Tru pushed open the changing room door and did a slow spin for Lindsey. "So, what do you think?"
Lindsey raised an eyebrow. "This is for...what again?"
"A costume party." Tru glanced over her shoulder at her reflection. If she'd known her ass could look this good, she would have done this sooner. "How do I look?"
"What are you supposed to be going as?" Lindsey asked, leaning back and eyeing Tru up and down. "Because right now you just look like yourself in a really skanky pair of leather pants."
"Perfect." Tru pulled her jean jacket over a white wifebeater and took out her gold hoop earrings. She accepted her bag from Lindsey and rummaged through it, bringing out the makeup she'd bought earlier. "Now...tell me what my idiot brother did this time."
"He was holding a conversation with the man at the next table about the comparative merits of three different bars that hold wet t-shirt contests," Lindsey said. "While we were ordering." She paused, then: "How did you know he'd done something?"
Tru met Lindsey's gaze in the mirror. "You're my best friend. I could see it in your eyes."
Lindsey simpered. "That is so sweet."
"Plus I know Harrison," Tru added. "If you guys went for a week without breaking up--"
"--then you'd be worried," Lindsey finished. "Well, the make-up sex is good, at least."
"Ew," Tru squealed. "I did not need to know that...but...were you planning on that any time soon? Say, today, around noon?" She put the finishing touches on her makeup and backed away from the mirror.
"You want me to whisk Harrison away for make-up sex today at noon?" Lindsey said, handing her back her bag.
"Yeah...I'm, I'm meeting someone in the diner, and I don't want Harri to see me like this," Tru said, waving at her outfit.
"Oh-ho!" Lindsey bounced in excitement. "Tru, is it Luc? Are you guys back on? And is there really a costume party, or is it more like a costume party, if you know what I mean?"
Tru turned away to hide her blush. "It's not Luc," she said. "I don't think he and I can make it work. It's just--complicated."
"But..." Lindsey tried to lead her on. "...there's someone new?"
Tru disappeared back into the change room so that she wouldn't have to meet Lindsey's eyes. "Just a friend," she said, her voice muffled as she struggled to get out of the leather pants. There was probably a trick to it. She suspected that all Faith had to do was wiggle her hips just so and that would be that.
Oh, for the love of God, was she jealous?
"Mmm-hmm. Someone who could be more than 'just a friend'!" Lindsey said in a mocking sing-song.
Tru tossed the leather pants over the door at her. "I don't think so."
"Uh-huh. Listen, Tru, I know you," Lindsey said. "You know when Harrison's been an idiot, and I know when you've got a guy on the sly!"
Tru rolled her eyes and pulled her jeans on. "Oh, really? And when was that, exactly?"
Lindsey waited until she was out of the change room. She folded her arms and smirked. "You thought I never knew about Professor Donutface."
"You mean Mark? You knew about that?" Tru asked. She winced, remembering Mark and how that had ended. Well, she for one was happy it had, but it had hurt at the time.
"Just like I know that you've got it bad this time," Lindsey finished triumphantly. "Best friends! See, we know these things."
Tru sighed and took the pants back from Lindsey. Was there really anything to know? Depending on how she played the day, she and Buffy could do anything, or nothing. Of course she wanted to save Buffy. That went without saying, destiny or no destiny. But maybe it was wrong to trick her like this. And what would happen if and when Faith showed up? If Buffy had to choose--
"Nothing's going to happen," Tru said. Fate had given her the day and she wasn't going to mess it up. Save Buffy's life, then worry about the consequences.
"Okay," Lindsey said, raising her hands like she was disassociating herself from all of Tru's decisions. "But I'm telling you, look at me and Harrison. If we were normal people, this wouldn't be happening, but obviously we're deranged, so it is. I'm not talking about wedding bells, I'm talking about getting back on the horse."
Tru slapped the leather pants down on the clerk's counter and handed over her credit card without a second glance at the price. "Speaking of getting back on the horse...and, again, ew, I can't believe I just said that...but how much groveling are we talking for Harrison?"
"Oh, candy, flowers, a nice night out with no mention of other women's breasts, perhaps a werewolf-shaped Pez dispenser--they're really rare--" Lindsey shrugged. "I'll let him come over and apologise to me, for a start."
"Great." Tru pulled out her phone. "I'll tell him you're expecting him."
"Don't think this doesn't mean you owe me, Tru," Lindsey said. "I mean, I know you say there's no such thing as too much cleavage, but that shirt is really stretching things. And I'm talking literally. So there had better be details tomorrow."
Tru forced a smile. "I'll see what I can do." She put the phone to her ear. "Harrison?"
"Hey, sis, I promise I'm not going to be late--"
"Harri, listen, I'm shopping with Lindsey, and--"
"Aw, come on, Tru, is this a conspiracy? Does everyone have to know every time I screw up? The guy ran a Hooters franchise! And I'm supposed to not make polite conversation? I'm an interested consumer. Lindsey is railroading me..."
Tru sighed and let Harrison go on for another minute. "Harrison, I'll try to calm her down. But I want you to go over to her place this afternoon and apologize!"
"I don't think so! I know the rules, you gotta have a cooling off period or whatever. And, Tru, you know Lindsey and me'll be fine. Anyway, I thought we were meeting for lunch."
"Not today." Tru took her bag from the clerk and smiled her thanks.
"So it's a rewind?" Harrison asked.
"Yes. And I'm telling you, you'll be better off with Lindsey than with me today."
Harrison chuckled. "Will I get lucky?"
Tru glanced at Lindsey's contented expression. "Depends on the groveling."
Harrison paused to consider that. "Make up sex, huh? Better than yesterday?"
"Better than getting shot down in the diner," Tru promised.
"Ooh...but was I shot down by a hottie?" Harrison asked.
"Let's just say she liked me better," Tru said, lowering her voice and waving goodbye to Lindsey.
"And this is supposed to keep me away." Harrison made little tsk, tsk, sounds. "I don't know, Tru, Lindsey and I can make up any time, but watching a girl hit on you might be my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity..."
"Harrison." Tru forced herself to stay calm. "She asked for my help. And to help her, I need you to be gone. Got it?"
"All right, but you could really ease the sting if you happened to know the Pick-3 number..."
"Goodbye, Harrison." Tru hung up, took one last, long moment to wonder if she had gone round the bend, then headed home to change. She was due to meet Buffy in the diner in less than an hour.
Buffy folded her map of Greater Vancouver and checked the nearest street sign. She was, maybe-sort-of, a little lost. Just a bit. Not that she really had a destination in mind, and she could always take a cab back to her hotel, but that didn't alter the fact that right now she had no clue where she was. She stuck out her bottom lip and sighed, blowing a wisp of hair off her forehead. For all that she'd argued that she needed to get away, this vacation wasn't really turning out the way she'd hoped. Having a credit card that drew on the Watcher Council's hidden funds was nice, but it wasn't as satisfying without someone else to go shopping with.
After months of having her house filled to the brim with strangers, Buffy thought that going somewhere by herself--with no one to be responsible for, no one to lead or guide or bitch at--was all she really wanted. Anya probably could have told her it would end this way. She'd wished to be alone, and now she was lonely.
Buffy shoved the map back into her shoulder bag. Her stomach rumbled. Across the street there was a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant, the Standard Diner. Good enough. She jogged over, dodging the trickle of traffic, and pushed open the door. She headed for the counter, glancing around at the few customers, and--
Faith was lounging in a booth, facing her, a strange look on her face--a small smile that was nervous and happy and yearning all at once. Buffy felt her breath stop. What the hell was Faith doing here? She was supposed to be in Cleveland--well, not supposed to be, because there was no way that Faith was supposed to be playing Little Miss Domestic Suburbia with Robin Wood--but the fact remained that Faith had been in Cleveland and now she was in Vancouver and how had she known Buffy was here? Buffy shook her head to stop her internal babble and stalked over to Faith's table, sliding into the seat across from her.
"Do you not understand the concept of vacation?" Buffy asked. It came out sharper than she had meant it, and she winced. Since Willow had brought Faith back from L.A., it had been like this--Buffy wanted Faith around, she liked her, she--well, she wanted them to be friends, to get back to the way things had been (were supposed to be) all those years ago. Instead she snapped and turned into some sort of uberbitch. What was her problem?
"Well, not that I've had one recently, but I think I got the general idea--time off from work, sometimes involving travel, see the sights, relax?" Faith's amused drawl was the same as ever, smoky-rough, sexy.
"One week, that's all I asked," Buffy said, resigned now. She should be annoyed at this invasion of her privacy, but instead she felt a grin that she couldn't suppress spreading across her face. "No locator spells, no Scoobies. Not even you."
"Not even me?" Faith pouted. "Thought we were friends."
"Yeah..." Buffy shrugged. "I thought you'd be setting up shop on the new Hellmouth. Although I gotta wonder what good it'll do. It's like that game with the gophers you bop on the head with the mallet. You turn one city into a crater, the next thing you know the First is popping up somewhere else. At least we have the other Slayers now. Did you find many on your little road trip?"
Faith blinked and shifted in her seat uneasily. "Sure. They've got it covered."
Buffy gave a snort of laughter. "You're looking real certain, there, Faith. What, did you just leave it all up to Robin?"
"Figured he could handle it." Faith picked at the tablecloth. She certainly seemed different--nervous, unsure. Something. Buffy stared at her, trying to see what had changed. She'd dyed her hair, but other than that, it was the same old slut-bomb Faith. It looked like not even her attempt at domestic bliss could subdue her wild streak, and seeing that made Buffy obscurely happy.
"Fine, no more shop talk," she said. "So why are you really here? Are you so hard up you'd follow me to Canada?"
Buffy's eyebrows lifted in an incredulous stare. Faith had blushed. Faith had blushed. A tiny bit of teasing--far tamer than anything Faith had ever tossed her way over the years--and she reacted like Buffy had come straight out and propositioned her.
"Oh, my God, that is why you're here!" Buffy said, her eyes widening, excitement fluttering in her stomach.
Faith looked up quickly, panic in her eyes. "Nah, that's not--it's, um, Slayer stuff, actually."
Buffy narrowed her eyes. "Uh-huh."
"For real, B--" Faith stuttered over the nickname, and looked at her sideways, hesitating. When she spoke, it sounded like a speech that she'd rehearsed. "I had a Slayer dream. I called Willow, and she thought it was prophetic, so she sent me here."
"I see. And what was it about?" Buffy asked. This was wrong. Faith was not acting like herself, and she was a lousy liar. Buffy concentrated on her Slayer senses, trying to feel out Faith. It wasn't something she was particularly skilled at, even though Giles had tried to train her to understand what her 'spidey sense' was telling her. This time, she couldn't feel a thing--it was like Faith wasn't even there.
"I dreamed that you were attacked in a cemetery and you died," Faith said. That came out more easily, and Buffy found herself believing that much, at least. There was a hint of desperation, or fear, hidden behind Faith's words, that made them convincing.
Buffy sighed, suddenly tired. "And did you ever stop to think that maybe it's about time? Who ever heard of a twenty-two year old Slayer?" She tried to laugh. "I mean, it is getting a little ridiculous how many times I've come back from the dead."
"Fuck that, Buffy."
Buffy looked up, surprised. Faith's eyes shone with tears. What was going on with her?
"It is not your time to go. I am here to save you, and I am going to do that if I have to kill every vampire in this city myself. You need my help and I'm going to give it to you."
Buffy didn't know what to say. Faith had changed so much. For those few weeks when they'd fought side by side against the First, she hadn't seen it--she'd been too willing to believe that Faith could never truly grow up. After Faith left with Robin, Buffy knew she'd been wrong. There had been signs, and she'd ignored them because she was too busy being the general or dealing with Spike. And then it was too late to say anything, or do anything.
She missed Faith.
She missed the flirting and the dancing and the mixed signals and the tactless honesty Faith was so willing to give her. And now--what was this? A second chance? Or were they at third and fourth chances by now?
"Faith...I'm sorry. I didn't mean I was going to go out and get myself bit." Buffy spread her hands out on the table, hoping that Faith would make the first move and hold them. She needed Faith's warmth, the slayer-tingles that were so a part of their physical relationship, from the first time she'd handed Faith a stake in the alley outside the Bronze until Faith had bandaged the puncture wounds in her stomach as they both stared into the hole that had been Sunnydale.
"Maybe it would be better if you went home," Faith said, watching her carefully. "Or, at least, don't go out tonight."
Don't go getting yourself skewered again any time soon, for me, huhn?
"I'm still a Slayer," Buffy said.
"Yeah, well, you don't have to be a Slayer alone," Faith countered.
"I guess that's kind of the point, now, isn't it?" Buffy nodded to herself. "So, you feel like being a Slayer with me today? I got Council credit cards."
Faith smiled--a real smile, showing dimples, not just her usual smug grin--and stood up. "I know how you get all tingly when you get to splurge," she said.
"I'm on vacation," Buffy defended herself, following Faith out of the diner. "And if you're here, so are you. Today--" She paused, raised an eyebrow at Faith. "Today is about us. We can do anything we want. Deal?"
Nervousness flashed across Faith's face for a second, but just as quickly it was replaced by the more familiar lustful leer. "It's a deal...B."
Faith found her way around the city better than Buffy could, even using her map, which was completely unfair. Before long, though, Buffy had tossed the map in her bag and forgot about it, content to let Faith lead the way. Navigation was the last thing on her mind.
Despite what she'd said to Faith about her Slayer dream, Buffy found--somewhat to her surprise--that the thought of dying again was just unpleasant. No matter how many prophecies she'd defeated over the years, there was always one more coming down the pipeline to bite her in the ass. For one glorious, shining moment, standing with the Scoobies in front of Sunnydale's remains, she thought she had cheated death for the last time.
And now here she was, dodging her own mortality again. The fact that there were no recorded Slayers older than twenty-five had never bothered her before--it seemed like such a distant time that she could ignore it. But now the reality of it came crashing down on her head. She was twenty-two and a half years old. Two and a half years more and she'd be setting dangerous records.
It wasn't enough.
There was so much she hadn't done, hadn't seen...so much she still wished for. Buffy glanced sideways at Faith. They were walking down a path beside a river, through a misty forest. She could hear the ocean ahead of them, and the air tasted of salt. Faith seemed lost in her thoughts, hands jammed in her jean jacket pockets, watching the geese on the banks.
Was she thinking about what Buffy had said?
A day to do anything. A day just for them. Buffy wondered what Faith thought of the implication--because surely, whatever else was different about Faith, she hadn't missed the implication.
Live life to the hilt. Do what feels good. Leave a pretty corpse.
If Buffy had a deadline--she winced at the unintentional pun--then maybe it was time to throw caution to the wind.
Maybe she could finally say something--do something--
"How are you doing, B?" Faith asked, then smiled self-consciously. The name 'B' wasn't exactly rolling off her tongue these days. Were they both growing up so much that Faith was willing to leave the nickname behind?
Buffy sighed. God, she was being morbid. She wanted to go back in time, to that point before they--or, well, she--had messed everything up. "I'm five by five, F," she said, enjoying the saying she hadn't heard in so long.
Faith laughed and looked at her curiously. "You don't say."
Buffy shook her head, amused. "What, you don't want to share your little catch phrase? I swear, someday you're going to let it slip what it means and then we'll see who's down with the hip street lingo the kids are talking these days."
"I'll tell you," Faith offered. They had left the path behind, heading over to the low parapet that separated the park from the beach. Faith turned around and leaned on the sea wall, then jumped up and sat on it, kicking her heels against the stone.
Buffy crossed her arms and rested her elbows on the wall, turned slightly so that she faced Faith but she could also see the ocean. "I think you made it up."
Faith shook her head and grinned a secret smile. "Don't believe me? I'm all wounded and stuff."
"Fine, fine, I'm all ears. What does it mean?"
"It's a code that radio operators use--EMRs and EMTs, paramedics, police, everyone." Faith glanced down at her to see what effect this was having. "See, the first number is volume, the second is clarity--so if your radio is quiet and crackly, you say, one by one, or two by three, or whatever. If everything's coming in loud and clear then that's five by five."
Buffy let her head fall back and gazed up at Faith. "You're kidding. It means something? And the something makes sense, in a weird way? Where did you learn that?"
"Hey, I'm not just another pretty face," Faith teased. "I'm a Knowledge Girl." She chuckled, almost to herself, and leaned back further, hanging over the empty space, extending her legs for balance.
"Yeah?" Buffy quirked an eyebrow at her. "You think you qualify? What else do you know?"
"I know...that you've been thinking about people dying before their time," Faith said. Suddenly serious, she sat up straight again. "You aren't going to die, Buffy."
Buffy looked away. "This time. Maybe." She watched the clouds flowing in from the horizon, darkening the skies. She shivered a bit. There was always something out there, something you didn't expect. There was always a stronger vampire. It had been like that for Mom--she'd beaten the brain tumour, she'd recovered from the operation, she was doing well--and then the aneurysm had hit her, out of nowhere, like lightning.
And now she was buried, along with the First, in a forgotten town. The lie--an earthquake--had been all too easy to come up with. Buffy blinked back tears and folded her arms against the suddenly sharp wind. She'd never be able to go back--Mom was really, truly gone, now...
Faith slipped down from her seat on the wall and wrapped her arms around Buffy from behind, resting her chin on Buffy's shoulder. "I'm sorry," she murmured, her lips pressed close to Buffy's ear. Buffy closed her eyes and leaned back into the hug. Her throat was a tight ball of pain. She clasped her hands over Faith's, resting on her stomach, and held them there, suspended from time.
In front of them, the ocean seemed endless. Buffy let her tears flow, feeling safer than she had for years, as safe as she had been before Angel had lost his soul. Like nothing in the world could get through Faith's arms. Warm. Protected.
Buffy turned her head, eyes still closed, and let her lips brush against Faith's.
Faith's hold tightened on her, and for an instant Buffy was sure she would turn away. But then Faith's mouth met hers again, slowly, lightly. Buffy turned around in her arms. Fear and desire shone in Faith's eyes. Deliberately, Buffy kissed her again, more firmly this time, their breaths mingling. A deep thrill that came from finally acting, finally doing, spun through her, and her heart raced.
"Buffy..." There was hesitation in Faith's manner...not at all like her...but Buffy let the kiss carry her doubts away.
She wanted this.
"Shh..." She smiled up at Faith. "It's my vacation."
And she held Faith's hand as she led the way to her hotel.
Tru had no time to think. No time to react.
Which was a lie. There was an entire taxi ride between one mistake and the next, and she did nothing to stop it. Heart pounding, hands sweaty, she followed where Buffy led, the soft kisses in Stanley's Park eating away her resolve to do the right thing.
They were barely through the hotel room door when Buffy was kissing her again. Tru moaned as Buffy backed her up, slamming the door behind her. Their bags and parcels slipped to the floor, unnoticed, and Buffy's hands settled on her waist. Tru closed her eyes and marveled at how easy this was, to cup Buffy's face in her hands and draw her nearer, feeling the heat of her body through their clothes.
Tru traced her tongue over Buffy's lips and Buffy sucked it into the slick warmth of her mouth. Even her breath was warm, tasting of Juicy Fruit gum. God, she was a good kisser, the hint of frustration and desperation in her actions only heating the space between them faster. Buffy was whimpering, small stolen words that were lost between her mouth and Tru's. Tru slipped her hands lower, stroking Buffy's back, her fingers stuttering over the clasp of Buffy's bra under her shirt.
Buffy pulled hard on her lower lip, then nipped her chin, dropping kisses on the curve of her jaw, pulling Tru lower to nuzzle her neck. Tru's breath came in sharp gasps, excitement flooding through her. She buried her face in Buffy's neck, licking the warm place behind her earlobe, then sucking in earnest when she heard Buffy's moan.
"God, so good...Faith..."
Ignore the words. Just go, just be, just feel...heat and wetness, the tight ache beneath the seam of the leather pants, Buffy's hands massaging her ass--oh, God, what was she doing, this wasn't how the day was supposed to go--but she was still sucking on Buffy's neck, still tracing Buffy's ribs through her shirt. Her skin was so sensitive, each touch whispering pleasure to her, telling her to give in.
Buffy turned her head and kissed her again. "Hmm...what?..."
Tru lost herself in the kiss, twining her tongue around Buffy's, her mind hazy with arousal. She couldn't remember what she'd wanted to ask, she could only remember what she wanted. Buffy. Forget that this was wrong, that Buffy thought she was someone else. Forget--
"Don't wanna stop," she mumbled, and felt Buffy's laughter against her lips.
"Don't have to," Buffy said, and pushed her hips into Tru's. Pleasure flared, sharp and immediate. Tru sucked in a sharp breath and bucked her hips forward, returning the pressure. Buffy hissed, her grip on Tru's ass tightening for a moment. "See...it's okay...it's okay..."
Tru bent her head, rested it against Buffy's shoulder. "You make me so hot..."
"Yes--" Buffy's kisses would devour her, steal her breath, leave her empty, then give it all back. Tru pushed forward, until Buffy stumbled away from the door. They bumped up against the bed, and Tru thought she was on top, pressing Buffy down.
But before she knew what was happening, Buffy flipped them around even as they were falling on to the bed. She straddled Tru's waist, rolling her hips forward until they both sighed at the sensation. "Got you." Buffy's eyes were half-closed, her pupils dilated. She moved back, then repeated the motion, pressing their crotches together. "See...Faith," Buffy said, then squirmed again, her body going still as she gave another gasp, "you don't always have to be on top--"
"How would you know?" Tru asked, half-amused, half-jealous, mostly focused on the incredible feeling spreading through her thighs and stomach. She needed more, God, who cared if it was wrong, she needed Buffy--
"I know." Buffy gave a languid, glorious smile, her wind-loosened hair hanging over her shoulders, and leaned forward, slowly--too slowly--and kissed Tru again. It was softer this time, lips barely touching, butterfly kisses that fluttered and teased. Tru raised her hips and moved with the kiss, her fingers busy on the buttons of Buffy's shirt. Buffy lifted up enough to allow the shirt to be slipped from her shoulders. She deepened the kiss, tongues meeting and dancing, soft, soft.
Tru let her hands wander over the ripples of Buffy's ribs, feeling her jerk when she touched a ticklish spot, and smiled. She let her fingers wander to the clasp of Buffy's bra again. She unhooked it, then moved her hands to cup her breasts. Buffy moaned and shifted closer. "Please...touch me..."
Tru didn't know what to do, or how, she only knew what she wanted. Buffy was beautiful, her gentle curves and flat stomach hiding taut muscles, her breasts small but perfectly shaped. Tru followed desire, rolled Buffy's nipples between her fingers, pinched and rubbed, felt pleasure fill her with Buffy's encouragement.
"Oh, yes, God--like that--" Buffy let her head fall back, eyes closed. She massaged Tru's shoulders and arms, then found Tru's erect nipples through the material of shirt and bra. It was like lightning, like her breasts were wired directly to her clit, and Tru reared off the bed. Buffy looked down at her and smiled, easily holding her in place with the strength of her thighs.
"Here--get that out of the way--" Buffy trailed her fingers lower, then pulled up on the hem of Tru's shirt. Tru yanked it over her head, then put her arm around Buffy's head, sinking into another timeless, fiery kiss. Buffy was panting when she finally let go, her smile full of love and desire. She drew her fingernails down Tru's chest, over the swell of her breasts, still caught inside the black lace of her bra, then over her stomach.
Suddenly, Buffy stopped, a surprised frown creasing her forehead. "Faith..."
Tru hated that name on Buffy's lips, wanted to erase it. "What?"
"Where...where's your scar?" Buffy's hands rubbed over one spot on Tru's stomach, just below her ribcage. Smooth skin. Of course. Not even an appendectomy. And here was where she and Faith were different. A scar that Buffy knew about. A scar that Buffy mentioned with guilt hiding deep in her eyes.
"It was still there when you were hurt by the bomb," Buffy said, her voice edged with hurt and suspicion.
Tru could only shake her head. "Buffy--" God, how could she tell her? She'd lost all perspective, she'd forgotten saving Buffy's life and given herself over to her own desire. And Buffy didn't even know who she was. The love that had been in her eyes only moments ago was for Faith.
Tru wasn't who Buffy wanted. Yesterday--last time--perhaps there'd been a chance. Not today. Buffy thought she was with Faith, at last, the girl who'd almost been her lover for years. The girl she knew. Tru had cheapened that; she'd known, and yet she'd let herself become some phony substitute.
The door handle turned abruptly, the lock crunching open. Buffy and Tru twisted sideways. The door swung open. Buffy's eyes went wide with shock her mouth dropping open, naked from the waist up, as she sat up, still straddling Tru where she lay on the bed.
Tru didn't need to look at the reflection of herself standing in the doorway to know who it was.
Buffy scrambled off Tru's lap and leapt to the floor, seeming to forget her own nudity as she stared at Faith. Tru sat up, snatching her shirt of the floor and yanking it back on, her face flaming. She wanted to run and hide, anything but face the look of utter disbelief on the face that was so like her own, but she couldn't move. They were all frozen, Faith clutching the door handle she'd broken off, Buffy and Tru trying to be as invisible as possible.
Then, slowly, Buffy turned and looked at Tru. Her mouth gaped open, like she was trying to say something, but no sounds emerged. She backed away from the bed, her eyes wide with horror, as if Tru were some sort of monster. Her chest heaved with her harsh breathing, and it sounded like she was about to cry.
Oh, God, what had she done?
Tru leaned forward, keeping one eye carefully on Faith. She had stepped into the room, the door swinging shut behind her, though it couldn't latch. The shock was fading from her face, and something darker was taking its place. Tru could hardly even look at her--it hurt to even see that much anger and despair on her own features.
"You--you're not--" Buffy had finally found her voice.
"Buffy..." Tru couldn't force out another word. There was no way she could explain this. She'd known it was wrong and she'd done it anyway. She'd pretended, and she'd made excuses, but there was no way she could rationalize her way out of this. She'd deceived Buffy, made her nothing better than a victim, when she was supposed to be saving her life.
There was a huge crash, and they both turned back to the doorway. Faith had thrown the handle, and it had smashed right through the drywall and nearly into the next room. Her expression didn't show a thing now--it was tight and composed--but her black eyes blazed with rage.
Buffy shook her head, tiny denials, refusing to believe what was before her eyes. "Faith--"
"Put your fucking shirt on, B." The voice--Tru now knew why Willow had believed she was Faith on the phone--was empty of emotion, almost conversational, but Faith's arm muscles kept knotting every time she clenched and released her fists.
Buffy's pallor melted under the sudden heat of her blush, and she bent over to retrieve her shirt, her fingers clumsy on the buttons. Faith turned her glare on Tru.
"This is why you didn't want anybody knowing where you were going on vacation, huh?" she asked. She was staring at Tru, but her words ignored her completely. Her eyes flickered over to Buffy for a moment, until Buffy managed to pull her shirt together. "So you could fuck me without ever getting near me?"
Buffy's hands dropped from the last buttonhole, her shirt fastened crookedly. "Get near you?" she asked incredulously. She flushed a deeper red, more angry than embarrassed now. "When did I have a chance, Faith? When we were on battle readiness for five weeks straight? When I was mortally injured by the First? When you left with Robin?"
Faith twisted slowly to look at her. "You know when," she said softly--the words seemed to hit Buffy like a slap--and Faith spun on her heel to leave the room.
Tru could hardly believe that it was her voice calling Faith back. Both of them turned back to her, and Tru finally felt like she knew what a Slayer was--it was all there in those deadly, dangerous stares. Neither of them had any reason to trust her, or even listen to her, but she still had to try.
"You can't go out there. You'll be killed."
"Who the fuck do you think you are?" Faith asked. Buffy crossed her arms and said nothing, but Tru knew she wanted answers to the same question.
"My name is Tru Davies," she said. "I'm here to save your life." Right, because that was believable. Tru winced at the sound of it, but there was really nothing left for her to say except the truth. She would do what she could to stop Buffy from getting hurt by the vampires, or whoever the murderer at Memorial Gardens cemetary was, and Buffy would go back to her life. She would live, at least, even if she hated Tru. Which seemed likely.
"Tru Davies." Buffy's voice was flat and disbelieving. "And you just happened to know all about me, and you look exactly like Faith, and you knew how to act like her. To trick me." She glanced at Faith. "To hurt me."
"You might not believe me--"
Anger flashed in Buffy's eyes. "You'd be surprised what I'd believe."
Tru nodded. "We met yesterday--"
Buffy cut her off. "I wasn't even in Vancouver yesterday."
"You're right." Tru finally felt the beginning of anger herself. She may have hurt Buffy, but strictly speaking they hadn't done anything wrong--Buffy wasn't with Faith; Tru wasn't with anyone; they were both adults. "If you would listen to me, I'd explain."
Buffy and Faith exchanged looks--silently asking each other whether Tru was worth their time. All their anger was dismissed for that moment, as if it was that easy for them to trust each other, no matter how upset they were.
"Something happens to me," Tru said, pushing ahead. "I don't know if it's magic, or Fate, or what. But sometimes, people brought into the morgue--dead people--they talk to me--"
"You speak to dead people?" Buffy asked sharply.
"The First," Faith said, looking like she wanted to spit. "I thought we got rid of it." She narrowed her eyes at Tru. "Doesn't explain how she looks like me. I never died. And it looked like she was pretty touchable a few minutes ago."
Buffy looked like she was about to rise to Faith's bait, but Tru interrupted. "What are you talking about? The first what?"
"Evil," Buffy said. "And yes, she's corporeal. For what that's worth."
"It's not evil, what happens to me," Tru said. "People ask for my help, and I go back in time. I save them--stop them from dying before their time."
"And you figured a little unnngh would save her?" Faith gave a humourless chuckle and shook her head. "I've been saying that for years."
Tru tried to ignore the bitterness in Faith's voice. "No. I'm saying Buffy died--"
Faith rolled her eyes. "Fuck, B, are you trying to set a record?"
"--and she asked for my help. So the day rewound. The first time, I met Buffy, and she told me about herself. That's how I knew that if anything could keep her out of the graveyard, it would be Faith."
"You were the one who called Willow?" Faith demanded.
Tru didn't answer. Buffy was looking ashen, her arms crossed more for protection than with anger. "I'm sorry, Buffy. Yesterday--today--I thought--" No. She couldn't burden Buffy with knowing how they had almost-- No. "Nine people died. You were with me in the morgue. You thought it was vampires. You left--and you were killed."
Tears were sliding slowly down Buffy's face, though she was silent, seeming to be carved from ice.
Faith relaxed a fraction, and almost reached out to Buffy before pulling back. "B, it's not gonna happen."
Buffy wasn't listening. "You thought saving me was worth it," she whispered to Tru. "Saving me...for this." Her fists tightened at her sides. Faith grabbed for her hand, but Buffy threw her off. Faith tackled her again. They struggled sharply for no more than a moment, the movements coming too quickly for Tru to see what was happening, and then Faith was pushed to the floor and Buffy had fled, leaving the broken door swinging behind her.
Faith flipped to her feet an instant after the door banged against the frame. For a second, she looked like she was going to tear off after Buffy without a second thought, but then she checked herself and turned to Tru. "Where's she going?"
"I don't know--"
"You said this already happened," Faith said, her voice vicious with frustration. She whirled around, pacing, filling the room with her presence, her energy. "If you're trying to save her, then tell me where the hell she ends up."
Tru didn't miss the implication of Faith's emphasis on the word 'save', tinged with disbelief and bitterness. It stung, but Tru couldn't do anything about it. She didn't know where Buffy was headed. How much had she managed to change the day? Would Buffy still end up on the slab in the morgue? It was only nine o'clock, the sun just now falling beneath Vancouver Island to the west--Davis would be calling in an hour to tell her about the bodies found outside the cemetery--surely Buffy wouldn't go looking for trouble?
Faith stalked toward her, lithe and dangerous as a panther. "Tell me," she said. "Tell me where she is." She cracked her knuckles, massaging her fist with the other hand, and then, between one second and the next, there was a knife in her hand. She grabbed Tru's shoulder and squeezed--Tru remembered Buffy's grip on her wrist in the diner--but this was far worse. She could feel the bones grinding together, the creak as muscles and tendons protested. Tears of pain sprang to her eyes, but she couldn't stop staring at the knife. "Tell me..." Faith was holding it loosely, casually, tapping its point against Tru's collarbone. The metal was warm from being next to Faith's skin inside her jacket, but it quickly cooled.
And nothing happened. Faith's hold on her shoulder loosened a fraction, and the knife lifted a hair's breadth away from her skin. Tru looked up at her--they were the same height, but Faith was wearing thick boots, and Tru was barefoot. Faith stared at her, not meeting her eyes, but examining her, the way Davis sometimes stared at samples in a petri dish, as if she was something fantastic, amazing, and repulsive all in one.
"You're nothing," she said, softly, the words dull. "You're disgusting. Murderous bitch..."
"I'm not," Tru said, but she could tell that Faith wasn't listening. God, it was like staring into a funhouse mirror, the same and yet distorted. It wasn't even like looking at her family--Harri and Meredith both had their father's sharper features, and they'd both chosen to be blond rather than advertise any more Davis traits. In the fading red of the sunset, Faith was a wilder, darker version of herself.
Even after everything that had happened, Tru couldn't help wondering, was that what Buffy wanted? Faith, without the danger? All of the benefits and none of the risk? She stared at Faith, trying to see past the surface reflection. She felt like they'd be locked this way forever, searching for some evidence that they were more than just lookalikes, but then the sun slipped below the horizon. The hotel room was cast into shadows--she and Buffy hadn't bothered with the lights--and Faith shoved Tru aside. She hit the bed, hard, and nearly had the wind knocked out of her.
"You're not the hero here, you know," Faith said, slipping the knife back into its hiding place. "You never were."
"I'm not you, you mean," Tru shot back.
"No." Faith smirked and pulled a sharpened stake out from another pocket. "You're not her." She moved to the doorway.
Tru got up, ignoring the pain of breathing. "I'm coming with you."
"What are you going to do?" Faith asked.
Tru didn't answer. She grabbed her jacket off the floor and brushed by Faith to leave the room. She had nearly reached the elevators at the end of the hall when Faith shouted, "What makes you think she even wants your help, now?"
Tru slapped the call button, her shoulders tense. "I don't help people because it's what they want, I help them because it's what they need."
Faith joined her as the elevator doors opened. "And how are you going to find her? The Powers That Be help you out on that account, too?"
"I know where the vampire attacks happen tonight. I don't know if that's where Buffy will be. But if you're a Slayer, maybe you can save those people, too." Tru tried to talk without looking directly at Faith. It was easier to deal with her if she didn't have the constant reminder that Faith could have been her twin. She wanted to pace, feeling cramped in the tiny elevator, her body still charged up with Buffy's kisses and the adrenaline from Faith bursting in on them. She had to forget that, now. She crossed her arms and tried to take up as little space as possible.
Faith had no such worries. She was aiming punches at the padded walls, pulling back at the last minute, and looking like an animal trapped in a cage. When the doors opened, she nearly sprinted out. On the sidewalk outside the hotel, she calmed down, closing her eyes as if she was concentrating, or listening to something Tru couldn't hear. More magic, probably--or, as Willow had said, a Slayer thing. Tru rolled her eyes and hailed a taxi. The cabbie's eyes widened when he got a good look at who his fare would be. Tru yanked the door open and grabbed Faith's wrist to pull her inside. It was obvious that her strength wouldn't be enough, but Faith pulled her hand back and got in of her own accord.
"Memorial Gardens Cemetery," Tru said, fishing through her pockets for the last of her cash. She tossed a twenty over the seat. "Quickly." The cab sped off through the growing darkness, under the flash of the streetlights. Tru checked her watch--the numbers glowed nine-ten. If Gardez got the call and had a load of bodies back at the morgue by ten, then they only had about fifteen minutes to spare. Would Buffy find her way to Memorial Gardens on her own, and if so, would she be able to prevent the murders? Today, this time through, Buffy had no idea what she was dealing with. If the vampires got the drop on her--
Faith twirled the stake in her hand, playing with it like Buffy had with the chopsticks, way back when. Precision timing. Perfect balance. Like a superhero.
Faith was right--there was nothing Tru could do now except get in the way. She wasn't wanted, wasn't needed; she was only human, after all.
If there was one thing that Davis had convinced her of, it was that there was a reason for the forces that controlled her life.
So why was she there?
Buffy ran, blinded by tears, not caring for a second where she was headed. The city was full of hills and curving streets to fit it between the mountains and the ocean. But geography was the last thing on Buffy's mind. Even if she had been paying attention, she would have soon been lost.
She was thinking about the day Faith came back.
She'd known that Willow had gone to get her, of course, and on an intellectual level she knew what that would mean--forgiving if not forgetting--but she wasn't prepared for the way Faith casually walked back into her life. Within a minute of her showing up in that graveyard, Faith had Buffy questioning everything about her relationship with Spike--because really, at that point, she had no hold on what was evil and what was good.
And there was still something there, something that the years and the interim boyfriends couldn't erase. When Faith had shown up in Vancouver, or so Buffy thought, she was sure it was because they were finally ready. No more defensiveness. No more mixed signals.
Now all that was ruined.
She heard the scream and felt the tingle of her vamp-alarm at the same time. She looked up and saw that she was walking beside a stone wall, and dollars to donuts there was a cemetery on the other side. This was the last thing she needed right now, but no matter how much she'd promised everyone--including herself--that she was retired now, she couldn't ignore her calling. With a quick glance to see if anyone was watching, she made a standing jump to the top of the wall and dropped down inside the graveyard.
She knew from the sound of laughter around her that she'd made a big mistake. She turned around slowly, already mentally kicking herself for not looking before she leapt. She was surrounded by the biggest nest of vampires she'd ever seen, thirty at least. One of them held a woman's arm as she struggled, but she hadn't been drained yet. Buffy reached for the stake she always kept in her jacket pocket.
And remembered that she'd run off without her jacket.
"Hey, guys," she said, glancing around for a convenient tree branch and seeing only hedges. "You know eating this late gives you a tummy ache, don't you?"
"Y'know, B, your quips have been going downhill ever since that marzipan thing."
Buffy looked up sharply. Faith was standing on the wall above her, stakes in hand. She was annoyed, but more than anything, relieved. At least Faith hadn't run straight back to Robin and Cleveland, as she'd half-expected. "Where did you hear about that?"
"Dawnie couldn't wait to tell me all the good stories. Here." Faith dropped a stake, and Buffy caught it, turning back to the vampires.
"You take the right half, I'll take the left half," she said. "On three. One...two..."
Faith jumped into the midst of the vampires and dusted two in quick succession, before they even knew what she was doing.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Three." She stepped forward to meet the charge of bloodthirsty demons.
"I'd just like to remind you that you're not the big-ass general anymore," Faith said, sending a vamp flying with a roundhouse kick.
"Oh, so sorry for trying to keep us alive with a little planning," Buffy shot back, backhanding the fanged face in front of her and spinning a kick at the one she could sense coming at her from the side. "And my ass was never big."
Faith staked her vampire and turned around. "Running alone into a graveyard after some supernatural chick tells you your number is up, is that part of the plan, then?"
"Faith, watch out!" Buffy threw a stake straight at Faith's heart. She ducked, and it impaled the vampire that had been about to grab her from behind. "Where the hell is she, anyway? Did you outrun her getting here?"
"Nah." Faith stuck an elbow in the gut of a second vamp charging her from behind, then rammed a palm into his nose. "She's fast. But she had to make a call."
Buffy flipped away from two vampires, then shoved one into the other so that they both went tumbling. She staked them both before they could scramble to their feet. "Make a call?" she yelled, blocking a punch and catching a kick aimed at her ribs. "My life is in danger and the person who claims she's trying to save me stops to make a call?"
"You believe that stuff?" Faith asked, sticking a foot out to trip a vampire, slamming her stake through its back, and then tossing Buffy another stake. "The day-rewind shit?"
Buffy didn't answer, just beat harder on the vampire in front of her until she found an opening to dust him.
"For serious, B, you didn't know she wasn't me?"
Buffy grabbed a vampire in a choke hold, holding him back as he struggled. "Well, I admit my first thought wasn't 'Gee, I wonder if she's a time-travelling duplicate of the person I know?'"
Faith strode forward and staked the vamp she was restraining. The dust settled between them. "So what are you saying? That was for real?"
Buffy shrugged. She had suspected that the imposter wasn't Faith, but she hadn't wanted to believe it. This was her chance--her last chance, maybe, even though it seemed like the world didn't mind throwing do-overs to her and Faith with a certain regularity. "I--"
A vampire crept up behind Faith and she yanked his arm and threw him away without looking. "Do you fucking mind?" she asked. "I'm having a conversation here."
"Listen, I do want to have this talk. Eventually. But, for right now..."
"Well, we are still surrounded."
Faith glanced around at the upwards of twenty vampires that encircled them. "No wonder there were nine people who bought it yesterday. Or today. Whatever. Fuck, enough of them, aren't there?"
"Nine people died?" Buffy asked, lunging at the nearest vamp and using him as a shield against the attack of another. She and Faith were fighting defensively now, with none of the wild moves from earlier. Slayer or no, this was getting a bit ridiculous. She was breathing hard, and there was a stitch growing in her side. "And I thought it was just me."
"That's your problem, B, you always think it was just you." Faith killed a vamp with a thrown stake and pulled another out of the back of her waistband. "This's my last one," she muttered. "Try not to let yours get dusted."
"Makes me wonder what happened the last time I did this," Buffy said. "How many did I get?" And what happened with that girl Tru? What made her decide to get up close and personal this time around? Did Buffy--the yesterday Buffy--come on to her? And if so, was it because she looked like Faith? Buffy tried to figure out what her own motivations were, had been, might have been (stupid time travel grammar), and realized she didn't know. There was just no way to tell, when she couldn't remember anything about meeting Tru the first time.
The vampires were coming quicker now, and their blows were getting through her guard more easily. They just refused to stay down. Maybe today was going to end pretty much like yesterday had, after all. Except worse, since Faith would be dying with her this time. So much for Tru saving her.
Buffy jerked around. Tru was running around the headstones, heading for them, looking more like Faith than ever--still wearing leathers and a wifebeater. Faith was right--she was fast. And she was carrying something--
It was the Scythe.
Buffy shoved her way through the crowd of vampires to reach Tru before they could.
Tru sprinted up to her, clutching the Scythe. "Here. I called your friend Willow...she said this would help."
"Thanks." Buffy paused for a moment, feeling a strange disconnection. Tru, not Faith. She's not Faith. She wanted to look closer, to see if there was something there, something deeper--those kisses had been amazing, but they were also a lie. Buffy shook her head. There was no time for this--no pun intended. "You're a live-saver, Tru."
Tru smiled and handed her the weapon.
Power flowed through Buffy the instant her hands closed around the shaft of the Scythe. Buffy could feel herself growing stronger, her injuries vanishing. She looked at the nearest vampire and smiled sweetly. His yellow eyes widened as she took a step forward, apparently sensing the immense energy that radiated from the instrument in her hands.
He turned to run, and it was the last step he ever took.
Fighting with the Scythe was a blur of joyfulness. Everything that was right about being a Slayer was embodied in it, from the razor-sharp axe blade to the sturdy stake hafted at its opposite end. Buffy mowed down the vampires that stood between her and Faith, whirling with incredible lightness and precision.
This was what it was to be a hero.
Faith faltered, her blocks and kicks coming slower. There were still too many vampires between them. Buffy called, "Faith!" and tossed the Scythe to her. Letting go of it was like losing a part of herself.
Faith reached up over the mass of vampires attacking her and caught it. Buffy saw the look of exultation on her face as she claimed it, and the wolfish grin she turned on her enemies when it was safely within her grasp.
Buffy would never tire of watching Faith fight. With the Scythe in her hands, she became a force, unstoppable and lovely. She smiled, and Buffy knew she was feeling that sense of belonging, of acceptance.
Buffy staked another vampire that tried to run; she stayed near Tru to keep her safe; she helped the vampires' victim to her feet; but mostly she watched Faith. Tru reassured the woman, who only had a trickle of blood on her neck to show for being the captive of the nest--damn lucky, Buffy thought--and finally the woman gave them one last horrified, disbelieving look and ran for the cemetery's gates. Buffy knew the type. By tomorrow, she would have convinced herself that she'd gotten ahold of some bad liquor, and it was all a dream. Again, lucky.
Buffy smiled at Faith's gymnastics, running up the wall and spinning over a vamp's head only to pin it with a casual backhand stab of the Scythe's handle, while simultaneously beheading another two with the blade. The huge nest was reduced to three stragglers to stupid to stop fighting, and Faith was having fun toying with them.
"You talked about her a lot today. I mean, the first today."
Buffy turned to Tru. She was still watching Faith fight. Buffy thought of the Buffybot and realized how much weirder it must be to know your double was real, not built. Remembering the Bot still left a bad taste in her mouth. It hadn't been quite self-aware, but enough that interacting with it was just...wrong. And what it had been built for--even worse.
"I was alone for a long time," she said. "Even when we were enemies, Faith understood that. Understood me. It's hard to let go of our connection."
Tru nodded. "Buffy...I wanted to tell you I'm sorry."
Buffy crossed her arms and ducked her head. She didn't want to delve too deeply into this, but she couldn't just leave it hanging. For their sakes, and for Faith. "When you and I met...I don't remember, but...I must have done something, for you to, uh, want--that." She met Tru's eyes. "Today, I thought you were her. It wasn't me and you. I'm sorry for that. You were the one who got used."
"Because I tricked you." Tru shrugged. "I knew what would happen...or, I guessed. And I knew it was wrong. You want her. You always have."
Buffy looked at Faith, battling the last vampire, and smiled. "How do you know that?"
"You told me." Tru gave Faith's trademark leer, but Buffy only shook her head ruefully. Not the same. Never the same.
"Have you ever done this before?" she asked. "I mean, with a girl?"
"Me neither." Buffy smiled slightly. "You were my first."
"Faith was your first."
Buffy nodded, accepting that. "Do you think she'll want to go back to Cleveland?"
"What, choose you over some principal guy?" Tru asked, trying and failing to hide her smirk.
Buffy's face warmed. "Oh, my God. What did I say about him?"
"I'm too polite to listen when people start muttering under their breaths," Tru said, laughing. "Buffy...maybe I'm biased...but I can't imagine her settling for anyone when she can have you."
Buffy blushed harder. "I, uh..."
"She's a sweet-talker. I like that." Faith sauntered over and draped one hand around Buffy's shoulders, still holding the Scythe in the other hand. She wasn't even breathing hard after her fight. "Ta-da, by the way," she added. "The night is once again safe for really dumb pedestrians."
Buffy snuggled into the warmth of Faith's side and smiled apologetically at Tru. "So, Tru Davies," she said. "You saved my life after all."
"She saved a hell of a lot more than that, and you know it," Faith said. "What, you think just 'cause I was busy killing vamps I wasn't listening?" She grinned at Tru. "Super-hearing. One of the many benefits to the superhero gig. That and being one hot chick...but I guess you figured that one out on your own."
"Faith," Buffy warned, "stop ogling your doppelganger."
"What? She's hot. You noticed." Faith winked at Tru. "Love the pants, by the way."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Don't tell her where you got them or we'll never make it out of Vancouver."
"Aren't you staying for the rest of your vacation?" Tru asked.
Buffy paused. She'd come on vacation...and it seemed very long ago, whether there had been two todays or not...because she was lonely, more than anything. And now she had Faith.
"No," she said, sounding almost surprised. "I want to go back to work. I want a hellmouth and vamps to slay every night. God, am I crazy?"
"Nah, B. Just a Slayer--one among many." Faith paused. "Think Willow will magic us back?"
"Um..." Tru said. "I think you'd better not call Willow, Faith..."
Buffy's eyes widened. "Willow doesn't know? About you?"
Tru gave an innocent shrug. "She thinks Faith has suffered brain damage or a split personality, she's not sure which. She keeps talking about too many comas..."
Buffy laughed out loud this time. "I'll phone her. And I'll tell her--" She paused and smiled at Faith. "I'll ask her to bring us home."