Chapter Twenty Two
Buffy had spent the entire morning in the basement, working out and training alone until she could barely move. You're no better than her. You could've told her the truth and you didn't. Who's the coward now? Her skin was itching from her confrontation with Faith the night before, and the itch felt like it was sinking further and further down into her frame, into her muscles and her nerves. She figured the longer she spent physically exerting that energy, the more she could push it out of her.
It only semi-worked. She still didn't feel too much better, just a little sore. She stepped out of the shower, heaving a sigh as she headed to her bedroom and got dressed. Today was a new day. Maybe it would end up better than the last.
These had been Buffy's thoughts before she had walked into the dining room and, upon hearing a smug and calm, "Hey, B," had looked up to see Faith grinning at her from the ceiling. The ceiling on which she stood upside down, defying gravity, as if it were an everyday occurrence – add to that the look in her eyes and Buffy knew instantly that something was wrong.
"Faith… What the – "
"I was a little on edge last night, but don't worry – I fixed it." She dropped abruptly from the ceiling, flipping and landing in a crouch on the table in front of the other woman. Buffy cursed herself for jumping slightly. "What's the matter, B?"
Buffy squinted her eyes, realization instantly washing over her. "What did she do to you?"
Faith slid forward very close, her words coming out low, her eyes gleaming. "Freed me."
Buffy shook her head, backing up. "No… No, Faith, you can't give in. That's what she wants. This is what she's been trying to do this entire time, you can't – "
"What can't I do? I'm pretty sure I can do anything I want, now." Her eyes moved up and down Buffy's frame before she stood and gracefully jumped off the table.
Buffy felt a flame flare up inside of her. It was like the wall separating the past from the present had crumbled in an instant, and all their ghosts were flying around them and creating a scene that was miserably familiar. This couldn't be happening. She didn't ever want to experience this again. She couldn't even tell if she was angry, or distressed, or terrified. There was a throbbing in her chest; maybe this was what a panic attack felt like.
"This can't be happening," she repeated her thought out loud, staring Faith down. "I don't believe it." And she almost didn't. …..Almost.
"I just wanted a way to deal with all this…crap inside of me, you know?" Her voice almost sounded normal, almost like they could be having a normal conversation. …..Almost. "So I found a solution. I'm pretty good at that."
"Not that good," Buffy countered in a heartbeat, not breaking her gaze.
"You don't think I can handle my own problems, B?"
"Well, besides running away like a wuss, coming back with no explanation and then finding every excuse to act all tortured and play more mind games like you always do, yeah, I'd say you're doing just fine," Buffy said, knowing her barbs would hit their target.
Faith's mask of smugness instantly transformed into barely tempered rage as she took a threatening step forward. For a split second she faltered, her head turning to the side and her arms twitching as if she was fighting something off. Then it was gone. But it didn't escape the other slayer. "You think you've got it all figured out. You don't even know the half of it."
"Kinda hard when you bury it all and then go letting demons pollute you with shit." She moved her face in toward Faith's, challenging. Unafraid. At least on the outside.
Instead of the reaction she expected, Faith laughed a little. "As if you've been completely honest. Or did you just run out of the room last night because you really had to tinkle?"
Damn it, Faith. "All right, enough. If we're done blowing smoke up each other's asses I'm gonna go find a way to fix this." She wasn't going to continue to let Faith drag her into these situations, especially with whatever the demon had put in her. Maybe it would really be this easy. Maybe she could just leave the room. She went to move. Faith caught her shoulder and slammed her back into the wall.
"I don't think so." Faith's grip was painfully tight, and Buffy realized she was much stronger than usual. She could barely move the shoulder she had pinned.
"She gave you powers, didn't she?"
Faith faked enthusiasm. "Look who gets an A+."
"They're infecting you, Faith. You can't let them. This isn't going to solve anything!" Buffy saw the slight falter again, this time reaching Faith's eyes. She took advantage. "I know you're in there, Faith. I know you. You're stronger than this. Don't you remember everything you told me last night?" This time Faith broke her gaze, looking away and blinking rapidly, her breath shuddering. Her grip relaxed just enough that Buffy was able to quickly push forward and switch their positions. "Faith!"
A loud crackle behind her was the only warning she got before she was thrown to the ground, skidding across the floor until she collided with the wall. She looked up and realized it wasn't Faith who had done it; the demon stood in the middle of the room, looking between the two women. She moved towards the other slayer, her voice coming out in a purr.
"Faith… Don't let her fool you. She just wants to be back in control, to make sure she's on top. She's trying to trick you."
"Oh, I am so gonna kick your ass," Buffy spat, getting up. The demon quickly turned and shot an energy ball in her direction, barely missing her as she dove out of the way.
"She just wants to confuse you. I have given you the control you've always wanted, the power to do whatever you want and make sure you can't ever get hurt again."
"Oh, shut up." Buffy rolled her eyes, got up and moved forward again, but this time another energy ball caught her shoulder and spun her headlong into the doorframe.
"This is what you wanted, isn't it? Freedom. All anyone here has ever done is mistrust you, ignore you, hate you. Accepting you, caring for you, it's all just been an act to be able to further damage you. Don't you see? Isn't that what she's been doing this whole time? Teasing you. Taunting you. Snatching it away at the last second…"
Faith seemed rooted to the wall, lost somewhere inside herself, her head slowly going back and forth, occasionally looking up.
Buffy stood up again. "Don't listen to her, Faith! She's a soulless evil bitch!"
"Watch your mouth." The demon waved her hand and sent Buffy flying again, this time into the table.
Faith's head snapped up. "Buffy!"
The demon quickly caught her chin in her hand, forcing her to look at her. "She doesn't care about you, Faith. And you've made too many mistakes, taken too much. You can't go back now. What's left of you? Only this." She paused. "Remember my offer I made to you all that time ago." She glanced down at the amulet around Faith's neck. Her voice came out in a hiss and her eyes glinted dangerously. "We could be a team. We would be unstoppable."
"Faith… She's wrong. You're different now. You have changed. And doing this won't solve anything, you know that. Don't let her influence you!" She got up and moved forward. "I'm right here, listen to me!" This time she managed to roll out of the way of the thing's path. She ran forward and grabbed the demon's shoulders, throwing her halfway across the room. She took a moment to stare into Faith's eyes, which looked distant. She put a hand on the side of her face, not trying to be gentle. "Faith. Look at me. This demon has no power over you. Do you understand? I know how strong you are, and I know it takes more than that to reach you. You are not worthless. You belong here." She was ripped away by the demon, who threw her into another wall.
"Can't you just learn to play dead?" she hissed, advancing on Buffy. Before she could do anything else, she was hit from the side by an energy ball. Buffy looked to see Willow standing in the doorway. She sent another energy ball at the demon, but this time it was deflected and sent flying out the window with a loud smash.
"Stupid witch." She sent an angry bolt of electricity toward the redhead, but Willow quickly levitated out of the way. That was when Buffy realized Faith was missing. She looked all around the room and ran out of the other entrance into the kitchen. No Faith. She ran around into the foyer.
She felt the air momentarily leave her lungs as she was thrust back against the wall, staring into the other slayer's face which looked somewhere between angry, confused, scared, and other things she couldn't identify. She felt her breath hot on her face, coming out in gasps. The amulet around her neck was glowing fiercely.
"What did last night mean?" She searched the other woman's eyes. She twitched again.
"She will never understand you," came the demon's voice from seemingly nowhere, as Buffy's gaze flitted around and couldn't find her. Wasn't she still battling Willow? "None of them ever will. You are alone… All alone…"
"Don't listen, Faith," Buffy countered, bringing her hands up to the sides of her face and pressing her forehead against hers. "You do have power. You have the power to make your own decision."
"Silence her," came the voice.
"This thing is evil. It. Doesn't. Care. About you. It just wants to use you against us… Against me. Don't let it win." She was stunned to find her eyes were wet. She blinked rapidly.
"All of this can be dust. Gone. Forgotten. No pain." The battle sounds coming from the dining room had stopped. Faith made a noise in her throat like she was in agony, like she was struggling, her eyes tightly shut.
Buffy knew she didn't have much time. She put her mouth up against Faith's ear and whispered harshly. "I trust you, Faith." The other woman instantly pulled back, staring at her in shock, the fog gone from her eyes as if a switch had been flipped. Searching for sincerity, for truth. Buffy pushed everything she wanted her to know through her gaze, which stayed locked onto the other slayer's. Until Faith was knocked away from her and the demon finally reappeared.
"You will never beat me." The demon grinned maliciously at Buffy, who for some reason felt suddenly uneasy. Then she turned to Faith. "There is no redemption for you, Faith. Remember how you felt when you came to me last night? Remember all the fury? This is who you are," its voice wrapped around Faith, enveloping her. "Prove who you are!"
Faith rose, standing tall between the two. Her face was contorted with rage and suffering, as if she was still fighting something no one could see. She began to shake as she raised her arms, powerful electricity shooting all around her hands. She faced Buffy. No, Buffy thought. No…
"END IT!" the demon shrieked. Faith screamed, a wild, guttural sound, and in a split second spun around and directed all of the power at the creature, lifting her off the floor with the force of it. Her roars were drowned out by the crackling, what sounded like a thunderstorm as she writhed and twisted in midair, dying. Faith was still screaming, until finally the demon exploded with one final screech and disappeared in a giant haze. Faith crumpled to the ground.
Buffy's immediate instinct was to do the same, but then she remembered who had just come to her aid. She ran into the dining room. "Willow?"
Her friend was lying on the floor, blood trailing down her face from a wound on her head. Buffy quickly checked her pulse, which was quite strong. She ran to get the First Aid kit and smashed right into Xander.
"Jesus, Buff, what's the matter? And what the hell happened in here? I get back from the store and it sounds like a tornado's ripping through the house."
"Did you see anything?" She looked around at the now Faith-less foyer.
"No. What – "
"Go get the First Aid kit and help Willow. She's knocked out in the dining room." Without any further explanation, she went upstairs, figuring Faith – hopefully – hadn't left.
"It can possess people?" Xander said incredulously, practically spitting out his giant bite of pizza all over Willow.
"That's what this says. I wanted to do some final double checking and I came across this in one of the sources I'd kind of skimmed over before. Apparently if it's not killed by the incantation meant to kill it, which I was getting to before the she-bitch knocked me out, it can come back in the form of possession and that requires an entirely different spell. And some supplies I'll need."
"So it can come back…inside one of us?" He looked deeply disturbed.
"Well, it's not like you'd be aware of what was happening. …I don't think."
"We'll have to keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior," Giles put in. "It could possess someone and simply spy on us. Lie in wait until the perfect moment."
"I don't like the sound of that," Xander said, frowning.
"Have any of you seen Faith?" Buffy entered the room. "I haven't seen her since…the whole debacle yesterday."
"I saw her walking around on the trails out back yesterday. I wonder if she even went to bed last night, after everything that happened," Willow said softly. She shook her head and looked at Buffy. "There's some more information I just found that you might want to be aware of. Hopefully this is the last surprise we get."
Faith hadn't been able to sleep most of the night. She'd used up a lot of energy kicking the shit out of everything in the training room, then went for a run, then a walk, then another run. Around midnight she finally went to bed and just tossed and turned for hours before giving up and going for another walk, this time down to the cemetery, and killing things. But every time she killed something she got this nauseas feeling in her stomach and just zoned out, and came to and didn't know how much time had passed. Whatever the demon had given her had gone away when she killed it, but she felt like something was still off. She couldn't even describe to herself how it had felt to have that energy and intensity coursing through her. It was something dark and powerful that she had never experienced before, better and worse than any drug she had ever done. Like she was on another plane, but still present in this one. Like she was connected to every type of barrier to pain, and nothing could stop her, and it just felt so good but at the same time very, very wrong.
She had never had the intention of actually letting anything that extreme happen. She knew what she'd been doing. She'd planned it. But once the powers actually entered her, it was a complete assault on every level. She thought she'd be able to handle it. She didn't know it would feel so…..fascinating. It was like an infection. She kept trying to fight it off, to remember why she was doing it – she had to act like she'd been completely contaminated so the demon would believe it. But in doing so it actually had...almost…At least enough to make her feel like she was practically being ripped in half, and the other half of her was having a hell of a time doing anything about it. How could she face Buffy after that? She didn't know the truth, and who'd believe it?
She knelt beside the dresser in her room, forehead to the floor. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, concentrating on feeling her lungs expand. I am not the same person I used to be. Can people really change? Things are much different now. Does it matter? I paid my debt…at least partially. Does it truly count for anything? That part of me will always be there, in some form. It makes up who I am. I tried. I am still trying. I will never give up. I can evolve.
It felt like a very long time had passed before she lifted her head up and opened her eyes. She slowly stood up after several moments, staring at her reflection in the mirror. It had been a very long time since she had been able to do so without feeling some level of aversion. In this moment, she didn't know how to feel. She just stared into her own eyes, traveling around the image of her face. Imagining how others saw her. How they had seen her in the past.
The right side of her body bristled unnaturally and she looked over. There was nothing there. She squinted in suspicion. She took a small step forward, and that's when the air shifted just slightly, abnormally. She caught a glimpse of something she knew couldn't be real. But her heart momentarily stopped, and the air all but forced itself out of her lungs as she stumbled backwards in terror. No... No no no no no… The momentary sight of Allan Finch's dead body was seared fresh into her vision. She had fought for years to forget it. Before she could make another move, still staring in shock at the now empty spot on the carpet, there was another flash – this time the dead geology professor. Then it was gone. Her heart hammered against her ribcage so hard it was painful. She felt like she was going to pass out. She struggled to breathe as she blinked away stinging tears. What is doing this? Do I deserve this? I must deserve this… An eerie, quiet laugh came out of nowhere. Her head spun all around trying to find the source. When she saw nothing, she got up and bolted from the room.
Willow was nearly knocked down by the force of Faith running full-steam around a corner right into her. She fell back against the wall, instantly righting herself and looking at the mess before her.
"Willow! Shit. I… I don't know what just happened, I… Something was in my room. I don't know what's going on."
"Okay, calm down, just tell me what you saw." Willow put a hand on her shoulder. Faith practically shivered from how cold it felt.
"I…" To say out loud what she had seen felt roughly impossible. How could she? It would be like re-living it all over again… She looked into Willow's eyes, searching for the compassion she knew she could find there. But it wasn't.
"It's just… Maybe we didn't totally kill the demon. Maybe there's something else it can do." She shook her head. "Something really weird is going on." She felt herself shake slightly. Her throat tightened as she forced down the urge to cry. She didn't even want to be in the house anymore. She felt like the walls were closing in on her.
Willow put her hand on the side of her face. "Faith… She was a very powerful demon. We really didn't know what we were messing with."
Faith's brow furrowed. Willow had never been this physically intimate with her. Her gaze also looked very different. Empty, yet peculiar. It was seriously creeping her out. "Willow…"
The redhead swiftly pulled herself against Faith, putting her mouth to her ear and gripping her tightly. Her voice was low and wicked. "You can never escape your past, Faith. It is in you. You did those terrible things."
Faith broke free of her grip and shoved herself away in horror. She looked at the possessed woman, her anxiety level spiking for the second time in five minutes. What was she going to do? Was anyone else even home? She couldn't leave her there, who knows where the demon would take Willow's body or what it would do with it. She would have to knock her out, just clock her on the head until she could find Buffy or Giles… Her mind was still swimming from what she had just seen, and she knew the demon had picked this moment for a reason. She couldn't think clearly.
She didn't move. Instead she found herself shouting, "Why can't you just stop? Why do you give so much of a shit about me? Just LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Willow's face grinned nastily. Her eyes sparkled sinisterly. "You're an excellent target, Faith, and a fun one. You are the perfect soul for the taking. Already washed with sin, so terrified of yourself. People like you make the best villains, because you have the added complexity of being born human, and so the levels you can reach far exceed those of evil that was…created that way. The dark side of human nature has barely been tapped yet. You can feel things we can't, and when you flip that around, it becomes a brilliant weapon. A ticking time bomb, and when you go off it'll be marvelous. Oh, just wait. The best part's still to come."
"Fuck you," Faith spat.
Willow's head cocked to the side, a calm yet eerie expression on her face. "What is it about Buffy?" This earned a death glare from Faith. "Why does she have so much power over you?" She looked at the slayer's clenched jaw and fists. She paused, looking her in the eye. "Is it because you know you can never have her?" Faith lunged forward with an angry shout, unable to stop herself. Willow shifted inhumanly fast to the side. Faith came at her again, and again she got out of the way. "Uh uh, don't go beating up your friend now. I don't think she'd like that very much. …Assuming she ever comes back. I kind of like this body." She looked down appreciatively at herself.
Faith took a deep breath and stepped forward, deciding on a different tactic. "You know why Buffy has power over me? Because she is the greatest, strongest person I have ever known. And not you, or anything else,will ever be able to change that."
Willow's face peered into hers knowingly. "She never thought much of you though, did she? You always fell behind her. She never gave you the reigns. Never wanted to give you a second chance, even after you turned yourself in and did the right thing? After you sat in that jail cell for three years, every night – "
"Did she?" She paused. "She must know by now, Faith. If she doesn't then she really doesn't care." She laughed. "She didn't visit you a single time. Didn't welcome you back with open arms, didn't even want you there. Didn't welcome you back the second time, either."
"Stop it." Faith tried desperately to clutch to the memories she had from before she left, after Sunnydale. Pushing out the ones the demon was conjuring. "You don't know anything. Remind me why I'm still here talking to you?"
"She's never going to love you back." Another pause. "No matter how many times you come back across the world to save her life."
Faith's head snapped forward, her eyes glinting dangerously. "How do you know – "
Willow laughed. "I take my job very seriously, Faith. I've been following you for a long time. Your love for the slayer is the only thing stopping you from being morepowerful than you can imagine. And where is she now?"
Faith barely registered what was happening the minute she heard Buffy's voice, but the one thing she was sure of was that at the very least, the other woman had heard the last few sentences. She turned around and caught a glimpse of blonde hair. Her head was spinning. There was a scuffle. She heard Buffy reciting something in Latin, and then Willow's body was being thrust into the air, convulsing as a black smoky substance poured from her mouth into the room. It coalesced into a thicker cloud, then burst in bright rays of light with a giant thunder-like sound and Willow fell to the floor. Buffy rushed to her side.
"Are you all right, Will?"
The other woman slowly gathered her senses, shaking her head to clear it. "What happened?"
"The demon possessed you."
"It's all right now, there's no way she can come back, I'm almost positive. That was definitely the last spell…"
Faith stopped hearing the conversation. Her entire body felt cold, and she was mildly certain she was going to vomit. There was absolutely no escaping this situation now. Buffy had heard everything, wrapped up nice and neat in a crazy demon nutshell, and she was going to make Faith face it. There was no avoiding it this time; there was no waiting a few days or weeks hoping it would be forgotten and get buried under all the layers built through years of doing just that. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. That summed up the majority of her thoughts, because really, there was also no lying her way out.