TWICE CHOSEN
Part 12 (12A-12B)

By DragonWriter17

 


Rating:
R (for language)

Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer 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: The Watchers Forum, 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 3’s “Faith, Hope, and Trick” (and beyond)

Pairings: Buffy/Faith

Author’s Notes: (1) See the first three chapters for detailed notes on the origin of this story. (2) The original chapter 12 got too long, so I had to break it into two parts: 12A and 12B. Part 12A picks up where Part 11 left off. Part 12B picks up where 12A left off. Both parts continue in mostly original territory. In Part 12B, however, I did borrow a little bit from Season 3’s “Homecoming,” but not much; you’ll know it when you see it probably. And I’m changing one small detail from that same episode: Oz and his band are not providing the music for the dance. He and Willow are going to the dance together just like the other couples. (3) For Faith’s backstory for this series, I am using the novel Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary by Robert Joseph Levy (excellent book, by the way). I may not use all of its plot details or use them exactly as they appear in that novel, but I am assuming that Faith’s past in “Twice Chosen” is very similar to Faith’s past in Go Ask Malice. (4) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit!

Number of Chapters: Current Plan = 18 chapters

Complete: 12A and 12B

Chapter 12A Summary: Things are unexpectedly angsty as Buffy and Faith prepare to go to the Homecoming Dance together.

Chapter 12B Summary: It’s dance day! Woo-hoo! But, of course, things don’t go exactly as planned.

 

PART 01     PART 02     PART 03     PART 04     PART 05     PART 06    

PART 07     PART 08     PART 09     PART 10     PART 11  

PART 12     Part 12A     Part 12B

PART 13     PART 14     PART 15     PART 16     PART 17     PART 18

Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories
 

PART 12A

As Buffy gave Faith a grateful kiss for the dance invitation, Willow was not a happy camper. “Oh, it’s okay to go with Faith, but it’s not okay to go with us,” she grumbled to herself, heard only by Oz. “I see how it is.”

Oz gave his girlfriend a pat on the leg, which did little to appease her.

“Oh my God!” Buffy cried excitedly. “I totally need a new dress for this!”

“Guess I’ll have to splurge and get one too,” Faith said with a shrug. “I sure as hell didn’t pack one for my trip here.”

“Are you sure you can afford it?” Buffy asked with concern. “I can ask Mom for some extra—”

“Don’t worry,” Faith said, cutting her off. “I got it covered.”

Buffy looked at Faith intently for a second or two as if gauging the truth of her girlfriend’s answer. When Faith didn’t waver, Buffy went ecstatically back to her original topic. “I saw this awesome dress at April Fools about a month ago...totally had my name written all over it! I’ll get Mom to take off work tomorrow afternoon and go shopping with me...”

As Buffy rattled on about the shopping spree to come, Faith looked away worriedly and sighed.

***

Later, when school was out, Buffy stayed behind to talk to Giles. He had requested some time with his slayer, and they had spent the good part of an hour discussing the ramifications of recent events, namely the backlash curse.

“I know I’ve said this before,” Giles instructed, “but it’s very important. If you begin to feel anything even remotely like what you felt under the curse, you must tell me right away. Understood?”

“Yeeesss, I understand,” Buffy said in mock weariness.

Giles rolled his eyes but didn’t comment on Buffy’s sarcasm. “Good,” he merely said as he got up from his chair. “And don’t forget, you and Faith are off patrol until after the dance.”

“I won’t argue with that,” Buffy replied with a grin.

“Yes, both Xander and Oz have agreed to help me patrol tonight and tomorrow night, and since Saturday is Halloween, things should be quite calm.”

“It better be,” Buffy said in a firm voice, as if she were calling out a warning to the evil powers-that-be. “’Cause if I don’t get my dance night, I might get cranky.”

Giles grinned at his slayer’s pronouncement. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow then,” he said as he turned to go to his office.

Buffy thought deeply for a moment then called out to her watcher to stop him. He turned back and waited by the check-out desk until she had walked over.

“Yes?”

“I-I-I kinda have something else to ask you about,” Buffy said.

“Oh?”

Buffy looked around the library then gestured toward the office. “Can we go in there?”

“Of course,” Giles said, motioning her to go inside and take a seat. Once he had come inside and shut the door, he sat down and asked, “What is it?”

“I wanted to ask you something about Faith,” Buffy said.

“All right.”

“Faith told me that she had gone into foster care in Boston. Do you know anything about that?”

Giles paused before answering. Then he said, “When the Council assigned Faith to me, they sent an extensive file on her. Just like they did when you were assigned to me.”

“Great!” Buffy said, excited to have a source of information. Then her expression changed. “Wait...the Council’s got a file on me?” she asked in alarm.

“Yes, although it’s not as detailed as Faith’s, due to the fact that you were not identified as a potential early on.”

Buffy made a disgruntled frown, clearly unhappy with the ramifications of a Council file on herself. Soon, however, she shook off those thoughts and refocused on her present inquiry. “So, you must know all kinds of stuff about Faith.”

“Yes, I do,” he confirmed. “But unfortunately, I can share none of it with you.”

“Giiillles,” Buffy whined.

“Faith’s file is confidential, and I will not break that trust,” he told her firmly. “If there is something you want to know about Faith’s past, then you’ll have to ask her yourself.”

“Well, can you tell me this?” Buffy asked. “How does she support herself? She doesn’t have a family, and she doesn’t have a job...that I know of, anyway.”

“I’m supporting her, for the time being,” Giles admitted. “I’ve requested a special circumstances stipend for her from the Council, but it has yet to be approved and processed.”

“So, you pay for her motel room and everything?”

“Yes, I pay for her room each week, and I give her money for food and other necessities, but it’s barely enough, really.”

Deep concern filled Buffy’s face. “Well, I-I-I wanna help. What can I do?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid,” Giles warned. “Not to Faith directly, at any rate. She’s rather sensitive about...about being seen as a charity case.”

“Can I give money to you and then you give it to her?” Buffy suggested.

Giles considered the matter and then said, “Yes, that would work out nicely and be most helpful.”

Buffy smiled brightly, pleased that they had found a way for her to help. “I’ll talk to Mom tonight!”

***

Later that night, Buffy sat slumped on the couch in the living room. In her hand, she held a wad of tissues, which she was using to wipe away the tears that were streaming down her face.

“I don’t know why we do this,” she sobbed, tossing aside her used tissue and yanking a new batch from the box on the coffee table.

“I don’t know why either,” agreed the person next to her.

Buffy looked over at her mother, who was crying just as hard. “It’s stupid. We know it’s going to make us cry.”

“I know, but it’s sooo good,” Joyce said, pointing to the videocassette box. The title read An Affair to Remember. She smiled through her tears. “I mean, you just know they’re going to be happy...finally...in spite of everything.”

Buffy gave a small laugh and nodded. “Anything’s possible,” she quoted.

At that, mother and daughter shared a warm smile.

***

Out on Main Street, Faith was definitely not smiling. She was standing in front of April Fools, Sunnydale’s premiere provider of formal wear. Her thumbs were hooked in the belt loops of her jeans as she stared through the front window at the elaborate display of dresses and tuxedos.

After several minutes of perusal, she reached into her front right pocket and pulled out a small wad of cash. She unfolded the crumpled bills and counted them: $27 dollars.

She let out a small groan, shoved the money back into her pocket, and shuffled off down the sidewalk.

***

After helping her mother clear the living room of their post-movie trash, Buffy finally decided to raise the issue of Faith’s situation.

“Mom, I need to ask you something, but I’m not sure how to ask it ’cause it’s about a not-so-fun topic.”

Joyce got a concerned look. “What kind of not-so-fun topic?”

“Money.”

“Is this about the dress for the dance?” Joyce asked. “You didn’t get your heart set on something outrageous, did you?”

“No, it’s not about the dress,” Buffy said. “And I promise I won’t pick anything outrageous. It’s about Faith, actually.”

“Faith?” Joyce was confused.

“I’m worried about her,” Buffy admitted. “She’s seventeen years old, and she’s living in a crappy motel. She doesn’t have a family or a job. She basically has no income at all, except for what she gets from Giles.”

“Giles?” Joyce asked.

“Yeah, he’s paying for her room and food and stuff, but it’s all out of his own pocket, which means it’s not a lot.”

“Shouldn’t the Council be supporting her?”

Buffy nodded. “Giles has put in a request for her, but so far, the Council hasn’t approved it. Stupid British bureaucrats.”

Joyce gave a huff of disgust at the Council’s lack of expeditiousness.

“Anyway,” Buffy went on, “I was hoping that maaayyybe we could help out?” She said this more as a question than a statement and then glanced at her mother expectantly.

Joyce narrowed her eyes, trying to ward off the can-I-keep-the-puppy look she was getting from her daughter.

“I-I-It doesn’t have to be much,” Buffy said, getting nervous now that her mother hadn’t immediately agreed to the proposal. “A-A-Any little bit would help. We just have to give it to Giles, though. He said Faith probably wouldn’t take it directly from us or anyone else. She doesn’t want people feeling sorry for her, like she’s some kind of charity case.” After a pause, Buffy wrung her hands and said, “So can we? You know, help out a little?”

Unable to resist making her daughter squirm for another moment or two, Joyce continued her glare. But soon she smiled sincerely and said, “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll see what I can do.”

Buffy’s face lit up into a huge smile, and she gave her mother a big hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

***

Back at her motel, Faith paced the room, stopping periodically to stare at her dresser. Eventually, Faith stopped her pacing and walked over to the small wooden chest. She went to a particular drawer and pulled it completely out. She turned the drawer until she could see its back. There she pulled off something that had been duct-taped to the back.

It was a tattered piece of cloth wrapped around something long and narrow. Carefully, Faith pulled off the duct tape and unwrapped the cloth. Inside was a small gold dagger about eight inches long. She moved the blade into the light and looked at it intently—her brow furrowing and her eyes filling with sadness. After about a minute, she sighed and set the dagger aside. Then she returned the drawer to its dresser.

***

The next day at school, Willow and Buffy were walking down the hall together, having just come out of class.

“Hey, I was thinking,” Willow began.

“That’s my Will,” Buffy teased. “The big thinker.”

Willow rolled her eyes. “I was thinking...that maybe we could hang out tonight?” She gave Buffy a hopeful glance. “You know, have our own little best-friends-only pre-dance celebration?”

Buffy’s scrunched her face into an apologetic wince. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I’ve already made plans with Faith.” When she saw Willow’s expression fall, Buffy immediately tried to right things with a counter-offer. “But, um, w-w-why don’t you come shopping with me and Mom? A girl always needs her best friend’s POV when it comes to dress-buyin’.”

For a moment, Willow looked torn. But then she just shook her head and said, “I can’t. I— I have somewhere else I have to be.” At that, she began backing away. “But I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promised. Although the redhead was smiling, there was hurt behind her eyes.

Before Buffy could say anything in response, Willow turned and walked away in the opposite direction. Buffy watched her go, a troubled look on her face.

***

Later that afternoon, Buffy and Joyce started their shopping at the video store. When they came out, Buffy was carrying a bag full of videotapes. When they stepped out onto Main Street, they took a right, heading toward April Fools to find a dress for the dance. Before they got very far, though, Joyce stopped her daughter on the sidewalk.

“Before we go into the dress shop,” Joyce told her, “let’s get a few things straight.”

“Okay,” Buffy replied soberly.

“I’ve thought about what you said about Faith’s situation, and I’ve decided that we should do something to help Faith out financially.” Joyce raised her hand to stave off Buffy’s impending outburst of gratitude. “However,” she emphasized, “being able to do that depends on you making some sacrifices.”

Buffy began nodding enthusiastically. “I can do that.”

Which means,” Joyce went on, “no big budget on clothes...especially when it comes to dances.”

“Got it,” Buffy assured her. “Goin’ frugal on the formal wear.”

Buffy started to say something more, but her eyes were drawn to a figure in front of another shop across the street. Joyce turned to see what Buffy was looking at.

It was Faith, outside the local pawn shop. She pulled something from her pocket, unwrapped it, and stared at it, glancing hesitantly between the object and the pawn shop as if trying to decide what to do. Finally, her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she went inside the pawn shop.

***

Moments later, Faith stood waiting impatiently in front of the pawn broker as he examined the gold dagger in detail. He raised an impressed eyebrow and gave a murmur of approval.

“I’ll take it,” the man said.

“How much?” Faith asked. “And how long do I have to get it out of hock?”

“For the loan,” he said, “two hundred dollars. And you’ve got thirty days to pay it back with interest.”

“Two hundred bucks?!” Faith replied in outrage. “Is that all?”

“Well, if you let me buy it outright, I’ll give you three hundred.”

“It’s solid gold, man!” Faith objected.

The man set the dagger on the counter and crossed his arms. “Three hundred. Take it or leave it.”

Faith looked down at the gold blade, a pained expression on her face. After a long moment, she sighed and looked away. “Fine. I’ll take the three hundred.”

The broker grinned greedily and said, “Great! I’ll be right back with the paperwork.”

***

A few minutes later, Buffy and Joyce saw Faith come out of the pawn shop tucking a stack of bills in her jeans pocket. Even from a distance, they could see that she didn’t look happy about the new infusion of cash. They watched her trudge away.

As soon as Faith was out of sight, Buffy grabbed her mother’s hand and said, “Come on!”

Then she and Joyce hurried across the street to the pawn shop.

***

Once inside the shop, Buffy went straight to the broker behind the counter.

“Excuse me,” she said politely, “but...the girl who was just in here...can you tell me what she was here for?”

“Yeah, sure,” the man replied. “Had something to sell, and it’s a beaut.”

He pulled the item from under the counter and laid it out, unwrapping it for Buffy and Joyce to see. Their eyes grew wide when they took in the sight of the solid-gold dagger.

“May I?” Buffy asked, pointing to the dagger.

“Help yourself,” the man said, giving Buffy permission to touch the piece.

Gently, she lifted the dagger from its tattered wrapper and raised it into closer view. She could see that the flat of its blade was engraved with a message. She tilted it in the light and read the words out loud.

To Faith, In honor of your calling. – Diana.

Buffy stared at it in awe for a moment and then turned to her mother. “Oh my God...Mom, this was from her watcher. We can’t let her give this up; it’s too important.”

Joyce nodded in agreement and then turned to the broker. “How much?”

“Sorry, I can’t sell it yet,” the man said, plucking the dagger from Buffy’s hands. “Have to hold it for the mandatory thirty-day wait period.”

“We’ll give you twice what you paid Faith for it,” Buffy suddenly interjected.

The broker’s eyes lit up, and he licked his lips. “Hmm...that’d be six hundred dollars...but it’d have to be cash.”

“Six hundred dollars?!” Joyce balked. “Buffy, we can’t—”

Buffy grasped her mother’s hands desperately. “I don’t need a new dress,” she pleaded. “Or an allowance or anything. Please...she did this for me, I know she did...just to get a dress for the dance.”

Joyce still didn’t look completely convinced.

“I know!” Buffy suddenly said. “Make Dad pay it! Tell him I had to...I don’t know...get a-a-a root canal or something.”

At that, Joyce’s lips slowly curved up into a wicked grin. “Okay,” she said, causing Buffy to emit a thankful squeal.

***

A short time later, after Joyce had returned from the bank with the necessary cash and had completed the purchase, she and Buffy left the pawn shop with the dagger in their possession. Buffy was carrying it, holding it in both hands, unable to keep herself from staring at it and smiling.

“So...what now?” Joyce asked, tilting her head toward the dagger. “Are you going to give it to her tonight?”

Buffy shook her head, her eyes now worried. “No, I don’t think so. She’d probably think we’d been spying on her or get all defensive about her money situation.”

“True. She might.”

“Well, m-m-maybe I could give it to her on her birthday,” Buffy suggested. “It’s only a month or so away.”

Joyce smiled and nodded in approval. “I think that’s a capital idea!”

“‘Capital idea’?” Buffy commented sarcastically. “You’ve been spending way too much time with Giles.”

Joyce gave her daughter a mock-glare. “Come on, dress-less girl,” she needled, linking her arm with Buffy’s. “Time for you to get home and figure out what to wear tomorrow.”

Buffy’s eyes widened at the thought of that task. While her daughter let out a pitiful whine, Joyce just chuckled and led her away.

***

That evening, Faith was walking along the street on her way to Buffy’s house for pizza and movies. She had spent the afternoon picking out a dress plus all the necessary accessories. Although she had been pleased with what she had found, she couldn’t silence the nagging voice inside her.

I can’t believe you pawned your dagger! her inner self accused. Professor Dormer gave that to you. Your watcher. And you sold it! You’ve disappointed her all over again! And for what? Some hot chick you wanna sleep with?

“No,” Faith said out loud, stopping on the sidewalk. “It’s not like that,” she told herself, even gesturing as she spoke.

When a passerby gave her a strange look for talking to herself, Faith quickly resumed her walking. After she had gotten a few yards down the sidewalk, her inner voice started back up.

What’s it like, then? it asked cruelly. Do you think you’re in love with this girl?

Faith stopped her in tracks once again. Her expression was troubled, and her mouth opened as if to speak, but no words came out.

Puh-lease, the voice continued, dripping in sarcasm. As if you were capable.

Faith closed her eyes and hung her head, clenching her fists tightly.

It always ends in disaster. You know that.

Every time you let those walls down, every time you start to care...either you ruin it or they do. It’s inevitable.

The dagger proves it. You’ve gone over the line.

If Diana were here, she’d—

“Just shut up!” Faith told her inner voice as she opened her eyes and shook out her hands. Then she let out a long, sad sigh. “Just...shut up.”

Without another word, Faith hurried up the street to make the turn onto Revello Drive.

***

After a quiet and somewhat awkward dinner at the Summers home, Faith and Buffy moved into the living room to watch videos. Joyce reluctantly left the two girls alone and excused herself to go upstairs.

As Faith plopped down at one end of the couch, Buffy sat near her but turned so that she could face her.

“You were pretty quiet at dinner,” Buffy commented, hoping to encourage Faith to open up.

Faith merely shrugged in response without looking in Buffy’s direction. “Didn’t have anything to say.”

A long silence ensued.

Buffy tried again. “I-I-If there’s something on your mind and you wanna talk about it, then—”

“There isn’t,” Faith insisted, turning her head just long enough to say those two words.

“I mean, we don’t have to watch movies. We can just—”

“Look,” Faith replied sharply as she sat up to face Buffy. “I said I didn’t wanna talk about it! Okay?”

The harshness of her girlfriend’s voice momentarily stunned Buffy, but she quickly covered up her own hurt and pressed her advantage. “So there is something bothering you...”

Faith sighed wearily and plopped back against the couch, slouching even more. After another long silence, she simply said, “Can we just watch the movie?”

Defeated, Buffy swallowed hard and then gave Faith a nod. “Sure,” she said in an even voice.

She got up from the couch and retrieved the video store bag. As she began shuffling through its contents, she went on in a slightly nervous tone.

“I-I-I wasn’t sure what we’d be in the mood for, so I got a variety,” Buffy explained as she started to pull the videos from the bag. “I think I can assume these are off the list,” she stated as she set aside Titanic and As Good As It Gets.

“You assumed right,” Faith confirmed.

“That leaves us with comedy...” She held up Austin Powers and Men In Black. “Or action...”

“Oooh! G. I. Jane!” Faith called out when she saw the video in Buffy’s hand.

“What? No Ripley?” Buffy asked as she also held up Alien Resurrection.

For a second, Faith looked undecided. Then she said, “First Jane, then Ripley.”

Buffy chuckled. “Jane, it is.” After turning on the TV and VCR and inserting the tape, she pressed the play button on the remote and handed it to Faith. “I’m gonna go get the leftover pizza and some drinks.”

“Okay,” Faith answered as the FBI Warning appeared on the screen.

By the time Buffy returned from the kitchen, the video was well into the previews. She set the food and drinks on the coffee table but hesitated before sitting down. She glanced briefly at Faith and then deliberately chose to sit at the opposite end of the couch. She pulled a pillow into her lap and began fiddling with the fringed trim.

Her actions did not go unnoticed by Faith, who cut her eyes but didn’t turn in Buffy’s direction. After nearly a full minute of awkwardness, Faith said, “You don’t have to sit so far away, ya know.”

“I just thought maybe you needed some space,” Buffy replied without moving from her spot.

Faith pressed the pause button on the remote and turned to face Buffy, who cautiously met her gaze. “Look,” Faith explained softly, “what I need is a talk-free space, not a Buffy-free space.”

It took a moment for Buffy to respond, but slowly a grin eased onto her face. She happily tossed aside the pillow in her lap and moved down the couch until she was seated right next to Faith. “Better?” she asked.

“You tell me,” Faith answered before planting a passionate kiss on Buffy’s lips.

“Mmmm,” Buffy murmured as they ended their kiss. “Definitely better,” she declared, grinning once again.

The two shared a sincere smile and then snuggled together to watch the movie.

***

Meanwhile, at the Rosenberg home, Willow was plopped on her bed, pouting as she talked to Oz on the phone.

“Don’t you think she’s gone overboard with this Faith thing?” Willow complained. “She never does anything with us anymore—the real Scoobies, I mean. She wouldn’t even go to the dance with us until Faith asked her.”

“She’s in love, Willow,” Oz said. “So the whole Faith obsession kinda makes sense.”

Willow made a snort of disbelief. “I wouldn’t go that far,” she said. “It’s a little early to be applying the L word here.”

“I don’t know,” Oz commented. “They way they look at each other...”

Willow frowned. She really didn’t want to consider that possibility, and she wasn’t even sure why.

“It’s only been a few months since Buffy had to kill Angel,” she pointed out.

“Almost six, actually,” Oz corrected. “And over nine since he lost his soul.”

Willow’s expression got defensive. “Which is like no time at all in the timeline of the heart!” she huffed in reply.

“The timeline of the heart?” Oz repeated with emphasis.

“Okay, okay, I know that sounded like a bad Lifetime movie,” Willow admitted, “but I’m just worried—worried that she’s going too fast, that it’s too soon.”

“But...she’s happy,” Oz stated simply.

Willow knew this was true. And it wasn’t that she didn’t want her best friend to be happy. She did, more than anything, especially after the previous year’s heartbreak. It was just that she was concerned about what would happen if Faith failed to live up to Buffy’s expectations.

Or was it just that?

Willow sighed. “Maybe I’m just being selfish.”

“Could be...” Oz said gingerly to avoid the appearance of taking sides.

“I-I-I like having Buffy all to myself, and I don’t like sharing,” Willow went on.

“Possibly...”

“But I’ve gotta get over that and let Buffy be happy.”

“Yes, you do.”

Willow rolled her eyes at the phone. “That’s what you’ve been trying to tell me for days, haven’t you?”

“Pretty much.”

“Well, you better keep telling me because it’s gonna take multiple repetitions for this one to sink in.”

“I can do that,” Oz said before making a suggestion. “Willow...this dance...it’s really important to Buffy, so whatever you can do to make that a success, I think you should do it.”

“Okay, I’ll try,” Willow agreed.

“That’s my girl,” Oz said. “Look, I gotta run. I’m helping Giles and Xander with patrolling tonight.”

“Okay, be careful.”

“I will. See you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

As Willow hung up the phone, she sighed once again and stared at the ceiling, deep in thought.

***

Several movies later, the two slayers were sound asleep on the couch. Buffy was curled up against Faith’s shoulder, resting peacefully. Faith, however, frowned in her sleep and shook her head, clearly dreaming.

In her mind, Faith was back in Boston, in Mount Auburn Cemetery, in the catacombs beneath the Dyer crypt...in Kakistos’s lair. She was there to save her watcher, who had been kidnapped by Kakistos. Faith found them both in the main chamber, at the altar of the one who called himself “the Father.”

Sitting upon a throne made of human skeletons, the ancient vampire held Faith’s watcher in his lap. The gray-haired woman was naked and broken, her body covered in bite marks and bruises. She was still alive, but not for long. As soon as Kakistos knew that Faith had seen her watcher, he raised one of his sharpened, hoof-like hands and shoved it into the woman’s back and out through her stomach; then he gleefully and violently ripped her body in two.

DIANA!!!” Faith screamed, both in her dream and in reality.

Mid-scream, she sat up straight on the couch, her sudden movement inadvertently tumbling Buffy away from her. Faith was sweating and breathing hard and glancing around the room as if she were confused about where she was.

Buffy righted herself and instantly moved to Faith’s side. “Faith, are you okay?” she asked. When Faith didn’t seem to hear her, she placed a gentle hand on her girlfriend’s back.

Faith made a startled jerk in reaction; then she growled and whipped around, seizing Buffy’s upper arms and pinning the blonde in place.

Despite Faith’s painful grip, Buffy resisted the urge to struggle or fight back. She remained still and spoke slowly and softly. “Faith, it’s me. Buffy. You were just having a bad dream. That’s all.”

It took several seconds for Faith to register Buffy’s face and voice. Once she did, she blinked and loosened her grip, then pulled her hands away from Buffy’s arms.

Just then, Joyce came running down the stairs, calling her daughter’s name to see if she was all right.

Buffy instantly jumped to her feet and put herself between Faith and the stairs. “We’re fine, Mom,” she called out just before her mother came into view. “Sorry ’bout that. We just got a little too into the movie, you know?” Buffy forced a chuckle.

Annoyed, Joyce glanced at her watch. “It’s one o’clock in the morning! Movie time should be over. Make your good-byes and then take Faith home. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Buffy replied dutifully.

At that, Joyce stomped back up the stairs.

Once she heard her mother’s door slam shut, Buffy let out a sigh of relief. When she turned around, she found Faith gone and the front door open.

“Faith!” Buffy cried out before dashing out the front door.

She rushed down the steps and onto the sidewalk and looked frantically for any sign of her girlfriend. Just as Buffy was about to take off in one direction, she heard Faith’s voice pipe up behind her.

“Hey! I’m right here.”

Buffy turned around and followed the voice back up the steps and onto the porch. Faith was sitting on the bench at the far end. Buffy’s panic softened into simple worry. Though she was quite relieved, she gave Faith a mini-glare.

“It’s not like I ran away,” Faith pointed out, emphasizing the last word. Then she shrugged and said, “But...I had to get out of there.”

Faith lowered her head and said nothing more. When Buffy sat down beside her, she ventured a glance in the blonde’s direction and saw deep concern in her eyes.

Faith looked away and said, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Buffy whispered sympathetically. “Having a bad dream?” She reached out and caressed Faith’s back, but Faith didn’t relax under her touch. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

NO, Faith thought to herself, but out loud she merely sighed and said nothing.

“It was about your watcher, wasn’t it?” Buffy prompted. “Wasn’t that her name? Diana?”

Faith nodded ruefully then went on in brutal tone. “Yep, Dr. Diana Dormer...an   Esteemed Professor of Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University...and a Highly Respected Representative of the Watchers Council...and ultimately the Unfortunate Guardian of the So-Called Second Chosen One.”

“Faith, you’re being too hard on yourself,” Buffy told her. “You were going up against Kakistos—the Worst of the Worst. There was nothing more you could do.”

“You weren’t there!” Faith shot back, jumping to her feet. “You don’t know that!”

“I do know it,” Buffy insisted as she too got up from the bench. “Here in Sunnydale, it took the both of us to bring him down—took everything we had—so I know you did all you could in Boston.” She moved closer and put her hand on Faith’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Faith looked away, lost in thought for a moment. When she finally spoke, it was in a quiet, strained voice. “She just looked at me,” Faith said as she met Buffy’s gaze. “When Kakistos had her,” she added in explanation before staring off again. “Her eyes were just...begging me to do something...to save her somehow...but I just...stood there.” Her jaw tightened, and she continued through clenched teeth. “I just stood there and let her get ripped apart, and now I’ve—” Faith just stopped and shook her head, unable to go on.

Knowing the sacrifice Faith had made earlier that day, Buffy reached out with both hands and forced the dark-haired slayer to look at her. With tears welling up in her eyes, Buffy told her, “Faith, I promise you...it’s not always going to feel this way.” Then Buffy pulled her into a strong, warm hug.

Although she desperately needed the comfort of Buffy’s arms, it took every ounce of Faith’s resolve not to break down right there on the porch. She endured the embrace for as long as she could; then she carefully separated them.

“I should go,” she announced as she stepped away from Buffy and toward the steps.

“Wait, I’ll drive you,” Buffy said.

“That’s okay,” Faith replied, holding up her hands in refusal. “The walk’ll do me good.”

“But—”

Faith hurried down the steps but stopped on the sidewalk and turned around. She now wore a big smile on her face. “I’ll see you tomorrow night,” she said. “And you better bring your dancin’ shoes ’cause I don’t plan on sittin’ down the whole night!”

With a laugh and a wave, Faith was off before Buffy could get in another word.

***

After Faith had abruptly left, Buffy went back inside. She set the videotapes aside for return and tidied up the living room. Then she went upstairs. She was extra-quiet as she passed her mother’s room, not wanting to disturb her again.

Once she was inside her own bedroom, Buffy kicked off her shoes, removed her clothes, and slipped on a baggy nightshirt. She grimaced a bit as she moved her arms; they were sore from where Faith had grabbed her. She gingerly touched one arm, letting her thoughts wander back to Faith’s reaction to her nightmare. Then she shook herself out of her reverie and turned out the overhead light.

As she climbed into bed, she turned on her bedside lamp and reached for the phone on her nightstand to call Willow. She stopped when her eye caught the time on her clock-radio. Nearly 1:30 a.m.

“I better not,” Buffy told herself. “’Sides, don’t think Willow would be too keen on me waking her up to talk about Faith.”

Buffy sighed wearily, then turned off her lamp and settled down into bed.

“I have got to get those two talking and getting along,” she grumbled. “Maybe I can do that at the dance,” she added in a hope-filled voice.

With that idea in mind, Buffy closed her eyes for sleep.
 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 12B...

 
PART 12B

The next evening, Willow’s mother dropped her off at Buffy’s house, where the gang was meeting for the limo drive to the dance. As Willow moved up the sidewalk to the porch, she was giving herself a lecture.

“Okay, tonight you’re gonna be cool with the Buffy-and-Faith thing,” she instructed. “No matter how much Faith annoys you, you’re gonna be polite and civil, and you’re gonna have a good time. Got it?” She stopped and took a deep breath and then answered herself. “Got it.”

At that, she strode up the steps to the front door and gave the doorbell a determined push.

Within seconds, Buffy’s mother answered the door.

“Hey, Mrs. Summers,” Willow said with a wave.

“Willow, come in, come in.”

Once Willow was inside, Joyce gave her a warm hug. Then she stepped back from the redhead so that she could see her more clearly.

“Willow, you look just lovely,” Joyce said sincerely.

Willow beamed and thanked her.

Then Joyce went on. “Now, Willow...I’ve agreed to Buffy’s request that her curfew be lifted for tonight—senior year, last homecoming dance, and all that. But I’ve done so only on the condition that she stay with the group.” Joyce gave the redhead a pleading look. “Do me a favor...try to keep Buffy out of trouble?”

“I’ll do my best, Mrs. Summers,” Willow assured her. Just then, they heard Buffy call down from the second floor.

“Is it just you, Will?” Buffy yelled down the stairs.

“Just me, myself, and I,” Willow answered, raising her voice so that she could be heard.

“Good! I need your help—and fast!” came Buffy’s reply.

After she and Joyce shared an eye roll, Willow headed up the stairs. As she concentrated on managing the steps in her dress shoes, Willow smiled to herself. Buffy needed her, and that felt good.

***

When Willow entered the bedroom, she found Buffy at her dressing table. The blonde was wearing a long housecoat over her slip and underclothes, and she was putting the finishing touches on her makeup.

Buffy made a final sweep on her cheeks with a soft brush and then turned to her friend. Her face immediately lit up into an impressed smile. She stood up and walked closer to get a better look.

“Wow!” Buffy told her. “You look awesome, Will!” She gave the redhead a playful poke. “You’re gonna make Oz go all wolfy, and it’s not even a full moon.”

Willow’s face went rosy. Although the compliment pleased her, she covered up her temporary blushing by turning to set her purse on the small table by the door.

“Well, let’s hope not,” Willow said. “Having you slay my boyfriend is not my idea of a fun date,” she joked. After they shared a laugh, Willow reminded Buffy of her earlier request. “You said you needed my help with something?”

“Oh! Right!” Buffy pulled Willow over to the closet door where she had two formal gowns hanging up—one silky and red, the other beaded in a soft white with gold accents. “I can’t decide. Sexy or demure?”

Willow looked confused. “Uhhh, are these new? ’Cause that looks like the one you wore to—”

“It is.”

“And that looks like the one you wore to—”

“It is.”

“But...I thought you and your mom were going shopping yesterday...”

“We did, but...” Buffy glanced at her clock radio. “...ahhh, it’s a long story, too long to tell between now and the impending limo arrival. So, what’s it gonna be?” She pointed at the dresses in turn. “Red or white?”

Willow paused to peruse the choices. “Well, the red is certainly...hot....with its slinky material and strategically-placed gaps in the side at the hip, but the white is so pretty...it’s all shiny and goldeny, like—”

“I need the short answer, Will, not the essay response.”

“Oh, um, white, then.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Buffy said with a smile as she took the red dress down and put it away. After shutting the closet door, she took off her housecoat, put on the correct shoes, and pulled the white beaded dress from its hanger. “Help me get it on?” she said, asking for assistance.

Willow gladly helped ease the dress over Buffy’s head and into place on her body, then began pulling up the long zipper in the back. As she did so, she noticed the beginnings of dark bruises developing on Buffy’s upper arms—bruises that were clearly finger-shaped, as if she had been grabbed roughly by someone who was very strong. When Willow finished closing the zipper, she touched the back of Buffy’s right arm. “What happened?!” she asked in an alarmed voice.

“What?” Buffy tried to look at the place where Willow had touched her. “Did I get makeup on me or something?”

“No,” Willow said unhappily as she guided Buffy over to the full-length mirror. She lifted Buffy’s arm and revealed the bruises. “That.”

“Oh. That,” Buffy said, giving a nonchalant wave. “That’s just from Faith.” Then her expression became worried. “They don’t show too much, do they?”

Willow gave Buffy an appalled look. “Do they show too much?” she replied, completely aghast. “Is that all you care about? Buffy, your super-powered girlfriend apparently grabbed you hard enough to leave bruises on your arms. Most people would consider that abuse!”

Buffy held her hands up to ward off her friend’s conclusion-jumping. “Willow, it wasn’t like that, I swear. Just let me explain.”

Willow crossed her arms tightly and lifted her eyebrows, daring Buffy to come up with an adequate explanation.

“First of all,” Buffy told her, “I’m super-powered, too, so I can take care of myself when it comes to Faith, okay? Secondly, she didn’t mean to hurt me, she was just—”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Buffy,” Willow interrupted angrily, “when are you going to stop making excuses for her? She didn’t mean to abandon you, she didn’t mean to get you in trouble with your mom, she didn’t mean to squeeze bruises onto your arms. What are you going to do when she doesn’t mean to break your heart?”

Willow’s harsh statements nearly shocked Buffy into speechlessness. But then she took a step back and pointed at Willow. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she told her. “There are things about Faith that you don’t know and—”

“And you know why I don’t know them, Buffy?” Willow shot back. “Because you don’t talk to me anymore. Ever since she came to town, it’s like I don’t exist...it’s like none of us exist.”

Buffy hesitated in her reply. “That’s...that’s not true...” She didn’t sound too sure of her words.

Willow walked over to the door and reclaimed her purse on the table. “I’m going downstairs. It doesn’t look like my help is really needed...or wanted.”

Buffy called out to Willow, but the redhead didn’t turn back; she just left the room and shut the door behind her.

Tears sprang into Buffy’s eyes and trickled over her lids. She sniffed and wiped at them with the back of her hand.

“What is happening?!” Buffy complained to herself. “This is not the way this day is supposed to be going!”

Just then, she heard a fancy car horn blow outside. She ran to the window and looked outside. She saw a long, black limo parked along the curb.

Buffy got a flustered expression on her face and began to speed up her getting-ready process. She found the right purse to go with her dress, put a few items in it, and set it on the bed. She pulled a sheer wrap with a thin gold weave from the closet and laid it on the back of her chair. Then she looked frantically around the room as if she were trying to remember something she had forgotten. A sudden knock at the door startled her.

“Hey, what’s the holdup in there?” she heard Faith say on the other side of her bedroom door.

“I’m coming,” Buffy called out as she scurried to her makeup table.

When Faith stuck her head in the door, she found Buffy doing some final primping. “What’s the matter? Did ya poke your eye out with the mascara wand or something?” she said teasingly.

Buffy didn’t look Faith’s way. She was too busy redoing her makeup to hide where she had been crying. “No, just touching up, that’s all.”

She gave her hair a quick fluffing, then moved from her mirrored table to her bed, again without looking in Faith’s direction.

“Just let me get my purse, and I’ll be—”

When Buffy turned around, she finally looked up and saw Faith, really saw her. She instantly froze in place, her mouth dropping open in thunderstruck awe.

Faith was wearing a simple, curve-hugging black dress with gold trim. One side had a daring slit that went far up Faith’s leg, much farther than the pair of side-cuts on Buffy’s dress. Buffy’s eyes went up and down Faith’s body several times before the brunette laughed and walked over.

“You’ll be what? Catching flies?” Faith took her index finger and pushed Buffy’s mouth closed.

Buffy laughed, too, and ducked her head, embarrassed for gawking. But she quickly brought her eyes back to Faith. “I can’t help it,” she told her. “You’re so beautiful...” Then she just got lost in wonderment once again.

Buffy’s intense gaze made Faith uncomfortable, so she chuckled and made a joke. “I clean up good, don’t I?” she said, making a sweeping gesture with her hand from head to toe.

When she looked back up, she found Buffy inexplicably tearing up. Faith didn’t know what to do. She was even more surprised when Buffy suddenly kissed her—urgently, desperately. After the kiss was over, Faith was still at a loss, so she fell back on the light banter.

“Okay, that was a kiss worth redoing lipstick for,” Faith commented.

Buffy laughed and wiped away the tiny tears on her face.

“And for the record, you look pretty gorgeous yourself,” Faith added. She reached up and brushed Buffy’s cheek with her thumb, then ran her fingers down Buffy’s hair. A little awestruck herself, she whispered, almost involuntarily, “My golden girl.”

Of course, that only made Buffy choke up more. “Stop it,” she said. “You’re gonna make me cry again.”

Secretly mortified by the sappiness of her last line, Faith cleared her throat and immediately changed gears. Her face lit up in a wicked grin as she said, “Well, we can’t have that!” Then she gave Buffy a sharp smack on the ass. “Get moving, girl!”

“Oh!” Buffy let out in a yelp that was more from surprise than pain. “Ohhh,” she added as Faith then began nudging her toward the door.

“Lipstick check...” she called out, pointing at her mirrored table.

“We’ll check it in the car,” Faith said.

On the way, Buffy quickly nabbed the wispy shawl that she had draped over her chair and scooped a few items of makeup into her purse before Faith ushered her out the door.

“Come on, Cinderella,” Faith announced, “your magical carriage awaits.”

***

“Hey everybody,” Buffy greeted as she and Faith got in the limo.

Oz gave a nod, and Xander said, “Hey Buffster...looking good.”

Cordelia took in Buffy’s apparel, lifted an eyebrow, and pronounced, “Last year, but good choice.”

“Yes, I know...it’s not a new dress,” Buffy said, giving Cordelia a mini-glare. “Yesterday’s shopping didn’t go as planned, but I am not sweatin’ it. Tonight is about having fun—not about being on top of the fashion food pyramid.”

“Hear, hear!” Xander said, lifting a clear plastic box containing a corsage.

“Oh, yeah, that reminds me,” Faith told Buffy with a bit of a wince. “I, um, I didn’t get you a corsage.”

Willow huffed and rolled her eyes.

Buffy ignored Willow and gave Faith a smile. “I don’t care,” she reassured. “All they do is get in the way, anyhow.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Faith said with a shrug, returning Buffy’s smile.

After that, an awkward silence settled inside the limo. Willow was conspicuously un-bubbly, and Buffy kept looking down at her lap and wringing her hands.

Faith reached over and took Buffy’s hand. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Buffy replied. “Just a little nervous, that’s all.” When Faith gave her a puzzled look, Buffy went on to explain. “I mean, I’m going to the Homecoming Dance with my girlfriend. I haven’t really had time to think about the whole ‘coming out to the entire school at one time’ aspect of that scenario.”

“What do you care what they think?” Faith said with a grin. “I mean, who are they, anyway?”

“They’re her friends,” Willow interjected sharply. “Of course she cares what they think.”

“No, Faith’s right,” Buffy said, causing another Willow eye-roll. “My friends—my real friends—are right here.” She swept her eyes around to each person. “And if you’re okay with the girl-plus-girl dance date, then the others will just have to deal,” she announced, throwing her shoulders back bravely and putting on a determined smile.

When Buffy’s smile began to waver, Faith said, “But we can still play it cool if you want.”

“That’s good too!” Buffy instantly agreed, nodding vigorously, suddenly not so brave anymore.

***

A short time later, the limo pulled up to the Sunnydale High School Gymnasium, and the Scoobies piled out and went inside. Once they had made it past the faculty chaperones, the three couples headed for the seating area.

Buffy and Faith were at the head of the group as they wove their way through the sea of people. As they approached a gap in the crowd, Buffy suddenly froze. When Faith and the others looked ahead at what had caused Buffy’s abrupt stop, they saw Scott with his date, Danielle.

Faith’s eyes narrowed, and she said, “Let me handle this.”

She pushed past Buffy and walked over to Scott and Danielle, with the Scoobies discretely following. Scott and Danielle were slow dancing next to a set of tables. Faith gave them each a tap on the shoulder, and the couple pulled apart.

“Scott? There you are, honey!” Faith greeted loudly. “Hey, good news. The doctor says that the itching and the swelling and the burning should clear up, but we gotta keep using the ointment.” She put her hands on Scott’s chest and turned to his date. “Hi!”

Danielle was stunned into silence and just glanced away. Safe from Danielle’s view, Faith turned back to Scott, grabbed him by the lapels, and pulled him close. She gave him a quick glare, then released him and walked away.

Scott turned back to his date, thoroughly embarrassed. “Uhhh...”

Buffy and the others slipped past Scott, grinning and giggling to themselves. Even Willow was smiling until she saw Buffy sidle up to Faith and link her arm with her girlfriend’s. At that point, Willow’s scowl returned.

Buffy leaned her head against Faith’s shoulder and said, “My hero.”

“Shut up,” Faith grumbled, but with a smile on her face.

***

Throughout the early part of the evening, the tension caused by Willow and Buffy’s argument over Faith was greatly affecting the group. Despite Oz’s attempts to lighten Willow’s mood, she remained angry and sullen any time Buffy and Faith were together. And although Buffy tried to look past it and to enjoy her time with Faith, it was clear that the situation was weighing heavily on Buffy’s mind.

At one point, Willow was left alone at the table. Oz was off chatting with his band buddy Devon. Xander and Cordelia were dancing. Buffy and Faith were hitting the food bar. When the two slayers returned with food plates and drinks, they found Willow doodling on a cocktail napkin.

“Hey, Will, you want a cream puff?” Buffy asked, trying to make a peace offering.

“No, thanks,” Willow replied rather coolly before returning to her drawing.

Buffy sadly dropped her gaze.

Faith picked up one of the cream puffs and said with a big smile, “Just leaves more for us!”

She took a big bite, inadvertently causing the soft white cream to smear onto her face. Buffy laughed and used a napkin to help Faith wipe away the errant pastry filling.

Willow made a disgusted huff at the two slayers and got up from her seat. As she walked past them toward the food tables, she slapped her cocktail napkin into Faith’s hand.

“Here, you missed a spot,” Willow said rudely and then stomped off.

Faith clutched the napkin in her hand and then watched Willow walk away. “Geez, what’s got her panties in a wad?” Faith said after turning to Buffy. “She’s been glaring at us all night, well, at me mostly.”

Buffy gave a sheepish shrug. “She and I kinda got in a fight earlier,” she confessed. “About you.”

“What about?”

Buffy lifted her wrap and pointed to the bruises on her arms. “About these.”

“Oh.” Faith hung her head. “I didn’t realize I had...I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Buffy said, touching Faith’s arm. “And I was about to explain all that to Willow when the limo arrived. So I never got to.” Buffy paused and looked away. “She, um, she was worried you might be abusing me.”

“What?!” Faith was appalled. “I would never—” She stopped and looked at the bruises, guilty sadness entering her eyes. “Not on purpose anyway.” She sighed dejectedly. “Maybe she’s right to be worried.”

Buffy squeezed Faith’s arm as a discouragement to that notion. Then Faith opened the cocktail napkin that Willow had stuffed into her hand. When she saw what was on it, she gave a rueful laugh.

“Certainly explains that,” she said as she plopped the napkin on the table where Buffy could see. On it was the clear outline of a shovel.

“Okay, that does it,” Buffy said. “She and I are gonna have this out right now.”

Faith put her hand on Buffy’s arm and stopped her. “No, this is between me and Willow.” She got to her feet and picked up the napkin drawing. “I’ll be right back.”

“Faith...”

Buffy didn’t want her to go but let her; then she anxiously watched her cross the room to where Willow was hovering a short distance from the food table.

***

As Faith approached Willow, she saw that the redhead made no move to leave. Instead, Willow straightened her posture and put on her resolve face.

When Faith reached her, she held up Willow’s napkin doodle and said, “What’s this supposed to mean?”

“Consider it your second warning.”

“For what?”

Willow leaned close and said in an urgent whisper, “I know what you did!”

“Yeah?” Faith replied sarcastically. “And was it last summer?”

“That is so like you,” Willow accused. “Making jokes over something like this.”

“Well, according to Buffy, you don’t even know what ‘this’ is yet. You never let her explain.”

“What is there to explain?” Willow countered. “Did you put those bruises on Buffy’s arms?” she asked point-blank.

“Yes.”

“Were you sparring when it happened?”

“No.”

“Well, there ya go. We have an admission of guilt. Can we go to the sentencing phase now?”

“It’s not what you think,” Faith insisted.

“What I think is that you grabbed my best friend’s arms so hard you put bruises on them, and given the fact that she’s pretty damn hard to bruise, that’s saying something.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Faith said lamely.

Willow snorted in disgust.

Faith dropped her gaze and said, “I didn’t know it was her.”

Willow did a double-take at that. “What?”

“I didn’t know it was her,” Faith repeated as she met Willow’s eyes. “When I grabbed her.”

“I-I-I don’t understand.”

Faith hesitated before proceeding. She swallowed hard and made herself go on.

“Last night, we fell asleep watching movies, and while we were sleeping, I...”

Faith paused again and clenched her jaw, not wanting to share the details but knowing that she needed to. She let out a growl of displeasure and said, “I had a nightmare, okay? And when Buffy tried to get me out of it, I...I grabbed her.” Faith let her gaze drop to the floor once again. “I-I-I didn’t know it was her, and I just...”

When Faith glanced back up, she found an unsympathetic Willow looking at her. “Every time you turn around,” Willow said, “you’re unintentionally hurting her. So you can see why I’m concerned.”

Faith’s face tightened into anger. She shoved the napkin against Willow’s chest, making her take it back. “Well, right now, you’re the one hurting Buffy. Your sour mood is spoiling what should be a special night for her.”

My sour—  I am not—” Willow blustered before finally realizing that Faith was right. But then she didn’t know what else to say.

“Look,” Faith said, “I’m not sayin’ we gotta act like we’re best friends or anything—’cause that ain’t ever gonna happen—but for Buffy’s sake, we need to get along. Especially tonight.”

Willow had to nod in agreement to that.

“So...truce?” Faith suggested while holding out her hand.

Willow engaged in a long stare. Then she reached out her hand and firmly gripped Faith’s. “Truce,” she said as they shook on the deal.

“Thanks,” Faith said, pulling out of the handshake.

But,” Willow added, lifting her napkin drawing into the air, “I’m not giving up my shovel!” She gave Faith a determined look and then headed back toward the table.

Faith just rolled her eyes and sighed before she too headed in that direction.

***

After her encounter with Faith, Willow lightened up, and the rest of the evening was more enjoyable to everyone. Although the night didn’t afford the opportunity for Buffy and Willow to talk privately, the two best friends made a concerted effort to get along and to have a good time.

At one point in the evening, the Scoobies were laughing raucously at a story that Faith was telling. When Principal Snyder walked by and gave them all a suspicious glare, they all raised their plastic glasses in a mock toast. Snyder glared even more but went on his way.

Later that night, the three couples were group dancing to a fast song, dominating the center of the dance floor. Halfway through the song, Buffy and Faith began a hot threesome dance with Xander, sandwiching him between them as they moved in time with the music. Within seconds, Snyder was on the scene, breaking up the dance and sending the six Scoobies back to their seats.

Thus far, Buffy and Faith had not danced together alone. Any time they had danced, one or more of their friends had been with them. During the slow numbers, Buffy and Faith had merely sat on the sidelines. On the one hand, Buffy hadn’t minded this arrangement. She wasn’t too keen about announcing her relationship with Faith in quite so public a manner. But on the other hand, Buffy longed to share this special experience with Faith in the same way that she would have done with a male date. As yet another slow song began to play, Buffy sighed and enviously watched her friends move onto the dance floor.

As Buffy watched her friends, Faith watched Buffy. She saw the longing in Buffy’s eyes and decided it was time to do something about it. She got up from her chair, stood before Buffy, and held out her hand in invitation.

At first, Buffy just looked at Faith in shock. Then she glanced nervously at the other students around them.

Faith flashed her a smile. “Come on...you know you want to.” She tilted her head at the students nearby. “And they’ll deal, remember?”

Buffy returned Faith’s smile and took Faith’s hand.

Slowly but surely, Faith led Buffy onto the dance floor, and she didn’t settle for a safe space in the shadows either. Faith led her directly to the center of the gym floor, into a large patch of spotlight underneath the mirrored ball, right where everyone could see them.

Buffy was nervous at first, but once she moved into Faith’s arms, nothing else mattered; it was as if the rest of the world just disappeared as she met Faith’s stare. The same was true for Faith, who couldn’t take her eyes off Buffy and her glowing smile. Buffy moved closer and leaned her head on Faith’s shoulder. In response, Faith tightened her arms around the blonde, resting her head against Buffy’s.

Being so wrapped up in each other, Buffy and Faith were oblivious to the reactions of those around them. The Scoobies, of course, were smiling happily at their friends; even Willow herself wasn’t immune to the love and happiness emanating from the couple. The rest of the onlookers were not so supportive and understanding. Most were merely surprised or curious; some were laughing and pointing; a few were downright disgusted. Luckily, Buffy and Faith didn’t notice; they were in their own little world.

When Buffy pulled back from Faith’s shoulder, the dark slayer reached up and gently cupped Buffy’s cheek. “Better?” she asked.

Buffy smiled and intentionally repeated Faith’s words from the previous night. “You tell me,” she said before leaning in and giving Faith a passionate kiss, which Faith eagerly returned.

About five seconds into the kiss, the two slayers found themselves violently separated by Principal Snyder.

“You two...OUT!!!” he ordered, pointing at the exit across the room.

“Out?!” Faith complained. “For what?!”

He glared at Faith and said, “Lewd...” then glared at Buffy and said, “...behavior.”

“We were just kissing!” Buffy objected.

Snyder crossed his arms, implacable.

When the rest of the Scoobies arrived, they too questioned Snyder’s ruling, causing quite a scene in the middle of the dance floor. It was too no avail, however, for within minutes, the entire gang found themselves ushered from the dance and shoved out the gymnasium’s doors.

***

As the doors slammed shut, Cordelia let out an annoyed huff and turned to her friends. “What we do now?” she asked. “The Bronze is gonna be lame ’cause everybody’s here!”

The Scoobies seemed at a loss until Buffy and Faith exchanged a look and shared a wicked smile.

Faith turned to the group and said, “Well, I might know a place.”

***

Sure enough, Faith took them to the bar that she and Buffy had gone to the night they had defeated Kakistos. Outside the bar, Faith was having an intense conversation with the bar’s owner, who was refusing to let the group in.

“Come on, Jose,” Faith pleaded. “We got kicked out of the Homecoming Dance, and it’s too early for us to go home.” She gestured at their formal clothing. “I mean, look...we got dressed up and everything.”

Jose was unmoved.

Please? All we wanna do is dance and have some fun.”

Jose instantly perked up. “Dance?” he asked, his interest definitely piqued. “You mean you and your lady?” he added, nodding at the two slayers.

Faith glanced at Buffy, who rolled her eyes but nodded her agreement. Faith grinned and looked back at Jose. “Yeah, me and my girl’ll dance for you guys.”

“Is this a strip club?” Xander suddenly interjected. “Oh please, let this be a strip club.” Xander immediately received four slaps in a row, one from each of the girls. “Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.” Then Oz threw in an elbow jab for good measure. “Ow.”

“Okay,” Jose said before shaking his finger at Faith. “But no alcohol this time! Cops drop in, I’ll get my ass busted if I let you kids drink.”

“Deal,” Faith said, giving Jose a handshake.

At that, the group let out a “woo-hoo!” and went inside.

***

The bar was well attended but rather calm. Once Faith and the others joined the mix, though, the party definitely picked up. The DJ took them into a long dance mix, and the Scoobies took full advantage. Soon the bar was hopping with energy and excitement.

Winded from dancing, the Scoobies plopped into their chairs at a table near the dance floor and ordered water and soft drinks. After they had rested and regained their breath, Faith got up from her chair.

“Where ya goin’?” Buffy asked.

“Gonna see the DJ about a song,” Faith answered. “Be right back.”

Buffy watched as Faith made her way across the dance floor to the DJ booth. Faith and the DJ spoke animatedly for a minute or so until the current song neared its end. As soon as the song ended, Faith pulled the DJ’s microphone over and said, “Okay, Jose...this one’s for you.”

As her chosen song began to play, the crowd hooted in response and looked at Jose behind the bar. He gave Faith a thumbs-up, and she laughed and pointed back at him in reply. Then Faith moved onto the dance floor and headed in Buffy’s direction.

During the song’s slow buildup, Faith danced her way over to Buffy and then crooked both index fingers at her, calling her from her chair. Buffy ducked her head in embarrassment but rose to her feet and joined Faith on the dance floor.

Faith took both of Buffy’s hands in hers and pulled her close, moving them in time with the music. “Don’t worry...this is the same song we danced to last time.”

“I don’t remember last time, remember?” Buffy reminded her.

“Ahh, it’ll come back to you,” Faith said with a grin.

Just then, the song stopped its slow intro and started a new, fast beat. Faith broke from Buffy and began to dance around her, seductively running her hands along Buffy’s body. Buffy was hesitant at first, but soon she too gave herself over to the music and cut loose. Despite the constraints of their formal dresses, the two girls gave the bar’s crowd a very entertaining and very hot version of slayer dirty dancing.

When the song ended, the bar erupted into applause and shouts for more. Buffy and Faith looked over at the bar and saw Jose smiling and patting his chest, as if they had almost given him a heart attack. The girls just laughed and fell into an exhausted hug. In the middle of their embrace, Buffy heard the DJ come on to the microphone.

“And, Buffy,” the DJ announced, “Faith says this one is for you.”

When Buffy heard the music begin to play, she immediately recognized it as the song that she and Faith had been slow dancing to before Snyder had kicked them out of the Homecoming Dance. In surprise, she pulled away from Faith and looked at her, a tearful smile appearing on her face.

Faith shrugged and said, “We didn’t get to finish it before. Wasn’t right.”

Buffy just beamed at Faith for the longest time before leaning back against her and enjoying the closeness of their own special dance.

***

While Buffy and Faith were dancing, Oz snuggled up behind Willow and placed his chin on her shoulder. “See?” he said, indicating how happy and in love Faith and Buffy seemed to be.

“Yeah,” Willow admitted before turning to give Oz a smile. The smile was sincere but a bit sad. “I do,” she said. Then she touched his cheek and kissed him soundly.

***

As the song played out its final notes, Faith pulled Buffy into a tight embrace. She closed her eyes and just held on as if she never wanted to let her go. Then, with her arms still locked around Buffy, Faith suddenly blurted out, “God, I love you!”

In about two seconds, Faith’s eyes flew open, and she separated herself, holding Buffy at arm’s length. “Uhhh...” was all that came out of her mouth.

Oh shit! What did I just say? Faith thought frantically to herself.

Faith looked at Buffy, who had a shell-shocked expression on her face.

Fuck! B’s freaked out! I shouldn’t have said anything. Why did I say anything anyway? I don’t say ‘I love you’; I never say ‘I love you’! Fuck, I need a drink.

Faith glanced at the bar, still in a panic. With her gaze elsewhere, however, she couldn’t see Buffy’s shock change into a huge smile.

“I love you, too,” Buffy said, even though Faith wasn’t looking at her.

Faith’s mind did a mental record scratch upon hearing those words. Her eyes whipped back to Buffy. “Huh?”

“I said, ‘I love you, too’,” Buffy repeated, still wearing her big smile.

“Oh. Good. That’s good. I-I-I think.” Faith seemed confused.

“You think?” Buffy challenged.

Faith was back at “Uhhh...”

Buffy grinned. “Relax, I’m just yankin’ your chain.”

Faith still couldn’t speak.

“You’re totally wiggin’ out right now, aren’t you?”

Faith just nodded.

Buffy took Faith’s hand. “Come on, I think Jose owes us a drink.”

A squeaky “Okay” managed to escape Faith’s lips as Buffy led her away to the bar.

***

A short time later, after Faith had downed a couple of shots (her own plus Buffy’s), she had calmed down, and the two had retired to a booth in the back room of the bar, where it was darker and quieter. Faith was leaning against the wall, and Buffy was leaning against her with the brunette’s arms wrapped securely around her waist.

They weren’t doing anything, not even talking; they were simply luxuriating in the warmth of each other’s presence and touch. Then Buffy leaned up and turned around so that she could face Faith. She stared at her for a long moment, then let her gaze drop to her hands.

“Did you mean it?” Buffy asked. “What you said?” She lifted her eyes to Faith’s and waited for her answer.

Faith kept her eyes steady, and without wavering, she said, “Yes.” After a short pause, she asked Buffy the same thing. “Did you?”

Buffy immediately gave an emphatic series of nods and then said in a choked whisper, “Yes...so much.”

They moved toward one another at the same instant, bringing their lips together in a fervent and passionate kiss.

***

Meanwhile, across town, a disturbance was occurring in the darkened great room of an abandoned house—one that Buffy knew well. It was the stone mansion that Angel had called home.

In her most recent visit, she had left behind the Claddagh ring that Angel had given her, and she had made her good-byes to him.

But now a white light came out of nowhere and illuminated the ring on the floor. The air rolled and twisted and crackled as a dimensional portal suddenly burst open, filling the room with an unbearably bright light. With a snap and a thud, a partially-clothed male body fell through the portal and hit the stone floor, facedown. Then, in a flash, the portal was gone.

At first it wasn’t clear if the man left behind was even alive. Dressed only in a ragged pair of trousers, he wasn’t moving or breathing, and his body bore the marks of one who had endured years of torture. Some of his wounds were still new; others were older and halfway healed; still others had long since turned to ugly scars. Where once a dragon-tattoo had graced his back, deep ragged cuts now seeped fresh blood.

Slowly, movement and sound became discernible. With the little strength he had, the man was trying to turn himself over. After a long series of pants and groans, he finally pushed himself onto his back. He cried out in pain when his ravaged back hit the floor, but the front of his body was no less abused.

His face now visible, it was clear who the man was.

Angel was back.
 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 13...

 


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