Until it Sleeps
'Where do I take this pain of mine I run,
but it stays right by my side
So tear me open, pour me out
There's things inside that scream and shout
And the pain still hates me So hold me Until it sleeps'
"I'm off!" Came a zealous cry from up the stairs, followed shortly by a flurry of feet, denim and black leather. The figure swept towards the door then paused, backtracked to the kitchen and, peering around for any potential witnesses, snatched the two freshly- popped slices of toast from the toaster. "Score.." She whispered under her breath.
Thinking for another moment, she dropped the jacket that was under her arm on the bench, spun towards the fridge, extracted the orange juice and with an audible 'pop', flicked the cap off, raising the full bottle to her lips.
"Taking my toast is one thing-" Faith had only barely managed to pour the juice into her mouth when a soft voice sounded from directly behind her. She jerked forward in surprise and had to work hard at avoiding spitting the liquid out again. "But you know I hate it when you drink from the bottle."
"Jeeeeezus man," Faith hissed, depositing the lidless bottle on the bench next to her jacket. "Don't ya know better than to sneak up on a girl trying to grab a bite on the run?" She scanned the floor for the lid and found it, some five feet away, dangerously close to the ducted heating. "You don't even need toast. Or juice." She stalked over and picked it up. In the five seconds it had taken her to retrieve it, there was, miraculously, a clean glass next to the orange juice.
"I like the idea of it." Angel said, a very subtle hint of obstinacy in his voice.
Faith snorted, filling the glass three quarters of the way. "I still dunno know how you do that - sneak up on me like you do." Angel watched her, silent the whole time. Faith jabbed a finger at her temple. "I think my slayer senses are going senile."
He had to smile at that. "I've been alive for a long time, Faith."
"Yeah yeah yeah." She retorted, downing the contents of her glass in one go. "What, so older? wiser? More worldly ? I dig, big guy, really." The latter was said between two mouthfuls of toast, so came out in quite a different way to that which was meant.
"And very able to get around slayers."
"Huh!" She chewed another mouthful. "You're just lucky you had so much experience when I came along. If I'd been around in your earlier days, you'd've been fertilising some 11th century garden." She flashed him a grin, and slapped his arm.
"I have no doubt."
Faith chuckled and jammed the rest of her toast in her mouth, waving. "Goi' ou'. 'ee 'a a'er" (roughly translated to "bye").
Angel watched her silently until she had reached the door and had her hand on the handle. He had no idea where she was going - since being released there seemed to be an abundance of things to keep Faith busy in LA. Whatever it was, she left happy, and returned happy. That's all he cared about.
Which was why he felt a twinge of guilt when he glanced at the newspaper in the waste-paper can and spoke to her back. "Someone else died yesterday."
The comment stopped Faith dead in her tracks. Angel caught the tail end of a very quiet groan. "What, is this? Cramp my style day?" She quipped, then turned around, swallowing the rest of her toast. "I thought the juice was a low blow but. man, gimme a break. You seen the sunshine out there?"
"Witnesses saw him run headlong into an oncoming truck, screaming."
"Awww man!" Faith's eyes travelled to the ceiling. "Angel! Buddy! Sunshine! Good day!"
"That's eighteen now."
"Fuck. Me.." Faith raised a hand to her forehead and scowled at the ground. "You're not going to let up, are you?" The energy of the morning seemed to drain out of her, escaping through the soles of her boots and into the polished concrete beneath her. Goddamnit. She swore to herself. The day started so goddamn well too.
Angel had been keeping abreast of the situation in Sunnydale through news, and calls. There was something there. Something evil. But not the kind of evil that graced the town's doors every week as part of its penance for being the Hellmouth. This was eighteen lives worth - over a four week period - each person seemingly driven to insanity and finally death, with little or no indication of attack save for a cross-shaped burn on their left temple. They had no reports of large ugly demons, no witnesses of attacks, no way to figure out how long these people had taken to deteriorate into suicidal maniacs... nothing. Empty.
With all their thinking power, the only thread they could find was a diary from the 1400s, that, for some reason, Anya had in her possession. It told of a town of 48 people driven mad one by one, six weeks before the winter solstice. Following the solstice, there was no reference, anywhere, to that town, or any towns surrounding it for another 200 years.
And the 21st December was rapidly approaching, without some reference to what they were facing, there was little they could do but stumble around in the dark and hope they weren't taken next.
Faith had been updated by Angel, piece by piece, for all of those four weeks. It was never going to be easy to talk about Sunnydale with Faith. He had been very careful with his wording - talking about how "they" were going "down there". He never used names. Names meant faces. Faces meant memories. Memories, well they just meant lots of remembering. And right now for Faith, remembering really, really sucked.
So to Faith, that's what the story was. Full of `them's, `they's, and `that place'. Detached, distant. separated from her past by the thin thread that a lack of acknowledgement provided.
Angel had been careful about it alright. He'd done it just in case. well. exactly this happened.
Faith stared up at Angel, and the look on his face told it all. A small sigh escaped her lips, but she caught herself and pretended she was clearing her throat.
"So you're going then."
"Fuck.." Her eyes darkened, then she shook her head, looking up at him. "What can you do though? I mean, they make that slaying shit look good Angel. You know, demon's worse nightmare yada yada." She paused, "..well maybe not this demon. Yet. But that's a definite yet. They'll get it. They always do." She asked again, more softly. "What can you do?"
"I don't know, but Buffy rang me last night and asked me to go."
`Buffy rang me.'
Faith froze. The room suddenly seemed to drop in temperature, and the colour drained from her face. This was the first time he had used a name, and goddamnit why did it have to be that one? She felt a sharp twist in her stomach and clenched her jaw, amazed at how close it was to the real thing.
"Ah." She said flatly.
Angel shook his head. Faith couldn't decide whether it was his way of saying he knew what she was doing, or his disgust at the situation. "They're struggling Faith. This time, they're really struggling. And the bodies keep piling up."
Faith shrugged. "You gotta do what you gotta do, big guy." She said simply, swinging her jacket over her shoulder in a very calculated, flippant move. "I'll wish ya luck. You'll be missed of course. But-"
"She asked for you, too."
Faith had been ready to finish her sentence with some smart-ass comment like 'expect backwash in your juice when you get back', or 'don't expect me to do all your accounting while you're gone' or something of the like. Instead, any form of verbal communication disintegrated on her tongue. Suddenly, she was mute. Not only did Faith not have anything to say, she suddenly couldn't remember how to speak.
"She thought you would still be in prison - she asked me if I could break you out." Angel continued. The tiny smile on his lips at the thought of breaking Faith out of prison was missed by the slayer. Nor would it have been any consolation either, as she tried desperately to gain purchase on the spiraling whirlwhid in her head.
`She asked for you.'
Angel pressed on. "I told her you had been released on parole early for good behaviour." He took a step forward, able to pick through her blankness and extract the fear from the depths of her eyes. "She's not jumping for joy at the prospect either, Faith."
"Huhhhh..." Faith croaked, her throat suddenly exceedingly sore. All his words seemed to penetrate her ears as if he were talking through a padded wall - soft, muffled, barely coherent. Her eyes darted right, then back again, looking for an escape route. This was too much. Too much for her. Too much for now. Names, places and now she has to go there?
Faith turned her back on the pain in her stomach and the whirlwind behind her eyes. With an almost audible `click' in her mind, her shutters slammed down, and she felt the familiar pang of nothing.
"You're fucking shitting me, right?"
"No." Angel replied. He could sense her defences, and a part of him was disappointed. "She asked for our help. Mine, and yours."
"She's lost her fucking marbles." Faith pulled at the chain around her neck, trying to relieve the suffocating pressure she was feeling. Her fingers tightened there on the finely-chiseled silver sword that rested between and just below her collarbones. "I'm not going back there."
Angel tilted his head. "There's nothing stopping you Faith. Just you."
"Hah!" Faith rolled her eyes. "Well just who died and made you fucking Mr. Calm Cool and Collected? Do you know how fulla shit that is? Wake-up sunshine. Sunnydale wasn't exactly my crowning glory. I'm here because of that place." She shook her head. "I'm all for kicking the bad-ass out of me but this goes way beyond that."
"You're looking for atonement, this would be a way to show them how different you are. They're asking for your help."
"Because they're all obviously fucking insane!" She threw her arms into the air and they fell back down against her sides with a slap. The jacket that she was carrying dropped to her feet, unnoticed. "What part of 'I made their life a living hell' doesn't make sense to you? I'm supposed to be getting on with my life, and them with theirs. Carefree, Faith-Free. I mean fuck, could you imagine the shit I'd stir up by going back there?"
"Faith, eighteen people are dead. The last thing they are thinking about is old grudges. Right now I think they would make a deal with anyone but the devil to come to some resolution."
She snorted, crossing her arms. "What, so they're not going to hate me because they'll be too distracted with a demon? You sure know how to make a girl feel special, soul-boy."
"It wasn't supposed to." Angel snapped. With all his infinite patience, sometimes this side of Faith really pissed him off. "This isn't about you, or them. It's about you getting down there because you have the power to help them, and they need the help. People are dying Faith."
"Again with the dying!" Faith growled, and kicked her jacket into the corner. "FUCK!" Fuck she hated when he did that. "Fuck this shit Angel. I swear, if one of them looks at me wrong, I'm history."
"Then you'll be turning around as soon as you get there." Faith blinked. It wasn't quite the response she was expecting. Angel lowered his voice. "It's not going to be easy for anyone Faith. Least of all them. Remember, they had to ask you. You've already got one up on them."
"Well aren't I just the fucking King of the Kids then." She muttered.
"Listen." Angel closed the distance between them and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Faith stared intently at her boots. "You need to have one foot out the door. I understand that. But you can only afford one. Any more and there'll be no point."
"Because you're good Faith." This time, when she looked up Angel was smiling slightly. "You're good. They need you. You can help them and deep down, you and I both know you want to."
Faith snorted inwardly. Back with the `them's and the `they's. Nameless. Faceless. Angel had used the drawcard just when he needed to, and she had to admit, it'd worked.
"What time are we leaving?"
What I've felt What I've known
Never shined through in what I've shown
So I dub thee Unforgiven
"Huh?" Faith blinked away from her thoughts and rubbed her eyes at the stinging that followed. She'd been staring again, obviously. She shrugged. "Sure." Her voice cracked in the way it does when a person hasn't used it in a while. In Faith's case, since about 5 o'clock that evening.
Angel glanced at her from his position behind the wheel, as if to ensure the word came from her. He'd only half-expected an answer. Having tried to initiate light conversation through various meaningless comments, and failing miserably every time, Angel had simply given up. That was the problem with meaningless comments, he reasoned. Anything more and you're trying too hard. Anything less and you'd be talking about the weather.
"We'll stop at the next gas station and grab something."
"Noooo problemo." Faith returned her gaze out of the car window - watching the road markers whiz by, white streaks on an inky road. They were comforting in their regularity. Faith needed regularity. It was the only regularity she would find for the next little while, she knew.
In prison her room-mate had asked her how she did it. Faith kept to herself for the rest of her stay, but not for want of provoking. Twice a day for almost 18 months it seemed that someone was willing to pick a fight with her. The most she would do was look at them, and that happened rarely. All that time, she had only bitten once - having become the centre of attention for one of the longer-standing residents. For Faith all it had taken was a snatch and a sharp twist, and Jack had been on her back in the prison hospital for a week with a dislocated elbow and spiral fracture to her humerus.
So the question was posed to her, the night before her parole hearing. `How do you do it? Shut off and not let it bother you like that?'
Faith kept her answer short, simple - a true reflection of who she was at the time.
`It gets easier the more you practice.' She had answered with a shrug.
People were mistaken in thinking a person who shut themselves off felt the blissful pull of nothing. Where emotions otherwise would be, there was no vacuum. No clean, empty room. Instead, what stood in its place was sour, corrosive; a pathogen that permeated the soul like rust on iron. And like the latter, if left unchecked there was an awful amount of structural damage that could be caused, before even being noticed.
Without care, it would disintegrate altogether.
Faith had lots of practice in prison. More than enough practice in life.but since getting out, she'd been trying not to practice too much.
Sometimes though, you had to do what instinct forced you to do, before you flew apart.
On a parallel line of thought, Angel set his jaw. Sometimes, you also have to ask the question regardless of the answer you know you'll receive, if for no other reason than to show that you care.
"You know me Big Guy. Five by Five."
That was the one and only conversation - if you could call it a conversation - Angel and Faith had before the familiar "Welcome to Sunnydale" flashed past them. Faith unconsciously flinched away from the window, her head snapping forward, her hair following so as to hide the expression on her face.
It was a very small movement but Angel caught it. He knew.
She was tired, and not just because they'd been driving through the night. Since embarking on their drive, she'd felt an enormous oppressive weight descend onto her shoulders. So many different things, so many people - Buffy, The Mayor, Angel, Willow, Xander, Tara, Alan Finch.
So many names.
The acid in Faith's stomach began to boil. The nothingness inside her was starting to fill.
"We're going to stay at a Motel tonight." Angel said. He chewed at his lower lip, then continued. "Buffy is going to meet us there."
Faith chuckled, a hollow, empty sound. "They sure don't waste time."
"Desperate, I know. I get it." Faith yawned. Then in a moment that seemed a complete splice of time, she turned to him. "It's just. seeing her again, y'know? Seeing them all again. like nothing's changed."
Angel nodded. A part of him was relieved that the Faith he knew was still with him.
"Things have changed. A lot has changed." He said. "There's a lot of hurt on all sides, and not a lot of forgiveness. I don't want you to expect things to be the way they were. They've asked you to come, but. they don't want you there. It's not going to be pleasant. But."
Faith flashed him a sad smile. "Protect the innocent, right?" She said softly, "Fight the fight?"
A neon sign appeared out of the darkness.
"Something like that."
As they approached the motel, Angel slowed, flicking the car indicator on. As it was so late there was little sign of life, save for the lights illuminating each door and the cars parked in the lot.
And a lone figure leaning against the bonnet of one of them, a leather jacket pulled tightly across her body, breath steaming in the night.
Time resumed, as did Faith when she caught a flash of blonde hair in the car headlights. Had she been honest with herself, Faith would have realised she had felt the other slayer there before they'd even pulled in. But she had no desire to tap into the comfort of it.
"Gotcha." She said simply.
Angel pulled the car up in a spare parking space and cut the engine. The air in the car was filled with a sort of static - a little preserved time capsule of LA - ready to evaporate into the vastness of Sunnydale as soon as they opened the door. For a second, neither Faith nor Angel seemed confident in being the first to let it go.
In the next second, Faith shrugged. "Well, here goes nothing."
With her air of impervious confidence she pushed open the door of the car and stepped out, closing it - a little loudly - behind her. The night was cold - much colder than she had ever remembered in LA. Each breath turned to steam the instant it left her mouth. The familiar scent of Sunnydale assaulted her nose and she shivered, pulling her own burgundy leather coat around herself, thankful she was wearing jeans and her black boots. Tonight, in LA, she would have been wearing a tank top and shorts.
As Angel quietly left the car himself Faith took a few steps backward and forward, raising her arms up in a deliberate stretch, arcing her body left and right. She knew she was under the close eye of the figure by the car. She didn't even need to look to know.
She let Angel make the first move. Still ironing the kinks out of a body that had been idle for far longer than a slayer's body should, she watched out of the corner of her eye as he walked slowly towards the other figure.
Soft words were exchanged, then they slid their arms around each other in a gentle, caring embrace. Faith couldn't help but feel the corrosive feeling increase within her, and she balled her hands into fists, relishing the feeling of her nails digging into her own palm.
Somehow, in Faith's ideal world, she imagined herself presented to all the people she'd hurt, cured of all her ills like someone would present an old battered car fully restored, shiny, new hubcaps and with a new V8 engine to boot. They would marvel at her, smile at her, and welcome her in. It would be as easy as that. She wouldn't need to ask, they wouldn't need to say a thing.
Now, on this cold December night, on the crest of yet another potential apocalypse, a couple of years later and with nothing to show but the word of a vampire, she was reuniting with one of them at a Motel. And not just anyone - Buffy. Buffy. Faith looked down at herself. She didn't own any new clothes, new makeup, new anything. Same face. Same person.
Not exactly the start she had in mind.
More words, and a key was handed to Angel, which he took, scanning the doors to find the correct one. He nodded, then his eyes fell on her.
She detached herself further.
Slowly, deliberately Faith stepped off the gravel and onto the decking. Her boots clicking against the wood as she approached them suddenly seemed to be the only sound in the night. Angel nodded very carefully - perhaps in a silent vote of confidence for the dark slayer. Faith didn't know. Until she was barely 8 feet away he was positioned directly between them, but then he stood aside - revealing them finally to each other.
Buffy looked up.
It was a moment that could define itself - like this small exchange was the only reason that little pinch of time was created. Faith's skin began to crawl - itching with. something unknown. Buffy looked older. More. weathered, but still the same. Her hair was perhaps a little shorter. Tied back a little tighter. She wore a black leather jacket, a white shirt and jeans. The boots Faith remembered. The rest. well, Angel said things had changed.
Three years of heavy experience weighed on Buffy's features.
"Hey Buffy." Faith broke the silence. Always the one. Always the one to make the first move. She grinned. "Long time."
"Faith." Buffy's voice was strained. Tired. "Thanks... for coming."
Ooo.. Faith thought. That woulda hurt.
"No sweat, B." She replied lightly. Buffy flinched at the name, only just enough for Faith to notice. "Any chance to fight the good fight, y'know."
Faith caught Angel wince and turn away. Buffy opened her mouth to say something, then apparently thought better of it. She looked up at Angel.
"Let's get inside. We've got a lot to-" She glanced at Faith "-Talk about."
Realized I can never win
Sometimes I feel like I have failed
Inside where do I begin
My mind is laughing at me
Tell me why am I to blame
Aren't we suppose to be the same
That's why I will never tame
This thing that's burning in me
I am the one who chose my path
I am the one who couldn't last
I feel the life pulled from me
I feel the anger changing me
`Angel, I just. I'm stuck.'
`What do you need Buffy?'
`Can you come?' A pause. `I mean, I know it's a lot to ask but.'
`Thankyou.' A pause, then a sniff. `God. it's so hard here.'
`It'll be fine.'
`I need to ask you something else-'
`What is it?'
`It's big. actually it's huge. Actually on the scale of favours I think it just about tops-`
`How hard would it be to break someone out of prison?'
A smile. `Not too hard, actually.'
`Wow.that.wasn't quite the answer I was expecting.'
`Faith's out of prison, Buffy. She was released six months ago.'
`Released?' Another pause, then an unsure `Faith was released?'
`Yes. She's living with me.'
`Wow.' Muffled voices as a hand went over the receiver. Then back. `Is that wise?'
`They thought so.'
`Do you think so, Angel?'
Silence, then `Yes, I do.'
`We're desperate, Angel. That's the only reason-`
`Xander's dead against the idea. Tara, Anya and Dawn don't really know her. and Willow and Giles. well I think they're just as desperate as me.'
`It's not going to be easy for her, either Buffy.'
A short, bitter laugh. `She'll love it that we've asked for her help.'
`I don't think she will.'
A sigh. `Would she come?'
`I.don't know.' Pause. `I'll try.'
`We're all staying in the house.'
`I don't think that's such a good idea.'
`We have no choice. This thing is beyond any of us. Angel I don't want her in my house, but that's the way it needs to be. No separation. And-`
`-You don't trust her.'
`Of course not. None of us do. Enemies closer, remember?'
`She's not your enemy any more, Buffy.'
`Not for the first night.'
`I'll book a motel. I'll meet you there.'
`If I can get her to come.'
`If you can.'
`I'll talk to you later.'
Pause. `Thanks, Angel.'
The three of them sat in a triangle in the motel room. Angel on the bed, Buffy in a chair by the door, and Faith in the second chair opposite buffy, arms flung over the side and legs crossed. Buffy had updated them as much as they needed, but the truth was they already knew most of it. She'd been talking with Angel almost nightly in the last week. working up the courage to ask the question, that brought them all here.
"They've almost translated the diary. There's just a few more paragraphs." Buffy said. "The problem is that there's. it's a language that doesn't seem to derive from any one particular one."
"That's odd." Angel pressed his palms together. Buffy nodded.
"Odd, and very hard to translate. Willow and Giles have been working almost every day since we found it."
More names brought into the fray.
"How is Red? And the big G-Man?" Faith asked.
Angel looked at Faith in warning. Buffy linked her fingers together and clenched her jaw.
"You can ask them yourself when you see them, Faith." She said icily.
Faith pretended to ponder that comment. "I'll do that."
"Should you really have been standing alone out there?" Angel asked softly, changing the subject. It worked. Buffy's lips curled into a tiny smile. Ever the protector was Angel.
She shook her head.
"It's only ever `struck' around the city. At least.. that's what we think. Besides. I'd take the most effort for it."
"Has anyone actually seen this thing?" Faith asked, then added "You know. someone who's actually alive to tell us what it looks like?"
Buffy just didn't have the energy to bite at Faith's flippant tone. She simply shook her head. "No. I've been chased by it a couple of times. I've tried to shoot at it, but nothing works. It's like." Her brow furrowed at the recollection. "It's like a shadow. I don't know - it just appears. It doesn't seem to move anywhere."
"Well shit." Faith crossed her arms and leaned further back against the chair. "So what's the plan?"
"We're still. trying to figure out what it wants. We don't know what it is, and until we do we can't kill it."
Faith blinked. "Since when?" She leaned forward and regarded her carefully. "Since when did we ever have to know about something B? What happened to kill first, ask questions later?"
Buffy sighed and rubbed her forehead. It was clearly a question she had asked herself a hundred times over.
"I can't get to it. I can't seem to kill it." She said in resignation. "I've tried. It's just... never where I want it to be."
"Ah, but now I'm here." Faith wiggled her eyebrows. "And the game's changed."
Buffy smiled, a grim, pale smile, but one nonetheless. For only an instant, Faith felt a connection with the better times in her past, when she and Buffy worked together. When they were a team, and, strangely enough, when she felt most alive.
Then the smile was gone, and the moment over.
"Everyone has been staying at the house. There's a lot of room there." Buffy looked at Angel expectantly, and he nodded. Faith caught the interchange.
"I heard about your mom." She offered, perhaps still clinging to the vestiges of her semi-pleasant recollection. "I'm sorry-"
Buffy's eyes flashed, reaffirming the end of it.
"Let's not-" She interrupted, holding up a hand. "-get into details we can't get out of."
Faith knew it was her way of saying, `stay out of the past so we can get through the present'. Faith understood, although a part of her regretted that Buffy hadn't let her finish. She really did like Joyce. She was sorry she had died. Unfortunately she also understood there were some things she would never be able to give Buffy. Sympathy was one of them.
She wondered silently if an apology was another.
"Sure, whatever makes you happy."
The second look Faith received left no doubt in her mind that right now, there was nothing about this whole situation that was going to make Buffy happy.
"Stay here tonight, get some sleep. Meet me at the house tomorrow at 7pm and we'll sort out the rest."
"Whoa-" Faith's eyes darted between Buffy and Angel. "-you weren't serious about that whole, `staying together' thing, were you? I mean, what a way to put the fox with the hounds!"
"Or the fox with the chickens." Buffy said quietly. "Depends which way you look at it, Faith." Faith opened her mouth to say something more, but Buffy cut her off. "Whichever way, that's how it needs to be. This thing is bigger than any of us. We need everyone together in case." She trailed off, but left no doubt in her meaning.
"We understand, Buffy. We'll be there." Angel said.
"The hell we do!" Faith stood up from her chair. "The hell we will!" She stared at Angel incredulously. "You said I was here to help. You said nothing about rooming with them!"
"That's how it needs to be Faith." Angel echoed Buffy's words, which annoyed Faith even more.
"Fuck that!" She spat. "They can all go play Brady Bunch as much as they like, but I'm not fucking buying. I mean, let's be serious here. Buffy-" She curled her lips into a snarl and stalked towards the older girl. Angel leaned forward, and Buffy recoiled back into her chair as Faith leaned close to her ear. "How would you feel sleeping next to a psychotic murdering bitch?"
Just the sound of Faith's voice so close to Buffy's ear sent a shiver down her spine, that she concealed. Faith had always been about the physical reactions. Always using herself as a weapon. Buffy had been prepared for this.
"We're way too busy with fighting a demon to worry about attacking you, Faith." Buffy said neutrally. "I only hope you feel the same." Faith pulled back, instantly frustrated she hadn't been able to illicit a reaction. Buffy shrugged. "If we defeat it however, then that's a different story." She then fixed Faith with a very fiery glare. "You'll be gone by then anyway, so it won't matter."
Faith stalked back and slumped into her chair, scowling at the wall. "Yeah, sure, whatever."
"I think it's best if we all get some sleep." Once again, it was Angel's voice that was the knife slicing through the tension. "Is there anything else we need to know Buffy?"
It was an invitation to leave, and a look of relief instantly passed across Buffy's face as she stood up.
"No, I think you know it all now. Hopefully, the rest of the diary will be translated by tomorrow night and we can start doing something more than sitting around."
"Hopefully." Faith repeated in a low mutter.
"We'll see you tomorrow, Buffy." Angel said, ignoring Faith's comment. Buffy nodded, opened the door and stepped out, closing it quietly behind her. Angel and Faith listened to her retreating footsteps, and continued to listen until they heard the whirring of a car engine starting.
Instantly, Faith was up, stalking backwards and forwards between the door and the first bed.
"I need to get outta here." She said, running a hand through her hair. "I gotta go gut something."
"That's not a good idea, Faith." Angel said quietly. "Not right now."
"Fuck good ideas!" She snarled. "Fuck it all. This is all just fucked up Angel!" She shook her arms, trying to release some of the tension in them. "I shouldn't have come here."
"You're here now."
"Fucking hell! I hate this place!" She stalked over to the bed and slammed her fist into the mattress. Angel didn't flinch even though the punch landed barely an inch from his leg. "FUCK."
In a lightning fast move, Angel grabbed the sleeve of Faith's jacket and pulled her down to his eye level.
"I don't care how you do it Faith." He hissed. "If you need to beat me then beat me. But you need to get rid of this, and you can't do it out there."
Slowly, a sneer grew on Faith's face. She tilted her head back, her hair brushing against his shoulder, then reached up with her other hand and closed her fingers around his neck.
"You want that, big guy?" She whispered seductively in his ear. "You want me to beat you?" In a swift movement she was out of his grasp. She swung her leg over his, landing squarely in his lap, then lifted both legs up and locked them behind his back. "You want that?" She asked again. She pulled herself forward, grinding against him. "What about this?" Faith leaned in and took his earlobe in her teeth, biting down on it. "I bite too." She breathed.
Her hand, still on his neck, began to clamp down. Her other hand snaked up between his shoulder blades to the back of his head, her fingernails digging into his scalp.
Anyone else would have been a whimpering ball of putty right now.
But Angel. Angel made no sound.
He never did.
With a guttural growl of frustration Faith leapt off him and stalked around the bed, glaring at him the whole way. Angel didn't meet her eyes, just continued to stare ahead at the wall.
"This isn't you, Faith." He whispered. "You don't need to do this."
Whether or not she heard him, she showed no indication. Instead, she had flung her coat onto the second bed and was stretched out above the ground beside it, pumping out the first of what would be hundreds of push-ups for the night.
Angel looked down at his hands.
Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
I will hold the candle till it burns up my arm
I'll keep takin' punches until their will grows tired
I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind
Hey I won't change direction, and I won't change my mind
How much difference does it make
-- Pearl Jam
The mood in the Sunnydale household had been sombre all day, as if they were waiting for some kind of expected natural disaster to strike them all down.
Well, it was close.
Buffy was strained to the limit - as they all were - but Buffy moreso. Her meeting with Faith was surreal. Surreal and dangerous. The girl was like a giant pressure cooker with its own gravity, drawing everyone in around it before exploding. Buffy couldn't deny that she still felt it. She could feel Faith coming down the highway in that car. She could remember in vivid detail how she had walked towards them at the Motel. The clothes she was wearing, the expression on her face.
Most of all Buffy remembered the heat of Faith's breath against her ear as she'd tried to threaten her into keeping her out of the house. It was just like old times, all those games they played with each other. Pushing at each others' boundaries. Faith thought she always had the upper hand with Buffy, but Buffy knew the buttons to push too.
All this she had left out of her `blow-by-blow' description of the meeting to the others. Wandering down memory lane where Faith was concerned may as well have been dancing the Waltz with Death itself. Despite it all, Buffy couldn't escape the fact that each time she looked at Faith, she felt the anger, the hate, the mistrust.
Most of all the betrayal.
"Will I have to hug her hello?" Anya asked, breaking into Buffy's thoughts. She looked genuinely concerned.
"None of us will be hugging her, Anya." Willow said sharply.
Buffy closed her eyes and turned her head to the ceiling. "Guys we agreed." Her tone was almost pleading. "We agreed we'd give this a shot."
"At trying to kill a demon!" Willow stared at her. "But there was no hugging mentioned."
"I can't believe I'm actually going to get to meet her." Dawn whispered to Tara.
"It's not something you should be excited about, Dawnie." Buffy intercepted the comment and regarded the two embarrassed glances from Tara and Dawn. "She's." She struggled to find a word.
"Evil incarnate?" Xander offered.
"..not what I had in mind..."
"A cold-blooded killer?"
".Dangerous." Buffy kept her eyes on Dawn. "She's dangerous and unpredictable. And untrustworthy."
"And going to be on your doorstep in, ooo-" Xander looked at his watch. "Five minutes! To stay for a while! How do we all feel about this? Anyone?" His gaze swept the room. "Anyone?"
"Let's just. stay on track shall we?" Giles addressed the group for the first time that night. "We've got a lot of work to do. We made the choice to ask her here, and now we need to deal with it."
Giles, not surprisingly, was one of the group more actively opposed to the idea of bringing Faith back to Sunnydale. However, maturity had taught him that once a decision has been made, it was easier to just make the best of it. Unlike Xander, who was still sulking and fussing like a spoiled child.
As if on cue, there was a knock on the door, and the room suddenly seemed to come alive with seething tension. Buffy left a lingering look on them all, one by one, then turned to get the door.
Her fingers closed on the handle and she shut her eyes briefly. The implication of what she was about to do bore down on her with the weight of a tonne of bricks. She was letting Faith back into her home. Faith, the one who betrayed and nearly killed them all.
The one who killed a man.
The one she nearly killed.
Buffy made a sound of disgust in her throat and twisted the doorhandle. The door opened to reveal the two individuals who were going to either make or break this fight. Who would either make or break the entire group.
"Hi Angel. Faith." Buffy said quietly, looking down and stepping away from the entrance. "Come in."