TWICE CHOSEN
Part 13 (13A-13B-13C-13D)

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) This part picks up where Part 12 left off. It continues in mostly original territory. (3) For Faith’s backhistory 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) This chapter is so long that I had to split it into parts: 13A, 13B, 13C, and 13D. There are bookmark links to those sections due to the length of this chapter. (5) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit!

Number of Chapters: Current Plan = 18 chapters

Complete: 13D

Chapter 13A Summary: The two slayers leave the bar and go to Faith’s motel room for the rest of the night.

Chapter 13B Summary: After spending the night with Faith, Buffy has to face her mother and Willow. Meanwhile, Faith tries to find out more about Buffy and Angel’s relationship.

Chapter 13C Summary: Just as Buffy and Faith seem to be moving into a solid relationship, Buffy discovers that Angel is back.

Chapter 13D Summary: Buffy decides to keep Angel’s return secret but only until she can determine whether or not he has soul. Unfortunately, her erratic behavior engenders fear and suspicion in everyone around her, especially Faith.
 

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 13     Part 13A     Part 13B     Part 13C     Part 13D    

PART 14     PART 15     PART 16     PART 17     PART 18

Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories
 

 

PART 13A

In the back room of the bar, things were getting heated between Faith and Buffy. Their kisses were becoming deeper and more desperate, and their hands were roaming freely over one another’s bodies.

Suddenly, Faith separated them. With one hand, she shoved the table to the other side of the booth, giving them more space. She pulled Buffy back to her and leaned her against the edge of the table; then she dove back in, turning her attention to Buffy’s neck.

She started kissing behind Buffy’s ear before slowly working her way toward her shoulder. Once there, she followed the strap of the dress down to the bust line, where she planted a line of teasing kisses along the top of Buffy’s breasts. When she heard the blonde moaning in pleasure, Faith made her way back up Buffy’s neck, pulling her even closer as she ended with a particularly deep kiss on the lips.

When they separated, they didn’t go far; their mouths were mere inches apart as they struggled to catch their breath. Faith reached up to touch Buffy’s cheek, looking at her intently as she did so.

“Damn, B! I want you so bad I can hardly stand it,” she whispered urgently.

Buffy swallowed hard then whispered back, “I-I-I want you, too.”

Faith stared at her a moment then asked, “Wanna go back to my place?”

Buffy didn’t speak; she just gave an eager nod in reply.

Faith’s expression lit up into a sparkling, full-dimpled grin. “Let’s go,” she said.

***

Hand-in-hand, Buffy and Faith returned to the main area of the bar, where the music was still booming. They rejoined their friends but didn’t sit down. Instead, Buffy cocked her thumb over her shoulder at the exit and yelled over the music, “Faith and I are gonna head out!”

“We’ll send the limo back here after the driver drops us off at my place!” Faith added.

When Buffy saw Willow’s eyes light up in alarm, she sped up their good-byes. “I really had fun tonight! See you later!” At that, she tugged Faith toward the door.

“Wait!” Willow called out, but the two slayers didn’t hear her. “Buffy!” Willow’s expression fell when she saw the two girls disappear out the front entrance. “What about your curfew agreement?” she said even though it was clearly too late.

Just then, the loud music ended, and a soft slow song began. Cordelia took advantage of the lull to speak up.

“They’re gonna do it,” she announced and then looked to the others for their reaction.

Willow groaned and let her shoulders slump. Oz just shrugged. Xander was staring off in reverie, clearly already imagining the suggested scenario.

Cordelia rolled her eyes at her boyfriend and said, “Oh yeah...they’re totally gonna do it.”

***

Oh my God, Buffy thought to herself, we’re totally gonna do it!

She shot a forced smile at Faith, who was settling into her seat after the limo driver had shut the door.

What am I doing? Buffy thought in a panic. I don’t know what I’m doing! I’ve never done this before!

Faith returned the smile and said, “C’mere you.”

Buffy swallowed down her fear and moved to sit next to Faith.

Faith reached out and caressed Buffy’s hair, tucking it behind her ear, then letting her fingertips trail across her cheek. She eased her hand behind Buffy’s neck and pulled her close for a kiss.

With her heart pounding—half in desire and half in fear—Buffy returned the kiss, her mind whispering a silent prayer for help.

***

After the two slayers got out of the limo, Faith handed the driver a five-dollar bill. “Thanks, man,” she said.

He handed it right back and said, “No...thank you.” He lifted his eyebrow and winked.

Faith laughed aloud. Buffy, however, blushed a deep red. She covered her face and said, “Leaving now...” Then she began walking off toward Faith’s room.

Faith gave the driver a final wave and then ran to catch up with Buffy.

***

Once they had gotten inside Faith’s room, the two immediately kicked off their shoes and sighed in relief. As Faith set her money and key on the dresser, Buffy did the same with her small clutch purse. Then she removed her thin shoulder wrap, folded it, and laid it over the back of the chair.

When the two faced each other again, Buffy wrung her hands and fidgeted in place. Then she forced another smile and said, “So...” But that was all she got out before trailing off.

Seeing how jittery Buffy was, Faith headed over to the dresser and picked up her bottle of Jack Daniels. She held it up and said, “Want a drink?”

“Will it calm me down?” Buffy asked in a slightly high-pitched voice.

“Yeah,” Faith replied, “it’ll probably help a little.”

“Okay,” Buffy said. “But just one. Don’t wanna end up with umbrellas in my hair again.”

Faith laughed and poured each of them a shot in the motel’s complimentary plastic cups. They touched their glasses together and then downed the shots of whiskey.

Buffy instantly coughed and wheezed as the liquor made its way down her throat. Faith didn’t have this problem; she chuckled at Buffy’s reaction.

“Gaack! I think the used oil from my mom’s car would taste better.” Buffy began to fan herself. “Woo...it’s making me hot.”

Faith gave her a lecherous smirk. “You were already pretty hot, I thought.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and handed over her cup. Faith took it and set both glasses aside. Then she pulled her girlfriend in for a searing kiss. Buffy gladly returned the embrace. But when they pulled apart, Faith could still see the nervousness in Buffy’s eyes.

Faith gently cupped her girlfriend’s cheek. “Don’t worry,” she assured her. “I’ll steer you around the curves.”

Buffy exhaled in relief and nodded in gratitude.

Faith kissed her again, and the kiss seemed to last forever before she pulled away and moved behind Buffy. She wrapped her arms around the blonde’s waist and began nuzzling behind her ear, causing Buffy to breathe hard and fast.

When Faith let her hands slide up to her girlfriend’s breasts, Buffy let out a strangled groan.

Faith swept Buffy’s hair aside and began planting kisses along the nape of her neck. Then she moved her hands up so that she could gently slide the straps of Buffy’s dress from her shoulders. As Faith began to kiss the blonde’s shoulder blades in turn, Buffy involuntarily reached for the top of her dress, clutching it against her chest.

Suddenly, an image of Angel flashed into Buffy’s mind. It was the night that they had tried to prevent Spike and Drusilla from reconstructing the Judge—they had failed and barely escaped with their lives and had then taken refuge at Angel’s apartment. In her mind, Angel was gently examining a wound on Buffy’s back. His touch was cool but comforting.

Buffy shook the unsettling memory from her mind and focused on Faith, who was now beginning to unzip the back of her beaded white dress. She felt her stomach lurch in anxiety as Faith slowly slipped the dress down Buffy’s body until she could step out of it. When Buffy had done so and then turned around, Faith reached down and grabbed the hem of Buffy’s slip and pulled it over her head before tossing the silky white undergarment aside. Buffy was left in just her strapless bra and panties.

Faith took a moment to enjoy the view, making Buffy duck her head in embarrassment. Faith instantly moved closer and lifted Buffy’s chin, forcing her to meet her eyes.

“Don’t,” she told her. “You’re beautiful.”

Buffy felt a lump form in her throat, and she swallowed hard before kissing Faith fervently. “So are you,” Buffy said. “God...so are you.”

Faith grinned wickedly. “And you ain’t even seen all o’ me yet! Well, except for the peekin’ you did when you were on the phone with your mom that day.”

As Buffy blushed and laughed, Faith reached behind her own back and made quick work of the zipper on her black dress. Within seconds, she too was down to just her bra and panties, and she pulled Buffy back into her arms.

“Mmmm...this is much better,” Faith murmured as she let her hands roam over the bare skin of Buffy’s back. Then she moved in and pressed her lips against Buffy’s.

As the two slayers indulged in a slow, deep kiss, Faith carefully maneuvered them until they were standing at the foot of the bed. Then once again she turned her attention to Buffy’s neck, knowing it was one of the blonde’s get-me-hot spots. She was rewarded with a small shudder from Buffy. After nipping her way down the slayer’s neck, Faith stopped at her pulse point and bit down harder.

When Buffy felt Faith’s bite, she let out a husky groan and threw her head back, giving Faith greater access to the sensitive area. She sank her fingers into Faith’s hair and pushed the brunette’s head harder against her neck.

At that, Faith nudged Buffy backwards until they tumbled onto the bed—Buffy on her back and Faith on her knees, straddling Buffy’s leg. Faith kept up her welcome assault on Buffy’s neck, moving to the other side and nibbling her way up to the blonde’s ear, where she swirled the tip of her tongue along the outer edge, causing Buffy to quiver in delight.

Faith pulled away and grinned, pleased with the reaction she was getting from Buffy. She looked down at her and said, “Scoot up. Let’s get some workin’ room here.”

Buffy moved up the bed until she was lying against the pillows. Faith moved along with her, keeping her all-fours position over Buffy’s body. Once they were in place, Faith paused and sat back, once again enjoying the sight that was before her.

When Faith reached down and touched her face, Buffy closed her eyes. As she felt Faith’s fingertips trail down her body, Buffy’s mind once again took her back in time.

She and Angel were in bed together. They were both naked, and he was touching her with wonder in his eyes. Then the memory flashed forward to Buffy waking up in Angel’s bed alone, a worried expression on her face. It flashed forward again, this time to Buffy’s post-love-making talk with the man she thought was Angel. “You got a lot to learn about men, kiddo,” Angelus taunted. “Although I guess you proved that last night.”

Buffy suddenly reached out and grabbed Faith’s hand just as she was about to undo the clasp on Buffy’s bra.

“I’m sorry!” Buffy cried out in a choked voice. “I can’t do this!” Then she shot up out of the bed and walked a few feet away, keeping her back to Faith and hugging herself tightly.

Faith leaned back on her heels and let her hands flop to her sides. “What the hell?” she said in a frustrated tone.

Buffy glanced briefly over her shoulder, and it was then that Faith could see that Buffy was crying. She instantly regretted her harsh words. She got up and cautiously moved to Buffy’s side.

“I’m sorry,” she told her. She lifted her hand to touch Buffy’s back but stopped before doing so, not sure whether Buffy wanted to be touched or not.

“Nooo, i-i-it’s my fault,” Buffy said, turning around and wiping at her eyes, though refusing to meet Faith’s gaze. “I-I-I shouldn’t have led you on like that...not when I knew I wasn’t—  Well, I didn’t know I wasn’t until I wasn’t...but still...I-I-I shouldn’t have been all green-lighty when I was really yellow. Ha! Yellow, that fits, being scared to death and everything and—”

Buffy found her panicked babble muted by Faith’s fingers over her lips. After continuing to murmur for a second or two, she finally quieted down.

When Faith was certain that Buffy wasn’t going to start babbling again, she removed her fingers from Buffy’s mouth and then gently gripped both of her shoulders.

“It’s okay,” Faith told her firmly. She kept eye contact with Buffy and nodded until Buffy mirrored her actions. Then Faith smiled and released Buffy’s shoulders.

Buffy didn’t seem particularly reassured, though. She fidgeted a bit and then said, “I, um, I need to go to the bathroom.” She pointed across the room.

“Help yourself,” Faith said, stepping aside.

Buffy hurried in that direction but then stopped suddenly and turned back to Faith. “Do you, um, have something I could change into?” she asked.

“Uh, sure,” Faith replied. She dug into her dresser and pulled out an old t-shirt and some sweat pants. She walked over and handed them to Buffy.

“Thanks,” Buffy said before heading into the bathroom and shutting the door.

***

When she heard the door click shut, Faith ran her hand through her hair and let out a long sigh.

“Jesus Christ...” she muttered before shaking her head and returning to her dresser.

She pulled out a big baggy nightshirt and a pair of shorts and set them aside. After removing her bra, she pulled on the nightshirt and let it fall past her hips; then she tugged on her shorts.

When she turned around, she cast a glance at the bathroom door. She considered going over there and knocking on the door, just to make sure Buffy was all right. But she decided it would be better to wait for Buffy to come out in her own time.

“Yeah, she needs her ‘Faith-free’ space right now,” she told herself bitterly as she plopped onto the bed and leaned against her pillows.

***

Inside the bathroom, Buffy was leaning against the door. Her eyes were closed, and she was hugging her borrowed clothes tight to her chest.

Great. You’ve just totally ruined everything.

Buffy straightened up and moved away from the door. She stood in front of the sink and looked at her reflection in the mirror.

And why are you thinking about Angel, anyway? He’s gone...he’s never coming back...

Her thoughts trailed off, and her eyes became sad for a moment. Then she let out a scoff of self-disgust.

It was bad enough when she had to deal with your guilt-curse breakdown. Now she has to put up with your stupid sex-with-your-ex issues?

Buffy groaned and covered her face with her hands. When she finally pulled them away, she cast a worried glance at the wall separating the bathroom from the main room.

She’s probably in there packing her bags right now...

Buffy hung her head sadly. After taking a deep breath, she went about the task of changing into the clothes Faith had given her.

***

Faith was stretched out on the bed with one hand tucked behind her head. Her position suggested that she was calm and relaxed, but her mind was anything but.

What did I do wrong?

Musta done something, the way she shot away from me like that.

Her forehead creased as a look of confusion came over her face.

I don’t get it...she seemed like she was into it.

But maybe not.

Maybe she wasn’t likin’ it as much as I thought.

Maybe I went too fast.

Faith shook her head accusingly.

I knew I shouldn’t have said “I love you”! It’s too much, too fast, it was stupid, I don’t know why I said it anyway.

Her expression fell into a sad, dark frown once again.

She probably only said it back ’cause I said it first, and now she’s freakin’ out about it.

Faith’s eyes flicked to the bathroom.

She’s probably in there thinkin’ up see-ya scenarios right now...

Faith turned away and closed her eyes, sighing heavily.

***

Seconds later, Faith heard the bathroom door open. She shot up and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. As she saw Buffy come around the corner, she felt her stomach tense into knots.

Now dressed in the t-shirt and sweats she had borrowed, Buffy briefly met Faith’s eyes. Then she walked over to where her white dress lay on the floor. She picked it up and draped it over the chair with her wrap, laying her bra on top of it. After taking a moment to compose herself, she turned back around to face her girlfriend.

“I-I-I’m sorry,” she said as she sat down at the end of the bed. “I thought I was ready, but I guess I’m not.” She kept her gaze on her hands, which were clasped tightly in her lap.

Faith scooted down the bed until she was knee-to-knee with Buffy. Then she reached out and covered Buffy’s hands with one of her own, causing the blonde to look up.

“Like I said,” Faith emphasized, “it’s okay.”

Buffy dropped her eyes once again, and Faith removed her hand from Buffy’s.

“But it must be some serious shit goin’ on. You wanna tell me about it?”

Buffy nodded in agreement to the request, but it took her nearly a minute to finally start speaking.

“I, um...I’m not exactly experienced when it comes to sex,” Buffy admitted softly. “But I guess you probably knew that.”

She looked up at Faith expecting to see the same expression of contempt that she had seen on Angelus’s face, but it wasn’t there. So she cleared her throat and went on.

“In fact, I’ve only done it once, and that was with Angel.” Buffy hung her head. “It didn’t exactly turn out the way I expected.”

“Guess not since he went all evil on ya shortly after that.”

‘Shortly after,’ Buffy thought to herself. Yeah, right. How about ‘immediately after’? As in one caused the other?

For a brief moment, Faith saw intense pain in Buffy’s eyes. She knew there was more to this story than Buffy was telling, but she chose not to press the matter.

Buffy forced the pain back down and went on. “Anyway, there’s that, and then there’s my first-time-with-a-girl freak-out.” She sighed and shook her head in self-disgust.

“Hey, it’s not like I’m the expert when it comes to the girl-on-girl action,” Faith confessed. “I’ve only been at it for a few months myself. Just since leaving Boston.”

“Really?” Buffy asked, looking back up.

“Yeah, I mean, I was totally into guys in Boston,” Faith explained. “I refused to even consider the notion of makin’ it with a girl. But then I met Sam in New York.”

“Sam?” Buffy asked, a bit confused.

“Samantha,” Faith corrected. “She came on to me at a club one night, and I told her point-blank, ‘I don’t do chicks’.”

Buffy had to snicker a bit at that. “What did Sam say?”

“She just laughed and said, ‘Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it’.”

“So what happened?”

“Oh, she basically dared me into it—and you know me, I ain’t turnin’ down a dare.”

“Annnnd...?” Buffy’s curiosity was definitely piqued now.

“And now I do chicks,” Faith answered proudly. “I do them quite well, as a matter of fact,” she added, leaning over to give Buffy a mischievous wink.

Buffy blushed furiously and dropped her head. Then she cleared her throat and said, “Well, ahem, based on my admittedly limited experience, I would have to agree with that assessment.”

Faith’s expression lit up with grin, but it soon faded as an awkward silence fell over the two slayers. They looked away and then back several times. Finally, Faith spoke up.

“So...what’d’ya wanna do now?” she asked.

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know.” She glanced over at Faith’s clock-radio. “It’s pretty late.”

“Your mom’s not expecting you, though, is she?”

Buffy shook her head but said nothing.

Faith reached out and took Buffy’s hand. “Then stay here with me.”

Buffy looked unsure.

“We don’t have to do anything,” Faith told her. Then she put on her biggest, brightest smile. “I promise...you’re safe with me.”

Buffy smiled and said, “Okay.”

At that, the two slayers pulled back the cover and sheet and climbed into bed together. Buffy curled up against Faith’s shoulder, and Faith wrapped her arms around the blonde. They settled into a warm embrace, and for a while they just relaxed in each other’s presence.

Buffy took in a deep breath and let it out. “God, I didn’t realize how tired I was.”

“After all the dancin’ we did, I’m not surprised,” Faith said. “Not to mention all the drama.”

“Yeah.”

Another long silence ensued. Both slayers were frowning slightly as if deep in thought. Then Buffy pulled away so that she could look at Faith. She stared at her for a full minute, tears welling in her eyes.

“What is it?” Faith asked worriedly.

Buffy swallowed hard before answering. “I just...I love you so much...” She closed her eyes and shook her head before looking back at Faith. “It’s...so strong and...” Buffy trailed off as if she were trying to think of the right word.

“...scary?” Faith supplied.

Buffy merely nodded.

“I’m scared too,” Faith admitted. Then she quickly added, “But if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll have to kill ya.”

Buffy chuckled at that, but then she gently asked, “What are you scared of?”

Faith’s light expression fell. She looked away, clenching her jaw repeatedly. “Of waking up,” she finally said as she turned back to Buffy.

Although Faith kept her expression guarded, Buffy could sense the anguish behind her words. After all, she herself had the same fear. Buffy looked deeply into Faith’s eyes.

“It’s not a dream,” she told her. “It’s real.”

After sharing a smile, the two slayers kissed warmly and then settled back into their cuddle. Soon they were both asleep.

 

PART 13B

It was pre-dawn on Sunday morning when Buffy woke up in Faith’s motel room. Her eyes flew open, and she took in a sudden breath, as if she were waking up from a bad dream. She relaxed and smiled, though, when she saw Faith’s face just a few inches away on the other end of the pile of pillows.

Faith had one arm tucked under her pillow and the other draped across Buffy’s hip. Buffy reached out and ran her hand gently over Faith’s shoulder and down her arm, causing the dark slayer to take in a deep breath and open her eyes.

“Hey there, Gorgeous,” Buffy said with a grin.

Faith merely made an incoherent groan.

“Sorry, I forgot...Grumpy’s not a morning person,” Buffy teased.

“First of all,” Faith said, glancing at the darkness outside the curtained window, “if there’s no sunshine, it’s not morning yet, and second of all,” she added, turning back to Buffy, “we settled that whole ‘grumpy’ issue over at your house.” In a quick snatch, she reached out and pulled her girlfriend close. “With me on top, if I recall.”

Buffy giggled and then gave Faith a playful and deliberately noisy kiss, finally coaxing a smile out of her girlfriend.

“What are you doing waking up so early, anyway?” Faith asked, pulling away slightly and propping up on her elbow.

“Just woke up,” Buffy replied with a shrug. Then a shadow passed over her face, causing Faith to reach over and lift her chin.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Buffy answered. “It’s nothing.”

“Don’t give me that,” Faith teased. “I know a something when I see it.”

“It’s just more stupid Angel stuff,” she muttered, shaking her head. After a sigh, she went on, “The morning after we...he was gone. H-H-He just left without...” She trailed off, not finishing that thought.

“Son of a bitch,” Faith swore.

After a long, awkward pause, Buffy lightened her tone and said, “Anyway, in spite of the bad memories, it feels really good waking up with you.” She shot Faith a smile, which the brunette returned.

“Back at ya,” Faith said before pulling Buffy into her arms once again.

The two slayers indulged in a few moments of cuddling and kissing before Buffy reluctantly separated them.

“I really hate to break this up,” Buffy said, “but I need to get home before Mom wakes up.”

“Well, you better get up and get goin’ then,” Faith said, giving Buffy a poke in ribs.

“Hey, none of that!” Buffy warned as she quickly slipped out of bed. She looked down at the t-shirt and sweats she was wearing and then over at her dress on the chair. “Guess I’d better change back.”

Faith got out of bed and walked over to her. She glanced at the t-shirt and then Buffy’s head and noted, “Yeah, the Boston College tee and the bed-head hair might not be the first thing you want your mom to see when she wakes up.”

Buffy gave a sheepish laugh and touched her hair. “Good point.”

At that, Buffy changed out of the clothes she had borrowed and donned her homecoming dress once again. Then she went into the bathroom and gave her mussed hair a good brushing.

When she came back out, she asked, “How’s that?”

“Much better,” Faith confirmed.

Buffy walked over and wrapped her arms around Faith. She gave the brunette a warm kiss. “Thanks for last night—for everything. It was wonderful.”

“Yeah, I had a pretty good time, too.”

After sharing a smile, Buffy pulled away and headed for the door, which Faith opened for her.

“Want me to walk you over there?” Faith offered.

“That’s okay,” Buffy said. “It’s not far. I’ll be fine. But do you happen to—?”

Anticipating Buffy’s question, Faith handed over a stake.

“Thanks,” Buffy said.

“Call me later, okay?” Faith called out as Buffy stepped through the doorway.

“I will,” Buffy promised as she turned to walk backwards down the sidewalk so that she could blow a kiss to Faith.

Faith chuckled and shut the door.

***

Faith kept smiling for quite a while after Buffy left. She lay back down and curled up in the bed, a look of complete contentment on her face. But soon she began to frown, when her thoughts returned to the things Buffy had said about her vampire ex, Angel.

Angel messed her up, Faith thought to herself, scowling as she did so. That son of a bitch hurt her—way more than she’s saying.

Faith wanted to know more, but she knew that Buffy wasn’t ready to talk about it, so asking her outright was off the to-do list, at least for now.

And the ‘super-friends’ weren’t exactly dishin’ out the details when they told me about Buffy and Angel.

Faith let out a frustrated grumble.

I don’t wanna look like I’m goin’ behind her back and bein’ all nosy, but I don’t wanna accidentally do something to set her off either...something that reminds her of Angel.

Faith sighed and considered her options. Giles was out of the question. That much was certain.

Intimate details about Buffy and Angel’s physical relationship...no way B’s gonna be talkin’ to Jeeves about stuff like that.

Or Xander either.

Nah...this is girl talk. If she’d talk to anybody about it, it’d be to Willow.

Faith groaned and rolled her eyes at the thought of asking Willow for information.

“Great,” she said with exaggerated, and totally fake, enthusiasm. “My favorite person in the whole wide world.”

Faith plopped her pillow over her face and groaned again.

***

At the Summers home, Buffy was carefully opening the front door and entering with as little noise as possible. Once inside, she eased off her shoes and crept quietly up to the second floor, gritting her teeth at every tiny squeak the stairs made. She tiptoed past her mother’s closed door and slipped inside her own room. It was only after she had shut her door that she let out the breath she had been holding.

Whew! I made it, Buffy thought to herself as she felt her body relax a little.

She walked over to her closet and began removing her dress.

Now, as long as Mom didn’t freak out and call Willow’s house, I’ll be free and clear.

Buffy’s shoulders immediately sagged, and she scrunched her face up in a wince.

Oh my gosh...Will...she is probably so pissed at me right now.

She let out a heavy sigh. I’m gonna have some serious sucking up to do to mend that over.

She sighed again. Besides, I really need someone to talk to about all this Faith stuff. Buffy got a worried look on her face. I hope she understands... She glanced at her phone and then the clock.

For a long moment, Buffy mentally debated about whether or not to call Willow. But in the end she decided that it was just too late—or too early, actually. She began undressing and was soon reaching for her robe.

I’ll shower, get a little sleep, have some quality time with Mom, and then head over to Will’s. Buffy winced again when she imagined Willow’s reaction. Maybe by then she won’t be so mad.

She made an unconvinced whine and trudged off for the bathroom.

***

Joyce awoke to the smell of coffee. She breathed in and murmured in pleasure at the scent. Then she got out of bed, put on her robe, and followed the coffee trail downstairs.

As she neared the kitchen, she realized that the scent of coffee was now tinged with the smell of something burning. She crinkled her nose and reluctantly stepped inside the kitchen.

She was greeted by what looked like a disaster area. A smoking pan was sitting in the sink, still sizzling. The counter was cluttered with a bowl, a whisk, a pile of cracked eggshells, and an empty egg carton. Buffy was covered with scrambled egg spatters as she pouted at a stack of blackened pieces of bread.

“What in the world...?” Joyce commented as she surveyed the damage.

Buffy’s eyes shot up at the sound of her mother’s voice. “I-I-I was trying to make you breakfast, but i-i-it didn’t turn out so good,” she explained, thoroughly embarrassed. She glanced around at the mess. “I don’t get it...it looks so easy when you do it.”

Joyce rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“I-I-I’ll clean it up,” Buffy promised, “but...I don’t think there’s anything even remotely edible...well, I think the coffee’s okay.”

Joyce chuckled and walked over to the refrigerator and opened the freezer door. “That’s why God invented microwaves and frozen pancakes.”

Buffy laughed with her mother and went to get some plates. Within a couple of minutes, the two were sitting at the table enjoying their breakfast.

About halfway into the meal, Joyce raised an eyebrow at Buffy and asked, “So, what did you do this time?”

Buffy got a panicked look on her face. “Uhhh...what do you mean?”

Joyce gave her daughter a knowing glance. “If you’re attempting to make me breakfast, it usually means one of two things: you’re trying to sucker me into some outlandish request or you’re trying to soften the blow of some unfortunate  ‘accident.’ Since we already went the outlandish request route the other day at the pawn shop...” She trailed off and waited for Buffy to chime in.

By then, Buffy had regained her composure and matched her mother’s smirk. “As it so happens, it’s neither one of those things,” she said smugly. “I just wanted to say thank-you for letting me stay out last night. So there.” She stuck her tongue out as a final answer.

The two shared another laugh. Then Joyce asked, “So you had a good time?”

Buffy beamed in response. “I had a wonderful time. We rode in the limo, we got pictures, we ate party food, we danced...it was awesome!” Then she added, without thinking, “Till Snyder kicked us out.”

“What?!” Joyce asked in alarm. “What happened?” She directed a glare at her daughter. “You didn’t try to burn down the gym, did you?”

“No!” replied an appalled Buffy. “We weren’t doing anything, and he just—”

“Well, you must have been doing something...”

Buffy let out an exasperated huff and said, “We were dancing, okay? Me and Faith.” She paused a moment and then went on. “Slow dancing.” She let the implications sink in. “And he just broke us apart, told us we were engaging in ‘lewd behavior,’ and threw us out of the dance!”

“‘Lewd behavior’?!!” Joyce objected angrily. “For two girls dancing?!”

Buffy slumped and glanced away. “Well, there might have been some kissing...”

Joyce didn’t seem to hear her. “I’m going to give that little toad a piece of my mind! He has no right to—”

“Mom...Mom...” Buffy had to wave her hands to get her mother’s attention. “Look, I appreciate your whole PFLAG-y intervention here—really I do, more than I can say—but Snyder’s already got me on his hit list. If you go down there...”

Joyce calmed down a little. “I just don’t think that he should be allowed to—”

“I know, I know,” Buffy told her. “But the truth is...we had way more fun once we left the gym and went to the bar.” Instantly realizing her error, she immediately added, “Onze. The Bronze.” Luckily, her mother hadn’t caught the inadvertent admission, so Buffy went on cheerily. “It wasn’t as crowded, and we got to dance as much as we wanted...it was really wonderful.”

A smile brightened Joyce’s expression, and she reached over and patted her daughter’s hand. “I’m glad, honey. Things haven’t been easy for you lately, and you needed a happy night.”

Buffy smiled back, but as soon as Joyce turned her attention to her food, Buffy let out a silent breath of relief and then joined her mother in finishing off breakfast.

***

Later that morning, Willow was in her bedroom, attempting to work on a research paper for school. She was too distracted to concentrate, however, and soon pushed her laptop aside.

I wish Buffy would call, she thought worriedly.

Then she crossed her arms and scowled. I still can’t believe she ditched us last night.

It was probably Faith’s idea, she thought, her eyes narrowing.

Yeah, you butter her up with a few romantic slow dances and lure her back your motel room, then you get what you want from her and push her out the door, completely breaking her heart, re-triggering her guilt curse, and dumping her into a sea of despair!

Willow paused and reconsidered her mental rant.

Okay, maybe I’m going a little overboard here, but still...

Just then, Willow heard a tapping at her balcony. Her eyes lit up, and she jumped from her chair and ran over.

“Buffy?!” she said excitedly as she opened the French doors.

Her face fell when she saw that it was Faith, and not Buffy, standing on her balcony.

“Hey,” Faith said.

“Faith! W-W-What are you doing here?” Willow asked, confused and a bit miffed.

“I kinda wanted to talk to you about something.”

Willow crossed her arms. “And you came to my window because...what? You have a front-door phobia?”

Faith hitched her thumb over her shoulder. “Oh. Well, Buffy said that she—”

“Faith, what do you want?” Willow said wearily, cutting the slayer off.

Faith made a dramatic wave with both arms. “Well, can I come in?” she said sarcastically.

Willow rolled her eyes and gestured Faith in.

“We’re supposed to be in a truce, remember?” Faith said as she stepped inside Willow’s bedroom.

“Truce ended when you dragged Buffy out of the bar last night,” Willow said.

“I did not drag her out of the bar!” Faith objected.

Willow shot a cold glare in Faith’s direction. “So tell me...Did you get what you wanted from her? Is that why you’re here? To tell me you’re dumping her now and I’d better get ready for a Buffy breakdown?”

What?!!” Faith exclaimed in outrage. Then she glared and pointed at Willow. “You know what? Fuck this! I came over here because I was worried about Buffy, because I thought maybe you could help me out, but obviously, you’re too busy thinking the worst of me to care about what might be going on with your supposed best friend!” Faith turned to leave.

“Wait! Wait!” Willow cried out, instantly changing her tune. “Don’t go, I’m sorry.”

Hearing the concern in Willow’s voice, Faith reluctantly stopped and turned back around.

“Y-Y-You’re worried about Buffy?” Willow asked. “W-W-What’s wrong with her?”

Faith dropped her gaze to her feet, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, not really knowing how to say what she needed to say. Then she looked back up at Willow.

“I think she’s having some post-Angel issues,” Faith told the redhead, “but she’s not exactly goin’ into detail, ya know what I mean?”

Willow let out a sad sigh and made her way over to her bed. Faith followed and sat beside her.

“Buffy really loved Angel, a-a-and he loved her, too. And what they had...it was something special...very once-in-a-lifetime-y.”

Faith glanced down at her lap, frowning at bit, before Willow went on.

“When he lost his soul, Buffy was crushed. The man she loved was gone, and the only thing left was this-this...monster.”

It was Willow’s turn to look away for a moment.

“And then she had to kill him, right?” Faith asked in a soft voice.

Willow nodded. “I tried to re-curse him, to restore his soul in time, but I-I-I was too late. Angelus activated Acathla, I finished the soul restoration right after, and then...Buffy didn’t have a choice.”

“Damn,” was all Faith could say.

“She ran away after that. Stayed gone for, like, three months. She had just come back home when you got here.”

Faith nodded in understanding. Then she asked, “But what made him go all un-cursed in the first place?”

Willow began to fidget and look decidedly uncomfortable. “I...I don’t think I should say any more. We’re starting to go over the privacy line here.”

“Look, all I’m doin’ is tryin’ to not screw things up with Buffy. Anything, anything at all that you can—”

“No,” Willow said, shaking her head.

“I’m just afraid I’m gonna do something or say something that—”

“I said no,” Willow insisted.

Faith stared at Willow and waited, but the redhead’s resolve face was firmly in place.

“Fine,” Faith said in an annoyed voice as she got to her feet.

“Fine is right,” Willow replied somewhat defensively. “I am not going to betray Buffy’s confidence just because you’re feeling unsure of yourself.”

“Whatever...” Faith growled over her shoulder before walking through the French doors and then nonchalantly vaulting over the second-story balcony.

***

A short time later, Willow heard another knock at her window. She let out a huff and stomped over to the French doors.

“Look, Faith, I’ve said all I’m gonna say,” she complained loudly as she pulled open the glass doors.

She couldn’t have been more surprised when she found Buffy, and not Faith, on her balcony.

“Buffy!” she said with a deer-in-headlights expression.

Buffy gave Willow a puzzled look. “Faith was here?”

“Uhhh, yeah, she was...earlier...”

When Willow didn’t elaborate, Buffy leaned forward and said, “Because...?”

“Oh, um, she just wanted to, you know, follow up on that whole, um, truce thing. From last night. That we talked about.”

“Ohhh-kaaaay,” Buffy said, not really believing Willow’s answer but not that interested in pressing the matter either.

“W-W-What are you doing here?” Willow countered.

Buffy scrunched her face into a wince. “To beg forgiveness?”

“Oh, right. I’m supposed to be mad at you,” Willow said. “Wait, I am mad at you. You ditched us last night!”

“I know, I know,” Buffy said, truly apologetic.

“I promised your mother I’d keep an eye on you,” Willow went on, “and you promised her you’d stay with the group! What if she had called here last night?”

“I know...I’m sorry...”

Willow crossed her arms and wouldn’t look at Buffy. She was that furious. The sight of her best friend so angry made tears fill Buffy’s eyes. She dropped her gaze to the floor.

“Be mad, okay?” she said in a choked voice. “But please don’t hate me...”

Willow immediately softened and stepped closer to Buffy. “I don’t hate you, Buffy...I could never hate you...”

The two friends exchanged an intense glance before Willow looked away.

“But...it hurts that you’re always choosing Faith over me.” She shrugged and went on. “Okay, maybe it’s not always, but it feels that way.”

Buffy’s expression became pained. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be a bad friend, I don’t, but...” Suddenly, Buffy burst into tears.

“Oh! Oh, Buffy! Don’t cry.” Willow pulled Buffy into a hug. “No, I’m the bad friend, I am!”

Buffy pulled away, still crying. “No, you’re not a bad friend. It’s just...things are happening so fast, and I really need somebody to talk to...but I know the last thing you wanna hear about is Faith and—”

“No, I am being a bad friend. Here you are, going through something—a critical, life-situation kind of something—and I’m not being there for you!” She reached out and grasped Buffy’s arm. “But...I’m here for you now.” She led her to the edge of the bed. “What is it? What’s going on?”

Buffy took in a shaky breath. “It’s me and Faith. We took a really big step last night, and it’s kinda scary...”

Willow’s eyes widened. Oh my God! They really did do it! She held her breath as she waited for Buffy to finish.

“We said ‘I love you’ to each other.”

Impossibly, Willow’s eyes widened more. She hadn’t expected that revelation. Sex yes, but love? “Oh my God...”

Buffy nodded emphatically.

Willow stared at Buffy for a long moment before speaking again. Then her curiosity got the better of her, and she dared to ask, “Did you and Faith...?” She trailed off, not saying the words but giving Buffy a look that said it all.

Buffy ducked her head in embarrassment when she realized what Willow was asking. “No,” she replied, her eyes still averted. “We started to, but...I-I-I couldn’t go through with it.”

When Buffy didn’t look back up, Willow touched her arm. “She didn’t try to...?”

“No!” Buffy instantly replied. “No,” she repeated firmly. Buffy wasn’t angry at Willow’s implication, but she wanted to make sure that her friend got the message. But Buffy didn’t dwell on that. Soon she was smiling brightly. “She was so sweet about it, actually. She’s...” Buffy was just glowing. “God, I love her sooo much, Will. After Angel, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to love somebody again, or this much.”

Willow could see the love beaming from her friend, and she knew that Faith was the reason for it. She gave Buffy a sincere smile, which quickly turned to a rather impish grin.

“What did she do when you told her?” Willow asked. “It was during the slow dance song, wasn’t it? That’s when you told her, right? Had to be.”

“Yeah, it was,” Buffy confirmed, “but...I didn’t tell her first.”

Willow’s mouth dropped open in utter disbelief.

“Yep, that’s pretty much how I reacted, too. And come to think of it, that’s how Faith reacted after she said it. I think she freaked herself out.” Buffy laughed and then smiled widely again. “But it was easy to say it back. It felt right, you know? It all feels so...‘right’.”

“Then...why are you so scared?”

Buffy teared up once again. “Because that’s when bad things happen...” She looked down at her lap. Several tears landed on her hands. “The night Angel and I made love, it was so...perfect,” she said in a barely audible whisper. “And then...” She trailed off, frowning sadly as she remembered everything that had followed their lovemaking.

Willow reached out and covered Buffy’s tear-stained hand with her own. “But that’s not gonna happen with Faith,” she said gently. “It can’t. Far as I know, she’s totally curse-free...a-a-and unlike Angel, that’s a good thing.”

“I know it won’t be that,” Buffy said, “but I’m just afraid it’ll be something.” She sighed and then said sadly, “Sometimes I think that I’m not meant to find happiness...that being the Slayer is always going to make happiness a complete impossibility.”

“No, Buffy, that’s not true,” Willow insisted. “Being the Slayer, yeah, it won’t be easy, but you can be happy. You just need to find the right person, that’s all.” She paused and looked at Buffy intently. “Do you, um, do you think that Faith could be that person, you know, who makes you happy?”

Buffy thought seriously for a long moment and then looked up, her face aglow with a totally smitten smile.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’,” Willow quipped.

“Oh!” Buffy said, suddenly changing to an excited tone. “Did I tell you about the pawn shop? No, I couldn’t have. I haven’t talked to you since then. But that’s okay; I’ll tell you now.”

“Pawn shop?” Willow looked confused.

“Remember when you asked me about why I didn’t buy a new dress for the dance?” Buffy prompted. Willow nodded. “Well, turns out, I had to make a different purchase instead.”

“At...the pawn shop?” Willow was still confused.

Buffy reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a long narrow item wrapped in a small cloth. She handed it to Willow, who carefully opened the cloth. She was amazed when she saw the golden dagger.

“Oh wow...this looks like solid gold...”

“It is, and it wasn’t cheap. Mom about blew a gasket.”

“But why did you—?”

Buffy pointed at the dagger. “Read the inscription.”

Willow flipped the dagger over until she saw the engraved area. Then she took a moment to read the inscription out loud. “To Faith, In honor of your calling. – Diana.” Willow’s head shot up in shock. “Oh my—  This was from her watcher!”

“I know,” Buffy said. “She pawned it, took half of what it was worth, just so she could buy a dress for the dance. For me.”

Willow was overcome; she felt her eyes fill with tears. She couldn’t believe it. She’d never seen a romantic gesture that was so...No, it wasn’t just a gesture, and it was so much more than ‘romantic’. This was an act of true love, and it had come from Faith.

“She doesn’t know I have it,” Buffy explained. “It was just pure luck that Mom and I saw her coming out of the pawn shop. But once we saw what she’d done, we couldn’t let her give that up.”

Willow quickly gave the dagger back, her trickle of tears changing to an all-out cry, setting off Buffy’s alarms.

“Willow, what’s wrong?”

The witch was shaking her head in horror. “I-I-I was so...mean to her,” she said, hiccupping through her words as she cried. “I thought...she was just...using you...and I was so...jealous...but all along...”

Buffy pulled her best friend into fierce hug.

“I’m so sorry, Buffy...I didn’t know...”

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Buffy whispered. She kept whispering it until Willow finally calmed down—or stopped crying at least.

“What am I gonna do, Buffy?” Willow pleaded. “How can I make this up to her?”

“Just...be her friend,” the slayer answered. “Be our friend.”

Willow sniffled a little more but nodded. Then she said in a lighter, somewhat frenzied tone, “I can do that. I can be a friend. I’ve been a friend before. I-I-I know I haven’t been excelling in the friend category of late, but I can still be—”

Willow found her rampant babble stopped by a hand over her mouth. Buffy gave her a mock glare and said, “So, do you want the juicy details or not?” She removed her hand.

“Yes, please!” Willow said in a chipper voice.

Buffy grinned.

***

Meanwhile, Faith was over at the Harris home, having fruit punch with Xander in his bedroom.

“Thanks, Mom! We’re good. No more punch,” he called out the bedroom door, the tone in his voice indicating that his mother was really getting on his nerves.

When he shut his door, he let out a long-suffering sigh, then instantly shot back to his place on the bed next to Faith and reverted to his eagerly rapt pose.

“So...back to what you and Buffy were doing after you left the bar,” he said, wearing a huge grin. “And remember, don’t be shy on details. I love details.”

Faith rolled her eyes and then glared at him.

“Okay, forget the details. Just some generalized description. I’ll fill in the gaps.”

Faith glared more.

Xander slumped in defeat. “Okay, fine. What do you want?”

“Information,” Faith said. “About Buffy and Angel.”

Xander’s expression became a bit guarded, but he said, “What do you wanna know?”

“What he did to her,” Faith replied grimly. “I tried to talk to Willow, but she wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“Not surprised,” Xander said with disgust. “She always was on the Buffy/Angel bandwagon.”

“I take it you weren’t.”

“No,” Xander replied firmly. Then he went into sarcastic explanation mode. “Angel was a vampire. Vampires are bad. That’s why slayers are supposed to kill them.” He gestured dramatically with his hands. “But no, Angel was different...Angel had a soul. Like that made a damn bit of difference to the thousands of people he killed when he didn’t have one!”

“But he was good when he had his soul, right?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘good’.”

“Not evil, then.”

Xander shrugged. “He was...useful on occasion, but I never trusted him. Turns out I was right.”

“What did he do? When he was Angelus, I mean?”

“He tormented Buffy for weeks, stalking her, leaving notes and pictures behind at her house, sending minions after her with cryptic messages. He threatened all of us, even Buffy’s mom, and then he killed Miss Calendar and left her body in Giles’s apartment. He almost killed Willow, nearly tortured Giles to death, and oh yeah, he tried to destroy the world.”

“And Willow still tried to restore his soul?”

“Yeah. It was to try and stop his activation of Acathla, but in the back of her mind, I know she was thinking, ‘Maybe Buffy and Angel can be together again...they’re so in love’.” He let out a frustrated growl. “I mean, helllooo? Buffy and Angel can never be together! Them together equals Return of Angelus. It’s all part of that stupid gypsy curse.”

“Okay, wait...I’m confused. What does the curse have to do with Buffy and Angel being together?”

“Y-Y-You don’t know about the clause? The happiness clause?”

Faith shook her head.

“The gypsies cursed Angelus by restoring his soul so that he would feel guilty and miserable the rest of his undead life. Sounds great, right? Well, the idiots added a clause—the happiness clause. If Angel ever experienced a moment of true happiness, his soul would be ripped away again. They couldn’t bear the thought that he might one day achieve happiness, but duh! What happens to the rest of us when he does and Angelus gets unleashed on the world again? Well, we found out...the hard way.”

“And being with Buffy made Angel happy?”

“Not just being with,” he said. “Being with...” he added with emphasis, tilting his head at the bed to get his point across.

Faith’s eyes widened, and she dropped her gaze to her lap. “That’s why she was so freaked,” she whispered to herself.

“What?” Xander said, not having been able to make out what Faith had said.

“Nothing, never mind,” she said, getting to her feet. “Listen, thanks...I owe you one.”

“But—” He was too late; Faith was already out the door. “My details...” he pouted.

***

It was Sunday night, and Faith lay brooding in her motel room. She had tried to catch up on some rest, but sleep had evaded her every effort. She was waiting for Buffy to call, but she hadn’t heard from the blonde since she had left the motel room in the pre-dawn hours. Worry started to set in. But just as Faith reached over to call the Summers home, the phone rang, startling her.

“Hello?” she answered.

“Hel-lo!” Buffy chirped happily.

“Hey,” Faith replied, smiling at the sound of her girlfriend’s voice.

“How are you?” Buffy asked in the same overly cheerful manner.

“Gooood,” Faith answered with mock suspicion. “Just curious...how many cappuccinos have you had?”

“None!” Buffy insisted. “I swear.”

“Riiiiight.”

“No, seriously, I had coffee with Mom this morning, but after that, I was completely caffeine free.” She sobered a bit. “It’s just been a really good day,” she said sincerely. “What have you been up to?”

“Not much. Just hanging out here. Went out once, but that’s about it.”

“Willow says you had a follow-up talk about your ‘truce’.”

Faith straightened up in the bed, a worried look on her face. “Um, yeah, we did,” she said hesitantly, not knowing what the redhead may have told Buffy.

“Well, we talked about it, too, about the whole thing, all day practically, and we really got a lot of stuff worked out, so I think you’ll find a very different Willow the next time you see her.”

Faith gave a disbelieving snort. “Really? Just like that?”

“Well not ‘just’,” Buffy said. “It did take all day.” She let out a playful laugh. “So...did ya miss me?”

Faith laughed and then got a mischievous look on her face. “Maybe.”

“Maybe? Maybe?” Buffy pretended to be outraged. “It better be more than ‘maybe,’ or I’ll have to come over there and show you ‘maybe’,” she teased.

“Bring it on, girlfriend,” Faith challenged.

The verbal one-upmanship was on as the two slayers traded teases long into the night.

***

Many blocks away, a sleeping dog abruptly awakened in his back yard. The hair on his ruff rose, and a deep growl began in his throat. His eyes scanned the brush at the back of the yard. He rushed forward, barking ferociously.

Suddenly, there was a louder growl and then a squeal, followed by the sound of ripping flesh.

PART 13C

When Buffy arrived at school on Monday morning, she found Faith waiting for her outside. As soon as she walked up to Faith, she cocked an eyebrow at her and said, “So...did ya miss me?”

Faith groaned. “We’re not gonna go through that again, are we?”

Buffy laughed. “You’re just grumpy because I won the verbal duel.” She gave Faith a playful poke in the arm.

“I’m just grumpy because somebody kept me up all night...talking.” She pulled Buffy into her arms and leaned in close, a wicked grin gracing her lips. “I can think of better things to do with my mouth than talk,” she said huskily before giving Buffy a deep and lengthy kiss.

“Mmm...I agree,” Buffy murmured. Then she scrunched her nose and grinned. “Kinda hard to do that over the phone, though.”

The sound of snickering interrupted Buffy and Faith’s warm greeting. Staying in each other’s arms, they turned to look, and when they did, they saw that they had attracted a small group of onlookers. The snickering had come from a trio of freshmen boys who seemed to be about as mature as Beevis and Butthead. A few others, both girls and guys, were just standing around looking surprised. Harmony and her clique of Cordettes, however, had their arms crossed and were looking at the two slayers with disdain.

“For god’s sake, get a room!” Harmony pronounced before turning away in a huff. “It’s not like we didn’t get a eyeful of that Saturday night...” The crowd began to disperse.

Blushing furiously, Buffy pulled out of Faith’s embrace and giggled. “Guess we better put a stay on the PDA...at least on school grounds.”

Faith was glaring at the backs of Harmony and the Cordettes. She pointed at them and asked, “Are they demons? Please tell me they’re demons.”

Buffy gave a deep sigh of longing. “Ohhh...if only...” she said as she began moving toward the front entrance.

***

As the two slayers made their way through the school, Buffy reached over and took Faith’s hand in hers, interlacing their fingers. Faith cut her eyes at the blonde.

“Thought you were playing it cool on the public displays,” she commented in a teasing voice as a few wide-eyed glances were cast in their direction.

“Holding hands...that’s cool,” Buffy insisted with a grin. “It’s barely even chilly, really.” She let out a giggle. “Ha! I rhymed!”

Faith just snorted and shook her head as they pushed open the double doors to the library and went inside.

***

As soon as the two slayers had set foot in the library, Faith found herself under attack. She heard her name called, she saw a flash of red, and then, suddenly, she found herself trapped—caught in the arms of her attacker.

Faith stiffened and let go of Buffy’s hand. Then she ventured to look down. Her eyes grew wide when she realized it was Willow giving her the mother of all bear hugs. Startled and thoroughly confused, Faith glanced over at Buffy, who tried her best not to laugh.

“I’m so sorry, Faith,” Willow said, her face still buried against the dark slayer’s shoulder. “I was wrong about you, and I’ve been such a bitch, and I’m so so sorry!”

“What did you do?” Faith asked Buffy as Willow finally removed herself from Faith’s body. “Conjure up a pod person?”

Willow merely grinned at the comment, even after Faith took a clear step away from her.

“We just talked,” Buffy said with a shrug. Then she smiled. “I think she just finally saw what I’ve been seeing all along.”

“Totally,” Willow agreed.

“Ohh-kaay,” Faith replied evenly, not knowing what else to say.

A throat-clearing from Giles drew their attention to the far side of the room. There the two slayers saw Giles set up at a table. With him were Oz, Xander, and Cordelia.

Giles stood with his hands on his hips. “If you are all quite through with your ‘hug-fest,’ perhaps we can get started,” he complained. Willow instantly headed in his direction, and the two slayers did the same.

“Oh! I didn’t get my hugs!” Xander said, jumping to his feet. He held his arms out to the approaching slayers. A glare from Faith stopped him in his tracks. “Then again, I’m good,” he said, backing away. “My fuzzies are quite warm enough.” He quickly sat back down, getting an elbow from Cordelia.

When Faith and Buffy sat down at the table, Giles held up a newspaper for all to see. The headline read, “Animal mutilations puzzle local police.” It was accompanied by a gruesome picture of a gutted dog.

“Giles! Like, ewww...” Willow said, making a face.

“I’d like to echo that ‘ewww’,” Buffy said, holding up one finger.

Oz grabbed the paper. “When did this happen?”

“The first incident was Saturday night, and the second was last night,” Giles answered. “Neither of which was a full moon,” he added to Oz, “as you know, of course.”

“Saturday night?” Xander said. “I thought the bad guys were supposed to take the night off for Halloween.”

“Well, as we saw last year,” Cordelia said with bitter sarcasm, “that notion is a complete crock.”

“So, what’s the plan, Jeeves?” Faith inquired.

Giles’s eye twitched momentarily at Faith’s manner of addressing him, but he answered her question. “I’d like for you and Buffy to patrol tonight in the areas where the attacks occurred. That is, if you’re both a hundred percent?”

Buffy and Faith looked at each other and nodded.

“Okay,” Buffy said.

“You bet,” Faith added. “I’m ready to do some damage.”

“We are on it,” Buffy finished in a determined voice.

Willow leaned over the table. “Buffy, are you sure you’re ready? I mean, i-i-it’s your first patrol since, well, Pete.”

Buffy paused and thought about that. After a moment of serious contemplation, she looked up and said, “I’m good. I think I’m ready.”

“Excellent!” Giles said. “I believe these-these animal attacks will make a fine way of-of getting back on the horse, as it were.”

***

That night, Buffy and Faith met up for patrol. They checked out the areas where the mutilated animals had been found but had no luck in finding a trail or the monsters responsible. As they took a shortcut through the nearest cemetery, a dog suddenly ran across their path. Buffy jumped in fright and pulled out her stake.

“Hey, it’s just a dog,” Faith reassured.

Buffy put her stake away, but it was clear that she was spooked.

“You’ve been really jumpy tonight,” Faith commented. “Are you sure you’re okay to patrol?”

“I’m just a little rusty,” Buffy said. “A-A-And a little nervous,” she admitted. She gave Faith a smile. “I’m glad you’re here with me.”

Faith smiled back, and the two of them moved into the cemetery. It wasn’t long before they came across a nest of vampires holed up in a mausoleum. The slayers eased up to the structure, peeking over the top of a large tombstone.

“How many do you think there are?” Buffy whispered.

Faith’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know. Feels like a lot.” She clenched her fist around her stake several times as her breathing quickened.

Buffy concentrated a bit more. “I’m picking up six, maybe seven.”

“You can actually get a count?” Faith asked.

“Yeah, if I have time to concentrate, I can,” Buffy replied. “Can’t you?”

Faith shook her head. “If it’s only two or three, I can, but any more than that, it overloads my vamp sensing or something. It just becomes one big scream, ‘Look out! Vamps! And lots of ’em!’ Get ’em, get ’em now!’” She ended her whispered explanation with a growl to illustrate how strongly she felt the urge to slay at those times.

“That is really interesting,” Buffy said sincerely. “We need to tell Giles about this. Maybe there are other differences in our slayer abilities that need investigating. I mean, there aren’t supposed to be two slayers alive at the same time, so it could be that our powers complement each other.”

Faith just shrugged noncommittally; then a gleam entered her eyes. “All I know is...right now I really need to slay something...preferably lots of somethings.”

A similar gleam entered Buffy’s eyes. “Let’s do it,” she said.

The two of them rushed down to the mausoleum. Together they kicked down the double doors and entered the stone structure.

“Hi, honey...” Buffy quipped to the six surprised vampires.

“...we’re home,” Faith added on cue.

And then the fight was on. Buffy took the left side of the tomb, and Faith took the right side. Both quickly dispatched their first attackers, leaving them with two each. The remaining vampires were formidable, however, and the two slayers were pushed to their limits in slaying them. For several minutes, the small space of the mausoleum was filled with the sounds of punches, kicks, grunts, and groans until, finally, there was the familiar whooshing of a vampire’s dusty demise, followed quickly by three more just like it. As the air swirled with fine ash, Buffy and Faith glanced at one another, breathing hard.

“You all right?” Faith asked.

“Yeah,” Buffy said. “You?”

“Five by five,” Faith answered, grinning widely. As Buffy made her way over, Faith looked around the tomb at the damage they had done. “Slayers six, vampires zero...sounds like a hundred percent to me.”

“It does to me, too,” Buffy agreed as she and Faith slapped their hands in a high-five. Then the two of them slung their arms around each other’s shoulders and strode out of the mausoleum.

***

Later that night, Buffy and Faith were still on patrol. They had hit every area where animal mutilations had been reported, but they had had no luck in spotting whoever or whatever was responsible for the gruesome attacks. In fact, other than the vampire nest they had dealt with earlier that evening, they’d seen nothing out of the ordinary.

As they came over a hill, Buffy suddenly stopped in place. Her eyes were locked onto a large stone house on the next rise.

Faith noticed her reaction and followed her line of sight to the abandoned mansion; then she looked back at Buffy. “What is it?” she asked. “You picking up something?”

Buffy continued staring for a moment longer. Then she slowly shook her head. “No,” she said softly. She turned to Faith and met her eyes. “The house...it’s Angel’s place.” She turned back to the mansion. “Or it used to be.” Buffy wrapped her arms around herself and frowned.

Faith stepped closer and put her hand on her girlfriend’s back. “Are you okay?” she asked gently.

Buffy didn’t lean into to Faith’s touch; instead, she took a small but deliberate step away; she tried to soften the move by putting on a forced smile. “I’m okay,” she answered. “It’s just weird, you know?”

“Yeah,” was all Faith could say.

“Come on,” Buffy said. “I think we can call it a night.”

At that, Buffy turned and began walking back the way they had come. With a look of concern on her face, Faith hurried to catch up.

***

A short time later, after a somewhat abrupt set of good-night’s on Buffy’s part, Faith dragged into her motel room. She kicked off her boots and tossed her stake on the dresser. Then she plopped onto her bed on her back, not even bothering to undress first. She let out a heavy sigh.

She tried not to think about the way Buffy had distanced herself at Angel’s mansion and afterwards, but it was useless. Her mind could think of nothing else. She began to wonder if Buffy was reconsidering their relationship.

What’s up with her? she wondered. Every time his name comes up, she pulls away.

Faith worriedly furrowed her brow as her thoughts went to a very unhappy place.

Maybe she’s realizing that what she has now isn’t anywhere close to what she had, she considered ruefully. I mean, I don’t exactly qualify as ‘once-in-lifetime-y.’

As she repeated Willow’s earlier descriptor of Angel and Buffy’s relationship, there was bitterness in her voice, but it was tinged with a sort of sad resignation.

Faith felt her stomach tighten. She closed her eyes and rolled over on her side. She pulled a pillow to her chest and curled around it.

***

Meanwhile, Buffy was at home crying. She was in the shower, leaning against the far wall with the water spraying her lower back. Her mind kept replaying the events of nearly six months ago when Buffy had been forced to kill Angel in order to deactivate Acathla.

She had cried almost every night that summer in L.A., but since making the decision to return to Sunnydale, she had come to a certain level of acceptance. The pain was still there, but at least it was tolerable. Tonight, however, the pain had surged once again, and she had been momentarily overwhelmed.

After crying for a time, she shook her head and let out a groan of frustration.

“Stop it,” she told herself, wiping at the tears on her face. “You’re supposed to be over this,” she chided. “Well into moving on. So deal.”

As she stepped back fully into the stream of water, she continued her mental chastisement.

Besides, she thought, you’ve been by the mansion probably a dozen times since you got back, and you didn’t have a breakdown then.

She sighed aloud and then reached for the shampoo.

***

Hours later, Buffy tossed and turned in her bed. Nightmares had plagued her all night, and one in particular kept repeating.

Buffy was back in the mansion, standing before the statue of Acathla, watching in disbelief as Willow’s curse took effect and Angel’s soul was returned. She lowered her sword and allowed him to embrace her. When the truth finally hit her, she started to cry and eagerly returned the hug.

Then, over his shoulder, she saw Acathla begin to change; the expected dimensional vortex was forming. She pulled away, gently touched his face, and kissed him. They whispered I-love-you’s, and then she asked him to close his eyes. Angel seemed confused, but with a reassuring nod from Buffy, he did as she asked. She kissed him once more and took a step back. Then she drew back her sword and thrust it forward, shutting her eyes against the sight.

When Buffy heard a startled gasp and a groan of pain, her eyes flew back open. Her expression changed to horror when she saw not Angel before her, but Faith, the sword protruding from her chest. Blood was pouring from around the embedded blade, and the dark slayer reached out to Buffy with a blood-smeared hand; a look of confusion, surprise, and betrayal was on her face.

Faith opened her mouth to speak, but that was when Buffy awoke in a panic, bolting upright in her bed, gasping for air as her heart raced frantically. Tears were already streaming down her face, and it took her several moments to realize that it was just a dream...again. That realization didn’t stop her tears, though. She plopped back against her bed and pulled her pillow against her chest, curling into a fetal position around it as she let the sobs come.

***

The next morning at school, Faith was once again waiting for Buffy’s arrival. Her stomach rumbled, and she winced in discomfort. When Faith had first gotten up, she had felt a little queasy, so she hadn’t eaten any breakfast. Her nervousness about seeing Buffy after an awkward parting the night before had only added to her stomach’s unhappiness. When she saw Buffy’s appearance as she approached the school’s entrance, Faith’s gut clenched even more.

Buffy’s hair was dull and pulled back into a hastily formed ponytail. She was wearing an old pair of baggy jeans with an equally worn t-shirt and sweater. Her face was pale and drawn, and there were noticeable dark circles under her eyes.

Faith’s expression instantly scrunched into one of extreme worry. As the blonde slayer drew near, Faith started to speak, but she was cut off when Buffy moved right past any possible greeting and into Faith’s arms, all without saying a word. Faith was confused and concerned, but she didn’t press matters; she just tightened her hold on her girlfriend and waited. It was a long moment indeed before Buffy finally said something.

“I needed this last night,” Buffy whispered, not pulling out of Faith’s embrace. There was a catch in her breath as if she might start crying again, but she didn’t.

Faith stroked Buffy’s hair reassuringly. “What’s wrong? What happened?” she asked.

Buffy gave her head a small shake against Faith’s shoulder. Then she let out a deep, shaky breath and murmured, “Just...bad dreams.”

After another long moment and another deep breath, Buffy finally pulled away from Faith, but didn’t look her in the eyes for more than a few seconds at a time.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m being such a total basket case, and I know it’s a downer.”

When Buffy eventually let her gaze settle on Faith, she found the brunette just standing there, looking at her expectantly. Faith was frowning, but there was no judgment or disappointment in her eyes.

“You gonna tell me what’s got you so upset?” Faith asked.

Buffy ducked her head. “More Angel dreams,” she reluctantly admitted. She looked back up and found Faith’s expression now guarded. She pressed on anyway. “I-I-I think seeing the mansion last night just got to me more than usual. I’m not sure why...” Buffy trailed off as she dropped her gaze once again.

While Buffy was glancing away, Faith let her pain and fear come out in her eyes. She swallowed hard and then forced it all back down.

“Big love, big loss,” she said, shrugging nonchalantly as she shoved her hands in her back pockets. “Takes time, I get that.”

Buffy looked up and gave Faith a grateful smile before moving in for another hug. “Thanks for being patient with me,” Buffy told her sincerely.

“Sure, no problem,” Faith said evenly as she pulled her hands from her back pockets and wrapped her arms around Buffy.

Despite the warmth of their embrace, Faith didn’t seem comforted. Worries and insecurities flashed behind her eyes. She let out a deep breath and hugged Buffy tighter.

***

A short time later, Buffy and Faith were in the library with Giles, discussing their patrol the night before.

“We hit all of the places you listed,” Buffy told Giles, “but we didn’t see anything.”

“We wiped out a vamp nest along the way, but that was about it,” Faith added. She grinned at Buffy before raising her hand for a high-five. “Decimated it, didn’t we, B?”

“We sure did,” Buffy agreed, slapping Faith’s hand.

“Excellent,” Giles noted, pleased that the two slayers were back in fighting form. Then he sobered and said, “Unfortunately, whatever is committing these mutilations was busy elsewhere.” He passed over yet another gruesome photo spread in the local newspaper.

Faith and Buffy glared at the articles and photos in disbelief until Buffy let out an annoyed huff. She tossed the paper aside.

“Sneaky demons,” she complained. “You think they’d have the good grace to be where we’re looking.”

Faith smiled briefly at Buffy’s pouting, but Giles remained serious.

“I’d like you two to patrol separately tonight,” he said. “See if you can find any sign of where the creature, or creatures, might be hiding.”

When both Buffy and Faith seemed hesitant, Giles went on to explain.

“I don’t want you to engage anything. Just track,” he emphasized. “And carry your radios. If you encounter any demons, of any type, call one another and wait for backup. And radio in to me regularly. Is that clear?”

At their watcher’s stern look, the two slayers nodded in the affirmative.

***

That night, Buffy and Faith met Giles at the library. After receiving their individual patrol areas from him, they gathered their weapons, snapped on their radios, and headed out. When the two slayers reached the street outside the school where they would part ways for patrol, they paused and indulged in a long hug.

“Be careful,” Buffy instructed firmly as she gave Faith an extra squeeze before pulling away.

“Who me?” Faith quipped. She flashed a dimpled grin at Buffy. “Hey, ‘Careful’ is my middle name.”

Buffy snorted and rolled her eyes. Then her expression grew serious, and she reached out and touched Faith’s cheek.

“I love you,” she said. “You know that, right?”

Smiling, Faith said sincerely, “Yeah, sure.” She pulled Buffy to her once again until they were nose to nose. “I feel the same way, remember?”

She gave Buffy a wicked grin and then a searing kiss. One kiss led to many more, and it took an act of total will power for Buffy to finally separate herself from Faith. She was flushed and breathing hard.

“Whew...any more o’ that and I don’t think we’d get any patrolling done,” she told her girlfriend.

Faith chuckled unrepentantly. “I won’t tell if you won’t...” she offered, raising her eyebrow mischievously.

“Don’t tempt me,” Buffy said, forcing herself to focus on rechecking her weapons and radio.

Faith laughed again but didn’t renew her offer. She started walking backwards down the sidewalk, moving in the direction of her patrol assignment.

“Keep in touch,” she said, pointing at Buffy with both index fingers.

“Will do,” the blonde replied, patting the radio at her belt.

At that, Faith turned and trotted off. After a moment of watching Faith, Buffy turned in the opposite direction and headed off as well.

***

After several fruitless sweeps in her area, Buffy let herself wander a little further. Before she knew it, she found herself on the hilltop that overlooked Angel’s mansion. She felt her entire body tense up as it had the night before. She stood there staring at the stone structure, a mixture of emotions on her face. After a moment, her expression steeled, and she headed toward the house, determined to defeat this nagging unease.

Within minutes, Buffy was at the front door of the mansion. She swallowed hard and forced herself to go inside.

As she stepped into the house, she paused and let her eyes adjust to the darkness. She also cocked her ears and listened. When she didn’t hear anything unusual, she moved into the great room, where only a short time ago, she had left her Claddagh ring and made a final good-bye to Angel. Buffy’s face creased into a frown when she approached the spot where she had left her ring.

The ring was gone. In its place was what looked like a large burn mark—a black, ashy residue singed into the cement—in the middle of which was an outline that was oddly shaped, almost like that of a body.

Suddenly, Buffy heard a low growl emanate from the shadowy area behind the staircase. She whipped out her stake and crept in that direction. The growl grew louder as she approached.

“You can growl all you want,” she warned, “but you are going down.”

When the growling figure lunged at her from the shadows, she instantly grabbed him by the neck and slammed him on his back on the hard floor. She raised her stake to strike and then froze, a look of complete shock on her face.

A vamped-out Angel lay on the floor beneath her, groaning from the impact with the floor.

Buffy immediately backed away, tripping over Angel’s legs as she did so. She was shaking her head and saying “no” over and over, refusing to believe what her eyes were seeing.

Meanwhile, Angel recovered from Buffy’s initial attack and rolled over into a kneeling position. He swayed weakly and had to steady himself with a hand on the floor. But he quickly turned glowing yellow eyes back toward Buffy and resumed his growling.

Buffy was unable to move; all she could do was stare. With tears rolling down her face, she took in the sight of his battered body, recognizing the dragon tattoo but clueless as to how he had become so injured—or, more importantly, how he had come to be here at all.

As she started to say his name, the feral look in Angel’s eyes flashed, and he lunged at her once again. She snapped out of her shock and reacted, landing a solid punch to his face, dropping him instantly. In his weakened condition, he went down hard and didn’t move.

Buffy warily approached him. She reached out to touch him but pulled back at the last second. She glanced around the area, searching for something. When she didn’t see what she was looking for, she left Angel where he was and searched elsewhere. Within minutes, she was back with a set of chains. She quickly looped the chains around the railing of the stone staircase and clamped the heavy manacles around his wrists, tucking the key into her pocket. When she was done, she stepped back and resumed her anguished, confused staring.

“Yo, B...what’s up?”

Faith’s voice coming over the radio startled Buffy so badly that she completely fumbled her grab for the walkie-talkie, causing it to crash to the floor. Luckily, the device wasn’t broken. She snatched it up and answered Faith’s call.

“Uh, hey...where are you?” Buffy said.

“Green Meadows. You?”

“Ummm...” Her eyes grew panicked. “Uhhh...Cedar Lane,” she lied.

“Well, I’m finding a whole buncha nothing,” Faith went on. “You havin’ any luck?”

“Um, no...uh, no luck at all.”

“Why don’t I head your way and we can check in with Jeeves?”

“No!” Buffy answered too sharply before softening her tone. “Just, um, stay put. I’ll meet you there. I’ll be there in five.”

Buffy paused to look at Angel once more, then turned and left the mansion.

***

When Buffy arrived at Green Meadows, she found Faith perched on the low stone wall that enclosed the perimeter of the cemetery.

“Hey,” Buffy said in greeting.

Faith hopped off the wall and walked over. “So, how’d it go?”

Buffy shook her head. “No sign of any beasties.”

“Yeah, none for me either.”

Buffy was shifting her weight from foot to foot and fiddling with her radio’s antenna. She was also clearly avoiding Faith’s gaze. Faith noticed and took a step toward her.

“Are you okay?” she asked, concern in her voice.

Buffy froze and didn’t say anything at first. Should I tell her? After a moment’s debate, she mentally shook her head. No, not yet. Not till I find out exactly who he is.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Buffy insisted with a smile. “Just a little shakier than I expected. You know...patrolling by myself post-Pete.” She reached out and took Faith’s hand. “It was a lot easier when you were with me.”

Faith smiled back and tugged Buffy closer. “What’d’ya say we radio in and tell Giles we’re calling it a night?”

“Sounds good,” Buffy replied gratefully.

“Annnnd...since your mom thinks you’re on patrol, maybe you could come over to my place...?”

Faith trailed off suggestively and leaned in for a kiss. Buffy returned it, but not with the eagerness Faith had hoped for. After the kiss, Buffy quickly pulled away and ducked her head.

“I’m really tired,” she said. She looked up but met Faith’s eyes for only a moment. “I think I’d just like to go home. Maybe I can catch up on the sleep I missed last night.”

“Oh,” Faith said, surprised and a little bit hurt. She took a step back. “Yeah, okay, sure. No problem. I’ll, um, I’ll walk you home.”

“Thanks,” Buffy replied.

At that, the two slayers headed off in the direction of Revello Drive, an awkward silence settling over them.

PART 13D

At the Summers home on Revello Drive, Faith dutifully smiled as she watched Buffy open her front door and go inside. When Buffy turned and gave her a final wave, Faith lifted her hand and waved back. Once Buffy had shut the door, however, Faith’s smile faded.

“Something’s goin’ on with her,” Faith stated softly to herself. After a sigh, she added, “I wish she’d tell me what’s up.”

Faith gave her head a rueful shake before turning and walking away.

***

“Buffy, what are you doing home so early?” Joyce asked as she came down the stairs and saw her daughter coming in the front door.

Buffy snickered. “Don’t you have that backwards? Aren’t you supposed to be saying, ‘Buffy, what you are doing home so late?’ ”

Joyce rolled her eyes. “I just meant that you seemed to be getting home early from doing your slayer thing.”

“It’s called ‘patrol’, Mom,” Buffy continued to tease, “and you’re right. I am home early.”

“Why? Was there a problem?” Joyce asked, concerned.

“Yeah, the problem of having a total lack of anything to slay.”

“But...that’s a good thing, right?”

“Not when we’re trying to find what’s been attacking so many of Sunnydale’s beloved family pets.”

Joyce grimaced. “You mean those animal mutilations that have been mentioned in the paper?”

“One and the same,” Buffy replied. “But so far, we’re battin’ zero against this thing. Whatever’s doing this...it’s a lot sneakier than we expected. Which is why I’ll be getting up extra early for some pre-dawn patrolling. I figure maybe we’re looking at the wrong time of day.” She glanced away and back, hoping her mother wouldn’t suspect her of lying.

“But Faith will be going with you, right?”

“Um, yeah, of course.”

“Okay then, but please be careful,” Joyce instructed.

“We will,” Buffy reassured.

“Oh, speaking of Faith, I’ve got something for you!” She reached in her purse and pulled out a folded set of twenties. She held it out to Buffy. “For you to give to Rupert for Faith. It’s not much, but it’s all I could muster after we broke the bank with that pawn shop purchase.”

Buffy’s face lit up into an enormous smile as she took the money. She gave her mother a huge bear hug. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Joyce said as her daughter released her. As she headed back up the stairs, she told her, “Stop by the house in the morning so I’ll know you’re okay."

“Yes, ma’am,” Buffy answered. She watched her mother go. When Joyce moved out of sight, Buffy let out a long breath.

***

Once in her room upstairs, Buffy pulled out a duffel bag from her closet and started packing it. She included a first aid kit, several towels, and a small blanket as well as a change of clothes for herself. She paused and looked intently at the footlocker at the end of her bed. Reluctantly, she opened it and pulled out a bottle of holy water and an extra stake. She placed them in the bag and zipped it up. Then she sat down on her bed and waited.

After about ten minutes, Buffy carefully opened her bedroom door and crept into the hallway. She paused to listen outside her mother’s bedroom. Satisfied that her mother was asleep, Buffy headed downstairs.

She grabbed a few bottles of water from the kitchen and added them to her bag. Then she grabbed the writing pad on the counter and jotted down a note. It read, “Mom, everything went fine. Later! Buffy.”

She folded the note and carried it to the table by the front door where she carefully nudged the note under her mother’s keys—a place she knew her mother wouldn’t check until she was ready to leave for work. The note would serve as her backup in case she didn’t return to the house in time. Buffy then grabbed her own keys and headed out the door, locking it behind her.

***

A short time later, Buffy entered Angel’s mansion. Her duffel bag was still slung over her shoulder, but in her hands was a crumpled brown paper sack. She made her way to the stairs and peered around the corner.

“Angel?”

He was growling, crouched low on the floor. Suddenly he leaped at her, his vampire eyes flashing hungrily. Buffy jumped and gave a startled gasp. She hastily retreated until she saw the chains stop Angel short. He yanked furiously at the chains and then sank to the floor, too weak to fight any longer.

Buffy waited until Angel’s exhausted, rage-filled breaths calmed somewhat. Then she eased her duffel bag off her shoulder and onto the floor.

“You know,” Buffy told him as she started unwrapping the brown paper sack, “you’re lucky Willy had some in stock this time of night.”

She pulled out a plastic container full of blood and tossed the sack aside. She grabbed her stake from her back pocket and moved forward to place the container near Angel. Just as he snarled and snatched up the container, she jumped back out of his reach.

Buffy’s face scrunched into a mixture of a frown and a grimace as Angel savagely devoured the blood. He even ripped the container into pieces and licked the inside walls clean.

As soon as he had finished, Angel’s eyes began to blink closed. A heavy sleep was coming over him. Wavering in place, he slowly lay down on the floor. When Buffy took a step toward him, he growled fiercely at her, making her backtrack.

Buffy’s eyes filled with tears. “Angel, are you in there?” she asked in a choked voice. “Some piece of you?”

He showed no sign of being anything other than a completely feral vampire. Buffy turned away, crying.

While Buffy had her back to him, Angel pushed himself up with his arms, de-vamping as he did so. As his demonic features faded, he crawled onto his knees. He steadied himself with one hand on the floor and reached out to Buffy with the other.

“Buffy?” he whispered.

Her eyes widened in surprise when she heard her name. She whipped around and saw Angel reaching out to her.

“Angel?” she asked as she cautiously approached him.

She could see tears streaming down his battered face as he dropped his weary arm back to his side. When she reached out to touch him, he jerked away, startling her once again.

“No!” he said in a strangled voice. “You’re not real! You’re...you’re...just in my mind...”

Buffy eased closer and then knelt beside him. She touched his shoulder and said, “I’m real. I’m here.”

Angel turned and fell against Buffy, wrapping his arms desperately around her. A shocked and confused look came over Buffy’s face, and she mechanically returned Angel’s hug. After a moment, though, she closed her eyes and tightened her arms around Angel.

***

Later, after Angel had fallen asleep, Buffy separated herself from his embrace and retrieved her duffel bag. She quickly removed its contents. She opened a bottle of water and wet one of the towels. Slowly and gently, she began cleaning the wounds on Angel’s body. When she was done, she covered him with the small blanket and then sat down nearby to watch over him.

***

Early the next morning, shortly before dawn, Buffy woke up in the mansion. She found herself curled up on the floor, having accidentally fallen asleep some time during the night. When her tired mind finally registered where she was, she gasped and turned to see if Angel was still there. He was—still sleeping beneath the blanket she had laid over him. Buffy calmed a bit then, though her eyes remained troubled.

She pushed herself up from the hard stone, grunting slightly in discomfort as her body protested the previous night’s sleeping conditions. After gingerly stretching her limbs, she sorted through her belongings, setting aside in the corner all but the change of clothes she had packed for herself. She left those in the duffel bag, zipped it up, and swung the strap over her shoulder. She then tucked a stake into her back pocket and turned back to Angel.

She crept closer and stared down at his battered form, frowning sympathetically. For a moment, pity nearly made her consider unlocking his chains, but thankfully, prudence won out, and Buffy backed away, leaving his manacles clamped in place.

She glanced away and sighed heavily but with determination in her eyes. Time to find some answers, she told herself. Then she strode from the room.

***

After leaving the mansion, Buffy went straight to the high school. She sneaked inside and spent a few minutes washing up and changing clothes in the girls’ restroom. Then she headed for the library.

She pulled out an armful of books from Giles’s special collection and began systematically researching two particular topics: souls and hell dimensions. After about two hours, she had gone through quite a number of books and had narrowed her inquiry to a trio of volumes that seemed to hold the most promise for her most important quest: a spell to determine the presence of a soul.

She turned page after page in one book before pushing it aside. She instantly started in on the next, but soon she shoved it away as well. She then turned to the third book. After several minutes of scanning, her page turning slowed, and she drew the volume closer, her eyes widening with hopeful expectation.

“The Repertus Animus,” she whispered. “When done properly, the spell will climax with an illuminative signification within the orb that will indicate either the presence or the absence of a human soul.”

She smiled widely and immediately rushed over to the photocopier with the book. After feeding the proper number of coins into the machine, she made copies of the pages detailing the Repertus Animus spell. When she returned to the table, she set the book down and stuffed her copies into her duffel bag. She then hurried into Giles’s office and retrieved the Orb of Thesulah, one of the items Willow had used in recreating the gypsy curse. Luckily, the Orb had been buried under a pile of old documents and likely would not be missed for at least a few days. She carefully placed the fragile glass ball inside her duffel bag and zipped it up. Just as she started to sit back down, she heard the library doors swing open. She jumped, so startled that she nearly knocked over her chair.

“Ahhh!” she cried out before she saw that it was only her watcher. “Geez, Giles! What are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?”

“Buffy?” Giles asked in surprise when he saw her. “What are you doing here?” He looked truly amazed to find his slayer there actually reading.

Buffy gave him a nonchalant shrug. “After me and Faith quit for the night, I couldn’t sleep. Figured I’d just come here and bore myself to sleep with some research.” She added an intentionally melodramatic eye roll.

Giles tilted an eyebrow at her in response. He glanced at the large number of books on the table. “I take it the research sedative didn’t work?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Buffy pretended to complain. Then she sobered and said, “Actually, I came across some pretty interesting stuff.”

“What were you researching?” Giles asked curiously.

Buffy pulled one of the books over to her. “Well, I wanted to learn more about hell dimensions,” she replied. “Remember when I told you about that demon in L.A. that kidnapped young runaways and took them back to his hell dimension?”

“Yes, you said that they would enter the portal a teenager then emerge greatly aged only a short time later.”

Buffy scrunched up her face in confusion. “I don’t get that. How is that possible?”

“I-I-I’m not exactly sure how it works, but time simply moves more quickly in certain hell dimensions. One day in our world could easily be the equivalent of a year or more in a hell dimension.”

“So...someone who had been in a hell dimension for, say, six of our months...”

“...could have been there, in reality, for as much as a century.”

“A-A-And all that time they’d be...”

“...tormented, tortured, enduring suffering beyond imagination...yes, I’m afraid so.”

Buffy’s expression grew pained, and she had to blink back the tears threatening to form in her eyes. She cleared her throat and forced herself to quip, “Talk about a vacation in hell.”

Watcher and slayer flashed tiny smiles at the joke, but then they were silent for a while, their minds weighed down by the current topic of conversation. After a moment, Giles broke the silence.

“I, um, I don’t mean to pry, but...would I be amiss if I suggested that Angel might be the ultimate goal of your inquiry?”

Buffy’s head shot up, fear in her eyes. “What?” she asked in alarm.

“I’m only asking because...Well, with the guilt curse, we can’t be certain that...I’m just afraid that you might be dwelling on the past, on-on what you had to do to Angel in order to save the world.”

She let out an internal sigh of relief when she realized that Giles didn’t actually know about Angel’s return. “I’m fine, Giles,” she reassured her watcher. “I’m not feeling anything like what I felt under the curse. Honestly.”

“Good, I’m-I’m very pleased to hear that.”

“But Angel has been on my mind,” she admitted. “Mainly because of Faith. You know, relationship stuff.” She gave a small shrug, and Giles nodded in understanding. After an awkward pause, she announced, “I should probably check in with Mom before she heads off to work.” She tilted her head toward the library door and picked up her bag.

“I’ll go ahead and put these away, then,” Giles replied amiably as he started to neatly stack together the books Buffy had pulled out.

“Thanks.” She turned to go but then remembered something and turned back around. She reached into her pocket, pulled out the twenties that her mom had given her, and handed them over to Giles. “For Faith,” she explained.

“Oh!” Giles said, his face lighting up in a grateful smile. “Wonderful. I’ll see that she gets this right away.”

“Thanks, Giles!” Buffy said as she headed back toward the door. “Be back later!” she said cheerily as she headed out the door.

As soon as Buffy passed into the empty hallway, though, her smile fell away. She pulled her duffel bag more firmly onto her shoulder and hurried for the exit.

***

Minutes later, Buffy was easing in her front door. She could smell coffee in the kitchen but couldn’t hear any sounds coming from the other room. She quickly turned to the table by the front door and looked under her mother’s keys. Her hastily written backup note was still there. She snatched it up and shoved it in her pocket just as she heard her mother coming down the stairs.

“Mom! Hey,” she called out when Joyce stepped into the living room, already dressed for work.

“Buffy!” Joyce said with a smile, happy to see her daughter home safe and sound after yet another night of patrolling. She gave her a quick hug and then started gathering her personal items from the table by the front door. “How’d it go this morning? I didn’t even hear you slip out.”

“Another bust,” Buffy answered with a shrug.

Joyce gave Buffy a pat on the shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll find the monster soon, honey.” She grimaced at her own words. “This is not what a normal parent should be saying to her child,” she complained good-naturedly.

“Guess you’ll just have to be abnormal,” Buffy shot back with a mischievous grin.

Joyce narrowed her eyes into a mock glare before sharing Buffy’s grin. “There’s coffee in the kitchen,” she said as she opened the front door. “But don’t dawdle. You don’t have too long before school starts.”

“Yessss, Motherrrrr,” Buffy droned on cue.

At that, Joyce rushed out the front door, closing it behind her.

After her mother left, Buffy headed for the kitchen. She fixed herself a large coffee and a toasted bagel, then sat down to examine the pages she had photocopied. On a separate sheet of paper, she made a list of the items she would need for the spell. She already had the most critical item, the Orb of Thesulah, which now sat upon the kitchen bar on top of several of her photocopies. When she was done writing, she looked over the list again and re-read the details of the ritual itself.

“It looks simple enough,” she said, frowning worriedly at the Orb, once again relegated to menial duty as a paperweight. Then she let out a heavy sigh. “I wish Willow could look at this...” She glanced at the phone and debated whether or not to call her best friend and seek her assistance.

On the one hand, Willow was a real witch. She had proved that fact with her re-cursing of Angelus the previous spring; as a result, she would have a greater chance than Buffy of pulling off the spell successfully.

On the other hand, Willow had made her feelings about Angel more than clear. “Kick his ass,” she had told Xander to tell Buffy, all without bothering to mention her plan to re-attempt the gypsy curse. Sure, she acted like she felt all guilty about it now, but...

Buffy shook her head. She knew that, given what Angel had done to them, none of the Scoobies would blink at eye at killing him, whether they knew he had a soul or not. And Faith...well the last thing she wanted to hear about right now was Angel. No, Buffy resolved, she would have to do this alone.

And if he turned out to be Angel and not Angelus, then she’d find a way to let the others know, and they’d go from there. But if he turned out to be Angelus instead of Angel...

Buffy closed her eyes and hung her head. The idea of reliving the events of last spring—Angelus or not—was more than she could bear. She forced herself to shake off the thought and to focus on the task at hand.

***

Buffy didn’t go to school that morning. Instead, she went and camped out in front of the local magic shop, waiting for it to open for business. As soon as the owner had unlocked the door and turned over the “We’re open” sign, Buffy hurried inside.

The owner scanned Buffy’s list and quickly collected the items on it. He rang up them up on the register and gave her the total. Buffy handed over the necessary cash. He opened the drawer, removed her change, and gave it to her with the receipt and the sack of items she had purchased.

Buffy tucked the sack into her duffel bag, thanked the owner, and then rushed out, this time on her way to the butcher’s shop.

***

In less than a half hour, Buffy was back at the mansion. She was still carrying her duffel bag, but in her arms she was carrying another paper bag from the butcher’s shop. When she rounded the corner to the stairwell, feral Angel growled and rushed her. His chains held him back, but Buffy jumped anyway.

“Angel?” she called out in a soothing voice. “It’s me...Buffy.”

Angel just growled more and pulled angrily on his chains before sinking weakly to his knees.

“Remember? I-I-I was here before?”

His growling lowered, but he didn’t de-vamp, and he didn’t show any recognition of Buffy. Instead, his eyes were locked onto the paper sack in her hands.

She set her duffel bag down, pulled a container of blood from the sack, and cautiously approached Angel. As she had done the night before, she rapidly set the container down and backed out of the way. Once again, Angel snatched it up and devoured its contents in gruesome fashion. Within minutes, Angel morphed out of his vampiric visage and fell into exhausted sleep, his need for blood temporarily sated.

When she was sure that Angel was fully asleep, Buffy started making her preparations for the spell.

“Let’s hope I’ve paid enough attention to Willow’s witchiness to make this work,” she mumbled to herself, “and that my natural slayer supernaturalness will give me an edge.”

She laid the Orb of Thesulah on the floor several feet from Angel. Beside it she set down two candles: a white one and a black one. She lit both. She got out a smudging stick and a strange powder in a clear plastic bag. She used the powder to create a circle around Angel’s body. Then using that same powder, she drew a line from the circle to where she had placed the Orb of Thesulah on the floor. She drew another smaller circle around the Orb. As she did all of this, she recited some highlighted words from her photocopied spell. She read haltingly at first, her nervousness very apparent, but she grew more confident as she went along.

With that portion complete, Buffy set aside the powder and took up the smudging stick. She placed the end of the stick into the flame of the white candle and then into the flame of the black candle, making more recitations from her script. She took the smoldering stick and awkwardly waved it in the air over her powder line, first around Angel and then around the Orb, again reading from the spell. Then she stubbed out the smudging stick and set it down.

Finally, she knelt before the Orb. She took a deep breath and recited the major commands of the spell—the words that called upon the spirits to reveal whether or not Angel’s soul was present. When finished, she swallowed and anxiously waited to see what happened.

The smoke in the air from the smudging stick began to glow, and its swirling took on seemingly conscious movement. The lines Buffy had drawn on the floor erupted like gunpowder, encircling Angel, then the Orb, before fizzling out and transferring their fire to the Orb itself. The Orb lit up, and inside it two clouds of energy, one white and one black, twisted upon themselves and each other as if vying for dominance inside the globe. After a moment, the white won out, and the Orb flashed in a brilliant light of white, causing Buffy to shield her eyes. When the flash stopped, she looked down and saw that all the glowing had ceased. The black candle’s flame had been snuffed out, and only the white candle still burned.

Buffy smiled widely. The spell had indicated that Angel had a soul. She exhaled a long breath and let her shoulders sag in relief. She picked up the candle and held it before her. She thanked the powers she had called upon and then blew out the candle.

She put her spell items away and then came to kneel next to Angel, who was lying on his back. As she looked down at him, tears filled her eyes.

“It really is you,” she whispered. But then she frowned as questions and uncertainties hammered her brain.

Angel, how did you get here? she asked him in her mind. Who sent you, and why are you here?

Her eyes grew pained as she remembered the conversation she had had with Giles earlier that morning about hell dimensions. Then her mind continued its wondering.

What happened to you there? How long were you there?

Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head, turning away from Angel for a moment. God, I still can’t believe this is happening! How is this even possible? And what am I going to tell the others?

“Hey guys, guess what? Angel’s back! Isn’t that swell?” she tried out with heavy sarcasm before letting out a mental groan.

I know I have to tell them, she thought. But how? They’re all gonna freak!

Maybe Faith won’t, she speculated, trying to find some bit of hope in the scenario. I mean, she wasn’t around when all the Angelus stuff happened, so it’s not like she’s got a personal history with him...

She trailed off in her thoughts as she realized the complete ridiculousness of her speculation.

Oh yeah, Faith’ll be thrilled that her girlfriend’s ex is back in town.

Buffy groaned in frustration, this time out loud.

***

Meanwhile, at the school, Willow and Xander were in class, whispering to one another across the aisle between their desks.

“Where’s Buffy?” Willow asked anxiously. “She wasn’t in homeroom either. What is she doing?”

“Uhhh, let me guess,” Xander joked. “It starts with an F, and it rhymes with...” Xander trailed off, realizing he couldn’t think of a word that rhymed with ‘Faith’.

Willow gave him a glare in response. Then she said, “You’re probably right.” After that, she let out a bit of a sigh.

“Not having a relapse of the Faith-hate, are you?” Xander teased.

“Noooo,” Willow insisted with another quick glare. “But I do miss her,” she added sadly. “Buffy, I mean.”

“Yeah, me too,” Xander agreed, letting out a sigh of his own.

***

While Willow and Xander were in class, Faith was walking into the library. She looked around but didn’t see Giles, so she headed behind the checkout desk toward his office. She found him sitting inside, sipping tea while perusing a library supply catalog.

“Good morning, Faith,” he said amiably when he saw her appear in his doorway.

“Hey,” Faith replied. “Takin’ the mandatory midmorning British tea break?” she teased.

“Indeed,” Giles said, grinning slightly. “Would you like some?” He gestured for her to come in and sit down.

As she sat down in the chair near his, she melodramatically rolled her eyes, which Giles interpreted as a “no” answer to his offer. Faith then grew serious and asked, “Have you seen Buffy?”

“Yes, I saw her early this morning,” Giles replied. “I was surprised to find her here, actually. It appeared as if she’d been here most of the night.”

“For real?” Faith said, her voice showing her own surprise at the news.

“You didn’t know?”

“No, I, um...I haven’t seen her since last night when we called you and went off patrol. What did she say?”

“She said she couldn’t sleep, so she came here to do some research. A-A-And it seemed as if she truly had, which surprised me even more.”

Faith frowned and glanced away, clearly thinking deeply. Giles noticed and reached out and touched her arm.

“Is everything all right? You know...between you and Buffy?”

“Oh, yeah...sure,” she said confidently, putting on a smile. “We’re five by five.”

On the outside she was nodding in affirmation, but on the inside doubts were plaguing her mind and heart. She wondered why Buffy was acting so strangely, why she was being so distant and evasive. Her gut told her Buffy was hiding something, but she didn’t have a clue what it was.

“Good. I’m very glad to hear it.”

At this reply Faith snapped out her reverie and turned back to Giles, who was continuing his statement.

“You two seem to be, um, very well suited for one another,” he finished.

Faith nodded and then said abruptly, “You heard anything from Tweed Central about my money?”

Giles seemed thrown both by Faith’s change of subject and by her phrasing, but he did answer her question. “Oh, ummm, no, I haven’t. Every time I call about your stipend, Quentin’s assistants just mumble on about paperwork and proper channels.”

Faith huffed in annoyance. “How much paperwork does it take? It’s not like the Council’s got thousands of slayers all over the world to support and keep track of. They’ve got two, and only one of ’em’s askin’ for a handout.”

“Well, they do have quite a number of potentials, but as you say...” He trailed off, indicating his agreement with Faith’s assessment of the situation. “I know it’s frustrating,” he told her, “but I do happen to have a bit of extra cash for you.” He pulled the bills from his jacket pocket and handed them over.

Faith’s expression lit up. “Cool. Thanks.” She tucked the money in her jeans pocket.

“Unfortunately, the Council has said nothing regarding the assignment of a new watcher for you, either,” he went on. “And at the rate they are proceeding, you’ll be thirty by the time he or she is sent here.”

Faith flashed a gleaming smile at Giles and leaned in his direction. “I don’t need a new watcher anyway,” she told him sincerely. “I like the one I got just fine.”

Giles modestly ducked his head, but it was clear that her comment pleased him very much.

Faith got up from her chair. “Well, if Buffy shows, tell her I’ll see her tonight for patrol.”

“I will,” Giles replied.

At that, Faith headed out of the office.

***

Back at the mansion, Angel was still asleep on the floor with Buffy sitting right next to him. With her brow furrowed in both disbelief and concern, she examined his features intently—his dark hair, his masculine face, his broad shoulders. On his chest, amidst a variety of wounds old and new, she saw a ragged scar a few inches long that was right over his heart. It was where she had stabbed him with the knight’s sword when she had sent him into Acathla’s vortex.

With pain in her eyes, she reached out and touched the scar on his chest. “I’m sorry...” she whispered in a choked voice.

Suddenly, Angel reached up and grabbed her wrist. She jumped in fright and tried to pull away, but she froze when Angel’s eyes flew open and met hers.

“Not your fault,” he told her as he released her hand and sat up.

Buffy pulled her arm against her chest and leaned away from him, still shaken. “How did you—? I thought that you couldn’t remember what you had—”

“I remembered,” Angel grimly said, cutting Buffy off. “Eventually.” He glanced away, his face tightening in pain. “I remember everything,” he added in a soft voice full of regret.

Buffy let her gaze fall to her lap as she shook her head. “You must hate me.”

“I could never hate you...”

Buffy looked up, an anguished mixture of emotions in her eyes—guilt, loss, longing. Similar emotions appeared in Angel’s eyes as they stared deeply at one another. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, they moved closer, unconsciously drawn by the bond they still shared. As their faces grew near, their lips parted slightly in anticipation. At the last second, however, Buffy’s conscious mind asserted itself.

What are you doing?! it chided her. You’re not with Angel anymore. You’re with Faith. Remember her? Your girlfriend? The one you claim to love?

Buffy instantly put her hand against Angel’s chest and gently pushed him away, stopping the impending kiss. She kept her gaze averted and got to her feet.

“I, um...I gotta go...” She backed away. “There’s, um, more blood in the bag,” she said, pointing at the paper sack nearby. “A-A-And here are the manacle keys.” She tossed them over. “I’ll, um...” She stopped, not knowing what else to say. “Bye,” she blurted then left without another word.

Angel looked hurt and bewildered as he picked up the keys from the floor and squeezed them in his fist.

***

A short time later, Buffy showed up at the high school. She waited outside until she heard the bell ring. Then she sneaked inside and slipped into the crowd of students moving between their classes. She stopped at her locker, picked up her books, and headed for her own class. When she got to the room, she found Willow and Xander already there.

“Buffy! Hey!” Willow called out, relieved to finally see her best friend. “We’ve been so worried about you. Where have you been?”

“Oh, um, I was just...you know...doing some impromptu patrolling with Faith,” Buffy replied. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s causing those animal attacks.”

“You sure it wasn’t some other kind of impromptu-ness going on?” Xander teased, waggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Something deliciously improper perhaps?”

“No!” Buffy answered way too quickly. Then she softened her tone. “Uh, no. No improperness going on whatsoever,” she insisted with a wave of her hand.

“Riiiiight,” Xander said, giving Buffy a wink.

Willow, however, narrowed her gaze suspiciously. Her internal lie detector had definitely been set off, but she chose not to say anything to Buffy. Not yet, anyway. She tried her best not to jump to conclusions, especially not to guilt-curse-related ones, but it was hard not to be concerned when Buffy’s behavior had been so erratic lately. Willow sighed. She would wait and see, she decided. She flashed Buffy a small smile and then turned her attention to their teacher, who was just beginning to call the roll.

***

That evening, shortly after sunset, Faith was getting ready to head to the school library, where she was scheduled to meet Buffy for patrol. Faith hadn’t tried to find Buffy since that morning; instead, she had hung out at her motel room, brooding over the events of the last few days. She wondered why Buffy had been so fidgety the night before and why she had lied about needing to go home early to rest when she clearly had plans to go back out.

Well, you don’t know that she lied, Faith’s logical self suggested. Maybe it happened just like she told Jeeves; she couldn’t sleep, so she headed back out.

Faith’s skeptical side snorted in reply. No way. She’s acting way too weird for that explanation to fly.

Faith’s brow furrowed. Maybe she’s having second thoughts. Maybe all this Angel stuff is just her way of giving me a heads up.

Her forehead creased even more until her logical self reasserted itself. Just talk to her, it said. You’ve got all night on patrol. Take advantage of it.

With that thought firmly in mind, Faith left her motel room.

***

Faith’s determination fell away, though, when she found Buffy just as evasive and fidgety as she had been the night before. When they had met at the school, they had embraced only briefly and had gone straight to work—conferring with Giles, gathering their weapons, and securing their radios. They had been all business, focusing their conversation only on patrol issues.

Once they were out of the school and on the road, the situation didn’t improve. Both were quiet and rather restless, fiddling with their weapons or radios, darting furtive glances at one another, but neither saying what was really on their minds.

Buffy’s thoughts were centered on Angel and the best way to tell Faith the news of his return. She was testing different scenarios for bringing up the matter.

‘Faith, we need to talk,’ Buffy practiced in her mind. Then she groaned mentally. Not that pathetic line. Everybody always starts out with that, and the other person instantly knows that something horrible is about to be revealed.

Buffy tried again. ‘Faith, you know all those Angel dreams I’ve been having? Well, it turns out they weren’t dreams. I mean, they were dreams in the sense that I had them in my brain while I was sleeping, but they weren’t dreams in the sense that—  Oh god, could I possibly be any more incoherent?!

While Buffy struggled to find the right words, Faith was doing the same thing. But every time that she got halfway into a potential sentence, her fears would interrupt.

Just ask her, Faith finally told herself. Flat out. I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

“I think we should split up.”

Stunned by Buffy’s statement, Faith came to an abrupt halt. “What?!” she blurted in a wounded voice. “You’re breaking up with me?!”

“What?!” Buffy replied, turning around in shock. “No! Of course not!”

“Then what did you—?”

“I meant split up for patrolling...like we did last night.”

Faith stared at Buffy for a long, intense moment before finally realizing the truth. She ducked her head in embarrassment and gave a rueful chuckle. “Well don’t I feel like a moron?”

Buffy snickered a bit but then sobered. She stepped closer and put her hand on Faith’s arm. “Why would you even think that?” she asked softly. “Have I done something to make you think that I—”

“Well, yeah,” Faith said sarcastically, backing out of Buffy’s grip. “You’ve been bein’ all weird and everything the last two days. It’s Angel this and Angel that. What am I supposed to think?”

Buffy straightened her shoulders and said resolutely, “Angel is—”

“No, he’s not,” Faith countered, cutting Buffy off.

The blonde’s eyes widened in horror. How did Faith—?

“I know what you’re gonna say,” Faith went on. “Angel’s ‘ancient history.’ Right? Well, it sure doesn’t feel that way.”

Thank god, Buffy thought to herself when she realized Faith hadn’t learned about Angel’s return on her own. Her feeling of relief didn’t last, though; deep anxiety soon replaced it.

When Faith saw the troubled expression on Buffy’s face, she hung her head and let out a tired sigh. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m bein’ stupid. I’m...I’m bein’ jealous of somebody who’s not even here.”

Buffy’s eyes darted away guiltily, but Faith didn’t see.

After another sigh, Faith looked up and walked back over to Buffy. “I’m expecting you to just act like the whole Angel/Angelus/Angel thing never happened, and...” She reached out and lightly grasped Buffy’s arms. “...I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Buffy said, falling against Faith and wrapping her arms around her. “So sorry.”

Faith returned Buffy’s embrace, but she didn’t seem comforted by it. She hugged Buffy tighter, trying to let the physical contact ease her worried mind.

After a full minute, Buffy moved back slightly so that she could look into her girlfriend’s eyes. “I know I’m pretty messed up,” she told her, “but there’s one thing I’m sure of...” She gently touched Faith’s cheek with her fingertips. “...I love you.”

For a few seconds, Faith’s expression remained tense and vulnerable, but then she pulled Buffy close and kissed her, pouring all of her emotions into that one kiss. It was an embrace that Buffy eagerly returned.

When the two slayers finally separated, Faith looked at Buffy intently. “I love you, too,” she said in a ragged voice. “I love you so much it makes me crazy...Just...in over my head, scared shitless crazy.”

Buffy smiled. It wasn’t a Shakespeare sonnet or even a Hallmark, but coming from Faith, it might as well have been. The important thing was...it was sincere. Buffy knew she had to do right by Faith; she had to find a way to handle this Angel situation. She didn’t know what that ‘way’ was going to be yet, but she’d find it. All she had to do now was buy herself a little more time.

“Come on,” Buffy said as she reached down and took Faith’s hand in hers. “We’ve got all night. We can split up later.” She shot a smirk in Faith’s direction before adding with emphasis, “For patrolling.”

As they resumed their walking, Faith let out a long-suffering groan but with a grin on her face. “I’m not gonna live that one down, am I?”

“Nope,” Buffy assured her as she leaned against Faith’s arm.

***

After several hours of patrolling together, the two slayers eventually did split up to cover more ground. Buffy waited until she was well out of Faith’s line of sight before changing direction and sprinting toward Willy’s demon bar. After bullying him for two containers of blood, she hurried toward Angel’s mansion, making sure that she got there before she could possibly cross paths with Faith during her patrol.

When Buffy entered the mansion, she found Angel leaning precariously against the wall, obviously in mid-attempt to walk from the stairs to the great room. She quickly set down the paper sack she had been carrying and rushed to Angel’s side.

“What are you doing, mister?” Buffy playfully accused as she draped his arm over her shoulder and helped him shuffle to the nearby loveseat.

“Trying to get to a softer surface,” Angel admitted.

Six months of dust poofed out of the cushions as Buffy let Angel drop onto the loveseat. She coughed and waved her hand in the air, but he just settled into the dusty cushions with a sigh of relief. Buffy remained standing and was now at a loss about what to do or say.

“H-H-How are you feeling?” she asked, wringing her hands a bit.

“Better. Not much, but...better.”

“Good. That’s good,” Buffy said, nodding repeatedly. Then she hitched her thumb over her shoulder and added, “I, um...I brought some more blood. Do you want me to—?”

“No,” he replied. “I’m good. I, um, I already...you know...what you brought before.” He trailed off, uncomfortable with expressing in words his vampiric need to feed on blood.

Buffy got the message. She eased down to sit on the opposite end of the loveseat. “Y-Y-You look better. A-A-A little, anyway.”

“Thanks,” Angel replied, though he suspected she had said that only to make him feel better.

The two fell quiet for a time, neither knowing how to bridge the gap between them. So much had happened since they had made love ages ago, since Angel had actually been himself and not his evil alter ego Angelus. It was difficult to know where to start or how to begin.

“How long has it been?” Angel finally asked. “Since I left,” he added for clarification.

“About six months,” Buffy answered. When Angel nodded, she forced herself to ask, “H-H-How long was it for you?”

Angel met her eyes, but he quickly looked away. “I lost count,” he said, clenching his jaw tightly. “Long time.” When he looked back up, he saw Buffy’s gaze become pained; he immediately intervened. “So...catch me up. A lot can happen in six months, especially here in Sunnydale.”

Buffy gave him a grateful smile for the diversion, but it didn’t last long. Her expression soon grew somber once again.

“After you...left,” she said, intentionally falling back on the same descriptor Angel had used, “I-I-I ran away. To L.A. I just couldn’t be here, you know?” She glanced away briefly but then resumed. “When I came back, everybody was pretty mad at me. Especially Mom. She had just found out about the slaying thing before I left, and we’d had this huge argument, and then I ran away, so...she was pretty pissed. Oh, and we had zombies, too. Did I mention the zombies?”

Angel’s mouth quirked into a smile at Buffy’s segue, or lack thereof. “No, you hadn’t mentioned the zombies.” He gingerly resituated himself in the loveseat so that he could face Buffy more easily. “Personally, I’ve always hated zombies. I mean, the stench alone...”

“Tell me about it,” Buffy agreed ruefully. Then she sobered and asked, “Do you remember Kendra?”

Angel’s brow furrowed in guilt as he nodded. “The slayer who tried to kill me and then helped save me. The slayer Dru killed.”

It was Buffy’s turn to nod. “When she died, another slayer was called, a-a-and she came to Sunnydale, too. Her name’s Faith.”

“Where’s she from? What’s she like?”

“She’s from Boston, and she’s really cool...” Buffy answered, beginning a long ramble about Faith.

Buffy’s whole demeanor lit up at the mention of Faith’s name. Buffy herself was completely unaware of that fact, but Angel noticed. He was glad that something good had happened while he was away, that Buffy had gained a fellow slayer as a friend.

“...of course, we didn’t get along at first ’cause she had this whole attitude thing goin’ on, like, ‘I’m so hot, I’m such a bad ass, and everybody wants me, but nobody can take me.’ It was really annoying. I mean, arrogant much?”

“A slayer being arrogant,” Angel commented. “Imagine that.”

Buffy shot Angel a mock glare before smiling again. “But after we hung out for a while, I realized there was a real person under all that attitude. She’s—”

“Yo, B! Where ya at?”

Buffy froze at the sound of Faith’s voice coming over the radio. Her eyes grew wide and somewhat wild as she snatched the device from her belt and stood up, walking a distance away, keeping her back to Angel.

“Faith! Hey, I’m, uh, uh...just coming out of the woods near Crestwood.”

After a pause, Faith’s voice returned. “Well, meet me on Main in ten. Looks like this night’s gonna be another bust for the slaying.”

“O-O-Okay. Be right there. Out.”

Buffy turned around and gave Angel a sheepish shrug. “I, um, I gotta go.” Before he could say anything, she started backing toward the door. “I’ll-I’ll check on you tomorrow, okay? Around lunchtime?” Without waiting for an answer, Buffy rushed from the mansion, leaving a troubled Angel behind.

***

Meanwhile, Faith stood in place, staring off in shock and incredulity. She looked at her radio and then at the wooded lot down the block. Finally, she glanced up at the street sign just a few yards away. It read “Crestwood.”

Faith’s eyes grew hard, and she clenched both fists tightly. Within seconds, she heard the walkie-talkie begin to crack under grip. She stopped squeezing the device and clipped it back on her belt. Then she headed in the direction of Main Street.

***

When Buffy arrived on Main Street, she found Faith leaning against a lamppost, facing the pawn shop with her back to the street. As she approached, she could see the tenseness in Faith’s posture. She assumed that she knew the reason for it—the gold dagger that Faith had recently pawned in order to buy a dress for the Homecoming Dance. Unfortunately, Buffy’s assumption was wrong...way wrong.

“Hey,” Buffy said, causing Faith to slowly turn around.

“Hey,” Faith replied, crossing her arms tightly over her chest.

“Have you been waiting long? Sorry I didn’t get here sooner, I was on—”

“Crestwood,” Faith supplied. “So you said.”

Buffy sensed a glitch and backtracked. “Did I say Crestwood? I-I-I meant Crescent. Crescent Lane.”

“Uh-huh,” Faith said evenly.

Buffy knew that Faith could tell she was lying, but she had dug herself in now. There was no point in trying to climb out now...not until she was ready to come clean about everything. She changed the subject.

“So, um, what do you want to do now? We could go play some cards at my house.” She shot Faith a hopeful look, but Faith was unmoved.

“I’m really tired,” the dark slayer said, sarcastically repeating Buffy’s words from the previous night. “I think I’d just like to go home.”

“Oh.” Buffy was stung by Faith’s reply, but she knew she had no one else to blame but herself. “Okay.”

Without another word, Faith turned and strode away.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Buffy called out, but Faith didn’t even give her a wave.

Buffy slumped and closed her eyes. After a moment, she opened them and ran her hand through her hair. Then she turned around and headed for home.

***

The next morning, Buffy went to school as usual. She was disappointed when she didn’t find Faith waiting for her as she often did. In her classes that day, Buffy remained quiet and withdrawn, despite Willow and Xander’s efforts to draw her out of her funk. The two longtime friends had talked at length the night before, Willow expressing her concerns about the guilt curse re-emerging and Xander slowly coming over to her point of view. They had made a pact to keep an eye on Buffy and to reach out to her before the situation could progress.

At first their attempts to engage Buffy had been light-hearted and teasing, but now there was real concern in their eyes. During their last class of the morning, they saw Buffy go from introspective moping to anxious clock watching. When the bell rang, they once again tried to step in.

“Hey, Buff, you gonna join us at the cafeteria?” Xander suggested. “It’s corn dog day. You know how much I love corn dog day.”

“You only love it because you know we won’t eat ours,” Willow needled.

“Quite right. And it’s my solemn duty to ensure that no corn dog ever goes to waste,” he quipped back to Willow before turning to Buffy. “So, what d’ya say?”

Buffy was already backing away from her friends. “I-I-I can’t. Sorry. I, um, I have somewhere else I have to be right now.” When she saw the sad expressions on her best friends’ faces, she stopped backing up and added, “But...rain check? I do have something to talk to you about, but I need just a little more time. Okay?”

“Yeah, sure,” Willow agreed amiably.

“No problem,” Xander added in the same tone.

At that, Buffy rushed away.

Willow turned to Xander, a worried expression on her face. “Xander, what are we gonna do?”

“I’m gonna follow her,” he answered, “and you’re gonna cover for me.”

Willow nodded firmly, and Xander set off after Buffy.

***

Meanwhile, across town, Joyce was working at her gallery. She was pointing out some new acquisitions to an older couple when she heard her office phone ring. She excused herself from her customers and hurried to answer the phone.

“Sunnydale Gallery,” she answered cheerfully.

Her light expression fell away as an official-sounding voice on the other end of the line made a rather lengthy speech.

“I understand,” Joyce finally said, her voice grim. “I promise you...I will get to the bottom of this. Thank you.”

As soon as Joyce hung up the phone, she instantly picked it back up again and angrily punched in a number. She drummed her fingers on the table impatiently until she heard someone answer her call.

“Library. This is Mr. Giles.”

“Did you know that Buffy’s been skipping classes?” she demanded without so much as a how-are-you. “Is this your doing? Are you sending her out slaying when she’s supposed to be in school?”

“Mrs. Summers! I...I...I assure you I, um, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I just got a call from the school,” she explained. “Apparently, Buffy’s been randomly skipping classes whenever she pleases.”

“Well, if-if Buffy’s skipping school, I sincerely doubt that there’s anything random about it.”

Joyce let out a skeptical snort.

“I-I-I just mean that...I’m sure she’s got a very good reason.”

Joyce’s eyes grew worried, and she gripped the phone with both hands. “Rupert, what is going on?”

Unfortunately, Giles didn’t have an answer.

***

As Xander came out of the school and scanned the area for Buffy, he saw Faith come out of hiding ahead of him and pick up Buffy’s trail.

“Guess me and Will aren’t the only ones who think something’s up,” he murmured to himself.

He waited a moment then discretely began following behind Faith.

***

As Buffy headed toward the front door of Angel’s mansion, Faith crested the hill and paused, watching Buffy go inside.

“Great minds think alike, eh?”

Faith nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of Xander’s voice behind her. Startled, she drew her stake and whipped around. When she realized who it was, she grabbed him by his shirt and pushed him back out of sight of the house.

“What the hell is the matter with you?!” Faith accused. “You tryin’ to get yourself killed?!”

Xander held up his hands in apology. “Sorry...Just trying to find out what’s up with Buffy. Like you.”

Faith released Xander and nodded her head toward the house. “Come on, then. Let’s go take a look.”

***

Inside the mansion, Buffy found Angel asleep on the loveseat. His legs were folded with his knees almost to his chest as he attempted to fit his tall form onto the small piece of furniture. She crept over quietly, not wanting to startle him.

She knelt beside the loveseat and whispered his name. He frowned slightly but didn’t wake up. She said his name more loudly, but he only mumbled in his sleep. Finally, she reached out and touched his shoulder.

This time Angel jolted awake, gasping in terror, fighting blindly at whoever was touching him. Buffy used her slayer strength to hold him down as she tried to talk him back into reality.

“Angel...Angel! It’s me. Buffy.”

Angel eventually realized where he was and who was with him, and he slowly calmed down.

“Sorry,” Buffy told him. “I was trying not to scare you, but I guess I didn’t do a very good job on that, did I?” She scrunched her face into an apologetic wince.

“It’s okay,” Angel reassured her, although his eyes were still a bit wild.

Grunting in pain, he started pushing himself up into a sitting position. Buffy had to fight back the urge to help him in his task. But it was clear that he wanted to do it alone, so she simply stood up and waited. It took him nearly a minute to get there, but he finally did.

She dropped her gaze to the floor. She hated to see Angel in so much pain, especially when she knew she was the cause of it. She was the one who had caused him to become un-cursed in the first place. She was the one who had professed her love then coldly stabbed him in the chest. She was the one who had sent him into a century or more of torture and torment.

“Help me up.”

Angel’s request caused Buffy to snap out of her remorse and raise her head. She found Angel holding out his hands.

“Help me up,” he repeated. “Please. I need to move around a little.”

“A-A-Are you sure you’re strong enough?”

“I’ll have to be,” Angel replied. “Only way I’m gonna get better.”

Buffy pulled Angel to his feet then steadied him with an arm around his waist. He leaned on her heavily as he took his first few steps around the room. When he paused to rest in the middle of the room, Buffy stayed right at his side.

***

Meanwhile, Faith crept around the mansion until she found a place where she could look inside. It was one of the windows to the great room; its heavy curtain was hanging slightly askew, creating a narrow slit that she could see through. She leaned in close, cupping her hands around her eyes so that she could take in the dimly lit room.

She saw Buffy with a man that she didn’t recognize. The man was shirtless, and he had his arm draped over Buffy’s shoulders. In turn, she had her arm wrapped around the man’s waist.

Faith growled dangerously, “You have got to be kidding me.”

“What?” Xander asked.

Faith shook her head and stepped aside. “She’s with some guy,” she told him. “I don’t fucking believe this!”

Xander moved into position in front of the window and peeked inside.

***

Still in the center of the room with Buffy beside him, Angel just stood in place and stared at the far wall, his mind clearly deep in thought. Buffy could sense the anguish inside him, but she chose not to press him. He would speak when he was ready, and within a few minutes, he apparently was.

“When I was in that hell dimension,” he whispered hoarsely, “all I could think about was you...”

He turned so that he could face her, and Buffy could see that his eyes were moist with tears. He reached out and ran his hands gently over her shoulders as he went on.

“...what it had felt like to hold you...to touch you...”

Buffy began to breathe heavily—her body automatically responding to Angel’s touch, her mind indulging in precious memories of the past, her heart relishing the bond that still existed between them.

“...it was all I had.”

***

Xander squinted and repositioned, trying to get his eyes to pick up what was happening inside the mansion. When he was finally able to see, his jaw dropped.

“No way,” he said. “No freakin’ way.”

“What?” Faith asked, concerned by the disgust in Xander’s voice. She pulled him away and looked him in the eyes. “What is it?”

“That’s not just ‘some guy’,” Xander bitterly informed her. “That’s Angel.”

Faith’s expression fell into stunned disbelief. “That’s...That’s not possible.”

“We live on a hellmouth,” Xander reminded her. “Anything’s possible.”

Faith pushed him aside and started looking through the window again.

She saw Buffy and Angel still standing in the center of the great room, but now they were holding one another, staring into each other’s eyes. She saw Buffy reach up and run her fingers gently along Angel’s jaw line as they continued their intense gaze. She saw Angel pull Buffy closer and lean his face down to hers. She felt her whole body seize up when she saw the two of them suddenly move into a crushing, desperate kiss.

“No,” Faith whispered, her voice cracking. “No...” She began backing away from the window, horror and agony on her face.

“Faith?” Xander prompted worriedly.

He reached out for her, but before his hand could make contact with her arm, Faith turned and dashed away.

“Faith!” Xander called out urgently, but she was long gone.

He turned back to the window and looked inside. There, he saw what Faith had just seen: Buffy and Angel passionately kissing.

“Son of a bitch,” Xander cursed under his breath.

He clenched both of his fists tightly, and then he too turned and hurried away from the mansion.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 14...

 


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