."

Anya looks surprised. "You don't remember me? Xander, why doesn't she remember me?"

She grabs my shoulders, twirling me 180 so that I'm facing her. Gazing at me intently, she furrows her brow. "I. Am. Anya." With careful deliberation she slowly exaggerates every word as though speaking to a small child. "An-ya." She points to herself as she repeats her name. I guess I'm kind of overwhelmed, coz I'm gaping at her.

"Why isn't she saying anything? Did she come back wrong? Is she retarded?" Anya enquires of the others, still scrutinising me.

"Anya!" Xander and Willow respond simultaneously. Faith sniggers and rolls her eyes heavenward.

"Anya hon, lets leave Buff alone for a while ok." Xander smiles apologetically, and leads Anya to the couch.

I turn back towards Faith, automatically grabbing her hand in my own. Our eyes lock, and I swear, for a second there a shiver runs through my body.

"You sure you're ok, B? You were out for a while. I couldn't just stand around all helpless, so -" Faith breaks both the silence and our gaze, and points to the destroyed pile of sandwiches on the floor.

Squeezing Faith's hand, I sigh. "I'm just dandy. And oh, your other dimension look alike and her pink haired sister, who might I add is a Dawn clone, send their love. According to them, I've been missing for three years. Whoever's in charge of inter-dimension mail should really get their act together, coz they definitely didn't receive the telegram informing of my death in the *other* Sunnydale." Faith looks stunned, and I offer her a grin to soften the impact of my newest revelation. Damn fucking day from hell...

"B, what are you saying? Were you -?"

"Plane hopping." Anya interrupts. "Although why and how, I'm unsure. I have a friend who may be able to help you out."

Help? Christ, yes!

"Um... Anya, that would be great. The help I mean. Hugely appreciated."

Anya nods, beaming with pride for being of assistance.

"All I need is the blood of an innocent, a pint or so will do, followed by the ritualistic naked chanting and..."

"B? For Christ sake Dawn, will you get her some water!"

I prise my eyes apart as a glass is shoved none to gently against my lips. Dawn smirks from above me, her pink hair garish against the dim light.

"Nice rest, girl wonder?"

Oh for the love of Fuck!

The End

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