Buffy slumped back against the door as it slammed shut, sliding down to sit on the floor, head rested on her bent knees. The events of the day had left her feeling completely drained, desiring nothing more than to curl up and forget it all, at least for a night. She'd hoped that maybe things with Faith would be easier second time around; then again, she hadn't exactly been prepared for tonight's...encounter. She felt tears prick at the corners of her eyes as she once again felt the hopelessness of the situation wash over her and wondered, not for the first time, why she was staying. Giving her head a shake and heaving herself up, she made her way to the spacious bathroom, shedding her clothing as she went and twisting the dials on the shower. For a moment she gazed into the tired eyes staring back at her from the rapidly fogging mirror, before stepping under the steaming spray and letting the water rush over her. She tilted her head back, running her hands over her face as if to wash away the remnants of the day that still clung to her skin, and saw the image of Faith as though it were etched on her eyelids. Had anyone told her a month ago the position she would be in today, she was quite certain she would have had them committed -after she'd laughed- and yet here she was, showering in an LA hotel trying to rid herself of the remains of yet another useless encounter with the other Slayer. Not only had she performed a spectacular 180 over the past two days, she was working her ass off to do what? To 'help' a girl- no, woman- who clearly didn't want it? To 'rescue' someone from something she'd entered by choice? And all because of the feeling. That one she couldn't shake that wouldn't let her leave it be, that couldn't let her leave the other woman to be used so thoughtlessly, whether by choice or otherwise. She leant the palms of her hands against the cold tile of the shower wall and watched for a moment as the water swirled away to nothing, before washing quickly and wrapping a towel snugly around her body. Glancing at the phone lying discarded on the floor as she entered the bedroom, she contemplated calling Willow, before the need for sleep won out and she climbed under the bed covers, leaving the wet towel crumpled on the carpet. The large bed felt empty around her as she turned over and tried not to feel quite so lost amongst the sheets as her tiredness claimed her.
Buffy rolled over, letting out a low moan and blinking the sleep from her eyes. As the haze cleared, she sat bolt upright in the bed, gaze darting frantically around the room and taking in the achingly familiar setting. Pushing the covers down slowly, she timidly swung her legs over the edge, as if the scene may dissolve around her should she move too suddenly; the room was just as it had always been, and the memories made her heart twinge as she absorbed the reminders of a life long buried. A sound from downstairs broke her from her musings, and her heart began to hammer as she made her way out of her room and along a familiar hallway, yet more recollections assaulting her senses. She descended the stairs, her body tingling familiarly, a new wave of confusion washing over her as she rounded the corner and saw Faith leaning casually against the counter, arms crossed across her chest and a bottle of beer in one hand.
Buffy frowned. "What are you doing here?" she asked, immediately hating the accusatory tone her voice had taken on.
Faith looked around, her forehead crinkling slightly as if she wasn't quite sure herself. She shrugged, taking a sip from the bottle before meeting the other girl's eyes.
"Waiting for you I guess" she finally answered, giving a small mirthless laugh. "The hell else do I ever do, one way or the other?"
Buffy tilted her head in confusion, taking in Faith's appearance as she considered her words and tried in vain to remember the last time she'd dreamt quite so vividly. Faith was the closest to 'herself' that the other slayer had seen since travel to LA- clad in dark leather pants, heavy boots and a white tank, her eyes rimmed with the familiar dark liner. The sight was yet another memory to add to those already consuming her, and despite some things she would rather forget, there was no denying that she was enjoying this nostalgia.
"So B," the other girl began, causing Buffy to jump in surprise, "home sweet home, huh? Just like I remember it...course it's been a while."
The Chosen One's eyes found the floor as she remembered all too clearly the last time Faith had been in the house.
"Guess this place is long gone now though," she continued, almost to herself, and Buffy caught the sadness in the other Slayer's voice. "I'm sorry y'know."
"'Bout this place....'bout your Mom..."
Buffy nodded, not trusting herself to speak through the tears that had sprung up at Faith's words. She heard the other girl sigh deeply, and lifted her gaze to watch her pushing off the counter and wondering casually to the back door, smoothly sliding it open.
Faith gave a last glance over her shoulder, not quite meeting Buffy's look before disappearing into the darkness outside.
Chewing on her lip, Buffy turned and took in the sight of the house again. Part of her wanted nothing more than to linger in the illusion, to just remember...She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath; this wasn't her life any more, there were no answers to be found here. She turned, walking towards the door against the near-physical tug she could feel trying to hold her, and followed the other girl. She braced herself for the breeze to hit her, prepared to feel slightly cold wood beneath her bare feet, and was met instead by something else. Frowning, she rubbed her eyes and blinked to clear the mist obscuring her vision, immediately recognizing the new setting.
The Bronze was warm and dimly lit, the notes of some soft rock tune floating around, and felt every bit as though this were any other night. Faith was perched on the edge of one of the pool tables, absently bouncing a ball of the side cushion, watching Buffy watch her.
"Jus' like old times," she commented, halting the motion of the ball and depositing into one of the pocket as she raised her eyebrows and looked around. "Even you," she added,nodding in Buffy's direction.
The Slayer caught herself in a mirror across the room, only now noticing the change in her appearance- her shorts and tank top replaced by a pair of dark pants and a white blouse, even her hair back to it's old blonde.
"What's going on?"
"Your guess is as good as mine blondie," the dark slayer answered with a shrug, sliding from her seat and advancing on the other girl. She tilted her head to the side, regarding Buffy with a small smile. "I kinda liked your hair," she remarked, grinning.
Buffy felt a small blush creep onto her cheeks at the complement, and contemplated that surely only Faith could embarrass her in a dream. She watched the other girl turn away and stroll to the middle of the dance floor, hands sliding inside the pockets of her leathers as she surveyed their surroundings further.
The setting wasn't lost on Buffy, and she had no doubt that Faith's mind had travelled to the same place as hers; to a time, a night, when things were so much simpler in the heat of the music and of each other.
"Another lifetime, huh?"
Buffy nodded, knowing fine that the other Slayer couldn't see her, and approached the girl slowly, all the while letting memories swirl around her. She was inches away from the brunette and raised her hand to rest on the other girls shoulder, causing her to jump with surprise, startled out of her thoughts. Faith turned, standing so close that Buffy could feel her warm breath against her cheek, could smell the faint mixture of spearmint and cigarettes that hung there, and the blonde felt herself give an involuntary shiver. She watched the brunette as she caught her full bottom lip between perfect teeth in thought, her body tense as they drew slowly closer to each other, eyes locking across the shrinking space between them, neither daring to breathe for fear the moment would shatter. Buffy stood up on tiptoes, their lips separated only by a millimetre of air, her eyelids beginning to slide shut in anticipation. At the final moment, she felt rather than saw Faith take a step away, and opened her eyes to see the brunette breathing heavily, eyes tightly shut.
"Faith" she began, desperate to put her at ease.
"God, B, this..." Her eyes opened, and Buffy could see the confusion and uncertainty swimming there, wrapped around the ever-present fear that lingered in their depths.
"What?" the blond asked softly, taking a step towards her.
Faith frowned, as if trying to find the right words, before shaking her head and turning away, disappearing through a door to their side. Buffy gave a sigh of frustration and hurried after her, not entirely surprised when she didn't arrive where expected.
The library bustled with the activity of many familiar faces, all of them oblivious to the presence of the two new Slayers. Giles emerged from his office, eyes fixed on the large volume resting in his hands while across the room Willow was similarly engrossed in a book, gaze scanning the pages rapidly. Xander attempted to follow suit, glancing up every few seconds to allow his eyes to dart between the half-empty box of doughnuts, and the two slayers sparring in the centre of the room. Buffy watched the rather surreal scene playing out before her, scrutinizing each move herself and Faith made against each other, their blows coming gradually harder and faster. 'Her' Faith stood a few feet away, leaning back against the counter top eyes fixed, like Buffy's, on the battling slayers. The Chosen One smiled to herself as she watched Faith's legs being swept from under her, watched her quickly flip back to her feet and deliver a surprising punch that sent dream-Buffy stumbling backwards a couple of steps, enough of a distraction to allow her opponent to grip her arm, spinning her around and pinning her up against the metal of the cage behind her. Buffy smiled, watching with a new perspective her dream-self stand pinned to the cage by Faith's body. She could see the brunette's chest heave as her breaths came heavier, couldn't miss the way she pushed up harder against her, and knew exactly how her own breath would be coming in short gasps, her pulse racing in a way that had little to do with the fight, before her head won out and she snapped out of it. She looked on as, on cue, the blonde snapped her head backwards, causing Faith to stumble away and she noticed, from this perspective, the look of disappointment that flashed across the brunette's features as she readied herself to continue. The two resumed their fast-paced exchange of blows, both of their faces the perfect mask of concentration, no hint of whatever had passed between them.
Buffy turned to Faith, who still stood regarding the girls, wearing a kind of bitter-sweet smile that Buffy couldn't remember ever seeing on her before.
Faith jumped a little, as if having forgotten she wasn't alone, and turned her head towards Buffy, hopping up to sit on the counter behind her as she did. The blond took a deep breath, considering her words carefully as she moved to sit beside the other girl, swinging one leg offhandedly as she thought.
"I never..." she broke off, entirely unsure how best to word her feelings. "I guess I didn't..." she sighed, but knew that the meaning of the vague few words wasn't lost on the other girl.
Faith said nothing, raising a sceptical eyebrow.
The blond fidgeted, eyes drawn towards the floor as she thought back. "Ok, but...ugh you were so confusing," she whined, looking up again. "And you never just said something."
Faith chuckled to herself, before turning back to the blond and shaking her head. "Like it woulda made any difference B. You were too wrapped up in all your shit with Angel."
Faith held up a hand to stop her. "An' you tellin' me that if I'd told you how I felt you wouldn'ta run a mile?" she asked, her expression cynical.
Buffy opened her mouth to protest, taking a moment to think on the question before closing it again, giving a small nod of defeat. Faith was right, of course, on every count; and Buffy hated it.
Both girls returned to silence, eyes once again drifting to the room's other occupants.
"Lotta people I woulda liked to make shit up with."
Buffy heart jerked a little at the words, at the regret she heard threaded in them, and at the look she caught briefly on the brunette's face as she glimpsed her from the corner of her eye.
Faith hopped down from her seat, sliding her hands once again into her back pockets and making Buffy wonder briefly how there was any room to do so in the seemingly painted-on leather. She surveyed the room with a frown for a moment, before throwing Buffy a beckoning smile and disappearing through the door to Giles' office.
Buffy groaned in frustration, wondering if there was any chance of actually finishing an entire conversation with the other girl, of perhaps absolving them of some of the tension between them. Slipping down from her seat, she too made for the office door, the familiar room on the other side somewhat indistinct, and stepped into what she was sure would be yet another mystery.
As the new haze cleared and Buffy found her bearings once more, her stomach lurched, recognizing a place she was happy to have seen nothing of for several years. It was exactly as it had been on her last visit- the broken window on the far side the only remaining evidence of the fight that had once taken place, a breeze whistling through it to whip Buffy's hair lightly around her face. Possessions were packed into cardboard boxes, no visible sign of life, not even of its past inhabitant that she had so willingly followed here. She manoeuvred around stacks of boxes, treading carefully as if one wrong step would smash the tenuous lull of the room, following the tingle at the base of her spine that was leading her to the other girl. Ducking the jagged edges of the window, Buffy slipped through the space finding, as she knew she would, the darker Slayer settled on the ledge, her feet dangling over the precipice.
Sunnydale stretched out beneath them, and Buffy couldn't help but draw in a breath as she looked out upon the town, sighing in reminiscence as she took a seat beside the other girl.
"Definitely not of the normal," Buffy conceded, "not that normal features much in our lives."
"True that." Faith paused, feeling around the inside pockets of the leather jacket Buffy had only now managed to notice had appeared on her, and producing a pack of cigarettes.
Buffy rolled her eyes, but nodded to Faith's sidelong questioning glance, and watched as the other smiling girl lit the cigarette dangling from between her lips, taking a long draw and breathing out a plume of smoke, which curled between them and dispersed into the night.
The pair sat in oddly comfortable silence for several minutes, Faith pensively working her way through the cigarette, while Buffy stared out at the home she'd been forced to destroy.
"I coulda helped y'know," Faith said finally, breaking the quiet, and Buffy couldn't ignore the twinge of sadness in the dark slayers voice.
Buffy frowned, looking up at the other girl, who's eyes refused to meet hers.
"The First, all that. I coulda helped."
"I know," she sighed finally, "and I thought about it, believe me...but things were, it would have just made things more difficult. I can't tell you what it was all like."
Faith turned at the words, giving Buffy an incredulous look. "Sure, an' I can't tell you what it was like locked up in a fuckin' cell night after night, doin' nothin' but feel what was out there. Christ B, sure I got no idea what it was like here, but it nearly killed me."
Buffy's stomach lurched with guilt, and her eyes widened as much at the revelation itself as at the ease with they were speaking- communication, after all, had never been their forte.
"I never..." she trailed off, not entire sure how to rectify the mistake.
"Whatever, no big," Faith shrugged, walls back in place as she flicked her cigarette butt away and watched it fall slowly to the ground. "Woulda been nice to stop by a last time though," she paused, turning to Buffy and offering a trademark grin, putting her at ease, "y'know, when I wasn't so insane."
Buffy too smiled, catching the brunette's eye and blushing a little as she did so, cursing her vulnerability to the charm of a single smile.
Silence fell over the pair once again, and Buffy's thoughts wondered back once more to the most pressing matter.
"Faith," the blond began, carefully trying to choose her words. Before she could finish, the darker slayer heaved a sigh, turning to her, eyes clouded by something Buffy couldn't put a name to.
"What?" Buffy asked defensively, "I didn't even say anything yet!"
Faith's smile didn't quite reach her eyes as she surveyed the blond knowingly. "Like I don't already know what it's gonna be," she told her with a wink.
Buffy gaped, frowning.
"What? Not my problem you're wicked obvious," the Boston girl teased.
The chosen one raised an eyebrow, a silent challenge to the other girl, who sighed again and returned her gaze to the vista. "You're gonna ask why I'm stayin' in the 'house," she stated in monotone.
Buffy nodded, fidgeting with a stray thread at the hem of her shirt."It's just so..."
"I know," Faith agreed, cutting her off, "but y'know, the shit I do...it makes people happy, helps some of em. I know it's not exactly slaying, but I figure...if I can't slay then maybe this starts to balance the scales."
"You could dot things outside of there too you know", Buffy muttered.
Faith gave a rueful laugh. "Fuck knows how many years I woulda had left inside, I wasn't goin' anywhere on my terms any time soon," a pause, "...and it's not like any of you woulda had me back anyway."
"No, I don't blame ya."
"I'm so sorry," the blonde mumbled, causing the other slayer's head to whip around to face her, her expression serious, uncharacteristically pleading, taking Buffy by surprise.
"Please B, don't apologize to me."
"There's nothing I can ever do to make shit right with us again, not after everythin'...and that's my fault, don't ever want you to think you owe me anythin'."
Faith frowned at the blond for a moment, before grinning and holding her hands up in submission.
"Thank you. I know that what you did was," Buffy paused, looking for the best way to word her thoughts.
The blond nodded, continuing. "And I thought I'd never forgive you, that it was never going to be ok again. But...things change." A pause. "Sometimes quickly," she added, contemplating the past days, "and I realized that I can't just blame you. I'm not lessening what you did, I'm not saying it wasn't wrong, but maybe...definitely...I didn't do everything I could have done." She sighed, coming to realizations even as she spoke. "Things with you were...they were messy, and complicated and scary, and I pulled away." She took a deep breath, approaching the end of the speech she never thought she'd hear herself give. "Whether you accept it or not -and I'd kind of like it if you did- I'm sorry for that."
Faith nodded, and let her eyes meet the blondes, lingering there for a moment.
"But none of that changes the fact that you shouldn't be in that place, God Faith, you belong in my world, in our world," she took a breath, starting again before the other girl could interrupt. "You could leave y'know, we could get you out and you could come back with-"
Buffy looked at her incredulously.
"Only reason I'm there an' not still banged up is 'cause of the Council. You think if I jus' walked out they'd let it go? Wouldn't be able to do fuck all on the outside if I had to constantly hide from them...'sides, I don't do hiding."
Buffy groaned in frustration, pressing the heels of her hands onto her eyes.
"It ain't forever B," Faith continued, shrugging slightly. "'Sides, it has it perks."
Buffy's gaze shot upwards, finding a knowing smirk on the face of the brunette, a playful twinkle in her eye.
"You...I mean I..." Buffy stuttered, a blush creeping back onto her cheeks. "What?" she asked finally, aiming for clueless.
"Well see I got me this wicked strange memory, kinda came to me the first day I saw ya in the 'house. It's all kinda fuzzy, but, eh...there anythin' you wanna tell me?" she asked, clearly revelling in the blondes discomfort and embarrassment.
"You are such an ass," Buffy reprimanded, scowling.
"Uh huh...and if I'm rememberin' right, you finally pulled the stick outta yours long enough to have some fun, huh?" Faith asking jokingly, winking at the other girl.
"I was uh..." Buffy tailed off, clearing her throat and realizing there really was nothing she could say to get her out of the situation, instead taking a breath and throwing herself in to the deep end. "I guess you're right," she replied finally, raising an eyebrow challengingly, "it was fun."
Surprise flashed across Faith's face, before morphing into a huge grin, the glimmer in her eye growing. "Hey B?"
"Trust me?" Faith asked, holding out a hand to the other girl.
Buffy thought for a moment, eyebrows knitting. "Maybe," she replied finally, reaching out and linking her fingers with the brunette's, her skin warm even in their dream-space.
Faith gave one last dimpled grin, before pushing off the ledge with her feet, pulling the other Slayer along with her, feeling Buffy's grip on her hand tighten suddenly as they fell, the look on the blondes face almost comical in its surprise.
Their descent slowed, and the world beneath them began to shimmer away, nothing more than floating particles around their bodies, beginning to reform. Buffy squinted, trying to make out whatever was becoming around them and finding no answers, eyes falling upon her hand, fingers still intertwined with the other girl's. Her gaze lifted, finding Faith's stare fixed on her, intent, her brow slightly furrowed, and for a long moment there was nothing but the two of them, the remnants of their surrounds swirling around haphazardly, almost dizzying. Buffy felt her grip on the other girl loosening, Faith's hand being pulled from hers, and looked to her eyes to see sadness in their depths, a look on her face that screamed of goodbye as her hand was finally pulled away, leaving the blonde falling slowly on her own, her feet finally finding solid ground.
Her surroundings faded slowly into view, and at once Buffy was filled with an overwhelming panic. She stood in the centre of the Dollhouse, the peaceful Zen garden doing nothing to calm her increasing worry as she glanced around for some sign of Faith. The faint tingling still at the base of her spine told her the girl was nearby, though something about it felt wrong. She made her way to the bottom of the stairs, stopping as her eye caught something beside her and turning to investigate. She stopped abruptly as she rounded the corner into the medical area, the sight almost making her turn away. The crimson smears stood in stark contrast to the clean white sheets of the bed, drawing a grisly trail across the flooring to pool around the body lying prone beside the desk, a startled expression still etched on the face of the Doctor. Buffy took a step back, having to remind herself that she was merely dreaming, and made her way back to the staircase, proceeding cautiously. Every step upwards revealed a little more of the massacre on the platform above, and a few feet along lay another body, another pool of blood under and around a woman she recognized as an active.
As she made her way closer to the elevator, stepping around another half dozen lifeless bodies, her sense of foreboding increasing with every step she took. She stabbed at the button, listening to the smooth whir of the descending elevator, taking another deep breath as the doors slid smoothly open to reveal Boyd, half-sitting with his back to the wall, bloody streaking down the wall behind his head, eyes wide. She steeled herself, her mind repeating its mantra that this was nothing more than a dream while her body remained tense, unnerved. As the lift began its ascension, Buffy found her eyes drifting back to the man on the floor beside her; the blood that streaked from behind his head, seeping too through the white cotton of his shirt, which hung partly shredded over his torso. Which monster was responsible for the massacre, she couldn't say...and yet the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach sent her messages she didn't want to hear as the doors of the lift slid apart and she made to cross the threshold of DeWitt's office, the door of which swung inwards at her fingers. Buffy felt as though her veins were filled with ice as she took in the scene before her; smeared in blood, Faith stood stark in the middle of the office, a twisted grimace marring her face. In front of her, Adelle stood, shaking slightly, one of Faith's hands tightly gripping her throat while the other pressed a bloodied knife against her skin. The three stood in perfect stillness and silence, Buffy's eyes fixed on Adelle's terrified gaze, not daring to glance at the third presence in the room. Finally, she mustered the effort to slide her eyes upwards to focus on Faith's face, the look from the other girls eyes sending an involuntary shiver down her spine. The rogue Slayer's eyes were dark with nothing and everything, all at once, and as Buffy tensed her body to move, a twisted smile appeared on the other Slayer's mouth. As the knife began its rapid journey across the older woman's throat, Buffy gave a stunned gasp, her hand flying to her mouth as the world around her began to dissolve.
Across the city, in the small chamber, Faith woke with a gasp.