by Queen Zulu
Buffy stalked the vampire through the children's park,
her stake gripped firmly and confidently in her right hand, her mind focused
but her body loose, ready to spring into action as soon as the stupid moronic
cowardly vampire would quit running and turn around and fight, damn it!
Police car sirens whooped, the swirling red and blue lights cutting through the darkness of the kids' playground. Buffy stood next to her mom, waiting for the detective to return and tell them they could go. Faith was half-sitting, half-leaning on the low stone wall that bordered the park. Her arms were crossed, and she glared at any crime scene investigator that ventured too close. Buffy chewed her lip, watching the man taking pictures and roping off the merry-go-round with yellow tape. Her mom was still in shock, staring wide-eyed at the little kids' bodies as if she could never look away.
Finally, the detective broke off his conversation with a small knot of police officers and headed over to them. Buffy put her arm around her mom. Faith stood up and came closer, one hand on Buffy's back, out of the detective's sight. "If there's nothing more you can tell us, you're all free to go," he said.
"Just that we found them," Buffy said. "There's really nothing else...?"
"We'll call you if we need to ask any questions," the detective said.
"Okay." Buffy sighed and started leading her mom to the street. Faith followed, and Buffy smiled at her gratefully. She didn't want to do this alone.
"They were little kids," Mom said. "Did you see them?"
"I saw," Buffy said softly. She'd never seen her mom like this, so lost, as if she were the child and Buffy the parent who was supposed to make it all better. Except, this time, she didn't know how.
"Who could do something like this?" Mom asked. "I just..." She trailed off and looked down.
Buffy met Faith's eyes again. She wanted to cry, more for her mom than for the children. It was a horrible thing to say, but she'd gotten used to people dying. Her mom hadn't. Faith didn't say anything, only walked along beside her, close enough that Buffy could feel the warmth of her body in the cool night air. For now, that was enough.
"I'm so sorry that you had to see this," Buffy told her mom. "But I promise, everything is gonna be okay."
"Because, Mrs. S., we're gonna find whatever did it," Faith said, her voice loud and rough with anger. "And we're gonna make 'em pay, whoever they are. Right, B?"
Buffy nodded. "That's what we do, Mom. We're the Slayers."
Her mom smiled, but it was a weak effort. "I guess. It's just you can't...you can't make it right."
Buffy turned and hugged her mom as she started to sob. Faith watched them, shoving her hands into her pockets. She fidgeted, uncomfortable, and Buffy reached out a hand to her behind her mom's back. Faith smiled a bit and held it, squeezing.
"Come on, let's get you home, Mom." Buffy urged her mom to keep walking. They were all silent until they reached Buffy's house. She opened the door for her mom, then hung back while she went in. "I'm just gonna--" she started, edging back onto the porch where Faith was waiting.
Her mom wiped her eyes, but her voice was firm when she said, "I don't want you staying out late, Buffy. Not tonight."
"I'll only be a minute."
Buffy closed the door quietly. She and Faith looked at each other in silence for a few moments, then Buffy let out a half-strangled laugh.
"What?" Faith asked, taking a step closer.
"Just...this wasn't how this evening was supposed to go, was it?" Buffy tried to smile, then realized that tears were streaming down her face. "Faith..."
Faith closed the last step between them and enfolded Buffy in a hug. Buffy wrapped her arms around Faith as tightly as she could, knowing she wouldn't hurt Faith with her strength. She buried her face on Faith's shoulder and cried. She was seventeen years old and used to people dying, for God's sake. She remembered all the times she'd groaned when Giles wanted her to patrol instead of going Bronzing, and wondered how many innocent lives had been lost each time. And tonight, even though they'd been right there, they hadn't stopped it from happening. Two kids were dead, and she was responsible. Her mom was right. She and Faith could kill whatever demon had done this, and it still wouldn't make it right. But even now, Buffy knew she couldn't save everyone. She couldn't be everywhere at once. It just made her feel so helpless.
"Hey, Buffy, shh..." Faith stroked her hair, her hands moving delicately. Buffy burrowed closer. "I know. I'm sorry too." Faith lifted her chin with one hand and placed a kiss on her lips. It was so gentle Buffy hardly felt it, but it burned like fire. "We'll take care of everything," Faith whispered, and kissed her again, slowly, the barest touch of soft lips. "I promise."
Buffy closed her eyes and tipped her head back, pressing up to kiss Faith again, more firmly this time. She opened her mouth and felt Faith's tongue sliding against hers, silky and warm. She whimpered, her hands pulling Faith closer. There was something so tentative in Faith's manner. It made Buffy want to protect her at the same time that Faith was comforting her.
Buffy knew she should go inside; her mom might be upset, but that didn't mean she didn't know exactly what was going on out on her front porch at that precise moment. But the touch of Faith's lips against hers, the heat where their bodies were pressed together, made it so much easier to forget what had happened tonight. She sighed when the kiss ended, as slowly and tenderly as it began.
"I'm sorry," she said, leaning her forhead against Faith's, not loosening her hold a fraction.
"For what?" Faith smiled a bit, a hint of teasing in her easy drawl. "That was hot."
"I meant...you know, tonight. I wanted to--"
"Yeah," Faith breathed. "Me too." She slid her hands down Buffy's back, pulling them together one last time, then releasing her slowly. "It sucks. But we're gonna find the motherfucker, right? We'll talk to Giles tomorrow."
"Thank you so much. For being here." Buffy met Faith's eyes, dark in the darkness. "With my mom...I don't know what I'm supposed to tell her. Why did she have to pick tonight?"
"At least she's okay." Faith brushed a hand across Buffy's cheek. "We still on for Friday?"
Buffy smiled. "Of course."
"And your mom's getting over the whole me-and-you thing?"
"She's...working on it." Buffy shrugged. "She'll be fine. She wanted to bond with you, right?"
"She's an awesome mom, that's all." Faith glanced over Buffy's shoulder at the door. "You should probably go in."
"Yeah." Buffy started to turn, then, with an impatient noise, went back to Faith. She took Faith's face in her hands and kissed her again, hard and quick. "Good night."
"No kidding," Faith said. She shook her head and backed down the porch steps. "I'll be at the school tomorrow."
"Okay," Buffy said. She leaned on the porch post and watched Faith walk away. With a sigh, she entered the house.
Her mom was sitting at the island in the middle of the kitchen. She cupped both hands around a mug of tea and staring out the kitchen windows into the backyard. Buffy said a silent thank you that she hadn't been looking out front instead. She took a seat at the island and poured herself a cup of tea. Breathing the minty steam, Buffy relaxed a bit. It had been horrible in the park, but there was also a plan of action. She was a bit nervous about Faith meeting with them at the library--neither of them had told anyone that they were together. She'd have to cross that bridge when she came to it. She knew that Faith loved her, and she was quickly falling head-over-heels herself. The way Faith kissed her was like a promise she knew would be kept.
Buffy glanced up from her tea. "Yeah, Mom?"
Mom sighed, but continued. "I wish you didn't have to go out there every night, that's all."
"But I have to." Buffy hunched over the countertop. "Sacred duty, blah blah blah...it's not about that. It's about keeping people like those kids safe. Because I can."
"I remember when Faith came, you were thinking about retiring..."
Buffy frowned. "I can't--I won't make her do it alone. Together, we can protect each other, we're a team--"
Almost laughing, her mom shook her head. "I did see you when I came into the park, you know. I know we haven't talked about it yet, honey, but..."
"That was different." Buffy stood up and put her mug in the sink, trying to explain how it was different without getting completely wigged. She didn't want to know that her mom had seen. "We were just--"
"Distracted." Mom's eyes were sad as she looked up. "It's just one more thing for me to worry about when you go out. And I don't know if I can ever understand it."
"You don't need to understand it." Buffy hugged herself. "It's not up to you."
"I want you safe." Mom pushed her mug away. "We'll--let's talk about this tomorrow, Buffy, when we're both more awake. But I want you to think about what I've said. I'm not forbidding anything. I'm just trying to tell you how I feel."
"Fine." Buffy looked down. "I'm going to bed."
She left her mom sitting in the dark.
The library was the same as ever. Buffy dumped her books on the check-out counter and leaned across it, trying to see if Giles was in his office. It was the first day back at school after the Christmas break, and so much had happened since she'd been here that it felt like everything should look different. Two weeks ago, she'd been pining for Angel, and desperately trying to save him from the First. Now she and Faith were together, and her mom was close to freaking out--not just about their relationship, but about her Slaying, too. Buffy sighed. Giles' kettle started whistling, and she went into his office to take it off the hot plate.
"Buffy, is that you?" Giles' voice drifted down from the stacks.
"Yeah," she called back. "You want me to make tea, or is it in the Big Book of British Rules that you have to do it yourself?"
Giles appeared at the office door, holding one book open in his hands and two others under his arm. He kept reading even as he took the kettle from her and warmed the teapot, swirling a bit of hot water at the bottom of it. "How was your patrol last night?" he asked.
Buffy slumped down in the desk chair and spun herself around. "Horrible."
Giles frowned and put the books on the desk. He studied her closely for the first time since he'd come in. "You're not injured?"
"No." Buffy stopped the chair from spinning and faced him as he filled a strainer with tea leaves. "My mom found two little kids in the park. Dead. She came out to bond with us about Slaying and she had to see that. Faith and I--"
"Faith was there?" Giles filled the teapot with water and let the tea steep.
"Yeah. Giles--" Buffy fiddled with a ring on her pinkie, twisting it around. "What would you say if I told you...um..." Buffy bit her lip and hesitated, then drew in a deep breath and rushed the words out. "...that Faith is my girlfriend and I'm kind of in love with her?" She hunched her shoulders and peeked up at him.
Giles opened his mouth as if he was going to say something but had forgotten what at the last moment. His ears turned pink. He cleared his throat, carefully poured tea into his mug, stirred it three times counterclockwise, and put down his spoon. "W-well, I, uh, I don't know, Buffy. I--I hadn't thought that, um, you were...uh...Two dead children? Do we know how it happened?"
"No." Buffy stood up and left the office. It was so typical of him to avoid stuff about her life with questions about the slaying. "So are you upset?" she asked, pushing him.
Giles followed her to the table in the middle of the library, currently covered books and parchments. "I-it's not my place to be, to be upset. It's not-- If--if you're, ah, happy...could it have been vampires?"
"There weren't any marks." Buffy sighed and leaned against the back of a chair. "Faith and I...It happened when we went skiing, in case you wanted to know."
Giles nodded. He put his mug down, picked it up again, almost took a sip, then lowered his arm again. "That's, that's, um. And, Angel...he...?"
"I told you I wasn't dating him anymore." Buffy sat down at the table and looked up at him. "I'm not gonna--Giles, when you found out I'd been hiding him, I knew I couldn't risk it, being with him. It was over."
Giles sighed and sat down across from her. He pushed some books aside and met her eyes. "Buffy, why are you telling me this--like this?"
Buffy shrugged. "I didn't want to hide it. I do too much hiding."
"Buffy..." Giles leaned forward. "I think you're asking for my approval."
"You said it wasn't your place to approve." Buffy parroted the words back at him.
"Nor is it." Giles pursed his lips, watching her closely. "I have nothing against you seeing Faith, as long as it doesn't interfere with your Slaying. As it happens, I know how difficult it is to...meet someone...outside of our, um, calling."
"Giles..." Buffy blushed, not wanting to hear about Giles meeting anyone, for anything. Then she remembered Miss Calendar and sank down in her chair, no longer able to meet his gaze.
"Listen to me, Buffy. I'm your Watcher, not your parent. This cannot be a substitute for your mother's blessing." Giles cleared his throat. "And I hope to make it clear that I do not want to catch the two of you--ahem--up to anything in this library."
Buffy buried her face in her hands. "Oh, God, I could have done without that image."
"And so can I." Giles gave her a slight smile. "I plan to continue believing you are a chaste, shy girl who has never had an impure thought in her head...much as the evidence would contradict me. Now." He tapped the table with one finger, signaling the end to that particular discussion. "What more can you tell me about these children your mother discovered?"
Buffy shook her head, trying to remember details. "They were kids, Giles. Little kids. You don't know what it was like to see them there. My mom can't even talk." Which was true, as far as it went. Buffy had slipped out of the house early that morning, before her mom could bring up her concerns about Faith a second time.
"We'll need more than that to go on if we're going to discover the cause of their deaths." Giles started rearranging papers and volumes into stacks.
The library doors swung open and Faith shoved through. Buffy smiled, feeling the familiar flutter in her stomach at her appearance. Faith looked as gorgeous as ever. Buffy could forget a lot of bad things, if she had Faith to stare at. Faith grinned back, cocking an eyebrow at Giles. Buffy nodded. Faith sauntered over and wrapped her arms around Buffy from behind, smoothing her hands over Buffy's stomach and resting her chin on Buffy's shoulder. Buffy sucked in a quiet breath, wishing Giles hadn't put a big old damper on all the library fun she and Faith might have had.
"Hey, G-man. Did B tell ya what's the what?" Faith breath was warm and tickly in Buffy's ear. Buffy felt her face go hot, but she forced herself to look at Giles.
Giles suddenly found the opposite wall to be incredibly fascinating. Buffy had to give him credit for not stuttering too badly when he answered. "Yes, Buffy told me about the children. No vampire markings mean it could be many things, and as such, we will be researching today..."
"No marks?" Faith asked. "I saw some. Not vampire, but..." She let go of Buffy and pulled out the chair beside her, picking up a felt pen and a piece of parchment off the table. "A symbol, like."
"Oh, uh, Faith--" Giles hurriedly set down his mug and reached over to stop her before she could draw anything. "Twelfth century, Papal Encyclical," he muttered. "Here, write on this." He handed her a spiral notebook.
Faith flipped to a blank page. Giles picked up his tea and watched her draw. Buffy leaned closer, enjoying the excuse to press her body against Faith's again.
"This was on their hands. I bet the cops don't say anything about it, but I could see it pretty clear." Faith pushed the notebook over, showing a triangle with a flaring U shape cutting it in half.
"Now why didn't I see that?" Buffy asked, murmuring the question in Faith's ear. She hoped the whole breathing thing had the same effect on Faith that it had on her. Faith shivered, and Buffy smiled to herself. Score one for Buffy.
"'Cause you were too busy checkin' out your really hot girlfriend?" Faith replied, with one eye on Giles to see how he reacted. He only peered at the symbol, but his ears turned pink again. Faith snickered.
"That must be it," Buffy said, amused. "Okay, Giles, find us the thing that uses that symbol and point us at it."
"Hmm." Giles stood up, sipping his tea. He wandered towards the stairs, carrying the notebook with him.
"Hmm?" Faith asked, pushing back from the table and thumping her feet inches from Giles' precious Papal parchment. "Hmm what?"
"Hmm means, 'I know something really bad but I think it'll wig you less if I just make thoughtful noises'," Buffy explained. "It doesn't work the way you think it does, Giles," she called to him. "Tell us what's going on."
"What?" Giles looked up, frowning at Faith's boots on the table. "Sorry. I just wonder if we're looking for a thing. The use of a symbol on a victim like this suggests a ritual murder and a cult sacrifice by a group."
"A group of...human beings?" Buffy asked, incredulous.
Giles nodded. "I'm afraid so."
"Someone with a soul did this? Fuck!" Faith slammed her feet down to the floor and stood up to pace. "Jesus, Giles, I hope you're gonna tell us there's a loophole in that whole 'Slayers don't kill people' rule."
Buffy touched Faith's arm to calm her down, but she was trembling with anger herself. Didn't they have enough to contend with, killing all the demons in the world? Evil couldn't just stay in its nice, Slayable box?
Giles sighed, looking at them sympathetically. "This is a dreadful crime, I know, and you have every right to be upset, both of you." He set down his empty tea mug on the table. "But, Buffy, I wonder if you're not letting yourself get a shade more personal because of your mother's involvement."
"Yeah, no kidding, Giles," Faith said. "Slaying is personal, it has to be. I mean, we gotta have a reason to fight, and it just happens that it's for Buffy's mom this time. She shouldn'ta had to see that."
Buffy met his eyes. "Just find me the people that did this. Please."
Giles nodded. "I'll tell you as soon as I know more."
Buffy and Faith headed for the cafeteria at lunchtime, leaving Giles to continue his research.
"So we're really getting into the telling-people phase of this..." Faith waved a hand, gesturing at the two of them.
"Relationship," Buffy said. "I guess we are. Is that okay?"
Faith glanced at her. "I never thought it would really..." She shrugged. "I mean, that we'd get all corny like that. But, I dunno, I kinda like it."
"Good." Buffy smiled, ducking her head to hide her blush. "So does that mean we can look for that janitor's closet that Xander just happened to mention to me when I first moved here?"
"Oh, man, he didn't!" Faith laughed, then eyed Buffy with a sexy grin. "You wanna sneak in first or should I?" She leaned closer, pinning Buffy against a locker with her gaze. "You got me all kinds of worked up last night. Wanna know what I did when I got to mine...?"
Buffy swallowed, feeling her breathing coming faster. "Yeah," she breathed.
Faith moved so that her body brushed against Buffy's. Buffy felt her nipples harden immediately, pressed against Faith's breasts. Faith dipped her head to whisper in Buffy's ear. Buffy closed her eyes, feeling arousal shudder through her body at the sound of Faith's voice. "I'd rather show you...but I can't, because your fucking principal is walking straight towards us."
Buffy bit back a moan. Faith was right. Snyder was striding down the hall, snapping at students as he passed. Faith stepped away from Buffy and studied a poster on the wall, as if she was desperately interested in joining the knitting club. Snyder glared at Buffy, probably upset that he didn't have a reason to yell at her, other than the fact that she looked red-faced and guilty.
"Oh, God, that is so not fair," she said, her voice shaky. "Come on, before the little troll comes back this way." She took Faith's hand and led her to the cafeteria. There was no way she was going to risk getting caught on school grounds with Faith. She was still on probation, after all, and she had a feeling her mom wouldn't stick up for her this time. "Let's go meet the guys."
Faith sighed. "If that's what you really want..." she said, teasing.
"It's not," Buffy said, her voice almost a growl. "But I am not ravishing you while I'm still thinking about Snyder. That is wrong on so many levels. Each level ickier than the last."
Faith laughed and allowed herself to be led. They entered the cafeteria and headed over to the table where Willow, Oz, and Xander were sitting with Amy.
"Hi, Buffy. Hi, Faith," Willow said as they approached. "Amy, this is Faith...she's another Slayer, it's this whole mystical loophole thing. Faith, Amy. She's a witch. Her mom stole her body for a while, but now she's okay."
Faith and Amy exchanged nods. It was the Hellmouth. Willow's introduction seemed perfectly normal to both of them.
"And a hearty hello to my two favouritest Slayers," Xander said. He stood up and pushed his chair towards Buffy. He grabbed one from a neighbouring table for Faith, but he couldn't find one for himself.
"Don't worry about me, Xan," Faith said, sitting in the chair he'd offered Buffy. "You go ahead."
"Buffy, you don't have to stand," Xander said, shooting Faith an annoyed look for taking the seat he'd meant for Buffy.
"Nope, she sure doesn't." Faith raised an eyebrow at Buffy, leering.
Buffy rolled her eyes at Faith's obvious dare. She was the one who thought it was a good idea to tell people they were together. She might have preferred doing it somewhere other than the cafeteria in front of the whole school, but it wasn't like her social life was much of a secret to Sunnydale High--not now that Cordelia was their enemy again. Besides, she was pretty sure that Faith just wanted to keep...distracting her, since they kept on being interrupted. Buffy's pulse was still racing from their encounter in the hallway. She waved Xander's second chair offering away and sat on Faith's lap.
"Um...okay...interesting seating choice," Xander said, eying them sidelong.
"Wipe away the drool, Zeppo," Faith said, mock-seriously. "It was a chair emergency."
Xander nodded wisely, still staring. "I've heard of those. Very dangerous. Steps must be taken. Laps...filled."
"Okay," Buffy said, holding up a hand to stop Xander before he could start babbling in earnest. "Guys, I...that is, we have some news."
Willow shifted in her seat and shared a look with Oz. "It's we news? News from we? As in, there is a we, and you are in the we, and Faith is we too?"
"Hey, I am not wee. I'm taller than she is." Faith rested one hand on Buffy's knee, massaging it, then started shifting it up her thigh. Buffy thought about slapping it away, then changed her mind and wished she was wearing a skirt instead of pants, and nothing else.
Focus. This was important.
"Faith and I are together." Buffy looked around at a circle of blank faces. Well, Oz's face was usually blank, but at least his blankness conveyed that he was happy for them. "In one of those--relationshippy type things," she clarified.
Oz nodded, his lips twitching briefly into a grin. Amy smiled at them. "Congratulations," she said.
Willow and Xander still looked blank.
Buffy shook her head in despair, wondering just how obvious she was going to have to get. "Faith is my girlfriend," she said slowly and distinctly. "Notice how I am sitting in her lap. And Faith, if you move your hand one inch higher we are going to be banned from all public spaces."
"And that stops me how?" Faith purred.
"No smoochies in a broom closet later," Buffy threatened.
Xander's mouth dropped open. Faith pouted, but stopped moving her hand.
Willow narrowed her eyes at Buffy. "So, when we were doing homework yesterday, and you said you had to go patrol, were you actually patrolling?"
"Yes," Buffy answered.
"No," Faith said at the same time.
Buffy met Faith's eyes for a moment. "Both," she said. "Except then Mom picked last night for a surprise bonding visit, and she found these two little kids instead. They were murdered."
"Oh, my God," Amy said.
Willow shook her head. "Your mom would actually take the time to do that with you? Does she know about--" Willow's voice dropped to a whisper. "--you and Faith?"
"Yeah." Buffy tensed on Faith's lap. She hadn't told Faith what her mom had said yet about Faith being just a 'distraction'. "More bad. She took it well at first, but last night, she started wigging."
Buffy snapped her head around. Her mom was standing right behind her. Oh, God. Not good. She jumped off Faith's legs and stood up.
"Um... everyone," she said, sending Faith an apologetic look. "You know, 'cause of what happened."
"Oh, it's so awful." Mom shook her head. "I had bad dreams about it all night."
Willow offered her a tentative, "Hi, Mrs. Summers." She met Buffy's eyes and indicated Faith with a nod of her head, worried questions in her eyes. Buffy shrugged at her. Her mom didn't even acknowledge that Faith was there.
Mom smiled around the table absently. "Oh, hi, everybody."
Xander and Amy added their hellos. Everyone fidgeted. Mom didn't notice.
"Buffy, have you talked to Mr. Giles yet about who could have done this?" she asked.
"He thinks it might be a cult," Faith said. "He's still looking. But me and B are gonna add to our patrols, and, y'know, keep an eye out. Don't worry, we're gonna find 'em."
"A cult," Mom said, still staring over Faith's head as if she wasn't there. "Like witches."
Willow coughed, choking on her milk. Amy frowned and stared at the tabletop.
Mom made a tsk-tsk sound. "Oh, I know you kids think that stuff's cool. Buffy told me you dabble."
"Right," Willow said, stumbling over her words. "Absolutely. That's me. I'm a dabbler."
Mom kept talking, not noticing what Willow was saying. "But anybody who could do this isn't cool. And anyone who lets it happen again is a monster."
"Hey!" Buffy glared at her mom. "You know what? We're not going to let it happen again. That's what we do, okay, Mom?"
"Buffy..." Faith started.
Mom seemed to notice Faith for the first time. A small frown creased her forehead. "It's nice that your friends are helping with the investigation. But with the vigil we've set up for tonight..."
"Vigil?" Faith repeated.
"We?" Buffy asked.
"I called everyone I know. Even the Mayor is going to be there. We are going to see some action!" Mom smiled. "It was nice seeing you all." She left them all staring at her as she left the cafeteria.
Buffy slid down onto Faith's lap again, wrapping one arm around her shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "She was fine about it when we were skiing. I don't know what's wrong."
Faith shrugged and looked away.
"Man, that's rough," Xander said. "She was just starting to chill out about your Slaying, and now this."
"Makes me glad my mom doesn't pay attention to my extra-curricular activities," Willow said. She stopped, then frowned. "Or my curricular activities..."
Amy nodded. "And at least she doesn't care so much that she tries to take over your life--literally."
"This is definitely against the rules," Buffy said, rubbing Faith's shoulders with one hand. "School is school, and home is home. She's mixing everything up."
"Yeah, and the secret identity rap is really gonna get tough to pull off if she's calling all her friends," Faith said. "I mean, who'd figure on people from Sunnydale actually noticing when something goes bump in the night?"
Buffy nodded. "I guess this means we're going to the vigil."