FOLLOW YOUR HEART
Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
My Website: http://www.dragonwriter17.net/
Feedback: Yes, but only if it’s of the non-flamey variety: DragonWriter17@aol.com
Distribution: BuffynFaith.net, The Mystic Muse, and my personal site (If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.)
Spoilers: BtVS Season 6 (and beyond)
story rewrites the events of Buffy's resurrection and introduces a number of
non-canon plot changes. One is that Spike leaves town almost immediately
after Buffy's death. Another is that Giles leaves much earlier than he did
in the original episode, long before Buffy is resurrected. The others you
can probably figure out as you go along. (2) The story is written in
modified Watchers style. This means that it uses something similar to scene
headers in screenplays, but the actual text is mostly written in fiction
format. Unlike Watchers, though, I may occasionally show a character’s
thoughts in italics. (3) In Part 1 of my fan fic story "The Buffy Tapes," I
created four flashbacks that occurred behind the scenes of the actual
BTVS Season 3 (one flashback is before "Revelations"; another is between
"Lovers Walk" and "The Wish"; the third is after "Amends"; and the last one
is after the end of "Consequences.") I'm assuming those same events--or
something similar to them--happened in the past of this new story; however,
none of the other non-canonical events of "The Buffy Tapes," other than
those flashbacks, occurred here. (4) Thanks, as always, to Lilly
for the beta read and edit! (5) I would also like to thank the Buffy-vs-Angel
web site, whose transcripts I used ("Faith, Hope and Trick," "Bargaining I
and II," "Afterlife," and "Tabula Rasa") and Bxverse Productions, who
created a music video to accompany the story:
Number of Chapters: 20 chapters are planned.
Story Premise: This story explores Faith's reaction to Buffy's death and resurrection, and it presents a new take on the real reason Buffy was raised from the dead.
After Dawn had left her to rest, Buffy cried for a time. She curled up on the bed, hugging Mr. Gordo tightly, until sleep finally took her.
She didn't sleep well, though. After an hour or so, her troubled mind dragged her into restless dreams in which she relived the horrors of the previous night. In the latest of these nightmares, she was on Main Street again, watching Faith from a distance.
Faith was in a mob of the biker demons, mowing them down with systematic savagery. But once she'd narrowed the numbers to a handful, she began to show signs of exhaustion.
Buffy feared the worst and took off toward the battle. But as soon as she began running, she moved as if she were stuck in slow motion. Faith's fighting was still proceeding at normal speed, but Buffy couldn't make herself get there any faster. When she saw Faith go down, she frantically called out to her. Her scream seemed to last forever as she reached out toward the fallen slayer.
It was then that Buffy awoke, gasping in fright, clutching at her chest as her heart threatened to pound its way out.
"It's just a dream, it's just a dream..." she panted. "She didn't die, she didn't die..."
She let out a long, controlled breath and plopped back against the pillows.
"I got there in time, and she's okay."
Despite the truth of her own words, Buffy didn't appear to be comforted by them.
After leaving the Summers home hours earlier, Faith had gone shopping and then gotten a room at the motel; unfortunately, she had ended up with the same exact room she'd lived in before. After fighting off a swarm of bad memories, she had left her bags unpacked and crawled into bed for a much needed nap.
She had slept fairly well for the first few hours, but the last had been troublesome. She had tossed and turned before finally jolting awake.
As she rapidly sucked in air, her gaze darted across the ceiling. She tried to recall what she'd been dreaming, but no details emerged from her sleep muddled brain.
"Dammit, I hate waking up like that," she complained before sitting up in bed and swinging her legs over the side of the mattress.
With those simple movements, all of the aches and pains from the previous night's battle introduced themselves again. Faith groaned and cursed, then rose to her feet. After rotating her neck to work out the kinks, she put her hands on her hips and bent her upper body backwards until she heard a satisfying pop from her spine.
"That's better," she said with a smile.
When she tried to stretch her arms over her head, though, she hissed in pain and drew her arms back, cradling them against her body.
"Shit! Fuckin' ribs still hurt. Why're they always the last damn thing to heal?"
Her stomach answered with long, hungry growl.
Faith rolled her eyes and chuckled before heading over to her laundry sack to begin unpacking her belongings.
The first few things she pulled out were bathroom items. She gathered them up and set them out on the small shelf above the sink. After brushing her hair and her teeth, she went back to unpacking. Within a few minutes, she had the rest of her things put away except for the clothes she meant to change into.
She stripped off the clothes she had donned the night before at the apartment and tossed them in the laundry sack along with the garbage bag containing her own 'demon gunked' clothes. She put on her newly-purchased secondhand jeans and t-shirt, then sat down to put on her boots. When she was done, she donned the denim jacket she had borrowed from the apartment. She checked the jacket pockets, making sure that her cigarettes, lighter, wallet, and photos were still there. Then she turned to the full-length mirror to check out her appearance.
The clothes, she liked. The still battered face, not so much. For a moment, she considered at least adding some lipstick but then decided against it.
"Ah, screw it," she told her reflection. "Nothing's gonna help you now but some slayer healing."
She pulled her wallet from her jacket and did a quick count of her remaining cash. She did the mental math of estimating how much she'd need over the next few days and whether or not she'd have enough to last until her watcher got to town.
"Ah, I can make it," she told herself, rejecting the idea of calling Dr. Raine to ask for more. "She's got enough to worry about. 'Sides, I've gotten by on less."
She stuck her wallet into the back pocket of her jeans and then lit up a cigarette for a quick smoke. Grabbing her keys and her laundry sack, she headed out the door.
Faith pulled her motorcycle into a parking space near the furniture store. She locked her bike and headed for the busted front door. When she peeked inside, she saw a man using a push broom to sweep up the mounds of glass shards that covered the tile floor. When he looked up and met her eyes, she gave him a wave and stepped right through the metal frame of the busted glass door.
"We're not open," he said as she approached him.
"I figured. I'm not shoppin' anyway," she said. "I, uh, I'm just wondering if you happened to know who owns that apartment in the back."
The man's brow furrowed in potential suspicion. "I do. Why?"
"Well, last night when those bikers came through town--"
"Did they hurt you?" the man suddenly asked, his caution now turned to concern. He pointed to the bruises on her face. "Is that how you...?"
She ducked her head for a moment and then said, "Yeah, but I got away. Me and this other girl hid out in the apartment. That's why I'm askin' about it. I think we broke the lock gettin' in, and I just wanted to let you know."
When the man didn't reply right away, Faith went on.
"We didn't take anything, other than some clothes, which I'll bring back. A-A-And I can pay for the lock..."
When she started pulling her wallet from her pocket, the man stepped forward and put a hand on her arm to stop her.
"Don't worry about it," he told her kindly. "I'll take care of it. I'm just glad you're okay."
"Thanks," Faith said, smiling back at him. After heading back to the front door, she gave him another wave and said, "Good luck with the clean-up."
He said thanks and waved back, then returned to his sweeping. She stepped through the door frame and walked to her bike.
When she settled into the seat, her stomach let out another loud growl. She laughed and patted her belly.
"Time to tame the savage beast," she joked. "And after that, the laundromat."
She laughed at her unintentional rhyme as she started her motorcycle. Then she pulled out of the parking space and drove toward Happy Burger.
While Faith was picking up massive quantities of junk food, Buffy was finishing up a very awkward lunch with Willow, Tara, and Dawn. Buffy sat at the end of the table closest to the front door, as she had before. This time she was flanked by Tara and Dawn with Willow on the other side of Tara.
Buffy could tell that something had happened during her short nap. The others were quiet and tense, and the few words the three had exchanged were distant and forced. They had all tried to engage Buffy, though--hoping not only to pull her from her funk but also to divert attention from their own issues, whatever they were.
Buffy had done her best to play along. She had dutifully answered their questions and contributed a comment from time to time, but not with the exuberance she knew they expected from her. During the many moments of plate-staring silence, she had glanced back at the front door with longing. When she could stand the wait no longer, she finally asked the question that had been on her mind throughout the meal.
"Did Faith come by while I was sleeping? O-O-Or call...or something?"
"No, but I'm sure she will soon," Tara replied reassuringly.
Willow, however, snorted derisively. "She's probably halfway to Mexico by now..."
When alarm instantly flashed on the slayer's face, Tara shot her girlfriend a disgusted look and then immediately turned to Buffy. She reached out and touched her arm, "She's not...You know that."
Tara's words seemed to calm Buffy, and within a few seconds, the slayer gave a simple nod in reply. Tara then turned back to Willow.
She stood up, shoved her hand out, and asked impatiently, "Are you finished with that?" Without waiting for an answer, she took Willow's plate and her own and left the table for the kitchen.
"I guess I am," Willow said sarcastically before slumping back in her chair and crossing her arms.
Unsettled by the tension, Buffy just dropped her gaze to the table.
Dawn had watched her sister during this last exchange. She herself had been ready to echo Willow's comment about Faith, but Buffy's reaction had really puzzled Dawn. Normally, Buffy would have been the first one on the Faith-bashing bandwagon. She'd certainly had nothing but grumbling to say about the dark slayer when she'd returned from L.A. after Faith had turned herself in to police. But now Buffy seemed obsessed with Faith. And not in a 'keep your eye on the dangerous ex-murderer' kind of way.
And if that wasn't enough, Buffy just seemed so...fragile. It wasn't something Dawn was used to seeing. Buffy had always been the strong one--the one who held herself together no matter what. But now...
Dawn shook herself out of her reverie when she saw Buffy rise from her chair, apparently intending to take her plate into the kitchen, where Tara could be heard filling the sink.
"I'll get it, Buffy," Dawn said, intercepting the delivery.
"Thanks," the blonde replied, giving her sister a small smile before returning to her seat.
As Tara and Dawn washed and dried the dishes, Buffy and Willow sat at the dining room table without saying a word. The minutes dragged on like hours before Tara and Dawn returned from the kitchen.
Refusing to make eye contact with Willow, Tara announced to the group, "I've got some work to do on campus this afternoon, so I'll see you guys later, okay?" At that, she abruptly left.
Willow's mouth fell open in disbelief as she watched her girlfriend leave without so much as a goodbye. When she heard the front door slam, she let out a huff and went to retrieve her laptop from the buffet.
Once again, Buffy just hung her head and stared at the surface of the table.
Dawn quickly put on a bright smile. "Hey, why don't we bring up some of your boxes from the basement? You know, get your new room all set up and decorated?"
Buffy looked up and met her sister's eyes but said nothing.
"O-O-Or we can put you back in your old room i-i-if that would make you feel better..." Dawn offered.
Buffy finally blinked and said, "No, that's okay. I don't wanna cause any trouble. The guest room is fine."
When Buffy got to her feet and started for the kitchen, where the door to the basement was located, Dawn followed after her, a concerned look on her face.
As Buffy and Dawn were unpacking boxes in the guest room, Faith was working on getting her clothes clean. She had washed and dried everything except her 'demon-gunked' clothes, which were on their fourth wash. When she heard the washer end its cycle, she went over and lifted the lid. A somewhat muted stench rose from the machine.
"Dammit," Faith said as she pulled her jeans from the washer and gave them a hesitant sniff. She immediately drew back. Despite massive amounts of Gain detergent, there would be no salvaging these clothes.
She let out a sigh and draped the jeans over the washer. She walked over to the corner, retrieved the large garbage can, and dragged it to the washer. She dumped the jeans into the can and then added the rest of the clothes to it. The last item she pulled from the washer was her leather jacket.
She looked at it forlornly. She had known that she shouldn't wash it, but since it had been splattered with demon blood and guts, she hadn't had much choice. It didn't matter anyway, not now; the jacket was ruined, beyond hope.
"Man, I just got it, too," she complained.
With another sigh, she reluctantly dropped the jacket into the garbage can.
Meanwhile, Dawn and Buffy were well into the unpacking. At the moment, they were working near the chest of drawers that faced the side of the bed, sorting through several boxes of t-shirts. Much to Dawn's dismay and despite her best conversational efforts, Buffy had been as quiet and withdrawn during the unpacking as she had been during lunch. Dawn had nearly given up hope when her eyes settled on something that might stir a reaction.
"Hey, remember this one?" she said brightly as she held up a Minnie Mouse t-shirt that read, "Minnie loves me."
Buffy stared at the shirt blankly as the appropriate memories associated with it clicked into her mind. It had been the summer before her sophomore year in L.A. Her parents had just separated, and the outing had been her mother's way of trying to distract her daughters from the marriage's inevitable disintegration. For the most part, the plan had worked, and the three of them had had a really good time.
Despite the relative happiness of her memories, Buffy found that she had no corresponding emotions to accompany them. She knew how the emotions should feel, but she didn't seem to actually feel them--at least not with any intensity.
She frowned as she thought, What's wrong with me?
Dawn interpreted Buffy's stare and frown as a memory recollection issue, so she tried to prompt her. "Remember? Mom got it for you at Disneyland...you know...after your freshman year at Hemery? We had so much fun! She got me one just like it, but I don't think I could fit into mine now. Major growth spurt and all. But you could. You wanna try it on?"
Not knowing what else to do, Buffy just numbly agreed to her sister's suggestion. "Sure," she told her, forcing herself to flash a quick smile.
Buffy took the t-shirt from her sister's hands, walked to the dresser that faced the end of the bed, and lay the t-shirt on the pile of knickknacks heaped upon the dresser. She pulled off the shirt she had borrowed from the apartment owner the night before and laid it on the dresser as well. Then she started to pull on the Minnie Mouse t-shirt.
"Buffy! Oh my god!"
Startled by her sister's sudden exclamation, Buffy whipped around, pressing the t-shirt against her bare chest. "What?! You scared me."
Dawn slowly walked over, grasped Buffy's shoulders, and turned her sister around so that she was facing the dresser once again.
"Your back..." Dawn said without elaborating.
"What?" Buffy asked, trying to peer over her own shoulder to see what Dawn was looking at. "What is it?"
Dawn grasped her sister's shoulders once more and turned her so that her back was facing the dresser and its mirror. She gave Buffy a handheld mirror. Buffy held it up and looked in shock at the jagged scars that went down her shoulder blades.
Dawn stepped behind Buffy so that she too could look at the scars. "Where did these come from?" she asked as she reached out to gently touch them.
The second Dawn's fingertips touched the scars, Buffy's body jumped in reaction as her mind sent her hurtling into a terrifying flashback of falling and screaming.
"I'm sorry!" Dawn said, instantly jerking her hand away and stepping back. "D-D-Did I hurt you? Buffy?" When her sister didn't answer, she moved closer again. "Buffy?"
Buffy broke out of her flashback, but she was shaking and panting for air. "I'm okay," she told Dawn without looking at her. "I'm okay," she repeated as she set down the handheld mirror, pulled on the Minnie t-shirt, and walked a few feet away.
Dawn wanted to follow her, to comfort her somehow, but she didn't dare touch her now. She tangled her fingers together and stayed put. "Did you...Did you get those when you fell? When you jumped from Glory's tower?"
"I-I-I don't know," Buffy replied, a confused look on her face. "I don't really remember landing. I remember jumping and falling, but..."
For an excruciatingly long moment, the two sisters neither moved nor spoke. When the painful silence became unbearable, Buffy walked past Dawn to the dresser and picked up the borrowed shirt she had just taken off.
"I should...go put this in the laundry basket," she said lamely before rushing away from Dawn.
All Dawn could do was sadly watch her sister go.
Faith's bed was cluttered with crumpled wrappers and sacks from Happy Burger, a couple of trashy gossip magazines, and an open carton of Lucky Strikes. Faith was already well into her first fresh pack of cigarettes, as evidenced by the full ashtray sitting on the nightstand.
At the moment, she had a newly lit cigarette pinched between her lips as she used both hands to rough up the uncooperative television set.
"Come on, you worthless piece o' shit, it's been two and half years since I had TV!"
"First the stupid coma..."
Bang! Smack! Bang, bang, bang!
She slammed her palm against the power button and shut the thing off, finally giving up. She plopped onto the end of the bed, took a deep drag off her cigarette, then slowly let it out. Glancing around the room, she saw nothing capable of relieving her boredom or distracting her mind from thoughts of Buffy. Then her gaze fell on the telephone.
"Guess I could check in with the Doc."
She moved to the head of the bed, got out her calling card, and punched the requisite numbers into the phone. After a short set of rings, she heard Dr. Raine pick up.
"Hey, Doc, how goes the packin'?"
"Faith, hello," the watcher answered amiably. "Well...it goes, albeit rather slowly. I really shouldn't be such a packrat. But I'll be down to Sunnydale just as soon as I can, I promise."
"No rush. I got things under control," Faith said, turning her face well away from the phone each time she took a puff off her cigarette and blew it out. "Haven't seen any dangerous activity today, but I'm heading out for night patrol in a little bit. If there's any badness a-brewin', that's when I'll see it."
"Did you get some rest today?" Dr. Raine needled.
"Yeah, I got a few hours in. Right after I checked in with the Scoobs."
"Wonderful! Sleep allows your slayer healing to work its magic. And the way you're smoking, you're going to need all the healing you can get."
Faith's mouth dropped open, and she glanced at the cigarette in her hand.
How did she--?
She hurriedly crushed out the cigarette in the ashtray.
"Hey, I told you I'd quit by the time you got here."
"See that you do," Dr. Raine ordered. "And be careful tonight. Don't take any foolish risks. I know you're excited to be back to slaying, but now's not the time for any unnecessary heroics. All right?"
"Yessss ma'aaaam," Faith replied, dragging out the words in the oral equivalent of an eye roll.
After making her goodbyes and hanging up the phone, Faith was still smiling. She liked her watcher. She liked her a lot. And, most importantly, she trusted her. She didn't know how the woman had managed to earn her trust so quickly, but she had. Faith hoped that Buffy would like her, too, and come to trust her.
When Faith's mind returned to the topic of Buffy, the smile on her face faded away. She desperately wanted to see the blonde again, but she couldn't help remembering how it had felt that morning when the impenetrable circle of Scoobies (impenetrable to her at any rate) had closed ranks around Buffy and shut her out.
Except for Tara, she reminded herself. Least she tried to make me feel welcome.
Doesn't matter, she thought, shaking her head. Once B gets back in the family-and-friends swing, she ain't gonna need me. Or want me. Plus, once the Doc gets here--
"Shit!" Faith exclaimed as she jumped to her feet. "I forgot to tell 'em that I hadn't said anything to Dr. Raine about Buffy being back." Mentally she replayed the conversation she'd just had with her watcher. "Don't think she knew anything. She woulda said something for sure if she knew Buffy was back. I better get over there and tell 'em to keep a lid on things till Buffy's not so freaked out."
Faith got ready for patrol as quickly as she could and sped away on her bike.
After another round of box toting, Dawn and Buffy came downstairs and into the kitchen, on their way to the basement. Buffy stopped at the doorway to the dining room where Willow sat at the table typing on her laptop.
"Are you coming?" Dawn asked, her hand on the basement door. "We have to move some of that old furniture to get to the last batch."
"Yeah, give me a sec," Buffy told her. "I'll be right down."
After a nod, Dawn headed down into the basement. Buffy slipped into the dining room and walked over to where Willow was working. When the redhead didn't seem to notice her, Buffy spoke up.
"Hey, um, Will?"
Willow looked up and smiled. "Hey, Buffy."
"I know you're busy and everything," Buffy said, wringing her hands nervously, "but I'm really worried about Faith."
Willow's smile fell away. She let out a sigh that was almost a growl and turned back to her typing. "I'm sure she's fine," the redhead recited dutifully. "She's a slayer."
"But she's still injured," Buffy insisted. "What if something happened to her?"
Willow's tone became bitterly sarcastic as she pounded the keys on her computer. "Well, then, she should have told us where she was going and when she'd be back." She stopped typing and shook her head in disgust. "I swear, nothing has changed with her."
Buffy was momentarily stunned. "I-I-It has changed," she finally said. "She's changed."
Willow growled for real this time and got to her feet to talk some sense into her best friend. "Buffy, I know she took care of you last night, and that's fresh on your mind, but this is Faith we're talking about here. There's only one thing Faith cares about, and that's herself. Screw what anybody else wants or needs."
Buffy's mind was in turmoil. Her own memories of Faith certainly supported Willow's notion, but she couldn't reconcile those past events with Faith's actions in the last eighteen hours. As she struggled to comprehend it all, she only faintly noticed the sound of the front door opening. As soon as she heard Tara's voice and saw her walk into the dining room, though, she rushed to her side.
"Tara! D-D-Did you see Faith anywhere? You know, while you were out?"
"No, I'm sorry, sweetie. I didn't," she said sympathetically.
Buffy looked crushed by the news and dropped her gaze to her hands. After a long moment, she got her emotions under control and looked back up at Tara.
"If you hear from her," she said with forced evenness, "please let me know. I'll be downstairs with Dawn." Without another word, Buffy turned and headed back into the kitchen.
Tara waited until she heard the basement door open and close. Then she turned toward Willow and demanded, "What did you say to her?!"
"Nothing! It's not my fault Faith's pulling one of her trademarked disappearing acts."
"Well, maybe if you guys had been more welcoming, she wouldn't be making herself scarce."
"Welcoming? I'm supposed to 'welcome' the person who held a knife to my throat, who tried to kill my best friends?!"
"She's not that person anymore. She's changed."
Willow gave a loud scoff. "You don't know her like the rest of us do. You weren't there."
"You don't know her at all!" Tara shot back. "You only know what you knew. You used to know her, and that's all you want to see." Then she stomped into the kitchen.
Willow threw her hands up in the air. I do not get this! Am I the only one who sees the truth here?
As before, a shadowy figure, invisible to the human eye, moved into place behind Willow and began whispering into her ear. After listening for a while, Willow turned and glared in the direction of the front door as if imagining Faith's eventual return.
"Don't worry," she said under her breath. "I'm not going to let her hurt any of us, especially not Buffy."
While Buffy and Dawn were still arranging boxes in the basement and Tara was still fuming in the kitchen, Willow was pacing the floor in the living room near the front door. Her mind kept coming back to how devastated Buffy had looked earlier and how it was totally Faith's fault.
"I don't know what the Council was thinking," Willow complained aloud. "Faith's already pulling the same crap she did before, and it's all going to end in disaster."
Just then Willow heard a motorcycle pull up front. Her expression scrunched into an angry scowl as she went to the front door and placed her hand on the knob. As soon as she heard Faith's boots on the porch, she yanked the door open, startling the slayer.
"Where the hell have you been?!!" Willow barked before stepping aside to allow Faith to enter. She slammed the door and went on. "Buffy has been worried sick!!"
Although Faith was sorry to learn that she had worried Buffy, Willow's bossy attitude was seriously pissing the slayer off.
"Hey, Red, news flash--you ain't my watcher," Faith angrily retorted. "I don't have to check in with you."
"Oh yeah? None of us knew where you were, we didn't have any way of contacting you! Did you even think about that?!"
Deciding that the coal raking wasn't exactly undeserved, Faith held up her hands and backed away. "Okay, fine. I shoulda called."
Willow didn't seem to notice Faith's concession. She just kept going off on the slayer. "We are not going back to the way things were, Faith! No more Lone Wolf Lehane showing up whenever she damn well pleases!"
"She gets it, Will," Tara interjected, having been drawn there by the raised voices. "You don't have to beat her over the head with it." She stepped between Willow and Faith and deliberately changed the subject. "Did you see Buffybot last night? She never came home, and we're worried about her."
"Well, you can stop worrying about her," Faith answered. "I'm pretty sure the Hellions ripped her into pieces. They were braggin' about it, anyway."
Willow stepped from behind Tara and shot an accusing glare at Faith. "You don't have to look so happy about it," she said.
"I'm not!" Faith forced herself to look away and calm down. When she had done so, she ignored Willow and turned back to Tara. "Look, I just came by to give you guys a heads up," she said, lowering her voice in case Buffy was within earshot. "I haven't told Dr. Raine about Buffy bein' back yet."
"Lying to your watcher already," Willow commented. "You're off to a good start."
"Will," Tara growled in annoyance.
"What?" Willow asked. "She's just trying to postpone being sent back to prison."
"This ain't about me and prison," Faith countered. "It's about Buffy. She's not ready to start slayin' again. Plus, once the Council knows she's back, they're probably gonna red-eye a team of investigators over here to pick, prod, and probe, and Buffy's not up for that. I mean, I know she quit the Council and everything, but I don't think they're gonna sit tight and twiddle their thumbs when they've got a resurrected slayer walking around."
Tara nodded in understanding and turned to Willow. "She's right. We need to keep this secret...at least until Dr. Raine arrives."
As much as it peeved her, Willow reluctantly had to agree with Faith's argument. "Fine," she grumbled.
Just then, Dawn and Buffy came from the kitchen carrying boxes that they had brought up from the basement. When Buffy saw Faith, she instantly abandoned her box and rushed over. "Faith! Are you okay?" she said as she pulled the slayer into a massive hug. "I was so worried."
Three sets of observing eyes widened in shock. Two of the three--Dawn's and Willow's--quickly narrowed into intense displeasure. Tara's brightened, though, when she saw both Buffy and Faith clearly enjoying the embrace.
Although initially surprised by Buffy's hug, Faith didn't waste time in returning it. For just a moment, she shut her eyes, wrapped her arms around the blonde, and pulled her close. When Faith opened her eyes, though, she saw Willow and Dawn giving her looks that could kill, so she cleared her throat and awkwardly pulled out of the hug. She took a step back and shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. Buffy frowned slightly at the separation.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Faith said in answer to Buffy's question. "Just went out to take care of some things. Had to go buy some clothes since my bag got torched with the bus. I also went ahead and got a room at the motel. I gotta say, though…it hasn't improved with age."
"Motel?" Buffy said in a mortified voice. "Y-Y-You're not going to stay here?"
Faith gave a scoffing laugh as her gaze darted to Willow and Dawn briefly. "Don't think that's a good idea."
"She's right," Dawn said, setting her box on the floor and then crossing her arms tightly. "We don't have anywhere to put her."
"There's just not enough room," Willow agreed.
"She could stay with me," Buffy suggested before looking at Faith expectantly.
Buffy's statement slapped Faith and the others into slack-jawed silence.
After a few seconds, Faith shook her head and said, "Thanks, but I think I better stay where I'm at."
Buffy seemed terribly disappointed, but Faith moved on to another topic.
"Look, I'm heading out for patrol," she said. "I just wanted to check in." She gave Willow a pointed stare during those last two words. "I need to get out there and make sure the rest o' that biker gang's really gone."
"Patrol? By yourself?" Buffy asked worriedly.
"Yes, by myself," Faith answered in a light voice. "I'm a big girl now, remember?"
"But...you're still hurt from last night, and-and...those bikers, they could be waiting for you...I-I-I should go with you..."
"Uhn-uhn, no way," Faith replied. "As for me, slayer healing's got me good to go, but you...you're not ready."
"It's too soon," Willow said. "Give yourself some time." Tara and Dawn nodded in agreement.
"I handled myself just fine last night," Buffy objected.
"I know," Faith admitted. "But...it hurt you..." She tapped two fingers on Buffy's chest over her heart. "In here. Didn't it?"
Buffy teared up and looked away, nodding, knowing Faith was telling the truth. When she turned back, she asked, "Will you stop back by after patrol and let me know you're okay?"
"It'll be late..." Faith pointed out.
"I don't care," Buffy said. Her eyes found the extra key to the house that always hung by the front door. She went over and removed it from the hook and then gave it to Faith.
"We have phones, you know..." Dawn grumbled, but Faith and Buffy didn't seem to notice.
"Okay, sure." Faith tucked the key into her jeans pocket. "I'll leave my bike here then."
Once again, Buffy pulled Faith into a tight hug. "Please be careful," she told her.
"I will," Faith promised before pulling out of the hug.
Buffy gave Faith a final, meaningful stare, then picked up her box and hurried upstairs with it.
When Faith turned back to the others, she found Willow and Dawn glaring at her again.
"What the hell is going on?!!" Willow demanded.
"What did you do to my sister?!!" Dawn exclaimed.
"Guys..." Tara said, trying to calm the situation.
Faith feigned a shrug. "What? I didn't do anything to her."
"Then why is she acting like that?" Dawn asked.
"Like what?" Faith said.
"Don't you dare pretend like you don't know," Willow accused.
"Okay, fine," Faith said, caving under the pressure. "Buffy's a little…attached to me right now. It's probably because I was the one who found her. Or maybe it's a slayer thing. I don't know! But I didn't make it happen."
"Well, find a way to make it un-happen," Willow ordered. "Last thing Buffy needs is a fatal attraction to you!!"
"Yeah!" Dawn echoed.
"Willow! Dawn!" Tara chided.
"Don't worry," Faith shot back at her two attackers. "I'm sure it'll wear off--once she remembers that she hates me like the rest of you do."
At that, Faith stomped away, slamming the door on her way out.
As soon as the front door had shut, Tara turned on Willow and Dawn. "You are being too hard on her! She's really trying here."
"Really trying to do what?" Dawn asked with suspicion. "That's the real question."
"Well, it's not to hurt Buffy," Tara insisted. "She cares about her."
"She 'cares about her' only because it serves her own interests," Willow said before pointing up the stairs where Buffy had gone. "She just using Buffy as her stay-out-of-jail-free card. If you'd get your head out of your idealistic ass long enough, you'd see that."
As both Tara and Dawn stood gaping at Willow's hurtful words, the redhead turned away from them and strode back into the dining room. When Dawn turned to Tara, she saw a face creased in pain, eyes wet with tears. Dawn started to reach out to her, but Tara just ducked her head and started up the stairs. Dawn stared off for a few seconds then shook her head in bewilderment.
"What the hell is going on around here?" she muttered to herself.
Faith's earlier anger had carried her only as far as the sidewalk outside the Summers home. By the time she had reached her bike, the energy of that emotion had drained away, leaving fear and sadness in its place.
If the others hated her, fine. She could live with that. But if Buffy hated her...
She hadn't been able to bear the thought of that. She'd let out a heavy sigh, grabbed her weapons from her bike's saddlebag, and walked away, determined to distract herself with slaying.
Unfortunately for Faith, Sunnydale's resident evils were being completely uncooperative in the distraction department. Early in the evening, she'd dusted one fledgling vamp in Memorial Park and hadn't seen a single demon since.
Frustrated and bored, she stopped for her sixth cigarette of the night. She growled when she realized she was down to five left in the pack.
"Shit, better cut back," she said as she lit the one she'd pulled from the pack. "I'm going through these like candy."
She took a deep drag and blew it out, then plopped onto a low headstone.
"Just nervous, I guess," she said, her solitude making her unconcerned about talking to herself aloud. "God knows I got a lot to be nervous about. Out of prison, on a short chain with the Council. Can't screw that up. Plus, don't wanna disappoint the Doc."
Faith's thoughts immediately went to Buffy. "Don't wanna disappoint B either. I feel like I've got a second chance here, and I don't wanna blow it."
Faith's hopeful musings were cut off when her inner critic barged in.
Second chance? it needled.
"Okay, fine, seventh chance, thirteenth chance, whatever. I still don't wanna blow it."
Blow it? It's already blown. Been blown since you tried to kill Angel and her friends and her mom. She's never going to forget that. Or forgive it. You're a fool to think otherwise.
"I know she hasn't forgotten it," Faith countered as she stood to her feet. "She told me herself. But she still wants to see me. Hell, she hugged me tonight, right in front of everybody." She tossed her cigarette to the ground and crushed it under her boot.
And how long do you think that's going to last? You said it yourself--she's eventually going to remember how she really feels about you. So why bother? Why let yourself hope for something that is never going to happen?
Faith made an aggravated sound and ran her hands through her hair. When she stopped, her shoulders were slumped, and her eyes were full of sorrow. She knew that her inner voice was right, that she didn't stand a chance with Buffy, that it was just plain stupid to believe that Buffy could ever have feelings for her, given what had happened in the past. She knew all of that. With her brain at least. Her heart, though, was in complete denial, just merrily skipping toward disaster.
"Leave it to me to have a 'stupid' heart," Faith groaned before setting off to sweep the cemetery once again.
Buffy was on the couch with Dawn. A wacky comedy was showing on the television courtesy of the VCR. Dawn's eyes were fixed on the screen, but Buffy's weren't.
Dawn had been trying all night to engage her sister somehow--with cards, games, picture albums--all to little effect. For the most part, Buffy had remained distant and distracted.
At a certain point in the movie, Dawn giggled and pointed at the screen. "The really funny part's coming up," she said in anticipation. When Buffy didn't respond, she turned and saw Buffy once again staring at the front door.
Dawn sighed sadly, picked up the remote, and turned off the VCR.
Buffy noticed the lack of sound and turned back to her sister. "I-I-Is it over?" she asked, hoping she hadn't zoned out for the entire movie.
"No, but I'm tired," Dawn replied, "and you're not watching anyway."
Realizing she was busted, Buffy hung her head. "Sorry."
"It's late anyway. Time for bed." Dawn stood up and headed for the stairs. She stopped and turned back when she reached the first step. "Are you coming?"
Buffy couldn't help glancing at the front door. "Um, no, I..."
Dawn shook her head and turned back around. "Stupid question..." she grumbled as she trudged up the stairs.
When Dawn reached the top of the stairs, she met Willow coming out of the master bedroom. Willow was in her pajamas but didn't look like she'd been able to sleep.
"Where's Buffy?" Willow asked as she gestured at Buffy's open and empty room.
"Where do you think?" Dawn answered bitterly. "Camped out in the living room, staring at the front door, waiting for Faith to check in from patrol."
Dawn made a final harrumph, went into her room, and shut the door.
Willow turned toward the stairs, her eyes darkening in rage. Behind her, the still unseen shadow continued whispering in her ear.
In a secluded observation room, Laran, the PTB who had applauded Buffy during her confrontation within the palace, peered into large bowl upon a stone table. The bowl was filled with a silvery liquid. Upon the liquid's smooth surface, an image could be seen.
It was the very encounter that had just occurred in the upstairs hallway of the Summers home.
In the silvery image, Willow could be seen listening to the shadowy figure behind her. Laran lightly touched the surface of the liquid, and the shadowy figure's true image appeared.
The creature was tall and thin but muscular. Its skin was leathery and dark, nearly black; it almost looked charred. Bat-like wings protruded from its back. Though folded up, they quivered as if eager to fly.
Laran clenched his jaw, and his lips curled into a snarl. "Fury..." he growled in disgust.
He roared and swept the bowl from the table with his forearm, sending it crashing to the floor. He turned from the table, a look of desperation in his eyes.
"Joyce and Osiris were right. Our enemies know something. Something about Buffy and Faith. Something critical. And we'd better find out what it is."
Laran's brow furrowed for a moment as he considered his next step.
"In the meantime, somebody's gotta stall, buy me some time to convince the other Powers..."
He thought a moment more.
"Well, Joyce and Osiris started this...they might as well jump back into the fray."
For just a precious moment, Joyce and Ozzie had managed to evade the room's annoying inhabitants. The two had slipped away to the corner of the hellacious waiting room, where they were now whispering conspiratorially.
"We have to find a way out of here!" Joyce said. "I need to check on Buffy and Faith, not to mention Dawn. By now, there's no telling what the other side may have done!"
"There's no way out," Ozzie insisted. "We're stuck here until the Powers-That-Be decide to let us out."
"But there must be! We--"
Joyce stopped when she heard the urgently whispered interruptive. She and Ozzie looked around for the source.
They followed the voice to one of the many television screens mounted on the walls. Instead of the usual nerve-racking infomercial, they saw Laran's image on the monitor.
"Laran?" Ozzie asked in shock before quickly bowing and reverting to "my lord."
Laran clucked his tongue and waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Stop that! We don't have time for all that nonsense."
"Are you going to get us out of here?" Joyce asked.
"Yes, but not right now." When he saw Joyce readying her objection, he cut her off. "It's going to take time for me to set it up. But be ready. When you see your chance, go for it. The rest is up to you."
"How are the girls?" Joyce asked.
"They're okay. For now. But they won't be for long. Our foes have already sent a Fury, and things are deteriorating rapidly."
"Well then why don't you send one of your Warriors?!!" Ozzie demanded before once again backing into submission by ducking his head.
"Because I'm not permitted to interfere!" Laran replied. "Not yet at least."
"And breaking us out isn't interfering?" Joyce inquired.
"Technically, no, since your escape won't be tracked to me."
"You're really covering your ass, aren't you?" Joyce noted.
Laran glared at Joyce then said, "Going now." Then he blipped away.
Laran blipped back on the screen.
"Is there any way we can watch what's going on?" Joyce asked.
Laran looked away and then back. "Best I can do is give you a feed on Dawn since you're her Guardian anyway." He pinned Joyce and Ozzie with a pointed stare. "Be ready. You'll have to fight your way out. As soon as you're clear, get down there and stop that Fury. I'll work on getting the other Powers on board."
Laran blipped away again, but instead of the screen returning to an infomercial, it displayed a close-up of Dawn on her bed in her room.
Dawn was lying on her side. She had a pillow pressed against her chest, a tissue in one hand and a small framed picture of her mother in the other. She sniffled and dabbed at the tears leaking from her eyes.
"I miss you, Mom. So much," she told the photo. "I thought it would get better with Buffy back, but now I feel even more alone. She doesn't want to have anything to do with me. It's like...being here, being alive again, being with me, is the most unbearable thing ever."
Joyce touched the screen, wishing she could be with her younger daughter to comfort her. "Oh, honey...it's not her fault. I told her it was going to hurt to go back. She just didn't realize how much."
Buffy sat on the edge of the couch, sobbing. She was hunched over, bent at the waist, her arms wrapped around herself. She’d been crying on and off for hours, ever since Dawn had gone upstairs.
At first, she’d cried over the hurt she knew she was causing her sister. Dawn had been trying so desperately to reconnect with her, and she had just ignored her, had just withdrawn into some unreachable place.
Then she’d cried over her mother’s death. When Joyce had died earlier that year, Buffy hadn’t had time for mourning. She’d been too busy protecting Dawn and saving the world to allow herself the luxury of grieving. Now, back in her mother’s house, on the very couch where her mother had died, Buffy had been overcome by the reality of her mother’s absence.
And behind all that was an even greater sense of loss. One that seemed to have no explanation, no reason for being, and yet, there it was, deep within her, a hole torn in the very fabric of her soul, a void that nothing seemed to fill.
No, not nothing exactly. There was one thing--one person rather--that seemed to offer some respite from this 'soul pain' she was feeling.
Just by thinking of the dark slayer, Buffy felt a portion of her anguish slip away. Enough to ease her crying at least. She sat up and let out a long breath. Then she cast a quick glance at the front door and sent out a mental request to Faith.
Please come home soon.
As Buffy got to her feet and headed for the downstairs bathroom, her mind made no comment on the wording of her plea. It didn't question why she had said "please come home" instead of "please come back." It was almost as if a part of her mind somehow remembered the real reason she had left heaven and returned to earth. It was almost as if that part of her somehow knew what was still hidden in her heart...
...the fact that Faith's home was indeed with Buffy herself.
Not because Faith eased Buffy's pain, but because they loved each other and belonged together, now and forever.
Given time, the two would inevitably find one another. Unfortunately, as Laran had discovered, time was not on their side.
A key could be heard turning in the lock, and the front door slowly opened. Faith slipped inside and quietly eased the door shut. When she turned around, she scanned the room and found it empty. She stepped into the dining room and glanced through it to the kitchen. Both rooms were dark.
When she re-entered the living room, she stood at the foot of the stairs, debating whether or not to go upstairs looking for Buffy. She gave a rueful huff of a laugh as she imagined how the others would react if they found her peeking into Buffy's bedroom. "Yeah, that'd go over real well. Better just leave a note."
Just then, Faith heard the downstairs bathroom door open. She watched as a red-eyed Buffy walked out, dabbing at her cheeks with some tissue. When Buffy saw Faith, her face lit up in relief. She rushed to the dark slayer and wrapped her up in a hug.
"Faith! I'm so glad you're here."
"What is it?" Faith asked as she returned the embrace. "What happened?"
Buffy rested her head on Faith's shoulder and tightened her arms a little more. "Nothing happened. Else, I mean. It's just so hard being back. And Mom's still gone..." Her voice cracked a bit as she tried to continue. "It hurts. It hurts so much..."
"I know it does, I know," Faith whispered, caressing Buffy's hair and rubbing her back. "It'll get better, though. It just takes time."
After a moment of crying, Buffy sniffled, pulled out of the hug, and took a few steps back. "Thank you. I don't know how I'd be getting through this if you weren't here."
"You'd be getting through it just fine," Faith assured her, "because Buffy Summers is a survivor." Then she teasingly added, "Well, except for those two times you died."
The jab got a chuckle out of Buffy. "Yeah, I'm really good at success except when I fail."
The two slayers shared a short laugh, but their smiles quickly faded. A heavy sadness hung in the air, and it took a long moment before Faith broke the silence.
"I'm, um, I'm sorry about your mom," she finally said, ducking her head and stuffing her hands into her jeans pockets. "Angel came and told me after it happened." She lifted her gaze. "Musta been really hard."
Buffy nodded sadly. "Hardest day of my life. Still is." Then she cleared her throat and deliberately changed the subject. "So...how did patrol go?"
Faith pulled her hands out and just hooked her thumbs over the top of her pockets. "Went fine. No problems. It was actually pretty quiet."
"After the hurt you put on the Hellions," Buffy said with a smile, "I'm sure word got around."
Faith snorted and shook her head. "Oh yeah, I put the hurt on 'em all right. They were hurtin' so bad you had to save my ass."
Buffy grew serious and took a step towards the dark slayer. "Faith, I only took out those last three that were attacking you. You did the rest. You single-handedly decimated that gang. You know that, right?"
Faith was touched by Buffy's praise--and a little embarrassed. She dropped her gaze to the floor and gave a shrug. "I shoulda quit while I was ahead, but..."
"But what?" Buffy prompted.
When Faith looked up, her jaw was clenched tightly, and her eyes burned with rage. "I wanted to make them pay for what they'd done. Every single one of 'em."
Buffy was surprised by the ferocity of Faith's reaction. "For attacking the town?" she asked.
"No. For desecrating your grave."
Buffy looked confused, so Faith explained.
"When I was chasing down one of the demons, I ended up at your grave. It looked like it had been dug up, and your coffin was empty. I thought they had taken your body. I didn't know that you'd been resurrected."
"So I rushed back into town and confronted the gang leader. He said he'd ripped you apart, said I'd find pieces of you all over the place. I guess he musta been talking about Buffybot, but I didn't know that. I just went berserk. I don't know how many of 'em I killed before it was just me and him."
"A dozen at least," Buffy guessed. "There were bodies all around you when I got there."
"I shoulda been smarter. He wanted me to go through all his boys first. Soften me up. By the time I got to him, I was running on nothing but fumes. He almost killed me. I let him get too close, and he grabbed me by the neck, and I knew I was done for." She let her eyes drop to the floor again. "All I could think about was the fact that I had let you down. My first day on the job, and I couldn't even keep your body safe."
Buffy moved closer and placed her hand on Faith's arm. "None of that was your fault."
"Felt that way," Faith said as she shrugged out of Buffy's grasp. "Lucky for me, he made some offhand comment about you, and it was just enough to get me mad again. I fought back, got free, and then gutted the son of a bitch. I tried to bluff my way past the other demons, but that didn't work, and I just didn't have anything left in me. I guess that was when you got there, huh?"
Buffy nodded and then frowned. "They were beating you so badly. I killed the main one, and the other two let you go so that they could fight me." She glanced away, picturing the scene in her mind. "I finished them off and then ran to check on you, but you were so...still. You wouldn't wake up, you wouldn't move...you were gone, God, you were gone..." Reliving the memory made Buffy's tears return, and she lifted her hand to her mouth to stifle the impending sob.
Faith reached out to grasp Buffy's shoulders. "But I wasn't. You just thought I was." She kept looking at Buffy until the other slayer's eyes met hers. "You got me out of there. You saved my life."
"I'm glad," Buffy said, her voice trembling. "I don't think I could've gone on if you'd died."
Faith's mind was a whirlwind of conflicting thoughts. It just couldn't accept what Buffy was saying. After nearly stabbing Faith to death, Buffy had gone on just fine without her. She'd moved on with her life as if her fellow slayer had never existed. Then, when Faith had awakened from her coma, Buffy had made it her mission to put the slayer away in prison, where she could be conveniently forgotten once again.
But now Buffy was completely different. She wanted Faith's presence, needed it, actually cared about Faith's well-being, seemed willing to put their past behind them. It was everything Faith could have hoped for, and it would be so easy for her to pull Buffy close and claim it all with a kiss.
She couldn't do it, though. Maybe it was guilt, maybe it was fear, but either way, Faith just released Buffy's arms and stepped back, tearing her gaze away before she lost herself completely in Buffy's eyes.
"I should, ummm...I should go," she said. Without waiting for a response, she turned and headed for the door.
Faith plowed right past Buffy's attempt to forestall her leaving. "See you later," she called over her shoulder as she left the house and headed down the porch steps. She pretended not to hear the sad 'good-bye' Buffy whispered before shutting the front door.
Dawn shuffled out of her bedroom and into the bathroom across the hall. After a few minutes, she came out, yawning and stretching. She noticed that the door to Willow and Tara's room was still closed, but Buffy's was open. She glanced inside and found it empty. The bed didn't even look as if it had been slept in. Dawn's forehead creased in worry. She hurried down the stairs.
In the living room, she found her sister asleep on the couch. Buffy lay curled in a ball, a pillow clutched to her chest, the afghan behind her untouched. Buffy's face looked tired and careworn; she was frowning in her sleep as if she were dreaming.
Dawn approached her carefully and gently called her name. "Buffy?" When her sister didn't respond, she squatted beside the couch and touched her sister's arm. "Buffy?"
"Faith!" Buffy cried out as she awoke with a start. "Dawn," she said when she realized where she was and who was with her.
At Faith's name, Dawn huffed in disgust and stood to her feet. She crossed her arms tightly and said, "Faith was a no-show, huh? Typical."
Buffy blinked a few times and then said, "No, um, she came by. Just for a few minutes." She noticed her position on the couch and sat up. "I guess I must have fallen asleep down here after she--"
"I think I'm up for pancakes," Dawn interjected, deliberately shifting the topic away from Faith. She put on an energetic smile. "You want me to make you some? Tara taught me how to make the funny shapes, only mine usually come out looking a lot funnier than hers do. They still taste good, though."
Buffy met Dawn's eyes for only a moment. "No, I, um...I think I'll just go back to bed for a little while." She glanced briefly at her sister once more. "Maybe when I get up." Then she slipped past Dawn and went upstairs.
Dawn's entire expression fell. "I come down, she goes up. Guess it's gonna be another 'I don't wanna be around my little sister' day." After a sad sigh, she trudged off to the kitchen alone.
Upon her return from patrol, Faith had tossed and turned most of the night, at war with herself over how she was feeling about Buffy and how Buffy seemed to be feeling about her. It had been close to three o'clock before Faith had been able to fall asleep.
Once the faint light of sunrise began peeking through the bare curtains, she woke up and hadn't been able to go back to sleep. Giving a growl of displeasure, she finally got up and headed for the bathroom.
When she returned to the bed, she immediately picked up her pack of Luckys and found it empty. She pulled another pack from the carton, opened it, and shook out a single cigarette. She lit it and took a deep drag off it. She slowly exhaled, allowing the nicotine to begin dulling her edginess. After a few more drags, she turned her attention to the phone on her night stand.
"Time to check in with Team Tweed," she announced, snickering a bit at her little joke.
As soon as she picked up her phone card, though, she remembered how Dr. Raine had caught her smoking during their last long distance call. She grumbled to herself and reluctantly put out her cigarette before punching in the numbers. When the ringing stopped, she heard her watcher answer the phone.
"Hel--ahem--hello?" Dr. Raine said in a scratchy, sleep-muddled voice.
Faith silently pumped her fist. Gotcha! "What's up, Doc?" she teased. "Obviously not you."
"Faith, ah...well, um...yes. I put in quite a few hours yesterday." The watcher's voice was slowly returning to its usual crispness. "How are things in Sunnydale?"
"At the moment, quiet. Patrol was a total bust last night. I guess the creatures of the night heard the news that a real slayer's back in town."
"Well, enjoy it while you can. The reprieve won't last long, I'm sure."
"Gee, thanks for the optimism there, Doc," Faith laughed.
"Just being realistic, my dear. Hopefully, however, the lull will last until I get there, which shouldn't be too much longer."
"Hey, no problem. Things are five-by-five here in SunnyD. Don't you worry."
As Faith spoke, her eyes caught a glimpse of the folded photo booth pictures that she had propped against the phone the night before. She plucked the strip of photos from their place and started looking at them.
"What are your plans for the day?" Dr. Raine asked.
"Not sure yet," Faith answered.
She was smiling at the first two frames showing her and Buffy making goofy poses. Then she turned the strip over and looked at the last two frames--the ones where the two had shared a passionate kiss and then stared breathlessly at each other. Faith's smile fell away, and she put the strip of pictures back on the night stand out of her view.
"I've got a few stops to make," she went on, "but mostly I'll just be hangin' out, I guess."
"I know you expect 'business' to be light, as it were, but how are you healing?"
"Pretty good." Faith stood and stretched her upper body, wincing when she felt the sharp pain of her bruised ribs. "Ribs're still sore, but other'n that, I am A-OK."
"Well, get some rest and something proper to eat," Dr. Rained instructed. " 'A well-rested and well-fed slayer is--' "
"--'a strong and healthy slayer'," Faith chimed in, finishing the much-repeated bit of watcher wisdom. "I think I've heard that one before...Mother," she added with a sarcastic smirk.
After Faith had made her good-byes and hung up the phone, the grin on her lips lingered for a moment--until her thoughts turned to Buffy's mom. Faith remembered how devastated Buffy had looked the night before when they had spoken of her mother's death. She remembered how she herself had felt when Angel had brought her the news in prison.
Mrs. Summers had been the only person in Sunnydale besides Buffy who had ever given a damn about her. To Giles, she'd been just a Council assignment, and a temporary one at that. To Willow and Xander, she'd been a novelty soon ignored. Mrs. Summers, though, had accepted her from the start.
Sure, some of that acceptance had been gratitude for Faith being Buffy's backup, but most of it had been just genuine, motherly concern on Mrs. Summers' part. Unfortunately, Faith had never been comfortable accepting the maternal attention that Mrs. Summers had shown her.
Faith and Buffy were eating supper with Mrs. Summers prior to their nightly patrol. As the two slayers stuffed themselves on the home-cooked meal, they chattered excitedly about the previous night's slaying and their potential prospects for the night that lay ahead of them.
After helping to clear the table, they grabbed their jackets and headed for the foyer. Mrs. Summers stopped them before they reached the door. As they turned around and stood side by side, she rested a hand on their outside shoulders.
"Are you girls sure you have to go?" she asked. "Can't you rest for just one night?"
"Sorry, Mom," Buffy answered. "Evil doesn't take the night off, so we can't either."
"Please be careful," Mrs. Summers told them as she gave their shoulders a gentle squeeze and looked at them with obvious concern.
Buffy smiled warmly at the gesture, but Faith could only look away in discomfort. Back home in Boston, being within touching range of her mother had always meant being within hitting range, or worse. So when Mrs. Summers' simple shoulder squeeze turned into an all-out hug, Faith felt herself stiffen and then panic. She had to fight off the urge to wriggle away to safety.
Soon, though, the embrace was over, and she and Buffy were out the door and on their way to their first cemetery of the night.
Faith sighed heavily as she remembered the way that and many other 'maternal moments' with Mrs. Summers had played out.
She wished she had been able to let herself accept and return the affection that Mrs. Summers had been offering. Maybe if she had, she could've stayed on the shallow end of the insanity pool instead of diving right into the deep end.
But she hadn't, and in her fall, she had lost Buffy and her mother.
And now that Mrs. Summers was dead, it was too late to make amends.
Dawn hadn't been in the kitchen long when Tara had gotten up and made her way downstairs. Tara was surprised to find the teenager not only out of bed but also about to cook breakfast. The counter was cluttered with pancake-making paraphernalia, but no actual flap-jacking had occurred yet.
"Hey, Early Bird," Tara said cheerfully. "What worm are you after today?"
Both Tara and Dawn grimaced at the greeting's unintended grossness.
"Okay, that sounded a lot better in my head than it did out loud," Tara added with a grin. "So...what are you doing up so early on a non-school day?"
Dawn shrugged. "Just woke up. I found Buffy downstairs asleep on the couch. I thought maybe Faith had ditched her, but she hadn't. Buffy just never came upstairs. At least not until I came downstairs."
Tara moved closer and began gently stroking Dawn's hair as the teen continued to vent.
"She wouldn't even stay for pancakes. I told her you had taught me how to make them, but she just wanted to go to bed. 'Maybe later,' she said."
"Well, there ya go," Tara encouraged. "Why don't you plan a special meal for her? Like...a dinner with all her favorites, dessert and everything. What do you think?"
"Okay," Dawn agreed but without looking very hopeful about the plan's possibility of success. She stared at her hands for long moment before looking at Tara with tear-filled eyes. "Why does she hate me?" she asked in a stricken voice. "Is it because it's my fault she died?"
"No, no...oh, Sweetie, she doesn't hate you," Tara assured. "It's just that she's been through something very traumatic, both physically and emotionally. She's confused and hurting."
"But...I just wanna help...if she'd let me..."
"I know, but she needs time, and most importantly, she needs you to be patient with her."
Dawn let out a bitter huff. "She doesn't seem to need time when it comes to Faith."
Tara drew back and then began going through the motions of making pancakes. "You've been listening to Willow too much."
"Well, what she's said has made a lot of sense," Dawn defended. When she saw the pain in Tara's eyes, though, she immediately backtracked. "But not everything!" she frantically amended. She reached out and touched Tara's arm. "Not what she said to you last night. That was really really mean, and she should never have said that. I mean, I was shocked that she did say it. It just...it wasn't like her."
Tara shot Dawn a very sad glance. "No, it wasn't." After a long sigh, Tara forced a smile onto her face and asked, "So...funny shapes?"
Mrs. Summers' plot was in a row partially hidden by a cluster of trees. Faith stared at the grave from the safety of the trees for nearly a half hour before finally walking over and standing on the left side of the grassy mound. She kept her gaze down for a moment, then lifted her eyes to look at the headstone.
It was a smooth rectangular marker set upon a larger, rougher-cut granite base. The words "Beloved Mother" had been engraved in the pale gray surface above Mrs. Summers' name. Below her birth and death dates was a simple carving of a single rose. On the base to the left of the marker was a bronze vase where flowers could be placed. A cluster of loose stones rested on the base's edge, and a small bouquet of mixed flowers was in the vase. The blooms were dry and faded, but not decayed. Someone had clearly visited recently.
"Damn it," Faith said, shaking her head and glancing away. "I should've brought something." She looked back at the headstone. "Sorry. I, uh, I kinda suck at stuff like this."
She used the toe of her boot to nudge at several clumps of grass before she eventually made herself go on.
"Anyway, I know you're probably not too keen on me bein' here, but...I, um, I just wanted to apologize for all the things I did. I hurt Buffy, I hurt you, and-and Dawn and Willow and Xander and almost the whole freakin' world, and I wish I could take it all back."
She dropped her gaze once again and began twisting her fingers together.
"You were always so nice to me, and I--"
"--repaid her by punching her in the face and holding a knife to her throat!"
Faith jumped in fright when she heard the voice behind her. She whipped around and found a furious Dawn Summers glaring at her.
"Dawn..." Faith said softly, the fear in her eyes now joined by deep regret and sorrow.
"What are you doing here?!!" Dawn demanded.
"Nothing, I was just--"
"What? Stomping on my mother's grave? Spitting on it?"
"No! I-I-I wouldn't do that. I--"
"You wouldn't do that? You tried to kill her!!!" Dawn practically shrieked.
Faith opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. How could she explain that she wouldn't have killed Mrs. Summers, that she had threatened her only to hurt Buffy, to draw her into a showdown? What comfort could those words bring?
"Get out," Dawn ordered. When the slayer hesitated, Dawn started screaming. "Get out, get out, get ouuuuuuut!!!!"
Faith instantly turned and hurried away.
Joyce was crying before the screen that Laran had set up for her. Ozzie stood beside her, a hand on her shoulder.
She had just seen Dawn's cruel but understandable rejection of Faith's attempt to apologize. Now she had to endure the sight of her daughter, on hands and knees, sobbing at the foot of her grave. Ozzie moved in front of his friend and pulled her to him. She didn't resist and just wept against his chest.
As one of the gatekeepers between life and death, Osiris had witnessed millions of human passings. He had thought himself immune to the anguish of the lower beings, but he was obviously far from it...at least where a certain Joyce Summers was concerned.
How had he lost his heart to this young one, so newly raised from the mortal coil?
He wasn't sure, but he knew that he'd do everything he could to support her, even if it meant defying Powers-That-Be.
Faith picked up speed once she passed the trees, and she raced away from Joyce's grave. She could feel tears stinging her eyes as she ran, but she fought them off long enough to get to the older part of the cemetery. Once she was alone among the crumbling mausoleums, she came to a stop and let out a roar of frustration. Then she began pacing the grounds, panting and roughly wiping the tears from her cheeks.
"I'm trying, I'm trying so hard...but it doesn't matter, it doesn't fucking matter!!!"
Did you think it was going to be easy? her inner critic asked. 'Oh, I'm sorry I tried to kill your sister and your mother, but all's forgiven now, right?'
Faith stopped pacing, closed her eyes, and tried to calm herself. She wished she could talk to Angel. He would understand what she was going through.
Voiceover, Faith: God, it hurts. I hate that it hurts like this.
Voiceover, Angel: Oh well, it's supposed to hurt. All that pain, all that suffering you caused is coming back on you. Feel it! Deal with it! Then maybe you've got a shot at being free.
Faith opened her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. Angel had told her that the path to redemption would be a lot harder once she got out. When he'd said that, of course, the possibility of her seeing the outside world had been remote at best. It wasn't the in-her-face reality that it was now.
She let out another sigh and whispered, "Angel, what do I do?"
Willow was sitting on the couch with a textbook perched on her knees. She was absently flipping the pages but not really seeing the words that were in front if her. She looked up from her book and frowned.
The tension between her and Tara hadn't lessened with the new day. As soon as Willow had gotten up, Tara had come up with some excuse to leave the house. Grocery shopping this time. Once again Tara had left with only a cursory parting, which irked Willow to no end.
It saddened her, too. She missed her girlfriend, damn it! Why did Tara have to be so damn naive?
Willow's inner musings were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. Her hopeful expression fell when she saw Dawn stomp inside and slam the front door.
Willow set her book aside and stood up. "What is it, Dawnie?"
"Faith was at Mom's grave," Dawn said with disgust. "I cannot believe her!"
"What was she doing?" Willow asked.
"I don't know! What difference does it make? She doesn't have any business being there."
"Damn right, she doesn't," Willow agreed hotly. "Not after what she did to your mom."
Willow paced the floor, seething as she remembered seeing Mrs. Summers' bruised face. After clenching and unclenching her fists multiple times, she turned back to Dawn. "What did you do?"
"I screamed at her, made her leave," Dawn answered.
"Good. That's good."
"Why does she have to be here?" Dawn whined. "We don't need her now that Buffy's back. Why can't we just make her go away?"
"We will, Dawnie," Willow said, pulling the teenager into a hug. "We will."
As she stared off beyond Dawn's shoulder, Willow's eyes narrowed and darkened as the ghostly Fury continued whispering in her ear.
"One way or another," the witch said in a steely voice, "Faith is gonna go. I swear."
After her run-in with Dawn, Faith had roamed Sunnydale's cemeteries for a while, trying to clear her head. When she had grown tired of the useless introspection, she had gone into town, run some errands, and then grabbed some lunch at the diner. Now she was just wandering down Main Street, killing time.
When she saw the sign for the Magic Box, she crossed the street and headed that way. Thanks to the Hellions, the glass of the display window and the front door had been broken out, but both were now covered with heavy plywood. A sign reading "Closed for Repairs" was nailed to the door. The door was ajar, though, so Faith pulled it open and went inside.
Like the other stores on the strip, the Magic Box had been ransacked and looted. Shelves were knocked down and ripped from the walls, tables had been overturned, just about anything breakable had been broken.
Xander was in the rear of the store using a power drill to reassemble a small bookshelf. Anya was kneeling on the floor before the checkout counter. She had her back to the front door and was gathering pieces of broken merchandise into a cardboard box.
"We're not open," Anya said in an annoyed voice. "Can't you read?" Then she turned around and saw Faith standing there. "Oh, it's you."
"Looks like the Hellions did some serious damage," Faith noted.
"Ya think?" Xander replied sarcastically.
"You need some help?" Faith offered.
"We're not hiring," Anya said dismissively before turning back to her task.
"I wasn't lookin' for a job," Faith said, "I was just askin' if you needed help. But if you're not interested, fine."
As Faith turned to go, Anya scrambled to her feet and over to the slayer. "Free labor?" she asked with a gleam of interest in her eyes. "You're offering to work for free?"
Faith turned back around. "Sure. Ain't got nothing better to do at the moment."
Anya clapped her hands in delight. "I love free!" Then she pointed toward the back of the store. "You can help Xander get the shelves back up."
Xander glared at his girlfriend then pasted on an obviously fake smile as he turned back to Faith. "Great."
As Anya, Xander, and Faith were cleaning up the Magic Box, Buffy was alone in her new bedroom, sorting through the boxes that she and Dawn had brought up the day before. At the moment, she was going through a shoebox full of photographs. She pulled one in particular from the box.
It was from the fall of 1998. It showed Buffy in her homecoming dress, posing prettily in front of the fireplace. Her mother had taken it right before Buffy had gone out to meet the limo that had arrived to pick her up.
As she stared at the picture, Buffy's mind took her back in time to the series of events that had come before and after the photo had been captured: Scott breaking up with her, Faith inviting her to the dance so that they could use a couple of studs, Cordelia daring her to run for Homecoming Queen, then Slayer Fest '98 followed by the humiliating loss of the election. The only thing worse was what happened afterwards.
Flashback to "Homecoming"
As a tearful Holly and Michelle accepted their co-win of the Homecoming Queen election, a stunned Buffy and Cordelia turned their backs on the stage and trudged toward the exit. Before Buffy could follow Cordelia out, Faith ran up, grabbed the blonde's arm, and spun her around.
"Yo, B! Where you goin'?"
"Anywhere but here," Buffy muttered, turning back toward the door.
"Aw, come on," Faith said, stopping her once again. "You ain't gonna let some stupid election keep you down, are you?"
Buffy glanced over Faith's shoulder at the stage where Devon and Oz and the rest of the band were gearing up to start the next set of songs. She brought her eyes back to Faith when the dark slayer grasped her shoulders and gave her a high-wattage, full-dimpled smile.
"Hell no," Faith said, answering her own question on Buffy's behalf. Then she took Buffy's hands in hers and started backing up, tugging her into the crowd.
Unable to resist Faith's charm, Buffy smiled back and allowed herself to be returned to the dance floor, where they rejoined Willow and Xander.
The four Scoobies danced as a group to a long set of fun, fast songs. Most of the time, though, Willow and Xander were left to dance around Buffy and Faith as the two slayers fell into their own wicked groove.
As they danced, Buffy just couldn't take her eyes off Faith--how beautiful she was with her hair up, how sexy she looked in that body-clinging black dress, how hot she was when she danced with such abandon. Buffy didn't know where these thoughts were coming from, but she couldn't seem to stop them.
When the music suddenly shifted into a slow song, the foursome stopped and glanced at each other awkwardly. Willow and Xander instantly left the dance floor--in opposite directions. Buffy was puzzled by their exit, but before she could ask Faith what was up with them, her eyes locked onto something else in the center of the dance floor.
It was Scott Hope, happily slow-dancing with his date.
Buffy felt her earlier exhilaration seep out of her. She heard Faith asking her if she was up for some punch, but she didn't answer her. She just slipped quietly away, leaving Faith to stare into the crowd and wonder what had caught Buffy's attention.
Buffy wove through the sea of people with surprising speed, and soon she found herself on the roof of the gymnasium. She sighed gratefully for the open air and the welcome silence. But then the heaviness of her own thoughts descended.
This was stupid. Thinking I could have a normal night, at a normal school dance, with a normal date, like a normal girl.
Scott knew I wasn't normal. That's why he dumped me.
What did I expect? I'm a slayer who lives on a hellmouth, who has to fight evil daily whether I want to or not, and if that's not enough, I have a vampire ex-boyfriend who's back from hell after I killed him and sent him there, and I'm keeping him secret from all of my friends and family because they'd kill him and me if they knew I was hiding him.
God, why does my life have to be so hard?
At this last thought, her breath caught in her throat, and she felt hot tears leak from her eyes and down her cheeks.
"Hey...are you okay?"
And then there's Faith, Buffy thought when she heard the other slayer's voice behind her. She thought briefly of the kiss they'd shared on patrol a few nights after Kakistos and how she'd been trying (and failing) to forget it ever since. I don't know what's going on there.
She shook her head and turned around, wiping away her tears. "Yeah, just having a bad case of the might-have-beens, that’s all."
Faith scoffed and made a dismissive wave with her hand. "Aw, come on, B...you know you really didn't like that pipsqueak very much."
Buffy bristled at Faith's know-it-all tone. "I did so," she insisted, crossing her arms.
"I mean, sure, you liked him. He was cute and nice and all 'crunchy-topped blueberry muffin' or whatever. But you didn't really..." She pumped her fists and made a guttural grunt. "...you know?"
Buffy gave a sarcastic eye roll and uncrossed her arms. Faith took that opportunity to sidle up closer, easing into the other slayer's personal space. Buffy drew in a quick breath but made no move to step away.
"You didn't have that...connection..." Faith went on, running her hands slowly up Buffy's bare arms. "...that chemistry..."
Buffy couldn't stop herself from shivering at Faith's touch even though it felt like fire on her skin.
Faith reached up and pushed a errant strand of Buffy's hair back behind her ear. Then she trailed her fingertips along Buffy's jawline before stopping to caress her cheek.
"You didn't have what we have," Faith said, pinning Buffy with a smoldering stare.
Buffy was breathing in short gasps, frozen in place, unable to tear her gaze from Faith's. "I-I-I don't know what you mean..." she lied.
Faith's mouth curled into a half-smirk. "I'll show you what I mean..." She moved her hand to the back of Buffy's neck and pulled her in for a kiss.
As soon as Faith's lips met hers, Buffy felt the stone walls inside herself give way, crumbling before the rushing surge of suppressed attraction. She eagerly returned the embrace, her hands reaching for Faith's body of their own accord, drawing the other slayer even closer.
It was only when they stopped to breathe that Buffy's fear reasserted itself. Her head was reeling, and her heart was pounding--she had to think, she had to get away to think! She ducked her head and stepped back out of Faith's grasp.
"I, uhhh, I have to go..."
Faith gave a snort of disgust as if she had expected this reaction. "Why? Because of Angel?"
Buffy halted in terror. Oh my god! Does she know? "What?! No!" she shot back at Faith. "This has nothing to do with him."
Faith didn't look convinced. "He's gone, Buffy. Why can't you just accept that and move on?"
Thank god, she doesn't know, she thought before turning on Faith. "I have. Not that it's any of your business!"
Faith threw her hands up in a mock apology. "Oh. Well. Excuse me for givin' a shit." She pushed past Buffy and headed for the stairwell door. "I won't make the same mistake again."
Buffy started to reach out to her, to say something to stop her, but she didn't. She just watched her go. When she turned away from the exit, new tears were rolling down her cheeks.
Buffy berated herself for being such a coward and a liar--for keeping Angel secret, for claiming to be over him when she clearly wasn't, for acting like she didn't feel that connection, that chemistry, that was so definitely between her and Faith.
She'd hurt Faith that night, she knew that, and although they'd become friends again after the 'band candy' incident, the damage hadn't been undone. In fact, everything Buffy had done after that had just seemed to make things worse.
So many bad decisions...so many things I wish I could take back...
Buffy sadly put the photo away and went back to her sorting.
After several hours, Faith and Xander had gotten most of the shelves back up and in their proper locations. Salvageable merchandise had been returned to the shelves and tables. Destroyed items had been loaded into boxes and taken into the back room, which was still outfitted as a slayer training room.
At the moment Faith was transferring the boxes of trash from the back room to the dumpster in the alley. After heaving the last one over the edge and into the dumpster, she stopped and went through a few upper body stretches, frowning a bit in discomfort. Then she shook out her arms and went back inside.
She returned to the back corner where Xander was putting the final set of screws into the back of an extremely large shelving unit.
"Is it ready to go up?" Faith asked.
"Yep," Xander replied, putting away his power drill.
"Okay, then. Let's do this."
They moved to the top of the unit, squatted down, and hooked their fingers under the edge. On a count of three, they lifted with all their might. They strained and grunted until they had raised the shelf high enough to shift their grip from a pull to a push. When they tried to push the shelf into a standing position, they discovered that the bottom back edge of the shelf was hitting the wall.
"Damn it, we're too close to the wall," Xander said. "Set it down."
"No, I'll hold it up, you scoot it back from the wall," Faith said.
"Do it!" Faith ordered.
Xander reluctantly complied, moving around to the end of the shelf. While Faith strained to hold up the whole shelf by herself, he lifted the end and moved it forward a few inches.
"Halfway there," he said before rushing to the other end.
Once she felt him make the last adjustment, Faith let out a roar and pushed the shelf the rest of the way up, without waiting for him to come and help her.
"You could've waited, you showoff," Xander complained lightly as he rejoined Faith at the front of the now upright shelf.
He found Faith down on one knee, cradling her arm against her side, cursing softly.
He knelt down beside her. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Faith said through gritted teeth.
The grimace of pain on her face told Xander she was anything but fine.
"I'm just a little sore from that showdown the other night," she insisted.
"A little? You look like you're trying to pass a kidney stone the size of a baseball. Why didn't you say something?"
Faith shot him a scowl.
"Ohhhh, riiiiiight," Xander teased. "It's that slayer 'wall of silence' commandment. 'Thou shalt not admit to injury or pain.' "
Faith grinned and forced herself to stand. "Yep, that's the one."
Xander rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Slayers," he muttered as he got to his feet.
They shared a smile and then turned awkwardly silent.
After a moment, Xander looked at her and said, "Seriously. Thanks for the help today. And for dealing with those biker demons. I don't know what we would've done if you hadn't sent 'em packing."
"Hey, that's what I'm here for." When another uncomfortable lull in the conversation descended, Faith cocked her thumb over her shoulder and began backing away. "I'm gonna head out, leave you guys to it..."
Faith turned and started for the door. She had gone only a few feet before she turned back. "Xan?"
"I, uhh, I just wanted to say I'm sorry for all the things I did before. I know it's just words, and they don't count for much, but I really do mean it."
Xander crossed his arms and nodded his head noncommittally. "Duly noted."
Faith nodded back and then left.
Just as Faith was exiting the front door, Anya came up from the basement. She pointed in the slayer's direction and called out to Xander, "Where is she going? I'm not through allowing her to work for free."
Xander didn't answer. He just stared at the doorway, thinking intently.
Having decided to take Tara's suggestion, Dawn was now in the process of cooking a special supper for Buffy--one that featured a number of her favorite dishes. Better yet, she and Tara had managed to coax Buffy downstairs to assist in the elaborate production. Even Willow the Grouch had been lured into the action, and the four housemates were actually having a good time.
Or so it seemed.
Despite their best efforts and her own, Buffy still felt disconnected from her sister and her friends. She knew she should be feeling comfortable and happy, but she wasn't. She didn't feel as distant and cold as she had at first; she had begun to see a small hint of that warmth and closeness returning. It was taking so long, though, and in the meantime, she was stuck feeling only that inner pain, that inexplicable sense of loss that lay deep within her. Although the pain had dulled to a bearable level, it was still there.
And being alone didn't exactly ease the pain, but at least it did free her temporarily from the needs of her friends and family. They needed her to be okay, to be herself again, to absolve them of their guilt at pulling her from heaven. They needed her to be the slayer, to resume her role as the leader of the pack, to set their worlds right again.
But she didn't know how to do any of those things. She didn't even know how to make it through the next minute. All she could do was go through the motions and pray that she would feel better soon.
After leaving the Magic Box, Faith had stopped at the pharmacy and then made a fast food run. When she had gotten back to her room, she'd wolfed down her cheeseburger combos, swallowed a handful of aspirin, and washed it all down with the melted remains of her large chocolate shake. Then she'd kicked off her boots and settled onto the bed for a quick nap before patrolling.
She had awakened after only a short time, though, and was now pacing the room in frustration that she had to wait another hour or so before sundown. When staring out the window didn't make the sun set any faster, Faith plopped back on her bed and pulled out the motorcycle magazine she had gotten earlier when she'd bought the bottle of aspirin.
Not even the flashy magazine could hold her attention, though. Instead, her mind went where it always did. To Buffy.
Faith groaned and draped one arm over her eyes. "I need a freakin' Buffy-ectomy for my brain..."
Unfortunately, acknowledging her obsession didn't lessen it in any way. Visions of Buffy, both real and imagined, still danced in her head. She still couldn't believe that Buffy was alive and mere minutes away. She especially couldn't believe that she and the blonde were actually getting along. It had been almost two days, and they hadn't tried to kill each other once. Maybe they could get it right this time. Maybe they could finally be real friends. Maybe, just maybe, they could be more.
Faith sat up and shook her head. "Give it up, girl," she told herself. "Ain't gonna happen. You already got a miracle with Buffy bein' back. Don't be expectin' another one."
She thought of how Willow and Dawn had responded to seeing Buffy's attachment to her. She thought, too, of how Dawn had gone ballistic on her at Mrs. Summers' grave. Although Faith knew these reactions were well deserved, she still couldn't stop herself from wanting to see Buffy, to be near her, to spend time with her. After a moment of brooding, she came to a decision.
"You know what?" she announced to her motel room. "Screw the others. I've waited a long time to get the chance to make things up to Buffy and to start over, even if it's just as friends. If the Scrappy Doos don't like it, they can kiss my ass!"
At that, she put on her jacket, snatched up her keys, and headed for the door.
Buffy, Dawn, Willow, and Tara were at the dining room table, talking and enjoying the meal that they had prepared. All of them were contributing to the conversation, even Buffy. They were also working hard at keeping the atmosphere light and pleasant, which meant no mention of Faith whatsoever.
Although Buffy had participated during all stages of the meal, her facade was beginning to wear thin. It was taking more and more of her energy to keep her pain from leaking through. When she saw that her glass was empty, she decided to take the opportunity for a quick breather in the kitchen.
"I'm going for a refill," Buffy announced, holding up her glass. "Anybody want anything?"
Just then, the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," Buffy told the others. "I'm already up."
Buffy headed to the front door, glass still in hand. When she opened the door, her face instantly lit up into a bright smile.
"Faith, hey," she greeted happily. "Come on in." She lifted her glass as she led Faith into the dining room. "I was just on my way to the kitchen. You want something to drink or eat? We got tons of food."
Faith glanced at the table. Tara was smiling at her, but Dawn and Willow were slicing and dicing her with their eyes.
"Uhhh, no...thanks. I already ate," she said, turning back to Buffy. "I, um...I just came by to see if you wanted to go for a ride." She suddenly realized she'd been twisting her fingers together like a nervous teenager. She forced herself into a casual pose. "I haven't had time to really test out the new wheels on a wide open stretch. Thought maybe you'd like to come along. You know, if you're not busy or anything."
"I'd love to," Buffy said excitedly. "Let me go and get my jacket." She put her glass on the table and practically bounced away.
"But, but..." Dawn huffed in objection, "...we haven't had dessert yet. It's your favorite... Double Chocolate Delight."
"We can have some when Buffy gets back," Tara interjected, trying to be the mediator. "I'm sure she won't be gone long." She shot Faith a hint-hint look.
Faith got the message. "Oh, um, yeah, sure," she said. "I gotta patrol when it gets dark, so I don't have long anyway."
Despite the prospect of a short away time for Buffy, Dawn was not happy. She crossed her arms tightly and looked away. Willow just continued silently glaring at the dark slayer.
Faith took that as her cue to leave. "I guess I'll just wait outside."
When Buffy had returned to the dining room, she'd gotten a very chilly reception. Dawn had shot her an injured look and then fled to the kitchen. Willow had shaken her head and followed after Dawn. Only Tara had seemed to understand. The blonde had told her to enjoy her ride and not to worry, that they'd have dessert when she came back.
Now Buffy was coming slowly down the sidewalk, a troubled look on her face.
She glanced up at Faith's question. "Yeah," she answered before correcting herself. "Well, no...not exactly. I think Dawn's pissed off 'cause I bailed on her special dinner."
"Yeah...sorry 'bout that. I guess I shoulda called first. We can go another time if you--"
"No!" Buffy instantly said before softening her tone. "No, I, um, I want to go...You're saving me actually."
"The kid's cookin's that bad, huh?"
Buffy gave a brief chuckle. "No, it's not that. It was just getting really hard...being there...being around them." She dropped her gaze to the ground. "They're sooo excited I'm back, and I'm just...not. I try to hide it. I mean, they were trying to do something good...it's not their fault I got ripped from heaven instead of Glory's hell dimension." When Buffy looked up, her eyes were filled with tears. "I don't understand it, though. All I feel is pain around them. They're my friends...my family...I should feel something for them, shouldn't I?"
"You do, B. If you didn't, you wouldn't care if they knew how bad you're hurtin' right now."
Buffy thought about that, then nodded and smiled, feeling a small bit of comfort in those words.
"I gotta admit," Faith went on, "I'm with the Super Friends on this. I'm really glad you're back. But...I'm sorry that it hurts for you to be here."
Buffy looked deeply into Faith's eyes. "It doesn't hurt when I'm with you."
Faith's mouth dropped open, and she blinked a few times. "For real?" she asked in utter disbelief.
Buffy nodded. For a moment she considered whether or not to tell Faith what else she'd been feeling inside--how safe she felt with her, how happy, how complete. Before she could, though, Faith spoke up again.
"Weird," she commented. Then she gestured apologetically at her motorcycle. "I don't have any helmets yet..."
Buffy just smiled warmly and said, "I trust you."
As the sun slowly sank in the sky, the two slayers buttoned up their jackets, climbed aboard Faith's motorcycle, and sped away.
At first, Buffy sat upright, only loosely gripping Faith's hips as she peeked over the brunette's shoulder for a view of the road. When Faith told her to hang on, though, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the slayer's waist. She felt an exhilarating thrill as Faith went full throttle on a long straightaway. When Faith eased the motorcycle back to a slow cruise for the curvy parts, Buffy didn't return to her former position. If anything, she snuggled closer against Faith's back.
Which suited Faith just fine.
This is how things oughta be, she mused to herself. Me and B, wild and free.
She made a mental snort at her corny thoughts but couldn't help smiling. After the shitty day she'd had, this was just what she needed to recharge. She hoped Buffy felt the same.
And Buffy did. It was the first time all day that she'd been able to truly relax. Here with Faith, she felt at peace, connected, warm. It was only when Faith pulled into a scenic overlook and parked the bike that Buffy reluctantly released her hold on the other slayer.
"So...what'd'ya think?" Faith asked as they stepped off the motorcycle.
"I think I like," Buffy replied playfully. "You'll have to teach me how to drive this thing."
"With your drivin' record," Faith ribbed, "I don't think so."
"Hey! What do you know about my driving?"
"Only what I heard, and that was enough."
Buffy sent her a mock glare followed by a well-placed pout. "You don't trust me? But I trusted you to drive us without helmets..."
Surrendering to the power of the pout, Faith rolled her eyes and admitted, "That's true. You did."
Grinning at her victory, Buffy led the way to the rustic but sturdy fence that protected visitors from the cliff's edge. The two slayers leaned against the wooden railing and gazed down at the valley below. The setting sun sent streaks of gold and orange through the tangle of rocks and ridges, trees and brush.
Neither slayer spoke for a while. They just quietly enjoyed the view. Eventually Faith broke the silence.
"You can, you know," she said softly.
"I can what?" Buffy asked.
"Trust me," Faith answered. "With anything. I won't ever betray you again...I swear."
"I know," Buffy said with certainty. She didn't know where that certainty came from, and she didn't care. She knew what she knew, and that was all that mattered. "I won't betray you again either."
When Buffy saw the dark slayer's brow furrow in confusion, she said, "Come on, Faith. I'm the one with the resurrected brain. I'm the one supposed to be having recollection issues, not you."
When Faith still looked perplexed, Buffy reminded her, "I kept Angel secret, remember? Of course, you blew it off like it was nothing, but...I know it hurt you, and I'm sorry. There's probably a million other things I did..."
As Buffy went on, Faith dropped her gaze to her hands.
"...plus the whole stabbing on the roof. That was the ultimate betrayal. About as ultimate as you can get."
Faith gave her head a rueful shake. "That one doesn't count."
Now it was Buffy's turn to be confused.
Faith looked back up and met Buffy's eyes. "I deserved that one. After everything I did...hurtin' Xander and Willow, tryin' to kill Angel, helpin' the Mayor...you could've done a lot worse. Probably should have."
The slayers became quiet again, but this time the silence wasn't so comfortable. Each thought back to the mistakes they'd made in the past, the decisions that they still deeply regretted.
Faith's anxiety finally got the best of her, and she lit up a cigarette.
Buffy turned to Faith and raised an eyebrow at her. "Since when do you smoke?" she teasingly scolded.
"Since doin' hard time in the big house, darlin'," Faith answered in an intentionally gravelly voice.
After sharing a chuckle with Buffy, she continued.
"It was just something to do. Plus I could trade 'em for soap," she added with a grin. Then she took another drag off her cigarette and shrugged. "I'm gonna quit. Promised the Doc I would."
Then she straightened into a prim and proper posture and raised her index finger. " 'There shall be no smoking of any kind in my house!' " she said, mimicking Dr. Raine's British accent.
Buffy laughed and then asked, "Are you surrrrre she's not Terrible Travers the Second?"
"Nah, she's good. Nothin' like her brother," Faith insisted. "She's sharp as a tack, like wicked smart. And, tough? Man, she ain't scared o' nothin'. The biggest, baddest gang bitch comes in that infirmary, givin' her shit while she's tryin' to help...she just stares 'em down. I mean, no blinkin' or nothin' for like a full minute. No fear, not a drop. And they know it."
"Is that what she did to you?" Buffy playfully needled.
Faith gave her a what-do-you-mean glance.
"Well," Buffy teased, "weren't you the biggest baddest bitch there?"
Faith had to smile. "Yeah, pretty much. Took the others a while to figure out they couldn't take me, no matter how many jumped me." She sobered a bit. "I spent a lot o' time in the infirmary." Then she brightened again and pointed with her cigarette between her fingers. "But not as much as them."
Faith gazed off in thought for a moment before continuing.
"Dr. Raine would always treat me last. Pissed me off sometimes, but then I realized she was doing it so she could talk to me. This was before I knew she was my watcher, by the way. Anyway, she wouldn't say a lot. Just these little 'mini-grills.' Like this one time when she was stitching up my side."
" 'Sooo,' she said, 'is this how you plan to spend the next twenty years? Relieving your boredom with fighting?' "
" 'You think this is me bein' unbored?' I shot back. 'I nearly took a freakin' shiv to the kidneys! I'd rather keep all o' my blood inside o' me, thank you very much.' "
" 'What else can I think?' she asked all nonchalant. 'You certainly aren't electing any other option.' "
" 'What other option?!' I demanded."
"Then she pinned me with that stare of hers. 'To make a difference,' she said. 'Even here.' "
"She didn't say anything else after that. Just went back to her stitching. Wasn't long after that, she asked me to come work with her in the infirmary."
Buffy smiled and noted, "Where you made a difference."
"Ehhh, I don't know about that," Faith said, dropping her cigarette butt and crushing beneath her boot. "Didn't really know my ass from an aspirator in there. I did better breakin' up fights in the commons and the yard."
After another quiet moment, Faith glanced at the sky and said, "We better head back. It'll be dark soon."
The two slayers left the overlook and headed back to the bike.
"We should come here again," Buffy suggested. "Earlier in the day so we can stay longer."
"Sounds good to me."
"Yeah, we could make it a picnic...stop by Doublemeat Palace and--"
"Doublemeat Palace?!" Faith scrunched her nose in disgust. "I'll take Happy Burger over that place any day."
"What's wrong with Doublemeat Palace? I like Doublemeat Palace."
"How about the fact that there's no meat in their sandwiches?"
"Yes, there is." At Faith's insistent head shaking, Buffy added, "Oh yeah? Then how can they call themselves 'Doublemeat'? They can't just lie in their advertising, you know. They have to, ummm, tell the truth and everything...laws and stuff..." She trailed off, realizing her argument was complete crap. "Okay, Happy Burger it is."
After climbing off the motorcycle, Faith and Buffy stood on the sidewalk beside Revello Drive in front of the large palm tree that graced the corner of the Summers yard. Both fidgeted like high schoolers home from their first date.
"Thanks for the ride," Buffy said, twisting the fingers of her hands together. "I, um, I really enjoyed it."
"Me too," Faith replied. Then she pointed at her bike. "I'll work on gettin' some helmets, though. You know, for next time."
An awkward silence descended, and the two slayers rocked on their feet and cast nervous glances at one another. Finally Faith cleared her throat and spoke.
"I, uh, I just wanted to say that I really like things being cool between us. I know I screwed up in the past, but I'm gonna do better this time. I promise."
Buffy smiled and said, "Me too." She cocked her thumb over her shoulder toward the house. "You wanna come in? Dawn has promised me a divine Double Chocolate Delight."
Faith shook her head. "Nah...after the look she gave me in there, I think I better stay put. 'Sides, I gotta head out to patrol."
Buffy's light mood instantly vanished, and extreme worry took its place.
Faith noticed the change in the blonde's expression. "Don't worry about me," she told her. "I'll be fine. I have done this before, you know."
"I know," Buffy replied before tugging Faith into a tight hug. "But please be careful. Please."
"I will," Faith promised, returning the embrace. As she pulled out of the hug, she put a teasing look on her face and struck a kung-fu pose. "Hey, I got a fifth-degree black belt in 'careful'!"
Buffy gave Faith a playful slug in the arm. "Yeah, right."
Faith laughed. "Just listen for my bike. When you hear the vroom-vroom, you know I made it back from patrol just fine and I'm on my way home."
"Okay," Buffy agreed.
As the two slayers reluctantly made their good-byes, neither of them noticed that they were being watched from the shadows.
After giving a final wave to Buffy, Faith began rummaging through her motorcycle's saddle bags, pulling out a stake and a dagger and tucking them into her jacket. When she finished that and turned around, she was startled to find Willow right in her path.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Willow demanded.
"With what?" Faith asked defiantly.
"I'm not doin' a damn thing," Faith answered before leaning over to pull her keys from the ignition.
Willow maneuvered herself into Faith's line of sight again. "Taking her on motorcycle rides, being all hugsy...How can you take advantage of her like that?!! She just came back from the dead, she's emotionally vulnerable, and you're using her!"
"I am not!" Faith insisted. "I'm just trying to be nice."
"Ha! You? Nice?" Willow made a scoffing laugh and then pointed viciously at Faith. "You're not capable of being nice. Not unless it gets you something in return. And what you want from her, you are never going to get. This fixation she has on you...it isn't real. It's just some stupid post-traumatic attachment that'll be gone before you know it. But until it goes bye-bye, I am not gonna let you hurt her."
Faith tried to take the diplomatic route and held up her hands in a calming gesture. "Look, I know I did a lot of bad things before, and I'm sorry about that, but I'm different now," she said sincerely. "I would never do anything to hurt Buffy."
"I don't care how 'reformed' you claim to be," Willow spat back. "The truth is you destroy everything you touch, and I won't let you destroy Buffy. She's been through enough already. So if you know what's good for you, you better stay away from her."
Faith was taken aback, unsure whether she should be amused by the redhead's aggression or actually concerned. "Are you threatening me?" she asked.
Willow got right in Faith's face. "I'm not the little weakling you remember, Faith. I've got power now, real power, enough to bring Buffy back from the dead. I wouldn't even break a sweat putting you in the ground!!!"
Faith was too stunned for words, which was just as well because Willow didn't stick around for a reply. She turned on her heel and strode away.
It took Faith a few moments to come out of her shock. When she did, her heart was still racing, and she felt a shiver pass through her body. "What the fuck just happened?"
She didn't know, and truth be told, she didn't really want to. It was too unsettling. She just needed to set it aside and focus on the task at hand, which was slaying.
With a heavy sigh, Faith turned away from the Summers home and headed down the street to begin her patrol.
As Tara showered in the master bath, Willow broodingly paced the bedroom, the Fury ever at her side. When the phone rang, she stopped and walked to the door to the hallway.
"I'll get it," she called out to Dawn before picking up the phone. "Hello?"
"Will! Just the person I was wantin' to talk to."
Willow's expression lightened at the sound of her best friend's voice. "Hey, Xander. What's up?"
"Guess who came by the shop today?" Xander asked. "And helped us clean up all afternoon? Last person in the world you'd expect."
The Fury whispered creepily into Willow's other ear. "Faith...bitch..."
Willow's face returned to its scowl. "Faith..."
"Nope," Xander said without having really heard Willow's answer. "Even more unlikely than--Wait, did you say Faith? How did you know?"
The Fury rested ethereal hands on Willow's shoulders. "Murderer...killer..."
"Seems like she's everywhere these days," Willow grumbled. "Except where she's supposed to be."
"Well, I'm not sayin' I wanna join the Faith Fan Club or anything, but she was a big help today. She really went above and beyond, especially since she was still hurt from fightin' those biker demons."
"Manipulator...liar...betrayer..." the Fury hissed.
"God, Xander, can you think with the right head for once?" Willow angrily accused. "She. Is. Playing. You. She's just buttering you up so you'll forget everything she's done."
"Jeez, what's with the harsh, Will?" Xander said in a hurt voice.
"I'm just sick of her, all right?" Willow shot back. "She's using Buffy, taking advantage of her vulnerability. She upset Dawnie today--twice! I just want to..."
As Willow trailed off, the Fury loomed over her, its quivering wings nearly embracing her.
"Killer...killer..." it growled. "Kill. Her."
"...I just want her to go away!" Willow finished. "We don't need her, and we don't want her."
"I hear ya," Xander said. "But I guess we'll just have to wait and see what the Council's gonna do when Faith's watcher gets here, once they know Buffy's back."
"Yeah, I guess so," Willow said.
At least that was what her mouth said. The darkening pupils of her narrowed eyes said something else entirely.
For hours, Joyce and Osiris lingered near the monitor in which Laran had appeared to them earlier. They continued to rebuff the annoying residents of the waiting room, but the situation was definitely wearing on them.
"I swear...if that man blows his cigar smoke on me one more time, I'm going to snatch it out of his hand and shove it where the sun don't shine!"
Ozzie's eyes widened, and he gave Joyce a reassessing stare. Maybe Laran was right. Maybe Buffy did get her fire from her mother.
His thoughts were interrupted when they began to hear a high-pitched whine. When they turned in its direction, they discovered that the escalating shrill was coming from the waiting room door. Suddenly, the door blew open with a thundering boom.
"GO!" came Laran's voice from the monitor behind them.
When they heard Laran's voice, they turned to look at him on the screen.
"You have to hurry," he told them. "There's a Fury. You have to stop it before it's too late! Go! NOW!"
As Joyce and Ozzie took off for the exit, the inhabitants of the waiting room began morphing into the menacing figures of guards.
"Stop them!" the figures screamed as they reached out for Joyce and Ozzie.
Joyce ducked past several sets of grasping hands. When one guard managed to latch onto her arm, she jerked out of his grip and kept moving.
Ozzie's much larger form allowed him to more easily push their attackers away, but his size was also slowing him down. He finally picked up a guard and flung him back against the tide of bodies going after them. Then he grabbed Joyce and stopped her.
"I'll buy you the time," he told her before removing an ornate amulet from around his neck and placing it around hers. "Take this," he said, touching the amulet until it glowed. "You'll need it to fight the Fury."
"Go!" he urged as the guards descended upon them again. "You must get to the top before they catch you!"
Osiris began fighting in earnest then, punching and shoving everyone that tried to get past him. Joyce hesitated only a moment more before dashing toward the door. She got through it just before Ozzie shoved it closed, blocking the mob of guards from reaching her.
When Joyce exited the structure that housed the Timeout Room, she found herself at the base of a mountain that rested upon a tiny island in a great ocean. As far as her eye could see, there was no land but the isle and its mountain.
She raised her head and looked up. The mountain had terraced levels; she appeared to be on the first. Six more levels rose above her. The distant summit shined in promise.
Her mouth dropped open as she gaped in awe and trepidation at what awaited her. She absently grasped the glowing amulet Ozzie had given her.
"Get to the top?" she murmured worriedly.
When she heard angry voices behind the closed door of the Timeout Room, she cast her fear aside and took off.
Faith had been patrolling for hours but hadn't encountered much demon-wise, which was actually a good thing since she'd been very preoccupied the entire time. She couldn't help thinking about what Willow had said. As she walked past a large mausoleum, she stopped for the umpteenth time and distractedly ran her hand through her hair.
Maybe she's right, she thought. Maybe I am a disaster waitin' to happen.
Don't exactly have a stunning track record. Specially not with Buffy.
Just kept screwin' things up. Didn't want to, but I couldn't help it, couldn't seem to stop myself. From hurtin' her. From hurtin' myself. From--
Faith saw stars when her face impacted the stone wall of the mausoleum. She nearly blacked out but somehow managed to avoid falling. Pain streaked through her skull, and she felt blood start dripping down her forehead.
When she turned around, she caught just a glimpse of a male vampire before the fist of another slammed into her jaw.
The blow spun her halfway around, and she stumbled face first into the second vampire. He caught her and flipped her and held her arms behind her back.
The first vamp punched her multiple times in the stomach. When he hit her in her side that was still so sore, she cried out, and her legs buckled.
In momentary agony, she tried to curl up or double over, but the vamp holding her wouldn't allow it. He forced her backwards and lifted her toward his fang-filled mouth.
"Hey! Why do you get first bite?" the first vampire complained.
" 'Cause I can," the second one said.
Before he could resume his bite, the first vamp rushed forward to claim the slayer for himself. What he got was Faith's boots in his chest, which knocked him to the ground several yards away.
When Faith's feet hit the ground, she instantly did a reverse head butt on the vamp holding her. The impact almost made her see stars again, but she didn't let it slow her down. When her captor started staggering backwards, she freed her arms and whipped out her stake. Before he could recover, she sank the stake into his heart.
While that one's dust was still flying, she whirled around and staked the other vamp in the chest as he rushed her from behind. Her momentum almost took her to the ground, but she caught herself and stayed on her feet.
She did bend over at the waist, grimacing and groaning until the pain in her ribs subsided enough for her to straighten up. She used the back of her hand to wipe at the blood streaming into her eyes, but more just poured from the gaping gash in her forehead.
"Shit," she said as she looked at her blood-covered hand.
She made a quick glance at the pockets of her jacket, but she knew she didn't have so much as a bandana in any of them. When she saw blood dripping all down the front of her jacket and t-shirt, she swore again and pressed her palm against the wound, hoping to staunch the blood flow somewhat.
"Fuckin' head wounds," she griped. "Why ya always gotta bleed so fuckin' much?"
Keeping pressure on the wound with one hand and holding her stake in the other, she began limping her way toward the cemetery's exit.
When Faith got out of the cemetery, she stopped on the sidewalk, debating her options. Get stitches at the E.R., which was at least two miles away? Or scrounge for bandages at Buffy's house, which was only a few blocks away?
She would've gone back to her motel room, but her first aid kit had gone up in flames with the rest of her bag on the Greyhound bus, and she hadn't gotten a new one yet.
Weighing her other two options didn't take long, though, because Faith hated hospitals--especially the one she'd spent a good eight months of her life comatose in. It was gonna take a lot more than a gash in her head to make her go back to that place. Besides, she still had the key Buffy had given her. If Buffy's first aid kit was still stashed in the downstairs bathroom, she'd be set.
With her choice made, Faith turned and headed toward Revello Drive.
Still holding one hand against the gash on her forehead, Faith quietly let herself in the front door with the key. The first floor appeared unoccupied, so she went directly to the downstairs bathroom. She located Buffy's old first aid kit right where she remembered it being--in the cabinet below the sink.
She pulled out the kit and set it on the vanity, then started digging through it with both hands. When she saw drops of blood landing on the counter and the wood floor, she grabbed the hand towel from its ring and pressed it against the gash while she hunted one-handed through the first aid kit. Finally she found what she was looking for--some butterfly bandages. She set them out on the vanity, closed up the kit, and put it back under the cabinet below the sink.
She set the towel aside and washed her hands before opening the bandages and laying them out on the counter beside the sink. Then she turned on the water and soaked one end of the hand towel. After wringing it out, she cleaned up the wound and patted it dry with the other end of the towel.
Before the gash could begin bleeding substantially again, she used one hand to force the middle of the wound closed while using her other to place a butterfly bandage across the two edges of skin. Once the bandage was in place, she pressed it down firmly and then released it. She let out her breath when she saw that it was going to hold. She quickly applied several more of the butterfly bandages until the majority of the gash was effectively sealed.
She dabbed away the last few dribbles of blood, then rinsed the towel again and wiped off the rest of her face and neck. She removed her blue jean jacket, lamenting that she might not be able to get the borrowed item clean before she returned it to the apartment owner. For now she hung it on the knob of the open door. Then she pulled off her blood-stained t-shirt and rested it on the counter, intending to rinse it in the sink.
"Oh my god...you're hurt."
Faith jumped at the voice and whipped around to see Buffy, clad in tank top and boxers, coming through the open door of the bathroom. "Jesus, B! Knock why don't ya?"
"What happened?" Buffy asked in concern as she brushed her fingertips over the wound that Faith had just bandaged.
"It's nothing," Faith said, blushing a bit at the reason for her injury. "Coupla vamps surprised me, that's all."
Buffy's worried eyes moved to Faith's exposed upper body, which still showed the fading scrapes and bruises from the battle with the Hellions. She frowned as she ran her fingers over Faith's stomach and along her side where a large bruise spread over her ribs and disappeared under her bra.
"I'm so glad you're okay," she said, slipping her arms around Faith for a hug.
Though the embrace hurt a bit, Faith couldn't resist returning it. "Yeah, me too."
Faith knew that she ought to end the hug, but she didn't want to. It felt so good to be in Buffy's arms like this. And when Buffy started to slowly and gently caress her back, Faith found herself doing the same for Buffy.
Soon both slayers could feel their hearts pounding in their chests. Breathing hard, they pulled back and looked into each other's eyes. Suddenly, they brought their mouths together in a crushing kiss. Desire, too long repressed, took over, and they kissed hungrily, desperately, again and again.
As Faith's heart and body sang with elation, her mind plagued her with doubts. She kept hearing Willow's earlier words, "This fixation she has on you...it isn't real...You destroy everything you touch." Faith stopped the embrace and all but shoved Buffy away from her.
"I can't--I can't do this," Faith told her.
Buffy was confused and hurt. "Why not?"
"Because, because…" Faith stuttered at first, unable to come up with a sufficient answer. Then she pushed past Buffy, grabbed her jacket, and headed out of the bathroom. "Because you're not totally yourself yet," she answered over her shoulder. "You need time for all that to come back, and when it does, you're not gonna be thrilled about bein' with me."
Buffy followed Faith out. "I am myself," she insisted.
"Oh come on, B!" Faith accused as she turned around. "If you were really yourself, you'd gnaw your own arm off before you'd hook up with me!"
"That's...that's not true," Buffy tried to object.
"Isn't it?" Faith countered.
Buffy didn't know what to say. It was true that in the past she had ultimately rejected all of Faith's overtures, for one reason or another.
"Not now..." Buffy offered.
"Not ever," Faith corrected. "Trust me. You'll thank me later." She started to put on the blue jean jacket but then realized she still didn't have a shirt on, and even if she did, the jacket was still splattered with blood. Reluctantly, she turned back around. "You got a shirt I could put on?"
"Yeah, um, sure," Buffy said, still stinging from Faith's withdrawal. She pushed her feelings down and said, "Dawn helped me put up some of my stuff yesterday and today. Can't believe they kept it all. You wanna come upstairs?"
Buffy gestured for Faith to follow her. Faith laid her jacket over the post of the staircase and followed Buffy up the steps.
Buffy led Faith toward the guest room.
"Wait a minute," Faith said, stopping outside the doorway. "Weren't you in the other room?"
"Yeah, they rearranged while I was gone," Buffy said. When she saw Faith's eyes narrow, she added, "I don't blame them. I was dead. I wasn't supposed to be coming back." She made a rueful smirk and eye roll. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in some sappy soap opera where no one is ever really dead..."
Faith smiled, glad to see Buffy making a joke after their intense encounter.
As they entered the room, Faith lingered before the dresser that faced the short end of the bed, while Buffy headed over to the chest of drawers that faced the long side of the bed.
"Let me see what I've got," Buffy said. "What kind of shirt do you want?" she asked, beginning to skim through the drawers.
"Doesn't matter," Faith answered, taking a quick glance at the stacks of newly unpacked picture frames and knickknacks precariously heaped atop the cluttered dresser. "Tank, tee, whatever ya got."
Buffy held up a faded maroon shirt with a crinkled white number on it. "How about an old jersey?"
Buffy closed the drawers, walked over, and handed the shirt to Faith. "Here ya go."
As Faith took the jersey into her hands, she paused and said, "As long as it's something you don't mind losing. At the rate I'm going through clothes, this one might not make it till morning."
Faith waited to see if Buffy would decide to take the shirt back, but Buffy was busy catching onto the fact that Faith intended to return to patrol.
"You're going back out?" Buffy asked worriedly.
"Got to, B. It's why the Council brought me here."
"But...you don't have to push yourself so hard. You're just getting back into the swing of things, and you're still healing. Yes, I know slayers can take a licking and keep on ticking, but we're not invincible. Believe me, I know." She reached up and gently trailed her fingertips along Faith's bruised jaw line. "I just... I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you..." With a sad exhale, she leaned against Faith and slipped her arms around the dark slayer, pulling her close.
With the jersey still in her hand, Faith returned the hug, once again luxuriating in the sense of joy she felt at the embrace. She knew she shouldn't be doing it, but it felt so good, so right, even though it scared the hell out of her.
Buffy began caressing the bare skin of Faith's back. When she felt Faith's breath quicken, she pulled back just enough to whisper in Faith's ear.
"Don't go," she told her.
Then she pulled back more so that she could look into Faith's eyes.
"Stay here," she pleaded. "With me."
Faith didn't answer; instead, she simply stared, her gaze going back and forth between Buffy's mouth and Buffy's eyes. After a moment, she lowered her gaze and said, "Come on, B...please...I'm tryin' to do the right thing here..."
Buffy lifted Faith's chin until they were eye to eye again. "You are."
As the blonde slowly moved in for another embrace, Faith mirrored her actions until the two slayers were mere millimeters away from kissing.
Before their lips could touch, though, a burst of magic suddenly blasted them apart. Buffy was flung against the end of the bed while Faith was slammed against the dresser. An avalanche of knickknacks crashed loudly to the floor.
"What the--?" Faith started to ask before turning toward the open doorway and seeing a black-eyed, powered-up Willow glaring back at her. The Fury, unseen by those present, hovered behind the angry witch.
"Willow?! What are you doing?" Buffy asked, getting back to her feet.
"What's the matter with you?!!" Faith accused.
Willow pointed at Faith and growled, "I told you to stay away from Buffy."
"What's going on?" Dawn asked groggily as she and Tara peeked in from the hallway, drawn there by the noise. Dawn's eyes widened when she took in the sight of a shirtless Faith standing near the end of Buffy's bed.
Just then Guardian Angel Joyce appeared in the room. She had her back to the group and appeared rather disoriented when she turned around. Her gaze went to Willow when she heard the redhead's voice.
"I warned you..." Willow was telling Faith when Joyce's eyes fell on the Fury, whispering urgently in the witch's ear.
"No..." Joyce called out in fear as she began to move in Willow's direction.
"Oh yeah?" Faith replied in a taunt to Willow. She bent over to pick up the jersey she had dropped, then turned and pointed back at the furious redhead. "Well, you're not the boss of m--"
Like a massive bolt of lightning, Willow's
magic hit Faith square in the chest and blasted her right through the guest
bedroom's dormer window. The force of the blow was so powerful that Faith
didn't even hit the sloping roof beyond the window. She cleared the roof
entirely, crashed through the limbs of the tree beyond it, and then
disappeared into the darkness.
Joyce watched in pain as Buffy screamed Faith's name and ran to the broken window. She saw her daughter search the darkness in vain, unable to see where Faith had landed. When Buffy turned from the window and tore off in a run, Joyce grasped the amulet Osiris had given her and absorbed its power. Then she whipped around and faced the Fury, who was still standing behind Willow but was now laughing maniacally and jumping up and down with glee. Joyce let out a roar and rushed the Fury. Unseen by the others, the two unearthly beings fell into a screeching body tangle. When the Fury managed to free itself and tried to flee to the ethereal plane, Joyce followed right after.
As soon as the Fury disappeared, Willow's exultant expression fell away. She blinked several times, and her eyes changed from black to their normal green. As she slowly realized what she'd just done, horror came over her face.
Tara shot her an accusing look before taking off after Buffy. Dawn just shook her head in confusion and shock and followed after Tara.
Buffy ran out of the front door and flew down the front steps. As soon as she cleared the porch, she started scanning the yard for where Faith might have landed. She saw the slayer lying on the ground beneath the towering palm tree near the bottom of the driveway. She ran to her and knelt beside her.
In the faint light of the distant street lamps, Buffy could see that Faith was out cold and unmoving, sprawled awkwardly on her back just a few feet from the base of the palm tree. Inexplicably, she still had the maroon jersey clutched tightly in her fist.
"Faith! Faith!" Buffy called out, trying to rouse the dark slayer. But Faith didn't respond. "Noooo...god, no..."
Tara and Dawn arrived seconds later. Tara knelt on the other side of Faith and began checking the slayer's pulse and breathing.
Dawn glanced at Faith, then back at the demolished window on the second floor. She looked at the upper part of the tree in front of the porch, where a sizeable limb had been ripped off, and then at the limb itself, which now lay several yards beyond the hedges, along with pieces of the broken window and its frame. Her eyes followed the scattering of leaves and branches that trailed across the yard toward the palm tree. Finally she looked high into the palm tree itself at the fresh abrasion in the bark of the upper trunk where Faith must have hit before tumbling to the ground.
Oh my god..." she said, realizing just how far Faith had gone and how hard she must have landed.
Tara turned to Dawn and said, "Go inside and call 911. Tell them Faith fell, and she's not conscious. Go!"
As Dawn took off to make the call, Willow hesitantly approached. Tears were streaming down the redhead's face.
"Oh, god, she's bleeding..." Buffy cried when she glimpsed blood on the grass beneath Faith's body. She looked up at Tara, "We have to do something, we have to--"
"No!" Tara ordered when Buffy went to lift the slayer. "We can't move her. It might hurt her more. But we can keep her warm. We need blankets."
Buffy leapt up and dashed inside, ignoring Willow's presence on the sidewalk. Seconds later, she was back with the afghan from the couch and another blanket from the coat closet. She helped Tara place them over Faith's body. Then she worriedly touched Faith's face as if pleading with her to wake up, to somehow be okay.
Finally daring to approach, Willow cried out, "I'm so sorry. I--"
Buffy stopped her with a scathing glare. "Don't you dare come close to her," she warned. "I mean it. Just stay the hell away from her!"
Sobbing even more, Willow backed away. Then she turned and re-entered the house, passing Dawn on the way, who was hurrying over to the others.
"They said the ambulance was just a few blocks away," Dawn informed them. "There it is!" she added when she saw the lights flashing down the street.
Within minutes, the EMTs arrived on the scene, assessed Faith's condition, and got her immobilized for transport. Just as the EMT in the back was about to close the door so that the driver could pull away, Buffy leapt into the vehicle. When the man started to object, she cut him off.
"I'm not leaving her," Buffy informed him.
The look on blonde's face scared the shit out of him, so he just slammed the door and called out to the driver, "Go!"
After watching the ambulance pull away, Dawn picked up the maroon jersey that the EMTs had removed from Faith's grasp when they'd strapped her onto the ambulance's gurney. "God, Tar...what's going on?" she said as she turned to the witch. "I don't understand..."
Tara pulled Dawn into a fierce hug. "I don't know, Sweetie, but we'll figure it out, I promise." She separated them but held onto Dawn's arms and looked her in the eyes. "I know you have issues with Faith, but you need to put them aside for a while, okay? Whether we like it or not, Buffy is very attached to her right now, and she needs our support."
Dawn nodded solemnly. Then the two of them headed back inside the house.
Willow was pacing the floor when Tara and Dawn entered. She turned around and faced them.
"How--How is she?" she asked.
"Do you care?" Dawn shot back.
"Dawnie, why don't you go get dressed and then pack a bag for your sister?" Tara suggested. "I'm sure she'll want to change into some real clothes later."
Dawn did as Tara told her, but not before glaring at Willow. Soon Tara was alone in the room with her girlfriend.
"We don't know," she said in answer to Willow's question. "She's alive. For now. But beyond that..." She merely shook her head as a finish.
"Oh god..." Willow cried, sinking onto the sofa. "What have I done? What have I done? I'm so sorry, Tara...so sorry..."
"I know you are, Will, and that's good. You have a lot to be sorry about. But you're gonna have to deal on your own for a while. I need to be there for Faith and Buffy right now. Dawn will be coming with me, but you need to stay here. Don't show up at the hospital. Now's not the time."
"But...w-w-what can I do? There must be something I can do," Willow pleaded.
"Call Xander and Anya, tell them where we are." When Willow nodded, Tara added, "And pray, Will. For god's sake, pray. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Joyce and the Fury were still in mid-fight, and both were bruised and bloodied. They violently clashed once again, but it was clear by her amulet's fading glow that Joyce was beginning to tire. As the two circled one another, the Fury began to laugh.
"Useless Guardian with borrowed power," it taunted, "you are too late! Already the slayer's life drains from her body, and closer does her soul slide to the fires of hell!"
Joyce's face lit up in alarm. "No..." she cried before abandoning her battle with the Fury and blipping away.
When Joyce materialized in the area where Faith was being worked on, she found the doctor and several nurses running around the gurney, taking emergency measures.
"Heart rate's spiking again," a nurse warned. When the beeps from the monitor became so rapid that they almost formed a single tone, she yelled, "She's gonna crash!"
As another nurse whipped the crash cart into place, the doctor took the paddles, gelled them up, and shouted, "Clear!"
Faith's body jerked slightly as he applied the shock.
"No effect," the nurse called out. "Rate's over 270 now...becoming erratic..."
Joyce rushed to the gurney and placed both of her hands on Faith's chest. Then she started sending energy from Ozzie's amulet into the slayer's body.
"Charging...charging..." cried the doctor as he prepared to deliver an even stronger jolt. "Clear!"
Just as the second electrical shock was delivered to Faith's heart, there was an unseen flash of light, and the last of Joyce's borrowed power left her. Now spent, the angel slumped to the floor.
The doctor and the nurses waited breathlessly for the few seconds it took for Faith's heart to reset itself. When the monitor began beeping in the familiar but slower buh-bump, buh-bump pattern, the group let out the collective breath they'd been holding.
"Normal sinus rhythm restored," the nurse announced.
"Okay, let's get her to the imaging room," the doctor ordered.
As the doctor and nurses started wheeling Faith away, a battered Osiris blipped into the room.
"Joyce!" he cried out as he knelt beside the exhausted guardian.
As he pulled her into his arms, she came to. "Faith..." she called out weakly.
Ozzie stared off into the hallway as if psychically checking something. Then he turned back to Joyce. "She's out of danger," he said, "and I'm taking you back."
Joyce tried to get up. "No...the Fury...I have to--"
"Joyce, you can't," he gently told her. "You haven't the strength, and neither do I. We must return."
Allowing no further argument, Osiris lifted Joyce into his arms and stood, then transported them both back to heaven.
Tara and Dawn hurried into the waiting area and scanned the room.
"There she is," Dawn said, pointing toward the far corner, where Buffy was anxiously pacing. They headed in that direction. When they got closer, Dawn called out to her sister.
When Buffy turned around and saw them, she initially appeared relieved, but then her eyes narrowed, and she searched the area behind the two girls.
"Where's Willow?! Is she with you?!" the slayer demanded, her hands tightening into fists. "I'm going to--"
"She's not," Dawn quickly interjected, trying to calm her sister. "Tara made her stay home," she added as she set down the overnight bag she'd been carrying.
"Good...that's good...because I realllly can't see her right now," Buffy said, still clenching her fists.
Tara hung her head in that 'shame by proxy' reaction that people experience when their significant others have done something bad.
"I don't understand!" Buffy went on. "Why did she do that? Faith wasn't doing anything wrong. She was just...just...standing there. She wasn't threatening anyone." Tears began rolling down the slayer's cheeks. "I don't care what Faith's done in the past...she didn't deserve that..."
Dawn reached over and touched her sister's arm before asking, "Have you heard anything yet?"
Buffy wiped the tears from her face and shook her head. "No, but in the ambulance, it...it didn't look good..." She covered her mouth with her hand, unable to hold back the sob that was at the back of her throat.
Dawn pulled her sister into a hug. Although she was still suspicious of Buffy's attachment to Faith, she did what she could to comfort her sister. "She's a slayer," she reminded her. "She's strong, you know that. She'll be okay."
As Dawn and Buffy pulled out of their hug, Tara lifted her head and met their gaze. "I'm, um, I-I-I'm gonna go call Dr. Raine. Okay? I-I-I think she should know. I'll be right back."
At that, Tara scurried away to find a pay phone.
As Tara came out of the waiting room's double doors and into the hospital proper, she spotted a pair of pay phones in a small alcove next to the vending area. She hurried over and pulled out her pocketbook. Retrieving a pre-paid calling card and a slip of paper with Dr. Raine's number on it, she quickly went through the sequence of numbers required to place the call. After a few rings, someone picked up.
"Hello?" answered the British-accented voice.
"Dr. Raine? Hi, um...this is Tara, Tara Maclay from Sunnydale?"
"Oh, yes, of course. What can I do for you, dear?"
"I-I-I know it's late, but...Faith's been hurt, She's in the hospital. It...it c-c-could be bad. We really don't know yet."
"Good Lord!" Dr. Raine replied. "What happened?"
Tara paused before answering. She couldn't bear to put into words what Willow had done; plus she knew that Dr. Raine hadn't yet been informed of Buffy's return. "It's complicated," she said. "I-I-I don't think I can explain it over the phone."
"You can explain when I get there, then," Dr. Raine said. "I'll leave immediately. I'll see you in a few hours."
"Good," Tara said. "Thanks."
After hanging up the receiver, Tara leaned against the wall and closed her eyes, taking a moment to whisper a prayer to the Goddess.
After Tara had left to make her phone call, Dawn had led Buffy over to a padded bench where they could both sit down. Despite the warmness of the earlier hug Buffy had shared with her younger sister, the slayer had immediately withdrawn into herself, leaving Dawn feeling alone and unneeded once again.
Dawn hated feeling this way. She wanted to blame Buffy or Faith or Willow or somebody, anybody. She just needed to find some strand of sense or reason in all of this. She knew that Buffy was fragile and really didn't need to be grilled, but Dawn's need to understand finally made her break the uncomfortable silence.
"Buffy?" Dawn asked nervously. "Can I ask you something?"
Buffy hesitantly looked over at her sister. "Ummm...I guess."
"You promise you won't get mad?"
"Right now I can't promise anything, but...I'll try. How's that?"
Dawn nodded then steeled herself. "What's going on with you and Faith?" she asked. "I mean, you were mortal enemies before--with good reason--and now she's...shirtless in your bedroom in the middle of the night."
Buffy gave her sister an intense glare of warning but said nothing.
"I'm not bashing Faith," Dawn immediately clarified. "I swear. I'm just...confused. I don't understand what's happening. The last time she was here in Sunnydale, you were ready to rip her head off for what she did to Mom. But since she's been back...since you've been back..." Dawn sadly dropped her gaze to her lap. "...I think she's gotten more hugs than I have."
Dawn's last statement instantly made Buffy's glare disappear. She glanced away and swallowed hard, her chin beginning to tremble. She couldn't deny the accusation; she knew it was true. She'd shown more genuine affection toward Faith than she had toward her own sister. As her eyes filled with tears, Buffy made herself turn back around. "You're right, and I'm sorry..." she said as she tugged her sister into a sincere hug. "...I'm so sorry. I'm trying, I am..."
Dawn began to cry, too, and hugged Buffy even tighter. "I know you are, I know..." After a moment, she pulled away and held her sister's arms. "But you don't have to keep things from me. I'm not a little kid anymore. You can tell me the truth. I won't break." She looked into Buffy's eyes and waited.
Buffy held the eye contact for a few seconds then looked away again. But she did attempt to answer Dawn's earlier question. "I'm not sure I know what the truth is."
"But there is something going on, right?" Dawn pressed.
I want there to be, Buffy thought to herself, but she couldn't bring herself to say the words aloud to Dawn. She was saved from actually answering by Tara's return from the pay phone.
"Did you get her?" Buffy asked when the blonde sat down across from her and Dawn.
Tara nodded. "She's on her way."
"Good. That's good," Buffy said with forced evenness. She wasn't sure how to feel about the prospect of this unknown watcher coming to town. She knew that Faith liked and respected the woman, but Buffy had learned the hard way that the Council shouldn't be blindly trusted. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. "Does Dr. Raine know I'm back?"
"No, we haven't told her yet," Tara answered. "Faith asked us to wait. She didn't want the Council descending on you while you were still adjusting."
Buffy smiled at that. It was such a thoughtful gesture--just another indication of how much Faith had changed. "Probably a good idea," she replied. "If they send another group of jackasses like they did during that Glory fiasco, I'm going to hurt somebody for real this time."
Just then, Xander and Anya entered the E.R. and rushed over to the group.
"Tara, what's going on?" Xander worriedly asked. "Willow called and said Faith was in the hospital. She was crying so hard I could barely understand her. What happened?" He glanced around the waiting area. "And where's Will?"
Tara cast a quick look in Buffy's direction before saying, "You guys better sit down. This might take a while."
As Xander and Anya sat, Buffy stood up. Not wanting to hear a recap of the night's events, especially Willow's part in it, she announced, "I'm gonna take a walk, maybe check in with the nurse again." She didn't wait for a response; she just strode away.
Then Tara and Dawn began telling Xander and Anya everything that had happened.
By the time Tara and Dawn got to the end of the story, Xander had a shell-shocked look on his face.
"I think I better sit down," he said.
"You already did," Anya reminded him.
"Oh. Good." He thought for a minute and then said, "So, what do we do? I mean, how do we--?" He stopped and raked his fingers through his hair. "God, this is messed up. She was just at the shop helping me and An clean up the place."
Anya nodded sadly. "And I didn't even have to pay her."
"I wanted to be mad at her, I tried to be mad at her," Xander went on, "I mean, I should've been mad at her, she tried to kill me before, but...she seemed so sincere..." He scrubbed his hands over his face. "Arggghh...now I don't know what to think."
"Look, I know Willow is kinda the bad guy here," Tara said to Xander and Anya, "but I'm really worried about her. Would you guys go with me to check on her? Maybe stay with her for a while?"
Xander glanced at Anya and then nodded back at Tara. "Sure. We can do that."
Tara turned to Dawn. "Take care of Buffy?"
"I will," Dawn assured her.
Tara, Xander, and Anya got up and headed for the admissions desk, where Buffy was finally getting a report from the nurse.
"Any news?" Tara asked.
Buffy shook her head. "They're still working on her. That's all they'll tell me."
"But she's alive," Xander noted. "I mean, they wouldn't still be working on her if she was--" He cleared his throat and went on. "Which she's not gonna be, of course."
Buffy nodded in gratitude for Xander's attempt at optimism.
"Buffy," Tara said, "we're going back to the house for a little while, but I'll be back before Dr. Raine arrives, I promise."
Knowing that Tara was going to see Willow, Buffy clenched her jaw several times, but she made no comment other than a tightly stated, "Okay."
As Buffy walked back to where Dawn was waiting, Tara and the others quickly exited the emergency room.
When Tara, Xander, and Anya entered the house, they didn't see Willow in the living room. They called out to her, but got no response from the kitchen or dining room, so the three headed upstairs.
As they neared the master bedroom, they heard Willow inside, seemingly yelling at someone. "Shut up! Stop talking! I don't want to hear you anymore!"
They creaked the door open and found Willow pacing inside, holding her fists over her ears, though there was no one else in the room with her.
At least no one they could see. The Fury was back in place behind the redhead, whispering evil things to her.
"Shut up," Willow said again, this time beginning to sob. "Please..." she begged before sinking onto the end of the bed.
Tara gestured for Xander and Anya to stay back for the time being; then she cautiously approached Willow.
"Sweetie," Tara said softly, "who're you talking to?"
Still sobbing, Willow grabbed for Tara's hands, pulling her down to kneel in front of her, "Tara, thank god...please make it stop...please make it stop..."
Concerned, Tara asked, "Stop what, Baby?"
"Mine," Willow wailed. "It won't stop...it won't stop..."
Willow doubled over, crying. Tara hugged her and stroked her back. "It's gonna be okay," she crooned to her, "it's gonna be okay..."
Tara made brief eye contact with Xander and Anya, who were looking as alarmed as Tara was. Xander and Anya then looked at each other. They turned back, though, when they heard Tara begin to sing.
It was a soft, beautiful melody in a language they didn't recognize. They noticed that Willow's cries lessened as the song went along. In fact, Willow eventually sat up and looked right at Tara as she sang.
Unseen by those present, the Fury screamed at both Tara and Willow, but was unable to affect either one of them. With a final screech of rage, the Fury disappeared.
When Tara softly touched Willow's troubled brow, the redhead's eyes began blinking closed. As soon as Tara finished the final line of the song, Willow passed out. Tara caught her and gently laid her back on the end of the bed.
"We're gonna get through this, Baby," she told Willow. "Just rest for now."
After kissing Willow on the forehead, she stood up, closed her own eyes, and took in several long deep breaths to steady herself. When she opened her eyes and looked over at the doorway, though, she saw Xander and Anya crumpled on the floor, dead asleep just like Willow.
Tara rolled her eyes and grumbled, "Crap."
Tara walked over to Xander and Anya and knelt beside them. She leaned over them and whispered a command to them in the language she had sung in.
Immediately, their eyes fluttered open. Both had relaxed and contented looks on their faces. Xander grinned goofily at Tara. As he sat up, he touched her face and said almost drunkenly, "You sing pretty. Sing again."
By then, Anya was awake, and she gave Xander an elbow to the gut. "Snap out of it, Xander."
"Come on," Tara said, helping them to their feet. "Help me get Willow into bed."
After doing that, the three of them left the room and moved down the hallway, away from the open bedroom door.
"What was that?" Xander asked Tara. "What you sang?"
"An Orphic lullaby," Tara answered. "Willow likes for me to sing it for her when she's too wound up to sleep. I put it a little extra whammy on it this time, so it should keep her out for at least several hours."
"Then what?" Anya said. "She was seriously going off the deep end in there."
Xander gave Anya a reprimanding look, but Tara didn't appear to be offended by Anya's bluntness. Instead, she agreed with her.
"I know," Tara said, seemingly trying to put pieces together in her mind. "I mean, I figured she'd be upset, but...something's not right. I can't put my finger on it, but something is definitely not right."
"So, what do we do if she wakes up?" Xander asked.
"Just be with her, talk to her, listen to her," Tara recommended. "And don't take your eyes off her. One of you with her at all times."
"Even in the bathroom?" Anya inquired matter-of-factly but got ignored.
"Do you think she might try to hurt herself?" Xander asked worriedly.
Tara's eyes filled with tears as she gave a rueful shrug. "I don't know. She might. I hope not. I pray not." She wiped her tears away and then said, "I need to get to the hospital. I'll be back after Dr. Raine gets here."
"We'll take care of Will," Xander assured her.
After thanking her friends, Tara hurried down
the stairs and out the front door. Once she was alone in the car, she
finally allowed herself to really cry.
As much as she'd wanted to, Dawn hadn't been able to resume the 'Faith' conversation with her sister, mainly because the slayer wouldn't be still long enough. Still clad in her tank top and boxers, Buffy had been pacing the slick-tiled aisles between the rows of benches and chairs in the sparsely populated waiting room.
Buffy stopped her pacing, though, when she saw Tara enter the waiting room. She clenched her jaw and stared, knowing that Tara had just visited Willow, the person responsible for sending Faith to the hospital in the first place. She knew it wasn't Tara's fault, but she couldn't seem to detach her 'furious at Willow' feelings from Tara. So she deliberately turned away and walked to the opposite corner, feigning interest in the television mounted on the wall.
Buffy's actions didn't go unnoticed by either Tara or Dawn. As Dawn crossed the room, she saw a hurt expression cross Tara's face. When she finally reached the blonde, she could tell that Tara had been crying prior to her arrival at the E.R.
"How is she?" Dawn asked.
"Not good," Tara said, new tears filling her eyes. "She was hysterical. I had to put her to sleep."
Dawn's expression became horrified. "Like a dog?!!" she exclaimed in disbelief.
"No! Of course not!" Tara answered. "I cast a sleeping spell on her."
Dawn blushed in embarrassment. "Oh. Sorry. Been clocking way too many hours of Animal Cops lately."
Tara wiped away her tears and went on. "She was so upset. So distraught. Almost like she was--" She paused to think of the right word. She wanted to say 'possessed,' but she knew it wasn't quite right.
Dawn wrapped her arms around the witch. "She'll be okay, Tar. You'll see."
"I hope so, Dawnie," Tara said, returning the hug. "I hope so."
Buffy was rapidly losing her patience with the staff of the emergency room. After getting yet another "when we know something, you'll know something" response, she was seconds away from storming the triage area. As Dawn was trying to calm her down, the family members of another patient passed by them, giving Buffy very strange looks.
Buffy glared at them, and they all quickly looked away before finding seats on the far side of the waiting room.
"What do they think they're looking at?" Buffy griped. "I'm upset. Nothing unusual about that. No need to give me the freak-show stare!"
"It's not that you're upset," Dawn matter-of-factly informed her. "It's that you're crushing solid steel with your bare hands." She tilted her head toward the horizontal bar set in the wall to assist patients in walking down the hallway.
Buffy looked down at her right hand. When she saw it wrapped around the now-contorted metal bar, she quickly yanked it away, managing to look a little guilty for her slayer-strength slip-up.
Dawn wasn't finished, though. She gave her sister an exaggerated up-and-down lookover. "Plus, there's the fact that you're doing it in your underwear."
"What?" Buffy shot back. Then she looked down at her silky boxers and barely-there tank top. "Oh." She tried to cover herself with her arms while making an embarrassed glance about the room.
"I told you an hour ago that I brought you some clothes to change into," Dawn said in a long-suffering tone. Then she pointed at the overnight bag sitting on a nearby chair.
"Oh. I guess I didn't...Right. Going now."
As Buffy sheepishly grabbed her bag and slunk off toward the bathroom, Dawn walked over to where Tara was doing some pacing glancing at her watch and peering out of the large glass window beside the entrance.
"Tara, if you want to check on Willow, just go. We'll be fine. I know you're worried about her."
"No, i-i-it's okay," Tara said. "I wanna wait till Dr. Raine gets here. Really, I'm fine. No, wait...maybe this is her."
Tara left the window and moved to the entrance. When she saw an older woman in a long trench coat hurrying through the automatic doors, she rushed to meet her.
"Yes. Miss Maclay?"
"Yes. N-N-Nice to meet you. I-I-In person, I mean." When the doctor looked in Dawn's direction, Tara made introductions. "Oh, um...this is Dawn. Dawn Summers."
"Ah, the erstwhile Key," Dr. Raine commented in her British accent.
Dawn smiled and shrugged. "Hopefully erstwhile."
Dr. Raine then turned back to Tara. "Now, Miss Maclay, I believe you have some explaining to do."
Dawn giggled and nudged Tara with her elbow. "You sound like you're getting scolded at school. Or-or on the I Love Lucy Show." Dawn put on her best Desi Arnez impersonation and said, " 'Lucy, you got some splaining to do...' "
Raine and Tara just gave her a look.
"I'm gonna be quiet now," said the teen.
After changing her clothes, Buffy returned to the waiting area. As she dropped her bag back on its chair, she noticed Dawn and Tara talking to a stranger. With her slayer hearing, she could hear Tara telling the woman about Willow's attack on Faith, so she hurried over.
"Hey," Buffy said as she joined the group. "Is this Faith's watcher?"
Dr. Raine did a double-take and then gaped. "Good Lord!" she exclaimed. "The resemblance is uncanny. If Quentin hadn't informed me of your 'robotic slayer,' I'd swear it was the real Buffy Summers standing here."
"That's because it is the real Buffy Summers standing here," Buffy insisted.
Dr. Raine turned and smiled at Tara and Dawn. "Remarkable! Her voice sounds completely human."
Buffy looked around the older woman and made eye contact with Tara. "I take it you haven't gotten to the 'oh, by the way, we raised Buffy from the dead' part?" After an apologetic wince from Tara, Buffy turned back to Dr. Raine, who was now staring for a different reason. "Okay, let's go ahead and get this over with." She stuck out her hand for a shake. "Hi, I'm Buffy. You must be Dr. Raine. Nice to meet you."
The doctor mechanically returned the handshake. "But you're supposed to be..."
Dr. Raine's initial shock instantly transformed into a quest for knowledge. "But how?" she inquired. "A modified golem incantation? The Chinese ritual of jiang shi? The--"
Buffy held up her hands to Dr. Raine in a whoa gesture. "Good questions, bad time," she told her. "Look, I know that a resurrected slayer's gotta be amping up your watcher need-to-know instinct to, like, I don't know, curiosity on crack, but me first, okay? Can you please check on Faith? I've tried and tried, and Nurse Ratched over there won't tell me a thing."
Despite the blonde slayer's attempt at levity, Dr. Raine could see the intense worry in her eyes. She felt ashamed that she had permitted her own worry to become so easily sidetracked. "Of course...please forgive me," she said solemnly. "I shouldn't have allowed my curiosity to get the best of me." She took off her long coat and laid it over a nearby chair. Underneath she was wearing the traditional white smock of a physician. "Perhaps I'll have better luck," she told the girls.
Dr. Raine walked over to the front desk and pulled a small card wallet from her pocket. She flipped it open to her driver's license and showed it to the admitting nurse.
"I believe you'll find me in your staff listing," she informed the woman. "I was scheduled to begin next week, but I arrived early."
When she heard the British accent, the nurse eyed her skeptically but consulted her computer. "Huh," she said in surprise when she found Dr. Raine's name in the list of doctors.
"I'm here to check on a patient of mine who was admitted earlier. Faith Lehane. Could you please tell me where I can find her?"
The nurse tapped out a few more things on her keyboard. "She's in O.R. #3. It's--"
"Thank you, dearie!" the doctor called over her shoulder, not waiting for directions. She just headed straight into the treatment area.
Joyce and Osiris were in an antechamber, waiting anxiously for Laran to return. As Joyce paced the room, Osiris was trying to soothe her.
"What is taking so long?" Joyce complained. "I need to go back and check on Buffy and Faith!"
"At least we didn't get sent back to Timeout," he offered. "At least the Powers are finally listening."
"By the time they decide to actually do something, it could be too late. Our enemies could be moving against the girls as we speak!" She stopped pacing for a moment and let her shoulders slump. "I don't know what I think I could possibly do to help. The Fury was right. I'm useless."
"You're not useless. You've made a difference," Osiris assured her. "In fact, you are the difference here. If you hadn't asked me to examine their timelines, we never would have discovered the deliberate sabotage to their relationship. And if we hadn't discovered that and then helped Buffy go back, Faith would be dead now. Plus, you're the one who got to her in the hospital in time..."
"Yes, but I wouldn't have without your help," Joyce said gratefully. "And if you hadn't lent me your amulet, I wouldn't have been able to save her. Thank you." Then she let out a heavy sigh. "I just hope it was enough..."
Dr. Raine had just finished consulting Faith's charts and speaking with the attending doctor and the nurses who had first treated the slayer. Now she was heading back toward the emergency room. Burdened by the knowledge she'd gained, she paused in the hallway before entering the waiting area.
I shouldn't have sent her on alone, she accused herself. I should have waited. Dear god...
She lowered her head and closed her eyes, massaging her forehead for a moment. When she lifted her head, there was a sad and heavy resignation in her eyes.
This is on me, the watcher thought. Whatever happens now, it's on me.
She drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Then she headed for the doorway to the emergency room waiting area.
Buffy rushed over as soon as she saw the grim-looking Dr. Raine come into the room.
"Dr. Raine! How is she? How's Faith?"
"She's still in surgery and should be out shortly," the doctor answered. "She's stable. For now. But...there are concerns. Serious ones."
Dawn and Tara instinctively moved closer to Buffy as the doctor continued.
"She did suffer an instance of v-fib which required defibrillation."
Buffy shook her head in confusion. "I don't know what that means."
"She had an extremely rapid heart beat that nearly caused her heart to fail. A shock had to be administered to get her heart back into its normal rhythm."
"Y-Y-You mean, she died? Flatlined?" Tara asked.
"No, her heart didn't actually stop completely, but it nearly did. It's likely that the irregular rhythm was caused by the magic blast she received."
An image of Willow's attack flashed in Buffy's mind. She saw the bright white arc of energy leave Willow's hand and strike Faith in the chest, saw Faith's body fly backwards and crash through the window. Buffy clenched her fists and closed her eyes until the image went away. Then she opened her eyes and focused on the doctor again.
"Although not exactly the same," Dr. Raine was saying, "it would have been similar to being struck by lightning or being electrocuted by a live power line. The normal electrical impulses of her heart were disrupted. When her heart received the second, controlled shock, it was essentially reset."
"Was her heart damaged by all of this? Like permanently?" Dawn asked.
"No, her heart's fine now."
"Then why is she still in surgery?" Buffy asked, with hints of panic in her voice. "What else is wrong? Something else is wrong."
Dr. Raine let out a weary sigh. "It's her back. A portion of her lower spine has been fractured and dislocated."
"She broke her back?" Dawn asked in alarm.
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
"Oh god..." Buffy said, beginning to cry. Dawn and Tara reached out to support her.
"Is she going to be paralyzed?" Tara made herself ask.
"We don't know yet," Dr. Raine answered. "The orthopedic surgeon is working on her now--realigning her spine and stabilizing it with metal rods in order to remove the pressure on the spinal cord. We won't know the extent of the damage to her nervous system until she wakes up. And that's what worries me most...that she may not wake up."
"What?" Buffy asked, wiping at the tears on her face. "What are you saying?"
"There's been some bleeding and swelling of the brain. And, as you know, she's had a traumatic brain injury in the past."
Dr. Raine had said the last gently, without accusation. Still, Buffy couldn't avoid feeling that stab of guilt in her heart.
"Any head injury that results in unconsciousness, particularly in a slayer," Dr. Raine went on, "is cause for concern, but when those injuries happen in succession, especially in a short period of time, it's quite dangerous. If we consider her previous coma and add her recent injuries to the ones that she received tonight, it, um...well, it-it-it doesn't bode well, frankly."
Buffy stood shell-shocked as the news sank in. "No...no..." She stumbled back into a chair and began to sob. Tara and Dawn slipped in on each side of her.
As the two girls tried to comfort the distraught slayer, Dr. Raine watched the scene curiously. Given the slayers' antagonistic past, she would not have expected such an emotional response from Miss Summers. Then she remembered Faith's reaction to Buffy's death.
Perhaps the two have made their peace, she thought. Then again, perhaps there's more to their history than anyone knows.
When Buffy had gotten her crying under control, she rose to her feet and approached the doctor. "I wanna see her. I can do that, can't I?"
"Of course you can, dear," Dr. Raine said, giving the slayer's arm a squeeze. "It will be a little while yet, though. Once she's out of surgery and recovery, she'll be moved to a private room in the ICU. That's when you'll be able to see her. I'll get you in as soon as I can, you have my word."
When Buffy nodded, Dr. Raine turned to Tara. "I'd like to talk about the ritual now, the one used to resurrect Miss Summers. I need to know everything about it, especially Miss Rosenberg's role in it. It's possible that there may be a connection between the ritual and the incident that led to Faith's injuries."
"The 'incident'?" Buffy interjected angrily. "It wasn't an 'incident'; it was an attack. A totally unprovoked attack." Buffy's voice began to get louder. "Faith was just standing there! She wasn't doing anything wrong, and Willow just--"
"Buffy!" Dawn said, grabbing her sister's arms. "Buffy, look at me." When she finally did, Dawn told her, "You need to calm down." The older girl glanced away again and tried to pull out of her sister's grasp, but Dawn held on. "If you make a scene, you're going to get kicked out of the hospital, and then you won't get to see Faith. Is that what you want?"
Buffy stopped struggling. After a moment, she met her sister's eyes. "No," she answered in a soft voice.
"I know you're upset about what happened to Faith," Dawn said. "We all are--even me, believe it or not--but we gotta stay cool, okay?"
Buffy nodded, and Dawn released her grip. Buffy fidgeted with her hands for a time. Then she asked, "How did you get so grown up?"
"I kinda had to," Dawn replied with a shrug.
Dr. Raine had let the outburst take its course, but now she took the lead again. "Why don't we sit down?" she said, indicating a group of chairs nearby. Once they were all seated, she turned to back to Tara. "Now...the ritual. Start from the beginning."
Tara ducked her head to think for a moment. Then she looked back up.
"Things were hard after Buffy died." She glanced briefly at the blonde. "We missed you, a lot. And-And we didn't have a slayer. Not a real one. Faith was in prison. Buffybot was doing the best she could, but...it just wasn't the same. We knew it was only a matter of time before we came up against something we couldn't handle."
"Like a gang of biker demons," Dawn noted.
"Exactly," Tara said. "Willow was researching more and more magic, trying to find ways we could fight, and one day this summer she came across a resurrection spell, one we'd never seen before, one that might actually work. And we thought, 'Hey, we can bring Buffy back...we can get her out of that hell dimension she went to when she...' "
When Tara didn't finish, Dawn finished for her. "When she died saving me."
Buffy looked at her sister, but Dawn wouldn't meet her eyes. She kept her gaze on Tara, who nodded sadly and then went on.
"But the spell required an artifact that we didn't think we'd ever find. The Urn of Osiris."
Dr. Raine's eyes widened. "You found an actual extant Urn of Osiris?"
"On eBay, of all places," Tara said. "Once we got the Urn, we gathered the rest of the ingredients, a-a-and two nights ago, we did the ritual. It was so scary. Anya and I were just there as anchors. Willow did most of it. What she went through, how she was tested by the spirits...if I'd known, I never would've--"
Tara's voice caught in her throat, and she had to stop. Dawn reached over and touched her arm.
Buffy dropped her gaze to the floor. She hadn't considered what Willow and the others must have gone through to bring her back. She'd been too lost in her own pain. Still, it didn't excuse what Willow had done.
"Anyway," Tara began again, "while we were doing the ritual, those biker demons attacked. They drove right over the Urn, and we thought the spell had failed. But it didn't. It worked, and Buffy came back. We just didn't know that we'd--"
"You'd what, dear?" Dr. Raine prompted when Tara didn't go on.
"That they'd pulled me out of heaven," Buffy answered. "That I hadn't been trapped in Glory's hell dimension."
Tara gave Dr. Raine a rueful chuckle. "I told you it was complicated."
"Indeed. Indeed you did." Dr. Raine sobered. "This ritual you did...you realize how dangerous it was, don't you?"
"I do now," Tara replied. "I-I-I don't think Willow told me everything about the spell. She never showed me exactly where she found it."
"She probably didn't want you to see it," Dawn speculated, " 'cause you wouldn't have let her do it. I mean, she was ready to just erase parts of Buffy's brain, so--"
"What?!" Buffy objected.
"When we saw how sad you were at being torn from heaven, she said she knew this spell that could make you forget you were ever there. She said--"
Buffy interrupted with an aggravated growl but couldn't put any of her rage and disgust into actual words.
"She's been having problems...with the magic," Tara reluctantly admitted.
" 'Problems?!' " Buffy shot back. "No, she's out of control."
"I'm inclined to agree," Dr. Raine noted. "But what kind of problems with the magic?"
"She's just been using too much of it...even before she got the idea for the resurrection spell. But since we did the ritual, she's been...not herself. I'm really afraid something's seriously wrong. When I went back to check on her, she was so upset that I had to cast a sleeping spell on her. She kept talking about a 'voice' she was hearing."
"Hmmm..." Dr. Raine stared off in thought for a moment. Then she asked, "Where is she now?"
"At home," Tara answered. "Xander and Anya are with her."
"How long will she be under?"
Tara looked at her watch. "A-A-A few more hours probably."
Dr. Raine got to her feet. "I'd like to see her now. Will you take me to her? I'll need to get some things from my car first."
"Sure. We can go in the SUV."
"Wait...y-y-you're just gonna leave?" Buffy accused as she stood to face Dr. Raine. "While Faith is still--"
"Miss Summers...Buffy...there's nothing I can do," Dr. Raine said as gently as she could. "Faith's injuries are beyond my level of expertise. She's in the best possible hands, I promise you."
Buffy wasn't mollified. "Fine," she said in a tight voice. "Go fix Willow. Because when this is over, she and I are going to have a long chat."
At that, Buffy strode away.
Dawn sighed and turned to Dr. Raine. "Don't worry. I'll keep an eye on her. Hopefully I can keep her from inflicting any damage on things and people, including myself."
"Good idea," Dr. Raine replied. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
After exiting the SUV with her satchel, Dr. Raine stopped at the edge of the yard and glanced up at the shattered window on the second floor and the broken tree before it.
"This is where we found her," she heard Tara say. She turned and saw the blonde standing beside a tall palm tree at the front of the yard. She walked over and joined her at its base.
"I-I-I've never seen Willow use so much power before, n-n-not even on a demon. I still don't know why she did it. I mean, I know she has good reason to hate Faith, but...I didn't think she could do anything like this. How could this happen?"
"That's what we're here to find out," Dr. Raine told her. "Let's go take a look, shall we?"
As they made their way toward the front door, it opened, and Xander stepped outside. "I thought I heard the car pull up," he said when he saw Tara.
"Xander, i-i-is Willow okay?" Tara asked worriedly as she hurried to the porch.
"She's still sleeping, but not well. Hey," he said as Dr. Raine came up the steps.
"Oh, um, this is Xander. Xander Harris," Tara introduced. "And this is Dr. Raine, Faith's watcher."
Xander shook her hand and smiled. "Must be our lucky night. Can't find a doctor that makes house calls anymore."
"Too true, too true," Dr. Raine said, chuckling, as the three went inside.
"How's Faith?" Xander asked the doctor once he had shut the door.
"Stable, but still critical," she answered. "Right now, all we can do is to wait for her to wake up. You said that Miss Rosenberg wasn't sleeping well?"
"Yeah, it only just started," Xander replied. "I was just about to call up to the hospital 'cause it was kinda weird."
"Weird in what way?" she asked as she set her leather bag on the coffee table.
"Just that it came out of the blue. She was sleeping peacefully for hours, and then bam, she was crying and talking in her sleep. We wanted to wake her up 'cause it seemed like she was having a bad dream or something, but then we figured maybe we shouldn't."
"No, no...that shouldn't be happening," Tara insisted. "The spell I used...it puts you out, like really out. She shouldn't even be dreaming."
"What did you use?" Dr. Raine inquired.
"An Orphic lullaby."
"Hmmm...I concur with your assessment, then. The Orphics are known for their potency." Dr. Raine paused and thought for a moment. When she clicked back into focus, she began opening her satchel. "Before we go up and wake her, we should take some precautions..."
When Tara quietly entered the bedroom, she saw Anya sitting in the chair in the corner. She gave Anya a grateful smile and then tilted her head toward the door to indicate that she should wait outside. Anya nodded back and left the room.
As Tara eased onto the edge of the far side of the bed, she frowned as she saw Willow whimpering and tossing her head back and forth on the pillow.
Unseen by both of them, the returned Fury hovered over Willow's sleeping form. Although still somewhat battered from its fight with Joyce, it continued to hiss lies in Willow's direction.
"It's not right," Tara whispered before turning to face Dr. Raine at the foot of the bed. "Her aura...it's not right."
"What do you see?" Dr. Raine asked.
Tara turned back around and focused her inner eye. "It's...redder and more...frazzled. I don't know how else to describe it."
Dr. Raine mulled this information over for a bit. Then she told Tara to wake Willow up.
As soon as Tara spoke the command, Willow woke up, gasping in fright and confusion. Her face showed immediate relief when she saw Tara, but that soon changed into guilt-ridden distress.
"Oh, Tara...I messed up, I messed up so bad..."
"I know, baby, I know," Tara told her as she caressed her face.
"And the voice...it's still here..."
"The voice?" Tara briefly glanced over her shoulder back at Dr. Raine. "What's the voice telling you, sweetie?"
"That I killed somebody, that I killed Faith..." She sat up and desperately grasped Tara's arm. "But I didn't, did I? Please tell me she's not dead...please..."
"She's not, Will, but...i-i-it's bad...her back...it's broken..."
"Oh god, oh god..." Willow cried.
"She'll be okay," Tara instantly assured. "She's strong, a-a-and she's a slayer. Plus, Dr. Raine's here now, and she can help her. She can help you."
"That's right, dear," Dr. Raine said gently as she started moving slowly toward Tara. "I only want to help."
Willow finally looked at the woman standing near Tara, only just now noticing her presence. The unseen Fury wrapped one of its bony hands around Willow's throat and pulled its face close to Willow's ear. As she listened, she absently clawed at the invisible fingers around her neck, and her eyes went wide with terror. When the Fury released its grip, Willow started scrambling out of the bed, away from Tara and Dr. Raine.
"No! NO! She's not here to help me...she's here to kill me!"
"Willow, no!" Tara called out.
Once her feet hit the floor between the bed and the door, Willow whipped around with her arm raised, holding a swirling sphere of magic in her fist.
"Stay away from me!" she screamed. Then she hurled the ball of energy directly at Dr. Raine.
Tara instantly raised a shield that deflected Willow's magical blast into the wall, where it took out a sizable chunk of sheetrock and sent dust and debris flying around the room.
By the time Tara could look beyond the bed, she saw Willow dashing through the doorway. She started to scream Willow's name again, but then she heard the recognizable thunk of a tranquilizer dart hitting its target followed by the thud of a body hitting the floor. She and Dr. Raine rushed into the hallway.
They found Xander leaning over Willow, checking her pulse at her neck. They let out a relieved breath when he smiled and gave them a thumbs-up. "She's fine. Out cold, but fine." He looked back at Willow and spoke to her in a teasing tone. "I think somebody's gettin' payback for all those times she had to shoot Oz in the ass."
Tara couldn't help but laugh. "Thank you, Xander."
"The tranquilizer should keep her sedated for several hours," Dr. Raine said to Tara, "but I think we'd better cast the binding spell just the same." Then she turned to Xander. "Mr. Harris, would you do the honors of returning Miss Rosenberg to her bed?"
"Sure thing," Xander said as he began to lift Willow into his arms. "Then what?"
"Then we find out what's influencing her," Dr. Raine said.
"So you think there's an outside force at work, too," Tara said.
"Oh yes," the watcher said with certainty. "She's definitely under the influence of something. The question is what. And why."
Although it had taken pleading and pouting, bossing and bullying, Dawn had finally managed to convince Buffy to leave the emergency room and go to the cafeteria, which had opened at 6:00 a.m.
As they sat down with their trays of food, Buffy began to grumble about Dr. Raine again.
"I can't believe she's not back yet," she complained. "She's been gone for hours. Faith is probably out of surgery now, and she's not even here to check on her."
"I'm sure she'll be back soon." Dawn leaned toward her sister and looked at her intently. "You get that she has to help Willow, right? I mean, Willow was seriously scary last night, and that's not like her."
"I get it. Okay?" Buffy said. "But I don't have to be happy about it."
After the two sisters had had a chance to start in on their breakfast, Dawn took the opportunity to return to the 'Faith' conversation they had begun the previous night.
"You know...you never did answer my question from before," she noted.
"Yes, I did," Buffy answered. "You said, 'Do you want a milk?' And I said, 'Yes, please.' "
Dawn gave her sister a glare. Buffy slumped in defeat.
"I know," she admitted, keeping her eyes on her cream-cheese-laden blueberry bagel as she poked at it with her plastic knife.
"So...?" Dawn prompted.
Buffy lifted her head. "It's just...you wanted to know if there was something going on between me and Faith, and the problem is...I don't know. I can't speak for Faith. I can only speak for myself. I don't actually know what's happening on her side of the equation."
"Then just tell me what's happening on your side. Because I know something's going on--we all do--we can see it."
"Okaaaaay," Buffy agreed reluctantly. She straightened in her chair and began trying to explain. "Faith and I have always had a special connection. It's...a slayer thing. And when I got resurrected--"
Sensing a hedge-in-progress, Dawn cut her off. "Don't you even try to give me the 'slayer connection' line. You're not acting like it's a 'slayer thing.' You're acting like you're in love with her."
Buffy's mouth dropped open, and she immediately glanced away, confirming her sister's suspicions.
Although Dawn had suspected it, the news still rattled her. "Oh my god...you really think you're in love with her."
Buffy looked back up. "Dawn--"
"How--?" the teen demanded. "How can you--? After what she did to Mom, to you, to all of us?"
"It's not that simp--"
"She killed people, she--"
"Dawn!" Buffy almost had to yell to stop her sister's rant. Then she asked, "Do you want me to explain or not?"
Dawn calmed herself. "Sorry. Yes."
Buffy took a breath and went on. "I do have feelings for Faith. Strong ones. And until this moment, I hadn't even admitted to myself, much less to anyone else, that it was actually love. But I know that it is. And I know it seems weird, like this all came out of nowhere, but it didn't."
"Are you saying that you two were involved? Like before?"
"No...not 'involved'...exactly. It never went that far."
"There was an it, though? An actual it between you? Back then?"
"Yes," she said simply.
Dawn shook her head in confusion. "Wait. You were still with Angel then."
Buffy sighed heavily. "Not really. Not anymore. Not with the curse and all."
"But...you still loved him, didn't you?"
"Yes, but I loved Faith, too. Only...I couldn't let go of Angel. So I pushed Faith away. I broke her heart."
"Is that why she went bad?"
Buffy gave a small shrug. "I think it was part of it. Kinda like the last straw."
"But after Faith went bad," Dawn pressed, "that changed everything, right?"
"You mean, did it change how I felt?" At Dawn's nod, Buffy shook her head. "No, it just made everything hurt even more."
"You did move on, though. Angel left town. You met Riley..."
Buffy let her head fall back against her shoulders and groaned, "God, I tried so hard with Riley. I really did." She lifted her head back up. "But...I was just fooling myself. My heart wasn't in it. When Faith came out of her coma, I was hoping that she'd be different, but she wasn't. Not at first. She was hurting so much."
"She was hurting? " Dawn said sharply. "She's the one who hurt everybody. She hurt Mom, remember?"
"Of course, I remember! But...when we switched bodies, I got to see what it was like to be her." Buffy felt her eyes filling with tears. "You can't imagine the kind of pain she lived with. And when I saw her in L.A., she was so...broken. She was so sorry for everything she had done. But I didn't want to hear it. I just wanted to see her punished."
"She deserved to be punished," Dawn said, but without her earlier rage. "She did bad things. Really bad things."
"I know," Buffy admitted. "And she knew it, too. That's why she turned herself in and confessed. She could've kept running, but she didn't. She finally took responsibility and accepted the consequences."
For a time they were both quiet as Dawn tried to absorb what her sister was telling her. Buffy just waited her out. After a bit, Dawn met her eyes again.
"Okay, but...after L.A., you came back to Sunnydale, and you and Riley got serious. It seemed like you had put all that other stuff behind you."
"It seemed like it."
"So...all that time you were still in love with Faith? Is that what you're saying?"
"Love isn't something you can just turn off when it becomes inconvenient. All I could do was bury it and try to move on."
"But it didn't stay buried. When you came back, it came back with you."
Dawn stared for a long moment. When she spoke again, her voice took on a petulant kind of plea. "Are you surrrrrre this isn't some kind of post traumatic stress thing? I mean, maybe it really is just your slayer connection, and when you got resurrected and you were freaking out and everything, you just sort of bonded with her all temporary-like?" She gave her sister a hopeful glance.
Buffy shook her head at Dawn's suggestion. Then she looked her sister in the eyes. "I'm sure."
Dawn let out a small huff. "I just don't understand how you can still love her...after all this time...after all she's done."
"I just do. Plus I can see how much she's changed. She's on the right side now."
"Yeah, but for how long?"
"For good this time. I believe that." At Dawn's doubtful look, Buffy changed her approach and shot her sister a smile. "Come on, she's not all bad. You have to know that. You liked a lot of things about her before she went evil. You went around saying 'five-by-five' for weeks after you first met her."
"I did not!" Dawn instantly denied.
Buffy snickered then sobered. "Look, I know you've got legitimate reasons for hating her--"
"I don't 'hate' her," Dawn interjected. "Exactly," she added at Buffy's eyebrow raise. "I just don't trust her."
"Which I totally get," Buffy said, reaching across the table to touch her sister's arm. "All I'm asking is that you give her a chance." She pulled her hand back and started picking at the edges of her bagel. "Of course this is all assuming that she gives me a chance once she wakes up. Assuming she does wake up." Buffy's expression grew anguished. "Oh, god, what if she doesn't? What if she doesn't get better? What if--"
"She will," Dawn assured, taking her sister's hand in hers and giving it an encouraging squeeze. "You know she will. She's made it this far, and that was the hardest part."
Buffy squeezed back. "Thank you. I know this is a lot to take in, and I appreciate you understanding."
"Listening, yes. Supporting, yes. Understanding, no," she teased. Then she grew serious again. "You know I just want you to be happy, right? If Faith makes you happy and she turns out to be a totally for-real non-psycho, then I guess I won't begrudge you that. After what you did to save me, after what you went through being torn from heaven...you deserve to be happy."
Buffy gave Dawn a tearful smile.
"However," Dawn said, pulling back her hand and raising it with her index finger pointed up, "I will continue to reserve my 'understanding' until Faith passes her 'I'm really not a psycho' test. Understood?"
"Understood," Buffy agreed. Then she quickly added, "Don't say anything to anybody, though...about my feelings for Faith. I need to tell her in my own way and time, and I can't do that until she's better. Okay?"
Buffy blinked in disbelief. "That's it? 'Okay'? No attempt to blackmail or extort...?"
Dawn gasped and shot her sister a look of mock outrage. "I'm appalled that you would suggest such a thing. Now eat your bagel. There are starving children in Africa who would kill for a bagel."
"Grownup Dawn is turning out to be a real pain in the ass."
"Wait till I start asking you all the 'gay' stuff. 'So...when did you start liking girls?' 'Are you sure you're gay?' 'What's it like to kiss a girl?' 'Does that mean I'm gonna be gay too?' ..."
Buffy groaned and started banging her head against the table.
Dr. Raine was sitting alone at the table, taking notes on a legal pad from an ancient volume that sat next to a heap of similarly aged books. After coming down the stairs, Tara joined the doctor at the table.
"How's Willow?" Dr. Raine asked.
"Still bound and still out like a light, thank goodness," Tara replied. "Do you really think it's a Fury affecting her?"
"Yes. Based on our research and on the details that you've given me and that I've seen for myself, there is a very strong chance that it's a Fury. We'll know soon enough." She made a final note and set down her pen.
"Are those the spells?"
"Yes," she said, handing the legal pad to Tara.
"They seem straightforward enough," Tara said.
"You're the one with the talent and the discernment, so the second spell is yours." Dr. Raine gave Tara a serious stare. "It requires an unwavering strength of will. If you falter, even for a moment..."
"I won't," Tara promised. "No matter what it takes, I'm going to get Willow free from this thing."
Dr. Raine patted the witch's arm. "Good. Glad to hear it."
Just then, Xander and Anya came in the front door. Xander was carrying yet another stack of musty old books, which he dumped on a free corner of the dining room table. Anya was carrying a small brown sack, which she also placed on the table, but not before presenting a piece of paper to Dr. Raine.
"What's this?" the doctor asked.
"Your bill from the Magic Box," Anya informed her. "There will be no more freeloading like there was when Giles was in charge."
"But..." Dr. Raine started to object.
Xander leaned over to the doctor and whispered, "Don't get between Anya and her money. It's not worth the hell she will put us through." He smiled innocently at his girlfriend and then sat down. "So...are we ready to do this thing?"
"Oh, um, very nearly," Dr. Raine said, setting aside the bill so that she could pick up one of the new volumes Xander had brought. "I just want to double-check one or two points." She picked up the sack and handed it to Tara. "If you'll finish preparing the ritual items..."
"I'm on it," Tara said, taking the sack and heading back upstairs.
While Xander and Anya stood watching from the hallway, tranq guns in hand, Dr. Raine and Tara were about to conduct the two rituals they had planned. Dr. Raine had first injected Willow with an agent designed to counteract the tranquilizer. Willow needed to be conscious so that Tara could get a better read on her aura. Willow was still bound to the bed by the binding spell that they had done earlier, and she was still clearly under the influence of the Fury. As Dr. Raine began incanting the lines of the first spell, Willow was pleading with Tara.
"Tara, please...don't let her do this. She's trying to kill me! Can't you see that?"
Tara tried to stay focused on Dr. Raine, but her eyes kept darting to Willow. She couldn't bear to see her in such pain.
It's the Fury who's hurting her, Tara reminded herself. Not us.
"When I'm dead, this will be all your fault!" Willow accused. "I hope you can live with that, Tara. I hope you can live with the fact that you killed me!"
It's the Fury, it's the Fury, Tara repeated like a mantra. It's not Willow. My Willow wouldn't do this.
When Tara heard Dr. Raine belt out the last line of the revealing spell, she watched a glowing energy swirl around the room. It began coalescing around a frightening shape that was perched on the corner of the bed. The shape looked like a twisted version of an angel--winged, hideous, evil.
"Dr. Raine! What is that?!!"
"Fury! Just as I suspected. Banish it, Miss Maclay!"
Tara opened her mouth to begin but stopped when Willow started screaming in agony as the Fury appeared to be digging its claws into her skull.
"Willow!" Tara cried out.
"Do the ritual!" Dr. Raine ordered. "Do it now!"
Tara started reciting a passage in Latin, hesitantly at first, then more strongly.
When she reached the end of the passage, the Fury shrieked, left Willow, and began frantically flying around the room as if it were seeking escape but not finding it.
Seeing Willow's aura shift, Tara lifted a vial in the air and began commanding in English.
"Let the evil thing be exiled. To the place which is no place. To the time which is no time...."
The Fury was now going completely berserk. It hovered right in front of Tara, screeching and cursing, but Tara remained unmoved.
"...To the realm of utter nothingness," she called out. "Let it banished, forever!"
She then tossed the contents of the vial into a bowl that was already emitting a ghostly mist. The potion erupted in a flash of light and smoke. The Fury's shrieking became a howl that slowly faded. When the smoke dispersed, the Fury was gone.
Tara called Willow's name and then ran to her side, releasing the binding spell as she went.
Willow clung to Tara and cried, "Oh god, Tara, what's happening? What's happening to me?"
"Everything's okay, baby," Tara told her. "Everything's gonna be okay now."
Dr. Raine, Xander, Anya looked on sadly as the two witches wept in each other's arms.
Willow was now composed, but she kept her hands latched onto Tara's as Dr. Raine talked to her about the Fury. The watcher was sitting on the edge of the bed. Xander and Anya observed from the nearby chair.
"So...i-i-is this Fury thing really gone?" Willow asked worriedly. "W-W-What if it comes back?"
"It won't," Dr. Raine replied. "This particular Fury has been banished completely from this dimension. It can never return, not even if summoned."
"But another Fury could be summoned, right?" Tara asked.
"What?! Another one?!" Willow said, panic in her voice. "Oh god...who is doing this? Why are they doing this to me?"
"I don't know yet," Dr. Raine said. "But it's clear that they were targeting you. A Fury doesn't just attack at random. It's summoned with a particular victim in mind."
"I don't think they were targeting Willow at all," Tara said, causing Willow to give her a betrayed glance. Tara instantly started to explain. "No, I-I-I mean, yes, they were targeting you, obviously. I just mean that maybe Willow wasn't the intended victim. Maybe she was just the means."
"Ohhh, I get it," Anya said. "You think Faith was the target and Willow was the patsy. Huh. Makes sense."
"No, no...none of this makes sense..." Willow said.
"Sure it does...from Evil's perspective," Anya said. "The last thing the Big E wants at the hellmouth is two slayers instead of one, especially when it just got through having none at all. If it can get Willow to take out Faith, that's one less slayer to worry about."
"But why didn't they target Buffy instead of Faith?" Xander asked. "Buffy's the overachiever with the winning record against apocalypses and evil in general. Faith's the flunkie."
"I think the answer may lie in the nature of the weapon itself," Dr. Raine said. "A Fury works by manipulating the victim's own negative emotions, twisting them, multiplying them." She turned to Willow. "Given your close relationship with Miss Summers, it's doubtful you could have been easily incited to harm her."
"But if they just needed someone who hated Faith, that could have been any one of us," Xander pointed out. "Including Buffy. So...why Willow?"
"She's our 'big gun,' for one thing," Anya said to Xander. "Do you think you or Dawn could take Faith out?"
"Miss Jenkins has a point," Dr. Raine said. "But it may be a matter of ease of access." She turned to Willow and met her eyes. "The ritual you used to bring Miss Summers back...it put your very soul at risk. You do realize that, don't you?"
Willow hung her head, confirming Dr. Raine's suspicions that the redhead had known very well what the risks had been.
"It's possible," Dr. Raine went on, "that your foray into dark magic, however good-intentioned and short-lived it might have been, made you more susceptible to the Fury's influence."
"Which means she could be susceptible again," Anya said.
"So...what do we do?" Xander asked desperately. "How do we keep this from happening?"
"I believe there's a protection spell we can cast," Dr. Raine said. "I didn't find it in the volumes available here. I'll have to research it further when my library is delivered. In the meantime, I believe Miss Maclay's ability to read auras will make us aware of any unusual changes in Miss Rosenberg's demeanor."
The watcher gave Tara a questioning glance, and Tara nodded in return.
"Excellent," Dr. Raine said before glancing at her watch. "Now, I must return to the hospital to check on Faith. Mr. Harris, might I trouble you for a ride?"
"Yo, Doc...we just went through our first demony mission together. You think you could dispense with the Misters and Misses? Makes me feel like I'm back in second grade Sunday School."
Dr. Raine smiled. "Of course. Xander, then...about that ride..."
"One ride coming up," Xander said.
As soon as Dr. Raine entered the hospital, she went straight to the admissions desk. After getting cleared by the new nurse on duty, she headed directly into the treatment area, without stopping to speak with Buffy or Dawn. Xander and Anya met the two sisters as they crossed the waiting room.
"How's Faith?" Xander asked.
" 'Critical but stable, critical but stable'...that's all they'll tell us," Buffy complained.
"How's Willow?" Dawn asked.
At the mention of the redhead's name, Buffy crossed her arms and looked away, but she didn't leave.
"Better now that Dr. Raine and Tara exorcised the Fury," Xander replied.
"Banished, not exorcised," Anya corrected. "Exorcisms are for possessions, and Willow wasn't possessed."
"Ummm...what?" Dawn asked, totally confused.
"Apparently Willow was under the influence of a Fury," Xander said.
"I-I-Is that one of those Greek things...the ones that come in threes but not the Fates?" Dawn asked.
"If you mean the three hot chicks in sexy thread-ware from Xena, then no," Xander said. "This thing was scary."
"There aren't just three of them either," Anya added. "That was just a literary thing poets developed a long time ago."
"What do these Furies do?" Buffy couldn't help asking.
"They make a person, well, furious," Xander said. "They take whatever's eating at a person, and they magnify it until the person lashes out. It was the Fury that made Willow attack Faith."
Buffy didn't know how to react to this information, but she didn't have time to consider it for very long, either, because Dr. Raine took that moment to reenter the waiting area. Buffy immediately rushed over to her. The others quickly followed.
"Dr. Raine! How's Faith? Is she okay?" Buffy asked. "Please tell me she's okay."
"She's still stable and now out of recovery from her surgery," she told Buffy. "You can come with me to see her now." Dr. Raine then turned to the others. "In fact, you should all come with me so that you can move to the ICU waiting room."
"Is she awake yet?" Buffy asked.
"Regrettably no," Dr. Raine replied.
At that, Dr. Raine led Buffy and the others toward the public elevators.
After leaving the rest of the gang in the waiting area, Buffy followed Dr. Raine into a large honeycomb-shaped room. There was a nursing station in the center surrounded by a nearly complete circuit of individual rooms. The rooms were encased in glass so that every patient was visible from the nursing station.
Not every room was occupied, but each one that was occupied held a critically injured person hooked up to numerous devices, monitors, and equipment.
As she took in the sights of the ICU, Buffy felt her stomach twist into knots.
"Was it just me, or was Buffy way more interested in how Faith was doing than her very best friend?" Xander asked.
"It's not just you," Anya replied.
"What's going on, Dawnie?" Xander asked.
Dawn froze, unsure how to answer, given her earlier promise to Buffy. She decided that a "tell the truth but not the whole truth" approach would be best.
"Do you remember how Buffy acted when she first came home, when Tara came back in and told her Faith was gone?"
"Yeah, she had a mini-freak-out over it," Xander said.
"Well, I think she was so traumatized from being resurrected that she just, I don't know, 'fixated' on Faith. She's spent every minute of the last two days either thinking about her or being worried about her or waiting for her."
Although Dawn now knew the reason for Buffy's seeming obsession, it still stung to be reminded of it, how it had felt when Buffy had embraced Faith and yet pushed her away.
"She swears Faith has changed," Dawn added.
"Are we sure Buffy's not being influenced by a Fury?" Xander asked, " 'cause this borders on insanity. I mean, changed or not, Buffy's got more reason to hate Faith than anyone."
"I thought we decided to like Faith again?" Anya asked as she looked to Xander for clarification. "She did work for free."
Xander ran his hand through his hair. "I don't know what to think anymore."
On the hospital bed, Faith lay as still as death. Only the soft beeps of the heart monitor assured Buffy that Faith was alive. As she stepped closer to the bed, Buffy could then see the slight rise and fall of Faith's chest as she breathed on her own. Buffy began to cry, but when her tears threatened to turn into all-out sobs, she forced them down before approaching the side of the bed.
Buffy caressed Faith's hair and then kissed her on the forehead. "Hey you," she said in a teasing tone. "It's time for you to wake up now, okay? You've done the whole coma thing before, you know...been there, done that, so no sense doin' it again." When her voice cracked, she swallowed several times and then said, "Just please wake up, Faith...please..."
As Buffy spoke softly to Faith, Dr. Raine carefully observed the two slayers. There was obviously a great deal more to their story than the Council records had indicated. After seeing Faith's reaction to Buffy's death, the watcher had already begun to rethink the causes of her slayer's earlier turn to the dark side. And now, having seen Buffy's reaction to Faith's condition, she could see the puzzle pieces of their troubled past falling into place in her mind.
Leaving Buffy to her visit with Faith, Dr. Raine wound her way out of the I.C.U. ward.
Once in the hallway between the ward and the waiting room, Dr. Raine pulled out her cell phone and punched in a lengthy series of numbers. The phone rang for a time before a male voice answered.
"It's worse than we feared," Dr. Raine said grimly and without prelude. Then, glancing back at the entrance to the I.C.U. ward, she said in more hopeful tone, "But...there's been an unexpected development..."
TO BE CONTINUED SOON IN PART 16...