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as day follows night

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Our story begins with a valiant knight, struck down in battle—

“Hey, Giles?” said Faith, tossing the manuscript to the side.

Do be careful with that,” said Giles reprovingly, moving to collect the aged parchment from where it had fluttered down to the floor. “These are very rare and very valuable—”

“—yeah, yeah, I know the drill,” said Faith, waving her hand dismissively. “I have a question.”

Giles looked off into the distance with that dramatic-as-fuck resignation in his eyes that meant that he was steeling himself for whatever it was Little Miss Trash Girl had to ask (Faith, very used to this expression on adults’ faces, had gotten pretty good at recognizing it), and then he said, “Yes, Faith?”

At that point, Faith didn’t feel a whole lot like disappointing him. “Are all of these just knockoff fairy tales?” she asked, putting her sneaker-clad feet up on the table. “Boring shit about knights and dragons? I could just watch a Disney movie if I wanted to read about random dudes in armor getting stabbed or whatever.”

“The knight is an allegory,” said Giles, now visibly exasperated. “Please get your feet off the table.”

“Hi, Giles!” sang out Buffy, breezing into the library to set her backpack down in the only clear spot on the table. “Whoa. What’s going on here? I thought spring cleaning was, y’know, during the spring.”

“Prophecy day,” said Giles.

“Is that a thing?” said Buffy, frowning.

“A large abundance of old prophecies and texts are shipped over to me every month by the Council,” Giles explained to Buffy. Faith, who had already heard this before, picked up another manuscript and pretended to care about what it said. “Things that they think might have some relevance to us in coming days. My job is to sort through them, find the ones that are actually of use, and discard the ones that aren’t.”

“So what about this one?” Buffy inquired, peering over Giles’s shoulder at the manuscript he’d taken from Faith.

“I haven’t gotten a good look at it just yet,” said Giles. “I had asked Faith to look it over—”

“—but I got bored,” Faith finished, delighting in Buffy’s wryly amused little smile. “Sorry, G. Research just might not be my thing.”

“Ooh, let me!” Without waiting for Giles’s permission, Buffy tugged the manuscript out of his hands. “Whoa. Were all the important prophecies in the olden days trying to win a prize for ‘Most Ornate And Illegible Handwriting?’ Because this one should’ve won.”

“I mean, I could read it,” said Faith casually.

Buffy squinted at the paper. “Nope,” she said, popping the P. “Can’t make a thing out. Here, Giles, throw that in the too-scrawly-to-read pile.”

“There isn’t a specific pile for that,” Giles protested, but he did put it in a growing stack of manuscripts after Buffy had turned away.

Curious, Faith got up from the table, wandering over to the pile in question. Though the handwriting was definitely a little fancier than it had to be, it was also definitely legible. Ornate and illegible weren’t words Faith would personally use to describe it. “You guys sure you can’t read it?” she said.

“You sure you can?” said Buffy doubtfully.

Faith squinted again at the manuscript. “Whatever,” she said. Sunnydale was just like that sometimes. Weird shit happened and you had to roll with the punches. “Hey, B, we’re still on for patrol tonight, right?”

“When are we not?” Now with her feet propped up on the table, Buffy grinned cheerfully up at Faith. Giles pointedly tapped her boots, and Buffy obliged, pulling herself into a more polite sitting position. “I mean, I still have some homework to do during my free period—”

“Isn’t that now?” said Giles.

“Eh,” said Buffy. “It’s English. I speak English. I can take my time.”

Giles gave Buffy a Look.

“Fine,” said Buffy, pulling out her backpack. “But can you at least clear a space for me on the table?”

As Buffy and Giles went back to whatever the fuck they usually did, Faith went back to what she’d been doing a lot lately: feeling weird, and sad, and out of place. Everyone here seemed so happy and cozy and okay in their lives—Giles with his books, Buffy with her warm house, hell, even Xander with the friends that would throw down to protect him. It had been a few weeks since she’d arrived in Sunnydale, and Faith still didn’t know where—or how—she fit into this whole Vampire Slayer equation.

She’d always been the One Girl In All The World, back in Boston—the one her Watcher had fussed over, the one everyone had said was strong and powerful and street-savvy in a way that would keep her alive longer than most Slayers. She’d gotten used to being the One Girl in all aspects of her life. Now, though, she was playing second fiddle to the prettiest, smartest, kindest, most talented girl in the world—and while Faith liked Buffy so much it was hard to breathe sometimes, it still didn’t do wonders for her ego.

Jealousy burned hot in Faith, sometimes, and it made her feel worse about everything. The One Girl In All The World was supposed to be above that kind of crap.

You’re not the One Girl anymore, said a voice in the back of her head. With a frustrated huff of breath, Faith leaned back against the wall.

“You okay, Faith?” asked Buffy, giving her a worried look.

“Just all this dusty library bullshit,” said Faith reflexively.

“Well, thank you very much,” said Giles.

Faith couldn’t feel all that bad about hurting Giles’s feelings—mostly because she didn’t think he cared about her enough for her accidental insult to stick. The guy was so clearly Buffy’s Watcher, and so clearly not hers. “I should get going,” she said. “Got some stuff to do today.”

“Oh,” said Buffy. “Okay! Um, have a good day?”

Faith felt herself smile before she’d decided to do it. Fucked-up as Faith was, something about Buffy just…always made her smile. “Yeah, you too, B,” she said, and couldn’t help the way her voice softened. Picking up her bag from the floor, she slung it over her shoulder, sauntering out of the library with her best give-no-fucks stride.

Technically, Faith hadn’t actually had anywhere to go. The only people she knew in Sunnydale were Buffy and her friends, and Sunnydale wasn’t exactly the most exciting town to skip school in. She wandered down to the cemetery in the hopes of finding some vampires to kill, realized that it was the middle of the day, broke into a few crypts to see if she could find any nests, and didn’t really find anything at all. It was a pretty boring day, and the fact that it was blue-skies sunny didn’t really help Faith’s mood. She was more of a night owl. Days weren’t really her thing.

She ended up going back to the motel and watching a lot of TV on the TV that only kind of worked. Around sunset, the audio cut out, so Faith started making up dialogue for the movie she was watching.

“I love you, Dan, but I love my best friend more. No, not John—” Faith pointed dramatically to the other woman on the screen. “Her! We’re lesbians in love and we’re gonna ride off into the sunset and—” There was a banging on the door. “Shit, give me a minute!” shouted Faith, and went back to her narration. “We’re gonna ride off into the—”

“Faith, it’s patrol time!” said Buffy impatiently from the other side of the door. “You said you’d be ready!”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Faith jumped up from the bed, checked her hair in the mirror, reapplied a fresh coat of lipstick, checked her hair again—

“C’mon!” called Buffy. “What’s going on in there?”

“Sorry, B, I got totally trashed,” Faith called back. “Today was wild. Sucks that you missed it.” Throwing on her leather jacket, she ran a hand through her hair to give it a casually tousled look, then opened the door for Buffy. “Patrol time?”

“Patrol time,” Buffy confirmed, looking a mixture of exasperated and amused. “For someone who got totally trashed, you look pretty well-coiffed.”

“Aww, shucks,” said Faith, grinning sharply and hoping like fuck she wasn’t revealing the butterflies in her stomach.

Buffy turned a little pink. “It’s not a compliment, I’m just—you know what, never mind. We should get going.”

Rolling her eyes a little, Faith stepped out of her room, shutting the door behind her and falling into step with Buffy. “You’ve got the weapons, right?”

In answer, Buffy hefted the large bag she was carrying. “Giles has to drive us to today’s cemetery,” she said.

“Isn’t, like, everything in this town in walking distance?” said Faith, surprised.

“Well, yeah, but the path to this cemetery is on the witch’s turf,” said Buffy with a shrug.

“The witch?” Faith repeated.

Buffy blinked, turning to look at her. “You know about the witch,” she said. When Faith’s expression didn’t change, Buffy said with some surprise, “You do know about the witch, right?”

“I mean, I know witches exist, if that’s what you’re asking—”

“No, the witch,” said Buffy, as though that clarified anything at all.

“So, like, one witch to rule them all?” quipped Faith.

“Yeah,” said Buffy seriously.

That took Faith by surprise. “Wait,” she said. “Really?”

“Can we talk about the witch after patrol?” said Buffy with some frustration. “We kinda do have to kill some vampires at some point.”

“Okay, B, jeez,” said Faith, startled at the force of Buffy’s indignance. “I was mostly just a little distracted by how fuckin’ cryptic it sounds when you’re like, the path to this cemetery is on the witch’s turf.”

To Faith’s relief, Buffy cracked a smile at that. “That does sound kinda cryptic, doesn’t it?” she said. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem, I guess,” Faith replied with an awkward smile back. “Just so long as I get an explanation eventually.”

“And you definitely will,” Buffy agreed. “Totally. I guess I just forgot that you’re not native to Sunnydale, y’know? Anyone who’s been in Sunnydale and knows about the supernatural knows at least a little bit about the witch.”

Faith was definitely more curious than she had any right to be, but Buffy was right: patrol was more important than a spooky ghost story. God, trying to be responsible sucked. “Okay,” she said, imbuing more resolve into her voice than she was actually feeling. “Patrol. Then you tell me all about this witch.”

Buffy grinned, giving her a thumbs-up as they reached Giles’s shitty car.

Faith had promised not to ask any more questions, but she’d never promised not to make observations. As the car trundled through one of Sunnydale’s spookier districts, she noticed that the shadows seemed to close in around them, hugging the car and blurring the view through the windows. Pressing her nose up against the glass, Faith squinted, and thought she could make out a strange, huge building in the distance—

“Faith,” said Giles reprovingly from the driver’s seat. “Eyes away. Buffy, did you tell her nothing of the witch?”

“I thought it wasn’t as important as patrol!” Buffy objected.

“It isn’t as important as patrol,” said Giles, “but that’s only if we follow the protocol. We don’t look towards the witch, and the witch doesn’t look towards us. Remember?”

But Faith continued to scrunch up her face in an effort to see the building more clearly. Ramparts, towers, battered banners—if she didn’t know better, she might think that that was an entire fuckin’ castle half-hidden in shadows and mist. “What is that?” she mumbled.

“Nothing but shadows,” said Buffy flatly. “Look away, Faith.”

“I will if you tell me why I need to,” said Faith stubbornly.

With a frustrated breath, Buffy tugged Faith away from the window, holding her in place so that they were face-to-face. This close, Faith smelled a floral-fruity smell that was definitely Buffy’s shampoo, and it distracted her enough not to object at her observations being interrupted. “Okay,” she said. “The witch showed up pretty recently. Totally decimated a nest of vamps downtown—”

“Sounds more like a good guy than a scary shadow lady to me,” said Faith doubtfully.

“I’m not finished,” said Buffy grimly. “The witch decimated a nest of vamps downtown by blowing up an entire city block. People’s homes were destroyed. A few people were even killed. We tried to face off with her, but she made it clear that that was only a demonstration: if we left her alone to do her thing in her castle, she’d leave us alone to do our thing in Sunnydale. If we went up against her—”

“She’d do worse,” Faith finished.

“It wasn’t a deal we were inclined to take, but the magnitude of her power…” Giles trailed off, sounding more rattled than Faith had ever heard him. “It’s inhuman,” he said. “I’ve only ever seen demons with that level of power, which likely means she’s tied herself up in some nasty business to acquire it.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning that the witch is bad news,” said Buffy, “and we should count our blessings that she’s agreed to stay as uninvolved in Sunnydale as she has. She’s kept to her word. We need to make sure we keep to ours.”

“Okay, hold on,” said Faith, holding up a hand and moving (reluctantly) back from Buffy. “This sounds like some shady bullshit. Why would either of you agree to a deal like this? If she’s powerful enough to blow up an entire city block, what makes you so sure she’s trustworthy enough not to do it again while you two are leaving her alone?”

“She and Giles made some kinda weird vow thing,” said Buffy, pulling a face. “In blood. It was icky.”

“Icky,” Giles agreed, “but binding. So long as we adhere to our word, she’s forced to adhere to hers—and vice versa.”

“Gross,” said Faith. She’d had enough of blood pacts and blood-suckers and blood to last a lifetime. Glancing one last time towards the shadows—which were fading away as the glow of the streetlights illuminated the road ahead—she turned back towards the front of the car, leaning back into the poor-quality seats. “Man, you need a new car.”

“I keep telling him!” laughed Buffy, and Giles grumbled something about two Slayers being too many Slayers, and things felt like they were getting a little bit back to normal. Weird, sure, but witches and manuscripts and old stone castles were par for the course in Sunnydale. You had to roll with the punches.

And speaking of punches—

“Shit!” Faith reeled back, hand pressed theatrically against her face. “That fuckin’ stung!” She pulled her hand away from her face, grinning. “Nah, I’m just kidding. Come at me, bro.” As the vampire lunged, she pulled her not-so-secret weapon out of her sleeve, neatly shish-kebabbing him on her stake. Watching his indignant face dissolve into dust, she felt that smug sense of power and control wash over her. One girl in the world or one girl of two, she still had a power that no one could take away from her: fucking up vampires every night without breaking a sweat.

“Faith, quit showing off and help me over here!” demanded Buffy through gritted teeth, wrestling the other vampire for control of her stake.

“Happy to oblige, m’lady,” said Faith (what the hell, she was on a medieval kick today), and vaulted over a tombstone to deliver a flying kick to the vampire’s face. The vampire pulled back, lunging for Faith instead of Buffy; this gave Buffy the opportunity to plunge her own stake into the vampire’s back. “Damn, B!” said Faith appreciatively. “We make a good team.”

“I don’t think that was ever in question,” said Giles, who was giving the both of them a small smile. “Well done, you two. I believe that’ll be all for tonight, if you’d both like to head home early?”

Faith didn’t particularly want to head home early, largely because she didn’t have one. The motel was getting colder as winter came closer, and she still had to figure out what to do when the owner inevitably got sick of her half-assed seduction attempts in order to delay the money she owed him—that, or tried to follow through on what she was promising. Either way, sooner or later, she was kinda fucked, so she opened her mouth to say something about more patrolling being a good thing sometimes—

“Home sounds great,” said Buffy blissfully. “I can’t wait to snuggle up in bed with some hot cocoa.”

“Or do homework,” said Giles, but there wasn’t much bite to the reprimand.

“Or do homework,” Buffy agreed with some reluctance.

With a barely-audible sigh, Faith followed them out of the cemetery, shoving her hands into her pockets and trying not to think about scratchy motel sheets.

Up ahead of her, Buffy’s hair caught the moonlight in its honey-blonde strands, making Faith’s heart soar awkwardly in that way it always seemed to around a pretty girl—and lately, around Buffy in particular. She wasn’t stupid enough not to know what it meant, feeling like this—but she also wasn’t stupid enough to think that B, still so cut-up over her ex, would even look her way for more than half a drunken second.

Faith thought she could stick around until that second showed up. It wasn’t like she had much else better to do with her life, anyway.

Our story begins with a valiant knight, struck down in battle for the sake of the kingdom he had sworn to protect. He died an honorable death, and those who had fought at his side grieved him as one would a brother or a father before lowering him into the ground. His story was one that ended sadly, but still one that ended naturally—one who lives a dangerous life will eventually find themselves on the wrong side of a monster’s bite or a sword’s sting.

But there are those who are unhappy with those endings, authentic as they are. The knight was powerful in all regards—a scholar as well as a fighter—and if turned to the side of evil, he would be more than powerful enough to strike a heavy blow against the forces of life and light. Throughout his battles, a disciple of darkness had been biding her time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike—and his death was more than perfect. She had the chance to bring him back as a man reborn—a great warrior for the forces of evil.

The disciple donned her magic cloak, called upon all the demons and monsters in the world, and brought back the knight anew.