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by Rennie



Summary: Buffy's back after being dead. A surprising return helps her come back from the brink.
Spoilers: Through S5. I re-wrote S6, so no real spoilers there.
Oral's Notes: No email address for Rennie. Please leave a review at Fanfiction.net


Listen to the Music



Many Happy Returns

I block hard, duck under the counter and stake the vamp before he recovered from his ill-fated roundhouse. No other vamps follow from the trees, but a twig snaps off to my right. Someone or something is still out there. I square up, facing the dark figure standing under some low-handing branches near the mausoleum. "Might as well come out," I call as I twirl the stake, dancing it along my fingers until set, point-end first, "Got you pegged." The figure advances through the darkness to be finally bathed in streetlight and I register the clothes first: black leather pants, red wife beater, and black jean jacket. And above it, a familiar dark red pouty mouth and even darker brown eyes, so dark they look black.

"Hey B." The corner of her mouth smirks and she hangs her head to the side, giving me that sarcastic half-grin. "How's tricks?"

The look I give her is the classic, 'ha, ha, funny sex humor-NOT,' but it only stretches her mouth into more of a grin, like I rose to the bait or something. Which I totally did. I let the moment stretch, stash the stake in my sleeve, for emergencies, and slide my feet and hands into a loose guard. She is at least ten feet away from me, but I know she can cover the distance in a heartbeat, maybe faster, and it's just good Slayer training to be on guard around a psycho with superpowers. "Can't complain. How's prison?" I sneer, slipping into baiting her in turn. Wow, took me all of ten seconds to go the immature route. Might be a new record.

She spreads her hands and shrugs her shoulders in that "hey, I'm innocent' expression she always pulls out when she's up to something. "I'm not in anymore, as you might have noticed." Her dark eyes glitter mischievously. "Early parole for good behavior." I snort. "Been a while," she says, almost conversationally, casting an appraising look over the assorted tombs and gravestones, as though to see what's changed. "What, a year and a half, two years almost?"

"What, you been counting the days?" Her grin tightens a little and I think I scored a point, although I'm not sure of the game or the rules. Hurt me, hurt you? As good a game as any. After all, we've been playing it for a lot time. "I guess you got nothing better to do, locked up like the rabid animal you are." The taller brunette flinches, and then arranges her face into the look of cool stoicism. There, I'm definitely ahead. I shrug a shoulder, exaggerating the casual movement to let her know little anything bothers me. "Me, I lost count there for a while."

"Yeah, I heard you died again." She nods her head, her dark hair flowing with the movement. "That must suck." She emphasizes the last word, with all the barbed sarcasm she can muster.

"Next time I'll stay dead and miss your lame attempts at conversation," I retort in that false sweet tone I know she hates, but the retort is lame and we both know it. I think we're even, now. "Whatever. It's late, I'm tired. What do you want, Faith?" I put a tone of boredom in my voice, another goad. "If we're going to fight, let's get this over with, ok?"

She steps a little closer, more into the light, and it doesn't look like the year in prison has hurt her. Not hurt her at all, in fact, as I notice how the muscles on her arms stand out even more than before and how lean she is in those leather pants.

"I'm not here to fight. I came to see how you are doing." Her voice is remarkably free of guile, even sincere. I take that to mean that she's got some especially nasty trick planned.

"Do-gooder Faith, huh? You must have really played them at that prison." My voice drops flat, almost monotone, and I see her hands slide up in a guard in response. "That shit won't play here, Faith. I know you," I grind out the words between clenched teeth. "I know your tricks, your games..."

"You don't know anything about me anymore," she interrupts, anger flashing in her voice and her eyes. She pulls herself up, a couple of paces away from me, exhaling sharply. When she speaks again, her voice carries only a hint of repressed rage. "It's been a long time, B. I've changed."

The scorn in my laughter is evident. "Angel and cops may have bought into the act, F. God knows Angel always did bond with sociopaths." I close the distance between us and catch the collar of her jacket, yanking her toward me until her face is inches from mine. I put all the venom and anger into my glare. "But don't fuck with me." We froze like that for a long moment, each trying to stare the other down. But I have righteous anger on my side, burning into her dark eyes. Her expression is unreadable, the murky depths of her eyes unfathomable, but I can feel the heat of her breath on my face as I try and ignore how close I've pulled her.

She seems to notice, looking down the space between our bodies with a smirk, and I hear her voice, like a ghost out of the past, 'Give us a kiss, then.' As I'm distracted by the past, her hand catches my arm and she breaks the hold easily, as I expected, and circles to her left, out of the overhanging trees. "Such language, B." She shakes her head in mock sadness. "What happened to the sweet little princess I used to know?"

"She went to heaven and got pulled back to hell, thanks for asking. Now can we just get this over with?" I move with her, keep her in sight.

"I told you, B, I didn't come to fight." My block just misses the blazing straight punch aimed at my jaw and I get knocked back a few steps for my trouble. I circle around, out into the open ground cluttered by only a few headstones. "But if you are so juiced for a fight..." Her taunt carries just the hint of a sexual undertone and she wiggles her fingers suggestively. "Let's get it on."

I reply with a spinning backfist that she easily ducks under. We circle, feint a few times, testing, almost like playing, or sparring. I try to keep that hard edge of anger, but it's difficult. Emotions aren't my thing anymore, and even in the midst of fighting my worst enemy, the heat doesn't go all the way to the icy core in the pit of my stomach. My eyes are trained on her body, watching for that little movement to originate in her stomach to signal an attack, but I risk a quick look to face. Her eyes are dancing, as if she has never been so happy. She probably hasn't been, for a while. She always did love a good fight. And ours? They were the best.

I move as she moves so her strike hits the air right where I had been and my side kick catches her in the stomach and the fight is on in earnest. No more feinting, we trade blows, attacks and counters feeding, building on each other, like an intricate dance. Spin, slash, block, kick. It goes on and on, almost like we forgot we were actually trying to take each other down and are just fighting for pure enjoyment. Whenever I get a flash of her eyes, I think that may be the case with Faith. Me, I'm not so sure about. Rage boils through my body and for once, it's an honest emotion, something I'm actually feeling, but Faith isn't really the target.

We're still very attuned to each other's style and rhythm, although she seems stronger, more muscular. I still have the advantage in speed and technique, or so I think, until I drop her and she sweeps my legs, bringing me down on a overgrown grave stone and knocking me breathless for a moment. As I inhale deeply and prepare to jump to my feet, I see her retreating back moving through the trees. "Be seein' ya, B."



Hunting for a Ghost

I don't tell anyone, not Xander, not Giles, and especially not Willow, about Faith being back in town. The next morning, after Dawn leaves for school, I go on the hunt. I visit all of her old haunts, the rattrap motel, the apartment complex, even the burned-out shell of the school. The hospital, campus, the Magic Box. I spend all day criss-crossing Sunnydale, looking for a hint of her trail. Nothing. It's like she never existed at all. I should be so lucky.

But still the hunt gives me something to do instead of sit around the house while Willow, Tara, and Dawn are at school, or the Magic Box where Giles and Anya talk around me in conversations I no longer want to join. I can tell how much they want me to get involved, take an interest-the pressure of their expectations closes in on me when I'm around them too long and I get this tightness in my chest and I can't breath. It's better to be off on my own, even on a wild goose chase, looking for Faith, than to be around my best friends.

Faith. Damn, I'm barely back from the dead and here she is again. Like I didn't have enough problems. The dark-haired rogue always did have lousy timing. Showing up in Sunnydale when she did, right when I'm trying to put my life together after Angel and running away. Waking from her coma right when Riley and I were just getting started and Adam is on the scene. I did not have time for her then and I do not have time for her shit now.

That night, after work and putting Dawn to bed, I hit the streets to patrol. I'm still in hunt mode after the fruitless day of searching, and every vibration has me spinning. One of those barely noticeable vibrations leads me straight to a nest of vamps, hanging out in the resting place of what used to be a prominent family in Sunnydale. I move quickly to get my back to the wall of the crypt, letting the tight space work for me. But seven to one odds are not in my favor. I don't even know why I engaged such insane odds and I curse myself silently. I stake two, quick, as they rush me before the rest can join in. The others are slower, and smarter, and fan out to spread my defenses. They are planning on overpowering me with numbers, and it looks like the strategy will work, or at least until the two nearest the door turn to dust. I stake another when she looks in surprise. The last two dissolve into dust at the same time, in the same pose. "Synchronized slaying," laughs Faith, as she holds up a hand for a high-five, bringing back old memories of when we used to be on the same side.

I glare at her hand and give her a "you expect thanks" look. She grins in understanding and drops her hand, as if she really didn't expect it anyway. She flips her hair back over her shoulder, a practiced gesture I remember from so many nights slaying with the brunette, as she surveys the area, a very satisfied look on her face. I am paralyzed with indecision – I either want to break her across the coffin behind her or to give her an inexplicable hug and as the desires war in me, I end up doing neither.

"Told ya I'd be seeing ya."

"I was kinda hoping that would be in my next life, thanks."

"No such luck, girlfriend." Her smile is all Faith, dark red lips stretched across bright white teeth and above it all, those twinkling liquid amber eyes. It's pure sunshine, and as charismatic as hell. And I don't end up knocking her on her ass.

I sigh my irritation instead. "What do you want, Faith?," I ask, with exaggerated patience, like I'm talking to a child. Her mouth quirks at my tone, like she knows what I'm trying to do.

"I was gonna see if you wanted some company on patrol." She sees my disbelieving look and shrugs her shoulders sheepishly. "I've been locked away for a while, B, in an 8-by-10 cell. Went a little crazy, no slaying for all that time."

Another ghost voice floats from the past, "Tell me that if you don't get a good slay in before too long, you start itching for some vamp..." I imagine all that energy and passion caged for so long. I must feel sorry for her because I go brain dead and say, "Sure."

I sneak peaks at her while we walk. Her eyes dart around the cemetery, unreadable as she hunts. It's thinner, her face, the cheekbones more pronounced, which only makes the rest of her features stand out more. Especially those dark, murky eyes. They seem much harder to read, now. It used to be every emotion roiled through those depths, a sure-fire clue to her thoughts if you knew how to read them. She catches me looking out of the corner of her eye and turns.

"What?" It's not a challenge, not said with the edge of hostility I would have expected from her. God, she's even more striking than before, I think, and then cannot believe I thought that. "I... Vampire." I yell, tilting my head to indicate the vamp coming up behind her. Saved by the undead, I think, as Faith whirls around and punches a stake through his heart before he even realizes she was turned around. Her technique has gotten better, I note critically. "Thanks, B. Couldn't have done it without you."


The Calm Before...

I spend a few more days looking for any sign of her but still nothing. But at night, she's always there when I hit the first cemetery, like she lives there and whenever I cross over the border, she materializes. We fall into an old rhythm: patrol, and slay. We spar, when it's quiet, in some empty corner of a cemetery, in that pure adrenaline rush that only we can achieve, so unlike when I sparred with Riley or even Angel, who could at least match me for strength. We're perfectly matched, equals, her slight reach advantage negated by my edge in speed. It's poetry, when we spar, movement choregraphed to some music only we, the chose two, can hear. It's exhilarating while it lasts, but then I have to explain the bruises to everyone in the morning. We're not gentle, Faith and I, that's just not our thing.

I stay out all night, most nights, with Faith, even sneak out for a second patrol after I've seen Dawn to bed. At night, it's like I tap into this feral energy of the hunt, and it's a relief to feel the energy, to simply feel. I'm alive, at night, my body attuned to the dark and quiet, with my dark shadow appearing at my side as I cross over. I sleep walk through the days, where the light seems to make me ethereal and translucent, but everyone's so used to that after I came back from the dead, so I think it goes unnoticed. And every time I turn around, there's Faith, an apparition beside me in her black leather and monochromatic t-shirts, moving with that cat-like grace as she walks beside me or spins to stake a vamp.

Her taste in clothes still favors dark colors and tight shirts, although sometimes she wears this pair of well-worn levis that hug her hips and show her stomach. I don't remember her ever wearing anything like them before. Before, even her jeans screamed 'fashion victim' with zippers or chrome studs. I laugh to myself to think that Faith wearing old levis means she's mellowed. Black leather is still her favorite though. I wonder where an ex-felon gets the money for it.

I start to imagine that perhaps Faith is a phantom, or my mind's twisted idea of an imaginary friend. We talk, sometimes, on patrol, or more accurately, I talk. I open up to her. which scares me when I think it through. I've let my guard down before with Faith and gotten my teeth kicked in in response. I'm not looking forward to a repeat performance. But she rarely talks when we're patrolling, about herself or anything else. No tall tales, no embarrassing sex talk, so unlike the old Faith, and it's a relief to talk someone who doesn't radiate smothering concern every moment. I talk, no, more accurately, I ramble on and on about everything, the death, my friends, Dawn, and she listens, nodding to let me know she's listening. I am sure she is a phantom. I hope she is a phantom.

But nevertheless, her presence is comforting, a warmth that penetrates the chill deep down in my stomach. After a long sparring session, we're sitting, leaning against a head stone and we're both quiet, alone with our thoughts. Finally, she pushes to her feet and turns, holding out a hand to me. I catch her hand, but also catch sight of the edge of pink and white scar tissue, there on her stomach, peeking out from under her tight, baby-doll T. I let go of her hand suddenly, falling back to the head stone while she looks down at me, puzzled. I reach out again and touch the scar, feeling the gnarled tissue marring the smooth skin of her stomach, and look up to meet her eyes. There's old pain there, lurking in the darkness, but also concern? worry? for me? Is that what I see in her eyes?

"Sorry," I whisper, my eyes supplying the missing blood, her blood, on my hands. It was so warm as it gushed out of her stomach, and sticky later as it dried. I remember how I lay there, stunned, with that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, just long enough for her to jump, when what I wanted to do was catch her as she fell, staunch the flow of blood, and beg her forgiveness.

Faith catches my hand again and this time succeeds in pulling me to my feet, but she pulls too hard and I stumble into her. My face is a bare inch from hers.

"Faith, I..."

Her finger to my lips stops me from saying I don't know what. "Shhh. It's ok." Her voice is incredibly quiet and soft and the look in her eyes is compassionate, understanding. I never imagined Faith could be gentle. "It's an old scar. That wound healed a long time ago." I touch the scar again, trail my finger along the soft ridge of skin etched into her stomach, and try to read her eyes. The warmth of her finger against my lips, that odd concern and gentleness throws me, as does the desire to run my hand over more of her skin. We stand like that for a long, long time before she turns away.

She walks with me to the house in a not-quite-strained silence. It's like we're both trying to figure out what just happened. We haven't spoken and I feel like I should say something before we separate when a huge arm grabs Faith by the hair and yanks her backwards.

A demon. A big demon. A big ugly demon. My flying kick surprises him and he releases her, but he swats me like a fly and I'm flying back now, into a pair of garbage cans. A sharp yell issues from the house behind me. Damn. Faith is hitting him with a flurry of punches where she can reach him but the blows don't seem to doing anything to faze him. I kick a trash can at him and the demon spins to grab me just as Faith snatches a battle axe from his belt and beheads him in one quick flowing stroke. The head bounces in the trash and I grin as I think, easy clean up.

"Nicely diverted, B," she says, flashing a smile and reaching down to pull me up. Again. And we're face-to-face, again, and now I really have to say something. But another voice stops me.

"Faith?" Willow stands at the end of the alley, glaring at Faith. Her eyes grow incredulous as she turns to me. "Buffy??"

I'm confused, feeling the world come in on me in a rush. It staggers me under the weight. I look between her and Faith for a minute, and then turn to face Willow. "You see her too?" Willow's eyes widen at the questioning tone in my voice, but before she can say anything, Faith calls, "Be seeing ya, B" and disappears, slipping into darkness before I can say another word.



The Storm

"I thought I was going crazy." Everyone's there and I can feel their eyes boring into me. I keep my eyes on the tablecloth in front of me and keep talking in that monotone I seem to slip into whenever I talk to the old gang. I try not to, really I do. But it's flat, emotionless, and I know it scares them all.

"I looked for her, at first, in the daytime. I thought maybe if I saw her in daylight, I would know if she was real or not." That makes no sense, even to me, now. But back when I reasoned it out, it made sense. Didn't it?

"Why didn't you tell anyone?" asks Giles, in that quiet, reasonable tone he gets when he's trying very hard to be patient.

"I... ... don't know," I finish lamely. And I don't. I don't know much these days, do I? Why did I think Faith was a phantom? Did I really even think that? Now I'm not so sure. It's like I was wrapped in gauze for days and weeks, like everything was just a little bit fuzzy or out of focus. I blink, suddenly trying to realize how long I had been sleepwalking through the days, but I can't remember.

"So you've been going out, sometimes twice a night, patrolling with Faith, for over a month?" Same reasonable tone. He's trying hard to get the facts straight and I think he agrees with my "crazy" estimation. It's there in the slow, careful way he says each word.

"Yeah." The flat monosyllable would do Faith proud, I think to myself, and resist the urge to giggle hysterically. Probably wouldn't do good for my image right about now.

"So you've just been patrolling and slaying?"

"Mostly." Ok, I have to stop with the single word responses. "Sometimes we spar, when it's slow, or talk." I catch Willow's eyes narrowing in pain. Damn. She masks the pain quickly when she sees me looking at her, and offers a quiet question.

"Do you think she put a spell on you or something?" The glimmer of hope in her voice makes me cautious. Obviously it would make her feel better to think that, to make Faith out to be the bad guy as always. And if it was a spell, then that would explain why I would talk to Faith and not to her, right?

"Maybe," I say, trying to be noncommittal. Have I been under a spell? Would I be able to tell if I were? As my mind circles around that thought, I feel the hysterical giggles rising up again and I have to clamp down on them quickly.

Giles is talking again when I pick up the conversation, planning our next steps. "Well, then, what we have to do is..."

"Find her." I say, still monotone but louder than I've spoken in a long time, and all the chatter at the table stops. "Willow?"

She glances at Giles, as if for permission, and at his slight nod, nods herself. "Well, we found her before by looking through property records. We may have to widen the search. If you couldn't find her, she might not be staying in town..." I let the planning talk wash over me, nodding occasionally, but my mind is on what I'm going to say to Faith.



The Lair of the Beast

The next morning, I'm outside her apartment. It's one of those old factory buildings they've turned into lofts, all industrial and trendy, that are popping up everywhere. It didn't end up taking much to track her down, after all.

"She's using Wilkins as her last name," Willow explained as she gave me the address.

"As in the Mayor?" I'm not surprised, but it makes me anxious. Why would she use his name if she had really changed? Has she really changed? I considered calling Angel—he would know, if anyone—but instead I decide to take it up with Faith herself.

"Are you sure you should go alone?" Willow asks, concern in her voice. "If she's up to her old tricks..." She lets the sentence trail off and I know that what she's hoping.

"Thanks, Will." I touch her arm gently and try to put some warmth into my voice and she smiles, as if even this forced emotion is better than none. "I'll be ok."

Standing outside her apartment, I sure hope I'm right. I try the door and it's unlocked, so I walk in, unannounced. I've done this before, I think to myself, on that fateful night I tried to kill her.

I see her, and it's so utterly domestic I want to laugh. She's leaning forward over the morning paper, propping up her head and holding her hair back with one hand, a coffee cup at her elbow and the remains of a bowl of cereal nearby. She's wearing those black leather pants and a sleeveless t-shirt with some band logo on it. How does she even know bands when she's been in prison, I wonder. She's absentmindedly tapping her fingers, swaying her head, and mouthing words to music; it's Hole, I think. At least her taste in music hasn't changed.

Crash and Burn/All the stars explode tonight/How'd you get so desperate/How'd you stay alive/Help me please/Burn the sorrow from your eyes/Come on be alive again/Don't lay down and die

The table she's sitting at is in the sun, and it lightens her raven hair to a warm chestnut and the tattoo on her arm flexes as she picks up her coffee cup. She's doesn't look like a psychotic torturer and killer. Except for the pants.

"B? Wanna cup of coffee?" She didn't look up from her paper to make the offer and her head still nods a bit to the beat. It's so absurd, the very idea of us sitting down for a morning cup of coffee, and I'm thrown by it. My prepared speech goes out right out of my mind.

"No." I look around the apartment. "Nice place," I say, stalling. And it is, too. The windows behind her face south and the morning sun warms the industrial feel of the space. Through the windows, I catch a patio, and even a garden. Sleek chrome gleams in the kitchen. There's a lot of counter space, and it looks more used than I ever would have imagined. Of course, I don't think I have ever imagined Faith cooking, or doing anything more domestic than washing her clothes in the sink like she used to at that hotel.

The furnishings are modern, black, chrome, and glass, throughout the rest of the apartment as well, warmed by splashes of color, mostly red throws and accents. A motorcycle, but not a Harley, is parked by a rear door, not far from the weight bench and heavy bag in the farthest corner. A stairway disappears over a room in the corner; the bedroom and bathroom I assume. I'm impressed and I don't try to hide it. I wonder how she affords it.

She's looked up from her paper and has been watching me as I survey the apartment. Her eyes take me in and give nothing back, as if she absorbs me into those depths and once again, I can't tell what she's thinking. The brunette lifts a shoulder in a shrug. "I like it. It's..." she pauses, as if surprised by her thoughts, "home." Her eyebrows shift down over her eyes as she reflects on her word choice, before she shakes her head, as if to shake off unsettling thoughts. "So what's the what, B? If you've come to slice me up and feed me to somebody," I wince, even though there's no malice in her tone, and cast a hurried glance at her stomach. The scar, mercifully, is hidden by her shirt. "I won't be able to get away from you this time." I narrow my eyes at her conversational tone and wait for her to continue, feeling the sting of her barb. Her smile is surprisingly open, and a hint of self-depreciation warms her voice. "Ground floor. Nowhere to jump to."

I ignore the whole thing, although I know she knows it rankled me. Back to that game and she's up, it seems. "What are you up to, Faith? Why are you here?" As soon as I get the questions out, I feel a rage bubbling up through my gut and I just barely keep from screaming at her, or pummeling her, like I threatened to that time in LA. My hands tighten into fists and I glare at her through narrowed eyes.

"I told you. I'm here..."

"To help? To see how I'm doing?" I cut her off, viciously. "Don't. Insult. My. Intelligence. I told you not to fuck with me."

She laughs at that, in what seems to be genuine mirth. "Wow, B. If this has been fucking, I've been doing it wrong the whole time." She looks me over, top to bottom with a lazy smile, like she memorizing every curve, and I feel a flush creeping across my cheeks. What the hell? "And I have to say, my way is a lot more fun." Her smirk says she knows what her once-over did to me, and I'm suddenly back to anger.

"Fucking with my mind, Faith. Taking advantage of me," I yell. My word choice sucks, but I'm too angry, and flustered, to really care. "Showing up, like a ghost or some figment of my imagination, getting me to talk to you, like we're friends, like you care, like I can ever trust you." A mix of emotions sweep over her face at my outburst. Anger, yes, but also pain, hurt and sadness. It looks like I'm up now in the game, but she's not playing and I feel like I'm beating a human punching bag, but I don't stop. "You have to know how messed up I've been and you, you... What's your game? Are you just storing this up so when you twist the knife, it'll be that much better because I started to let you in again?"

I'm rambling; I don't know what I'm saying. I don't trust her. I have never trusted her. "Are these mind games all part of the plan or are they just thrown in for fun, for your sick pleasure?" That one definitely scored, but she just looks... stricken. This is so not going as I expected. I'm slowly losing that thread of anger and rage. "You always did that, you always had to play with the emotions. Is this fun for you? Watching me... watching me... damn you, damn...." Somewhere, during that last outburst, I slid down the wall like a broken mariotte with the strings cut and began sobbing, wrapping my arms tightly around my knees as the tears spilled down my face.

She's there beside me in an instant and I no longer care what damage she's about to do to me right now. I am beyond it. But instead, her arms wrap around my back and head, holding me as I cry. For hours, it seems, I pour out the pain I've been holding in and even I'm amazed at how much there is. Mom dying, Riley leaving, Glory getting Dawn, my death and return. Except for that peace I felt for that one timeless moment, the pain has just kept coming, non-stop, and it all comes out this one burst. In front of Faith. With her strong arms holding me, comforting me, kneeling there so she supports my head with her leather-clad legs. The smell of leather and a man's cologne engulf me.

I come to myself, slowly, feeling exhausted and completely worked over, and find myself in Faith's arms, the warmth of her body a marked contrast to the chill that has seeped into mine. She's holding my head to her shoulder, stroking my hair, and muttering quiet, soothing sounds that are meaningless except in their intention. I give a brief thought to why I'm not dead yet, oh, yeah, that would be too easy, and I push her away. I instantly regret it and wish her comforting arms around me again. Her eyes narrow in pain again, and it seems like I'm winning so why do I feel like shit?

We sit like that for a long time, there on the floor, until I look down, very unsure about what I'm feeling or what she's thinking. I hear her sigh, as if she's made a decision, and she starts to talk, slowly, quietly.

"I was there. When you died." There? Faith was working with Glory? No, wait, that doesn't make any sense. "It was, I was..." The pause in her voice is unreadable, but speaks of a painful memory. "Sleeping, in my cell, and... I could see you fighting. I felt the, love, despair, and..." She purses her lips, as if trying to find the words. "And noble good intentions, I guess," and she cannot keep from adding a sarcastic tone to that, "as you jumped and sacrificed yourself for your sister and the world." She locks her eyes on mine, suddenly. "I felt a slight touch of comfort and warmth right before I felt the portal close and I woke up screaming." She ducks her head and her hair blocks my gaze like a dark curtain and I think she's hiding some emotion from me. "Slayer connection, I guess, like how we shared that dream when I was in the coma."

I try to think of what to say as the pause stretches out, but her voice stops me. "And I was there when you came back. I was in the middle of a nightmare, a recurring one, you, the mayor, me..." She shakes herself slightly, shaking off the memories, "and then I see my hands, digging through the lid of a casket, and I thought I was in that other nightmare, where I'm a vamp, but my sight is real blurry and the hands don't look like mine. Then I'm walking down the streets of Sunnydale, burning cars and shattered windows, and the roar of motorcycles, and everything seems to stab into my eyes. And this void, this big empty... sense of loss." She meets my eyes again and something she sees there tells her not to linger on this and she hurries on with the story. "When I woke up from that, it took me a while to sort it out, what was the Slayer dream from my nightmare."

"My parole hearing was four days after that. When I got out, I stayed with Angel for a couple of weeks and we talked about if I should come up here, but your pain was like a dull ache in my head and in the end, I couldn't not come. I had to do something," she concludes. She's not looking at me, crouched there, elbows on her knees, hands in front of her pursed lips. I don't know where she's gone in her thoughts, but it's far away.

"So you just came up get rid of that nagging pain?" Self-interest is a motivation I can understand from Faith, much more so than care or concern, and this comforts me in some weird way.

But she uncannily answers, "If that makes you feel better," as if she's reading my thoughts and I glance up at her sharply. She laughs at this, and shakes her head, "We're not asleep and we're not sharing thoughts. You sounded wicked relieved." Another long pause. "I know you don't believe me, but that's really why I'm here." There's genuine hurt in her voice, like it pains her that I don't trust her.

I reach out and touch her knee, to get her attention, catch her eyes again. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to question your motives." I sound sincere. I mean it, and I'm surprised. "I'm confused." Understatement of the decade, that. "I... believe you," surprising myself further, "that you are here to help and not hurt me." When I say that, I think I am either setting up her or me for a world of hurt, but I can't figure out who.

"Thanks." Her voice is rough with emotion, as raw as barbed wire.

Another long silence, each of us alone with our own thoughts. I try to sneak a peek at her face, but she's hiding behind that curtain of hair. Why do I care what's she's thinking or feeling? Like in the graveyard last night, why do I care about the pain I've caused? She's done worse to me, hasn't she?

Finally, she stirs, stretches, and looks across at me with a slight smile curving one end of those beautifully full lips. "Well, B, want that cup of coffee now?" I know my mouth must have fallen open at that and the smile that was tugging at her mouth wins completely, "or at least chairs?"

Oh shit, we're still sitting there in her doorway. I return her smile at the absurdity of the situation. "Chairs might be nice" and after all that tense emotion, we both burst out laughing. It's as much as an outburst as the previous. Faith recovers first and hops to her feet, but my legs seem to have forgotten how to move until she reaches down and pulls me to my feet. "Thanks."

"No problem, B." Her tone isn't mocking, but it sure is amused. I watch as she reaches for a mug, her shirt riding up so I can see a flash of skin at her waist. Suddenly, I have no idea how to continue this conversation. So I pull a Faith. I bolt from the apartment and leave her to turn around and discover I'm not there.



Fighting Demons

Everyone can see my agitation that night, as we eat dinner and make popcorn and watch movies, and they know I went to see Faith. Willow gets me alone, finally, and asks what happened. Good question. Excellent question. Wish I knew. "I..." fall back on to my standard answer these days, "don't know."

"You don't know?" Willow fires back, her voice rising. It isn't a very satisfactory answer, I know. I've been trying to think up a better one all day. "Buffy, what? Did you fight? Did you find out what she's trying to pull?"

"It's confusing. I... don't think she's trying to pull anything."

"You don't?" There's that incredulous tone in her voice again.

"Yeah, I mean, no, no, I don't." I shake my head, trying to figure out what I'm saying, and throw my hands up in frustration. "Hence the confusion." I sigh, exhaling the air from my lungs slowly. "I should go patrol."

"Are you sure? I mean, Faith might..." Oh. Yeah. She might. And am I in any state to see her again? Willow must see the confusion on my face and thankfully stays quiet. I don't really think I can face her, but my nerves are popping like live wires and I feel like I'll explode if I don't do something, anything, right now.

"I don't want to see her," I admit to Willow and I see her eyes brighten, "but if I don't slay something I'm going to go crazy. Will, can you...?" She nods, understanding, and I feel like I've just had the first real conversation with her in a lifetime. "Thanks," I say, squeezing her shoulder briefly.

Of course, the vamps take the night off. I look everywhere, my nerves jangling and every inch of my body itching for a fight, and nothing. I stalk through four cemeteries, searching through every crypt and copse of trees, but nothing. Just before dawn, I see someone perched like a gargoyle on the top of a mausoleum. "Faith."

"Slow night."

"Faith, I..."

She shakes her head, cutting me off. She hops down, landing easily on her feet in a crouch, faces me silently, and then moves into a guard. I nod my head in understanding, and we begin circling. I have never been as glad for a sparring session in my life. It's all-out, pull-no-punches, and I throw myself into it like I did the outburst that morning; with abandon, with exhaustion. It feels good to get my blood pumping and heart racing. I needed this.

Finally, I try a leg sweep and she jumps, but slips on the wet grass and falls, landing on top of me with an 'oommph.' Her eyes are locked on mine as she catches her breath. I'm doing the same, feeling the dew seep into my back and a sudden fire all along my front, everywhere Faith's body is touching mine. I don't know what she sees in my face; I'm not sure what I'm seeing in hers. There's a softness to the curve of her lips, there, and a light in her eyes that isn't only pleasure in sparring. She lowers her head a little.


"B?" Her voice is low, husky, and it sends a shiver down my spine.

I reach up, catch her shoulders, and then flip her up and over my head. She rolls quickly to the side, so my follow-up kick misses, and then we're both on our feet again.

"Watch your back." I taunt, and her tight smile manages to suggest both, 'yeah, you got me' and 'you are so gonna get it.' And we're back to sparring.

We duke it out well into the morning, and end up back at her apartment over a cup of coffee and donuts. We look like the poster children for an abuse hotline ad campaign, split lips and black eyes. My knuckles protest when I try to grasp the handle of the cup and I settle for wrapping both hands around the mug to get it to my lips. Her mouth quirks as she sees my movements, but then she shifts in her chair gingerly, favoring her ribs, and I raise my eyebrows meaningfully. We laugh, for a minute, until she grabs at ribs with an "ooowww."

"I should call the house."

"What are you going to tell them?" Why do people keep asking me questions I can't answer?

"The truth, I guess." I make a comical thoughtful face and exaggerate my shrug. "Whatever that is."

She meets my eyes with a mischievous grin. "That you were with me all night? That's how a girl gets a rep, B."

I can feel the blush heating my face, and I retort, "What, trying to drag me down into the gutter with you, Faith?" The barb hits and I immediately feel ashamed for going for the hurt when all she's trying to do is carry on some light banter. I open my mouth, but she's waving me to the phone and looking down at the paper.


"Buffy? Where are you? Are you ok? We've been worried..."

"I'm ok, Will. I'm at Faith's."

"What?" I'm sure Faith heard that. I think people in China heard that. Willow gets her voice under control, but I can hear the struggle. "What are you doing there?" The last word is acid.

"It's ok, Will. We were sparring, and I..." I hastily amend that, "WE'RE pretty beat up. I didn't want Dawn to see."

"Buffy, you're sure you're ok?"

"Really, Will, I promise. I'm just going to hole up here for a while," catching myself a little too late and I swing to Faith to see if she heard, but she's nodding her head 'ok.' I say a silent 'thanks' to her. "Can you tell Dawn I'll see her after school?"

Willow's voice on the other end promises an interrogation as she says, "Yeah, ok. We'll see you tonight."

I turn back to Faith after replacing the receiver. "Thanks. Faith, I..." Again, she cuts me off with a sad shake of her head. "Look, B, I'm beat." There's a short snort of laughter. "Literally. I'm going to take a shower and then a nap, k? Shower'll be all yours after I'm done."

Faith disappears into the bathroom. I don't remember falling asleep on the couch, but when I wake, that's where I am. I'm covered by the throw that I know I didn't pull over me and there's towels and a washcloth on the coffee table beside me. She's still asleep when I come out. Or she's avoiding me. I leave a note telling her I probably won't be up for patrol tonight. I'm about to put down the pen when some urge prompts me to write, "I'll see you tomorrow."



The bruises are greatly faded by the time I have to face my friends. Dawn looks at me strangely when I greet her home from school, but she really doesn't say anything. We make small talk about school and make supper and I can tell there's an intervention planned for me later. It goes as well as can be expected, which is it goes horribly. They don't understand what I'm doing, they're hurt, and they want an explanation. I don't understand, I can't explain anything, and it solves nothing. Giles finally sends everyone out of the house, even Dawn, and we sit on the couch together in silence.

I break, finally. "I really don't know so I can't explain."

"I understand that, Buffy." He looks at me with such care and concern and, for once, I don't feel the pressure to have to explain myself. "I sent the others away because you looked like you could use a break, not to continue the interrogation one-on-one."

I release the breath I didn't know I was holding. "I know this has been trying for you, Buffy. I cannot begin to understand how it feels to be brought back into the world like that." He pauses and cleans his glasses, like I've seen him a million times before. "Obviously there's something going on between you and Faith. You don't think she's back to cause trouble, and I trust your instincts. But there are a great many unanswered questions as to why she's here." He puts his glasses back on and looks at me fondly.

"This whole situation obviously confuses you..." Obviously. "but you seem to be drawn to spend time with her. Maybe she's offering you some measure of comfort, or healing, or at the very least a way to work out some of your emotional turmoil." He smiles ruefully. "Although I would prefer that you wouldn't pummel each other quite so much."

"Whatever it is she offers, it's helping. More than our care and concern can." He thinks he's failed me by not being able to heal me, I can tell. "Maybe it's the Slayer connection you share, or maybe because she understands this loss and pain better, I don't know. I've been researching the Slayer connection, but since you are the only two Slayers that we know of who have ever lived at the same time, I fear it's a pointless search."

"Yeah, we're unique in that way." The Chosen Two.

"Indeed." He glances up at the clock and then at me. He's so worried about me. "The others will be home soon, I suppose. Would you like to go ahead on to bed so you don't have to face any more questions?"

I let out a shaky breath. "God, yes," I groan and he chuckles at the tone in my voice. "Giles..."


"Thanks, for understanding and... everything."

"Sleep well, Buffy."

But I don't sleep at all. When the others come in, I hear him tell them not to badger me about Faith, that I'm trying to figure out the situation, and that it might have to do with the Slayer bond.

"Are you sure she's not under some spell, Giles? One I couldn't detect when I tried yesterday?" That's Willow, checking up on me. I'm not mad at her for that. I would have the same suspicions if it wasn't me. I know I'm acting weird.

I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes, because when I open my eyes Dawn is sitting at the foot of my bed, watching me sleep, and I didn't hear her come in at all. "Hey Dawnie," I say, sleepily. She looks so sad. I sit up and pull her into my lap. She's surprised, and resists for a moment, but then curls up like she used to when she was little. Or how the monks made me think she used to when she was little when they implanted my memories. I sigh, at the thoughts in my head and at how I know I've made her feel.

"I've been a bad big sister. I'm trying to get better." I stroke her hair as I feel her tremble, like she's about to cry. "I really am trying. You believe me, don't you, Dawn?" There's a muffled, 'uh huh' before she burst into tears. We sit there, me rocking her and making soothing noises to her, like Faith did for me.




"Hey, B." Faith seems surprised to see me. "You actually knocked this time. I thought maybe you forgot how." Her smile is teasing as she ushers me into the apartment. Music is playing, like the apartment has a soundtrack or something. The music surprises me this time; it's slow and jazzy, and so not what I expected. "Sade?" It slips out before I can stop myself and I catch a hint of a blush color Faith's cheeks. Or maybe that was the light because it is gone in an instant.

I gave you all the love I got/I gave you more than I could give/ Gave you love/I gave all that I had inside and you took my love/You took my love

"Ya gotta be careful about pigeon-holing people, B. They might sneak up and surprise you." She has walked up behind me so that when I turn, we're only a couple of feet apart. Her smile is mildly flirtatious and an image of her mouth lowering towards mine during the fight flashes through my head.

"I guess so," I manage.

"I didn't think I would see you until tonight."

"You were going to come patrol?" I ask, surprised. I thought she was angry at me.

Faith shrugs her shoulders beneath the tight black t-shirt she's wearing and looks around sheepishly. "No slaying for two nights. I got needs, ya know?" She tilts her eyebrows suggestively and winks at me.

"I heard that about you, Faith." There's a teasing, almost flirtatious note in my voice. "Some things never change," I say with a smile, and suddenly I'm transported back in time. Again with the grunting... her walking backwards, pointing back at me—the good girl—with that smirk curving her lips. I've moved a step closer during my little trip down memory lane, almost but not quite too close, almost but not quite violating her personal space. It's almost like I'm tempting her, trying to see what she'll do and I'm disappointed when she steps away, walks over to the table and picks up her mug. I know I shouldn't be, but I am.

"You want some coffee?"

"Coffee would be nice, thank you. You must drink coffee all the time."

"Pretty much." She pads into the kitchen in her bare feet, setting her coffee cup on the counter while I wander over to the table. I watch her pour coffee for a moment, admiring her legs in those ratty Levis, and then look down suddenly when I realize I'm checking her out. There's a bunch of books on the table, including one on investment strategies and a course catalog for a local community college. "Are you playing the stock market?" I ask, puzzled. She's throwing me for all kinds of loops, here. Sade? Investing? College? Books? Maybe they brainwashed her in that prison...

She pointedly ignores the question and walks by me to the couch, setting our mugs on coasters and waits until I move over to join her. I must have overstepped and the expression on her face is anything but welcoming.

"I though maybe we could talk."

"So talk."

Now that sounds like the old Faith, armor all in place and no chinks showing. I slip off my shoes before I pull my feet up on the couch and cradle my mug. Might as well get comfortable, I think, and take a sip of my coffee. Light, with sugar, just the way I like it. How did she know that?

"I told you I believe that you came here to help. I do." I catch and hold her eyes. "I trust you." Relief is evident on her face, although her look is still guarded and closed. I mean my words but I have to admit I've never taken such a leap with so little reason, except perhaps my defense of Angel when he came back from that hell dimension.

"I'm sorry I ran out of here the other morning. I was overwhelmed and confused and..." I spread my hands helplessly. "I should at least have said goodbye."

She shrugs. "It's ok. I was actually relieved when you blew out of here. I, umm, needed some time to regroup."

"I need to thank you, too." I shift my legs into a more comfortable position and almost spill my coffee. Smooth, Summers, smooth. "I don't know how you've done it, but you've helped." Pause. "A lot. It's like every time I've turned around lately, you've been there with just whatever it is I've needed." I chuckle under my breath. "From a punch in the face to a good hard cry to coffee."

She's still not giving me much, but she's listening. Her eyebrows are knitted together above those expressive dark eyes. I never noticed those little specks of gold there... Her eyebrows shift, questioningly, and I realize I've been just staring into her eyes for, uh, how long? Ok, what just happened there?

"Umm, sorry." I break the gaze and put my mug down, for something to do, and then reconsider, and take a drink, and then put it down again. "Lost my train of thought," I say, as I look up at her again. Yup, there's definitely amusement in her eyes now, and a lazy smirk curving her lips. I'm about to go on when I blurt out, "Sarah McLachlan?" Now that's definitely a blush covering her cheeks.

My body aches to breath your breath/Your words keep me alive/And I would be the one/To hold you down/Kiss you so hard/I'll take your breath away

She whips her arm around impatiently. "Look, B, if you just came over to make fun of my music..." Her feet hit the floor and she starts to push herself up from the couch.

"Sorry." I catch her arm lightly to keep her from getting up. She pulls her arm out from under my hand, but stays seated, and I realize I must have pissed her off with all the music comments. "Sorry," I say again, lamely, as I see that mask of indifference slide over her features. Damn. Nice way to apologize and thank her, I berate myself. "As I was saying, I don't know how you do it, but you've helped. When I've been around you, I, I..."



Death Wish

"I, I..."

"Feel alive," Faith completes the thought for me, her voice low and husky. "Look, B." Now she is up, on her feet, pacing around the room like a careening bullet or a loose warhead, and her voice rises, "you died. And got brought back. When you didn't want to. You want to die."

I lose track of Faith for a minute while I consider this. Do I? I couldn't, that would be.... She stops pacing and faces me, drawing my attention back to her. Self-loathing clouds her expression for a brief moment.

"Ya got a death wish," The brunette shrugs her shoulders, as if she can just shrug off the pain in her eyes, as if it's that's easy. "I can relate." She starts pacing again. "Your problem is, once you saw how much pain your death caused everyone, you couldn't just die again. You looked at Willow, Xander, Dawn..." Dawn. Yeah, even the though of her makes me feel guilty. "And you couldn't finish the job." She stops again. "But you that's not the same as wanting to live."

"And worse, you resent them, for bringing you back and keeping you here, in the world where you don't wanna be. So you go through the motions with them, out of that endless,"-she stresses the word-"responsibility streak or martyr complex, or whatever it is you suffer from." She shakes her head as if she can't comprehend, but she seems to comprehend the situation a whole hell of a lot better than I do. Faith stalks through the room, moving quietly and fluidly in worn jeans on bare feet, and while I listen to her words, her movements, her actions draw my eyes. Her agitation is hard to figure out—something drives her that isn't just me and my problems, I'm sure.

"So you go on, go through the motions, not dead but not really alive." She shoots words at me at breakneck speed. "With me, though, it's different. And not just different circumstances. With me, you, we... tear it up, tear it down. It's hard not to feel something in a fight, you get pumped and your body takes over and even if it's physical, it's feeling." She's standing above me now. How did she get there and me not notice? "At first, it was just anger, at me, or the chance to lose yourself in a good, hard fight."

"I give you something to strike at and sometimes... sometimes, you calm down enough to talk. And I'm there for that too. Because I'm not watching your every word to make me feel better about what I've done to you. Because I'm not the one who's hurt you." Her wry smile is a twist of pain and there's that shrug.. "At least not today."

Faith seems to realize how caught up she is, and she exhales audibly and flops back down on the couch beside me. She takes over the couch unconsciously, just like she always did, her legs slayed and her arm resting on the back of the couch, well into my personal space. She always expanded to fill all available space, to keep people away or just because she could, I never did figure out. But she's always been larger than life, so it makes a certain kind of sense—dictating space the same way she dictates everything else. Faith's way or the highway. She runs a hand roughly through her hair and glances over at me, her dark eyes intense and burning.

"You gotta make a choice, B. You gotta choose to live or you'll just fade away. This half life, being kept alive by responsibility, ain't working." She plays with a pillow on the couch, the very picture of restless energy before she catches my eyes. "You have to find something to live for." She breaks eye contact again. "I kinda thought it would be Dawn, myself. You sacrificed yourself for her. You would have sacrificed the world for her. But she's not enough to hold you in this world." Turning abruptly on the couch, Faith faces me, the pillow forgotten.

"I saw it, that first night I found you. You were taking on those two vamps. You shoulda taken 'em out in 30 seconds, easy. And you could have, too. But it was like you were stringing them along, like seeing if one just might get lucky, and the decision would be out of your hands, once and for all." She leans even closer, trying to read something in my face, and I catch my breath at the movement. "The look of disappointment, I've never seen a scarier look on your face." She shakes her head sadly, her mahagony hair swinging with the movement. "Including the look in your eyes when you gutted me with my own knife."

The silence stretches to uncomfortable and back again. She's leaning back against the cushions again, fiddling with her coffee cup and looking at it intensely. "You don't pull any punches, do you?" I ask, almost to myself.

"I think we're way past that, B."

"Yeah, yeah, we are." I stretch out my hand and put the slightest pressure on her wrist, and she meets my eyes. "Thanks. I..." I notice a clock, "Shit, I should go. Dawn will be home soon."

"Yeah, it's getting late." She pulls her hair back and rolls her head on neck. "You, um, want a ride?" She jerks her head at the motorcycle, a Triumph. Interesting. "I gotta run an errand and, well, then you'll be sure to be home before Dawn."

"Sure." I give her a quick smile. "Nice bike."

Her smile is warm and she looks at the bike like it's a symbol of something. What, I don't know. "Yeah. I like it."

She puts on a tight leather jacket, zipping it up so it fits her curves like a second skin, and picks up a messenger bag. "Do you have a jacket?" She looks me up and down, noting my flimsy sleeveless shirt, and that little catch in my breath and blush comes back.

"Umm, no," I say, a little breathlessly, but Faith doesn't seem to notice. She gauges my outfit, and selects a red jean jacket from among many such jackets, of all colors. "Here." The corner of her mouth twitches. "Sorry, I don't have pink."

I look at the coat rack, giving it an obvious once-over, noting the many jackets. "Really? Are you sure about that?"

She gives me a mock glare over her shoulder as she pushes the bike out the door.

"Shouldn't we have helmets?" I shut my mouth at her exasperated look and jump up behind her. I think for a long moment, about the near kisses, flirtations, and recent bout of breathlessness I seem to be experiencing and I'm not sure where to hold. But I can't help it—I admit to myself I want to touch her—and slide my hands, slowly, around her waist to clasp them together on her stomach, and hold tight. Her stomach seems to twitch a little under my fingers.



"I need to be able to breath."

"Oh. Sorry. I get nervous on motorcycles."

"I never would have guessed" she says with a laugh and then we are away. The wind blows away any attempt at conversation, and my ability to breath with it. I lean closer into her back and rest my chin on her shoulder, watching the road from this vantage point. I can feel her ribs rise and fall under my hands quickly, her breath shallow and rapid, like she's been running. I relax into the speed and turns and realize I could just ride around like this for hours, even though I don't like motorcyles.

We get to my house way too soon. She drops me off around back, in the alley behind the house. "Just in case," she laughs. She pulls out a pair of sunglasses out of her jacket pocket. Her eyes retreat behind the dark glass and I can't believe how cute she looks astride the bike. I suddenly don't want her to go.

"I'll see you tonight?" I ask, trying not to sound like I'm begging.

"Yup. Cya."

As she roars away, I flop onto a lounge chair in the back yard and try to control my breath. I've finally figured something out about my life—I'm developing a crush. On Faith. Yeah, I couldn't figure out something else, something that might help me with my life, but no, I have to get inappropriate crushes on someone who's tried to kill me, and someone I tried to kill. Yeah, that's healthy. But then I remember the tight muscles of her stomach under my hands, the warm skin under my fingers, and I find myself wondering what the rest of her body feels like. I'm still sitting there in a daydream when Dawn finds me.

Later, when Willow, Tara, Dawn, and I sit down to dinner, and Dawn seems so happy to have me cooking and spending time with them, Tara says, "That's a nice jacket. Is it new?"

I glance down and say, absentmindedly, "Oh, no, it's Faith's," and I'm treated to another round of "Buffy's crazy" looks shooting around the table. Damn.



Not the Only Crazy

After the slow night and last night with no patrol, the vamps are happing. We kill at least three singles and a pair before we even get through the first cemetery. It's relatively quiet in the second. Even though we are slaying up a storm, Faith seems tense, her shoulders hunched as she walks and her responses to my talk are monosyllabic at best, guttural at worst.

I try to be chipper, even though I'm not used to being the chipper one anymore, as I chatter on about music and try to draw her out. Her 'yeah' and 'huh' responses do not inspire confidence that I'm managing to do anything positive. I finally break down and ask her what's the matter and get a 'nothing' answer, but she's so obviously wrapped up in her thoughts that she completely misses a vamp jumping us. He careens into us and manages to tackle Faith to the turf; she goes down hard, cursing up a storm. Some of those words I've never even heard before, I think, as I stake the vamp from behind before he can even lower his fangs anywhere near her neck.

I pull Faith up from the ground where she's muttering angrily. "You ok?"

"I'm fine," is her curt reply.

"Not that," indicating the place where she fell. "You're distracted, and that vamp got the jump on you." Her eyes narrow at that, and she turns as if to walk off, but I grab her arm. "And don't tell me it's nothing. There's obviously something."

She doesn't reply, shaking her arm loose from my grasp and instead walks away, dodging between crypts as if she thinks that can shake me. I follow, thinking there are so many problems when it comes to a conversation with Faith. So many things I don't know and can't predict her reactions to. Kinda like walking through a minefield with great big clown shoes—you know you are going to step on a mine, you just don't know which one or when exactly you'll set it off. You just know it's inevitable.

"Come on, Faith, talk to me."

"Talk to you? About what?"

Her voice is warning but I forge on anyway. Because I'm an idiot, apparently. "About anything. What's on your mind. Growing up. Prison, I don't know."

The look of scorn on her face is brutal as she whips around to face me. "You want to know about prison, B? What exactly do you want to know? You want to know about... what? The fights? The beatings by the guards? The cavity searches? What EXACTLY do you want to know?" She shakes her head, hair whipping back and forth. "You want to know how bad it was so you can know if you got the revenge you were looking for back when you came to L.A.? Is that what you want to know?"

The brutality in her voice and the anger that contorts her face scare me, more than I would have imagined possible. The core of hatred and violence I didn't think it existed any more bubbles to the surface from wherever it's been lying dormant all this time, and I suddenly remember the look of joy in her eyes when she threatened to torture me.

"That's not..."

"Just don't." She commands scornfully, stopping me with a violent chopping motion with her hand. "Don't pretend you care. We're past your attempts to make yourself feel better by pretending to care about me."

"What...? Faith, I..."

She shakes her head, sadly, a little disbelieving that I don't know what she's talking about. "The Saint Buffy act, you always coming to talk to me, as if you cared. But it was always about you, B, your need to pretend that you were so good, so perfect. It's always about you so don't pretend it's about me." She shakes her head again. "Just don't."

She's already walking away, fast. I catch up and grab her arm, spinning her around to face me. Her arm flashes up as I do, so her spinning back fist connects just as her body completes the turn, sending me flying. I'm on the ground, head spinning and a sharp pain in my jaw, and Faith is standing over me, her eyes dark with anger, and I like we've been transported back three years.

"DON'T touch me." She glares down at me for a minute before stalking off and I lay there, catching my breath and rubbing my jaw, before slowly getting to my feet. I let her get a head start and then follow in her general direction, not sure if I'm hoping to run into her again or not.

When I catch up with her, she's fighting a vamp. Although fighting is not the right term. She's beating the unconscious body of a vampire to a pulp, taking out more aggression than I thought she was even capable of these days. I pull her off, swinging and slamming her, hard, against a crypt before staking the vamp. Faith is leaning against the crypt, glaring at me, but the fight seems to have calmed her down somewhat. The look in her eyes is simply violent and not murderous. I take that as progress.

We're silent for long, long moments, until Faith pushes herself off the crypt and walks past me.

"You're right," I say, quietly, to stop her headlong flight. I don't turn to face her. "I didn't always come to you with the best motives or reasons." The images flash through my head, Faith on her bed in that dingy hotel and my sermon about trust, even though I never trusted her, me walking away from her on those docks when her words hit a little close to home, and L.A. God, L.A. I close my eyes at the memory. "And some times I was self-serving." I think back. "A lot of times," I admit.

I look over my shoulder and Faith has turned, watching me with eyes narrowed in suspicion and her arms crossed. I can tell she's reserving the right to reject everything I say. "I guess saying I'm sorry doesn't cover it." I shrug. "I'm sure you understand that, you know, when people use your past behavior to explain your present."

Her mouth twists a little. "We've had an ugly past. We've fucked things up, both of us." I finally turn so we're facing each other across a few feet of sod, her stormy eyes meeting mine defiantly. "I won't pretend, but I'm trying not to let the past determine the present. I asked about you because I want to know what's bothering you. I asked about prison..." Her reaction is a clenching in her jaw and a lowering of her head. "Because I know it wasn't easy and I wonder how you survived. And not just survive, but you came out stronger. And I don't mean physical strength, but emotionally stronger. Strong enough to come back here, after everything that's happened, and..." I grope for the words, "save my life. I don't know how you did it, but I want to know."

Faith's dark eyes are unreadable, as always. Wasn't she easy to read at some point? Now she's like Angel, her thoughts so deep and veiled they are reflected nowhere on her face. Like staring into a deep, still pond, I can't penetrate the depths. "Come on," she says with a gesture of her head.


"Let's go get a drink or something."




Honky-tonk Confessions

We end up in this dive bar in some basement off a narrow alley, not far from the cemetery. There's no sign, no light at the entrance. How do people even know it's there? The concrete floor is sticky and I see a glints of glass as the disco ball twirls on a string. A jukebox is wheezing out some honky-tonk tune for the single couple on the dance floor, who seem oblivious as they grind completely out of time with the music. Faith gives the bartender a nod by lifting her chin, the up-nod, and it suddenly dawns on me that that is how guys nod, not girls. What floors me is that I realize Faith's always done that nod, and that I just noticed.

The bartender puts two drafts and some amber liquid on ice on the counter as Faith slides a ten across the counter. She collects all the glasses and heads to a booth as far away from the jukebox as possible. I follow, trying to figure out how she ordered without saying anything. She slides into the booth as I sit across from her. She puts her boots up on my bench and slouches in her seat, taking a sip of the amber liquid.

"Nice... ambience." I quip.

She looks around the room with a fond smile, surprising me by agreeing with a 'yeah.'

"You come here often?"

"Sometimes." She gives me that tough look, daring me to judge her, but I don't rise to the bait. Judging Faith is a one-way ticket to attitude, with a sucky in-flight movie to boot. "It's a way to be around people without actually being around people, I guess. Quiet. And it reminds me of places I knew growing up."

I look questioning at that, but she doesn't answer my look. Just takes another sip of the amber liquid. "So what are you drinking?" I ask.

Her eyes are amused over the top of her highball. "Scotch." Her mouth quirks into a smile. "You want me to get you one?"

"No. I'll stick with my beer," I say, taking a tiny sip.

She launches into the story, no transition, no introduction. "The first few months were the worst. New girl, everyone wanted a piece of me. Other cons, guards, everyone. First week, I lost my temper. She started it but I finished it." Her voice is quiet, like she's talking to herself. She's staring at the glass she has in her hand as she rotates it a quarter turn, then again, over and over. "I almost killed her. And spent a week in solitary. After the guards got through beating me." Another quarter turn. I watch the glass as well, her thumbs moving rhythmically.

"I guess I reached a decision, somewhere along the line. I wasn't going to be someone's punching bag, but..." Her shrug is eloquent with what she isn't saying. "So I started to react to attacks by defending myself, ending it quickly by incapacitating the attacker and then stepping off. And I made sure it was obvious who started it. So I got a rep that I could fuck you up, but wouldn't unless you tried something. People stopped trying and the guards stayed off my case."

"First few months, I spent hours, every day, training. They had a heavy bag in the gym and I put in sometimes 8 hours a day on it, if they let me. When they didn't, I rolled up my mattress and worked on that. That helped my rep as well. People saw me wailing on that heavy bag for hours and hours, well..." Another shrug. "I would pace half the night until I collapsed. I didn't have a cellmate. None of them wanted to be locked in a room with me, I guess, and the guards were worried about what would happen if I snapped, I think. Can't blame them there." Her closes her eyes, briefly, shutting away some pain, and then shakes her head and sits up a little.

"Angel... heard. He came on infrequent visits, but he kept tabs on me, maybe through that detective friend of his. So he sent me a book." She laughs a little, at that. "Me, a book. On eastern philosophy, you know, Buddhism and stuff? I thought he was crazy. But one night, I was pacing and the light from the hallway kinda hit it, there on the desk where I had left it. So I picked it up and just started reading on some random page. Made no sense. But I kept reading anyway. All night, squinting, trying to make out the words in that piss-poor light. That morning, I watched a sunrise through the bars, like I had never seen one before in my life."

She suddenly seems to remember that she's talking out loud, because she laughs, embarrassed, and takes a sip of her drink. "Fucking corny, huh?" I shake my head. She takes another drink and lets out an audible breath. "Anyway, I used one of my phone calls, which I never did, and called Angel about three weeks later. I had finished the book AND read everything on the subject in the prison library, like all of three books. Asked him to send me more stuff and a notebook. He did. And kept sending me stuff. Eventually Cor started to too. And Wesley. I nearly tortured the guy to death and he sends me this beautiful, leather-bound copy of Shakespeare's tragedies." The look on her face is thoughtful in quiet awe, which is the look I imagine I have on my face as well. "So I eased off on the heavy bag, went down to about four hours a day, and started reading. And writing, filling up all these notebooks. And letters to Angel, off-the-wall shit, I'm sure."

"The things you do when you have time and nowhere to run to. I didn't understand much of what I was reading, but I'd send questions to Angel and he'd try to answer them. Then, I swear he somehow got this class offered at the prison, Tai Chi, as part of the anger management counseling I was required to do. I never thought to ask him," And she smiles to herself at this, "but in my head, he somehow did it just for me. Tai Chi combined the physical stuff with the reading, in a way, like a moving mediation." She glances up at me as she says this, gauging my reaction to all this, and I keep my expression neutral—I know she thinks this is corny, and I don't want her to think I do. "I kept up with it after the instructor left and Cor sent me tapes. I even started showing some of the other cons in the prison yard."

I suppress a surge of jealousy as she describes her relationship with Angel. She picks up the glass and drains it, setting it down with a thud to break the mood. "I guess that's it. Nothing more to tell."

I reach across the table and catch her hand. She looks down at it like she's deciding whether or not to pull away. She doesn't, but meets my eyes instead. "Thanks," I say simply. I'm not sure if praise would seem condescending. "That's... you're" I pause, trying to think of a good word that doesn't sound too weird, but I can't come up with anything but, "amazing." Those expressive eyebrows shift down, like she doesn't quite believe me, but she lets it stand. She nonchalantly pulls her hand away and picks up her beer, taking a sip, staring off in the middle distance somewhere over my shoulder, her thoughts far away.

"Wait... what was bothering you earlier?"

She shakes her head and I know the answer before she says it, so I cut her off with a head shake of my own. "And don't tell me nothing."

Her sideways look and throaty chuckle is her way of letting me know I caught her. "Three years," she says instead.

"Three years?"

"Since I arrived in Sunnydale." She looks around the bar, obviously thinking of all the places she could be right now. "I swore I was never coming back the last time I left. And yet... here I am." Faith throws her head back, flipping her hair out of her eyes. "This place just keeps pulling me back. Earlier, I was thinking about that. About how much pain and misery might have been averted if I had never showed up here."

"No regrets."


"My new motto. No regrets." I gesture around the room, thinking about how Sunnydale seems to pull me back too. "I'm back too, you know, and I've been running to my grave ever since I left it." She really did have me pegged, earlier today. I shake my head, a flat negative. "No more." Her eyebrow quirks up in surprise.

"I just figured out, there's nowhere else I'd rather be right now." She glances around the room in obvious disbelief and looks back at me. I give her a silly grin and pick up my beer, extending the glass to her. She raises her glass, clicking it against my glass with a crisp 'tink' before draining it. I follow suit and lower my glass to see her shaking her head and laughing. Mentally, I add, 'and no one I'd rather be with."



Dinner and a Movie

Faith is staring at me, I notice. Maybe that's because I'm staring at her, and I have been for some time. In fact, I've been off in my own little world the last minute or so, taking in her leather pants—red, this time, for variety's sake I guess—and black long sleeve shirt, and her body under them. Every bit of her clothing hugs every curve, at her hips, her ass—oops, that's why she's staring at me. I wonder how long I was looking at her breasts and what exactly she made of that?

"B? You ok?" I blink and shake my head a little, coming out of the starefest I had been indulging in.

"Yeah, I'm ok."

"You kinda zoned on me there for a second." She's searching my face with those dark, beautiful eyes, but the expression on her face is one of checking me over like I've been hit on the head or something, like she's trying to determine if I have a concussion. I suppress the desire tell her the president, but end up giggling over the thoughts in my head and I get the ‘what's wrong with her, is she crazy' look anyway. I decide I can't win, and I just give up trying. It was a long day anyway, what, with no sleep and everyone walking around me like they want to say something, but then they don't. And there, I've zoned again over the thoughts in my head and Faith's starting to look really worried.

"I'm just tired."

"Maybe we should cut patrol short tonight. You should go home and sleep."

"No!" Wow, where did that come from? Even the thought of the house makes me crazy. "I… don't want to home."

Faith gazes at me for a minute, and then nods, slowly, like she understands. She has been the only one to understand. "Let's go back to my place, then. We can find something to do."

The little inner monologue in my head that is talking a mile a minute is sing-songing something about doing something with Faith, but I really don't think I should listen to that right now. Even though she does look yummy in leather. That's the little cartoon devil on my shoulder, but not literally. I think. I hope. I look over at my shoulder to check—you can never be too careful on the hellmouth. While I've been listening to my head, Faith has taken my arm and is pulling me through the streets of Sunnydale. The post office, the movie theatre, the espresso pump, everything's closed, like in a zombie movie. "Zombies!" I yell, and Faith pulls up short, kinda stepping in front of me like she's protecting me, and starts looking around for, well, zombies. "I think we should watch a zombie movie," I proclaim to the empty streets.

Faith swivels her head around to give me an exasperated glare before grabbing my arm and hauling me toward her apartment. She grumbling under her breath, something about me giving her a heart attack, but the little devil is back and he's singing a loud, drunken song that sounds suspiciously like Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. Great, not only do I get a devil that sings, but he's completely random. And out of tune. And drunk. That's so unfair.

Faith is setting me on the couch and I'm chanting "zombies, zombies, zombies" and kinda clapping my hands together, and Faith is staring at me again, like before. Or was that me staring at Faith? Or her staring at me? "And pizza!" I add to the chant, and she's slipping a DVD in and it's zombies. Or just really pale people walking around kinda stupidly. They look funny.

Later, there's the smell of pizza and I sit up long enough to take a slice. A zombie is eating some guy's brains and I giggle. Does pizza look like brains? Gooey? Check. Stringy? Check. Mmm, pizza. I'm not sure where Faith is until she sits back down, handing me something in a can. Mmm, beer. I think I said that out loud. More zombies. More brains. And then nothing.

When I wake up, there's a crick in my neck and the sun is coming up. I'm curled up on the couch, and Faith sleeping in an uncomfortable-looking position, her head slumped over to the side as she sits there. The TV screen has turned to snow, and I remember something about a movie and pizza, but I don't really remember much else.

I wonder how long I slept, and realize it wasn't long enough as my legs go all wobbly as I stand. I watch Faith sleeping for a minute, the hard lines of her face eased, taking years off. I ease her down so she's lying on the couch, and wish I could curl up with her and finally sleep, a good long sleep, but I have to be at the house when Dawn wakes. I let myself out, vowing that, for once, I will be able to lie down and take a nap that day, that, for once, I won't close my eyes and immediately see my hands tearing through the lid of a coffin.

But like I am every day, I'm wrong, and sleep doesn't come.



Salt, Lime, and a Shot

Night, again, and the vampires are hopping. We blow through a nest and chase two through the warehouse district for a few minutes before we catch up with them in a dead-end alley. And then they are dust, too, and we're high fiving. Suddenly a huge grin breaks across Faith's face.

"Ya hear that?" I tense and listen hard for anything that might be a demon sneaking up on us. My brows knit.

"No," I say, still listening hard.

She laughs and shakes her head at me. "That. Music? The Bronze? People having fun? You can't hear any of that?"

I throw her a mock-glare. "Yes, I heard that. I thought you meant work stuff."

"B, you work too hard. Come on."



She doesn't take no for an answer and grabs my wrist. I was right about the strength - girl got some prison yard muscles, that's for sure. But I don't resist very hard. It's been a long time since I had some fun, and besides, I really want to dance with her. I follow her through the club, admiring how tight her leather pants are and how her hair moves against her back. She wearing a black bra under a white german eagle wife-beater, and god, she's hot. I stifle the desire to catch her, pull her back against me like she was the other day on the motorcycle, and taste her skin with my tongue. I mentally chide myself and try to rein those bad, bad thoughts. My mind flashes with a strange cartoon devil and I wonder where that came from.

We stop at the bar and get a couple of beers, 'just to loosen up,' Faith tells me.

"You're the boss," I say, taking a huge swig, and I smirk as her eyes bug out. I'm back to that teasing, tempting body language, standing just a little too close. My mind might be under control for the moment, but my body seems to have a mind of its own.

She recovers quick. "First the swearing, now the boozing." She does that little all-over body shrug that moves her head, shoulders, and hips. The girl can still move. "Ya keep this up, you're gonna haf ta give up your crown, princess." She laughs at my glare. "I'm just saying."

I lean close and she slides back to keep a thin sliver of space between us, but she can't go too far because the bar is behind her. I'm right up in her face, feeling the heat of her body against mine. I like the rush of being in control, trapping her against the bar. "I gave up crowns a long time ago." I whisper, bringing my lips close to hers, close enough I know she can feel my breath. "I'm way past that." I smile seductively and issue a challenge with my eyes. I set my bottle down on the counter behind her with a 'thunk' and nod to the bartender for another, stepping off nice and slow.

Her dark eyes watch me approvingly, before she tosses back her beer and turns to order and pay. Her foot taps restlessly as she waits for change and I use the time to admire, watching the slight movements of her hips encased in leather.

She hands me two beers and jerks her head toward a couch and follows me, shot glasses in hand. I don't know if I'm hoping she's checking me out too or not. She jumps into the couch beside me, bouncing a little with the music. Once again she takes over the space, her leg right up against mine, taking up as much room as possible. She hands me a shot, and I eye the glass speculatively.

"Tequila." She pronounces it "Ta-kil-ya" though and returns the challenging look I gave her earlier. I give it right back, and pick up the salt shaker, lick my wrist, sprinkle the salt, lick, and shoot. I take the lime from the Corona and suck, keeping a lock on her eyes the whole time. Her laugh is low and husky as she reaches for the salt herself. I grab it before she does, lick my wrist and sprinkle again, and offer it to her. Her mouth has fallen open at this open escalation of the flirting, but Faith has never backed away from a dare, I know. Her smile is wicked as she runs her fingers down from my elbow to my hand, drawing my wrist up as she lowers her dark head. She takes her time, running her tongue back and forth over my pulse for a long second before throwing back the shot.

She doesn't meet my eyes immediately, but sucks on her lime and then takes a long drink of her beer. When she does look at me, her smile is hungry, almost predatory, and my mouth is suddenly dry. I moisten my lips, to draw her eyes there, and this time, it's her turn to draw a sharp breath. If she hadn't spoken, right then, I know I would have kissed her.

"I'd suggest another round..." Oh, please "but we're here to dance."

She's pulling me out on the dance floor, running her hands through her hair as she jumps into the groove with abandon, and it's my turn to follow her as I match my movements to the sway of her hips. She catches my hand and raises it above her head, forcing me to step closer. My other hand finds her hip and I dig my fingers in, hard enough to bruise, as I grind in closer. Back in the sane part of my mind, I know I shouldn't be pushing it, but I ignore the rumblings of my conscience as Faith wraps her arm around my waist to keep me right where I am. We're dancing so close and so fast, the driving techno beat spinning us around, and our bodies brush against each other with every beat.

As always, a group of guys surround us and she glances at one or two but it's with a scowl, as if she's warning them off. The music changes and we let go of each other, increasing the space between us, but none of the intensity. We're circling around the dance floor like we're sparring, closing the distance and moving away to the beat of the music. Her thigh brushes against mine and I grab around her waist this time, trying to keep her close. A liquid heat moves through my body as she slides in close, her fingers lightly playing over my hips.

The music changes again, the techno beat grooving into a slow bass beat. Faith slides around me, behind me, catching my arms above my head, sliding our fingers together with each move of her hips. I let my head slide back on her shoulder as I lean back against the long, muscular length of her. Her breasts press into my back and she lowers her head to my shoulder, her breath warm on my cheek. The last thing I see as I let my eyes drift close is the group of guys watching us, eyes wide and mouths open, and then it's just my body, and Faith's, melting into the rhythm and each other. I slide my hands down until I can press my palms against her hips and hold on. She holds me lightly around the waist and I feel engulfed by her body.

The song ends, then, suddenly (or did it just seem sudden) and the pressure of her body against my back is gone. I stagger a little and she's holding me again. "B?" her voice sounds concerned; I laugh a little at myself, so clumsy.

"Stopped too fast, I think." Whoa, my head is spinning. "I need some water. I'll be back?" I feel her nod against my shoulder and she lets go of her hands, supporting me with her body as I find my balance. I push through the crowd, still clumsy, bumping into people carelessly. Once I get to the bar, I look back, and one of those boys dancing around us has moved in front of Faith and is trying to close the distance. She puts her hand on his shoulder and I turn away before I can tell if she pulls him closer or pushes him away. My heart is beating triple time and the room is doing a slow spin. I finally push my way through so the bartender can see me, holding on to the bar to keep me on my feet.

My eyes are swimming as I pay for the bottle of water and I push myself off the bar. Faith catches me as I step back. "Come on, B. I better get you out of here." She tries to tease, "One shot and couple of beers and you're falling down drunk," but I can tell she's worried. The crowd is thick and I hear a muffled 'hey' as Faith elbows some big guy out of the way. We make it to the door and I stagger through. The fresh air helps a little, out of the heat and noise and crowd, but the world still takes a slow lopsided turn and I'm out.



Sleeping to Death, Waking to Life

I wake up on her couch and Faith's voice reaches me. "Yeah, G-man, she's here. She collapsed during patrol." Giles. I should get up and talk to him. Then I think, screw it, Faith can handle it. For once, I'll just someone else be the responsible one.

"Actually, I think its just exhaustion. B's been running on an awful lot of adrenaline and not much else for the last few days. She was pretty out of it the other night." She pauses, listening again. "I'd prefer to keep her here, actually. She's crashed now and all she'll get at home is questions." Pause. "Yeah, I'll keep an eye on her. All night if I have to. You'll make the call? Thanks."


She turns, cat-like, her hair whipping around; I surprised her, I think tiredly, as she crosses to stand beside the couch. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. How do you feel?"


"Good. You just need a good night's sleep," Faith says soothingly, moving to walk away.

"Faith?" I catch her hand. "Stay."

"I was just going to..."


She sighs, in amusement. "Ok." I keep a hold of her hand as she climbs over me, carefully, and slides down between my back and the sofa cushions. She shifts around and snuggles comfortably around me. Her arm tightens around my waist briefly to make sure I am tight against her and then releases.


"Umm huh." It comes out somewhere between a breath and a moan as I drift off.

"Now sleep." And I do.

I wake slowly, feeling Faith all around me. I'm aware of her arms first, one wrapped loosely under and around my neck, her fingers wrapped in my hair, and the other gently cupping my stomach. My arms mirror hers, as if I'm holding her there, my fingers twined in hers. Her breath is soft and warm against my neck, where my hair has fallen? been pushed? aside. Her leg is thrown over mine, her foot resting on my calf, and I feel completely enveloped by her body. Again. I could get to like this feeling, I think.

She's still asleep but I'm suddenly very, very awake, feeling the whole of her body pressed against my back, breasts, hips, thighs. A burst of heat and electricity shoots through my body, and I take a deep, ragged breath, thinking that maybe that will calm down something, anything, that's raging through my body. Instead it wakes Faith up. She wakes like a cat; her eyes snap open and she's instantly tense and alert, her whole body suddenly rigid, like she's ready for a fight. I'm not sure she remembers who I am, at first. She takes stock of the situation, and relaxes a little.


"Yeah, B?" That sleepy, husky tone goes through me and I can't breath again.

I go for lightness, hoping it will give me some breathing room. "Do you even have a bed in this apartment?" It's not the question she was expecting and she laughs.

She shifts up, her arm coming out from under my head, and she props herself up on an elbow so she can look down at my face. Her breasts sliding against my back makes me breathless, again, and it's a moment before I can meet her eyes.

"I actually do. I was going to put you on it before you got all demand-y last night." Her smile is teasing. God, she looks gorgeous when she wakes up, a soft, not-quite awake expression on her face.

I shift around so I'm laying on my back and I see her breath catch too, as my hip slides against hers. I look up at her face, those lips, her hair falling over and down. She's beautiful. I can't stand it. I reach up around her neck and pull myself up so I can capture her mouth with mine. Oh god. Oh yeah. She's taken off guard and I take full advantage, kissing her greedily, nipping at that full bottom lip, playing my tongue back and forth, seeking entrance. My head falls back to the pillow and hers follows as my other hand grabs around her waist and pulls her bodily on top of me.

Faith pulls away, and I tighten my hold on her head, until I realize it's just so she can slide her hand under my head and change the angle of the kiss. She still doesn't open her mouth, and instead rains light kisses over every inch of my lips. Her lips are gentle and the kisses are as hard to catch as air. It's so unexpected. I moan a little, deep in my throat and wrap my arms around her neck, to keep her there forever. I open my lips in invitation and lick her lips each time she comes down for a kiss. I can't believe I'm doing this. I know she likes to tease and flirt, but this is not that, not for me.

I don't know who comes to their senses first. I think Faith. I'm still straining to keep her mouth pressed to mine, to deepen the kiss, when her quiet, "B- Buffy?" breaks through. Oh no. Oh no. What have I done? I loosen my grip on her neck so I can look at her, breathing as hard as I am, and her eyes are dark with emotion that I can't read. Reality hits me then, as I realize all I've been doing to Faith, last night and now this morning. God, I'm a tease. And a slut. And she's all that's been keeping me sane.

We're up and sitting as far away from each other as the couch can stand, suddenly, and I miss the heat of her body already. I can't look at her, I'm so embarrassed. I can't look at her because if I do, I'll pull her right on top of me again. Bad, bad, bad. What have I done?

"Faith, I... I should go... Dawn... school," I mumble, incoherently, pulling on my shoes and jacket, Faith's jacket, actually. And I'm gone, out the door. Oh shit.



Of Ice Picks and Angst

I make sure Dawn leaves for school, seeing all the unanswered questions in everyone's eyes as they leave, and sit in a daze all day. I don't know if I've ever made such a fool of myself before. I know Faith is Ms. Get-Some-and-Get-Gone Girl and our little interlude was probably just the post-slayage horniness for her, but what I'm feeling isn't lust or the effects of few drinks. It's not gratitude for how she's helped me, either. Any of those would make more sense than what I'm feeling right now, this powerful attraction, desire, and lust all rolled around a feeling of rightness, comfort, and happiness.

I turn my head and inhale Faith's scent from her jacket, that spicy smell of men's cologne, hers, I now realize, and a faint mint smell. Her shampoo, maybe. Finally, I go up and take a shower before Dawn gets home and mourn the loss of her scent from my body. I sleep-walk through dinner and a movie and everyone's concerned again, watching me, worried about my relapse into automaton Buffy. I pretend to go to sleep instead of patrolling, to make everyone feel better, and sneak out the window like I used to when I was 16, before Mom found out about my Slayer activities.

By the time I hit the third cemetery, I admit to myself that Faith isn't going to show. I lean against a tombstone, feeling my nerves jangling through my body and that 'down-low tickle,' as Faith once described it, and I'm back to thinking about her stormy dark eyes and soft lips against mine. I'm a fool and worse, but I have to see her.

I sneak around to the back of her apartment, to that little patio, and see her sitting at the table, a bottle of scotch by her elbow, steadily lowering the level in the bottle. Faith doesn't seem to be looking at anything; she just takes a sip every couple of breaths as if she's on a timetable of some sort. Shit. What have I done?

Faith gets up and goes into the kitchen, not staggering or unsteady, but kinda lifeless and robotic, without her usual grace and swagger. I slip through the sliding door behind her, surprised it isn't locked, and watch her stand at the kitchen counter. She's systematically demolishing a block of ice with an ice pick and I take a long breath to steady myself.

"I forgot how to knock again." She doesn't say anything. Doesn't even acknowledge my presence. This is going well. "Actually, I was afraid you wouldn't let me in." I try to make my voice conversational and light and I watch her back for signs of movement, in case she decides to turn and send that ice pick my way. "I didn't exactly leave in a very dignified manner this morning."

That stopped her with the ice pick. The silence stretches across my nerves like a razor. "Faith?" More silence. "I'm sorry. I was confused..."

Her voice is so flat I don't recognize it. "You're worried about your dignity?" The anger in that last word sends a shiver of fear crawling up my back. Nice word choice, Summers.

"Faith, I..."

"Don't bother." Her voice cuts through me again. "I've heard it all before."


"You don't have to explain. How it just happened. How you were looking to scratch an itch or experiment a little. How confused you are. How it shouldn't have happened. How we can still be friends. I've heard it ALL before."


"Just... don't bother. You don't owe me an explanation."

I'm staring at her back, so straight, so tense, and the hurt and anger in her voice sound like I've ripped a scab off an old, old wound. The knowledge of what's really going on comes to me in a flash, and I realize how badly I've fucked this up.

"Faith." I pitch my voice so low, so quiet, but I can tell she's listening. "I do. I was confused." I see the muscles in her back tense, as if in pain. "I was," putting just enough emphasis on the word. "But not... about what I was doing." I close my eyes and relive the feeling of the fire burning through me that morning. I exhale slowly, audible even over the music.

"Definitely not about what I was doing." I pick my words carefully. "The strength... the speed... the intensity... of what I was feeling... confused me. And I am... out of practice, when it comes to feelings lately." I pause again, swallow hard and try to breathe. "I never felt anything like that before. It... scared me."


I've slowly been closing the distance and now close enough to touch her. I reach out, laying my fingers on the bare skin of her shoulder. She shivers under my touch, and I can see her jaw tighten, as if angered by her body's reaction.

"An itch, an impulse... a whatever. That I could handle. And I'm not such a prude that the girl thing bothers me. But I... we... what I'm feeling is not an itch, an impulse, or a post-slayage attack of raging hormones. It's more... I couldn't handle it."

"Couldn't? Or can't?" Oh, she's good. Picked right up on my word choice.

"Couldn't. I freaked, ran scared, this morning." It might be too soon, but I have to tell her. "God, I wanted you so bad, and..." And what? Why did I leave? Yet another question I can't answer. Another long pause. I was supposed to be the good one at talking, too.

"And...?" Faith prompts.

I let out another ragged breath. Ok, here goes, "And I knew I couldn't handle it if you didn't feel the same way." I shake my head in frustration. "I couldn't handle feeling this way and getting kicked to the curb after we were done... So I left." My voice is very quiet as I finish, "I'm sorry. I didn't know you felt it too."

"You knew. You had to."

"I didn't. Not until a few minutes ago. God, Faith," I sigh, softly, against her shoulder, my lips moving closer to where my hand is resting on her skin, "I never would have left had I known."

"I was in the fray, right there alongside you, B. That didn't give you a clue?"

"You pulled back, like you were having second thoughts."

"I was sitting right there. You might have asked." She's throwing the arguments back at me, but I can feel the tension in her back slowly easing under my hand.

"I... you're right. I should have asked. I'm sorry." I risk sliding my arm around her stomach and lean fully into her body. "This... you... have been driving me crazy. I didn't know how to read you. I know you flirt and tease and, well..." I kiss her shoulder, "Ever since I thought you were going to kiss me during that fight in the cemetery...."

"I was. Until you flipped me off and almost broke me in two on that tombstone."

"I regretted it. Instantly." I put all my frustration into that word and hear her chuckle. "Almost as much as I regret falling out on you last night at the club."

"Yeah...?" The word comes from deep in her throat, and I know she's thinking about that last song, and I know I have her. We're finally on the same page.

"Another song like that and I would have pulled you into the bathroom..."

"B! Public sex? You?" Her tone is mock-shocked.

"I've been told, quite recently, that you have to be careful about pigeon-holing people. Something about sneaking up and surprising you."

Her laugh is throaty and shakes her whole body. "Is that what this is?"

I slide my hands up her ribs to cup her breasts as I lean in and kiss her neck, right there where it meets the shoulder. The sound that escapes her mouth is a cross between a moan and a growl. I tickle the skin with my tongue, liking the sound. "Something like that, yeah."

She turns in my arms and now I can finally read the passion that's there. She catches my face in her hands, her fingers brushing my neck, thumbs caressing a slow circle along my jaw line. My hands slide down her back to her hips and match the slow movement with my thumbs. Her eyes search mine, probing, and we stand there for long moments.

"God, you're beautiful."

"I was going to say that about you."

"B, I imagined but I never thought... I... Damn." She finally lowers her head that last inch.

Her kiss buckles my knees, and we're sliding down the counter to the floor. The tasteful Spanish tile is cold at my back but everywhere else my body is on fire. She lays on top of me and teases me with those light, feathery kisses until I am ready to die. Or scream. Or both.

Finally, I push her up a little so she can see my face. "Faith? You really don't have a bed in this apartment, do you?" I manage to keep a straight face for just moment before we both burst out in peals of laughter. I laugh so hard it hurts and tears are squeezing out from my eyes. She rolls off of me, trying to catch her breath. "HEY!" That stops me and I look over at her, her face indignant. "This floor is cold." That sends me into fresh peals of laughter.



The Trick Is To Keep Breathing

/She's not the kind of girl / Who likes to tell the world / About the way she feels about herself / She takes a little time / In making up her mind / She doesn't want to fight against the tide/

Faith leads me up the stairs and leaves me in the doorway as she lights candles arrayed along the headboard of the king bed that takes up most of the room. I just watch her as she moves, the grace of her movements unbelievable as she lights a candle, the flickering light turning her dark beauty sultry. Quiet music spills from a radio. She turns back to me, looks at me shyly. Shy? Faith? Who would have thought? I'm sliding into her arms and we're moving to the music.

/And lately I'm not the only one / I say never trust anyone / All is the one who has to drag her down / Maybe you'll get what you want this time around/

She kisses my forehead, like I remember kissing hers in that hospital and I kiss the edge of her jaw. For two people who spend an awful lot of time beating each other up, this gentleness is surprising to us both. I play my fingers along her ribs during that little "doh doh doh" line and whisper the chorus into her neck, "The trick is to keep breathing."

She whispers back, "I won't be the one who's going to let you down," along with the song, like it's a promise.

I pull her head down for a kiss as we sway to the music. I don't know how long we sway like that, until those soft kisses start to drive me seriously crazy. I'm clutching her to me and trying to deepen the kiss and pull her down to the bed, all at the same time. Faith breaks off the kiss and smiles. She lowers me to bed and lies on her side beside me, stroking my hair back from my face and running her fingers along my cheek.

"Faith," I groan, reaching for her and trying to pull her to me. Her smile warms, but she resists my pull, and flutters a kiss on one eyelid, then the other. She tilts my head, her fingers caressing my jaw, and her lips warm mine with light, butterfly kisses. Her fingers continue down my neck, tickling my skin, and then strays down, over my breast and down my ribs. I can't breath. I arch against her fingers, trying to make her feathery caresses more, although they burn into my skin still. "God, Faith, please," I plead against her mouth as her fingers play up and down my thigh.

Her lips leave mine and her finger brushes across. "Shhh. I... let me..." I gaze into her eyes and understand. Ms. get-some-and-get-gone hasn't done this before. I don't know if you want to call it make love or what, but her conquests were probably quick, fiery satisfactions of needs, not slow, exploratory, or even gentle. I can see in her eyes how important this is for her and she must have read my understanding in my face. She lowers her head to mine again, and we resume the slow, soft kisses, her hand roaming my body and my fingers running through her hair and along her neck.

Her fingers slowly unbutton my shirt, from the stomach up, and then spread the fabric with that same light touch. Every touch sends a pulse through my body and the warmness spreading through my body centers on my stomach as I quiver under her hands. Faith sits up and pulls me up with her, so I'm sitting between her legs, kissing her as she slides the shirt from my shoulders and unhooks my bra. Her gaze takes my nakedness in as her fingers brush down my sides from armpit to hip and back again, a slow lazy circle.

"B... you are..." her whisper is husky as she leans in to kiss my collarbone, "so..." another kiss, moving up my neck, and I throw my head back, a slight moan escaping my throat, "so beautiful," she finishes against my throat. She's holding me up, her hands cupping my shoulders as I lean back, as she nibbles and licks my skin. Her mouth captures my breast, finally, and I arch in her hands as her tongue circles my nipple. I'm gripping her head, tight, and that warm center has moved down from my stomach.

Her mouth doesn't stay on my breast, but moves again up to my shoulder, and then down along my arm, until Faith is holding one of my hands and teasing my skin with her tongue at my wrist, just like at the Bronze the other night. She licks down from my wrist to my palm, licking and blowing, and my gasp is audible over the music. I can feel her smile against my palm, until I feel her nibble at tender skin there and I'm whimpering her name, mindlessly. Her tongue tickles my palm a little more as she lowers me down to the bed, so I don't have to worry about holding myself up and can squirm and writhe under her mouth and fingers.

Her mouth is back to my breasts as her hands stroke my hips and I squirm even harder against her. At first, she seems content to just play with my hips and kiss my breasts, but finally, she begins to catch some of my urgency. She sucks my nipple into her mouth, licking hard, while she is deftly undoing my pants. I arch again, pushing my breast further into her mouth and shift my hips to help her slide my clothes off. She takes her time, sliding the offending clothing down my thighs, before sliding her body down, her mouth making a slow journey from my breasts down my stomach. The sudden bite on my hip makes my whole body jump and squirm.

"Faith, oh, please, please..." I moan as my head tosses and my hands clench and unclench, my voice begging her as much as my body. She's licking and biting her way up my thighs, and her name becomes one long moan in my throat. I thrash against the bed, but her hands hold my hips steady as her tongue finds my center. I thrash harder, desperately trying to move my hips against her teasing mouth, but she won't be rushed as she explores, slowly building the tempo, and I bite my lip to keep from screaming. She finally dives in, releasing my hips as her mouth and tongue devour me. My back arches as shudders shake my entire body, every muscle tense as her tongue sends me over the edge.

I collapse onto the bed, in mindless bliss. Faith slides up beside me and takes me in her arms, pulling the bedspread over us both. We lay like that for a timeless moment, my head on her shoulder and her arm around my back. I'm running my hand in a slow, lazy circle on her stomach, pushing her tank top up higher and higher with every circle. I run my fingers just under the fabric, just under her breasts, and hear her shaky breath and I smile against her shoulder. I cup her breast, caressing the skin and nipple with my thumb, and feel a perceptible shift as her body responds to my touch. I continue with slow, lazy circles around her breast, loving the little twitch in her stomach each time my fingers find her nipple.

I slide over to straddle her hips with my legs, shedding the bedspread as I do so. Her eyes devour me as I sit there, naked in the candlelight, and I find myself getting wet just being looked at by her. She reaches for me, but I catch her hands.

"My turn." I push her hands down, over her head, feeling her arch under my body as I do so. "Keep them there," I whisper, as I slide my hands down her arms, her sides, to her hips. I slide them back up her stomach, catching her shirt as I do so, bringing it with me as I brush my palms against her breasts and then pulling it up and off her body. Her body is still, except for the rise and fall of her chest as she draws in short, shallow breathes, like she's running, like she was when we were on her bike, and I realize that I hadn't been the only one feeling the effects of our nearness that afternoon. The realization makes me bold, and I lean over, my hair falling over one shoulder as I catch her mouth in a short, deep kiss, my tongue diving past her lips and then withdrawing. I push her back against the mattress when she raises her head to reclaim my mouth, and I shake my head and smile. "Nope. My turn."

She smirks a little at my tone, and I can almost hear her say something about being all dressed up in big sister's clothes, but the thought is fleeting as I lower my mouth again, brushing past her lips and jaw lightly as I nibble my way along her neck to her ear. Her head twitches away as I blow softly, and I slide my hand along her jaw to steady her. The deep, low moan that rumbles from her throat confirms my suspicion, and I toy with her earlobes before blowing another warm wet kiss into her ear. I can feel her twitching under me, like she's fighting for control and slowly losing, and I chance a glance at her face. Her eyes are squeezed shut, and she has her bottom lip caught between her teeth, and I smile, a bit wickedly, as I continue my assault on her ear. I slide my fingers up to trace her lips as my mouth is occupied, and I feel them part under my fingers, and I let her suck my fingers into her mouth, her tongue caressing the sensitive skin.

On second thought, I realize that was a bad idea as her ministrations on my fingers are distracting me from my attention on her ear, and I remedy the situation by sliding my fingers down her neck, tracing wet paths down to her breasts. I catch a nipple in my fingers and gently pinch in time with bites to her earlobe, and the twitches in her stomach become spasms. I raise up to see her face, flushed but still, and I stare for long moments, trying to memorize the lines of her face so I can remember this moment forever. "B…?" Faith asks, her voice shaky, breaking my silent contemplation. Her eyes have opened a sliver, and her dark eyes are concerned beneath her lashes.

"You're beautiful," I say as I give her a gentle kiss that quickly turns deep and probing. God, I wanted to be slow and gentle like she was, but my hands are moving with a mind of their own to her waistband, and I'm pulling the leather off her legs in one quick move. And she's beautiful everywhere, I think, as I make my way down her stomach, stopping only briefly to kiss the place where I marred her perfect, smooth skin. Where I was loud, she's quiet, her quick breaths and occasional moans guiding me, as well as the increasing tension in her body as I build up the tempo like she did. When Faith collapses against the bed with a sudden exhalation, I snuggle up against her body, holding her head as inexplicable tears soak into my skin.



An Invitation to Breakfast

We cuddle for a short time, breath slowing to normal and our bodies chilling, before Faith rolls over to stare at me, her eyes searching mine. "This is crazy, right? Or a dream or something?" she asks, quietly, a nervous tone in her voice. I shake my head, but don't answer. I know this is a conversation we have to have, but I know I can't do it right now. So I use my available skills to distract her, rolling up and over and pinning Faith to the bed while I make my presence as un-dreamlike and physical as possible. When she finally manages to throw me off and pin me down, Faith's grin is wide and I'm giggling a little between the groans her touch elicits.

We must have slept for a little while. Or at least I did. When I open my eyes, Faith is staring at me, stroking my hair lightly, and I turn my head to kiss her palm as it slides past. A contented moan rumbles through her throat and her eyes close slightly. I kiss her shoulder, and anywhere else I can I reach, as her smile widens and gets brighter. I shift to catch her mouth and drink in that smile, but as I move, my whole body protests. "Ooohhhh."


"So... you think I can pass these bruises off as slaying-related?"

"What… ouch." Her gaze shifts across both our bodies. "Oh."

"'Oh.' Well put," I tease, kissing her shoulder again. I see the clock over her shoulder. "Damn." It's quiet but heartfelt. "I need to be home soon. Dawn."

Faith sits up, with effort, and I just lay there and devour every inch of her body with my eyes. Since obviously it would hurt too much to try to do it with my mouth. She gazes down on me as well, memorizing every curve. "Come on, get up. A shower will loosen you up."

"Faith? Come with me?"

"B." She looks stern and shakes her head. "Bad idea."

"I'll make you breakfast." I smile my best temptation smile. "Waffles. Bacon. Eggs. Toast." Her stomach growls at the thought of it. I can see her about to renew her objections, but I beat her to the punch. "Please? I want, I need you around today."

I can't believe how soft her smile is. I never would have imagined it. "Ok. Now shower. We have to hurry."

"Together? Hurry?" I deliberately look her up and down and feel that tingle, nice and low. "That is the kind of sense that isn't."

"Come on. It'll be quick." It wasn't but we finally arrive at my house. After another ride on the bike, which almost ends in a crash when my hands start to wander from her waist.

I'm puzzled by the quiet in the house as we slip in the back door. Faith catches my puzzled look. "People should be up by now. Tara always has an early class. At the very least, Dawn's alarm should be going off."

"Maybe they slept in." Faith pokes around the kitchen, seeing my house for the first time in a long time. It hits me, right then, that she's real, she's here in my life, my world, and she's so beautiful I can't breath. I'm nuzzling her neck before I know it when I hear her laughing softly.

"What?," I ask, trying to see over her shoulder to see what she thinks is funny.

"B. It's Saturday."

"Oh." I feel a goofy grin spreading across my face. "Ooops."

A loud noise rumbles up from the basement. "Damn."

"What was that?"

"Oh, the hot water heater's been making some weird noise. Xander looked at it earlier this week and couldn't fix it. I was supposed to call someone yesterday." I let go of her, reluctantly, and walk toward the fridge to write myself a note. Since obviously I can't keep a thought in my head that isn't about how Faith tastes or feels under my hands.

"You want me to take a look at it?"

I look at her, questioningly. "Um..."

Her look is one of exaggerated patience, and then she smirks at me. "Let's just say I'm good with my hands." She wiggles her fingers suggestively and winks at me. God, I wonder how cold this kitchen floor is. She laughs at my look and I can tell she knows what I was thinking.

I blush and look down. "Um, ok, sure." She looks remarkably happy, considering I just put her to work.

"Now didn't you say something about breakfast?" So I start on breakfast while she disappears down the stairs. How weirdly domestic is this?

"Hey. Whatcha doing?" Dawn's standing in the kitchen doorway, giving me the "who are you and what have you done with my sister" look. Yeah, given how I'm been lately, this must seem odd.

I answer enthusiastically. "Cooking us a huge breakfast. I hope you're hungry."

"Starved." That's right, she didn't eat much at dinner. Just looked at her zombie sister. She's still looking at me with a perplexed expression. "Um, Dawn? Faith is here. She's..." I pause, as profanity and a loud bang come up from the basement. "either fixing the hot water heater or ripping it into little pieces with her bare hands." We look at each other for a minute, until Dawn twists her face into a wry smile "I think it could go either way."

Then Faith is there in the basement door, looking at Dawn. "Hey Dawnie."

"Hey Faith."

Faith takes a couple steps toward Dawn and looks at her appraisingly and then grins. "Look at you. You're taller than B, now. I guess I can't call you squirt anymore."

"You were never allowed to call me squirt," Dawn says, with all of her teen dignity. Then she smiles, hugely, and Faith gives her a big hug and swings her around the kitchen. Of course. I've been beating my head against a wall trying to deal with Dawn and she melts like ice cream in Faith's hands.

"Um, B, I found some tools, but I need a plumber's wretch. Got one?"

"Oh, yeah, the rest of the tools are stored in..."

"I'll show her," Dawn pipes up. She squares off with Faith before asking, "Can I help?"

Faith gets that appraising look on her face again. "You know a Phillips from a flat tip?"


"Well, ok, then." They scamper down the stairs and the sound of metal squeaking, Dawn's giggles, and Faith's cursing is a regular accompaniment to my cooking.



Waffle Brunch

"Good morning, Buffy." Willow's cool voice interrupts me as I look for a spatula in the dishwasher. I turn and say, "Hey, Will." I must have done something unusual, maybe smile, cuz Willow is scrutinizing my face closely. Oh, god, I have to say something about Faith before she turns her into a human-sized rat or something. "Um, Faith's..."

"Here, yeah. I caught that," she says, indicating the din in the basement with a tilt of her head. The tone of her voice is still cool, but she doesn't look angry, just confused. It must be my mood, which I have to admit is something nobody's seen since I died: I'm even humming as I cook and my smile has to be huge. I realize I'm making way too many waffles for just the five of us. "Will, I think I went overboard on the waffles. Want to give Xander and Anya a call and see if they've had breakfast?"

"Sure." She's surprised at the suggestion, and after the call, she's back. "You're in a good mood. What's going on? You aren't... you aren't on drugs are you?" She's kinda joking, but kinda serious as well, and I giggle at her tone.

"No, I'm fine, Will. Really. But I am in a good mood. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"But something's changed, like overnight changed."

It's a statement, not a question, but I try to answer anyway. I really never did learn to keep my mouth shut. "Well, you know, Faith's been helping..." I blush at the word choice. Helping? Yeah, she's quite a helper.

"Oh?" Willow says, interested, and then, "OH!" Her sudden look of comprehension says it all. Apparently I'm out of the closet.

I look over at her, sheepishly. "Do you hate me?"

Before she can answer, Faith and Dawn come barreling up the steps, both trying to squeeze through the basement door at the same time and they fall over each other, ending up in a heap on the kitchen floor.

I glare over at them as they are sorting themselves out. "No rough housing." They manage identical eye-rolls and say, "Yes, Mom," in unison. I'm speechless for a moment, and then I order Dawn into the bathroom to wash her hands, and Willow picks up a stack of plates to carry into the dining room, discretely leaving us alone. As soon as she's out of earshot, I glare down at the wicked grin growing on Faith's face. "And you, if you ever, ever, ever... again, I'll..."

She springs up to her feet, closing the distance between us in a second. Her smirk is promising me I'm in for it, and the predatory gleam in her eyes is my undoing. I completely forget what I was about to threaten. My back hits the counter and she catches me there; I can't retreat any further, not, I admit to myself, that I tried very hard.

"You'll what?" she asks as her mouth closes on my ear. "I'll... ummm.... stop that." I say weakly as I half-heartedly push at her hands on my hips. Yeah, even less effort in that attempt. I think we're about to announce the change in our relationship by being caught naked in the kitchen, but when Faith is nibbling on my neck, I find that I don't care.

Luckily, I'm saved by Tara, walking into the kitchen, "Mornin... Oh... oh, sorry." I don't look up fast enough to catch Tara's face as she beats a hasty retreat, but I wonder if her blush can rival Faith's. I don't think I've ever seen Faith in a full-on blush. It covers her cheeks, ears, and continues down her neck under her shirt. I wonder how far down that blush goes, but I'm afraid if I look down her shirt to check, we'll be back where we started. And I was doing something…what was that? Oh yeah, breakfast.

"Breakfast is ready. Go wash your hands." I tell Faith, with a hint of command.

"Yes..." and I shoot her a warning look, "B." Her look is devilish innocence personified as she retreats to the bathroom.

As I'm carrying dishes out to the table, Tara helps, flashing me a warm, happy smile but otherwise seems to accept the new arrangement calmly.

I see Willow catch Xander and Anya at the door, warning him, "Faith is here and Buffy is happy. Be nice to Faith, no questions, or I'll turn you into a toad."

I catch Willow's eye as she turns and mouth a silent 'thank you' in her direction. Xander is watching the scene in the living room, where Faith is talking Dawn through a side kick. There's a crash and giggles as I yell, "No..."

"Rough housing," they complete in a chorus as they dash into the dining room.

Faith takes in the spread with a huge smile. "Wow, B, awesome." She didn't just... Awesome? Thirty minutes with my sister and she's talking like a valley girl. Everyone's sitting down and curious looks are flying around the room. Dawn installs herself between Faith and I and immediately begins to whisper secrets to Faith.

People are eating, with varying degrees of hunger. Faith and Dawn seem to be in some kind of waffle-eating competition, while Xander picks at his plate and looks completely puzzled. Willow and Tara keep sharing secret looks and smiles and every once in a while, I see Willow looking at me and then Faith with, is that, approval?

And when Anya, entranced by the eating contest, finally asks Faith if she's hungry, Faith answers, "I'm always hungry." As Xander chokes on a bagel, I know everyone who was at the Bronze that fateful night is silently completing that with "and horny" and this time it's my turn to blush.

In the silence that follows, Willow answers Tara's puzzled look with an expression that says, "I'll tell ya later" and seems to be covering a huge smile. Dawn looks around the table, rolls her eyes, goes back to demolishing another waffle.

"So, umm, if anyone wants to hang today, Dawn and I are going to be here." The smile on Dawn's face is huge, and I feel guilty all over again at how I've been neglecting her. A chorus of "sure"s go around the table.

"A day in? Cool." Faith's eyes are dancing until it seems that she remembers something. "B? Can I borrow your car?"


"Well, if we're going to in all day, I think Dawn and I need to go shopping. For supplies."

"Supplies? What do you need?"

She tilts her head, impatiently. "You'll see. Keys?" She wiggles her fingers impatiently in front of my face.

There's no way out of this. "Ok..." I hand them over, still looking at her suspiciously.

Her smile is wicked, baiting and teasing, like she used to smile back when we first met, and hits me right at the knees. "Relax, B, trust me." She motions to Dawn. "Come on, squirt."

"Don't call me squirt"

"Be careful," I yell out the door after them. It's not until I close the door that I realize Faith has effectively left me alone to handle all the explanations.



Dinner Table Confessional

I almost run after the car to go with them. Willow and Tara have cleared the table, and everyone is looking at me expectantly.

"Coffee?" Willow asks sweetly, as she guides me into the chair at the head of the table. She has a scarily cheerful look in her eyes as she makes sure I sit down, right in the hot seat.

"So anyone want to tell me what's going on?" Xander asks. "I mean, this parallel universe seems fun, but..." Willow and Tara share a secret smile, and pointedly look at me.

I know I'm blushing. "Um, well, Xander, Faith and I, we're..., umm..."

"Together," Willow jumps in, tactfully of course. She really does look pleased.

Xander chokes on his coffee and Anya helpfully contributes, "Wow, everyone's going gay." Xander looks at her, and she assures him, "Don't worry. I'm not going to become gay. I like you, Xander. Go Xander."

Xander looks at me, incredulously. "You and Faith? Together? As in..." His hands move back and forth, trying to illustrate. I nod. "You and Faith? Faith and you?"

I glance down at my coffee cup for a minute, and then meet his eyes. "Yes. Faith and I."

Willow can't control herself anymore. "The better question is, how? And details, please." I blush again and Willow quickly backtracks. "Ho, no, not THOSE details. Just the how and when and where stuff."

"Wait, why not those details," Xander asks. "I mean, Slayer sex. That's gotta be..." He catches Anya's look and finishes lamely, "...something."

I must have gotten a little dreamy thinking about that, because when I look up, everyone's staring at me. "It is something." Faith must be rubbing off on me already. I can't believe I just said that.

"So..." Willow prompts.

"What?" That goofy smile is back, but with a hint of Faith's wickedness. "Well, it is... neverending. And bruising."

Tara snorts in laughter as Xander's eyes bug. "Bruising?"

"Slayer strength. Times two."

"I was actually just asking about the how and when," Willow breaks in.

"Oh. Yeah. Right." I sigh. "Good question." God, was it only a week since I realized Faith wasn't just a figment of my imagination? "You know I was spending a lot of time with her, kinda in a daze or trance or something. Like I've been since I came back. And you know, now, why it's been so hard for me." A second round of sad nods. "Faith called it a half-life, like I was alive but not living. Because of what I lost."

"That first time I went to her apartment, she told me she had had Slayer visions, like when we shared a dream after I put her into a coma, about my death and return. Said that was why she came back here. She thought she could help, emphasize with what I was going through." I look around the table, see the guilt on everyone's face. "She was right. She... gave me a target, at first. Something to lash out at, besides vamps. Something to be angry at. Something, like the sparring, to lose myself in. She understood that... need to externalize the inner struggle. That's how she was when she first came here, you know? Battling the outer demons to quiet the inner ones."

"She's changed, a lot, from that. But she understood that to draw me out, she had to tap the anger and pain that I wasn't allowing myself to feel or show. That I couldn't show around you because it would make you feel guilty. And that might show the resentment I was feeling." This is hard to say, and hard for them to hear, I can tell. "I'm sorry, I know that's hard. I didn't want to inflict that pain on you when I know you were trying to help. That didn't help me break through the numbness, though, that was me going through the motions because I was just living because I felt... bad, because everyone had suffered because I died and was so happy I was alive again."

"But this thing with Faith, it's so sudden..." Willow broke the silence the table had lapsed into as each struggled with his or her thoughts.

"Yeah, I guess. Although I think I was attracted to her before. There was just so much going on then that nothing happened. But she was always flirting with me, and I wasn't completely oblivious. Or innocent, for that matter." Willow and Xander's mouths are both open, so I hurry along with the story.

"Anyway, that first night I didn't come home, when we were sparring. We had really talked for the first time that morning and I... broke down during that. So I was really wired when I went out that night, but I couldn't find any vamps. Faith must have been the same way, cuz she finally caught up with me and we just fought. Half-way through, she fell on me as I did a leg sweep and there was just this moment..."

"Did you kiss?"

"Oh, no. I flipped her over my head and tried to kick her."

"That's... romantic." Xander says dubiously. "Although I can see where the bruising comes in."

I give him that look and he stops. "Then I went to see her again, and we talked more, and there were a couple more moments. And a ride on her motorcycle." I smile, at the memory. "That night, we were slaying and ended up at the Bronze. That's where I actually collapsed, after we danced to a couple of songs." I am definitely blushing now. "When we woke up, I kissed her, but then freaked and ran out on her, before we had a chance to talk. So that's why I was zombie girl again last night."

"So you snuck out last night?" Willow's voice is surprised.

"Yeah. I was hoping to run into her on patrol. But she was at her apartment, so I went there and we finally talked."

"Talked? Is that what the kids are calling it these days?" Xander teases. "You Slayer slut, you."

"Well, after talking..." I smile wickedly. I look around the table. "I know this is weird. How much are you hating me right now?"

Willow reaches and catches my hand. "To the negative 100th degree. It's weird, definitely, no argument there. And I haven't always had warm fuzzy feelings for Faith. But you are happy. Happier than I've seen you since Riley left and your mom died. I can live with Faith if she makes you happy."

"And hey, I totally relate. I mean, she is hot." Xander supplies helpfully, holding my other hand.

"Thanks... I think," rolling my eyes at Xander.

Pounding footsteps announce Faith and Dawn's arrival a second before they burst through the door. They were racing from the car, I can tell. They stop in the doorway and give us a look, Dawn's puzzled and Faith's amused.

"What's going on?" Dawn asks, but she looks to Faith to answer.

"I think we just missed a group hug. Count yourself among the lucky two." Dawn shakes her head and heads into the living room with bags from a local electronics store.

"What did you get?" I ask.

"Playstation." She calls back.

"Playstation?" Xander perks up. He's following Dawn into the living room, "What games did you get?"

Faith sees my look directed at her. "What? You think I'm going to sit around here all day playing board games?" She shakes her head in mock disgust. "These new games have some wicked cool graphics."

"How did you pay for it?"

"I stole your credit card," she answers in a matter-of-fact tone.

"You stole my credit card?" Her mouth is already quivering at my rising voice and the shocked looks on Willow's and Tara's faces. Anya just nods her head, like she's saying in her head, 'yeah, sounds reasonable.'

I've risen to the bait again, as Faith raises her eyebrows and grins at me. She walks up to me, drops the keys by my plate, and kisses the top of my head. I swat at her. "Don't tease me like that."

"Awww, but the looks on your faces. Priceless." She's laughing heartily now. "Remember, I was in prison for assault and battery, not petty larceny. Although I did steal from that one guy in LA."

"So how?"

Faith waves her hand. "We'll talk about my finances later, k, B? I gotta go help Dawn set up the Playstation."

"We've got it set up already. What game do you want to play first?" Dawn's there in the doorway, looking like she's having the time of her life.

"Up to you, squirt. I'll be in in a minute. I have to get the snacks out of the car."

"I'll help." Dawn starts to follow Faith out the door, and then looks back in at me excitedly. "Oh, and later, Faith said we're going to go play miniature golf." Then she's gone, running after Faith.

"Miniature golf?" Willow, Tara, and Anya glance at me with amusement. I shrug my shoulders.

"I feel like I have two teenagers in the house, suddenly." Faith and Dawn head through the dining room laden with bags, while Xander chases after them, excitedly explaining the button commands for the game.

We watch them in silence as they pass through. Anya rests her chin on her hand. "Maybe three," she agrees.



The day is finally over. I spent a lot of it on the couch, talking with Willow and Tara, enjoying talking to them without the pressure of all the emotional baggage of the last two months. Anya got roped into the Playstation hysteria and the four of them played some zombie-killing game for hours. We ate a ton of snacks and did end up playing miniature golf and then getting ice cream afterwards. I haven't seen Dawn so happy in a long, long time. The Summers girls don't seem to be able to resist Faith's charms, I guess. Tara and Willow withdraw upstairs for some 'alone time,' leaving us alone with Dawn.


"Just a minute."

"Squirt, we have something important to tell you." Something in Faith's tone gets to Dawn. She sits up and looks at us, cautiously, and not without a little bit of suspicion.

"Dawn, um, Faith and I, well, we're... we're dating." Her eyes narrow, looking between us both.

Finally, she says. "You mean, like Willow and Tara." I nod. Faith is watching her carefully. Some silent communication passes between the two of them as Dawn gives her an appraising look, like Faith's that morning. "Ok." She rolls back on her stomach, and then rolls back so she can look at Faith. "If you hurt my sister..."

Faith has the most open, gentle look on her face I've ever seen. "I wouldn't dream of it" she answers, seriously.

"Well, ok, then." Dawn turns back to her game.

Faith and I share a smile, then I let out a sigh and rotate my neck to release the tension. Faith's hands are there in an instant, sliding her hands up my spine to my neck, deep rubbing the muscles between my shoulders.

"Better" I collapse back and snuggle into her arms, wrapping myself in her warmth and spicy scent.

"Mmmmm, yeah. Perfect." She kisses the top of my head and just sits there and holds me. Faith is a cuddler. Who knew"That went better than I thought it would."

"The whole day went much better than I expected."

I laugh. "Yeah, well, everyone sees what a good influence you are on me."

"Good influence" Her voice holds a note of disbelief.

"Yeah. First time for everything, F."

"Very first time. Although I don't think they would agree if they had seen you drinking tequila shots with me." I inhale sharply, thinking about her lips on my wrist. "That was most un-lady-like, and un-Buffy-like, behavior."

"Didn't we cover all the ways I'm NOT a lady last night"

"All? No. A few, maybe, but not all."

A few minutes later, Dawn exclaims"Yuck. I can hear you kissing."

"Sorry, squirt."

"And don't call me squirt."

I sit up, reluctantly, and sit facing Faith on the couch. "So, we should talk." She has that innocent look again, like she has no idea what I'm talking about. "About finances." She tries to keep the innocent look for another minute, but I have my version of Willow's 'Resolve face' and it's irresistible.

Something tells me this is not going to be an enjoyable conversation. And her first words bear me out. "The mayor... adopted me. Made me his heir." I can tell she's resisting the urge to get up and pace. "I was... sitting around my jail cell, about six months in, when this suit comes to see me. Tells me about the will, explains that before, I wasn't eligible because I was under that warrant, but now that I'm serving my time, I'm..." she shrugs. "Anyway, it shouldn't haven't been anything because nobody knew the Mayor was dead. It was assumed that he perished in the high school fire, but since no body was found, he should have been on the missing person's list for years, maybe decades. But apparently, he thought of that. There was a, something, in his will, that if he's missing for two years, that he's to be declared legally dead."

She runs her hands through her hair in agitation. "So... he had a bunch of long-term investments, stocks and things. Being a hundred years old, I guess you get in on the ground floor of a lot of companies. So one of the things I've been doing while I've been in Sunnydale has been meeting with his lawyers and financial advisors to get this whole thing straightened out."

"It cleared probate a couple of weeks ago. Most of it was re-invested, long-term stuff." Faith looks up and catches my eyes, looking at me seriously, and somewhat nervously. "The first thing I did was set up two trusts. One for you. And one for Dawn. Dawn's kicks in when she starts college, enough to pay for school, with enough incentive built in for her to finish school." She hurries through this next part. "Your's is available immediately, whenever you need. Both are renewable and interest-generating, so unless you pull the whole chunk of cash out, it'll be there."

"Faith? What? Why? You didn't have to..." I ask just a few of the questions that are bouncing around my head. At least this explains the investment books.

"I know I didn't have to. I wanted to. I never had anyone to take care of before."

"Wait, you said, two weeks ago? But we, you and I... that was before..."

"The trusts have nothing to do with that. I was going to tell you the other day, but we ran out of time. I dropped you off here on my way over to pick up the final paperwork from the lawyer that afternoon."

"Wow." I'm awe-struck. "I can't believe... you're amazing." The mood is definitely deep here on the couch. "So... I guess this means you can take me someplace cool, like Paris, for our anniversary next year."

Faith stiffens. Oh, great, Summers. Way to put your foot in your mouth. I put my hand on her wrist and lean in to catch her eye. "Faith? I'm sorry, bad joke, I didn't mean to come off like I'm after your money or something."

The look on her face is one of absolute terror and complete happiness, all rolled up in one. Her eyes search out mine. "You said a year."

"Yeah. Yeah, I did. You think you can handle that" I ask, teasing, but her response is completely serious.

"I don't know. I... this thing with us has already lasted at least four times as long as most of my other, um, relationships. And that's not counting from the Bronze the other night."

She's sitting very still, eyes unfocused, elbows on her knees, clutching her hands together, lost somewhere in the past. I'm struck again by the changes in her, quiet reflection where before she would just laugh off the serious stuff with a joke, sarcasm, or hostile indifference. I touch her arm, gently. "Tell me."

Dawn has stopped playing her game; she catches my eye and nods toward upstairs. I don't know how much she's heard, but she's smart. And more tactful that I ever remember her. She slips up the stairs quietly and I'm not even sure Faith heard her, caught up in the past as she is.

Faith sighs. "Nothing much to tell. Especially if I leave out all the parts where I'm a loser, loser-magnet, or slut." The self-hatred in her voice is difficult to take. I want to cut her off, assure her that it's not true, but she needs to see this for herself. "I wasn't much, before I became a Slayer. Mom was an alcoholic. I never knew my father. I don't even know if mom knew who he was. She would bring home guys, not really johns cuz they wouldn't pay her, just bring a bottle. She's just use them, sex and alcohol fix." Her hand runs up through her hair as she lowers her head, grabbing her hair so tight that I think she's going to rip it out at the roots. "You know, like me. Even in prison, I... got what I needed from the guards. That way."

She's silent for so long, I reach out my other hand and touch her shoulder. "Faith..."

She jerks her shoulder out from under my hand. "There's more. You might as well know now. Full disclosure, informed consent, all that." Another long pause, and then suddenly she rubs her scalp vigorously, with both hands. "Some of the guys... after mom passed out... found my room." There's deep disgust and recrimination in her voice, directed at herself, but no self-pity. "The last was right about the time I starting feeling my Slayer strength. He came in... tried... and I hit him. He... flew across the room. I jumped on him and... went crazy. He was laying there in my room, making this wheezing sound as he breathed, while I packed and then ran out of the apartment."

She swallows, hard. "I ran, right into the hands of my Watcher, there in the hallway. She was observing me. She took me, with her, to her house, and I never saw my mom again. Miss Beasley, my Watcher, told me the guy survived, but I... don't know that for sure." Another long pause stretches. "She was good to me, Mz. Beaz, was. Took care of me, gave me a home, made sure I had food to eat, took me to movies, trained me to use my power. Then, she..." Faith's head falls into her hands, finally, her back shaking with silent sobs.

I wrap myself around her, holding her while she cries, smoothing her hair. After a long time, the shaking stops. I loosen my grip and she sits up. "That's what I was running from when I ran here. The mayor... reminded me of Mz. Beaz, in his evil way. I went to him and he... took care of me, took me in. After I failed to be a Slayer, like Mz. Beaz tried to show me how to be, I had nothin' else." She's shivering, as if the memories chill her to her very soul. "Did Angel ever tell you about that night, in the alley, after I tortured Wesley? I... begged him to kill me. At that point, that was all I wanted out of life, a quick death." She's silent again, for a long time.

"Faith." She's still quiet, but I can tell she's listening. I squeeze her in my embrace, hard. "I'm sorry. Can you... ever forgive me"

She comes back to the present at my words. "Huh, B, what? Forgive you"

"I was... lousy to you... when you first came here. I left you in that motel, alone, didn't hang with you, except for work, and blamed you for something that was both of our responsibilities."

"B, no, it's..."

"No." I cut her off. "I wasn't a good friend to you. For whatever my messed up reasons at the time, I... I'm sorry." I take a long, deep breath, still holding on tightly. "And I almost drove you off again when you were trying to face all this, in LA. I was so angry..."

"Because I made you a victim."

"Maybe... That moment, in the church, right after we changed back to our own bodies, I... wanted, right then... I felt, after living through what those council guys did, thinking I was you... that maybe I understood, a little, and I wanted... to try to work things out. You ran out of that church, and I hesitated, just long enough... I couldn't find you, after. Then I found out, the thing with Riley, and it felt like I had gotten used, that my sympathy was all a part of your game. Again." This time, it was my time to pause. "That doesn't excuse how I acted like a self-righteous bitch when I was down there. I... just thought you should know."

Another long silence and then Faith sits up, shaking me off so she can stretch her back and shoulders. "So that's my fucked-up life, B. Fun bedtime story material." She's looking off in the distance again, her face set and voice hard. "This... you and me thing... now that you know... we shouldn't..." She moving like she's trying to slip off the couch, away from what I am going to say.

"Are you kidding me" My voice is loud and breaks across the softness of hers. "At the risk of repeating myself. You. Are. Amazing." Now she's looking at me, finally, but her look tells me she thinks I should be institutionalized. Not exactly a comforting look. "Faith. God, I knew you went through stuff. I didn't know it was as... difficult as it really was. And through all that, you were strong, you turned your whole life around, and were even selfless enough to come back here and... pull me back from the brink." My eyes are trained on hers. "I would be dead if it wasn't for you." I can tell she wants to deny that, but my eyes convey the truth of my statement.

"You've had a difficult past, and we've had a rocky past, but all that is past. You can't run me off with that, not with the way I feel about you."

"I gotta try harder, huh" Her joke is half-hearted, and not without the remnant of pain in her voice, but she sounds almost like herself.

"Much, much harder."

"There is some stuff I haven't told you about prison..." she says, with a mock hopeful tone in her voice.

I slide around so I'm straddling her legs, my arms around her neck. "Later." I nibble on her ear, feeling her fingers tighten on my hips. "I just found out that this incredibly hot, sexy Slayer I have a crush on is rich as well and I need to make sure I have her thoroughly hooked before she sees me with weird bed hair or something."

"She's already seen that and thinks it's adorable."

I slide off her lap and stand on shaky legs. "Come on, let's go to bed." She takes my hand and as I pull her up beside me"But, we have to be much quieter than last night. And I sure hope my bed can handle our, um, aggressive tendencies."

Faith laughs softly as she follows me up the stairs.




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