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  Part 5

Faith was curled up on B's bed, watching the bright afternoon sun fading to evening. The thoughts weren't as bad here, pretty much as far from the center of town as you could get in a small place like Sunnydale. Now all she could hear was the roar of crashing waves, like she had seashells pressed to her ears. It didn't hurt so bad--her head ached in a dull, pounding way. Every once in a while the power of the minds around hers would grow, or she'd forget to try and block them out, and then--then, she wanted to scream and scream and scream, anything to push aside that endless ebb and flow of every fucking word everyone in the whole goddamn county was thinking.

Faith had woken up when Giles had helped her stumble up the stairs and into B's room. It was weird trying to sleep here, in a room all pastel and frilly, knowing it was all B's stuff around her. It was sort of like being inside her thoughts, but not; like understanding everything about her and not able to figure out whether she wanted to know that much.

Mostly she was thinking about B's last thought.

I love you.

Every once and a while she'd feel or hear it again, like a memory, or like B's mind repeating it far away--she didn't know which--and she'd curl tighter around B's stuffed pig. Since when? The night everything had gone bad--that night, she'd seen it, maybe, but she'd ignored it because she figured there was no way it could be true. But B had told Red, obviously, and that made it way more real. Even if Red didn't approve, B was still thinking it.

And the feel of her mind when she thought it--

Downstairs, the murmur of Giles and Joyce's thoughts grew and faded in time with their conversation. Giles' mind was ordered, restrained, with occasional wild blooms of embarrassment or awkwardness that came whenever he remembered that Faith knew he and Joyce had knocked boots. Joyce was in a flurry of anxiety, wondering what she could do. Her thoughts felt like she was wringing her hands together over and over again. And sometimes she, too, would think about Giles and how he'd--

Whoa. Go G-man.

Faith raised her head when she felt B's mind getting closer. On the top of her thoughts was how she'd left Angel, the look in his eyes when she'd said it was over...

Oh, fuck.

This was serious, if B was dumping Angel over it. B was wondering if Oz and Xander had found the killer yet, or if Willow had found a cure, but mostly she was thinking about Faith--and her mind was practically blushing, knowing that Faith was hearing every word of it.

The front door opened, and Buffy said hello to her mom and Giles. They all came trooping up the stairs, hesitating outside the door, as if she wouldn't know they were out there.

"You guys coming in or what?" she finally called.

B opened the door, sticking her head around it like she wanted permission to come in to her own room. Even her thoughts were apologetic.

"Listen, I'm okay," Faith said. "You aren't going to break me."

The image that sprang to life in B's mind at those words was pretty flattering, if anatomically difficult to achieve without stretching first.

"Whoa, B," Faith said. She grinned and pushed herself up in the bed, but didn't say anything more, because if B's face got any redder, her head would probably explode. Plus, as long as she was keeping Giles' and Joyce's secrets, she didn't need to go around blabbing what a dirty mind B had.

"How are you feeling, Faith?" Joyce asked, folding her arms and peering at Faith. She looks the same as ever. I wish she would let us do more for her. She doesn't need to stay in that ratty motel.

"Not so hot," Faith said, choosing to let it slide that Joyce thought she was still living in her fleabag room. Looked like B hadn't been keeping the updates coming about her going over to the Mayor. She tapped her forehead. "It's getting kinda crowded in here."

"I'm returning to the library to help Willow research the problem," Giles said. "You've given us an accurate description of the demons in question, as well as where and when the incident occurred. I'm afraid that it's mostly a matter of time, now." I hope.

"Yeah, well, that whole serial killer thing is probably more important," Faith said. "Don't let Xander screw it up."

"Oz will keep an eye on him," B said. And it's not more important.

"That's sweet of you, B, but it's like Spock said. Good of the many and all that."

Giles and Joyce exchanged a glance, the kind that adults figured you shouldn't understand, but that quite clearly said, We're never going to understand them. They left the room, and soon after, Giles' car started up and drove away. Joyce started puttering around the kitchen, cleaning things that didn't need to be cleaned, and fretting.

B sat in a chair next to the bed and stared at the carpet like she'd never seen anything so fascinating in her life. I wonder what she's thinking. I wonder if it hurts too badly? Should I go away? I bet it's not much fun listening to me think. I'm babbling in my head. I want to hold her hand...hell, I want to do more than that...bad thoughts! Why isn't she saying anything? What if we can't find a cure? What if someone blows up the school tomorrow? Is that my tee shirt she's wearing?

Faith sighed. "So, this sucks, huh?"

"I can go if you want," B answered, too quickly.

"That's not what I meant." Faith picked at some imaginary lint on the bedspread. "Just--it's complicated."

B looked up but didn't say anything. Like that would make a difference. What's that supposed to mean?

"Giles said that thoughts can't lie," Faith said. "So I know you mean it."

"Yeah...well..." Buffy shrugged. I didn't want you to know, you're all get some and get gone, and now this...I'm sorry.

Faith winced. "Since when?"

"I don't know." Since we killed Kakistos together and you cried and we went and ate Denny's until we dropped...you sat across the table from me and looked so confident after everything that had happened to you. And I didn't know it then, or I didn't want to, but when we went slaying together and told Will and Xander that we were just good friends--and you put your arm around me--I knew.

"Oh." Faith hesitated. "If you were the one who had this goddamn aspect thing, I guess you'd know how I feel. But, shit, B, even I don't know right now. Two days ago the Boss--the Mayor--could have said to mess you up and I wouldn't have argued. But that was just--I was so fucked up about Alan, and I know I have to deal with it. Somehow."

Buffy nodded. I'm sorry I blamed you for that...we were together in it, I shouldn't have let you be alone afterwards. "But you--" you like me, in a more-than-friends way? You want me?

"Yeah," Faith said, her voice ragged and husky. B wanted her, and it turned her on like nobody's business, but B was still worried that she'd up and leave before tomorrow if they made love. "I won't go," she said. "I promised you."

I believe you. B reached out, hesitantly, then took her hand, brushing her fingertips over Faith's palm. She makes me feel all shivery...

As soon as B touched her, Faith felt her thoughts go crystal clear. All the other voices faded away, and with them, some of the pain. B was nervous, excited, but mostly Faith felt the want you that was lust and love and happiness and who the hell knew what all, all sort of squashed together in her mind. It was like she and Buffy were the same person, almost, because they were both together and she could feel what B wanted and

She's so beautiful

she wanted it too, because

what it would be like to kiss her? Her lips are so sexy, it's not fair

she'd been thinking these thoughts for about as long as she could remember, and now they were doubling and redoubling in her head and B was

so wet just from holding her hand

fucking hot.

"Wow," Faith said, her breath coming in gasps. "Oh, God, really?"

B's blush was answer enough. Her eyes darkened, and she licked her lips, moving her fingertips in swirling shivery patterns up and down Faith's forearm. Please, Faith...

Faith grabbed her hand and gave a Slayer-strength yank, and suddenly B was

on top of her, yay! She's so soft. Got to get these blankets out of the way--I want to touch her--please don't let Mom hear, because eew, and oh, is that her hand? Yes...she's

pushing up B's shirt and getting it out of the way. Faith scrabbled out from under the covers even though she's not wearing pants. She twisted B around, getting on top, sucking her nipples through the lace of her bra. B felt it

Yes, that's so good, please don't stop

all the way down between her thighs, like Faith's mouth on her breast was connected straight to her clit, and Faith whimpered against B's skin because she was feeling it double, once as the press of B's knee into her crotch, next as the wonderment in B's mind as she bit her lip to keep from yelling

oh fuck Faith!

Faith grinned that B would say in her head what would never pass those cherry-gloss lips. She unhooked the bra and flung it away, ran her hands over B's breasts, feeling the uneven hitch of B's breath. B got a hand behind her head and pulled her down for

the most amazing kiss I've ever felt, God she's good. Tastes like cigarettes and toothpaste. Mmm, get that shirt off her, quick, I want her, want

to suck on Faith's lower lip. B caught it in a playful bite, her hands shoving at the skin-tight tee Faith had taken from one of her drawers. Faith grunted but broke the kiss long enough to pull the shirt over her head, smiling at B's


appreciation. B grinned back, you don't know how long I've wanted to look without getting caught, you were always looking to see if anyone was checking you out.

"Because I figured you were," Faith said, and was surprised at the sound of her own voice. B lifted her hands and ran her fingers lightly over her breasts. She

can't believe I'm doing this, but just look at her, she's

going crazy wanting more. Faith moved closer, kissing B again, working her hands down to unzip B's pants. She pushed one hand down the front of her panties to feel the slick heat, curling her fingers to press the heel of her palm into

oh GOD

the exact right place. B whimpered into her mouth, bucking her hips, her jeans rasping against the back of Faith's hand, and

right there, oh right there...

moving her hands down to Faith's hips to return the favour. Faith twisted to let her closer, the frantic sound of B's thoughts making her give up any idea of this being slow or romantic because

got you now. Feel that? Is that good? I hope I'm doing this right, you're so tight, oh, there--there--

"Yes...B--" Faith let her head drop and squeezed her eyes shut. She rubbed her hand up and down the front of B's pants, pinching her clit and teasing the top of her hole. She was feeling only B's fingers buried deep inside her and B's mind writhing farther and farther away from thought until all that was left was

Faith oh god yes please please harder ah--FAITH--

and there were no thoughts, none, she was empty and flying but she could feel B flying with her and she clenched down on B's fingers and at the same time B's mind stuttered to a halt and there was nothing, and it was good

so good

and she was nearly ripped out of her skull with pleasure. She kissed B and B was

kissing her

and they came back together. B's mind was still trembling with aftershocks, little nerve-bundles firing randomly, and she was tired and warm and happy and she

love you, Faith

and Faith knew it was true, it was all true.

"I love you too," she said, dropping a kiss into the hair at B's temple.

B's mind filled with a sort of wild joy, and Faith hugged her tight. She fell asleep in B's arms and dreamed of drowning in an ocean of thoughts.

Part 6

Faith's thrashing woke Buffy up the next morning. She was feverish, and when Buffy called her name, she opened her eyes but didn't seem to see anything.

Buffy wanted to stay--to hold her, to protect her--but it would do no good; and besides, she'd made a promise. She dressed quickly, slipped out of the house, and headed for school.

The lunch bell was ringing as Buffy ran across the field, looking wildly around her. Everything seemed normal, students eating lunch, tossing Frisbees, lounging around the quad. She looked upwards and saw a glint of light in the bell tower, the shadow of someone peering down into the courtyard. The face was familiar--a guy she'd seen around, but never taken much notice of--Jonathan. He moved again, and she saw the gun in his hands. There was their murderer.

Buffy sprinted across the quad and hopped up on the banister of the wide stone staircase. She ran up the banister, balancing easily, and jumped for the roof. She got a one-handed grip on the rain gutter and swung up to catch a better hold. With a flip, she heaved herself up on to the roof. She scrambled across the tiles, heading for the bell tower, and leapt straight through the rough boards that covered its nearest window. Jonathan started and jerked his rifle around, pointing it at her, looking like a rabbit caught in the sudden glare of headlights.

"Jonathan," she said, fear and excitement charging through her. Her Slayer-instinct told her to rip the gun out of his hands, but she took a breath and held out a hand to him, palm up. "Please. It's not worth it."

He snorted derisively. "How would you know?"

"No matter what they've done, they don't deserve to die, Jonathan," she said, keeping her hands steady with an effort.

"Die?" He backed up a step or two, the bullet casings clinking around his feet. "You thought I was going to shoot everybody?" He sounded offended at the suggestion.

"You mean...you weren't?" she asked, confused. "Then why are you up here with an assault rifle?"

He seemed as bewildered as she was at the question. "I was going to kill myself," he said.

"Oh." Buffy stepped towards him. "No...Jonathan...please. You don't want to do this..."

"You don't know what I want," Jonathan said. Tears slipped slowly down his cheeks. "You're so perfect, you probably wouldn't even care if I did it, you're just saying that because you think you're supposed to."

"It's not like that," Buffy said. "I want to help you. Give me the gun."

"No!" His fingers whitened where they held the barrel. "Get away from me!"


"Stop saying my name like we're friends!" Jonathan lifted the weapon and pointed it at her, its tip shaking slightly but still aimed directly at her chest. "We're not friends. You never even talked to me before--"

"I know..." Buffy held still, her hands out. Jonathan was sweaty and pale, his eyes jumping from her face to the gun to the door. Buffy knew she could grab the rifle away from him, but something stopped her--something about the fear and hurt in his dark eyes. She said, slowly, "You know, Jonathan...I'm not perfect. I have this friend, Faith--"

"The one from the Bronze?" Jonathan asked, his grip loosening slightly on the rifle.

Buffy nodded. "She's very sick..." She felt the tears pushing at her throat, burning behind her eyes, but she forced the words out: "Dying, maybe." She looked out the wide casement to the quad below them, where everyone was enjoying just one more sunny Sunnydale day, eating lunch, fooling around. Their voices drifted up to the bell tower, but she couldn't hear words, just the sound of it, one wide wash of conversation. She wondered if that's how it felt for Faith--so much noise, but nothing left to make sense.

"Yeah, well--" Jonathan shoved the rifle higher again. "Why should I care about her? She never even noticed me...nobody does."

Buffy sighed. "A while ago...Faith did some terrible things. And she thought that they were so bad that we could never forgive her--so bad that we'd stop caring about her. So she left us. She went away, but we--I still thought about her, you know?"

"So?" Jonathan said it harshly, but she could see him faltering.

"So, we never talked about it--about what she'd done. But when she got sick, she came back, and--and she knew that I still cared for her." Buffy paused, then said more softly, "That I loved her." Outside the window, everything was too bright, too perfect--the green grass and the cloudless sky. When she looked back, Jonathan was staring at her wide-eyed. "And if she'd stayed away for good I wouldn't be able to tell her that," she said. "If she hadn't come back, I'd hate myself for never...letting her know...before it was too late." She walked to the window embrasure and leaned on the sill, staring down at the students. "All those people down there--they all have things like that, things they feel but they'd never say. And if you did it, if you killed yourself, I bet you'd be surprised how many of them would hate themselves. You might not know who, but they care. They do."

"I'm sorry," Jonathan said. "About your friend."

"Yeah..." Buffy turned around and stepped slowly towards him. "So...will you give me the gun?"

Without waiting for an answer, she took another step forward, and another, until she felt the cold metal of the barrel in her palm. Jonathan swallowed hard, his shoulders slumped, and he let go of the stock. Buffy ejected the round from the chamber, and the cartridge landed on the floor with a loud chink.

"You know I could have taken this from you?" she asked quietly.

"Yeah," Jonathan said. They stared at each other for a moment, then Jonathan knelt down and started gathering up the scattered bullets. Buffy broke down the gun and packed it in its case.

He passed her the bullets and watched her close the case. "You really...I mean--you probably trust me, huh? To tell me all that?"

"I guess I do," Buffy said. "You seem like a trustworthy guy."

"Well..." He smiled a little. "Thank you."

Buffy returned the smile. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

She followed him down the rickety staircase that led them back to the courtyard. She tried to pass him the rifle case, but he shook his head, again with that small smile. "I've got to go," she said. "I'm sorry."

"I know...you have to save the world, right?"

"Yeah," she said wryly. "That's it."

Jonathan nodded, as if all his suspicions had been confirmed. "I figured."

Buffy took off at a run, the rifle weighing her down. She headed for the library, hoping that Willow or Giles would finally have a clue. If not--

But she didn't want to think about if not.

She was passing the cafeteria when she heard Xander's shout, and she skidded to a halt.

"Poison! The food's been poisoned! She's trying to kill us all!"

Buffy rolled her eyes but changed direction, slamming through the cafeteria doors. Xander was rushing from table to table, shoving trays and lunches to the floor. As Buffy made her way to him, the lunch lady exploded out of the kitchen with a giant meat cleaver in her hands. She barreled towards Xander, lifting the cleaver over him. Xander tripped over a fallen chair and sprawled beneath her, raising his arms defensively. Buffy shoved past the last few people in her way and swung the rifle case at the lunch lady's head, clonking her a good one to the temple. She dropped like a pole-axed steer, whatever that was, and Buffy caught the meat cleaver before it could embed itself in Xander's forehead. Xander lay on his back, eyes squeezed shut, muttering, "I told you so. I told you so. I told you so," over and over again like a prayer.

"You did," Buffy said. "Giles will probably have a heart attack. We'll rename it 'Xander Was Right Day' and have an annual parade in your honour. But, Xander?"

Xander opened one eye and squinted up at her. "Yeah?"

"You're lying in the Mushroom Surprise." Buffy gave him a hand and pulled him to his feet. "Did you guys find anything?"

"We thought it was Freddy, at first," Xander said. "I was looking for him when I saw the Jell-O...uh, I mean, the lunch lady making strychnine into secret sauce."

"Did you find anything that might help Faith?"

"Oh. Right." Xander brushed at a noodle on his shirt. "Willow and Giles are checking something out--they think they almost have it..."

Buffy was running again before he'd managed to finish his sentence.

In the library, Willow was sitting at the table, Giles hovering above her and reading over her shoulder. "Buffy!" Willow said. "I think we've found it."

"What is it?" Buffy asked. "What do we have to do?"

"Ridiculously simple when you see the answer, like most puzzles," Giles said, hefting the thick volume Willow had been reading. "Mythical transubstantiation has long been one of the more common aspective sacraments, and--"

"Time becoming an issue," Buffy said to rush him along. "Will?"

"Faith needs to eat the heart of the second demon," Willow explained.

"Oh, yeah, dead simple, once you figure it out," Buffy muttered. She opened the door of the book cage, reaching for her favourite throwing knife and a serrated dagger.

Willow followed after her, reading from the sheaf of notes she'd taken. "There's no ritual preparation or incantations," she said. "You just need to carve out the heart and bring it to her. And we know Faith found them in Shady Glens Cemetary originally, but that she chased them to the playground near Restfield afterwards. You've got to make sure you don't get any blood on yourself or this is just not going to end well."

"Right." Buffy sheathed her knives and stuck them into her waistband. "Anything else?"

"Yeah." Willow put her notes down and smiled at her tentatively. "Good luck."

"Thanks, Willow." Buffy eased down the part of her that was geared up in full Slayer mode, enough to say, "I couldn't have done this without you...you know...all of this. You--you're my best friend, you know."

"Yeah, well...just...I don't know," Willow said softly. "It'll be okay. You'll find the demon, and, after that...Don't mess it up, okay? No more mopey Buffy."

Buffy nodded. "Promise."

"Right." Willow jutted her chin out and pulled a total Resolve Face. "Now, what are you still doing here? You've got demons to slay! Hearts to extract! People to save!"

Buffy touched Willow's arm, and stepped past her out of the cage. Giles pushed his glasses up his nose and gave her a small, encouraging smile. She checked her weapons one last time and sprinted from the library.

White scaly wormy mouthless demons did not have a lot in the way of camouflage. In mid-afternoon there would be nowhere, even in Sunnydale, where they could go unnoticed; so Buffy first checked all the larger mausoleums in Shady Glens. They were all empty, except for one newbie vamp that she didn't even pause to fight--she just kicked his door down and burned him to a crisp. She was making her way through the small stretch of Breaker's Woods that separated Shady Glens from Restfield when she felt the demon coming.

Buffy curled her nose up at the reek of it. Before it could leap out of the bushes at her, she sprang after it, grabbing it as it rushed her and turning her hip to throw it head-first into a bunch of scraggly spruce trees. It shook itself and came at her again, more slowly, its claws extended. Buffy fell back, looking for room to maneuver in her usual style, but the thing turned and ran. Rage slammed through her. She couldn't let it escape; she couldn't fail Faith, not this time, not again.

Throwing caution to the winds, she let the Slayer part of her take over, forgetting everything to do with strategies and tactics. There was only the need to kill, the endless energy of every move she'd ever learned, every fighting style she'd absorbed in long sessions with Giles, and later, with Faith. Catching up with the demon, she gave it a terrific roundhouse kick that impacted its ribs with a sickening crack. It went flying ass over elbow, and she kicked again before it could get up. She launched herself on top of it and pummeled its face, losing herself in the feel of meat and bone giving way beneath her fists. The demon tried to lift its arms and push her away, and it got in one blow that brought her back to her senses. Without a pause, she reached for her dagger and plunged it into the demon's neck, twisting away from the gout of silvery blood that sprayed upwards.

As quickly as she could, she dug her blade into its chest, sawing at the ribs until they snapped, and covering her hands with her shirt sleeve before scooping the blue muck of its heart into a baggie. She sealed it and set out for home.

For Faith.

Buffy nearly burst the front door off its hinges pulling it open. She ran past her mom without even a glance, bounding up the stairs four at a time. She headed for her room, where only yesterday she'd been so happy, but something was wrong. She could feel it. There were no Slayer-tingles, no sense that Faith was nearby, and she felt a sob trying to cut off her breath because if she couldn't feel Faith then maybe she was too late, and she couldn't be, no, she couldn't, please--

She didn't want to know, but she had to. She opened the door to her room slowly.

The bed was empty. The breeze ruffled the curtains at the open window.

Faith was gone.

Part 7

Faith was shivering and couldn't stop. She wanted to cover her ears, but her hands were shaking too hard to control them. She was burning with fever, lines of fire scalding her arms, her legs, her stomach. The flames screamed through her mind--but she had no mind left. It was gone. There was only a thousand thoughts, a million voices, and one of those voices was loudest and closest and it was laughing at her with gentle good humour.

My Faithy...such a silly little girl. The Mayor shook his head with amused exasperation. Never going to learn, hmm?

She was on the floor in his office, curled around herself protectively, shaking and crying and hurting. She'd meant to come here. She remembered that much--not how she'd gotten here, though. It came back slowly. The sewers.she'd found a vamp that worked for the Mayor, one of the few smart enough to bring her to City Hall instead of feeding on her and asking questions later. The emptiness inside his head had scared her, because she didn't know what he was going to do and there was no way she could have fought him. But he'd known enough to be even more scared of the Boss if the rogue Slayer suffered from accidental blood loss.

"Now, what have you been up to, lately, Faith?" The Mayor was crouched beside her, his elbows resting on his knees, his hands clasped together loosely. He tilted his head, a small smile on his face. There was nothing but black anger in his mind, an incoherent rage that clawed at her. He was going to kill her. Slowly. She could see the plans forming in his mind, the tortures turned over and chosen like a neat and orderly To Do list. She wanted to scream, but she didn't even have strength enough for that, and she only moaned.

"I told you to watch the Slayer and her friends...not to get all chummy with them. And what have they done to you? Not such good friends after all.but then, I thought you knew that." The little whore has turned traitor on me. And to think I was going to let her live gloriously at my side after my Ascension. We're well into the Hundred Days; I can't afford to have anything go wrong before the Box of Gavrok arrives. Whatever has happened to her is probably some plan cooked up to test me for weaknesses. That's the thing about invincibility, though...there are none.

"Boss..." Faith said, forcing her words out from under the weight of thoughts that blanketed her mind. "Those fuckers...did something to me. You gotta help me."

As if she didn't spend the night with Buffy Summers. She thinks she can fool me. I guess I'll just have to teach her otherwise. "What did they do to you, Faithy? Hmm?"

"Don't know. Tried to kill me. It hurts." That much was true--horribly, excruciatingly true.

I might as well let her suffer. It's quite amusing, really; if I cancel my three o'clock, I could watch her die. I should try to figure out what she's up to first, though. Work before play. "And what do you think I can do for you, Firecracker?"

It felt like her brain was going to start leaking out of her ears at any moment. Faith gathered together the last shreds of her sanity, the reason she was here. She had to hold on. She could feel B coming, coming to rescue her--her mind cold with purpose and doubt. The Mayor's mind was still closer, though, and Faith latched on to it. She forced one hand out to touch him, her fingers flopping against his foot. Their connection grew stronger at once. His mind was quick and sharp, cutting away at her lies like a knife, working out why she was here. There was only a moment left, one last chance.

"Tell me about the Ascension," she whispered.

"What?" he asked. On the surface of his mind, she heard the question, How does she know about the Ascension? But deeper, in the hidden parts of himself, she saw more: gigantic skittering spiders emerging from an iron chest, the Box of Gavrok; the candles and the rites performed from the swirling script in the Books of Ascension that she'd stolen for him; and last, the round shadow eating the disc of the sun in a total eclipse just as he burst out of his skin. He was becoming a true demon, a gigantic snake, towering above fleeing parents and students. Behind him a flapping banner read "Congratulations Class of 1999", and she heard him reciting the rough draft of his commencement address.

That was his plan.

The doors to his office burst open. B stood there, a stake in one hand, a huge semi-automatic assault rifle strapped over the opposite shoulder. The Mayor stood quickly, kicking away Faith's hand, and his mind was lost in the babbling confusion of voices around her.

B moved forward, keeping one cautious eye on him. She knelt beside Faith and lifted her head. "Here," she whispered, holding out a flask filled with a thick blue liquid. "Drink this."

The Mayor watched impassively as B helped her drink the stuff. It tasted awful, and she nearly choked, but from the moment she felt it on her tongue, all the voices started fading away. She closed her eyes, feeling hot tears of relief trailing down her cheeks. The pain was going, thank God.

And the Mayor still hadn't moved. "If you think you can just walk out the front door again," he said to B, "you're sorely mistaken. For a young lady with your history with the police, I'm pretty sure carrying a weapon like that is a felony."

"You're probably right," B said, standing to face him. "And yet--strangely unworried."

"Your little trick failed," the Mayor said.

B looked confused, but he didn't stop there, only asked, "Did you meet my guards on your way here?"

"You mean your pet vampires?" B twirled her stake between her fingers, then put it back in her pocket. "Little tip--you might want to call the maid in to vacuum."

The Mayor nodded reflectively. "And it's so difficult finding good help these days. I'm not the sort of employer who can place want ads in the local papers. And the dental plans are atrocious. Well, there's nothing for it; I'll just have to kill you myself."

"I can't wait to see you try," B said. She lifted the gun and aimed it at his heart.

"You think you can stop me with that?" the Mayor asked, chuckling. "Dear girl, I hate to be the one to disappoint you, but there is the small matter of my invincibility to overcome."

B glanced at Faith. "Maybe I can't kill you, but I'm betting I sure as hell can make you back up a step or two."

"And then what? You rescue my little Faithy and live happily ever after?" The Mayor shrugged and calmly walked behind his desk. He sat down and leaned back in his chair, smiling easily at B. "Are you sure that's what she really wants?"

B looked at Faith again, and Faith remembered the doubt she'd felt in her mind as she was on her way here. Faith had promised not to come back to the Mayor, and here she was not even a day later. But B didn't understand.and Faith couldn't tell her why, not if she wanted the two of them to get out of here alive. She knew the Mayor's plans now, and he'd do anything to stop her--if he knew. Their only hope was in hiding the fact that she'd been able to read minds from him until they were safely gone.

"Ah, ah!" the Mayor said. "Don't let her try to convince you. After all, I think she's played us both today, don't you? Promised us her loyalty only to turn around and stab us in the back."

"B..." Faith said, pushing herself into a sitting position. "Shoot the bastard. It won't kill him, but it'll hurt like a son of a bitch."

"What makes you think you can trust her?" the Mayor asked. "Please don't tell me this is all the result of true love. I'm quite sure Faithy doesn't know the meaning of those words."

B glared at him. "But I do," she said, and started firing.

The bullets ripped through his body, each one jerking him back, until his chair nearly tipped over. He frowned, mildly irritated, as he struggled to stand up and the assault repeatedly shoved him back. The ragged holes burst through his chest and stomach, exploding chunks of his flesh away. There was no blood. Faith scrambled to her feet and headed for the door. She still felt sick and dizzy, but she could feel her power pouring back. Maybe they had a chance--but the Mayor's wounds started closing immediately, skin and muscles knitting together seamlessly. B kept up the barrage until the rifle's magazine was empty, then backed towards the door after Faith. Before she'd reached the door, the Mayor was on his feet and rushing her.

A buzz came from the phone on his desk. They both stopped, B with the new clip of bullets nearly ready to shove in place, the Mayor half way across his office. "Mr. Mayor?" came the voice from the intercom. "There's a crowd of reporters here to see you. They're all demanding that you comment on the incident at the high school this afternoon. Something about a murderous lunch lady trying to poison the students?"

"Oh, dear," B said, faking her concern. "You mean, somebody actually phoned the papers about something bad happening in Sunnydale? I guess that doesn't happen too often."

"You--" The Mayor shook his head, grinning, but it was more snarl than smile. His suit flapped around him, torn and scorched with powder burns. "You're a clever one, aren't you?"

B didn't answer. She took the rifle's strap off her shoulder and tossed the weapon to the floor in front of him. She took Faith's hand and led her out into the hall. Turning, she gave the Mayor her sweetest smile, and said, "Have fun at the press conference."

And she and Faith walked straight out the front doors.

Part 8

"So why'd you do it?" Buffy asked. They were walking side by side down Revello Drive, not touching--Faith had dropped her hand when they passed through the crowd of reporters in City Hall. She still looked too pale--she wasn't even wearing any of her dark cherry lipstick, because she'd been too sick. The pain-lines had left her face, though, and that was definitely of the good. But that didn't stop the question from slipping out--why?--because Buffy might be in love but she wasn't stupid.

"Why'd I go back, you mean?" Faith gave a humourless laugh. "Hey, I didn't know what you meant. Must mean I'm getting better, right, girlfriend?"

"Faith." Buffy stopped and waited until Faith turned around and looked at her. "Why'd you break your promise?"

Faith shrugged and looked away. "It's not much of a promise if no one believes you when you make it."

"I did--"

"You didn't." Faith met her gaze, then, and Buffy saw the hurt in her wide dark eyes. "Even if you thought you believed me, you really didn't--'cause the whole time you were worried that Xander and Red were right and I was gonna squeal on you the second I got the chance."

Buffy looked down at her feet. How dare Faith use what she'd been thinking against her? "And that's exactly what you did do, so I guess they were right after all."

"And you don't believe that either," Faith said. "Or you'd have shot me instead of the Mayor. I know you got no problem killing lovers who go all Dark Side on you."

Buffy glared at her and shoved past her, continuing down the street. Bringing up Angel like that was just not fair.

"So you wanna know why?" Faith asked from behind her. "I did it 'cause I love you."

Her voice seemed incredibly loud on the empty street. Buffy spun around on her heel. Faith was standing where she'd left her, looking cocky and proud and.sexy as hell, damn her.

"You were never gonna trust me," she said. "Even if I stayed and got all happily-ever-after with you. You'd always wonder, and so would Xander, and so would Red. Thinking I'd leave whenever things got rough, or worse, that I was playing you the whole time."

Buffy shook her head, feeling tears pushing up in her throat, not because of Faith's accusations but because she feared they might be true. And no matter what kind of good intentions either of them had, they wouldn't stay together if they didn't trust each other. "That still doesn't answer why," she said.

Faith walked up to her, until their faces were inches apart. "And it's not like I blame you," Faith said softly. "Hell, after what I pulled, I wouldn't trust me either."

"But I want to," Buffy said. "You probably think I'm a sucker."

"Nah...just...good," Faith said. "Like, you trust people cause you expect them to be worth it. And that's why. I went back cause I had to prove myself to you. Show you I was worth it. I could hear his thoughts, you know. So I went and asked him about his plans--no way he was going to tell me, of course, but it's like saying don't think about the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man."

Buffy smiled at that--she couldn't help it. "So pretty soon all of downtown Manhattan is covered in s'mores goo?"

"It's like you read my mind," Faith answered, grinning. "I got most of it, I think, what he's up to. With Giles and Red doing the research bit, I bet we can put one gigantic kink in his plan."

Buffy's smile widened. That, she could trust. Because if anyone knew their kinks, it was Faith.

"You thinking something dirty, B?"

Buffy blushed. "How would you know?"

"I may be cured, but I'm not dumb," Faith said. "Besides, last night...I think I got a pretty intense crash course in What Buffy Summers Thinks. It was very enlightening, believe me."

"I do." Buffy grabbed Faith's hand and dragged her down the street. "I believe you, Faith."

"Want me to guess what you're thinking now?" Faith asked, laughing as she ran behind Buffy up her front walk.

"No." Buffy opened the door, and nearly ran into her mom. "Hey, Mom, guess what? Faith's cured. She needs to rest, though. Rebuild her strength. It's all very complicated. Well, it sure is getting late, don't you think? Yep. Late. That's what it is. Well, I'll be turning in, then. Hitting the hay. Grabbing some Zs. Raveling up my sleeves of care. Good night."

Without pausing to see what her mom thought of her babbling, Buffy pulled Faith up the stairs and into her room. Faith was still laughing, even as she shut the door behind her. Buffy pushed her up against it, using her whole body to pin Faith there, and Faith's laughter cut off abruptly. Buffy reached up and pressed her lips against Faith's, moving her hands down to hold Faith's hips. Faith opened her mouth immediately, and Buffy closed her eyes and fell into the kiss. Even through their clothes, Faith's body was incredibly warm, and Buffy just wanted to sink deeper into her. She pushed forward, moving her hips, loving the sound of Faith's half-swallowed sigh.

You'd think with two hundred years to practice, Angel could have learned how to do this. And she was so glad Faith couldn't hear her think anymore.

The kiss grew hotter, faster, harder, and now Faith was the one pushing, her hands running over Buffy's body, just a little rough. Buffy whimpered and let herself be urged backwards until her knees hit the bed and she fell back on her elbows, breathing hard. Faith stood above her, her eyes dark and predatory.

"Hey," she said, her voice at that deep, rough pitch that sent shivers down Buffy's spine. "What happened to resting?"

"Well, if you want to rest," Buffy said, "be my guest. I'll just lie here, watch you sleep, maybe braid your hair."

"Like hell," Faith said, and leapt on the bed so that she was straddling Buffy's hips. "You wouldn't stop now."

"I might," Buffy said, trying for indifference. She made an effort to even out her breathing and ignore just how close Faith was and if she shifted just so they would be pressed together.

"Oh, yeah?" Faith sat down and rolled her hips forward. Buffy gasped and returned the thrust before she could think about it. "That's what I thought."

Before Buffy could think up a suitable retort, Faith was kissing her again, and thinking seemed like a pretty stupid waste of time considering where she could be focusing her attention. She pulled off Faith's shirt and cupped her breasts, pinching her nipples until they peaked in her hands and Faith was rubbing against her.

"Mmph," she said into Faith's mouth, and Faith looked up for a moment.


"Resting...bad," Buffy clarified. "You...good."

Faith grinned. "You ain't seen nothing yet." She kissed her way down Buffy's body, throwing her clothes away as she went, mouthing her nipples and swirling her tongue in Buffy's bellybutton. Buffy sighed and let it happen, tracking Faith's progress with one part of her mind, the rest of it occupied only in enjoying the sensations.

Faith was kissing her inner thigh, long, sucking kisses that started down near her knees and ended before they got anywhere fun. Buffy moaned and shifted and still Faith refused to go any higher.

"Ah...please, Faith..."

Faith sniggered. "I'm not a mind-reader, B. You want it, you gotta say it."

If Faith thought a little embarrassment was going to stop her, she didn't know much about Buffy's thought processes after all. Buffy smiled, glad enough of that, because even if they weren't keeping secrets, a few surprises now and then could really liven things up. She met Faith's eyes and said, very seriously, "I want you to go down on me, Faith. I want you to eat me out, I want to feel your tongue on my clit, I want you to suck and bite and lick until I'm begging you to make me come, and then do it some more."

Faith's jaw had dropped slowly throughout this speech, her eyes going wide, and she licked her lips before she spoke. "Oh, shit, that is not fair. That is way too fucking hot."

"And," Buffy said, enjoying Faith's reaction, "I want to do the same to you. At the same time."

Faith grinned. "I love it when you talk dirty."

She shifted quickly, until her knees were on either side of Buffy's head, and without a pause, she buried her face between Buffy's thighs. Buffy nearly jackknifed off the bed, it was so sudden, and then attacked Faith with the same enthusiasm, tasting the slick saltiness of her arousal. Faith stiffened for a moment, moaning, the vibrations of it shivering through Buffy. Buffy raised her hands and put her fingers to work, too, using everything she'd learned last night and mirroring Faith's actions, trying to set aside her own pleasure and focus on making Faith come harder than she ever had before. Faith was squirming above her, hot and sweaty and frantic, and Buffy figured that meant she was doing good. She nibbled and thrust her fingers a little harder, a little rougher, and Faith shuddered at her touch. She slowed her own movements as Buffy drove her towards orgasm, and it was maddening and amazing and she was so close...

She stopped caring about who came first because all of a sudden it didn't matter, all that mattered was this wash of exquisite feeling that started in her thighs and spread through her entire body and Faith was pressing into her hands and she was sucking on Faith's clit and Faith was wet and making strangled noises deep in her throat. It faded, slowly, and Faith gasped and rolled over on her side. Buffy realized she'd somehow managed to end up with her feet on the pillows, and wriggled around until she was laying next to Faith.

"So..." Faith said finally, her breath slowing. "How long do you think I'll be sick for?"

"You could get away with Mom bringing you chicken soup for two days--three, tops," Buffy answered, her voice muffled by the pillow. She couldn't move. She would never move again. Okay, maybe she would, and maybe she'd even feel as good as this at some point in the future, but there were no guarantees, so that was a big 'no' to the moving. "Bed rest? Probably a week."

"If I follow your rules about resting for a week, I'll probably die," Faith mumbled. "And what a way to go."

"This has been very stressful for me," Buffy said. "I think I'll need a lot of rest too."

"Good," Faith said. She grabbed the covers and pulled them over the two of them. "In that case, I think I'll recover. Eventually."

"Very eventually," Buffy said, and snuggled closer to Faith's warmth even as she was falling asleep.

"So let me get this straight," Xander said for the fourth time. He slung his backpack over one shoulder as they waited for class to end. "Faith is really good now?"

Buffy nodded solemnly. "Yes. Yes, she is really good."

Willow rolled her eyes and smacked Buffy's arm. Buffy grinned at her. Willow had been pulling double shifts on best-friend duty, listening to Buffy for hours on the phone, describing in perhaps too much detail just how good Faith was. Xander, on the other hand, had no clue, and Buffy was having a hard time holding back her giggles every time he asked again about the status of Faith's evil tendencies. It wasn't exactly going to stay a secret long, she knew, since Faith was meeting them for lunch; but until then, she was having fun speaking in double entendres that only Willow understood.

"What Buffy means," Willow said now, "is that Faith went to the Mayor because she knew she could hear his thoughts."

"So she stole my idea!" Xander said, pushing open the classroom door as the lunch bell rang. "I'm the one who was worried that she'd hear all our plans."

"We're already having one 'Xander Was Right Day'," Buffy said as they headed down the hall to the doors. "The calendar couldn't stand another one."

"Anyway," Willow continued, "now we know more about the Ascension. We figure that if we can stop the Mayor from getting this Box of Gavrok, we'll be able to stop him from turning into a demon at Graduation."

"Well, I guess we'll just have to find another way to liven up the ceremony, then," Xander said, sighing. "Because, you know, I could have been a key guy. We could have gotten everybody armed with crossbows and flame throwers."

"Dream on, Xander," Buffy said. "Who would you ask to help with that? Larry? Harmony?"

Xander shrugged easily. "You never know."

"I'm just glad we won't have to," Buffy said. "Faith and I will get the box. No box, no demon. The end."

"I guess that means you and Faith are doing okay again," Xander said.

"Oh, we're doing great," Buffy said, with another grin at Willow, and got a second eye roll for her trouble. She was beginning to think that Faith's tendency to think only in terms of sex was rubbing off on her. Hmm.Faith.sex.rubbing.yeah, she was diseased, all right.

They left the school and skipped down the steps, heading for their lunch spot across the street. Faith was leaning against a tree, waiting for them. When she saw them, she came sauntering across the lawn to meet them, her thumbs hooked in her back jeans pockets, her dark hair waving over her bare shoulders. She grinned and licked her lips as she looked Buffy up and down. Buffy smiled shyly at her and held out her hand. Faith hesitated for only a moment before taking it and falling into step beside her.

"You're turning me into a mushbrain," she said, stroking her thumb over the back of Buffy's hand.

"That's my plan," Buffy said. She turned in front of Faith, blocking her path and pulling her close for a kiss. She'd meant it as a brief hello, but she'd forgotten that with Faith involved, "hello" was likely to turn into a conversation of great length and depth and...mmm.

When they broke apart, Xander was staring at them, his mouth hanging open. Willow waved a hand in front of his face.

"I think you broke him," she said. "You couldn't have warned him first?"

"This is way more fun," Faith said. "Sorry, Xandman, but you knew I liked the ladies, didn't you? You were sure thinking it enough the other day."

"Yes, but, you--Buffy--and--huh?"

"He might babble for a while," Willow said. "Come on, let's go."

They continued across school grounds to their lunch spot, Xander trailing behind them and muttering things to himself.

"I guess this means we shouldn't tell him that we've had the mad sex," Faith said loudly.

"Twice," Buffy agreed.

Xander walked into a tree.


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