Rating: R (for language)
Content Warning: This chapter has descriptions of sexual abuse.
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)
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 14 left off (with Buffy kneeling at Faith’s feet begging for forgiveness). It continues in mostly original territory. (3) When I first wrote this chapter, I intended to split it into two parts, but I changed my mind and just left it as is and renumbered it to just 15. There will be no 15A and 15B. After 15 will come 16. (4) I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s important to this particular chapter: I’m using the novel Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary by Robert Joseph Levy for much of Faith’s backhistory. It’s worth the read. (5) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit!
Number of Chapters: 18
Complete: 15Chapter Summary: Buffy and Faith try to heal their damaged relationship.
At the mansion, Angel lay in a restless sleep on his bed. Willow and Oz were nearby, keeping watch over him. The two Scoobies had removed the crossbow bolt from his chest and bandaged him up as best they could. They had also picked up several quarts of pig’s blood, knowing that feeding would be the best medicine for the injured vampire.
When Angel awoke with a start, Willow and Oz rushed to his side.
“Buffy!” Angel called out as he tried to sit up.
“She’s okay,” Willow assured him, guiding him back against the pillows.
Angel’s eyes went instantly to Oz for confirmation.
Oz nodded. “She’s already out of the hospital even.”
“She’s at home, then?” Angel asked, relaxing a bit.
“No, she’s at Faith’s,” Willow answered.
“What?!” Angel replied in alarm, trying to rise once again.
As Oz tried to push him back down on the bed, Willow took Angel’s hands firmly in her own. “They’re trying to work things out,” she told him. “They need to,” she added, looking deeply into his eyes.
After a moment, Angel’s expression changed from frightened concern to pained acceptance, and he let his body fall back against the bed.
Willow and Oz exchanged sad glances as Angel stared silently at the ceiling.
When Faith noticed that Buffy’s crying had begun to lessen, she wiped the tears from her own face and finally spoke.
“Come on,” she told the blonde gently. “Time to get up.”
She took Buffy’s hands and helped her to her feet. Once standing, Buffy winced audibly and clutched at her wounded stomach. Then she looked up and met Faith’s gaze. Buffy could see the deep pain in the dark slayer’s eyes. Faith immediately pulled away and took a sizeable step back.
“I’m so sorry...” Buffy said in a choked voice.
“I know,” Faith replied. Then she shrugged and said, “But I stabbed you with a stake while I was in a jealous rage, so maybe we’re even.” She didn’t say this angrily or spitefully; she merely stated it as fact.
The two slayers stood there in awkward silence for what seemed like eons. They cast nervous glances at each other, never letting their eyes meet for more than a few seconds at a time.
Faith shoved her hands in her pants pockets. “A-A-Are you okay?”
Buffy gave a small smile and tugged at the green scrubs she was wearing. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ve had worse.”
Faith allowed herself a small smile of relief; then she sobered once again. After another long moment, she asked, “So, what do we do now?”
Buffy looked down, but after a few seconds, she glanced back up. “Can we talk?” she suggested. “You know, about everything that’s happened?”
Faith nodded and gestured at the bed. They both took a seat, although with a defined distance between them.
After another lengthy period of silence, Buffy turned to Faith and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Angel being back.”
Faith didn’t reply. She just kept her eyes on her own lap, where her hands were tightly clasped. Buffy sighed and went on.
“At first, I was just wiggin’ out about the whole thing,” she explained. “A-A-And after that, I was trying to figure out if he was Angel or Angelus. I knew if he was Angelus, I’d have to...” An image of herself stabbing Angel before Acathla flashed in her mind. She trailed off and glanced away, unable to complete the sentence.
“You didn’t have to face that alone, you know,” Faith said coolly. “I would’ve helped. Everyone would have.”
“I didn’t know that,” Buffy replied softly. “But still...I-I-I should have said something.”
“So, why didn’t you?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “He was hurt so badly, and I just wanted to take care of him, and I didn’t think anyone would understand. Last they saw of him, he was evil, and we were all trying to kill him. I mean, you saw how Xander reacted. And you...there was no way you were going to be happy about him being back.”
Faith didn’t have a response to that. She remained silent, neither denying nor conceding Buffy’s point. Buffy was forced to go on with her explanation.
She took a deep breath and let it out. “Plus, I...I felt guilty about what I had done.”
“Like what? Moving on?” Faith said, annoyed.
“No, not that. Well, not completely, anyway,” Buffy answered. “I meant killing him, sending him into that hell dimension.” She ducked her head and added, “It was Angel I sent there, not just Angelus.”
Faith acknowledged that with a nod and then glanced away. She clenched and unclenched her fists several times, debating whether or not to ask the question she really didn’t want to know the answer to. Without turning back, she forced herself to ask, “You still love him?”
“A part of me does,” Buffy replied honestly. “Part of me always will.” When she saw Faith’s body stiffen, she quickly added, “But it’s nothing compared to what I feel for you. I swear.”
“But you were kissing him,” Faith pointed out as she shot a glare in Buffy’s direction. “And it wasn’t some ‘let’s be friends’ kiss, either.”
Buffy nodded. “You’re right. I-I-It wasn’t. But it wasn’t a ‘yay, you’re back, be my soul-mate’ kind of kiss, either.”
Faith snorted in disbelief. “Coulda fooled me.”
“It was...intense,” Buffy admitted, dropping her gaze back to her hands. “I still felt drawn to him, like before. And when we touched, it just...brought everything back...everything I had lost when he...changed.” She looked back up and stared at Faith intently. “But then I thought of you, and I knew I had to stop it, and I did. I told him it was over, Faith. I told him it was you I was in love with.”
Faith stared back, reading Buffy’s eyes for some sign of untruth. Buffy held her gaze and willed Faith to believe her. But Faith only looked away.
Not knowing what else to say, Buffy played with the drawstring on her scrub pants. “I was going to tell you when I saw you next, but you and Xander...”
Faith hung her head in shame. She knew that she and Xander had crossed the line, but she wanted to try and explain to Buffy what it had been like.
“When I saw you kissing him, I just...” She stopped and swallowed the lump in her throat. When she began again, her voice was nothing but a husky whisper. “It hurt so much...” After a brief pause, she went on more strongly. “It was like you’d just ripped my guts out and left me there to die. Only I couldn’t die. I just kept hurting and hurting...”
Buffy’s face creased in guilt and pain, and new tears rolled down her face. “I’m so sorry...”
Faith continued as if she hadn’t heard Buffy. “I swore I’d never let anybody hurt me like that,” she said vehemently. “I’d never be some stupid loser who got her heart broken.” She took several quick breaths and let the last one out slowly. “That’s why I just ‘get some and get gone.’ Hell of a lot easier that way.”
Faith fell silent, but Buffy didn’t speak. After a while, Faith went on. The anger in her voice was gone, now replaced by intense anguish.
“But I couldn’t do that with you,” she confessed. She looked into Buffy’s eyes for a moment before turning away. “That’s why it hurt so much when you...” Faith cleared her throat and clenched her fists tightly. “It made me crazy. I just lost it, went nuts.” She gestured at the trashed motel room. “As you can see.”
Buffy looked away briefly to take in the sight. One wall had obviously been pummeled into dry-wall smithereens. The nightstand had been dashed into pieces. The TV had been wrenched from its stand and smashed on the floor; it now sported a boot-sized hole in its screen. Buffy frowned intently as she eyed the damage, her stomach tensing in a mixture of guilt and fear. Buffy let out a deep breath and then turned back to Faith, who went on.
“When Xander came over with his bag of weapons saying ‘saddle up,’ I was glad. I wanted to make somebody pay, and Angel would do just fine. We told ourselves it was only about saving you, but it wasn’t.” Faith stopped and looked down at her battered knuckles. Then she moved her hands to her sides, resting them palm-down on the bed. “I shouldn’t have gone over there. It was wrong.” Faith brought her gaze back to Buffy. Her expression was pained as she looked at Buffy’s midsection. “I’m sorry...”
Not wanting Faith to blame herself for the staking, Buffy put her hand over Faith’s. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “I understand.”
Faith jerked her hand away and angrily stood up. “No! It’s not okay!” she practically shouted. “I could’ve killed you!”
Buffy stood up and took a step towards Faith. “But you didn’t,” she insisted, reaching out to Faith with one hand.
“But I wanted to!” Faith growled back, her eyes burning with that same black rage she had shown in the fight at the mansion. “I wanted to hurt you like you had hurt me!”
Buffy’s eyes widened in horror, and she jerked her hand back out of pure reflex.
Faith’s heart fell when she saw Buffy rapidly pull back. That’s it, she thought. The last straw. She looked away.
“I’m bad, Buffy,” Faith said in a strained voice. “Full of hate and-and darkness and violence and...when it comes down to it, that’s all I’ll ever be. You’re better off without me.”
Buffy stared in shock, trying to absorb what she had just seen and heard, but thankfully, it took her only a moment to recover.
“That’s not true,” she stated firmly. Then, closing the space between them, she reached out to touch Faith’s cheek, and the dark slayer actually let her do so. “You’re just damaged,” she said. “I am too. We’re like the walking wounded...just stumbling through life, doing the best we can.” Buffy looked deeply into Faith’s eyes. “But I don’t wanna do all that stumbling without you.”
Faith closed her eyes and swallowed hard, forcing down the waves of emotions that were threatening to overtake her. When she opened her eyes, she found Buffy already starting to cry again.
“Please,” Buffy begged. “I’ll never betray you again, I promise...Please give me another chance...give us another chance.”
After a long, agonized stare, Faith turned away and hung her head, saying nothing.
With her shoulders slumping in defeat, Buffy dropped her arms to her sides. She let out a small sob and covered her face with both hands. The only sound in the room was her crying, but her mind was filled with a wailing roar. God, it hurt so bad... She just wanted to curl into a ball, to wrap her body around her chest so tightly that she could press the pain from her heart like squeezing liquid from a sponge. She hadn’t thought it could hurt this much, but it did. Mainly because she had allowed herself to hope—she had dared to believe, just a little, that Faith might be able to forgive her. But how could she when Buffy couldn’t even forgive herself? You deserve this. This is what you made her feel, and—
At that softly spoken word, Buffy’s mental railing abruptly stopped. Her head shot up. “W-W-What?” she hiccupped.
Faith sighed and turned back around. “I said, ‘Okay’.”
After blinking in disbelief for a couple of seconds, Buffy rushed to Faith and threw her arms around the brunette, crying hard against her chest, saying “thank-you” over and over. After a brief hesitation, Faith wrapped her arms around Buffy and pulled her even closer, finally surrendering herself to her own flood of tears.
As she held Buffy tightly in her arms, Faith tried to lose herself in the rightness of their physical embrace. Still, her inner voices bombarded her with accusations.
Have you lost your fucking mind?!
She betrayed you, she ripped your guts out!
And now you just say ‘okay’ like none of that happened?
She’ll betray you again, she’ll hurt you all over again!
Can’t you see that?
I don’t care, she told the voices. I need this...I need her.
As the voices resumed their ranting, she pushed them down, deep down, until she could hear only a faint grumbling. Then she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. After that, she wiped her eyes, cleared her throat, and pulled back to look at Buffy.
“Hey, don’t ya think it’s time we ended this blubber-fest?” she suggested.
The blonde gave a sniffling laugh. “Yeah, we probably should.”
The two slayers separated and then stood a few feet apart. They went right back into nervous mode, wringing their hands and fidgeting in place.
“I-I-I don’t know how I’m supposed to act,” Buffy said.
“Me neither,” Faith said with a shrug.
“All I wanna do is touch you and hold you, a-a-and I feel like I don’t have that right any more...” Buffy dropped her gaze to her feet.
Faith looked down as well. “Yeah.”
Once again, the two slayers just stood in awkward silence. Finally, Buffy spoke.
“I-I-I should probably go,” Buffy said, hitching her thumb over her shoulder at the door. “Mom’s waiting up.”
At the mention of Buffy’s mother, Faith’s expression fell. “Oh.”
“She’s not mad,” Buffy said in reaction. “Not at you, anyway,” she added ruefully. “She understands that this wasn’t your fault.” She gestured at her stomach and then sighed. “Actually, she’s kinda in the Xander camp. She thinks the only good Angel is a dead Angel.”
Faith didn’t reply; she just nodded quietly. The two shot darting glances at each other, but they never let their eyes lock. After a moment, Buffy turned toward the door, stopped, then turned back around.
“Can I...?” Buffy began. “Can I get another hug?”
Faith gave her a small smile. “Yeah, sure.”
She crossed the room until she was right in front of Buffy. Slowly and cautiously, the two slayers moved back into each other’s arms. Fortunately, their momentary discomfort quickly dissipated in the warmth of their renewed embrace. They set aside their pain, their anger, and their guilt, and just took refuge in the strength of their love that lay underneath.
After a lengthy period of silent hugging, Faith whispered, “Don’t go.”
Buffy pulled away and searched Faith’s eyes.
“Please,” Faith added. “Not yet.”
“Okay,” Buffy said, smiling gently as she nodded. “I should call my mom, though,” she added, “and tell her I’m all right.”
“Good idea,” Faith said. Then both of them turned toward the phone’s former location, where the nightstand used to be. “Oh. Right. I kinda smashed it.” Their eyes searched the room until they saw the broken remains on the floor by the dresser.
After briefly raising her eyebrows at the shattered phone, Buffy asked, “Is there a pay phone close by?”
Buffy stood at the pay phone in the motel’s front parking lot. She squinted in the dim light as she funneled in the change Faith had given her; then she waited patiently for the requisite dial tone. As soon as she heard it, she punched in her home phone number. It rang only once before it was answered.
“Hello?” Joyce said, her voice somewhat frantic.
“Hey, Mom, it’s me.”
“Buffy! Oh thank god, I was getting so worried.”
“I’m fine,” Buffy assured her. “That’s why I wanted to call—to let you know I’m all right. We’re both all right. We’re just talking.”
“Good, good,” Joyce said, still sounding immensely relieved. Then she blurted, “I think you should come home now. You need to rest, to—”
“I know, Mom, I know,” Buffy told her. “And I will. Soon. I promise. But I need a little more time. Faith and I are working things out...” Buffy’s face lit up in a teary expression of hope. “...I really think we’re working things out, but we’re still talking. Okay?”
There was a long moment of silence before Buffy heard her mother let out a weary sigh. “All right,” Joyce said. “But you be back before morning,” she ordered. “And don’t even think about going out tomorrow, not even to school. You’re staying home to rest. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Buffy replied dutifully. Then she smiled and said, “Thanks, Mom.”
Buffy couldn’t make out her mother’s final comment since it was buried under an unhappy grumble, but she was still smiling as she hung up the receiver and turned back to Faith, who was waiting nearby.
Faith had her hands stuffed into the front pockets of her jeans. Her shoulders were hunched in a stiff, defensive posture, as if she were bracing herself for bad news. “How’d it go?” she made herself ask.
“She’s not too keen on the idea, but she okayed it,” Buffy told her. “As long as I’m home before dawn.”
Noticing that Faith still hadn’t relaxed, Buffy stepped closer and linked her right arm with Faith’s left, praying she wouldn’t pull away. “Come on,” she told her. “Let’s go back to your room.”
Faith didn’t pull away, and after a few strides through the parking lot, she actually slid her left hand from her jeans pocket and intertwined her fingers with Buffy’s. Hand in hand, the two slayers made their way back to Faith’s room.
A short time later, Buffy and Faith were snuggled together on Faith’s bed. Carefully avoiding the debris from the demolished lamp and television, the two slayers had removed their shoes and climbed into bed fully clothed. Despite Buffy’s insistence to her mother about needing more talk time, they hadn’t said more than a few sentences to one another since returning from the pay phone. Both were deep within their own thoughts. Every so often, one of them would frown in pain and then snuggle closer, needing the comfort of the other’s touch.
Eventually, Buffy leaned up so that she could look into Faith’s eyes. “Thank you,” she told her sincerely.
“For what?” Faith asked, somewhat confused.
“For asking me to stay tonight,” she answered. “For agreeing to try again.”
Faith swallowed hard. She couldn’t speak, even if she knew what to say at a moment like this. All she could do was reach up and touch Buffy’s cheek, then pull her down until their lips met.
The kiss was so intense that Buffy found herself crying again. She lay back against the bed and draped her arm over her eyes. Faith turned onto her side to face her.
“God, Faith,” Buffy said in a choked voice, “I don’t know what I would have done if I’d lost you...”
Faith reached over and placed her hand gently on Buffy’s stomach, causing the blonde to uncover her eyes and look at her.
“I know what you mean,” Faith said quietly.
Buffy stared at Faith intently before turning on her side and drawing the brunette close. She kissed her warmly, thoroughly, fervently. Then she whispered, “Let’s not find out, okay?”
“Okay,” Faith agreed.
After several more desperate kisses, the two slayers snuggled once again into each other’s arms and soon fell asleep.
Shortly before dawn, Giles and Cordelia were helping Xander out of his wheelchair and into his mother’s vehicle. Mrs. Harris hovered close by.
“I wish you’d tell me who did this to you,” Mrs. Harris nagged. “He shouldn’t be allowed to walk free.”
He sure as hell shouldn’t, Xander thought to himself, gritting his teeth and clenching his fists tightly. Then he repeated in a weary voice, “Nobody, Mom. I fell down.”
“That’s not what the doctor said. He said—”
“I don’t care what the doctor said!” Xander snapped, startling his mother. He calmed himself and said, “Just take me home.” At that, he slammed the car door.
Mrs. Harris took a moment to clear her throat; then she turned to the others. “Mr. Giles, Miss Chase, thank you for seeing to Xander. I hope that he wasn’t too unpleasant.”
“He was fine, Mrs. Harris,” Cordelia assured her. “He’s just a little grumpy. A bang on the head will do that to you.”
Xander’s mother gave them a final smile of gratitude and then got in the car. Within seconds she was driving away.
Cordelia turned to Giles and let out a tired sigh. He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a small hug before walking with her into the hospital parking lot.
Meanwhile, back in her motel room, Faith lay curled up with Buffy on the bed. Although they were both asleep, Faith wasn’t resting peacefully. She was frowning and jerking in her sleep, clearly caught in a vicious nightmare.
In Faith’s mind, she was back in Boston, in Mount Auburn Cemetery, in the catacombs beneath the Dyer crypt...in the lair of Kakistos, the Worst of the Worst. She was surrounded by dozens of vampire minions, who held her immobile before a throne made of human skeletons.
Kakistos leaned down from his throne and met the slayer’s eyes. “You are full of such beautiful darkness,” he told her, “and when I place my mark on you, you will truly be mine.”
“No!” Faith defiantly spat back at him. “I won’t!”
Kakistos leaned back up, smiling, then nodded to his minions. The crowd began a low rumbling chant and then parted to Faith’s left. There she saw a vampire stirring a long metal rod in a burning brazier. He pulled the rod out and turned to face her. The rod was actually a branding iron. Its head was heavy and wide, and its thorny spiral pattern glowed a bright orange.
“Noooo!” Faith cried out, though her voice could barely be heard over the now thunderous chanting.
She struggled with all her might to free herself from the vampires holding her, but it was no use. She could only watch in horror as the hot branding iron drew ever nearer. She screamed in agony when it was placed—sizzling, searing, charring—upon her upper arm.
Her screaming seemed to go on for an eternity, but when she finally stopped, she realized that she was no longer being held by the vampires. Instead, she was on her hands and knees on the cavern floor, with the minions around her but keeping their distance a few yards back.
Breathing hard, she got to her feet. She pulled her arm forward to look at the brand. Burned into her bicep was a pair of tribal spirals flanked by thorny wings. Her flesh was raised and black where the glowing iron had touched her; the surrounding skin was scorched an angry red. Though the pain must have been unbearable, she merely studied the brand with a dazed expression.
She heard someone approach and then felt him lift her chin. Kakistos stood before her boring his eyes into hers, stroking her cheek with his hoof-like hand.
“Daughter,” Kakistos said to her.
Faith stared at him for a long moment and then said, “Father.”
Kakistos smiled. “I have a gift for you, Daughter.”
He gestured to his left, and once again, the crowd of minions parted. Faith saw another captive being brought forward. It was Buffy.
Her hands were bound behind her back. She was bruised and battered, her clothes dirty and torn. Multiple bite marks lined each side of her neck. Despite her weakened condition, she still struggled against the vampires who held her firmly in their grips—then she saw Faith before her.
“Faith!” Buffy cried out in concern for her girlfriend. With more than just herself at risk, Buffy increased her struggles. “Faith!”
The newly branded slayer just blinked in confusion, as if she didn’t recognize Buffy. Kakistos came up behind Faith and leaned down to whisper in her ear. She cocked her head to the side to listen.
“This one must pay for what she’s done,” he urged her. “Free the fury within you! Unleash it!”
Faith looked down and found a wickedly curved dagger in her right hand. She watched the blade gleam in the torchlight and then slowly lifted her gaze to Buffy.
Buffy’s fears morphed into sheer terror when she saw the roiling black rage that now burned in Faith’s eyes. She tried even harder to break free from Kakistos’s minions but failed.
“Faith, I’m sorry, I swear!” she begged as Faith stalked toward her, dagger in hand. “You don’t have to do this! I know I screwed up, but please don’t do this!”
Faith merely growled and grabbed the blonde by her hair, savagely pulling her head back as the vampires held her in place.
Buffy was crying now, pleading. “Faith, please...”
The dark slayer ignored her sobbing pleas and plunged the dagger straight into Buffy’s heart.
Faith was screaming as she jolted awake and out of her nightmare. Buffy called her name and tried to reach out to her, but Faith didn’t seem to hear. Faith stumbled out of bed, breathing so hard that she was nearly hyperventilating. She caught herself against the damaged wall, turned and put her back to it, then let herself slip to the floor. She touched her right bicep and ran her fingers over the smooth skin of her tribal tattoo. When she didn’t feel the ridges of a brand, she let out a relieved laugh that almost became a sob.
Buffy called Faith’s name again and eased her way to the other side of the bed. Once again, though, Faith didn’t answer; instead, she pulled her legs up, rested her forearms across her knees, and laid her head on top of her arms. Buffy knelt in front of her and carefully put a hand on the slayer’s arm.
“Faith...are you okay?”
Faith didn’t lift her head right away. She got her breathing under control and then looked up. Even then she didn’t speak; she just nodded.
“Nightmare?” Buffy asked.
Again Faith merely nodded.
“Musta been a doozy,” Buffy said.
Faith waited a long time before answering. Then she pulled away from Buffy’s touch. “Yeah,” she said as she got to her feet.
She walked over to her duffel bag, which was propped beside the door. She opened it and pulled out her bottle of Jack Daniels. She took a big swig and then another. Then she set the bottle on the undamaged dresser and replaced its cap, but she didn’t take her hand off the neck of the bottle.
Buffy stood up and walked over. Even in the faint light, Buffy could see that Faith was shaking badly, so she put a hand on Faith’s back. When the dark slayer didn’t pull away from her touch this time, Buffy rested her head against the nape of Faith’s neck and slipped her arms around her waist.
It took a while for Faith to respond to Buffy’s touch. But eventually she closed her eyes and drew in the warmth coming from Buffy. She let go of the bottle and covered Buffy’s arms with her own, leaning back into Buffy. When she had calmed somewhat, Faith turned around in the embrace, resting her hands at the blonde’s hips.
When Buffy saw Faith keeping her gaze down, she reached up and caressed Faith’s cheek until she looked up.
“Whatever it is, you can tell me,” Buffy whispered.
An anguished expression came over Faith’s face. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse and quiet. “I can’t,” she said, beginning to tremble once again.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Buffy instantly said, trying to soothe the stricken slayer.
She reached out with her other hand and pulled Faith to her, kissing her earnestly. Then she wrapped her arms around Faith and hugged her tightly. Faith returned the hug, burying her face in Buffy’s hair. The two stood like that for the longest time until Faith finally separated them.
“The sun’s about to come up,” she announced, clearly changing the subject and distancing herself once more.
Buffy turned and looked at the window. She sighed heavily and turned back to Faith. She debated whether or not to press Faith a little more but ultimately decided not to. Whatever the nightmare entailed, it could wait. So she shrugged and said, “I guess I should probably go home. Put Mom’s mind at ease.”
Faith nodded and then asked, “How ya feelin’?”
Buffy looked down and lifted the scrub shirt. She touched the bandage on her stomach and said, “Not too bad.” She looked up and winked at Faith. “Sleeping with you is good medicine.”
Faith’s mouth creased into a smile, but it was far from her usual full-dimpled grin.
“Can I see you later today?” Buffy asked a bit hesitantly as she retrieved her keys from the top of the dresser.
“Yeah, sure,” Faith said.
“I don’t know when it’ll be. Mom wants me to stay home from school.”
Faith shrugged and said, “Well, since I’m phone-less, why don’t I just find you later?”
“Okay,” Buffy agreed with a smile.
Buffy made no move toward the door. The forced lightness of their last few exchanges didn’t last, and somber expressions returned to the slayers’ faces. Still, they stared at one another intently.
“I love you,” Buffy said, a slight quiver in her voice. “So much.”
“I love you, too,” Faith replied sincerely.
At that, Buffy gave Faith one final hug and then left the room. Within minutes, she was in her mother’s SUV and on her way home.
As Buffy let herself in the front door, she immediately heard her mother’s voice.
“Buffy, is that you?”
“Yeah, Mom, it’s me,” she called out. As she turned from locking the door, she saw her mother hurrying toward her from the dining room.
Joyce had on a faded set of flannel pajamas. Over those she wore a full-length white apron that was currently smudged with what appeared to be silver tarnish. In her hand she held a dirty polishing cloth, which she quickly stuffed into her apron pocket before tugging her daughter into a desperate hug.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re home. You had me worried sick.”
Buffy happily returned the embrace. “I’m fine, Mom,” she assured her mid-hug. Then she pulled away and met her mother’s eyes. “I promise,” she added firmly.
Joyce touched her daughter’s cheek and said, “You look tired. Come on, let’s sit down.” She guided Buffy to the living room, and they sat on the sofa next to each other. “How’s Faith? You said that you two were working things out?”
Buffy nodded and smiled, her eyes filling with grateful tears. “We did. I mean, we are. Still. It’s kind of an in-progress thing, but we’re back together, and we’re gonna make this work. I know we will.”
Joyce smiled back and gave her daughter’s arm an encouraging squeeze. Buffy then went on in a quieter voice.
“It was so hard, Mom. I didn’t realize how badly I had hurt her. She tries to be so tough, you know? But she’s not—not on the inside. She’s had so much hurt in her life, and I just added to it and—”
Buffy had to stop and swallow down the sob that was gathering at the back of her throat. Joyce just waited patiently until Buffy was ready to continue, and soon she was.
“I begged her to forgive me and to give us another chance. At first, I didn’t think she was going to say yes, but she did.” Buffy let out a tiny laugh of relief and wiped away her tears. “Thank god, she did.”
Buffy turned to her mother and grasped both of her hands. “Thank you for letting me go over there. I don’t think I would have gotten another chance to make things right with her if I hadn’t gone when I did. I know it was hard on you, though, so...thanks.”
“I think ‘hard’ is an understatement,” Joyce quipped, but then she sobered and said, “Until you’re a mother yourself, you can’t know what it’s like—to see your child in pain, to send that child into a situation that could cause her even more pain, even more heartache.” Joyce shook her head ruefully. “I don’t know how many times I picked up the phone to call a cab to head over there to check on you.”
“I’m sorry I put you through all this...” Buffy said, frowning.
Joyce smiled and touched her daughter’s cheek again. “Comes with the territory. When my little girl hurts, I hurt too.”
Buffy let the sobs come this time, crying as she fell into her mother’s arms. “I love you, Mom!”
“I love you too, Sweetie.”
After a long moment, Joyce reluctantly separated them so that she could look into her daughter’s eyes. “And how is Faith? Honestly? This can’t be easy for her.”
“She’s pretty messed up,” Buffy admitted. “We both are. She’s hurt, like I said, but I don’t know what’s hurting her more—what I did to her or what she did to me.” When Joyce looked confused, Buffy explained. “The staking,” she said, pointing to her stomach. “I told her that it wasn’t her fault, but she’s taking it pretty hard. Total guilt fest.”
“Understandable,” Joyce said.
“But not fun,” Buffy noted sadly.
“No, I suppose not,” Joyce replied. Then her eyes lit up as if she were just remembering something. “Oh, before I forget...Rupert and Willow both called while you were at Faith’s.” She started counting off items on her fingers as she recited them. “Rupert said that Xander would be released from the hospital some time early this morning. Willow said that Angel was okay, that she and Oz were taking care of him. And she said to tell you that she’d be by to see you after school.”
Buffy smiled in relief at the news, but behind her eyes was a deep worry at the unfinished business that she knew awaited her—with Angel, Xander, Giles, even Willow. Joyce noticed the shadow that had come over Buffy’s face, so she reached over and took her daughter’s hand.
“I think it’s time for you to set all this aside and get some rest, don’t you?”
When Buffy nodded in agreement, they both got to their feet. Buffy swayed a bit, and Joyce immediately put her hand at her daughter’s back to steady her.
“Yeah, rest sounds good about right now,” Buffy said.
After helping her daughter up the stairs and into bed, Joyce left Buffy’s room and headed to her own. Once inside, she shut the door and picked up the phone. She punched in a number and let it ring.
“Hello?” came Giles’s tired voice over the phone.
“Hi, it’s Joyce.”
“Oh, um, Joyce. I-I-Is everything all right? Is Buffy—?”
“She’s fine.” Then Joyce corrected herself. “As fine as she can be, I suppose. She got home just a while ago.”
“And her talk with Faith?” Giles prompted.
“It went well, Buffy said. She seemed very optimistic about things.”
“So Faith isn’t leaving? She’s staying to work things out with Buffy?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Joyce could hear the relief in his voice, and she knew how it felt. She was still feeling it herself. But deep concern continued to nag the back of her mind.
“They’re so hurt and so fragile, Rupert. How will they get through this?” she asked. “And what if they don’t? What if—?”
“They will,” Giles insisted. “Of that, I’m certain. They’re strong and-and determined, and most importantly, they love each other very much. Obviously, they won’t emerge unscathed—it’s too late for that—but they will come through this. You’ll see.”
Joyce nodded her head in silence, trying to let the words sink in. After a moment, she perked up and spoke again. “Well, I’m going to call Willow,” she announced. “I’m sure she’s anxious for some news.”
“Would you like me to do that for you?”
“No, that’s all right. Thank you, though. I promised Willow I’d call her as soon as Buffy got home.”
“Very well, but if you need anything, anything at all...”
“I know,” Joyce replied. “Thank you, Rupert. For everything.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Joyce hung up the phone and let out a long exhale. Then she picked the phone back up and entered Willow’s number.
After a quick conversation with Buffy’s best friend, Joyce hung up the phone and glanced at the clock. She let her shoulders sag wearily. Then she took in a deep breath, pulled back her shoulders, and rose to her feet.
“No sense going to sleep now,” she muttered before heading for the master bath.
Meanwhile, back in her motel room, Faith tossed restlessly on her bed. She had tried to sleep after Buffy had left, but she’d had no luck. Her mind was too troubled to allow sleep to come.
Her thoughts kept returning to her nightmare—how easily she had succumbed to Kakistos’s command to unleash the fury inside of herself, how gleefully she had ignored Buffy’s pleas for forgiveness, how violently she had plunged the dagger into Buffy’s heart.
She tried to tell herself it was just a dream, but then she remembered what she had imagined herself doing before she had set out with Xander—beating and staking Angel as a helpless Buffy watched, smiling as Buffy fell weeping to her knees. Then she recalled the fight itself at Angel’s mansion—the surge of power that she had felt when she’d hit Buffy for the first time, the rush of adrenaline that had raced through her as they’d battled one another, the sense of righteous satisfaction that had filled her as she’d descended upon Angel with the stake.
Why are you beating yourself up about this? her inner voice accused. You are the victim here. You deserved some payback, and you got it, so get over it!
Even though the wounded part of her felt vindicated, Faith couldn’t shake the sense of guilt. She couldn’t dislodge the gut-twisting fear that her words to Buffy the night before were all too true. “I’m bad, Buffy,” she’d told her. “Full of hate and-and darkness and violence and...when it comes down to it, that’s all I’ll ever be...”
Buffy, of course, had said it wasn’t true, but what did she know? With her happy little middle-class home and a mother who actually gave a damn, Buffy couldn’t possibly understand what Faith had been through and what that experience had turned her into.
Faith thought back to her last year in Boston. She remembered how she had begun sinking more and more frequently into rage-induced blackouts, how she had emerged from them with her hands bruised and bloody and no memory of how they’d gotten that way. She remembered waking up in a mental hospital after dragging a man from his car and repeatedly smashing his head against a curb. She remembered reading a letter from her former case worker to her watcher that included a telling assessment of her psychological prognosis: “Thanks to a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of her mother, Miss Lehane stands little to no chance of becoming a fully functional individual.” Funny how she could visualize every single word of that letter as if each one had been hand-carved into her brain.
Faith growled in frustration at her mind’s relentless onslaught. She got out of bed and stomped toward the bathroom, determined to burn the thoughts away with a scalding shower.
A short time later, Faith emerged from the bathroom, combing her damp hair. She was now clean but not particularly refreshed. Her face was pale with shadowy circles under her eyes. She set her comb down on the dresser next to her bottle of Jack Daniels and then tugged some clothes from her packed duffel bag. She quickly donned them, putting her dirty clothes on top of the dresser. After pulling on her boots and buckling her belt, she straightened up and sighed heavily, trying to figure out her next move.
A sudden, booming knock on the door startled Faith, causing her to jump. When the knock was repeated, she approached the door and called out, “Who is it?”
“Manager. Open up!”
“Shit!” Faith cursed through clenched teeth. “Shit, shit, shit!” she repeated as she turned around to look at the demolished room. “Uhhh...just a minute...” she called out, attempting to stall.
“I’ve had complaints, so open up...now!”
Faith circled in place with her hands held to her temples. She was at a complete loss on what to do. She couldn’t possibly clean all this up fast enough, and even if she could, she—
She heard the lock turn and swung around just in time to see the heavy-set manager open the door and step inside.
“What the fuck?!” he said upon seeing the room’s condition. His chubby unshaven face turned firecracker red, and his eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets as he descended upon Faith. “What did you do in here?!!” he bellowed, gesturing at the destruction.
Faith held her hands up in apology. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I-I-I know I trashed the room, but I’ll, um, I’ll pay you back. I’ll pay for the damage, I promise!”
“Like hell you will,” the manager spat back. “I’m calling the cops...let ’em haul your ass off to jail. I knew you were trouble the minute I laid eyes on you.”
When the manager headed for the door, Faith stepped into his path. “Please don’t call the cops. I’ll do whatever it takes to make this right, I swear!”
The manager saw how distraught Faith was, but he still eyed her with suspicion.
“Can’t I, like, work it off somehow? Wash the linens, clean the rooms, something?” she pleaded.
A slimy smirk quirked the corners of the manager’s mouth before he made his face stern again. He glanced around the room and said, “Maaaybe I could work out a deal.”
Faith stepped forward to stand right in front of him. “Please,” she said. “I’ll do anything. Just...don’t call the cops.”
Before Faith could even react, the manager latched his meaty hands on her upper arms and yanked her forward until he was right in her face.
“You can start by gettin’ down on your knees and usin’ that pretty little mouth of yours to make me a lot less angry than I am right now,” he said menacingly.
When he went to push Faith to the floor, however, he found that he couldn’t. She just wouldn’t budge. Furious, he bore his eyes down on hers once again. It wasn’t a desperate, powerless young girl staring back at him now, but he didn’t know that.
“Get...your hands...off me...” Faith warned in an icy tone as she clenched her fists tighter and tighter.
“If you don’t want me to call the cops, then I’ll put my hands on you any time I like,” the man sneered, releasing one of Faith’s arms so that he could grope her breast.
With a roar, Faith broke his hold, grabbed him by the throat, and shoved him against the damaged wall with his feet barely touching the floor.
“Don’t you touch me!!!” she screamed maniacally. “DON’T YOU FUCKIN’ TOUCH ME!!!”
streaming down her face, Faith continued to squeeze the manager’s throat in
a blind rage. She couldn’t see the manager scrambling for traction against
the debris-strewn carpet. She couldn’t see him clawing at her hand and arm
with his fingers. She couldn’t see the terror on his face as he fought for
air. All she could see was the blackness burning blood-red before her eyes.