Everything's dark. She isn't sure where she is—isn't even sure there's a floor beneath her feet—and everything is a little foggy, white, puffy wisps of smoke hovering against the darkness.
She peers into the darkness, but all she can see is him, and he's wearing that smirk. That awful, misogynistic, evil smirk.
"Didn't know you had it in you, Rosenberg."
She glances down. The skin on the back of her hand begins to ripple, oozing and morphing until it's not her hand anymore.
"Oh, yeah." He laughs.
"No. This isn't me."
"You're not convincing either of us, you know."
"I…I…No. You deserved it, and we both know it."
His grin stretches, almost unnaturally, like a hammock pulled too tight. "You still think this is about me?"
Out of the fog, a shape appears over his shoulder and a muffled whimper fills her ears.
She peers around Warren and sees her girl, gagged and bound, big blue eyes pleading for help.
"Want, take, have, baby." He smirks again, until a sickening pop fills the space and the skin is ripped from his body. The smirk falls away and he screams, thrashing and shaking his head against the pain. Then his body begins to swell, unevenly, until it's bumpy and misshapen like an old balloon. Finally he starts to shrivel, eyes darkening, hair growing, chest expanding…
"Long time, no see." Faith's smile is somehow less sinister than she'd remembered.
"Let her go."
"Who?"—turning her head, Faith glances back at Tara almost offhandedly—"Her? Nah, I didn't do that. On the straight and narrow now, you know." She looks back at Willow, dark eyes almost solemn. "I didn't do that, Willow. You did."
She can't breathe.
"Tara," she chokes out, reaching for her lover. She tries to run, but the world doesn't cooperate and she goes nowhere. "I didn't…" She glances at Tara; her eyes aren't pleading any more.
Faith blinks, nodding ever so slightly. She reaches out, fingers not quite brushing Willow's cheek, before her arm drops and she turns away and begins to fade. She looks back once, smiling sadly. "Want. Take. Have."
And Faith disappears.
She jerks awake, heart pounding, wide eyes peering into the darkness.
A soft grunt beside her draws her attention to the dark head on the pillow next to her.
For one moment, she thinks she's in bed with Faith, but then she remembers where she is and what a strange day she's had, and that the dark head belonged to Kennedy and she can't believe she slept with a woman after their first kiss.
Well, not so much slept with as slept in the same bed with, but still, she wonders if she'll ever convince the irrepressible girl they don't belong together now.
She slumps back against her pillow, breathing deeply and trying to convince herself it was just a nightmare.
She rolls over, tucking the duvet more tightly around her shoulders. She sinks into the seductive warmth of the bed and her eyes begin to feel heavy and…
Gasping, she sits straight up in bed.
They forgot about Faith.
The ride back from L.A. is awkward, to say the least. They sit quietly for several miles, the roar of the road constant and steady and almost deafening in the silence.
She glances at Faith from the corner of her eye; she's nothing like the evil, spiteful girl Willow remembers. But then, she of all people knows how much taking a human life can change a person. And she can't help but think that if she'd known then what she knows now…
"I'm so sorry," she says, fingers tightly clenching the steering wheel.
Faith shrugs—"No big. Stepchild gets the seconds. I know the drill"—but doesn't turn away from where she's staring out the window, her breath painting soft, opaque clouds against the cool glass.
"Not about that, although, yeah, I am sorry about that, too." She stares at the road, wincing when an oncoming car blinds her with its bright lights. Blinking, she takes a deep breath and continues. "I mean, about before. When you first came to Sunnydale—"
"Water under, Willow. Different people, then."
"—and then, after."
"I mean, after the guy. The…accident. Allan."
"Christ. Don't pull your punches, do you?" Faith grunts in annoyance before continuing. "Got a thing for chatting up murderers, then?"
She glances over at Faith—who's staring straight ahead, arms loosely draped across her lap—before returning her attention to driving. "It's not…it wasn't…I know it was an accident, and I was…harsh. More than, really, the whole time, and I should have been more supportive, I mean—"
"Look. Maybe you're right—maybe that was an accident—but he wasn't the only one. There was another. And that one, I meant." Sighing heavily, she continued, "Deserved what I got. You were right all along, I guess."
"No. I…I was wrong. I understand, now, what's it's like." She's sure her fingers are pressing grooves into the steering wheel, she's squeezing it so tightly—the squelch that Warren's flesh made as it left his body is echoing in her ears—but she has to continue. She owes it to Faith. She owes it to Tara.
She owes it to herself.
"I understand how it feels to kill someone—a human—and mean it." She closes her eyes for a moment as a shudder works its way through her body. Looking up, she thinks the car ahead has stopped—the glowing red lights in the distance are slowly growing closer.
"And I understand you're still diving the muff, yeah?"
"Did a bit of that, myself." Faith leans back, stretching her body out against the door and giving a sinuous wriggle. "Things you hear about prison? All true. Well, mostly." She shifts uncomfortably, stretching her arms up as far as they'll go in the cramped car. "Still, can't say I'm not ready for a bit of stick to ride."
"Faith." She rolls her eyes; this is the Faith she remembers. "You don't have to…" She trails off as the taillights ahead pull away—there's something on the ground.
Faith leans forward, peering into the dim light, before turning to meet her eyes.
She steps on the brake.
Faith avoids her.
The house is crazy—well, it's usually crazy, but now it's more like crazy with a heaping side of mind-melting chaos—and it's difficult to find a moment to talk or shower or pee or…take care of other certain urges, or…well…anything requiring privacy.
And Faith uses the chaos like a cloak, correcting the Potentials' throwing maneuvers, flirting with the Principal and scaring Andrew half to death, all while Willow tries to start a conversation she's desperate to have and Faith's desperate to avoid.
She doesn’t know why it's so important, but she feels unfinished, unbalanced, and she knows it's affecting her, can feel the magic swirling in her body, urging her to fix things, to bring herself into alignment.
It's who she is.
But while she's trying to pin Faith down, she also watches and she realizes that Faith is different.
She's known it, intellectually, since their trip from L.A. but, as she's watching, she notices the slightest bit of hesitation in Faith's gestures, in her words, an uncertainty that Willow doesn't remember seeing in the old Faith, but the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes it's always been there. Behind the devil-may-care attitude, the loose-limbed, slinky way she moves, the predatory glint in her eye…Faith's always been unsure of herself.
The revelation is only slightly more shocking than the realization that her first girl-crush wasn’t on Buffy…
…it was on Faith.
Heck, she'd all but pulled Faith's pigtails.
The magic boils in her stomach, tingling down her limbs and sending tiny shocks along her fingertips and she doesn't know why she's so nervous, but she takes a page from Faith's book and decides avoidance is much more palatable than the growing mass of inevitability growing in her gut.
And so they dance around each other.
It's easy to do; Kennedy hasn't given up after the kiss—as Willow predicted—and what was once an unwelcome intrusion has become a handy excuse to avoid what she knows must be done.
And it works…
…until Buffy reveals the big plan.
She's the big gun, again, and this time, she knows she can't go into a spell this big unless she's balanced, unless she's at peace with herself.
So she bites the bullet.
The night is still and quiet as she finds her way onto the back porch; Faith is sitting on the top step, a sinuous curl of smoke drifting above her head.
She approaches, fingers twisting in the hem of her sweater.
Faith doesn't look back. "Hey."
Taking a deep breath, she crosses the porch to sit beside Faith. "We never got to finish talking…"
"About prison sex?"
"No. About what happened, how things went down before."
"I figure we said enough."
"It's just that I understand now, and—"
"Look, save the Kumbaya shit for B, right? Just leave it."
"Oh." Stung, she looks away. Really, she should have known better—Faith isn't one to talk about things, she's more an action kind of girl. Well, she can do action too, so—resolve-face to the fore—she leans forward and brushes her lips against Faith's cheek, just brushing the corner of her mouth.
Faith jumps from the step—"What the hell?"—dropping her cigarette and scowling down at Willow in confusion.
She stands, stepping closer. "They don't get it."
Backing away, Faith protests, "Well, I don't wanna get it."
"But you do."
Faith stops moving, her eyes sharp with accusation. "Yeah, maybe I do, but newsflash for you, Willow—I didn't kill because I was hurt or because I wanted everyone to stop hurting. Maybe you haven't noticed, but I don't do that lovey-dovey shit." Faith pauses, pacing away from her, panting breaths echoing in the quiet.
Suddenly, the truth hits her like a ton of bricks: Faith is lying—to Willow, for sure, and most likely to herself.
She moves forward as things begin to click—she feels like she's in a cloud, floating closer and closer to the solution—and everything falls into place, and even though Faith's eyes are watery and she's starting to get angry, Willow can't stop, can't pause, because the answer's. Right. There.
As she steps forward, her foot catches in a hole and she pitches forward, flailing until Faith's arms pull her upright.
Shocked at the warmth from Faith's body, she looks up into wary brown eyes.
"You loved your Watcher."
Scowling, Faith releases her. "Run that by me again?"
"Your Watcher. You loved her."
"Post? That nutjob? Always thought you were the smart—"
A glimmer of insight fills Willow's mind. She holds her breath as the thought takes hold: The more Faith backpedals, the more the tries to misdirect and distract and retreat, the closer she is to revealing the truth.
So she presses forward.
"Not Post. The first one, the one that was killed before you came to Sunnydale."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
She's never seen that look in Faith's eyes—it looks like she feels when she thinks about Tara. Feeling her own eyes begin to water, she presses forward.
"You loved her. Probably more than you should have."
"Don't talk about her."
"And then she was killed, and you couldn't stop it."
"And you tried to pretend it didn't hurt, to pretend you didn't care, that you were—"
"You don't know a damn thing about it."
"—that you were invincible, that you didn't have feelings. You wanted us to think you were all…sex and slaying…no brain, no heart, no humanity…and we fell for it."
Faith stands, frozen, as Willow approaches, trembling fingers reaching to trace the glistening trail left by a tear.
"I can't. I see you now." And she can—perhaps for the first time in her life—and her heart aches at what she sees.
"Shut up." Shoving past Willow, Faith strides to the steps and bends down, retrieving the butt of her discarded cigarette and taking a pull from the end—"Fuck!"—but the ember has gone out. She drops it, grinding it unnecessarily into the dirt.
"I see you, Faith."
"Shut up." Before Willow can open her mouth to speak, Faith is right there, and she's falling back against the ground, struggling to breathe beneath the crushing weight of the hands wrapped around her neck. "Shut up."
The edges of the world are fading now, and all she can see are Faith's eyes. The magic she's tried so hard to repress, to deny, heaves through her body, begging to be released. She has no doubt that she could get out of this situation, but she knows the power inside won't stop at pushing Faith away, so she presses down against the surge. It swirls through her fingers and she still can't breathe and she thinks she might pass out and…
"No." Faith's eyes widen and she pulls away, scrambling across the yard, stopping only when her head crashes into the porch with a thunk.
Willow staggers to her feet. She looks across the yard and sees that Faith has done the same. For a moment, they only stare. Slowly, her heart rate returns to normal and her lungs stop heaving, but her eyes never leave Faith's.
"Come with me, tomorrow."
Faith blinks at the sudden request. "What?"
"When I do the spell. It's major mojo—I need someone to…keep me grounded."
Leaning against the porch railing, Faith's body slowly relaxes. "What about—?" she asks, gesturing towards the house.
"I need someone strong, someone who can…stop me, if anything goes wrong." She still remembers the incandescent brilliance of the magics she'd stolen after Tara died—it's her most frequent nightmare. She senses movement, and glances up to see Faith stepping closer. Peeking up through her lashes, she continues, "I need someone I can trust."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Faith bows her head in thought.
Willow smiles gently, crossing the space between them—"Thank you"—her fingers pressing the barest caress across the skin of Faith's shoulder before she starts up the steps.
"I didn't answer."
She pauses, turning her head slightly to reply—"Yeah. You did"—before going back into the house.
Later that evening, she sees Faith follow Wood up the stairs, hears the tell-tale creak of bedsprings, but for some reason, it only makes her smile.
The bus squeaks as it travels down the highway. She watches with glazed eyes as the dirt fields on the side of the roads give way to…more dirt fields.
And she feels as if her skin is about to crawl off.
Sunnydale is gone.
And they're alive. Mostly.
Her eyes flicker to the rear-view mirror and she spots a familiar brunette head, across the aisle and three seats back, slumped against the window.
She'll never forget the look of respect in Faith's eyes when she'd passed over the scythe.
Smiling, she scooches down in her seat and leans against the cold wall.
Closing her eyes, she finally falls into sleep.
Managing an army full of super-powered demon fighters who are coincidentally all hormonal teenaged girls is no easy task, and she keeps pretty busy, helping Buffy get things set up, but at the end of the day, her thoughts always return to Faith.
Then one day, she gets a call…
She arrives at Giles's and is greeted with little more than a 'Good, you're here' and a thick, dusty book thrust under her nose. She thumbs through the volume in the car, frowning when she realizes it's a spell Giles could accomplish on his own with a little preparation.
Still, she's glad to help, so when they arrive at an empty clearing in the middle of the woods, she's prepared to cast.
She only blinks twice when she realizes Faith is there, trading blows with a pair of big, ugly, muddy-brown monsters with tusks and heavy, spiked tails. Regaining her bearings, she begins to chant, pooling her magic into the middle of her body before banishing the creatures to another dimension.
"Well, that was a drag." Faith approaches, wiping her hands on the hem of her shirt and squinting in the glaring evening sun.
"You're working with Giles, now?"
"Uh huh. You still running Slayer Central?"
She grimaces. "Not so much running, anymore. More…adjacent to, I think."
She watches as Faith fidgets with the dried demon goo on her tank top and scrambles for something to say, but her mind is filled with nothing more than the desire to taste Faith's lips.
"Nice spellwork, by the way."
"Oh, that was nothing."
"Not…that," Faith answers, jerking her head towards the still-steaming circle where the demons disappeared. "I meant the big one, in SunnyD."
"Oh. Well, it was easy, once I knew I would be safe."
Faith looks down at her feet, and Willow's almost certain she sees a bit of a blush. In a moment, she's calmed herself and she looks up, meeting Willow's gaze.
"Willow, I—" Trailing off, she peers over Willow's shoulder, brow wrinkling. "Hey!" She jumps up, waving her arms in the air and starts running.
Willow turns just in time to see Giles's car pull away.
He'd left them in the middle of the woods, together.
She wonders if he's gotten more observant in his old age.
Grinning, she jogs to Faith's side and grasps her by the wrist. "Need a lift?"
Of all the things she loves about flying—soaring through the air, free and unencumbered, the world a tiny speck below—having a warm, soft body across her back and strong, smooth arms around her chest and waist has to be the best.
Faith's whoops of delight as they dip and swirl through the clouds runs a close second, though.
They land at Faith's apartment building, trudging up the stairs and laughing as Faith fiddles with the locks.
When they finally get inside, she just can't wait any more, and presses Faith against the door.
Faith's lips are soft…
…and full and lush and warm.
For a moment, the kiss is hesitant, tentative—it reminds her of the first kiss she shared with Tara, shy and hopeful and uncertain, as if any moment the rug could be pulled away and they'd be left with nothing—and then strong, slim arms slide around her waist, slipping up her back to tangle in her hair. Her mouth is being taken and she opens up without conscious decision to the onslaught—she thinks of Oz, the night before the full moon, the wolf lurking beneath the surface, a feral glint in his eye as he takes everything she offers and more—and finally, the frenetic pace slows. Just a bit. She groans as a slick tongue swirls around her own, wickedly teasing and utterly arousing, and she can't think of anyone but Faith…
The kiss breaks and Faith leers naughtily, backing towards the bedroom while shimmying out of her top.
Willow grins, and follows.
…And she doesn't want to think of anyone else.
He's smirking, again.
"Back so soon?"
"I'm getting tired of this, you know."
"Too bad. It's in you. Lurking beneath the surface until you relax and then…BAM! You hurt someone you love."
She's not surprised when Tara appears behind him, still whimpering.
"No? It's in you, Willow, I'm in you—"
She glances down at her hand; the skin begins to ripple gently.
"—you can't stop it."
"No," she says firmly.
The skin on her hand calms; her body is her own.
"I'm done with you."
"You killed me, Willow. That doesn't go away."
"You're right. It won't. But I'm never going to be that person again."
He scowls, gesturing behind him. "But what about—?"
"You can't hurt her any more." Like a puff of smoke, the gag and ropes disappear. Free from her bonds, Tara grins and waves shyly at Willow over Warren's shoulder. Willow can't stop the smile that stretches across her face.
After a moment, she turns back to Warren and continues, "And I'm not you, and we're not going to play this game anymore."
He slumps like a little boy who's lost his favorite toy.
"You're no fun anymore, Rosenberg."
She jumps as a hand grips her shoulder.
"Gotta disagree with you there, Sport."
Faith grins as Willow turns around, fingers stretching forward to trace the curve of Willow's cheek.
"Get lost," Faith says, shooing Warren away. When he disappears with in a swirl of fog, she notices the remaining figure. She nods at Tara, who blows Willow a kiss and slowly fades away.
Willow sighs as Faith leans closer, her breath soft on Willow's neck as she whispers.
"Willow. It's time to wake up."
Originally archived here.