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Please Forgive Me I've Got Demons in my Head

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There were cold nights in Boston she doesn’t talk about much. Nights where her ma kicked her out or she ran away, nights with no shelter and no safety. They were cold, harsh, violent. Sometimes she’d lay out of sight and just listen to the thump of boots against flesh, the snap of bone and howls of pain.

People get jumped, robbed, killed, it’s just the way of the world.

She doesn’t talk about the nights where she was the one on the ground, doing her best to protect her face.

She’s always seen the world one way. They can all pretend, the scoobies, that the world is worth saving. It ain’t.

It’s a dog eat dog world, it the kinda place that beats you down and doesn’t let you up.

She learned how to hurt someone before they could hurt you. She had to if she wanted to live, if she wanted to be something other than a frozen corpse that has to be scraped off the streets.

So she did what she does best, she looked out for number one.

There’s a lot that goes wrong.

She just wants to fuck Buffy over, take over her body and get revenge. Except the longer she’s in Buffy’s body the more she experiences her life, she’s in the midst of the good guys and she forgot how that feels. It’s easy to let the rage run free, the anger at being left in a coma. It’s easy to forget.

She isn’t allowed to forget, not as she poses as Buffy. She has to remember, she has to talk to people who shouldn’t mean anything.

Losing herself to her darkest parts was easy, the dark tried taking her for her entire life. Being in the light? Having Joyce look at her with so much love in her eyes? Hell, even Red looking at her like she mattered did something to her.

She knows what’s what. Faith sees Willow and the blonde and immediately knows something Buffy isn’t supposed to know. Willow introduces her and the nerves between the pair are chaotic, bouncing off each other in any which way. They’re a new kind of nerves, fresh and still trying to sort themselves out. She didn’t think Red went that way but it makes some sort of sense.

Faith knows a crossroads when she sees one. She’s had to make those choices before in her life. Tell the cops on her ma’s boyfriend when they ask or keep quiet, give her food to the starving kid she shares a park bench with or keep it for herself, keep taking shit or stand up for herself, Buffy or the Mayor. She’s made choices her whole life, not always the best but she’s recognized them. She knows when she’s being called.

She knows this crossroads.

Willow leaves them alone and the roads diverge, a foot planted on either road.

She’s here to have fun, she did with Spike. She wants to with this timid girl. She is angry, evil, violent. More than anything, she’s tired. She shouldn’t be, she slept for months. After living in Buffy’s body it’s like something woke up within Faith. It’s not that Faith killed all the good in herself when she killed those people. No, she smothered the desire to do good. It’s survived, desperately batting at her to get free. She just kept suffocating it.

Now? Now after even just a little bit in Buffy’s life, just a while with love existing around her again, she wants to do better. The Mayor loved her, she refuses to believe otherwise. She knows what they were. Their love was something wrong though. It’s the love of a father born in evil. He loved how she could embrace that dark, how she could relate to killing. They loved through their evil. It’s different from loving with good.

She swallows the joke about driving stick and offers a smile that’s more Faith than Buffy, a tad too flirty. “I’m glad Will decided to introduce us, I could tell there was something big she was keeping to herself.” Big indeed, she noticed them the moment they entered the bar. The gay energy was too huge not to be noticed.

Tara still flushes at her comment, picking nervously at her clothes. “I d-don’t think I’m that important.”

“That’s definitely not true, didn’t think you’d be the kinda gal to lie.” It comes out more Faith then Buffy. Keeping who’s she is supposed to be straight is hard, hell keeping anything straight is hard enough as is. She thinks Tara won’t notice the slip, after all it’s not like she’s met Faith or Buffy before.

“You’re not Buffy.” Tara says it like it’s a thought that accidentally falls out.

“Howdya reckon that?”

“Y-your aura isn’t right.”

“Damn, did you two really meet at some witch meeting?”

Tara looks away, eyes searching for Willow. “Yeah, w-who are you? Did you hurt Buffy?”

“B and I are always trading blows, don’t worry she got her own licks in. I’m Faith, ooh someone’s heard of me.” Tara’s eyes immediately widen at Faith’s name, she backs up a little.

“Willow h-had some things to say.”

“I’ll bet she did. She’s never been my biggest fan. Think it’s cus’ I slept with Xander, she had a thing for him ya know. Maybe cus’ B and I were tight, pretty sure she had a thing for her too. I don’t know but I’m pretty sure it’s a jealousy thing though.”

“She s-said you were...evil. Do y-you want to hurt anyone?” Faith is sure there was some major editing on Tara’s part about what exactly Willow said.

It’s interesting that Tara says want. Faith isn’t sure what she wants, she isn’t sure she ever wanted to hurt or kill anyone. Surely she wanted to hurt Buffy and the scoobies, she wanted the Mayor’s love, she wanted to belong. Wants? She didn’t want to kill Finch. She didn’t want the scoobies to look at her like a monster. She sure as fuck doesn’t know what she wants now.

“The Mayor left me a video, you know.” It comes out quite, honest. Tara tilts her head, asking Faith to continue. “He gave me the rundown of graduation, said he’d died. He was kinda like a dad, fucked up but he cared. He said some things, gave me the gadget to switch bodies. Said that without him, I didn’t really have a place in the world. He’s not wrong, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go after this.”

“Why go anywhere?”

“I’m a wanted killer and the scoobies’ number one enemy, probably. I don’t have a place here.”

“Why not? Willow tells me a lot, you know. Angel killed people and he was welcomed back, they’ve all messed up. You are still a slayer, you can still do good. It’s not too late. You aren’t what happened, Faith. People have the opportunity to evolve, to change and grow. You don’t have to be stuck as the person you were.” Tara gets it all out without stuttering, she’s back to leaning towards Faith.

“What if that’s who I am?”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Why? You don’t even know me.”

“You’re asking, you’re aware of yourself. Someone really evil wouldn’t be. The real evil people don’t think they’re evil. It won’t be easy but I don’t believe it’s too late.”

“What are you two talking about so intensely?” Willow breaks them up, eyes darting between the two of them.

Tara and Faith look at each other then at Willow.

“So, Red…”

All in all, it goes better than she thought it would. She goes to the church to help, Willow’s scathing comments aside she decides to stand up for Faith. It kinda takes her off guard, the last person she expects on her side is Willow.

“You all know what I think about her! I’m just saying there’s no point in wasting a resource. If she wants to do better we could use another slayer.”

Even more surprisingly, Buffy agrees. It might have something to do with the breakdown in the church that Faith’s face took the brunt of. It might have something to do with Buffy.

“Why’d you change your mind?” Buffy asks one night, their patrol tense but not hostile.

“Ya know that saying, walk a mile in someone’s shoes.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, me too.” Buffy offers. Faith never did ask about what happened to Buffy while she was in Faith’s body.

“Glad we got that covered, B.”

Giles makes the Council pull some strings with law enforcement, that causes a bit of anger on Xander and G.I. Joes’ part. They think she should be punished for her crimes, personally she thinks she is by having to talk to them.

“Listening to them whine makes my ears bleed.” Faith’s complaining while Willow and Tara walk on either side of her.

“You don’t think you should be punished?” Willow doesn’t let things slide, she’s got a backbone. Faith’s kinda into it. Willow doesn’t say cutting things unless Faith picks a fight, it feels like maybe she’s grown. Tara might have said something to Willow but Faith decides to give her some credit, she wouldn’t have changed if she didn’t want to. Faith knows that better than most.

“I suppose I should. Prison doesn’t really help, does it? It’d just make you guys feel better. I’m more useful out here, where I can actively fight the big bads and start making up for things. It doesn’t make a whole lotta sense to put me behind bars when I can be helpin’ B.”

“You’re right, prison isn’t a good idea. I t-think you should consider something else though, some other way to make amends.” Tara says.

“Not a bad idea, Blondie. Think there’s a ex-murder anonymous?”

“Instead of chips for every month sober you could get one for every time you don’t kill someone.” Willow quips.

They were fucking around but Faith makes a note of it and ends up going to see a therapist. She isn’t expecting much of the person sitting across from her, covered in tattoos with blue hair. Everything about her and her office screams ‘I’m cool and you can trust me’ and Faith picks at her nails, dismissing the doctor.

Until it turns out Doctor Keller is cool and can be trusted. Not fair, honestly.

She helps with Adam, even though she pisses off Buffy with how little she can take of all of it. Buffy has told her off a few times for not taking it seriously. He’s lame as fuck and she hates him, then he breaks her ankle and she hates him more. He has no reason being that strong when he’s the Mayor’s rebound villain.

“I’m telling you Red, he sounds like a cartoon villain! I can’t take it. B’s never done anything more impressive than taking that Frankenstein monster reject seriously.”

Willow closes the door behind her, just having gotten back from class. “No Tara?” Faith’s laying on Tara’s bed, leg propped on a pillow as her foot is still in a cast.

“Nah, we knew you were getting back soon so she’s getting takeout from your favorite place.”

“Did she tell you that?” Willow sets her books down and starts taking her shoes off.

“That she’s getting takeout?”

“That it was my favorite place.”

“Oh no, it’s just-” Faith cuts herself off, blushing uncharacteristically. Faith is not supposed to be the kind of person who knows Willow Rosenberg’s favorite takeout. Willow hums to herself, an expression she can’t place and sits next to Faith.

“How’d this happen?” Willow gestures to Faith’s leg.

“Frankenstein’s second even uglier creation.”

“Have you thought about getting your GED?” Willow asks out of nowhere.

“What? Why?”

“You’re smart, why not?” Willow says it seriously, at least that’s what it seems like.

“Don’t pull my leg, it’s broken.” Faith deadpans.

“I’m not. You could get your GED, maybe even apply here.”

“What’s the point?” Faith’s tense, waiting for whatever joke Willow’s going to make. She’s been called stupid by enough teachers, her mom, even the scoobies.

“Something to do outside of slaying? We all have other hobbies. An education could help you get a job, which means money for all your leather pants.” Willow pinches the pants of Faith’s good leg. “How’d you even get those on with a broken leg?” Willow looks at her broken leg with adorable confusion. Faith curses herself, she shouldn’t find it cute. She definitely shouldn’t want Willow to touch her leg again. It’s just been awhile since she got some, that’s it.

“In case you’ve forgotten, I’m not exactly school orientated.”

“You could be, if you wanted to.”

“Shit, Red.” The door opens and Tara walks in, takeout in hand.

“Hey.” Tara smiles at them both. She sets her stuff down and sits next to them. This bed is not big enough for the three of them but Faith isn’t moving considering her broken leg.

She thinks about it a lot after that, getting her GED. Her therapist freakin’ loves the idea. She decides to do it but she doesn’t tell anyone.

She’s pissed and ready to fight anything that gets in her way when Xander sits down next to her. The book refuses to make sense, she just can’t get it to sink in. “You look like you’re about to stake your book, what’s up?”

“Shut the fuck up, Xander.” She growls.

“Hey, whoa! Less with the threatening tones and more with the sharing.” His hand slides over and takes her book, she really does almost stab him. She might be on the straight and narrow but sometimes her homicidal instincts are just below the surface. “GED?” He asks way too loudly.

“Seriously, shut up.” She looks around, thankfully Buffy didn’t hear.

“Oh, I got you.” He nods, moving closer to her. His eyebrows come together as he looks over the problem. “I can help, you know. I’m no Willow but the two of us together might make some sense of it.”

“Why?” Her guard is up. Xander holds one of the biggest grudges.

“I know what it’s like.” He shrugs, like he can let go of everything to help her pass the GED. She supposes out of all the scoobies, he does kind of get where she’s coming from. They both grew up with little to no money, they’re both supposed to be the idiots of the group.

“You won’t tell them?”

“Nah, I’ll just lord it over you.”

“King of the idiots?”

“That’s a title a man can get used to. I’d let you be queen but Anya might murder us both.”

“Don’t wanna piss off miss vengeance. We could both be kings.”

“Sick, I miss having a bro around. When will Oz return, I’m forced to ask myself this everyday.”

Faith punches his arm. “I may be king but I’m one hundred percent woman.”

“Trust me, I can’t forget that.” Anya smacks the back of his head, somehow knowing he was flirting. “Abused by all the women in my life.”

Xander and her get better? It freaks her out but he’s chill. She follows her therapist’s advice and apologizes about their sexual encounter and he lets go of a lot of his ire. They understand each other in a way the others don’t even if he annoys her most of the time.

“Faith, can you pass me the candle?” Willow asks her, hands locked with Tara’s.

“Sure thing.” She closes her book and stands, hearing her knees crack. Slaying is a tough business. She grabs the candle Willow set aside but forgot to bring over. She lays them where Tara tells her to and moves to sit back down and continue reading her book on dreams. She usually doesn’t give a rip about their witch thing except she and B get wicked crazy dreams. Also Tara got this excited look on her face when she picked it up at the store. Sue her, she’s sure there isn’t a person who could stomp on Tara’s feelings.

“Thanks.” Tara says, cracking her eyes. Faith grins and shakes her head, knowing Tara’s eyes are supposed to be closed.

Faith’s been around them when they do spells, that’s all they do it feels like. Reading witch shit, buying the materials, making potions and what not, and doing spells. It’s their thing, she respects that. She’s sure she admires weapons more than anyone who isn’t a slayer should.

She’s been around spells but she’s never been around this. They’re reciting the words in perfect unison, swaying, sweating for some reason. A gasp escapes Willow lips and it breaks Faith from her reverie, she gets the fuck out of there like any smart person would.

She knows sex and no matter how they play up their spells, that was sex.

Her fingers twitch and her pulse is racing, she’s not ready to think about the thoughts that want to run free. She’s going to go searching for a fight or fuck when she stops and thinks, maybe there’s a third option.

She sends off the text and waits.

Her phone chimes and she wanders off.

“You know, midnight nightcap is fun and all but I’m not looking to become my dad.” Xander offers her a beer.

“Yeah? Me either.”

“This have anything to do with Willow’s frantic calls? She said you left which got Buffy all in a huff, thought you’d split. Willow had to calm Buff down so we didn’t get the best idea of what really happened.”

“It’s really not that important, I just needed a-” She takes a gulp of beer to drown those words.

“We all need a friend sometime. Can’t believe I scored with the reformed villain, do you think I could get a t-shirt?”

“Red says I should get a chip for everyone I don’t murder, you can have that.”

“Usually the only chip I like is the one that comes with dip.”

“If I get a chip for not killing you when I want to, does it count for extra?”

“I guess you’ll have to ask Will that one.” She has to admit that was well played.

“Ass.”

“You came to me for a reason.” He shrugs, shivering in the cold night air. “Whatever happened between you two, you can patch it up. If you can come back from everything else, a misstep should be fine.”

“What makes you think I misstepped?”

His hand stops midair as he thinks about it, his head tilts. “Huh, you’re right. That was guilty Willow gibberish. Is it something you can forgive?”

“It’s not something that needs to be forgiven, exactly. I just don’t know how to go about navigating it. I don’t really want to talk about it but they’re going to want to.”

“They?”

“Tara, Willow. It’s fine I just overreacted.” She runs a hand through her hair.

“I don’t think so, not if Willow’s trying to hunt you down to apologize. Just tell them you don’t care, or you forgive them, whatever makes them happy and solves your problem.”

“I’ll do that.” The itch is gone, the desire to do something she shouldn’t.

“Hey, why’d you call me out of everyone?” She shoves her hands in her pockets, considering.

“I’m seeing this therapist, surprisingly wicked cool.”

“I’m proud of you, we’ll make a functioning person out of you yet.” She chokes out a laugh, ignoring the first part of his statement.

“Yeah, maybe. She said I do destructive things when I can’t cope, I feel like that’s pretty obvious by this point. I wasn’t dealing and was probably going to do something stupid. Felt like talking to stupid was a better option.”

“Alright, you’re insulting skills have been reduced to a grade schoolers so go deal with the mess.”

“Ugh, can I just crash with Anya and you and deal with it tomorrow?”

“Sure, if Anya accuses me of cheating you’re in charge of reassuring her.”

Faith laughs, breathing out the last shreds of her stress. “I’d just invite her.”

“She’d probably be into it.”

“Lucky us, she’s a hot gal.”

“Just don’t be offended when she tries to kill you after. It’s always been her price.”

“Talk about a happy ending.” He looks at her like he isn’t sure she was kidding.

“Relax, cowboy. I’m not trying to crawl into your bed. I just know I’m too vanilla for Anya.”

He puffs up, proud of himself. “Damn right.”

She does end up crawling into their bed but that’s because she can’t sleep on the floor and Anya more or less orders her too. For someone who struggles with human emotion, Anya’s pretty alright. She gets that Faith kind of needs people right now and even though she’s one of the most jealous people Faith’s ever met, she lets her stay over.

She’s tired as all hell when she makes her way back to Tara and Willow’s. Tara opens the door and pulls her inside after only one knock.

“Faith!” Willow calls anxiously.

“Hey.” The room stops, Willow and Tara unsure of the next step. “Relax, you two look like you’re about to explode.”

“We’re-”

“We didn’t mean to-”

“It was an accident-”

“We got a little carried away-”

“Jesus, no offense. Calm down you two. I figured I’d give you space during your sexy accident. You were supposed to get rid of tension not let it get worse.”

“We didn’t mean to make y-you uncomfortable.”

“Blondie, do I look uncomfortable? I’m fine. You’re both fine, if you relax that is. It’s all good.”

They look at each other, surprised. She isn’t sure what they expected. “Oh.”

“Do you want to go eat or should I leave you two alone again?”

“We’ll eat!” Willow blurts out, blushing and not wanting things to get worse. Faith opens her mouth with a dirty joke at the ready. Tara’s puts her hand over Faith’s mouth as Willow quickly gets ready to go, she shakes her head at her. Willow turns back around and looks between them. “What’d I miss?”

“Nothing at all, right Faith?” Tara takes her hand away.

“What exactly are ya eatin’, Red?” Willow blushes worse and Tara sighs, Faith grins proud of herself. “Don’t think you can house train me, Blondie.” Faith hums in Tara’s ear as she passes, causing her to blush as well. All in a day's work. She opens the door and holds it open. “Come on then you two, burgers aren’t gonna eat themselves.”

Faith will be the first to admit she gets a lot more flirty with the two after that. She can’t be blamed, they had the witch equivalent of sex while she was in the room. The first time they start flirting back they nearly kill her.

She’s working out and minding her own business when it happens. Willow’s supposed to be reading about some demon Buffy needs help with. Except she hasn’t read a word in ten minutes. Tara walks in and stops in the doorway.

“Ya know, if you don’t stop lookin’ I’m gonna have to assume you’re into it.” She says pointedly in Willow’s direction. She doesn’t stop her pull ups, just talks through it.

Willow doesn’t look away or spew gibberish, she just gives Faith this heated look that almost makes Faith lose her count. “I think anyone would be into it.” Goddamn if that isn’t an ego boost. She’d think that’s all it is if Willow wasn’t still staring a hole into her arms.

She stops her pull ups and lands, wiping her sweaty face with her shirt. “Alright, I’m gonna go shower. Tara, cool your girl off will ya?”

“I don’t think either of us are going to be cooled off for a while.” Tara says while Faith grabs one of their shower caddies. She looks at Tara in shock, and then Willow. She swallows heavily, there’s no mistaking the tension in the room.

“Huh, would you look at that.” Faith beats a hasty retreat, unsure of her footing. It’s far from the last time they’d flirt with her.

Sometimes they just compliment her, sometimes it has that same thick tension. She notes the change but considering Willow and Tara are still sitting pretty in gay pals who have sex and do coupley things but aren’t officially together hell, she’s not acting on anything.

Then Oz comes back.

It’s a whole mess.

He’s back and Tara looks like a wounded puppy and shit, even though she’s technically not involved she’s a bit wounded. She sure as fuck doesn’t act like it or let it slip. She’ll let Tara and Willow work it out. She does help rescue Oz from the government, she avoids anything else. She kinda wants to put him down for trying to hurt Tara but she’d be a hypocrite if she judged other people.

She chills in Willow’s room while she goes and talks to Oz. She knows Willow is going to spend the night at Tara’s and she still doesn’t have her own place to crash. She doesn’t want to ask Buffy because she has too much pride and she doesn’t want to impose on Xander. Luckily, Buffy’s too busy with Riley so she isn’t around either.

There’s a knock on the door and she was just about to fall asleep. She’s planning on bitching out whoever it is when she opens the door to Willow and Tara.

She has a second before they talk where she knows what they’re going to say, what they’re going to propose. Proposition, rather. She has a second to decide. It isn’t the proposition she is expecting at all.

“I talked to Oz, I told him that I couldn’t be with him.” Willow starts, looking around the halls before pushing Faith back so they can walk in. Willow doesn’t take her hand back, she just leaves it covering Faith’s heart.

“She asked me to be official.” Tara adds, her hand brushing Faith’s before taking it. Slowly, as if giving Faith time to pull away. Faith tries not to worry about the candle balanced precariously in Tara’s other hand.

“We both agreed it just wouldn’t be the same without you.” Willow finishes.

Faith blanches when the meaning sets in. “You mean like a relationship?” Her voice sounds stressed, she’s sure Willow can feel just how hard her heart is hammering now. She doesn’t do relationships, they don’t work out. People want and take, they never give. She’s seen what relationships did to her ma, they ripped every good part of her away. She knows what people want from her, it sure isn’t a relationship. People are enamored at first but it wears away as they get to know her, they end up ditching her. She knows relationships are a lie.

“Of course.” Willow’s voice changes as she realizes Faith’s did. It might be soothing, maybe it’s condescending, Faith can’t tell.

“We’ve tried to be more open about our feelings towards you.”

“I thought you just wanted to fuck!” Tara smiles sadly and Willow flinches, like it hadn’t occurred to her.

“I’m a heart and body kind of person.” Willow says.

“Why would you even want to be in a relationship with me?” She pointedly asks Willow.

“I like you. We have a messy past and I didn’t really like you then.” Faith snorts and Willow cuts her a look, all bravery and confidence. “That’s then. You’ve changed, I’ve changed. We can’t erase what either of us said or did but we can move on, become something else.”

“You make me feel happy, safe. I don’t really have the past you and Willow have so I guess it’s easier for me but...I just care for who I care for. It sounds weird to people who don’t see auras but you’re aura is attractive, it’s magnetic.”

“You coulda just called me hot.” Faith jokes weakly.

“I think I have.” Willow volunteers.

“Hot followed by crazy doesn’t count, Red.”

“Whoops, want me to call you it again so it counts?” She asks coyly.

“A girl can always hear it.” They laugh and Faith can breathe for a moment.

“If you don’t want to-”

“It’s not that.” Faith admits, her heart not slowing any.

“What is it?” How’s Faith supposed to answer that without spilling every fear and insecurity that’s held her prisoner?

“I just, I need a moment.” Faith says, breaking away from them.

“Don’t run, p-please.” Tara asks of her. Faith might have run if Tara hadn’t looked at her like she’s used to not being chosen either, or maybe it’s the resurgence of the stutter she rarely has around Willow and her anymore.

“I won’t. I just need a moment, I’ll be back.” Faith promises. She leaves the room, barely containing her panic. She pulls out her phone, thumb over Doctor Keller’s name. Her therapist gave her permission to call in an emergency but she isn’t sure if this counts, or if it is too late. In the end, she presses call.

“Faith? Are you okay?” Doctor Keller picks up, background sounds loud.

“Yeah, I just…” She trails off, unsure how to finish her sentence. She’s not okay, she knows she doesn’t sound it.

“What’s happened?” The background noise gets quieter as she moves away from it.

“Willow and Tara want a relationship.”

“Ah. What’d you say?”

“Freaked out a bit, told them I needed a minute.”

“That’s good, Faith.” She hates how easy the validation makes her relax, her hands stop shaking. “You told them what you needed and sought help. Are you able to tell them why relationships scare you?”

“They don’t-” She cuts herself off, her angry words dying. Doctor Keller doesn’t need to be getting yelled at when she’s already letting Faith call her off hours. “They don’t scare me.”

“Faith, you once told me that relationships exist to hurt people.” Doctor Keller reminds her.

“Yeah, well.”

“If you go back, what do you think you’ll say?”

“I don’t know.” Faith admits.

“What do you want to say?”

“Yes. Yes, I want to try it.”

“Why don’t you, then?” Because she’s scared and they both know it. “Can you trust them with your heart?”

“I don’t think you can ever really trust someone.”

“If you could, would you?”

“Yeah.”

“I think you have your answer, you just have to do what’s right for you and them.”

Faith nods even though she can’t see. “Thanks, sorry about interrupting your night.”

“It’s why I gave you my number. I hope we can talk about this at our next session.”

“Yeah, talk to you then.” She hangs up and walks back to the door.

She opens it and it seems like all of Willow’s bravery has fled, even Tara is looking worried. “Am I always going to be telling you two to relax?”

“Highly possibly.”

“Guess I better get used to it then.” Faith wanders closer, entering their sphere.

“You mean?” Willow asks, excitement in her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. We good?”

“Oh yes.” Tara smiles, blowing out the candle.

Chapter Text

They learn quickly not to press or push Faith too quickly about their relationship. Even calling it that sometimes freaks her out. She’s getting better at it. She knows they deserve better than having to worry about her commitment so she adds another session a week with Doctor Keller to try and help find some healthier coping methods. She feels like she could write a how to on therapy by this point.

“Faith, you got something in the mail.” Willow tosses it her way before sitting on her bed next to Tara. Faith moves her legs off the side of her chair and looks at it.

She knows it’s the results of her GED test.

“What is it?” Tara asks, propping her head on Willow’s shoulder.

“Some of us aren’t clairvoyant.” She taunts them both.

“You know- I’m not going to engage you on this.” Willow crosses her arms and Tara kisses her cheek.

“Disgusting, how am I supposed to see now?”

“You could always come over here, I’m sure we have some ideas.”

“Tempting.” Faith breathes out and opens the envelope. She pulls the letter free, eyes searching for her results. She sets the paper down and on the chair when she reads them, tackling her girlfriends. She doesn’t even let that realization affect her, she’s too happy.

“I passed!” She kisses them both, not caring about how uncharacteristically open she’s being.

“As much as I love the smooching, why are we happy?” Willow asks, a hand braced against the bed so they don’t all tumble over.

“We so need a bigger bed.” Faith grumbles, re-situating. Neither let her go far, Tara looks pleased by the planning around their relationship. “Hold up, one of you let go of my ass I need to get the letter.” The hand lets go. “No one would believe me, I swear.” She walks over and grabs the letter, showing it to them.

“You took the GED?” Willow looks at her and Faith smiles back, she looks proud.

“Yeah, passed too.”

“Of course you did.” Tara looks proud too and it’s almost too much.

“No running, Tara grab her!” They pull her back into the pile when she tries to retreat and she laughs, playfully trying to escape but barely using any strength.

“Oh no, I’ve been trapped.” She deadpans beneath them.

“In our defense no one would believe us about you being cute so we’re all sworn to secrecy here.”

“Ugh, just take my clothes off already before I’m forced to do it myself.”

No one knows about them. They know about Willow and Tara but they don’t know Faith’s involved as well. At first it’s because Faith isn’t comfortable with sharing it. When Faith grows into their relationship and knocks therapy back to once every two weeks, she’s ready but they’re worried the scoobies aren’t. They get over that but then it’s one of those things where it’s been too long, they aren’t sure how to say it. They’re so used to being together that it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing they need to announce but everyone else doesn’t see it.

It doesn’t mean they don’t notice how often Faith’s around Willow and Tara, they just don’t connect the dots. Except Dawn but Dawn’s chill.

“Faith!” She groans, slipping her shirt on and getting out of bed. She’s still blinking sleep out of her eyes when she opens the door to the Summers sisters.

“This better be good halfling, I was catching up on sleep.”

“It’s noon, this is a reasonable person time.”

“I was patrolling until the morning so it’s absolutely not.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize. It’s cool.” Goddamn people looking like wounded puppies when they don’t get their way.

“It’s cool, D. What’d you guys want?”

“Shopping?” Dawn squeals, barreling into Faith. She got over the whole villain thing admittedly pretty quick.

“Why are you sleeping at Willow and Tara’s?” Buffy looks around, confused but suspicious.

“I always do, B. Where do you think I’d be crashing? Back at the motel?” Faith snorts, scrambling through her designated drawer for some pants. She slips them on and grabs Willow’s least offensive jacket. “Let’s hit it, ladies.”

“That’s Willow’s jacket.”

“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, B. She won’t mind.”

Buffy’s confused the whole outing and Faith would be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy it a little.

She passes by the youth shelter when she’s out with Dawn and Buffy. She doesn’t say anything to them, doesn’t even let her gaze linger, but she notes the address.

She returns the next week and signs up as a volunteer. She ends up volunteering there every weekday. It doesn’t change much in her schedule. Usually she hangs around their room while Tara and Willow go to class, now she goes and does her own thing.

“Where have you been?” Tara asks her when she walks in later than usual. She tends to get back before Willow and Tara but there was a kid she didn’t want to leave alone just yet, not while his eyes were so distant.

“The shelter.”

“The shelter?” Willow looks up from her textbook, surprise evident.

“Yeah, I told you guys I am volunteering there.” Faith looks at their surprised faces and thinks back. “Ooor, I thought I did.”

“How long have you been volunteering there?” Willow asks, surprise refusing to leave her face. Faith shifts and Willow wipes her face clean, moving towards her. “Hey, it’s all good I’m just a bit embarrassed I hadn’t realized.”

“Me too.” Tara says, wringing her hands nervously.

“It’s on me, I forgot to tell you both.” Faith shrugs off the awkwardness. She ignores that Willow is definitely surprised at what Faith is doing not just that she didn’t notice.

“Do you like it?” Willow asks, leaning into Faith’s side.

“Yeah, it feels…” It feels like she’s helping give some kids something she needed. Someone there to talk, to listen, just someone who sees them. They’re forgotten by their families, by society, but she can show up. They deserve that much. She wishes she could do more than help serve food and listen to them when they decide to speak up. It feels like it’s too late, like she’s just a stop on their spiral downwards. “It feels right.”

“I’m glad you found the shelter.” Tara says, smiling at Faith’s easy manner.

“Yeah, me too.”

It’s all fine and dandy until Tara’s birthday comes up.

She’s trying to keep her cool and not rip both Xander and Buffy’s heads off when Giles joins the shit list.

“What about you, Faith? You hang out with them a lot, what should we get her?” Faith gives Xander a sharp look and he swallows hard.

He’s got the look of prey that just realized the click is a bear trap.

“Honestly, Giles has the absent father figure to anyone other than Buffy down to pat.” Faith stands, the chair screeching against the floor. “Buffy’s always been a bit self-obsessed.” She picks up her books, anger radiating off of her. She’s more pissed than she’s been since Doctor Keller started helping her with calming techniques. “You? You’re supposed to be Willow’s best friend but you don’t even give enough of a fuck to get to know Tara.”

“Faith.” Buffy warns, offended tone hiding her shame.

“Nah, you guys should try remembering people outside yourselves.”

She stays angry. She’s pissed until the end. Xander and Buffy are giving her a wide berth, Willow and Tara keep shooting her concerned looks. She tries to hide her upset from them, not wanting Tara’s birthday spoiled.

Turns out she didn’t have to worry about that.

Beating the shit out of the invisible demon that’s kicking Buffy’s ass makes her feel better.

Watching the shit stains that are Tara’s family try and take her away? Quick press on her villain button.

Buffy holds her back, an arm on her forearm. Faith’s been stewing in the background but she moves forward. Buffy gives her a look, asking Faith to trust her. The last thing she wants to trust Buffy with is this, but she relents. She keeps flexing her fists but she lets Buffy take the lead.

She wants to kick their asses, no, she wants to kill them. It should be sobering but this close to the edge, she just knows Buffy’s her last shot at keeping her cool. Tara already looks spooked and the last thing she needs is Faith crashing her dad’s head through a wall.

She wants to fuck Spike up too for hitting Tara but at how relieved she looks, Faith lets it go. She can see the knowledge finally sink in, the fact that she isn’t a demon. Has Tara been afraid of that her whole life?

She never thought she’d have to hear someone threaten to beat Tara.

She never thought she’d see that kind of fear flash in Tara’s eyes.

She moves again, fully intending to lay him out, when she meets Willow’s eyes. She stops, exhales a breath full of hate and violence, and does what she should.

“Can’t believe you thought you were a demon.” Faith pulls Tara into her arms and Willow follows, they end up in a standing cuddle pile. Faith’s reputation is officially ruined with the rest of the scoobies but Tara’s smiling into her neck. It’s a shaky smile, like she isn’t quite sure it’s all real.

“If y-you’re told you’re something enough times.” Tara shrugs helplessly. Faith gets it. How many things has she been called? How many times has she adapted to them?

“It wouldn’t have mattered even if you were a demon, you know.” Willow says.

“Yeah, demons can be sexy.”

“Faith.” Willow critiques but Faith can see her pleased smile.

“You think they aren’t? I mean usually I leave the demon loving to B but if one of my gals sprouted horns, I’d be down.”

“So you’re horny for horns.” Willow teases and then colors. “Uh, erase that from your minds please.”

“That’s not going anywhere, Red.” Faith grins as Tara laughs between them.

Their moment is interrupted.

“What the fuck-”

She cuts Tara’s brother off, forgetting he’s still around. She thought he might wisen up and make a run for it. “I got away with killing the deputy mayor.” It’s the first time she’s been able to say it without her voice breaking or her mind tearing two different ways. It leaves the room icy, Faith’s words are as good as a stake to his gut. “If I can get away with that, what makes you think Sunnydale would give a fuck about what I do to you?” She looks into his eyes and sees them widen, deciding to believe her.

He ends up leaving but she’s still not satisfied.

“As much as I love the macho fighter attitude, you g-got a little murder on your face.” Tara’s lips brush her jaw, trying to redirect her attention away from her brother’s fleeing figure.

“What?” Xander’s voice is higher than usual, his mouth opening and closing.

“They’re together, duh.” Dawn waves it away since it’s old news to her. “Are you okay, Tara? For real.”

Tara smiles at Dawn, wider than she would for the other scoobies. Tara might be a nice gal and easy going but she plays favorites. “I’m f-fine, Dawnie. Just tired.”

“No, go back. Rewind to I repeat, what!” Xander interrupts.

“You three...are together?” Buffy’s brow is lowered, arms crossed.

“Yeah, that a problem?” Faith straightens up, pulling slightly away from her girlfriends.

Willow mutters playfully to Tara. “Murderface is back, why does it look so similar to her woken up too early face?”

“It reminds me of her ‘I w-want to sleep in the middle but I’m too tough to say it so I lay here in misery’ look.” Tara replies, the two having a good time while Faith stares Buffy down.

“If you hurt them-”

“You’ll kill me? Gee B, haven’t we played that game before?”

“I was going to say I’d tell them where you are so they can take you out themselves.”

“Take me out? Hot. Besides, they could use some spell to track me down on their own. They wouldn’t even need you.”

“I could just break out the cheerleading uniform then, cheer them on from the sidelines.”

Faith opens her mouth to say something dirty but Tara clears her throat pointedly. Unfortunately, one of the first ground rules Tara and Willow laid was Faith’s tendency to flirt with Buffy. She expertly avoided the part of the conversation where they tried determining if there were ever feelings between Buffy and her and instead assured them she’d flirt less.

She still flirts some, she’s human after all. They knew what they were getting into. She’s just careful to not let it escalate too far now.

“Why didn’t you guys say anything?” Xander asks a bit hurt.

“We weren’t ready and then you guys didn’t notice.” Xander meets her eyes and something shifts, she knows he’s going to be more attentive. Fuck that, she’ll toss him over to Willow. Let them bond it out.

“Congratulations, you three.” Giles’ smile isn’t overly large but it’s genuine, he’s happy for her. She smiles back.

That’s the best time of their lives, oddly. Hers, at least. Not too long after comes Glory and they lose Tara for a while. Not wholly but mostly. It isn’t easy between Willow and Faith.

They clash and fight, neither having the sense to pull back. They both miss Tara and take it out on each other. They make up after their fights, they come back together. It’s not all bad but even that isn’t great when Tara isn’t with them.

Buffy dies and Tara comes back. It’s the worst kind of trade, a trade where someone loses no matter what.

Faith never saw herself as a parental figure but she follows Willow and Tara into the Summers’ house. She unwittingly becomes another surrogate parental figure for Dawn. Considering she’s now working at the social services department in Sunnydale and still volunteering at the shelter, she has practice at it. Working at social service makes it easier to get Dawn under the radar with Buffy dead.

She asked why they hired her when her murders are public knowledge, even if she was legally acquitted if not morally. Her boss shrugged, getting her papers in order. “It’s Sunnydale.”

She helps raise Dawn and when the scoobies are too busy trying to bring Buffy back, she stays behind so Dawn isn’t alone.

“Why are we watching terrible movies?” Dawn complains.

“Because only losers watch good movies.”

“Can we watch something in the middle? I won’t want to scratch my eyes out then.”

“Nope, there’s only good and terrible.”

“I despise you.” Dawn shrills. Sometimes Faith wishes she didn’t have super hearing.

“Pay attention to the movie, you might miss something.”

She isn’t exactly big on magic but she knows enough to know resurrection is a big deal. Involving Osiris sounds like a terrible idea but what does Faith know, she’s just the muscle.

Yeah, it’s a terrible idea and Buffy’s a fucking mess.

Faith makes it her mission to try and help Buffy get used to the real world again. She’s pretty sure by the time everything goes wrong, she’s taking care of everyone. She’s helping raise Dawn, her kids at the shelter and work, helping Willow’s guilt over bringing Buffy back, then Tara breaks up with Willow.

She takes care of Tara, who’s a mess. She isn’t sure what to do about Willow. She loves her but she doesn’t know if she can trust her. She’s never been in the position to break up with people, she’s usually the one left. Part of her wants to be there for Willow but she realizes it’s something she has to do alone.

She’s a coward and doesn’t really break up with Willow, she just avoids her like the plague.

It reminds her of when Tara was fucked up by Glory. Tara and her don’t work the same without Willow. They don’t fight like Willow and Faith had but there’s a distance between them where Willow should fit.

“You’re smiling.” Tara wraps her arms around Faith’s shoulders, Faith blushes when she jumps in surprise.

Faith puts down the rough draft of Tara’s book, legs kicked up on the desk. “This is crazy good, Blondie.”

“Yeah?” Tara smiles, pleased by Faith’s reaction. Faith turns in the chair and pulls Tara onto her lap.

“Yeah. Have you contacted a publisher?”

“I wasn’t sure it was going to be good enough.” Tara replies self-deprecatingly.

“Oh really?” Tara’s eyes widen as Faith picks her up.

“Faith!”

“I’ve got a mission now. You know how us slayers are, mission before everything.” Faith lays Tara on the bed, leaning over her on an arm.

“You left patrol last night to go stargazing with me.” Tara calls her out.

“You’re right.” Faith kisses Tara, more gentle than she’d been originally going for. “I guess you’re my highest priority.”

Tara nervously twists her shirt sleeves when she tells Faith she’s having coffee with Willow.

“Babe, I support you and all your decisions.” Faith’s absentmindedly writing an email to her boss.

“We never really talked about your feelings about everything.” Tara sounds guilty, like she intentionally ran over Faith’s feelings.

“Yours were a little more pressing considering everything that went on.”

“Your feelings matter.”

“I know it’s just-”

“I need to know what you’re feeling.” Tara declares, not backing down.

Faith turns away from the computer, not meeting Tara’s eyes as she tries to pile her thoughts together. “I don’t like what she did to you, I think you made the right choice. The only choice, really. She went over the line, she fucking lost the line in her rear-view mirror. The thought of someone altering my memories, getting inside my head.” Faith looks out the window, not wanting to linger on past pains. “But...she’s our girl.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re going to coffee with her. She’s getting better for us, for herself too I hope. We’ll do anything for each other. I think no matter what we do, we'll always be tied. I think at this point, at least for me, I couldn’t not love either of you.”

“Come to coffee, then?”

“Nah, that’s for you two to mend. I’ll reach out to her, set something up for us.”

Tara goes to coffee and Faith takes Willow to the park. They feed ducks and talk things through. She’s sure Willow gives her the same spiel about changing and being sorry, Faith accepts it.

“I can’t have someone messing with me like that.”

“I won’t! Never again, I swear.”

She goes with Tara to Willow, they make up officially.

It’s one of the most amazing nights of Faith’s life.

Of course one of the worst days of her life follows.

“I’m hungry.” Willow grumbles, buried between Tara and Faith.

“No shit, we’ve been at it for hours.” Faith yawns, stretching.

“Aw, we tired her out.” Tara teases her.

“Damn right, if I pass out don’t hold it against me.”

Tara picks up Faith’s hand, tracing her fingers. She keeps looking between Willow and Faith like she’s trying to drink the sight of them. Faith gets it, if she could imprint them on the back of her eyelids she would. Her eyes droop, too heavy to keep open any longer. She falls asleep to the soft murmurs of Willow and Tara talking.

“Miss Kitty Fantastico!” Faith jolts awake, remembering the cat they left at Tara’s. Tara’s hand slaps around until it finds Faith’s face and she pushes her away.

“Shh, sleep time.” Tara’s voice is muffled against her pillow.

“Cats can be left alone, Faith. Go back to sleep.” Willow reassures her. Still, she worries. She eventually goes back to sleep but part of her wonders if their cat is okay alone.

Faith’s putting on her shoes when they both wake up. “Where are you going?” Willow asks.

“I’m going to go get us breakfast and check up on Kitty.” Faith kisses Willow on her way out.

“Hey!” Tara calls out after her.

“I remember someone pushing me away from them last night.”

“I was trying to sleep.” Tara defends herself.

“That was your first mistake, Maclay.” Faith grins, hand resting on the door frame. “I’ll be back soon, someone has to be the adult here.”

“Rude!”

Chapter Text

She gets them breakfast burritos at a place Tara likes and checks up on their cat.

She comes back to chaos.

Buffy’s bleeding everywhere and Xander’s looking at her in sheer panic. She drops the bags of food and goes to help him.

They go to the hospital together, Xander leaning on her for support. She gives him as much as she can.

“She’ll be alright, right?”

“Are you kidding? Buffy’s got nine lives.”

Willow shows up and Faith is immediately concerned. The makeover is kinda hot in a different way but she’s using magic and she shouldn’t be.

“I thought you weren’t using magic anymore?”

“We have to find Warren.”

She keeps trying to ask Willow what the fuck is going on with her but she keeps shutting Faith down. Faith is beyond worried. She isn’t alone, at least. Xander and Buffy look sick with worry, unsure why Willow is going so far about Buffy being shot.

“He shot Tara.”

Willow lays into Buffy, cold truth delivered unflinchingly. Buffy is stunned, hurt and mourning Tara’s death. Xander is thrown as well, his pain twisting his expression. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Willow keeps going, arguing with Buffy. She wants to kill Warren. Xander breathes in harshly, looking at Faith.

That breaks Buffy and Willow out of their argument, they both turn towards her as well. As if they only just remembered she’s there. Willow’s expression twitches, a hint of remorse. The first thing that reminds her of her girlfriend since she left that morning. They all look at Faith and Faith…

Faith isn’t here.

Why the fuck didn’t she kiss Tara goodbye?

“Are you with me?” Willow asks her, eyes cold and hard. Her entire being is vying for blood and payback and now she’s asking for Faith’s backup.

Faith’s numb. She isn’t screaming, she isn’t crying, she can’t feel anything. It’s like falling through ice and being carried away by freezing cold water.

“Faith.” Buffy warns, worried both for Faith and because of her.

“Point the way.” Faith finally replies. Xander and Buffy protest but Willow is on fire right now.

She helps Willow track and kill Warren, she’s there for it. She’s a participant in it. It only makes sense, he killed Tara and now they kill him. She’s always been good at being bad. Him running his mouth off at Willow makes it easier, too.

She’s so empty, she feels like her insides were tug out and left on the side of the road.

Willow turns apocalyptic and Faith turns on her. She gets wanting to kill Warren, she doesn’t regret it even if Buffy and the scoobies are looking at them like monsters. Ending the world? It’s too far.

“It isn’t what Tara would have wanted.”

“Not you too.” Willow’s lip curls in disgust. She tries to help Buffy at taking Willow down but they’re outclassed.

Faith doesn’t have it in her to be hurt by Willow’s disgust and anger. She doesn’t take Willow’s pointed words and accusations personally. She doesn’t even have it in her to be hurt that it’s Xander who pulls her back, that Willow wouldn’t stop for Faith.

Willow goes away and anything that was left of Faith’s heart follows.

For a while, she reverts back to who she was when she first got to Sunnydale. She’s all anger, acerbic comments, and violence. She avoids the scoobies, patrolling until she drops. They don’t punish her for Warren, it’s almost like they expected it of her. She can’t blame them.

Willow comes back and something returns to Faith, not enough. She feels like her spirit is too broken, After a lifetime of shit, losing Tara is the last straw. She learns there’s another straw, one last scrap left.

They drop in and Buffy backs off, letting her have at the demon. She hears Anya, Xander, and Buffy talking about Willow.

“She’s hurt pretty bad.”

Faith hurts the demon worse.

By the time she’s done, Willow’s present on the floor.

She strides over to Willow and the other two lean back slightly, giving her space. She presses her forehead to Willow’s, hard enough she is sure Willow won’t miss her words. “Don’t you dare ever think we don’t want you here.” Willow’s eyes are swimming and the whole ordeal is wearing on them all.

The others didn’t really notice while Willow was gone. They thought she was dealing with her trauma by being angry. Willow quickly notices that’s not the case at all.

“Where are you?” Willow asks as Faith sits beside her, her stomach is still healing. Faith almost makes a joke about matching scars.

“I’m right here.”

“No, you’re not.” Willow says sadly.

Faith changes her routine but only just. She falls asleep every night next to Willow. Last time when they lost Tara, they fought. They don’t have it in them to fight, not even over the kind of stupid shit they’d fight over for fun. They hold onto each other and Willow heals.

“I’m sorry for hurting you.” Willow whispers against the dark one night, heads bent together and hand interlaced.

“You didn’t.”

“I threw you through a door.”

“I heal quick.”

“I shouldn’t have- I’m sorry I involved you.”

“Red, I would have killed Warren with or without you.”

“If I didn’t go all end of the world, maybe I could have stopped you.” Maybe, maybe not. Faith doubts anyone could have. If anyone could it would have been Willow but it isn’t her responsibility to save Faith.

“I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“I should have been there for you.”

“There’s nothing we can do about it, there’s no point in torturing ourselves over it.”

Willow’s thumb traces her collarbone. “I miss you.”

“I’m right here.” Willow doesn’t argue and Faith ignores the saltiness of their kiss.

She keeps getting calls from the shelter, people worried about where she’s been. She quit her job and focused on slaying.

No matter what she does, she can’t shake the numbness. She can’t start processing Tara’s death because she can’t even scream. She wants to, she wants to scream and beat her fists against the floor.

“How’ve you been? It’s been a while since I last saw you.” Doctor Keller’s smiling but she looks worried. Faith is supposed to be alright, after all.

“Yeah. I figured I outta do the responsible thing and come by here before Willow straps me to a chair and forces me to talk.”

“You’ve been having difficulties in your relationship?”

“Tara was killed.” It comes out oddly like how Willow told them. Harsh, cold, a challenge.

“Oh.” Doctor Keller looks taken aback, likely not guessing that. “I’m sorry for your loss, Faith.”

“Yeah.”

“How’ve you been dealing?”

Well, she murdered Tara’s murderer but she doubts that’s what Doctor Keller wants to hear. They never spoke directly about Faith’s dropped murder charges but she gets the sense Doctor Keller knows. “I haven’t.”

“How so?”

“You know my story by now, doc. You understand how much they mean to me. They were my people, the ones who chose me. The ones who wouldn’t leave me.” Faith taps her armchair, wondering if Doctor Keller will have anything to say, someway to pull her out of this all consuming darkness. “Turns out, fate’s got a different idea.”

“She didn’t leave you-” Faith tunes her out, already knowing the stand she’s going to take. It doesn’t help, she doesn’t reschedule.

She thinks that’s going to be the rest of her life. Slaying, numbness, a broken relationship that’s bleeding out from their wound.

She always knew God was a greedy son of a bitch, she figures out just how greedy after a chance meeting. It isn’t chance, it’s set up. It all is.

“Faith Lehane.” A gruff masculine voice calls from the corner of the bar. It’s too dark to see his face, just the curl of smoke.

“That’s my name, feel free to wear it out.”

“I’ve got a proposition for you.”

“Sorry, I’m not much for propositions in my old age.”

“I can make your dreams come true.”

“That’s what they all say, buddy. Unless you’re hiding an unlimited chocolate fountain, get lost.”

He exhales, another cloud of smoke erupts into the air. “I could get you that.” It sounds like he should be laughing but it comes out as a strangled yip, the hair on the back of her neck goes up. “I think you’d prefer my other offer.”

“Yeah, what’s that?” The air is hot and she realizes they’re the only two people in the bar now.

“The safe return of Tara Maclay.” She out of her seat and pressing a knife against his throat in moments, he isn’t human. The head of a dog stares back at her, unthreatened.

“You’re lying.”

“I assure you, I’m not. For a price, I’ll release her back into the human world. All I require is that you retrieve a sword.”

“Why?”

“I desire it, you desire her return, is that not enough?” She slowly takes the knife back, eyeing him.

“You don’t have that power.”

“I’m the only person in the universe who does, the one person who can help you save her.” He promises.

“Willow tried to save her, they told her she couldn’t be brought back.”

“Osiris lied. Her salvation rests in your hands, slayer.” He stands and his head nearly touches the ceiling. “I should add, where she is right now? It isn’t where Buffy was.” The smoke puffs again, coming from beneath his armor and not a cigarette like she assumed.

“She’s in hell? Someone put Tara in hell?”

“A hell, yes.”

“How? She’s a shoe-in for heaven.”

“Heaven and hell hardly measure worth, it’s all about leverage and gain.”

“What do you mean by that?” Faith will kill the fool who put Tara in hell.

His mouth opens in a horrifying smile. “Accept the deal and you’ll find out.”

“A sword for Tara, that’s it?”

“Yes.” He offers his hand and she takes it.

“Where do I go?”

“Hell, of course.”

A portal opens and the choice is hers. For the first time in months, she feels something real. She feels hope.

“We both leave once I fulfill my part of the bargain?”

“Of course, I’m no trickster god.” He flashes another predatory smile her way.

She walks through the portal.

It clicks when she arrives on the other side, it wasn’t a dog’s head.

It was a jackal’s.

Chapter Text

The dimension she finds herself in is full of forests and castles, cliff sides and oceans. She expects to plow through any combatants she finds but she gets flattened by a skeleton. She’s more careful after that, her ribs throbbing in pain. She sees a turtle looking fucker with a mace and avoids him.

It’s a fight every inch of the way, new enemies as obstacles. Still, it’s easier than she thinks it should be. An epic quest to bring Tara back to life? It didn’t even take a day.

“You did good.” He congratulates her, looming over the top of the watchtower.

The sword is ridiculously sized, more fitting him than her.

“Where’s Tara?” He moves aside, showing Tara crouching by the wall. “Tara!” Tara’s shaking, eyes glossy and distant. It reminds Faith of the bad days after Glory appeared. “What’s wrong?”

“Mortals don’t fair well in hell.” She remembers Angel had returned from hell, years back. She hadn’t seen much of him then but what she did see wasn’t great. Buffy has confided it was worse. She saw Buffy too, after being pulled out of heaven. There’s some damage she’s helpless to heal.

“What can be done?”

“I can’t change what’s already happened.”

“There must be something you can do!” She turns and sees his satisfied smile, her eyes narrow.

“I do believe there is something to be done. I can take her memories of this place away, for a price.” It must be a cosmic joke. She remembers how hurt and angry Tara was when Willow violated her mind. Is it better this way? She looks into Tara’s eyes, looking for some sign, it isn’t Tara who’s looking back.

“What’s your price?” She’s willing to pay it, she knows that much. She takes off her scarf and wraps it around Tara, trying to give her some form of comfort.

“Osiris took her.” Faith’s head snaps up. “Willow Rosenberg tried to command him, used him to bring Buffy Summers back to life. She would have done the same with Tara. He’s the god of the underworld, people aren’t allowed to do that. So you see, my price is something I think you’ll enjoy.”

“You want him dead.”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t he your father?”

“Who doesn’t want their father dead?” He walks closer to her, hand resting on his sword. “If he dies, I take control of the underworld.”

“You want power.”

“Among other things.”

Something isn’t adding up. “Why don’t you kill him yourself?”

“He’s protected, the only thing that can kill him is that sword.” He gestures to the sword he led her to. “Gods can’t use the sword.”

“You knew.”

“That we’d renegotiate? I guessed.”

“I kill Osiris and you send Tara home without any memory of this place?”

“Yes.”

“I want another promise. If I’m securing your place as god here, I need your assurance you’ll leave my friends and I alone.”

“I give you my word.” She knows she isn’t seeing the whole picture. He knew enough to lead her to the sword, step one of his plan. She doesn’t know his whole plan. She does know she has the power to send Tara away from this place. She’ll deal with the rest after.

“We have a deal.”

Growling yips come from his chest and he rips the sword from his sheath. He throws it into the center of the stone floor and a bonfire emerges. “You will die, Faith Lehane. You will die fighting Osiris, many times. You’ll come back to this place and have to try again. Killing him will take you many tries but each time, you will make him weaker.”

There’s the catch.

“Send her back to Willow, now.” He bows and Tara disappears, leaving nothing behind.

“Good slaying.”

He wasn’t kidding when he said she’d die many times.

She starts out thinking he underestimates what she’s capable of.

“What are you doing here?” Osiris is sitting on a throne, looking down at her. If she thought Anubis was huge, he has nothing on Osiris.

“Thought I’d take in the sights, kill the king of the dead. You feel?”

She sure does feel. Dying isn’t painless. She couldn’t even raise the sword.

She takes a few days to practice with the oversized sword until she can swing it with ease.

“You again?”

Dead again.

The worst part is that she has to fight her way to him. Sometimes she gets off easy and doesn’t get hit or have to use healing potions she’s found, sometimes she arrives half dead. She tries wearing heavy plate armor, thinking she’d last longer. She doesn’t. She switches to light leathers and eventually, day clothes. If she gets hit, she’s dead. Armor doesn’t change that.

Sometimes she goes to a nearby town to retrieve upgrades or potions, something to give her a leg up. This place has two types of creatures; the ones who’ve submitted to madness and want to kill her and the ones slowly going mad with each death.

It occurs to her after an immeasurable time, the sun never changes position until she moves to a different region, she has a time limit on killing Osiris. She sees the way the people in this place lose themselves, she knows that will be her future if she doesn’t kill him quick enough.

She keeps track by deaths instead of days.

So many deaths, the flame of the bonfire is the only thing that doesn’t hurt in this place.

She remembers why she’s doing this, clings to the idea.

Bring Tara back to life. Destroy the memories. Repair the scoobies. Fall asleep between Tara and Willow.

Dead.

Bring Tara back to life.

Dead.

Destroy the memories.

Dead.

Repair the scoobies.

Dead.

Fall asleep between Tara and Willow again.

Dead.

Dead.

Dead.

She’s sitting beside the fire, brain abuzz with missing things. She’s trying to remember but remembering is becoming hard. Her flasks clang together when she stands. She picks up her shield and ties her scrolls to her belt. Before she goes through the door, she takes a scroll off and enchants her sword. It’s glowing blue and she knows she’s ready. She always thought magic was more of-

Tara and Willow!

How did she forget?

Tara and Willow, she won’t forget again.

“Why do you keep coming? Do you even remember why you do?” His broken voice asks, his wounds finally catching up to him. He doesn’t heal quite so fast anymore, he doesn’t move as fast either. She can usually get more damage in now before he finishes her.

“Tara and Willow.” Are they the only words she now knows?

“You have become The Bearer of the Curse for two mortal witches?” He sounds astonished. “Ah, you didn’t know what you would become. This will be our last fight, Bearer. I’m afraid you’ve finally killed me. Remember to make it worth it”

It’s significant, how is it significant?

She cuts his head off, ending this endless journey.

“You actually did it.” An unfamiliar voice greets her, as rough as gravel. She looks at him and she doesn’t know what she’s looking at. Who, she’s looking at. “I see it’s taken its toll. Nonetheless, we had a deal. You held up your end, I’ll hold up mine. You may return to them now, Faith.”

The fire is hot and she’s safe. She knows fire is safe, it means they can’t hurt her.

“Ah!” A man squeals, launching away. She looks around and freezes, where’s the familiar stone of her tower? “Is that…”

“Faith.” A woman says, making a movement towards her. Faith draws her sword and points it at the aggressor. “Whoa, Faith. It’s me, Buffy.” Buffy says.

It means nothing to her.

“Uh, Buff, I don’t think anyone’s home.”

“Xander, shut up. Go get the others, quick.” If she stays near the fire, they can’t hurt her, right? She’s tired and isn’t quite ready to die again.

She doesn’t lower her sword and Buffy doesn’t step closer. Her eyes dart around, taking in the room. It isn’t safe to get stuck in confined spaces, dodging is the best way to survive. Buffy doesn’t look as dangerous as the knights or the turtles but sometimes it’s the smaller ones that’ll get you.

“Buffy, why’s Xander freaking out?” A redheaded woman walks and and proceeds to freeze upon seeing her. Her arm starts to shake under the weight of her sword, she lets the tip drop to the floor but she’s ready to to bring it back at any moment. “Faith.” The woman sounds choked but Faith can see her throat isn’t injured.

“Will, careful.” Buffy warns the woman, not looking away.

“It’s Faith!” The sword comes back up when the woman takes a step towards her.

“Willow, I’m serious.” Buffy says again.

“Dear lord.” An older man rubs the bridge of his nose.

“Oh honey pie, what’d they do to you?” A green man with red horns asks.

She looks around again, taking note of the wider areas. It’s an office but she can see a courtyard full of people outside. Her grip tightens on the sword, ready to cut her way out of here. She has to go back, keep hacking away at Osiris. She has to keep going.

“Fuck!” Buffy dodges when she swings, sword almost faster than she can move. It blasts out the wall and people in the courtyard scatter.

“Buffy, what the fuck!”

“Bit busy, Cordy!”

“Faith, stop!” She’s following up her swing with another, aimed at the blonde again.

A hulking man enters the fray, putting himself between her and Buffy. She’ll cut him down too.

She has to get to him, she can’t waste many flasks here. She needs them for there.

“Angel, she’ll kill you if you aren’t careful.” Buffy says, breathing heavy.

“Is she evil again?” A new voice asks.

“Hey!” The redhead from earlier protests.

“It’s a fair question when she’s trying to murder us all on Christmas!”

“Where did you go?” A blonde asks her, a scarf wrapped around her neck.

“Be careful!” The redhead calls out.

“It’s okay, Willow.” Willow, Tara and Willow. Her arm shakes, lowering just a bit. Buffy sees this and instead of charging, she pulls Angel back. “Hey, we missed you.” Who missed who? Why is she talking to her?

“Faith, can we come closer?” Faith? Right, she’s Faith. Why do they want to come closer? Are they protecting him, trying to take her out early? “I’m going to come closer.” Willow says, taking a step closer. Faith’s whole body flinches, preparing for the attack. It doesn’t come. “We aren’t going to hurt you.” Everything hurts, it’s just the mad and the madder. They all make sport of each other.

Tara starts walking closer too, sharing looks with Willow. With each step, Faith grows tenser.

“Guys-” Buffy’s hushed by the green man.

She’s at her most taut when they finally reach touching distance, her muscles almost in pain from how tight she’s keeping them. She wants to strike them down before she’s brought back to the fire, forced to repeat it again. She doesn’t. She doesn’t because one of the few things that makes sense, that’s clear in her head, are their names.

They both touch her at the same time and the reaction is instantaneous. She slumps into their touch, body melting at such tenderness. When’s the last time someone touched her other than to ram a spear through her? Was it one of her allies? No, they never held her. They’d fight and die with her, only to return again and do it all over, but they’d never touch her. Not like this. They enclose her, pressing their bodies against her until they’re cradling her between them.

“You’re back.” Willow’s voice is watery, fragile sounding. Neither of them are letting go of her.

“You’re going to be okay.” Of course she is, she always has a bonfire to go back to. She lets her head fall against Tara’s shoulder, hand still tightly wrapped around the hilt of her sword.

At least she remembers she’s supposed to remember something, it could be worse she thinks.

“Tara and Willow.” It’s so rough when it comes out of her mouth.

“Yeah baby, that’s us.”

Chapter Text

She isn’t aware of everything all the time. It’s hard to be when she measures time by deaths but she doesn’t die anymore. She starts measuring time by Tara and Willow. The times they smile, they look at her, touch her.

She hasn’t left their side since they got her to lower her sword.

“She’s been gone for months!”

“She’s alive.”

“She’s a mess.”

“She’ll be okay.”

Faith watches them all, calculates their movements. She’s twitchy, body ready to charge back in. She hasn’t seen blood on stone and it’s worrying her.

“Faith, can you understand us?” Tara asks her, remembering she exists. Of course she understands. She’s asked as if she’s incapable, as if she’s lost her language abilities. Hasn’t she? No. No! She hasn’t forgotten, they’re just buried. Everything is buried and muffled but she will remember how to form words if she has to go digging. She’ll dig until her nails are broken and bloody.

“Obviously.” She dredges it up with all her willpower, tries to infuse the irritation she feels at being treated like an invalid. It comes out flat and awkward, forced out and not at all suave.

Tara smiles, nostalgic and sad. “Do you remember what happened?” Faith flinches, fingers wanting to wrap around her handle. “I mean, if you want to share. W-we need to figure out what happened to help.” Tara quickly redirects.

“There’s no pressure, we just want to help.” Willow nervously cuts in to support Tara.

“Why?” No one helps, not for free. Some of the other warriors would exchange favors. If they helped her then she would help them later. It was never free, it was rarely without death. “What do you want?”

Willow’s eyes tighten, her expression pained. “To help.”

“We don’t help.” She includes herself because it’s true. She wouldn’t help other warriors if they weren’t going to repay the service.

“We do.” The man, Xander, asserts. He puffs up, ready to defend someone, she isn’t sure if he knows who. He looks at her in a way that makes her wonder, she remembers Tara and Willow but who has she forgotten? She doesn’t even fully remember Tara and Willow.

She feels her pouch, her fingers lightly grazing her soapstone. They haven’t used theirs, they aren’t summoning her. She doesn’t understand how they can ask for help without the soapstone, without the expectation of reciprocation.

“What?” Do you want to know, she wants to finish. Her tongue won’t form the words, they lodge in her throat.

Buffy seems to be the first to understand her. “You don’t remember us?” Although she asks it, it seems everyone knows. Faith’s eyes dart around, she doesn’t remember them.

“No.”

They deflate, the confirmation dulling them. “If you can tell us, what do you remember?” Willow asks, coming closer to rest a hand on Faith’s forearm. She’s sitting on a couch, body and mind ready to fight.Her sword is never out of arm's reach, it rests against the couch beside her.

“Dying.” Faith says immediately. Willow jerks but doesn’t move away, she hears Buffy curse violently. “Dying over and over. Killing. Anything that moves is an enemy. Mad, we’re all mad. Put them down before they get you. No one leaves, we all come back. Over and over. Dead. Fire is safe, doesn’t hurt there.” The green man, Lorne, gasps dramatically. He sits up at attention, Angel zeroing in on him.

“Ring any bells?” Angel’s demeanor suggests an unhappy man but his voice is soft towards Lorne.

“Cupcake.” If she thought Angel’s voice was gentle, he has nothing on Lorne. Lorne looks at her with understanding and tenderness. Faith nods, ready for his questions. “Have you ever heard of a place called Majula?”

“Safe, usually.”

“That’s what I feared.” Lorne smiles grimly.

“What’s going on?” Buffy asks, weirdly protective for someone Faith was trying to kill not too long ago.

“We’re all aware there’s many dimensions and therefore lots of hell dimensions, including everyone’s favorite hell hole Pylea.”

“She was in hell.” Tara’s looks at her with worry, moving to join Willow and Faith on the couch.

“Afraid so.”

“Oh.” Tara’s voice echoes with sorrow and pity, too many emotions that make her feel trapped or weak. It like when her back is to a corner and she’s got arrows notched at her. Faith winds up, ready to fight, but something in Tara’s expression stops her. Just because Tara is sad for doesn’t mean Faith’s weak or exposed.

“Why?” Buffy asks.

“What do you mean?”

“Why was she sent to hell at all?” Buffy clarifies.

“Maybe she went, we have before.” Angel says.

“Why would Faith go alone and without backup? She isn’t an idiot and with everything that was going on then, she would have told Willow.”

“You think she was sent, or taken.”

“She has to have been.”

“By who?”

“I might be able to help with that.” Lorne offers, cutting into their discussion. “Does Osiris ring a-” Faith’s standing, hand locked around her sword and eyes flashing with violence. Kill. Cut. Maim. Make it easier for next time. Dodge. “I would say so.” Lorne laughs nervously.

“Osiris?” Willow’s voice dips, dark around the edges. A promise of misery and suffering.

“Kill.” Faith replies, knowing her goal. Willow looks ready to follow Faith’s words but Tara’s soothing her, black veins still emerge regardless. It stops Faith, the sight familiar. She lowers a hand to Willow’s forehead, tracing a vein.

“Where are you?” She’s desperate, worried. Her voice brushes across Faith’s lips like velvet, gentle and non-abrasive. Despite its easy delivery, the words are imploring. Begging. Willow is searching for something, asking Faith to show it.

“I’m right here.” Lies, they stack up every time Willow asks her the same question. The bitter taste of deceit coats her tongue but she must swallow it down, rinse it down with resolve. She cannot locate herself so it’s not really lying, it’s better to lie so long as Willow has something left of her girlfriends.

The memory is vivid and it sinks into her awareness. It’s not that it was dropped on her, she just rediscovered it. “It wasn’t Osiris.” Willow shouldn’t get involved, shouldn’t hurt anyone. She remembers it goes bad when these black roots spread throughout Willow’s soul.

“Who was it?” Buffy asks, leaning forward.

She tries to remember. She fought Osiris, she killed Orisis. “I killed Osiris.” She died doing it, so many deaths.

“How?” Lorne asks, shocked.

“Over and over.”

“Oh, you kept throwing yourself at him until you got him.”

“I got him.” Faith confirms. She killed Osiris but he didn’t bring her there, he didn’t start the fight. “Remember to make it worth it.” Faith murmurs, remembering her last encounter with Osiris. It’s her most prominent memory, easy to recall.

“Make it worth it?” Faith can practically see the gears turning in Angel’s head. “Make what worth it?”

“Killing him.” Faith thinks about her encounter with the other one. “It was a deal.”

“You made a deal with Osiris?” Willow sounds judgmental and Faith shoots her a look.

“Not him, the other one. The jackal.”

“Anubis. Why would he-”

“Power grab, he kills daddy dearest and he gets to run the place.” Xander answers.

They all start planning and arguing, trying to find the best way to fight Anubis. “I made a deal.”

“We know, Faith.” Buffy answers, going to return to her argument.

“No, I made a deal. He got something, I got something.”

“You got to escape hell, shitty deal.” Xander says.

“No, that wouldn’t work. You had to kill Osiris for something but why would you go to hell in the first place? Who could keep Faith Lehane in hell unless she was determined to stay?” Buffy feels the answer out, trying to get to the end.

“How do I get them back?” Faith changes the subject, wanting away from the current line of conversation.

“Your memories?” Angel asks, Faith nods as an answer.

“Heal? We can see if we can find some spells or potions, maybe some scales have properties or something.” Willow says.

“Heal.”

That’s what she does for weeks, months. She starts healing and bits of her return, new parts form. She is a different person, most of the time she can’t remember who she was.

“Your aura is different.” Tara would say, sad tone and eyes wide.

She supposes it is, it was put through hell. She tries healing the human way, taking time and talking when she can. She tries the slayer way, slaying through the pain. She even tries the witch way, herbs and potions. None work. She isn’t the most talkative and even when she is, she can’t remember much. Slaying reminds her of hell and she gets lost in it, terrifying anyone who watches and traumatizing her a bit. The witch way can be nice if the potion tastes good, otherwise she’s drinking a vial of earwax for no reason. It doesn’t work.

Doctor Keller’s hair is dyed orange and black, it looks like fire. She feels safe, safer than she might have otherwise. She wonders if Tara or Willow told her about it, it would make sense. She’s got piercings lining her ears, some in her face. Eyebrow, nose, nothing too crazy. Faith can see countless tattoos, murals that weave together.

“It’s been a long time, Faith. How’ve you been?” She looks concerned, eyes crinkled.

“I’m…” How is she? “I don’t know.” It’s an understatement.

“Last time we saw each other, it was about Tara and how you were dealing with that. Do you remember that?” Her eyes are serious and Faith wants to crawl out of the room.

“No.”

“You don’t remember it?”

“I don’t remember much, anymore.”

Doctor Keller stops writing, looks at Tara and Willow. “You came to me about Tara dying, you were a mess. A few weeks later, Willow and Tara are telling me that you were missing and maybe died and how they were coping. At first, I thought it was some trick. It doesn’t seem like something any of you would do but what else could be the explanation?” Doctor Keller sets her notebook down, looking uncomfortable for the first time. “I trust you, Faith.”

“I don’t know you.”

“You know me, you just don’t remember me. I know you, I trust you. That’s why I’m going to show you this, don’t slay me okay.” The meaning of those words sets in right as Doctor Keller seemingly takes her face off.

Demon.

Faith doesn’t move to attack, she knows she doesn’t need to. If Doctor Keller decides to attack, Faith knows she’s quicker.

“Whoa.” Willow blinks, taking in the change.

“I’m predispositioned to sensing lies. My first body was a detective, this time I wanted to help people struggling. People who need a push sometimes.”

“People who need the truth.”

“Exactly. I’m here for you no matter what truth you’re holding in, Faith.”

“I was in a hell dimension.” Doctor Keller, apparently breaking all rules, leans forward and places her hand on Faith’s knee.

“I’m sorry that you went through that.”

“I’m having issues remembering anything.”

“You remembered Tara and Willow?”

“It’s more like I remembered they are important.” Tara and Willow box her in on the couch, arms pressed against her own.

“The sword?”

“From there.”

“You might not remember, Faith.”

“I know.”

“I think we, during our sessions, shouldn’t focus on recovering your memories. We should focus on your healing, finding out where you go from here. Maybe you’ll remember along the way.”

More ways of healing, none do quite what they hope. She doesn’t magically return to who she was. She slowly crawls to a new version of herself, one with minimal memories and hang ups from hell.

It’s still better than hell.

She stays with Willow and Tara at their apartment, the whole gang had moved to Los Angeles following the meltdown of Sunnydale. She is safe, more or less. She joins Buffy on patrols or Angel on cases, getting some slaying in when the itch hits. Team Angel and the scoobies became a more solid unit during the months she was gone.

Which leads to these terrible meetups. She blames Xander, he seems like the kind of person to encourage awkward hang outs. They’re all catching up, a flurry of mixed conversations. Willow and Tara are sitting on the two person couch behind her and she’s sitting on the floor, leaning against Tara’s legs. She didn’t want to be trapped under one of them or exposed laying on top of them, this seemed like the safest option.

“I just think it’s a good idea.” Willow continues trying to argue for another cat.

“Do we really have space for another?” Tara replies.

“They don’t even take up space!”

“Faith agrees with me.” Tara attempts, giving Faith a significant look.

“Bad move, I’m with Willow on this one. Just as long as you guys name it something better than Miss Kitty Fantastico.” Tara smiles even though Faith opposed her. They always smile when she’s gruff or a bit mean, insulting their cat’s name does the trick. She makes more and more rude comments just to see them smile.

“What’s a better name?” Tara asks, challenging Faith.

“Dagger.” Willow’s eyes sparkle as she makes fun of Faith.

“Badass.” Tara plays along and Faith knocks her boot against Tara’s foot.

“Watch it, blondie.” Faith complains.

“Or what?”

“Wouldn’t you like to find out.” Faith teases, shifting to lean against Willow’s legs.

“You three are disgusting.” Buffy crinkles her nose.

“Don’t be jealous, B. There’s always room for you.” A hush falls over the room before Xander obnoxiously laughs and starts loudly asking Fred about things he certainly doesn’t care about. Faith quiets as well, melding into her girlfriend’s legs. She hasn’t ever called Buffy B, not since she got back. Somehow she knows she did before.

The pattern holds. She heals as much as she can but it’s like there’s a limit to how much she can recover. She takes two steps forward and one step back until she meets a wall.

She’s okay but she’s not.

She remembers some but not all.

It’s like something more than the trauma is stopping her.

It takes them a long time to discover the reason for it but the first discovery comes from the most unlikely of places, Dawn.

“It’s like The Return to Hellpalooza.” Dawn says as Willow worries over Faith’s halted healing.

“What?” Faith asks as Xander squeals, walking into the room with a spatula.

“She’s right!”

“Start explaining.” Buffy doesn’t look up from carving a new stake, not taking them seriously.

“It’s a comic. The protagonist dies and goes to hell again, he went to hell in a previous issue. He managed to escape the first time but he didn’t realize he left parts of himself, his soul, in hell.” Xander explains.

Dawn cuts in, practically vibrating in her seat. “In Return, he goes back to reclaim those pieces of his soul. He escapes again and it ends happily.”

“Until his wife is murdered in the next issue.”

“Of course, until then.”

“Faith isn’t going back.” Willow cuts their tirade off.

“Of course not!” Xander sounds offended by Willow’s accusing tone. “We more meant the part about her soul being left in hell.”

“You think I’m soulless?” Faith asks them, a bit offended herself now.

“She isn’t, trust me.” Angel says darkly, a newly ensouled Spike nodding alongside him.

“Shush!” Dawn hushes them all, leaning forward. “You guys are missing the point! If it’s like Hellpalooza, then she’s missing pieces of herself. We could find a way to get them back.”

“I don’t want to go back there.” Faith swallows harshly, looking away from them. Her fingers tap uncomfortably against her sword.

“Hey, we really aren’t suggesting that. I don’t want you anywhere near that place.” Dawn places a hand on Faith’s forearm, looking like she’s a moment away from just hugging her.

“There could be other ways to get the pieces back.” Xander agrees.

“How do we go figure out if Faith is missing something?” Buffy asks, ready to go kill some demons if necessary.

“I could probably help with that. I’m sure I have a book somewhere that will contain a spell to examine one’s soul. Willow and Tara can take it from there.”

Willow, Tara, and Giles hardly sleep as they search through all their texts. Faith fills her time with slaying, needing the soothing familiarity. The thought of having a fractured soul terrifies her, she has no concept of what that even means.

“What if we can’t find the pieces?” Faith asks Willow and Tara as they’re laying in bed one night.

“Then we don’t give up.”

“If we really can’t, am I incomplete?”

“Never.”

“You’re perfect as is.”

Faith laughs, wrapping the blankets tighter around them. “Perfect isn’t the word I’d use.”

“I would.”

“Me too.”

“You’re perfect to us. Maybe you aren’t to yourself or other but you always will be to us.”

The spell ends up calling for body parts of rare demons and Buffy takes pleasure in hunting them down. Faith knows she feels guilty for not getting Faith out of hell and that she feels useless. She isn’t sure the type of relationship Buffy and her had before, she was hesitant at first to talk to Buffy about it. In the end, she felt it necessary to reassure Buffy that there’s nothing she could have done but that it doesn’t make her useless. She doesn’t know what their relationship was but now, as Faith currently is, she considers them good friends. She doesn’t think that’s how they were if Buffy’s surprise every time Faith shows concern or talks to her is anything to go by.

No one goes too much into it but she knows at one point she was a villain, the bad guy. She even has some of those memories, blood on her hands and a fatherly warmth that she shouldn’t have sought out. She thinks that before she went to hell, Buffy and her never really got over it. They faked it, pretending they were over it and hid their true feelings, they never really healed or forgave. She hopes that they’ve found peace between them.

“You didn’t have to kill his minions too.” Faith says out of breath after they finish off the last demon needed. She sheaths her sword and ignores the burn in her muscles.

“Sure didn’t have to.” Buffy agrees, looking pleased with herself. “I hope this works, I got guts on my favorite jacket.”

“The loss of a jacket would definitely be the worst thing if this fails.”

“Exactly.”

Buffy actually tosses her arm around Faith’s shoulders on their way back, a nervous energy directing all of her movements. Buffy’s afraid that it’s true and something is missing.

“Do you think there’s pieces of me missing? More than the memories.” She asks Buffy as they near the house.

“Honestly?” Buffy’s easy manner falls and she looks seriously at Faith.

“Yeah.”

“After Angel came back...it was slow but he recovered. He was different after hell but...it’s just not how you came back.” Faith nods at Buffy’s words, accepting them. Buffy’s own brush with heaven sits between them, unspoken but understood. Faith almost asks the same question she asked Tara and Willow before Buffy beats her to it. “Even if they are missing it doesn’t change anything, you’re still you.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“You still annoy me half to death.” Buffy laughs, squeezing Faith’s shoulder as if she needs to reassure her that she is kidding. “You’re more skittish, sometimes it’s like you have to think about how you’re supposed to act, you’re obviously traumatized. It doesn’t mean you’re less. You know after I came back from heaven you reached out to me. You told me once that trauma isn’t all we are and it doesn’t make us less of a person. I needed to hear that. I thought I was something less...you’re not less, Faith.” They’re stopped in the middle of the street and the light from the house outlines Buffy. She smiles and looks away from Buffy’s piercing gaze, too overwhelmed to hold it.

“Shit, B.”

“Eloquent.” Buffy prods, directing them back to the hotel.

“Can you blame a girl?”

“I know we’ve had a complicated relationship and that’s on both of us. We’ve both hurt each other. The thing is, I’m tired of caring. I don’t want to keep track. I care about you Faith, I always have and always will. It pains me to see you hurting and I’ll do everything I can to help. If there are still pieces of you in hell, it doesn’t change a thing.”

Faith laughs awkwardly, flexing her jaw and fighting off tears. She didn’t know much care in hell, all she knew was death and killing. She doesn’t remember much but what she does remember she knows care was a stranger for most of her life before hell too. Receiving it from someone who she knows she hurt washes over her, warms parts of her long gone cold.

“Yeah, well.” Faith puffs up, hands digging into her pockets. “I love you too, B.” Faith mumbles, cheeks going pink.

Tara blinks at the image of them when she opens the door. “Willow! Faith’s flirting with Buffy again.” She calls out, stepping aside to let them in.

“Honestly, how dare you. I’ll have you both know I am an innocent, it’s B who was declaring her undying love.” Buffy takes her arm of Faith’s shoulders and rolls her eyes.

“I never said the word love, you did though.” Buffy points out, hanging the demon parts over to a harried looking Willow.

“I want a divorce.” Willow pouts, sitting amongst ingredients and drawings.

“Tough nuts. You can’t get rid of me anymore, Red.” Faith bends down and kisses Willow. Tara’s hand trails down her back, resting on her lower back.

“It’ll be okay, no matter what happens.” Tara quietly reassures her.

“Let’s get this party started.” Faith offers them a wobbly smile.

She zones out as Willow and Tara begin their incantations, focusing on Xander’s shoes. They need the answer but part of her doesn’t want it. At this point, she’s pretty sure she already knows the answer. She isn’t sure what it means for her. She won’t go back to that place, not even for pieces of herself. She can’t.

A red glow starts emanating from her, just as they’d told her it would. It’s her soul, her essence, whatever makes her Faith Lehane. It spreads and then starts snapping and breaking, seperating into pieces. She closes her eyes and swears. Someone’s hand interlocks with hers, she knows it to be Buffy’s. She feels a heavy hand land on her shoulder, holding it tight. Angel. Willow and Tara can’t break the trance but her friends are here for her, they’re ready to support her.

“Wait, that’s weird.” Xander cuts in, breaking the gloom.

“Yeah, why’s her sword orange?” Anya asks and Faith opens her eyes. It’s glowing orange, much more luminescent than her own body.

“Does it have Faith’s soul?” Angel asks.

“No, Faith’s soul is red. Her sword is orange, it means something else.” Giles answers.

“What’s it mean?” Willow asks Giles, still focusing her energy on the spell.

“It’s involved, somehow.”

“She is attached to it, maybe she imprinted on it or something?” Xander offers.

“You always have it with you.” Dawn agrees with Xander.

“It makes me feel safer.” Faith admits.

“Why?” Giles asks.

“It’s one of the few reliable things from there. It was the only thing that could hurt Osiris, it’s the Godkiller. It also saved me from dying multiple times. Doctor Keller says that when we’re scared we attach ourselves to objects. She said that’s why trauma patients tend to have items that are important to them.”

“What if it’s more than that?” Angel pushes.

“What do you mean?”

“Wait, did you say Godkiller?” Xander asks.

“Yeah. It’s the only thing that could kill Osiris.”

“Oh!” Buffy’s leaning forward, like she’s on the trail of something and doesn’t want it to slip away. “If it’s the Godkiller, why would Osiris let it stay in his dimension? If I were a god and knew one thing could kill me, I’d destroy it or get it as far away from me as possible.”

“Anubis said gods can’t touch it, only mortals.”

“Why didn’t Osiris get a mortal to get rid of it then?”

“Because they couldn’t.” Angel’s nodding along, obviously following Buffy’s train of thought. That makes one of them. “The sword has to stay in hell.”

“If Faith has it here it obviously doesn’t have to.” Xander points out.

“Yet she’s missing pieces of her soul. What if it isn’t necessarily like your comics, it isn’t being there or dying that shattered her soul, it’s leaving with the sword.”

Faith stops breathing as a million thoughts come rushing to her. Fear that they’ll touch her sword, unadulterated terror that they’ll rip away her safety. A burning knowledge. Dots connecting that she hadn’t noticed.

“Oh.” Faith says dumbly, her body falling to sit. Buffy and Angel follow her to the ground, not breaking their touch. “I’m so fucking stupid.”

“No you’re not.”

“Why?”

“Xander!”

“What! She thinks she’s dumb there’s got to be a reason.”

“It was never Osiris. Anubis approached me, he wanted to make the first deal. He said-” Faith stops herself, swallowing the real reason she went to hell. She remembered it weeks ago in the shower. It was a feeling, that whatever she went to hell for mattered. She remembered somewhere amidst shampooing that she went there to save Tara. She also knows this is something she shouldn’t make common knowledge. Tara would be hurt, she’s sure of it.

“How much do you remember?” Dawn asks, noting that Faith hasn’t been letting them in on her memories.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was Anubis all along. He trapped me, he knew how to make me agree to a deal. He wanted Osiris dead so he could take his spot and orchestrated it all. He pinned everything on Osiris and sent me after him, someone he knew stood a chance to kill Osiris. He knew it all. He sent me away with Godkiller because he wanted it out of his dimension but he must have known it’d come at a price, he just didn’t mention it.”

“It’s a useless attempt, it’ll end up back there anyways.” Anya says.

“Why?”

“If it was that easy, Osiris would have done it. I think no matter what the sword finds its way back there, it probably just kills the host first.”

“I’m the host.”

“Yep!” Anya chirps, easing back when she notes the other’s faces. “Uh, no?”

“Faith isn’t dying. We can just send the sword back, anyone have postal stamps?” Buffy cuts in, trying to defuse the situation.

“It’s not that easy. We need a portal to that specific dimension.” Giles reminds her.

“Honey, it really is that easy. I’ll contact some of my friends and I’m sure one of them will know how to tune into it.” Lorne speaks up.

“Can we just...shoo it through?” Willow does the shooing motion with her hands to demonstrate her point. Faith has to smile at that despite the circumstances.

“It should probably be returned to the same place Faith took it from.” Angel says.

“You’re not secretly a great cartographer are you?” Willow asks her.

“She can never find her wallet let alone draw us a map to it.” Tara reminds Willow.

“Hey! Forgetfulness and maps are totally different.”

“Are they?”

“I have to go back.” Faith feels faintly sick.

“No.” Buffy stops Faith’s hectic thoughts in their path. “I’ll let Anubis know he has a very simple choice. He guides me there and out, no bullshit, and I won’t butcher him.”

“B, I know you’re a badass but you don’t-”

“I understand exactly what it would cost. It doesn’t change anything. He lets us return the sword and get your pieces back or I’ll spend years chopping him down. I will be able to do it, too. He’ll know that. I’m depending on his self-preservation to win and make it a quick in and out job.”

“B-”

“No, this is our plan.” She doesn’t give Faith any room to fight it.

“I can do it.” Willow speaks up, looking just as determined.

“Yes, you could. You’d be leaving Faith and Tara, I don’t think that’s the best move. They need you, she needs you. Every time you three are split up, something bad happens. Just, stay with the women you love while I go verbally kick a god’s ass. Maybe physically too.” They must be saying something the rest of them don’t hear, some best friend language, because Willow just nods after a moment. Faith tells Buffy where Anubis approached her and Buffy’s off, Faith’s sword in hand.

Not having the sword she’s had for so long is a sharp kick of anxiety. The group disbands and Angel offers them all a room in the hotel.

She’s drumming her fingers on her stomach, laying in the middle of the bed, as Willow and Tara share significant looks. Faith’s getting irritated by it. She’s already itchy from the rest of the situation having them share looks just drives her frustration up the wall. “What?” She asks flatly.

“I’m going to go get ice!” Willow says in her quick way that signals her own anxiety. Before Faith can ask, Willow’s shooting out of the room without even taking the bucket.

“That’s subtle.”

“Will’s never been subtle.” Tara smiles softly and Faith smiles back. Faith scoots over and makes room for Tara. Tara sits on the bed but doesn’t lay down beside Faith which is slightly concerning.

“Neither are you, what’s up?”

“Did you know you’re kind of a mom friend?”

That’s not what Faith thought Tara was going to say. “Take that back.”

“It was early on, before Oz and everything. Some girl in the building that we didn’t even know looked scared and you stopped, right there and then, and just started talking to her. You were just starting to heal and go through therapy, still you knew she needed someone. Apparently her mother died and her professor wasn’t going to let her take a huge exam at a different time. I didn’t find out until later you went to that professor and scared the daylights out of him until he let her take the exam later.” Tara hasn’t stopped smiling but she isn’t looking at Faith and it’s terrifying her.

“What is this about? I’m worried.”

“Don’t be.” Tara’s hand lands on her hip, fingers splayed a few inches from her scar. “That’s the first time I really started to fall for you. I was attracted to your aura the first time we met, even though you terrified me. I thought you were funny and secretly kind and yes, hot.” Tara shakes her head at Faith’s favorite descriptor. “It was seeing how easy you looked after someone that made me start down this long path.”

“I don’t remember it.”

“I know, sweetie.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Do you by any chance remember when you first starting falling for me? For us?” Faith tries wracking her mind for the answer but can’t find it.

“No.”

“I didn’t think you would. I always look back on that memory, it’s one of my favorites. Because of hell, you don’t even have that.” Faith isn’t sure how to respond to that. “We all wondered why you would go to hell, what Anubis would have on you. It’s so obvious, isn’t it? You go missing and I come back. Goddess, Faith. You went to hell for me?” Tara’s voice breaks by the end, tears sliding down her face.

Faith quickly leans up, wiping at the tracks with her thumb. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“It’s not.”

“Tara, I hate Anubis’ games but he gave me a choice. He gave me a shot to bring you back. Was I supposed to refuse? I couldn’t let you be tortured for eternity in hell. You and Willow would have done the same.”

“You weren’t supposed to suffer for me.”

“I was suffering without you. If I have to choose, I choose to suffer with you.”

“Stop looking so proud, you shouldn’t have done it.” Tara’s grabbing Faith’s shirt, trying to press the knowledge into her.

“Don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t do, Blondie. This road is the most unlikely, this relationship far out of what I ever imagined, but it’s my happy ever after. Even if Buffy fails, this is still the happiest outcome. A life where the three of us end up together? I’d give up anything for that.”

“I feel like I’m responsible.”

“The only people responsible for this are Warren and Anubis. I don’t regret my choice, don’t regret it for me. Just love me.”

Tara pulls her into a breathless kiss. She pushes Faith back down on the bed and leans over her, kissing her way down Faith’s throat. Tara gives Faith enough room for her to sit up and take off her shirt, she throws it off the bed. She takes care of Tara’s while she’s at it. She presses her lips to the newly revealed skin and feels Tara lace her fingers in her hair.

She didn’t hear the door open but she feels another body join the bed, a hand brushing her on Tara’s side. She meets Willow’s eyes and sees them crinkled with a bit of pain. She’s hurt and angry at the realization of Faith’s deal but she knows Tara needed to speak to her first. She knows Willow will want to talk about it later. For now, Faith’s just concerned about getting this damned bra off.

Later, when Buffy comes back, they’re not there.

Faith decided they needed to do something, the end up homebodies too often. While they wait to find out Faith’s future, she makes them go do something. They end up wandering the mall, mindlessly shopping and just having fun for the first time in a long time. No expectations, no ingredients for uber important spells, no apocalypse or baby slayers to worry about.

She knows Buffy’s right, she isn’t incomplete.

It’s still nice when Buffy returns without a sword and a vicious grin in place.

“I scared Anubis shitless, nice to know I still got it.” She shrugs, waiting for Tara and Willow to do the spell that’ll confirm Faith’s whole again.

She doesn’t need them to do the spell.

She feels again for the first time since Tara died. She wonders if Anubis had a hand in that cold numbness or if that was just how she dealt with it. Still, she feels.

She remembers. She remembers who she is, who everyone is to her.

“It’s not as deep as me being a good person, sorry bout that. It’s early too, although I’ll admit it’d take me a bit to figure it out. I came over and you just, expected it. You were ready for me and excited, both of you. I was late, slaying went a bit overtime, and you both worried. Willow sniped, not wanting to admit it. Tara looked like she wanted to wrap me in a blanket. I’d never had someone look forward to me coming over, never had anyone worry about me. It felt nice. Yeah, that’s when it started.”

Tara had stops her chanting, eyes glossy. Willow looks like she is afraid it will all fall apart at any second.

“It worked?” Xander asks worriedly.

“I’m back, baby.” She kindly leaves out that she’s still incredibly fucked up and still remembers hell, she’ll tell them later. They need a win, they need a moment. Xander picks her up and spins her around in a bone crushing hug. “Ugh, just because I remember doesn’t mean I’ve started to like you.”

“I know I’m your guy, no need to play cool.” Xander laughs with utter relief.

Willow and Tara pull her away from Xander, he lets go with his hands up.

“How do you feel?” Tara asks.

“Better.”

“Thank goddess, there’s no way I was going to win and get another cat without you in your best shape.” Willow mutters.

“Don’t ya know, Red, I’m always in my best shape.”

Not everything is fixed. She’s still wary of crowded places and hates being touched by strangers, she intimately remembers what it’s like to die hundreds if not thousands of times, she reaches for a sword she no longer has, but she’s better. She keeps seeing Doctor Keller, her appointments remain quite frequent. Even when she moves away, she keeps in contact. Long distance therapy is still better than working with other therapists.

Faith didn’t think she’d end up living outside the city in a two story house with her two girlfriends. She still slays but she’s bowed out of apocalypses and the main force. She’ll go help if it’s absolutely necessary but it rarely is. Surprisingly people respect her choice, even Buffy. She’s had enough fighting in her life, she really doesn’t want to die in a demon pit somewhere.

She does train slayers, they almost always have at least one baby slayer with them. She’s a coveted teacher and she does her best to help everyone she can. She even starts working at social services again and volunteering at a nearby shelter. If one baby slayer, Amelia with quick hands and a vocabulary that shocks Faith, ends up a permanent residence and part of her family, no one questions it.

She knows a crossroads when she sees one. She decided to make a choice that day, so many years ago. She decided to reach out, to seek redemption and start healing.

She didn’t think it would lead here. To a home that always smells like incense, the tinkle of wind-chimes, cats that weave around her feet, a sense of purpose in guiding young slayers, a kid that eats like a machine, and a lifetime of loving the two greatest women in her life.