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Quietly Become Strong

by Queen Zulu



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We quietly become strong so early
Take it or leave it, they can't believe it
They go from kindergarten to killing sprees,
They go from heartache to inner peace.

Willow's spell didn't work exactly as she planned. As I found out, her spells rarely do. We were lucky enough that we weren't turned from potentials to potpourri, or something just as ridiculous. No one noticed at first--I mean, when the road you're driving on is collapsing into the next contender for the title Grand Canyon, you're thinking about the fight you just won, and checking to see who didn't make it out, and crying and bleeding and kissing your girlfriend and all that crazy I-can't-believe-I'm-alive stuff, and not so much about the gift you've just been given. The power. I know I was eager for it--and the first day I met Buffy, I wouldn't have thought twice about her having to die for me to get it. Or Faith either, for that matter.

But...the spell changed all that. For all of us, I suppose--the new Slayers, I mean--but for me more than any of them.

On the third day, when I woke up next to Willow in the Hyperion, I knew--didn't realize, didn't recognise, didn't understand--just knew--that I would have been next.

I could feel this--I don't know what you'd call it--connection. Between me and, this part I could hardly believe, Faith. It was like I was attached to her, somehow; like there was a bond between us, except it was made of energy and I could feel her life force straining at the end of it.

It was pretty irresistible. Faith was almost enough of a temptation on her own, but by the time she arrived in Sunnydale, I was already with Willow. There was something between us, maybe just acknowledgement that, hey, hot!--a sort of subliminal check, like, "Oh, yeah, I'd like a piece of that," that you recognized for what it was and then went on with your life. But when I woke up feeling the surge of Faith's energy tugging at me, like a puppy eager for a walk, I didn't think. I just went to find her.

You kind of expect Faith to always be in motion. That's how she seemed at Buffy's house. Training or fighting or dancing or doing her tai chi, or even walking around the kitchen while she ate. So finding her by the Hyperion's pool, using the lounge chair for its intended purpose, kind of threw me. Well, that, and the outfit she'd found to wear. This white tank top that barely deserved the name, and a pair of denim cut-offs that took the word "shorts" to a whole new level. With, quite obviously, nothing underneath. I counted to ten and thought of Willow sleeping upstairs.

Faith was so still I would've thought that she was asleep behind her dark sunglasses, except I could feel that she wasn't. Faith vibrated--or, bad thought, bad choice of words. Hummed, maybe. She was awake, and if on the outside she was still, on the inside she was twitchy as anything.

I was never the kind of girl to sit back and not say my mind, freaky new senses or not. "Faith--"

One perfect eyebrow arched. And I should stop using words like perfect where Faith was concerned.

"Do you--"

"Want to go neck behind the poolhouse? Shit, and here I was thinking Red had found herself a faithful type."

"No." I ignored the jab, since Faith would make comments like that to a stranger on the street. "Do you feel--" I stopped. There really weren't words for it. The connection was more than just knowing how Faith felt, more than just a sense of her energy. It was knowing that I would have been next. If she had died--that energy would have been mine. Should have been, except Willow stole it from the Slayer's origins and gave it to us all.

Faith pushed the sunglasses up to her forehead and eyed me. "Yeah. Do you feel Amanda?"

I shrugged and tried. Amanda was in the Hyperion's kitchen, happy enough. "Not very much."

"Yeah, well, I can feel the line, maybe down to Rhona--she's sixth."

"Who's in between?"

Faith shrugged and tipped the glasses back down over her eyes. "Dunno. Haven't met 'em."

"It's--" I wrinkled my nose. "I thought it was just me."

"Slayer connection? Nothing's just one of us, I'm pretty sure that's the point." Faith sank back down into the lounge chair, the very picture of lazy indifference. I could feel the tension radiating off her, though, even brighter than the sunlight rippling off the surface of the pool.

"You're lying." That pissed me off. Faith didn't have the right to keep me in the dark anymore, as if I was just some kid she was babysitting. I was as much of a Slayer as her.

Faith's peaceful expression turned a fraction harder. "Get the hell out of my aura, Kenny."

I could've left it at that. I'm used to getting things my way but I sure learned different down there in the Hellmouth. And Faith's head was never one I was particularly interested in getting into. Her pants, maybe. But I had standards, and privacy was one of them. Still, now that I was this close to her, it was easy to see that she was getting madder by the second. And then, in a flash, it was there and gone, and a lot of things fell into place.

I pulled another pool chair up next to Faith's and sat down, as if I was her shrink or something. "You're jealous that it isn't just you and Buffy anymore."

This time the sunglasses came right off and cracked on the pool deck. "I said fuck off."

That's when the warmth of the power hit me. Oh, Faith could probably still take me, because she fought dirty and had prison and killing behind her, not to mention four more years of experience. But now it wouldn't be just like tossing a sack of flour over her shoulder. I was a Slayer, and I was good enough to give her bruises worth thinking about. "No. It's time to deal, Faith. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

Yeah, talk about your dangerous moves. Faith stood up and loomed over me, like height would be enough to make me back off. So she's taller. So what. I leaned back and pretended to enjoy the sunshine. Sort of anticipating the fight, the moves we might use, whether or not I could best her one round out of three. And admiring the strip of tanned skin that was pretty much right there in my eyeline.

"How's Robin?" I asked, since she was already mad.

"How's Willow?" she shot back.

I tipped my head back, refusing to answer. Robin was still in the local hospital, and as far as anybody knew, Faith hadn't visited him once. I don't think anyone expected her to, either because they didn't know that Faith and Robin had been together, or because they did know, but they also knew Faith. I was pretty sure it wasn't like that with me and Willow. What it was, I don't think we ever figured out, except that she was hot and I was horny, and we both needed someone right then. Willow didn't love me, and I didn't love her. I could've, eventually, but I knew she was still hung up on Tara, and maybe she always would be.

"Buffy's talking about travelling," I said instead. "Dawn says they might go to Europe, somewhere."

"Whatever." Faith turned away, as if the L.A. skyline was suddenly the most fascinating view she'd ever had. Bingo.

"So if you're thinking about making your move, you might want to dial the setting up to something quicker than glacial."

"Buffy's straight."

"No kidding." Another thing I'd seen the very first day I'd met her. She was so hung up on Spike it wasn't funny. Or so I'd thought...until Faith showed up. Well, everything changed when you added Faith to the equation. "Look, you're not the Chosen Two any more, and maybe she's not feeling so great about it either."

"B? This is like her dream come true." Faith dipped her toe in the pool and I couldn't help but wonder exactly how much payback I'd be in for if I gave her a shove. I smirked at Faith's back...ass...whatever. "She wants to retire. Go to Disneyland, fuck, I don't know."

I screwed up my face, trying to figure out if that was what Buffy was thinking. This Slayer connection had to be worth something more than knowing that I could have been The One Girl In All The World. Could've, would've, should've. But I'm not bitter, really.

What I felt wasn't whether General Buffy wanted to hang up her bitching shoes or take them on the talk-show circuit. To be perfectly honest, Buffy in Europe sounded a lot better to me right then than Buffy trying to take charge even more. But when I gave the connection a prod, sort of reaching past Faith, or through her, or something--following the flow of the energy--and, just like when I saw that Faith was pretty much as in love with Buffy as a person could get, I saw what was happening in Buffy's mind. Just for a second, not long enough to really think it out. That, and she was on her way here right now, following her connection to Faith the same way I had.

Well, there was nothing to being a Slayer if not being Action Girl.

I pushed Faith into the pool.

It was worth it, no matter what came after, just to see Faith lose that cooler-than-anything look. I don't care what they say about her being a psychotic killer; the fact is she killed, like, two guys, and the way I see it, no matter how lucky a Slayer you are everyone's gonna make a bad judgement call one time out of however many thousand vamps. So I didn't worry--I just laughed my ass off seeing Faith take an unexpected cannonball into the deep end. She roared out of the pool, grabbed my shirt and slammed me against the wall. I was fine, but I don't think the bricks shared the sentiment. I couldn't stop my grin, the bratty one that drives teachers and Watchers and, on several very satisfying occasions, Buffy, right up the wall. Faith growled and tightened her fist on my shirt, dripping all over me and the pool deck and looking half like a drowned rat and half like the sort of ice cream treat I get to lick in all the good dreams.

The timing was, as Faith herself would say, fucking perfect.

Buffy walked out of the hotel. I saw her over Faith's shoulder--the way her expression went from mild boredom, to rage that flickered past faster than most people would see it, to that cold-as-a-vamp holier-than-thou eyebrow that I knew all too well from the torture chamber at the Summers'--otherwise known as the living room during Lecture Hour. God, Buffy pissed me off when she pretended she was above us all 'cause she didn't get pelvic with whoever was handiest. Not even Spike, who would've danced backward cartwheels for one look from her that didn't scream contempt. Now, I knew better than anybody--except maybe Faith herself--that Buffy was bluffing her way through a high-stakes poker match on a pair of twos every time she denied that she got as hungry and horny as the rest of us. Hell, Willow's lucky she survived our first night at the Hyperion; the way I felt then--God--

Well, it was kind of the way I felt right now. I changed my grin from bratty to taunting, and melted a bit in Faith's hold, catching her gaze and letting her know that I wouldn't say no if she ever made a move on me. Okay, I was stirring the pot. Hell, I was dumping nitroglycerin into the pot and turning up the flame. But there was something about the danger of it, the way I wanted to laugh at how bad I was being, that was more like Faith than like me. I'm not saying I don't have regrets. I would've been happy enough staying with Willow. Maybe I could've been her kite string. Right then, though, I was less about the corny metaphors and more about loving the jealous death-look in Buffy's eyes.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Buffy said too loudly, narrowing her eyes at me. Oh yeah, as if I was still going to shout How high? every time she said jump. Not anymore, Miss They Don't Know What It Means To Be The Slayer.

Faith loosed her hold on me and I stepped past her. "Not a thing," I said, with a sly smile at Faith. If she was looking hot before, then the dunking I'd given her had only improved matters--from my point of view, anyway. Her white tank was drenched and the denim shorts were clinging to her ass in ways I can't even describe. When I managed to pull my eyes away I saw I wasn't the only one who was a bit distracted.

Like I said, even Buffy couldn't keep up the Ice Queen act when Faith was around. Those two have history up to the armpits, and it wasn't the first time I'd wondered exactly what kind. The look on Buffy's face should have cleared it right up--I mean, I know lust when I see it, and I was seeing a hell of a lot of it. Wrap it all up in the mystical Slayer stuff I was sensing and you'd think it'd be a complete package. Love, lust, betrayal, hate. But, oh, no, it had to be more complicated than that.

Because Buffy was looking at me, too.

I was wet where Faith had dripped on me, and I can't say I was wearing much more than she was, because L.A. in the summer is no time to get modest when you can be stripping down to as little as possible. Plus I know I'm not exactly paper-bag ugly. The tongue ring isn't the only reason girls keep coming back.

All I can say is, I think Faith was still possessing me when I did what I did next. I let my eyes trail down Buffy's body, and I licked my lips. Buffy tried to ratchet up the glare another notch, but I saw her blush...and so did Faith. Now instead of one murderous Slayer furious with me, I had two. Nothing like walking a very thin line. I just grinned and walked past Buffy--as closely as I could without deliberately brushing against her--and left them to it. I thought I was doing Faith a favour. If I could make Buffy that jealous, maybe she and Faith could finally work whatever it was out of their systems. I'm nothing if not helpful, in my own unique way.

I sauntered out, and I knew there were two pairs of eyes watching me go.

I went back to Willow and woke her up in her favourite way; but my mind wasn't on the job at hand--or more accurately, at mouth. I was thinking of someone else, and here's where things get even crazier, because it wasn't even Faith this time. It was Buffy.

Buffy, the control freak, the glory hog, the prissy princessy martyriffic bitch.

I thought about all the times she'd gotten in my face over one thing and another; how she'd pushed me and prodded me and tested my limits and just aggravated the hell out of me. And somehow, while Willow was returning the favour, that turned into Buffy coming at me and me finally deciding I wouldn't take her shit for one more second, and I shoved back, and she smirked at me and I just lost it and, right at the exact wrong moment, Buffy's name popped out of my mouth. Bad move. Bad. A superpowerful, almost-world-destroying witch's bed is really not the place to be indiscreet.

Well, at least I hadn't been counting on Willow to be "forever". I hear Slayers don't get that long, all evidence aside.

I was tossing what little clothing I'd managed to grab for myself into a backpack, getting ready to move to a new room, when Faith found me.

"That was the fucking stupidest thing I've ever seen you do, and I was there when they made you Bringer-bait."

I wasn't in the mood, but Faith just grinned at me--she already knew that. "Fuck you," I said, not caring that that's exactly what we were both hoping for.

"Wasn't me you were thinking of."

"Don't even try to tell me you've been living in Buffy's head for four years like that." I slung the pack over my shoulder. "Because she would've killed you first."

"Nah." Faith followed me in my search for an empty room. She glared helpfully at anyone who saw me moving and got all wide-eyed and curious. "Just dreams, sometimes. They could be wicked intense, though."

"So this is--what?" I felt guilty, yes, but I had the feeling Willow had just been waiting for an excuse to end things. She needed more time to grieve, not a girlfriend to settle down with. "Just an exponential increase, because Willow activated us all?"

Faith's grin widened. "Do you want to try telling Red that this is really her fault somehow?"

"God, no." I pulled a face and swung into the first unoccupied room I found. Anyway, I didn't want to be talking about Willow. Just like with Robin, it was easiest to turn the question around. "Did you get your head out of your ass and tell Buffy you've wanted to fuck her since the night you first borrowed her stake?"

"'S'not like she doesn't know."

"Not like you're getting any action, either."

Faith shut the door and leaned back against it. "That could change."

I felt like someone had just pressed my off-switch. I just stood there, staring. She was hot and she knew it, resting against the door, everything about her body blatantly on display. And, damn, I was probably the worst person in the world, but I wanted her, five minutes after the end of my last relationship. Some of that was me, but more was the reflection of her desire in our connection; and some third part was Buffy, aware of what was happening.

"You want Buffy."

Her grin was bright and wolfish. "So do you."

"Oh, and what, this is going to cure us of it?" I seriously doubted it.

Faith shrugged, entirely at ease. "Probably not."

There was a second or three, before I dumped the bag I was still holding and rushed forward to pin her against the door, when I could have asked, "Why us?" Why her and me and Buffy? But I suppose the question is the answer--we were the current incarnation of the Slayer, past, present, and would-be future. We were--

"Fuck thinking," Faith said, and it was pretty much the best advice I'd had all day. I kissed her, summerhot mouth and a tongue made of spice and chlorine. I was on fire, shoving my way into her space and diving into her mouth until she chuckled against my lips.

"Shut up, Faith," I said, just like Buffy would have, and she shivered under my touch.

It was an amazing thing, pushing Faith up against the door, my head tilted to crash our mouths together as tightly as possible. I wanted to crush her, dominate her, use every ounce of my new strength to stay on top. I didn't have any illusions about being in charge. You didn't have to know Faith long to figure out that any move you made would be more a brawl than a kiss. Fucking and fighting are synonyms in Faith's vocabulary, and Robin hadn't exactly been bragging about his bruises after his night in Faith's bed.

So I shoved and expected to get shoved back. My hands slammed against the door beside her shoulders, and I used a touch of Slayer strength to trap her body under mine. God, using that power turned me on even more than the kiss itself. I pressed into her, felt the softness of her breasts against mine, her hipbone jutting into my stomach. I moaned, feeling a sort of manic wildness filling me, the sort that came with knowing I could do anything, fight anyone. There was triumph in owning that force. I wanted to laugh out loud. Kissing Faith filled me with exultation, the sweet excitement of winning.

But Faith didn't fight back. She took everything I was dishing out. Her hands rested on my hips, gripping only tight enough to keep me where I was, and kissed me back almost hesitantly, gently. I caught her lower lip and sucked on it, hard enough to leave it swollen and sensitive. A soft grunt caugh in her throat, and she tipped her head back, not angry, not struggling, just--accepting.

I pulled back, letting her go. "Who the hell do you think I am?" I asked.

Her breath was hot against my face, and she opened her eyes slowly. They were dark and burning with slow desire. "I thought that was fucking obvious."

"I'm not her." I wanted to keep her looking at me, until she couldn't pretend she was here with anyone else. I teased her with butterfly kisses, tiny barely-there touches, tasting her mouth and mine. I watched her eyes the entire time. "Would she do this, huhn, Faith?" I traced her lips with my tongue, touching the ring to every sensitive place I'd found. Instead of thrusting my body into hers, I let myself melt, cradling myself against her. I trailed a hand from her shoulder to her breast, massaging, brushing her nipple with my fingertips. "Does Buffy do this for you?" I said Buffy's name in a whiny singsong, taunting her.

Faith's eyes narrowed. "Fuck you, Kennedy." But I felt her breathing deepen, get quicker, and each word came out on a sigh. Her nipple was stiff under my fingers.

"If that's what you want." I grinned to show she couldn't offend me. I slowed the movement of my fingers, pausing between each delicious touch. "To fuck me."

Faith grabbed my wrist in a bone-crushing grip. She urged my hand to her breast. "You're a brat."

I pouted, like I was the princess herself, trying to get under Faith's skin. "Just your type, then."

Faith growled and thrust forward, away from the door. She propelled me backwards until I nearly stumbled. I caught my breath. I hadn't had half the time she had to grow into my strength--it was a joke to her. For a moment I felt a flicker of Buffy's power through our link, the way it had grown the longer she'd lived; and I knew I wouldn't be able to even play at being in control with her. She was overwhelming, like the sun, and suddenly Faith's fake submission to me made sense. What she really wanted was to give in to Buffy. If Buffy was the one calling the shots, then it meant that she was the one who wanted Faith, that Buffy had pursued her. Not the other way around, for once.

That was never going to happen--or so I thought then. As it turned out, for once I was happy to be proved wrong.

Faith tumbled me on to the bed, just one more Hyperion room, all of them the same, most of them dusty with disuse. She leaped on to the bed and kneeled over me, grinning her dangerous grin--the one that would make even Bringers back off, if only they could see it. "Like living on the edge?" she asked.

"If that's where I can find the fun." I reached for her tank, which still hid nothing, leaving her breasts hanging enticingly just above me. I wanted to taste them, hold them.

She stopped me easily. "Nice try." She grabbed the hem of my t-shirt and yanked it over my head. "But I think it's my turn." Slayer-quick, she covered me with her mouth.

I gasped. Arching my back, I pushed towards her. I felt the sucking, pulling motion of her tongue so deep inside, bright and incredibly intense. Her hand found my other breast, teasing it over and over. I panted, writhing beneath her. "Faith--"

She ignored me, just kept licking, and I could feel myself getting wet. It was like she knew what I wanted, acted on my desire before I could even think it. Arousal spilled out of me, pulsing and we'd barely started. I couldn't get enough oxygen, and then Faith was kissing me again, smoke and stabbing heat.

I buried my fingers in her long, loose hair, and pulled her closer. Our tongues tangled together, giving and taking, both. Faith's hands roamed my body, warm where they rested against my stomach, my ribs, pushing at the waistband of my light cotton shorts. Faith bit my lip, gently, then sharply. My breath hissed, and I tasted copper; my blood. Seconds later, it was gone. I felt pride welling up inside--my Slayer healing was as good as anybody's.

I dipped my head, tasting the salt of Faith's sweat trickling down her neck, under her jaw. She groaned when I scraped my teeth over the nape of her neck.

"Feel that?" she muttered.

She wasn't talking to me. Somewhere, somehow, Buffy was with us--the fucking Slayer connection. I wanted to block her out, and I wanted to flaunt what I had that she didn't--Faith, glowing with sweat, squirming above me, tilting her head to encourage my mouth.

And I wanted, didn't want, craved--her. Every second that I revelled in showing off only made the longing sharper.

I twisted out from beneath Faith, rolling us over. I sat up, straddling her, pressing the seam of my shorts against her bare stomach. Pleasure rippled through me, and my hips flared forward, almost without thinking. Faith tensed her abs, giving me something to push against. "God. Can't you--" I closed my eyes for a moment, sighing. "Get her the hell--out of your head--"

Faith just chuckled, breathlessly, shoving her hand down the front of my shorts. "Not my head."

"Faith--" I was whining, and I knew it, and I didn't care. Her hand slipped down to my pussy, swollen and slippery. "Oh, fuck, yeah..."

"You're thinking about her right now." Faith thrust her hand deeper. My mouth fell open, stifling the moan high in my throat. "Little blonde cheerleader, with her perfect life and perfect friends...her perfect little nails--always too long, she could scratch you and you'd love it--"

"Shut. The hell. Up." I rode Faith's hand, gliding on the pressure of her palm against my clit, my legs trembling.

"She's feeling it right now." Faith groaned. "Oh, God, Buffy--Fuck, Kenny, you're about to pop--" Faith buried her fingers inside my cunt, long and knowing exactly what they were looking for. Excitement quivered deep and low in my stomach, sensation coiling around her thrusts.

I was going to come, and I couldn't keep Buffy's face out of my mind. Faith was right; all three of us were in this bed even if it was just her and me actually fucking. Buffy hated what she was feeling, but she couldn't help it. She wanted us, both of us. My pleasure was hers. She wanted to touch herself, feel it first hand, but she refused to. I felt so fucking powerful with her inside my head, pulling her along for the ride. Faith sped up her rhythm and suddenly it was too much. My orgasm ripped through all of us, as if Buffy had Faith's fingers fucking her so deeply, as if my pussy was tightening around Buffy's hand, over and over again.

Buffy's angry astonishment dissolved, and it was just me and Faith again, both of us panting and sticky with heat.

Faith's eyes were closed, her breathing slowing gradually. "Jesus...Buffy..."

"Not," I said. I didn't have the energy for anything else. "I'm not."

Faith looked away, pulling her hand out of my shorts. Her eyes were distant, shuttered; I couldn't see anything in them anymore. "Believe me," she said. "I know."

Anger pushed through me. "What the hell is this, anyway?"

"You think I know? It's the Hellmouth. Or was. I can't explain that shit." Faith rolled over, dumping me off. "Go ask your witchy girlfriend."

I ignored that, since Faith knew as well as I did that Willow wasn't going to be happy to see me for a long time to come. Longer, if she got wind of what just happened. "Yeah, while you do what, exactly? Go apologize to Buffy?"

"And get my head kicked in. Not my idea of a fun afternoon."

"You are such a fucking coward, Faith."

That sparked rage in her eyes, but I didn't stay to see it. I rebuttoned my shorts, grabbed my shirt and yanked it on, and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind me. I think Faith would've followed me and kicked my ass, except I was only saying what I could see deep inside her. Faith hated that she'd never finished anything with Buffy--never killed her when they were enemies, never apologized when she rejoined the white hats, and worst of all--she'd never thrown caution to the wind and just kissed her.

I strode through the Hyperion's hallways, not caring where I was going. Being with Faith wound me up more than it satisfied me, and all that Slayer stuff I got dragged through along the way wasn't doing anything to calm me down. I felt like shit, to tell the truth. I'd seriously hurt Willow, I'd fucked Faith for a moment's pleasure and with some twisted idea that it would get her out of my system, and I had a distant sense of way too many Slayers in my head, from Amanda on down. What if we never got privacy in our own heads again? I couldn't live like that. I'd always resented the potentials taking over my space, and this was just one more way they were invading--

And, hell, that wasn't even my thought. Jesus, it all came back to Buffy. I'd figured that Willow's spell was the end of it--I was a Slayer, destined to destroy the forces of darkness, and I wouldn't have to turn to Buffy or anybody, ever again. But, no, the sun still rose and set over the world's whiniest superhero.

I stomped into the garden, trying to find some place that wasn't overrun with my fellow Slayers. They were clearly missing out on the suckier aspects of the freaky connection. Thank God for that--I don't think we'd go a day without a few murders if everybody had the full effect. I probably would've gloated, a bit, except for once I wasn't thrilled with being first in line.

And speak of the devil, who was reclining in the shade of the jasmine flowers like she didn't have a care in the world, except Numero Uno herself?

Looking at her brought all my anger boiling up again. The flawless ruler, cool and detached. She sat with one gorgeous leg crossed just so over the other, wearing a summer dress I would've called flirty on anyone else, toenails painted soft dawn-pink and slipped into delicate white sandals with two-inch heels. The linen sunhat and dark glasses added the final touch, giving Buffy the air of someone supremely unconcerned with the lives of her little minions; like she was the star and we orbited because of her.

I was pulled two directions--either to walk right the hell out of there, or to stay and see how much of that butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth exterior was an act. And I knew it was an act. Even when we'd kicked Buffy out of her own house, those tears were more self-pity for her high-and-mightiness than they were an understanding of how much we didn't need her. She'd come back from that defeat and didn't bat an eyelid--she was still the big kahuna with the only worthwhile plan--but now I had the chance to see what was really beneath the surface.

I took another step, into her view. I didn't miss the way she went stiff the instant she saw me. We'd been in each other's heads but it was clear she didn't expect me. She looked like an ice statue about to crack, and I wanted nothing more than to deliver the final blow that would make her shatter.

It almost stopped me, how vicious that feeling was--the hunger to see Buffy, the great one, the one they all talked about, to just fall to pieces; because I could help her then. If she only knew what it was like down in the gutter then we could pull each other up again--

I clenched my jaw. Another thought that wasn't mine, blurring the lines between my dislike of Buffy's tactics and Faith's old hatred, the kind that lies too deep to ever completely disappear, no matter how much you talk about redemption. That was something Spike never understood, that there was no way to erase the past--that you had to acknowledge the wrong you'd done before you could move beyond it. Faith understood. She hated Buffy right along with loving her, and how she'd managed to reconcile the two, I had no clue. But she had, and now I was stuck with it: I saw Buffy through old eyes as well as new, and she was terrible and beautiful and I wanted her and I wanted to see her hurt.

And, right then, standing in the Hyperion's garden, in some sort of Western gunfight standoff with Buffy, I got sick of the whole thing. Buffy's thoughts and Faith's, and the way they jumbled up my brain until I had no idea where my feelings ended anymore. I had myself all geared up for a fight, tense and stormy, and all I could think was that this fight wasn't really mine. I was a Slayer, yeah, but it was just because of one major cheat on the universe. So why?

I pivoted on my heel and walked away.

Buffy followed me.

I ignored her when she called for me to stop, feeling a stupid, childish thrill when I did. She caught up with me in the elevator. I tensed with her standing so close--and realized that being a Slayer wasn't just about physical strength. I could smell her arousal, thick and citrus tart. I couldn't help but inhale, sharply, and felt my body respond.


Hearing her say my name, her soft battle-hoarse voice catching on the last syllable, had me bristling and surrendering all at once. I'm not the kind of girl who falls for sweet nothings, and even less for the thousand broken promises Buffy's voice had given in the past; but, hell, I could hear her desire, even underneath the brittleness she used to hide it.

I glared at her. Buffy stared straight ahead, a high flush of colour climbing her cheeks. Like she was so innocent. Like Spike hadn't told stories while she patrolled with the second shift of the potentials--

"I--" She cleared her throat. I tried to imagine what she was going to say--that she'd go to Willow and get the Scythe spell reversed? That if I ever fucked Faith again she'd come after me with a stake? Suddenly I realized I had no idea. Here was Buffy, walls down, and I didn't know her at all.

I know I wasn't prepared at all for what she said next. She turned to me; she'd taken the sunglasses off, and you could see where the pretty-perfect picture failed, because her ocean-green eyes were dark and hurting.

"I'm sorry."

The elevator dinged. The doors slid open.

We faced each other, inches apart, and I saw that she was still the leader and I was still the follower. Being a Slayer in my own right hadn't changed that. Buffy was stronger, more experienced--oh, Christ, she'd died, twice, for duty or for love or because there was nothing else to do. What did I expect--to be the hero?

No. But that didn't mean that it was enough, or that it couldn't change.

When the elevator doors rolled shut, I kissed her.

She wasn't Faith. There weren't any games of who topped and who bottomed. I remembered thinking that I could learn to love Willow; Buffy's kiss was like the sort of love you're not looking for when you find it. Living in a house full of potentials and Dawn, I'd learned more than I'd ever wanted to about exactly who and when and how Buffy fucked--but in all that gossip, I'd never learned that Buffy didn't fuck. She kissed like a highschool kid, she kissed like it was new and special and softly joyful. She drew me in, cool minty mouth and seeking tongue. God, where can you keep that kind of innocence? How could she kiss like she'd never felt it before?

I pulled in her thoughts along with her breath, and I remembered, sensed, that Buffy had never been kissed before, not like this. Never by a woman. I was her first, and it was with a sudden hurt that I knew I shouldn't be.

This should have been Faith.

I made some sound into Buffy's mouth, and she pulled me closer. Grief wrenched at me as I remembered: Faith and Buffy so long ago, slaying and dancing and running through back streets and every single almost. Almost. Almost and how could you, Kennedy? How could I pretend that I deserved this?

My pulse raced, but I was still kissing Buffy and she was crying. She cupped my face in both hands and wouldn't let me go. I felt the storm welling up from my chest, the burn of tears and rage. Buffy's mouth was insistent and the kiss was so good, so wanted. I gave up fighting away the connection and all the energy there. With a sudden slam, I snared her against the back of the elevator.

I kissed Buffy like I hated her. And she moaned, as if it was everything she'd ever wanted.

I stabbed my tongue into her mouth and tasted her growing heat, like sun-drenched cherries. Buffy whimpered, pleading, and pressed closer. She was incredibly tiny in my arms--she was my height, but she felt as delicate as fine china. She was so thin. Her muscles were wiry knots over her bones. My hand rested on her shoulder and I stroked the ball of my thumb along the sharp jut of her collarbone. It amazed me how suddenly she felt fragile, as if all her strength was an illusion. From a distance Buffy was the glorious general. Touching her, kissing her, holding her...all of it just showed me how easily she might break--or maybe, that she was already broken.

And, thinking that, I guess I finally realized that Buffy was real--as real as any of us potentials. She had been the myth, the ideal, and now she was only a girl, crying because she didn't know what she wanted; or because she'd lost so much: her entire life, her town, and everything that made her unique. All of it, gone, less than a week ago.

"Buffy," I said, in a way I'd never said her name before. I'd always spoken with a touch of bitterness, or jealousy, I suppose. Now I whispered it like a lover, soft and caressing, and I slid my hands down her body, until my arms were draped around her waist. "Buffy..."

Her mouth slipped away from mine, and she buried her face in the crook of my neck. Her tears burned my skin and soaked the strap of my tank top. I'd seen her cry before but I never imagined that she'd let herself go in my arms. I was the upstart, the brat; I'd never given her any of Willow's soft acceptance or Faith's honesty. Yet there was an incredible purity in Buffy's tears, like they were for me alone. I wondered if this was just because I was here, now, and the freaky connection made it all right--or if it meant something more.

"Come on," I said, and I pressed the elevator's open button.

I don't think it surprised me at all to see Faith standing there when the doors parted, her hands hooked in the back pockets of her tiny shorts. She leaned back on one heel, hipshot, and met my eyes. Normally, you'd never believe that I was the youngest of us, that Faith was older than me by a year or so. Buffy was the grownup, no question, but Faith was the kid at heart, bouncy and impulsive, no matter that she was sex on legs. You could see it, if you knew her well enough to look past all her rough defenses. For once, though, she was serious, oh-so-dark eyes that just seemed older than the whole world. At first I thought it was seeing me and Buffy like that, wrapped up in each other's arms.

It wasn't that, though. I know now: it was acknowledgement, recognition. Even now I'm not sure what we were agreeing to, but it felt like we were signing a contract in blood. All three of us. Together.

I opened my mouth to say--something; I don't know what--but Faith shook her head and headed for the room.

The room where we'd fucked not half an hour before.

It was the weirdest procession I'd ever been part of. The three of us walked down the hallway like it had been destined, or some such shit, and I suppose that us being the manifestation of all that was Slayer, it had been. I couldn't think past the jumble of thoughts and feelings coming through the Slayer connection. The strongest impression I had was that this must happen. A feeling of inevitability.

I was still holding Buffy, but she wasn't crying any longer. When I nudged the hotel room's door closed behind me, she edged out from under my arm. She looked as serious as Faith had. Her eyes were dark, the pupils leaving only the thinnest disc of green around the edges. Tear tracks shone on her cheeks, and I thought, God, how beautiful; how fucking goddamned gorgeous. Whether it was Faith's thought or mine I don't know. It was true, and maybe that's all it needed to be. Even exhausted and apocalypsed-out, Buffy was just that. Magnificent. She touched me, a press of her fingertips against my shoulder, then sliding down my arm. But it was Faith she stared at when she slowly, and achingly deliberately, threw the lock closed. The thunk of the deadbolt snicking shut seemed very loud.

Don't think that any of us didn't know exactly what we were doing. And don't think we couldn't have said no--walked away. Because destiny is one thing but free will is another. So we could have, and maybe should have. There were a hell of a lot of people going to get hurt here, Willow not least of all, and to whatever extent, Xander and Dawn. We'd all lost a lot to get here, but there was always a choice.

Buffy and Faith had been making that choice for going on five years. I guess they were tired of looking temptation in the eye and saying, It's only gonna hurt more than it could ever be worth.

Buffy's hand dropped off the lock. Faith was standing by the foot of the bed. She looked abandoned, lost, like driftwood washed onto the beach. Buffy walked towards her, slowly, her hips swaying; as inevitable as the tide. And Faith's eyes never left her. The only thing she'd ever wanted, I knew, was to be lost in that ocean again.

It was Buffy who closed the gap between them. I hung back, by the door. I couldn't do anything but watch. Faith's face was filled with an expression I didn't recognise for the longest time, because I never in a million years would have expected to see it there. But when Buffy reached out and took her hand, I knew it was thankfulness.

They'd spent their lives waiting for this moment, I could feel it, the desperation of their longing for each other. I sensed a thousand denials, rationalizations, rejections--all the ways they'd managed not to be here, on the cusp. It hurt, deep and hard, the way old injuries ache, and at the same time it was as sharp and fresh as a knife cut.

Right then, for the space of a breath, I felt forgotten. They fell into each other's arms, like there was a gravity meant only for the two of them, and they just couldn't fight it anymore. They turned slightly, and I could see everything--the racing tic of Buffy's pulse in the hollow of her throat; the way Faith's fingers tightened in her hair and she whispered, "Buffy..." almost the way I had, in the elevator. Almost.

I think I felt it, the very second when they first kissed. I gasped and leaned back against the door. And, fuck, I was there, incandescent with desire. I was wet and shaking, hardly able to stand. I panted, my breath gathering in my throat, thick and harsh. Buffy and Faith...there was something so right about that kiss, the way it wasn't either gentle or harsh, but filled with a simple, bright intensity. You'd think I would feel like I was intruding on them, watching something so sensual and so private. But I didn't. I knew they were aware of me. I knew they weren't alone here. Alone, they never would have made this leap.

After an eternity, they drew apart and gazed into each other's eyes. Buffy smiled, slow and sweet, the way she had when the Hellmouth had collapsed in front of her and her entire life stretched out ahead of her like something wholly new, and wholly hers.

Faith turned to me, with a lazy-dangerous smile on her face. I knew what she was thinking, and not because of the Slayer connection, either. I mean, I'd gone off like a rocket earlier, and she'd barely touched me. Add Buffy to the mix, and the hotness factor in the room shot into the stratosphere.

I grinned back. "Faith," I said, nodding as if we were casual acquaintances passing in the street.

"Kenny," she said, and lifted an eyebrow.

Buffy looked at us both, and blushed scarlet. Faith laughed and grabbed her around the waist, lifting her and spinning her around.

Buffy squeaked in astonishment, then started batting at Faith, little girly slaps that didn't use even a fraction of her strength. "Faith! Put me down!"

"Oh yeah?" Faith lifted her higher. "And what'll ya give me if I do?"

Buffy gave a children-must-play roll of her eyes and looked over at me. "A little help here?"

"I'm enjoying the show, actually," I said. "I just need a bag of popcorn, maybe throw some pillows into the mix..."

"Every straight boy's fantasy," Faith said. She wriggled a bit--I couldn't quite see what she was doing because Buffy's skirt billowed out around her--but this time Buffy's squeal sounded less surprised and more appreciative. Faith let her down, making sure to get the most friction possible out of the encounter.

I laughed, and pulled my shirt over my head. It's a move that's never failed to impress. I'm not as stacked as Faith, or as slender as Buffy; but what I've got I wear well. Nobody has ever had to tell me twice that I'm all that and a bag of chips.

Of course, it's always nice to hear.

I definitely had their attention. Faith favoured me with a long, slow stare, her hand kneading Buffy's shoulder. Buffy's blush returned, deeper than ever, and it wasn't hard to guess where her eyes were glued. She stepped forward. I didn't know what she was planning, but her teasing, sideways look wasn't exactly reassuring. I glanced at Faith, but she only shrugged, a monster grin plastered on her face. Buffy's hand shot out, faster than most people's eyes could follow it, and with a pop! all the buttons on my shorts flew open.

Faith gave an approving growl. "Let's get this party started," she said, and began shedding clothes.

You know there's no way I'd turn away from that show. Buffy had a dazed look on her face, like she'd gotten everything for Christmas that she hadn't even dared to wish for. I was pretty stunned myself. Faith was the most...natural person I've ever known, completely at home with herself. Like a wild creature, moving with an incredible grace and a self-satisfied pleasure with her own body.

I watched until I couldn't stand it anymore. Buffy stood beside me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and I hauled her closer for a deep kiss. I imagined I could taste Faith on her, and that only made it hotter. We kissed, and this time Buffy was more forceful, her tongue exploring and playful. Suddenly, she gasped and twitched against me. I opened my eyes to see Faith behind her, glancing up at me mischievously. She'd bitten Buffy's neck, just where her pulse fluttered. Watching me, she sucked her way up the side of Buffy's throat.

Buffy leaned back into her touch, her hand lifting to the back of Faith's head to tug her closer. Her lips were swollen, deep pink, and she moaned as Faith continued to lick and kiss her neck. I leaned down to do the same on the other side, loving the softness of Buffy's skin against my mouth. She was panting and writhing against us both. I let my hands roam over her, brushing my fingers against Faith's when I met them. I know we both had the same goal in mind, because by the time we broke away, Buffy's skirt had fallen around her ankles and behind her unbuttoned blouse, her bra was unhooked and dangling.

"You sure you're up for this?" I asked, smiling.

Buffy's only answer was to lean in for one more kiss, light and soft. I shivered and let my eyes drift shut from the sweetness of it.

"I think we'll both outlast you, baby-Slayer," Faith said.

"Can your body cash the cheques your mouth is signing?" I shot back.

"My mouth can do a lot more than that." Faith sat back on the bed, running her hands along her body. "But you know that already, don't you?"

Buffy grinned and climbed on to the bed beside Faith. "I can tie a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue."

"And you chose never to demonstrate this skill when I was watching, why?" Faith stroked a finger tip down Buffy's neck, tracing the hickies we'd left there, then pushed her top off her shoulders, exposing every inch of delicious skin.

"'Cause I knew what you'd be thinking about every single time you saw me afterwards," Buffy said. She held her hand out to me and I joined her on Faith's other side.

Faith nodded easily and lay back, tucking her arms behind her head. "Great minds, same gutters."

I met Buffy's eyes. We both struggled to hold back giggles--Faith was being about as subtle as a Mack truck through a plate glass window. But...again, who was going to say no? Last time we'd been here she'd barely let me touch her. And here she was, spread out in front of us, like some yummy...naked...feast.

My favourite kind.

Buffy was the first to give in. I waited for a moment longer, watching her press Faith's flushed skin with scorching kisses, long and lingering. She worked her way across Faith's chest, then over the curve of her breast. Faith sucked in a sudden breath when Buffy reached her nipple, then sighed in a husky whisper, "Yeah, B..."

The sound of Faith's dark-chocolate voice tipped me over the edge. It's amazing how abruptly I felt the effect of every look, every act, since we'd first come into the room. I was suddenly perfectly, painfully aware of how turned on I was. My body was throbbing, my stomach quivering as every sensation seemed to travel straight to my clit and grow there. The air smelled of sex, and I knew all three of us were wet and dripping with desire. I could see Faith's pussy glistening, and I cupped my hand there to feel just how horny she was. Faith arched her back immediately, groaning and tightening her legs over my hand. I lowered my lips to the point of her hip bone, blowing a hot breath over her skin. It was almost as if I was feeling it myself. Goosebumps prickled Faith's skin, and she moved into my hand again, starting an insistent rhythm.

Buffy was nearly straddling her now, kneeling beside me, and her legs were spread enough to give me a perfect view of her open, clenching hole. I think I whimpered, but Jesus, I couldn't believe how lucky I was. I was with the two hottest people in the city, and they were both aching for my touch. I shifted slightly, until I was half-sitting between Faith's legs, where I could get the best leverage. I pushed forward, with all my weight on the hand that was pressing into Faith's clit. She threw her head back and cried out, her hips thrusting in tiny, uncontrollable shudders.

"Fuck, oh Kenny, fuck me..."

I plunged my mouth into Buffy from behind, and for an instant her sharp cry rose above Faith's dusky voice. Buffy was slick and soaking, and she tasted just as I'd imagined from the moment I'd first smelled her in the elevator...thick and salty-citrus, like the rim of a margarita glass. I thrust my tongue into her again, scraping my tongue-ring over her sensitive flesh. I kept my hand on Faith's mons moving in slow, jerky circles. Faith clamped one hand over mine and urged my fingers to her cunt. I was sucked inside, her pussy opening and closing around two fingers. She was so hot, so tight, and I moaned. Buffy hissed as the vibrations passed through her.

I moved in both of them, and they answered in perfect rhythm, as if they were of one body, one mind--as if they had moved in synchrony all their lives. There was a moment, so swift but so breathtakingly powerful, when I was in control. I held their pleasure in my hands, my mouth; I was more invincible than I had ever been. I used very ounce of Slayer strength to drive them towards orgasm, Buffy lifting her head and ramming back into my tongue, Faith contorting in glorious agony on my fingers.

They came at the same time, and I felt it, resonating through my body like an aftershock. I remembered the thunder of Sunnydale collapsing into ruin, the savage joy of Bringers dying, the piercing fire of a stab wound through my stomach, the arrow-bright sunshine of Spike's final stand--I remembered, I lived, I was--I held the Scythe in my hands, and I was everything joyful and good and right. I was Buffyfaithkennedyfightingwinningtriumphing, I was lovinghatingforgiving, I punched Faith in the face and I taunted Buffy with my dancing and I promised I would kill Willow if she broke and I was the general the follower the Chosen Two the Potential the Slayer I was I was

(past present future first slayer last slayer ultimate weapon let the power fill them let it give them strength let them fight let them live)

coming, so hard, tongues and fingers pressing into me, endless perfect sensation washing over me, washing through me until I vanished, empty, pure, orgasm climbing to orgasm so goddamn beautiful so natural so sensual so ohyesfuckpleaseoh


(let them live)

(the scythe)

(the connection)

(let them)

(be one)

I lived an eternity in that moment, and God, I didn't want it to end. At last, though, inevitably, it was over, and we lay drenched in sweat, in each other. And as we lay there, tangled, I felt us separate. The sensation of three minds in one faded like a California sunset, the kind that goes from afternoon to nightfall without any twilight at all.

I was myself again; Willow's spell was complete. The Slayer connection hummed and grew faint, until it was no more powerful than what Buffy and Faith had described to me when I was a potential. I could feel their nearness, and I knew the sun would be setting in five hours, and I felt the presence of a vampire in the lobby--Angel, almost certainly--but that was all. No...telepathy. No thoughts other than my own.

I was Kennedy. I was alone.

And I still wanted them both.

I gave one lazy glance at Buffy on my right, and Faith on my left. Buffy smile that sweet smile full of promise, and Faith stretched like a contented cat. That was enough to confirm what I thought. It wasn't just me. We'd found something together that none of us ever had on our own.

I know it doesn't seem like the kind of relationship that could last. And I'm definitely not saying that everyone was hunky-dory with the whole situation the instant we stepped out of that hotel room and back into what you'd call real life. Two days before, the Scoobies had been saying that Buffy had done everything and more for them. She'd saved their asses so many times that it was only fair that she should do what she wanted, no matter what that was.

Apparently, Kennedy and Faith weren't included in "no matter what".

I never appreciated Buffy's stubborness until it was used in my favour. She stood up to them all, even Willow, and said that her choices were her own. Faith didn't make things easier by saying that if it had been either Willow or Xander instead of her, then no one would be complaining. I didn't say much, but I held my ground. I'd already promised myself there wouldn't be regrets.

We didn't stay long in the Hyperion after that. The potentials--the Slayers--had come together to save the world, and if I know Hellmouths then we'll probably have a big reunion special in the not-too-distant future. But, for the most part, we aren't meant to be an army. We're more like snipers, individual and precise.

Buffy and Faith and I came to Rome.

It's not paradise here. There are days when it doesn't seem worth it, days when Buffy grows cold and stares at Faith like they're still on opposite sides, like they're enemies and always will be. There are days when Faith flirts with death and Italian boys on motorcycles and every little blonde she sees in a nightclub. Days when she jeers at Buffy's straight-laced do-gooder ways. But we slay, and we dance; and we fuck and make love in every combination and then some. Buffy and Faith fall apart, and I guess I'm the one they need to bring them back together. And somehow, I don't mind being the fixer.

I love them both...

I'm a conduit between them. It doesn't mean that I'm less than them; they love me, and if it's because I'm willing to give them each other, then what better reason?

I'm their catalyst, their balance. I'm everything that isn't the history between them.

I asked Willow, much later--long after she'd found her own peace with the coven--if it hurt that it was her spell-gone-wacky that had done this. She smiled, as inscrutably as any power-that-is, and shook her head. "No," she said. "You're lucky as hell, Kennedy, to have found them, that's all."

I know what she means. The spell changed everything, for me most of all. We are, always, in one way or another, waiting for "someday"--the day when only two, or one, make it back from patrol. Until then, we love like it's just one more gift given to every Slayer. We love as fiercely as we fight.

We are the immortal incarnation of the Slayer. Buffy and I give Faith a center; Faith and I give Buffy the exultation she always forgets is as much a part of slaying as her strength. And Buffy and Faith...together, cherishing me...they let me quietly become strong.



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