Faith got the wings from a glowy guy. He had light-beam wings and his hair was molten gold; he had a crown made out of fire. He was really really hot—if you liked that sort of thing. Faith apparently liked that sort of thing, because when Glowy Guy floated down into the midst of a bunch of demons they were battling, she went right for him.
Buffy thought Faith looked—well, wreathed with light, to be honest—but also zombified, sorta walking in a daze directly toward the glowy guy. Just stopped everything she was doing, cross-bow falling to her side, then down to the pavement, and Faith was just walking, walking toward the light.
It didn’t seem like a good thing—well, except for the light was pretty, and really kinda mesmerizing when you thought about it, like a disco ball—or like a hearth, a fire, the kind Buffy imagined in olden days in Ireland with families beside them, and the cold outside, or sunshine at the beach, and you were in someone’s arms, and they held you like they loved you, and were alive.
Only it was better, like the Bronze after a hard night of Slaying and the light was dim but had a sort of glow, and Spike was there, and Willow never killed anyone, and Buffy’s mom was there and Angel and Tara and Giles and—and you were there, and you were there, and you. It was a light just like the kind at the end of a tunnel, but only getting brighter, brighter, brighter, and she was walking there with Faith.
Just before Buffy had died the first time, she had felt Kendra. Felt her deep down in, inside, Slayer to Slayer—
—to Slayer to a thousand Slayers before, all the way back to—
Suddenly, Buffy snapped out of it. Across the road, Faith was falling to the ground, and Glowy Guy’s arm was falling back to his side—when had he reached out?—and Buffy was running, running, running across the road, around the demons, amidst the battle—except none of it was there any more. All the demons were gone, and Xander was in mid-stroke with a morning star, and Brisa was holding an ax above her head to chop something in half that wasn’t there. Slowly, they lowered their weapons, and Faith was a heap with chestnut hair, crumpled on the pavement.
It seemed to take too long to get to her, and then Buffy was pulling Faith’s head into her lap, checking her heart beat, brushing her hair aside.
Faith’s eyes fluttered open. “B?” She blinked, as though seeing through shadows. Then, slowly, she smiled. “This mean I was touched by an angel?”
Buffy took her hand away from Faith’s heart.
The wings didn’t appear immediately, and it wasn’t like any of them were exactly expecting Faith to sprout another set of appendages, so the only thing they planned to do about what had happened was go back and research Glowy Guy.
Faith said, “You think it really was an—”
“No,” Buffy said.
“I’m guessing Gundam,” said Dawn.
“Really?” Xander said. “I was thinking more Kefka, last battle, Final Fantasy VI.”
“Okay,” said Dawn. “Is that the Japanese six, by which you mean the American three, or—”
“You have much to learn, young Padawan.”
“I’m just saying that the Kefka I’m thinking of looked more like Greek statue than an ang—”
“It was all Greek to me,” Buffy said, mostly just to cut Dawn off.
“Glowy Guy was rather well-built,” Xander said. “I mean, statuesque. I mean shapely—marbeled—I mean, chiseled. Yeah, I’m reading this book.” He buried his nose behind a tome.
“He was very . . .” Buffy paused. “Shiny.”
“Why couldn’t I just say that?” Xander said.
“You don’t think for once,” said Faith, “it could just be something good?”
“Like a vampire,” Dawn said.
“Vampires are never good,” said Xander. “They suck.”
“One of those shiny vampires,” Dawn said.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “They sparkle. They don’t shine. And they’re actually not that—”
“I can’t believe you like it,” said Dawn. “I just can’t believe you like it.”
“You brought it up!”
“He’s a creeper!” Dawn wore glasses these days and her hair up in a ponytail. She looked like a college girl, pre-med—maybe because that was she was, but she was looking less and less like Dawnie and more and more like—someone grown-up.
Someone who was convinced Edward Cullen was a creeper.
“Okay,” said Faith, “are we on this again? Because the werewolf—”
“Augh, my ears,” Xander said, and covered them.
“—is a motherfuckin stud, you ask me—”
“Which we didn’t,” Dawn pointed out.
“—and if Bella didn’t take that beast out back and take that knot like a—”
Bitch in heat, Dawn mouthed at Xander.
“I’m not hearing this,” said Xander. “I am not hearing this—”
“Bitch in heat,” said Faith, “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with her brain, because—”
Unf, that’s hot, Dawn mouthed.
“—unf, that ass is hot,” Faith said.
“Are you done?” Buffy said.
Faith made noises with her bag of Cheetohs. “What? Yeah,” she said, and ate one.
“Because look,” said Buffy, “I know it’s stupid writing, but Edward really loved her, okay, and—”
Nuns would boink Tyler, Dawn mouthed.
“—even a nun would go down on Tyler Lautner,” Buffy said, “but I just liked it the way it was, okay. So stop.”
“You just think the Pattz looks like an a—” Faith paused, mouth full of Cheetoh. She swallowed hard. “Statuesque. I mean a statue.”
“You know what?” Buffy closed her book. “Research it yourself.”
“B.” Faith’s brow furrowed and her eyes got big in that way she had of looking like she was really, really sorry.
“He doesn’t remind me of Angel. And if you think for a second that Spike—”
“Trust me, honey,” Faith said. “No one in the world thinks Rob Pattz could play Spike.”
Buffy stood up.
“B.” Faith sounded sorry again.
Buffy pushed her chair back, turned around, and stopped. “No,” she said. “No,” and turned back. “Why were you even walking toward that—” she waved a hand—“glowy guy? What did you think you were doing?”
Faith leapt up. “Why do you think it was a bad thing? You don’t even know.”
“I know you always go off half-cocked. I know you always have to get right into the middle of everything. I know you never listen when I—”
“Maybe because you never give me a chance!” Faith said. “You don’t give me a fucking chance. What if he was—”
“I never give you a chance?” Buffy’s voice was dreadfully quiet.
“Dammit, B. You know what I meant.”
“I know what you meant. You meant that I never give you a chance . . . which means I’m left trying to figure out what I have been doing this past year.” Buffy crossed her arms. “If it wasn’t giving you a chance.”
“I just mean . . .” Faith looked away. “I dunno. Maybe—maybe something good will come of it for once, and this is my—it’s a chance to—” She shrugged again. “I don’t know. It’s stupid.”
Buffy’s voice was still quiet. “You always touch things that aren’t yours.”
“So.” Faith smiled a little. “You want your jacket back.”
Buffy closed her eyes a moment, opened them. “Just keep your hands to yourself, next time.” Then she walked out.
In the awkward silence that followed her departure, Buffy could hear Xander’s voice from down the hall. “I’ve been giving it some thought. I’m thinking Gundam Wing isn’t the worst theory I’ve heard.”
That night, Buffy couldn’t sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she could see the golden man with the golden crown open his eyes. They glowed like the sun, and she went blind. Buffy opened her eyes, and for a moment believed she really was blind, and then remembered where she was. The England country-side was far darker than Sunnydale ever had been.
Awakened too many times to try to get back to sleep, Buffy went down the stairs to the kitchen to get a drink of water. It was kind of a freaky kitchen, all gleaming metal and expensive tile, the kind of kitchen that was built for two or three servants at a time to cook in. But they didn’t have any servants, and the only one in the kitchen was Faith, wiping the floor with a rag.
“What happened?” said Buffy, blinking.
“Nothing.” Faith glanced up, startled. She was on her knees. Hastily, she refocused on the tile. “There’s blood in this grout.”
“What the—did something come—”
“Nothing came,” said Faith. “It’s old blood. You know the way it grinds in.”
Buffy blinked again, frowning. “You’re wearing my jacket.”
“Yeah. I just can’t keep my hands off it.”
It was a motorcycle jacket with a red stripe down the side, worn with years of wear. Buffy had sort of stopped wearing it ages ago. Or anyway when she had started working at Sunnydale High and a football jock had whistled and called her motorcycle mama. It was more appropriate on Faith, really, considering the tightness of her jeans and the heaviness of her boots and the—well, the everything. But it was still Buffy’s jacket, and Buffy would have given it to her, if Faith had asked. She would’ve given her lots of things, if she asked.
Faith never asked for anything.
“Do you need help?” Buffy said, sort of knowing it was pointless, but somehow, she’d learned to be polite. Certainly not from most of the people she’d been close to in her life, but somehow she’d still learned it.
“I got it,” Faith said. “You gotta use ammonia. Or bleach. That cleaner shit isn’t going to work.”
Buffy watched her for a while. Once, they’d had a break in—not vampires; Spike was the only vampire invited in. It’d been another kind of demon, green, with frog mouths and bulging eyes. Buffy had been the one to notice the green guys on the perimeter of the mansion. She’d been the one to wake everyone up, organize them, deploy them in separate groups to protect each other and the house.
She had also been the one, after three hours of slaughter, to track them back to their base to see if more were coming.
“I’ll go with you,” Faith had said, loading up her cross-bow.
“Someone needs to stay with the Slayers,” Buffy had said. She cleaned the green blood off of her scythe.
“It needs to be fast and quiet,” Buffy said. “One is better than two.”
“But I’m . . .”
Hungry, Faith was going to say.
Buffy knew, because she felt it too. That thrum you felt, when there were things that needed killing. It was worse when your home was attacked, the people you loved put in danger; it was worse when you hadn’t gotten enough blood on your hands, hadn’t gone elbow deep in dust and flesh, just to feel the death as it happened. Buffy felt it like a physical desire, and she could see it mirrored in Faith—need deep in her eyes, the restlessness in her thighs, the ache somewhere low in the belly.
But Buffy wasn’t looking at her. She was looking at Katya, a fourteen year old girl who had never killed anyone in her life, before tonight.
Snapping back into focus, Buffy turned back to Faith. “I’m going alone,” she said. “Help Xander.”
Faith stood there, just a moment, so electric she’d probably shock to touch. Then she said, “Fine,” and turned away.
Buffy found the green demon lair. She took out all that were left, then destroyed the eggs, too. At Sunnydale High she’d once learned that some amphibians are always female, unless they change sex to mate.
A thousand unborn girls.
When Buffy came back, she half expected Faith to be gone. Buffy thought it likely Faith would have gone out after her, or maybe gone out to pick a brawl or a quick fuck somewhere. Faith would’ve wanted to direct all that energy somewhere, and she was just good enough that she wouldn’t direct it at the girls, and just bad enough that she would leave them to dig the graves themselves.
It wasn’t like Buffy didn’t understand it. She might’ve even been able to forgive it, if she had been another person.
If she had never been the Slayer.
When Buffy came back, however, Faith was there, Katya was smiling, pizza had been delivered, and the bodies were all gone. “Where . . . ?” began Buffy.
Faith grinned. “Dissolve with salt, B.” She folded up a slice of pepperoni-sausage-olives-green onion, and took a great big bite. “Just like mother used to do.”
“I was going to ask where you got the cash,” Buffy said, and hated herself, for being snide.
Faith just shrugged.
Buffy looked around. The green guts were gone from the walls. A couple Slayers were still mopping the floor, but it was mostly clean. Now they were just pushing water at each other and flicking soap bubbles, interspersed with an occasional giggle.
After that night, Katya had been glued to Faith’s side for two weeks straight. She hadn’t said anything, just kept looking at Faith as though she’d hung the moon.
Buffy thought about it, as she watched Faith scrub up blood from the floor of their kitchen in the middle of the night. Faith left her shit laying all over the mansion; she left her clothes in the washer and her underwear in the sink; she never took out the trash.
And when you thought about it, she’d tried to kill Buffy and committed murder and stolen Buffy’s body and slept with her boyfriend and usurped her authority and been to jail; she’d saved Angel, and she’d helped avert apocalypse. She’d helped found--this, whatever they were doing here, helping Slayers. She’d loved Robin and felt she’d had to leave, to come here, to do this thing, to dissolve green froggy dudes with slime, and scrub the goddamn floor in the middle of the night.
When Buffy really thought about it she had to admit that Faith cleaned up alright.
Done wiping the floor, Faith stood up, tossed her rag in the sink, and washed her hands. She moved a little stiffly. Maybe she’d been kneeling on the floor a long time.
“Are you okay?” Buffy asked.
For a moment, Faith didn’t turn around. When she did, she had on an easy smile. “What?” she said. “I’m fine.”
Buffy frowned. “When that thing touched you, it didn’t hurt?”
“What, you mean my angel?”
“Don’t call it that.”
Faith’s eyes went a little softer.
Buffy got up from the table. She opened the refrigerator, and that way, she didn’t have to look at Faith. “You want a frappacino?”
“No,” said Faith. “I’m pretty beat.”
Pulling one of the bottled Starbucks things out of the fridge, Buffy turned back to Faith. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Sure,” said Faith. “Five by five.”
After Sunnydale went kerplooey, Buffy, Faith, Robin, and some of the new Slayers had gone to Cleveland. Giles, Willow, Andrew, and some of the other Slayers went to England to reform what remained of the Watcher’s Council. Buffy and Faith stayed in Cleveland a few months before they decided the Slayers with them could protect the city from the Hellmouth, and that they might do more good at a more international hub. Buffy and Faith went. Robin stayed.
That had been two years ago. The mansion belonged to Giles. Since Buffy and Faith had moved in six months ago, Giles and his Watchers had been looking for Slayers, flying around the world to let the newly Called know what was happening, help them if they needed it, or bring them back to Somersetshire if there was some kind of problem.
Xander was the one who’d started calling the place Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, followed up by a spirited discussion on whether he could be Professor X.
“X,” said Xander. “For Xander.”
“Your legs work fine,” said Dawn. “On the other hand, that eye . . .”
Xander’s mouth worked. “I should have seen this coming.”
“It’s understandable that you didn’t, though,” Dawn said, “seeing as how you lack depth precision. Cyclops.”
“I’m not Cyclops. Buffy is our fearless leader!”
“But,” said Xander. “Summers. Besides, Buffy can’t be Phoenix. Because, Willow.”
“Red head, moves things with her mind,” said Dawn. “Jean Gray. Well played.”
“It’s like they speak another language,” said Faith.
“Are they still talking?” said Buffy.
“Can I be the hot one?” Faith said.
Dawn frowned at her. “Which one do you mean?”
“Yeah,” said Xander. “All of them are hot. I mean, the girl ones. And Scott.”
Faith shrugged. “I dunno. The hot one.”
“Sure,” said Xander. “You can be Wolverine.”
“Is that Hugh Jackman?” Buffy said. “That’s Hugh Jackman. Okay, if Wolverine were living here, I’d—” She stopped.
Faith was smirking at her. “You’d what, B? Inquiring minds.”
“. . . I’d tell him to vacuum. It’s his turn.”
“Sure, B.” Faith still smirked. “I hear Wolverine is excellent with rugs. Want me to weed the garden too? I hear he’s also excellent with bushes.”
Buffy pursed her lips. “You wouldn’t think he’d be so good with his hands. He has claws.”
“I’d mention Edward Scissorhands,” said Dawn, “but considering the innuendo going on it’s a really upsetting visual.”
“There isn’t any innuendo,” Buffy said. “Can I be Halle Berry? I want to be Halle Berry. I’ve always kind of wanted to.”
“Okay,” said Xander. “But do you know what happens to a frog that gets hit by lightning?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Joss Whedon wrote that line.”
“He did not!” said Xander.
“Yes, he did. I keep telling you, he’s a hack.”
“His X-men comics are the best,” said Xander.
“Comics,” said Faith. She put her beer down on the table. “Who needs ‘em?”
“Not me,” Buffy said, and sipped Faith’s beer.
When Faith did sprout wings, it happened in the midst of chasing after a pack of vampires.
Buffy had noticed Faith had been moving stiffly. She had also noticed that it had started around the time that Glowy Guy had touched her. Also, Faith hadn’t stopped wearing her jacket. She could have just been cold—but if she was, it was because she wasn’t well, or maybe even losing blood. She looked paler than normal, and kept late nights—scrubbing things, or holed up in the bathroom, organizing the first aid supplies, doing laundry.
Buffy’s mom had thought that she had turned preternaturally neat around the age of fifteen. Joyce had never been able to slot it in with the other things she had assumed were happening, the irresponsible teenage things, the partying, the drinking. Buffy knew exactly what doing laundry late at night meant.
Faith just didn’t want to tell her.
When the bones molded, shifted, burst out her back and basically completely ruined one of Buffy’s oldest jackets, Faith didn’t really need to tell her. She kind of figured it out.
Faith had always been rather good at leaping, but that time she came down hard. Buffy had been running with her; Xander and the girls were looping around the building to meet them, and the vampires were getting away. When Faith went down in the alley, Buffy went back for her.
“Go,” Faith said. Her hands were splayed on the pavement; she was on her knees, and something—something was happening to her back.
“Because you’re five by five,” said Buffy.
“Why’s it always you?” Faith said. Then she convulsed, and screamed.
“Make that a three by two,” Buffy said, and dropped her scythe. Trying to rip off the jacket, her eyes widened as she watched the blood appear through Faith’s wife-beater, and something—something was coming out—“What is it? Do you know what it is?”
“It—it’s coming.” Faith convulsed again.
“What? Xander!” Buffy called, and the jacket was ripping, and Buffy was yanking it off, and they were coming; they were indeed coming. “What is it? I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me; what’s coming?”
Faith croaked something.
“What?” Buffy had to jerk her eyes away from the stark white bones starting to jut out from Faith’s shoulder blades, from the arteries and veins growing from Faith’s back that were starting to twine their way around them, like vines. The muscles were growing too, slowly stretching, spreading from Faith’s trapezius to wrap around the bones and blood. And then there was skin, and still, they were growing. “What?” Buffy said again, and moved so that she could see Faith’s eyes—wide, the color of a whole system of roots. “What's coming?”
“Grace.” Faith closed her eyes, and fainted.
The wings were covered in a light gray fuzz, sort of like down.
“You mean like a baby seagull?” said Xander.
They were back in the mansion. Well, really in the barn, because if Faith woke up and had to . . . they didn’t know, flap her wings or something, it’d wreak havoc and destruction on the English décor, and Buffy was pretty conscious of the fact that the mansion was on loan.
They had had to call Brisa to come bring the van, and even then, it was a trick fitting Faith and her wings into the bed of the back, even without any seats in it. They had had to sort of fold the wings up, not knowing if they were hurting her. She still wasn’t awake, but Dawn had said she was sleeping now.
They thought she would wake up.
“Or maybe an eaglet,” Xander was saying.
“Technically, she shouldn’t even have any wings at all,” Dawn said.
“But Dawnie,” said Xander. “I learned in school that every caterpillar becomes a beautiful, beautiful butterfly, in the end.”
“Bird wings,” Dawn said, annoyed.
“Oh, well, that too,” said Xander.
Buffy was looking at Faith, spread out on the ground. “What do you mean?”
“She doesn’t have a wishbone,” said Dawn. “Structurally, it doesn’t make any sense at all. Birds don’t have wings and arms. They have wings instead of arms.”
“It’s like dragons having four legs and wings,” said Xander. “Pteranodons didn’t have four legs and two wings. And really, if you look at the fossil evidence—” He stopped because people were looking at him. “Hey, I know science. When it’s dinosaurs.”
“Spike said,” Dawn began.
“Spike’s a liar,” said Xander. “They never fought a dragon in L.A.”
“There was an apocalypse in L.A. There could have been a—”
“Okay,” said Xander. “There was a dragon in L.A. But they never fought a dragon in—”
“I haven’t heard of any recent deaths by dragon,” said Dawn.
“Okay,” said Xander. “They fought a dragon in L.A. What I mean is, Spike never fought a dragon in—”
“I don’t want to hear about L.A.,” said Buffy. “I don’t want to hear about dragons. I just want—I want.” Sitting down abruptly on a stool, she still couldn’t take her eyes off Faith. “Tell me about eaglets.”
“Uh,” said Dawn, “that was really all I had. Evolutionarily, wings—you know, on warm-blood creatures—attach at the collarbones, which is fused—AKA what we know as the wishbone—and . . . and this is nothing like that. Like, at all.”
“Some people think pteranodonswerewarmblooded,” said Xander.
Buffy frowned. “What?”
“Pteranodons,” said Xander. “I’m on task. Really.”
“Okay,” said Buffy. “Let’s stick with eagles for now. There are eagle people in ancient myths, aren’t there?”
“Um,” said Dawn. “I think there’s an Indian one. And there are bird people in lots of Mesoamerican religions. Oh. And the birdmen of Easter Island.”
Buffy turned back to Faith. “Could Glowy Guy be one of those?”
“Do we know the . . .” Xander waved a hazy hand at Faith’s wings, “you know, came from the glowy guy? I mean, that happened last week. Do wings generally have a gestation period?”
“Maybe a bell rang,” Dawn said. They all looked at her. She rolled her eyes. “It’s A Wonderful Life? Seriously, you all need to get culturally educated.”
“I think I know the anime,” said Xander.
“This isn’t an anime.” Buffy looked at Faith. “Someone did this to her.”
“There was that alternate universe where you didn’t exist, though,” Xander pointed out. “Are you sure you’re not George Bailey?”
“Okay,” said Dawn. “Let’s get one thing straight. Anya? Not an angel. Particularly not of the It’s A Wonderful Life variety.”
“I’m not Jimmy Stewart,” said Buffy. “Faith is not Clarence. And this isn’t a wonderful life.”
Across the barn, Faith was just waking, struggling to sit up. “Sometimes it’s alright,” she said.
The first Slayer Giles had brought them had been named Brisa. She was fifteen and homeless, using her Slayer powers to steal a hambuger. The next Slayer the Watchers had brought them had been named Thanh, who had been diagnosed as bipolar. The next Slayer was Lulu, who had been imprisoned initially for fighting a man to protect a child, was reported to the government, and being drugged by scientists when Giles’s newest Watcher found her. After that, there was Katya, Shireen, Jessica, Xio, Elin, Becky, and Gerđa.
Then there was Dana. Dana had come to them a year and a half ago.
“We call her Drusilla 2.0,” Xander said.
“Not actually funny,” said Buffy.
“Okay,” said Xander. “But I like her.”
“Why?” said Dawn.
Xander thought about it. “I never liked Spike’s hands. They were very . . .”
“I bet Buffy could tell you what his hands were very,” Faith said. She looked with inquiring innocence at Buffy. “Hey, B. Maybe you could show me what—”
“I don’t want to talk about Spike’s hands,” Buffy said, because sometimes she thought about them; actually she thought about them all the time, and it was stupid, because he wore that stupid nail polish and his nails had been bitten down and chipping, and it was stupid, because he had beautiful hands. They were elegant hands, aristocratic and hardly calloused, despite everything he did, everything he could do, despite all the hard ways he touched her; he could be so very gentle.
She had painted his nails once, just because he was there and she didn’t want to go back and she thought it might convince her of just so how very stupid it all really was. She’d hardly ever gotten a chance to do that sort of thing with Willow, but she used to do it, before, when she didn’t keep her nails cut short because she wasn’t killing things instead of having sleep-overs, curling hair, and painting nails.
He had looked down at his hand as she did it, as she painted the black in careful, quick strokes she still remembered down each bitten nail. He hadn’t laughed at all when she put cotton between his fingers to hold them separate; he hadn’t even quipped. There had been an aura of intense concentration about him, watching her paint, a kind of stillness. When she was done, he had looked at her as though she had just told him he meant the world to her.
“When you think about it,” said Xander, “Dana’s sort of like Rogue.” This was around the time he had started calling the mansion Professor Xavior’s. “I mean, not that Rogue cut off people’s hands. I just mean . . . .” He trailed off, looking pensive.
“You mean the um,” Dawn said, picking at her nails, “superpowers that aren’t so super.”
Swallowing, Xander nodded. “Carol Danvers.”
Carol Danvers, Xander explained, had been another mutant with superpowers. Rogue had touched her, and with her own mutant power, absorbed Carol’s powers—and Carol’s mind. Rogue had spent a while going insane, split between her own brain and Carol’s, trying to adjust to her incredible new powers, trying to find herself.
“Thought we didn’t care about the comics,” said Faith.
Xander shrugged. “I’m just telling you what’s canon.”
“That a religious thing?”
“The point is that Dana our responsibility now,” said Buffy. “And I didn’t notice any spandex on her so it’s not exactly like she’s going to fight the fight of right if we don’t help her.”
“Now we’re talking,” said Faith. “Can we even get her to wear spandex?”
Buffy’s jaw tightened. “I’m serious.”
“I’m serious, too.” Faith brought her boots off the table. “Because seriously, hot as that chick would look in that little yellow-green number with a little leather jacket, what makes you think she’s gonna fight the fight of right at all?”
“That’s why we’re helping her,” said Buffy.
“Yeah,” said Faith. “I know. You think I’m not gonna do everything I can?”
“I never said that.”
“I know where she is,” said Faith. “I know where she’s been. And all I’m saying is, sometimes you can’t come back.”
Buffy just looked at her. “Sometimes you can.”
Faith jerked her head. “I haven't . . .” Standing up, she turned away, her long hair hiding her face. “I’m just not,” she said.
Buffy felt tight, coiled in on herself. “You are,” she said.
“You know what we haven’t thought of, yet?” Dawn said. They were in the barn, playing cards and drinking, since they couldn’t very well go to the pub like they usually did, when Faith couldn’t fit in the door. It was raining. Faith’s wings made the place smell like a wet bed. “We haven’t thought of how the glowy guy might be Warren.”
Xander shook his head. “You obviously haven’t been listening. His skin was more liquid gold than, you know, stripped from his body and hanging on a tree.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Warren Worthington. Stupid.”
“Oh. Did you hear the liquid gold part?”
“You were obviously closing your eyes during the movie.”
“What are they talking about?” Faith asked.
“I don’t know,” Buffy asked. “I think maybe a video game?”
“Angel,” said Dawn, answering Faith’s question.
“And,” said Xander, drawing out the word into the awkward pause, “she means more of the Angel with the, you know, genetic mutant wings instead of the Angel with the genetic mutant forehead.”
“Mutant wings,” said Buffy. “Okay, no more Long Island Iced Tea for you.”
“But I like the little umbrellas.” Xander pouted.
“Comics are very important to our life style,” said Dawn.
“Our lifestyle?” said Buffy.
“Are we going to make alternative jokes now?” Xander said. “Because I’ve told you all, I’m very straight.”
“Here Xander.” Dawn pulled her umbrella out of her drink. “You can have mine.”
“Ooh,” said Xander. “Goody.”
“I just mean, we could learn a thing or two from comics,” said Dawn. “I’ve even found we might have predicted a thing or two that could have happened, if we had read—”
“I feel like we covered this,” Faith said. “Nothing that happens in the comics is for real.”
Dawn was poking a straw in her drink. “It doesn’t really answer the question,” she said, after a little while. “Since Warren was Angel and Archangel. I mean, he sort of switched back and forth between good and evil.”
Xander shook his head again. “Don’t they all.”
After a few days, the fluffy gray stuff on Faith’s wings started to fall away, and long, bright white feathers appeared in the empty spots.
“Jesus Christ,” said Faith. “I’m molting.”
“It doesn’t look so bad,” said Xander, who sort of hadn’t taken his eyes off Faith in the last forty-eight hours except to sleep, and then it was anyone’s guess as to who, exactly, he saw in his dreams. “I mean, I’m pretty sure you’re not turning into a harpy.”
“You make a bird brain joke I’m gonna pop that eyeball out your ear,” said Faith.
“Not turning into one,” Xander said. “There’s no saying who already is one.”
“I’ve been reading up on avian legends,” Dawn said. They were in the barn again, watching the rain fall out the big barn doors.
“Whatcha got?” said Buffy.
“Not much.” Dawn put aside another book. “I mean, you were right. There are a bunch of ancient bird myths, and birdman myths. But there aren’t any instances in a single Watcher record I have access to that suggest any of these ancient gods, spirits, or demons can give people wings.”
“That’s because it wasn’t a god, spirit, or demon.” Faith was perched on one of the benches beside a stall, wings half spread.
“Faith,” Buffy said.
Wings opening, Faith got off the bench. “Demons exist, so why can’t—”
“Okay,” said Buffy. “Since when did demons go hand and hand with—with those?”
“Dan Brown,” said Dawn.
Buffy frowned at her. “What?”
“Everyone read it after the DaVinci Code.” Dawn held up her hands. “Hey, don’t blame me. It’s not like I make the bestsellers list.”
“Yeah,” said Xander. “Blame Oprah.”
“You can’t blame Oprah for Faith having wings,” Dawn said.
“I can blame Oprah for everything,” said Xander. “It’s a gift I have.”
“You want to know what gift I have?” Faith said.
Xander smiled at her, generously. “A charming personality?”
“No,” said Faith. “I’ve got a fucking pair of wings.”
“They usually come in pairs,” Xander said, idly.
“It wasn’t an angel,” Buffy said.
“How do you know?” Faith said.
“How do you?”
“I don’t know,” said Faith. “I don’t know, because maybe—maybe just once—there’s something out there that’s not evil or bad or from hell.”
“Hi, I’m Xander. I’m from Sunnydale,” said Xander. “It’s not hell.”
“There was a Hellmouth, though,” Dawn said.
“No, you can check my passport,” Xander said. “It doesn’t say “Gates of Hell” anywhere on it. I checked.”
“I’ve been to Heaven.” Buffy crossed her arms.
“Well, I’m sorry we can’t all be so fucking righteous.” Faith turned away, but she had forgotten to close her wings.
“Gahhgnhhhhnn,” said Xander. “You taste like a pillow.”
“Sorry,” said Faith.
“It’s okay,” Xander said. “You don’t know your own wing-span.”
Faith concentrated, and the wings slowly closed. “Also, you’re a pillow-biter?” she said.
“That was to get me back for the harpy thing, wasn’t it?”
“Look,” said Faith. “We don’t have any better ideas. Do we?” She turned toward Dawn, visibly concentrating on what the wings were doing.
“No,” said Dawn. “I mean, wings are very symbolic. There’s tons of literature . . . poetry.”
“Poetry?” Faith looked interested.
Buffy crossed her arms. “She’s not talking about The Pixies.”
Raising a brow, Faith turned toward her, wings flaring out a little. “The Pixies, B?”
Buffy looked away.
“Hey.” Dawn was looking at Buffy encouragingly. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world, right? I mean, she can fly.”
“You can fly?” Xander asked.
Faith gave him a dirty smile, turning toward him. “Ya wanna—oops.” She’d knocked a cup of water off the work bench, tip of the wing catching it as she turned. “I don’t—fuck. I need to get out of here.” Flexing, it looked like she might have been attempting to fold them, but they began gently flapping instead, sliding the papers and scrolls Dawn had put on the bench to the floor. “Fuck this,” Faith said again, and went for the door, strewing a pile of hay all over the scrolls with her wings as she went.
“She used to be so graceful,” Dawn said.
“Before or after punching the living shit out of things?” Xander said.
“Mostly during,” Dawn said.
“We have to fix this,” Buffy said.
The barn doors were wide open. Green was a grayer thing in England, still deep sometimes, but not as bright—older, more worn about the edges. The rain was gently dripping steady hollow thips. Faith stalking across that muted field, wing still flapping haphazardly, made a picture like a painting.
Buffy watched her. “I have to fix this.”
Buffy and Faith hadn’t exactly disagreed on what to do about Dana, but they hadn’t exactly agreed, either.
“You want me to give up on her?” Buffy had asked.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Faith said.
“Then what are you saying?” said Buffy. “Because from where I’m standing, it sounds like you want me to give up on her.”
“You’ve never been where I’m standing!” Faith winced. “Except for that one time. I just mean . . . you gotta be prepared, B. Redemption isn’t all just perfume and roses.”
Buffy felt herself going tight again. She felt that a lot around Faith. “You’re going to talk to me about redemption.”
“B . . .” Faith’s eyes could go so melty soft.
Sometimes she thought that they were just like Angel’s.
“No,” Buffy said. “She doesn’t need redemption. She hasn’t done anything that—we can’t blame her. She needs help.”
“Listen,” said Faith. “I know. I—”
“That’s right,” said Buffy. “You know. Angel knows. All of you know. But I can’t know. I’m a shining example, aren’t I? I’m perfect and untouched; I’m the golden trophy on the pedestal and do you know what? I’m tired of being treated like this life hasn’t changed me.”
Faith just looked at her. “This is about Spike, isn’t it?” she said quietly.
“No. Yes. He didn’t treat me that way. He knew what was inside me. He knew what was inside me, but he was just so fucking surprised that I—that I’m not the person you are, that Angel was, that he was. He thought that if I had this darkness than I should just be—more like him.”
“Not after he got his soul,” said Faith.
“No,” Buffy said dully, and looked away. “Not after that. Why am I even talking to you about this?”
Faith’s voice had gone all warm and husky, and Angel’s could do that too.
Spike’s could do that too.
Buffy shuddered. “Don’t—don’t touch me.”
“Okay,” and Faith’s voice caught; she stopped; her hand dropped to her side.
“I just,” said Buffy, “I have to believe that things can be better. I have to live that way, or else . . . or else it’s not worth fighting for.
Faith tilted her head, and it was so much like a look Spike would give her—that thoughtful, interested look—that Buffy just wanted to hit her. “Angel says it doesn’t matter if things get better,” Faith said. “It just matters if you do better.
“Angel.” Buffy closed her eyes.
“It’s the only thing you can do,” Faith said.
“Here’s what I can do,” said Buffy. “I can make Dana’s life better. And you’re going to help me do it.”
Where the wings had come out of Faith’s back, there were wounds, as though the bone really had torn right out of her flesh. The wounds were deep. Though the cuts were healing, the dressings still had to be changed.
“This is what you were cleaning up,” Buffy was saying, peeling the old bandage off from Faith’s back and the feather-covered bone. “In the kitchen, that first night. It wasn’t old blood.”
Faith had to have her shirt off for this. She had her knees pressed up against her breasts, less because she was so very modest, and more because she couldn’t sit like a normal person anymore. The wings were too long. Basically, she had to crouch. Her head was tucked forward, her arms around her knees. “You got me,” she said.
“You knew the glowy guy did something to you.” Buffy wadded up the bandages, and dug in the first aid kit for the antibiotic cream. “Why didn’t you say something about it?”
“Thought it wasn’t a big deal.”
Buffy squirted out some of the cream, rubbed it a little so it would be warmer. When she touched the junction between the wing and Faith’s shoulder blade, Faith jumped. “You were bleeding on the kitchen floor,” Buffy said. “How is that not a big deal?”
“How often do you bleed?” Faith shrugged. The wings, ruffling a little, rocked Buffy back. “Sorry,” Faith said.
“That’s okay.” Buffy went back to applying cream. “What did you think it was?”
“In the alley,” Buffy said. “Where you fell. You said they were coming. You said it was—”
“I dunno.” Faith rocked a little on her feet. “Stigmata. Some shit like that.”
“Does this hurt?”
“But the wings hurt.”
Faith didn’t say anything.
Buffy sighed. “What I want to know,” Buffy went back for more cream, “is how you managed to dress it yourself, if you were bleeding here before—you know.”
“Bet you’d like to know. Wanna see how flexi—shit. Shit shit shit.”
Faith had started to turn around, but apparently she still hadn’t completely gained control, because the wings started to open. She faced forward again, and after a moment of stillness, the wings settled and folded.
“You can show me some other time.” Buffy moved back, finishing with the cream and starting to wrap fresh gauze. She did that for a while, winding the gauze tight around the beginning of the wing and tying it off, then adding tape at the base for good measure. Then she began on the other. “Do you really think you’ll be able to fly?”
“Insert shrug,” said Faith.
“Don’t you think it’d be kinda . . . cool?”
“Dunno. If . . . maybe I’m not meant to.”
Faith didn’t say anything for a moment. “I know you don’t think it’s an angel.”
Buffy finished tying the gauze around the other wing. “Done.”
“Thanks.” Faith just stayed crouched there. “Why didn’t you get Acacia to do it?”
Buffy started putting away the first aid things. “Acacia doesn’t know how to do a field dressing.”
“No one knows how to do a field dressing like me.” Buffy hesitated. “It’s not like I don’t think an—an angel wouldn’t . . . like you. I just don’t think it’s that. For one thing,” she said, standing up. “He hurt you.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Yeah.” Faith stood up. “It means I gotta wear a halter top. All the time. In England, in the spring.”
Buffy shrugged, handing Faith her shirt. “You ruined my jacket.”
“Sorry,” said Faith, and shimmied into the shirt, hooking the top around her neck.
Buffy looked away. “Do the dressings feel okay?”
Buffy hopped up on a double stack of hay bales, swinging her legs off the side. “You know, I used to be funny.”
“Huh?” Faith looked over at her.
“I used to have a quip for every vampire. The old riposte with a one-two. Used to annoy Giles.”
Faith folded her wings, started to sit down, remembered she couldn’t. Standing, she reopened her wings. “I used to be Catholic,” she said finally.
“Did you tell me that before?”
Faith shrugged, then looked to either side to make sure her wings hadn’t hit anything. “I’m from Boston.”
Buffy played with the bits of hay. “Now, I don’t even . . . it’s like I’m the serious one. I don’t even laugh as much. How did that happen?”
“Hey, you’re the lucky one. You’re just losing your sense of humor,” said Faith. “That’s me in the corner. Or is it the spotlight?”
“I cannot believe you just made an R.E.M. joke.”
“You think I only listen to The Pixies? Life is bigger,” said Faith. “It’s bigger than you.”
“And you are not me,” said Buffy. She was looking at Faith, and thinking of Angel, of Spike, of Dana.
She was thinking of Dawn, and how she would rather have let the entire world go to Hell than lose her.
The lengths that I will go to.
Faith went through some other changes, after getting wings. She learned how to fly. She borrowed a book of poetry from Dawn. And she got a sword.
She got it off the Scottish Terror, a demon who, bearing some grudge against some English demon from all the way back in the time of Robert the Bruce, had wandered down past Hadrian’s Wall and decided to terrorize the countryside here for a bit. He’d been giving Dorsetshire hell the past six months, until Buffy had taken her Slayers and single airborne unit down to take care of the problem. It had been Faith who had slain him, though. So Faith took his sword.
“That, my friend,” said Xander, “is a Claymore. You are officially the most badass badass of badasses I know.”
“It’s not a Claymore,” said Faith. “It’s a motherfucking sword.”
“I must instruct the young ones in the ways of this world,” said Xander. “I feel like Sean Connery. In a kilt.”
“I was actually thinking Magic The Gathering,” said Dawn. She looked around. “Oh my God. I’ve been corrupted by Andrew.”
“Not even I will sink that low,” said Xander.
“It’s an awesome card,” said Dawn. “Four-four. Flying. Attacking does not cause Serra Angel to tap.”
Everyone looked at Buffy. They’d sort of stopped saying the word “angel” around her.
Faith tried some moves out with her sword. “I tap,” she said.
Xander rolled his eyes. “We’ve heard.”
“Michael had a sword,” Buffy said suddenly.
Faith frowned, lunging with her sword. For once it wasn’t raining. They were out on the lawn. “Who?”
“Michael is an archangel.”
Everyone looked at Buffy again.
She lifted her chin. “He slew the Devil. Cast him into the pit. Of course, the Bible doesn’t mention how there were like, a thousand pits. And the devil was probably just some demon who was, I don’t know, like really unhappy with daddy. I’m just saying. Michael had a sword.”
“I’m not an angel.” Faith put down her sword.
“I’m just trying to be . . .” Buffy gave a stiff little shrug. “Open-minded.”
“Well,” said Faith. “Don’t.” She stalked off.
“I’ve tried to convince her to start calling people ‘bub,’” said Xander, as they all looked after her. “It’s not taking.”
“She did start smoking cigars, though,” said Dawn.
“Do you think Wolverine ever lived in England?” said Xander.
“I thought mostly he hung around Canada and Japan,” said Dawn.
Buffy was just standing there. Xander and Dawn fell silent, Xander eventually walking to stand beside Buffy, and stare into the distance where Faith had gone. “She’s really beautiful with wings,” said Xander, and put his arm around Buffy.
“She was always beautiful,” said Dawn.
“She’s still upset,” Buffy said.
“Well, who wouldn’t be.” Xander shrugged, numbering things off with his other hand. “She can fly, she’s got superpowers, she’s smokin’ hot—wait a minute.”
“I know they hurt a lot,” said Dawn.
“Not the wings,” said Buffy. “About Dana.”
About Dana—she had lived with them for a year and a half. First Buffy tried working with her. She wasn’t a psychiatrist, but she’d been a counselor at Sunnydale High, and more importantly she’d been working with the Potentials and then the new Slayers since they were Called. Brisa, the first Slayer Giles had brought to them from the streets, had really seemed to gain a lot from living at the mansion.
Buffy knew things. She understood things. She had seen so much more darkness than most people ever did, and so much more light.
And yet, for all of that, sometimes it was Faith instead who could pull Slayers back from the shadows. Buffy had been right—she had seen her own share of evil, and done her own share of horrible things, but sometimes Faith’s style of horror and evil meshed better with the troubled Slayers. It was more a matter of character than experience, really. Buffy felt like she had an intuitive understanding of goodness. Faith had always felt like she had to learn it.
But Faith had learned it. Buffy had thought so ever since they defeated the First together, and she thought that still. Buffy could be patient, when Faith got frustrated—but when Buffy got frustrated, Faith was the one who could listen, and understand. Faith could feel compassion when Buffy couldn’t, just as Buffy could feel compassion when Faith didn’t. Faith was more willing to give up, but she was also more willing to fight. Some of the new Slayers respected that more than others.
There were Slayers who stuck to Buffy, and Slayers who stuck to Faith. There weren’t factions, because Buffy and Faith had finally learned what came intuitively to neither of them: friendship, between people who had hurt each other deeply. They worked well as a team.
And so, when Buffy failed with Dana, she had thought Faith might help.
Faith did. She and Dana colored pictures. Dana talked more, and seemed more able to compartmentalize the past. When the green frog demons had attacked the mansion, she had fought beside the other Slayers as though she were one of them. When she slowly slipped back into madness and into violence, no one knew quite how or why.
It was then that Buffy asked Willow for help. Willow was . . . still on her own path to recovery, and did not often stay at the School for Gifted Youngsters. Since Cleveland, she had had mixed feelings about the spell that had Called all the potential Slayers. She had trouble not seeing the more unfortunate cases—Thanh, Jessica, Xio, what had happened to Lulu—as mistakes.
Dana was perhaps her biggest one.
“I can’t,” Willow had said. Her projection had been standing in her little magic circle, and its hair had phased to white.
“Okay,” Buffy had said. “I just thought I’d ask.”
“If I could, I’d undo it. Just on her. But the threads . . .” Willow spread her hands, her eyes wide too, and she looked younger now than she had when Buffy had come back from Heaven. “They’re all tied together.”
“I’m not asking you to undo it,” Buffy said. “I’m just asking for you to help her.”
Willow shook her head. “If I use my power . . .”
“Don’t use your power. I don’t need your power. I need you.”
“Buffy. You’ve gotta understand. I am my power. Just like you’ve always been the Slayer. If I tried to help her, I wouldn’t be able to not use magic. And if I did, I’d do more damage than I’ve already done to her.”
Buffy flinched. “You didn’t—you didn’t do this to her. Dana was—she’s been abused. And people have hurt her, and that’s why she can’t—she can’t process it the way the others can. But you didn’t hurt her. And Spike didn’t either.”
“You know that Spike killed a lot of people, right?”
“That’s not the point.” Buffy felt annoyed. “So did Angel.”
Willow just looked sad. “Spike tried to hurt you.”
“So did Angel,” Buffy said. “He didn’t have a soul. Anyway, if I’ve forgiven him for—even for that, how is it your business?”
“Oh, Buffy.” Willow had on her doe-eyes, her little puckered forehead, and she just looked so sorry for her that Buffy wanted to shake her. “Did it hurt you, when you were Called?”
Buffy didn’t even think about it. “No, it—”
“You wouldn’t have known Spike. You wouldn’t have known Angel. You wouldn’t have known Dana, or Faith, or me. You would never even have moved to Sunnydale.”
“Okay, so you don’t remember that evil you from the land where I didn’t got to Sunnydale? Because that turned out real well.”
Willow faded a little bit. She was still working on the astral projection thing. “I just mean . . . five thousand years ago, some men chained up a girl in a cave, a forced a bit of demon in her. What did I do but force it on a thousand girls? And how is it any different than the men who abused Dana?”
It wasn’t any different.
Buffy had thought of that before Willow had even done it.
Faith thought that Buffy didn’t know that sometimes, you had to accept that the world was not a nice place, and work within those parameters.
The lengths that I will go to.
“I need you,” was all Buffy said.
“I know,” Willow had said, her projection fading out to a dull, warm white, soft somehow. “I’m sorry.”
It was around then that Faith started using Orpheus.
Buffy didn’t know at first. She didn’t know what Orpheus was—she knew Faith had done some freaky thing where she’d been in Angel’s mind, but she’d never wanted the particulars, and she’d thought—for some stupid, inane reason—that Faith had given up on Dana.
They were always arguing about it, and Faith was always saying things like, “some people just can’t be saved,” and Buffy would say things like, “Angel saved you.”
“Angel now?” Faith would lash out. “You want to know how many people he hasn’t saved? Angel understands that you’re not going to win every battle. Why do you think he worked at Wolfram and Hart?”
“I don’t care where he worked. He was trying to do something good. Spike was, too.”
“Yeah, Spike.” Faith licked her lips. “Was he saved?”
“What’re you saying?” Buffy said. “You’re saying I should just give up?”
“I’m just saying, comes a point when you have to.”
“And then what do we do?” Buffy was incensed. “Just turn Dana loose on the streets?”
“No,” said Faith. “Dana is dangerous.”
“What, so then we lock her in a room somewhere? Swallow the key?”
Faith held up her hands. “Look, I’m not saying that. All I’m saying is—is—you just gotta face the possibility that it might not work out.”
Buffy just looked at her. “You want to put her down. That’s what you’re saying. You’re saying she’s not worth the risk; she could hurt someone—you want to put her down. Like a dog.”
“Goddamn it all to fuck,” and finally—Buffy realized it was what she had wanted all along—Faith was furious too. “You think that’s what I’m saying? You think that’s what I’m saying? What I’m saying is that it probably would’ve been better for the world if someone had had the fucking balls to put me down too! But you know what? You didn’t. You didn’t, and I’m still fucking here. I’m still fucking here.”
“Faith.” Buffy felt a knot welling up in her throat.
“No.” Faith’s face pulled into a nasty sneer. “I’m still here. I’m trying to do some fucking good. Just let me do some fucking good, okay? Just let me fucking try.”
That was the day Buffy found out about the Orpheus. Before, Faith had only been using little doses, now and then—on Dana’s bad days. That day, Faith used a bit too much. Buffy hated herself—she hated herself—for not realizing what Faith was doing sooner.
Faith strung out like an addict, dark circles under her eyes, skin too pale, and hipbones too sharp just above her low-cut jeans was something Buffy never, ever wanted to see again. “It’s ugly,” Faith kept saying. “It’s so ugly, and they just kept hurting her. They just kept hurting me.”
It had taken weeks to wean Faith off of Dana’s mind.
When Dana came after the other Slayers with a knife, Faith was the one who tried to protect them. It was Faith who stood in front of the other girls, who were every bit as strong as she, but none of them quite as strong as Dana, whose madness lent her power. Buffy had been out tracking the Scottish Terror, and walked into what Andrew called “the parlour” to find Dana standing in front of Faith, who held her hands out against the other girls.
Buffy knew she would never reach Dana in time.
“I have no faith,” Dana said.
Faith’s eyes were huge in her hollow face. She was still recovering from the drug. When she spoke, it was more of a croak than a sentence. “You have me.”
“Then please,” Dana said, “just do it.” Then she lunged, and for Buffy, it was all in slow-motion. She was running, flying across the room; it wasn’t even that far, but Faith was on the ground, Dana rolling over her—
And the knife was in Dana’s stomach, and the look in Faith’s eyes were exactly the same as the young, young eyes of the girl Buffy had first seen become a murderer. Faith’s hands were wrapped around the hilt, and the knife in Dana was in the same place Faith’s knife had been in Faith’s own belly, when Buffy had stabbed her, and she fell.
Dana wrapped her hands around Faith’s, and twisted.
Then time sped up, and blood was everywhere. Buffy was telling the frightened Slayers what to do—calling 999, bring the medical kit, where was Dawn, pressure on it now now now—but Dana’s mouth was a bubble of blood, her eyes were open wide, and the last thing she said, choked and wet, was,
It happened right around Christmas.
Faith got her wings on Easter Sunday.
The glowy guy was named Faax.
That also happened to be the name of a minor angel in Judeo-Christian texts, as it turned out. Buffy had already made the point, however, that the Bible didn’t exactly line up with what they had each seen of good and evil.
“Maybe it’s open to interpretation,” Xander said.
“Right,” said Dawn. “It doesn’t mean there’s not a God. I mean, there was Glory. But not that kind of god.”
“What’s she’s trying to say,” said Xander, “is there can still be good angels. And we’re still celebrating the Fourth of July.”
“That’s not a religious holiday,” Dawn pointed out.
“I know,” said Xander, “but we’re in England. It makes me feel a little like a heretic.”
“What he’s trying to say,” said Dawn, “is—is—is—”
“You’re not unworthy.” Xander’s voice was steady, and very warm.
They were both looking at Faith, who had two fists wrapped around her sword. “That’s sweet,” she said. “Now can we go get this bastard?”
In the last three days, Faax had razed three city blocks, named a cult after himself, and got busy smiting all the non-believers. Apparently when he touched most people’s foreheads, as he had touched Faith’s, people were converted into worshipping all the glory and wonder that was the great Faax, except for those few he touched who began foaming at the mouth.
No one else grew wings, though.
When they met him again, it was in an alley, just like always. The only difference between Faax and every other monster was that the alley wasn’t dark. Faax glowed pale gold, and his hair was white, his crown so bright it hurt to look at. His wings were more an impression of light and movement than they were of actual feathers, casting beams of sun and shadow.
“Someone went a bit overboard with their bedazzler,” said Buffy.
“Hey Buffy,” said Faith. “You made a quip.”
“What happens now?” Brisa asked, her boomerang at the ready.
“Now, we kick it’s ass,” said Faith.
“Uh,” Miki said. “Good plan. But it’s kind of . . .” She waved a hand. “Incorporeal?”
“So,” said Buffy. “Say a prayer.”
Prayer encompassed the belief that the finite could connect with the infinite. Buffy already knew that to be true. Faith was proof.
Buffy still used the scythe. It glinted red in morning sun, but seemed to work the best under the moon. Sometimes, Buffy thought of harvests.
A thousand girls stood in the night, like stalks of wheat, brought to their knees by a blade. Packed in sheaves, they gave us this, our daily bread.
In all the books, bread was life. It was a miracle, but it was not mystical; it was real, not abstract. It wasn’t gods or angels or to be worshipped, it was seed grown from the earth, like wife in a woman’s womb, consumed. When they ate, they ate themselves.
The scythe was red because of blood.
Buffy held it high, and the angel opened his eyes.
They were the color of the sun, gold and bright and the color of a thousand unrealized dreams, and Buffy stood there trapped, the sky and scythe above her, and she couldn’t do it. Faax was standing over her, and she couldn’t do it. She could not believe that this was right, that death was the way to end it.
It was such a stupid, stupid pun to think of at the time, but what she needed was a leap of faith.
Faith came down in a flurry of wings, a susurrus of doves. She did look like an avenging angel then, like Michael or was it Mary, lit by gold and diving down, sword first, straight into the heart. Light glinted off the silver metal, and Faax burst into a blaze of sunbeams, and was no more.
“Buffy?” Faith dropped her sword.
Buffy felt the pavement under her, hard and rough, and wondered how she’d got there.
“Buffy,” Faith said again, “did he touch you?”
Their positions were reversed, now, and Buffy’s head was in Faith’s lap. Her wings were like a shield, closing Buffy into a space of soft white light, and when she looked up at Faith, she realized she’d never allowed herself to love the curve of her throat, the warmth and hunger in her eyes.
Buffy hadn’t allowed herself to love a thousand things, and among them, Spike was only one.
“No one forced you to do anything,” Buffy said. “You’re not a slave.”
Faith held her. “Then what am I?”
“Merciful,” Buffy said, and closed her eyes.
After that, Faith lost her wings.
One by one, the feathers dropped. Beneath was down, but even that didn’t last for long. The skin began to rot, and the bones drooped, until at last the solid structures began to shrivel inwards. After a week, the only sign that there had been wings were the wounds on Faith’s back. They would fade to scars.
On the first day of summer, Buffy and Faith went together to the cemetery. Xander had already bought fireworks for the Fourth of July, and Faith brought lilies for a grave.
“Cliché, I know,” she said. “But I’ve been reading poetry.”
“Me too,” said Buffy. “This is Dawn’s fault.”
“What did she give you?”
“Oh, you know,” said Buffy. “Shakespeare. Pablo Neruda. Why? Who did she give you?”
“This old white guy,” said Faith. “I think he might be afraid of women.”
“A lot of old white guys are.”
“I think she gave it to me because he did this one about this vampire. Christabel. That’s some freaky shit.”
“I like Kubla Khan,” said Buffy.
They stood there for a while. The rain was a soft spring shower, the kind they had all year round in England, and the cemetery was an old one, the kind they had all over the ground, in England. The tombs were raised and covered in a poetic moss, and Buffy still thought herself a Californian girl, but something spoke to her here.
She thought that that would probably happen everywhere. It wasn’t the land, but the Slayers, buried deep under it. Three thousand years of bones.
“There was one,” said Faith, “about this albatross.”
Buffy touched the place on Faith’s back where one of the wings had been. “I thought that you thought that they were . . . you know. A benediction. A reward,” Buffy said. “The wings.”
Faith hung her head. “No.”
“You thought that it was penance.”
“I thought that if I could just—just . . . I didn’t mean it, when I said you never give me chances.”
Buffy’s hand moved in circles on Faith’s back.
“I meant . . . what I meant was, you never make me work for it. You just—you . . . the way you look at me sometimes. It’s harder than if you never gave me a chance in the first place.”
“You think I’m disappointed in you?”
“No,” said Faith. “You’re not. You never are, any more. That’s the problem.”
Buffy took her hand away. “Spike has a hard time with it, too.”
Faith looked down at the grave. D-A-N-A in capital letters, and it didn’t say she saved the world a lot, or at all. Sometimes saving the world wasn’t as important, Buffy thought, as saving the world.
“It’s hard to believe in things,” Faith said. “Big joke, coming from me, right?”
“You don’t earn forgiveness,” said Buffy. “It’s something that’s given.”
“Right,” said Faith. “But it’s hard to think about it that way. Just look at Angel.”
“It was Angel who taught me that in the first place.”
“Can you do that thing again?”
“What?” said Buffy.
“That thing where you—you touch my shoulder. Where they were.”
“Oh,” said Buffy, and touched her shoulder. “Like this?”
Faith’s head bowed down.
“What does it feel like?” said Buffy, merely curious.
Faith closed her eyes. “It feels like prayer.”