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Refusing to Slay Silent

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Buffy could feel Faith’s eyes on her, all the way from the living room and she focused her own attention on the changing numbers on the microwave. She didn’t get lost in them the way she might have at certain points in her life, but even now at a time when she felt fairly content in herself, she still relished the opportunities she had to watch time slip away without marking the approach of an invasion or apocalypse. To not be looking forward to a finish line was unfamiliar to her in a way that would have been depressing if she hadn’t spent hours of therapy working to understand her own tendencies. She didn’t expect good things. Fine. With her background it made sense. Rather than belittle herself she’d come to accept that mindset and change what she could on the other end by counting her blessings and finding happiness in the small things, like counting down to the microwave, eagerly awaiting pizza.

A nagging part of her insisted the moment would be perfect if Faith wasn’t lurking in the shadows, but again she had to contradict her instincts. Most of the time she could trust her Slayer sense, but the way she reacted to it announcing Faith’s presence was a remnant of past misconceptions born of a mix of envy and bitterness. Additionally, there was the guilt and shame that came from those initial feelings. Again her therapist had a hand in that, as well as Faith herself whose willingness to discuss their pasts made Buffy far more inclined toward venturing into her own memories. For once their matching tendencies toward competitiveness might create something positive.

Buffy didn’t relish having to own up to the petty behavior of her younger self, let alone the vindictiveness that followed—but to be honest—and she really tried to be these days—she didn’t dread conversations with Faith. In fact, the more time that passed since Faith’s return to the fold the more Buffy began to look forward to seeing her. Examining their shared past reminded her of how enraptured she’d been with the other girl from day one. Sure, the way people reacted to Faith’s skill at slaying and the joy she derived from it ignited sparks of jealousy within Buffy that would one day become wildfire, but the were never the only sparks flying between them. She knew it then. For a while, maybe, she sent off some mixed signals, but Angel’s return reminded her of the consequences that came from mixing slaying and playing. She pushed Faith away with all her strength, and, being a slayer, she pushed way too hard, unknowingly setting off the cycle she’d hope to avoid. Her almost-lover went from good to evil, and her ordinary issues transformed into extraordinary problems, apocalypse-style.

Not that anyone knew the true depth of the parallels. Well. Dawn did. She never got over her habit of reading Buffy’s journal. And Giles suspected. He’d seen them train together, and there had been more than a few, well, pointed references to Ethan that year. (Sometimes Buffy wondered if people open to the supernatural were more likely to be open in other ways, too.) Willow she wasn’t sure about. Sometimes she said things and Buffy thought maybe, but others—it didn’t seem likely. Not that Buffy blamed her. She hated Faith for justifiable reasons, so maybe she couldn’t see her that way, even through someone else’s eyes. Plus, she’d been involved in her own relationship-drama that year, drama she now admitted had been exacerbated by the fact that she’d caught a rerun of that one episode of Ellen and began to reconsider her own thoughts about Gillian Anderson. Heavy denial about one’s own sexuality might make it difficult to notice a friend’s major lady-crush, but…. The thing was, Satsu hadn’t been the only one after Faith. The only one Buffy acted on beyond a couple of smooches, sure, but… She stopped taking it personally after she overheard Kennedy joking about how Willow’s gay-dar sucked, because that meant it wasn’t Buffy—it was a symptom of Willow’s general tendency to be self-absorbed, and honestly Buffy had accepted that a long time ago.

Just like she’d accepted Faith’s presence.

But did she have to always be so…. Present?

Beep, beep, beep! Buffy, who could sense an approaching vampire from a block away and pinpoint their location within a centimeter’s precision, jumped at the sound of the microwave timer. Well, she’d wanted to get lost in thoughts, hadn’t she? And these days, she could do that without putting anyone else in danger. The patrol was out. The baddies rarely made her their direct target anymore. Her home was warded. And if all that failed, she had Faith sitting there on her sofa, hunched over with her elbows on her knees, her face illuminated by the phone she been feigning interest in.

Maybe Buffy didn’t mind her being there, after all.

To prove that little realization to herself, Buffy plated her pizza and walked—okay, maybe sauntered—directly to the living room. She set the pizza on an end table to cool and curled up in an armchair, across from Faith.

“So,” she said. “What’s on your mind?”

Faith looked up at her way too quickly for someone who’d been as engrossed as she’d pretended. “On my mind? Nothing, remember? I’m the empty-headed one. The reckless one. All brawn, no brains.”

Once, Buffy would have argued. Before that, she might have agreed. At this point, she only raised an eyebrow. It didn’t take long for one of Faith’s cheeks to dimple a little as she tossed her phone onto the coffee table. They’d gone over her good decisions and Buffy’s poor ones plenty of times. She’d led troops into battle, planned skirmishes, and sometimes could display far more patience than Buffy if it meant making sure a girl would be safe. They didn’t need to rehash it all again. But maybe she’d been looking to stall whatever it was they did need to discuss, because after losing the phone it took her a long time to find her words.

“All right,” she said, at least a minute after Buffy’s pizza cooled down enough to be bitten into. “Dawnie mentioned something the other day. Said… Well, she had me talk to one of her trainees who is doing their dissertation about mental health and being Chosen. I mentioned how we tried to have therapists available from the get-go, and brought in the first shrink to deal with the ones like Dana. Told her how we got a few like that, a few who developed issues as they got older, but that nothing suggested that getting their powers triggered anything. Most mental illnesses show up around eighteen, but as far as I know the number of slayers with, like, bipolar, isn’t any different than the number of girls in general, y’know?”

Buffy nodded, more because she trusted Faith on this than because she knew. It’d been Faith who made her stop throwing around the word “schizo” and even “psycho,” and who’d convinced her that they needed to prioritize mental health for the new girls, long before Buffy willingly saw a therapist herself. Getting your powers is traumatic, B, no matter who you are, she’d said. And we don’t know who any of these girls are, but they’re just as likely to be me as they are to be you.

Like she still saw them as opposites. The light Slayer and the dark. The good and the bad. The stable and the unstable. Ha. Spike might have a story or two that would dissuade her of that notion.

“Obviously, our numbers are high for PTSD and shit like that. Depression. Eating Disorders, though actually less than most female-centered organizations, know that? Probably something to do with Slayer metabolism.” She shrugged. “Thing is, I also had to warn this wannabe-Watcher that they need to make sure to use the evaluations done by our people. They could look at whatever paperwork the Slayer came in with, especially if it had to do with family history, or whatever. But anything from a shrink? Don’t trust it. Throw it out. Burn it. Chances are our people already have. Because the first thing we do here is ask them to tell us their story.”

Buffy’s spine went rigid. She’d deposited her plate back on the end table a while ago in deference to an urge to run that’d taken over the first time Faith said shrink. She thought she’d known where this was going then, and she didn’t want to reach that destination. But the longer Faith spoke, the brighter her eyes got, and the harder her fists clenched, the less sure Buffy got about the end point of this story.

“Did you know, B, that almost every behavior that got a Potential sent to a counselor, or a therapist, or a shrink can be traced back to their Calling?” Faith didn’t pause for an answer. “Not always. We’ve got girls who can’t hit a target if they don’t take their Ativan. But others do fine once they start training. Kids actually have way fewer night terrors once they know that, yeah, monsters are real, but one day they’ll be able to fight them. Now that it’s all common knowledge, we’ve got a lot less coming in with a folder full of notes from the local child psychiatrist. That should make me happy, right? Should be great news. And to the part of me that trains these girls, who watches the quiet ones get more an’ more talkative the more people they meet who’ve met the same boogeymen in the alleys? That part of me’s god-damned ecstatic. But there’s a part of me that, well…”

Faith looked up, suddenly, her fiery gaze zeroed in on Buffy. “Talk circled back to that first round of girls. To how many of them we found through doctors, or even orderlies at facilities,” Faith more or less spat the word. “Now, Dawnie didn’t say anything explicitly. My guess is that’s a secret she’s used t’ keeping. But I couldn’t help noticing how much it upset her, and it made me wonder, B. Did something like that happen to you?”

Dancing with demons never caused Buffy’s heart-rate to spike this way. Hell, not even dancing with Spike had this effect. The rapid beats quickly synced with her shortened breaths and made her want to run at the same rate, while at the same time freezing her in place more effectively than any paralytic she’d ever encountered via an actual wound.

“‘Cause if so, it’s another thing we got in common.” Faith placed one hand on each of Buffy’s knees and positioned herself so that her face was all that Buffy could see. “It happened to me, too.”

Buffy wondered how Faith knew that the rephrase was necessary. She didn’t think her face had moved. She didn’t think her face could move. But Faith knew. She knew.

Faith lifted her hands until they, too, were visible. It reminded Buffy of how she moved around the more skittish recruits before she’d been given permission to touch them. The empathy involved in that, and the fact it came from Faith, had impressed her so much in the past, but she suddenly missed the other Slayer’s willingness to be handsy. Once-upon-a-time she never asked before swinging an arm over Buffy’s shoulders. It would be easy to assume that Faith had simply learned about the benefit of personal space, but Buffy’d seen her be just as loose with her touch with some of the others. In fact, Buffy was the only person Faith talked to who she never even asked to touch. The trainees got tons of hugs or light touches, depending on their natures, since touch starving is real, B. Giles, too, especially once he became unsized. Angel, whether he liked it or not. Dawn, who had taken the longest to be comfortable with Faith’s return to their lives, but who’d recently consented wholeheartedly to being subjected to Faith’s casual affection.

Dawn had also taken to trusting Faith with her confidences, apparently.

That wasn’t fair. Not entirely. That part of Buffy’s history belonged to Dawn, too. It also, possibly, belonged to Faith. Would things be different if Buffy had told Faith that part of her story herself, earlier on? Was Dawn right in her suspicion that she couldn’t have—that pre-Dawn, Buffy’s time at the institution wouldn’t have happened? Buffy never quite believed that. It seemed like too big of a thing. It had affected her understanding of her job too much, and also caused too many nightmares.

Buffy swallowed, but still wasn’t drawing in enough air to form words. If she could, would she ask Faith what she meant, or would she simply request she put her hands back?

Faith watched her battle with herself for what felt like an eternity—what did that P!nk song say? I’m my own worst enemy? Something like that. Buffy remembered hearing the lyrics blasting from Dawn’s room and identifying with them a little too much—and either her Slayer sense or her experience with what was feeling more and more like a panic attack must have clued her into Buffy’s thoughts, because she slid off the sofa to perch on the edge of the coffee table so that the knobs of their knees were pressed together.

“Hey, B, it’s cool, okay? Nothing to freak out about here.”

The thing was, the more Buffy ruminated on it—and this thought circle had definitely become the rumination the psych people warned against—the more right Faith seemed to be. Being sent to the psych ward wasn’t unusual. Not among slayers. The event that gave her sister so much guilt that she questioned the benefit of her own existence. The secret she’d held so tightly that her best friend didn’t know about it until she’d gone beyond rock bottom. The one misunderstanding she and her mother never hashed out because of the shame on both sides. It was real. Her experience was valid. And she wasn’t alone in any of it.

Okay, so maybe that was a pretty big deal.

“Y-you… they sent you away, too?” Buffy’s muscles loosened enough to allow her to cringe at her own words. “That’s not fair,” she added before Faith could answer. “It all happened right after the gym burned down, and I wasn’t exactly staying at home like a good little arsonist. Took off for Vegas to slay a baddie pretty much before the smoke could clear.”

The surprise on Faith’s face proved that no amount of self-control could totally stifle her natural expressiveness, and for some reason Buffy found that reassuring enough to continue.

“Hey, Slayer goes where the danger is, right? Or that’s what I thought. Merrick didn’t exactly get the chance to explain that the Council would make those decisions. And, hey, maybe he didn’t know. I get the impression that arranging my exile to the Hellmouth involved more strings than even they were used to pulling. Otherwise, why take so long?”

Huh. Bitter much? Buffy thought she’d let go of all this, but she must have just repressed it. Not the first time. Her lifestyle didn’t give her many opportunities to work her traumas, especially with the speed at which she collected them. By the time she did talk to someone any bad experiences she’d accrued before Sunnydale felt like ancient history. Who knew those wounds, ones she’d considered to be as well healed as the scrapes and tears she got every night, were actually just scabbed over, at the most, and would still radiate pain if she poked at them from the right angle.

“I always kinda wondered about that,” Faith admitted. “That buncha assholes didn’t have anything else to do but make sure they track down the hundred(?)-or-so girls born with potential every year. What distracted them so much that it took them fifteen years to find two of us? ‘Specially seeing as we were the ones who were gonna get chosen! And, shit, the Watchers learned magic, didn’t they? Make the tracking spell the first damn thing they learn. Give ‘em incentive to perfect it. Better ’n’ spending all their time teaching—not training, mind you, teaching, a buncha folks how to boss around teenager girls. Why not at least train ‘em all together? Help the girls feel more alone.” Her voice broke on the last sentence, and Buffy thought about how Faith’s first instinct after losing her Watcher had been to seek out the one other person who might understand what she was going through. And she’d been so wrapped in her own drama….

“That’s what we’re doing now.” Buffy reached over and lightly gripped Faith’s forearm—not quite squeezing her hand, but close—“The other day, Dawn told me that since our discovery levels evened out, we’ve detected about fifty girls born per year. That matches up with the Council’s records perfectly. Fifty girls a year, but a whole lot more of them died or couldn’t be found. We find them as soon as we can; we give them a choice; and no matter what, we never, ever let them feel alone.” Those points were essential to their mission, these days. It could even be found on the WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE A SLAYER?

Faith had been way more vocal the day they crafted that day of forming the guidelines, and Buffy had a vivid memory of looking across the table in the Slayer HQ library—designed by Giles—and seeing the same Faith she’d encountered in a Sunnydale alley all that time ago. Now, she again saw a girl of sixteen rather than a woman of twenty-six.

“I should have been more open with you from the start,” she continued, not sure if she was talking to young Faith, or old Faith, or both. “We—I—didn’t treat you any better than the Council. Only calling you if we had evil afoot. Like you were a Slayer-for-Hire.”

“Well, I did become a mercenary for the mayor, B,” Faith pointed out, amusement flickering in her eyes. “After I killed a guy.”

“After we shut you out. You’d just lost your Watcher, made it all the way across the country while being chased by a big-daddy vamp, and when you think you’re going to find understanding and safety, you basically get used. Yeah, you made a ton of bad decisions, but the leverage the mayor used—getting you out of that motel, and, hell, did you get fed outside of scavenging doughnuts in the library?”

“G-man wouldn’ta let me starve,” Faith said, but something in her face made Buffy think there was more, or maybe less, to the story.

“Still. We should have done more. I see the girls who come here at fifteen, and they’re…they’re still kids,Faith. They’re scared, and they’re vulnerable, and that’s the ones who haven’t lost their family or—or been…been institutionalized.”

“I wasn’t—I got locked up in the psych-ward of MGH for a while. Wasn’t the most traumatic thing that happened to me.”

“That’s more or less my point.” Buffy felt her body rise along with her voice, and immediately made herself sink back into the chair. She brought a hand to her forehead with a laugh. “God, we fight so easily that we’ve switched sides.”

“Nah, B.” Faith ran a hand through her hair, ruffling it in a way that caused her curls to cascade in evenly-timed waves, landing in that tousled-but-controlled way that Buffy’s hair would never manage, if she’d ever been brave enough to try. “We agree that we were both kids who went through hell, and we’re tryna make sure it doesn’t happen that way t’anyone else who shares our calling.”

She sounded more like young-Faith now, and Buffy wondered if it came from being tired or if it was a kind of defense mechanism against discussing that pre-Sunnydale time; the days she claimed were carefree and easy, but couldn’t have been, not from the little bit she’d let slip about her mother, and her childhood, and the short time she’d spent with Diana—a name that still came out laced with so much loss that adult-Buffy could only guess how much the woman came to mean to Faith who until that point seemed to never have an adult focus on her, who wanted to keep her hale and whole, if not safe, exactly, by any common measure. Kendra hadn’t spoken nearly so well of a Watcher who more or less raised her from birth; her detachment dusting Faith’s claim to aloofness.

“We should have told each other so much more,” Buffy said, more to herself at this point.

“Yeah, well.” Faith smirked. “Chatting wasn’t exactly on my to-do list if there was slayin’ to be done, even with you. Maybe especially with you.” Her eyes sparkled, and Buffy remembered the exhilaration she’d felt during those patrols. It’d been wild, and thrilling, and almost easy. She’d never felt so safe while Slaying, and she didn’t feel it again until they learned to fight together again, a while after she’d experienced fighting with more than one Slayer on the battlefield.

However, she also remembered a lot of time spent going between cemeteries, time they tended to spend showing off for each other and deconstructing their kills. Some of that needed to be done, but she’d be the first to admit that she didn’t try any harder than Faith to break the awkward silences that fell in between tricks.

“And then there was chatty-chatty me, terrified to say anything of substance.”

“No worries, B, now I know all your darkest secrets.” Faith shrugged and stretched in one movement, pushing her shoulders back and lifting her arms above her head. Buffy caught a glimpse of moonlit-skin at her waistline, and a lump of words and feelings rose up in her throat. Almost choking her. Almost, but not quite.

“Not all of them.” Buffy said. At first, she couldn’t be sure Faith heard her. Maybe that would be best. Let Faith think the conversation over and go on up to bed, thinking that everything had been said between them. And maybe enough had, for them to be able to slay and teach together, mentoring the ones they’d caused to be Chosen. Letting the past be the past, and the girls be their future. But all of a sudden, Buffy couldn’t do that anymore. Ensuring that other Slayers would be happier than she had been could be her legacy, but she wanted something more for her life.

Maybe even something more.

And maybe Faith was in tune to that, because she tilted her head and said very carefully, “What’s that, B?”

“My history wasn’t the only important thing I didn’t tell you back then. I mean, honestly there were a compendium’s worth of things I didn’t tell you, or anyone, but as far as things you should have known…” Buffy brought her thumbnail up to her mouth, worrying on it with her teeth in a way she couldn’t remember doing for years.

“Spit it out, B.” The patience Faith had shown earlier had gone, another sign that she knew, or could at least guess, what Buffy was going to say. Or maybe she just had plans for the night and had grown tired of rehashing old memories. Buffy couldn’t read her at times like these, never could, and wasn’t that the problem?

“I thought…. Well, at first I told myself it was all to do with us being Slayers. The way I felt around you, it could all be chalked up to heightened senses and incredibly badass slays. But that was a lie, and I knew it.” She stopped contemplating the whirls of her fingerprint and made herself look into Faith’s face, even though her features hadn’t moved. “I repressed it, but I knew,” she repeated. “I mean, hell, my mom moved in the LA art scene. I spied on enough of her parties to know that boy-girl feelings weren’t the only ones out there.

“There was even a girl at Hemery, my school there. We didn’t even get far enough to get the rumors going, not before the vamps showed up, anyway.” She laughed to herself. “Funny, isn’t it, that my sexuality got play in the Sunnydale rumor mill? I didn’t do anything to deserve it. But I guess they could tell that I wanted to.”

She clenched her fists to keep from looking away after saying that, but she didn’t let herself. Faith had plenty of reasons to not believe her, and she didn’t know what proof she could offer other than the truth.

“I’m sorry. I should have been brave enough to say something. Especially before Angel showed up. Maybe especially after, but if I’d gotten over him enough to pursue Scott Hope,” she scoffed. “Talk about bland. I don’t think I’d ever mention him to a shrink if I didn’t associate him with my second and third most traumatizing therapist experiences. If his bff hadn’t killed Dr. Pratt, who knows, maybe I’d have figured all that out. According to Holden Webster, Scott was the only one of my boyfriends to clock my Sapphic side.”

Buffy sighed. “I’m not going to lie to you now. Part of me knew what he was freeing me to do. Breaking up with me was possibly the most actually unselfish thing I’ve ever had a boyfriend do. I think if the limo hadn’t been hijacked Homecoming might have been really different. Maybe. I still might have chickened out. You were kind of intimidating when it came to all that.”

“All what?” Faith said. Her voice sounded more raspy than ever, and Buffy felt her face flushing enough to earn her the nickname Faith used for Willow.

“You know! The…the sex stuff. You were all, oh la-la, killing vamps sure makes me hungry and horny in my tight leather pants, how ‘bout you, B, doesn’t it make you wanna bump nasties on a gravestone.”

Faith’s eyebrows rose slowly, and a hand rose to her mouth. Her shoulders jerked. In spite of the fact that Buffy had almost never seen Faith lose her control due to anything but amusement or anger, it still took her a second to realize she’d started laughing.

“Shut up!” Buffy smacked Faith on the shoulder with the back of her hand. The laughter continued long enough for Buffy to consider that it sounded a whole lot more like a nervous girl’s giggle-fit than the deep, raspy laugh she’d come to expect from Faith.

“I’m sorry.” The word came out with a snort. “You’re bearin’ your soul here, and I shouldn’t be laughing. I get what a big deal that is, but Buffy, you’ve spent the past half hour tellin’ me that you shoulda realized back then that I wasn’t any less of a kid than you were, an’ yet you still think I had it together enough to realize that I was in love with you?”

“In—? I—? But you…you started the flirting! And the insinuations!”

“How long have you been training teenagers now? What’s the first thing they talk about when they’re tryna sound older than they are?”

“Dusting vamps, if you’re talking about the ones we deal with!” Buffy argued. Faith’s eyebrows went up again, and Buffy pressed her forehead against her palm. “Okay, fair, it’s about even.”

Faith nodded in a very self-satisfied way, but there was something in her face that made her look just a little bit less composed than usual. Like she’d executed a tricky slaying maneuver and then dropped her stake a minute later.

“So, but, all the girlfriend jokes—you weren’t aiming for anything? Because, not gonna lie, I kinda was. Like, if you’d called me on it at all….” Buffy shrugged, thinking about the way her heart would pound whenever Faith played along with her jokes about dating and patrol; the time she admitted that she thought you learned far more about a person fighting with them than going out on a date with them; the post-slay meals she’d paid for because I asked, after all.

Faith drove her nuts, not reacting but not stepping back the references. Sheltered, teenage Buffy had an inkling that maybe Faith didn’t have much experience dating dating, but come on. Everyone knew the patterns, right? Movie, dinner, two straws in a milkshake? Did she have to hire an accordion player à la Lady and the Tramp? (She considered it, but decided Faith might get all you saying I’m a tramp, B? without taking the hint.)

Now, sitting even closer to her than she’d sat at the Sunny-Side Up diner, Faith tapped her lips in thought. “It’s hard to say. I spent a lot of my time in the joint tryna keep my head above water, so by the time I had my head above water and out of my ass to consider anything involvin’ touchy-feely stuff, the good days in Sunny-D felt like ancient history. But once I got to it, there was a lot of touchy-and-feely, if you know what I mean.”

Buffy’s face heated up again, this time alongside fists that clenched with an urge to hit some felons in the face. Settle down there, Slayer.

There wasn’t much that could make her want to hurt a human, but she didn’t wear jealousy well. Sue her.

“Thing is, once I, uh, scratched the itch, I didn’ want to swim in the Nile, ya know? Not like most of the other gals in there. They were all ‘feelings? nah, kid, this is purely physical. Gay for the stay, that’s me!’ Plenty of ‘em had men on the outside they cared about. Were devoted to. I watched ‘em in the visiting room, or even just talking about their honeys. Told my counselor I’d never felt that kind of way about a dude. Sure, I’d liked a couple. Even thought they liked me. But that attachment? That desire to stay connected to one person, even with being locked up? Now that wasn’t me.”

It would have been easy to accept this explanation as rejection, and maybe a different Buffy would have, but this Buffy had listened closely enough to hear the uncertainty in Faith’s voice, and all the verbs in past tense, signaling that her understanding of herself had changed—that her need to deny had ended, same as Buffy’s need to repress.

“And then?” Buffy prodded. Faith’s eyes widened, and Buffy caught something in her eyes that might have been fear. Had she not expected Buffy to pursue the thread? Did she not think she was worth the effort, even now?

“Then one of ‘em got screwed over. Not sure what happened exactly. Cheatin’ maybe, though that woulda made her the queen of all hypocrites.” A smirk crossed her face, and Buffy’s fists clenched again. “Doesn’t matter. Not really. What matters is the way she wailed on the next person who beat her at cards in the yard.” Faith shook her head. “I woulda let it go when I first got there. Part of keeping my head above water also involved keepin’ it down, you know?” Buffy nodded. She more than knew. Retreat had been her favorite coping tactic for a long time. “But by that point I made it a personal goal to try an’ keep order. To be a… a source of, uh…of peace.” She ducked her head in embarrassment, and Buffy reached out to her again, this time officially taking her hand.

“That’s impressive, Faith. It really is.”

“Yeah, maybe. Helped me keep the Potentials under control. They were wilder than the aggressive ones on my block ever got.”

Buffy smiled, but didn’t say anything. Vulnerability tended to make Faith bolt.

“Anyway, the chick who’d won the hand was tiny, in for some white-collar, hippie crime. Couldn’t hurt a fly, and sure as hell couldn’t hurt a woman fifty pounds heavier than her. Thing is, this other woman wasn’t the type to go off on someone over a game of 21. But there she was, just punching this girl in the face. Went at me once I got her against the wall. Woulda tried to scratch my eyes out, if I hadn’ta grabbed her wrists before she could lift ‘em. Now, this wasn’t my first prison fight, but it was the first time I’d ever seen that level of pure, undiluted rage on someone’s face—at least someone who was otherwise an average, non-evil human. And even then I understood that it didn’t have much to do with the girl she’d hit. Eventually, I think everyone realized that; they were friends again by the time I left. What I didn’t understand was why looking into her eyes was like looking into a mirror.

“Getting involved in a fight, even to finish it, earned me some time in solitary and some extra time in my counselor, who was real interested in making sure I really had gotten involved for the right reasons, and hadn’t gone all murderous again. I offered up the whole fellow-feeling thing, maybe because I didn’t want to think too much about what made me want to fight on the side of good. Turns out they weren’t all that different.”

“Huh?”

“C’mon, B, it’s not that complicated. I told her it didn’t make any sense, because I’d never gotten that bent outta shape over anything to do with a guy. Without missing a beat she goes Well, what about a girl? An’ it clicked. Now, i’m not gonna tell you that I accepted the fact that I’d reacted so strongly to everything that happened because I had, y’know, feelings for you. Or that a decent part of my return to the light side of the Force came from wanting to prove to you that I could do it. To impress you. To be the person you thought I could be in the first place. It took a while for that. Maybe even took you dyin’, I’m not sure. It’s still hard for me to pin down feelings shit. Too much else to do on my path to redemption.” Her grin was self-effacing, but Buffy squeezed the hand she still held, hoping Faith knew it meant she was proud that she’d taken that path.

“Point is, I figured it out. Only time I felt that kinda rage…. Well, it wasn’t Angel I wanted to steal that night in the mansion. Not really.”

“Huh.” Buffy repeated without the question mark. “You think we oughta ask Willow about making sure we do enough LGBT awareness around here?”

“You still think it’s a Slayer thing?” Faith wrinkled her nose in a way that made Buffy want to lean over and kiss it. Ah, hell. She steeled herself, the same way she did before jumping into an ongoing fight, and gave into the instinct. Faith’s face broke out in a grin.

“Nah,” Buffy said. “I think it’s a statistics thing. Plus they’re teenage girls. All those hormones have to go somewhere. If we’re proof of anything, it’s that.”

Faith laughed, and it came out raspy and loud, a sound that, Buffy realized, she often listened out for, and that always made her smile. “Can’t argue with that, B.”

“Really? Wow. I could get used to hearing that.”

“Hm. Maybe I’ll get used to saying it.” Faith’s eyes danced, and her smile was teasing. Buffy’s stomach swooped, and she finally knew what to do about it. With less trepidation than a minute before she leaned forward and pressed her lips against Faith’s. A feeling coursed through her that wasn’t excitement—or not just excitement—it was rightness. In a way she remembered from only a few other moments, most notably in this situation their first joint slay.

Faith slid forward on the coffee table, and Buffy moved to the edge of her chair, but they still weren’t close enough together. Slayer lung capacity kept them from needing to breath as soon as most humans would, but for once Buffy wasn’t the one forced to end the kiss to breathe. Faith pulled back, and in her periphery Buffy could just see the corner of her lips rise between those strong—incredibly strong—hands hooked behind her knees and tugged her forward. Buffy wrapped her arms around Faith’s neck and settled onto Faith’s lap.

“Much better,” she said.

“Amazing, I agree again.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and decided to wipe the smirk off Faith’s face. She’d succeeded, more than succeeded, and that might not have been the only thing she coaxed off of Faith if they hadn’t been interrupted by a squeal.

They moved in a long-honed unison, separating just enough that they could each reach for a weapon if necessary. It wasn’t necessary. Well, not strictly.

Dawn stood at the foot of the stairs, her arms full of books and a sheaf of paper that seemed likely to tumble off the pile.

“Are you two—? I mean, obviously— I didn’t— Okay, but it’s about time. You’re not annoyed that I told her about the hospital, are you Buffy? Or, wait, maybe you didn’t talk about that. Crap, I shouldn’t have—”

“Dawnie!” Buffy had let her sister go for a while, because she deserved it, but she didn’t need to be responsible for the girl having a stroke at the age of twenty.

“Eep, right. I’ll…I’ll just go back upstairs. You guys, you do what you’re doing.”

Buffy listened to her sister’s feet pound about halfway up the stairs and then yelled, “Hey, Dawn?”

To her credit, Dawn didn’t bother coming down to respond. “Yeah?”

“We need to talk about those statistics. Tomorrow. The three of us,” she added turning back to Faith. She barely bothered to process her sister’s acknowledgment before returning her focus to Faith—or more specifically, Faith’s lips.

There would be more midnight talks like this. There would have to be. If all of Buffy’s doomed relationships had one thing in common it was the lack of communication, and Faith, well, she self-diagnosed as having never communicated with anyone. So, talks would be necessary. But for the moment, Buffy wanted to make up for the time they’d lost by not talking. And also to get her hands in those beautiful brown curls.

Good thing their owner had been the one to teach her how to get what she wanted.