Je Me Souviens
by Queen Zulu
Pour un instant, j'ai oublié mon nom
She had been dreaming.
She was sure of that much. There were still images flashing through her mind. A rainstorm. A knife. Something about falling. She frowned and tried to hold on to the pieces. If she could catch them, then she could force them to make sense. But the dream faded too quickly, and she was blinking at a ceiling so white it hurt.
In fact, everything hurt. She ached. Her body felt like a lead weight. That was wrong. She heard machines beeping and hissing. The ceiling showed only blank tiles. She needed to move. There was somewhere she needed to be. She lifted her arm – God, it was heavy – and stared at it. Pale skin. An I.V. taped to her hand dripped clear fluid into a vein. She turned her head. An I.D. bracelet banded her other wrist. She squinted at it, tried to focus. Finally, the blurred letters cleared.
Faith Wilkins. No allergies. 5/20/99.
She tried to roll over onto her side. All her muscles protested. The I.V. pinched her skin. She bit her lip and pushed herself up with one hand, until she was sitting in the bed. The room was small and bare. One bed, surrounded by machines counting out her pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. She watched the little spikes travel across the screen, blip blip blip. And thought, I'm supposed to be somewhere.
She turned her head when she heard a rattle outside the door. Her whole body tensed. She wanted to run away. She was trapped, and that was bad, because someone had been chasing her.
In her dream?
The door opened. She edged across the bed, as far as she could from the light in the hallway. A woman rolled a cart into the room. She was dressed in white, short and round, with brown hair cut in a bob. She was reading a chart, making notes with her pen, and then she looked up. She jumped nearly a foot in the air, her hand going to her chest, the chart clattering to the floor, the pen rolling under the bed.
"Oh, my dear," she said. "How you startled me!" She smoothed her uniform and picked up the chart. "You're awake," she said. "Well, of course, you already know that! Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Nurse Owens."
She nodded at Nurse Owens. She glanced at the door and wondered if she could reach it before the nurse. Escape. She swallowed.
"Well, well, this is certainly a surprise," Nurse Owens said, bustling to the bed with her cart. She bent down and retrieved her pen. "I'm afraid I was already writing down that there had been no change! Just goes to show, you can't let your assumptions lead the way, not in nursing, anyway. Poor child. Well. I guess you're hungry. I'll have to get the doctor, of course, no sense starting you on solid food and then getting my knuckles rapped for my presumption. But then, I'm not the only one, am I?" Nurse Owens smiled and reached for her wrist.
She yanked her hand away. Her eyes darted to the doorway again.
"There, be easy, I just want to take your pulse. Can't trust the machines forever, can we?" Nurse Owens touched her hand, then clasped her wrist. Her hold felt firm and gentle at the same time. "Hmm, strong, good. I told them so, of course, but doctors are too high and mighty to listen to me." She made a note in the chart. "They said that with a coma of this magnitude, we need never hope for a full recovery! But you were different. Lots of REM activity. I pointed it out on the EEG – most coma patients, you get very little in the delta region, of course. You were more asleep than unconscious. But listen to me go on. How are you feeling?"
She shrugged. "I –" The croak that emerged surprised her, and she cleared her throat. Nurse Owens shook her head and went to the sink, getting her a small paper cup of water. She drank slowly, feeling her fingers tremble around the fragile cone of the cup. Finally, she spoke again. "I'm supposed to be somewhere," she said. Her voice still sounded husky, but far more natural. She licked her lips.
Nurse Owen patted her hand. "No, dear, I'm afraid not. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you've been in Sunnydale General Hospital – the long term care ward – for eight months."
"What happened?" She looked around again. The room was incredibly clean, even for a hospital. Everything smelled like bleach on top of vomit, like there were some smells that couldn't be washed away. It was all too clean. No one ever visited here. There were no flowers, no get well cards. Shouldn't your friends send you flowers in the hospital? Wasn't that the right thing to do? Maybe not after eight months. Maybe not if they thought you wouldn't wake up.
"Well, dear, I'm not sure. I only transferred here five months ago. Let me see..." Nurse Owens flipped back through the pages of the chart. She looked over the nurse's shoulder and saw line after line of the same quirky handwriting. Patient condition shows no change. No change. No change.
"It says here that you were in a motor vehicle accident. A pedestrian. Hit by a truck...Upper left quadrant wound, possibly impaled on debris...subdural haematoma. That's what's listed as the root cause of the coma." Nurse Owens peered at her. "What is the last thing that you remember?"
"I –" She hunched her shoulders. She twisted the bracelet on her wrist.
Faith Wilkins. No allergies. 5/20/99.
"I remember that – I have to be somewhere. I have to go." She turned her hips. Her legs were tangled in the covers. She pushed at them.
Nurse Owens caught her hands. "Here...Miss Wilkins...or may I call you Faith? Such a pretty name."
She tilted her head. Did she like one or the other? "Whatever."
"Faith," Nurse Owens decided. "There is no possible way I can allow you to leave the hospital." She shifted Faith's legs back onto the bed and freed the covers, then started tucking them in again, properly, with hospital corners. "First, you are still far too ill. We would want to see a substantial recovery before you were released. Second, you appear to be suffering from amnesia. Where would you go? And, finally, you are still a minor. We can contact your next-of-kin for you, but you can't leave all by yourself."
Faith let Nurse Owens raise the bed until she was sitting more comfortably. The room was hazy in front of her eyes. She leaned back against the pillows. If she fell back asleep, would she ever wake up again? "Who are they?" she asked.
"Who are who, dear?"
Faith forced her eyes to stay open. She was much warmer with the sheets tucked around her. Everything was warmer. She didn't hurt as much, now. "My next-of-kin," she said. "Who are you going to call?"
Nurse Owens opened the chart again. "Your guardian is Richard Wilkins...oh..."
"What?" Faith wriggled upright again. "What's wrong? What's 'oh'?"
"Your guardian – he was the Mayor of Sunnydale. He, ah, he died...just shortly after you were hurt. Faith, I'm so sorry."
Faith tightened her lips. Dead. Her guardian. And there was someone chasing her, with a knife – no. That was only a dream. She shook her head. Richard Wilkins. What had she called him? Dad? Mr. Wilkins? She moved her tongue around the names. Nothing felt familiar. Was she supposed to be sad now? She wondered if she would cry if she remembered him. She reached out for memories. There was only a thick fog, and the sound of a thunderstorm. Rain, falling. Blackness. Nothing.
"Oh, but there is someone else," Nurse Owens said. "In case of emergencies...here we are. Rupert Giles. All his information appears to be current." She rested her hand on Faith's shoulder. "You must be exhausted. Don't worry. You're going to be fine. I'll make the calls, and I'll have the doctor come and check on you, just to be sure. All right?"
Faith nodded. She tried to relax. She laid back on the bed. Rupert Giles. There was still nothing, no associations. It was kind of a strange name. She pulled harder, trying to find some crack in her mind where all her memories had disappeared.
"Shh, there." Nurse Owens soothed the hair off her forehead. "Don't try too hard to remember. Amnesia is common in coma patients, and it's usually temporary. You'll be yourself in no time. Everything will be fine."
Faith gave her a tentative smile. "Thank you," she said.
Nurse Owens smoothed the blankets one last time. "Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite." She turned off the light and wheeled her cart back into the hall.
Faith closed her eyes and listened to the rattle of the wheels for what felt like a long time. Good hearing, or else she was imagining that she could still hear it...the murmur of other people's voices...the shuffle of footsteps... The weight of the hospital settled on her chest like chains holding her down.
She fell asleep and dreamed of escaping into the rain.
They let her eat soup the next morning. They'd taken the I.V. out of her arm, and all the other tubes as well. The oxygen machine was pushed into a corner. An orderly wheeled a cartful of trays into her room. He extended the table arm over her lap and placed the bowl in front of her. She held the spoon easily. The shakes in her fingers were gone. The broth was thick and warm and filling, but tasteless. When the orderly returned, she asked him if Nurse Owens was there, but he shook his head. "Late shift," he said, and offered her a bedpan.
She grimaced. "No."
"You'll be able to walk soon enough, once you've had some physio. Then we won't pamper you," he said, grinning. "Don't worry, I won't watch. I'm a professional."
She cautiously returned his grin. Was that the kind of person she was? A kidder? "Thanks. Not now."
"Okay." He pointed at the call button. "You can try the nurse's station later, but they might be busy. Don't get too impatient."
She waited until he'd left, the door clicking behind him, and then she shoved the blankets aside and swung her feet over the side of the bed. She didn't feel weak. The pain was mostly gone, except when she stretched too far. She put her weight on her feet. It was fine. She walked to her bathroom easily. She thought it made sense that a person who hadn't moved from their bed in eight months ought to need physiotherapy. Didn't muscles atrophy after that long – a use it or lose it kind of thing?
But she felt fine. Strong, even. She came back into the room and tried a few warm-ups. Her body seemed to know what to do. She went through an entire routine of stretches without thinking about it. When she finished, her body felt like it was hers again. Nothing stiff or unnatural about it, not like when she'd woken up yesterday. The quicker thump of her heart was gratifying. Her breath came evenly. She made a fist and smiled at it. She flexed a bicep and felt it with her opposite hand. Nice. Her whole body felt good, toned and hard. She was too pale, but once she got out of the hospital, the sun would take care of that.
She hopped back on the bed. How long until that guy, Rupert Giles, came to see her? She listened to the sound of people passing back and forth in front of her door. If she concentrated, she could hear the drone of a television down at one end of the hall, and call bells ringing at the nurse's station at the other end. Wicked. She hadn't been imagining it. Her hearing really was that good.
And, if she knew her hearing was good, it meant she knew that other people didn't hear as well as she did. Was that like a memory? She closed her eyes and thought about it. She knew stuff...she knew lots of stuff. How to stretch enough so that her muscles felt the pull, but not so much that she hurt herself. She knew the orderly had spoken with an accent – Texas. Screwing up her eyes, she imagined a map of the country. Geography. She knew that.
But when she thought about anything to do with herself, there was nothing. She knew her name and that she had no allergies. She knew she'd been in a car accident on May 20, 1999. She counted the months. That meant it was February 2000, or close enough. She'd seen her chart and knew she'd missed a birthday while she was unconscious. She was seventeen now. She knew that the guy whose name she had was dead.
Rupert Giles. She knew nothing about him at all. Would she recognize him when he walked into the room? Would she suddenly remember everything as soon as she saw him?
Waiting was boring. She knew that, certainly. She sighed and kicked her legs. The hospital gown was ugly and faded. Had they left her wearing the same one for eight months? Her head itched and her hair was greasy. She picked up a hank of it and studied the thick, black strands. Well, as long as she was meeting this guy, she might as well look good, and maybe find something to do while she waited.
She headed for the shower, stripping off the gown as she walked. She grinned as she dropped it behind her on the floor. Obviously she didn't care too much about showing off her body. She stared down at herself with a slight smile. She ran her hands down her sides and then up to cup her breasts. Everything was in the right place, that was sure. And in working order, she thought, when her nipples stiffened. But there was something – she moved her right hand over her stomach, just under her ribs. There was a ridge of scarring there, puckered pink against her pale skin. She moved closer to the mirror and watched her fingers move over the bumps and roughness, then back onto smooth skin. It didn't hurt, but it felt weird. As if it should hurt – it should hurt forever. She frowned at the girl in the mirror. She was a stranger. She didn't know anything.
In her dream about the knife, she'd been stabbed. Right there. Same place. Who had done it? The person chasing her...
Impaled on debris in the accident, Nurse Owens had said. The dreams were part of the coma. They didn't mean anything.
She ran the water as hot as she could stand it. The hospital had tiny bars of soap and a shampoo dispenser on the wall, no conditioner. Still, it felt amazing to be clean, even better than stretching. The towels were too small. She dried herself on the top sheet of her bed. She made a face at the hospital gown, but was all she had. She put it back on. Without a brush, she couldn't do anything with her hair. She finger-combed it a bit, then tucked it behind her ears.
And again, she was left with nothing to do. Would stupid Rupert Giles never get here? Long lost – what? She tried to decide on a relationship. Relative? Friend? She hesitated, then threw in lover? for good measure. Well, anyway, when a long lost whoever wakes up from a coma, then you went to them first thing. This was getting annoying. She paced around the room once and thought again about just leaving. Running. But that was stupid. Like Nurse Owens said, where would she run to? She didn't remember where she was or where she was supposed to go.
Staying in the room for another five minutes, on the other hand, would drive her stir-crazy.
The sound of the TV down the hall decided her. She left the sheets thrown back on the bed and went to see what was on.
"Nurse, I must insist, this is urgent."
Faith glanced up for a moment as a middle-aged man in a too-big sweater and khakis hurried by. He chased after a nurse, not paying attention to much else. She turned back to the news she'd been watching. Now, at least, she knew where Sunnydale was, and also what kind of weather to expect for the next week.
Shockingly enough, they were predicting sun.
Another group of people rushed past. Faith looked up again hopefully. Sooner or later Rupert Giles had to show. That name was all she had to hold on to. She was doing her best, but so far nobody had come asking for her. She watched the group running down the hall. They were about her age. There was a guy with floppy brown hair and two girls, a brunette clinging to the guy's arm and a redhead in the world's ugliest skirt and blouse combination. Too young, she decided. She glared at the old man half-asleep in his wheelchair. He was drooling on the remote. She'd been waiting for him to nod off so that she could grab it and channel surf to something more interesting than reruns of the Golden Girls.
"The room is empty. I'm telling you, she's fled the country. That's what felons do, isn't it?"
"Maybe you're right, Xander. It could be for the best. At least then we wouldn't have to deal with her."
"Yes. Let the psychotic killer go murder foreigners. Meanwhile, Xander, I think we should go back to your basement, so that we can light those candles I bought and then have sex near them."
Faith gave a snort of laughter. She leaned her head back. The little group was standing near the nurse's station. The brunette girl was fawning all over the guy. He was shooting panicked looks at the redhead, and she was rolling her eyes. Faith snickered to herself. This was better than anything the TV had to offer.
"When did Buffy say she'd get here?" he asked.
"Right after her last class – psychology."
The guy – Xander – nodded and glanced over his shoulder. "Do you think she could be, you know – lurking? Waiting to pounce? 'Cause I gotta say, the pouncing did not go in my favor the last time. It was very 'Faster, pussycat, kill, kill!'"
Red shook her head. "Nah, she's too dumb to lurk. It'd be, like, ooh, I'm so cleavagey and slutty, I don't need a plan! I'm just gonna attack right now!"
Faith laughed again. These people certainly had a way of expressing themselves.
Who on earth could they be looking for? Another couple was approaching them, some big lumbering football type and behind him, a blonde girl. Faith leaned further back to get a better look at her. Something about her –
Maybe this was someone she recognized. It felt like that. Like she knew something about her. It was as if she had a word on the tip of her tongue and couldn't quite remember it. She frowned and shook her head. How did she know the blonde girl?
"Hey, Buffy," Xander said. "Are you bringing the whole Initiative with you, or just Riley? 'Cause I'm thinking even you might need back up on this one."
"She's gone?" Buffy asked. "It doesn't feel like it."
"You can sense her?" the football lunk asked. He looked down the hall, his eyes passing over Faith. She turned away so that it wouldn't be obvious that she was listening. "What does it feel like?"
"Yeah, Buff, spill. We want details," Xander said. His girlfriend whacked him. "What?" he asked. "It's a psychological graduate student thing, right, Riley? Research."
Before Xander could get hit again, the older man came back from the nurse's station. He held a medical chart under one arm. He took off his glasses and started cleaning them. "I'm afraid they don't know where she could have gone. She ate breakfast in her room, but she is certainly not there now. The nurse I spoke to was convinced she would be too weak to even get out of her bed unassisted."
Buffy glared at him. Faith had to strain to hear what she said. "She's a Slayer. Of course she's not too weak. She could be anywhere by now, Giles!"
Faith blinked. Rupert Giles had arrived at last. And that meant they were looking for her.
Psychotic killer? Slayer?
Cleavagey and slutty?
The urge to run was coming back.
But Faith kept bumping into the same brick wall. Where would she run to? If these people knew her, then maybe they could help her remember things. Like the blonde girl, Buffy. She felt so familiar. It sort of tingled.
She took a deep breath. No matter what they thought of her, she had to do something. They'd find her eventually. She stood up and headed down the hall. She stared at Buffy. What was it about her? It was almost uncomfortable, how strong it was. Tingly, and, well, strangely good.
Buffy had her arms crossed and was frowning at the floor. She shifted, like she could feel it too. Then she looked up. Faith stopped. Buffy sure as hell didn't look welcoming.
"You!" she said. She pushed through her friends.
"Yeah," Faith said, wondering what to expect. They might know her, but it was clear they didn't like her. She really wanted to run. This was too much like her dreams. Fear, mixed up with that low-down tickle. She flinched, but she waited for Buffy to approach her. "Uh, hi," she said.
"You should have gotten out of Dodge while the getting was good," Buffy said.
Faith shrugged. The whole group surrounded her. Only Xander, Buffy, and the redhead girl looked angry, though. The other two younger ones only seemed curious. Rupert Giles was studying her carefully. "I didn't have anywhere to go," she told him. He was the easiest one to explain it to. Wasn't he her emergency contact?
"Did you think we were gonna go easy on you?" Red asked. "That we'd just forget everything you did?"
"Well," Faith said, trying a smile, "I did." God, what had she done? She fidgeted. Maybe this was why her body kept trying to run away. It knew more than she did.
"Ha!" Xander pointed at her dramatically. "You still show no remorse. A TV judge would so give you the smackdown for that."
"Xander." The older man, Giles, took his glasses off and glared. "Before all of you get carried away, I believe she's speaking literally." He settled his glasses on his nose again and lifted the chart. "According to the nurse who phoned me, a preliminary analysis suggests that Faith is suffering from complete retrograde amnesia."
"Isn't that convenient," Buffy said. She wasn't exactly sneering, but Faith could hear it in her voice. Why did the only familiar person in the world have to be such a bitch?
"Maybe we should phone the police," Red said. "Let them deal with her."
"Why?" Faith asked. She tried frantically to remember the car accident, or anything before she woke up yesterday. How did the police come into it? "Did the guy who ran me over die or something?"
"Ran over?" Buffy laughed, but she didn't sound amused. "What are you talking about?"
"The nurse told me that's how I got hurt." Faith lifted a hand to her stomach. She could feel the scar through the thin material of the hospital gown.
Buffy looked at the spot, then frowned and backed off. "Anyway, the police won't be able to handle her."
"Nor is there, in fact, an outstanding warrant for her arrest," Giles said. "Or else it would be listed in her medical file, and she would have been placed in a more secure ward. I believe the Mayor managed to bury all reports of her involvement."
"The mayor...you mean Richard Wilkins?" Faith asked. "He was my guardian." That only got her more glares. Shit, didn't they realize how scary it was to stand around listening to people discussing her criminal past when she didn't even know what she'd done? "You are Rupert Giles, aren't you?"
"Then shouldn't you be taking care of me or something? The nurse said you were my 'in case of emergency' guy." Everyone was staring at her. Faith crossed her arms. It was getting cold in the hallway with just the stupid gown on. "Listen, I don't know you, any of you, and I don't know whatever you think I did. But I want to leave the hospital sometime, and they won't let me unless you say so, 'cause I'm a minor. Can't you just, like, get me out of here, then tell me what the hell is going on?"
Giles stuttered for a moment. He blinked at her, as if he'd just noticed that she was only wearing the hospital gown. That, and how pale she was. "Well, I suppose so," he said. "I'm sure we can get you discharged." He smiled. It wasn't reassuring.
"And what, pray tell, will we do with her after that?" Xander asked.
Faith glared at him. She didn't want him talking about her as if she wasn't standing right in front of him. He flinched as if she'd leapt at him with a knife. What was it with these people? Was there anything she could do to get a straight answer out of them?
"Normally, I would suggest we contact the Council for instructions," Giles answered, with a doubtful glance at Buffy. "But I think we're agreed that their actions would most likely be..." He hesitated, then made a chopping gesture. "...less than helpful."
"Yeah, and what if she's faking?" Red folded her arms and narrowed her eyes at Faith. "We get all trusting and sympathetic, and then she strikes."
Giles shifted a bit. He lifted a hand to rub the creases in his forehead. "I hardly believe..."
"We can test that," Buffy interrupted.
Faith turned back to her. She'd felt the Buffy's eyes on her throughout the conversation. It was worse than Red's anger, Giles' caution, Xander's fear, and all the curious stares. She'd tried to ignore it, but she still felt that maddening sense of familiarity. She hated it. Faith didn't want to know Buffy. There was something frightening about her. Fear stabbed her like a knife each time the blonde girl spoke.
Buffy prodded her backward a few steps. "Hit me."
Faith's mouth dropped open. That was the last thing she'd expected. "What?"
"Go on, give me your best shot." Buffy brushed away Riley's restraining hand and his warning mutter of "Buffy, maybe this isn't the best idea..."
"Here? In the hallway?" Faith picked at the gown. "In this?"
"Yeah, unless you're afraid." Buffy raised an eyebrow, but Faith could only stare at her in confusion. "Show me what you remember."
"I don't remember anything," Faith said. She realized it wasn't true the moment she spoke. Her brain refused to cooperate, but her body knew things. Stretching. Strength.
How to run away.
Faith looked at her hands, then back at Buffy. Hit her? Faith curled a fist. She felt a flash of memory. She had done this before. They had stood like this, eye to eye, fighting, or – competing, somehow –
And how dare they come to the hospital and accuse her? They insulted her and threatened her and refused to explain anything. What gave them the right to judge her? She'd woken up from a coma and they treated her like she was an inconvenience to be shoved back into a cage. Faith frowned and tightened her fist. She knew how to do it correctly. She adjusted her fingers. Anger boiled in her stomach. How dare they? How dare Buffy be so familiar, and scary, and cold, and not tell her why?
That's what they expected. They wanted Faith to attack. She would prove them right if she did. But Faith thought she remembered how to turn the tables. She knew how to keep an opponent off guard. No, that was wrong. She didn't know.
But her body did.
Buffy blinked. She was sprawled on the floor. Xander and Willow gaped down at her. She stood up and swung around to face Faith. Faith backed up a step, holding out her hands. "Wow," she said. "Sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I don't even know what that was!" She stared at her hands. "It was wicked cool, though."
"Buffy, are you okay?" Riley put an arm around her, as if she needed to be supported. Buffy pushed away from him.
"I'm fine." She narrowed her eyes. Faith was grinning at her hands, as if congratulating them for acting completely on their own. Buffy hadn't anticipated Faith's sweeping throw. She'd been knocked off her feet. Before, she'd always been able to see Faith's moves coming from a mile away. She exchanged a glance with Giles. Even one good punch from Faith could have hurt her badly. Faith hadn't even tried. She wasn't even gloating about her throw. Much.
Xander and Willow were close to freaking out. They'd only seen Buffy tossed into a wall. They couldn't understand it had been done in a friendly, almost gentle way – for a Slayer. Riley might have been able to tell, but he was blinded by his macho protective-guy strutting. All three of them were glaring at Faith with a mixture of hatred and fear. They were setting themselves for a fight.
Faith looked up from admiring her hands. Her eyes widened. The Scoobies had closed in the circle around her. All except Anya, who had missed Faith's attack entirely. She was trying to feed a particularly well-loved dollar bill into a pop machine.
"Look, I'm telling you, it was an accident, okay?" Faith said. Her voice started to edge into anger. She flexed her fingers. Buffy knew Faith could take them all on at once. Did Faith know that? She seemed to be holding herself back from trying. "Buffy told me to do it, didn't she?"
"Yeah, some accident," Xander said. "What's a shattered spine between friends?"
"With friends like you guys, who needs enemies?" Faith shot back. She backed off a few steps. Buffy noticed she was careful to keep her back away from a wall. "I don't know what kind of crack the nurses are on, but if you guys are my emergency contacts, then I'd hate to see what my family's like."
Buffy held herself back. This was not Faith. Faith was never scared, and certainly never confused. She had never once spoken about her family. Buffy had tried to learn more about them, and Faith had told her in no uncertain terms to back off every time. More than anything, Faith didn't back down. Buffy tried to see her as a stranger would. Faith was pale and shivering. Exhaustion ringed dark circles around her eyes. Her hair was damp and stringy. And they were all standing around her like overeager executioners.
Buffy stepped between Xander and Willow. The Slayer-tingles she hadn't felt in what seemed like too long were washing over her in jumbled waves. Buffy was almost dizzy with them. So what could Faith be thinking, if she wasn't faking the amnesia? Buffy wanted to be cautious, but the lost, scared look that Faith was trying to hide was too much. "You hurt us, before," she said. It was the closest she could come to saying 'You hurt me.'
For a moment, it looked like Faith was going to answer angrily. Then she stopped. "Yeah, well, I'm sorry, then."
Buffy could tell by the looks on Xander's and Willow's faces that Faith's half-hearted apology wasn't going to be nearly enough. "You don't remember any of it," she said.
"Buffy..." Willow started warningly. Buffy shook her head. Willow grimaced, but she didn't say anything else.
Buffy leaned closer to Faith, as if she could see the old Faith hiding somewhere inside the new one. "You really don't remember," she repeated.
"I really don't," Faith said. She tensed up as Buffy stared at her. Buffy almost shivered. She hadn't been this close to Faith since she'd kissed her and left her in this hospital. She'd done her best to stop thinking about Faith. There had been a few unsettled Slayer dreams at first. And for the last few months, nothing. She'd wanted to forget, and she'd managed it. Until right now. And Faith wasn't lying, but she wasn't exactly telling the truth, either. She remembered something. Buffy could see it in the way Faith was trying to back away and lean closer at the same time.
Buffy sighed. She gave Faith some room, waving the Scoobies back, too. To soothe Riley's ego, she allowed him to slide her under his arm. "So she's got amnesia. Now what?"
Giles cleared his throat. "I'm sure the doctors will attest that there's nothing physically wrong with her." He tried to catch Buffy's eye. She knew what he was implying. The police were out of the question. The could hardly let Faith go back to her ratty motel. And there was no way in hell Buffy was going to call the Watcher's Council in. No matter what Faith had done, the Council wouldn't know how to handle her.
The problem was, none of them had the room or the ability to host a renegade Slayer. She and Willow shared their dorm room. Xander was living in his parents' basement. Giles had his hands full with Spike dropping by for blood and Passions. That left only Buffy's house. But she could never leave her mom alone with Faith. Buffy would have to stay with them. It was the last thing she needed dumped on her plate right now, with Professor Walsh dead and Adam on the loose. Somehow, though, Faith always ended up being her responsibility. What the hell had she ever done to deserve that? In her brightest, fakest voice, Buffy said, "Of course Faith can stay at my place. I bet my mom would think that'd be just super."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Bitch," she muttered, too quietly for anyone but Buffy to hear.
Buffy spun around. She wasn't too happy about inviting Faith into her home. She wasn't going to be gracious about it. And she didn't need to be insulted for it. "Listen, you –" she started, but Faith was blinking at her strangely. "What?" Buffy asked.
"What's wrong, Buffy?" Willow asked. She and Xander had been walking ahead as they led the way back to Faith's room. They hadn't seen anything.
"You heard that?" Faith asked at the same time.
Buffy stopped short. Giles' mild look felt worse than an hour-long lecture. If she believed that Faith didn't remember, then she had to accept everything that came with that. Faith didn't know Buffy's hearing was as sharp as hers. She didn't know – anything. Faith had always been such a mystery that forgetting, for her, didn't seem like such a big deal. Buffy tried to imagine going home from the hospital with complete strangers, and failed. Worse, all of them had made it very clear that Faith was worth less than the bus fare they'd used to get here.
"I'm sorry," she said, instead of a thousand insults that sprang to mind. And, because Faith had to be scared even if she was too good at hiding it, she added: "It'll be okay."
Xander and Willow stared at her as if she'd lost the few marbles she'd had left. Faith snorted in disbelief. "Right," she said. "Rainbows and kittens, I'm sure."
"Perhaps we can let Faith settle in at Buffy's today, and meet again tomorrow?" Giles said. "I'll give you two a ride home, Buffy, after Faith retrieves her things."
"I can –" Riley started, but Buffy laid a hand on his arm to stop him.
"Thanks, Giles." Buffy wanted to go with them to get Faith's stuff, but Riley pulled her aside.
"So this is the arch-enemy?" he asked. "Did I miss something, or...?"
Buffy glanced over her shoulder. Giles followed Faith to her room, glaring at the others to keep them where they were. "I don't think I said enemy," she said.
"Well, you certainly didn't say friend." Riley heaved a sigh. "You're going to stay at your mom's place with her, aren't you?"
Buffy frowned. "It's my social life, too, Riley. I'm not exactly thrilled."
"But she doesn't even know you two used to fight. She doesn't know about Slayers, or demons, or vampires. Are you going to tell her about all of that?" Riley crossed his arms. "And how could it possibly help her if you did? Your mom can take care of one sick girl, Buffy."
She glared at him. "You sound as if you're jealous."
"You look like there's a reason I should be."
"Riley!" Buffy held down a hand that itched to slap him. "We weren't always at each other's throats, you know. I was Faith's friend...for a while. And maybe that's what I'm hoping she'll remember. If we do things right, this time."
Riley shrugged. "You're basing this hope on what clinical evidence? Amnesiacs regain all of their memories or not, but you can't choose which ones Faith will get back."
Buffy shook her head. "She's dangerous, whether she knows it or not. This is my job, Riley. I'm going with her." Without another word, she turned and walked away from him.
Faith had just finished dressing when Buffy walked in. Buffy gasped. Faith wore the clothes she'd been in that night – the night of the rooftop, the night it all went wrong. And it meant nothing to her. These were the clothes the hospital had saved, that's all. Faith looked down at herself. She smoothed her hands over the leather pants. They were looser than they had been. She smiled nervously.
"Cleavagey and slutty," she said, softly enough that Buffy wanted to deny it.
"We'll get you something else at my place," she said.
Faith nodded. "So that's still on."
"What do you mean?"
"You couldn't find anyone else willing to take me." Faith's hands twitched away from the clothes. "I'd rather you gave me a bus ticket and some traveling cash."
Buffy winced. "We wouldn't do that – you're sick, still –"
"Once I'm better, though. You won't see the back of me fast enough." Faith shrugged. She picked at the shirt. "This is it, you know. I don't have anything else. Leather pants and a skanky top they couldn't wash the bloodstains all the way out of."
Buffy hugged herself and leaned against the doorframe. "Faith..."
Faith met her eyes for a moment. "I hurt you."
Buffy didn't miss the emphasis on 'you'. "But that was a long time ago. I do want you to get better. It's just...things might change when you remember."
"If I remember." Faith shrugged. "I don't think I'm going to try."
"It will get better." Buffy walked across the room, the few steps it took to get to Faith's side. She touched Faith's arm. "I promise."
Faith stared at her fingers. "You feel that?" she asked.
Buffy pulled her hand back. The Slayer-tingles, which had doubled the moment she touched Faith's skin, faded again. She thought of Riley, and of what would happen when Faith remembered she was a Slayer. "Feel what?" she asked.
"Nothing," Faith said. "Just...nothing."
Buffy nodded. "Let's go get Giles," she said, and led Faith out of the room.
Giles hung up the phone at the nurse's station as Buffy and Faith approached. Buffy raised her eyebrows at him. He sighed and studied Faith as he spoke. "I've called your mother, Buffy, and informed her that we're on our way."
"How'd she take it?" Buffy asked. She tried not to look at Faith as she asked. Mom didn't know the whole story where Faith was concerned. After Angel left, Buffy didn't want to talk to anyone about it. Willow and Xander were happy forgetting Faith, too, if for different reasons.
"She seemed eager to help," Giles said. "Riley said he had to go, but that he would call you later. Are you ready?"
Buffy shrugged. Faith crossed her arms and looked away. Neither of them answered.
"I'll bring the car around," Giles said. "Faith, I've arranged for a wheelchair for you, if you like."
Faith blinked. "I don't need –"
Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, well, hospital policy or somesuch...You can come with me. Buffy will meet us outside in a moment."
Buffy opened her mouth to protest, but Giles always had his reasons. She glanced down the hall. Xander and Willow waited in the lounge. Anya watched The Price Is Right and ignored their whispered argument. "Right," Buffy said. "I'll be right there."
She headed for the uncomfortable-looking orange plastic chairs. Xander looked up as she sat down. Willow glared at the floor.
"Listen, you guys..."
"Buffy, we don't really wanna listen," Xander said. "We know what you're gonna say. Redemption. Second chances. Nurse Buffy to the rescue...possibly wearing some sort of naughty nurse uniform..."
Anya swatted Xander without looking away from Bob Barker estimating the cost of a toaster oven.
"I mean." Xander shrugged and waved his hands. "Faith has tried to kill us both. If that's not enough to persuade you she's bad news, then we're not in the mood for you to convince us she's a little kitten up a tree."
Buffy leaned back. "And when people try to kill my friends I usually kill them right back," she said. Willow hadn't been this quiet for this long since the first day they'd met. "But –"
"There's always a 'but' with Faith," Willow burst out.
"No kidding," Xander said, leering.
It earned him another swat from Anya.
"Buffy, she's gonna remember some time, and how safe are we gonna be once she does?" Willow asked. "You aren't going to get a nicely engraved RSVP saying, oh, hey, turns out I hate you, try not to get murdered in your sleep. You're taking her home with you. To your mom! You can't watch her all the time and you can't trust her, amnesia or not."
"You're right." Buffy shrugged when they both looked up, surprised. "Of course you're right. But you also know there's nothing else we can do. She's...well, I put her in here. I mean, she killed two people, and threatened a whole bunch, but I'm the one who stabbed her and tried to feed her to Angel."
Xander sighed and looked at Willow. Buffy met Willow's eyes, seeing the hurt there. "I just – I can't forget that," she said, trying to explain. "Faith's my problem."
"You've got a great big Faith-shaped hole in your brain," Willow said. "You're shoveling guilt in there trying to fill it, but that's not going to help. It's not up to you to fix what she did wrong."
Buffy stood up. "I'm not," she said. "I'm trying to fix what I did wrong. Will..." Buffy held out her hands hopelessly. "I'll be by later to get some stuff. Maybe we can talk about Adam?"
"Yeah, number one hacker on the job," Willow muttered.
Buffy wanted to say something to help, but they were – all three of them – stuck in this trap of taking their own side. She didn't know how to get out of the hole she'd dug. They didn't understand how she felt about Faith. Buffy wasn't sure she understood it herself. Faith was a responsibility Buffy didn't need, but Buffy owed her; and, more than that, she wanted to help her. She wanted Faith to find herself, so that they could talk or fight or whatever they needed to figure out how something that had been so good had gone so wrong.
So, instead, Buffy left them and went out front. Giles pulled up in his old car, with Faith in the front seat. Buffy climbed into the back. Giles met her eyes in the rearview mirror, but Buffy could only shrug. Willow and Xander would come around eventually...or else Faith would prove them right. Buffy could only hope it would be the former.
Giles made some 'aheming' noises in his throat, but he couldn't seem to settle on a conversation opener. Buffy stared out the window, trying to see Sunnydale as Faith was – for the first time. It looked small.
The ride to her mom's house was a short one, and Buffy was glad to escape the car. Mom came out to meet them.
"Faith, honey!" she said, running down the steps and enfolding Faith in a hug.
"Um...hi," Faith said, blinking at Buffy over her mom's shoulder.
"I'm Joyce, Buffy's mom." She peered into Faith's eyes. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry...but at least you're awake now! I've been worried about you."
Faith smiled. "Thanks. I guess." She murmured, "You're the first," and raised an eyebrow at Buffy.
Buffy pretended to ignore the remark, as if she didn't have the same sensitive hearing as Faith.
"Well, come on in, all of you," Mom said, herding them inside.
"I'll show Faith my room," Buffy said. She didn't want to get her mom on more of a nursing kick than she already was. They left Giles and Mom talking in the kitchen. "We can only hope Mom's not using it for storage space," she said, climbing the stairs. "If there are crates, I'm carrying them all straight down to the living room."
Faith laughed behind her. Buffy had to remind herself that Faith didn't know she was talking literally. It wasn't time to let the whole super-strength thing slip. Maybe, in a day or two...or after Faith had picked up a car by accident...
Buffy sighed and led the way into her room. It was, mercifully, crate-free. "Home sweet home," she said.
Faith nodded, her fingers hooked in her belt loops. "So, Buffy...when do I get the full story?"
Buffy bit her lip. "What do you mean?"
"I'm talking about your friends." Faith entered the room and examined the pictures on the shelves. "Red and Xander look like they're gonna faint if I even look at them wrong. It makes me want to sneak up on them and yell 'Boo!'"
"Don't do that!" Buffy said.
Faith turned around and grinned at her. "Aw, come on. Just to see the looks on their faces. I'd let you watch."
Buffy tried to glare at her repressively, but she found she couldn't quite hide an answering grin. It would be pretty funny. She didn't know whether she'd bet on Willow or Xander to have the girliest shriek. It wouldn't help them to trust Faith at all. In fact, it would probably make things worse. But they were both wound so tight as it was... She chuckled despite herself. "Okay, it would be funny. But don't do it."
"Fine, fine." Faith waved the idea away. "But don't try to tell me you've never had an uncontrollable urge – you knew something was wrong, but you just wanted to do it anyway."
Buffy shrugged. She wasn't going to think about her uncontrollable urges. She'd always been good at ignoring them, and then forgetting them. She didn't want to dig up all her old urges. Especially not to tell Faith. Time to change the subject. "Why do you call her Red?" she asked.
Faith blinked. "'Cause I don't know her name. Nobody's said it yet."
"Oh." Buffy blushed. If she was going to buy the amnesia story, she couldn't get caught up thinking of Faith as the person she'd known for months. She felt bad for not doing introductions. "Her name is Willow."
Faith nodded. "And you're warning me that she wants me to call her by name. Why? What's wrong with Red?"
"You used to call her Red. You were pretty big on nicknames."
Faith seemed to digest that piece of information. "I was, huh?" She sat down on the bed, picking up Mr. Gordo and hugging him. She smiled a bit at the stuffed pig. "I bet I had a great one for you."
Buffy blushed harder. Was that a hint of Faith's old banter? "No, not at all."
Faith's smile widened. She set Mr. Gordo aside. Her eyes were sparkling. She hadn't lost any of her teasing instincts. She sensed a weak spot, and she was going to exploit it. "Oh, yeah, I did. I called you something and you hated it." She tilted her head. Confusion clouded her face. "Or else –"
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Or else what?" She wondered again how much of Faith's memory loss was an act. Her confusion seemed real, and nobody had ever accused her of being any good at lying. Faith was too open with her emotions to be a convincing actress.
Faith shook her head. "Nothing." The smile came back. "I don't know if I'll remember it, but I can probably guess it. You'll tell me if I'm right?"
Buffy started to protest, then stopped. It wouldn't hurt, and maybe it would help Faith to get her memory back if she exercised it. "Okay. But I'll tell you right now, it wasn't Rumplestiltskin."
"Damn, there goes my first guess." Faith lay back on the bed, folding her arms behind her head. Her shirt pulled up as she did, exposing her toned stomach...and the scar. "So are these my digs now, or what?" Faith asked, but Buffy wasn't listening.
She was reliving that moment eight months ago. The feeling of sharp steel sliding into skin hadn't truly left her hand in all that time.
Faith sat up and pulled her shirt down. "Listen, I'm not – I mean, I have no idea if we ever –"
Buffy frowned when Faith didn't finish her sentence. "What are you talking about?" she asked. She pulled her mind away from the memory of Faith's eyes, brimming with pain, as she let herself fall. Buffy had felt as if she'd been stabbed herself, when she saw Faith plummet from the roof.
"I'm not gonna sleep in here, am I?"
"No, we have a guest bedroom..." Buffy pointed vaguely. Why was Faith blushing?
"Okay. Great. Because...I'm kinda tired." Faith jumped up from the bed. "I'm gonna check it out. I'll...see ya."
Buffy watched her go, then picked up Mr. Gordo. All this tip-toeing around the truth was not going to help once Faith started to remember. She didn't want Giles giving Faith the facts of life – he'd probably pull out the "One girl in all the world" speech. And Xander and Willow were both too bitter to want to help. It would be up to her...if only she could figure out how.
The guest bedroom was small. A double bed and a dresser took most of the floor space. Faith sat down on the bedspread and bounced a bit. There was too much art on the walls, a weird mixture of tribal African masks and impressionist paintings. Faith lay back on the bed. She wished she still had Buffy's pig to hold. She wished she had someone to talk to who didn't hate her, or expect her to know stuff, or who made her stomach do flipflops.
Buffy did all three. Faith wasn't really tired, but she couldn't stay in Buffy's room. The way Buffy stared at her made her want to squirm. Faith didn't remember herself. The person who woke up in that hospital room wasn't her. But she knew she didn't like being out of control. Buffy's stare ripped up her certainty and threw the pieces all over the place. Of everyone she'd met, Faith knew Buffy the most – and the least. Both, at the same time. Faith felt like they could talk about anything and she would know what Buffy's opinion was before she said it. Then, something would happen. A wall would crash down, and Buffy would be a stranger just like the rest of them.
A stranger who lied to her. The car-crash story sounded less likely with every passing moment. Faith slipped a hand under the white tank top the hospital had kept for her. A single cut in the material matched the scar in her stomach. She wriggled her fingers through the hole. The bloodstains had been bleached away, mostly, but the cut remained. One hole, as if the shirt had been sliced by a very sharp knife.
Like the knife in her dreams.
Faith squeezed her eyes closed. Each dream was the same. She was hunted by someone carrying that knife, and she was stabbed, and she died, and the thunderstorm washed her blood away.
There was a knock at the door and Faith was on her feet before she could think. She stared at her hands. She was holding them up, curled in loose fists. Her weight was balanced on the balls of her feet. She felt like she could jump in any direction, defend herself from any attack. Her heartbeat thrummed, faster than usual, and her breathing deepened, but her mind was calm and alert. She had never felt so ready for anything. She forced herself to relax. It was only Buffy standing outside the door.
"Come in," she said. She lowered her hands and sat on the bed.
Buffy opened the door. Faith took a deep breath and released it. How had she known it was Buffy? Her skin tingled, and she absently brushed the small hairs on her arms so that they lay flat. Buffy stayed in the doorway. She held out a jumble of clothes.
"I got you some stuff to wear," she said. "It's not a lot. You're too tall for most of my clothes. We can go shopping tomorrow if you want."
Faith took the pile. It was mostly t-shirts and sweats. Still, anything would be better than the skin-tight leather pants and sliced tank top. Most of all, it meant something that Buffy was genuinely offering to help her buy clothes tomorrow. Maybe the bitchiness was only an act. "Thank you," she said.
"Yeah. Well." Buffy scuffled a foot on the carpet. "Is this okay?"
Faith dumped the clothes on the bed. "The room? It's fine. The art's a little..." She shrugged. "I don't know. Not my style? Am I supposed to know what my style is?"
Buffy leaned back against the door jamb. She studied the walls. "No. It's not your style." Her lips twitched as if she was laughing at a private joke. "Definitely not your style."
Faith frowned. Buffy was so confident about what she liked and didn't like. Buffy thought she knew Faith better than she did herself. "Maybe it is. Now. I could change."
Buffy glanced at her for the first time since she'd come in. Her eyes sparkled with laughter. "So you're going to start collecting Waziri war masks and Group of Seven landscapes?"
"Well..." Faith tried to look serious, but Buffy's attempt to hide her smile was putting a dent in the effort. "You don't know. I could."
Buffy nodded, pursing her lips to hold in her laughter. "Okay, I'll keep it in mind. No more Dingoes CDs for you."
Faith nearly asked, "Do I like Dingoes CDs?" but stopped herself. It wasn't fair that everyone assumed they knew what kind of person she was. The kind of person who liked nicknames but not art, the kind of person everybody hated and feared and had secrets from. The kind of person whose body knew how to fight, whose body wanted to fight. She leaned back against the headboard. Buffy stayed in the hallway.
"You wanna come in?" she asked. "You can."
Buffy shrugged. "It's weird having you here."
Faith snorted. "Because you hate me."
"I don't –"
Faith raised an eyebrow at her.
Buffy hugged herself and looked down. "I don't."
Faith thought about the way Buffy's eyes had lingered on her body when her shirt rucked up. The way she blushed when she talked about Faith's old nickname for her. The way Faith could tell Buffy was lying when she said she didn't feel the sweet tingle every time they touched. Maybe Buffy didn't hate her. Maybe it was something else entirely.
Buffy could have been in love with her. They could have been girlfriends, or exes, or something. It was a weird idea, but not a freaky one. Faith considered it, half-squinting at Buffy as if she could focus hard enough to make the memories come back. Buffy was attractive, no doubt. Blonde hair falling in little tendrils around her face, most of it caught up in a messy ponytail. Bright green eyes, gorgeous smile, cute nose. Killer body. And there were the tingles. The shivery goodness of her presence. As if Buffy being there was all it took to make everything okay. Like they were stronger together. They could take anyone on, any odds, any fight, and come out on top.
And, out of everybody, Buffy was the one familiar face. Maybe because Faith had known her better? Loved her, even?
Yeah, and maybe she'd really been in a car accident. Unlikely.
"So...how did we meet?" Faith asked. Who was she to Buffy? Just a friend? How did anyone become enemies – real, true-to-life nemesises...nemeses...arch-enemies – with a college student?
Buffy squinched up her face at the question, but she swayed a foot or two into the room. "Meet?"
"Yeah. Meet. Y'know, you, me, first impressions. And stop hovering, you're making me nervous."
Buffy made an incredulous sound. "I make you...? Never mind." She hesitated for a moment longer, then walked in to the room and sat down. "It was at this club, the Bronze. You were dancing with this guy, and, uh, he looked like bad news, so when you left with him I followed you. And, he was. But you took care of him, and then, we were sort of standing there. So...that's it. That's when we met."
Faith nodded. "Did I do that a lot?"
Buffy blinked. "Dance? All the time. We...I mean, it's one of your favorite things."
"I meant, pick up bad-news guys." Faith knew she sounded angry. The more she got to know about herself, the less she liked who she was. The girl Buffy was talking about was an irresponsible slut. Was she really that girl?
Buffy didn't answer right away. And that made it worse.
"Fuck, Buffy, I'm trying to find out who I am, y'know? Okay? Could you just answer the question?"
Buffy picked at the bedspread. "Okay. Yes. You picked up guys a lot." She looked up. "But that's – that's not who you were, you know? Not to m – not to us."
"Right." Faith drew up her legs and hugged her knees, drawing into herself. If she picked up guys all the time, it kind of dismissed the in-love-with-Buffy theory. Except it was a theory she didn't really want to let go of. "Cleavagey and slutty. Psychotic murderer. Evil. That's what I am to your friends."
Buffy looked like she was going to cry. Tough shit. Little guilty looks and regret weren't going to cut it. Faith wanted to know why she was being lied to. Why Buffy was lying to her. And she was going to push her until she found out.
"You were a lot more than that," Buffy said. They were both uncomfortable now, sitting on opposite ends of the bed, not looking at each other.
A lot more than that. Faith shot a quick glance at Buffy. Was she just imagining it when Buffy sounded angry – almost jealous – about the guys she'd picked up? In the hospital, everyone had implied that Faith had hurt Buffy, badly. Her, specifically, more than anyone else. But Willow and Xander were the ones who were angriest. Buffy just looked upset, like she wanted to solve this problem but didn't know how.
"This is not fucking fair," Faith said calmly, finally, after they'd sat in silence for too long. "The way you're all treating me."
Buffy's eyebrows raised. "Because I'm supposed to be ready for this? After eight months?"
"At least you had those eight months." Faith tapped her skull. "And now I don't even have whatever life I did before. Not like that's your fault, but –"
Buffy flushed again, her eyes darting away.
Faith stared at her. Car crash, her ass. Buffy was trying to cover up and sucking at it. "But did I do anything, one fucking thing, wrong since I been here?"
"No," Buffy whispered. "But I can't forget..."
"And I can't remember. So maybe you could try telling me the fucking truth, Buffy."
Buffy shook her head.
"Unless you really do hate me. Unless this is supposed to be payback."
Buffy opened her mouth, closed it again, then got off the bed and retreated to the doorway.
"I wasn't in a car crash," Faith said to her back.
Buffy whirled around, her eyes wide. "You do remember," she said.
Faith frowned at her, feeling her hands fist almost against her will. She wanted to punch something. Someone. She wanted to fight. "No. But you pretty much just told me I'm right. So are you gonna tell me what really happened?"
Buffy backed up a step, into the hallway. "I just came to give you the clothes. I have to go."
Faith felt empty inside, hollow and hurting. No memories. No friends. She stayed where she was. "You're lying to me," she said. "All of you. Giles. The hospital. Your friends."
Buffy shook her head, denying it, but even she didn't seem convinced. Faith figured it would make sense to be angry about it, but instead she just felt sad. She turned away and looked out the window. Buffy stood outside the room for a minute longer. Once or twice Faith heard her start to speak, but in the end, she walked away.
Faith waited for another minute. Buffy didn't come back. Faith punched her pillow. This was a fucking head-trip. No one was going to tell her what was going on. She'd die of old age before Buffy decided to open up and share. She simply didn't trust her. Faith glared at the empty doorway. She wasn't going to sit around and wait. There had to be another way.
Faith slipped out of the guest bedroom. Buffy had gone downstairs, but she hadn't left yet. She was talking to Giles and Joyce in the kitchen. Faith stopped on the stairs. If she concentrated, she could hear what they were saying. She held her breath and listened.
"...so I'm going on a quick patrol, first."
"Are you sure that's wise? Adam is still at large, not to mention the fact that the Initiative is no longer friendly." Giles' voice was a low whisper, intense and concerned.
"If I see Adam, I'm gonna run," Buffy said. "I don't need my butt handed to me again. I just need to see how Willow's doing...on the encryption, and stuff."
Oh, this was excellent. The people she was staying with were all superspies. Encryption? Initiative? She'd woken up from her coma into an action movie.
"And Faith?" Giles' question seemed to imply more than he was asking. Faith wished she could see his face. He sounded like he was holding himself back from asking what he really wanted to know. There was a long pause. Buffy wasn't answering. Or, if she was, it was with a look Faith couldn't see.
"Faith will be fine here," Joyce said. "The poor girl, Rupert. She only got out of the hospital today. She doesn't even remember why you're all so angry with her."
"Yes, well, her memory may return, and that concerns me." A chair scraped across the floor. Giles started pacing, his voice coming closer, then retreating. "But more than that, it is the fact that she may discover her Slayer powers – and when she does, she'll only have more questions. The sooner we tell her, the more trust we'll gain."
There was that word again. Slayer. Faith bit her lip. Willow had used it in the hospital. Along with murderer. Was that what she had forgotten? That she'd killed someone? Faith stared at her hands. It had been so easy to make a fist, so easy to knock Buffy off her feet. She could have done something far worse. She could feel the potential for violence in her body every time she moved.
"So we gain her trust, and then what?" Buffy sounded bitter. "We turn around and trust her right back? For how long? Let her get her rocks off slaying until she goes wacko again?"
"Buffy. You know that if Wesley hadn't interfered, we might have saved Faith before things went so far. We still have this chance. We must reach out to her –"
More silence from Buffy. Faith ached to see what was passing across her face. Maybe Buffy had done all the reaching out she was prepared to do.
"Buffy..." Joyce's voice, cajoling. "You were so close to her before. What ever happened to make her turn on you...it has to be more than 'because she's evil'. You can't label people like that."
"On the Hellmouth you can." Buffy sighed. "Look, I said she could stay here. I want her to get better. I just don't want her to know about everything – not yet. Not until we're sure..."
"If you think that's best." Giles sounded doubtful.
"It's better then 'In every generation a Slayer is born'," Buffy said. "No offense, Giles. But it's a sucky way to find out about your destiny."
Okay. For real. These people were off their rockers. Destiny? Faith mouthed the word. It didn't sound like it applied to her. But then, nothing did. The three of them were being serious – unless they'd figured out she was listening and they were putting on some kind of show. Faith doubted that. They'd rather avoid her questions than tell her outright lies, if only to gain her trust. Yeah, right. Like she could have any confidence in people who eyed her like a criminal and discussed her destiny behind her back.
There were footsteps in the hall. Buffy was coming from the kitchen. Faith climbed the stairs and ducked back into the guest bedroom. She left the door open, hoping to hear more. No luck. Buffy and Giles put on their shoes and said goodbye to Joyce, then the front door closed behind them.
Joyce sighed and started up the stairs. Faith threw herself on the bed and waited. It wasn't hard to look bored and nervous when Joyce knocked on the open door. She crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe.
"Faith? How are you doing?" she asked, with a concerned frown.
"Five by five," Faith said.
Joyce's eyes widened. Blue. Worried. "Really?"
Faith raised a hand and rubbed her temple. "Uh. Yeah. I meant, fine."
"Well, it's just the two of us now. If you need anything..." Joyce trailed off invitingly.
Like answers. That was the only thing she needed. "Nah," she said. "I guess I'm just gonna sleep."
"All right. I'll be here if you need me."
Faith nodded. "Thanks." None of this was Joyce's fault, as far as Faith could tell. She was the only remotely welcoming person Faith had met yet. "I appreciate you letting me stay with you guys," she added.
Joyce's eyebrows raised, but she smiled. "It's no bother. You were always welcome here."
Faith gave her a doubtful look. "Uh-huh."
Joyce had the grace to blush a bit, but she said, "I would never turn you out of this house, Faith."
Faith relaxed. She let go of the sarcasm and the doubt. Joyce was being straight with her. Even if she wasn't volunteering information, at least she wasn't lying. "Thank you," she said again, meaning it.
"You're welcome." Joyce stepped back into the hall. "I'm just down the hall..."
"Okay." Faith sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Joyce was nice, a real mom's Mom, but that didn't satisfy her. If she wanted to know what was really going on, she was going to have to go to the source.
So she hadn't been in a car crash. Buffy knew what had really happened, but Buffy wasn't telling. And now Buffy was heading out on a patrol, and talking to Willow about her spy stuff. Faith stripped off her old clothes and put on a pair of Buffy's sweats and a black t-shirt. The t-shirt was pretty tight across the chest, and the pants were a bit too short, but at least they were something different, something new. Faith didn't want to be the person Buffy had described to her. The skank. The murderer. She was going to be herself, and if that meant following Buffy to find out who she truly was, then that's how it would be.
Faith headed downstairs, quietly. It wouldn't do any good for Joyce to hear her sneaking out. She stamped into her heavy black boots and tied the laces quickly. She opened the door softly, holding her breath. She dialed up her super-hearing, but she didn't hear Joyce coming to investigate. She closed the door just as carefully, and went down the porch steps.
Buffy lived on the university campus with Willow, so that would be the safest bet. If she could get directions from somebody...except the streets were deserted. It was only about nine o'clock, but there were zero people out and about. Maybe it was a small-town thing.
Faith had paid attention to enough of the car ride from the hospital to know the way to Sunnydale's single main street. There would probably be more people there. She headed in that direction.
But Buffy hadn't gone that way.
Faith looked over her shoulder. Down the block and across the street there was a line of tall bushes. She turned to face the hedge. That sense of Buffy's presence that she'd felt when Buffy was standing outside her door was back. It was like the hum of contact, but different, muted. She closed her eyes. This was more strangeness, but...she knew where Buffy was. Not in terms of distance, but direction.
Faith opened her eyes, glanced at the hedge, then towards downtown. She shivered and bounced on her toes a bit. Her pulse throbbed in her wrists. Adrenaline slid through her chest, her arms, her legs. The whole world was sharp and clear, never mind that it was dark. Okay. Chalk that up next to the hearing. Night vision. Some weird connection to Buffy.
And a sort of...excitement? Faith realized she was grinning. Her breath slid quickly between her teeth. She wanted – something. Her fingers curled easily into fists. She felt warm, energized. She laughed, and it sounded a bit manic, so she forced it down. She had to be quiet if she was going to stalk her prey...
This was part of what nobody wanted to tell her. Whatever she was feeling, it meant something.
Time to go find out what.
Faith followed her instincts, jogging down the block to the hedge. She found a convenient gap in the bushes and slipped through.
There was a cemetery on the other side. Headstones and graves checkered the lawn sloping away. The sight of them spiked Faith's excitement. This was familiar. She recognized this – moving softly among the tombs, sliding through the deeper shadows, hunting –
Her prey. Buffy. The light from a full moon shone on her hair. She looked like she belonged to the night. She stood the same way Faith had when Buffy's knock at the door had startled her. Balanced on the balls of her feet, leaning forward a bit, both hands up defensively. She was holding something in one hand, and she was talking to a group of guys standing in front of her. Faith glided closer.
"Come on, five against one, that's not very sportsmanlike," Buffy said. "Should I wait for you to call up a few friends?"
The guy at the front of the group laughed. "You're arrogant. I like that. It means you will die easily."
"Um, do you even know me?" Buffy circled the guys carefully as she spoke. "Killing demons professionally for five years running?"
"Every Slayer dies," the man said, and lunged.
Faith gasped. Buffy tossed the guy over her hip and met the charge of the four other men. She swept the legs out from underneath one and sent two more stumbling back with vicious punches. Faith heard bones crack, but none of the guys seemed fazed in the least. Faith's first instinct was to rush into the fray. She wanted to help Buffy. She wanted to fight. Instead, she gripped the side of the mausoleum she was hiding behind, and watched. Buffy closed with the last man. They spun around together, Buffy's foot snapping out in a sharp kick, the man grunting as he took the blow. Faith could see his face – it was deformed, with wrinkled ridges rising up over his forehead, and when he opened his mouth, Faith swore she could see fangs. Buffy launched herself on top of him and –
Faith blinked. She was sure there had been five guys. But now there were definitely only four, and Buffy was still fighting. And where did she get the skills to beat off four guys at once? Buffy moved like a dancer, all grace and flawless intent, like every move came from years of practice, of perfection. Faith gaped at the whole scene. Buffy hadn't shown anything like this before. She was a college student. A teenager. A normal person.
An amazingly beautiful woman.
Suddenly, there were only three guys. Faith saw it happen this time. Buffy plunged her hand down to the man's chest, and there was a poof, and then he turned to dust – skeleton and skin ripped away into nothingness. Buffy just kept going. She did this, and her friends called Faith a murderer? Two guys had just disappeared right in front of her! Faith felt dizzy. She realized she'd been holding her breath and let it out in a long, shaky sigh. Her muscles were twitching. She wanted to run out there –
Oh, God, she wanted more than that.
One of the guys was running away, and Buffy was too busy with the others to follow. It was quick, now, one puff of dust and then another, in the space of two heartbeats. Buffy stood still, panting slightly, looking in the direction of the man who'd fled. Faith couldn't stop staring at her.
Buffy tucked whatever weapon she'd used inside her leather jacket. She stayed motionless for another moment, then, slowly, she turned her head. She was looking in the direction of Faith's hiding spot. Faith saw a frown cross her face. Faith stopped breathing. The tingles had grown to a sizzle of sensation down her spine. Faith leaned against the stone wall of the mausoleum. She was wet, her pussy aching, her nipples hard and chafing inside her bra. And Buffy was still staring straight at her. Surely she couldn't see through walls?
"Faith?" It was only a whisper, but Faith could hear it. And Buffy would know she could. Faith peeked around the corner.
Buffy hadn't moved. Faith closed her eyes and didn't answer, didn't move, didn't think. She was keyed up, feverish, and most of all, bewildered. How could this happen? What did it mean, this whole Slayer business? What the fuck was between her and Buffy?
Who was she?
A long minute passed, then another. Faith heard when Buffy moved away, running across the graveyard as if she knew every inch of it, and wasn't afraid of tripping. Faith stepped out into the open.
Buffy was gone. The man who'd run away from her was back.
"Slayer," the deformed guy said – or, growled, really.
"What the fuck!" Faith yelled. "Is everyone in on the secret except me?"
The weirdo backed off a step. He growled again, confused, his frown making his forehead even uglier, if that was possible. He waited for a moment, obviously expecting something more from her than she was providing. Faith watched him. If he was like his buddies, he'd attack her as soon as she looked vulnerable. So. Look strong. Feel even stronger. Faith's right hand spasmed shut. She needed a weapon. Buffy's had looked like nothing more than a pointy stick.
So, okay. There were trees around. Faith sprinted for the nearest one. The guy was behind her immediately. Faith reached the tree and tugged on the first branch. Would she even be able to snap it off?
The branch splintered cleanly in her hand. Faith stared at it for a second, surprised. She hadn't even put that much effort into it.
There was no time to wonder any more. Mr. Forehead was almost on her, running as fast as he could, his yellow eyes eager and hungry.
Faith gasped and jabbed her branch at his chest, the way Buffy did. The guy couldn't stop himself on time. He was already mid-jump. He hit the pointy end of the stick. Faith felt it pierce his clothes, his skin – his heart...
There was a poof! and he was gone. Dust swirled on the breeze for a second. Faith closed her eyes and threw the branch down. She didn't know how the dusting worked, but that guy was dead. Was it that easy to kill a guy? Was that what made her a murderer?
Then why did it feel so good?
Buffy unlocked the dorm room gingerly. Her hand shook. The key rattled in the lock. Buffy gripped the door knob and closed her eyes. Willow had been gone a lot lately, studying or practicing spells with someone from her Wicca group. Buffy had hoped she'd be out tonight, but through the door Buffy could hear the click of keys from Willow's laptop. It sounded like Willow was working on the encryption and getting nowhere fast. She wouldn't be going anywhere soon. Damn. Buffy opened the door and tiptoed in. After their argument this afternoon, the last thing she wanted to do was annoy Willow further.
Buffy sat on the end of her bed and lay back. Sweat trickled down her temples into her hair. She concentrated on her breathing, trying to calm down. The patrol had been intense. She'd felt – watched. Hunted. Ordinary vamps didn't have that effect. There was only one thing that did. One person. It couldn't have been Faith, though. Buffy had left her at home. There was no way it had been Faith out there. She was still weak. She didn't know she was the slayer, or that she was the One Girl In All The World. It was better that way. If Faith knew, she'd run away, or go crazy, or try to kill them all, or something.
Hell, she might do something crazy anyway. Faith wasn't the type to wait patiently for explanations. Even with amnesia, that was still clear. Buffy hated the look in Faith's eyes that said she thought everyone was against her. That she was alone, and helpless, and still trying to come out on top. The only thing Faith knew how to do was fight. And why? Because Faith had never known a time when she was safe, when she didn't have to fight.
Maybe last year. Maybe, one or two times, when Buffy was patrolling with her, Faith had seemed genuinely happy. She still talked incessantly about sex or dancing. She wasn't as cynical, though, and not as bitter. She would tease Buffy gently, without the sarcastic edge that was all Willow and Xander ever saw. Those patrols were the best Buffy could remember. The low-level awareness of Faith's presence, a more or less constant thing, would flare and shine with Faith's satisfaction. And she'd feel –
What she'd felt tonight in the cemetery. The quick blaze of excitement that came when she'd finished off those four vamps. One had gotten away. Buffy groaned a bit, wiggling on the bed. She should have had him. The feeling of being watched had distracted her just enough to let him go. She'd been left hanging. She wanted the kill. It was her fault she'd missed. Heat spilled through her, and she lost concentration. That warmth came from Faith. And Faith was back, that was all. Safely at home, but awake nonetheless. Hurt, and weak, but alive...
Oh, God, Faith was alive.
Alive. Buffy felt like she couldn't breathe and like a huge weight had been lifted off her chest at the same time. She wasn't a murderer – she hadn't become Faith after all. But Faith was back. With all the hurt and broken friendships Buffy had though she could forget forever. Faith had betrayed her, and how could she leave Faith alone with her mother? Faith the killer. Faith the psycho.
Faith, the girl she'd stabbed, the girl she'd almost killed. Faith, wounded and vulnerable and as open as she'd ever been because she didn't know any better, didn't know what was really going on. There was no way to keep everything from her. Faith would figure it out. And then what? Would they be enemies again?
If Faith went bad, Buffy knew she wouldn't be able to stop her. That fight, eight months ago – every move, every punch, every strategy was burned into her brain. Buffy couldn't do that again. She couldn't kill Faith, not again, not for real. And if she told Faith the truth, then that's what it would come to. Buffy had to change things, to make them better. How? Faith didn't trust her. Who would, after the way they'd all treated her today? There was simply no way out. Tell Faith the truth, and lose her forever. Keep her in the dark, and drive her away.
Buffy opened her eyes. Willow was still typing. She was ignoring Buffy as much as she could. She was used to these post-patrol rituals of Buffy's. Buffy shed her inner Slayer like she was taking off a coat, but it took concentration, effort. Every night she had to shove down those uncontrollable urges Faith had mentioned earlier.
The urges were always more uncontrollable when Faith was around. Tonight, slaying those vamps, Buffy had nearly melted from the sensation. God, why couldn't Willow be at her friend's place tonight? Buffy seriously needed to get rid of some tension.
She had to go back home soon. There'd be no relief then. Giles and Mom thought she was checking up with Willow on the Initiative after her patrol. She was actually escaping Faith. Buffy would never be able to touch herself when Faith was within sensing distance. Faith had never been shy about letting her know she'd fuck anything that walked on two legs. "As long as they're breathing," she'd told Buffy once, "which is a higher standard than you seem to have, so really, I don't know why everyone thinks I'm the naughty one here."
Buffy quickly shook that image out of her head. She sat up and sighed. Willow glanced over her shoulder.
"How's it going?" Buffy asked, waving vaguely at Willow's laptop. She didn't understand what Willow was trying to accomplish, at least, not beyond "Initiative computers bad, sneaking in good."
Willow twisted her face into an apologetic grimace. "It's going perfectly, if our plan was to see if my eyeballs really could turn into cubes," she said. She closed the laptop and twisted around to face Buffy, resting her chin on her chair back, pouting slightly at her failure. "How was patrol? Are there lots of little piles of dust out there getting together to organize a Buffy Kicks Butt convention?"
"Four, at least," Buffy said. "But I think the convention was called off when they found out the hotel double-booked them with vacuum salesmen."
Willow gave her a look that was nearly an eyeroll. Buffy sighed. So they hadn't moved past the Faith thing by avoiding each other all afternoon. That meant they still had to talk it out. Just wonderful.
Willow got up and started cleaning the room, straightening things on her desk that were already at right angles and tucking an overhanging sock all the way into the laundry basket. Buffy hugged her pillow and watched. She wanted a shower, but if she left the room now, Willow would probably go to bed so that they could avoid this talk for another day. Buffy frowned. When was the last time they had really talked? About stuff that was important, not just Scooby business? Never, really, since Willow had baked guilt-cookies, just after Oz left. Buffy had Riley, and Willow had magic.
And now there was Faith. Standing between them. Again. Still.
"White elephant," Buffy said. It was almost a sigh.
Willow glanced over from where she was tucking her sheets in so tightly she'd probably have to become two-dimensional if she wanted to get into bed. "Huh?"
"In the room. You know, the one we're not talking about?"
Willow plopped down on her bed. "We talked this afternoon."
Buffy winced. "Yeah, but maybe we didn't listen."
Willow snorted. "Are you gonna listen this time when I say Faith shouldn't be staying with you?"
"No...probably not." Buffy ran a hand through her hair. Ick. Really, shower should be higher on the list. But, first, Willow. "I know you don't think so, but I can handle her. It's more the why – not the 'she tried to kill us' why, you know, the other why – the why that was why before she tried to kill you."
Willow's lips tightened. She hugged her knees, frowning fiercely at her bedspread. "It's nothing."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Then it's something. Can't we just –"
Willow flung herself down on her bed and curled up, facing the wall away from Buffy. "No."
Buffy opened her mouth, then closed it again. Willow sniffed – quietly, and normally Buffy would pretend she hadn't heard. But not over this. Buffy cautiously shifted her position. Silently, she moved across the room and sat down on Willow's bed. Willow tensed when she felt Buffy's weight on the mattress.
Buffy sat cross-legged and reached out a hand to stroke Willow's hair. "What did she do?" she asked.
"Willow, if Faith did something to you..."
Silence. Buffy could see tears running over Willow's nose.
"She really doesn't remember," Buffy said. "Giles says she might get her memory back, but she might not. I don't know about you, but if I woke up and everybody around me hated me, I'd want to know why." She sighed. Her fingers combed through Willow's hair, over and over, soothing. "She's so...alone. Before, you know, she had me...sort of. I mean, I had you guys, but it's..." Different. Buffy tried to find words that wouldn't make Willow feel worse. No matter how much help Willow and Xander were, with research or getting donuts or magic or even as bait, they still didn't know what it was to be the superhero. It was lonely. And, for those few months with Faith, it...hadn't been. They argued and fought and disagreed, but Faith understood. Willow understood her, too, but not about the Slayer stuff. And not always about Angel, either – Faith always knew, and Faith always told the truth, even if it was awful. Even if it hurt. "Faith thought she only had me," Buffy said. "I guess I never got that before. But if she hurt you, Will, if she did something to you...you're my best friend, you know that, right?"
"Yeah." It came out shaky. Willow shifted a bit. "She didn't do anything. Not like – not like you think. It...it doesn't matter."
"It matters to me." Stroke. Stroke. Staring out the window. It was a full moon. Somewhere, out there, Oz was wolfing out. But he was gone. And maybe Willow was still hurting over that. When was the last time Buffy had checked to see how she was doing? Last year, it was the same thing. Buffy must have really missed a lot. So wrapped up in Angel that she didn't see whatever had caused this big crack between Willow and Faith. She knew Willow didn't like Faith. It was partly her fault, for getting caught up in that warm, tingly togetherness, the rightness of slaying with Faith. They were both jealous of any time Buffy spent with the other one. But she couldn't cut herself in half. She couldn't be that girl for everyone.
"Buffy..." Willow stumbled over her name. She was nervous. Buffy could feel a babble-fest coming.
"Yeah?" Quiet. Calm. Tell me what's wrong. Tell me where we lost each other.
"Have you ever had...um, like, feelings, the kind of feelings that are – feelingy, but you didn't know if they were the real feelingy or just, maybe, friendship, like good friends feelingy?" Willow looked up hopefully.
"I guess," Buffy said cautiously. Had Willow finally found someone after Oz?
"Maybe...they make you feel good, and when you look at them you think 'wow', but you know everybody's gonna think they're pretty much the wrongest person for you?"
"I haven't forgotten Parker yet, Will."
Willow squirmed. "Not that kind of wrong. The kind where you...I mean, have you ever felt – like that – about someone who was less than guy-like?"
Buffy's hand froze. She could hear Faith's voice, teasing and dark. "You ever get that good, down-low tickle?" Watching Faith pump her hips and grunt, Buffy's body had immediately provided her with a perfect example of the feeling in question. She blushed. Was this what had Willow so upset? "I am not attracted to Faith!" she protested.
Willow's eyes widened. "Not Faith – me!"
Buffy backed up. She nearly fell off Willow's bed. "I don't feel that way about you, either!" She stared at Willow in horror. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry."
"I'm not hitting on you, Buffy!" Willow sat up, anger burning bright colors on her cheeks. "I'm telling you why I was mad at Faith. And this is why – she said – you're acting just like –" She clamped her mouth shut. "I wanted you to meet somebody. Who I maybe...like. A lot. But if you're...going to be like this...I'm just, I can't. I don't want to talk about it."
Buffy stood up. "I'm not acting like anything."
"You're acting like I just told you I had leprosy." Willow spread her arms. "This is me! Lesion-covered Willow! Infectious and rotting!"
"I don't – you just, you caught me by surprise. I'm sorry." Buffy sat down on her own bed. Willow likes girls. No, Willow likes a girl. Buffy tried not to feel weird about it. It didn't work. She'd brought up the white elephant in the room and now it was stampeding through her brain. "And...Faith knew?" she asked. How awful with that? Willow was her best friend, and Faith knew while she didn't?
"Not exactly." Willow calmed down and sat across from her. "Faith told me."
"She...told you..." Buffy shook her head.
"She said, out of the blue one day, no reason, she just was in the library and she told me I didn't really love Oz. And I got upset and tried to leave and she just called after me, 'Trust me, when you find her, you'll know Wolfy was just about having a boyfriend in a band.' And...I hated her for that, because...it was Oz, you know?" Willow sniffled and pushed her tears back with the heel of her hand. "And now...I guess, she's right, and when I saw her today, and I was already thinking about telling you...it just. All came back." She glared at Buffy. "Plus I'm still not forgetting the holding-a-knife-to-my-throat thing, because being a hostage? Not the warm-fuzzy feeling you'd expect."
Buffy nodded. She didn't know what to say. Willow had shocked her, but it was wearing off. She wondered how Faith had known. What had Buffy missed seeing? Maybe it was just that Faith had been known to – again in her words – "scratch the itch" with whoever was handy. Faith knew, because Faith liked girls. Buffy thought again of Faith's teasing, Faith's flirting...but, that was so the wrong direction for her thoughts to be headed right now. "So," she said. "Who did you want me to meet?"
"Tara," Willow whispered, subsiding a bit.
"From your Wicca group, Tara?"
"Well...okay. Yes. I want to meet her. I want you to, um...follow your heart. But in a less Afterschool Special kind of way." Buffy smiled. "And, with Faith...can you be okay with her? I mean, if she recovers, and she...hates us...that's different. But, for now?"
Willow shrugged. She looked down for a minute. "It's not that I don't want to give her a chance, Buffy. I know she's sick, and hurt, and all that. But we've given her lots of chances, haven't we?"
"Maybe not." Buffy struggled with her words. She kept having to face this issue over again. But with Faith being memory-loss girl, it just kind of changed the way she saw it. "We never gave her a chance this time. Because she was meeting us for the first time and already the deck was stacked against her." Buffy sighed. "I don't know, Will. I just want her to understand. Maybe none of us can forgive each other if she doesn't know what she's done, but if she remembers, I want us to be able to."
Willow sent her a pained glance. "If she remembers –"
"Then she'll probably run," Buffy finished. "Or kill me. I know."
"I know you can handle her, Buffy. I do trust you that much."
I don't trust myself that much, Buffy thought, but she didn't say it. It would hurt so much if Scared Faith turned into Psycho Faith...if Buffy had to face her as an enemy. Again. "I'm going to take her shopping tomorrow, maybe get her used to...things," she said. "Did you want to – ?"
"Join you? Buffy, I'm trying, okay, but that's a bit much. I'll try and talk to Xander, though." Willow climbed to her feet. "It's late. Riley called before, he said he'd drop by after his patrol. He'll probably be here soon."
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "And I'm all stinky."
"They say the course of true love never runs smooth," Willow said in her snootiest voice.
Buffy grinned. This was good. They'd talked, they hadn't wigged, and things were better. "Right. Shower for me." She tossed on her robe and grabbed her toiletries, then headed for the bathroom.
The hot water reminded her how tired she was. Buffy worked shampoo through her hair, feeling the pleasant ache in her muscles that told her she'd had a good patrol, a good fight. Stepping back under the spray, she stood there, feeling the needles of water heat her skin, rinsing the soap away. She cast her mind back to the cemetery. If only that one kick had connected...she could have snapped the fifth vampire's neck, maybe even decapitated him, if she'd been a hair quicker. Buffy reached for the conditioner. The slayage had been good, though. Better than good. Buffy squeezed the conditioner into her hair, rubbing at the small, tense knots in the back of her neck at the same time. She'd been on top of her game. Five at once was pretty steep odds, even for her. But she'd felt...smooth, practiced, perfect. In sync with the world. And – watched. Like she was in the Olympics, the way Faith had joked once. The world's eyes on her, admiring her, somehow in tune with her.
Buffy sighed and ran her hands down her body. The air was thick with steam, the shower almost too hot. The bath gel was slick on her skin. Her body was tingling again, the way it did when –
When Faith was watching her. When their Slayer connection flared up with Faith's attention, her appreciation.
Buffy's breath caught in her throat. Don't think about Faith. She didn't stop herself from bringing her hands up to her breasts, sliding her palms over her nipples. They were hard, slippery with the gel. God, this was what she needed, what her body had been demanding since the end of the slay...when the too-familiar feeling washed through her. The one she'd denied to Willow, packaged up and stored in the back of her mind where she didn't have to think about it.
I am not attracted to Faith!
Faith, stretched out on her bed, her shirt sliding up...showing her flat stomach dipping below her ribs, the flare of her hips under the too-loose pants. Her breasts moving up and down with every breath...
Buffy pinched her nipples, sighing. The electric feeling speared through her body. Her legs felt weak, her pussy throbbing. She reached down to touch her clit, the bath gel mixing with her own wetness. Buffy ran her finger up and down her slit, slow and hard, feeling her body twitch each time.
Shouldn't be thinking about Faith. Think about...Riley. Or Angel. Or even fucking Parker.
Buffy tipped her head forward and bit down on a moan. It was no good. Faith filled her mind, dancing, strutting, teasing her. Grinning, her full lips inviting Buffy to give in, go bad –
"Fuck!" Buffy yanked her hands away from herself and hit the wall of the shower stall. She was not going to come while thinking about Faith. Faith was just...on her mind. With the waking up and the returning to her life and the completely messing up her head.
Buffy wrenched the taps closed and toweled off quickly, trying to convince her body that it should be satisfied. She was flushed, her pulse throbbing on the surface of her skin. Her pussy ached, wanting to take up where she'd left off. It wouldn't happen.
Of course Riley was waiting for her when she got back to the room. Buffy blushed guiltily when she saw him, but she forced herself to smile and kiss him quickly. He grinned and ran his hand down over her ass, then stepped back. "I'll wait in the lounge," he said. "You're coming over, right?"
There were a thousand excuses at the tip of Buffy's tongue. She had a load of homework. She was exhausted. She had to get back home. She was worried about Faith.
Faith. Faith sleeping down the hall in the guest bedroom. Faith wearing Buffy's clothes...or, maybe, not wearing Buffy's clothes.
"Of course," Buffy told him. "I'll just be a minute."
Buffy dawdled over getting dressed, until Willow asked if she had lost something.
"No. I'm going. It's just –" There was no good way to explain. A single Really Big Conversation per night was plenty. "I wanted to know when I'm going to meet Tara."
Distracting Willow was that easy. She blushed. "Uh...tomorrow night? The Bronze?"
"Okay. Great. Well..." Buffy stared around the room. No more delays. "Great. See you then."
Riley held her hand as they walked through the dark campus to Lowell House. His meaty hand was sweating, and Buffy felt lost in his grip. When had this happened? She used to like his size – his broad shoulders, his chest, his farmboy grin. Now there was something claustrophobic in standing next to him. Buffy looked up at his smug smile and tried to figure out how she'd never noticed how tall he was.
"So," he said, smiling down at her, his eyes twinkling. Buffy realized he thought he'd just caught her checking him out. "Is everything settled at your place?"
Buffy gave an uncomfortable shrug. "We don't know. Faith still doesn't remember anything. I don't know how long she'll be there."
"Well, as long as you don't help her too much," Riley said. "Not that you shouldn't try to help, but don't forget about yourself. School. Patrolling."
"You?" Buffy asked drily.
Riley grinned. "Well. Yeah."
"Don't worry," Buffy said. "Faith is taken care of. She's under control."
"Good." Riley paused and bent down to kiss her. "Because I wouldn't want to lose you. You do so much as it is..."
"Yeah," Buffy said. At least his kiss was beginning to remind her why she'd come to Lowell with him.
As soon as they were in his room, he wrapped his arms around her. Buffy fought the urge to kick herself free. His mouth was rough where he hadn't shaved, his lips eager and sloppy. He tugged her by the hand towards his bed. He knew she was usually happy to go along with him after they'd both patrolled. Buffy kissed him back, trying to find a rhythm with his too-large body. He used his fingers and his mouth, and it felt good – to a point. Buffy rolled him over and got on top, which usually worked for her. She shifted, trying to find the angle that would make everything tip from pretty good to simply amazing. Riley was starting to get desperate, but he was trying to hold back and wait for her. Like a gentleman. Buffy could have cried in frustration. She wanted this. She needed this.
She wasn't getting any closer.
This was horrible.
Faith would probably laugh at her.
Faith would probably know what to do.
Faith would –
Buffy gasped and came before she knew what was happening, burying her mouth against Riley's collarbone to stop herself from crying out anybody's name. Riley let go a second later. He snuggled up next to her afterwards, murmuring "I love you," into her hair.
Buffy stayed awake in the beefy trap of his arms, thought about Faith, and wondered what the hell was going on.
Faith crept back into Buffy's house. The lights were out. Joyce must have believed Faith was safely asleep. Faith trudged upstairs to the guest bedroom. She turned her back on the watching African masks and skinned out of Buffy's clothes. The sheets were crisp and cool. Faith lay in bed, arms crossed behind her head. She'd spent eight months of her life asleep. After what she'd seen tonight, she didn't think she'd ever sleep again.
She had killed a man. It wasn't all her fault. He'd attacked her, apparently without reason. Maybe he was a criminal, maybe he was a complete wacko. It didn't matter. Faith had stabbed him. She'd watched how Buffy did it, and it looked so easy. When Faith jabbed the branch into the guy's chest, it felt like it was what she had been born to do.
Buffy had said something about that, earlier, in the kitchen with Joyce and Giles. That Faith had a destiny. That she would get off on slaying.
And Buffy did too. Faith didn't question that for a second. She could feel it through the shimmering contact of their bond. She saw Buffy's ragged breathing, that not just the fight could account for. Faith smelled it in the night air. That scent – Buffy's arousal – it was another teasing familiarity. Part of her memory itched to tell her what was going on. The harder she pushed, the further away the memories seemed. Faith felt blocked. Trapped.
She had thought it would be so easy to start fresh. She wanted to be someone new. Not the killer everyone accused her of being. Yet here she was, with blood on her hands. Sort of. Dust, anyway.
And if she could forget the killing for a minute, there was the fact that they guy had disappeared. Turned to dust and blown away. Faith couldn't ignore the freaky stuff anymore. Her sight, scent, hearing, strength – all of them were enhanced. This thing with Buffy. And the magic vanishing dead guy.
The moonlight moved across the artwork on the walls. Faith closed her eyes. All around her were the threads of a mystery. None of them was close enough to touch.
And at the center of it all was Buffy. Faith could feel the ghost of her touch even now. Buffy was lying to her, about so many things, but Faith felt like Buffy didn't want to be. As if there was something larger that she didn't dare reveal. There was so many things behind Buffy's eyes, half-hidden emotions that Faith didn't know what to do with. Somehow, Buffy reached into Faith's heart and triggered feelings that were almost memories. It was all so confusing, but Faith knew – she knew – that when she was watching Buffy fight, she loved what she saw.
Loved, and feared...
When Joyce called her for breakfast, Faith dragged herself out of a restless sleep. She rubbed her eyes and tried to hold on to the fragments of her dream. Something about Buffy...kissing her forehead, and whispering in her ear...
"Thank you, Faith. You saved me...and I'm so sorry..."
By the time Faith showered and hauled on a fresh set of Buffy's handmedowns, it was already fading. Joyce fixed her with a motherly eye when she slumped into the kitchen and sat at the island.
"How are you feeling today, Faith?" Joyce brought over a pot of coffee and set a mug in front of her. "Black, three sugars, right?"
Faith wrapped her hands around the mug while Joyce poured. "Sure. Whatever."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I should let you remember on your own." Joyce sighed. She set the coffee down and ran a hand through Faith's hair.
"Not that that's working out so great," Faith muttered, trying not to sound too bitter. She took a drink of the coffee, fast enough to scald her tongue. The sugar was definitely a good idea.
"You just need to have a little patience," Joyce said, returning the pot to its place under the percolator. "You've already remembered more than you know." She turned around and leaned on the island opposite Faith, crossing her arms. She met Faith's eyes. "The doctors never expected you to wake up at all," she said. "You've beaten so many odds...if it takes a few days to get your memories back, it's not because they aren't coming."
Faith nodded. She traced a finger over the pattern on the coffee mug. "You really figure, huh?"
"Yes. I do."
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Then why won't you just tell me? Save the middleman or whatever."
Joyce tipped her head. "It's not my place. And, I don't know everything that you would want to know."
"So wait for Buffy to get over herself." Faith made a disgusted noise. "'Cause that's gonna happen sometime in the next century."
"Buffy has been my daughter for nearly nineteen years," Joyce said. "And if there's one thing I can say, it's that it might take a while, but usually, she can and does 'get over herself'." She smiled. "Now, how about breakfast? Today, I've got toast, and there's also...toast."
Faith snickered. "Good choices." She took another gulp of the searing coffee. "Can I help?"
"Plates are in that cupboard...jam is in the fridge."
Faith set herself a place. Joyce put the toast in front of her. Faith had just started digging in when the front door opened and closed. A moment later, Buffy walked into the kitchen. She snagged a piece of toast from the toaster and munched it dry.
Faith concentrated on spreading jam on her own slice. Buffy was wearing the same clothes that she was last night in the graveyard. Faith's nostrils twitched. The scent of dust and dry sweat was obviously too faint for Joyce to notice, but for her it was a huge sign screaming that everything that happened last night was real. Buffy had showered – Faith could smell soap, as well, and her hair was shining clean – but the clothes were steeped in last night's fight, last night's lust.
Faith bit into her toast. The awkward silence that started when Buffy came home kept growing. Joyce fiddled with the coffee maker, adding fresh grounds. Buffy stared at Faith whenever she thought Faith wasn't watching, but Faith kept catching her. She looked frightened.
Scared of me, Faith thought. How could Joyce even think that they were going to get back to being 'good friends' or whatever they had been before? Buffy not only been horribly hurt, somehow, by Faith, but now she didn't trust her as far as she could throw her. Although, considering how far Buffy had thrown a few of those thugs last night, maybe it was even less than that.
"Sorry I didn't call," Buffy said, wiping crumbs off her shirt, carefully not meeting either her mom's or Faith's eyes. "I thought you'd be okay. I stayed at Riley's."
"That's nice. How is he?" Joyce asked brightly.
"Fine," Buffy mumbled. "So...anyway, I don't have class today, so I thought Faith and I could go shopping. She needs..." Buffy waved a hand at Faith's too-tight t-shirt and too-short pants. "Well. Everything."
"That sounds good. I'll get you some money." Joyce headed out of the room. Faith tensed, wishing she still had the barrier of her presence. Buffy seemed even more tense than she had been last night, if that was possible. But maybe Joyce was right. If they could get past this tension, break the ice...maybe there was potential for so much more between them.
Faith watched Buffy pour some coffee for herself, adding milk and sugar. "Rambo?" she asked.
Buffy turned around. "What?"
"I'm guessing my nickname for you, remember?" Faith started jamming another piece of toast. Then, with a malicious smirk, she asked innocently, "Shorty?"
Buffy glared. "No."
Faith licked a bit of jam off her knife. "Mmm. Um. Sugarmuffin?"
"No!" Buffy's glare cracked, and her lips twitched into a smile. "Where did that one come from?"
"I don't know. I'm just, y'know, covering a broad spectrum."
"It wasn't anything like –"
Faith held up a hand. "No hints." She paused to consider. "Do I get something when I guess? A reward?"
"I don't think so." Buffy brought her coffee to the island and sat across from Faith. "Nope. That definitely wasn't established in the rules."
"There are rules now?" Faith grinned. "And here I was thinking I was a rebel, the kind who doesn't play by the rules, just a little dangerous..."
"Yeah," Buffy said softly. "Yeah, you are that."
Faith pointed the knife at her. "Not fair."
Buffy's eyes focused on the knife. "I know."
Faith looked at the knife. She felt a flash of her dream, of pain and falling. She dropped the knife on her plate with a clatter. Faith shook her head, trying to regain her balance. "Jesus...Buffy –"
Buffy circled the island in a flash. Too fast for any ordinary human to do it, of course, but Faith knew that. She knew that Buffy was a freak. Hell, they both were.
Buffy put a hand on her shoulder, steadying her. "Are you all right?"
"Dizzy..." Faith squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them again. "It's nothing."
"It's not nothing. You were in a coma. Nothing is nothing." Buffy pressed her shoulder. Faith took a deep breath, feeling excitement seep through their contact. The world steadied in her vision. Faith stayed stock still, trying to extend for as long as possible Buffy's touch.
Joyce came back from the other room.
Buffy jumped back from Faith's side. Faith heard the hitch in her breath. "Mom!" she said.
Joyce looked up from where she was rummaging through her purse. "What?"
"Nothing. Sorry. Just – lunch money, too, okay?"
Joyce gave Buffy a glare. "You know, a part-time job wouldn't kill you."
"The one I have just might," Buffy said sweetly. She flinched, then looked at Faith.
"Fine. Lunch." Joyce handed over some cash.
"All right. I'll just get changed." Buffy smiled uncertainly at Faith. "You'll be ready?"
Faith nodded. What choice did she have? "Yeah."
As it turned out, shopping with Buffy wasn't as painful as she'd feared. Buffy had conned the use of her mom's Jeep, so the trip to the mall was short. Store after store, bag after bag, Faith's arms filled with clothes that fit. Buffy let her choose whatever she wanted, but Faith stayed away from the slutty clothes. She was going to dress like someone new, anyway, even if the rest of her stayed the same.
Around lunchtime, Faith's growling stomach finally put an end to the shopping spree. Buffy smiled at her.
"Okay, Faith, I get the message. I've just got one more thing to get. Meet me in the food court?"
"Great," Faith said. She was starved. She picked out the sign at the edge of the food court that led to the washrooms. She pushed through some swinging doors with her bags of clothes. Beyond, there was a back service corridor with the washrooms at the end.
As she was coming out, hauling her bags and grumbling about Buffy's shopping stamina, she heard the scrape of feet in the hallway behind her.
Faith turned sharply at the sound of the deep, gravely voice. She was getting used to strangers calling her that. She glanced over her shoulder. The hallway was deserted. Faith peered into the shadows. Someone was standing there – huge, muscle-bound, and...green?
"What do you want?" Faith challenged.
"I have a gift...from a mutual friend."
Faith tensed. She shifted position. It was too subtle for most people to notice, but Faith was getting used to this too – sliding into the perfect fighting stance, fists loose and ready, feet balanced, prepared to defend any attack and lash out at the same time. "Yeah?" she asked. "And who would that be, exactly?"
The hulking figure in the shadows backed up a step, an instinctive response to Faith's aggressive pose. Faith could see more of him now. He wasn't just green, he was also covered with scales. Horns rimmed the top of his skull. His mouth was full of sharp teeth, and a forked tongue shot out to wet them before he spoke again. "The boss," he said. "Take it."
He moved, and Faith barely controlled her preemptive strike. A package, tied with brown paper and tape, sailed out of the dark. Without taking her eyes off the monster, Faith snatched it out of the air with her left hand. It was hard and rectangular, with a bulge on one side that rattled when she caught it. "What is it?"
A hissing laugh. "Find out."
"Faith?" Buffy's voice, from the entrance to the hallway. "Are you done yet?"
Faith wrenched around, her heart pounding. She didn't want Buffy to know about this. If Buffy was going to keep secrets from her, then Faith sure as hell wasn't going to tell her that guys looking like horny toads were giving her mysterious packages in dark hallways. "Coming," she called. She turned back to the monster, but he was gone. At the end of the hall, the exit door closed with a clang.
Faith backed up slowly, just in case the ugly dude had backup. She slipped the 'gift' into one of her bags filled with clothes, stuffing it underneath two tops and a pair of jeans. With a final look around the corridor, she turned around and joined Buffy back in the food court.
"I was beginning to think you'd fallen in." Buffy reached out a hand for a few of Faith's bags.
Faith shook her head. "I got it."
"Okay." Buffy snaked her way through the lunch crowd. "Found a table," she said over her shoulder.
Faith followed her. Her mind was more on the monster than on Buffy. She squeezed the handle of the bag that hid the package. Now what? Like she didn't have enough puzzles right now. A gift from 'the boss'. Someone she'd known eight months ago, another forgotten name, forgotten face. Maybe she shouldn't even try to dig up the past. She was bad news back then. She could toss the package in the garbage and never think about it again.
But if she did that, then her only link to the past outside of Buffy would be lost. And Buffy still wasn't talking. Faith frowned at Buffy's back. If Buffy wouldn't tell her what she wanted to know, then she'd have to find another way to get her memory back – and some weirdo had just provided her with an opportunity she'd be stupid to turn down.
If only Buffy had been willing to answer her questions. If only Buffy trusted her. Faith sighed. There were way too many 'if onlys' in her life. She needed the information. She would have to go behind Buffy's back. There was no use feeling guilty about it. As soon as she was alone, she'd open the package.
Buffy led her to one of the tiny tables with the molded-plastic chairs. It was spread with more food than Faith thought they could eat in a week's worth of meals, let alone one lunch. Pulled back from her thoughts, she laughed. "You hungry or something, there, B?"
Buffy's eyes widened. "You did it!"
Faith paused, her burger halfway unwrapped. "Did what?"
"That's it. That's what you used to call me." Buffy's gaze was suspicious.
Faith squinted and thought back over their conversation. "B? That's it? That's the boringest nickname I ever heard." She shook her head. "You got that annoyed that I called you by your initial?"
"Well..." Buffy's face scrunched up uncertainly. Faith snickered. Buffy would probably whack her if she told her how cute she looked. "It was the way you said it."
"Uh-huh. Right. Well, I'll stick to Buffy if you want." Faith bit into her burger.
"No...it's okay." Buffy heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Whatever you want."
Faith laughed through her mouthful. "Fine. B it is."
Buffy blushed and smiled down at her own hamburger. Faith could hardly believe a simple nickname would affect her like that. Buffy's blush was absolutely adorable.
And where did she think she was going with thoughts like that? For one, Buffy had a boyfriend. She spent the night with him – it must be pretty hot and heavy. And besides that, they were not friends. Buffy didn't trust her. Faith was going to do an end-run around her and figure out what she wanted to know. She had the ability – and, apparently, she still had friends from before the coma. Mr. Green And Scaly might not be her first choice for a bosom buddy, but if he was going to tell her the truth, he had to be better than Buffy...
Except Faith wanted it to be Buffy.
Buffy pushed the remains of her hamburger aside. Faith realized she'd finished four while she was thinking. Obviously Buffy knew how much lunch to buy, after all.
She knew Faith so well.
Well, fuck her, if she didn't want to tell what she knew.
Buffy crumpled her garbage together and sat looking at the table for a minute. Faith could feel her nervousness. Her heart sped up, her hands felt cold. She dropped the last bite of her final burger. Buffy wanted to tell her something, but she didn't know how.
Maybe, at last...
"I got something for you," Buffy said. She smiled, like a sunrise, and Faith couldn't help but smile back. "Here."
Buffy slid a small black velvet box across the table. Jewelry? Faith held her breath. "What – ?"
Faith bit her lip. Slowly, she lifted the box and clicked it open. On the silk bottom there lay a necklace with a silver cross hanging from it. Faith pulled it out of the box. "It's beautiful...but..."
"Here – let me put it on." Buffy leapt up and moved behind Faith. Faith felt her body warm as Buffy stood behind her. Obediently, she brushed her hair out of the way and gave the necklace to Buffy.
Buffy's fingers skimming over her neck made Faith shiver. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She couldn't believe how much she was enjoying such a small touch. The necklace quickly warmed at the touch of her skin. Buffy fixed the clasp, then smoothed Faith's hair over it. Faith touched a finger to the cross. It fit in the hollow of her throat, just where her collarbones met. Buffy stood behind her for a moment longer before she abruptly moved back to her seat.
"It's..." Faith touched the cross again. "It's too much."
"No, it's, um...important," Buffy said. "I just – I wanted to –" She blushed. "Um, I wanted to get you something. Because, I'm sorry we've all been so..."
"Yeah." Faith felt her cheeks warm. Obviously the necklace wasn't just an apology. There was more to it than that. If Buffy didn't want to say...
Well, there was always the package. What Buffy didn't know about wouldn't hurt her.
Liar, Faith thought. She was hurt by what Buffy wasn't telling her.
"So, have you had enough shopping for one day?" Buffy asked.
"Are you kidding?" Faith tried to smile. It felt shaky. "I'm dead on my feet."
"Okay. Well, I have a lot of homework to do, so we can go home...you can hang out, watch movies, whatever, while I work. Then, tonight, I told Willow I'd meet her at the Bronze. It's a club. She's bringing a friend, and I thought maybe you'd want to go." Buffy hesitated, then added, "You love the Bronze."
"Sounds like a plan." Faith stood and grabbed her bags. "Let's go...B."
The ride home was quiet. Faith kept one hand on the bag that held her package. After Buffy pointed her to the living room and went upstairs to work, Faith took it out. The brown paper tore away easily. Inside, there was a video tape and a little metal gadget. It looked like a pair of scissors that someone had melted down and deformed, with too many finger-loops and a weird crystal thing in its center. She fiddled with it, finding a way for it to fit over her left hand. The crystal bit went in the center of her palm, the loops around her fingers and thumb. Faith glanced towards the stairs, then put the video in Buffy's VCR. She turned on the television on with the volume down low.
On the screen, there appeared a friendly looking guy sitting behind a desk. The nameplate said "Mayor Richard Wilkins III."
Wilkins. This was her guardian. The man Nurse Owens had told her was dead. Faith leaned towards the television. She wanted to cry. This was the man who should have come for her when she woke up. He obviously didn't hate her. She tried to make sense of what he was saying, but mostly, she watched his eyes. Friendly. Believing in her.
Wilkins stepped out from behind the desk. "Now, Faith," he said, "As I record this message you're, uh...sleeping. And the doctors tell me that you might never wake up. I don't believe that. Sooner or later, you will wake up and when you do, you'll find the world has gone and changed on you."
"No shit," Faith breathed. She stared at the gizmo on her hand. This was supposed to make the world a better place for her?
Funny how she didn't really trust the messenger. Too many weird things had happened in the last two days. The green monster in the hallway had raised her hackles. Last night in the cemetery she'd had the same feeling. All her inner voices were urging her to kill him, screaming that he was the enemy. Buffy might not be truthful, but at least she didn't set Faith's interior alarm off. Faith wanted to trust her.
Anyway, what could this stupid doohickey do? Change the world? Yeah, right. She didn't even know what to do with it.
"And, hey, just because it's over for my Faith, doesn't mean she can't go out with a bang!" On screen, Wilkins chuckled. The scene faded. Faith sighed and started to take off the thing on her hand.
Faith jumped. Buffy had crept up on her. "What?"
Buffy shook her head, unable to speak. Her green eyes filled with tears. "You –" she whispered. "You're still with him."
"With who?" Faith asked harshly. "I don't even know who he is –"
Rage filled Buffy's face. "I can't – I believed you didn't remember – and you were laughing at us, you played me –"
"No – Buffy, what the hell?"
"What is that?" Buffy made a grab for Faith's hand. Faith pulled away.
"A little parting gift from the Mayor? That's nothing?" Buffy's fists clenched. Without realizing what she was doing, Faith mirrored her, until they were staring at each other in the living room, both quivering on the edge of violence. "You bitch."
"You're so full of bullshit, Buffy!" Faith said. "You're a killer way more than I am! I saw you last night! Don't tell me that four guys disappearing is a regular night for you!"
"You followed me –"
"You didn't tell me anything! If this mayor guy will answer a few questions then I'm sure as hell going to listen –"
"I won't let you hurt my friends."
"Who said anything about –"
"Give it to me, Faith." Buffy held out her hand.
"What?" Faith took a step back. "No!" She'd beaten Buffy in the hospital...tossed her into a wall. She could do it again.
Buffy lunged for her. Faith tried to get out of the way, find a place to stand where she could pivot cleanly and send Buffy flying. Buffy was too fast. She grabbed Faith's hand to wrench the device away from her, and –
And there was a burst of light. Faith tried to gasp and couldn't breathe. She didn't have lungs. She didn't have a body. She was flying, dying, falling – just like all her dreams.