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Welcome to the Jungle

by Shamrock



Challenge: Cave Slayers
Rating: A healthy European 15 for now
5 Thing Minimum: A Full Moon; Food (gross as it was); Shelter; Wool Blanket; A Minor Injury; Girl/Girl
Thanks: Everyone at Oralfxatns for the support/intimidation. Special thanks to Eden for the super-speedy and infinitely helpful betaing.

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"Buffy," Satsu kept her arms spread wide at waist height, speaking slowly and calmly and trying to appear as non-threatening as possible, "just wait a minute, okay?"

Buffy cocked her head, regarding the other Slayer silently. She paused briefly, balancing on the balls of her feet, and everyone in the hall knew she was ready to bolt. Xander shifted the gun to shoulder height, trying to line up a straight shot, while Kennedy attempted to circle around and block the door. Catching sight of this movement, Buffy growled and launched herself forward. Satsu sprang to meet her, but found her outstretched arm yanked painfully backwards as the Slayer lunged past her and out the door. A tranquiliser dart thudded harmlessly into the thousand year old oak, Xander's shot missing its mark.

Satsu hissed a muffled "shit" as she cradled her arm to her chest, a sentiment Xander readily agreed with. From the other side of the room, Kennedy regarded him wearily.

"What now, boss?".

He sighed and lowered the gun. "Assemble search teams. We need to get out there before she has a chance to put some distance between us. Divide the girls into teams of four and spread out over the grounds. Here's hoping she won't want to stray too far from familiar territory. Cover the gardens and the forest around the castle first - report back to me as soon as you spot anything."

Kennedy nodded and headed to the command centre, leaving Xander to tend to Satsu.

"How bad is it?"

"My arm or the fact that Buffy's lost it?"

"Buffy's lost what?" a puzzled Willow asked from the doorway of the castle. "Is it important? Cause she went running past me like her pants were on fire. She didn't even say hi, and I know I've only been gone a couple of days but that's still time enough to miss me, right? It's not like I... hey, what happened to your arm?"

"Hey Will," Xander mustered a small smile for his friend. "Of course, we have totally missed you and your unique rambling style, but we've got a problem."

"So nothing new there." Willow steeled herself and walked over to the other two."Okay, what've I missed?"

Faith dumped her jacket in the hall and headed for the fridge. It had been a fruitless evening of slaying - not a damn vampire in sight - so she'd called it a night, and now all she wanted now was to crack open a cold one and kick back infront of whatever crap she could find on tv. Except the fridge was devoid of foamy beer goodness, and she was sure there'd been at least a couple of cans there before she left this evening.

"Yo G!" she called as she made her way into the living room. "You got any of that JD lying around? Seems I'm all outta-"

She stopped when she saw Giles sitting on the couch, draining the last of a can of Budweiser. "Giles? You're drinking beer? American beer?" She frowned. "You hit your head or somethin?"

"Ah, Faith. You're home earlier than I expected." He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, stifling a belch in the most British way possible.

"Patrol was a no-go. Place is completely dead, and not in a 'fun for Slayers undead' kinda way." She threw herself down in the chair across from him and gestured to the empty cans. "So what's with the guzzling my stash?"

"I found myself rather in need of a drink." He raised his eyes to meet hers. "I received a phonecall from Willow not long after you left."

Faith froze. Sure a call from HQ could mean any number of things, but very few of them were good. Fewer still could drive Giles into the arms of the 'King of Beers'. She hated herself for having to clear her throat before she could speak.


He nodded before catching the look on her face and hastening to correct himself.

"She's perfectly fine, in a manner of speaking. She hasn't been harmed - at least not physically."

Faith relaxed only slightly, "Any time you wanna cut to the chase here is fine with me, G. What's going on?"

Despite the incredibly sour taste in his mouth, Giles found himself wishing there was more beer. "It would seem that Buffy has become somewhat... devolved, and-"

Faith cut him off with a raised hand. "In American, man."

"She has reverted to an almost primitive state."

Faith still looked blank. "In dumb American?"

"She's acting like a cavewoman."

"Like, 'Me Tarzan, You Jane' kinda cavewoman?"


"That's..." Faith's brow furrowed for a moment, then a grin crept across her face. "That's fuckin' hilarious!" The grin became an outright smirk, with a chuckle to follow. "Please tell me Golden Girl's swinging from trees and shit?"

"She may be doing any number of things. She escaped from the castle twenty-four hours ago and no-one has been able to find her since."

"Oh man," Faith wiped a tear away and attempted to bring herself under control."Priceless. But why'd they call you? Don't the Super Friends got all that fancy uber-slayer mystical technology and whatnot?"

"They do, however none of it seems to be able to track her. According to Willow their locator spells can't pick up her trace. It would seem whatever has affected her has altered the very essence of who she is, making it nearly impossible to find her through magical means. They've had no better luck with any of the military technology they've acquired.

That's why," Giles shifted his gaze to an innocuous enough stain on the wallpaper, somewhere over Faith's shoulder, "that's why they've asked that you travel to Scotland to assist them."

Faith's laughter immediately died on her lips.

"How many of those have you had, G? Cause you're starting to talk kind of crazy."

"Willow believes she has a way to track Buffy. She was vague on the details but made it clear that your presence would be required to-"

"No way in hell." The Slayer's tone was low and dangerous. She rose from the chair and stalked to the window where she began to pace in a tight arc. Giles kept his gaze averted as she continued to rant. "You expect me to stroll into a castle full of people who hate my guts just so's I can track down a woman who hates my guts and will probably beat me to death soon as I do find her? The fuck?"

There was silence for a moment before Giles tentatively spoke. "I'm fully aware that relations are somewhat... strained, between us all at the moment." He ignored.

Faith's snort of indignance at the understatement. "That's why I truly believe that Willow would not have come to us for help if she saw any other way of rectifying the situation."

Faith stopped pacing and looked at him almost pleadingly. "Giles..." her voice was small, but she managed to control the shake in it, "I can't."

He finally met her gaze, and the understanding in his eyes was evident. "You can. I don't think it will be easy for you, and I can't guarantee our reception will be friendly, but you've proved time and again that you're capable of great deeds... even in the face of those from whom you'll receive no thanks for what you do. In these last six months you've helped a dozen girls who would have abused the power and the responsibility that comes with being a Slayer. None of those girls asked for your help, and many of them still resent you
for it, but that hasn't stopped you - why?"

Faith folded her arms, hating that he was right. There were more than a couple of Slayerettes out there who'd still happily take a swing at her for interfering with their lives, even if it was to try and steer them off the path of self-destruction that Faith herself was all to familiar with. They might hate her for doing it, but she persevered, and would continue to do so, as long as she thought she was doing right by them in the
long run.

And that was just the point, wasn't it?

"Because it's the right thing to do." She growled out a frustrated sigh, running her hands through her hair. "And now because you're the King of the Watcher guilt trip I guess we're going to Scotland."

"I've booked us two tickets for a flight in the morning. And I most certainly did not 'guilt trip' you, I merely reminded you of your better qualities and noble nature."

"Don't push it, G."

He responded with a wry smile. "Perhaps I'm just coming to know you too well."

"The fuck you are. If you knew me all that well," Giles had to duck as a cushion came at his head, just short of full Slayer force, "you wouldn't have drank my damn beer."

In the cemetary of a small Scottish town, the blonde figure crouched on all fours over the freshly turned earth. She could sense... something. She couldn't name it, but then she couldn't name anything now, and names were no longer important. What lay under the ground was familiar to her, and made her blood run hot. She nosed the soil, seeking the source of the scent, growling low in the back of her throat. She could hear movement, taste death on the air. Suddenly the earth shifted as a hand clawed its way out of the
grave. The Slayer sprang backwards, taking cover behind a neighbouring headstone.

The vampire emerged in full game face, shaking dirt from his clothes.

Newly-turned as he was, he could feel a presence close by, and every new sense he possessed, every
ounce of superhuman strength and power told him to run for his life, or what remained of it. He got
no further than the next grave before she was on him like an animal - teeth and fists and fury. The two rolled over the damp grass and came to a stop with her on top. He tried to throw a wild punch in the direction of her face, but she clamped down on his arm with her teeth and bit in until she felt bone crunch. The sound satisfied her, urged her on, and she brought two hands to the terrified vampire's head, twisting until a clean snap broke his spine, and a final flick of her wrists took his head off. She roared her triumph, but it was short-lived as her prey crumbled to dust underneath her. Confused, she raked her hands through the grey silt she knelt in. She was the hunter with no prize, and she felt unfulfilled. With a final cry, of victory and of warning, she leapt to her feet and loped off, pure instinct driving her onwards towards her prey.

The Slayer moved through the night unquestioning - no sense of duty or obligation bound her now, she had no desire to fight the forces of darkness for the sake of a safer world.

She wished only to hunt that which she knew to be her enemy... and to kill them.




Faith stole a sidelong glance at Giles as they followed Willow up what must have been the seventh staircase they had ascended. The Watcher was trying, inefficiently, to hide his nervousness - if it weren't for the fact that he would have been left blind as a bat, those glasses would have been thoroughly polished by now. Instead he was fidgeting restlessly as they trudged up the steep set of steps. Faith caught his eye and tried her best at a reassuring smile. It came out sickly and wan, but he appreciated the effort.

They had been met just outside the castle with a curt "thanks for coming" from the redheaded witch, and now she was leading them to the boardroom where Xander waited with the senior Slayers.

No one had said a word since they got inside and the silence was starting to make Faith itch. What felt like hours later, they came to a halt outside a door that looked just like all the others in the impossibly long corridor. Willow placed her hand on the doorknob and paused, turning to face them.

"I'm sorry things aren't more welcomey." She spoke to Giles but flicked a look at Faith. "Things are kind of crazy right now and everyone's worried about Buffy, but we really are glad you guys came. I wouldn't have asked but..." she trailed off and shrugged.

"Got no choice but to call in the second string, huh? 'S cool, what we're here for, right?" Faith aimed for nonchalant but it came out bitter.

"We're-" Giles interjected before the atmosphere became any more unbearable,"we're happy to help Willow, in any way we can."

"Thanks," she said quietly, and opened the door.

Xander was standing on the far side of the table, arms crossed, leaning against the wall. Kennedy and Satsu sat at the table, watching intently as the other three made their way into the room.

"Guys," Willow greeted them and moved to stand at the top of the table. Giles and Faith took the two seats furthest from the others, and Xander took his place just to Willow's left. After a few seconds of weighted
silence Faith cleared her throat.

"Alright, 'fore we get down to it let's just get this out of the way." She had everyone's attention, but still no-one spoke. "I got a couple dozen places I'd rather be right now, and I'm bettin' you wish I was, but the sitch calls for it so here we are. You don't gotta like it, I sure as fuck don't, so whatever we gotta do, let's just get it done and I'll get gone. I know last time me and Buffy ran into each other-"

"You mean when you tried to kill her?" Satsu cut in, eyes flashing. "Again?"

Faith took notice of the Asian girl for the first time. Arm in a cast or not, she looked like she'd happily leap across the table and strangle her if the opportunity arose. Faith returned her glare unflinching.

"Funny that, don't seem to recall you being there. Matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I don't know you at all, and I'm damn sure you don't know me so how 'bout you shut the fuck up and we keep it that way, yeah?"

"Faith," Kennedy turned to her with a warning. Satsu was halfway out of her chair when Xander's hand on her shoulder stopped her. "We don't have time for this." His voice was gruff as he pinned Faith down with his good eye. "Faith, try to lay off the pissing contests til you've been here more than five minutes, alright? And Satsu, could you please not alienate the only person we know who has a shot at getting Buffy back?"

Satsu said nothing, but sat back into her chair and settled for glowering at the older Slayer. Faith, however, wasn't done.

"Nah see, this is what I'm talking about. Some of you," she narrowed her eyes in Satsu's direction, clearly indicating the girl was not one of that 'some', "got a right to throw whatever shit you want my way. I know what I've done and I've earned that from you. All's I'm saying is you asked me to help, and I'll do whatever I can to get your girl back, but it's gonna be a lot easier to do that if we can put the rest of this shit aside."

"Agreed," Willow asserted. "We need to stay focused here. We need to find out exactly what caused this, and then we need to find Buffy. Everything else can wait."

"What exactly do we know so far?" Giles asked, as much to change the subject as to gain an understanding of the situation.

"We know that Buffy has devolved to a primal state. From what I've been able to tell there's been, to quote Xander, a 'disturbance in the force'. The energy that governs all the Slayers has been disrupted somehow,
still a little fuzzy on the details of that somehow, but we're hoping that's the first part of where Faith can help us."

"Got a whole castle full of Slayers here, Red - why me?"

"We've tried with the others, their connection to Buffy is too weak. They're one step further removed from the source of her power than you are, we hope by using your energy in the spell I'll be able to get a better
idea of what exactly caused this."

"It's not perhaps an unfortunate recurrence of that incident with the beer?" Giles queried. "If someone got a hold of the formula from the Sunnydale campus bar..."

"Nah, that CaveBuffy was all 'tiny people live in my tv and I'm amusingly confused by the modern world", Xander spoke up. "This CaveBuffy's more like... well, remember the freaky dreams with the First Slayer?" Giles nodded. "Buffy's like her, only a bazillion times scarier."

"Me and Satsu's arm attesting to that," Kennedy agreed.

Giles frowned as he turned to Willow. "Then perhaps... well, you say that it somehow involves the power of the Slayer essence. It wouldn't by any chance be some sort of unforeseen reaction to calling the potentials into full slayerhood? A side-effect we hadn't considered, or-?"

"Why does everyone assume that as soon as the wacky starts happening it's one of my spells gone wrong?" Willow demanded. "I've done hundreds of spells that have totally helped everyone out, but what do you guys
remember? 'Oh, that time she made me blind' or, or 'she set a troll loose in the Magic Box' or-"

"Willow!" Giles hurried to interrupt her righteous flow. "I do apologise, I meant no offense." She humphed, but calmed down a little. "So how is it that Faith can help?"

"We'll do the same spell I tried with the other Slayers, hopefully with Faith's energy in the mix I can get to the source of Buffy's transformation. Once we know the exact cause I can find a way to counter it."

"Alright then," Faith stood and clapped her hands together. "Let's go make some magic happen."

"Here boy!" a thick Scottish accent rang out across the field. "Pilot! C'mon boy I don't have time for this."

The man blew onto his hands in an attempt to ward off the worst of the October chill. A full moon shone overhead as he walked along beside the thicket that, minutes ago, his dog had charged into. He let out a
sharp whistle and heard an answering bark from deeper inside the trees.

"Come *on* you mangy bastard, let's be getting home."

From twenty feet away he heard a rustling of leaves and snapping of branches and he sighed in relief. "About time you little bollocks, you'd have me running after you all night - let's go home fella." He started to walk towards the noise when suddenly it stopped, and he heard his dog growling deep and low. "Pilot?" he slowed, feeling a chill creep up the back of his neck.

"Pi-" he froze completely when he heard an answering growl emanating from the darkness. It was the ugliest sound he'd ever heard - hate-filled and menacing. It was quickly followed by a furious spate of barking, and then Pilot emerged up ahead.

The dog had barely cleared the thicket when a bulky form sprang from the cover of the trees and, swinging one clawed hand ahead of it, caught the dog easily in its grasp. Hideous orange eyes turned in the man's
direction as he stood, unable to move for the fear that paralyzed him. It took the sickening sound of his beloved animal being impaled on an impossibly long, impossibly sharp claw, to move him to action. He screamed and ran as the demon began to feast.

The forest echoed with louder growls as the rest of the pack came to join him.

"Well?" Xander asked hopefully as Willow and Faith emerged from the empty training room they had used for the spell.

"It worked, uh, really well actually. Totally have all the info I need now to start working on a cure," Willow said, a little too brightly, and a little too falsely. Faith just looked vaguely amused.

"So?" the young man asked. "Don't keep us in suspense here, Will?"

"It, uh... it... itmighthavebeenbecauseofthespellthatidid," she confessed in a rush. "But there was no way I could have known - no way any of us could have known really. I mean, it wasn't in any of the books... not that a whole lot of books have a chapter on activating a whole bevy load of Slayers anyway and hey - when was the last time any of you saved the world with magic?"

"Baby, it's okay," Kennedy wrapped an arm around the older woman. "You didn't do the spell, we'd all be mushy Turok'Han fodder by now anyway. It's not your fault. Right guys?" She glared at the others who hurried to agree.

"Absolutely. As you say Willow, we couldn't have known what would happen. The spell was unprecedented and, well, quite brilliant really. As long as we can indeed find a way to restore Buffy to her usual self, I'd say
you could still call it an unmitigated success."

"Thanks Giles," Willow squeezed Kennedy's hand. "Sorry guys."

"We're good here, buddy," Xander reassured her. "One question though: why now? I mean, we did that spell a year ago - that's one hell of a knock-on effect."

"The answers I got were more Wikipedia than Websters, you know what it's like trying to talk to energy spirits on the astral plane." Giles smiled understandingly while everyone else looked blankly at them. "It's uh... kinda gooey," she explained. "Anyway, what I got was that in doing the spell we essentially overloaded the circuits."

"There are circuits? The Slayers are run by computer?"

"It's an analogy, Xander."

"I knew that. Continue oh analogous one."

"When we activated the Slayers the energy didn't just surge into them, it also surged back to the source, making the original force that imbued the Slayers more powerful."

"Fascinating," Giles said eagerly, "that would appear to completely contravene the Law of Conservation. One would assume that the energy created would have been-"

"Whoa, whoa," Faith stepped forward, "hate to derail the fun philosophy train but Buffy's still running around all Wilma out there. You wanna give us the Cliff Notes version, Red?"

"Right, of course," Willow looked abashed, but for a minute there it had been nice to have Giles taking part again. Just like old times."Basically, the source of the Slayer's power became stronger after the spell,
and now it's taken Buffy over - she's working off of the very essence of what it is to be the Slayer, completely primal."

"Again, why now?" Xander said. "I mean if this source got all mega-powerful a year ago why not jump Buffy's psyche-bones before now? "

Willow frowned. "They weren't clear on that point, so I'm not exactly sure. Although, it would make sense that if Buffy experienced a moment of psychological weakness or somehow let her spiritual guard down, this
force would have had an easier time gaining control of her."

"Okay," Xander mused, "so what's happened to Buffy recently that hasn't happened in a ye..." His eye landed on Satsu. "Oh."

"What do you mean?" Willow followed his gaze and blushed deeply when she saw Satsu shift uncomfortably. "Oh."

"Somebody wanna clue me in here?" Faith looked between the two highly embarrassed Scoobys who made no move to answer her.

Kennedy sighed. "Buffy and Satsu banged each other."

Giles let out a strangled cough as Faith's eyes widened, then narrowed in on the Asian Slayer. "You?" she pointed to Satsu. "And *Buffy*?" her tone was incredulous.

"What of it?" Satsu growled out. She was already uncomfortable enough with the whole situation, not to mention the fact that sleeping with her had now apparently caused Buffy to devolve into some sort of subhuman superhuman. Last thing she needed was this dark, leather-clad woman with whom Buffy had way more history than Satsu was comfortable with, calling her out on the fact.

There was silence for a few deathly moments, then Faith snorted. Try as she might she couldn't stop herself and within seconds was laughing uncontrollably. Satsu bristled, but Faith held up a hand to ward her off.

"Hey, don't mean no offense. This is priceless though. Man," she wiped away a stray tear, "this day just keeps getting better and better."

"And what exactly," Satsu asked in a dangerous tone, "is so damn funny?"

"Oh..." Faith eventually got herself under control, but she couldn't keep the smile off her face. "Sorry kid, don't get me wrong on this, I gotta lot of respect for anyone who could manage to pull the stick outta that
girl's ass. But christ, B just can't catch a break with any of her first times, huh? Her boy goes all soulless and evil, she turns into a cavewoman. Huh, maybe I'm starting to get why she was always so damn uptight."

"As much as I would love to continue this appallingly uncomfortable conversation," Giles was in serious danger of cracking a lens, "I believe we can agree that we have established what caused Buffy's moment of,
erm, distraction, so to speak. Can we please now forget we ever heard this and move along to finding a way to rectify the situation."

"I'm with the repressed British guy." Xander nodded.

"Alright," Faith regained her calm and turned to Willow, "okay, I'm good. So what's next? You said you figured a way for me to track her, right?"

"Em, yeah." The witch shook her head, trying to clear the sudden mental fuzzies. "We do, now you're probably not going to like it, so bear with me..."

An hour later everything was prepared and Willow joined the others on the front lawn of the castle. Faith stood, arms crossed, watching her apprehensively.

"Red you sure about this?"

"Sure as I can be. I'm sorry I can't give you more than that but we're working with the bare minimum here. Given more time I could maybe perfect it..."

"But we don't have time with Buffy running around alone out there." Xander finished.

"That part I get, it's just," Faith blew out a breath. "Well... fuck it: Me and Buffy in the same room on a good day ain't exactly a barrel o' fun. You sure you'll be able to step in when we start going all prehistoric cave-rage on each other?"

"We've got it covered," Kennedy gestured to the tranquiliser guns that she and the team of ten Slayers were carrying. "You can totally trust me to shoot your ass down."

"Not the ass," Faith quirked an eyebrow Kennedy's way, "I'm rockin' my good pants here."

"Okay," Willow held up the bracelet tracking device and Faith extended her hand for her to clip it on to the Slayer's wrist. She turned to the team of Slayers standing by. "One last time: I inject Faith, we do the spell, she follows Buffy and we follow her. As soon as you have a shot at Buffy, take it. Time is of the essence here people." Everyone nodded their understanding.

"On that note," Giles glanced worriedly at Faith, "what exactly is this 'relaxant' that you'll be injecting her with, Willow?"

"Nothing to worry about Giles, it's a pretty simple compound to lower her mental barriers enough for the spell and the source to take hold. Just a mild mixture of lysergic acid, diethylamine, phosphoryl chloride-"

"Good god, woman."

"Yeah Will, not phosphoryl chloride!" Xander mocked. "Why the wiggins, Giles?"

"You're injecting her with LSD?"

"*Mild* LSD." Willow said soothingly.

"Getting a little nostalgic there, Ripper?" Faith grinned at him. "Relax, man. I got a habit of getting high to save the world, just ask Angel."

"Yes, well," Giles huffed. "Just please be careful, won't you?"

"As always," Faith assured him. "Now let's get this bitch rollin'.'"

Willow stepped forward and inserted the needle into Faith's neck as gently as possible. She depressed the plunger and watched as the Slayer's jaw tightened. Stepping back, she began to chant the spell, calling on
the power that charged all the Slayers to focus on the one. Tendrils of pure light swirled in the air in front of the witch as she tied Faith's essence to the one controlling Buffy. The light shifted colour as Faith's eyes darkened, her fists clenching. With a final intonation Willow stood back and clapped her hands sharply. The light dispersed leaving Faith standing and the others holding their breath in a terse group as they waited for her to make a move.

Clean. Everything was too clean. The grass underfoot was shorn and tamed, where she longed for it to be wild. To her left, a monstrosity stood, reeking to her of stone and humanity, sparked with magic which curled her lip in fear and distrust. The woman in front of her stank of magic, of otherness. Behind the woman were others like her, she felt their connection, but stronger than that she felt a pull to the west. From the direction of the trees, she felt the call of battle, she felt the pull of violence . She sensed her tribe.

The grass, the castle, the people - all meant nothing to her now. Turning on her heel, Faith leapt forward and sprinted for the trees. The cadre of Slayers took off behind her, trying desperately to keep pace, while
Willow, Xander and Giles followed up the rear.

"Well I guess that worked?" Xander panted as they covered the rapidly increasing ground between them and the Slayer.

"I guess we're going to find out," Willow forced out before all three fell silent and tried to conserve their breath.

In the distance, Faith plunged into the forest, a feral snarl escaping from her lips as she raced towards Buffy.



"Good Lord," Giles exclaimed as they entered the clearing. Kennedy and the Slayers were standing just inside the ring of trees, having been brought up short by the scene in front of them.

There wasn't a blade of grass that wasn't covered in blood or bits of demon.

Giles tried to guess how many lay dead before him, but considering how they had literally been torn to
pieces it was hard to form a reasonable estimate. At least ten of the beasts still remained though, and currently they were circling the two Slayers who stood back to back in the centre of the clearing.

Buffy looked more feral than even the snarling demons. Her hair was tangled, slicked back on her head by the sweat that beaded her face. What scared Willow though, even more than the sight of her best friend with smears of blood tracked down her face and arms - some her own and some the thicker orange of the wounded demons - was the look on Buffy's face as she leapt for the throat of another beast. There wasn't a trace of fear in her eyes, nothing resembling her usual controlled style of fighting. Willow had seen Faith cut
loose while Slaying, she'd seen the slightly terrifying look of pleasure on the other girl's face while reveling in her own bloodlust, but Buffy was making that look tame in comparison.

Her jeans, by accident or design, were now torn off above the knee, and at some point she had discarded her shirt leaving her now in just a blood- and sweat-stained tank top. If she hadn't been surrounded by snarling, salivating demons, it might have been amusing just how much she resembled a Survivor contestant. As it was though, her joyous grin as she impaled a demon on a hastily snapped off tree branch left Willow feeling cold, and for the first time, truly afraid of the power that her friend wielded.

"Do we take the shot?" Kennedy asked, tranq gun wavering between the two Slayers and the demons who were stalking them.

"No!" Xander cut across her quickly. "Everybody, hold your fire." It was too risky - take the Slayers down now and they'd be defenceless against the demons.

Kennedy dragged her eyes away from the... she could only think of it as a slaughter, to look to Xander and Willow. "Do we help?"

All of the other Slayers were tensed, finding it hard to stay still and not rush into the midst of the battle. They had been well trained though - by the woman currently fighting with the zeal of a berserker - and they awaited their orders, no-one breaking ranks.

"I don't think you're going to get the chance," Willow replied as yet another demon fell, this time under Faith's hands as she viciously smashed its head into the ground. The dark Slayer had come late to the fight but seemed intent on making up for it. She whirled amongst the claws and fangs without hesitation, using the bulk and weight of the lumbering demons against them. As the creature she had just despatched twitched in its death throes, the other animals fell back, making way for the largest, darkest of the beasts to step forward, advancing on Buffy with its fangs bared.

The Slayer turned to meet it, her hands curling into fists as she waited for the demon to make a move. The pack leader rocked back on its haunches, muscles tensed in readiness to spring. Buffy still waited, unmoving, even when it launched itself forward, jaws snapping for her throat.

Faith met it in mid-air, tackling it from behind. The two tumbled over, Faith manoeuvering so that they landed with the demon underneath her and her elbow in its stomach. The beast howled, a noise cut short by Buffy's hands closing on its throat. The other demons slunk backwards, watching to see their leader's fate. Buffy kept it pinned down as Faith grabbed a flailing arm, snapping its wrist just above one wickedly
curved claw. Grabbing that claw in both hands Faith drove it downwards into the soft flesh just below the demons chest. The demon gave an unearthly shriek as the claw pierced its own heart, sending the other demons scurrying for the trees when they saw their leader fall.

Within seconds the two Slayers were on their feet to pursue the remaining three beasts. Seeing that this could be their only opportunity, Xander gave the order.

"Take aim!"

Five of the Slayers dropped to their knees, guns pointing at Faith, the other five stood behind them, sights trained on Buffy.


Ten darts were fired simultaneously, and if Giles hadn't been there to see it for himself he would have had a hard time believing what happened next.

Faith leapt straight upwards, grabbing an overhanging branch and pulling herself into the leafy canopy overhead. Using her momentum to jump to the next tree, she was soon out of sight as she ran across the linked branches of the forest, ignoring both the flimsy support they gave her and the long drop to the ground beneath her.

Buffy was too far from the trees to use them for cover. Instead she jumped and twisted as soon as the shots were fired. Sweeping both hands impossibly fast across her body, she came away holding four darts. It took the stunned Slayers a moment to notice the fifth one - clamped safely between her teeth. She dropped the tranquilisers, bared her teeth at her attackers, then took off in the direction Faith had gone, hot on the trail of the demons.

"Only got one eye here so I'm happy to be corrected, but did they just go super-Matrix on us?" Xander asked. "No way they should be able to move that fast, right?"

"Yes," Giles said. "It appears you would be correct, Willow, when you say that the source of the Slayers' strength has been made even more powerful. That display was most impressive."

"Uh, guys?" Kennedy raised her hand. "We're still down a couple of original-flavour Slayers here."

"We've got Faith's signature." Willow passed the handheld tracking device to Xander. "I doubt we'll be able to catch up with them but we should be able to follow them easily enough."

"Then let's go." Xander and the Slayers moved out ahead, leaving Willow and Giles following just behind. They fell into step, hanging back from the main group slightly.

"I meant what I said earlier," Willow glanced quickly at him before turning her eyes back to the path ahead. "It really is good to have you back, even if it is for a short, mid-crisis visit."

"I will always help in any way I can, Willow, you can rest assured on that. No matter the circumstances between Buffy and myself, you can always call on me."

"I know," she smiled a little. "But that's a two way street mister - you have my number too."

He returned her grin and nodded. "I'll admit I've been lax in keeping in contact. I'll work on that."

"Good, 'cause, well, whatever's between you and Buffy is down to you guys to work out." Willow's expression tightened a little. "But when you left... well, you didn't just leave her y'know."

Giles stopped, placing a hand on Willow's shoulder to turn her to face him.

"I do know," he stressed his point with a light squeeze of his hand. "And I miss you - all of you, terribly. Given the current situation between Buffy and myself though, I don't think my presence in Scotland would do much to benefit any of us."

She nodded. "I know, and you're probably right. It's just that, even if Buffy doesn't think she needs her Watcher, I still need my Giles."

Giles' stiff upper lip quirked slightly. Sometimes he was still amazed by how easily, and how very deeply, a group of people he once thought of as 'irritating children' could move him to his very core. He resumed walking, wrapping his arm around Willow's shoulder.

"And you'll always have me, I promise you that."

Side by side they quickened their pace to catch up with the rest of the group.

Buffy and Faith caught up with their prey twenty minutes later. The three demons had made it back to their lair - a vast warren of caves running from the edge of the forest back into the depths of the mountain range. Although the beasts were more familiar with the territory they had been racing through, the Slayers had followed their scent easily.

Now they were deep in the cave system, just around the corner from the demons. Ragged breathing echoed throughout the high-ceilinged den, the demons' bodies having been pushed to the limits by the fight with
the Slayers and their subsequent race through the trees.

Faith went to step forward but Buffy extended her arm to stop the other girl. Silently, she gestured to the far side of the opening into the chamber, and Faith nodded. Blending in with the shadows, almost becoming a shadow herself, Faith glided across the cavern floor until she and Buffy framed the entrance. The depths of the cave were pitch black, but Faith could see well enough to catch the glint in Buffy's eyes as she nodded her signal.

The Slayers moved - they dragged down a demon each while the third tried to scramble to safety. The two weakened beasts were despatched easily, and the remaining one, cornered and terrified, panicked. It leapt at Buffy, clawed hands swinging. She easily evaded its grasp and swung herself around onto its back, arm locked tight around its throat. Faith dove for its legs, tackling it to the ground.

They hit the stone floor hard, further winding the already struggling demon. Buffy's grip on its neck tightened while Faith straddled its chest, pinning its clawed arms to the ground. It took two minutes for the last of the demon's breath to leave its body. All the while, Buffy grinned down into its struggling face, eyes gleaming with the power she held.

When they were sure it was dead, Buffy rolled out from under the corpse, stretching out her cramped muscles. Faith still knelt by its head, and reached out a hand to touch the dried blood on its scaly face.

With a growl, Buffy sprang forward, pushing her away from her prize. Faith fell back on her ass, hands spread to stop her fall. A surge of anger shot through her when the blonde's hands made contact but she made no move to retaliate. Buffy was The Slayer - the kill was hers.

Buffy crouched over the dead demon and ran her hands almost lovingly down its body. Faith watched carefully as she pulled back a fist and plunged it into the demon's chest. With a loud snapping sound she drew her hand out, clutching the still warm heart tightly in her fist. Raising it reverently to her lips she inhaled deeply, taking in the coppery scent, then sunk her teeth into the muscle. She squeezed her fist, sending blood flowing down her throat. Buffy licked her lips once then turned to Faith, offering her the
prize they had both earned.

Gratefully, Faith extended her hand and took the heart, mirroring Buffy's actions. As she threw her head back, Buffy moved closer to the other girl, gently scenting the air around her.

This dark woman was one of hers, Buffy knew her scent and - more than that - the aura of power around her spoke of a Slayer. Intrigued she began to circle the other girl slowly, keeping her face close to the heat of Faith's skin.

Faith tensed as Buffy moved out of sight behind her. She could feel the back of her neck prickling in response, feel the sweat breaking out on the palms of her hands as she teetered between fight and flight. What overpowered all of this though was the pounding sense of connectedness and familiarity, and in the end that was what won out for her. Faith relaxed her muscles, consciously trying to convey the fact that she was no threat. She bowed her head, exposing the vulnerable arch of vertebrae to Buffy's gaze.

The blonde Slayer combed her fingers lightly through Faith's hair, bringing her hand to rest on her shoulder. Buffy felt the shiver that ran through Faith's body, sensed the pulse of heat and want that her touch caused. She dropped to her knees beside the other Slayer, bringing their faces level. Faith watched her with darkened eyes, not quite meeting Buffy's gaze but keeping her focus on the relatively safe area around the blonde's lips.

Swinging her hips around, Buffy straddled the other girl, grabbing a handful of hair and pulling Faith's head back. She lowered her mouth to the exposed skin of Faith's throat and bit in lightly, just enough to start a small amount of blood beading. Faith whimpered but made no move to pull away. Encouraged, Buffy drew her head back, forcing Faith to look her in the eye. Grinding hard against her, Buffy pulled Faith in, crushing her
lips in a kiss that left teeth and tongue hurting. Faith finally responded and ran her hands up under Buffy's shirt, scraping her nails down the muscles of her back, and causing the blonde to arch more firmly into her, groaning her appreciation.

The skirmishes with the demons had brought about two distinct and not entirely unrelated desires for the Slayers. With hungry taken care of, there was only one more need to be fulfilled. With a low growl, Buffy pushed Faith down, flat on her back, and the dark haired girl submitted. After all Buffy was The Slayer - and Faith was hers.



Buffy came to with a jolt. As soon as she opened her eyes, she realised three things in quick succession - none of them were good.

Firstly, she was chained to the wall in the dungeon of the castle. Secondly, she was completely naked apart from the thin woolen blanket someone had wrapped her in. Lastly, Faith was chained to the wall beside her, and the blanket that was trying valiantly to cover her nakedness was slipping from her body as the dark Slayer thrashed in her sleep.

For one glorious but all too brief moment, Buffy was thoroughly confused.

"Oh God."

Then she remembered.

Five Hours Earlier:

Xander led the Slayers into the mouth of the cave system. Faith's signal had stopped moving three quarters of an hour ago and everyone was now on edge, listening out for the faintest sound of either Slayers or demons.

Kennedy and the others had reloaded the tranq guns, and all of them were walking with one finger on the trigger.

They continued on in silence for twenty minutes or so, until Satsu held up a hand from the front of the column of Slayers. Her arm was now almost completely healed, and she was as eager as any of them to find Buffy before... well, after the exhibition back there in the clearing, a plethora of worst outcomes were running through her head. She had every faith in Buffy's abilities as a Slayer, but Satsu had also seen the look on Buffy's face when she got back from England, after Faith had tried to drown her. If the two of them turned on each other - *really* turned on each other, with no holds barred, no conscience to tell them when to stop - Satsu wasn't sure who'd come out on top, and she had no desire to find out.

"You hear that?" she whispered to Kennedy who had stopped beside her. The other girl nodded, tilting her head towards the passage to their left, deeper into the caves. The faint sounds of a struggle echoed down the tunnel.

Willow, without the benefit of Slayer hearing, moved to the front of the group and shot a questioning look at her girlfriend. Kennedy pointed down the tunnel in reply, and they moved out silently, weapons at the ready. As they approached the entrance to a larger cave, Kennedy and Satsu led Willow and the others slowly around the corner.

Satsu successfully managed to stifle an angry cry at the sight that awaited them. For a moment, Willow thought she was reacting to the three dead demons in the centre of the room, until she looked beyond them and saw the Slayers.

Buffy had Faith pinned to the wall, one hand holding the younger woman's two over their heads, and at first Willow thought they were mid-fight. Then she noticed they were both naked, and Buffy was grinding against Faith in a distinctly non-violent way. The small grunts and groans emanating from the two women mixed with the sound of Faith's back scraping against the rough stone wall dispelled any potential non-'walking in on
your best friend having primal cave sex with her part-time nemesis' explanation and Willow hurriedly dragged her eyes away from the pair.

As the rest of the group filled the entrance to the cave, Giles couldn't quite stop the startled "Bloody hell" that escaped him, and broke the trance that everyone else seemed to have found themselves in.

Faith's eyes shot open at the sound and she growled at the intruders. Pushing a startled and confused Buffy aside, Faith sprang forward, putting herself directly in front of the blonde as she charged at the group.

With a satisfied grimace, Satsu fired two darts in quick succession, hitting Faith in the thigh and shoulder. She managed another few steps before the drugs took effect and she crumpled to the ground. Buffy reacted with an outraged cry and made it to the fallen girl before Kennedy's darts found their mark. Buffy fell to one knee beside Faith as her vision started to blur. Reaching out one hand, she grasped Faith's arm before everything went black.

From the entrance to the cave, Xander was trying desperately to look at anything except the two naked bodies in the middle of the room. He hastily pulled a couple of blankets from the supply pack on his back and handed them to two of the younger Slayers, who moved to cover Buffy and Faith.

"Now I'm as big a proponent of girl on girl porn as anyone here but uh..." he shrugged helplessly, tilting his head in Buffy's direction, "Anyone else hankering for the days of her brooding over vampires and us *not* seeing her mid-... y'know, every couple of weeks?"

"Technically last time was post-'y'know'," Willow replied as she gently checked both Slayers' vitals. "And personally, well - Faith's a lot prettier than Spike."

"Thanks Will, any fear of embarrassing myself in public with bulging pants has been entirely taken care of by that mental image."

"If by any chance we could return to the castle post-haste, where we can restore Buffy and Faith to their usual selves, and immediately start repressing all memories of what we've just seen, I would be most grateful." Giles was staring fixedly at the gleaming glasses he was polishing, both for the comfort of having something to do with his hands, and the blessed relief of not being able to see a damn thing.

"Agreed." Satsu tried not to let her eyes linger on Buffy's body - particularly not on the bites and scratches that she knew weren't caused by demons. "Let's get her home."

Four of the Slayers hoisted the other two on their shoulders and they all began the long, and mostly silent trek back to the castle.

"Whuzza?" Faith sat bolt upright, causing the blanket to slip completely from her torso.

A second later than she should have, Buffy dragged her eyes away and stared at the corner of the ceiling overhead. She heard Faith rattle the chains that bound them both, briefly testing their strength, and then silence as the same memories came rushing back to the other Slayer.

"Aw, fuck me."

Buffy risked a quick glance to her left. Faith was staring at the floor while what looked suspiciously like a blush made its way up her neck.

"Not the most appropriate choice of words, Faith."

There were a few prolonged seconds of heated silence.

"Long shot here," Faith cleared her throat, still not able to look at Buffy,"but by any chance could you maybe have some sort of memory loss? Amnesia? Anything like that?"

Buffy pulled the blanket tighter around herself. "Nope," she shook her head,"it's all there in instant replay, surround sound and glorious technicolour."

"Everything, huh?"




The two lapsed into another awkward silence. Buffy tried desperately to think about anything other than what happened in the caves - she dredged up Giles and her Mom, dead puppies, every Owen Wilson movie she'd ever seen - but on the fifth replay of her clamping her thighs around Faith's head as she came hard under the other Slayer's tongue, she gave up on trying to get the full-body flashbacks under control and settled for trying to distract herself.

"So what happened?" she asked Faith.

"Come agai-? Shit, I mean... say what?"

"This. Me. The whole 'Predator on speed' vibe, do we know what caused it?"

"Oh, right. Yeah, Willow's got it figured that her spell to activate all the potentials kinda super-sized whatever it is that makes us Slayers all slayery. So when you and uh... Shi- tzu? Sushi?"


"Her." Faith ignored the warning in Buffy's tone. If there was one thing that could made this already chock-full-of-uncomfortable situation even worse, it was bringing up Satsu."When you two got down and dirty, the 'Original Slayer' or whatever took you over. Made you go all PCP Flintstones."

"I - okay."

"Giles explains it with more words, I just picked up the gist," Faith said, mostly to fill the returning silence. Conversation was uncomfortable, but silence was filled with thoughts and images that Faith was trying real hard not to be thinking and imagining.

"So what's your excuse?" Buffy nodded to her.

"For getting in touch with my inner cavewoman?" Faith shrugged. "Willow said it was the only way to track you down. Did some spell that worked off the whole Slayer connection thing."

"So you volunteered for this?"

"Wouldn't say 'volunteered' when you got Giles pullin' the pep talk on ya. Doesn't leave a girl with much choice."

"Well, lack of gung-ho not withstanding... thanks."

Faith shrugged uncomfortably. "S'no big."

The conversation was teetering again on that precipice of mortification. Buffy tried to regain some balance, and hopefully some dignity.

"So Willow says we were, what, 'taken over' by this Slayer power, right?"


"So then," Buffy shifted a little, trying to get comfortable without losing her grip on the thin blanket, "we wouldn't really be responsible, as such, for... anything. It's not like we were in control. I guess what I'm saying is - what happened, well that wasn't really us, right?"

"Too fuckin' right that wasn't me." Faith was quick to jump in.

"Yeah," Buffy surprised herself with a faint but definite pang of disappointment at the scorn in the other woman's tone. "Right, 'cause you're not-"

"-a bottom? Hell no. You think me in my right mind would be lettin' you play top dog?"

Buffy smiled in spite of herself and looked over at the other Slayer. Faith was grinning at her - a full on, force ten, dimples and all, shit-eating grin - and just like that the tension was gone.

"Funny, didn't hear you complaining."

"Wasn't particularly able to talk."

"Well if you insist on having your mouth there."

"I meant the 'having no language' not able to talk. Ya perv. And from where I was standing, or... kneeling - I wasn't the one doing the insisting."

Whatever Buffy was about to say was cut off as Xander opened the door to the dungeon, very slowly. His head peeked around the corner, one hand covering his good eye.

"Is it safe?"

Buffy waited for Faith to pull her blanket up a little higher before answering."As it's gonna get, Xander."`

He carefully spread his fingers to check for himself. Seeing the two Slayers were as decent as he could be, he sighed in relief and entered the room. He was carrying two sets of clothes which he laid down beside them. Taking a key from his pocket he gently unlocked the cuffs from their wrists.

"Thanks X-Man." Faith rubbed at the chafed skin on her wrists, only now starting to feel the rest of the aches and pains all over her body - some more pleasant aches than others.

"No problem. I'll leave you guys to..." he gestured at the piles of clothing,"uh, yeah. We're up in the main boardroom when you're ready to join us."

"We'll be right there," Buffy assured him.

Xander nodded, turned and left the room, completely unable to look either woman in the eye.

The two Slayers shared a brief smile, then reached for the spare clothes, dressing in a silence that was comfortable now, before making their way upstairs.

The tension evident in the boardroom when the two Slayers entered was quickly dispelled by everyone's relief at seeing Buffy back to her normal self again.

"Welcome back, Buff," Willow greeted her with a hug. When she pulled back she held on to Buffy's shoulders and peered at her intently.

"Checking for signs of caviness?"

"I'm pretty sure my spell managed to counteract all the symptoms," Willow released her friend, apparently satisfied with what she saw. "But I'm sure Giles will happily replay the 'unforeseen consequences' speech if you want."

Buffy looked across the table to her former Watcher. "Hi Giles."

"Buffy," he nodded to her. "It's good to see you've recovered."

"So we're good?" Xander addressed Willow. "No more cave slayer or freaky primal possessions?"

Willow shook her head. "All clear."

"Well then," Giles stood from the table and motioned to Faith. "As long as there's nothing else we can do, we should gather our belongings and try to catch the afternoon flight out of Glasgow."

"You could-" Buffy stopped herself, fighting down the rush of conflicting emotions. She wanted to tell him to stay, and at the same time she wanted to yell at him to get the hell out. In the end she settled for a lame "We could get you a private jet, if that'd be easier."

"Thank you, but we already have a return flight booked. Besides, I've discovered Faith has a fondness for those airline peanuts and I'd hate to deprive the poor girl."

"This from the guy who asked for a second beef wellington when we flew outta London." Faith smiled at him. "The hell *is* a beef wellington anyways?"

"Beef and pâté baked in pastry."

A number of surprised looks were turned Xander's way.

"What?" he shrugged. "I'm acclimatising."

Giles placed a hand on Faith's shoulder and turned to Willow. "We'll find you before we leave."

As the two of them left the room, Satsu was approaching down the corridor outside. She passed Faith with a barely concealed glare, at which the older Slayer merely rolled her eyes. There was a time when she would have called the other girl out on it, started a fight just for the sake of getting under someone's skin. Now though she just didn't have the energy - the last couple of days were starting to catch up with her and she found herself, for the first time, thinking of going back to Cleveland as going home.

But then she found herself thinking of Buffy.

Satsu knocked briefly on the open door and Xander gestured her into the room.

She stood ramrod straight, hands clasped behind her back. "Kennedy's asking for you in the training rooms," she said to Willow.

"Thanks, Satsu. I'll head down now. Xander?" she gestured for him to leave with her.


"Don't you have that thing now?" she shot a meaningful glance his way and he nodded knowingly. "Right. The thing. That is elsewhere. I'm on it."

As he passed Buffy he squeezed her arm gently. "Good to have you back, boss."

Then he and Willow exited the room, leaving Buffy and Satsu alone. The Asian Slayer maintained her 'attention' stance, determined not to be the first to speak. Buffy sighed and moved to sit on the edge of the table beside the other girl.

"I'm sorry about your arm," she began by way of an apology. "Does it still hurt?"

"Not as much as seeing you with her."

Satsu surprised herself with her own honesty. She hadn't meant to be quite so blunt, but after everything that she'd heard about Faith and everything that had happened recently with Buffy, it had been too much for her.

Buffy nodded, crossing her arms over her stomach. "I'm sorry you saw that."

"But not sorry it happened?" Satsu's eyes were searching Buffy's face for the faintest trace of what she was hoping to see. It wasn't there.

The blonde Slayer shook her head. "Not entirely. But then this isn't about Faith, is it?"

Satsu's shoulders slumped, the fight going out of her. She turned and perched on the table beside Buffy.

"No. This is about me."

Buffy reached over, covering Satsu's hand with her own. "I'm sorry if-"

"Don't," the younger girl interrupted. "Please don't apologise."

"Don't get me wrong," Buffy caught her gaze. "I'm not sorry that it happened - not at all. It was beautiful and I don't regret a single moment. But I am sorry if I hurt you."

Satsu nodded, trying desperately not to cry. She knew what she needed to do, and right now she needed to be able to say this.

"I'm in love with you. And I need to *not* be. That can't happen with you right in front of me."

Buffy frowned. "What are you saying?"

"That I need distance." She squeezed Buffy's hand. "I need to leave."

"I hope you don't think you have to," Buffy said after a moment's pause. "But if that's what you want..."

Satsu wiped a hand across her eyes. "It is. If uh, if that position's still open in the Tokyo team I was thinking I'd apply."

"It's yours - if you're sure you want it."

"I do."

Buffy stood and pulled Satsu into a tight embrace, kissing the other girl softly on the cheek. "Thank you."

Satsu managed to smile through the tears that were now falling freely.

"I guess I'd better go pack."

Buffy watched her leave the room and allowed herself a moment to regain her composure.

Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself to go and find Faith.

She was putting the last of the few clothes she'd taken with her into a duffel bag when there was a soft knock at the door. She didn't answer, didn't need to as Buffy entered the room quietly. She stopped in the middle of the floor, hands deep in her pockets.

Faith zipped up the bag and turned to face her. "Hey."

"Wow, I really know how to inspire a packing frenzy."

"Giles has his tweeds in a twist, wants to catch the next flight out so we can redeye it to the States."

Buffy just nodded, searching for the words she wasn't sure she had.

"You could..." she took a breath, exhaled slowly. "Do you have to leave so soon? I mean, I know Slayer Central isn't exactly your scene but... I feel like we have a chance here, to start putting some stuff behind us, you know? When we were fighting together, on the same side, that felt right. And it's nice to know our base instincts don't solely consist of beating the crap out of each other. If you wanted to, you could stay?"

Buffy meant it as an invitation, but it came out sounding like the plea that it was. Faith had to look away from the open vulnerability in the other girl's eyes. Here it was - the one fantasy that, even more than the slow screw on a moonlit beach somewhere or the quick hard fuck up against a cemetery headstone, had gotten her through night after night in prison, the one thing she had wanted more than anything: Buffy goddamn Summers offering up forgiveness and a second chance.

"I can't."

Buffy's face crumpled, and Faith could literally see her walls coming up. She hurried to explain herself.

"B, I don't regret a thing that happened - 'cept maybe for that whole 'eating a demon heart' thing 'cause seriously? Wicked gross. But everything with you and me - the fighting on the same team again, the kicking demon ass... the ridiculously hot sex? No complaints here."

The smirk and raised eyebrow earned a smile from the blonde Slayer.

"You're not so bad yourself, F."

"Seriously, I'm not looking to run away from anything here. And yeah, some day you and me are gonna sit down and hash this out, but I'm not ready for that. Not yet. I've spent five years trying to figure out how to be in control. I'm still trying to figure that out. And I just can't do that if I'm here."

"You can't do that if you're with me."

"You drive me nuts, B, always have." Faith grinned at her briefly before her expression sobered. "I'll know I'm getting somewhere when I can trust myself around you. When I'm not gonna want to pound on you or jump your bones depending on what day of the week it is. I just... I need time, to figure this out for myself, to- fuck, I dunno."

"Be cookie dough."

"Say what?" Faith's brow furrowed.

"Nothing," Buffy shook her head ruefully. "It's just... I get it." She managed a small smile.

She took the few steps that separated her from Faith, bringing her hand to rest on the other girl's cheek.

"Just know that when you're ready - if you're ready - you'll always have a place to come home to here."

"In a great big castle at that." Faith raised an eyebrow at her, half-teasing. Buffy smiled and, taking that smile as an invitation - not needing an invitation - Faith took the final step to close the gap between them, bringing her lips to the other Slayer's.

Buffy who, in her young life had experienced more than her fair share of star-crossed love and bittersweet romance found herself thinking that she'd never kissed anyone quite like this. It was an end and a beginning all in one, and if she could freeze one moment in time this would be it - before anything had begun or ended, and everything just *was*. Just her and Faith, and lips and tongues and heat.

When they broke the kiss, Faith's eyes were glistening with unshed tears, and Buffy found she couldn't speak.

"See ya round, B."

Faith took the last few steps to the door, not looking back, just pulling it gently shut behind her.

When the latch clicked into place, Buffy was alone.

And for the first time in over a year, she was just fine with that.


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