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Chapter Twenty One

Cleveland, Ohio

June – November 2003

Buffy and Faith talked. They talked much more than they had ever talked before, now that they had stopped the worst apocalypse yet – together – and had less stress on their shoulders knowing there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of slayers all over the world helping them out. They had more time to think, and the more they thought the more they needed to share. Not to mention the fact that they were living in the same house, serving as a daily reminder to each other all the things they hadn't been able to realize or say.

Faith, one to quickly tire of someone else trying to probe her insides, surprisingly showed growth by accepting that part of their new lives was being honest and open – more than they had in the past, anyway. Or maybe it was just that now was the time it was all finally coming out. There were certainly catalysts.

One day in particular, they had just gotten back from slaying an entire nest of Orfal demons. They were pretty heinous; each had two heads and bled an acidy concoction that could eat through flesh in a few minutes. Faith was feeling guilty, because she had almost let one take off Buffy's head in the few seconds before she realized what was about to happen and sliced the thing in half. That should've made up for the blunder, but Faith was Faith, and she was momentarily vulnerable.

"I'm really sorry B, that almost went horrifically wrong."

"Key word being 'almost.' Stop apologizing Faith, I'm alive because Slayer senses kicked in and you saved me in the nick of time. No big." She shrugged, a warm expression on her face.

Faith sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "Can't help it. Guilt trips are my specialty."

They stopped beneath a tree on the way up to the house. The last of the fading light caught their hair, making it glow. Lightning bugs danced around them.

"Faith." Buffy waited for the other woman to look at her, who knew she was gearing up to say something important. "You can only brood for so long. Guilt will just keep you from doing your best, which takes self-confidence and strength. Both of which I know you have." Something playful sparked in her eyes. "I'm not saying forget about the past completely, but… Grow from it."

"I'm trying." She paused, debating whether or not to continue. She looked at the ground. "…All the things I did to you, I know you've still gotta have some unresolved..." She shook her head and looked back up, trailing off. Or maybe that's just me.

Buffy held her gaze, her eyes conveying depths unfathomable. She reached out as if in slow motion and gently touched Faith's face, the whisper of a caress, holding back so much more. When she spoke, her tone was impossibly soft. Almost painful. "You have no idea how I feel."

Before Faith could react, she turned and walked away into the house.



Faith brought the spear up horizontally with both hands to block the attack from Buffy. She pushed it forward, putting her weight behind it, throwing Buffy a few steps back. Faith charged forward, jabbing the spear in the direction of Buffy's mid-section. The other Slayer rolled out of the way and popped back up with another weapon in her hands that she grabbed off the training room floor. Now wielding a sword and a dagger, she spun both smugly and advanced on Faith. The younger woman backed up a few paces, waiting for Buffy to make a move and trying to figure out her plan of attack.

No one else was as fun to spar with.

Buffy swung the sword in an arc to Faith's left while bringing the dagger down and up to her right, leaving her with few options. She instinctively threw herself straight down to the floor, reaching out with both hands and grabbing Buffy's ankles, yanking her down as well. She landed with a thud on her back, her arms splaying out. Faith jumped on top of her, raising the spear and pointing it down at her chest.

"Game over, B." She grinned playfully and shifted her weight, throwing Buffy a suggestive look. She could feel the heat the other woman was giving off through her clothing.

"I don't think so, F." Before Faith could second-guess her, Buffy brought both hands together and chopped the spear in half – twice – with both of her weapons, the spear itself sliding harmlessly off of her and onto the floor, and then flipped Faith into a forward roll over her head. She followed her, intending to gain the upper hand, but Faith quickly rolled away and stood, grabbing the shortened spear. It wasn't like Buffy to willingly break weapons during training. She must've really needed some release today.

Buffy was on her feet and coming towards her. She felt her feet moving backward, the other Slayer's intensity making her want to acquiesce for a reason unknown to her. She felt the spear piece slowly sliding out of her suddenly slick hand and she grabbed onto it more firmly. Buffy was eyeing her intensely.

Faith felt her back bump into the wall and she jumped slightly. She hadn't thought it was so close. She didn't move. Buffy swiftly raised both her weapons. She felt the tip of the dagger lightly resting on her pulse point, which had quickened quite a bit, while the cool metal of the sword crossed over it and rested on her collarbone. She shivered and prayed she didn't notice.

Sweat coated both women in a sheen as they tried to steady their breathing, and Faith's eyes flicked to the reflections from the light catching on Buffy's skin. She was very aware of her proximity, and how with every breath she took she could feel the firmness of her body.

She swore she felt Buffy press her thigh harder against her.

The spear slipped out of her hand and clattered onto the floor.

Neither woman blinked. Their eyes were locked onto each other's. Heavy lidded. Faith opened her mouth slightly to say something, but she couldn't think of what. Buffy's grip on her weapons relaxed, and they slid slightly down Faith's skin. This time when she shivered, she knew Buffy noticed. Something changed in her look as her face came closer, painfully slow. Her breath on Faith's mouth, just barely. Every inch of skin on fire. Tense. Faith could dimly hear how ragged and shaky her breathing was, but she felt like she wasn't breathing at all. She felt the weapons slowly sliding down further, the pointed tips gently running a scorching trail down her chest to her midsection before being pulled away and joining the spear on the floor. She cursed herself for the audible, sharp intake of breath it caused. Buffy's eyes danced. Had that been deliberate? With the weapons gone, she seemed to inch closer.

The door at the top of the stairs banged open.

Buffy pulled away quickly and turned.

"If you're done, there's a more pressing matter that needs your attention," Cordelia stated, leaving the doorway and disappearing back into the house. Her laugh trailed behind her.

Buffy threw Faith a long look, then headed up the stairs. Faith stayed against the wall for a moment, processing. She steadied her breathing. Looked around. She took a tentative step and, upon finding her legs were not entirely jelly, followed.




Faith lazily flicked through the tv stations with the remote, settling further into the couch. It was late and she couldn't sleep. She sighed, contemplating getting up and going to the kitchen for food. Before she could make a decision, her eyes caught the dark form of someone coming down the stairs. It didn't take her long to realize who it was.

"You thinkin' about food too?" Faith asked her.

Buffy almost looked startled, pausing for a second before joining the other woman on the couch. She didn't look at her. "…I had a nightmare."

Faith considered her reaction and made sure her tone was gentle. "What happened?"

Buffy's eyes flicked to her and then away again. "You were there. It's…hazy. I just remember… Something bad was happening." Her face got very distant.

"Well I'm here now, and I'm fine, B." Faith tried to be reassuring, throwing a smile in the other Slayer's direction.

Buffy looked at her, realized she was trying to help, and offered a weak smile and nod in return. "Yeah." She looked back at the tv, and there was an awkward silence.

Faith, though not well-versed in these types of situations, figured she could at least try to comfort her. She edged closer, and then, after taking a deep silent breath, put her arm around Buffy lightly, rubbing her back slightly. She waited.

Much quicker than she would have imagined, the slighter woman leaned against her, seeking more consolation and allowing Faith to see a weak moment. Faith applied slightly more pressure, massaging the tension out of Buffy's back while keeping her close. There was an ease suddenly forming between them that was highly improbable – and yet it was happening. Maybe it was the hour. Maybe it was Buffy's vulnerable state. Maybe it was Faith seeing a way to play the friend card. Whatever it was, it felt warm and safe.

Buffy relaxed into her, allowing her to take away her anxiety. No words were exchanged. Faith continued to rhythmically rub her back while she half-sat curled up against her. She listened as her breathing became slower, heavier, and eventually she drifted back to sleep.

So this is what it feels like.



They were having one of those moments again. Where they left the rest of the world behind and went off by themselves, finding a quiet, reflective place and just…existing. Together. To see what it felt like. Just because they wanted to. Or maybe they needed to. It was something altogether different, and they found themselves enjoying the feeling of the world blanketing them, enhanced by their slayer connection. For just a short while, no worries. No one needed anything from them. They could have peace, or something like it.

Faith gazed out at the cotton candy clouds aflame in the light of the setting sun from the rock she lay on. "Sometimes I wish I could fly. Go wherever I wanted, you know? No one could catch me. I'd be free."

Buffy felt a sadness tug inside her, thinking of why Faith desired so badly to be liberated. Unbound. Released of all her pain. It was an empathy she had never felt so deeply before for the other Slayer, and she was momentarily humbled by the innermost dreams of this powerful woman beside her who simply wanted to be happy, like anyone else.

She grabbed Faith's hand and squeezed. "You know it means a lot, right?"

Faith looked down in surprise, then back up. "What?"

"Everything you do."



Buffy felt miserable. Not only had she and Faith been out slaying until all hours of the night – way past the time she usually liked to be in bed by, when she had a choice in the matter – but one of the stupid ugly demons had stolen her good luck charm, or something akin to that, and left a nice welt on her shoulder. It had fallen out of her pocket in the scuffle, and before she could grab it, he had snatched it up and, after taunting her with it a little and making stupid jokes, got a solid hit right into her head and run off with it. Since when did demons care about petty theft, anyway? And, hello – super immature.

Dawn had made it for her. It was a little wooden woman she had carved and stained herself, and she had even tried to paint the head yellow to signify blonde. She had said to keep it with her every time she went on patrol, to keep her safe and to imbue her with more strength knowing her sister's love was behind it, and it of course represented a very strong woman.

And now that stupid demon had taken it, just to show he could. She hated evil things. They were such assholes. She went to bed tired, cranky, and wondering how she was going to tell Dawn.

The next morning she woke with the same thoughts, and put a hand on her night table as she went to get out of bed. She felt something underneath her fingers and lifted her hand.

The little figurine sat above a folded note, looking just as it had the night before. She picked it up, marveling at it for a moment as a sense of relief washed over her, and then picked up the note.

Knew this meant something to you… Figured the least I could do was get it back.


Buffy almost teared up. Faith had done something considerate, when no one asked her to. Completely unselfish. Not only that, but she must've paid close attention, because Buffy had never shown anyone what Dawn had made her. She looked at the note for a long moment, overcome with emotion, then put both gently back down where she found them and got out of bed.



Buffy watched the other Slayer's movements as she trained from inside the house, mesmerized. She was so fluid. So strong. So precarious. Like a battle-hardened warrior who had a soft inner center that could only be seen if you looked the right way, and paid close enough attention – but you might die for your troubles.

Giles stepped silently up to her side, sipping from his tea, eyes focused outside. "It seems Faith may shock us all."

She looked at him. "What do you mean?"

His gaze was very intent on the woman outside in the yard. "She may actually be redeemed."

Buffy turned her attention back outside. "That wouldn't be shocking. It would be shocking if she actually let down her defenses and accepted that she could even reach that point."

"With all the good she's done, especially since…" He trailed off, not wanting to re-open old wounds of all that they had lost. "Well, I believe that at some point she has to realize how invaluable of an asset she is, and how much more good she can still do. She truly wants to make up for her past mistakes."

Buffy's eyes unfocused for a moment, falling. "It's not just about that. She's a different person. It's not just her doing all of these things so that…the tally marks on the wrong side of the board will disappear. She actually wants to." She paused. "…She's changed. But I don't know if she'll ever forgive herself. It's what drives her."

The ex-watcher nodded. "Mmm." There was a comfortable silence until he spoke again. "However… One must remember that out of forgiveness often comes true liberation. And relief." With that, he walked away.

Would she ever find relief?



Faith didn't mind the fact that not all of the newbie slayers liked her. She didn't mind that on frequent occasion she still felt like the world's biggest fuck-up, and that everything she did and everything she went through was payment for her wrongs. She accepted all of this. It was a part of her life, and a part of her journey toward true redemption.

What Faith did mind was the one or two little brats who made it their own mission, whenever possible, to go out of their way to make her feel like a true piece of garbage when no one else was around. They had limited knowledge of her, who knows what they heard, and to them she might as well have been a vampire for how evil they viewed her as. Most of the time she could brush it off, but in those times when she was having a bad day or wasn't at all in the right space, it hit much closer to its intended effect.

One time she had been sparring with a small group of the girls, and one of them had tried to attack her from behind when they thought she wasn't paying attention. But unlike them, she was better trained and more experienced and had whipped around and grabbed hold of the weapon, pushing the girl back against the wall and trapping her behind it. Told her if she tried anything like that again, she'd be sent to another training site with some choice scars to take with her.

Another time. Bad. Faith had gotten into a tiff with Buffy, and was in a very sour mood. She was standing outside in back of the house, smoking. It was drizzling; moist and gross. Thinking about things that just made her feel worse, and dwelling on things she knew she shouldn't. She couldn't help it. Force of habit. At that moment, anything would have bothered her.

One of them was walking back from the woods. When she saw Faith, her calm face instantly hardened into one of malice, purposefully sending a silent statement. Faith, not in the mood in the slightest, said, "Got somethin' to say, pipsqueak?"

"Fuck off."

Faith flicked her cigarette. "You kiss your mama with that mouth?"

The girl got up in her face, as close as she dared. "I don't like you. I don't think you belong here. You did what you were brought to do, that's it, you're done. What more use do you have?" With that, she promptly walked inside.

Faith felt cold.



Buffy looked at her softly, yet intently across the table, the sunlight streaming in through the window and setting her on fire. Her eyes sparkled. Faith saw something there that she had never seen before. "You know, things could really be different for us now."

Faith felt something surge inside of her, a full and weightless feeling that spread from legs up through her stomach and settling in her chest. She could've wept. "You think so?"

She nodded, never looking away. Voice sure. Genuine smile. "Yeah."



Faith had had a bad dream. A bad dream about Buffy. It had felt so real. She was disoriented when she woke up, drenched in sweat, still worried to the point where something pushed her to go and check on Buffy to make sure she was all right.

Her heart pounded as she made her way to the other Slayer's bedroom. She turned the doorknob silently, not wanting to wake her. As the door opened to reveal the scene before her, her stomach dropped. At first she couldn't look away from Buffy's bed, as if it was some kind of horror movie in slow motion – but in a sick way meant to upset only her. Betrayal stirred painfully in her stomach. Her eyes widened, then after a moment all but froze over as her face became hard, and she turned and briskly walked away.



Faith shoved the last article of clothing into her large duffel bag and stepped off the stairs. She had briefly discussed this with everyone already, though only just that morning – it was probably understandable they were still a little stunned, but she was too impatient to leave to give it much consideration. If she had stopped and thought, which she really didn't want to do, she might have realized that this was basically something the past version of herself would have done, but with more of an edge. She also cared a great deal for the people she was leaving behind – but she had to go. This was the only way.

"So you're just gonna – leave? All abrupt and whatnot?" Xander said from beside her. Despite his friendly, forced half-smile, she could tell he was hurt.

She shrugged as harmlessly as she could. "I said goodbye to everyone. It's like I said… I'm a nomad. Can't really stay in one place for too long. I gotta stretch my legs. See what good I can do elsewhere." She missed Cordelia's knowing, bored look from the other side of the room, as if she didn't put any stock into the entire situation.

"You're sure you don't want a lift?" Giles asked.

She nodded. "Yeah. It's cool. I don't even really know where I'm going. Just gonna…see where the road takes me, I guess." She paused and shook her head. "There's nothing I can get from this place." Except away from it."I'm gonna try my luck in the big bad world for a while." She opened the front door, turning and flashing a forced grin that probably only she believed. "I always did do best on my own." The door closed behind her, and she began walking down the driveway.

Something inside Buffy exploded as her wet eyes followed Faith's retreating form.



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