TWICE CHOSEN
Part 16

By DragonWriter17

 

Rating: R (for language)

Content Warning: This chapter has references to 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)

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 15 left off. It continues in mostly original territory. There is no 15A and 15B as I originally planned. I restructured, and now there is only 15 (the original 15A) and 16 (this new chapter). (3) 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. (4) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit!

Number of Chapters: 18

Complete: 16

Chapter Summary: While warring with her own emotions, Faith makes a difficult decision regarding her relationship with Buffy.
 


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 14     PART 15     PART 16     PART 17     PART 18

Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories
 

PART 16

***

Just as the motel manager’s eyes began to roll back in his head, something broke through Faith’s rage, and she stopped choking him. She released his neck, and he dropped to the floor with a thud, coughing and sucking in air. She backed away from him, heaving in shuddering breaths herself, trying frantically to get herself under control.

“You fuckin’ bitch,” the manager croaked from the floor. “I’m callin’ the cops on your ass for sure now!”

“You do that!” Faith shot back, pointing at him accusingly. “And I’ll tell them how you groped a seventeen-year-old girl and tried to force yourself on her!” Her voice was hoarse and high-pitched, and she hated how weak and pathetic it sounded.

The manager’s mouth twisted into a snarl. “Just get the hell out, then! I ever see you around here again, I will call ’em, and we’ll see who they believe! Fuckin’ slut...”

As Faith tried to shut out the rest of the manager’s tirade, she quickly crammed her dirty clothes, comb, and bottle of Jack Daniels into her duffel bag. After swinging the bag over her shoulder, she dashed out of the room.

***

Faith fled from the motel, her bag thumping against her back. She ran until her lungs forced her to stop and catch her breath. Letting her bag slip to the pavement, she bent over at the waist and took in huge gulps of air. She was still shaking badly from her encounter with the motel manager, but she fought down the growing urge to puke her guts up.

“Son of a bitch...fuckin’ son of bitch,” she hissed before standing upright again.

She desperately wanted another shower. The memory of the motel manager’s hands on her, the smell of his breath in her face, made the bile rise in her throat again. She closed her eyes and forced it down once more. She focused on her breathing and calmed herself until she could reach for her bag again.

As she swung it over her shoulder, she turned and realized where she was: the bus station. She looked around in confusion, unsure if she had meant to come to the station or if she had ended up there by accident. For a long moment, she stared at the front door, her brow furrowed into a pained expression. Then she started for the entrance.

When Faith walked into the bus station, she paused before the ticket counter. She reached around her duffel and into the bag’s front pocket. There she felt the hard edge of the ticket she had bought the day before—the one she hadn’t used when Willow had talked her into staying another day.

I could trade it in, get it changed to today...

That would be the easiest solution, she told herself. If she left Sunnydale, she wouldn’t have to apologize or make amends or rip open her chest to make things work. She couldn’t screw up and hurt anyone she cared about, either. Most importantly, nobody could hurt her. She could leave behind all this relationship bullshit and start fresh somewhere else. And next time she’d make damn sure she didn’t make the same mistake again—the mistake of getting involved.

But she knew it wasn’t that easy. She couldn’t just leave her emotions behind as if she were cutting off a loose thread that was dangling from her sleeve. No, those feelings would go with her wherever she went, pain and all.

As much as Buffy’s betrayal had hurt, though, the thought of leaving her, of never seeing her again, hurt more. It made her stomach lurch and her throat constrict. Faith pulled her duffel bag tightly against her chest and buried her face against it.

I should just go, she thought. But I can’t. I just can’t.

She forced herself to breathe through the moment, and when she had relaxed enough, she left the ticket counter and headed for the lockers, her intended destination. She found an empty one and stuffed her bag inside. She shut the door, locked it, and tucked the key in her pocket. Then she left the bus station.

Once outside, she stopped on the sidewalk out front. “Now what?” she asked herself.

She thought back to what she had been brooding over before the motel manager had arrived—her Kakistos nightmare, the battle at Angel’s mansion, her life in Boston, whether or not she really was capable of being something other than ‘bad.’

She closed her eyes and shook her head ruefully. If she wanted her relationship with Buffy to work, if she really wanted it to work, then there was only one thing she could do. Yet that one thing made her body clench into knots almost as much as the thought of leaving Buffy had.

After letting out a resigned sigh, Faith trudged away toward Giles’s apartment.

***

As Giles was getting ready to go to work, he heard a knock on the door. He hurried to answer it and found Faith standing outside.

“Faith,” he said, his eyes widening in surprise. “I, um, ah, come in, come in,” he added, motioning her inside. “I’m glad you’re here. I was going to stop by on my way to work to see how you were.”

When Faith stepped into the light of the apartment, he could see that she was in a state of distress. She had her arms wrapped around herself, and her eyes were...well, ‘haunted’ was the only way he knew to describe it. He reached out and placed a gentle hand against Faith’s shoulder.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Out of habit, Faith nearly lit up in a smile and said her usual “five by five,” but she stopped herself. Instead, she just cast her gaze to the floor and shook her head in the negative.

“Joyce said that you and Buffy had talked. Did something else happen between you two?”

“No,” Faith answered, shaking her head again. Then she looked back up and made herself speak. “But I’m afraid that it will.”

“If you’re thinking that Buffy would...” He trailed off when he realized that another betrayal wasn’t what Faith was worried about. It was something else, something deeply troubling. “Faith, why don’t we sit down?” he said, gesturing toward the sitting area. “Then you can—”

“Why don’t we just cut through the crap?” she snapped testily, no longer able to endure the pitying gaze Giles was directing at her. She walked to the sitting area but remained standing, folding her arms into a defiant stance.

Giles followed her in. “I’m sorry?” he said, confused by her reply.

“Did the Council give you a file on me?” she asked. She tried to be matter-of-fact, but there was more than a little accusation in her tone.

Although still perplexed by Faith’s line of thought, Giles answered truthfully, “Yes, um...yes, they did.”

“So...you know what it was like for me in Boston...what happened to me...what I did?”

Giles sighed and said somewhat sadly, “Yes.”

Faith took a moment to pace in front of the fireplace and loveseat. Despite her attempt to maintain a tough exterior, she was beginning to feel the tide of emotions rising within her. She tried to force it down, to regain some semblance of control, but she wasn’t succeeding.

Giles could see Faith struggling with the turmoil inside herself, but there was nothing he could do except wait for her to go on.

Finally, Faith stopped pacing and turned back to him. Her fists were clenched at her sides, and tears were in her eyes, but they didn’t fall. She wouldn’t let them.

“I’m not...‘right’,” she confessed before quickly ducking her head. “I don’t know if I even can be.” She glanced back up, her expression now desperate. “But I have to try. I have to do something! I can’t—” Hurt Buffy. “I can’t—” Hurt Buffy. “I can’t—” Fuck! Why can’t I say the goddamn words?!!

Just as Giles started to approach her, she made a loud ‘grrrrr’ and then shouted, “I need a shrink!” With the admission finally out, she let her shoulders slump and said in a quiet, weary voice, “I need a fuckin’ shrink.”

At last, Giles could see what Faith had been trying to share. Though his heart broke for her, it also swelled with pride, for he knew what it must have cost her to come to this point. Asking for help was definitely not Faith’s way. And for her to ask for help with something so personal, for her to choose a path that would most certainly cause her to relive her traumatic past...it was...simply remarkable. He wanted to tell her all of this, but he realized she couldn’t bear it right now. What she needed was quick action, and he knew just the person to call.

“All right,” he readily agreed. “I’ll make the arrangements today.”

Faith’s head shot up. Her watcher’s reply wasn’t what she had expected. She didn’t know what she had thought it would be, but it must not have been this because now she didn’t know what to do or say. So she just mumbled, “Uhhh... okay...thanks.”

When Giles saw Faith’s surprise change to a nervous eyeing of the door, he took the risk of approaching her and touching her once again. He took both of her shoulders in his hands and was pleased when she didn't immediately look away or pull out of his grasp.

“You look exhausted, Faith,” he told her. “Why don’t you rest here for a while before you head out? I’ll be leaving for work shortly, and you’ll have the whole apartment to yourself.”

“Okay,” she said, shrugging nonchalantly.

Inside, however, she was immensely relieved to have a place to be, at least for a few hours. She considered telling Giles about the motel manager but then decided not to. She didn’t really want to talk about it, and besides, it was her mess, her problem, and she’d have to be the one to fix it.

“Would you like something to eat?” Giles offered as he stepped away to finish getting ready.

“Nah,” Faith called out. “Not really up for eating right now.”

“Perhaps later then,” he replied amiably. After sliding on his tweed jacket and picking up his leather satchel, he paused at his desk. “Well, make yourself at home. Lock the door on your way out. And check with me later today. I may have some news on your request.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

She gave him a small smile then. He sent one back and tacked on a reassuring nod as a bonus. Then he was out the door.

After Giles left, Faith let out a long, shaky breath and sank onto the loveseat. She rubbed her forehead with her hand and then ran her fingers through her hair. She truly was exhausted. She hadn’t gotten more than a few hours of genuine sleep in the last few days, and all the emotional upheaval had just sucked the energy right out of her.

She dragged herself to her feet and moved to the sofa. She plopped her body down and stretched out. She pulled a nearby afghan over herself and tucked a battered throw pillow under her head. Curling up on her side, she closed her eyes and prayed that the nightmares wouldn’t come.

But the nightmares always came, especially when she was alone, especially after she’d been upset, after she’d been remembering. And now, after only an hour of sleeping, one hit, and she jerked awake in a fright. Within seconds, though, she lay back down, too tired to even curse the dream. It had been an old one, and although it had been no less frightening, she took some solace in its familiarity. She rested her forearm across her eyes and tried to go back to sleep.

***

Meanwhile, across town, Buffy lay tossing and turning in her bed. She frowned in her sleep and then whimpered before awakening with a loud gasp.

“Faith!” she cried out and sat up straight in her bed.

She glanced around her room in confusion, breathing hard as she tried to distinguish between what was dream and what was real.

After a few minutes, her breathing calmed, but her puzzled look remained. She lifted her hand and placed it over her heart. As she looked toward her window, she whispered Faith’s name once again.

***

Downstairs, Joyce was busying herself with more unnecessary chores. When Buffy scuffed, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen, she saw her mother standing on the dining room table doing something with the chandelier.

“Hey Mom,” she called out, not really registering what she had seen. Then she stopped, backtracked, and glanced into the dining room again. “What are you doing?” Buffy asked.

Joyce adjusted her position so that she could look in Buffy’s direction. “Oh, just cleaning the globes on the chandelier,” she replied with a smile. She carefully set the last globe in its cradle and then climbed down off the table. When she noticed Buffy staring at her like she was crazy, Joyce blushed a bit; then she pulled back her shoulders and said, “They were filthy. I don’t know how we could even see our food.”

“If you say so,” Buffy replied, rolling her eyes before continuing into the kitchen. Joyce hurried behind her.

“What are you doing up, young lady?” Joyce chided. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

“And you’re supposed to be at work,” Buffy countered.

“I have a sick child at home. That’s my excuse. What’s yours?”

Buffy sighed and shrugged. “Just woke up.”

“Bad dream?” Joyce guessed, reaching over to touch her daughter’s arm.

“Yeah.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Buffy replied. “I don’t remember much about it anyway. It was weird, almost like...”

“Like what?”

Like it wasn’t mine, she thought to herself. She shook her head and said, “Never mind. Just the usual ‘bazaar of the bizarre’ that is my brain.”

Joyce smiled and gave Buffy’s arm a squeeze. “Do you want breakfast?”

Buffy gauged her inner hunger meter and said, “Yeah, I could eat.”

Joyce headed for the refrigerator. “Do you want eggs and bacon or pancakes and syrup?”

“Yes, please!” Buffy chirped as she eased atop one of the bar stools. When her mother shot her a mock glare, she merely grinned unrepentantly.

A short time later, Buffy and her mother were enjoying a breakfast big enough for a pair of lumberjacks. Joyce smiled to herself when she saw Buffy eating heartily. She knew her daughter’s appetite was an extremely accurate indicator of her emotional state, and the way Buffy was chowing down, things were definitely looking up.

“It’s good to see you eating,” Joyce commented when Buffy went for a second stack of pancakes.

“You say that now,” Buffy quipped. “Just wait till you add up the grocery bills.”

Mother and daughter shared a smile and a chuckle as Buffy sat down and drenched her pancakes in syrup.

Then Joyce sobered a bit. “I don’t want to ruin your appetite by bringing up a painful subject, but...what do you intend to do about Angel?”

Buffy’s forkful of pancakes stopped mid-air before reaching her open mouth. She closed her mouth and carefully set her fork back down on her plate.

“What do you mean ‘do about Angel’?” Buffy asked, her eyes suspicious. “I’m not going to kill him if that’s what you’re—”

“It’s not,” Joyce instantly interjected, holding up her hands in a placating gesture. “Although, I admit, there’s a part of me that wishes you would.” When Buffy folded her arms and glared, Joyce quickly went on. “What I mean is...how are you and Faith going to handle Angel being around? Or is he even going to be around?”

Buffy uncrossed her arms and let her shoulder sag. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I haven’t really had time to think about it.”

“You need to think about it, honey. For your sake and Faith’s.”

“Think about it and do what?” Buffy demanded. “I don’t know what you’re asking me to do!”

“You need to ask Angel to leave Sunnydale.”

Buffy’s mouth dropped open, but no words came out.

Joyce reached over and touched her daughter’s arm. “Your relationship with Faith is so fragile right now,” she said in a soft voice. “Do you really think it could handle another Angel-related blow? Do you think she could?”

Buffy lowered her gaze, sadly shook her head, and whispered, “No.”

“Then find a way to make him leave,” Joyce pleaded.

***

Meanwhile, at the high school library, Giles was in his office making a call to Los Angeles. He sat at his desk with his address book open in front of him. He nervously tapped his fingers on his desk as he listened to the requisite ringing. Finally, he heard someone answer.

“Hello?” said a female voice.

“Helen? Um, Dr. Fielding? It’s-it’s Rupert Giles.”

“Rupert! How good to hear from you!” replied Dr. Fielding in a genuinely pleased tone. She had a British accent, but it was one that had been softened by prolonged exposure to American English. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get together earlier. I was in New York at a conference when you called a few weeks ago.”

Giles had tried to call her when Buffy was in the throes of the guilt curse, but by the time Dr. Fielding had returned to California, Buffy was better. “I regret that as well,” he told her, “but I hope that your trip was enjoyable.”

“It was,” she replied. “But enough about me. How is life on the hellmouth?” she asked, the curious smirk evident in her voice.

“Oh, ah...stimulating, as always,” Giles answered with a smile.

“I hear you’ve got your hands full. Two slayers instead of one.”

“Yes, that’s correct. In fact, they’re the reason I’ve contacted you.”

“Oh?”

“I-I-I know you’re no longer employed by the Council, but, um, I could really use your help.”

Giles went on to tell Dr. Fielding about Faith and her request for a psychiatrist. He didn’t go into detail, but he did mention that Faith was romantically involved with her fellow slayer, Buffy. Dr. Fielding gave a long ‘hmmmm’ in reply, indicating her interest was definitely piqued.

“A-A-As I said, I know you don’t work for the Council any longer,” Giles stated, “and I realize that your schedule is probably completely full, but I was hoping that perhaps, at-at some point in the future, you could find time to—”

“How about tomorrow?” Dr. Fielding interjected, cutting Giles off. Without waiting for him to answer, she went on. “Reserve a room for me for tonight and tomorrow night. A nice suite with a sitting area where Faith and I can meet. Make sure the hotel desk knows I’ll be a late check-in. I have an appointment this evening that I can’t miss. I’ll call you for the details when I’m done and then drive up directly after.”

Giles held his mouth open in momentary surprise before finally answering. “That...that would be wonderful!”

“Plan to have Faith at my suite at ten o’clock sharp tomorrow morning,” Dr. Fielding instructed.

“I will,” Giles promised. “And thank you,” he added sincerely.

“You’re very welcome,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing you again,” she added. “I’ll call you as soon as I get settled into my room.”

At that, the two made their good-byes. After hanging up the phone and closing his address book, Giles leaned back in his chair and exhaled in relief. If anyone could help Faith, it was Dr. Fielding. Of that, he was certain.

With his Faith worries eased, Giles allowed his mind to wander. He thought back to his early days with the Council, when he’d first met Dr. Fielding. As he indulged in a brief walk through memories of the past, his eyes took on a sparkle, and his lips quirked into a wistful smile.

***

After breakfast, Buffy convinced her mother to return to work. After garnering from Buffy sworn promises to rest, Joyce reluctantly got ready and headed out for the gallery.

Once Buffy was alone in the house, she tried to call Willow. The phone rang several times but was picked up by Willow’s answering machine.

I should’ve realized Miss Perfect Attendance would be at school, Buffy quipped to herself. She left a message on Willow’s machine and then hung up the phone.

Per her mother’s orders, she tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. So she went downstairs and stared at TV shows for several hours. When her eyes could take no more, she trudged back to her room and crawled into bed. Sleep, however, continued to elude her. Her mind was simply too preoccupied with the Angel dilemma.

Mom’s right, she admitted. Angel needs to go.

Buffy’s expression saddened. But how do I tell him that?

She tilted her head from side to side as her thoughts took on a sarcastic tone. ‘Hey, sorry about your century in hell, Angel, but I’ve moved on. Maybe you should, too. Like somewhere else? Hint, hint...’

Buffy groaned aloud. This would have gone sooo much easier if Xander hadn’t interfered.

***

At Sunnydale High, Willow hurried out of her class but skipped going to the cafeteria. She headed for the library instead. She had wanted to speak with Giles earlier, before first period, but she had arrived at school with only enough time to go straight to class. Besides Giles, she was the only one of the Scoobies who had come to school that day. Oz was watching Angel, and the others were home resting.

After arriving at the library, Willow took a quick glance around the room. When she didn’t see Giles among the tables or stacks, she went behind the checkout desk and looked into the librarian’s office. She found him at his desk, unwrapping a sandwich. She dropped her book bag outside the door and then went inside.

“Giles, hey,” she said as she sat down in the chair beside his desk.

“Willow,” he replied, “I’m afraid you’ve caught me nabbing a bite to eat. Can I get you something?” he said, offering her a half of his sandwich.

She shook her head. “Have you heard from Buffy?” she asked, all business. “I haven’t talked to her since the hospital, and I’m really worried. I mean, her mom called, but that was hours ago. And I haven’t seen Faith at all.”

“I saw Faith this morning briefly,” Giles answered. “She seemed...” He hesitated to weigh his words. “...tired,” he finally said, “but otherwise all right. I haven’t heard from Buffy directly, but Joyce called about midmorning to say that she was going back to work. At Buffy’s insistence,” he quickly added.

Willow chuckled a bit. “Sounds like Buffy. She probably said something like, ‘A hovered-over slayer never heals’.”

“And attributed it to me, no less,” Giles said with a grin.

For a moment, witch and watcher shared a sincere laugh, but soon a somberness fell over them, and they glanced away in silence. When Willow looked back, she leaned on the corner of the desk and met Giles’s gaze.

“I-I-I know Buffy didn’t handle things well, but she never meant to hurt anyone.”

Giles stiffened in reaction, but his eyes remained warm. “I’m aware of that, Willow, but the truth is she did hurt someone. She hurt all of us. Some more than others, of course,” he said as he thought of Faith. “And Buffy will have to deal with the consequences of her deception.”

“And she will,” Willow promised, “but we can’t let her mistake destroy the team. We need to stick together, talk this thing through.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Another intervention,” Willow answered, “but this time we let her explain. Last time we were so busy attacking her that she never got the chance to tell her side of the story. Not fully at least. I mean, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be mad and hurt. I just think we owe her an honest listen. You know?”

Giles thought a moment then gave a reluctant nod. “Agreed.”

Willow’s face lit up in an optimistic smile. “Great! I’ll talk to Buffy after school and set everything up.” She rose from her chair and moved toward the doorway. “I’ll probably have to drag Xander kicking and screaming, but—Faith!”

Willow had caught sight of Faith entering the library and now rushed in her direction, with Giles quickly following. Before the dark-haired slayer could utter a simple “hey,” Willow wrapped her up in an earnest hug.

“Oh my god, Faith!” she exclaimed mid-hug. “Are you okay?”

Faith fought down the instinct to immediately wriggle out of the embrace. Although a small part of her did relish the sincere concern being shown toward her, she mostly felt awkward, exposed, vulnerable. She gave Willow’s back a few pats and then separated herself from the redhead.

“I’m fine,” Faith replied. At a raised eyebrow from Willow, she added, “Really.” Faith cast a glance at Giles, but he didn’t dispute the claim. She turned back to Willow. “Thanks for convincing me to stay.”

“So...what happened?” Willow prompted. “Mrs. Summers said you guys talked, that things were okay...”

Faith shoved her hands into her front pockets and attempted to shrug her tense shoulders. “Yeah, she came over, and we talked.” Faith glanced away for a few seconds, her expression brightened by a small, hopeful smile. “We figured we both screwed up on this one, so we decided to give it another try.” When she looked back, though, she tensed up again, uncomfortable with all the sharing. “That’s basically it.”

When it looked like Willow was going to press for details, Giles stepped in and put a hand on the redhead’s shoulder, stopping her impending comment. “I know it’s been difficult for you, Faith, but we’re very glad to hear that you and Buffy are working things out.”

“Yeah, me too,” Faith said.

Just then, Oz entered the library and made his way over to the group. Willow’s eyes lit up and then clouded over. She shuffled in place and cast a few nervous glances in Faith’s direction before asking Oz, “So, um...how’s that ‘thing’ going? You know, that ‘thing’ you were working on earlier...?” She flicked her head in an obvious gesture.

“It’s okay,” Faith said, smirking a little. “You don’t have to talk in code. I’ll just go over there, and you can talk about Angel all you want.”

As Faith stepped away toward the tables and chairs, Giles followed her in order to speak with her privately. “While I have you alone,” he said in a low tone, “I’ve made that, um, ‘arrangement’ you requested.”

A flash of terror showed in Faith’s eyes. “Already?”

Giles nodded. “I contacted a friend of mine in Los Angeles. Dr. Fielding. Dr. Helen Fielding. She’s worked with the Council before, and she’s agreed to take on your case. She’s driving up tonight and wants to meet with you tomorrow morning, ten o’clock.”

Dread settled in Faith’s gut. She clenched her jaw and folded her arms tightly against her chest. “Good. That’s good. Thanks.”

Giles touched Faith’s shoulder. “She can help. Trust me. I know.”

“Yeah?” Faith said, hiding her fear and transitioning into her usual bravado. She flashed her watcher a teasing smile. “You seen her help another fucked up slayer?”

“No, but I’ve seen her help a very ‘fucked up’ watcher once.” Giles smiled to himself as he watched Faith react to both the wording and the implication of his statement. When he saw Willow approaching, though, he quickly sobered and told Faith, “Dr. Fielding can help. Let her.”

Faith swallowed hard and nodded, then turned to face Willow as she arrived without Oz.

“Oz is heading home, and I gotta get back to class,” Willow told both of them. Then she turned to Faith and asked, “Are you gonna see Buffy this afternoon?”

“Uhhh, yeah...I mean, maybe. I don’t know. We didn’t exactly set a time.”

“Well, if you see her before I do, tell her I’ll be by sometime after school. Just as soon as I can, I promise.”

“I’ll tell her,” Faith replied.

“Thanks. See you guys later.”

After a quick wave, Willow collected her book bag by Giles’s office and hurried away. After a moment of silence, Giles turned to Faith.

“Willow wants to have a group meeting,” he told her. “To discuss everything that’s happened.” Faith groaned, but Giles went on. “She’s going to talk to Buffy about it. I thought I should give you fair warning.”

“Thanks,” Faith said unenthusiastically.

“I, um, I know it won’t be fun, but I do hope you’ll come.”

“Don’t see how I could get out of it,” Faith grumbled. “Not unless you can manufacture a timely apocalypse that only I can prevent.” She gave her watcher a playful wink.

He chuckled. “I’m afraid you’ll have to grit your teeth and suffer through it like the rest of us.” Then he grew serious once again. “A-A-As I said, it won’t be fun, but I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

“Yeah.”

After a period of awkward quiet, Giles asked, “Are you going to Buffy’s house when you leave here?”

“Well, that’s kinda what I came by to talk to you about. I want to go by there, but I don’t know if I should. Buffy said her mom wasn’t mad, but...”

“Actually Joyce isn’t home at the moment,” Giles informed her. “She went back to work this morning.”

“Oh.” Faith didn’t seem to know what to do with this information.

“I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you went by,” Giles said. “And I know Buffy would be very happy to see you.”

Faith nodded. “Well, maybe I’ll go by there, then.”

Giles gave her a smile.

***

A short time later, Faith was walking toward Buffy’s house. When she came to the intersection that led to Joyce’s gallery, Faith stopped and glanced down the street.

“Sure she wouldn’t mind, huh?” she said, repeating Giles’s earlier statement as she reconsidered her decision to drop by Buffy’s house.

Faith shook her head. No way Mrs. S is okay with all of this. Uh-uhn. I could tell she wasn’t happy when B called her last night from the pay phone.

She sighed and let her body slump. I should just stay away probably. She ran both of her hands through her hair. “Shit...”

You’re gonna be seeing the shrink tomorrow, her inner voice told her. What would she tell you to do?

Faith sighed again and said, “She’d say, ‘Deal with it. Head on.’ Shit.”

After taking a deep breath, Faith turned and headed toward Joyce’s art gallery.

***

As Faith approached the front door, she nervously rehearsed her plan.

“Okay, don’t beat around the bush. Just tell her how sorry you are and then ask if you can see Buffy. It’s not that hard. I mean, it’s not like she’s gonna bite your head off. And even if she does, hey, been there, done that, right?”

Faith’s stomach twitched and churned as she thought back to the morning Joyce had discovered her in Buffy’s bedroom and promptly kicked her out of the house. She closed her eyes and clenched her fists.

“Suck it up,” she told herself. “You deserved it then, and you deserve it now, so if she starts dishin’ it out, you take it. Got it?”

Faith opened her eyes and went inside.

***

Once she heard the door close behind her, Faith felt her courage desert her. She wrapped her arms around herself and glanced nervously about the gallery. Her breathing became quick and shallow as she stepped further into the building. As she rounded a corner, she saw Mrs. Summers talking on her cordless phone while making adjustments to the position of a small bronze statue she had just placed on a pedestal. Faith unwrapped her arms and stuffed her hands into her front pockets. Keeping her arms close to her body, she headed toward Buffy’s mother.

When Joyce ended her call, she noticed Faith coming towards her. In surprise at seeing her, she called out Faith’s name. Then she took a good, long look at her. There was no sign of the cocky, confident new slayer she had met weeks ago. Instead, there was only a scared and scarred young woman who appeared to be barely holding herself together.

When Faith arrived, she simply said, “Hey.”

Joyce set down her phone and approached. “Are you okay?” she asked with genuine care.

Faith gave a slight shrug. “Depends on how you define ‘okay,’ I guess.”

Joyce could see the pain in Faith’s eyes, even though the slayer never let her gaze meet hers for very long at a time. Joyce started to speak again, but Faith beat her to it.

“Look, Mrs. Summers, I know I shouldn’t be bothering you at work, but I have something I need to say.”

“Okay.”

“I’m...I’m sorry about hurting Buffy...” Faith felt her throat start to close, but she pressed on hoarsely. “...I told you I’d never do anything to hurt her, and then—” Her voice hitched, and she had to stop for a moment to regain control of herself, but there were tears in her eyes as she went on. “I swear I didn’t mean to stab her. I was going for Angel, and the next thing I knew Buffy was there, and I—”

Once again, Faith’s voice caught, hard this time, and when she took in a breath, it shook with a near-sob. Joyce took advantage of the break and spoke up, moving within a few feet of the slayer.

“It was an accident, Faith,” she told her. “That’s all.”

When she tried to put a comforting hand on Faith’s arm, the slayer moved out of her reach and shook her head, unwilling to accept either Joyce’s words or her touch. After a moment, Faith cleared her throat and briefly looked up.

“Anyway, I just wanted to say I was sorry. I know it’s just words, and words don’t mean crap when your daughter’s got a hole in her stomach courtesy of her girlfriend. But I wanted to say it just the same.”

“Faith...”

“Thanks for listening,” Faith said, backing away. “I gotta go.”

At that, Faith turned and left. And all Joyce could do was watch her go.

***

Faith was panting when she got outside the gallery. After moving several yards down the sidewalk, she leaned over and tried to catch her breath.

“Shit...”

When her breathing returned to normal, she straightened up. Immediately she groaned and let her head fall back against her shoulders—she had forgotten to ask for permission to go see Buffy. After cursing herself repeatedly, she raised her head and looked longingly toward the way to the Summers home. Then she turned and glanced back at the gallery.

Maybe she wouldn’t mind...

Faith spent a full three minutes mentally debating the matter. Eventually, her need to see Buffy overcame her other concerns, and she made the decision to head toward Revello Drive.

***

With her palms sweating, Faith knocked at the front door of the Summers home. When no one answered right away, she rang the doorbell. She leaned toward the door and listened, but heard no one approaching.

Must be asleep, Faith speculated.

She sighed in disappointment and turned away from the door. She walked to the top of the steps and stopped, fidgeting in place as if unsure of what to do next. Letting out another sigh, she started down the steps. Just then, the front door opened behind her. Faith turned and found Buffy standing in the doorway.

Buffy was dressed in a faded pair of sweat pants and an oversized t-shirt—the same shirt she had given Faith to wear during their two sleepovers. Her hair was slightly damp as if she’d showered within the last hour. A bright smile spread over her face when she realized who was at the door.

“Faith,” she said in a surprised but pleased tone.

Faith moved back up the steps. “Hey. I-I-I wasn’t sure if you were up or not,” she replied, putting on a grin and stuffing her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.

Buffy could tell that Faith was troubled. Even though her mouth was smiling, her darting eyes were full of shadows. Buffy felt her heart clench. Was Faith having second thoughts? Was she there to take back what she had said the night before?

Buffy forced down her fears. Whatever was going on, Faith would have to raise the issues in her own time and in her own way. Too much pressure and Faith could bolt. For now, the best plan was to make with the small talk.

“I-I-I just got up a while ago,” Buffy said. “Figured a shower and some munchies would do me good. You wanna come in?”

Faith glanced nervously around and then said, “Ummm, sure. Okay.”

As Faith followed Buffy inside, she saw the remains of a cookies-and-milk snack on the coffee table. Buffy picked up the plate and glass and gestured with them.

“You want some? There’s more,” she offered.

“No, um, thanks, though,” Faith said, raising her hands in polite refusal.

As Buffy took the dishes to the kitchen, Faith wrung her hands and paced.  When Buffy returned, Faith stopped doing both, but seemed no less anxious than before.

“Are you okay?” Buffy asked, stepping closer.

Faith gave a small, disgusted huff and looked down at the floor. “Everybody keeps asking me that.”

“Only because we’re worried...because we care,” Buffy said. When Faith didn’t appear comforted by her words, Buffy reached out and touched her girlfriend’s arm. “Faith, what’s wrong?”

Faith shuffled her feet and then said, “I suck at apologies, that’s what.” At Buffy’s confused expression, Faith added, “I went to see your mom.”

“Oh.”

“I wanted to tell her I was sorry, but I just ended up sounding stupid. She probably hates me even more now.”

“She doesn’t hate you.”

Buffy tried to get Faith to make eye contact with her, but she wouldn’t cooperate. Buffy eventually took hold of Faith’s chin and gently lifted it until the brunette had to meet her gaze.

“She doesn’t,” Buffy insisted.

Faith endured the stare for a few seconds then backed out of Buffy’s grasp. “So...how ya doin’?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Not too bad. Tired more than anything,” Buffy replied. “Didn’t sleep very well after I left your place.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

An awkward silence fell, so Buffy put on a cheery face, determined to put a positive spin on things.

“I got to take my bandage off,” she announced. “Well, actually, it kinda came off in the shower, but still. See?”

Faith reluctantly looked down to where Buffy had lifted the hem of her t-shirt.

“Another day or so, I’ll hardly know it was there. Well, except for a bad case of itchy stitches.” Buffy gave a playful laugh.

When she glanced up, she found that Faith wasn’t laughing with her. The dark slayer’s eyes were fixed on the stab wound. Buffy reached over and took Faith’s hand in hers. Carefully she placed Faith’s hand over the wound and held it there. She waited until Faith looked up at her.

“It’s okay,” she told her. “I’m okay. Okay?”

Faith just ducked her head again. Despite the reassurances, she couldn’t bring herself to affirm Buffy’s ‘okay.’ What had happened, what she had done, was definitely not okay.

Buffy’s brow creased in concern. She brought her hands up and placed them on each side of her girlfriend’s face. “Faith, talk to me...please...”

Faith shook her head at first. Then she answered in a soft, broken voice, “I’m scared. I don’t know how to do this.” She wasn’t even sure what she meant by ‘this.’ She just knew that she was lost and afraid.

Buffy leaned her forehead against Faith’s and then let her hands slide to Faith’s shoulders. “You do it with me,” she whispered. “Together.”

When she got a nod from Faith, Buffy gave her a fervent kiss and pulled her into a lengthy hug. After a few moments in Buffy’s warm embrace, Faith finally relaxed a little.

When they separated, Buffy took Faith’s hand again. “Come on,” she said and led her toward the couch. After they had sat down, Buffy caressed Faith’s hair a few times before burrowing under it to massage her knotted neck muscles.

Faith moaned appreciatively. “Mmm...that feels good...”

“Good. It’s meant to.”

Buffy continued the gentle kneading for a few more minutes, then gave Faith’s hair a final caress. She smiled when a drowsy Faith turned to face her.

“I think I could go to sleep right here,” mumbled Faith, slowly blinking her eyes. “Sittin’ up and everything.”

Buffy yawned. “Sounds like a good plan to me.”

They each took a deep breath and slowly let it out before snuggling up together and closing their eyes. They were both asleep within seconds.

***

Several hours later, Joyce pulled her SUV into the driveway outside her home. She got out, opened the side door behind the driver’s seat, and retrieved her purse from the floorboard. After swinging her purse over her shoulder, she hooked the handles of several plastic grocery bags over her left wrist and closed the door. She walked around the car and went through the wooden gate and into the backyard. After climbing the deck stairs, she opened the kitchen door and laid her purse and bags on the counter inside. She paused then and leaned against the counter's edge.

Her mind kept coming back to her earlier encounter with Faith. Buffy had told her that Faith was in a ‘total guilt fest’ over the accidental staking, but Joyce hadn’t realized just how hard Faith was taking it. It had broken her heart to see how torn up Faith was.

We have to get through to her, she thought. We’ve got to convince her to stop punishing herself over this.

While still debating the Faith issue, Joyce walked from the kitchen to the dining room and then into the living room, intending to set her keys in the basket beside the front door. As she did so and turned from the foyer table, she started to call out her daughter’s name to announce her arrival. She stopped short when she saw Buffy and Faith asleep together on the couch.

She watched them for a moment, relieved to see the worry lines and dark expressions gone from their faces as they slept peacefully in each other’s arms. She hated to wake them, but the truth was she needed their help with dinner. She decided a dramatic throat-clearing would do the trick.

At the sound of Joyce’s voice, Buffy and Faith instantly separated themselves and shot to their feet.

“Mom!” Buffy cried out in alarm.

“Mrs. Summers!” Faith called out at the same time.

The two slayers eyed each other guiltily even though they had no reason to.

“We weren’t doing anything!” Buffy blurted in a pre-emptive strike.

“We were just sleeping together!” Faith added in explanation before realizing her poor choice of phrasing. She grimaced. “Uh, I mean, well...”

Buffy came to her rescue. “Sleeping as in resting,” she emphasized. “Resting that just happened to take place while we were...” She paused to consider how to word the next part. “...in close proximity to each other.”

Joyce fought back the urge to snicker at the girls and instead kept a fairly stern look on her face. If they had been able to notice, they would have seen the amusement gleaming in her eyes, but as it was, they merely continued their rambling defense, or Buffy did at least.

“Technically, yes,” she stated, “we were sleeping together, but we weren’t—”

Buffy stopped when she saw her mother raise her hand for silence.

“I need to speak with Faith,” Joyce said firmly.

When Joyce turned to address Faith, Buffy opened her mouth to say something but was once again stopped by a halt gesture from her mother.

“Faith?” Joyce began.

The dark slayer swallowed hard and cringed slightly. “Yeah?”

“Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Faith did a double-take. “Ummm...Huh?”

Joyce let the smirk show on her face now. “Dinner. You know...we sit around a table, we eat, we talk...”

“Oh. Um, I guess...”

“Good!” Joyce announced. “You two wash up and then join me in the kitchen.” At that, she turned and walked away.

As soon as Mrs. Summers had left the room, Faith let out a long breath and grabbed her stomach, which had twisted itself into a pretzel. She shook her head and said, “I don’t get it. I apologize for stabbing her daughter and then show up at her house uninvited, and I get dinner?” She turned to Buffy and asked, “What does it mean?”

Buffy was beaming as she answered, “It means she forgives you.”

Completely incredulous and more than a little confused, Faith shook her head again, but this time with the hint of a real smile forming on her lips.

***

A short time later, Buffy and Faith were assisting Joyce in the kitchen. Buffy was preparing a large salad while Faith was peeling potatoes. Joyce was sliding a pair of pork tenderloins into the oven. When she had finished, she turned to face the girls.

“How’s it coming?” she asked them.

Buffy sighed at her half-filled salad bowl and the sea of salad ingredients surrounding it. “It’s coming.”

Faith groaned and pointed at the pile of potatoes that were still waiting to be peeled. “I think they’re multiplying when I’m not looking.”

Just then the doorbell rang. “I wonder who that is,” Joyce said.

“Oh, it’s probably Willow,” Faith said. Then she turned to Buffy. “She told me to tell you she’d be by this afternoon. Sorry about that. Slipped my mind.”

When Buffy started to head for the living room, Joyce motioned to her. “You girls keep working. I’ll get it.”

***

Joyce made her way from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room. When she opened the front door, she found Willow standing outside.

“Willow, come on in,” Joyce said in greeting.

“Hey, Mrs. Summers,” Willow said as she dragged a heavy book bag over the threshold and rested it beside the foyer table.

“We’re in the kitchen,” Joyce told her. “Do you want to stay for dinner?”

Willow’s face lit up in both gratitude and anticipation. “That’d be awesome! I’ve been running on nothing but doughnuts and double mochas lately.”

***

When they entered the kitchen, Willow went straight to Buffy and gave her a warm hug. “Are you okay?”

Buffy nodded as they separated. “I’m fine. Slayer healing is taking care of everything.”

Faith ducked her head and returned to her potato peeling. Joyce noticed.

“I got your message,” Willow said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come by sooner.”

“It’s okay. You missing school for something other than life or death? If that ever happens, it’ll be a sign of the apocalypse for sure.”

Willow chuckled along with Buffy before moving closer to Faith and giving her a wave. “Hey Faith!”

Faith turned and held up an egg-shaped potato which had so far lost its skin only on the top rounded point. “Just call me Patty the Perpetual Potato Peeler,” she said with a shrug.

“Oh! That reminds me!” Willow turned back to Buffy. “Before I left school, I went to see all your teachers and got all your assignments.”

Buffy’s face scrunched in confusion. “Patty the Perpetual Potato Peeler reminds you of my teachers?”

“Not Patty. Her potato,” Willow replied, pointing at Faith’s partially peeled spud. “Mr. Tremaine? French class?” She made an arcing gesture with her hands and then repeated it by her head, indicating the teacher’s baldness. Buffy burst out laughing, and the others joined her.

“Oh my god,” Buffy said, now breathless from laughing. “That gives a whole new meaning to Mr. Potato Head.” She turned to Willow and put on a scolding expression. “You realize I won’t be able to go into French class without snickering the whole time, don’t you?”

Willow just grinned wickedly. When the merriment subsided, though, she cut her eyes nervously between Buffy and Faith and between Buffy and her mother. She had more she wanted to say, but she didn’t want to say it in front of the other two. Both Faith and Joyce picked up on Willow’s vibe. Faith just went back to her potato peeling, but Joyce decided to create an out for the two friends—and give herself a moment alone with Faith.

“Buffy, why don’t you go look at what Willow’s brought you from school? That way, you’ll know exactly what you need to work on this weekend.”

“Oh joy,” Buffy mumbled. “School work on the weekend. And I was so worried about how I might fill all those empty hours.” Then she dutifully followed Willow out of the kitchen.

***

Faith went through the motions of peeling, but her mind wasn’t focused on it. Her thoughts zigzagged from Buffy in the other room to herself being alone with Buffy’s mother. The latter took precedence when Joyce came to stand right beside her.

“Faith, I know you’re still reeling from everything’s that happened,” Joyce told her, “but I’d like to say some things to you, if you don’t mind.”

“Uh, okay,” Faith said before setting down the potato peeler and turning to face the older woman.

“First of all, I’m sorry that Buffy hurt you. I know what that kind of betrayal feels like, and it’s...well, it’s hell. There’s really no other way to put it.”

Faith dropped her gaze to the floor. “Yeah.”

“But she loves you. With everything she is. And that’s a lot.”

Faith nodded and looked up. “I know.”

“Good,” Joyce said with a glad smile. Then she grew serious once again. “Secondly, I know you feel bad about staking Buffy, but the truth is it was an accident—an accident that happened while you were trying to protect her.” She paused and made sure Faith was looking at her. “I don’t blame you,” she stated with emphasis.

Multiple emotions rippled through Faith’s expression: pain, relief, doubt, release. It was more than she could process. As her eyes filled with tears and a lump formed in her throat, she turned back to the counter and gripped its edge with both hands.

***

Meanwhile, in the living room, Willow dragged her book bag over to the sofa and opened it. But she stopped before reaching inside.

“Do you want the bad news or the good news first?” she asked.

“There’s bad news?”

Willow nodded.

“Well, tell me,” Buffy pleaded. “Is it Angel? Did Xander—?”

“No, nothing like that,” Willow instantly answered. Then she grimaced and handed over an envelope. “It’s this.”

“A letter from the school? From Snyder?” Buffy said in disbelief as she read the letter.

Willow winced guiltily. “He caught me just as I was leaving. I tried to tell him I wouldn’t see you until next week, but he knew better.”

Buffy plopped onto the sofa in disgust. “He’s giving me detention all next week for skipping classes! That little Nazi freak.” She turned back to Willow, who had sat down next to her. “What’s the good news? Snyder’s head exploded after he gave you the letter?”

“If only, but...ewwww...” Willow replied with crinkled nose. Then she softened and said, “No, the good news is completely non-school-related. It’s about Angel.”

“He’s okay?” Buffy asked.

Willow nodded. “He’s still very weak, but his wound’s already healing. He’ll be fine.”

“Good. That’s...good.” After wringing her hands in her lap, she asked, “How’s he doing, you know, with the, um, the non-physical stuff?”

“Emotionally, he’s...hurting, of course,” Willow said. “And he’s, well, broody, but that’s Angel for you.” When Buffy’s expression grew pained, Willow quickly added, “But it’s a resigned kind of brooding. He knows it’s over, and he’s dealing. It’ll take time, but he’ll get there.”

“Good, I was really worried. He was already so messed up from—” She stopped for a moment and then finished her sentence. “—from being where he was. From being in that hell dimension where I sent him.”

When she saw the guilt in her friend’s face, Willow reached out and touched her arm. “It’s not your fault,” she said. “You did what you had to do.”

Suddenly, Buffy turned angry eyes on her friend. “You mean I ‘kicked his ass,’ right?” she accused. “That’s what you told Xander to tell me, wasn’t it? When I went after Angelus at the mansion?”

“What?! I never said that!” Willow objected. “I told him to tell you that we were going to try the spell again...to get you to stall.”

The two stared off in twin looks of shock.

“Oh my god...” Buffy finally said. “How could he do that?”

Willow wore a very grim version of her resolve face. “Alexander Harris,” she growled, “you are deep in the dung pile now. We’re gonna—”

Buffy roughly wiped the tears from her cheeks. “No. I don’t wanna talk about Xander anymore. Right now, I don’t care if I ever speak to him again!”

Willow was divided. She was mad at Xander, too, but she feared that his actions—and Buffy’s reactions—would further tear the group apart. She could see in Buffy’s body language, however, that now was not the time to press the Xander issue. She steered the conversation to a happier topic.

“Okay, okay...enough about the men folk,” Willow said, putting on a smile. “I want to hear about you and Faith. All I’ve gotten is Faith’s cryptically short version, ‘She came, we talked, I surrendered.’ ”

Buffy’s brow furrowed. “She said it like that?”

“No,” Willow teased, “that’s just my summary, but that’s about the same number of words I got out of her. Come on...dish it out. I need details!”

Buffy smiled and began her account of the previous night’s events.

***

Back in the kitchen, Joyce gave Faith time to collect herself. Then she went on to make one final comment.

“Faith, it says a lot that you chose not to leave town, that you gave Buffy another chance, that you came by to see me today. I’m proud of you.”

Joyce knew Faith had already hit her emotional limit when it came to the heavy talk, so she quickly shifted the tone of the discussion. She gave the girl’s arm a playful poke.

“So, are you going to finish peeling those potatoes any time today, or should I call in reinforcements?”

Faith gave a relieved laugh. After clearing her throat, she said, “Well, at the rate I’m going, you better call for backup. Otherwise, it might be Thanksgiving or even Christmas before we eat.”

“Have two starving slayers in the house for several weeks?” Joyce quipped as she gave a mock shudder. “Scary!”

After earning another laugh from Faith, Joyce walked to the doorway that led into the dining room. She leaned through the doorway and called out to Buffy and Willow in the living room.

“Hey you two! You wanna eat, you gotta help, so get in here!”

***

Having finished their meal, Joyce and the three girls were now enjoying dessert. Well, actually, only Buffy and Faith were digging into Joyce’s chocolatey creation.

Willow merely pushed at the dessert with her spoon. “Ugh, I have no room for hot fudge brownie goodness. No fair.”

“I know what you mean,” Joyce said, doing a similar pushing of her dessert.

They both looked across the table and watched the two slayers devouring their hot fudge brownies with delight.

“And to make matters worse, they won’t even gain an ounce,” Willow went on. “Damn slayer metabolism.”

Joyce put down her spoon and rested her chin in her hands. “No fair.”

“It’s your own fault,” Buffy said after polishing off the last bite of her dessert. “If you didn’t make dinner so good, you wouldn’t get stuffed with the good stuff before the really good stuff gets here.”

“Really, Mrs. S,” Faith agreed. “This dinner rocked!”

Joyce straightened up and smiled proudly. “Why thank you!” Then she rose from her chair and said, “Well, if you girls will help me clear the table...”

“Oh, um, Mrs. Summers,” Willow interjected, “i-i-if you don’t mind, I was hoping I could talk to you guys about something first.”

As Joyce sat back down, Faith thought, Here it comes...

“Actually, it’s something I wanted to ask Buffy,” Willow continued, “but it involves the rest of us, too.”

Buffy glanced at Faith briefly then looked back at Willow while she went on.

“I know you’re not too keen on talking to Xander, but—”

Buffy leaned back and crossed her arms. “You’re right about that.”

“But I really think we need to get together as a team and-and talk about everything that’s happened.”

“Yeah, ’cause the last ‘team talk’ we had went so well,” Buffy grumbled.

“That’s why we need to have another one,” Willow argued. “A-A-And we need to do better this time.”

“Better at attacking me, you mean?” Buffy countered.

“Wait,” Faith interrupted. “Another one? There was a first one?”

Willow turned to Faith and nodded. “After you and Xander followed Buffy, Xander came back and told us what happened. We called everybody together—except for you ’cause you weren’t answering your phone—and we decided that we needed to...approach Buffy about what was going on.”

“Ambush is more like it,” Buffy complained.

Joyce leaned onto the table and looked at her daughter. “Honey, I know it must’ve felt like we were attacking you, but you have to admit...some of the points that were raised were valid.”

Which I acknowledged,” Buffy pointed out, sitting up straight again. “I admitted that I screwed up, but when I tried to explain, I got shot down. With machine guns.”

“Which is why you need to come to this meeting,” Willow insisted. “This time we’ll listen. I promise.” She gestured at herself, Joyce, and Faith before saying, “I mean, we’ve heard your side, but the others haven’t. Not straight from you anyway.”

Buffy sighed heavily. “Do you really think they’ll care?”

“Oz will,” Willow proclaimed.

Buffy gave Willow a pointed look. Given Oz’s help with Angel’s care, she figured he was already favoring her side. Then she sobered and asked, “What about Giles?”

It was Joyce who answered this question. “Rupert will listen. You know that. But you need to realize that your actions hurt him. Deeply. No matter how logical they seemed, no matter how understandable they were, they hurt.”

At this, Buffy lowered her gaze. She nodded her head in silent acknowledgement of her mother’s point. Then she ventured a glance at Faith. She found her slumped back in her chair, staring at the table’s edge.

Buffy turned back to Willow. “What if all we manage to do with this meeting is hurt each other even more? We could end up worse off than we already are.”

Willow and Joyce exchanged a look, but neither had an immediate answer to Buffy’s question. Everyone was surprised when it was Faith who spoke up.

“It’s a risk,” she said softly before looking up and meeting Buffy’s eyes. “But so are most things worth doing. Don’t ya think?”

While the two slayers engaged in an intense stare, Willow and Joyce held their breaths and waited. They let out dual exhales of relief when Buffy finally turned to Willow and simply said “okay.”

“Great,” Willow said, trying to inject at least a little enthusiasm into her voice. “I’ll, um, I’ll set everything up.” She turned to Joyce. “I-I-I was thinking maybe we could meet at the school tomorrow afternoon, say two-ish?”

“That’ll be fine, Willow,” Joyce said, giving her a smile. “Thank you for taking this on.”

Willow nodded in reply. When the room became uncomfortably quiet, Willow pushed up from her chair. “I should probably go. I still have a lot to do before I’m done for the night.”

“I’ll walk you out,” Buffy said, forcing herself to perk up a bit.

Faith watched the two best friends move into the living room. Then she rose to her feet and picked up her glass and dish. “Still need a hand?”

Joyce gave her a big smile and said, “I sure do.”

***

As they approached the front door, Willow stopped near the coffee table and pointed at the book bag still sitting beside the sofa. “All of your books are there, a-a-and a list with all your assignments.”

“Thank you,” Buffy said sincerely. “For talking to Faith, for taking care of Angel, for everything. You’ve gone above and beyond on all of this, and I’m really, really grateful. I know I’m not being Miss Enthusiasm about the meeting, but I appreciate all you’ve done and all you’re still doing.”

“That’s what best friends do,” Willow said. “They go beyond the call of duty for each other.”

Buffy pulled Willow into a big hug. “When all this is over, I’m gonna give you a humongous medal! Bestest Best Friend Ever!”

After a small squeal, they separated and exchanged warm smiles. Then Willow went on her way.

***

Meanwhile, Faith was completing table-clearing duty. As she set the last plate and glass on the counter beside the sink, Joyce thanked her and then shooed her out of the kitchen. Faith grinned and then headed back to the dining room. As she stepped inside, she could hear Buffy and Willow making their ‘good-nights.’

Guess I’ll have to go soon, Faith thought to herself.

She tucked her hands into her front pockets and frowned. She didn’t relish the thought of spending the night in the bus station, but she didn’t have a choice. Eh, she’d survive. After all, it wasn’t the first time she’d done it; it probably wouldn’t be the last either. She’d have to figure something out soon, though, before the others could find out what had happened at the motel.

“Faith, what’s wrong?”

Faith’s head snapped up. She found Buffy right in front of her, wearing a very concerned expression.

“Uhhh, nothing,” Faith said. “Else, I mean. I’m just...thinking about tomorrow.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, she told herself.

Buffy moved closer and put her hands on Faith’s arms. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. I’ll understand. You’ve probably heard as much Angel stuff as you can stand.”

Faith pulled her hands out of her pockets and wrapped her arms around Buffy. “I’m going.”

Buffy smiled gratefully and gave her a fervent kiss. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I don’t know what else to say but that. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Faith said, returning the smile. Then she released Buffy and hitched her thumb over her shoulder. “It’s getting kinda late. I should probably head out.”

“Wait! Not yet, okay?” When Faith gave her a curious look, she explained, “I’m gonna see if Mom will let you stay the night.”

Faith immediately snorted. “Yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen.”

“Just wait, okay?”

Faith rolled her eyes but then nodded her assent. At that, Buffy hurried into the kitchen.

***

When Buffy stepped inside, she found her mother making a final wipe-down of the stove and counters. Joyce gave her a smile until she saw the serious look on her daughter’s face.

“What is it?” Joyce asked.

Buffy twisted her fingers into tangles and then made the leap. “Mom, I know you’re not okay with the slayer sleepover thing, but could you make an exception for tonight?”

Joyce crossed her arms and put on a stern expression.

“Please?” Buffy continued. “We’ll leave the door open, lights on, whatever you want, but...me and Faith, we really need to be together tonight.”

Joyce looked into her daughter’s eyes. It wasn’t the usual teenage girl’s ‘gimme’ mentality that she was seeing there. It was something much deeper than that. Still, Joyce wasn’t convinced.

“I don’t know, Buffy,” she said warily. “You need your rest.”

“I’ll rest better with her here. And she will, too. And we’ll need that rest for tomorrow.”

Joyce put on a skeptical look.

Buffy took a step closer. “I don’t know how to explain it, but...when we’re together, it makes the hurt go away, at least a little. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, it does, but—”

“It’s not just that.” Buffy glanced over her shoulder at the doorway to the dining room and then turned back to her mother. “I’m worried about Faith,” she said, lowering her voice somewhat. “When I was at her place last night, we fell asleep for a while. We were just so tired, both of us. Well, right before I came home, Faith had a really bad nightmare. She woke up screaming. I’ve never seen her so shaken up. Whatever it was, it was so bad she couldn’t even tell me about it. Please, Mom...I don’t want her to wake up like that alone. At least not for tonight.”

Joyce closed her eyes and sighed. She tried to make a mental list of all the reasons that she should refuse Buffy’s request, but all she could think of was how peaceful they had both looked earlier when she had found them asleep on the couch. They had been through so much. Was one night really too much to ask? Joyce finally opened her eyes.

“All right,” she said, “but just for tonight.” When Buffy tried to rush into a hug, Joyce stopped her with a raised index finger. “There will be no fooling around,” she ordered. “Clothes stay on, door stays open. Got it?”

Buffy held one palm over her heart and the other up and out as if she were taking a solemn oath. “I swear.”

“Okay then,” Joyce added in a less than happy tone.

At that, Buffy moved in and gave her mother an earnest hug. “Thanks, Mom,” she told her. After flashing her a grateful smile, Buffy hurried back into the dining room to tell Faith the good news.

As she watched her daughter sprint away, Joyce shook her head and muttered to herself, “I have got to dig out those parenting tapes, How To Say ‘No’ To Your Child....”

***

A short time later, Buffy and Faith were in Buffy’s bedroom. Faith was already in bed, dressed in another of Buffy’s oversized sleep shirts, but Buffy was standing at the doorway, calling out to her mother down the hall.

“We’re going to bed now,” she announced teasingly. “Clothes are on, and door is open, as ordered by Major Mom...”

“Just go to sleep, Miss Smarty Pants,” Joyce called out in reply.

Buffy snickered and came back inside the bedroom. She turned off the overhead light and climbed into bed. She immediately scooted over to Faith and curled up against her, draping her arm over Faith’s stomach.

“Your mom said no fooling around.”

“Snuggling is not fooling around,” Buffy defended. “Besides, she said she wanted me to get some rest, and that requires snuggling.” Suddenly worried, Buffy leaned up on her elbow. “Unless you don’t want to...?”

“Shut up,” Faith joked before pulling Buffy back down against her shoulder.

Buffy happily resumed her former position, snuggling even closer. After a long, contemplative moment, she asked, “Do you remember the first time we slept in the same bed together?”

“Yeah, you drooled on me,” Faith answered with a smirk.

“No, not that time,” Buffy corrected, giving Faith a nudge in her side. “I meant the first time we slept together as a ‘we’—you know, after we were officially a couple. The night you snuck in.”

“I remember the next morning,” Faith said ruefully. “Wrath of Joyce.”

Buffy leaned up on her elbow again so that she could look at Faith in the dim light of the room. “Before that,” she said softly. “When it was just you and me. Between the disasters. Before all the mistakes and bad decisions.”

“I remember.”

“It felt so good,” Buffy said. “And I want that again. I want...full-dimpled smiles a-a-and...snuggle hugs that last for hours and...slow dance I-love-you’s and—”

“More Greek wrestling?” Faith offered.

Buffy’s face lit up in a smile. “Definitely more Greek wrestling.” Then she quickly added, “Just not here.”

The two shared a mischievous chuckle. Then Faith saw Buffy’s brow furrow and her eyes mist over. Faith turned over onto her side so that she could face Buffy as she went on.

Buffy took a deep breath and said, “I want all of that again. I want you, Faith. Nobody else.”

Faith felt her heart thudding in her chest. Conflicting emotions roared through her like raging rivers, but love calmed them all. She pulled Buffy close and kissed her.

“You’ve got me,” she whispered before kissing Buffy once again.


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 17...

 


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