Chapter Thirty-Eight: Miscommunication
Faith led Giles to the office. She knew there was something he wanted to say, but for whatever reason, he was holding it in. She figured it had something to do with the evil look that she just knew Buffy had given him. Faith chuckled softly under her breath, startling Giles.
"Sorry," Faith shrugged unapologetically. "B's just... somethin' else."
"Yes, quite," Giles agreed dryly. "I have yet to puzzle out just what that "something else" would be after all the years I've known her, but Buffy certainly is something else."
"Listen," Faith sighed inaudibly, pausing several feet away from their destination. "This whole situation is just one big mess."
"That it is," Giles readily agreed as she faced him.
"Readin' some of the things he said in his journals left me with a lot of questions," Faith said bluntly, "One of `em bein' just what the Hell you were thinkin'."
Giles sighed, dropping his gaze. He didn't have to ask which decision Faith was questioning. He himself was wondering now why he hadn't given Aaron's placement second thoughts. There had been plenty of questionable things about Aaron Graves since the beginning, and yet...
"Even if he wasn't such an anal retentive control freak," Faith continued heatedly, "Aaron's absolute refusal to take in any Slayers over the age of twenty-five should've brought him under scrutiny, Giles. For all you knew, Aaron could have been a goddamned sexual predator."
Giles cringed inside. He'd forgotten. As someone that was in charge of hundreds of girls and young women, he shouldn't have, but he had. Giles hadn't even considered the thought that someone might try to take advantage of them that way, even after everything he'd seen.
"You're right," Giles conceded. "I should have considered that. I just never even thought of it."
Faith let out a shaky sigh. Running a hand through her hair, she glanced away from Giles for a moment. This wasn't getting them anywhere. She just shook her head and looked back at him.
"He never even got Corrine the help she needed," Faith finished. "Giles, she needs to see a psychologist. I think this damn near broke her, and it's not somethin' we can just fix."
"All right," Giles nodded. "We will get her the help she needs. I'm not entirely sure why we overlooked her needs in the first place. The case worker that went with the team to retrieve her said something similar about her needing help a Watcher or another Slayer couldn't provide."
"Glad that's settled," Faith said, chuckling humorlessly. "I don't think I can take that again. But this conversation ain't done, G, `cause we gotta make sure this shit don't happen again."
Giles was starting to get a clearer picture of just what had resulted in the damage around them. It wasn't as extensive as it could have been, he was sure. He eyed Faith. He really wasn't so certain he wanted to ask just what had led up to the fight between her and the other Slayer, Corrine.
"Mmm, most definitely," Giles agreed again, and then he changed the subject, much to Faith's relief, "Perhaps I should get to questioning Aaron so that we can begin staging our attack?"
"Go right ahead," Faith gestured towards the office as she started to back away. "He's all yours."
"Thank you," Giles said dryly.
"But, um..." She started hesitantly, "Giles?"
"Yes?" Giles drawled, shooting her a curious look.
"When you see him? Just don't ask," Faith suggested, deadpan. "You'll be happier for it."
Giles watched as she disappeared back into the living room. Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, Giles turned and entered the office. He stopped right in his tracks. The scene seemed normal enough, until he took notice of what had been used as Aaron's gag.
Buffy was mildly disturbed to see the expression Faith was sporting when she returned to the living room. Faith was feeling smug about something. A smug Faith was a troublemaking Faith—sexy, but still a troublemaker. Buffy gave Faith a wary look as she approached.
"What did you do?"
"Who me?" Faith asked innocently.
"No," Buffy said sardonically, "The other Slayer standing behind you."
"I didn't do anything," Faith shrugged. "I was just giving Giles some friendly advice."
"Uh-huh," Buffy muttered doubtfully.
They fell silent. It was awkward and made it all the more obvious that neither of them was certain where to start. There was a lot that needed to be talked about. But for whatever their reasons were, now that the time was here, both Buffy and Faith were hesitant to go there.
After a few seconds, Faith limped over to resume her seat on the arm of the couch. The wound on her calf was starting to throb in time with her heartbeat. They hadn't had much in the way of pain killers in their first aid kit. The Tylenol was all ready starting to wear off.
Sighing, Faith gave in, "Did you bring my laptop?"
"Yeah," Buffy breathed as she turned to face her, relieved. "I left it by the door."
Despite her relief, Buffy felt a little disappointed. Sure, she'd hated the unease that was starting to set in. Who wouldn't? But she'd thought maybe Faith was ready to make this real, and now she could see Faith retreating behind defenses Buffy hadn't been on the outside of in a while.
Faith nodded jerkily, but didn't move. It was easy to think it was time for them to talk. But it was a lot harder to do when her body was aching as a reminder of how much easier hate was. Faith clenched her jaw and glanced away from Buffy briefly, struggling against her instincts.
She never used to let any one in, not after her parents. In a lot of ways, that was even easier than hate. If you didn't let them in, they couldn't give you a reason to hate them. She'd broken herself of that defense in the last several years, but right now, her heart was screaming at her to stop this.
"So um," Buffy started, causing Faith to look at her again, "Could you maybe give me a run-through of everything that's happened since you arrived? I'd like to know what happened."
Faith nodded again, and started talking. She gave a brief summary of her arrival, and her initial assumptions. She admitted that she'd suspected from the beginning that Aaron was at least following the old Council's doctrine. Then she went on to give a detailed account of her discoveries and reactions, and then she started on the reactions of the younger Slayers.
There was something lurking beneath the surface of their exchange. Faith knew what it was. It was fear. It was the same thing that used to push at her until they had no choice but to fight.
Faith didn't like it. She didn't like the hurt she could see in Buffy's eyes. She didn't like the spreading ache in her own chest. She paused and took a breath, and then when she exhaled, her agitation had faded to a manageable level and she could relax again as her guard went down.
"I was thinkin' maybe we need to send a couple of samples of the food to Red," Faith continued, unable to prevent a slight smile. "But it's more for my peace of mind than anything concrete."
"No, I get it," Buffy nodded in agreement. "He was way too concerned about their eating habits."
Buffy didn't know what had changed from between when they'd started talking again and now. She just sensed that something had. She could see it in the softer look Faith was giving her. The conflicted emotions brewing behind Faith's eyes were at least hidden if not gone.
"What happened to the foyer?" Buffy asked, at a loss for anything else.
"There was a bit of a scuffle with Corrine," Faith admitted. "She wanted to take out her anger on Aaron, and I couldn't let her do that, y'know? I tried to talk her out of it first, but it didn't do anything but make her angrier. The door got broken up when she shoved me through it headfirst, and the banister was destroyed when she lost her balance and fell backwards through it."
"She lost her balance?" Buffy asked doubtfully.
Corrine was a Slayer. No matter how angry they got, their balance was rarely—if ever—affected. Buffy gave Faith a knowing look. Then she just waited as Faith started to smile sheepishly.
"Okay, so she might've had some help there," Faith shrugged. "We were fighting and somehow ended up on the stairs. I tried to get her in a headlock so I could ram her into the wall and Corrine went backwards trying to dodge me."
"I'm guessing since you're not in even worse shape, you eventually got through to her?"
"Yeah," Faith sighed. "It wasn't easy and it took a while, but I did."
"How did you get your leg sliced up?" Buffy asked, reaching out to brush her fingers over the stark white gauze. "Did she do that or was it the result of crashing into something?"
"I don't really know," Faith shrugged again. "Di said she thinks it happened when I went through the door. She wasn't really sure `cause she was distracted by somethin' at the time."
"A Slayer distracted during a fight?" Buffy quipped. "There's something new."
"Yeah," Faith snickered. "But she had good reason. Aaron wouldn't shut up and she'd had enough. She came in and stuffed a golf ball in his mouth and duct taped it shut."
Faith grinned as Buffy burst into startled laughter. The delighted sound was nice to hear. Faith sighed, and bowed to the inevitable. If they were really going to do this, they needed to talk.
"You know I love you, right, B?" Faith said, almost casually.
Buffy's giggles died off as she stared at Faith. She knew she'd heard the words. She just couldn't respond for the tightness in her chest and she seemed to be having trouble breathing. Buffy just nodded, giving Faith a shaky smile, feeling like her heart was going to explode in her chest.
Faith gave Buffy a half-smile. Then her expression turned pained. This wasn't easy. And it really, really wasn't going to be fun, but this stuff had to be said, because it was the truth.
"I don't understand how..." Faith admitted, confusion bleeding into her expression. "After everything we've done to each other, and all we've been through, it should be impossible. But I do love you, and maybe it was all that stuff that made it possible. I know I didn't used to feel like this, `cause if I did, it would have made everything we did to each other so much worse."
Buffy was listening to every word, completely wrapped up in the sound of Faith's voice as it grew ragged. Tears were in her eyes. It hurt to hear what Faith was saying, to hear the underlying pain. It echoed everything she herself felt, everything Buffy had been trying not to think about.
"And I gotta wonder, B..." Faith shook her head, "Should we even try to do this?"
Buffy opened her mouth, but nothing would come out. Her face crumpled and she drew her hand back from Faith's leg like she'd been burned. She was shaking. She gave Faith a wounded look.
Faith was hurting inside. She wished she hadn't said that. Steeling herself, Faith held up a hand to stop Buffy from speaking. She ran a rough hand through her hair and stood up to pace.
"I know, B—we'll never know if we can make it if we don't try," Faith laughed without humor, making Buffy cringe. "But we have the potential to hurt each other so bad, and it ain't just us we gotta worry about. You and me, we always get rough, and our friends like to get in the way."
Buffy's shoulders slumped and she buried her face in her hands. She took a few deep breaths to try to find her center, but she knew it was useless. She was too upset by everything Faith was saying. It was more upsetting to know that she had no argument that could hold up against it.
"Faith," Buffy groaned, raking her hands through her hair. "We've been there, and I don't see us letting things go that far ever again. We've done pretty well so far, haven't we?"
"You'd think," Faith said tiredly. "But I've seen people who loved each other tear each other apart, takin' an innocent kid along with `em. And I don't want to go through that again."
"What?" Buffy whispered, unable to say it any louder.
"My ma and dad," Faith choked out, and a faint tinge of bitterness colored the words that flowed out of her mouth, "Even though they both hated me, they loved each other. No one who'd ever seen `em when they were sober could say they didn't. But the minute one of `em got drunk, they'd fuck the other one up. Then one day, dad just left, and ma was never the same after that."
Faith almost flinched at that understatement. She'd always known her parents hadn't wanted her—according to them, she'd ruined their lives. They'd been on the fast track in high school when her mother got pregnant with her and had to drop out. Neither of them had ever touched her out of anger; not until her dad ran out on them and her mother became a stranger to her.
Buffy tried to reach out to her, and Faith flinched back. Buffy let her hand drop and wrapped her arms around her own stomach. She ached to hold Faith, but Faith wasn't having it. Buffy shook her head, hurting and hating that she couldn't make Faith's look of anguished fear go away.
"Your parents had problems just like most couples do," Buffy finally managed to say. "Theirs were just some of the worst kinds that a couple can have. My parents used to argue constantly about everything. That doesn't mean that we're headed in the same direction, Faith."
She could tell she wasn't getting through to Faith. Buffy smiled derisively, because it was all she could do to keep from crying right then. Buffy was confused because for a minute there when Faith had told her she loved her, she'd thought nothing could bring her down. She didn't get how she could have been so wrong, not when Faith had given her that look, that smile, just before.
"Okay, obviously, you need time to decide if we're worth the risk," Buffy continued hoarsely, looking away and missing the confused look Faith gave her. "So, you do that. Take the time you need, but it's gonna have to wait `til we're done here, `cause we have work to do right now."
Faith wanted to object, she wanted to scream in frustration, she wanted to grab Buffy and kiss her to make her shut up. She didn't need time. Faith knew what she wanted; she'd just stupidly wanted to make sure Buffy knew what she wanted, too. But right now, Faith knew that Buffy was right, this really wasn't the time or place to let their personal problems distract them.
Buffy turned to leave. She wasn't going to look back, certain she wouldn't be able to walk away—however temporarily—if she did. She wanted to grab Faith and kiss her until she stopped talking so stupid. Buffy was taken off guard when Faith grabbed her upper arm and spun her around, and her protest at being manhandled was preempted by a pair of determined lips.
Buffy was stunned at first, and then she kissed Faith back with everything she had. She couldn't help it. Faith was kissing Buffy like she was trying to make her take her words back. Her lips were soft, but her attack was fast and demanding, and this was a kind of punishment Buffy would willingly submit to.
Then Faith was pulling away and leaving. All Buffy could do was turn and stare after her, breathless and confused again. Faith paused and looked over her shoulder at Buffy. The regret there made Buffy's chest hurt again, and she wanted to make that go away, but she couldn't.
"We'll talk later, B," Faith sighed. "We got our wires crossed here, and we need to straighten `em out, but you're right. We got work to do and we can't afford to be distracted right now."
And then Faith was gone. Buffy wanted to say "fuck work". She wanted to pitch a fit. She wanted to drag Faith upstairs and lock them inside a room for as long as they could handle.
"Huh?" Buffy finally choked out.
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Escalate the Situation
There was an exchange between Faith and Buffy that Rona hadn't understood. It was something like understanding and sympathy but there was more in there. She guessed it had something to do with the before time, back when it had just been the two of them in Sunnydale. But that was a subject none of the Empowered Slayers were stupid enough to broach within their hearing.
"Aight," Faith nodded. "But if we let you kids do this, then you'll let us do our evaluations and exams without objections afterwards. We don't know what all Aaron has left out of your trainin', and we ain't in the habit of lettin' untrained Slayers out in the field if it can be helped."
"Fine," The two girls said in unison.
Janice reached the curbside and pushed up to her feet to stand. There was a shout of alarm and then the guards outside the warehouse across the road were racing towards their position. Rona just waited. Then as the guards reached them, she finally stood up and revealed herself.
"Guess the boss should've known better than to trust that fucking Brit—oh shit," The greenish-brown scaled demon that was speaking stopped as he spotted Rona, his eyes widening in fear.
It was an interesting reaction. Rona liked it. It was one most of the Sunnydale veterans received these days. There was something to be said for surviving a walk into the mouth of Hell.
"This guy ain't small time. He considers himself the demonic counterpart to the mafia. The Mayor had a deal with him and his crew back in the day. But that makes this a bit easier."
"And how is that?" Giles prompted.
"I have some insight into his habits. The Mayor didn't trust him so he had me do some recon."
They paused next to a manhole and Kennedy knelt down. Vi held back a little, to give Kennedy space to do her thing. Normally, Vi would've been working with Rona, but there had been some rearrangements to accommodate the presence of the younger Slayers. The cover slid off the manhole without the slightest bit of sound, and Vi noiselessly followed Kennedy down.
"Shit, this reeks," Kennedy grumbled under her breath as Vi covered their tracks.
Vi was okay with this arrangement. Kennedy was awesome, as long as she wasn't in command.
"How certain of this are you?" Giles interjected cautiously.
"About as certain as I can be," Faith admitted frankly. "The few references Aaron made to him in his journals kinda reinforced what I already knew; Breh'En is nothin' if not a creature of habit. He still keeps his youngest brother, Eleh'En, nearby at all times and his only bodyguards are his much younger first cousins on his mother's side, Ebeh'En and Weller'En."
"I see," Giles murmured, unsurprised, "I don't suppose you have any thoughts on strategy?"
"I figured on doin' some simple divide and conquer," Faith shrugged, unconcerned.
Her hand blurred as she drove three knives into the map spread out on the table. When she stilled, the silver handles of the knives were still vibrating. The knives were adjacent to each other, alongside a line that went through the Southeast side of San Francisco. Faith grinned.
"By process of elimination, I've managed to narrow down the most logical locations to, here, here, and maybe here. These three are the closest matches I could find to Breh'En's preferences in the areas Aaron routed his patrols away from," She pointed out.
Removing the lanyard from around her neck, Faith tossed the removable disk drive to Giles as she offered, "You're welcome to my laptop if you wanna check for anything I might've missed."
"It wouldn't hurt to be certain," Giles sighed, reluctant to use the machine, even though he had grown used to them over the last several years. "I believe some recon of the area you've outlined might be in order, however. Your instincts are not to be questioned, I've learned."
"Aight," Faith glanced around at the group gathered, "Any input for team configuration?"
"I want Rona with the girls," Buffy spoke up firmly, ignoring the garnered protests. "She's generally levelheaded enough to corral them if either of them gets out of hand."
"Whatever," Kennedy said dryly in unison with Vi's chipper, "Sure thing."
"What's going on?" Vi asked, impatient.
That was when Vi noticed the echoes coming towards them. She nodded, unperturbed. So that was what was going on. She gave Kennedy a reckless grin and hefted her pistol crossbow.
Faith was maybe feeling a little anxious. She and Buffy were alone and Faith wanted to talk, and she could tell Buffy did too, but now really wasn't the time for that. That was the way to get killed. Faith sighed silently and then glanced back up as the front door of the house swung open.
The familiar forms of Breh'En and his posse were revealed as they each left the confines of the house. Faith was careful not to let her demeanor change even as the Slayer coiled tightly beneath her skin. The time to play would come soon enough. She just wanted to make them come to her.
Yeah, for all Faith's talk, she guessed she hadn't really changed as much as she liked to think. Thinking straight, Faith would have chosen a less conspicuous place to observe. Thinking straight, Faith would have kept this outing strictly recon. Instead, here she was, body humming, blood screaming, aching for a fight, and more than willing to escalate the situation into one.
Buffy slipped down off the hood, sliding her body down Faith's side as she did so. Their eyes met in a heated stare. Then Faith shook her head and glanced away. Buffy smiled faintly.
For all Buffy's talk, they both knew she felt it too. Her body was humming with the tension of anticipation. Her blood was screaming with the onslaught of adrenaline. She ached for a fight.
Faith saw that they now held Breh'En's full attention and gave him a smirk. She knew they recognized her from the sudden fury darkening his and his guards' expressions. A casual shift of her arms and Faith pressed the enter key on the Blackberry attached to her belt. The chime confirmed that her page had been sent and Faith shoved off from the car negligently.
"G-man just wants us to do some recon for confirmation, and get back here STAT," Faith shrugged inelegantly. "My instincts are tellin' me that this is it though. It might not be, but if it is, I want you guys to be prepared to go in head first on my sig. I want this thing done, tonight."
"Demon," Faith returned in the same tone.
She stopped a few feet from him and studied his appearance, all Slayer and not hiding it. He hadn't changed at all since she'd seen him last. Not that that surprised her any. Demons of his breed matured in less than six years and unless dealt a mortal wound, they could and would live forever. Breh'En was as old, if not older than Mayor Wilkins had been before his ascension.
"Care to introduce me to your friend?" Breh'En requested with a steely undertone.
"Aw, B," Faith turned to shoot her an apologetic smile. "Damn, seems I lost my manners."
"I wasn't aware you had any," Buffy quipped. "Would you like me to help you look for them?"
"Maybe later," Faith replied suggestively. "You know how Giles is."
"Yeah," Buffy sighed in regret. "All work and no play."
"This is my girl, Buffy," Faith finally told him. "I suspect you've heard of her?"
"Just as I suspect you know that your presence here is not welcome," Breh'En said coolly.
"Damn, man," Faith shook her head, giving him an aggrieved look as she leaned in towards him and gestured towards her heart, "I'm startin' to think you don't like me no more and it hurts."
Before he could respond, Faith blurred forward. One of her knives was buried to the hilt in his heart before anyone but Buffy registered the movement. Breh'En's dying body was crumpling to the ground before his guards even took notice. And Faith; she was grinning the whole time.