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Living Dead Girl

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“What are we going to do?” The kid is looking right at her. Shit, it feels like they keep getting younger. She’s pretty sure Buffy and her were never this young. They never had those big eyes, too wide for her face and too full of fear. Faith doesn’t blame her.

After all, it’s not every day that you die with one of the chosen two.

“We keep moving.” Faith keeps her voice strong. It’s what Paulie needs her to be. No one wants their leader telling them how they’re gonna die. No one wants to see their leader scared. Besides, Faith isn’t about to let Paulie die. “Get in.” Faith pushes Paulie’s shoulders when she hesitates.

“There isn’t enough room. Should we keep going upstairs?” Faith doesn’t bother telling her that the stairs are just as overrun as the hallways behind them. She’s trying to save Paulie some of the trauma she’s sure to get. She keeps pushing and Paulie takes the hint. She all but shoves Paulie into the dumbwaiter. “I can barely fit so you definitely won’t!” Paulie protests.

“I’ll manage.”

“I’m not leaving you!”

“Don’t be so dramatic. You’ll give the boss a run for her money.” Faith shuts the shitty wire gate and moves to the chains. She hates demon lairs. They’re always poorly lit and decorated after whatever hell they call home. A dumbwaiter that needs someone on either end to operate it? Straight out of the devil's playbook if you ask Faith.

“She hates it when you call her that.” Paulie’s fingers are poking out of the wiring. They’re so small—too small. It steels Faith for what comes next. After all, the door behind them is barely holding as it is.

“I know.” She gives Paulie a crooked grin. Faith takes her necklace off and presses it into Paulie’s hands, careful to wrap her fingers around it. “Give it to B.” Faith pulls as hard as she can on the chains as realization dawns on Paulie’s face.

“No! Faith!” Paulie kicks against the wiring but it’s too late, Faith is already raising her through the chute. She doesn’t know how far she’ll get Paulie up before the demons get her. She hopes someone’s at the top. She hopes Buffy figured out how fucked they are and came running. Buffy will step up where Faith falters.

It’s their story after all.

Faith fucks up by bringing the baby slayer on a patrol and lands them in a nest of demons that even she’s never faced before. She has no clue what they are. She just knows there’s a lot and they don’t go down easy.

She keeps desperately pulling on the chain, raising Paulie higher despite her loud protests.

Honestly, it’s a better death than she’d come to expect. Buffy always said that they weren’t going to make it past their thirtieth. Jokes on her. Faith got to make all the old woman jokes without getting any back. God, at least she won’t be here for Buffy’s moping about Faith not making it to thirty. This is Buffy’s fault. Doesn’t she know whatever she says is gonna happen? Faith’s pretty sure it tickles The Powers That Be’s funny bone to make Buffy right all the goddamn time.

The doors crash open with an operatic click of demon tongue.

She keeps pulling the chain.

She hears a muffle that’s familiar and she feels her heart calm. Paulie will make it out now, Saint Buffy to the rescue. It’s too far to hear what Buffy or even Paulie is saying by this point but she can hear their loud muffled voices. She doesn’t know if Buffy is fighting or if she has the chain so Faith can’t let go yet. Not while Pauline could still need her.

She always thought she’d go down fighting. That she’d die charging a demon three times her size or something equally badass.

“Faith!” Buffy finally yells loud enough for Faith to hear.

The pain lances through her stomach and rips a scream from her throat. It’s so familiar—that deep unending pain mixing her guts like soup. She really didn’t want to get stabbed again. This time it’s from the back and she isn’t sure if it’s better or worse. At least it isn’t Buffy again.

“You better have killed them all by the time I get down there!” Buffy’s voice is too worried—too fucking frightened—to really pull off joking.

She keeps a hold of the chain with one hand. She gives up on pulling and just settles on keeping it in place until Buffy can take over. She lashes out with her free hand, knife splitting charred flesh. It does nothing to slow them down. The next blow bounces her head off the chalky wall. She feels her cheek bone break with a pop of agony.

“Bet my face is still prettier than yours.” She sneers at the demon she slashed. It raises its sword and presses it below her sternum, a gleam of cruel victory to its eyes. She feels the chain jiggle before a solid force tugs at it. Buffy finally learned how to work the dumbwaiter it seems.

Bit late for it but still, she’s proud of Buffy. Just took her a ridiculous amount of time to figure out tugging on chains.

The sword buries itself into her flesh, scraping past her spine. Faith screams but it’s broken, her body unable to support a full scream. It tapers off into a voiceless groan. The pain fades quickly too. She wonders if they cut through her spine or if she’s just dead and doesn’t realize it yet. Her hands scramble, holding onto its arm to try and stay upright.

The demon pulls the sword free and a wet squelching sound fills the silent room.

“Faith!” She can hear Buffy’s frantic voice call out, echoing down the chute. Faith stops her body from crumpling against the demon’s feet and instead falls against the mouth of the chute. If she’s gonna die, she wants to hear Buffy. Her feet slip from beneath her and her arms hook over the ledge.

How desperate is she, more dead than alive and still trying to crawl to Buffy. In her defense, Buffy is sort of into desperate and dead. Might be a good look for Faith.

Her vision is all but black, her skin cold and numb, her breath is more of a drowned exhale than anything. She wants to say something to Buffy but her words won’t work.

“Catch!” Faith’s dulled senses register the word as the necklace falls down the chute, barely latching onto her finger. The luck of it, she’ll have to give The Powers That Be a better review. Her fingers twitch around the necklace. She can’t really tighten her fist but she tries. She tries because there’s no way she’s dropping it. She wanted Buffy to have it but she decided to drop it back. Buffy can always get it off her corpse.

Except the stone breaks. It breaks and crumbles off the string it’s attached to.

Faith’s most important possession falls in dust to the floor.

She lets go.

She doesn’t realize the dust doesn’t just fall to the floor. She doesn’t see the dust that writhes its way up her arms, into her pores.

She lets the darkness take over and closes her eyes.

She wonders if she’ll wake up in heaven, if she made up for everything in the end. If she did enough good, changed enough, that maybe she fixed the cosmic scales.

There isn’t a golden gate, fluffy clouds, or even Buffy in leather pants.

Instead it goes from numbness to weirdness.

She sort of tumbles forward, over something. She hears squeals from where she fell and curses. The sense of wrongness pervades her awareness. She stills, taking in the environment as quickly as she can. It’s a small room, low lighting, a lingering scent of herbs and incense. It smells like Red’s room—she’s pretty sure that was her squeak too—but she hasn’t been in a room this small in a while.

Did Willow do some magic and zap her out of there? Her fingers trace to where she’d been nearly cleaved in two and finds no wetness, no blood. No wound. Did she heal Faith too?

She stands and looks around, noting the exits and weapons in her analysis of the room. Her heart stops when her gaze lands on the bed, which is evidently what she tripped over. Willow’s offly still too, frozen in complete fear. So fucking young.

“Buffy!” Willow calls in hysterics, a scared look tossed to the blonde beside her. Tara, Faith notes belatedly. Faith lunges across the bed, covering Willow’s mouth. She’s running on instinct and instinct says minimize the issue.

Tara’s hands fly up and a string of words leave her mouth. Faith goes flying off the bed, a desk clipping her side. Faith isn’t sure how but Willow is already at the door in the blink of an eye. Faith groans before kicking herself back up. She’s intent on shoving Willow back on the bed and away from the door when the pain stops her.

There’s that blood.

Faith drops to a knee as pain overcomes her. Willow freezes again, confusion plain as day. Tara looks vaguely horrified, like she’s scared that she hurt Faith.

“Either of you got a tampon by any chance?” Faith smiles at Willow who still looks like she might hit her with the book in her hand. “Or are you more pad kinda gals?”

“W—Willow.” Tara pulls at Willow’s hand, tugging the book free. Tara gets off the bed, hesitance coloring every movement. She looks like a baby slayer in the face of their first vampire.

“Don’t, Tara! She’s dangerous. Crazy, evil, the whole shebang.” Willow cuts her a look that Faith hasn’t seen in years. In years, no fucking way.

Faith stands up, pain hobbling her movements. She swipes at the desk and files through the papers looking for some sort of schedule or calendar.

“What are y—you looking for?” Tara asks her, not sounding as worried as Willow.

“A calendar.” Faith answers.

“You’re not from this time, or m—maybe this dimension.” Tara sounds intrigued but certain in her answer.

“No I definitely know her, she’s hard to forget with the whole betrayal and killing.” Willow argues.

“I think you know a Faith, just not this one.”

“What do you mean?”

“Her energy isn’t right. It’s misaligned, jagged. It’s not supposed to be here but it belongs to her. I could be w—wrong.”

Faith falls back to the floor, slightly shaky from the last half hour of her life. “When are we exactly? College obviously but have I woken up yet?”

“Woken up?” Tara asks the room at large.

“She’s in a coma.”

“O—oh, I’m sorry.” Tara offers her a genuine smile. It’s kinda nice.

“Don’t be, she deserves it.” Willow cuts her a look that could kill. If it was her Willow, she might be worried but this Willow looks like a declawed pampered version of herself. Faith notices her necklace is still weaved between her fingers and puts it around her neck even if the stone is gone. It’s still precious.

“It’s the last good sleep I’ve gotten in years. Kept up every night with this wildcat.” Faith winks exaggeratedly at Tara who blushes but seems to realize it’s a joke whereas Willow only gets more angry. Right, early days still.

That’s not to say everything is smooth sailing but it usually is. There’s always gonna be some bad blood with her and scoobies but it’s mostly cooled off. Here and now it’s still burning, a festering wound.

“What do we do?” Tara asks Willow, her hand twitching as if she wants to reach out to Willow but is stopping herself. Willow doesn’t notice the movement. Faith buries her face in her hands and groans. Really lets it out. The whole self-sacrificing thing sucks.

“We get the gang together. Buffy will try to kill me, Giles will look disappointed, Xander will call me evil. It’ll be a good time all around.” Faith smacks her thighs before standing. She lifts her shirt and examines the wound, it’s barely a wound but it’s still bleeding right where she got stabbed the second time. “Will, call them up. Don’t tell them why or it’ll be a whole thing and waste time.”

Willow looks at her oddly, like she’s really looking at her for the first time. “Okay.”

“Just like that?” Faith’s honestly surprised she didn’t have to strongbar her into it.

“Buffy can always kick your ass again when you show your hand.” Willow answers easily with complete faith in Buffy. She calls and says it’s an emergency, tells them all to meet at Giles’. While Willow is on the phone, Tara offers her a clean shirt and some bandages. Faith takes them and changes as Willow hangs up.

“Lead the way, Red.” Willow’s hostility is back in full force but she does lead.

She knows the way but she still follows. Honestly, she needs the time to wrap her head around this. She’s likely in the past, if not a full on alternate reality. She prefers it when this weird shit happens to Buffy.

Maybe she shouldn’t be meeting with them if it’s the past. She tries to recall all the dumb shit Andrew and Xander say about time travel. More importantly, she tries to remember what Dawn would say since she’s the only one of the three to have a real hint of smarts. Shit, Dawn wouldn’t even exist yet.

It feels wrong, kind of sick. She knows Dawn’s the key and she was made into their lives, added in like a late addition. Truth is that it feels wrong in every way. Dawn feels like a part of Sunnydale, a Summers, one of the scoobies. She’s one of the few that Faith can tolerate.

Shit, she’s probably one of her closest friends.

She hates this trip down memory lane already and she hasn’t even faced Buffy’s wrath yet.

She sees Willow and Tara grow uneasy with her silence the closer they get to Giles’. Faith decides to humor them. “How long you two been a thing?” Willow stumbles and Tara hides her face. Weren’t they a thing? She’s pretty sure they were a thing even before she woke up from her coma.

“God, Faith.” Willow exclaims like she’s the world’s biggest asshole.

“My bad.” Faith answers. She waits a few moments until Willow looks less like she’s about to explode. “You don’t gotta stress about it, Will.” The furrow between Willow’s brow resembles when a particularly difficult spell challenges her. She didn’t mean to put Willow through a sexuality freak out before a big meeting.

“Don’t.” Willow’s voice is venomous, all sharp and angry.

“What? Shit I didn’t mean to hit a nerve.” She’s trying to reel it in. This isn’t her Willow, she can’t tease and prod her the same. This Willow is a hair from tying her to a stake and burning her alive.

“Don’t call me Will like we’re friends.” Willow's short tone leaves Faith cold. She hadn’t even realized she was calling her Will. It’s just instinct. She unfortunately picked it up from Buffy. Too much exposure to Buffy leads to nerdy nicknames. She can still remember Buffy’s self-satisfied smirk and her droll tone the first time Faith said it. It warms her against the iciness of Willow’s attitude.

It’s discombobulating dealing with this Willow. She’s been friends with Willow for years now. She could even say they are friends, it’s something that took a long time for either of them to feel comfortable saying. Now, she’s left with a younger shadow of the woman she knows.

“Alright, Red. Don’t flay me.” At least this Willow won’t kick her ass for the joke.

“Murder is more your thing.” Willow snidely responds. It hurts because in a way, being murderers sort of bonded them. It’s kinda dark, definitely not something Willow told Xander, but it’s true. They could find familiar ground. There’s nothing like the all-consuming guilt and shame of going villain of the week to bring people together.

“Don’t you forget it.” Faith winks, tossing an arm around Willow’s shoulders only to be pushed off.

They stop outside Giles’ door and hesitate. Willow opens the door and steps through, Tara takes a moment and offers her a supportive smile.

“What’s the matter, Will?” She hears Buffy ask Willow.

“Yeah not to be that guy but I was in the middle of something.”

“Organizing pennies by how shiny they are isn’t exactly something.”

Faith steps in, following behind Tara. Faith knows the moment Buffy sees her because next thing she knows she’s knocked into a wall. Being tossed around is getting to be real old. Buffy intercepted her, probably trying to protect her friends, and pinned her against the wall.

Buffy’s forearm presses into Faith’s throat, her face so close Faith can make out the speckles of fury in her eyes. She’s pressed close, too close Faith would even say. She can feel the heat from Buffy’s legs pressed against hers, the slight dig of her belt buckle digging into her lower stomach. Faith’s breath catches when she feels the slayer tingles wash over her.

Buffy and her have gotten a lot better at their emotions over the years. Maybe a lot is overselling it, they’ve gotten better. As a result, their slayer connection has become less intense. More control over emotions equals a more stable and less chaotic connection. It also means she hasn’t felt this raw overwhelming force between them for some time. Maybe even before the First. Before Buffy died.

Buffy is so furious and angry that Faith can practically taste it. The slight tremor of fear and hefty load of guilt sours the feeling.

“That a stake or you just happy to see me, B?” Buffy presses her forearm hard against her throat and Faith decides not to throw her off. Buffy won’t kill her, she’s got too high of a horse for it. Faith’s life isn’t in danger so there’s no reason to fight and shoot any chance of an easier discussion away. “Always knew you’d be into choking.”

Buffy looks vaguely disgusted but it does cause her to let up some. “What are you doing here? When did you wake up?”

“Need some help.”

“You think we’re going to help you?” Xander cuts in with a laugh.

“I woke up a long time ago.”

“The hospital would have called us.” Buffy replies and as if on cue Giles moves to make the call.

“It would seem that Faith is still in a coma.” Giles tells everyone after hanging up the phone. Faith feels her stomach drop as Buffy presses a stake to her chest.

“What are you then? A shape-shifting demon? I hate to tell you but this psycho is so out of season.” The stake stings where it presses into the sensitive wound and her fists tighten out of instinct. She can still feel the unending pain of being stabbed through and smell the way the charred flesh had stuck to her clothes.

“B—back up.” Tara cuts in with far more bravery than Faith would have ever given her. She’s looking at Buffy with naked fear but she’s still moving between them.

“Will, who’s this?” Buffy looks confused and isn’t backing up.

“This is Tara, she’s my friend.” Willow is quick to answer, not wanting Tara to be assumed Faith’s friend.

“You’re f—freaking her out.” Tara tells Buffy. Faith hadn’t realized how quick her breathing had gotten or how sweat gathered in her palms. It seems Tara did.

“I’m freaking her out? Last time I saw her, we were fighting to the death!” Buffy’s tone is defensive, like she isn’t used to someone criticizing her intentions.

“Fighting to the death?” Riley cuts in, puffing up ready to get involved. Faith really hates Riley. Out of all of Buffy’s exes she hates that he’s the one she slept with. She really doesn’t like to think of Angel as Buffy’s ex, he’s too important for that. Even Spike would have been a better choice to get at Buffy. She gets along fine with Angel and Spike, the elephant between the three of them notwithstanding. Riley, she’s never gotten along with.

Her skin feels tight and her slayer is practically begging for a fight. She’s been sitting backseat all day. She let them kill her so she could protect Paulie, she let Willow make snide comments, she isn’t even fighting Buffy’s grip, but it’s all becoming too much for a natural fighter.

“Hey.” Tara looks at her like she sees it all. It’s just below her skin and Tara sees it and meets her eyes. “It’s o—okay, no one needs to f—fight.”

“B, take your arm back before I gotta take it back for you.” It isn’t the smartest thing to say, the challenge clear as day. Buffy pulls back. Faith remembers Buffy’s words after she woke up from the coma in her time. She hadn’t fought her, she offered another route, Faith only saw lies then. Perhaps they’re still lies. She can handle lies at a distance but she can’t when they’re pressed so close to her still beating heart.

“If she’s a demon—” Riley’s tirade is interrupted by Giles.

“Are you a demon?” Giles asks her directly.

“Nah, simple time travel or dimensional issue.”

Giles huffs an unamused laugh. “Simple.” He already looks old, tired of the unending shenanigans.

“That’s obviously fake.” Xander shoots it down.

“Prove it.” Buffy tells her. Faith’s brain chugs along, trying to find a relevant piece of information to prove herself. “If you can’t even prove it then what are you trying to do? I could be getting Riley time right now.”

Faith’s always been petty.

“You were lying.”

“How?”

“The last time you saw me wasn’t when we were fighting.” The scoobies shuffle, unsure.

“Sure it is!” Xander supports Buffy.

“It was when you kissed me goodbye.” Buffy twitches and the bond explodes. Regret, guilt, sadness, longing, anger. Too many could have beens and not enough time. One slayer in a coma and the other coated in her blood.

Buffy doesn’t deny it and that settles the group even though Riley looks awfully pissed for something that predated him.

“Riley is part of the initiative.” Faith further proves she’s honest and pisses him off even more.

“So, the future huh?” Xander changes gears, a curious glint to his eyes. “Is this your big evil villain plan? Kill us when we’re young?”

“Obviously, I’m off to a great start attacking you all at once.” Faith has to roll her eyes at the situation and the clear distrust.

“Yes, well.” Giles moves towards the table, his mind already searching through books. “Xander may be right.”

“You’re an enemy, why would we help you?” Xander adds.

“We’re not enemies, dumbass.”

“I’ve heard that before.” Buffy’s reply is quiet. “You tried to kill us, you were the Mayor’s girl. How can we trust you? Why would we help you?” Faith must be in a different reality because she can see the dim hope. The way Buffy is begging her to offer something, to give some peace so they won’t have to tear each other apart. Was she so terrible at reading Buffy when she was younger that she missed this? Is it just because things are going more genially this time?

“You never would have told me about the hospital if we were still enemies.” Faith’s voice comes out softer than she means and she curses herself for it. This isn’t her Buffy.

She can’t help it.

Not with this.

Buffy had been so vulnerable when she told her. The sun was setting and pouring through the cracked window, creating a warm lighting. They were both sweaty after sparring for the better part of an hour. Buffy was hesitant when she told Faith, even after everything they’d been through. The admission came in start-stops, words tumbling out without direction. She looked embarrassed, like she didn’t want to be talking about it. It’s a secret that Buffy would have carried for years. A secret that is buried in unspoken words and too much feeling. Faith still isn’t sure why she told her that day.

“So, we figure it out in the end?” Buffy’s still reeling, Faith can see it, but she believes Faith.

“Not everything but the important things.” Buffy meets her eyes and Faith knows they have an understanding, at least for now. Buffy still has a boat load of issues she’ll need to work out but she’s willing to work with Faith.

“I suppose we should start with how you got here.” Giles prompts.

“I died.” Faith shrugs easily.

“Mazel tov.” Xander shoots her way.

“You died?” Buffy looks torn, like she never really considered the idea of Faith dying. Rather, she hasn’t thought of it since she buried a knife in her stomach.

“How? We’re going to need specifics if we’re going to get you back. There are many types of time travel. There’s magic and demons, variations between them.”

Faith shifts awkwardly, unsure how to proceed. “Is it really wise, me talking about the future?”

“It’s possible you can change the future for the better, or this is always how it will go. I mean, we could even be an alternate reality.” Xander says.

“I think it would be best to try and backtrack and run off the assumption we aren’t about to break time.”

“If we do, B can always fix it.” Faith grins, slowly moving by Buffy to sit down. She doesn’t want to be standing all day long. She puts her feet up on the desk and hears Giles’ resigned huff. “Okay, so fate has a sense of humor and I got skewered again.” Buffy flinches at that and Riley moves to comfort her. Even this Buffy is sensitive over that it seems. “It was a bad situation. I was on patrol with a baby slayer and we stumbled into a nest of some nasty kind of demons.”

“Buffy’s dead?” Giles’ face pales.

“What? Shit no. Ain’t nobody can kill B, you know that.” Except it haunts Faith everyday, feeling that connection die. No one bothered telling her that Buffy died but she didn’t need a phone call to know. She felt the connection sever and she was tossed into a cruel loneliness. She had to sit in her cell with the knowledge that she was the only slayer left. Faith wanted to find some sort of redemption for herself but Buffy played a huge role in that decision. Then she was gone.

She was gone and that ever present sensation of another person left with her. She knew she was alone, that other than the big guy no one really gave a fuck about her, but feeling Buffy could fool her. Having Buffy resting close to her heart—an unshakable part of Faith’s being—helped ground her. It made the grip on her soul loosen just a bit. Buffy hadn’t forgiven her, no one really had, they likely never would, but at least she could feel Buffy.

At least she wasn’t alone.

Then she was.

“Are you sure about that?” Giles doesn’t look very convinced and Faith works to clear her expression.

“B was there when I died, pretty sure she’s still kicking demon ass. If she doesn’t miss me too bad.”

“I think she’ll manage.” Riley says wryly.

“She manages me just fine, toy soldier.” His jaw clenches as he bites down on what he wants to say. It’s still early days for Buffy and him, Faith bets he’s trying to look good in front of her. Impress her by hiding his temper and all around shitty attitude. She really hates him. Why did she have to be sent back to a time with him hanging around?

“Did you die and cause a third slayer?” Willow asks.

“Despite what you guys say I don’t wanna spell everything from the future out. I’m not sure how this will affect anything, last thing I need is to return to a broken future. There was a slayer, I’m just gonna move on if that’s cool with everyone.”

“By all means.”

It’s Faith’s turn to swallow her words, the condescending tone in Riley’s voice is about to test Faith’s resolve to have a peaceful discussion. “Paulie and I ran into some demons I’ve never seen before. They would have been difficult even if we were prepared. As it was, Paulie and I were out of our league.”

She remembers the tremors of fear from Paulie, the way her own body had let fear start to trickle in. She wasn’t afraid of the demons like Paulie was. She was afraid she’d let Paulie die.

“They took hits like a world class boxer, let me tell you. Gave ‘em like one too. I took the sprout and ran. Everywhere I turned there were more. Hordes of these things, all lumbering to bash our heads in. Ended up finding this terrible dumbwaiter, stuck the kid in it and had to pull her up.”

“S—she make it okay?” Faith isn’t sure when Tara moved so close. She doesn’t flinch despite her surprise. It isn’t invasive, not like if any of the other scoobies tried. She’s just leaning against the desk, closer than the others dare to get, without a worry in the world it seems.

“I heard B pulling her out before I went down.”

Tara smiles at her, a real smile. The kinda smile she sees Dawn shoot at Buffy when she isn’t pissed at her. It’s genuine. Tara actually leans over and squeezes Faith’s hand. Again, despite her shock at the move, she doesn’t flinch.

Even in her time the scoobies don’t exactly go around touching her. Dawn will shove her or pat her head because the bitch managed to grow a bit taller. Willow will sometimes lean against her or hug her if they haven’t seen each other in a while. That's about it. All the scoobies and slayers in the world and that’s her testament to physical touch.

Unless fighting counts, she kinda hopes it does. Otherwise she’s realizing how pathetic shit is in her time.

“No matter what, you saved her.” Tara’s looking right at her and it’s intense being the sole focus of this woman with soulful eyes and a kind smile. Faith feels her shoulder relax, she didn’t even know they were tense. It’s like her whole body kinda just sags. Relief washes over her hearing someone confirm her greatest fear. That it was all for nothing. That despite everything, she couldn’t save Paulie. She isn’t sure how Tara knows what’s bothering her or how she knows exactly what to say. Tara seems like the kinda gal who just gets people.

She recalls Tara mentioning some funky energy and wonders if she can read people’s emotions. Witches are wild no matter how much time she spends with them.

“Sure hope so, blondie.”

“What happened after you put her in the dumbwaiter?” Giles prompts, interrupting the odd bubble Tara and Faith had fallen into. Tara once again dips her head, receding in the shell that painfully confines her. Faith doesn’t like that she feels like that. Nine times out of ten there’s a reason someone feels like that, someone made them feel like it. Willow mentioned Tara having a crap family but she never elaborated. It’s never wise to ask Willow about Tara, Faith always waits for the witch to bring her up.

She wishes she’d asked more.

“Asshole stabbed me in the back, smacked my face up, then stabbed me again.” Faith ticks them off on her fingers.

Giles looks pained. “I understand you don’t want to talk about it but we do need any details, the very last moment, anything more precise.”

Faith shifts uncomfortably, no, she really doesn’t want to talk about it. She’s had to keep moving since then, resolve this whole time travel business, but dying is pretty fucking traumatizing.

“I got stabbed, held onto the chain. Face got slammed, still held on. Cut the demon but it did jack shit, they’re beefed up. They were burned or something, like burned black and crispy. The next time it stabbed me…” She remembers the way its eyes flashed with a cruel pleasure at her pain. She likes the big guy and even his green friend but overall, she really hates demons. “It taunted me, held the sword there for a bit. Knew I wasn’t gonna let go.”

She hates how weak the story makes her sound. She’s been slaying for years, she’s stopped almost as many apocalypses as Buffy has, but this last time she barely got a fight. Still, she wouldn’t change anything. Some battles aren’t about fighting.

“The sword was weird, kinda like red bone or something.” That seemingly triggers something in Giles’ brain because he starts pilfering through his books like his hair is on fire.

“Keep going. I might know what the demons are.”

“Uh, after that it pulled the sword out. Dunno if it clipped my spine or what but I wasn’t doing much living by that point.” She doesn’t want to explain how despite the overwhelming pain she still pulled herself to the chute. She doesn’t want to have to say it in front of these people who hate her and expose herself to the obvious question. Why? She’d have to say the truth. Buffy called and Faith answered. That’s the thing; Buffy’s calling may be slaying but when it comes down to it, Faith’s is Buffy.

“B was shouting down the chute so I moved over there. She dropped me my necklace. That’s all I got.”

“Why would she drop your necklace to you?” Xander asks, confused.

“I sent it up with Paulie.”

“Why?” Riley’s question is blunt and his eyes are searching. Faith shrugs but doesn’t answer him.

“Found it! They’re mjerim. Stories say they were once human. A village in Europe stumbled across a portal to a hell dimension. There they became cannibals to survive, those who did survive became something else. They transformed into demons after beginning to eat them. They rarely leave their hell dimension, it’s odd there would be a whole nest of them.”

“You don’t think they’re eating Faith’s body do you?” Xander looks pale.

“I’m here so they can’t be right?” Faith feels a little sick at the possibility.

“I would think so.” Giles gives her a hesitant smile.

“Have they been known to get up to time hijinks?” Willow asks Giles. She’s looked a bit put out since Tara moved near Faith but she’s trying not to think about Willow’s relationship drama.

“Nothing I’ve read, we could research further.”

“The necklace could have had something to do with it.” Riley reaches forward, as if to touch her necklace. She grabs his hand and twists it behind his back, slamming him down on the desk. Tara flinches away and Buffy lunges forward to intervene.

“Don’t touch me.” Faith hisses violently. Willow raises her hands in Faith’s direction and curses, deciding who the biggest threat is at the moment. Buffy stops her assault before she actually hits Faith.

Doesn’t stop her sleeve from catching on fire.

She lets go of Riley and stumbles away, smacking desperately to try and put them out. She trips and falls down in her attempts.

“Fuck!” She feels the fire burn along her forearm but it does nothing to compare to the pain resonating through her skull.

“Faith!” Buffy calls out surprised, angry, and squeaky with surprise. Faith looks around and sees that she isn’t in Giles’ anymore. She crash landed right into a scooby dinner at the Summers.

“Oh no please enjoy dinner while I burn alive!” Faith calls out. Tara rushes over and with a few murmured words the fire is put out.

“I thought Faith is in prison.” Joyce says wide eyed to Buffy.

“She’s supposed to be but I suppose some things don’t stick.” Buffy answers with nothing short of hate. Ah, it seems she moved forward in time.

“Hate commitment, B. Prison life just isn’t for me.” Buffy stands and moves over and Faith puts up her hands, one which apparently got toasted. Gross. “Relax, I’m the Faith from the future. At least I hope you met me, tell me this isn’t another alternate dimension or something.”

“Oh! I set you on fire.” Willow blushes but doesn’t look too apologetic.

“Honestly we kind of thought Will killed you. You just disappeared after a spell she didn’t really prepare.” Xander says.

“Hey! You told me that you didn’t think I killed her.”

“You looked miserable so I lied.”

“Mystery solved, you set me on fire.” Faith turns to shoot Willow a look but hisses instead, fingers going to her face. The blood and the throb of broken bone makes her shudder.

“I didn’t think I broke your face too.” Willow does sound a bit remorseful about that.

“Pretty sure it’s from the mjerim.” Faith absolves her of any guilt. Despite her very burned hand. Her eyes take in the blackened and still smoking appenage. The forearm is a goner but luckily the flames only got half of her hand. This really is the world’s worst day.

It reminds her of the mjerim’s arm. The way it had crunched and given in beneath her fingers, how it seemed like her fingers had sunk into its flesh. She gives no warning but Tara already has a bowl for her to vomit in.

Faith closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose with her good hand. “I should have told you to fuck off when you asked me to take the kid out.” Faith complains as she tries to stave off the headache. “But no, you had to have your way.” She lets out a sigh of relief when the smell of her own burning flesh disappears. “Faith, Survivor is on so I can’t take her out slaying now.” Faith imitates Buffy. Tara keeps murmuring spells and handling her burned arm.

“You become an old lady.” A familiar voice teases. “You go from being a badass to a lame old dad who doesn’t want to take his kid out. I’m so using this as leverage.”

“Dawn!” Joyce admonishes. Faith pulls away from Tara who calls out in protest but she’s already moving.

She pulls Dawn into a fierce hug. Usually it’s Dawn who initiates contact but Faith is willing to break the unspoken rule, it’s not like Dawn will remember anyways. The sick unsettling feeling of a world without Dawn could be put on the backburner now. She was afraid if it was an alternate dimension there wouldn’t be a Dawn or even worse, her time travel would have erased her existence.

“This is so weird.” Dawn laughs but wraps her arms around Faith. “You know you like, just tried killing everyone in our time right.”

“Girl has gotta make a name for herself.”

“Not gonna apologize?” Buffy asks. Faith can tell the energy between them at Giles’ is gone. Buffy got hurt again and this time she isn’t so forgiving.

“For something I did a decade ago? ‘Sides you said you’d kick my ass if I apologized.”

“I wasn’t finished healing your arm!” Tara protests. Faith reluctantly lets Dawn go, something Buffy’s eyes narrow at, to look over her arm. It's a barely-even-there burn scar. She has worse scars.

“It’s cool, thanks.” Willow shoots Tara a proud look and Tara smiles back. Huh, seems they progressed.

The room becomes deathly silent. No one really knows what to say or do.

“Want some dinner, Faith?” Joyce asks her. She looks hesitant, the whole almost murdering her thing probably still on Joyce’s mind. It’s on Faith’s too. She regrets it. She regrets it all but trying to kill Joyce was really low. Still, Joyce is making the offer. Faith nods and sits down with a groan.

Her whole body is sore. The events of the day are catching up and her eyelids feel heavy. She takes a plate and fills it up with food, not really paying attention to what she’s grabbing. Tara moves back to sit next to Willow and Buffy sits back down at her seat. Dawn however, wedges her chair between Giles and Faith leaving Faith boxed in by Dawn and Joyce.

“I found more on mjerim while you were gone.” Giles clears his throat. Faith keeps eating, waiting for him to elaborate. “There isn’t anything about time travel or dimensions so far.”

“So it’s not the demons?”

“It still could be and I haven’t found it yet.”

“Probably not though?”

“Probably not.”

“It’s probably the necklace like Riley said, then.” Xander says. The room becomes silent again and Buffy’s glare increases tenfold.

“I wasn’t tryin’ to start a fight, B. He grabbed at me.”

“And you had sex with him.”

Faith honestly considers lying and saying she hadn’t, that she must be in an alternate universe, but she knows Angel would be giving her a disappointed look. Honestly, whenever she’s on the fence about doing something not great she just imagines his disappointed look. Talk about a lame old dad type. “My bad.” Faith says between bites.

“Can I see the necklace?” Giles asks Faith.

“Sure thing.” She unclasps it and hands it over.

“It’s leather, definitely not from earth.”

She blames her lack of filter on her tiredness. “Nah B got it from some dimension where the clouds are jelly.”

“Oh! It’s kandor leather from Belarius.” Anya cuts in.

“I thought it was your necklace?” Xander asks.

“It is.”

“Buffy gave you a necklace?” Dawn asks, eyes wide with surprise.

“We give each other shit all the time. It’s what people do.” Faith shrugs.

“Right, you give me trauma and I give you second chances.” Buffy says with false cheeriness. Faith is too tired and old for this.

“Look, I died and time traveled today. I’m beat so I’m gonna head out. We can figure out how to get me home later.” Faith hobbles out of the seat and takes the necklace back from Giles. She sees Dawn give Buffy a severe look and she nods her goodbyes. She takes off.

She finds her way to the cemetery. Not exactly the safest place to crash but she’d rather get eaten by a demon then go back to the motel. She can clear out anything dangerous and kill anything that dares to attack her.

After dusting a few vampires she finds a cozy mausoleum to sleep in for the night. She tries not to think about how Spike is probably doing the same about now.

Today would be a better day. It has to be.

“Why does she get first choice!” Kennedy protests.

“Cus I didn’t break up with the powerful witch in charge?” Faith asks sarcastically. Willow shoots her a warning look and Kennedy scuffs the ground with her boot. It’s a carefully avoided subject, one no one ever really talks about. Satsu shakes her head and leans in closer to Dawn, apparently trying her hand for another Summers. Greedy bitch.

Still, Faith can’t see baby Summers as anything other than the teenage brat so she won’t be casting her ballot anytime soon. As Kennedy leans over to flirt obnoxiously with Satsu, Faith is hit with the unnerving realization that she’s surrounded by couples or people flirting it up. Faith actually stops the compulsive weapon check at the thought.

After Robin she went through a series of one night stands and meaningless romps. It's been a while since her last. Too long. She isn’t sure when that happened. She hasn’t had sex in months, hasn’t really tried flirting with anyone in even longer. Willow became free game and the most she did was shoot off a few joking comments. She didn’t even try!

When did she become such an old woman?

Kennedy left Willow officially but unofficially it went both ways. Willow is just a tad too unavailable to have a girlfriend and that’s coming from her. Kennedy tried—Faith’ll give her that—but there’s only so much emotional distance she could take. Kennedy went on her own bender after Willow and her had broken up. Judging by the looks Kennedy is tossing Satsu, the bender might still be going on.

If she isn’t going to hit up Willow maybe Kennedy would be better. It’d get her out of this funk and she can tolerate her a lot better than B can. Faith doesn’t miss that B always puts Kennedy on someone else’s squad.

“You good?” Willow asks. She looks like she isn’t paying attention but considering she noticed Faith’s momentary lapse of control, she isn’t fooling her. She would never underestimate Willow.

“Just realized I’m old as dirt.” Faith grumbles good naturedly.

Willow’s lips hint at a curve of a smile but it’s a temptation she fights off. “Are you going to have a midlife crisis?”

“When was anyone gonna tell me I—” She cuts herself off, not quite wanting to tell Red all about her lack of sex life. She sees right through Faith, it’s a little unnerving. Her eyes glow with amusement, this time she really does smile. Laugh too. It’s enough to make the others look their way. Kennedy with a bit of a complex look. Longing, like she wasn’t quite ready to end things with Willow when she did. Faith has found in life that most of the things people need to do they don’t wanna.

“That you have no game?” Willow’s teasing tone takes no prisoners. She doesn’t even try to mince her words in front of company. Usually, Willow doesn’t flaunt their easiness in front of others. It makes them uneasy. Then again, there aren’t as many scoobies around. They tend to get real uncomfortable near her. No matter how long she fights to redeem herself, their discomfort remains.

The fact that Willow and her get along? As Willow would say, it gives them the straight up wiggins. Laugh too obviously, smile too widely, and the two of them would get odd uncomfortable looks from company.

“That’s not what you said last night.” Her words come out like they should be used in a club. She’s a bit proud of how huffy Kennedy gets with one line. She’s got a lot more where that came from.

“Faith has game.” Satsu defends Faith. At least someone is on her side.

Dawn’s sharp choke of a laugh calls Faith’s attention. “Got something to say?” Faith challenges Dawn.

“The seal is broken, we can head out.” Buffy’s soft voice breaks the building argument. She slides into the room like a decorated general, everyone turns to look at her. “Why aren’t you guys ready?” Buffy’s nose crinkles with annoyance at their slowness.

“They were stuck wondering which ass cheek would be better to kiss.”

Buffy’s eyes catch on her hands and she sighs at Faith. She walks over and fixes the buckle holding a sword to Faith’s hip. Her fingers keep brushing over Faith’s stomach and her side. Faith feels her muscles twitch or her breathing falter against her best wishes. She can smell Buffy’s shampoo this close, feel the way her lack of sex life really decides to make itself present. She’s in a stupor at the brazen and oddly intimate way Buffy is correcting her gear. “Which did you say?”

“Huh?” Faith’s intelligent response comes out.

“Which did you advise would be best to kiss?” She can’t see Buffy’s expression with the way her head is bowed looking at the sheath but Faith’s sure she’s grinning.

“Both, just to be sure.”

“Cross your t’s and dot your i’s?” Buffy’s voice is doing things to Faith that she’d rather they didn’t right at the moment. When did it get so flirty?

“More like round my b’s.”

“Maybe instead of being so focused on my ass you could have your team ready next time.” Buffy steps back with her admonishment.

“I gotta be thorough, B.”

With a snap and a tug, the sheath locks in place. Faith’s body jerks towards Buffy and Buffy doesn’t move out of the way. “I know, why do you think I keep you around?” Buffy’s high voice should never be able to drop so low. As quick as their bodies connect, Buffy’s flitting away and heading for the door. “I expect you in five.”

“That.” Dawn says blandly, moving to help Willow put the finishing touches on a rune.

“What?” Faith hates playing catch up and she’s still reeling from that particular Buffy encounter.

“You’ll figure it out eventually.” Dawn rolls her eyes at Faith and turns her back to her. Faith ignores her as well. She heads over to speed Kennedy and Satsu along. She really doesn’t want to have whatever conversation Dawn is angling. It has nothing to do with B telling them to hurry up.

Faith’s rolling out of her dream before she’s aware of her surroundings, knife pressed tight against the intruder’s throat. “Faith!” A voice calls out. It’s familiar and she grasps at it, fighting the still clinging claim of sleep.

“Blondie? What the hell are you doing here?” Faith pulls the knife back when she knows she’s safe, that it’s over and the danger has passed.

“You always h—have bad dreams?” Tara asks nervously, a hand rubbing at her throat.

“You okay?”

“I’m okay. You didn’t answer my question.”

“Neither did you.” Faith tucks the knife away and stretches, looking away from Tara.

“I came to find you. We were worried you disappeared again.”

“Still here. They make anymore progress?”

“Mr. Giles and Willow have been looking into kandor leather, Belarius, and mjerim but haven’t found anything yet.”

“Guess it’s too much to ask that it would be easy.”

“You should stay with me.” Tara says as if it’s no big deal.

“What, you’re not worried I’ll kill you in your sleep?”

“No.” Her matter of fact statement is odd. It’s different from most of the others. They say things as if they’re sure it’s right because it has to be. As if it’s inconceivable that their belief could be wrong. Tara states it as if she knows it’s a fact. Like she’s studied the question for a test and isn’t surprised or thrown off by it.

“Red must not have warned you well enough.”

“They all did. For a while you were all they could talk about.”

“Still wanna play roomie after all they said? Not scared by the big bad slayer?”

“Y—you’re not that tall.” Tara’s voice wavers back to the uncertain nervousness that she started with.

“That’s just cus you haven’t seen me in boots yet.” Faith winks and grabs her jacket, opening the gate door for Tara. She doesn’t press Tara over her stutter or the way she constantly curls into herself. Younger Faith is still pretty recent to Tara and she remembers the witch’s reaction to her jokes. She won’t be repeating her mistakes while she’s in the past.

Tara’s room looks the same as when she first appeared. “Single bed?” Faith asks Tara. Tara tries her best but still blushes. “I’m not complaining but you’ll have to fight Red off. I’m not about to piss off the wannabe slayers by tossing her out of a window.”

“S—she already knows you’ll be here.”

“She’s okay with it?”

“Not okay with it exactly but willing to let it happen.”

“Why?” Faith knows an older Willow wouldn’t have an issue with it, hell she probably would have been the one to have offered. This Willow is all anger and jealousy. This is Willow before she learned how dangerous those emotions can be if they’re left unchecked.

“She didn’t want to fight.” Tara smiles wobbly at her. It’s weird talking to someone who’s more stories than anything. She’s heard about Tara for years, the love and adoration pooling out from everyone who knew her. Especially Dawn and Willow.

“Why would you fight for me?” Faith sits down and kicks her boots off.

“You’re telling the truth. You’re from the future, you’re our friend. Why wouldn’t I help?” Tara easily replies.

“Didn’t I just try and murder you all? I know for a fact I said some shitty things to you.”

“W—we all have our pasts.” Tara looks away from Faith, sending up several red flags. She doesn’t know much about Tara’s past but she gets the feeling that there’s a story. “You shouldn’t take your shoes off yet.”

“Why not?”

“You look wound up. I heard B—buffy and the others talking about an increase in vampires.”

“You can see that huh?” Faith leans down and starts putting her shoes back on.

“I can see a lot of things.”

Tara makes good on her word and takes her to a graveyard where a group of vampires are roaming. Faith makes quick work of them. The combination of years of experience and the youth of her body makes for an efficient slaying machine. She idly wonders if she could take Buffy like this.

Buffy has always been stronger but right now, maybe Faith is. The slayer curls tightly around her brain, releasing a sense of challenge and a thrill of adrenaline. She might be able to take Buffy, might come out on top. She might not be evil but she can admit there’s a sense of challenge that exists between them.

Still, sparring with Buffy isn’t on the table right now. Buffy looked ready to murder her at the Summers’ so Faith isn’t holding her breath. It’s not like she needs Buffy, at least not yet. This is Giles and Willow’s domain.

She starts living with Tara, it should have been weirder. She hasn’t shared a bed with anyone since Robin, hasn’t lived under the same roof with anyone since Kennedy and her were sent to Peru.

Surprisingly, it isn’t weird. Well, living with someone is always weird. It isn’t incredibly awkward.

“Blondie, it’s your room. Stop apologizing.” Faith’s holding Tara shoulders, halting her nervous movements. One thing that’s becoming clear to Faith during their stint as roommates is that Tara isn’t just a shy girl. Her eyes skate away too quickly, her arms quick to twitch into defensive gestures. It makes Faith’s blood run hot. If she thinks about it too hard the vamps unfortunate enough to run into her get more of an ass kicking than usual.

“It’s your room too.” Tara says honestly. Faith doesn’t necessarily think about it as that but she isn’t wrong. She’s been here for a while now, long enough that all her clothes smell like incense and the detergent Tara uses. She still smokes enough to not completely smell like the other girl. She’s noticed Buffy’s suspicious looks and she does not appreciate them.

Buffy and her don’t patrol together much if at all. They run into each other occasionally but they definitely don’t plan it. Giles is still working on it, or so he keeps reassuring her. She’s pretty sure she knows the truth, he has no clue what’s going on.

“I just know you don’t have anywhere else to go tonight.” Tara asked her for the night, since Willow wants to come over.

“That’s where you’re wrong.”

“Not the mausoleum.”

“Nah, gonna hit up a club. All goes well, we’ll both be getting lucky.” Faith hip checks Tara who laughs her way. Except, Willow doesn’t come over.

“She call you?” Faith’s toweling her hair as she enters the room. Wordlessly already gearing up to go find Willow and kill anything idiotic enough to take her.

“Yeah, she can’t make it.” Tara looks down at her hands and Faith stops tucking the stake into her pants.

“Shit, sorry.” Faith moves over and sits down next to Tara. “You good?”

“Apparently there’s a demon with acid for blood. It bled all over Giles’ apartment but isn’t dead.”

“Ah, demon of the day took your date? Lame. We could always go to the bronze if you want?”

“That’s not really my scene.”

“Wanna tell me about whatever you’ve been brewing all day? Smells like bullets.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You gotta stop apologizing. I don’t mind. Tell me about it.”

So she does. Tara tells her about the shop where she found an old potion book. She spares no detail, telling her everything about the store before she moves onto the book itself and ultimately the potion. It’s supposed to help with bad dreams, she tells Faith. Somehow Tara is able to connect the book to an old coven in South Africa, without even needing to crack a book. Now Faith knows Tara is a smart lady but sometimes it still surprises her just how smart she is.

She’s used to Willow as her go to witch. Willow is undoubtedly the most powerful witch Faith’s ever met and considering she’s slept with Morgana, that’s saying something. Still, no one ever mentioned Tara’s power or her knowledge. Tara knows enough about one potion to fill the space of an hour with no repeated information. Tara is powerful enough to heal her burned arm on the spot. The scoobies always called her nice, a good friend, a sweet girl, they never mentioned how fucking impressive she is.

She wonders how Tara ended up pigeonholed but supposes she shouldn’t, they’re pretty static in their opinions.

“You’re pretty amazing, Maclay.” Faith interrupts her point about religion influencing alchemy. Tara hides her face and blushes but she smiles, so Faith doesn’t apologize. Tara doesn’t stutter or hide as much around Faith but once and a while it’ll still get the better of her. Faith can admit she’s a bit proud of that. Tara still isn’t quite comfortable near the scoobies but she is near Faith. Faith’s rarely been the one people feel safe around.

She knows Willow doesn’t notice the distance between her girlfriend and her friends. Hopefully she realizes sooner rather than later.

“I still have a lot to learn.” Tara tries to deflect. Faith throws her arm around Tara’s shoulders, squeezing her shoulder.

“We can all learn more, doesn’t change the fact you’re a badass.” Tara looks a little overwhelmed at the praise so Faith changes gears. “Willow is a lucky girl.”

“Willow’s not the only lucky one.”

Tara slumps against Faith, a tiredness overcoming her. Faith doesn’t compliment people, not really. Even after years of growing, therapy, and whatever else Giles tossed her way to try and fix her. She just isn’t that kind of person. Except now it seems she is.

Tara reminds her of herself. She doubts Tara would appreciate the comparison but it’s true. Tara’s a lot like she was, or could have been if she hadn’t been faced with the realities of survival so young.

Tara comes from a bad home, that much Faith can pick up. Faith and her differ in one big way. Faith turned her trauma outward, she lashed out at everyone around her. Tara holds it in, buries it in her heart. Faith wants to make sure it doesn’t explode and take Tara with it.

The lock clicks open and Willow slides into the room, her eyes catch on the two of them. That youthful jealous anger fills her eyes.

“Wanna join in, Red?” Tara sighs at her, knowing she’s gonna have to defuse Willow.

She’s quick to get out of there before Willow lights her on fire again.

She goes to patrol. She usually sleeps through the morning so being temporarily evicted isn’t gonna kill her. She’s gonna kill something, that’s for sure. A nice mob of four or five vamps makes the mistake of narrating a little too loudly and she’s off. She’s careful not to make too much sound when she runs but she’s pretty sure the vamps are arrogant enough they wouldn’t hear either way.

She’s already covered in dust when the boulder slams into her. She flies through the air for a short distance before slamming into concrete. A hulking yellow kinda spiked demon is posturing where she used to be. She didn’t think she’d slip up and be as arrogant as the vamps. She isn’t sure how she missed the tread of the demon equivalent of a lumbering meathead. He moves towards her and she notes he doesn’t make any noise. Huh, maybe a spell or something. At least she isn’t that oblivious. Still, she should have sensed him.

The only surviving vamp seems to get confidence from the presence of the demon, he straightens his jacket out and starts towards Faith. His face is contorted with hunger and glee, he probably thinks he’s about to bag his first slayer. Unlucky for him, she doesn’t hop in the sack with vamps. Got the wrong slayer for that.

She lets herself lay there a moment, a vamp and demon aren’t exactly high on her threat list. She gives herself a moment to let the radiating pain in her back settle.

“Giving up already?” Buffy’s voice taunts from above her. She’s casually sitting on the shattered stone Faith had just been thrown into. One of her legs is hanging down, not quite touching the floor. It almost grazes Faith’s shoulder. The other leg is bent, tucked close to Buffy’s body and boot planted on the stone. She’s idly tapping Mr. Pointy against one of her thighs. Now Buffy’s looked down on Faith a lot of times in their life but never quite so literally. Like the time Faith crashed Buffy’s brand new Subaru into a club as a prime example, or the time she ate a bowl of cereal in the bathroom.

“Cereal is for the kitchen.” Buffy looks grossed out as she complains about Faith’s choice of breakfast.

“And the couch.” Xander corrects Buffy.

“And the couch.”

“Cereal in bed is nice too.” Willow adds looking way too thoughtful about cereal. It kinda reminds Faith of Oz. Suppose if you date anyone long enough you pick shit up from them.

“And cereal in bed.” Buffy allows.

“Seems to me you’re losing your point, Buffy. Cereal is great, end of sentence.”

“It becomes a mortal sin when you bring it into the bathroom. Food and bathroom don’t mix. You know I’m right.”

“Good thing I’m already a sinner.” Faith grins to undercut the possible seriousness the comment could instill. She hands Buffy the now empty bowl and spoon. Buffy’s grip pauses, lingering when Faith passes her the spoon. It’s a weird moment they get caught in. There’s barely a few centimeters from their fingers touching and Faith is oddly aware of it, aware of every centimeter that keeps them from touching. “Besides Buffy, you can’t exactly rail against me about food in the bathroom when I have to bring you snacks in the bath.”

“Talk about—” Xander’s comment gets cut off by a glare from Willow.

“Wow, I think Andrew just hit on Dawn.” Willow says, dramatically looking out the window at the two.

“What? Over my dead body!” Xander rushes out after the two and Willow looks a little too pleased with herself.

Buffy looks a little pink when Faith turns her attention back to her. “Baths are different, Faith.” Faith smiles stupidly at her, she can’t help it when Buffy uses her name like that. Like it’s something special, like maybe she is too. “You can’t have a proper bath without wine and cheese.”

“That’s another thing, who even eats cheese?”

“Lots of people! Just because you’re a weirdo who hates it doesn’t mean everyone else does.”

“The only good cheese is when it’s on top of pizza.”

“Agree to disagree.”

“You can’t have your way with everything, B. There’s lives at stake here.”

Buffy’s eyebrows quirk unimpressed at Faith’s emphasis on the word stake. “Who is cheese threatening to kill?”

“Will is allergic.”

She gets Buffy’s happy half smile, entirely too pleased with herself at Faith’s slip. “So my bathing habits are threatening lives?”

“Shit, B.” She’s very aware that they still haven’t let go of the spoon and that Faith’s feet have only shuffled closer. She walks her fingers up the spoon, letting them run over Buffy’s fingers and rest on her wrist. Buffy doesn’t pull away. “You kill me a bit every time I bring you fancy food.” Buffy’s pulse thunders against her fingers, her lips parting slightly. Fuck if that isn’t the exact reaction Faith was going for.

She has half a mind just to do what she’s wanted to do since she was an idiot teenager and kiss Buffy. “You’re still disgusting for eating cereal in the bathroom.” Buffy comes back to herself and puts the spoon in the sink, breaking the moment.

These moments confuse Faith the most. It’s almost like Buffy wants to kiss her, like it isn’t all in Faith’s head. Then she pulls back, shuts whatever is growing between them down. It’s not the first time this has happened, it probably won’t be the last. That is if it isn’t all in her head.

“Just you wait. Next time you’re all bubbly and askin’ me for favors I’ll bring you cereal. We’ll see who’s laughing then.”

“Just waitin’ for you to rescue me.” Faith answers her, snapping out of what was.

“You’ll wait a while.” Buffy replies, the unending hostility is wearing Faith down. She gets it, she really does. She’s the bad guy to them. She did some real fucked up shit to all of them—Buffy most of all. It’s fresh for them but it isn’t for her. She hadn’t realized just how long it had been, not until she got sent back here. She didn’t actually notice how easy it’d gotten interacting with the scoobies, how connected Buffy and her are despite everything.

It’s so irritating. It’s irritating hearing the same shit she’s already heard, having to make amends for things she already has. Going from talking to Buffy on the regular to having her spit insults like they’re weapons is like swallowing barb wire.

“I’m pretty good at waiting.” It comes out loaded but Faith doesn’t take it back. She isn’t the spitfire who blew through town weeks ago, she’s the woman who learned to be better. She waited in prison, she waited in that house with the First singing their deaths, she’s waited for Buffy to even look her way. She hasn’t, she probably won’t ever, Faith can’t help but waiting. “You feel tall?”

Buffy frowns at her like she’s upset but Faith sees the brief humor lighting up her expression. “And you’re so tall?”

“Nope but I don’t have the complex.”

“You definitely have a complex.”

“Absolutely. Wanna find out which?”

“I would get up.” Buffy looks up at the vamp and demon who’re nearly upon Faith. Honestly, Faith kinda forgot about them.

“Nah.”

“Nah?” Buffy looks taken aback.

“Come on chosen one, show me how it’s done.”

Buffy scowls again, not moving from her position. Faith doesn’t either, even though they’re much too close now. Buffy’s watching her with a new look and an intense focus. She’s waiting to see Faith cave, to stand and fight. She’s playing chicken with her, waiting for Faith to fold first. Too bad she’d rather get bitten again before folding, not now. Not when Buffy looks considering, like she actually sees Faith and not a target.

The demon grabs Faith’s legs and pulls, Buffy snaps into action. She stakes the vamp, barely a look his way and starts fighting the demon. Faith inches her body up and leans against the tombstone, admiring Buffy in action.

She comes back breathing heavily and sweating with fire in her eyes. “Enjoying the show?” Faith grins, about to toss out another lecherous line. “Stop, don’t say whatever it is you’re thinking.” Buffy interrupts.

“Aw, no fun.”

Buffy surprises Faith by not leaving immediately. “You didn’t fight them.”

“Why would I when you’re here armed with quips?”

“I could have let them kill you.”

“You wouldn’t have.”

“I don’t like you, we’re not friends, we’re not in a good place. I have no reason to help you let alone protect you. Why would you trust that I would help you?”

“If I’m gonna put my faith in someone, it’s gonna be you every time.” Faith wonders if Buffy knows what that means. If Buffy understands how important it is. She isn’t sure why her mom decided to name her Faith. She wonders if her mom wanted her to have a stripper’s name, to make it easier to peddle her. Regardless, she used to hate her name. It gave men permission to taunt and goad and use it like they owned it, owned her. It gave women the audacity to look down on her, like she’s trash they can step on to get higher. She doesn’t give her name to people, she doesn’t have faith. Here she is giving it to Buffy, wrapped nice and snug. Easy to use against Faith.

Buffy doesn’t break her gaze. She just keeps watching Faith and thinking. Faith isn’t sure what she’s thinking but she knows Buffy is. After what could only be a few seconds, Buffy sighs and slides down next to Faith.

“So, how long do you spend in prison?”

The last thing Faith expected was for Buffy to stay with her for hours. If Buffy were to ask about events to avoid, bads to slay, she’d get that. Instead, she asks about Faith. She asks what she’s done with her life outside of slaying, beyond Sunnydale. She answers honestly. She tells her about the shit jobs, the apocalypses, the other slayers. She avoids big stuff and Buffy doesn’t ask.

When the sun starts creeping up, Buffy bids her goodbye. It’s the first time she has actually said goodbye.

Tara and Willow aren’t at Tara’s when Faith gets back. She heads over to the bed, hoping it doesn’t smell like sweaty spell times, and crashes for the day.

She dreams of yellows and reds, incomprehensible swirls.

She hasn’t had bad dreams for some time now, it’s disorientating. She’s used to bad dreams. The sound of her mother’s voice, the flash of moonlight bouncing off of fangs, the way blood can never really be washed off. They’re all gone, she’s just left with swirls of color and the distant smell of something floral.

“You snore.” Willow is looking down on her with her arms crossed.

“I’m a noisy gal.” Faith easily responds, hoping her heart will calm down from the abrupt waking.

“Tara is moving in with me.” Willow drops on her.

“Oh.” Faith feels kinda sad about that. Not for losing a place to crash, she can do that anywhere, but losing time with someone she is starting to consider a friend.

“You can stay here.” Tara lets her know from where she’s packing clothes. She looks at Faith kind of sadly, like she doesn’t quite want to leave her either. She looks happy too, happy to be moving in with Red. Faith can’t hold it against her when she looks happy to be getting more time with her girl.

“Thanks, blondie. Look at you, all shacked up.” Faith nudges Tara’s thigh with her foot when she walks by.

“Jealous?” Tara teases Faith, Willow’s expression flickers before settling.

“Incredibly. Who’s gonna spoon me now?”

Instead of scowling Willow almost laughs. “Like you’ve ever let anyone spoon you.” Willow does smile, apparently too amused at the thought of it.

“You assuming we haven’t cuddled?”

“I know we haven’t cuddled.”

Faith’s smile turns crooked and Tara throws a shirt at her. “Stop flirting with my girlfriend and help me pack.”

“That’s not happening.”

“The flirting or the packing?”

“Both.”

Tara moves out and Faith has her own place. She doesn’t really like it.

That’s why she starts hanging around the Magic Box. Giles shockingly acts normal around her and Anya wasn’t really around for the whole evil phase. Plus, she’s handy during research mode. Something the scoobies find out and have varying reactions too.

Things go from no Buffy sightings to Buffy time almost everyday.

Somehow, between slaying and college, Buffy works her in. Oh, and Riley. Faith pretends he doesn’t exist most days.

A pattern emerges.

She is almost always at the Magic Box now. If anyone needs her for whatever reason they always check there first. She’ll even sleep on a cot in the backroom most nights. Sometimes she sleeps in Tara’s old apartment. Sometimes, even rarer, she sleeps at Buffy’s. They start a pattern.

They patrol together, whenever Buffy isn’t busy soothing Riley’s ego, and they go back together. More often than not, they fall asleep in the same place. They never sleep together, not in the same bed that is. They’ll talk or do their own separate things. Buffy studies for classes and Faith devours any book Giles lets her take. Buffy sometimes just worries over her friends and family. Faith isn’t sure just how a person gets preoccupied by worrying about others but Buffy sure does.

Faith’s rubbing absentmindedly at her neck after having slept in a chair the night before. Buffy keeps looking at her before she shuffles on her bed and clears her throat.

“Yes?” Faith looks at the frustrated slayer.

“You can sleep here you know.” No, Faith did not know that. Buffy didn’t know that last night. She can play along.

“Better not kick in your sleep.”

“You know I don’t.” Buffy pouts. Buffy rarely talks about the before even in Faith’s time. Before Gwendolyn Post and death. That time when they weren’t enemies. Faith tries not to think about it most of the time. Not the nights they slept beside each other, not the smiles they’d share. Smiles that had an innocence in them that they’d never have again.

She knows Buffy doesn’t kick just like she knows Buffy will absolutely latch onto her in her sleep. She hasn’t shared a bed with Buffy since she joined the Mayor, not even when they were okay.

She reacts like she thinks she should, in a way Buffy would expect. A dramatic wink and a flirty comment that Buffy shrugs off. Business as usual. Except, she could touch Buffy if she reached out. She’s surrounded by sheets that smell like Buffy, in a bed that’s warm from the both of them. Faith measures her breath, controls each inhale and exhale. She’s careful not to shift, not to breathe too loud. Eventually, Buffy’s breath evens out and she’s asleep.

Faith follows.

She wakes up with her legs entwined with pale legs and an arm thrown over her stomach.

Business as usual, right.

They don’t talk about it.

She tries not to think about it.

Magic box, research, try to find her way home.

“Well the thing was purple and had twelve legs. Arms? I don’t really know what they were, I just chopped them off.” Buffy’s describing the demon she’d fought that has left a mysterious streak of bumps across Xander’s throat.

“I’m not quite sure what they are, they don’t hurt you said?” Giles asks Xander.

“No, they just freak me out.” Xander says while scratching at them, Anya slaps his hand away.

Faith laughs from her seat, book propped on her crossed legs. She’s reading about black magic, specifically death magic. Giles gave her a weird look but didn’t interfere when she pulled it from the shelf. She’s been steadily working through the shop’s books for long enough that he doesn’t look twice. She has a gap in her knowledge. She’s never been the one who needed to know magic or spells. She has Willow, Dawn, Andrew, and Giles for that. Throw in the occasional witch liaison and she’s never had a reason to crack a book on magic.

This is a different place and there’s a lot she doesn’t know.

“Something funny?” Xander asks her.

“Not at all, X-man.” Faith obnoxiously turns the page, loud enough he flinches with irritation.

“You know what it is, don’t you?” Buffy asks her, already knowing the answer.

“I just might.”

“What is it? Oh god, am I going to die? No! Worse. Is it some crazy possession thing? I can’t be possessed, I’m still tingly from the last time.”

Faith laughs hard enough that her ribs strain. Xander has terrible luck with the bad guys. She remembers the time he got stuck as a caterpillar for two weeks. Still, better than a rat. “What is it?” Buffy sounds straight to the point but Faith can see the smirk.

“What’s in it for me?” Faith challenges.

Xander sputters, obviously not expecting resistance. “It’s the right thing to do? To save me? To save yourself from a Buffy ass-kicking?”

“Considering I could take B right now, I’m not too worried.” That wipes Buffy’s smirk off her face. She looks at Faith like there isn’t anyone else in the room. Faith bites her lip and meets Buffy’s gaze. The challenge is set, the gauntlet thrown. There’s nothing more intoxicating than the fight, the hunt. The connection crackles to life between them, a burning wildstorm. They’d have a spar sometime soon. Faith hopes she can survive it.

“Ha! As if.”

“You’ll be dead by then so I wouldn’t worry about it.” Faith says before looking back to her book.

“What!”

“Just ask her what she wants.” Willow rolls her eyes but it isn’t as harsh as it was before Tara moved out. Faith thinks Tara is talking her up or something because everytime she sees Willow she’s more relaxed towards Faith.

“You’re willing to let me die?”

“I’ll make you a deal. Go grab three gyros from down the street and I’ll tell you what I know.”

“There’s no way. Giles, make her tell us what this is.” Giles tilts his head to the door. Xander sighs and grumbles but ends up standing.

“Get one for me too?” Willow asks, giving him her Xander smile.

“Fine.”

“Me three?” Buffy is met with Xander’s waving hand.

“I’ll get enough for everyone.” He leaves and Faith turns the page.

“What is it?” Dawn asks, sitting down next to Faith.

“He got scales from the Tropit on himself. More accurately, Buffy got the scales on him.”

“Oops, I never was much of a fisher.”

“Don’t have the patience for it?” Faith isn’t sure why she keeps taunting Buffy, they’ve been getting along well recently. She shouldn’t rock the boat but she’s never been good at being good.

“I don’t like the way they squirm.” Fuck they’re doing the intense staring thing again. She sees Tara give Willow a significant look and Faith forces herself to deescalate the situation.

“The bumps are just a rash. No side effects. No saving necessary.”

“Just a rash?” Willow asks, stunned.

“I know, too normal. When B got ‘em you should have seen the little slayers. Terrified that the savior would die of demon pox.” She definitely leaves out the part where she tore up the demon underground trying to find a cure to what turned out to be an allergic reaction.

“I’m s—sure you handled it so well.” Tara mutters from next to Willow.

She tells Xander about the rash after she has her hands on her gyros and it isn’t in danger from Xander’s freak out.

Buffy doesn’t stop looking at her that day.

Or the day after. It’s unnerving her.

Thankfully, it all blows up. Well, it’s not the best and Faith ends up bruised and bleeding but at least the silent tension breaks.

“Did you know?” Buffy’s voice is cold and she’s revving for a fight.

Faith is rubbing the sleep from her eyes and standing in the doorway. Buffy shoves passed her and walks into Tara’s apartment. Faith had been sleeping nice and fine a few moments before the violent knocking on the door. She fixes the tank top she’d thrown on when she answered the door and crosses her arms.

“Gotta give me more than that.”

“Dawn isn’t my sister. She’s a key. Some monks made her up, put her in all of our heads.” Buffy looks distraught and unnerved. “Did you know?”

“Listen, B—” Buffy shoves her and Faith stumbles, not expecting the movement.

“You didn’t tell me! You know, you know and you didn’t warn us. We’re in danger, she’s in danger. She’s not even real.” Now it’s Faith who’s shoving Buffy.

“She’s still your sister. She might be some key but that doesn’t change a thing.”

“It changes everything! I can’t believe you lied to me.” Buffy moves to push her again or something but Faith’s body reacts, she shoves Buffy’s hands away.

Next thing she knows they’re fighting. Sparring? No, definitely fighting.

Faith wants to spar but she doesn’t wanna fight. She’s done with fighting Buffy.

It takes Buffy a moment to realize Faith isn’t hitting back, that she’s just defending herself. She gets angrier when she realizes it. Faith doesn’t block Buffy’s punch.

Faith spits out blood and the red recedes from Buffy’s vision. She looks guilty, a bit ashamed. Good, Faith isn’t gonna let her off that easy.

“You done?” Buffy huffs at her, guilty and not liking being called on her shit.

“Sorry.” Buffy apologizes uncomfortably.

“Yeah yeah.” Faith grumbles, sitting on the bed. “B, I get that you’re processing but you can’t say any of that shit to her. She doesn’t deserve that. Trust me, she’s gonna have enough identity issues without you piling on her.”

“Big sister Faith to the rescue?” Buffy collapses besides Faith.

“Nah, the kid just has a rough go of it.”

“You aren’t really proving the whole sister thing wrong.”

“Would it help if I told you she becomes a bangin’ watcher?” Buffy’s elbow digs into her ribs. At least she didn’t punch her again.

“That’s my sister, asshole.”

“Hell yeah she is.” She gets a backhand to the arm for that one.

“Don’t try reverse psychology on me.”

“Oo, reverse psychology? I love it when you talk college to me.” Buffy’s smiling real wide, the kind of smile that Faith usually has to work for.

Buffy in her time looks at her differently than this one. She looks like she’s surprised when she smiles at Faith, like she isn’t supposed to. She’ll wipe it away as quick as it comes.

Buffy falls back onto the mattress with a groan, Faith winces at the cracking sound of Buffy’s back. “Usually I can’t get enough of women groaning in my bed but you sound like a mess.” Faith falls back down beside her.

“Women?”

“You gotta ask?”

“I didn’t really think about it. I wasn’t the best when Willow told me about Tara. I just...didn’t think about it.”

“You freak out on Red?”

“I didn’t mean to, I acted weird.”

“Yikes, least you didn’t kick her out.”

Buffy stiffens at Faith’s words. “Did you?”

“Kick Red out?”

“Get kicked out.”

Faith stops the mindless tapping against her stomach. She hadn’t really meant to bring it up, she didn’t think Buffy would pick up on it. “One of the times.”

“Times?”

“My ma couldn’t really decide whether to kick me out or not.” Faith shrugs it off. Personal truths spill out in the dead of night. Buffy’s hand reaches out and takes Faith’s which were twitching awkwardly.

“You didn’t deserve that.” Faith swallows harshly. She hadn’t told anyone that. Not Dawn who always asked about her life before Sunnydale, not Willow who looks at her like she knows everything about Faith, and not Buffy. Buffy, who she’d die for but couldn’t tell her anything real. Anything that could make Buffy look at her like Faith was hurting her. Faith knows that look intimately. The wince of pain and tightening of the eyes and Faith’s words cut some invisible wound.

She’s never been told she deserved better by someone who wasn’t a paid prison goon.

“Thanks.” She doesn’t know what else to say, what joke to soften the words with.

“I never would have kicked Willow out. I won’t kick Dawn out.”

“I know. That’s not who you are.”

Silence falls as they both think.

Buffy’s hand eventually ends up tracing a familiar line. Buffy always has a preoccupation with that scar. Even after years have passed and so many other wounds have piled upon them both, her attention always falls to her gut.

“You said I couldn’t kill you.” Buffy’s words are quiet, almost a whisper. It’s like she’s afraid to break this easy silence, this healing that’s been taking place over the past few weeks. Faith has to remind herself this is a raw pain for Buffy. It’s so recent that Buffy keeps their rivalry in her heart.

“Yeah.”

“I did.”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t mean to.” Buffy admits.

She knows. Faith always knew. Even fresh out of a coma and angrier than ever, she knew.

Even now, she remembers that day perfectly. She can remember how Buffy’s voice quavered. “You’re going to get it back soon.” It should have been a taunt or a quip but Buffy couldn’t muster the determination. She can’t forget when the knife slid home. The look of surprise and horror on Buffy’s face. Buffy let Faith throw her away, her body was too shocked to respond. She didn’t say anything, she couldn’t. Not as Faith spoke and stumbled—impaled on their broken friendship. It wasn’t the expression of someone who is ready to kill.

“I know.”

“No, I...I had to kill Angel. I got myself ready, you know? I had to take time, I knew I couldn’t kill him until I was ready. He killed Miss Calendar and I had to be ready. It snapped me into place. Even after, I was a mess. I thought I’d kill Angelus but then I saw Angel’s eyes, peering at me with so much trust and surprise. He was in so much pain.” Buffy’s hand slips beneath Faith’s tank top and traces along the raised skin.

“You love him.”

“Yes, but that’s not what I mean. You looked just like him. It was the same. I stabbed someone I loved and sentenced them to hell. I watched as that last strain of hope faded and pain took over. I thought I was ready when I sent him to hell, I didn’t even have that luxury with you. I knew I wasn’t ready, not really. What I saw in that moment when I stabbed you destroyed me. It’s like I was looking at the girl who reminded me to live, who saw me not fitting in with my friends and gave me a different person to call family. Everyone always thinks I’m the chosen one but those were the eyes of my chosen one.”

“B…” Buffy’s eyes got shiny with tears during her speech. Faith gently pulls Buffy closer and wraps her arms around her shoulders. Buffy tucks her head under Faith’s chin. Faith can feel Buffy’s lips on her collarbone, the tears that trail down Faith’s throat, the hot exhales of regret. “That’s not who you stabbed. I was lost. Lost to anger and hate and a need to hurt. I was your enemy, you did what you had to.”

“I know. That’s exactly it. I did what I had to. I always do, don’t I? Send Angel to hell? Check. Send you off a rooftop? Check. Die? Check. I know you were too far gone, I know we were fighting, I know you were my enemy. I know I did the right thing—the thing that fate carved into my future. I still hate it. I still regret it, even if I would do it again.”

Faith tries not to think about what exactly all of that means. They never talked so honestly about it all. She tries to put the comparison to Angel from her mind. She isn’t sure if she’s ready to think about how Buffy is comparing her to her first love.

“I’m not that person anymore.”

“I know.” The soft admission makes Faith’s heart pound. She knows Buffy is softening towards her but it’s nice to hear that her lifelong growth isn’t wasted.

“I’m not that girl either.”

“I know.” It’s sadder that time, like Buffy is mourning the girl who was. Faith isn’t sure if she’s mourning Faith or herself.

Faith lets her eyes close, tiredness pulling her to sleep. She feels Buffy’s eyelashes flutter against her throat but the tears stop.

Buffy starts falling asleep against Faith.

Faith is trying not to suffocate against the hammer laying into her chest.

She really didn’t plan on getting close to Buffy, not in a past she can’t stay in.

She splits her time researching how to get back to her time and trying to recall every mention of Glory, the key, and Buffy dying. No one gave her many details about the whole ordeal, none of the specifics. She isn’t sure how or why Buffy died, just that she did. She saved Dawn, that much she knows. She isn’t sure how to save Buffy if she doesn’t know the specifics. She can’t let Dawn die to save Buffy, she knows that much.

She’s taking a break and reading a comic when Xander and Buffy call her name. She ignores them, not wanting to deal with their bullshit. A ball of paper lands on her comic.

“What the fuck.” Faith isn’t having any of their shenanigans today.

“What are you getting Tara for her birthday?” Xander asks with a pleading look.

“You don’t know what to get her?” Faith asks.

“No, we don’t really know her that well!” Xander defends himself. Buffy gives her an awkward smile when Faith looks her way.

“We?”

“She’s nice! I just...don’t know her very well.”

Faith gives Buffy the most judging look she’s ever mustered in her whole life and returns to her comic book.

She’s mixing a potion into a potent stink bomb when Buffy starts getting the shit beat out of her by thin air.

“How far the chosen one has fallen.” Faith taunts as Tara rushes into the scene.

Then Faith’s blood is pumping.

Demons, Tara’s shaking, Willow’s looking hurt.

They stand up for her, thankfully they have enough sense. She’d hate to have to kick their asses and set their trust back.

Spike punches Tara and Faith nearly stakes him on the spot, just out of reflex. It’s best he does, it proves to Tara that she isn’t a demon. She could hardly give a fuck what Tara’s family thinks or what the scoobies think but she knows that if Spike hadn’t punched her, Tara might never have believed the truth.

It’s all fine, Buffy has it handled. She’s an unmoving wall, looking down at Tara’s family with that absolute righteousness that used to enrage Faith. Now, she’s feeling a little hot under the collar.

It’s all fine, until Tara’s bitch brother opens his mouth.

The threat of a beating isn’t an idle one. The way Tara flinches, her father’s eyes light up with satisfaction, her brother’s knuckles tighten. It reminds her of foster homes and streets too rough for anyone let alone a homeless kid with only the clothes on her back and the chip on her shoulders. It reminds her of pimps with heavy hands and foster parents who believe in corrective measures. Buffy’s got a hold of her wrist, tight enough to halt her lunge. The brother’s eyes widen at her interrupted attack. That, paired with Xander’s words, send them away.

Buffy’s thumb rubs against her racing pulse. Like she knows she needs to be calmed down. That she’s so close to going off on a rager. She breathes like Kennedy showed her once. Calms herself down.

She gives Buffy a grateful smile and steps away, breaking the point of contact Giles’ eyes had caught on. She moves towards Tara before seeing Willow and her sharing a soft moment. Faith stops in her tracks.

Family is weird.

Dawn and Joyce mean everything to Buffy but then family can be utter shit like Tara’s.

Joyce!

Joyce dies before Buffy does. She curses the scoobies for never filling her in, not giving her all the details. If they had been more open about the past then she could know how to prevent everything. As is, all she can do is warn that it’ll be soon and hope they know how to prevent it.

“Buffy.” Faith turns towards Buffy, hands awkwardly going into her pockets. She is terrible at these kind of emotional talks. “Your mother—”

She’s interrupted by an angry feminine voice. “You think you’re so much better!” She turns and sees Tara’s cousin bursting back into the shop.

It sears itself across her shoulder and she’s sent flying.

She lands on cold tile.

She lets out a groan of pain and presses a hand to her bleeding abdomen. The blood runs so quickly that her hand does nothing to stop it. She looks around and notices she’s in the hospital. She stands and trips, her legs not strong enough to carry her. She digs through the cabinets until she finds gauze and presses it against the wound. Her body is throbbing with bruises and breaks and breathing is hard.

It’s worse than the other times. Her shoulder is red and raw from where the spell had landed. Luckily the cousin didn’t have shit on Red’s fire.

She finds a lab coat and puts it on, buttons it up to hide the bloody mess. It bleeds through the white fabric. Shit.

She leaves the room and hopes no one notices her. She sneaks into a room where the patient is asleep and steals his jacket. This one doesn’t get bled through or it’s dark enough to hide the discoloration.

She walks out and looks around aimlessly. Every other time she’s landed in front of people, this is a new one. She hopes they’re somewhere nearby.

She sees Buffy sitting in the waiting room alone, her pale face is completely blank.

Dread nestles itself in her throat.

“B?”

Buffy’s eyes slide up to her, the numb suffering fades. “You’re here.”

“Just got here.”

“You didn’t tell me. You didn’t warn me. I could have saved her! You were too busy protecting your future.”

“I don’t know how it happened, just that it did. I’m sorry. I should have told you, I didn’t want to threaten the timeline. I was going to tell you.”

“I don’t care about the timeline, Faith. I don’t give a shit about the future. I just want my mom.”

“Buffy—”

“Just go.”

“I want to help.”

“A little late on that. Go.” Buffy’s voice is cold as ice. Faith swallows harshly, nodding and turning to leave. Buffy doesn’t stop her.

It burns in her gut, another failure. It’s just another way she’s let Buffy down. God, she let Joyce die.

It’s easy to paint that last meeting as their relationship. She’s the evil slayer who took Joyce hostage and Joyce only kept her around as a replacement for Buffy. It isn’t that simple, it never was. Joyce was a good lady and a hell of a mom, a far cry from her own. She did want her to replace Buffy but she didn’t just see her as a tool like the others. She doesn’t think so. Joyce still saw her, still invited her over.

Christmas at the Summers’, it’s been so long but Faith still remembers it. Buffy ran out on them but Faith stayed. At first it was awkward but Joyce and her talked through the night. She knows that Joyce could have forgiven her, she would have apologized. They would have come to an understanding.

Maybe she’s just fooling herself.

She can’t possibly know now. She fucked up and didn’t mention it, she messed up and now she has more blood on her hands.

The club is dark and pulsing. The hot air fills her head as warm amber lights her body on fire.

All that progress is gone now, Buffy hates her. Those soft moments, the past hurts easing, they’re over. Buffy’s eyes burned with reproach and blame and why not? She should blame Faith, Faith sure does. A blonde tries to enter her orbit and the reminder of Buffy clings to the back of her throat. She moves away from the blonde and continues dancing to her own tune, numb to the swirling room.

This is what she does right?

She kills and dances it off? Nothing’s changed, she’s just been kidding herself.

“You okay?” Buffy’s giving her a surprisingly sympathetic look. It’s only been two years since Sunnydale became a crater. Two years where they’ve mostly been separate training up slayers. Slayers like Tracey.

“Five by five.” Faith smiles and it’s so fake that it hurts. She can’t be here, not with her brain clogged and her heart heavy.

“You know you couldn—”

“I’m fine, B! I’m gonna head out though, this isn’t exactly my scene. You can take care of the baby slayers.” Faith bids her farewell and is quick to leave. Buffy starts towards her but a sobbing slayer diverts her attention. Good.

Faith’s shoulders knock into the wall of the alley, hot-tall-and-dark bites her lip. Faith gives as good as she gets. It isn’t until she spies the scaly tail she realizes she isn’t tangoing with a human. “You planning on using me for a sacrifice or somethin’? I should warn you it’s probably gonna lead to you dying.”

“Slayer?” The demon’s voice breaks with fear as they pull back. They blink at her several times before raising their hands. “I’m not interested in a fight or dying.”

“Huh, still wanna kick it?” She’s not as gungho about getting friendly with vampires and demons as Buffy is but they’re a pretty good kisser all things considered. To her surprise the demon actually leans back in, hand wrapping around her waist. Is that four arms? Damn.

“Pell, scram.” A gravelly voice booms from down the alley. The demon—Pell apparently—freezes against her. Naked fear flashes across their eyes and Faith doesn’t have it in her to let this demon die.

“Can’t have you dyin’ on me, Pell. Get out of here before the demon slaying gets started.”

Pell breathes out in relief, obviously not wanting a part of the fight. “Raincheck?”

Faith’s gotta respect their priorities, surviving but not without getting another opportunity. “I leave tomorrow night, better find me before then.”

Fighting the demons goes downhill. Her heart isn’t in it. The misery that has been building makes her punches light and her defense weak. That is, until they threaten Pell. She doesn’t know shit about Pell, they might be a terrible child killing demon for all she knows, but it ignites her fury. She can’t lose another, she still feels Tracey’s blood coating her skin.

They die violently, she goes overboard, and of course Buffy is there to see. “Five by five, huh?” Buffy’s voice drips with judgement and Faith scowls at her.

“What do you want, B?”

Buffy doesn’t say anything. She walks over to where Faith is sitting on a stack of pallets and sits next to her. Their shoulders connect and neither move away. “You trained Tracey as well as you could. It’s not your fault.”

Her eyes sting and she curses, swallowing the urge to cry. She wouldn’t cry, not in front of Buffy. Buffy who is her friend, enemy, partner, nemesis. Buffy who has seen her weak too often. “I was too slow.”

Buffy looks down at her hands, Faith wonders if she can’t wash Tracey’s blood off either. “So was I. We all were. We’ll do better, we’ll remember her.”

“I’m tired of remembering, of trying to do better. Memory isn’t enough.” Faith is so young but at the moment she feels all her years. There’s a reason slayers don’t have a long life expectancy. She doesn’t think it’s just the threat they face, it’s that no one is supposed to live with this burden for long.

“So back alley trysts and fights with demons is your solution?”

“Could be worse, could be a back alley tryst with Spike.” Buffy pushes her off the pallet and Faith laughs from the ground. It’ll get better.

She hasn’t changed much, she thinks as the brunette pulls her towards the bathroom. Except there’s no Buffy to cheer her up, to say what needs to be said. Buffy said her piece but it tore at Faith, broke parts of her down rather than build her up.

Apparently her demon radar hasn’t gotten much better either. The claws tear at her and the brunette opens her mouth—a painful sucking comes from Faith’s chest.

Tumbling, she lands.

The Magic Box. Blood, fuck so much blood.

She thinks at first the dancing reopened the wounds but it’s not that. They’re gouges, straight through. It’s as bad as when it happened, or almost. It hurts, Faith falls to her knees and chokes on blood. Giles turns from a table. His eyes widen with mute horror and he sets his book down, lunging towards her.

“Faith!” He finds a towel and presses it to her wounds. Her face is pounding and her ribs little more than what feels like broken bits of bone.

“G-man.” Faith gives him a pained smile. “Think I might need a doctor.”

“Quite right.” He makes her put pressure on the wound and gets on the phone. “Tara is on the way.”

“Not an ambulance?”

“Can’t risk them remembering you and locking you up.”

“Okay.” She can’t fight, her eyes are heavy and she thinks this might be it. At least she isn’t alone.

“Stay awake, Faith.” He looks terrified, his hair is in disarray and his skin is pale. He looks like he hasn’t slept in a while.

“You look like garbage.”

“It’s been…a tough few weeks.”

She tries but she can’t keep her eyes open, everything is moving.

“Faith, get out of my seat.”

“Aw, Dawnie is too old to share. Where’s the love?”

“If you don’t give me back my seat I’ll tell Angel you cheat at poker.”

“I thought we were friends!”

She wakes up alone. She’s got bandages wrapped around her torso and smells like herbs, probably Tara’s work. She groans in pain when she sits up and looks for a shirt. She’s in Buffy’s room, in her bed. Faith exhales painfully and finds an oversized flannel in the back of Buffy’s closet, she’s careful when she buttons it up not to make her wounds worse. She walks out of the room and hears murmuring downstairs, she follows it. Willow and Tara are leaning across the counter, talking in hushed tones. Dawn has her arms crossed and looks pissed.

“Faith!” Dawn is the first to notice her.

“Hey.” Her voice is rough and she feels like ten pounds of shit.

“You okay?” Willow looks worried, her tone a little shaky.

“Five by five.”

“You scared us.” Tara smiles at her and Faith walks deeper into the room.

“Where’s B?” That kills the mood, they all look down. Dawn’s eyes fill and she looks away harshly.

“Don’t you know already?” Dawn’s voice is brutal and angry, all the blame that Buffy’s had carried what felt like hours ago.

That’s when she puts it together. Giles’ wrecked appearance, Willow and Tara being here, no Buffy. “Fuck.” Faith leans against the wall, closing her eyes. Her head pounds and her heart hurts. She didn’t think she’d end up here, in a place without Buffy. Losing Buffy hurt the first time around, locked up in her dingy cell. It’s worse here, seeing how distraught everyone is.

“Why didn’t you stop it?” Dawn asks, her hands half curled fists.

“I didn’t know how to without letting you die and that was never an option.” Faith answers honestly.

“So you let her die.”

“I did what I had to.”

“I hate you.” Dawn’s voice doesn’t shake. Faith knows she means it at this moment.

“I know.” Dawn looks even angrier, like she wants to fight Faith. Faith isn’t going to play into it. Dawn stomps off and goes to her room.

“She doesn’t mean it.” Tara offers.

“She does. It’s fine. You two living here?”

“We’re taking care of Dawn.” Willow says it carefully, unsure. It sounds like she isn’t sure it’s for the best.

“That’s good. You two are the best choice to take care of her.” Willow’s smile is small—subdued from mourning—but real.

“You can stay while you heal.” Tara tells her, her hands rubbing soothing circles on Willow’s back.

She stays. She stays because as good of guardians Willow and Tara are, she remembers Dawn telling her how it still wasn’t enough. She can recall many nights where Dawn would talk about their preoccupation with life and eventually bringing Buffy back, how sometimes Dawn fell through the cracks. Faith’s there to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It’s what Buffy would want, even if Buffy hated her the last time they saw each other.

She doesn’t want Dawn’s only other influence being Spike without a soul. She has to work through Dawn’s anger and hate, it takes time. She doesn’t give up. She gets right back up after Dawn insults her, she tells the kid how it is and gets to trying to help her mourn.

That isn’t her only mission.

She knows what else happens during this time. How bringing back Buffy jump starts Willow’s issues with magic. She needs to get ahead of it.

She doesn’t stop them from bringing Buffy back. She could, she should. She remembers the pain, the absolute agony Buffy goes through coming back. The thing is, she’s selfish. She’s always been selfish. Want, take, have. She wants Buffy, needs her really. Faith will take her happiness, rip heaven away from her. All because she needs her. Needs to have Buffy in her life, needs her alive in the human world. She can’t stand the thought of life without Buffy. So she lets an atrocity happen.

She soothes her consciousness by taking care of those Buffy loves most. Those that Faith can admit she cares about.

“You know, there’s nothing wrong with dark magic.” Faith interjects Willow and Tara’s argument. Xander is standing to the side looking uncomfortable with the fighting couple.

“See? She agrees!” Willow gestures broadly, happy to have someone on her side.

“Ex-murderer in favor of dark magic, anyone surprised?” Xander asks sarcastically.

“Tara’s right too.” Faith stops Willow from building more steam. “There’s light and dark magic. Tara and you make for a perfect balance. She’s an expert of light magic and you’re gifted at dark magic.”

“Since when did you learn about magic?” Xander gives her a look of disbelief.

“She’s read most everything at the Magic Box.” Anya points out.

“I absorbed some stuff while I was looking for an answer to my situation.” Faith shrugs at him.

“Willow is opening doors she can’t close.” Tara says, standing her ground.

“Absolutely. Bringing someone back from the dead? Talk about blasting doors open. Thing is, it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. The issue isn’t whether the magic is dark or light, there always needs to be a balance in the world, the issue is a dependency on it. Dark magic is fine and all until you get dependent on it. It’s just like any other addiction. Drinking booze is fine until you’re a six pack deep and it ain’t even noon yet.”

That isn’t even close to the last time that conversation happens. Tara is hesitant to mess with forces of this nature, she has every right to be. They all fuck Buffy over by bringing her back.

Plus, after Faith figured out the truth, she just wants to see Buffy again. It might be the last time after all.

Magic. It always comes down to magic. Willow’s fire, Tara’s cousin, the demon putting the whammy on her. Magic is the trigger, it’s what sends her forward. She is embarrassed it took her so long to realize. It made everything fall into place. Her wounds are worsening with every jump. She thinks she’s catching up. She’s just replaying history until she gets back to that demon hole, surrounded by mjerim. She dies, that’s the end of her time travel stint.

She’s terrified of getting zapped before she can see Buffy again.

She doesn’t worry too long.

It happens quickly, the way life does.

One day she’s coming home from her shitty construction job that Xander gave her and they’re ready. It’s time to bring Buffy back.

She lets it all happen, they leave disheartened. She doesn’t let Buffy dig herself out of her coffin this time. She digs and digs until she hits wood. She opens it and sits inside the coffin with Buffy’s corpse, waiting for her to wake up.

She’s a wild thing when she does. She scurries away from Faith, terror and instinct guiding her. She runs and Faith chases. She doesn’t want to trap Buffy or hold her down, she needs Buffy to feel safe.

Buffy backs herself into an alley and Faith is careful to let her have some space.

“B, it’s me. Faith.” Buffy looks at her with no recognition. Faith walks closer, slowly. She keeps a hand outstretched and one to her chest. “We’re friends, I’m not gonna hurt you.” She isn’t sure if Buffy considers her a friend. Not really. She has to try.

Buffy grabs her wrist and flips her over, forearm coming to rest on her throat. Faith grunts but doesn’t stop her, letting Buffy take it at her pace. She sees the scoobies scurry into the alley, eyes wide with surprise. “It’s okay B, you aren’t dead. You’re here. You’re Buffy Summers, slayer extraordinaire. We’re the chosen two.” Her last words seem to reach Buffy. She doesn’t see a change but she feels it. The bond that’s been silent since she woke up in a world without Buffy explodes. Faith grunts with pain, slamming her eyes shut. It’s too much, all at once.

So much pain.

Buffy’s body relaxes minutely, then all at once. She all but collapses into Faith and she can’t do anything but wrap her arms around Buffy and hold her tight. Buffy’s shuddered breaths break Faith’s heart, the confusion and agony filtering through the bond, the painful trust Buffy has in her.

Faith holds on.

Later, at the house, Buffy lets go.

Buffy looks at her with anger, hate, disgust. Faith sighs and lets her. She takes her stuff out of Buffy’s room and moves down to the basement.

She heard the stories. She knew Buffy was a mess. It’s different seeing it in person.

Suddenly she’s taking care of Dawn, Willow, and Buffy.

“Are you going to stand there all night?” Willow has her eyes closed but Faith isn’t making her presence a secret.

“You’re trying to summon the devil, Red. I’m here to punch his horns off if you succeed.”

“I’m summoning a nature spirit not the devil.” Willow’s lips quirk up into a bemused smirk.

“Same shit.”

“The devil isn’t even real.”

“Ha! That’s what you say until he’s crouching over your laundry asking for your soul.”

“You’ve been watching too much tv with Dawn.”

“I resent that.”

Willow opens her eyes and has a look of consideration. “We’re friends right?” She sounds uncertain, unsure of her place in Faith’s life and vice versa.

“Hell yeah, we’re the bad bitches of the house. ‘Sides, after taking care of the kid we’re kinda in it together.”

Faith never thought she’d see the day a pleased smile would cross Willow’s face at the mention of friendship with her. “Can I talk to you about Tara then? I know you two are close.” The hint of insecurity makes Faith uncomfortable.

“Tara’s one of my favorite people but so are you. Her and I aren’t like that. You know her, love her, you gotta trust her too. Maybe it’s me you are worried about but believe me, I ain’t plannin’ on home wrecking.”

“I’m sorry, it’s not that I don’t trust either of you.” Willow reaches out and lays a hand on Faith’s arm. “We’re just in a weird place right now and I’m worried I’m losing her, not to you necessarily just in general.”

“You two belong together. I’ve never seen two people more in love. You’re having issues, you just gotta face them, not hide from them.”

“I’m worried she doesn’t want to.” Willow admits.

“Trust me, you’re always on Tara’s mind.” That earns another genuine smile.

“I’ll work on it.” Willow swears. “This thing we’ve got going with Tara, Dawn, you, me, and now that Buffy’s back, I don’t want to lose it.”

“Then keep fighting for it.”

For a few minutes Willow goes back to her spell. “Faith?” She calls out.

“Yeah?”

“Tara once said that you might have feelings for Buffy.” Faith looks up quickly and Willow winces. “Sorry. It’s just, it helped. I know I was kinda terrible to you when you traveled back, sorry about that. It helped, though.”

“Why?” Faith’s question comes out dry and worried.

“I sort of had a crush on you? Buffy too. In high school that is, not so much with the crushing now. It was nice to hear that maybe I’m not the only one of us who’s not exactly straight. I didn’t feel as alone.”

“Damn, I knew you had a thing for Buffy but I didn’t think I was on your radar.”

“Have you seen you in leather pants?” Willow flirts and Faith laughs.

“Will, I’m pretty sure none of the scoobies are straight. You aren’t gonna mention my feelings to Buffy, are you?”

“No. She’s my best friend but it’d be wrong. You’re my friend too and it’d hurt you.”

“Thanks.”

When the peaceful nature spirit tries to kill Willow, she doesn’t even say I told you so.

Even though things with Willow and the others are going okay, the same can’t be said for Buffy. Buffy hates her—feels so much anger towards her—yet she reaches for Faith. She leans on Faith. Faith isn’t sure if it’s the slayer bond or their history. Faith is there as much as she can be.

“Why are you even staying in my house?” Buffy’s in a particular mood this afternoon.

“To help take care of things.”

“Because you’re so helpful.”

“Considering I’m the one shouldering bills and taking care of your sister, I’d say fucking so.” Faith is still Faith and there’s only so much she can take from Buffy.

Buffy doesn’t talk to her for two days.

The basement floods and Faith moves to the couch. Her shit is wet and she’s pissed. Buffy won’t talk to her but she needs her. She needs her because Faith is scared. Now that Buffy is back she feels like her days are numbered. She can feel the clock ticking, her death looming. She needs Buffy to hold her as much as Buffy needs her.

She heard all about the Buffy and Spike thing. All the gory details. Dawn for some reason saw it necessary to brutalize her heart by burdening her with their sordid affair. She always thought it was a bit cruel of Dawn. She’s never spoken of it but she knows Dawn must know how she feels about Buffy.

She keeps Buffy away from Spike. She doesn’t want to encourage that unhealthy relationship, she knows that it won’t help Buffy’s state of mind. Unfortunately, it seems that Faith becomes her unhealthy outlet. They fight constantly, they’re barely civil, Buffy looks at her like she did when she was working for the Mayor. They don’t fuck like Buffy did with Spike, she’s glad that Buffy doesn’t try. She doesn’t think she could handle a hate fuck from Buffy.

Faith occasionally wakes up with Buffy laying beside her. It’s not like it was before. Those soft moments are of the past.

“You know time travel requires you to actually travel.”

“I’m so comfortable here that I figured I’d stay a while.” Faith isn’t sure how they can toss so many barbs when Buffy is literally attached to her to prevent falling off the couch.

“You don’t stay, you run.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve completely pushed away all of your friends.”

“They...do you know?” Buffy’s body seizes up. “Did you know?”

“Buffy-”

“You knew.” It’s quiet, barely more than a whisper. It hurts, the jagged edges of Buffy’s psyche rubbing against their bond. She says it like Faith failed. Like Faith let her down by being herself. She withheld Dawn’s existence and Joyce’s death. Buffy was pissed both times. Admittedly the Dawn thing turned out okay but Faith should have learned. She should have told Buffy, screamed the truth. “Okay.” Buffy’s body relaxes, sinks into Faith’s like water. A tension Faith didn’t know Buffy was carrying fades.

She’s wrong, Buffy isn’t pissed or disappointed. She’s almost...relieved? Relieved that she doesn’t have to carry the burden of heaven alone, the knowledge she hides from those closest to her.

“How am I supposed to keep living?” Buffy’s words are broken and like any lovesick fool, she drags herself over the shards of glass for Buffy.

“I know it hurts but it won’t always be this bad. You find happiness, it takes a while but you’re happy.” She isn’t sure if that’s the truth or just what Faith hopes. Buffy seemed happy before she got sent back. She has her family, slayers to guide, a meaning without having to carry the burden alone. That’s where Buffy’s greatest strength and happiness lies, other people there to help fight the good fight. “Because you’re the best part of this world. You.” Faith clasps Buffy’s hands, desperate to wipe away that pained look. How does she keep fucking this up?

For a while it’s just hollow looks, a deep sadness Buffy can’t get herself out of. A lot of the anger has faded between them, a stable need exists. A need to see each other, a need to comfort each other.

On top of Buffy’s emotional state, Willow is spiraling deeper into magic and Faith is trying to stop it, put some breaks on it. Dawn is acting out, doing anything to get attention. Faith feels like she’s greying.

She’s spent the last decade raising slayers, training them. This comes with drama and struggles so this broken family shouldn’t be something she’s unfamiliar with. It’s because of who they are that it hurts so much. Seeing these people she cares about break in their own ways is gutting. She doesn’t know how to prevent it.

Tara and her are getting coffee and walking around a park, both needing a break from the house. Even still, Faith can feel Buffy’s anxiety through the bond.

“You’re a big help.” Tara tells her, probably trying to soothe Faith’s worries.

“If I were a big help half this shit would be fixed already.” Faith grumbles.

“You can’t fix people, Faith. All you can do is be there for them.” Tara tells her. Faith stops and looks at Tara. If there’s one thing she’s grateful about this stroll down nightmare lane, it’s meeting Tara.

“I knew Joyce died but I wasn’t around and people didn’t really tell me much. I didn’t know when it happened, just a vague timeline.” Faith confesses.

“You couldn’t have prevented it. Even if you had warned us, the doctors said there was nothing to be done.”

“Blondie…” Faith debates her words, trying to find the most sensitive way to put it.

“I die, don’t I?” Tara sounds strong for someone so sure of their own death. If Faith were to talk about her own impending death, she knows she couldn’t be as strong.

“How’d you know?”

“I can read people, remember?” Tara playfully nudges her but her expression is somber. “You act differently near me. You slip up and treat the others like their future selves but never me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“I don’t know if I can prevent anything but on May seventh, don’t go to the Summers’. Go somewhere else.”

“May seventh. It’s so soon.”

“I know.” Faith wraps her arms around Tara as she works through the news of her death date.

“I don’t want to die.” Tara whispers tearfully.

“You aren’t gonna, fuck timelines. You get to live or I’ll personally call The Powers That Be up and give them the what’s what.”

“There you guys are!” Willow calls out. Buffy and Xander are trailing alongside her.

“What’s up?” Faith pulls back from Tara and tries to act like nothing happened. Considering Tara’s crying that isn’t likely to pass.

“What happened?” Willow asks worriedly.

“We got a bit too feeling heavy for a walk.” Tara laughs like it’s a joke.

Later, she’s on Buffy’s bed waiting for Buffy to get out of the bathroom. She does and leans against the doorframe, eyes calculating. She looks more present than usual so Faith lets her watch her.

“You were there for Tara.”

“Yeah?”

“Why did you leave me, then? Do I mean nothing to you?” Buffy’s voice sounds fragile and Faith has no clue what she means. Faith has barely left her side since she got out of that coffin.

“Of course you mean something to me. I just went for a walk, B.”

“Not now. After mom died.” Buffy almost chokes on the last word.

“I left the hospital because you asked me too. You were pissed.”

“I didn’t think you’d run away. I thought I could be angry, you’d mope, but we’d make up. I thought you would be back. What’d you do? Run off to play house with Angel?”

“Are you being for real?” Faith’s question comes out flat, unimpressed. In reality, she’s upset. She’s more upset then she’s been at Buffy since her real time. “I got sent forward you absolute asshole. For the last time, there’s nothing between me and the big guy.”

Buffy’s eyes narrow, judging her honesty. “You didn’t leave.”

“No! I sure as fuck want to now.”

“Wait!” Buffy puts up her hands, trying to get Faith to sit back down. Faith hesitantly sits back on the edge of the bed, ready to bolt. “I’m sorry. I thought you left.”

“Is that why you were so pissed at me?”

Buffy walks over and nearly tackles her. She throws her arms around Faith’s neck and clings on, legs straddling Faith’s hips. “You didn’t leave.” It sounds like Buffy is saying it to herself. She could tell Buffy that she’d never leave her, that she couldn’t bear it. She doesn’t. She doesn’t because that isn’t their relationship. Faith has been in love with Buffy Summers since she was a teenager and she refuses to let her know.

They come back together like before. They sleep in the same bed and it isn’t begrudging. They spend most of their days together, the codependency still running strong. Buffy has moments where happiness or something other than unending sadness leaks through. She sees Spike edging around Buffy and it makes her pissed.

It pisses her off because Buffy edges around him too.

It’s all fine until people start fucking singing.

She’s glad she isn’t near the scoobies when it starts. The last thing she needs to know about is Xander and Anya’s love life.

She does go to the Magic Box and finds out the idiots decided to play tough love and send the volatile slayer alone. All while Dawn’s life is at stake.

“You should all be ashamed.” Faith spits out, turning to go after Buffy. They follow, they sing. It’s terrible, she wishes she could scrub it from her ears. Giles is the only one she doesn’t mind singing.

She admits the reaction to Buffy dropping the heaven bomb is priceless. They really had no clue, they’d all deluded themselves. Giles thinking Buffy is being irresponsible by turning to him, Willow being so certain she’s right. They couldn’t look beyond themselves. She cares for them but this isn’t their best time, any of them.

“Give me something to sing about.” Buffy’s voice calls out, the demon’s eyes light up with pleasure at the slayer burning herself out. The scoobies are silenced by their discovery, shamed into a stupor. Their shame will kill Buffy, if they don’t sing she’ll die. Someone needs to sing!

The demon is looking right at her with an ugly pleased smile.

Faith wants to beat the demon to death. The words are being plucked from her heart and forced into her mouth. She has too many secrets that could be let loose, too much future knowledge.

I believe, I believe, I believe, I believe
That we're meant to be.
But jealousy, jealousy, jealousy, jealousy
Get the best of me.
Look, I don't mean to frustrate, but I
Always make the same mistakes, yeah I
Always make the same mistakes 'cause,
I'm bad at love (ooh-ooh)

Buffy’s looking at her like she’s never seen her.

“Yes!” The demon is ecstatic at Faith’s admission. Faith feels her stomach drop, the secret she’s kept hidden for years so carelessly outed.

But you can't blame me for tryin.'
You know I'd be lyin' sayin'
You were the one (ooh-ooh)
That could finally fix me.
Lookin' at my history,
I'm bad at love

“You can do better than that.” The demon says, raising a hand in her direction to push the singing further.

“No!” It’s too late.

Blood.

She passes out almost immediately after the jump.

She doesn’t even feel the pain this time.

She wakes up in the hospital. IVs and monitors are hooked up to her. She takes them out and stumbles out of bed, making her way out of the hospital. She’s still in Sunnydale so the battle hasn’t happened yet. Her body feels rung out, she’s pretty sure even slayer healing isn’t enough. She probably should stay in the hospital but she needs to see Buffy.

She feels a wave of embarrassment at the singing, the awkward truth. She hates it, hates that she said anything and how she said it.

It wasn’t wrong.

She spent so much of her life alternating between numbness and rage. Nothing could shake her out of the addictive qualities of undulated rage. After a lifetime of being hurt she was given the power to hurt. Sometimes she wishes she was never called. Most of the time she’s selfish, she can’t regret being called. Not when it led her to Buffy, not when she found a meaning in life. Training the slayers, protecting them as best she can, it fulfills her. Slaying is in her blood but guiding the slayers is in her soul.

She feels the most accomplished when they come from broken homes like her. She can offer those kids a better chance, an opportunity to make better decisions than she did. It’s restorative to see kids so much like her get the help they need.

Still, look how she handled her feelings towards Buffy. She’s failed the slayers before, how many have died under her watch? She explodes and takes it out on the people around her. She knows she’s happy, sometimes. It’s been better in recent years, the scoobies have relaxed more towards her and the slayers stop side eyeing her. She can look in the mirror without disgust.

It wasn’t always like that. For years she felt dead. Nothing more than a corpse that’s still twitching. Here, it has a new meaning. Here—where she really is a dead girl walking— with her sentence hanging over her head. She wonders if this is her punishment for everything she’s done.

She shakes her head as she walks down the road, trying to clear her thoughts.

She sees Buffy walking down the street away from the Summers’ home.

“B?” Faith calls out. Buffy stops in her tracks and looks at her. “You look like shit.”

“I just got kicked out.” Buffy sounds empty. She looks like it too. She remembers when they all kicked Buffy out, it was ugly.

“Fuck.” Faith wanders over and pulls Buffy into a hug. Buffy hesitates, probably upset at the other Faith. Eventually she loosely hangs onto Faith’s jacket. Well, the jacket she took from an elderly gentleman. He was surprisingly fashionable for being a geezer. She doesn’t mind the odor of smoke considering most of her clothes smell like that too.

“I’m tired.” Buffy sounds like it too. Too tired to fight, too tired to lead. Spike went after her last time, she doesn’t know how he inspired her.

“I know, B. It’s almost over. Want a spoiler?” Faith’s fingers graze under Buffy’s chin, lifting her face up to look into Faith’s eyes. “You win. The First doesn’t have shit on you. You’re Buffy Summers. You are one of the most frustratingly good people in the world. You aren’t replaceable, no one could ever fill your shoes. Not just because you’re the best slayer there’s ever been, but because of who you are.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I’m almost thirty, B. I’ve known you for the part of my life that matters most. I’ve seen you as an adult, after all this passes. You’re pretty fucking awesome.”

“Faith...when you sang—”

“We don’t need to talk about that.” Faith tenses at the subject being addressed. Her body feels tight as stress rolls through her muscles. Even Buffy’s soothing movements don’t get her to relax.

“You said you loved me.”

“Course I did. We’re pals in my time.”

“Faith.” Buffy’s voice is stern and her eyes unwavering, but her touch is soft. She brushes hair back from Faith’s face, eyes widening at the violent bruising across her face. “What happened?”

“Life of a slayer.” Faith replies easily, not mentioning the reopened wounds beneath her coat.

“You didn’t mean as friends.”

Faith’s heart thunders and Buffy smiles sadly. “Someone thinks highly of themself. I leave the pining to the scoobies.”

“Willow isn’t into me.” Faith gives her a significant look. “What?”

“Willow isn’t into you anymore but she was full on crushing in high school.”

“Oh.” Buffy nods, digesting the information. Probably reflecting on their interactions. “You were too. Weren’t you?”

“Fuck, B. I wasn’t crushing.” Faith knows she’s fronting but she hopes Buffy can’t see it. She really hopes Buffy isn’t reflecting on their interactions in high school as well, with the crush goggles it doesn’t paint Faith in a good light.

“Why can’t you be honest?” Buffy’s close to her, way too close. Faith isn’t sure when or how she got here.

“It’s the last thing I got.” Faith admits, letting Buffy see. Letting her know. If Faith is gonna die, maybe she should finally get a chance to be heard. To be seen. To be something Buffy actually gives a shit about. “If I give it to you, you’ll have all of me. You’ll have my loyalty, my fight, my anger, my best and worst, my heart, and now my truth? How am I supposed to keep functioning? I meant it all, B. I’m bad at love. I’m jealous, I’m destructive, I’m too far gone. I don’t remember a life when I wasn’t hopelessly into you.” It all comes out in a rush, so many unspoken truths.

Buffy’s eyes are watery, her face unreadable. “Did you ever stop to consider how I feel about you?”

“Of course—”

“No. If you had, really had, then you would have seen the truth. Do you think I sleep in all my friends’ beds? I dance like that with just anyone? After Angel…I didn’t think I could ever really love again. I was so broken. Then you swaggered into Sunnydale and I hated you. I hated how easily you fit in with friends I couldn’t, I hated how much I didn’t hate you. How could I be attracted to someone when Angel had barely died? Then we became so close.” Buffy’s nose nudges against hers, hovering so close. “I loved you and I lost you.” Buffy’s taking her breath, her conception of their entire relationship. “Then you came back. Not just to help with the First, some future you. You, the real you. The one I got to see glimpses of before everything went wrong.”

Faith knows she’s shaking but she can’t stop the tremors. Years of build up, of falling in love over and over, and here she is hearing the words she’s always fantasized about. “You know you could have just asked me to bump uglies earlier and things woulda been a lot simpler.”

“I think this is the path we were always gonna travel.”

“Destiny?”

“The chosen two, remember?”

Faith brushes her thumb against Buffy’s lips. She could kiss her, she’s sure Buffy would let her. Buffy might even want her to. It feels wrong. She crushed on Buffy when she was younger, maybe even loved her, but it wasn’t like now. Faith is almost thirty, a grown ass woman. This Buffy hasn’t even lived through most of their memories.

Their history is important, it defines them. They have never fully moved on or forgotten everything, they probably never will. That isn’t all they are. They have years of fighting together, years of true friendship. This Buffy still mourns the Faith who died with Finch, she doesn’t know the Faith who was born through redemption. It feels wrong to kiss this Buffy, for Buffy to kiss this Faith.

“You’re not going to kiss me are you.” Buffy lips are creased with sadness and longing.

“As much as we might dig each other, we’re not each other’s right version.” Faith confesses, still not pulling away from Buffy.

“Dig?” Buffy judges Faith’s phrasing.

“Like a grave, B.”

“You’re terrible at this.’

“Least I’ve never banged a vampire.”

“Just my boyfriend.”

“Honestly when I took his pants off I was sorta expecting him to have those unbending GI Joe legs.” Buffy scowls and pushes her, apparently done with the subject. “Wait, B I gotta know. Did he salute after? Did he even know how or did he just—” Buffy punches her shoulder. “Jeez, there’s better ways to take out your frustration.”

“Any suggestions?” Buffy’s voice is challenging, enticing. Faith feels her pulse pick up and swallows harshly.

“I got a list, really a whole book of suggestions.”

“B!” A voice calls out from down the street. Faith chokes on an inhale, her head feels like it shatters to pieces. The voice makes a similar sound of pain.

Faith sees herself collapsing a few feet away from Buffy and her.

“Faith!” Buffy calls, reaching towards her.

She can’t stop staring into the eyes of her past self. It comes back to her, that night. She remembers Buffy leaving and not much else. She woke up in a bed and assumed she passed out. Staring into her own eyes as her brain breaks, she knows that’s not true. There are some things the mind can’t comprehend, can’t conceive. It blocked this memory for the sake of her sanity, or in order to maintain the timeline. Maybe Buffy blocked it.

Buffy.

She’s cradling Faith’s head, naked fear dripping alongside her tears.

She feels it, the pinprick foreplay of time fuckery. She knows she’s about to jump again. Her whole body is screaming and talking isn’t gonna happen. She wants to tell Buffy so many things but she only has time for one. She already knows how Faith feels so it should be something from the future, a warning. It comes to her a moment before she’s taken.

“Anya.”

Gone.

She hopes Buffy knows what she meant.

Thrown back.

Buffy is sitting on a hotel bed, Willow on the other.

They look up as she stumbles, falling to her knees. Everything hurts and just wants to pass out.

“Oh, goddess.” Willow gasps and Buffy is already moving, taking Faith into her arms.

Too late.

Gone.

Thrown back.

Buffy is slaying a vampire, dusted without breaking a sweat. She locks eyes with Faith and her expression breaks open.

“Don’t go!”

Gone.

Thrown back.

Is this how a chew toy feels? She feels like the universe is chewing her up and spitting her back out, worse off everytime.

She lands and it’s Willow reading a book.

“Will.” Her words scrape against her throat like sandpaper.

Willow jolts but turns towards her. “We need to get Buffy.” Willow scrambles for her phone but it’s too late.

Gone.

It keeps happening, over and over. Dozens of times. They’re quick flashes and each one drags it out longer, she feels like she’s burning up. She isn’t sure how she still has blood left to bleed. After a few times whoever she travels to stops trying to help or get her to stay. They understand that she can’t stop it, the universe won’t let her go. She wants to let go.

“Faith.” Buffy is saying her name but not to her, to a past Faith. It’s the first time she’s seen a past version of herself in the flashes.

“Hey B, lookin’ good.” Buffy is covered in vampire ash and a glimmery liquid that’s probably blood.

“You should try stand up.”

“My opening act will be called the short tragic love life of Buffy Summers.” Younger Faith is grinning and leaning against a truck with her arms crossed. Buffy walks up and tosses the scythe to her without a warning.

“I’ll have you know it was never short.”

“Hot.” Faith wiggles her eyebrows and tosses the scythe into the truck.

“Why do you throw things around?”

“A, that scythe killed a cyclops last week so it’s not gonna break from being tossed. B.”

Buffy waits for the second point until she realizes what Faith was doing. She rolls her and Faith laughs heartily. “It wasn’t a cyclops. I did get you something.”

“We’re at gifts already? I’ll win you a teddy bear at the arcade. A hard candy that says be mine?”

“I take it back.”

“Aw come on, I was just kiddin’!”

“Here.” Buffy moves, forcibly turning Faith around. She puts the necklace around Faith’s neck, her fingers purposefully trailing down the back of her neck.

“Did you bring protection?”

“Why do you ruin moments by talking?”

“You love my mouth.” Younger Faith turns back around, a real shine to her smile now. She’s touched but can’t—won’t—say so.

“It’s one of my least favorite things about you.”

“I”m just sayin’ B, you practically got me pregnant back there so you might wanna think about packing some protection.” She stops joking, smiling as she turns around. “Oh fuck, the baby slayers. Do they even know about sex? Are they practicing safe sex? Giles didn’t make that part of the education but most of them aren’t with their families. How would they know! What if they pull a Summers and try to pinball some vamps? How do you have vampire-slayer safe sex? Buffy! Stop laughing! Think of the children!”

Faith remembers this day, the day Buffy gave her the necklace. It meant so much to her, receiving it from Buffy. Buffy thought of her, gave it to her.

Buffy meets her eyes. She loses her composure but younger Faith is too busy stressing about the slayers to notice. The others are kind during her flashes but Buffy’s expression is always special. She knows how much Faith is suffering and is giving her strength to continue onto the next flash. Her happiness, her softness, is its own weapon. It fights off that which threatens to overwhelm her.

“Faith.” Buffy flicks her eyes over to younger Faith but Faith knows she’s still talking to her.

“Sup, B?”

“Never take it off, promise?”

Faith’s expression is vulnerable, more vulnerable than she thought she let it be. “Promise. Gonna give me a claddagh now?”

Gone.

“It’s okay.”

“You’re safe.”

“I love you.”

It fades to black.

She smells herbs and burning flesh.

“Faith, open your eyes!” A familiar voice but not Buffy.

“Blondie?” Faith croaks, she tries to move and cries out.

“You’re okay, the flashes are over. You caught up.” Tara’s voice is soothing and careful. Tender in a way only she can pull off.

“You were supposed to kill them all, jackass!” Buffy’s shouting from nearby, the telltale sound of a scythe knocking into bone.

“‘M sorry. The kid.”

“She’s safe. You did good.” Tara comforts, a warm heat traveling throughout her chest.

“What’s…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Willow says, grabbing her hand.

“‘Mkay.” Faith starts fading, the call of blackness too enticing.

Buffy’s hands are digging into Faith’s hips, dragging her closer still. Faith’s hands are tangled in Buffy’s hair, pulling her face closer to her neck. They’re grinding together like a knife against a stone, sharpening to a fine point. She isn’t sure who’s gonna end up bleeding but she knows it wouldn’t stop her, couldn’t take her away from the bliss of this moment. They haven’t danced in years.

Buffy’s labored breath pours across her sweaty skin and Faith has to bite her lip, she wants to turn in Buffy’s arms and see what her mouth tastes like. That’s not the game, that’s now how they are. She keeps grinding and pushing against Buffy harder, closer. They’re so wrapped in each other that Faith can feel Buffy’s heart beating against her back. Their bond is kinda muted in recent years but even still, the molten heat rolling between them is unmistakable. She feels like she’s choking on this heat,—in the way Buffy’s hands have crawled under her shirt.

Buffy’s lips meet skin. It isn’t intentional so it’s not necessarily a kiss. Buffy’s just so close that her lips brush against her throat as they dance. That is, until it keeps happening. It makes Faith wonder. Faith turns in Buffy’s embrace and it only makes things worse for Faith. They’re pushed up against each other, legs weaving together in a dangerous game. Faith exhales heavily, trying to control her hormones.

“Vamp is taking off.” Buffy declares. Her eyes are dark and her voice is a siren’s call. Faith swallows, centering herself.

“Let’s get stakin’.”

She wakes up in a bed that smells like Buffy with an arm that feels an awful lot like Buffy’s tossed across her waist. She shifts and groans, regretting the movement immediately. Tara jars from her seat beside the bed.

“Don’t try moving yet.”

“You’re alive.” Faith reaches a hand towards Tara. Tara takes it and offers her a smile.

“Thanks to you.”

“I’m confused.”

“I know, just sleep it off. We’ll explain later.”

“Okay.” Faith already feels herself nodding back off.

“Faith you might be half dead but if you keep snoring I’ll end you.” Buffy grumbles into her chest sometime later.

“I’d love for you to finish me off.”

Buffy pokes her shoulder, one of the few places she doesn’t hurt. “I’m glad you didn’t die.”

It takes her a week to heal. No one explains the situation to her, they keep saying she needs rest. It’s more than a little irritating. Plus, she’s feeling pent up. That’s why she’s climbing out of a window a week after getting back to her time. Buffy, Tara, Willow, and Dawn all are staying with her. They’re trying to take care of her. Taking too much care if you ask her. She thought she could leave sneaking out with her younger self but apparently not.

She’s happy she’s with them all. They’re her friends from her time, her version of them, but better. Better because of the weeks and months she spent with them. Better, because they became something of a family. When Buffy was dead, she joined Willow and Tara in taking care of Dawn. It isn’t a standard family unit but it works for them.

She heads to a nearby cemetery, hoping for a little action. A little action comes in the form of five vamps. It’s a bit of a stretch, enough to cause her to pause. She isn’t young and foolish, she knows not to go into a fight out manned. However, she’s tired and cooped up. She fights. She fights and she wins because she’s a badass. She stakes them, throws them around, and honestly has a bit of fun with it.

“Faith!” Several angry voices call out.

She offers them a crooked grin, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Hey.”

“Don’t hey us.” Buffy looks livid.

“I needed to slay, you know how it is.”

“I know how it is? How about you need to heal!”

“I have.”

“Goddammit, Faith.” The fight goes out of Buffy.

“What?”

“We didn’t know if we could save you.” Tara answers.

“You did though. How did you by the way?”

“Tara created the necklace and it sent you back through time. It gave us enough time to get to you. It slowed your death long enough for Tara to heal you.” Dawn explains.

“Like putting a phone on hold!” Willow interjects. “Besides, that’s an oversimplification. Tara and Anya hopped dimensions together to find the right material for the necklace, the right translation of the spell, everything had to be exactly right. Tara is a rockstar.” Willow is beaming with pride and gushing about Tara.

“Jeez, thanks Tara. Anya too, whenever I see her next. Glad you managed to save her too. So it was time travel and in this timeline you all remember?”

“Yep! We figured according to your knowledge, Tara and Anya were dead. We couldn’t change that. We could change their deaths, we just couldn’t tell you until you were all caught up.”

Tara nervously pulls down her collar, showing the scar of a bullet. Faith feels like she is punched in the stomach. “We couldn’t change it all. Any knowledge you passed or were told had to happen. I had to get shot by Warren. Unfortunately, not everyone could know.” Tara reaches out for Willow, who looks less upbeat.

“What do you mean?”

“I couldn’t tell anyone. Willow thought I died. I got shot in front of her, passed out, and was revived by a litany of spells I had cast before. That’s when I went to get started on the necklace, Anya found me and joined me. That was touch and go since Buffy knew, Anya almost died as well.”

“You spent years making the necklace, years without Willow?”

Tara’s smile is sorrowful but it doesn’t hold regret. “We all have to wait for love.”

“This whole time all these years, you’ve all known I’d time travel?”

“Yeah. It was kind of hard pretending we weren’t as close as we are.” Dawn interrupts.

“We’ve been waiting for you to catch up. You’re family, Faith.” Tara confirms. Faith swallows down the feelings that build in her throat.

It makes a lot of sense. The odd looks the scoobies would give her, the ones that she couldn’t make sense of. The way they’d turn to her as if to say something only to choke it down. They were never detail heavy on certain things, like Tara’s death, to avoid locking anything in place. The way Buffy would look at her. How Willow got so happy a while after Kennedy and her broke up but wouldn’t tell Faith why—she’d gotten her heart back.

“Oh! Buffy is like the mom, strict and kind of a buzzkill.” Dawn dances in place with excitement.

“Hey!”

“Faith, you’re basically the lame dad.”

“Thanks.”

“Willow and Tara are the cool lesbian and bi aunts who upstage everyone else.”

Willow and Tara look a bit smug at that.

“We missed you.” Dawn tells her seriously.

“Now that we know Faith isn’t dead, let’s head back.” Willow shepherds them away, all save Buffy. Faith grins at Willow’s exaggerated wink, maybe one day the girl will realize a wink is only one eye.

Buffy stands across from her with a million micro-expressions.

“I’ve nearly died like six times in the past week. What’s a girl gotta do to get laid around here?”

Buffy crosses the distance between them and tugs Faith into a life changing kiss. It’s all passion, it’s years upon years of burning ember. She thinks they’re both gonna get burned but they’re gonna burn together. It’s fire between them. Chaotic, uncontrollable, wild. Buffy’s nails scrape down her back and Faith pushes her towards the nearby gravestone. Faith grabs Buffy’s legs and Buffy takes the hint, wrapping her legs around Faith’s waist.

They don’t break contact, both too hungry for something they’ve starved themselves of.

“Not bad, for an old woman.” Buffy’s breathless taunt tugs at the building heat.

Old woman, she turned thirty. Huh, so she did make it after all. She shrugs her jacket off and leans over Buffy, reclaiming her lips. She’d take all of Buffy’s terrible age jokes for a taste of heaven.

The thing is, Faith isn’t scared of what’s beyond. Heaven, hell, some awful dimension.

Buffy Summers is heaven and nothing could take her Faith.