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Heart's Desire

Chapter Text

Buffy’s fingers loosen their grip on the headboard. She releases the breath she’s been holding in. Her body quakes.

Oh GOD, I needed that. That should come in a prescription bottle!

Feels her body relaxing for the first time in ages. Her arms come down to her stomach, playing with her belly button. Feeling her skin. Warm. Melty. Her mind is wandering. She always loses control of her brain… after.

She lays back, eyes closed. Letting all the thoughts come and go. Some are nice and remembery. Some are not so much, and she can feel the tension returning to her muscles. Already? I hate you, brain!

She looks over to the body lying next to her, softly snoring. It’s been what, like five minutes? Demon. Human. Men are all the same. Buffy gently runs her fingers through his hair, careful not to wake him. God, he has such pretty hair, long and dark and just a little bit wavy. I should ask him what conditioner he uses. He stirs, and rolls away from her.

She should probably go. Sleepy. It’ll be light soon. Melty. And besides, I don’t think my legs work yet. I’ll just nap for a min…

And all of a sudden, for no reason, she’s jumpy. She’s itching to get the hell out of there.

Buffy leaps out of bed. Quick like a bunny. Finds her clothes on the floor. Slips her jeans on over her bare skin. Finds her tee-shirt and jams it over her head. Smooths it over her belly. Grabs her undies and bra, balls them up and stuffs them into her bag.

Shoes… shoes… Shoes? In her head it sounds like panic.

Under the bed. Shoes. Thank God!

One last glance around the hotel room.

Pulling her hair back into a ponytail, she’s already walking out the door.

Xander paces. He’s good at pacing. Not so good with the waiting.

A crackle over the speaker. Heavy breathing.

“Buffy? Buffy are you there?”

More breathing. Then…

“Yeah. I’m here. Look Xander, things are bad down here. We got the package. But it cost us.”

“Whaddya need, Buff?”

“Evac team. Meds. And… uh… Clean up crew.”

“God, Buffy!” Clean up means one thing. Lots of dead people. “How many did we lose?”

“Six.” Buffy sounds angry.

“What the hell happened?’ Now Xander sounds angry.

“That’ll have to wait, Xand. We’ll be waiting for you. Hurry!”

“Buffy? BUFFY? … I guess she’s gone.” Xander, springing into action. “Okay people! Let’s get Buffy that Evac! Med Three? You’re up! And get a C.U.C. together. I want you in the air in ten minutes. Get it done!”

Xander watches the team follow his orders. His work here is done. Now he can get back to what he’s good at.

And Xander is pacing.

“She. Screwed. Up. I’m telling you that’s what happened!” Kennedy’s voice is hoarse, but she can still yell quite well, thank you very much. “She barely made Cliff Notes on the recon. She was late! And she didn’t stick to the plan!”

Kennedy is talking to Xander, but her anger is all aimed at Buffy. She’s out of her chair, leaning over the table, one fist on the big meeting room table. The other attached to an arm in a sling. Eyes on Buffy. Knowing she can’t take her, but really wanting to try.

“I’m sure from your perspective it could… erm… seem…” Giles attempts to appease the red faced slayer.

“We lost SIX PEOPLE! On a no-brainer mission! Just because she wanted to show off. Be big bad Buffy.” Vi puts her arm on Kennedy’s shoulder, pulling her gently but forcefully back into her seat.

“Quit whining, Kennedy. It’s a battle. Plans go awry. People die. Some of ours. Lots of theirs. That means we won.” Buffy snaps. Will somebody please shut that kid up!

All eyes turn to Buffy.

“What?” Buffy’s working her innocent look.

Giles clears his throat. Looks at Xander. Xander catches it and throws it back.

“Could we have the room, please. We’d like to speak to Buffy alone.” Giles asks everyone, in the way that is not asking.

Everyone leaves. Quickly.

Xander looks at Buffy. Giles looks at Buffy. Buffy looks at her nails. Looks up. “What?”

“So, what happened?” Xander asks, in the way that is asking.

“I already told you!” Buffy doesn’t like to repeat herself. Shouldn’t have to repeat herself. “Once we were in position, I knew the plan wasn’t gonna cut it. So I ditched it.”

“Buffy, it was a Grab-and-Go! Not a hard plan! Get the package, get out. No dying!” Xander’s eye hurts. Funny how that happens.

“God, Xander. You’ve been out of the field since Sunnydale. You forget how it works in real life?” Buffy can’t sit still. The chair’s uncomfy.

“Well… erm… I’m sure there were unforeseen circumstances, but your callous disregard for your team’s safety… for their feelings… and your seeming lack of concern for the loss of life… is... well…” Giles is having trouble putting this delicately. “It’s utterly reprehensible. I honestly don’t know what’s gotten into you these past few days.”

Buffy stands up with a force that knocks her chair back a few feet.

“Giles, you are not the person to be giving me lectures.” She looks at Xander. Looks at Giles. “God, I am so outta here!”

She storms out of the room, closing the door behind her with a resounding slam.

Xander stares into space. Giles cleans his glasses.

“Off active duty? I’ll active duty you, you stupid jerks!” Buffy kicks her wastebasket out into the hallway. “This is my gig! I’m like the President of… of… Slayers Incorporated! You can’t bench the President!” Buffy mumbles.

She flops into her chair in a huff.

Leans back, lifts one leg up, and uses the other for leverage. Spinning is fun. Spinnnnnn. Spinnnnnnnnnn. Spinnnnnnnnnnnnn. Oooh. Head spinny! I guess that fun’s over. Now what do I do?

She looks out the window. It’s dark. She can see the spires from the cathedral poking out over the rooftops of the village.

“I guess I could… kick it old school.” She grabs her jacket, and a stake. Walks out the door.

Faith stumbles through the doorway of her apartment.

“Home Sweet Home!” Her hand fumbles against the wall for the light switch. Success! She takes off her jacket, throws it onto the chair. Goes to the fridge, grabs a beer. Pops it open and starts to chug. Grabs another, walks to the bed and sits on the end. Kicks off her shoes, and leans right back, facing the ceiling.

“Are you gonna stand there all night? Or are you gonna come over here and kiss me?” Faith raises herself up on one elbow, looking seductive. Playful. She pats the space beside her invitingly.

No movement from the other side of the room.

“Ahh, come on Blondie. I’m not gonna bite ya!” Faith’s smile. Works every time.

She reaches out to the warm body that is suddenly beside her. Wraps her leg around strong thighs. Kisses and tongues these new lips. Maneuvers herself on top. Raises the hands above the head… Kissing the neck, licking the ear…

Hears ringing. Her cell?

Dammit! Faith pulls away from the body, releases the wrists. “Sorry, I’m gonna hafta get this.” She stands up, and slinks over to her coat to grab her phone.

“There had better be an apocalypse, Giles! Or else…” She answers, walking to the bathroom. Privacy in a bachelor apartment is hard to find.

“Yes… erm… how are things going Down Under?”

“I was just about to find out…” Faith mumbles, half into the phone, half into the mirror.

“What was that? I can hardly hear you.”

“Everything’s under control here. Mission accomplished. I was gonna report in tomorrow. Get my next assignment. Maybe go to the beach.”

“Well… I’m afraid there’s been a change of plans. I’m going to need you here. It’s all arranged.”

“I am not going to Scotland! No freakin’ way!” Faith’s hoarse voice turns into a squeak. A pubescent boy would have more vocal control.

“I’m sorry Faith, I know this might be uncomfortable for you, but you must come to Scotland and see me at once.” Giles’ voice is sharp and without patience. Can’t argue with that tone.

“All right, gimme the info.” Faith listens attentively. “And Giles, I was not kidding about the apocalypse. It’d better be major.” And snaps the phone shut.

Faith sits down on the edge of the tub. She’s going to Scotland. She’s going to Scooby Central. This is not a good plan. No good at all.

And what am I going to do with… Sam? Let’s go with Sam.

Faith opens the door to the bathroom.

“Hey Sam?” Oh good, no tears, no indignation. Must be Sam.

“I’m really sorry…” Faith makes her excuses. Pushes Sam out the door. Real quick.

She’s got a plane to catch.

Chapter Text

Dawn sits quietly in the library, chewing on the end of her pen. Staring at words in Latin that she swears she should understand. In fact, she’s sure she read this exact same passage in the last giant moldy tome of demonyness.

“Ergh! Stupid Watcher’s exam!” Dawn pushes the book away from her. She can’t concentrate. Can’t think about demons and prophecies and friggin’ Latin any more.

She links her fingers behind her head and stretches her back. Cracks it. That’s a bit better. Stands up and stretches her legs. Much better. Looks at her watch. It’ll be light soon. She should be sleeping… But it’s hard not to be nocturnal in this place.

Dawn looks at the desk piled with books and parchments.

“I’m gonna see what Buffy’s doing…”

Dawn wanders the hallways, peeking into doorways as she passes. Heeeere BuffyBuffyBuffy! Where is she? She’s s’posed to stay on the grounds, now that she’s… on hiatus.

Dawn decides to give up the hunt and go to bed. She makes her way to the residence wing. Starting to look forward to sleep… Hey! Who’s that sneaking in all quiet like?


“No I didn’t!” Buffy quickly tucks something up the sleeve of her leather jacket.

“Unh, okay. Where you been? I’ve looked all over for you.” Dawn is cranky when she’s tired.

“I went for a walk. Night air...”

“You shoulda told me, I’d have come with.”

“Next time Dawnie… I was just a bit restless. No biggie.” Buffy’s hand gesture is a bit too gestury, and the stake slips out from its hiding place.

“Buffy! Did you go out on patrol?” Dawn picks up the stake. Very dusty. Recent usage.

“So what if I did? I’m the Slayer! I slay!” Buffy grabs the stake from her sister’s hand.

“But you’re… off the rotation… right now. And unauthorized patrols are against the rules.” Dawn folds her arms across her chest. Arches an eyebrow.

“Are you channeling Giles? ‘Cos it’s not attractive.” Buffy turns to leave.

“If you get hurt and we don’t know you’re out there… There are rules for a reason! You made them, you should know this!” Dawn follows Buffy down the hallway. She tugs at Buffy’s sleeve.

“For chrissake, get off me!” Buffy jerks her arm, pulling her sleeve from Dawn’s grasp. “Honestly…” Buffy turns to face her little sister. “The rules are for them. Their protection. I don’t need protecting. The rules don’t apply.”

“I’ll tell Xander… a-and Giles!” Dawn threatens, reaching her hand out to stop her sister from walking away.

There’s a loud slapping noise.

Dawn’s cheek burns.

Buffy smirks.

“I don’t care whatcha do. Just stay away from me.”

Dawn watches through watery eyes as Buffy turns and walks away.

Faith’s head doesn’t leave the table. Faith’s head likes it where it is.

“Are you even listening?” Giles brings the flat of his hand down on the table, jolting Faith up.

“Listening!” Ouch… Bad hangover. Bad flight. Lotsa little bottles. “There’s something wrong with B. I coulda toldja that without you dragging me across the planet…”

“Look, this is serious. Her behavior has already cost lives, and she’s becoming increasingly worse.” Giles is using impatient voice.

“So, somebody give her a spanking, or a big fuzzy puppy. Whatever works. She’s not going to listen to me.”

“I understand that this is difficult for you. But Faith, you’re particularly well equipped to deal with the situation. With the work we’ve been doing, and your… erm… history with Buffy.”

“But Giles, you’re her watcher! Damn, you’re practically her father. Why don’t you go give her the pep talk?”

“I haven’t been Buffy’s watcher for a very long time. And she still doesn’t trust me. Not completely. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve patched things up. But it’s delicate.” Giles tries to hide it, but Faith can hear the strain in his voice. “With Buffy’s condition such as it is, I have to make sure that her influence on operations here is minimal. I’ll do what I can, but I believe in you, Faith. You can do this.”

Faith sighs. He believes in her.

“FINE!” She takes a moment to consider what she’s agreeing to. Shakes her head. Looks up at Giles.

“So, what did you have in mind?”

“Just spend some time with her. Gauge the situation, and report back to me. Just be her friend, Faith.”

“Mmm-hmmm. ‘Cos that’s worked so well for us in the past.”

“That was a long time ago. You are friends. And she’s in very serious trouble.” Giles is using no-patience voice AND scared-voice. No defense for that combo.

“Okay! Okay! I’ll go make nice with Buffy.” Faith drags herself to the bed. “Now you go. I sleep.” Flops down over the bedspread. Reaches behind her and pulls the sheets around her.

“Fine, I’ll contact you when she leaves for patrol.” He stands up, gathering his things.


“Good Morning to you too.” And he shuts the door quietly behind him.

Buffy runs down the hill with slayer speed, giddy with rule-breaking and slay-anticipation. Who knew there were so many vamps in one little tiny village? It’s an all-you-can-slay buffet!

Buffy reaches the edge of town, and slows to a brisk walk. Starting the rounds.

There’s something about slaying alone… No teams, no headsets. One girl, in all the world. She remembers when that was true. One girl… Chosen. Instinct, training, and a sharp pointy stick.

Ahhh, the good old days.

She wanders through the shadowy little village, senses on alert. The past few days of patrolling, have sharpened her old intuition. Not that she wasn’t sharp before. Just used to technology and a team of slayers to watch her back.

“I can watch my own back. Well, no, cos I’m not that bendy.” She grins to herself. Remembering her one night stand. “Not normally, anyhow.”

Strutting now, arms swaying out at her sides. Feeling sexy. She looks up at the stars, so bright out here in the country. She walks past the small church, hundreds of years older than any of her ex-boyfriends. Hops over the squeaky rusted gate. And disappears among the rows of old stones.

“Is that a stake in your pants B, or are you just happy to see me?”

“Both!” With a squeal, Buffy leaps off the tombstone and runs toward her friend. “Omigod Faith! When did you get into town? Nobody told me!” And quickly grabs Faith up in a huge, Buffy-sized hug. “And with me all in-chargy, people should tell me. I should be all with the knowledge.” Buffy pouts, her sparkly green eyes meeting deep brown as she pulls her face back from the taller girl’s neck.

“Ergggh… B! Gotta breathe, ‘kay?” Faith delicately pulls away from Buffy’s crushing arms. “Missed you too, though.” Faith chuckles at the ground while rubbing her side. “What’s the sitch?”

“Oh, just patrolling. Old times’ sake. Been doing it last few days.” Buffy grins at her friend. “You know the drill. Stalk. Scorn. Stake.” With a wry smile, Buffy lifts her arm to smooth a stray blond lock from her face. “Seriously though, where’ve you been?”

“Around. The whole Scotland vibe never worked for me. Too damn cold. Chafing issues.” Faith looked down at her black leather pants, shrugging. “And besides, I like beating the bad guys one on one. Bigger rush. And the hell I’m taking orders from Xander!” Faith emphasizes her point by punching her open hand with her fist.

Buffy laughs. Tilts her head. “Wanna come with?”

“Hell yeah!”


“You WHAT?” Faith looks incredulously at Buffy, trying to hold it together.

“You’re laughing at me! Why do I tell you anything?” Buffy pretends to sulk, but a smile betrays her.

“Gettin’ your naughty on is one thing, but you… with the… upside down… and the stretching involved…” Faith gives up, and doubles over with laughter. “I ca... I can’t even…”

“He had great hair!” Buffy whines. Lightly punches Faith in the shoulder.

Faith collapses against the fence with a torrent of giggles.

Buffy cocks her head and raises an eyebrow. Get a load of shiny happy Faith. Looks good on her. Instead she says,

“Nice to have you back, Faith.”

“Nice to be back.” Faith’s face gets serious for a moment. A breath. She raises an eyebrow.

“Great HAIR?” and bursts out with a low throaty snicker. She shoves Buffy with her shoulder as she stands.

Buffy shoulders her back.

They walk through the centuries old cemetery, and out under the large wrought iron gable.


Faith waves goodbye to Buffy, as they split up for their respective walks home. Buffy blows a kiss, and then turns and runs up the hill to the castle. Her blond hair sparkles in the amber light of the rising sun.

Faith watches her go. And then flips her cell open and speed dials.

“Hey Giles! Just left Buffy. She’s on her way back to you.”

“And how was it?”

“Great! We walked, we talked. We repelled the undead hordes…” Faith kicks pebbles while she walks. Almost like skipping.

“So nothing happened? Nothing out of the ordinary?”

“Nah. B seems fine to me. Better than fine. She seemed great!”


“Are you sure you aren’t like, freaking over nothing?”

“No, I’m not sure. But that’s why I ‘dragged your ass halfway across the planet’, as you so eloquently put it.” Giles is cranky this early in the morning. “So that you can find out for me.”

“Just a question… Geez.”

“Look, just stick with Buffy. I’m certain you’ll see signs of her aberrant behavior, eventually. Now go home and get some rest.”

“Will do, boss. Be back in the A.M. Wanna see Dawnie…” Uh-oh… slayer senses on alert… “Gotta go!” Faith flips the phone down and puts it in her pocket.

Keeps walking down the laneway. Feeling for the vamp… he’s out there…

“Well noue, a young lass, oot here all alooin?” He steps out of the bushes, into the road ahead of her. “What eaver shall we do aboot tha’?”

Faith rolls her eyes. Reaches back and pulls the stake out from the waistband of her leathers. Keeps her hand behind her back.

“Come and get me, Scotty!”

The vampire springs forward, arms outstretched.

“Oh, puh-lease!” Faith sidesteps the obvious move, and stakes the vamp as he passes.

She wipes the stake off with her shirt. Tucks it back in her waistband.


Faith pushes the large double door open, and walks into a most impressive library. She pauses at the door. Scans the room for the tall, gangly brunette. God, she must be 21, 22 now, Faith considers, I may not recognize the brat.

She slowly wanders down the main hallway, looking through the stacks. In her mind she’s seeing Dawn in pigtails, stuffing her face with popcorn and staring wide eyed at Xander. She’s stuck in that memory, when she hears a squeal.

“Omigod, Faith! Where’d you come from?” Dawn practically belly flops onto Faith, wrapping long arms around the slayer. Faith smiles, noticing that Dawn is taller than ever.

“Hey kid! When’d you get so big?” Faith returns the hug, making sure to keep her slayer strength at bay.
“Seriously, this is nothing. You shoulda seen me before. I was way bigger. Taller. Not… bigger. But then I got better.” Dawn stops crushing the girl and grins.

“I can see that, Dawnie. Nice threads, by the by.” Faith notices the fitted wool skirt and jacket. Flattering, in a tartan, Bravehearty way. “You going all bagpipes and haggis on us now?”

“No, still a California girl. But I am a trainee Watcher. And I’m pretty slick with a sword now, too.” Dawn beams proudly. So happy that Faith is here. “Now, where have you BEEN? It’s been ages!”

“I’ve been practically everywhere on this side of the planet. But I got some shore leave, and thought who better to spend my time with than the Summers sisters?”

Dawn growls. “She is SO not my sister right now.”

“Geez, little D. Sounds like you and big sis had quite the tiff.”

“You could say that. Or you could say that Buffy’s turned into Miss Megabitch. And that if we ever speak again it’ll be a bigger miracle than when she… you know… came back.” Dawn gets quiet.

“Hey Kid, don’t sweat it. I heard that in real families, people fight. They get over it. Let’s go get ice cream and talk about boys.” Faith swings an arm around Dawn’s shoulders, and veers her out of the library.

“You do know that I’m 22 now. I drive, I have a job, and I drink whisky sours. Sometimes even martinis. I’m not a kid anymore.” Dawn pouts and stomps her foot in frustration.

“Did you think that maybe I want ice cream?” Faith smiles her slow smile, and pokes Dawn in the ribs. “Let’s go get some butter ripple, and you can tell me all about how growed up you are.”

“So how tall did you get, Alice?” Faith can hardly control herself. Summers women and their crap taste in men. They’re so alike. A little monster in their men. Spike nailed that one.

“Oh, like tall. Like several stories high tall. Like, see that house there?” She points. “Taller. And the icky thing was that the whole time? I only had one outfit.” Dawn’s lips curl up. She made a funny. “And the Alice thing? Xander’s done it to death!”

Faith wipes her eyes. Laughing comes so easily to her now. It feels great.

“So what did the guy have, little signs… Drink Me…. Eat Me…?” Faith snorts into her bowl, trying not to laugh again.

Dawn catches her meaning, and cracks up with her. “You’re gross.”

“I’m gross? I never nailed a Thricewise, or a hairy demon thingie. I save my humpin’ for humans.” Faith shakes her head, leering, and scoops up a big mouthful of ice cream.

“Girl-shaped or boy-shaped humans? Wait… hairy demon thingie?” Dawn holds a spoonful of rocky road at her lips.

“Buffy.” Faith admits, talking with her mouth full. “Said she got down and dirty a little while back… some pretty-boy demon with great hair.” She makes a face.

“Did she say what kind of demon?” Dawn slips into Watcher mode. “Cos the way she’s been acting lately, it could be a curse or a spell…” She breaks off, looking hopefully at Faith.

“That’s your deal, not mine, Dawnie.”

“Yeah but what if she HAS been like, cursed or whammied?” Dawn’s thinking aloud. “Or worse, what if she’s not! What if it’s just her, going wonky? You should hear the things she says! And she’s mean. And all better-than-thou-ey. And she slapped me!” Dawn slumps back into her chair. “You’re a Chosen slayer too, and you’re not self-righteous and bit…” Dawn mumbles into her ice cream.

“Okay Runt, just chill. I know B. And she’s always been like that. Except the hitting you part. That’s not cool. But she loves you, maybe as much as I do.” Faith smiles at Dawn, who raises her head and smirks. “If B’s in a jam, we help her out. That’s the way it works now.”

“And what if Buffy’s just being a bitch?”

“Then big sis gets her butt kicked.” Faith kicks Dawn’s foot under the table, and Dawn raises her head again, but fully grinning this time.

“Aw shucks Dawnie, B’d do it for me.” Faith never could do the innocent look.

Chapter Text

“You go up… *puff* …I’ll go down”

“Is that… *gasp* …an offer, B?” Another throaty chuckle escapes Faith’s lips.

“I’m going to ignore that. On three.” Buffy whispers. “One. Two. THREE!”

Bursting out from their recon position, the slayers run toward the old two storey building, now abandoned by anything with a pulse. Buffy rushes to the rusted metal side door and plants her back against the brick wall.

She watches as Faith quickly and skillfully climbs the fire escape, and volleys over the roof. Faith looks back at Buffy’s position. A quick thumbs up. Then she’s gone from sight.

“That’s my cue.” Buffy mumbles. And with one swift and powerful kick, the metal door is blown back and falls loudly onto the concrete floor. “Echo-y”.

She walks carefully down the steps leading to the basement. She can hear the hissing of the vamps, can feel them. They’re waiting for her. Sniffing the air for the scent of her fear.

Buffy’s lip curls as her fingers take hold of the smoothly carved stake. Yeah, she’s missed this.

Big time.

Faith quietly dashes across the rooftop, ever watchful. She reaches the doorway that leads to the stairwell. Slips inside.

Okay. I’m in. She carefully checking her slayer senses on each floor as she quickly and quietly descends the staircase. Check out stealth-girl! Guess I learned something from Giles after all.

Confident that the upper floors are vamp free, Faith reaches for the door to the basement. Gotta get to B. She should be in position now.

Buffy struts into the darkness, stake in hand. Tilts her head. Her pupils adjust. There are eight, no, nine pairs of yellow eyes staring at her.

“Sleayeah!” A voice in the dark. “Prepeare ta meet yer doom.”

“Y’know? The accent? Doesn’t make you sound less lame.”

There’s a whoosh of cloth and flashes of teeth. The gang of vamps closes in on the slayer, all fists and fangs. But Buffy is a whirlwind. She’s got it all under control. Until...

“Oof!” Buffy didn’t see that coming. A swift and heavy fist catches her right in the jaw. The vamp is big. Buffy punches him hard in the face. And again. Breaks his nose, notices the blood trickle. Slow-motion. Another fist to the face should smash him up good. She holds him away from her, one hand on his throat, and thrusts the stake into his heart. Dusted. Only eight more to go.

“Give et up, Sleayeah! Ye canna win!”

“What? You guys all read the same book? A little originality is all I ask!”

They’re attacking more carefully now. One or two at a time, while the rest circle around her. She feels one grab her from behind, trapping her arms. She uses all of her slayer strength to flip him over her head, and he topples headfirst into one of his cronies. In a flash she’s there standing over them. And they’re dust.

She stands, but as she’s turning she receives a fierce kick in the back. She stumbles. Into the waiting arms of a hungry vampire. He grabs her, and quickly brings his fangs down to her neck. Buffy struggles to regain her footing. Suddenly, his head jerks up, and…

Poof. Dusted.

“Hey, girlfriend! Bad time?” Faith is holding Buffy’s arm with one hand, and retracting her stake with the other. Buffy smiles, gratefully.

With a wink, Faith helps Buffy steady her balance. They turn to face the remaining vampires.

“Synchronized slaying?”

“You bet!”

And with that, the girls hurl themselves into the fray.

 “I can’t believe you, B! What you did in there was way reckless!” Faith grabs Buffy’s arm, swinging her around.

Buffy crosses her arms, and glares at Faith. She leans into the wall, kicking a trash can. The ricochet echoes down the alleyway. So much energy left over.

“Like you’ve never run in, stakes a’blazin’?” Buffy fumes. She’s twitchy, muscles tingling. Hungry? Yep. Horny? Definitely. But it’s more than that. She’s still blazing with fire. Blood still pumping in her veins. She has to DO something. “I don’t remember you being so damned cautious…”

Faith glowers. “Don’t be bringin’ up back in the day.”

“All I know is that we’re alive, they’re dusted, and you’re looking at me THAT way, and it seems all a bit too familiar, - Girlfriend!” Buffy is seething. “We won. Get over it”.

“What is up, B? This just ain’t you. You fall down and hit your head or somethin’?” Faith stops her pacing and stares at Buffy. She looks at her boots and says quietly, “We coulda died, Buffy.”

Buffy snorts in disdain. “As if! We’re the Chosen Two, Faith. One little nest of vamps isn’t going to take us down. We’ve saved the world, closed a Hellmouth, changed destiny and stuff!”

“It doesn’t make you invincible. First rule – Don’t die, remember?”

“I made up that rule. In fact, I think I made all the rules. The new ones anyway. So don’t try to tell me how to do my job.”

“Fine. But…”

“And what the hell happened to you anyway. Getting soft in your old age? Geez, I thought having you in town would be fun!”

Faith looks at her friend, worried. “It will be. I just think it’s… best not to…”

“What? Fight vampires? Maybe you’d rather have some old-school fun? Mayor’s Little Girl!”

“God, B…” Where did this come from?

“I know, let’s play Screw Buffy’s Boyfriend, or hell! Kill Buffy’s Friends! How about Body Swap? That comes with batteries included! Sound like a blast from the past?”

“Shut up! You don’t mean it. I thought we… I thought we were…”

“Five by five?” Buffy smiles. A sick, wide grin. She’s enjoying this. Faith squirming and sad. Angry.

Faith doesn’t speak. Not for a long time. Faith exhales, slowly. Her breath hitching, her chin gives her away.

“Buffy, I… can’t… I’m sor....”

“Whatever.” Buffy cuts her off. “I’m tired of memory lane anyway. I’m wicked hungry.”

Buffy turns to walk away, shrugging her shoulders. Faith reacts instinctively. She puts her hand out and grabs Buffy by the shoulder.

“What the fu-…” Faith’s back slams down hard on the cobblestone. Buffy looks down on her, her green eyes flash briefly with the hatred Faith always tries hard to forget.

“Don’t. Touch. Me.”

Faith flips up, back onto her feet. “Why does it always have to be this way with us, B?” she asks softly. Her body’s instinct draws her up into fighting stance.

“Oh, I dunno. Maybe because you keep PISSING ME OFF!” Buffy’s throwing a series of wild but hardcore punches. Faith blocks all but the last, which lands squarely on her cheek. She blinks, shaking off the pain.

“I’m not gonna fight you, B. I just wanna talk.” But she keeps her defensive pose.

“God, did I sound like that? Whiny and sad, and pathetic? No wonder you hated me then. I hate me then.” Buffy fakes a high kick, and then crouches for a leg sweep. Faith leaps over the attack. But Buffy pulls Faith past her and elbows her in the back.

“Goddamnit, Buffy! What the hell? Why are you doing this?” Faith can’t help the crack in her voice, can’t help but let the hurt out.

“Um, lessee… You show up…” Buffy slams Faith up against the wall.

“We have a great time…” Buffy slams her knee into Faith’s stomach.

“Then, as usual, you screw...” Faith recoils as the fist hits her face.

“…everything…” Again.

“…up!” As the fist comes for her face again, Faith is prepared. She grabs Buffy’s wrist, slips around her, and pushes her back up against the wall, using her body to hold Buffy still. Looking into her eyes, Faith searches for… I don’t know. Something.

But now is not the time for stargazing.

Faith sighs.

“I’m sorry, Buffy.”

And knocks her out cold.

“Giles, I’m wiggin’! You were right! She’s off her rocker. Stone cold psycho. She kinda reminded me of…” Faith runs her fingers through her long dark hair, pacing back and forth in her hotel room.

Giles stays quiet. He knows this girl. He waits, listening to her breathing on the line.

Faith sits on the edge of her bed, playing with the hem of her tank top.

“Of… me. Like me before.” Faith holds her breath.

“How so?”

“The way she fought the vamps. Not careful. It was all balls and fists, Giles. Instinct. And the way she tried to beat my head in. Just said one little thing…”

“Are you alright, Faith?”

“I think so. She dinged me up pretty good. But I’ll be okay in a couple days.” Faith hesitates, trying to explain. “But Giles, it wasn’t the hitting me that freaked me out. That’s normal, a thing we just do. It was the way she looked, the way she said things. She was gettin’ off on hurting me. She was doing it for FUN, Giles.”

Silence on the line.

“Good Lord.” Giles rubs his forehead, glasses in hand. “Change of plans. Lay low for a few days. I don’t want you getting hurt. If her condition escalates…”

“I can’t just leave her to patrol alone… She’ll get herself killed.” Faith touches the bruise on her face. “No. I’ll go play along with B. Try to keep her out of trouble. You bookish types try to figure out what kinda mojo she’s under.”

“I’m not comfortable with…”

“No choice, boss. This is the plan.” Faith flips the phone off and tosses it on the chair.

She walks to the kitchenette, chilly in her undies and tank top. Grabs the bottle of scotch from the cupboard. Turns back and flops face down on the bed.

“Scotland sucks.”

Buffy sits at her desk, reading a fashion magazine, boots up on the polished mahogany. Every now and then she cracks her gum, blows a bubble. She thinks to herself, Yeah, it’s good to be me. Commander of a slayer army. Head of the new Council. And an expense account, all for my very own. You are mine, shiny new Prada! She giggles, the old Buffy giggle. There’s a knock at her office door.

“Ms. Summers?”

“Send her in.” Buffy sits up properly, putting away her magazine and swinging her boots back under her desk. Trying to look… important? Remorseful?

“Heyyy, B. Just wanted to make sure you’re okay, about yesterday.” Faith looks at her briefly, then down at the wood floor.

“Oh god Faith, I am so sorry about the Wacky-Buffy thing yesterday. Look what I did to your poor face!” Buffy rises from her seat, like she’s about to go to her. But she settles back into her chair. “Come here, lemme see.” She pats the desk corner expectantly.

Faith dutifully sits on the desk, and lets Buffy trace around the red and purple marks her hands had put there. “It’s not so bad… You’re alright, right?”

Faith swallows, and fakes a smile. “Five by five!”

“Goody! Cos I gotta say, I’m itching for some more action. This desk gig is sooo not me.” Buffy kicks her legs up and spins in her chair. “So restrictive, know what I mean?”

“Hello?” Faith waves her hand, “Ex-jailbird over here!”

“Oh yeah!” Buffy giggles, but not the same. “So tomorrow night? It’s a slay-date?”

“Absolutely!” Faith lights up with a grin.

Buffy takes her magazine out of the drawer and quickly becomes engrossed, sticking her feet back up on the desk. Cracking her gum, she says “Cool.”

Faith waits for a sign. A word. A dismissal?

“Uhm… later, B.” Faith slowly turns and leaves Buffy’s office.

And then Buffy knows she’d achieved what she’d been aiming for before… Powerful.

Chapter Text

Dawn sits in the library at headquarters, with Giles and Xander. She’s looking through the Compendium of Demonology. Giles is studying some ancient scrolls from wherever. Xander is sleeping under his Curses and Hexes for Dummies. It’s been a long, long day.

“Feels kinda like old times, huh Xander?” Dawn even swings her legs under her chair. Not so easy with such long legs.

“Cheese Man!…” Xander jolts awake, the book falling from his face.

“Yes, Dawn. It feels excruciatingly like old times.” Giles stifles a yawn behind his handkerchief, and proceeds to clean his glasses.

“Hey, Giles. Did you call Will?” Xander asked. He’s been feeling a bit lost the past little while, with Willow gone on assignment in Venezuela, and the Buffster on… well… a tour through crazy-town. He misses his bestest girl buds.

“We might need her help to un-curse Buffy, and also, Willow-time…” The Xan-man plonks his elbows on the table, and rests his head on them. Yeah, just resting…

Giles places the glasses on his face, and tucks his handkerchief away.

“Of course I did. Willow would want to help.” Giles mumbles, while attempting pull his manuscripts out from under Xander’s face. “She should be here…”

Willow appears, floating a few inches above the ground.


“Hey, everyone! Look! It’s everyone!” Willow exclaims as Dawn rushes to her.

“Will! I missed you! Get down here so I can hug you!” Willow complies and is immediately swarmed by Dawn, Xander and Giles. She is trapped in Scooby-love for a few good minutes.

“Okay, hi! Only been gone two weeks! Not that I’m not loving the loving, but umm…” Willow, smiling her thin agreeable smile, breaks the group hug and sits down at the table.

“Hey Xander, if you’re here, who’s flying the plane?” Willow asks, mock horror on her face.

“I’ve got Kennedy running Command Central. She’s loving it. A little too much, maybe.”

“Uh-oh. Is she getting off on the pretty buttons and shiny flashy screens? Or is it the giving orders to a bunch of hot young girls part?”

“I’d say a bit of both.” Xander smiles. “But she’s doing a great job. Waay better than Andrew.”

“That’s not saying much,” Dawn pipes in, “He kept calling C.C. the Bridge, and wanted his call sign to be Picard.”

They all take some time to laugh, feel light. Feel like a family again.

Faith waits impatiently by the wrought iron fence. Pacing. I’m sure she said to meet here. The west gate of the cemetery. B wouldn’t ditch me. Would she? Inside her head, Faith is slightly alarmed at that last thought. But it was her idea! A slay-date! It was Buffy Buffy, not the freaky-crazy-punching-me Buffy, right?

“What’s the what, Faith? Been waiting long?” Buffy slinks out of the shadows, and puts her arm around Faith’s waist. “I am just dying to get my slay on. Ready?”

“Umh…” Faith swallows her words. Because what she sees, she can’t believe.

“You like?” Buffy twirls around, showing off her new look.

Faith takes it in. Exhale slowly. Remain calm.

She’s dyed her hair dark. Like chestnut or mahogany. She’s wearing… Leather pants. Jean jacket. Tank top. Blood red lipstick. Dark eyes.

“What did you do?”

“You no like? I think it’s rather fetching.” The pouting here is extraordinary. Big green eyes looking up over long dark lashes. And that lip all quivery…

“But you look… you look like…”

“You?” Buffy smirks, her new sexy evil smirk. Faith remembers that look on her own face. That feeling in her own heart. She wants to say… But better not.

“Yeah, B. I get it. Imitation and flattery and all that… Looks good on you.”

“Don’t it?” Buffy checks herself out. “Let’s go. I’m itching for a good…Unh.” She punches the air.

“Good God, Buffy. Déjà vu sorta! I think I remember saying something exactly like that wa…”

“You think too much!’

Buffy struts away, hips swaying in their brand new leather shell. Faith, open mouthed and freaking right out, follows close behind.

It’s late. There’s been no sign of vamps, demons... nothing. Buffy is practically dragging Faith through the village, street by street.

“Come on! There’s gotta be some action somewhere in this stupid little hole!” Buffy’s frustration is building like a volcano inside.

“It’s all right, B.” Faith gently touches Buffy’s hand. “Let’s go back. No evil equals yay for us, right?”

“You don’t want a quality slay? C’mon Firecracker, I know you better than that!” Buffy looks at Faith, a sneer on her face.

“What’d you just call me?” Fear now.

“What?” Buffy gives her best innocent look, and for once it doesn’t stick.


“I dunno, sounded cute.”

“Buffy, something’s wrong. There’s no way you should know…” Faith stops, raises a finger over her lips, and whispers “Down, now!” Good ole slayer senses.

“Is that an invitation?” Buffy snickers, crouching behind the parked car with Faith.

“Buffy!” Faith can’t take this. Later. She’ll deal with it later. “There are six of ‘em. In the alley. You go left, I go right. On three?”

“Screw that!” Buffy slides over the hood of the car, and runs down the street into the dark narrow laneway.

Faith swears quietly to herself. And runs after Buffy.

“You got me down cold, B.”

 Buffy and Faith lean their tired bodies against the worn red brick, both sliding down to sit. Panting and exhausted. Faith touches her ribcage lightly, feeling out one… no, two broken ribs. These vampires had been harder to beat than normal. Or maybe…

“I’m getting too old for this…” Faith finishes her thought aloud.

“Whatever. That was some hard core side-by-side action. You can’t fool me.”

A few shaggy breaths. Faith has had enough. “What is the DEAL? The whole copycat thing? The things I said to you…” Faith’s voice wavers. “…back then? How can you possibly remember? And you called me Firecracker!”

“I dunno. Maybe it’s taken almost ten years for everything you said to sink in. Maybe it makes sense to me now.” Buffy stands up, and walks over to Faith, offering her a hand.

Faith grasps the hand and grunts as she forces herself to a standing position, very face to face with Evil-Twin Buffy.

“Your skull’s not that thick, B.” Faith tries to keep it light. “What happened? You used to be such a goody-goody.” She tries to pull out her old smile. Hopes it looks right. Dark enough.

Buffy shrugs. “Dunno. Don’t wanna know. Feels good though. Feels right.”

“Don’t I know it!” Faith puts her hand up to meet Buffy’s. High five.

“Hungry?” Buffy grins.


Buffy struts off, leaving Faith to follow. Faith opens her cell phone, and as soon as Buffy turns the corner, she’s dialing.

“So what’s the new Buffy breakdown?” Willow arrives in the meeting room and sits at the desk.

“As of this moment, Faith is with Buffy, on an unauthorized patrol. Faith’s contacted me, with some… disturbing new information. We think Buffy… we believe she’s been placed under some sort of curse or hex, which is altering her personality. She’s turning into… well…” Giles isn’t quite sure how to phrase this.

“Into Faith.” Dawn finishes. “Not new-and-improved Faith. Big bad Faith. Kill everyone who’s nice to you Faith. Scary stabby Fai…”

“Okay, big 3D Technicolor picture. Got it now.” Willow stops Dawn’s ranting. “So it’s not a body transforming, Warren-esque thing?”

“I highly doubt it. Given our most recent dealings with Warren and his… friends.” Giles put his hand over Willow’s. A silent acknowledgment of guilt and still, loss.

“So, we’ve got nothing…” Xander sighs.

“Perhaps we should take this meeting into the library… There might be a chance… We may have overlooked…” Giles is really stretching here.

Dawn is staring into space. Something she knows. Important.

“Hairy Demon Thingie!” Dawn shouts, and it kinda sounds like “A-Ha!”

“Where?” All heads turn, looking for a gross hairy demon.

“No. Faith said that Buffy had some snuggly-time with a demon. With nice hair.” Dawn looks around expectantly. “Equals hairy demon thingie!”

“Dear lord.” Giles reaches for his glasses and his hanky.

“Oh, so demon-boy put the sex mojo on her…” Xander likes it when he understands. He bounces in his chair. “But what does that have to do with Faith?”

“Yeah, what could Faith and sex mojo possibly have in common?” Dawn hopes there’s a mop to catch the sarcasm dripping off that one.

“Depends. It could be a fear thing. Like, Buffy’s greatest fear could be that she’d go all dark and kill-y.” Willow says quietly.

Now there’s silence. Lots.

“Or… no… she wouldn’t… maybe have, like… wished… something?” Dawn looks around the table, hoping for a loud and forceful rejection of her idea.

“Noooo… I mean… She’s Buffy. She knows better! And are there vengeance demon men?” Xander slowly tries to convince himself.

“Well, Buffy and boys seems to be a bad thing. And maybe her pillow talk isn’t all that organized and efficient. Maybe she lets things slip after snuggles. Maybe she’s all ‘Ooh I wish I had nickel for every time I heard that’ or starts singing, ‘I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Weiner’… I’m done.” Willow joins Dawn and Xander in their hopeful stares at Giles.

“Well, yes. Willow. I do see your point. Buffy seems to be, shall we say, unlucky in love. And of course if the young man is a vengeance demon, and she didn’t know, she could easily fall into colloquialisms, habits of speech, and erm… commercial jingles… but as terrible as it may sound now, it’s a solid theory and we should look into it.” Giles finally stops polishing his glasses, and puts them back on his head. “Willow, could you sum…”

“Done.” Willow raises her arms in the air, and catches a small amulet that appears out of nowhere. She brings her arms down, places them resolutely on her hips, and calls out… “D’Hoffryn?” She waits. “Don’t you make me ask twice!”

“At your service, Ms. Rosenberg.”

Buffy stuffs a couple of French fries in her mouth. “They call them chips here. I was all disturbed about that for a while.”

“At least they taste the same!” Faith chimes in. But inside. She even eats like me. She fights like me, talks like me. Looks like me, fer chrissake!

Buffy looks at her plates, hoping to see some forgotten fry or piece of batter. Nope. All gone. She grabs a handful of fries from Faith’s plate, chuckles to herself, and scarfs them down.

“You done?” Buffy is still antsy. Still feverish with the blood pumping.

“Yeah.” Faith carefully gets up from the table. Whoo, dizzy. Hoping that she doesn’t have internal injuries. Those are a bitch to heal. She looks from her half-eaten plate to Buffy, now pacing and jittery at the door. “I guess that takes care of the hungry.” Because she’s gotta say it.

“Sure does!” Buffy grabs Faith’s hand and pulls her out of the small storefront restaurant. They walk a bit. More like Buffy storms forth and Faith stumbles behind.

“What about the horny?” Buffy pulls her in, looking at her with an eyebrow raised and a borrowed, seductive smile. Works every time.

“God, how did you ever resist me, back in the day?” Faith can’t help herself. She laughs. The situation’s completely out of her control. She’s scared for Buffy, for herself. And everything’s all dizzy and whooshy around her. But it’s still kind of… no, it’s really funny.

“I never could.” Buffy’s smile gets thinner. She’s still holding Faith’s hand. Still pulling her… somewhere. Faith feels herself being hauled over bits of debris and stumbling over rotting wood. She realizes there’s a doorway, and walls… weren’t they just outside?

“That’s not how I remember it. And believe me B, I woulda remembered that!” Faith’s tired of this game. Too tired to play good cop. Too caught up in what the blonde was saying to realize…

That Buffy has her cornered. That Buffy has her alone, in the dark. Again.

And Buffy isn’t smiling anymore.

“God, you were so full of it. With your sex-walk, and your sex-smile. All those constant little flirty things you said to make me blush.” Buffy comes closer. And Faith’s senses are screaming for her to pay attention. Now.

“But you didn’t make a move. Didn’t try me. You just hurt me. Because you couldn’t have me.” Buffy’s hand is tightening on Faith’s wrist. Faith looks up in to her own… Buffy’s… eyes. A flash of ice.

“I hurt you because I was crazy and wicked scared.” Faith vaguely remembers that they’ve had this conversation before. That they’ve hugged and cried and said all their sorries. That this part was supposed to be over. They were supposed to be getting to the good stuff now. Was that out loud?

“Oh, we are.” Buffy drops Faith’s hand like it’s on fire. And backs up. One step.

Faith doesn’t even see the kick before she feels it in her gut. Her ribs. She doubles over in pain. She can’t breathe. She can’t breathe.

“Come on, Slayer. Think you can take me?” Buffy grins wide, mimicking a boxer’s stance.

Faith feels it all come rushing back. The rage. She thought she’d killed that. Left it behind at least. But little Buffy Summers, standing there mocking her? In those pants?

“Don’t worry ‘bout me, Girlfriend. I’m five by five.” Faith raises herself up. Fighting stance. Feels the slayer inside take over. And on her lips is the snarl that passes for a smile.

And she dives in, tackling Buffy to the ground. Getting to her knees, she pounds a fist into Buffy’s face.

“There’s my girl.” And with that said, Buffy grabs Faith and kisses her forehead, before smashing up against it with her own. Faith reels back. Buffy stands up, and sends fists flying with a super fast combination of punches to the head and gut. Faith manages to block most of these, but one gets through, and she’s winded. But just for a sec.

She tries a flying roundhouse, but Buffy blocks it easily and goes for a sucker punch to those ribs. Faith anticipates it. It’s easy in slow motion. She blocks the punch, and grabs Buffy’s head, smashing it hard into the brick wall behind her. And again. She sends a fierce knee into Buffy’s back, making the other slayer cry out. Buffy turns, her face bloody. Her swollen lips still twisted into that grin. She roundkicks Faith in the face, sending her to the asphalt. As Faith works to get up, Buffy sends two swift kicks at those broken ribs. There’s a weird scrunching noise. Faith tries to roll away.

“B, c’mon…” Faith is coughing.

Buffy gets on top of Faith, and grabs her hair with both hands, smashing her head into the ground.

“You’re nothing!” And still holding her hair with one hand, Buffy punches Faith in the face with the other.

“Disgusting!” Faith feels the fist shatter her nose. But the fear hurts more… Oh, no. Not that day. We’re doing that day… I … can’t… Not again.

Faith gets a hand free, and she slaps Buffy in the face. She grabs the other slayer’s fist before it can strike. She shoves Buffy away with everything she has left…

Faith struggles to her feet. Breathing. Breathing. Concentrate on breathing. The wall will help me stand up. Good wall. Nice wall.

Buffy is already in fighting stance.

“Look B. I can’t run, and I can’t fight. I’m hurt bad, can barely breathe. So kill me, don’t kill me. I’m not running lines with you anymore.” She chokes it all out, gasping in between each word. It hurts so much to talk, waste the air.

The air around her darkens. Closes off. Fade to black?

“Awww, you don’t wanna play?” Buffy puts on Faith’s old sulky pout, walks Faith’s strut, and looks into Faith’s swollen, bloody face.

Faith braces her body for more pain. Cringes. Closes her eyes.

Chapter Text

“So he’s not one of yours?” Willow looks disappointed.

“Unfortunately for you, he’s not. I only offer the honour of demon-hood to the fairer of your species, Ms. Rosenberg.”

“Well, do you know anything about a hot-to-trot Fabio demon?” Xander asks, obviously frustrated.

“Oh, god Xander! Fabio was so last decade. And since when is that great hair?” Dawn shoots off. Tensions are running high.

“D’Hoffryn, do you know anything about this? Cos if you do, you should tell us. Or I could decide that vengeance demons become a high priority here.” Xander can sometimes look very threatening. Who knew?

“I have heard some things. A race of demons. They provide similar services to their clients. But they don’t specialize in vengeance. So we don’t tend to socialize.”

“Got a name? An email? Maybe a summoning chanty thing?” Xander is used to being in charge.

“Let me see what I can do for you…”

Willow sends him back through his portal with a very friendly, “Thanks! See you!”

There’s a light beeping sound coming from Xander’s wristwatch. He puts it close to his face. Puts his earpiece in.

“Harris. Aha. No word? Right, send out a full unit. We need those two back here. Buffy’s very... ill.” Xander looks up at Giles, getting approval for his white lie.

“I do think it’s best not to disclose the full extent of Buffy’s… condition, for now.” Giles looks everyone in the eye. “Let’s try to limit...”

The gang nod.

“So now, all we can do is wait?” Dawn looks very scared.

“No, we can’t wait. I’ll find them, then meet the team.” Willow starts to clear a space on the floor.


Not pain? Not yet…

Faith feels warmth on her lips. Hands in her hair. Heat on her skin. Strong fingers weave their way through her matted hair, down the side of her face. Pulling at the back of her neck. Buffy’s hands? Buffy’s lips? Oh God! Buffy’s tongue! Faith can’t remember where she is. Can’t quite remember what happened to make her hurt. But she knows she can’t hold herself up. She’s falling. Sliding down the brick wall. Except for Buffy’s hands. They hold her up. Push into her hips. Pin her to the wall. She wraps her arms around Buffy’s neck. Rests her head against Buffy’s shoulder with a sigh. Buffy will save me. Isn’t that what Buffy always does?

Buffy’s lips and tongue seek out the places where the skin’s been torn. Where there’s copper and a shallow intake of breath. Buffy’s hand feels under the shirt, pressing over the ribs that were broken. Faith can’t do anything. Anything but feel. Try to breathe. Close her eyes.

Buffy’s hand moves from the broken ribs, up the broken girl. Under the shirt. Same old Faith. No bra. Nipples hard. Buffy’s hand. Feather light and intense. Faith can only feel.

Buffy’s lips. Moving away from Faith’s mouth, trailing the line of bruises that seems a never ending circuitry of blue and red on Faith’s skin.

Buffy’s tongue. Licking the blood. Tonguing the cuts on her chin and licking down to her shoulder to catch the red lines that mark her there.

Faith’s light tank is ripped away. More circuitry. More patterns for Buffy to trace. Buffy licks a line down to the breast, to the nipple.

Faith can only whisper. “Buffy… no… I can’t…” Breathe.

Buffy’s hand traces across her belly. The belly that she cut. That she gutted. She wants to see the scar. Pulls away from the fascinating patterns to see the apex of the pain she’s caused. The Rosetta Stone. Unlock it, and you can understand. Traces the scar with her fingers. Licks it. Nips it with her teeth. Kisses the raised white boundary. The map to Faith, and the wall that keeps her out. This white line, visible from space?

The hand that snakes under, tracing the path by the white road. Faith doesn’t wear anything under her leather. Buffy’s hand. Pushing down and into her. Faith can only feel.

Buffy’s hands are delicate. But not gentle. Never gentle with Faith. She doesn’t understand gentle.

Buffy returns to her exploration of the blueprint forming on Faith’s skin. One hand on the left breast, holding the girl up. Kneading. Pinching.

The tongue and the mouth. They go together to explore the right side where the patterns are subtly changing in front of Buffy’s eyes. She can see the small cuts healing. Feel the muscles slowly returning to strength. I can do that too.

Buffy’s fingers are small. Buffy’s hands are nice, and small. How can she make it hurt so much?

“Buffy? Please!”

Buffy’s hands keep pushing. Pinching. Buffy’s mouth and tongue are resting on red wine lips made softer and fuller by pain. Building new roads on the map with her nails and her teeth.

And Faith can’t breathe. Can’t talk. Can’t hear the twisted cooing from Buffy’s lips. Can’t do anything but feel the pleasure. The heat and the pain. And the trembling. And she can’t breathe.

With a low moan, Buffy feels Faith’s body collapse in a shiver. Buffy pulls away. Buffy’s mouth. Buffy’s tongue. Buffy’s hands. Torn away one by one.

And Faith can only fall.

“Oh now, look at the mess you’ve made.” Buffy singsongs as she backs up to take a look at the girl she…

Faith is bleeding, from her face and body in so many tiny places. Her breathing is shallow, ragged. Her nose is broken.

She’s not conscious.

Her jacket covers only her arms. Her tank top is lying in tatters beside her. All the bruises show. Her leather pants, unbuckled, unzipped, expose her scar. Our scar. We made that together.

There’s something strange about the way her leg lies, but Buffy thinks she looks beautiful. It makes her mad.

She turns, and saunters away. Faith doesn’t need her anymore.

Want. Take. Have. It really has always been that simple.

It’s not about love. Not about lust.


It’s about power.

She thought she’d been dreaming. A nightmare. Par for the course.

But then she wakes up.

Faith would never cry.

Faith would struggle to find the strength to fit the buttons of her jacket into the little holes they were definitely not made to actually go through.

Faith would tell herself to stand up. Stand up. Stand up. Until she might be able to really do it. Might be able to put herself back together.

Faith would make herself aware of her surroundings. Even in the dark. She’d grope over old moldy furniture and greasy pots and pans. Or trip and fall not entirely ungracefully onto old mattresses stained with sex and sweat and blood.

Faith might go into an old bathroom and catch a glimpse of herself in a cracked mirror. She might recoil. She might stand there, shocked at the amount of damage two hands can do to a face. She might be shaking, sweating, and then yank her nose back into place with a scream. She might even vomit. But she’d never say.

She might sit on those mattresses and remember things she buried. Might stare into space for what seems like days and days. She might yell and scream in her hoarse, cigarette flavoured voice until her throat was as raw and bleeding as the rest of her. Faith would find a way out. A way through, if it has to be that way.

Faith would claw. Scratch. Burn a way out of here with her cigarette lighter.

But Faith would never cry.

Buffy sneaks away from her little love nest. Quietly. “Don’t wanna wake Sleeping Beauty.” A low throaty chuckle.

Ducking through a main floor window, Buffy escapes her secret hideaway. Feeling good now. Ready for some sleep.

Her Slayer senses come a’tinglin’. What the hell. I can do a few more tonight. She turns the corner.

And she looks up into the faces of her army. Girls she trained. Girls she knows. Some even that she’s kinda friends with. And they’re lookin’ at her funny.

“You’re not here for l’il ole me? Are you?” Buffy asks. But she knows. And she gets into her fighting stance. Once again.

“You’re really not expecting to win this, are you Buffy?”

That voice is familiar.


“Hey Red! Been a while!” Buffy leans back on her hips, and looks up to see her best friend’s face.

All she sees are sparks.

Just lying here in this wreckage makes Faith lonesome for her crappy motels. At least there she could sleep, shower. Order in Chinese. Faith laughs to herself, and then curses when the pain hits.

She has to lie still for a minute. Concentrate on breathing. Just breathing. Like the doc always says.

Am I falling asleep, or passing out, or dying? I can’t tell. I can always tell.

And Faith drifts further away…


“Damnit. She was there. I felt her, for a second.” Willow kept searching for Faith’s mind, while the girls kept a quiet watch over the unconscious and magically bound Buffy.

A crackle over the earpieces. Kennedy’s voice.

“Okay, I want ten of you, split into teams of two, circular search from the exact spot that Willow is standing in right now. The rest of you escort Buffy back to base. Don’t hurt her, but keep her down until she’s back home. Alright ladies, execute! Go! Go! GO!”

A flurry of movement surrounds Willow as the slayers take up positions and begin the sweep. It soon dies down. These girls are quick. Efficient.

Willow reaches out with her energy and searches again for Faith. It’s easier when they’re dreaming. Harder when they’re injured. It’s mostly impossible when they’re…

“Hey Red!” Faith grabs the redhead into a big hug.

“Hey yourself, Faith!” Willow’s where now? “So, I’m where now?”

Willow looks around. She’s in Sunnydale.

This is Buffy’s house.

“I thought we blew this up?” Willow says, mostly to herself.

“Hey, Mrs. S. Is it cool with you if Will stays for dinner?”

Willow turns and sees Joyce walk into the hallway from the dining room. She catches her breath in her throat.

“Of course Faith, we love Willow. Anyone who can explain calculus to my daughter gets to eat here whenever she feels like it!” Joyce, bright and cheery, and alive.

Willow shakes her head. This is familiar, sorta.

“So, um… Why are we here Faith?”

“Whaddya mean, Red? Home cooking, B and Dawnie, Mrs. S. It’s a little piece of perfect.”

“Dawnie! Can you come set the table, please?” Joyce’s voice rings soft but strong through the house.

“I don’t see why I hafta set the stupid table. It’s Buffy’s night and so what she’s got slayer duties… Faith!” A thirteen year old Dawn tumbles down the stairs. She all but wraps herself around the dark haired slayer. “Can you tell Mom that I’m SO NOT too young to wear leather pants?”

“Come on Squirt, I’ll help you set the table.” And Faith is beaming, walking Dawn into the living room. One arm around the kid’s shoulders. Protective. Like a big sister.

Willow turns away. She’s somewhere else… Joyce’s bedroom. Her bedroom, once upon a time. Joyce is on the bed, scared and worried. She has a black eye. Faith has a knife.

“She was over us a long time ago, Joyce. Too busy climbing onto her new boy toy to give a single thought to the people that matter. I mean, you’re her mother and she just leaves you here to die!”

And Buffy crashes through the window, tackling Faith. They fight like wild dogs.

Willow turns to escape the violence, and realizes, “I’ve done this before!” With Buffy. When she lost Dawn. When she lost hope.

Some quick flashes. School. Working out. Buffy smiles. And Willow is at the Bronze. There’s a crowd tonight, but Willow remembers and her eyes look straight to the dance floor. And there they are. Faith and Buffy. Dancing together.

“Gosh. Buffy never said it was…” Willow walks up close, and sees the same happiness, the same loose smile on Faith’s lips. Sees the dance for what it is. Even if they themselves don’t. She watches them… until Buffy goes to Angel.

Then she watches Faith. Her smile.

It’s different.

Xander is a busy man today. Very busy. Got Will and the slayerettes workin’ her mojo on Faith. D’Hoffryn is sending new intel on Rabid Buffy. She’s coming out of her magic cuffs and straight into a nice, padded, super reinforced cell... And there are three other teams on assignment.

And I swear to Cleveland that if I lose any one of my girls today, I am going to stab out the eye of every damned demon I can find until one of them tells me SOMETHING!

Xander’s also not good with rage. Or dealing. But good with….

“Bring up six on the screen and patch in for audio. Direct to me.” Xander sounds so calm.

“Yeah boss?” Andrew’s face, larger than life.

“Anything turn up? Anything?”

“Nothing yet, but I have a team out now. I’m sure they’ll bring something back.” Andrew looks nervous.

“Contact me immediately. And Andrew… Don’t lose anyone today. That’s an order.”

“Sure thing, Xander.”

“Command Centre out.”

No jokes. No references to things spacey or swordy. Just doing my job.

There are too many places here in Faith. Too many moments she’s clinging to. And it’s getting very jumpy in Willow’s mind. How long has she been in?

Buffy’s house. Slaying with Buffy. Hanging with the Scoobs. Hanging at Sunnydale High. Faith with Buffy. Buffy and Faith.

Training with Buffy.

“… I mean, you’re still going to that dance, right?”


“You got the tix already. Why don’t we go together?”

Willow looks at Faith. Back up? Faith asked…?

Willow looks at Buffy.

“I don’t know about that.”

And it’s not what Buffy says, but the smile that matters here.

And it always jumps from here to the Bronze.

She has to find the right moment. She’s done it before. She can do it again. Willow walks away from the dance floor, letting Buffy and Faith grind away.

The sounds of the Bronze fade away. But the music doesn’t. The song stays, blaring and fuzzy. Like out of a CD player.

She’s in Faith’s apartment. Faith’s reading a book? Oh, comic.

Buffy is there, too. She turns off the stereo.

“You gonna feed me to Angel? You know you’re not going to take me alive.”

“Not a problem.” Faith and Willow both wince at the harsh tone of Buffy’s voice.

“Well look at you. All dressed up in big sister’s clothes.”

“You told me I was just like you. That I was holding it in.” She’s so angry…

“Ready to cut loose?”

“Try me.”

“Okay then. Give us a kiss.”

Buffy punches Faith in the jaw.

Willow knows she has to stay. See it through. Because it happens here. She doesn’t want to see this, but Willow waits. We don’t have time to circle back again.

They’re fighting on the terrace now. Buffy has the knife.

Faith’s doing all the talking. Like it’s normal to be fighting to the death. With someone you…

“Man, I’m going to miss this.”

Willow gasps. Oh god, Buffy. You stabbed her. I mean, I knew you stabbed her. But I didn’t know you like. Stabbed. Her.

“You did it.” And Faith is smiling, like she’s proud. “You killed me.”

Willow sits on the floor of the moving truck, stroking Faith’s hair. She can get her home now.

Chapter Text

“I’m gonna tear your eyes out for this Xander! I forgot! Y’only got one… Guess that makes my job easier!” Buffy lets out a wild, frightening cackle. And then what begins as a series of low growling whispers to herself turn into…

“You chose her, over ME? Over ME?” She’s shrieking now.

The heavy door closes, leaving Xander, Giles and Dawn staring at Buffy through the small glass window.

She looks at them like she can see them.

She runs full speed at the door. Smashes her head into the little glass pane. There’s a smear of blood, and a tiny crack. She falls back. Laughing.

Their Buffy. Dyed dark.

“Kennedy, I need you to move all the teams away from grid 13. Copy?” Willow is on a mission now.

“Whaddya know, beautiful?” Kennedy can practically see Willow’s resolve face.

“I know that Faith is there. And that if anyone finds her but me, in the shape she’s in, she’ll die.”

“Copy. All teams move out of grid 13, and prepare for med-evac situation.”

“I might not be able to see you for a few…”

Kennedy interrupts. “S’okay, babe. You do your thing. I’ll be here.”

Willow focuses all of her energy. She closes her eyes. Not really for dramatic effect, like Kennedy always said, but because apparating was kinda squooshy with your eyes open.

The smell tells her she’s in the right place.

And the shallow breath, like drowning in sand. But gurgly.

Willow looks around. In the dark. And she sees her.

“Oh.” Not so much a word as a non-word. Can ‘oh.’ be an emotion?

Faith is crying. Not wailing and heaving, but a constant stream of tears flow from her eyes, and she doesn’t wipe them away. Willow finds her just as she’d been left. Exposed, beaten, but semi-conscious.

Willow rushes to do up the buttons on Faith’s jacket. Rushes to cover up the raw skin. Magicks away some of the dirt and grime from this place, from this day. And it’s Willow, half blind with tears, murmuring “sorry sorry sorry sorry”, who jerks Faith’s nose back into shape. Magicks always leave one side a little wonky with the nose...

“Uhm… okay… Faith, you’re going to be fine … and I’m here now. I’m going to try to fix your internal injuries, and your lung… and unh… other stuff… alright? So I’m going to have to put my hands on you. So please don’t freak, or jerk, cos I think if you do, you might cause more damage inside?”

Willow talking softly. Willow in her head… her hands are warm. Faith feels warm. Who’s screwing with the thermostat? Years go by. But no, it’s only minutes. Lots of minutes that make hours.

Willow in her head… I remember, at the Bronze. She saw me. Hey looky, coherent thought!

“Red?” Faith can talk.

“Hey Faith! Good to hear your voice and all, but I’m channeling and whatnot, and you should be saving all your air for, y’know, breathing type stuff?”

Willow is rambling.

Everything’s going to be fine.

“D’Hoffryn came up with some valuable information on our Fabio guy. I’m sending the A-Team out on this one. Kennedy’s in charge. You go, you get him. You bring him back. I don’t care if he’s in the pink or one breath from the great goddamn beyond. You get HIM here.” Xander has learned to emphasize words by speaking them quieter and lower.

“No deals, no promises. I want free reign.” He speaks these words directly to Kennedy.

She nods. They go.

Giles overhears this, and doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Or clean his glasses. Xander is learning.

Dawn is crying. Willow is sitting on one of the comfy couches in the library, with Dawnie in her lap. Stroking her hair. And Dawnie is crying. It’s happening all over.

Faith opens her eyes, for the first time in three days. She’s in a hospital? In the prison infirmary? Oh, god! Did I miss graduation?

She shakes her head. No… not right.

Her eyes study the walls, her bed, her nightgown. She tries to move her arm, her leg. Okay, that hurt…

Scans the beeping flashing machines. Nope. No call button… OOOH! Morphine drip! Faith drags her arm over and grasps the cord that leads to the button that leads to the morphine.

Not a complete waste then… And she presses the button about fifteen times. Coughs. Presses the button another ten or twelve times.

“C’mon…” Is that her voice?

“Gimme!” Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclickclick! “Argh, screw it!” And she throws the button away, leaving it to swing on its cord.

“Gahhhd!” Faith crosses her arms, kinda pouting. Well, definitely pouting.

“Hey there Sunshine… Bad time for a visit?” Willow’s head peeks through the curtain. “Glad you’re finally awake. I was getting tired of carrying the conversation!”

Faith smiles. “Hiiiiiya Willow. You came to see me? You’re sweet.” So, maybe the button did work.

Faith gives Willow a sloppy wave, and a drunken grin. And passes out.

“Okay then.” Willow sits down. “Did I ever tell you about my pet fish?”

“The package is in holding, very tremendously battered and working on some major bald spots.” Kennedy reports to Xander.

“Thanks Kennedy. Good work. Take your people and go off-rotation. Send Rona up to take C.C.” Xander prepares to leave. “Get Giles on private channel.” Someone nods. Someone does.

“Giles, Fabio’s in the house.”

“Excellent. I’ll meet you.”

Gahd, I’m sleeping! Can’t someone stop whoever it is from bawling? Isn’t that what sedatives are for?

That crying is really getting under my ski… oh.

Faith rubs her eyes with the back of her hand. Looks around. Sees Dawn. Holding her hand. Smiling with tears in her eyes.

“Hey, kid!” Faith croaks out.

“Hi! Gosh, I was so worried about you…” Dawn’s not sure what to say. “I’ve never seen you cry before.”

And you never will again, I’ll bet. “Let’s keep the waterworks as our little secret, ‘kay? Blame it on the morphine overload…”

“Sure. What waterworks?” Dawn can forget. Not a problem. She was crying like, I dunno. I’ve never seen a person cry like that. “I didn’t see nuthin’!” Hands Faith the water bottle from her bedside.

“Thanks, Dawnie.” Faith chugs from the bottle. So thirsty. “So, how long have I been out?”

“Four days.”

“So, not bad. Beats the last time B put me in the hospital!” Way to keep things upbeat. Faith fakes another smile.

“You don’t have to, y’know… pretend everything’s okay.” Dawn’s face is going scrunchy. “I hate her for what she did to you. I hate her.”

“No, Dawnie. Don’t hate her. She’s not herself. She’s… me? I guess. So you could say that I did this to myself.” Faith finds a soft laugh somewhere inside, and shares it with Dawn.

“How can you be like that? I mean she… beat you up so bad. And then she ra…” Dawn can’t say it. “…left you there to die!” Dawn’s face goes from scrunchy to scary.

“I know.” Faith doesn’t want to talk about this right now. “Hey, did the doc say when I could get outta here?”

“Probly in a couple days? Maybe.”

“Good.” Faith is tired now. “Hey, Dawnie… whyn’tcha tell me a story now…” Her eyes close. There’s a soft snoring.

Dawn puts her head on Faith’s belly, and her hand on Faiths exposed arm. She closes her eyes too.

Willow peeks through the little square of glass and sees Buffy. Buffy sitting on the padded bench. Buffy’s mouth is moving. Buffy’s pulling out her mahogany hair with her fists.

Willow squinches her eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of the aura… the essence. God, this would be so easy if Tara…

Hey! That’s not right.

Xander closes the door. Turns to face Giles. Little red droplets on his face and shirt. Big red droplets smeared on his hands.

“He’s still not talking. I asked him nicely. Then I asked him nicely with my fists.” Xander is breathing a little heavy. Scary Xander. That’s new.

They turn to look through the one sided mirror. Giles inspects Xander’s work.

“Perhaps I should give it a try. I’m assuming you were playing good cop?” Giles picks up a little bag from the desk he was leaning on. Walks toward the door. Hesitates. “How far?”

“Whatever it takes.”

Scary Xander. Lookin’ good.

Dawn is in the library. She’s sitting alone, on the floor in the stacks. Reading about demons.

She can’t be with Buffy. It’s too scary. She can’t be with Faith. It’s too sad.

So she’s researching the Fabio Demon. All references to seduction, spells, wish granting, evil of all shapes and sizes…

The piles of books on the floor beside her are gradually becoming a fort. A fortress of knowledge.

And it’s all useless.

Giles will kill her if she cries all over these stupid things…

Giles closes the door. He puts his little bag down on the table, takes his glasses off. Begins to clean them with his handkerchief. Wipes his brow.

“Our friend in there has finally become much more co-operative. I believe ‘singing like a canary’ is the standard phrase.”

Xander looks a little green. Note to self. Do not watch when Giles is working. “Did you get what we need to fix her?”

“I believe so, yes. At least partly.”

“Take it to Dawn, she’s researching. And Willow, since she’s the heavy lifter in this.” Xander jerks his head back toward the holding cell. “What about him?”

“I believe his usefulness is at an end.”

“Got it.” Xander looks hard at his friend. “So we agree. And this? Never happened. Yes?”

“Of course not. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” Giles smiles, very Giles-y. And walks out.

Xander watches his friend leave. Then slowly he turns, and walks back through the holding cell door, closing it behind him. Tying up loose ends.

Giles just told her something important… And there’s a book. She remembers. The back of her head. She searches the stacks, way up top. Standing on tippy toes.

It’s here… It’s here it’s here… somewhere… had it a few days ago… Aha!

Dawn brings the book into her fort. Sits on the floor and flips through.

Dra-coni… is this it? Ok. Yes.

“Nope, Nope, No.” Dawn rejects demon after demon, flipping the pages and skimming furiously. “Nu-uh… EEK! Yes!”

The unnamed… unpronounceable language… Translates to… Grff-ling-in-der…? Whatever! Can see into the hearts and minds of their victims… yadda yadda. Grant their heart’s desire… need a pic… picture… EW! Buffy! That is so NOT great hair! Scrapin’ the bottom of the demon barrel…

Okay… heart’s desire… visible to the demon after... ohhhh. There’s the sex mojo…

So where’s the cure page. The ‘rub this ointment’ part.

Dawn flips and flips…

Dammit! Why do they always leave the fix to the end? Here… only way to truly release the spell… Huh. Oooh-kay. I’ll get right on that.

She looks up from the book. Stares at the wall of tomes and scrolls around her.

This is not going to be fun.

“So is it heart’s desire, woo-woo baby?” Willow is confused. “Or… something else?”

“I am under the impression, that it’s whatever the heart desires most, no sub-categories.” Giles sits at the research table. “The troublesome thing is, Buffy herself may not know her own heart, and therefore we can never be sure of the exact nature of this… erm… transformation.”

“Oh, so we know that it’s got something to do with Faith. But we don’t know why she’s gone all Girl, Interrupted on us?” Xander is really hating today.

“And, I was checkin’ out her aura, and there’s some weirdness there I can’t quite figure.” Willow chimes in. “I mean, Buffy’s aura is complicated at the best of times, but it was all murky, like it had too many layers, or something. And there was this thing… like it kept bursting out... Whoosh, like solar flares… Aura’s are not supposed to do that.”

“Right. That, and my discussion with the er... Fabio… leads me to believe that Buffy’s transformation is far more extreme than was intended. Of course, wish granting demons tend to twist things to the darker side...”

“So, if there’s something… amplifying the spell… making it stronger…” Willow’s lost in thought.

“Share with the rest of the class, Will.” Xander touches her shoulder.

“Ok, here’s a theory. Y’know how Buffy and Faith have the slayer connection thing? Like, more than the other girls? What if that’s the amplification… What if that’s opening a door between them, letting all Faith’s un-dealt-with stuff out?”

“And Buffy’s on pain and anguish overload?” Dawn looks concerned for her sister.

“Of course, why didn’t I see it before? Faith told me that Buffy was re-living some of their… erm… finer moments. And she did seem to get dramatically worse when Faith arrived…” Giles thinks they’re on the right track. “If she’s feeling everything that Faith felt then, without balance or context, it would most certainly drive her mad…”

“Sure, I mean look at what it did to Faith…” Willow sees Dawn’s wave of distress. “So Dawnie, what does the book say?”

“Unh… it says there’s only one way to fix the curse…” Dawn gestures faintly at the book lying on the table. “But it’s too much! I mean, we can’t ask Faith to…” Dawn is obviously torn. She wants her sister back, but can’t stand to see Faith hurt any more.

Willow takes the book from Dawn’s side of the table, and reads the passage.

“Ohhh.” Willow looks up at Dawn, wide eyed. “I… Faith… I don’t know if…”

“So are you saying that in order to cure Buffy, we have to sacrifice Faith in some manner? And in order to protect Faith, we have to leave Buffy in her current state?” Giles looks up incredulously.

“No, not sacrifice! No. Unless Buffy’s heart’s desire is to like, kill Faith…” Dawn sighs. Then continues. “It says… Buffy has to get her heart’s desire, the real way. The right way. And since it’s about Faith somehow, she would have to be a part of it, and be willing to give her whatever it is she’s seeking. And we don’t even know what Buffy’s heart wants…” Dawn trails off.

“Dear lord.” Giles looks blankly at the table.

Willow looks around at the dejected faces of her friends… her family.

“I’ll think of something. I promise… Maybe we can work around it… Maybe I should talk to the Fabio…” Willow tries to smile.

“You can’t…” Giles turns to Willow. “He’s dead.”

Chapter Text

Kennedy peeks her head in between the curtains. Sees Faith lying in bed, half under the sheets.

“Hey there, lazy!” Kennedy sits in the chair beside the bed. “The doctors say you’re ready to go.”

Faith opens her eyes, grunting. “Whaddatheyknow?” But she’s smiling weakly.

“We have a room in the residence wing ready for you… y’know… if you wanted to stay a while.” Kennedy puts her hand on Faith’s arm. “Plus we need to keep an eye on you. You’re still probly gonna be weak for a bit.”

“Weak? I’ll show you weak…” Faith attempts to leap up out of bed, but the dizzies hit and she leans back. “Whoa.”

“See, like a kitten. I bet I could beatcha in an arm wrestle right now…” Kennedy totally could too.

“So, you wanna wrassle with me, Junior?’ Faith gives the girl a wink, and slowly shifts her legs so she’s sitting up on the side of the bed.

“Now I know you’re feeling better. I’ll get your stuff brought over from the hotel room. You need a hand with anything?” Kennedy puts her arms out to steady the frail girl as she tries to stand.

Faith looks hard at Kennedy. “How’s she doing? Nobody will tell me.”

Kennedy looks down. “Not good. She’s in the cells, mostly sedated so she won’t hurt herself. She’s… unh… kinda lost her mind.”

“What!” Faith wobbles on her bare feet. Kennedy tucks Faith’s arm over her shoulders, and wraps herself around Faith’s back to steady her. “I thought the gang woulda had this figured out by now. It’s been a week! What the hell are they waiting for?”

Kennedy doesn’t want to be the messenger here. Maybe it’d be better if Giles told her, or Willow…

“Um… I’m not sure…”

“You are the worst liar. Just spill it!” Faith tries to hide the pleading note in her voice.

“They’re kinda waiting… for you. There’s a thing they need to do, to help Buffy. And they need you. To be a part of it…”

“Jesus.” Faith leans into Kennedy’s shoulder. “Tell me what’s going on. Please.”

Kennedy starts to lead Faith out of the room. “I’ll tell you everything I know, on the way to your room. We’ll get you set up. Then we’ll talk.”

Faith sighs, a deep protracted breath. “I’m all yours.”

Kennedy rolls over in bed. Leans up on her elbow, looking at her girl’s sleeping face. Usually so serene, her goddess. Not tonight. Now there’s frowning and soft mumbly noises. Kennedy gently runs her fingers across Willow’s cheek. Down her neck, and over her bare shoulders. Leans in to kiss the freckles on her arm. Slides her hand lightly over Willow’s breasts, down to her belly. Lets her hand rest there. Moves her body in, tucks herself around the warm curves. Snuggles her face into Willow’s neck. Light kisses should do it.

A soft moan from Willow’s lips. “Hey baby…” she murmurs as her eyes flicker open.

“Hey…” Kennedy smiles. “You were having a bad dream… Thought I’d save you.”

“My hero!” Will wraps her arms around Kennedy’s lean, muscled frame. She turns to face her lover. Steals a kiss.

Kennedy leans in, wanting more.

“Not tonight, ‘kay? I’m more thinky than kinky.” Willow looks concerned. Kinda sad.

“Sure, sweets. Whatever you want.” Kennedy pulls away a bit. It’s been so long. Well, for a slayer. “I know now’s not the best time for acrobatics, but I miss you.”

“I miss you too. It’s just, not feeling too sexy right now.” Willow looks away.

“You’re always sexy.” Kennedy caresses Willow’s face gently, pulling her back. “I just… thought it might be nice. We haven’t… since before you left.”

“I know. But with Buffy being crazy, and Faith all broken… I’ve been on duty since I got here… and it’s not like I don’t want to… with you… but I just can’t…” Willow stares at the ceiling.

“I know, babe. You got the weight of the world. I’m just saying, you don’t have to be Super Willow all the time. I just want my Will here with me.” Kennedy looks intently at Willow’s face, trying to catch the girl’s eyes.

“Oh, Kenn… I’m sorry.” Willow looks quickly into Kennedy’s eyes. Then flips onto her side, facing the wall.

“Okay. Sorry I brought it up.” Kennedy turns her body away. Fighting the urge to fight. To ask the questions that she knows she doesn’t want the answers to.

For the first time in a long time, Kennedy feels all alone.

“I’ll do it.”

Giles looks up from his research, to see Faith standing in his doorway. “You’ll do what, exactly?”

“I dunno. Whatever it is you guys need me to do to help Buffy.”

“You’ve no idea what you’re agreeing to. We have no idea what we’re asking you to do.” Giles puts his glasses on the desk. “That’s why we weren’t going to ask, unless it became absolutely necessary.”

“Well, is it? Necessary?”

“I’m afraid so. Willow’s come up with something, a spell. It should bring Buffy back to normal, relatively speaking.”

“Then what’s the hold up? Let’s get it done. She can’t last much longer… the way she is.” Faith is losing her patience.

“Well, erm… nothing like this has ever been tried before. We’re not sure what the consequences will be. To you and to Buffy.”

“Look, if there was any way for B to get better without me, I’d already be gone. But there’s not, right? So let’s just do what Red wants, and then I’m out.” Faith leans on the door frame, looking a bit pale.

“Well, you’re not fully healed, and this may be a trying experience for you…”

“We’re doing this. Tonight. It’s my butt on the line. So I make the rules.” Faith looks down at Giles.

“Right. Of course. I’ll speak to Willow and arrange everything.”

“Good. You do that.”

“Okay. Xander, light the fire. And you and Giles, keep watch for interruptions. Kennedy, you’re on Buffy duty. Make sure she doesn’t get out of her chains. Faith, you stand here, across from Buffy. And I’m here, in the middle.”

Faith slowly walks away from the firelight. It’s cold out here on the castle grounds, but she does what she’s told. But she won’t look at Buffy. Buffy in chains, straining and screeching her filth into the air. Eyes full of madness.

“What happens now, Red? We kiss and make up?” Faith has her arms crossed, leaning on one hip. Pretending not to be scared.

“No, not exactly. It’ll be okay, Faith. I won’t let anything happen that’s not supposed to. Okay?” Willow moves to give Faith a quick hug, and a thin smile.

“Sure, whatever.”

Faith looks at the fire, at Xander, at Willow, at the sky.

“Can we get a move on? It’s freakin’ cold out here.”

Willow moves back to her place, between the two slayers. She starts to mumble something in Sumerian, or older than that. Her face, hands and hair start to glow silvery and bright. Her voice gets clearer and lower. She’s breathing heavy now.

Her head jerks back. And her arms are flung out, sending white streams of light into the bodies of the Chosen Two. Faith and Buffy are held by the light, held fast and frozen by it. Eyes closed, enraptured, being lifted by the radiance that shoots from Willow’s body.

An eternity passes.

There’s a shift in the light. Subtle. A sheen of silver in the white.

Faith opens her eyes with a start. Looking into Buffy’s eyes. And they are Buffy’s eyes. Still captured by the threads passing between them, she can see. She can see everything. Knowing that Buffy can see her too. Can see her pain, her shame, her fear. It’s too much.

But Faith can’t close her eyes. Can’t stop feeling the connection. The threads of light. Buffy’s soul threaded with her own. It’s so pure. So clean. She never knew.

She’s deeper now. She can see Buffy’s dreams, her fears, her heart. Heart’s desire. The secret thought. The question that lingers there. Waiting for Faith.

The answer that lies in her own heart. Always there for Buffy to see.

“Buffy?” Xander lays an arm over Buffy’s shoulder. “Buffy? Is it you?”

Buffy looks up at him, tears streaming down her face. Sobbing like she’ll never stop. He starts yanking at the chains holding her, fumbling for the keys.

Kennedy helps Willow rise from where she’s fallen. Leads her to the car, sits her exhausted frame in the backseat.

Faith is on her knees. She can’t stand up. She looks around, at the worried faces, helping the ones they love. She struggles to stand. Shakes her mane of dark hair, trying to focus her mind. See, they only wanted her back. They don’t care about you. You’re still alone.

A strong and gentle hand lifts her from the ground. Pulls her into a hug.

“Oh, Faith. Thank goodness you’re alright. You are alright?” Giles’ voice breaks.

“I’m good. Just a little shook up…” Giles pulls her tighter.

Faith looks up at him, a soft smile on her face. For a second, she hugs him back. “Really, I’m okay.” And pulls out of the embrace. Turns to start walking to the car.

“Faith!” A wretched voice.

She turns, and her eyes fall on Buffy. Buffy who’s barely standing, leaning on Xander. Buffy who’s still sobbing.

“Please! I never… I’m so sorry… I can’t…” Buffy who’s pleading with her.

Faith looks at Buffy blankly, avoiding her eyes.

She looks back to Giles. “Can we go now? It’s cold.”

“Wha…” Faith wakes up with a jolt. She’s sticky with sweat. Bad dreams? Feels clumsily for the light on the bedside table. She hits the shade before she hits the switch, and the movement and light makes the shadows dance on the wall.

She goes to the window and opens it a crack. Grabs a smoke from her pack on the sill, and leans up against the wall, inhaling deeply.

Giles will want to talk to her in the morning. Send her out on another rescue mission to who knows where. But Faith has all this stuff rolling around in her head. She needs some quiet time. Time alone.

She throws the rest of the lit cigarette out the window, watching the red spark flit and spiral down to the ground. She’s gotta bail. She knows that. But she can’t bring herself to pull her duffel bag out from under the bed. Can’t bring herself to sneak out in the night.

And there’s Buffy…

Faith’s mind wanders, back into the moment where the light hit her eyes. Where she met Buffy in the blinding silvery strands. There was something…

She’s jolted out of her thoughts. There’s a hole where there should be something. Where there should be a… tingle. A sense of someone, ever present.

“Buffy’s gone!”

She throws on her jeans and races to the door. She’s gotta tell Giles.

But there’s a tiny piece of paper. Right there at her feet. Like it was slipped under her door.

Faith picks up the scrap, hands trembling. Unfolding the note, she subconsciously walks to her bed, and sits down on the end. She reads.


This is too much for me. What I did. I can’t face it, I can’t face you.
Please, tell them not to look for me. Tell Dawn… tell her I’m sorry.
I’m so sorry.
Look after them for me.


Chapter Text

“Satsu! Your sword!” Faith raises her hand, and instinctively catches the handle. In one movement, she grips the blade and brings it down across the chest of her enemy. She rolls to the left, throwing the sword back to Satsu with an easy sweep of her arm.

Okay, where did I drop it? Faith’s eyes scan the ground, looking intently for… Ah, there you are. She takes a good grip on the scythe. Her scythe.

“Vi, are all the kids un-napped? Are we clear?” She talks into the headset.

“All clear, Boss. We’re good to go.” Vi’s voice crackles into her ear.

Oh yeah.

And she stands up straight. In the middle of this battle, Faith is a beacon.

“Listen up, ladies. Stop playing around and start taking these freaks out! I don’t wanna miss Taggart.” She looks around. Satsu’s team is attacking in force, slicing and dicing. Kennedy is leading her group against two of the giant slimy bastards. Faith catches her eye. Grins and holds up four fingers. Kennedy visibly frowns, and holds up two.

Faith laughs, and blows her a kiss. Spins the scythe in her hand, like a baton.

And turns to stare down the giant beastie looming above her.

“Hey, are you in charge of this little get together? Cos I think you’re out of munchies.” And with that, Faith leaps up, scythe raised above her head. Faith is powerful. Relentless. She ducks under the flying tentacles, slashing as she flies around. Working her way toward the head. She gets smacked back by a stray flailing limb. She rolls into the ground, using the momentum to get back up. She’s not fazed.

She speeds past the creature, ducking through and under the attacks. Gets behind the thing. She uses her weapon like a pickaxe, leaping up and ramming it into the back of the demon, using it to climb up the body. She reaches the head, the eyes. Faith is grinning as she rams the stake end of the weapon into the creature’s eyes. Flips the scythe around and hacks off the head with the sharp powerful blade. The creature starts to fall, and Faith leaps away, landing in a low crouch on the hard concrete floor. Her eyes quickly scope the room. The girls are still fighting. And they’re winning.

But one of Satsu’s girls, across the cavernous room, is pinned between a demon and the wall. Nowhere to run, no room to fight. That’s no good.

The creature wraps tentacles around the girl, choking her. Raising her up, squeezing her life away.

Faith calls on the remaining strength in her muscles. She dashes at full speed over to the girl. Dodging the battles around her. Careful not to get in anyone’s way. She’s a blur, ducking and weaving. She’s got to get there.

She’s going to be too late. She’s not going to be good enough…

She springs up off the floor. Fifteen feet, maybe more. Her boots hit the wall, and she springboards off, tucking her arms in and allowing the momentum to spin her around. Her kick lands exactly where she intended, smashing into the eyes of the giant demon. It flails in pain, releasing its grip on the newbie slayer. Faith lands in between her girl and the monster.

“Pick on someone your own size!” Faith thrusts the blade deep into the chest, again and again. And it falls.

It’s quiet. Faith can only hear herself breathing. She turns and offers her hand to the girl cowering on the ground.

“That was… amazing!” The young slayer looks up at Faith, admiration in her eyes.

“Really? I thought it was kind of a tired line…” Faith smirks, helping the girl up. She looks around, to see that the battle is over. She does a quick head count.

Everyone’s still standing.

“What’s say we get outta here? This party’s hitting ten kinds of suck!” Faith breaks the silence. “Kenn, get Xander on the horn. Tell him that it’s mission accomplished.” Winks at Kennedy. “And just so you know, that makes six for me.”

Faith leans up against the wall. Wipes the sheen from her forehead.

I didn’t lose anyone…

Faith collapses on the bed. She’s just had a few shots of J.D., and she’s buzzing. After that kind of fight, she needs to feel the burn in the back of her throat. And it helps her sleep.

She pulls the covers over her aching body. Rests there awhile. Slowly rolls over on her side.

Face to face with Buffy.

Buffy smiles sweetly. “I’ve missed you.” Raises a hand to brush the dark locks away from Faith’s face.

For a moment, Faith thinks she wants her to. But she pulls away with a tired groan. Buffy looks sad.

Faith rolls away from the girl in her bed. “Go ‘way. You’re not real.”

A delicate hand lightly touches her shoulder. Starts to caress her arm. She feels a body cuddle up behind her. Feels breath on her neck. Hears the shift of covers, the creak of the bed.

“It’s important.”

Feels a soft mouth kissing her neck. An arm circling her waist. Slipping under the hem of her tank. Faith lets a quiet sigh escape her lips.

“You need to find me. We need to be together.” Buffy’s breath on her neck. Her hand brushing gently against her stomach. Faith should stop Buffy’s lips from tickling her neck. Should stop Buffy’s hands from gently exploring. “Please… I’ve been gone for…”

“Six months, three weeks, two days, and…” Faith squints at the clock. “Thirteen hours.” She lets her head fall back to her pillow, hugging it tightly.

“You have to bring me home.”

“You say that every night.” Faith grumbles into her pillow. “Leemeealone.” Faith lazily waves her free arm around, trying to slap away Dream Buffy’s arms.

“I’m not really here, remember?” Buffy breathes into her ear. “This isn’t real...”

But Faith definitely feels the arms around her, the breath and tongue at her ear. These slayer dreams are way realistic after the spell thingie. Tortuously real.

Faith groans, turning her body to face Dream Buffy. Wants to meet those green eyes.

And she wakes up alone.

“Damn.” She gets out of bed, lighting a cigarette. She throws on her jeans, and walks to her open window.

Kennedy walks back to her room. She’s just checked in with her team, making sure they’d had their cuts and scrapes tended to. She rubs her shoulder, feeling the muscles, feeling them knitting.

She opens her door, and before it even closes behind her she’s pulling her shirt up over her head. Kicking off her boots and her jeans. She just needs a quick shower.

She steps under the hot water, leaning back, letting it fall on her hair and her face. She carefully scrubs away the grime and spew from the evening’s battle. Feels her muscles relaxing. Starts to feel a little bit… Ahhh! Cold! Very cold!

She turns off the shower, and reaches out for her towel. She walks back into her room, drying her hair as she walks naked to the bed. The bed on which Faith is sitting.

“Hey Junior. There was nothing on TV, so I thought I’d catch the show.” Faith leans back, taking it in.

Kennedy walks to the bed, dropping her towel on the floor. Straddles Faith, and kisses her deeply. Faith’s hands run up and down Kennedy’s naked back, settling just below the hips. She pulls the girl down on top of her. Kisses her mouth, her ear, her neck. Breathes in the familiar scent of Kennedy’s shampoo. Feels the softness of her skin.

Kennedy pulls Faith’s hair gently, guiding those lips to her naked breasts. Pulls Faith’s shirt up and over her head. Throws it on the floor. She rocks against Faith’s jeans, moaning softly. Faith nips and kisses Kennedy’s nipples, tugging gently at them as she moves her hand down between Kennedy’s legs. Feels her own body react as Kennedy’s whispered groan tickles her ear.

Kennedy runs her hands down and lightly flicks a hard nipple. Moves to undo Faith’s jeans. Faith covers those hands with her own, moving them gently but decisively back up to her shoulders.

“No, Kenn. Not yet.” And covers Kennedy’s mouth, exploring with her tongue. She flips the young slayer onto her back, and lays half beside and half on top of the naked girl. Her fingers move again to the sweet depths between Kennedy’s legs. Moves her body closer. Watches Kennedy’s face. Slips her thumb back and forth lightly, while moving steadily inside her. Murmurs softly into her ear, little words of encouragement. Things she knows Kennedy likes to hear.

Kennedy’s hands stop pulling at the sheets and are suddenly wrapped around Faith’s neck, pulling her closer and tighter. Faith feels the trembling move through the girl’s body like an earthquake, starting from the centre and moving out in spasmic waves. She likes to feel Kennedy shuddering against her. It sends a satisfying chill through her own body.

She lays down in the bed, still holding Kennedy tightly. She places a soft kiss on the girl’s forehead. Strokes her arms, her belly. Kennedy still wrapped around her. Her head still tucked into Faith’s shoulder.

They lie together a while.

Until Faith feels Kennedy’s hand moving down to her waistband.

“Now? Can I?” Kennedy looks up at her with soft brown eyes, and Faith can’t say no.

When they’re finally spent, they collapse with bodies entwined. Both needing the lie. Both shattered and desperate to feel something other than the ache, the intense loss. And for this moment’s peace, they reach for each other night after night.

Buffy stands at the big open window, looking out on the darkened street. Amsterdam. Rainy, but warm enough. She can maybe stay here for a while. Maybe try out some of those brown cafés… It’s not like I was in college long enough to do any experimenting…

Buffy quickly gets ready and goes outside, ready to explore this new world. She even has pamphlets.

She walks along the canal, reading about Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum, and all sorts of places that tourists go. It’d be kind of exciting, if she hadn’t done exactly this in Milan, Venice, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, and about a hundred other important and breathtakingly beautiful cities. Maybe she’d go out in the day, see some sights, do some shopping…

Buffy likes the way this city is laid out. Like a spider web, all coming from the centre. Easy to get around. And water everywhere. All reflecting the lights on the canals and bridges. So pretty. And who knew about fries with mayo? Yum!

The sun hasn’t come up yet, but the black sky is turning steel grey. Buffy starts to feel… something nearby. It’s not vampy though. Maybe demony? No, it’s more familiar, and definitely more frightening…

“Ah hell!” And Buffy starts to run. Runs out of the alleyway, through the criss-crossed streets, over bridges that light up the water. Just away.

“Dammit! How did she find me?” Buffy splashes through a puddle, dodging the bicycles and cars in the streets. Feeling the tingle grow stronger and stronger. Feeling her tears build up and mix with the rain on her face. Won’t look behind her. Can’t look.

She runs along a canal, ducking down the steps to the thin path along the water. Under bridges. Back up steps leading down the street. She turns into a small market square. And stops.

Faith is standing there, except not. She’s kinda see-through; the rain doesn’t seem to quite hit her skin. But she’s there, leaning against a sculpture, grinning.

“Unh?” Buffy stares through Faith’s shoulder. Can’t look her in the eye.

“Hey, B. Bad time?” Faith reaches out, and Buffy steps back. “We gotta have a chat, you and me.”

“But you’re not here. Right? I mean unless you’re… a ghost, which would mean that you’re dead, and you’re NOT dead.”

“Right. I’m not dead.” Faith moves away from the sculpture, and the metal shimmers behind the translucence of her skin. “And I’m not here. Well, sorta not ALL here.”

“How did you find me?” Buffy backs up, pushing her rain-soaked hair out of her rain-soaked face.

“I can always find you. If I look. Before it was like, if you were in the neighborhood, I could tell.” Faith keeps moving toward Buffy. “Now, it’s like GPS. I open up, and I just know where you are, what you‘re doing. Know what you’re wearing…” Faith trails off, letting her leer finish the sentence for her.

“But I’m awake! Slayer dreams are... for sleepytime. And I’m awake. I am awake, right?” Buffy pinches herself on the arm. “Ow!”

“Yep, welcome to HiDef SlayerVision. Will got us a serious upgrade. You should take it for a test drive, B…” Faith grins. “And you know what’s cool? I don’t even know that I’m here right now…”

Buffy is so very confused.

“Look, my body… is otherwise engaged.” Faith waggles her eyebrows. “So I get to go play without supervision… And so here I am.”

“Oh, Faith’s… You’re…” Buffy blushes slightly red. “So what does this mean?”

“It means, Buffy, that you can’t run away from me.” Faith smiles. “Not anymore.”

Buffy looks a bit pale. Stares up at Faith’s see-through smile. Can’t look her in the eye, even now.

I can try. She turns, and sprints down the quiet street.

Goodbye Amsterdam.

Chapter Text

“Wow…” Faith is always impressed by it. But who wouldn’t be? A huge banquet hall converted into a training centre and deployment area. And right now, almost two-hundred women moving in synch, going through an extremely difficult series of defensive poses.

“Okay, that’s good for today. But you’ve got to have these down. Like in your muscle memory. Otherwise it’s all just line dancing.” Kennedy’s voice comes through cleanly over the light shuffling and whispering of this large mob of girls.

“Hey Junior, aren’t you gonna show the minions your moves?” Faith slinks her way towards Kennedy’s voice.

Kennedy grins. Sparring with Faith isn’t on the agenda, but it’s sure to be entertaining. One look at the eager crowd, and she knows there’s no way out of this.

Faith kicks off her shoes, and throws her jacket over the vaulting horse. She tilts her head left, then right, cracking her neck. Gets into a defensive position. Then, very deliberately, she hooks her thumbs into her back pockets. Grinning like an idiot.

Kennedy scowls. “You think you’re soooo good…”

Faith flashes past the girl, grabs Kennedy from behind, locking her arms around her waist. She presses her body up against Kennedy’s back and whispers into her ear, “You know it.” Kennedy goes limp, slipping out of the hold. As she falls, she spins around and kicks Faith’s legs out from under her. Faith goes down. In unison, both girls roll back onto their shoulders and flip to a standing position. They exchange punches and blocks, kicks and elbows. This match is turning out to be quite the stalemate.

“Yeah!” Kennedy gets a light punch through. Faith rolls her eyes, and blows a kiss to her girl.

Now Kennedy’s wearing the smirk. “You gonna stop flirting and start fighting?” She turns her back on her opponent. “Or maybe you don’t see a difference…”

Faith comes at her with a furious combo of hooks and uppercuts, but Kennedy’s anticipated this and blocks every shot with smooth movements and dodges.

“Don’t let your guard down, ever. But sometimes you can draw your opponent out by making them think that you have…” Kennedy glances briefly at the class. “And please notice the series of blocks I’m using is part of what I showed you today.”

Faith takes the opportunity to slam Kennedy down on the mats, straddle her, and bring her elbow down within inches of the girl’s throat. She winks down at the instructor. And releases her, starting to get to her feet.

“Yeah, what she said. About the guard. But also, very important.” She offers her hand to Kennedy, and helps her up. “Use every chance to take your enemy down. ‘Cos it might be your only shot. Don’t fight fair. Don’t be noble. Every fight is to the death. And we’d all prefer if it wasn’t yours.”

Kennedy looks up at the older girl. Leans into her and wraps the girl’s arm around her waist. She whispers “You’re such a show-off!”

Faith grins down at her. “Takes one to know one…”

Kennedy rolls her eyes. “And you say I’m a brat...” And then Faith is kissing her.

A loud wave of giggles and woo-hoos turn Kennedy’s head. She’d forgotten there was an audience… “Mmmmm. Class dismissed…” She turns, back to Faith. Back to kisses.

Dawn turns into a little side street, packed with quaint pubs and stores that sell dusty trinkets and antiques. It’s down here... Yes… Here it is.

Dawn pushes the creaky red door open and ducks into the small warm shop. The old fashioned bell tinkles above her head, and there’s a stirring of papers and a shuffling from the back of the place.

Dawn walks slowly to the desk, careful not to topple the piles of books lying on the floor in very precarious stacks.

“Hello? Mr. Campbell? I called earlier…”

“Hallo… Erm, yes... Be with you in a minute!” The shopkeeper emerges from behind a faded blue curtain, wiping a dark tea stain from his shirt with a handkerchief. He looks up.

“Ah! Hello again lass! We’ve met, yes? You’re from the university?” He peers at her over his wire rimmed glasses, smiling wide.

“Yeah! I can’t believe you remembered me…” She reaches out to shake his hand.

“Ach! What kind of man would I be, not to remember a lovely thing like you?” The old gentleman takes her hand and kisses it lightly. And from him it’s gallant, not gross. “Now, what can I provide to ye on this fine day?”

“A book, the Macto Oraculum, I think…” Dawn fiddles nervously with the edge of the desk. “I need it for a research paper…” She says quickly, not looking up.

“Oh, yes…I remember. Very good! Lucky to have found it… Took me months to track it down… I should have it around here… somewhere…” Mr. Campbell looks studiously around. “Ach! Perhaps in the very back…” And he totters off to the back room, mumbling to himself.

Dawn waits by the desk, peering over to look at the piles of knick-knacks and parchments littering the floor behind it. She rocks back and forth on her heels. She hums softly to herself, some new pop song that’s climbing the charts. The smell of this place is musty and familiar. Like the Magic Box. Like home.

“Aha! I’ve found it!” Mr. Campbell returns, triumphantly waving the book over his head. “I knew I had it somewhere... Very rare you know... Only three copies…” He hands her the book, watching as she flips quickly through the pages. “Beautiful calligraphy though. An excellent example of…”

“This is the one.” Dawn says softly, looking carefully at the hand written pages. She reads the first few lines quietly to herself. Then she closes the book, almost reverently.

“I’ll take it.”

Dawn lays down an exorbitant amount of cash for the book. She puts it carefully into her oversize bag, and with a quick wave to the old man, she’s on her way.

The bell above the door sounds her exit, and then fades away. Mr. Campbell waits a moment. Then he picks up the phone, dials a familiar number.

“Mr. Giles? She’s just gone now. What a lovely girl. I tell you, if I was thirty years younger…” Mr. Campbell frowns. “Yes, yes Rupert. I know… She bought the book. Stubborn one you got there. And smart as a whip. Not many girls can read Latin these days… Aye. You’re correct, of course… Goodbye, then.”

Mr. Campbell hangs up the phone. He sighs, shaking his head as he shuffles back behind the curtain.

Giles hangs up the phone. He removes his glasses and places them on the desk. Rubs his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. Why doesn’t anybody do what they’re told?

Leaning back in his chair, he looks glumly at the mounds of paper piling up on his desk. Being the head of the new Council’s Research Division is a painful exercise in bureaucracy. It’s times like these he misses just being a watcher and high school librarian.

He slowly opens the drawer in his desk. Fiddles underneath it for a minute. There’s a popping noise, and a creak. The bottom of the drawer opens up, and he reaches into the secret compartment and pulls out an ancient looking leather bound book. On the cover, embossed in gold leaf, are the words MACTO ORACULUM.

He opens the book, and reads over the phrases that he knows already by heart. He’d been hoping to keep this to himself a little while longer. But now…

He must prepare. And he must be very careful. One mustn’t panic…

Buffy sits in the waiting area, watching the people come and go. Watching the planes take off and land, spilling their passengers into the wide halls, and then sucking more up before departure.

She looks at the departure board. Where hasn’t she been? Where can she hide? Where can she afford to go on her waning stash of cash? “Eenie, meenie, minie, mo…” She cheats, and picks her destination before she has to finish the rhyme.

She stands, and slowly gets in the short line to buy her ticket. Soon she’ll be on another plane, squished into a tiny seat with no leg room, eating her third bag of salted peanuts in a row. But she’s gotta keep moving. Gotta keep running when that tingle hits the back of her neck.

But she can’t get far enough away. Faith was right. She dreams about her still, about watching her sleep. But sometimes, when she’s tired or distracted, she can see her. Sees her smoking at her window, or talking to someone in the halls. At times she’ll get quick flashes. She’ll just know that Faith’s laughing at that moment. Or that she’s working out… getting all sweaty and out of breath... With the heaving… and the sweaty… Which brings on a whole thing, and she’s all about the not dealing. Which comes right back to the running.

Buffy sighs, ticket in hand. Maybe far enough away doesn’t exist.

Faith walks in to the meeting room, quietly shutting the door behind her. She’s late, again. She quietly slips into her seat at the head of the table, shrugging an apology to the rest. She looks around the room. Small meeting. Xander, Dawn, Giles. Only Willow missing from the gang. But she’s been gone for ages…

Giles gives her a worried look, and clears his throat.

“Erm… well. I suppose I should get right to it, now that everybody’s here.” Giles pulls a worn book from the bag beside his chair, and places it on the table. Dawn glares at him, and looks away.

“This is the Macto Oraculum, which translates from the Latin as roughly The Slayer Prophecies…” Giles says carefully. “The old council thought the book to be a myth. But after the loss of their library in London, I began a careful search. I acquired it at some expense, through Andrew in Rome. I have had it in my possession for a few months now.”

Dawn fidgets in her seat. Fuming. Xander looks at her, then at Giles. Then at Faith. They share the same surprised, confused look.

“I have read it, and have been working to decipher its content. I honestly had no intention of sharing what information I had, until I was certain of my theories.” Giles looks at Dawn. “But after talking to Dawn, she has convinced me that you all need to be informed of what’s coming.”

“Cos I was gonna tell you if he didn’t.” Dawn can’t keep her mouth shut anymore. “I’ve read it too, and everything that’s happened is in there, one way or another. It even says something about a slayer army…”

“So we’ve got a creepy book that tells us what we already know. How is this secret meeting-worthy?” Faith pipes up.

“Because, Faith… The information in this book is older than the Latin translation that I’ve acquired. It is believed to be older than anything we may have on record. There are prophecies here that are known to have been fulfilled well before civilization as we know it. And, of course, there are prophecies that have not yet come to pass.” Giles looks at her meaningfully.

Faith opens her mouth, and then shuts it again.

“There are writings in here about slayers past, present and future. We are unsure of whom some of these events refer to. Since there are so many slayers. And so many more outside our organization. That’s why I felt it might be best to gather more information before…”

“Whatever, Giles.” Dawn spits out. “I read the same thing you read, and I came to the same conclusions. And I cross referenced with about a dozen other sources, and the freakin’ Codex. It’s all pointing to the same thing. You just don’t want to believe it.”

Dawn turns to Faith. “It’s in there. What happened last year. It’s all obscure and vague, but it’s there. Stuff about the Chosen. You and Buffy were the last slayers to get chosen. So that means it’s about you two.”

Faith looks away.

“Okay, you two. Enough.” Xander is done with the pussyfooting. “What does the book say?”

Dawn looks penetratingly at Giles. He opens the book, with a deep sigh.

“There are many references to “the One become two become one”, which Dawn believes is referring to you and Buffy. There is reference to the origin of your calling, after Kendra died. There is much about your time in Sunnydale. And then there is this…” Giles reads the passage, translating as he goes.

“Each will see the other fall. Their sacrifices unmade. The Chosen bound by silver. Must heed the other’s call.” Giles looks up from the book.

“Look. I’ve read the thing. All of it. Under all the poetry and cryptic crap, it’s basically saying that if we don’t get Buffy back in the fight, that the world as we know it will end and both of you will die.” Dawn says the last part very quickly.

“Not necessarily, Dawn…” Giles begins. “There are factors…”

“Huh.” Faith raises an eyebrow. Something clicks in her head.

“I don’t know if you heard that last part, Faith. About the death and world ending?” Xander looks at Faith, who nods. “And you say huh?”

“Pretty much.” Faith lets out a captive breath. “Unh, I guess now would be the time to tell you some stuff.”

Faith explains the nightly slayer dreams. Without all the sexy parts, of course. Explains the change in intensity since their flashy mind meld... The moments when she can sense her. The feeling that if she just reached out, a little…

“Why haven’t you said anything before? Giles is all flustered.

“I dunno. They can be kinda… private.” Faith actually blushes, a little. Hardly noticeable, really.

“You’re saying you’ve got a direct line to Buffy’s head? Have you ever tried to, I dunno, call her?” Xander can’t quite believe this.

“Not tried to. It’s mostly when I’m not doing anything. When my mind wanders. I get flashes. Like, I’ll see her, what she’s doing at that moment. Or I’ll know she’s craving pizza. Stuff like that.”

“That’s so cool.” Xander and Dawn owe each other a beer.

“That’s extraordinary.” Giles ponders the possibilities. “Truly extraordinary. Quite a gift…”

“Yeah. It’s great.” Faith deadpans. “I hafta try to control my head all the time. And when I’m asleep, she’s there. Every night. It’s a freakin’ nightmare!”

“So you’ve never purposefully attempted to make contact with her? Talk with her? Improve your connection?” Giles is almost talking to himself. Cleaning his glasses thoughtfully.

Faith just glares.

“Faith, slayer dreams are more than an annoyance. They are prophetic, and your connection to Buffy has saved both your lives in the past.” Giles puts his glasses back on, and peers at her from overtop of them. “In your dreams, Buffy is asking you specifically to bring her home. Don’t you think that might possibly mean something?”

“No way!” Faith shakes her head. “I’m not gonna go into her head. I’m not begging her to come back. She’ll come back when she’s ready.”

“She may never be ready, unless she knows that you forgive her.”

Faith shoots a defiant look. “Well, I don’t know if...”

“I know that she hurt you…” Xander starts.

“Hurt me? HURT ME? Xander, are you stupid as well as half-blind?” Faith attacks with both barrels. “None of you have any idea…” Her mind wanders. To places in the dark.

Dawn tries to get through to her.

“Hey, you’re right. We don’t know everything that happened. And we have no right to expect you to forgive her on our schedule.” She stares pointedly at Giles. “But I know that the prophecy is real. And I know that I care too much about you, and Buffy. I don’t want you to die. Either of you.” She reaches out and places her hand over Faith’s. Faith lets her.

It’s silence for a while.

“Can’t you send out a team? Maybe Xander could…” Faith knows, but she has to ask.

“I don’t think Buffy will respond to anyone but you. It’s you that she can’t face.” Giles says gently.

“Does anyone know where she is?” Xander asks. “I mean I know we said no contact, but…”

“No. Any time she pops onto the radar, she’s gone before we can verify any information.”

Faith slowly gets up from her seat. “I’m uhn, gonna need some time… to…” A bit dazed, she waves to the group, and walks out of the room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Every Day Is Like Sunday

Willow lights the last candle, and turns off the lights. She grabs a delicate looking bottle, brings it to her face for closer inspection.

“Mmmm, vanilla!” She pours the contents into the tub, already filled part way with hot water. Turns on the taps. This is just what I need. Nice bubbly bath.

Willow steps into the bath, letting the water envelop her body. She soaks up the heat, feeling her tension melt away. Closes her eyes, adjusting her body. Lets her back slide down, submerging her hair and face. She stays down a while.

Rising again, she wipes the bubbles from her face and smoothes her hair against her head. She reluctantly stops soaking, and starts washing her hair. Scrubbing her skin. The bubbles are quickly disappearing. She considers adding some more bubbles and water…

Until she hears knocking at her door. Her bathroom door.

She quickly hops out of the tub and wraps herself up in a towel. She cautiously walks the few steps to the door.

“Hey, um… personal space issues aside… Not to mention the breaking and entering… It’s nice to see you, Giles!” She says as she opens the door and peeks her head around.

“Yes, sorry. But you weren’t answering the bell, and I do have a key…” Giles looks flustered, and a bit wrinkly. But a twenty-six hour economy flight with two stopovers will do that to anyone.

“Hey, here’s an idea! Let’s catch up when I’m not all naked!” Willow shoots past Giles and quickly runs to her bedroom and shuts the door. “I’ll be out in a jiffy!”

Giles takes a quick look around the apartment. It’s sparse, but comfortable. Little touches here and there to make Willow feel at home. A grand balcony overlooking the ocean. He steps out, shading his eyes from the sun. Almost exactly on the opposite end of the earth than he was yesterday.

The blue of the sky can hardly match the beauty of the deep, restless ocean. The air is clear and dry, and smells clean, with a hint of sweetness.

“So, how are you finding Tahiti?” Giles yells into the bedroom door, walking back into the main room and sitting down.

“Oh, it’s good. I think my freckles are breeding though…” Willow stops shouting as she opens the door, now fully dressed in a long thin wraparound dress. She frowns briefly into the mirror, before walking to the kitchen. Giles looks like he’s thirsty. “And how is… everyone back home? The slayers, Dawn, Xander… Kennedy? Is she okay?” She tries to ask casually.

“Everyone is fine. They send their love.”

“Love? They… send love?” Willow is a tad flustered.

“Yes, of course. And how did it go?” Giles asks, although he looks like he’s about to fall asleep.

Willow regains her composure.

“It was some kinda crazy magicks, and I almost… but see? No giant wave of watery doom! But I sent you a report on the whole thing… are you not getting my email? ‘Cos you coulda phoned…” Willow frowns, and looks back at Giles. She grabs two bottles of cold water from her fridge, and sets one in front of Giles before opening hers and talking a sip. She sits in the chair across from him, studying his face with some intensity.

“Well, I’m glad. That tsunami would have been, well… biblical. Erm… So it went well, then.” Giles drinks his water. Puts the bottle back on the table. “Obviously you replenished your strength these past six months, enough to… well, it must have taken an astonishing concentration of power.” He looks at her with no small amount of wonder.

“No… Well, yeah I guess. I was so drained from the thing with Buffy, and this place has been great for me. There are a lot of natural power centres here. Plus, pretty! And I’m learning to scuba dive! Me! A Scooby, scuba diving... A scuba-ing Scooby?” Willow smiles as she realizes she’s rambling again. “Sorry, but I’m proud of my newfound sporty-ness.”

“It’s fine. But I had hoped you would be prepared to return with me…” Giles is tired, and pretty sure he needs a shower and a change of clothes.

“Why? Is there some looming apocalypse that threatens the very survival of the human race?” Willow rolls her eyes and smiles, ‘cos she’s joking. Until she sees Giles’ almost imperceptible nod.

“What, again?”

Faith sits perched on the windowsill, leaning back on the frame. A cigarette dangles between her fingers, smoke rising up in tiny plumes. Smoking helps her think. Gives her something to do with her hands. But she’s been thinking for almost two days straight, and besides the headache, she’s got nothing.

She tried to be with Kennedy. To take her mind off it. But even though her body was into it, her mind… Flashes of different cities, blonde hair tossing over a pale shoulder. And that stupid tingle in the back of her neck.

Kennedy’s great. Good friend, wicked in the sack, slayer-strong. Hot, smart, and damned convenient. But it’s not… She’s all busted up about Will. She says she’s fine, but even I can tell that the girl’s still pining.

Faith finishes her smoke, and flicks it out the window. Doesn’t even watch it fall, which is one of her favorite things. She closes the window, and lies down on the bed, resting her head on her hands. For the first time in a long time, Faith wishes she wasn’t one of the good guys. So she could run away too. So she could be selfish and scared and that could be what mattered.

But they’re running out of time. What’s coming, is coming soon. End of the world type stuff. So Faith closes her eyes, and tries to relax. Tries to open her mind up. Tries to follow the silver threads out into the world…

“Okay, B. I’m comin’ to getcha…”

Buffy is enjoying Prague. It’s old and beautiful, like practically everyplace she’s been. But it feels right to her, feels homey. And she still can’t get over how cheap everything is, if she avoids touristy places.

She walks down a cobbled main street, looking up at the buildings. She loves how pretty the architecture is in Europe. So delicate, so ornate. The buildings tend to naturally make her smile.

And today has been a smiling day. She applied for a job at one of the tourist bars she can’t afford to drink in. They seemed to like her, cos they kept putting pints in front of her. She tried to say no… But now she knows how to say cheers in Czech! Na Zdravi!

Buffy stumbles a bit as she crosses out of the main square into the alley. She catches herself with a giggle, as she almost falls into two young men loitering about in the dark.

“Sorry! My fault! Beer bad!” Buffy giggles some more.

Good thing her hostel’s not far away.

“Jaky cinit my mit zde?” One of the boys nudges the other with his elbow, nodding at Buffy’s slowly retreating form.

“Jeden chutny lehke jidlo!” The other boy smiles wide, as they turn to follow her, quietly closing the gap.

He calls out to her. “Halo, Prekrasny!”

Buffy turns. “Hey, guys! Ummm… I don’t speak…”

“Oh, American girl?” The boy smiles.

“Was… Now I’m International Girl!” Buffy does a sloppy pose. “Except I only speak American.”

“Could we please to walking you home?” The boy says, offering his arm to steady her.

“S’okay, my place isn’t far.” Buffy turns to go. “But thanks!”

“We don’t mind, do we Jakub?” He gently takes Buffy’s right arm into his, looking at his friend.

“No, Kazimir. It would be our pleasure.” Jakub takes the other arm, and they start to walk deeper into the narrow winding lane.

“Seriously guys… I can... Hey! I’m seeing somebody.” Buffy tries to release herself from their grip.

“We don’t mind if you have boyfriend.” Kazimir turns to face the girl. He changes in front of her, sharp fangs and protruding forehead.

“No, you idiot. I’m seeing somebody!” Buffy wrenches free, and points at the lean dark figure standing a few feet away.

“Clever. But there is nothing…” As Jakub turns back to attack, Buffy punches him in the throat, spinning to kick Kazimir in the face.

Buffy pulls the stake from her jacket. Sober now. Well, sober-er.

Kazimir recovers, and lands a fist in Buffy’s side. She ducks down and sweeps his legs out from under him. She stakes him quickly, and turns her attention to Jakub. He looks at her with some hint of fear in his eyes, and starts to run away.

“Hey! I thought you wanted to hang?” Buffy shouts after him. She flips her stake around in her hand, and throws it hard. It hits Jakub in the back, piercing his heart. He disappears in a cloud of dust.

Buffy checks for damage to her outfit.

“Nice moves, B!” Faith emerges from the shadows, the patterns of the old stone wall only faintly visible through her form. “For a second there I thought you’d fallen for their hero act.”

“For a second, I did.” Buffy glances up at her, then looks quickly away. “Out playing hooky again? What’s the rest of you up to? No. Scratch that. I don’t wanna know.”

“Yeah, ya do.” Faith smiles. “Anyway, I’m here on business.”

“I’m retired.” Buffy starts walking toward her hostel. “Is everyone okay? Is Dawn…?”

“Dawn’s okay. Sad about you and all, but she’s good.” Faith follows a step behind. “Buffy, the gang wants you back. There’s this big bad coming, and they…”

“I’m sure you can handle what’s coming. I just…” Buffy slows her pace.

“Well, there’s this annoying prophecy that says I can’t. Look, I don’t want to be a pain but the leader gig just isn’t me. I’m just keeping your seat warm…”

“Faith, you can’t lie to me. I’ve seen you fighting with the girls. In my head. You’re a great leader. Smart, strong, and you love it. So please, let’s not play games here.” Buffy tries hard to look Faith in the eye, but she can’t. Even though Faith’s eyes are transparent.

“Fine. No games. Here’s the deal. Giles and Dawn think there’s another apocalypse coming. And that if you’re not fighting with the gang, everyone dies. You, me, humankind. Everyone.” Faith crosses her arms.

“But no pressure…” Buffy’s face is solemn. “So Giles sent you?”

“Yeah sorta.”

Buffy stops walking and leans against a light post. She tries a few times to get the words to come. “Faith… I know sorry isn’t… I can’t even explain…” She stops. Keeps the tears from falling through sheer force of will.

“Don’t. Just don’t bother. This isn’t about you and me. We have a job to do.” Faith doesn’t want to talk about it. Still can’t. “We save the world. It’s that simple.”

“Right. And after that?’ Buffy asks, whispering.

“You know me, B. Not much with the planning.” Faith starts to fade. “Look, it’s getting harder to stay here. I’m gonna wake up or whatever soon. So here’s the gist. There’ll be a ticket waiting for you at the airport tomorrow morning. It’s open, so you can use it any time. But I got a feeling… that you should hurry.” And Faith fades away.

Buffy sighs, watching the last traces of Faith’s figure turn to mist and shadows. She slowly walks the few steps to her hostel door.

She was really enjoying Prague.

“Giles, it’s huge!” Willow looks down.

“Actually I thought it was rather thin, comparatively.” Giles’ eyes follow hers.

“Nuh-uh.” Willow picks the old tome up from the coffee table. “C’mon, a book of prophecy, just about the slayers! I mean it’s totally a huge deal! Why didn’t we know about it before?”

“Well… It’s extremely rare, and the Council believed…”

“Oh, because they didn’t have it, it couldn’t possibly exist. What a buncha…” Willow flips through the book, scanning the pages. “Hey! Am I in here?” Willow lights up. Possible foretolded-ness can do that.

“Willow, can we please deal with the matter at hand?” Giles raises his brow. He’s feeling much more himself after a good rest and a change of clothes. Although tweed is an odd choice for the Tahitian weather.

Willow sighs, and opens the book to the well worn chapter near the end. She reads quietly, her face betraying her changing emotions. When she’s finished, she looks up at Giles, eyes wide.

“That can’t be right. Can it?” Willow looks sad and worried.

“I’m afraid it is. As far as I can tell, either way…”

“We’re going to lose.”

Chapter Text

Kennedy pulls her damp hair back into a ponytail, and wipes the sweat from her eyes and face with a towel. She shakes herself loose, and continues working the heavy bag. She doesn’t have to pull her punches here, doesn’t have to keep control. She lets fly with everything she’s got. Maintains her posture and her form, but looses the full extent of her slayer power. Her mind is racing. Her muscles are aching. She’s been at it for hours. Usually by now she’s calmed down. Usually by now she’s tired.

But she’s more edgy than she can remember. She’s confused and scared and something else she can’t quite pinpoint.

She’s still hammering away when Faith walks in.

“Hey Junior? You still here?”

“What of it?” Kennedy says between breaths.

Faith takes off her jacket throws it on the mats. She sits down and starts stretching. “Nothin’. Just saying. You been here since after dinner.”

“Just sweating out some stress.”

“I thought that was my job?” Faith smiles.

Kennedy turns, about to lay into the girl. Until she sees the look she’s getting. She drops beside Faith on the mats.

“You’re not freaked out? I mean she’s coming back tomorrow.” Kennedy wraps herself up in Faith’s arms. “You know…”

“I know. If Willow wants you back, you’ll go.” Faith pulls some strands of matted hair away from Kennedy’s face. “But that’s tomorrow.” And she leans down and kisses Kennedy on the lips.

Buffy climbs out of the taxi, giving the man her last few Euros. She turns to face the gloomy castle, and with a deep breath, walks up and through the front door. This won’t be so hard…

Now if only she can avoid seeing anyone until she can talk to Dawn. She goes to the stairwell. Nobody uses the stairs. She’ll be alone. She starts climbing. Only four floors. Dawn is the only person she can face right now. Better to sneak in, talk to her. Wait until later to deal with…

Faith. She can feel her. It makes the hairs on her neck stand up, and goose bumps come up on her skin. Makes her have to sit down. It’s just so strong… Maybe if I know where she is, I can make sure not to run into her…

And she reaches out. Just a little. Opens up a teensy bit. Okay, where is she…

Buffy is standing in the training room. She looks around.

Faith is lying on the mats. With Kennedy.

They’re wrestling?

Kennedy pushes Faith down, holding her arms up over her head. She kisses Faith hard. Traps the girl’s hands with one of her own. Trails wet lips down to her neck. Feels Faith shift underneath, letting Kennedy fit her body in between long legs. This is Kennedy’s favorite part. When Faith lets her take control. When she trusts her that much. Because it doesn’t last long. Faith always ends up on top.

She stops to caress Faith’s face before running her hand gently down. She tugs down on the hem of the girl’s top before raising it up over her head.

“Mmm, yummy.” Kennedy winks at Faith before leaning in to take the hardening nipples into her mouth, one by one.

Faith’s chuckle becomes a soft groan, and she struggles weakly to free her hands. She wraps one leg around Kennedy, squeezing her with it.

Slipping her hand quickly under the drawstring of Faith’s sweats, Kennedy runs her hand over the soft trimmed hairs, feeling the shivers caused by her light touch.

“Do you ever wear underwear?” Kennedy suppresses a laugh.

“You complaining?” Faith manages to say it between short breaths.

Kennedy just smiles. She pushes gently, further parting Faith’s thighs. And moves in on her target. Two fingers swirl across damp curls, pushing through them to find warmth and wetness. More shivers.

Kennedy needs both hands now, so she lets go of her grip on Faith’s wrists. Immediately one freed hand is tangled in her hair, tugging in the way Kennedy likes. The other slips down to the mats. For leverage.

Kennedy flicks her tongue against Faith’s nipple, brushing the other with one hand. She transfers her weight, holding Faith’s body down.

“No way. You are staying right where you are. I have a plan for you. A plan that requires you to be flat on your back.” She slinks carefully down the side of Faith’s body, pulling down the girl’s sweat pants and tossing them aside.

She trails kisses from the breast to the belly. Kisses Faith’s hip, her thigh. Little groans escaping from both of them.

She raises one arm back up to her breasts, knowing that Faith needs to hold on to some part of her. She smiles up at the girl, partly reassuring, partly cocky. And then she brings her head down. Gently exploring. Touching. Tasting. Tonguing.

Okay. So not wrestling. So very not wrestling. I need to go. … Look at me going.

She turns away. Looks at the wall. Concentrates on getting away. Tries to ignore the truly fantastic groaning coming from behind her. Forget about the massive blushing, the embarrassment, the heat creeping up. And the other things her body is doing, completely without her permission.

Like turning back toward the groaning…

Buffy doesn’t want to look. But she’s transfixed. Part of her knows that she’s really in the stairwell, probably sitting against the wall with a weird look on her face. But the other part is here. Trapped here with Kennedy and a very naked, writhing Faith.

She tries again to close the connection. Get away. She closes her eyes.

Stupid transparent eyelids…

Faith grasps Kennedy’s hand tightly. She’s close. She’s trying to squirm away, to pull back. But she’s also trying to get closer. Her back is arching. Her hips buck and sway. Her whole body is tingling, and none of her parts seem to know what they’re trying to accomplish. Oh God.

“Oh God!” Faith never goes to the god place. “I’m…” And the rest is cut short by a wave of warmth and shuddering release.

Kennedy crawls up to lie beside the shaking, quivering heap that was once Faith. She pulls the girl into an embrace, letting Faith clutch to her tightly. She places a little peck on Faith’s forehead. She sees a little frown appear on the girl’s previously serene face.

“Dumb question, but what’s going on in there? Whatcha thinking about?” Kennedy trails a finger across Faith’s cheek.

Faith lifts her head.


Did she see me? Oh my God… she saw me. Or sensed me…

Buffy sits on the floor of the stairwell, gasping. She has to calm down. Stop panicking. Catch her breath.

She slides up the wall. Standing now. She really has to get out of here.

Buffy slowly climbs the stairs, trying to push down the images that keep flashing in front of her eyes. Scrunch it down. Put it away. Save it for the inevitable therapy.

Buffy shakes her head, hoping that these loose thoughts will just fall out. But they stick. She climbs the stairs, and with every step her mind flips though another image.

Faith’s lips releasing a soft moan.

Faith’s back arched, a sheen of sweat making her skin glisten.

Faith curled up against Kennedy.

What’s with that anyway? What ever happened to ‘get some, get gone’? That was ‘get some, get cuddles’.

Buffy pouts without even realizing it.

And with Kennedy? Is Kennedy cheating on Willow? I’ll kill her. And the way they were… that wasn’t their first time together. Oh no! Are they in love?

Buffy feels a jolt. Like sinking, but from the inside. The word ‘crestfallen’ now holds a more concrete meaning.

So that’s who she’s been… I didn’t think to ask. I didn’t want to know... It’s none of my business. I don’t care.

Buffy’s internal ramblings are cut short by a wave of nausea and dread. She has to sit. The images in her head are taking over…

Faith catching her breath as a tongue grazes her nipple. Flashes of soft skin and moaning, and the smell of sex. Darkness and leather and pain. Short breaths, groans of pleasure and fear. Blood and want. The consuming twisted need in her. To have this girl.

She can still hear it. She can always hear it.

“Buffy... No… I can’t.”

“Buffy? Please!”

Her pain is immediate and overwhelming. Her body is crying, but there are no tears left. She shakes and covers her face with her hands. Silent sobs wrack her body. She lets herself feel it. The guilt, the shame, the god awful sickening knowledge of what she’s done; who she’s done it to. The truth of it.

It takes a long time. Feeling everything. Sitting there in the stairwell alone, grieving. Eventually she calms herself. Shuts the door on the horror. Because if she doesn’t, if she can’t… she’ll never move again.

And there are bigger things… Scarier things.

She’s definitely not ready for this. Especially now.

She reaches the landing for the fourth floor. Peeks down the hallway. Deserted. Walks quietly to the door.

But it’s Dawn. After everything, it’s only fair to see her right away. She takes a breath, and knocks.

Dawn stumbles out of bed. Stupid people knocking on the stupid door at three o’clock in the stupid morning. She runs a hand through her long dark hair, shaking out the tangles of a restless sleep. Yawning, she opens the door to her room.


Her hand flies out and slaps Buffy hard on the cheek. Then her arms reach out and grab her in a tight hug.

Buffy in her rumpled khakis and sweatshirt, and Dawn in her caterpillar P.J.’s. Falling to their knees together in the hallway. There’s no talking. After a good ten minutes, Dawn pulls back. Wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. She steps back, letting Buffy in to her room. She shuts the door.

“What did you just say?”

Kennedy leans up on her elbow, staring hard at Faith. Her eyebrows knotted in disbelief. She attempts to look angry, hurt. But a trace of smirk just won’t go away.

“Nah, Kenn. That was rock ‘em sock ‘em. Believe me I wasn’t thinking ANYTHING…” Faith grabs her tank and tugs it on.

“Except maybe ‘oh god, oh god’!” Kennedy can’t resist another dig. “Or maybe it’s ‘oh Buffy’ and…”

“Hey! Can we not go there?” Faith does her best impression of scary. Which doesn’t work because she’s still lying on the mats and trying to wriggle back into her sweats. “It’s not like that. It was the slayer connection thing. I felt her here.”

After a thoughtful moment, Kennedy’s lips twist into a mocking grin. “Kinky.” She lets out an evil laugh. She gets an irritated glare from Faith. “What?”

“You don’t get it. It’s not like before.” Faith looks down uncomfortably. “She’s here. Like, HERE here. I can feel it.”

All traces of fun are gone from Kennedy’s face now. She leans in to Faith, wrapping her up in her arms. What can she say to make it better?


Willow stares out at the earth through her little window. Little clouds going by under the wings of the plane. Little outlines of land masses, with little waves stretching out over the tiny little ocean. She knows that on these little continents are littler people, with their little lives and their little loves and little victories. She wants to hug them all. Tell them it’ll be alright. That she and her friends will protect and save their little world.

A hand on her shoulder forces her to turn away. Giles looks at her with such heartbreaking sympathy that she wants to cry. She’s surprised to find that she already is.

Giles pulls her close. Perhaps if he can be strong for her, she won’t have to suffer the sight of his tears. She weeps like a child against his chest, like the child he first met. Naive and sensitive, caring more for others than for herself. He’s glad that these things are still within her. That they haven’t been stolen away by the years of hard battle, by the immense power that she now controls.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.” The agreeable voice of the pilot comes over the speakers. “We’ll be landing at Glasgow International in a few hours. The local time is 7:35AM, and the temperature is a cool but mild 16 degrees Celsius, or 61 degrees Fahrenheit…” He continues to babble pleasantly.

“It has to be wrong… It has to be… We can’t just let it all go… It can’t be the end…” Willow’s sobbing is muffled by Giles’ jacket.

Giles pulls her tighter. He has to say something. Even if he doesn’t quite believe it himself.

“I’m quite sure… if there is a way for you all to confound the prophecy… that you will find it. Buffy’s done it before… You’re all terrible at following directions… None of you have ever listened to me at any rate… Problem with authority figures, I assume… So… erm…”

Willow sniffs, and wipes her eyes. She pulls out of the comfort of Giles’ arms. She looks up at him. Needing him to be right. Choosing to believe that there’s still hope.

“Yeah… We’re a buncha rebels. And who believes anything in books these days? Not me, mister!” Willow braves a small, tight smile. “We’ve got spunk, a-and a bad-ass slayer army… And Faith, who’s like the poster child for defiance…”

“And we’ve got Buffy.” Giles smiles down at the girl. She’s trying so hard.

Willow’s smile breaks free, lighting up her face. “Buffy’s back?”

Giles simply nods.

“I hope the apocalypse knows that it’s gonna have to wait. I see many hours of uninterrupted best-friend time in the near future. Prophecy Shmophecy!”


Willow turns her face to the window, looking out at the curve of the horizon as the earth meets sky. Such a wide open sky. And so blue. It’s a big world out there. Anything is possible.

Buffy looks down at a sleeping Dawn. Tucked neatly into the covers, her head resting comfortably on Buffy’s lap. Like when she was little. Buffy softly smoothes her sister’s dark hair, petting her, making sure she’s real.

It hadn’t been so bad. Dawn had spent the first hour yelling, the second crying, and the third catching up on everything they’d missed in each other’s lives. By the fourth hour she was yawning and stretching out on the bed and everything was forgiven.

Buffy nestles down under the covers, gently moving Dawn’s head from her lap to a nice comfy pillow. She pulls the covers up under her chin, and the soft rhythmic breathing beside her lulls her into a deep sleep.

Chapter Text

Buffy opens her eyes. It’s really bright. She balls her fists onto her eyes, trying to get them to adjust. She blinks. Everything comes into focus. She’s in a beautiful park. There’s a picnic. Checkered blanket under a perfect shade tree…

“Check it out… It’s just like old times!” Faith steps up behind her. She wraps her arm around Buffy’s shoulders, leading her into the scene. She sits, cross-legged on the blanket, and starts tearing into the picnic basket, pulling out an enormous amount of delicious looking food. “Oh, did you want anything?”

“Is there cake?” Buffy sits across from the other girl, grinning affectionately. “I like cake.”

“Problem is, there’s the whole, ‘have your cake and eat it too’ thing.” Faith stuffs her face, while rooting through the food.

“Y’know? I never got that. I always thought it should be ‘eat your cake and have…’” Buffy’s thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a rooster crowing from afar. “It’s not morning…”

“Doesn’t matter. Looks like rain.” Faith stands up, and looks up into the clear blue sky. Not a cloud in sight. “Definitely, big storm coming.”

Buffy frowns. “Will that ruin it all?” She looks as though she’s going to cry.

“It’s already ruined.” Faith looks down at all the food. It’s rotted and covered in squirming maggots and worms.

Suddenly, it’s dark as night. Storm clouds are thick and heavy in the sky. The wind whips up, burning their skin like fire, and rain bursts from the sky.

“Can we save anything?” Buffy looks through the disgusting moldy fare, hoping to find something that might have been spared. Faith grabs her hand and lifts her up.

“Maybe we can save everything.” Faith pushes a wet strand of blonde hair from Buffy’s face. She leans in, still holding her hand.

A burst of white shoots through the sky, blinding the girls, hitting the tree. A crack of thunder shakes the heavens, and the hills below.


Buffy sits upright in the bed, heart pounding. She inhales and exhales, trying to slow her heart to a normal person pace. She quickly checks that she hasn’t disturbed her sister. Nope. Dawn’s still snoring peacefully.

She thinks carefully about the dream, knowing that she’ll have to tell Giles about it when he arrives in the morning. Which is now. She looks out to see the sun shining high in the clear blue. Nope, it’s past now. Giles is already here.

With a groan, she flops back on the bed, closing her eyes.

“I am so done with the cryptic!”


Faith awakes with a jolt, opening her eyes. Bad idea. The sunshine hits her face, making her pupils contract way too fast. Squinting, she reaches for her jeans, pulls them on. Slips her smokes from her back pocket, walking slowly to the window. She sits on the sill, feet up. Lights up and takes a long drag.

She stares out the window, trying to piece together as much of the dream as she remembers. Giles will wanna know. Even if it didn’t make any sense. Even if it was mostly stupid.

She finishes her smoke, and lets it fall. She watches it this time as it flies downward, although it’s more fun at night when you can see the red spark as it lands. She roots through her drawer for a shirt, and slips it on over her tank. Training will take the edge off. Then she’ll go see Giles.

“This blows.” She walks out, letting the door slam behind her.

Buffy rolls over in the bed. Dawn’s gone. She stretches her arms out and over her head, sitting up. It’s nice to sleep in a real bed. Hostels aren’t so much with the comfort. She swings her legs over the edge, and bends to root through her bag. She’s gotta have some clean clothes left. Her eyes flicker over the room. She sees a pile of soft clean clothes folded on the chair by the window. They’re hers. Nice.

“Dawn, I will never taunt you again.” She smiles and walks over to the chair, shedding her worn khakis and sweatshirt onto the floor. “Well. Not today.” Casts off her underclothes, kicking them toward her backpack. She’ll pick them up later. Right now she’s desperate to pull something new over her skin.

She slips into the bra and panties, and slides her long thin legs into a pair of dark, low slung jeans. Pulls the silky top over her head and down over her torso. Gasps as a waft of fabric softener smell hits her senses. Lets herself enjoy the moment. She’s missed the smell of clean.

She checks herself out in the full length mirror. Not bad. The clothes fit her pretty well. Bit loose. She’s thinner, if that’s possible. She might need a belt. The blouse is a muted dark green, like washed out emeralds. She runs her fingers through her hair, smoothing out the tangles from her fitful sleep. It’s white blonde now, from the months she spent in the hot sun. But she’d had to cut some of the darker colour off, so it’s a bit shorter. Still, it runs down her back, slipping over her shoulders and nestling into her not-so-ample cleavage. Buffy frowns. Pushes her breasts up. Sighs. Lets them settle back down. They’re smaller too.

There’s a tentative knock on the door.

“S’okay, Dawn, I’m dressed…” Buffy turns to the door, expecting her sister to come barreling in.

“Buffy?” The door opens, and in slips…

“Willow! Oh, Will!” Buffy’s running to the door, and she scoops Willow up in her arms, swinging her around. “I missed you so much!”

“And that’s what I’ll tell the doctors when they admit me to the E.R.!” But Willow is laughing, and returning the embrace with all of her non-slayer might.

Eventually, Buffy puts her friend down, and they sit on the edge of Dawn’s bed. There’s so much to say, but neither seem to be able to do much more than stare, and smile, and look away. Look at their hands. Buffy feels tears welling, and digs her nails into her hand to stop them.

“I don’t…” Buffy starts.

“Did you…” Willow blurts.

“I’m sorry, you go.” Buffy wants to hear her friend babble. It’s comforting. She can’t remember when things were so quiet between them.

“So, um. Did you know that Kenn and I broke up?” It’s not what she wanted to say, but best start with the easier stuff.

“Yeah, Dawn told me. But you always get back together… eventually. You want to right?” Buffy doesn’t know if Willow knows.

“It’s complicated. But yeah, I think so.” Willow sighs. “If she’ll have me. She was so hurt when I left.”

“Why did you?” Buffy starts. “Leave, I mean.”

“I was exhausted. And I needed to go. The whole thing… the spell… drained me. And there was stuff… I felt… Why did you?” Willow breathes. “Leave, I mean.”

“I needed to.” Buffy smiles at her friend and then lowers her head. “I was a coward.”

Willow puts her hand over Buffy’s. “Everybody gets scared. But…”

“What I did… And then she showed me… I saw...”

“I saw it too. It went through me. It was so strong. I can’t believe we never saw it before.” Willow lifts Buffy’s chin. “What are you going to do about it?”

“What can I do? What can I say? Hey, sorry about the whole pain and torture thing. Sorry I took every nightmare and bad memory and made it real.” Buffy runs her hair through her hands, getting up from the bed and starting to pace. “Sorry you let me back into your life and I thanked you for it by…” She’s going to make herself say it. She forces it through clenched teeth. “Raping you and leaving you to die. So wanna go get a drink sometime? It’s unforgivable. I’m unforgivable.”

“You’re not unforgivable. You two… you’ve been through a lot of badness. And you got over it. Both of you. And it wasn’t you…”

“It WAS me! All of it was ME. I wasn’t possessed. I wasn’t out of my body. I was THERE. And I… wanted…” Buffy look is pleading.

Willow looks at Buffy. For a moment, it looks like Willow might cry. But then her features set hard. Resolve face.

“Buffy. Sit.” Buffy sits on the bed. Willow takes her hand gently.

“I’m gonna say some stuff here. You’re not gonna like it. But you’re gonna listen to me now.” Willow squeezes her hand, to soften what’s coming.

“Buffy. I love you. And I get you. What you’re doing right now? Not helping. You’re feeling guilty and… you should. You can be selfish, and sometimes you don’t see things or pay attention. Like right now. You’re so busy beating yourself up, but about the wrong stuff. It’s still all about you. What you did. Your guilt. Your pain.”

Buffy opens her mouth to protest. But a look from Willow stops her. She shuts up.

“You know, she agreed to the spell before she even knew what it was about. Before she’d even healed. Even when I told her what she’d have to do, she didn’t hesitate. She may not have wanted to help, but she needed to. She let you in, again. To save you, Buffy. And then you left. Even knowing everything, you left. What do you think that did to her?”

“Oh, God.” Buffy chokes it out. “I just couldn’t… didn’t want her to see me. I thought…”

“I know. You thought that she’d be okay if you weren’t around to remind her. You thought she’d be better off.” Willow moves her hand from Buffy’s, reaching over to rub the girl’s back. Small comforts. “That’s guilt talking. Stupidness, and guilt. And if you saw what I saw, you know that.”

“I saw. I saw her. It was… themostbeautifulthingI’veeverseen.” Buffy says it quickly. Squeezing it out against her better judgment.

“I felt that from you. And from her.” Willow doesn’t know how much more Buffy can take. “I know, y’know.”

Buffy looks at her, eyebrows raised.

“I know. What your heart wanted. What it asked. And I know how she answered.” Willow tries to keep her eyes steady, keep the accusatory tone out of her voice. “How could you walk away from that?”

“I… I…” Buffy tries to speak. Willow gets up to go.

“I don’t need to know the answer. But you do. And so does she.”

And Willow leaves. Leaves Buffy to think. Leaves to find Kennedy. They have a lot to talk about.

“Look, the syntax in this translation is wrong! Way wrong.” Dawn pokes her finger down on the open pages. The desk shakes with the force. “If we had the last copy of the Oraculum, you’d see I’m right.”

“Dawn, I understand that this is trying for you… And another Oraculum would only provide another translation. I’m afraid I don’t see…” Giles is worried about his protégée. He leans back on the desk, staring out at all the research materials cluttering his desk.

“Right. You don’t see. You don’t see me, anyway. Right here, you know. Full on Watcher! And I’m really, really good at it.” She rushes over to the computer. Clicks to the browser, pulls up a page from eBay. “Look! It’s right there. Doesn’t even know what he’s got. Thinks it’s some religious thing.” She turns the screen for Giles to see.

“Good heavens.” Giles stares down at the screen. Peering at it through his glasses. “The Satyasatvan AgranirUpaNa. Ancient scrolls, in Sanskrit and Avestan… Is it authentic? It had better be, with the price…”

“I looked at some of the pictures he provided. It’s authentic. It’s the Slayer Prophecies. A much older copy. Maybe the first copy…” Dawn looks at him triumphantly. “We need to have this. Express shipping is overnight!”

“Of course… Excellent work, Dawn. I’m sorry I ever… And when did you learn Avestan?” Giles looks at her with new eyes as she clicks ‘Buy it Now’, and enters the Council credit card number from memory.

“I told you. I’m really, really good.” Dawn is comfortable with gloating. Gloating is good.

There’s a knock, and they look up to see Faith leaning on the door frame. “Hey. Don’t wanna interrupt the nerd-fest, but I got some juicy new nightmares to share.”

Giles motions for her to come in, and she takes a seat on the windowsill.

“So, spill it. What you got for us nerds?” Dawn asks with a wry smile.

As Faith relates the events of her slayer dream, both Giles and Dawn write down the details. When she’s finished, they compare notes. Faith fidgets in her seat. Finally Giles speaks.

“Could you repeat the part about the rooster?”

“Like I said, Buffy was talking about cake. We heard a rooster. She said ‘It’s not morning.’” Faith rolls her eyes. “That sounds really dumb. It was dumb.”

“Actually, I think it’s quite a valuable piece of the puzzle. And you both heard the call, the crowing?” Giles is flipping excitedly through his private collection.

“Yes, Giles. We both heard the damned bird.” Faith gets up. “If that’s all. I’m gonna go… away.”

“Yes, yes… Quite…” Giles is lost in his books.

“Actually Faith. I have a question.” Dawn looks a bit scared.

Faith nods.

“Uhm. At the end of your dream. You said ‘maybe we can save everything’… what exactly was happening when you said that?”

“I think I fixed her hair. It was all straggly in the rain. I was holding her hand still. And I think I was leaning in to… unh...” Faith looks at the stone floor. The rug.

“But the big boom stopped you, right?” Dawn writes everything down. “Thanks Faith. It really could be important.”

“You know me. All about the sharing.” Faith deadpans, before walking out the door.

Chapter Text

Buffy walks determinedly down the hall. Ignoring the stares from the people she passes. Smiling weakly at the stream of ‘Nice to see you, Ms. Summers’ and ‘Good to have you back, Ms. Summers’ that come out halfheartedly, stuttered and surprised. It doesn’t matter. They can’t think worse of her than she thinks of herself.

But she’s got to do her job. So she’s going to see Giles.

She reaches the end of the main hallway, and quickly turns left. It’s not the fastest route, but it’s the quietest. Nobody comes down this way. It’s too twisty. She turns, walking backward, to see if any curious eyes have followed her. Nope. All clear. She whips back around.

And freezes.

Maybe if she doesn’t move. Maybe she can hide. Maybe…

“Hey.” Faith’s voice startles her out of her fear.

“Hey.” Buffy’s eyes flicker over the girl standing before her. Not catching her glance.

“So you are back. I thought I…” The dark haired woman takes a tentative step forward.


“You got my message then?” Another few steps.

“Yeah…” Buffy knows that there are more words. Lots of words. Whole books full of words. But she doesn’t seem to know any of them.

“Look at me.” There’s a tenderness there, threaded in with the gravel and bitterness.

“I… I can’t.” Buffy tries to turn away.

“Look. At. Me.” Faith takes one quick step, and grabs her wrist.

There’s a shock of white. A burning heat. Buffy’s eyes are forced open, forced to look up.


Hell if I know… Faith shrugs her shoulders.

Buffy tries to get away, wrench her hand from Faith’s grasp. But it’s no good. God, I can’t do this. I can’t do this right now. If I could just…

Can’t do what?

Buffy’s eyes widen. Was that out loud?

No. Faith grabs her other wrist, sliding her hands into Buffy’s and lacing their fingers together. Rubbing her thumb across the soft skin between Buffy’s thumb and index finger. Trying to calm the girl down. We need to get past this.

How? How can you just forgive me? I can’t… Faith can feel Buffy’s guilt, her fear. Her shame.

Whoa! Jumping the gun a bit, aren’t ya! I never said anything about forgiving. But we have to deal. Can’t just avoid each other. Buffy gets hit with warmth that doesn’t belong to her. And steel behind it. Sacred duty, end of the world… Anything sound familiar?

Oh. Buffy knows that her disappointment, her sadness, is on display. She still tries to cover. Vaguely, I guess. Even though her lip isn’t moving, Faith can feel Buffy’s lip start to tremble just where it meets the chin.

Let me in. Just let me in. Coaxing, not pleading. Strong and firm and it’s right. Scary as hell, but it’s fair and it’s right.

Okay. It’s a small word. But it’s also the biggest, hardest word ever.

Eventually, Buffy feels herself opening up. Letting go. And she can feel Faith.

Faith feels good.

Willow walks down the hall, toward the guest room. She’d spent half an hour looking for Kennedy. She wasn’t in the training room. Or the dining hall. Or even in their room. Or rather the room that used to be theirs, but is now only Kennedy’s. Thinking that thought makes Willow very sad. Sadder than when she thought about the coffee mugs. The ones that have a half-heart on each one, in mirror image. So when you clink the mugs together, it makes one whole heart. Willow loves those mugs.

With a sigh she reaches her door, and twists the handle.

Kennedy looks up at her from the bed. All stoic and stony-faced.

“Hi baby! I mean… Hey there, you.” Willow fights off the tears with a fierce gulp.

“Heard you were looking for me. Figured…” Kennedy gestures around her.

“It’s fine! It’s totally fine. It’s more than fine. It’s swell!” Willow breathes in and out. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“So. We should uh… talk or something.” Kennedy looks around. Not at Willow.

Willow hovers at the doorway. “Where should I… I mean… I could sit in the chair, but it’s far away and I don’t want you to think I’m all distant and not wanting to be near you. Or I could come sit with you, but then whoa! Bed! And maybe that’s the wrong thing for talking. With the bed there, all looming with the innuendo…”

“Come sit with me, Will.” Kennedy has to smile. Willow babble is adorable. “I won’t try anything.”

“I might.” Willow whispers under her breath. She closes the door and sits down, leaving a generous space between her and her ex.

Kennedy starts, with a shaky breath and grim determination.

“I think you should know. I’ve been… with… someone. For a while now. It’s safe and it’s simple. She makes me as happy…” Kennedy hears Willow wincing, trying not to interrupt. She puts her hand on Willow’s shoulder, looks into her eyes. “You have to hear this.”

“I know. I have no right to be jealous, or say anything…” The dam bursts, and Willow lets her tears fall. “I’m horrible. I left and I couldn’t say why and I’m a jerk. A big stupid jerk. And I’m sorry…”

“Hey… It’s good that you’re sorry. But I have to get this out. ‘Kay?” Willow nods, and tries to control herself. When she’s quieted down to the occasional sniffle, Kennedy starts up again. “She makes me as happy as I can be without you. Which is saying a lot. But she and I know that it’s not love. She needed me and I needed her. Because neither of us could have what we really want.”

Willow’s mouth forms a big O as the realization hits. “Faith. You’re with Faith. I unh…” Willow’s face pales. She searches for the right words. The proper thing to say. But there’s nothing.

“Yeah. It’s Faith.” Kennedy searches Willow’s face for something other than shock.

“Unh. Well, I guess that kinda makes sense. In a topsy turvy crazy land kinda way. Not that I’m judging! No-sir-ee. Faith’s probably… unh… great for the…” Willow gestures at the bed behind them. Suddenly realizing what she’s said, she blushes deeply red. “Not that I…”

“Yeah. Um. Let’s not go there.” Kennedy shakes her head. “So now it’s your turn.”

To anyone watching the scene, it would look like Faith and Buffy were merely standing in the hallway holding hands, staring intensely into each other’s eyes. They wouldn’t see the brief flashes of emotion flickering in the eyes. They wouldn’t catch the subtle movements of the hands and the little twitches of the body. Wouldn’t hear the change from quick hitching gasps to slow deep breaths in unison.

They might be concerned that these two women stay like this. In silence, not moving. Still for too long a time to be normal.

They would notice the first signs of real movement, however small. They’d seem clumsy and broad after all that calm. They’d see that Buffy’s lashes flutter, and her skin goes pink with blushing. That Faith’s stony face lifts into a genuine smile, small and soft. That Buffy’s hand twitches, and releases itself from Faith’s grasp. That Faith sways on her feet when that hand lands on her hip and subtly pulls her in closer. That nostrils flare and warmth builds in their bodies as their senses whirl from the physical closeness of the other.

“Okie dokie… So… er…” Willow tries to put words together to make thoughts. Sighing, she gives up. “Sorry, I’m still stuck on the Faith thing.”

“Moving on. Can we try that?”

“Just gimme a minute.” Willow tries to stop thinking about Kennedy and Faith together. Together in bed, naked. Sweaty and touching and…

“Hey! I’m sharing here! Can we turn off Willow’s Private Porno-vision?” Kennedy tries not to laugh. She’s supposed to be hurt and vulnerable. But Willow’s face is just too funny. Mouth hanging a bit open, blushing furiously with her eyes squeezed shut.

“Sorry… Sorry…” Bad Willow. “I’m okay. Really. Just… um… surprised… shocked, really.”

Kennedy lets go, leaning back on the bed, chuckling with great satisfaction. “You’re shocked? I’m shocked! You’re supposed to be jealous, or sympathetic, or something. Not getting off on the thought…”

Willow looks back at Kennedy, lying on the bed. “I am! I’m jealous-girl! Green-eyed-monster over here.” But a smile creeps into her lips, and soon she’s laid back on the bed, laughing, looking over at Kennedy.

Kennedy leans up on her elbow. She reaches over, touches smooth skin and traces freckles down Willow’s shoulder. Willow shivers from the contact.

“I missed you.” Kennedy’s voice has a new breathiness to it. Willow turns. The look in those brown eyes sends a spike of heat down through her body. The fingers on her shoulder have stopped their light traces, and are now tightening in her hair, caressing her neck. Pulling her close. Willow needs no more encouragement. She quickly scoots over, wrapping an arm around Kennedy’s thin waist. The other reaches for the honey-coloured skin at Kennedy’s collar. They touch over the fabric of their clothes, savouring the feel of closeness.

When they finally kiss, it feels familiar and new. Extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. They know every curve, every line, every familiar landmark. Every place that needs more delicate attention. It’s better than coming home.

Kennedy follows the line of Willow’s bottom lip with her tongue. A moan parts her mouth, and Kennedy’s tongue takes advantage. She rolls on top of Willow, pressing her body hard against her ex.

“I thought you weren’t gonna jump me?” Willow gasps out, trying to maintain the kiss. Trying to get Kennedy’s belt unbuckled.

“You totally jumped me first.” Kennedy smiles, and dips her head down to kiss and nip at Willow’s neck. Fingers deftly working on the buttons of Willow’s blouse. Pulling it back and snapping loose her bra. She looks at the tangle of clothes separating her from skin and softness. “Off, now.”

Willow pulls of the offending garments, and lies exposed under Kennedy’s appraising eye.

“Don’t think this is getting you out of our talk.” Kennedy wiggles an accusatory finger in front of Willow’s face. And then drops her hand down to explore the landscape of Willow’s breasts. The only response she gets is a heady groan and grasping hands.

“That was…” Buffy blinks, and comes back to earth.

“…intense.” Faith finishes the thought, the last one they shared before the connection faltered.

“Uh-huh.” Still blushing, Buffy looks up at the taller girl, peeking out from under her long lashes.

Faith looks down at her. Traces of the soft smile lingering. She licks her lower lip. A glimmer of want. She looks down at the hand that’s still on her hip.

Buffy’s eyes follow. “Oh… Sorry.” She takes her hand back.

They stand awkwardly. The intimacy is broken, but the change between them is permanent. Buffy asks first. “So… uh… now what?”

Faith forces nonchalance. “Now? I dunno. Hiding here ‘till it goes away isn’t an option?”

“Not so much. I’m foreseeing a big study session, then the inevitable pop quiz from hell. Literally.” Buffy smiles expectantly. Raises an eyebrow, like a challenge.

“Tell you what…” Faith grins, her old cheekiness winning out. She winks as she starts walking backward, giving the blonde a double gun salute. “You do the homework, and I’ll copy yours.” She turns with a wave, and walks away. “Later, B.”

“Later.” Buffy stares after the girl, a smile playing on her lips. “Definitely.”

Chapter Text

“…And she was all like, ‘Yeah?’ And I was all like, ‘Yeah!’, and then I totally showed her!” Dawn gestures wildly, either imitating a swordfight or someone straining to hold a big dog on a leash. “I disarmed her in like, three minutes!” So it was swords then.

“Go, Dawn! Kicking newbie butt!” Xander pats her on the back. They walk together down the hall, as Dawn regales him with tales of her victories over pubescent proto-slayers. “So are we meeting her, or are we doing door-to-door service?”

“Door-to-door.” Dawn shrugs. “It’s on the way. And she doesn’t want to just show up.”

“I get.” Xander nods. “Who’s all invited to this shindig?”

“The gang, plus some of the Next Gen slayers.” She stops in front of Buffy’s door and knocks. She turns to him with a smirk. “Renee will be there, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“That is what I was asking. But calling me on it is not polite friend etiquette.”

The door opens, and there’s a blur of pink terry cloth. “C’mon in. I’m just… I’ll be a sec.” The bathroom door slams shut.

Xander and Dawn roll their eyes at each other, and search the room for a comfortable spot to sit amongst all the discarded clothes.

“Geez, Buffy.” Dawn flops on the bed, sitting on a mound of jeans and skirts. “If we’re late I’m gonna…”

“Nyeah!” Xander jumps back from the armchair. “Girlie things!” He stands nervously in the centre of the room. Glancing furtively at the pile of silky, lacy fabric he was about to sit in.

“You live with like, a million women. I thought you’d be comfortable with ‘girlie things’ by now.” Dawn sniggers.

“You’d think so. But these are my FRIEND’S things. Intimate things. They’ve been near intimate parts. Body parts that friends don’t…”

“I’m gonna stop you there.” Dawn raises a brow.

“Please do.”

Buffy emerges from the bathroom. “Dawn, I look okay?”

Buffy twirls shyly. She’s put her hair back, loosely tied at her neck. Soft tendrils frame her face. Her makeup is light and pale, bringing out the green in her eyes and the fullness of her lips. Long legs look even longer in low cut, form-fitting pinstripe pants, belted at the waist with a silver chain. She checks the thin straps of her pink pearl camisole, nervous fingers playing with the delicate necklace at her throat.

“As the manly man of this trio, may I say…” Xander pauses for dramatic effect. And opens his mouth, wiping imaginary drool from his chin. “Guuuh.”

“Thanks Xander.” She needs the confidence. She waits for Dawn.

“I’d say yes, if we were meeting up with Lindsay and Britney for tabloid fun.” Dawn looks down at her own cardigan and jeans. “But since it’s movie night, I’d say you overdid it a bit.”

“I overdid? I’m over-dressy? I should change? I should change…” Buffy moves to rush back to the bathroom.

“NO!” Xander and Dawn lunge, and drag Buffy out the door.


Faith grabs the bag of popcorn from the microwave and pours it into a big glass bowl. Walks back into the entertainment room, grabbing a handful and munching down. When it’s gone she wipes her hand on her shirt. Weaves though the crowd of girls, and puts the bowl down amongst the mountains of chips and nuts and… Hey! Are those pork rinds?


She turns. Willow is standing in front of her, with a very scared Kennedy hiding behind her.

“Red.” She notices that the girls are holding hands.

“Baby, can you go get us all a drink? Faith and I need to talk.” Willow smiles sweetly at her ex-ex, who looks pained. Kennedy gives Faith an apologetic look, and pretty much runs away to the kitchenette.

“Didn’t take long for you two to get cozied up.” Faith smiles.

“We’re getting there.” Willow flushes and she smiles quickly, before setting her jaw.

“So, what? We gonna rumble?” Faith sighs. “Cos...”

“We need to clear the air. About Kennedy.”

“Right.” Faith steels herself. “You get one free shot. And no magicks.” She raises her hands in surrender. She can take one Willow-sized punch.

Willow takes a few steps forward, and Faith finds herself caught up in a tight hug. “You’re gonna squeeze me to death? Not what I was expecting.”

“I’m just full of surprises.” Willow squeezes tighter, not letting Faith squirm away.

“C’mon Will! I pounced on your girl!”

“She’s her own girl. Woman. Person. Her own girl-woman-person. And pouncing aside, you were there for her. So…” Willow takes a breath. And pulls out of the hug. “Thank you.”

They stand there for a sec. It’s a little awkward. Then Faith grins.

“Anytime.” Faith’s eyebrows bounce up and down.

“Hey! There will be no more times!”

“Just checking.”

“I see smiles, and no bloodshed…” Kennedy walks up, beers in hand. She passes them out.

“We’re good.” Willow plants a possessive kiss on Kennedy’s cheek.

“Damn.” Kennedy takes a swig from her beer. Drapes her free arm across her girl’s shoulders and winks in Faith’s direction. “I was hoping to see a cat fight. Maybe a little mud-wrestling.”

“Kennedy!” Willow’s cheeks are burning.

Faith laughs. Winks back at Kennedy. This might be fun. “Don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it, Will.” And with a very deliberately sizzling smile, she slinks away.

“Uhmnuh.” Willow’s world is now centred on the arm caressing her shoulder, and the swaying of leather-clad hips.

Kennedy nudges her out of her reverie with a snort. “Hey! Stop ogling!”

“I don’t ogle! There is no ogling! And if I am it’s your fault! You… with the talk.”

“You tuned in to the ‘private’ channel again?” Kennedy whispers, hot and breathy, with little kisses behind Willow’s ear.

“Yep. All unscrambly and everything.” Willow sighs in defeat, leaning in and softly whimpering as Kennedy’s kisses become less little and more centred around the neck area.

“Why don’t you TiVo that thought for now.” Kennedy murmurs. “Let’s go be social…”

She kisses Willow lightly on the lips, and pulls her toward the gaggle of girls crowding the big screen.

“So Russell Crowe is the bad guy.”


And Christian Bale’s the good guy?”

“YES! Now shush.”

“So why are they all lovey? Are you sure this isn’t Brokeback Mountain?”

“Buffy! It’s not our fault you missed the first part. It’s not our fault you had to sit on the floor. So please, just shut UP!” Kennedy whispers angrily, staring down at Buffy.

Buffy shuts up. Looks around the room. Nearly twenty girls, and Xander, smooshed in front of the flat-screen. It’s a sea of elbows and estrogen. The only person who looks comfortable is Faith, sprawled out in an overstuffed chair, beer in hand.

Buffy watches Faith watch the movie. It’s captivating. Her face in the flicky light of the TV. The way her body shifts forward when there’s fighting or gunplay. Her wide-eyed, complete absorption in the story.

She untangles her legs, pulling them up against her chest. Watches Faith bring the bottle to her lips, tilting her head back and lightly tonguing the rim to catch the last drops of beer.

It happens so quickly, Buffy can’t shut it down. Little pictures. Faith’s tongue, light on her lips. Light on her neck. Light on her…

Pervert. Faith’s voice in her head still has that smoky essence.

Somebody kill me. She dips her head between her knees. Grateful that the lights are dim, and no-one can see the scarlet on her skin. Eyes on the T.V. Oh look! Pretty horsies!

She stares at the screen without seeing.

I didn’t mean… Buffy’s mortification builds. Just watch the movie.

Fine... Faith keeps her eyes on the film. Pervert.

“Interesting.” Willow mumbles to herself. Willow’s eyes are scrunched up, staring at the space between Buffy and Faith.

Buffy keeps her head low. Tries to restrain the urge to peek across the room. Catch a glimpse of dark hair, wide brown eyes. She is eternally grateful when the credits start to roll, and the lights come on.

“That was really good. Wasn’t it good, Buffy?” Willow has a teensy smirk.

“Oh, great! Great.” Buffy covers, stretching her cramped legs as she stands. “Hunky goodness.”

“And the ending was perfect. What did you think?” Kennedy’s caught on to the game.

“Yeah. Um. Smart, how they put it…” She looks to Willow for help. She gets nothing. “…right after the middle?”

“Buffy? Where have you been the past hour and then some?” Willow’s smirk takes over her face.

Buffy glares, and stomps away to soothe her humiliation with salt and fat. She walks slowly down the table, grabbing a few pretzels, some popcorn. Throws them into a small plastic bowl. Bypasses the cheesies and the… Gross! Are those pork rinds?

The popcorn makes her thirsty. She makes her way to the kitchenette. Bends over and roots around in the back of the fridge, hoping in vain that there’s Tab. There’s never any Tab.

“Grab me a beer while you’re in there?”

Buffy’s head jerks up, smacking into the glass shelf above. She quickly pulls herself upright, rubbing the back of her head with one hand, and clinging to a can of Diet Coke with the other.


“Me. Beer.” Faith speaks very slowly and uses hand gestures, trying to be considerate of Buffy’s obvious brain damage.

“Right...” Buffy grabs a bottle and passes it on. Turns away to pour her can into a plastic cup with ice. “Sorry about the…”

“Forget it.”

“So, unh. How’ve you been? I haven’t seen you around much.”

“Haven’t been around.” Faith shrugs.

“Are you okay? I mean, about Kennedy?” Buffy turns back slowly. Two hands on the cup to hide the shaking.

“Not really your business. But yeah.” Faith shifts around, looking for an exit. Small talk is a bad idea.

It is better however, than the no talk that’s happening now. Faith gulps at her beer.

“Are you avoiding me?” It may sound like Buffy’s whining. But she’s not. Really. “It’s been days, and I was thinking that we should…”


“But you said…” Now Buffy’s whining.

“Yeah. I said. And I meant. But…”

“You hate me. I get it.”

Faith sighs a sigh of deep frustration and annoyance

“I wish I could hate you. It’d make this a helluva lot easier.” Faith wants to pace, but the kitchenette is really too small. Instead, she runs her fingers through her hair. “The problem is, B, I don’t trust you.”

It’s like a punch in the gut. But Buffy can handle a punch. This, she can’t handle.

“Oh… But I…”

“What more do you want from me? Gahd, Buffy. It’s hard enough without you expecting us to be best buds!” Faith looks away. Loses the yelling part of her voice. “Every time I see you. It hits me. And I can’t…”

“I’m sorry.”

“You keep saying that. Doesn’t really change anything.” Faith turns to go.

“So why did you... before… in the hallway…”

“Cos I had no choice, Buffy! This is NOT about you and me! This is about getting the job done!” The slayer and the woman, both evident on Faith’s face. A look of pride and pain.

“And nothing else?”

“What else is there?” Faith looks at Buffy carefully. To make the words sink in. “You’ve said it yourself. The mission is what matters.”

“Oh.” Buffy looks down. Hides her face. Puts her cup down on the counter. Stills the trembling of her lips. Calms her unsteady breath and her unsteady hands. “Right.”

Fighting the urge to run. Fake bright smile in place, arms crossed against her chest, she walks. Away from Faith, the gang and the girls.

Just away.

Chapter Text

“Hey! I’ve got your cock right here!” Xander’s excited. And now he feels a little dirty. He covers his mouth with his hands.

“Xander!” Giles, Willow and Dawn turn to him, all shock-faced.

“Sorry! Words came out before there was thinking.” Xander gives them his best goofy smile. He stands up, walking to Giles’ chair. “The thing you said. About the unh… dream. I think I’ve got something!”

Giles quickly snatches the book from Xander’s hand. He scans the pages carefully. “Yes… I believe you do…”

“I am Research Man! Finder of helpful knowledge, and bringer of pastries!” Xander struts proudly, reaching over to grab the last jam tart. Research Man in full effect.

“What’s it say?” Willow looks to Giles. Ignoring Research Man.

“There is a divine being, in ancient lore. Sraosa. Symbolically represented by the co…” Giles looks up at Xander, who’s stifling a giggle. “Ahem… rooster, whose crowing calls the righteous to their sacred duties...”

“Oh! I read about him!” Dawn looks up from the scrolls she’s been translating. “In college. Really cool class. ‘World History Through the Eyes of God’.” She gets up and goes into the stacks, calling back. “We did a whole thing on Persia.”

“It says here that he is honoured on the seventeenth of each month, that he may deliver his wisdom.”

“Right! He’s like, the messenger guy for a god…” Dawn returns with a pile of books in her arms, and dumps them out on the table. She picks one, and starts skimming through it. “Mazda something…”

“Miata?” Xander’s trying to be helpful. By the looks he’s getting, he’s not very. And he has jam on his nose. “It was a cool car.”

“Ah! Ahura Mazda!” Dawn grins in triumph. “I remembered! B-Plus, my ass!”

“Bitter much?” Willow nudges Dawn.

“Hey! I remember a certain somebody getting all wiggy in high school about a Calculus mid-term!” Dawn nudges back.

“But I had all the right answers! And 98% is not the same as perfect. Which is what it was. Perfect! And Mr. Garner! He…” Willow comes out of her huff. “Stupid bell curve.”

“Glad you’ve let it go.” Dawn pats her hand condescendingly.

“If you’re all quite finished…” Giles glares at them over his glasses. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

“Right. These ancient scrolls aren’t gonna translate themselves… But wouldn’t it be cool if they did?” Dawn looks wistful.

“Actually, I could probably do a spell…” Willow stops, getting another look from Giles. “Or not.”

“Sadly, Research Man has to go do a thing.” He stands and stretches. Not pulling off the sad part.

Willow looks up at him.

“She’s gonna be mad.”

“Yeah.” Xander starts to walk away. “But she’ll get over it. I can hide until then…”

“Not about that thing. About the other thing… The thing we talked about?” Willow waves her hand around in a casual ‘duh’ gesture.

“Right! The THING.” He turns around. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“You do remember that everyone in the room is aware of the ‘thing’ to which you’re referring, yes?” Giles’ lip twitches a bit.

“We’re not used to subterfuge.” Willow gets defensive. “Being sneaky is new territory!”

“True. And tricking people… Well, tricking Buffy… it’s…” Xander shuffles closer to the exit.

“Tricky?” Dawn helps.

“Nail on the head.” Xander smiles at Dawn, and walks out of the library.


Buffy stretches her legs out on the bed. Reading is good. Wholesome, healthy fun. No need for pesky air or sunshine.

She finds the page that she’s folded over. Rolls on to her tummy, kicking her legs up into the air. Chews on a piece of stray hair, squinting at the words. She can’t concentrate.

A knock on the door. “Who is it?”

The door opens a bit, and Xander’s head peeks through. “Hey Buff, got a sec?”

“Nope. Not a one.” She pats the space on the end of her bed. “But I’ve got a few hours I can spare.”

He shuts the door behind him. Sits on the bed. All grinning. And bouncing.

“Spill, Xander. You’re making me seasick.” Buffy sits up.

“I talked to Giles and the rest of the Watcher brigade… and as soon as you’re ready, you’re back on rotation!”

“That’s… great.” Buffy watches Xander’s face go from clowny to frowny. “No, really! I mean it. I was just…”

“Yeah. I was bowled over by your enthusiasm.”

She gives him a look. The one with the raised eyebrow and the half-smile. “I’m enthused! I think it’s great. I haven’t been much with the slayage lately…”

“Right. Too busy with the brooding and the hiding.” Xander smiles lightly. “Look. We get you trained up, put some meat on your bones…”

“Hey! Skinny is in this year.” Buffy pouts. “You think I’m bony?”

“No. You look like a waifish Kate Moss. But what’s good for the Gucci, usually not so good for the killing of large and disturbing things.” He makes a good point.

“What… Unh… Where would you put me?” Buffy picks at the corner of her novel. “I don’t wanna mess with the hierarchy, you know.”

“We’re kinda hoping you’d be okay with being a Team Leader, for now. Let you work your way back up, at your own pace.”

Buffy thinks about this. For about three seconds.

“That’s perfect!” Buffy gives Xander a quick hug. He hugs her back.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” He hands her a folded up piece of paper. “Here’s your new-ish life. All training, no moping.” He stands up and makes his way to the door.

She opens the paper, and quickly glances at her new diet and training schedule. “When do I start?”

“Tomorrow morning, seven AM sharp. I heard the instructor is a real stickler about lateness…” He opens the door.

Buffy looks down at her sheet, squinting to read the fine print. As the name comes clear, she jumps up and turns to Xander with shock.

“Xander! You… You… That’s not fair!”

“Seven AM! Be there!” He ducks out the door and shuts it behind him, narrowly avoiding death by romance novel.

She dangles her legs over the wall. Looking down and out at the landscape. She’d found a way into the turrets a couple weeks ago.

She likes rooftops. Nice and quiet. And can’t beat the view.

She takes a quick drag from her smoke, and flicks it away. Watches the little red part glow in the dark. She loses sight of it before it lands.

So she just sits. The heels of her boots kicking out a rhythm on the old stone.

When she sees some of the girls returning from a night on the town, she looks around mischievously for something to throw.

Not even a pebble.

But their noise reaches her. Breaks her isolation. Laughing and teasing. Being girls.

She can’t remember a time when she was like them.

And then she does remember… And it hurts her more.

She swings her legs over the wall and walks to the trapdoor. Lifts it, and looks down at the dark with a heavy sigh.

Then she laughs. Wondering when exactly she turned into Angel.

That thought cheers her up a little, in a weird way. She thinks maybe he’d be proud.

She disappears down the dark stairs.

Bed time.

“She’s picking on me!” Buffy storms into Giles’ office, followed by a very angry Kennedy.

“I’m sure she’s just…” Willow looks at Buffy. Then at Kennedy.

“She’s picking on you.” Dawn turns to face them.

“You missed the kick completely! And your punches WERE sloppy!” Kennedy flops down beside Willow. Arms crossed. Sulking.

“See?” Buffy sits beside Dawn, dropping her backpack to the floor. “She’s mean. And power-trippy! And…”

“I’m sure she’s just…” Willow tries again.

“Buffy, you’ve been a walking whine-a-thon for days. Get over it!” Dawn’s a little testy.

“Make her stop? Pleeeeeease?” Buffy bats her lashes at Willow. “Ooh! You could withhold sex!’’

“Buffy, that’s not…”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Giles slams his palm on his desk. “Would you please stop bickering!”

“She started it!” Kennedy and Buffy point at each other.

“Enough! I’m sure that Kennedy would never…” Giles looks at Kennedy meaningfully. “take advantage of the situation for her own gratification.”

Kennedy looks down. Bites her lip.

“And she’s the best chance you’ve got at being ready for what’s coming.” Giles turns his gaze to Buffy. “You need each other.”

Buffy looks like she’s going to protest. But the glaring from three sets of eyes. It’s a lot of glaring.

“If you’re all done being big babies…” Dawn waits to make sure. “We’ve got some new dirt on the big bad.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for…” Willow attempts another sentence.

“…can’t believe you got it! I ordered mine last month.” Xander stops at the open door.

“Dude, your supplier is weak. Got mine three days ago.” Faith twists herself around him, and walks into the room backwards.

“Can I borrow? I mean, they killed Cyclops! I have to know what happens!” Xander looks like he might cry.

“Sure. Just don’t get any sticky fingerprints on it.” Faith smirks, poking him in the chest. “I know how you feel about Kitty Pryde.”

“What are you people talking about?” Dawn has no clue.

“Astonishing X-Men Number 23! Just got my hot little hands on it…” Faith turns and stops.

Eyes on Buffy. Then eyes on anything else. She leans against the doorjamb. Her eyes settle on her boots.

Buffy takes a sharp breath. Feels hot. Then feels pain. Then feels guilt. She sinks down in her chair. Invisible Buffy.

“Now that we’re all here…” Giles takes control. “Dawn has finished translating the scrolls, and there seems to be more to the situation than we first thought.”

“Yeah, the prophecy from the Latin books was only a piece. We’ve got the whole thing now, and it’s in the right order, thanks to me…”

“Yes. And well done.” Giles smiles briefly at her. “Perhaps if you read it out…”

“Cool.” Dawn looks at her notes.

“Great waters will drown the earth. Fire will rain from the sky. The Destroyer comes by these. All will tumble into darkness.

United by the Body-Maker. The One become two become one. Bringing benefit to earth. And truth to light.

Each will see the other fall. Their sacrifices unmade. The Chosen bound by silver. Must heed the other’s call.”

She looks up expectantly.

“How come only the last part rhymes?” Kennedy’s not much for poetry.

“It doesn’t really. It’s a fluke. An English fluke.” Dawn’s still waiting. “C’mon! This took me AGES to figure out!”

“But what does it mean?” Xander sits on the edge of the desk. “I mean, I get the fire and brimstone part. That’s pretty standard.”

“And who’s this Destroyer guy? ‘Cos gotta say… wicked album! Stupid nickname.” Faith can deal with shop talk.

“We’re working on that. But we do have some promising… or should I say disturbing leads.” Giles takes off his glasses and peers at them.

Faith runs her hand through her hair. Thinking hard.

“So lemme get this straight. We’re…” She flicks a hand between herself and Buffy. Without looking. “…gonna get juiced up by this Maker Guy…”

“Girl.” Giles whips out his hanky. “The Body-Maker is a woman. It’s from an end time legend… Her true name is Eredat-Fedhri, the Victorious Helper. A maiden who does not lie with men. Through her, the champion shall arise. The Saoshyant.”

“Where have I heard this before? Virgin birth… saviour…” Xander isn’t buying it. “C’mon Giles. I think I’d have noticed the second coming!”

“This is a much older myth than the bible. In fact, at least a thousand years older…” Giles is wearing a hole through his lenses.

“So we got time, then? We wait around for this Sashy… Ant guy. Train him up… and he leads the charge?” Faith scratches her head.

“Not quite. If I’m correct, you and Buffy ARE the Saoshyant. All the references are there. Two become one, the Chosen…”

“Problem!” Faith raises her hand. “My mom? Virgin? I’m thinkin’ no.”

“Ditto.” Buffy says quietly.

Giles puts his glasses back on with a sigh.

“You guys are so dense.” Dawn butts in. “Think about it. Who’s been helping Buffy since the beginning? Who’s the one that MADE all the slayers? Who’s the one not sleeping with boys?”

All eyes fall on Willow. She’s sitting straight up in her chair. Eyes wide. Not moving.

“Willow? You understand? You are the Body-Maker.” He looks for eye contact. “Your spell…”

“But I… Oz… We…” Willow still can’t get a full sentence out.

“It says that you DON’T lie with men. Doesn’t seem to matter that you used to.” Dawn clarifies, smirking.

Kennedy puts her arms around her girl. “Hey, you wanted to be in the book, right?”

Willow raises her hand to touch Kennedy’s arm.

“Yeah, Will. Looks like you hit the big time!” Xander walks over and kisses her forehead. “Don’t forget about us little people…”

Buffy reaches out and grabs her other hand. Squeezes it. Almost whispers. “You get used to it after a while.”

Willow relaxes a bit. Gives her thin smile. “Ooh-boy, guess this means…”

“Hate to be a downer, but…” Faith tries to pace in the crowded room. “How does any of this help us? We still don’t know jack about shi-…”

“On the contrary. We have a path to follow.” Giles puts a tentative hand on her shoulder, stopping her pacing. “I’m not sure I like where it’s leading…”

“And where’s that?” Xander looks at Giles. His eyes are squinty and accusing. “You know something!”

“I know many things.” Giles sits in his chair, tired and resigned. “With this new information, and what we’ve found out about Sraosa... There’s a line being drawn here. And it leads directly… It’s possible…”

“Spit it out, Giles!” Kennedy’s had enough revelation for one day.

“It’s most likely… Sraosa’s greatest enemy is Aesma-Daeva. He has had many names… Asmodeus, Apollyon, and most recently Abaddon.” Giles takes a deep breath.

“WHAT?” Dawn looks terrified. “You never said…”

“Because I’m not certain! There are too many references from unreliable sources… too many crossovers from religious and historical texts.”

“So what is this guy? Uber-Demon or something?” Faith doesn’t get why Dawn looks so scared. “Cos we can…”

“It’s ancient evil. Madness, lust and anger. Powerful and…”

“I think we got that with the whole ‘Destroyer’ part.” Xander’s done. “Cut to the chase. Who is he?”

Giles raises his head. Looks sadly around at the group. And with a sigh…

“The Angel of the Abyss.”

Chapter Text

“So… how’s training going?” Willow seems nervous as they walk the long hall.

“S’good. I’m getting my muscle tone back, and it’s keeping me busy.” Buffy looks at her friend, sympathy showing in her eyes. “It’s okay. Kennedy’s backed off a lot. And she’s a good teacher, Will. You don’t have to worry.” She takes Willow’s hand and gives it a quick squeeze.

“Yeah, worried… that’s me.” Willow’s eyes shift from Buffy’s, to the floor. “’Cos you and Kennedy were all ‘Grrr’ and I was getting all ‘Argh’… and… tension! I’m no good with the anxiety…”

“So, what’s the plan?” Buffy smiles, changing the subject. “Mochas? Munchies? Movie marathon? Something non-‘M’ related?”

“I just need to... Hang on. Need a sec with Kennedy.” Willow stops in front of the small private training room. She knocks on the door.

“Hey!” Kennedy opens the door, breathless and sweaty. Gives Willow a peck on the cheek, and a look. “Come in for a bit.” She grabs Willow’s hand and drags her in.

Buffy follows them in, and stops at the door. Frozen in place by the six faces staring calmly at her. Her eyes move across the room.

Giles and Xander leaning against the vaulting horse. Dawn sitting on the window sill. Kennedy protectively standing in front of Willow. And Faith at the punching bag. Faith who’s also breathless and sweaty. Buffy can’t help the jealous glance she sends Kennedy’s way.

“What the hell is going on?” Buffy turns to Willow. “What is this?”

“Don’t take this out on Willow.” Xander starts. “We were all in on…”

“Is this another intervention? ‘Cos it kinda loses its impact after the first time, you know.” Buffy crosses her arms.

“It’s not…” Willow tries.

“Then what is it?” Patience is not Buffy’s virtue. But anger, she’s got the hang of.

“I told you she was gonna be mad.” Willow mumbles.

“They want us to train, B.” Faith says it quietly. “They want us to learn to control the connection thing.”

Dawn walks up to her sister, and puts a hand on her arm. “Right now, it’s distracting you. Both of you.”

“And distraction can get you killed.” Xander stands. “You need to get a grip on it. Make it work for you.”

“I, for one, don’t want to go into a fight with you two the way you are.” Kennedy slips her hand into Willow’s.

“So why the cloak and dagger?” Buffy tries to calm herself. “You coulda just said…”

“Said what, precisely? You’ve been deliberately avoiding Faith at every turn. And when you’re forced to be together, your discomfort is painfully obvious.” Giles finally speaks up. “This connection could be a great asset, but as it stands it is a liability in the worst possible sense.”

“You’re telling me.” Faith breathes out the words.

“Do you know what you’re asking me to do? What you’re asking Faith to do?” Buffy really looks at Faith for the first time. “You’re on board with this?”

“Not thrilled… Makes sense though.” Faith flicks her hair back. Shrugs. “I’m in, if you are.”

Buffy looks down at the floor. The red starts to fade from her skin. She knows that everyone is waiting for her. To do the right thing. The unselfish thing. The un-Buffy thing.

She lets her arms fall to her sides. Wipes her palms against her skirt.

“I’m in.” Buffy doesn’t look up. She’s been defeated.

“And we’re out.” Xander and Kennedy walks to Buffy’s side. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “It’ll be okay.”

“I’m still mad at you guys.”

“At least you’ll live long enough to get over it.” Dawn looks triumphant, as she kisses Buffy on the cheek.

“I’m not kissing you.” Kennedy walks past Buffy with a grin.

“I’m heartbroken.” Buffy almost smiles back. Almost raises her eyes to meet theirs as they walk out of the room.

The door shuts quietly behind them. She finally drags her eyes from the floor.

“So now what?”

Faith sits cross legged, across from Buffy. They breathe in and out slowly. Eyes closed. Palms up, resting on their knees. They can hear Giles breathing from across the room, observing and taking notes. They can feel Willow standing at their side, scrutinizing the air between them, leading the session. But it’s hazy. Muffled.

“Alright, so. Try again.” Willow is encouraging.

Both girls nod in unison.

Faith relaxes her shoulders. Slows her breathing a little more. But nothing’s happening.

“How long do we have to do this?” Buffy’s frustration comes through in her whisper. “It’s not working.”

“Yeah. I can see your auras pushing against each other. You have to let each other in, not force yourselves out.” Willow speaks softly.

Minutes slowly tick past. Buffy clears her throat. Faith shifts her hips, and flexes her hands. The hair in her face aggravates her more, so she flicks it back.

More minutes drag by. And more nothing happens. Finally…

“Contact. It’ll work if we’re touching.” Faith rasps, very reluctantly. She reaches out, catching Buffy’s fingers and locking them into hers.

They both flinch at the burn.

“Really? Giles, can we…” Willow’s voice fades out. There’s a faint sound of rustling fabric as Willow turns away.

I’ll never get used to that. Faith feels her stomach muscles contract.

You can say that again. Buffy breathes out the pain in quick rasps.

I’ll never get… The tiniest curl of Faith’s lip.

Funny. The movement is mirrored on Buffy’s.

They concentrate on themselves for a minute. Slowing their heart rates, relaxing their muscles.

Buffy’s fingers pull themselves tighter into Faith’s, bringing their palms together.

It’s easier like this. In here. Buffy’s voice sounds small and soft in Faith’s mind. It always has been. Why is that?

Dunno. Faith lets her head tilt slightly. It’s like… this way… you can’t lie to me.

I don’t lie.

Everybody lies. Faith’s brow twitches. It’s a matter of degrees.

That’s bleak. Buffy’s thumb runs back and forth over Faith’s knuckle. So you don’t trust anyone?

Again. Matter of degrees. Faith’s fingers pull out from their tight grip, bringing her hand down to Buffy’s knee and resting it on the bare skin. She feels Buffy’s hand on hers.

I don’t lie.

Keep tellin’ yourself that. She gives Buffy’s knee a light squeeze.

Okay, so how do I lie?

You don’t say things. Or you act one way, but say stuff that’s the opposite of it.

That just means I’m complicated.

No, it means that I never know what to believe. Another light sigh from Faith.

You can believe me now, right? Buffy’s fingers brush over the edges of Faith’s fingers.

Doesn’t matter. I don’t wanna hafta be in your head, to know what’s in your heart. Faith can feel waves coming off Buffy. Gotcha.

That was pretty. You think prettier than you talk sometimes.

Like you said. It’s easier in here.

Vaguely, they can hear a humming far away. They can hear the scratch of a pen stroke on paper.

I can feel that you’re scared. Faith’s voice is hesitant.

I hate that you know that. A small sigh escapes Buffy’s lips.

I feel that too.

This is so not fair. Buffy shivers slightly as Faith’s fingers begin drawing light circles, moving slowly up her thigh.

Is what it is. Faith feels Buffy try to pull her thoughts away. Hide them from her.

It doesn’t work.

You think I’m stronger than you? A little jolt, and a little gasp from Faith.

Dammit! Buffy’s lip pushes out a little. An echo of the real thing. Fine. Yes. You are. Stronger.

Wow. Dunno if I agree… But...

This whole thing? You’re dealing. I’m not. I’m running and sulking and being stupid. Buffy’s thoughts come at Faith like a freight train. And before. When I had your… your pain and memories and stuff... And I couldn’t fight it. It drove me... Hell, it drove me over the edge! But you… You’ve had this inside you your whole life. And you… God… you’re so…

Faith’s nails dig into Buffy’s knee. She’s being bombarded by the force of the other girl’s feelings. She can’t separate them, or identify them. It shoots into her, and she can only grasp intensity, warmth, and pain.

She feels Buffy’s hand tighten on hers, clawing into her skin. Feeling the same heat. The same power. It’s a chain reaction between them. And it feels like they’re burning.

They can hear their hearts beating in their ears. Feel the sheen of sweat rising on their skin. Their nails have drawn blood, and it’s mingling as it threads its way down. Both on the edge of the inferno. Not knowing how, but needing to escape this never-ending peak.

FAITH? It’s a plea.

BUFFY! It’s a prayer.

It takes them over. Pushes them past tolerance. Past what their bodies can take. The contact breaks as they fall back on the mats. Breathing heavy and ragged. Struggling for consciousness, for control over their own minds.

“Contact. It’ll work if we’re touching.”

“Really?” Willow didn’t know that. She turns, and takes a step toward Giles. “Giles, can we still use standard blocking techniques if there’s a physical factor? How do we stop…” Willow hears the thud of bodies and whips around. She and Giles rush over to their friends.

“I don’t understand. They were connected for like, seconds!” She rests Buffy’s head on her lap. Stroking her hair.

Giles doesn’t respond. He drops to his knees. Lifts Faith up and leans her against his chest. Presses two fingers against her wrist.

“Faith? Are you alright?”

“Hnuungh. Hmm?” Faith’s raspy voice is peppered with sharp wavering breaths.

Buffy’s eyes flutter, and then open. She looks up, and sees an upside-down Willow-face.

“Hey Buffy… you alright?”

“Unnh…” Buffy tries for words. “Dunno… Think so… Maybe…” Things are confusing now. Melty and fuzzy.

She sits up a little on her own. Watches as Faith lifts her head from Giles’ chest, eyes lost in heavy lids and dark lashes.

“You two rest here and try to catch your breath.” Giles allows Faith to pull away. “When you’re able to move, you’re to go straight to the infirmary.”

Faith runs her hands through her hair. “S’okay, Giles. Do-hon’t need the… mother hen act.”

“B’lieve me, Fa-haith. S’not an act.” Buffy would laugh if she had breath enough.

“Hey! They’re making fun!” Willow crouches, putting her hand on Buffy’s back to steady her. “Making fun of Giles means they’re okay!”

“Regardless, you’re both to be seen by Med staff.” Giles covers his relief with a look of annoyance. He stands up.

Faith takes in a full breath. It’s steady and strong. It slows her panicked heartbeat, almost to a normal rhythm.

“Can… Can B and I have a few minutes?” Faith looks from Willow to Giles. “Alone, I mean?”

“Of course.” Giles stands up. He nods for Willow to follow him out of the room. He reaches the door, holding it open for Willow. “Three minutes, no more.”

The door closes behind them.

“So…” Buffy looks at her hand, suddenly fascinated by the blood under her nails.

“Yeah.” Faith examines the cuts on her hand.

“Umm. I…” Buffy sighs. “Why is this so…”


“Yeah. We just…” Buffy shakes her head. Her brain is still not working. “What was that?” She leans back on her hands, untangling her legs.

“That?” Faith grins down at the floor. “That was a hardcore mind-fu-…”

“Don’t!” Buffy almost yells. Then softer. “Don’t… twist it. Please...”

“I didn’t mean…” Faith wipes her bloody hand off on her shirt. “Sorry, B.”

“Me too… About your hand.” Buffy finally looks up at Faith.

“Hey, it’ll heal. And I’m sorry…” Faith searches for the scrapes she’s made on Buffy’s skin. “About the le-hehhg.” Her breath escapes in a hiss. Her eyes widen. Her mouth opens a little.

“What?” Buffy looks at her.

“Ungh…” Faith grunts. Then she recovers. Just enough. “Feelin’ a little draft, B?” Her lips curve into an open, friendly leer. But her eyes don’t move.

Buffy’s eyes follow Faith’s.

Her skirt is not where skirts are supposed to be. It’s decided to be up at her waist instead. Buffy’s mystified by that. She just stares. Leans up a little on her hands and stares at the pale blue cotton that’s supposed to be covered by skirt. Stares at her bare legs, bent up at the knees. Legs that refuse her every effort to cross them. Legs that, for a moment, seem to fall a little farther apart. It doesn’t make any sense. She looks to Faith for answers.

Faith has a little drool… She’s leaning… inching forward. Licking her lips. Drinking in the sight of a flushed and panting Buffy, disheveled and open and…

She growls, a deep predatory rumble.

The sound shakes Buffy out of her bewildered state. She glances down at her legs, her skirt. The light blue cotton, a darker shade in places where she…

“OH!” Buffy scrambles. “My God!” She pulls the hem of her skirt down forcefully over her knees, and tucks her legs to the side. “I uh… Yeah… S-sorry.”

Faith pulls her body back. Sits on her hands. Bites her lip. Watches Buffy awkwardly get to her feet, and walk to her. Looks up at Buffy standing over her, offering her hand.

She raises hers to meet it. Resisting every urge to tug hard on that hand. Pushing it down.

She lets herself be pulled up.

“I guess we should…” Faith’s voice cracks, high into the upper octaves. Pulls her hand away to dust off her shorts, straighten her tank top.

“Yeah.” Buffy’s voice is low, breathy. Her eyes follow Faith’s hands. “I guess.” Her tongue slips out to wet her lips.

Faith’s eyes chase the trail of that tongue.

Buffy steps into the space between them. Wanting and waiting for Faith to bridge the small distance that remains.

Eyes that were roaming over skin and curves suddenly meet each other and lock. Faith leans in…

The door creaks open, just enough. “Time’s up, girls.” And the door closes again.

Giles’ voice echoes through the room, shattering the moment into little tiny unrecoverable shards.

Faith leaps back. Buffy hangs her head. Both silently swearing like sailors.

Without another word they turn and walk quickly out of the room, past Giles and Willow. Faster down the long hallways and cramped corridors.

Side by side. Careful to avoid an accidental touch. Or eye contact. Or breathing too loud.

They up the pace again. Feeling the last threads of self-control snapping one by one.

By the time they get halfway to the infirmary, they’re sprinting.

Chapter Text

Dawn walks to her office. HER office. Complete with a fancy new title and an insignificantly small pay raise.

She turns the handle and walks into a tiny, grey room with a small turret window. The sun forces needles of light through the layers of grime. But Dawn doesn’t see any of that.

She’s just basking.

She puts her box of personal things down on the rickety desk. Leans gently against it, feeling it give more than it should. Looking at the bare stone walls, imagining the light and colour she’ll put there.

A head peeks in through the open door. “Ms. Summers?”

“She’s not here. Try the training room…” Dawn roots through the box, looking for the spray cleaner she’d put there.

“Er… This is the Translations D-Department, right?” The voice sounds unsure. Shaky, but pleasant and warm.

“Yup!” Dawn turns, wanting to match the voice to a face.

The young woman standing hesitantly by the door… She’s pretty. Petite, but curvy in good places. Dirty blonde hair tinged by streaks of pink and black. Wide blue eyes, and full lips set in a lopsided smile. Dawn is struck by it…

“Then you’re Ms. Summers…” She moves farther into the room. The light changes on her face and the mirage slips away, leaving only a trace.

“Oh! Right!” Dawn shakes her head, recovering. “Duh. Just call me Dawn. It’ll save any future confusion.”

“Sure! Dawn…” She takes a few steps forward, pulling up her oversized sleeves to shake Dawn’s outstretched hand. “I’m Emma. Emma Reeves.”

“Good to meet you, Emma.” Dawn smiles at her. “What can I do for you?”

“Actually, it’s the other way around. I’m your new research assistant.”

“Really? I get an assistant! That is so bonus!” Dawn’s feet shuffle around in a little happy dance. She hears a soft shy giggle from the other girl, and it’s so familiar.

“S-Sorry!” Emma mistakes the look on Dawn’s face. “Rule number one, don’t laugh at the boss. Got it.”

“No, I’m sorry. You remind me of… someone.” Dawn really wants to reassure her. “And it’s okay to laugh at me. I’m a goof.”

“I don’t think you’re a goof.” Emma shifts nervously. “I think you’re b-brilliant.”

Dawn laughs loud and from the belly. Replete with snorting and everything. “It’s your first day. You don’t have to suck up yet!”

“I’m not sucking up… I begged them to transfer me here from Cleveland so I could work with you.” Emma’s ears turn reddish at the tips.

Dawn stops laughing.

“I didn’t mean to… Like I said, I’m a goof.” She realizes she’s being rude. “So tell me about you…”

“I’ve been in Cleveland, working with the team there. Before that…” Emma sighs. “There’s not much to tell.”

“I’m sure that’s not true. Like, for instance… How’d you find out about… all this?” Dawn waves her long arms around, indicating more than the small room.

“I got attacked. It was a demon, but at the time I thought it was some thug on PCP. A-anyway, I ran. He… It chased me. And then this group of girls comes out of nowhere and kills it.” Emma smiles, remembering the solid beat-down the demon received. “When it was done, and they noticed I was still hanging around… we went for coffee.” Emma shrugs.

“And they told you… everything?” Dawn’s aghast. This is so against protocol. She needs to have a word with Cleveland.

“Not everything. But enough. Demons. Hellmouth. Slayers. And Watchers.”

“See? You have stories!”

“Not like yours.” Emma’s eyes briefly glimmer with what Dawn can only describe as awe. It makes Dawn a wee bit uncomfortable.

“So, Emma. Have you seen the whole operation yet?”

“Not yet. Giles wanted me to report to you…”

“And now you have! See? You’re doing great already!” Dawn grins at her. “C’mon. I’ll give you the five pence tour.” She stands up, shaking the dust off her slim legs.

“I thought it was Euros now?” Emma follows her out of the office, and through the maze of cubicles.

“Yeah. I know. But the old money was… friendlier… somehow.” Dawn stops at the elevator.

“And strangely, I know exactly w-what you mean.”

The doors open with a ding, and the two girls walk in.

Emma’s voice filters through as the doors are closing.

“So, who do I remind you of?”

Faith takes Kennedy through the slow, delicate movements. The same moves she learned from Angel. Concentrating on the slight adjustments of her body, the careful deliberate breathing. It had helped her. Brought her a little focus. She doesn’t know the words for the feeling, but she knows it’s right to pass this gift along.

When they first started, Kennedy was skeptical. She said that Faith looked like a really tired mime. But eventually, she realized how hard it was to keep her whole body in control. To keep her movements measured, her breathing even. Finally, she understood what Faith was trying to teach her. And she’d gotten a lot better. She looked smooth, and even graceful. She’d stopped swearing when she made a mistake, and had even stopped arguing when Faith corrected her form.

“We should go through it again. You were a little twitchy.” Faith considers.

“Can’t. Plans.” Kennedy shakes out her muscles.

“Hot date?” Faith grins.

“Right. That must be it.” Kennedy rolls her eyes, then grins back. “Don’t tell Willow!”

“Don’t tell me what?” Willow pushes through the doors.

“She’s got a date!” Faith feigns shocks and disappointment.

“Is it that hussy, Satsu?” Willow plays along, forcing her mouth to frown. “I’ll rip out her sassy pigtails!”

“Why do you two always gang up on me?” Kennedy punches Faith on the arm. She turns to Willow, pouting. “I’m sorry, Will. You know you’re the only girl for me.”

“Promise to never do it again.” Willow can’t help but grin.

“I promise never to have a fake date with anyone but you.” Seeing Willow’s frown return, Kennedy backtracks. “I mean… I won’t… UGH!”

Faith and Willow laugh at her flustered groan, and raise their hands in a celebratory high five.

“And that…” Faith puts her arms around her friend’s shoulders. “…is why we gang up on you.”

“It’s how we bond.” Willow fakes a solemn tone. A little light goes on in her eyes, making them sparkle. She smiles, wide and full of mischief.

“And what’s a little bondage between friends?”

She turns for the door, putting as much sex into her hips as she knows how. Not bothering to look back at the two stunned slayers. They deserved that. Mud-wrestling, my heinie.

“Right, so... I’ve dragged you through almost every room in the place… except the… Oh, you wanna go meet Xander at CC?”

“N-no thanks. I mean. I’d love to meet your friends. I’ve heard so much about them… But I’m kinda wiped out.” Emma smiles and dips her head, forcing a few strands of streaked hair to fall in front of her face. She pushes it back behind her ear with an apologetic giggle.

Dawn doesn’t gape. Doesn’t let herself see who she so desperately wants to.

“Long day, huh.”

“Yeah. And a little overwhelming.” Emma shrugs her hunched shoulders. She covers her mouth with her sleeve, hiding a little yawn.

“S’cool. I’ll walk you to your room.” Dawn gestures down a brightly lit hall. “This way’s faster, and there’s something I really want to show you.”

Emma smiles her tilted smile. “Lead the way.”

They walk along the castle’s twisting passageways. Dawn’s talking with her hands as they walk, pointing out details in the ancient tapestries that line the walls. Suddenly she stops, taking Emma’s hand to get her attention.

“I found that one.” Dawn says softly, looking up at a towering piece. She remembers that she has Emma’s hand captive, and lets it go.

“She’s beautiful.” Emma gazes up at Dawn’s treasure. It’s a masterful work. Coloured threads carefully woven into the delicate linen. Faded now, only a hint of the richness left. But still it demands her gaze. SHE demands it. The tall muscular woman, clad only in armour, standing in the centre of the tapestry. Filling it with her defiance as she holds the head of some unnamed monster in her hand. The other raising a sword in triumph. “Is she a slayer?”

“We think so.”

“Wow. It looks 12th century. Maybe early 13th.” Emma wants to reach out and touch it. But she knows better. “But it’s so far advanced from the art of that period.”

“I know. The perspective, the detail.” Dawn sighs. “It could be a Michelangelo, with all that shading work. If I could only…” Dawn frowns, and Emma feels like she’s lost her.

“Did Michelangelo know how to embroider?” Emma nudges Dawn with her shoulder, trying to pull her out of the portrait’s spell. “Cos if so, that whole gay theory’s starting to look pretty good.”

Dawn rewards her with a soft laugh. She tears her eyes away from the picture and its mysteries. “Oh yeah. He was down with all the domestic arts. Embroidery, knitting, macramé.” It’s Emma’s turn to giggle.

“I bet he made beautiful pot holders.” Emma’s laughter stilts her words.

“And his monogram work is legend.” Dawn adds her mirth to the mix, and soon they’re gasping for breath.

“Oh… It’s not even that funny.” Dawn chokes out between breaths. “But I can’t…” She looks at Emma, and they both break out a fresh batch of hysteria.

The vicious cycle continues for a few moments. Dawn will calm herself, whistling out her breaths, using her hands to physically push the giggles down. Then she’ll hear a smothered snort, and look up. And that fatal mistake will send them both back into fits.

Eventually it passes, and both girls get a grip on themselves.

“Ow. Cramping!” Emma grabs her stomach, sucking in short breaths. “Ow…”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just… It’s been a while since I’ve had the giggles so bad, you know?” Emma bends forward, trying to work the knot from her muscle.

“You have an excuse. You’re delirious from travel and lack of sleep.” Dawn holds her aching sides. “I’m obviously crazy.”

“Nuh-uh! I’m just brilliantly funny.” Emma smiles. Then stops, cos her cheeks hurt too.

She flicks her eyes up to meet Dawn’s. “Thank you. For showing me that. I-I…”

“It’s nice to share it with someone who sees what I do.” Dawn really means that. “Most people don’t get it. They don’t see…”

“It’s power.” Emma finishes the thought for her. “Or y-yours, for that matter. Right?”

“Me? I’m not. I mean, Buffy… They’re slayers. And the Wiccas. They can do things… Me? I’m definitely nothing special.” A flustered Dawn stuffs her hands into her thick wool pants, trying to find a place for her eyes to rest. Emma forces them to land on her, to meet her gaze. The illusion settles over Emma’s face like gauze, and it lulls Dawn. Calms her like nothing else can. She watches Emma speak with someone else’s lips.

“No, you are.”

It’s too late by then. Too late to hear heavy wooden doors opening and closing down the hall. The clack and shuffle of heels and heavy boots coming toward them. Too late for Dawn to say anything, to warn anyone, when she hears the high strangled word hit the stone walls.

Willow’s soft voice, twisted and choking.


Chapter Text

“Tara?” Willow loses her knees, and she starts sinking. “Baby?”

Faith catches her and gently lowers her to the floor, saving Willow some serious bruising.

“Emma!” Dawn says emphatically. “This is Emma.”

“Tara.” Willow’s whimpered note stings the air.

“Willow!” Kennedy stands back. Looking like she’s been stabbed.

“Kenn…” Faith tries to fix it.

“Don’t!” Kennedy won’t let her. “Don’t you dare defend this.”

“Excuse me?” Emma ducks out from behind Dawn. “I-I…” And the veil slips as she moves. Tara’s face fades out, leaving only Emma.

“Probably best if you…” Dawn wants to protect her new friend from the crazy.

“Tara?” Willow blinks up at Emma. Stunned and confused at the new face she’s seeing.

“No, Willow. Not Tara.” Faith says it gently, carefully.

“Not again!” Kennedy glares at everyone, especially the tear streaked woman on the floor. “I won’t do this again.” And she turns and runs away before her tears can fall.

The sound of Kennedy’s boots hammering against the floor breaks Willow out of her shock.

“Kennedy?” She tries to stand. Follow. Do something.

“Don’t.” Faith stops her. “She won’t…”

“Please, Faith?” Willow gestures. “Can you?”

“Sure.” Faith kisses Willow on the forehead. Looks at Emma apologetically. At Dawn meaningfully. Then tears off after Kennedy.

Dawn moves to Willow’s side. Makes comforting noises, petting her head and holding her close. Like her mom did for her. Like Tara did after.

She helps Willow to stand. Breathes an apology to Emma, and slowly helps Willow back to her room.

Leaving Emma alone, across from a masterpiece. In some random hallway. In a completely foreign castle. Totally lost.

“What the hell was that?”

Buffy hums to herself. She doesn’t know the words. Or the tune, really. But it doesn’t matter. It’s been a good day. She slept, she ate, and by golly she shopped. Her new clothes tucked safely away in her room, just waiting for some convenient occasion to justify them. But her day off is over. She’s meeting Will and Faith for another exciting episode of ‘Who’s Mind Is It Anyway?’ and if she’s honest with herself, she’s looking forward to it. She’s been getting better at the blocking, although Faith is better. Which is good… for the oversharing problem.

But it’s the other stuff that makes her giddy. When they work on the control. Letting each other in by stages. They can do it now, without touching. It’s not as deep. Not as intimate. But it makes Buffy’s step a little bouncier. Makes her eyes a little greener. Makes her smile as she reaches to open the door.

“They’re not there.”

Buffy searches for the owner of the voice. She sees a girl sitting on the floor, knees tucked into her chest. “Hey… Which way did they go?”

“Two went that way. It’s a very nice way.” Emma points one way down the hall.


“The others went that way.” She points in the other direction. “Pleasant, I’ve heard.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Of course, seemed to me like some of them went both ways.” She points in both directions, arms crossed over each other. Leans back with a giggle.

“Are you alright?” Buffy walks up to the girl.

“Nope. Seems I’ve landed in Oz. I showed up, and killed the w-witch. And now I’m not sure how to get home.” Emma laughs roughly at her analogy. She stands up, and makes her way over to Buffy.

“We haven’t been introduced. You must be Buffy.” Emma makes a sweeping bow. “I’m Emma. Dawn’s new assistant.” She raises herself up. The light catches her just right…

“Tara!” Buffy gapes. And stares.

“Wrong again.” Emma steps forward. “Emmmma. Say it with me…”

“Oh. For a second you looked…”

“I know!” Emma can’t help her frustrated sigh.

Buffy looks at her carefully now. Sees the subtle differences. Her shoulders un-clench in relief. “So, Emma… What’s going on?”

Emma tries to explain. Buffy catches something about Willow freaking. Kennedy storming off.

“Hey. You didn’t do anything wrong. You know that, right?” Buffy goes to her, taking her hand. “You just got caught in the middle of some big stuff.”

“Like a tornado!” Emma makes the connection.

“Sure. Just like a tornado.” Buffy patronizes. “Let’s get you to your room.”

“I’m not usually this strange.” Emma tries to explain. “It’s my first day.”

“Don’t worry about it. Dawn’s gonna get it for leaving you alone.” Buffy steers her through the corridors and into the elevator.

“Actually, she was really nice.” Emma smiles. “Best boss ever. Until the weird started. But it’s cool. That girl, Willow, she was really torn up. Y’know?”

“Yeah. I should go see her… Make sure she’s okay.” Buffy waits for the doors to open, and steps out. “Unless you want me to stay until you’re de-spooked?”

“Nah. I’ll be alright. Lots of unpacking to do.” Emma walks the hall, inspecting every door. Looking for the number that matches with her key. Yay! Kansas!

She hesitates. “Maybe…”

“You want Dawn.”

“I wha-! Oh. Right.” Emma covers. “Yeah, sure. If that’s okay. We kinda bonded.”

“Sure. I’ll go see Willow, and send Dawn over.” Buffy watches Emma fumble with the lock.

Eventually, the key does its job. The door opens, showing off the sparse room filled with boxes.

“Thanks.” Emma turns back to Buffy. “I’m sorry I caused…”

“You didn’t cause anything.” Buffy reassures her. “You remind us of someone we lost. Someone we loved a lot. That can’t ever be a bad thing.”

And watching Emma smile, Buffy knows that finally she’s said something right.

Dawn hates being late. She really hates being really late. Most of all she really hates waking up alone in a strange place, and then realizing that she’s really late. She looks down at her wrinkled clothes. Crap! Swings her legs off the bed and storms in front of the mirror. Looks at her tangled bed-head, and the exhaustion in her eyes. Double crap! She can’t go into work looking like this. She’s going to have to make a pit stop at her place for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Crap times infinity!

The room is empty now of the mountains of cardboard boxes. They spent hours unpacking and talking. Dawn trying to explain the whole Tara thing, and Emma apologizing for it every fifteen seconds. Not the best start for a sleepover. But it improved over time. They talked about other stuff. Girl stuff. It was cool. Almost normal.

Dawn locks herself out. Stops in the hall for a moment, feeling strangely embarrassed. Like, walk-of-shame embarrassed. Weird.

She turns the corner, only to see Buffy gently closing Willow’s bedroom door.

“Hey Buffy.”

“Hey!” Buffy looks as scraggly as Dawn feels. “How’s your patient?”

“Gone.” Dawn shrugs. “Probably at her desk right now, translating her little heart out. How’s yours?”

“Still sleeping. It was a long night.” Buffy pulls at the knots in her hair. “I had to get up. I got a crick.” She twists her neck to prove it, wincing a little.

“So, is she gonna be alright about Emma?” Dawn gestures at Willow’s door. “Cos I just got her all moved in…”

“I think so. I mean… What are the odds?” Buffy looks like she’s trying to calculate them.

“About a bazillion to none.” Dawn nods. “But it’s not the freakiest of the freak, right?”

“Pretty close, though.” They walk the halls together.

“Yeah.” Dawn smiles a little. Then she gets a thought. It makes the smile wider. “Do you think… maybe she’s a gift? From the PTB?”

“I don’t think they’re taking over Santa duties, Dawn.” Buffy raises her brow. “And their gifts are more the double-edged and painful kind.”

“And your point is?” Dawn puts her hands on her hips.

“Yeah, I guess it fits.” Buffy yawns. “Which means we have to be careful. The PTB don’t do freebies. There’s always a price.”

“I know.” Dawn stops at her door. “But it’s worth it, right? It’s always worth it?”

Buffy waves, and continues to her own room. Throws her words over her shoulder.

“Depends on who gets stuck with the bill.”

Dawn rushes past the cubicles. So very late. She trots up to her office door, and stops. In place of the grimy nothing that was there before, there’s a shiny new name plate. ‘Dawn Summers: Translations Department Head’. It makes her squeak with glee. But then she opens the door.

And her squeak turns into a shriek. Everything’s so pretty. So pretty, and so perfect. Every surface has been scrubbed and swept. Without the dust, the tiny window shines in all its stained glass glory. A small bookshelf is already filled with her reference materials. The wobbly old desk has been replaced with a beautiful antique writing table. On the walls are framed pictures of her friends and family, the largest being a beautiful portrait of her mom. There’s even room for a comfy looking chair and a plant. Dawn starts hopping up and down with joy.

“I’m guessing she’s alright with the re-design.” Xander’s voice behind her.

Dawn turns, still hopping. She sees Xander standing proudly in the doorway with Emma, who smiles her shy smile. “You guys? When did you…”

“While you were out.” Xander smiles at his little joke. He’s the only one that gets it anyway. “I ran into the Emma-natrix in the hall after my shift. She came up with the scheme, and roped me into the heavy lifting.”

Dawn grabs Xander into a big hug. There’s more hopping. “You guys are the best!” She lets go of Xander and flies at Emma. Gives her the same bouncy treatment.

“I just w-wanted to do something… nice.” Emma’s ears are bright red all over.

“This isn’t nice! This is beyond nice. This is… super-nice!” Dawn smiles wide and giggly.

“Psst. Emma… This would be a good time to ask the boss for a raise…” Xander fake-whispers.

“No… No. I don’t want anything.” Emma glows happily. “It’s like a gift.”

“Thank you.” Dawn looks briefly over at Xander. “I mean it, thank you.” He catches the meaning.

“You deserve it. Now I’ve got a touchy British man waiting for me…” Xander stretches his tired muscles as he walks away. “And Emma, remember what I told you!”

“What did he tell you?” Dawn is curious. She watches Emma grin, and the blush spread from her ears to the rest of her face.

“Don’t speak Latin in front of the books.”

Buffy pulls her wet hair into a loose ponytail. It’ll get all kinky, but she doesn’t have time to blow dry it. What with morning being all afternoon-y by the time she woke up.

She steps out of her room, letting the door close on its own. She should check in on Kennedy. See if she’s okay. Maybe she’ll be ready to talk to Willow. And then Buffy can collect the bonus best friend points. Sounds like a plan.

She takes the stairs down to the lower floor. Turns left, toward Faith’s room. Kennedy must have stayed with her last night.

As she gets closer, she hears yelling. Kennedy.

“What’s the point? I’ve had it with her!”

And some low mumbling. Must be Faith.

Buffy stops. Unsure of the line between overhearing and eavesdropping.

“What is there to say? It’s not love? It never was? It was all a big joke?”

Another muffled response.

Buffy quietly creeps closer to the door. Knowing that she’s definitely tripping over that line.

Kennedy’s voice again. A little quieter. It’s hard to hear, even with the slayer advantage.

“I can’t fight it - - - more, Faith. I want - - - so much. But she’s always in the way. ”

Faith’s voice gets clearer as Buffy gets closer.

“- - - can’t compare to you. She’s - - - past. You’re here, now.”

Buffy reaches the door. Decides it’s not snooping if she knocks. It’s polite, even.

“Can I stay with you?”

No response. She knocks again. Still nothing. Buffy turns the handle. She’s just going to pop her head in. Say hi.

“Whatever you need, Junior.”

Buffy stares through the little crack in the doorway. Not a sound escapes her. She’s in shock, or something very much like it.

Because it’s Faith. And it’s Kennedy. And they’re standing too close. And there’s hands on skin, and not enough clothes. No.No.No.NO! The wailing note repeats in Buffy’s head as she watches.

Watches Kennedy place a tender hand on Faith’s dimpled cheek.

Watches her lean up on her toes.

Watches her tilt her head and wrap Faith’s lips in a scorching kiss.

Buffy holds it together. Quietly closes the door on the scene. The cry in her mind has gone from pleading to raging.

It screams at her from the inside.

“Can we handle it?” Xander looks worried. “We’ve never done this before…”

“Because we’ve never had to.” Giles looks weary.

Xander paces, working out the logistics in his head. “Everyone?”

“Everyone we can spare, yes.” Giles watches him move back and forth. “How long do you need?”

“Gimme three days. I’ll get Andrew to work on things from his end. That’ll save some time.” Xander stops pacing. “It’s gonna be bad. Isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Me too.” Xander gives himself to the count of three to be a big ‘fraidy-cat. It lasts ‘till about twelve.

“So, three days.” Giles clears his throat.

“God, it’s gonna be hell.” Xander checks his math, and his phrasing. Nope, he’s right. ‘Hell’ is the word.

What else would you call four-hundred and eighty-seven girls under one roof?

Buffy kicks viciously at the dummy’s head. She pummels her fists into the padded wood, hearing it crack. Nothing is stronger than a pissed off slayer. One last brutal kick, and the dummy breaks in two. The torso flies out and hits the wall, splinters showering the floor.

“Dammit!” Buffy puts her hands at her hips. Breathes out her aggravation in a quick rush. It doesn’t help, but it’s better than screaming.

“You’re wound pretty tight.” Kennedy’s voice behind her.

“Now is not the time.” Buffy spits through clenched teeth, trying to be civil. “I just killed one dummy…” She fails.

“Ouch!” Kennedy leans against the wall. “I’m just the messenger. Don’t be a cliché, Buffy.”

“Just say what you came to say and get out.” Buffy moves to the speed bag. She starts punching, getting into a smooth rhythm.

“You’re dropping your shoulder.”

“Thanks. Was that the message?” Buffy speeds up, adjusting her shoulder accordingly. “Does that mean you’re leaving?”

“No such luck.” Kennedy watches her. “What’s with the rage fest?”

Buffy turns and stares at Kennedy with all the venom she can muster. “None of your concern. Yet.”

“You know, that’s the second time you’ve threatened me. I’m not liking it much.” Kennedy lifts her back from the wall, and takes a few forceful steps toward Buffy.

“Let’s go for three, shall we?” Buffy takes a step forward. “Back. The hell. Off. Bitch.”

Kennedy puts her arms up with a roll of her eyes. “You wanna try it? Go ahead. God knows I owe you at least one good ass-kicking.”

Buffy laughs without any humour. “Willow is the only thing that ever kept me from re-arranging your face. But you’re done with her now, right?”

Buffy watches with satisfaction as her words break pain over Kennedy’s face.

“I always knew that when things got rough, you’d bail on her.” It’s almost better than a bruise. Almost.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Kennedy drops her head. Looks away.

Buffy can’t hold herself back anymore. She swings out with two swift hooks. Both land, and Kennedy flies back from the impact.

“Right. I don’t know anything. I don’t know that you’re breaking her heart, and you don’t even care!” Buffy grunts it out as she keeps up the attack.

“Don’t you dare tell me how I feel!” Kennedy blocks the barrage, and parks a fist deep inside Buffy’s ribcage.

“I HEARD YOU!” Buffy slams her elbow into Kennedy’s face. The crunch is satisfying. “I SAW YOU!”

“You saw me what?” Kennedy wipes the blood off her lip. Recoups. Spins a flying kick into Buffy’s jaw.

“You’re denying it? That’s cute.” Buffy sweeps Kennedy’s legs. As she goes down, Buffy swings her leg up and catches Kennedy under the chin. “I’m sure Willow will think it’s just adorable when I tell her.”

“Tell her what?” Kennedy grabs Buffy’s shoulders and throws her against the vaulting horse. “That you’re a total nutcase?”

“That you never loved her! That you were using her! That it never meant anything to you!” Buffy leaps over the wreckage of the vaulting horse, and tackles Kennedy to the ground.

She holds her still with her body, slamming her back against the mats again and again. “That you just couldn’t wait to get back to the one person you DO want to be with…”

Kennedy looks stunned for a minute. Then she gets a big grin. “Faith!”

“HA! So you admit it!” Buffy wipes it off her face with a cracking backhand.

Buffy’s not letting her up, so Kennedy cheats. She pushes her hand between Buffy’s legs and well… thrusts.

It works. Buffy leaps away, a look of disgust and surprise on her face.

“Don’t pretend this is about me and Willow! This is about you not getting what you want. This is about you being jealous.” Kennedy has the advantage now, and she takes it.

“I’m jealous? Of you? As if!” Kennedy’s boot hits Buffy hard on the shin. Her knee wobbles a little.

“You wanna know what it is about you? Why I give you such a hard time?” Kennedy ducks a wild fist, and sets a solid hook into Buffy’s side. “Because you’re always right.” She follows with another fist to Buffy’s gut. “Especially when you’re so completely wrong.”

“”I saw what I saw. You can’t tell me I’m wrong about that.” Buffy turns and rams the back of her head into Kennedy’s nose.

“No. Nobody can tell you anything.” Kennedy backs off. Pulls her thumbs down on her nose with a snap. Spits out the blood. “You still think you’re better than us? Braver, stronger… smarter? The only thing you got on me is older, Buffy. Not wiser.” She gets back in it, arms up and knees bent. Nose still trickling blood over her swollen lips.

“It’s nice that we can talk like this.” Buffy locks her hands and wallops Kennedy with a heavy blow. “But I don’t…”

“Hey B, have you…” Faith struts through the door. Looks at the scene. And dives in.

Faith grabs Buffy by the collar and throws her back. She puts a strong hand on Kennedy’s shoulder and pushes her down to the mats.

“What the hell are you doing?” Faith shoots daggers at Buffy.

“Just getting started!” Buffy sends them back.

“Not a chance!” Faith puts herself in between the two, arms out. “You’re out of line, Buffy!”

“Me? What about your girlfriend over there?” Buffy growls out. “She wouldn’t leave me alone!”

“So you pound on her face?”

“Works for me.” Buffy tries to push through Faith to Kennedy. Kennedy’s up for it. Faith struggles to hold them.

She turns to Kennedy. “Go. I’ll deal with you later.” She shoves Kennedy toward the door. Follows her with her eyes, making sure the door closes behind her.

She turns, and her eyes drill through Buffy. She holds her gaze, and waits.

“You expect me to pour my heart out and show you my boo-boo so you can kiss it all better? Fat chance.” Buffy turns away with a huff.

“No, I know better than that.” Faith keeps her eyes steady. “And honestly, right now, I don’t care.”

“I already got the memo on that.”

“Damn it, Buffy! I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” Faith walks around Buffy, forcing them to be face to face. “I don’t think you know either. This is the kind of crap… God, I can’t deal with you when you’re like this!”

“So don’t ‘deal with me’.” Buffy makes air quotes. “Go ‘deal’ with poor little Kennedy.”

“She’s got hers comin’.” Faith growls at the door.

“I’ll bet.” Buffy breathes it.

“Since you’re not gonna talk, I’ll lay it out for ya. I got three things to say.” Faith has that look. Sad, empty. “One. This never happens again. So whatever got stuck up your ass this time, you better yank it out. Cos if you don’t, I will.”

Buffy rolls her eyes.

“Two. I thought we were getting somewhere. But I can see now that we’re just stuck on the same track we’re always on, and it never ends up good for me. So if you can’t get over this new… thing…” Faith turns and walks away. She stops at the door. Quietly, and with regret, she finishes. “…you need to stay away from me.”

Buffy feels that in her chest. In her legs and stomach.

Faith opens the door…

“What’s the third thing?” Buffy manages not to choke on it.

“Right. Three.” Faith doesn’t even turn. “Kennedy’s message. Giles wants to see you.”

And then the door closes, softly. And Buffy’s alone.

Well, she asked for it.

Chapter Text

Buffy trots into her new room, carrying three heavy boxes. She puts them gently on the floor. She turns back, in time to see Willow struggling with one of Buffy’s suitcases.

“Let me get that.” Buffy grabs the case from Willow and swings it in her hand. “I said I’d do the heavy lifting.”

“I didn’t think clothes could be that heavy. Did you have your entire wardrobe bronzed or something?” Willow puffs, and sits down on a sturdy looking box.

“Only last season’s stuff.” Buffy thinks she’s funny. She points her finger between the two twin beds. “Which one do you want?”

“Doesn’t matter to me.” Willow looks around the room carefully. Really seeing it for the first time. “It’s smaller than our dorm room.”

“Yeah. But it has its own bathroom. So, not too bad!” Buffy hefts her suitcase onto the bed farthest from the door. “And it’ll be cool being roomies again...”

“You’re taking this too well.” Willow inspects her friend’s face. “It’s like Sunnydale times a hundred. And you’re not so good with the sharing. How come you’re so chipper?”

“I dunno. Everyone’s in the same boat. Or castle, if you want to get technical.” Buffy looks into the mirror. Aside from a little cut on her lip, everything’s healed. She stopped limping this morning. “And maybe I decided that spending my last days brooding and stomping around is stupid. Maybe I wanna just enjoy the good things.”

“And by good things you mean moving in with…” Willow’s face changes in a blink. “Whoa there! What do you mean, last days?”

“C’mon Will! You’re the one that told me!” Buffy’s grin looks a little plastered on. “We’re probably gonna lose. Whatever happens. Right? And if that’s true, then why am I being so cranky?”

Willow sighs. “I wish sometimes that we lived in a universe where what you said doesn’t make any sense.”

“But we don’t.” Buffy opens a box. She takes out some books and starts putting them on the little shelf. “We live in this universe. The one where every stupid prophecy EVER tells me that I can’t win, that I won’t win.”

“But you have! WE have! We always find a way!” Willow watches Buffy frenetically unpacking. “So why is this one extra-spooky?”

“I’ve got two reasons. One, it’s really old.” Buffy is shoving novels around haphazardly, trying to make them all fit. “Like dawn of time old. So it’s gotta be right-er than the newer ones. And it’s at the end of the Big Book ‘O’ Prophecy, which to me means a ‘The End’ kinda thing.”

“I’m not really following your logic there, but okay.” Willow knits her brow. Buffy’s given up on the books, and has moved on to throwing her clothes into the teensy closet.

“Two, and this might sound a little nutty…” Buffy grunts as she tries to close the closet door. “I can feel it.”


“I can feel it. Something’s going to happen. It’s vague, like when you know you forgot something but you can’t figure out what…” Buffy quits her struggling. She sits on the end of the bed she’s claimed. Looking at Willow, all her fear showing. She whispers. “I think I’m going to die again.”

“Oh Buffy, no! You can’t think like that.”

“You think it’s dumb.” Buffy looks down at the mess on the floor.

“No. Not dumb.” Willow rushes to sit with her friend. “Scary for you, if that’s what you’re feeling. But it doesn’t make it true!”

Buffy shakes her head. That’s not the point.

“Will, I’m not afraid of dying.” She takes Willow’s hand, seeing her friend’s face turn sad. “Oh, I’m not greedy for it or whatever, but I’m not afraid of it either.”

“Then what?”

“If it happens…” Buffy pleads with her eyes. “Promise me. Promise you won’t bring me back.”

“God this is confusing.” Emma sits sideways in the comfy chair in Dawn’s office. Legs kicking the armrest. She waves down at the book she’s reading. “I mean, first he’s a lower being. Then he’s a fallen angel, and then he’s some weird giant locust thing.”

“I know.” Dawn mutters, her mouth full of sandwich. “And who has that many names?” She takes another huge bite. Peanut butter and salami. “What are you reading? The Greek or the Aramaic?”

“Aramaic.” Emma gives her manuscript a dirty look. Paraphrases in a caustic TV announcer voice. “Here comes evil Destroyer Guy! Half man, half giant bug, maybe! All tremble before his armies! The sea will rise! A rain of fire be upon you! Oh, and did we mention he’s evil?”

“I’m not getting anything either.” Dawn shoves her book away, concentrates on licking the peanut butter off her fingers. “You should eat.”

Emma looks over at her lunch. “I can’t. I feel like… I need to help. And if I’m eating, I’m not helping.”

Dawn raises a brow. “And by wasting away to two dimensional, you’ll be totally useful.” Dawn points demandingly at Emma’s sandwich. “Eat!”

With a sigh, Emma picks up her sandwich and takes a little bite. Peanut butter and salami. She spits it back on the plate and makes a face. “Pleah! What the heck is that?”

“I made that sandwich with my own two hands, you know.” Dawn looks hurt. “It’s really good, if you ignore the texture issues.” She watches enthusiastically as Emma forces herself to take another tiny bite. “See?”

Emma chews it quickly. Swallows hard. Sees Dawn’s face break out into an eager smile. And Emma can’t help but smile back.

But she makes a mental note to take over lunch duties from now on.

Faith elbows her way through the hall. She tried weaving. She tried darting. She even tried shimmying against the stone walls. But nothing worked. So now she’s barreling through the crowds of girls, pushing and shoving. She’s had enough.

“HEY!” A shrill whistle pierces through the hum of voices. “Chosen One, coming though!”

And like Moses, the sea parts for her. Faith’s actually a little surprised it worked. But only a little.

“That’s more like it!” Faith grins her dimply grin, and struts down the now empty floor. “Glad to see you newbs respectin’ the chain.”

“I thought Buffy was a blonde…” She hears a whisper.

“Learn your history, Fish!” Faith stares the girl down. Gotta set the boundaries early. “And really not the best impression to make on your new boss.” She gives the terrified girl her best disappointed look. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Uh… Grace?”

“Don’t sound too sure of that.” Faith gives Grace the once over. “The name’s Faith.” She looks back up at the girl’s face. Smiles and starts to walk away. “Ask around.”

She manages to refrain from bursting out laughing until she reaches the training room. God that was fun.

“Little harsh, dontcha think?” Kennedy gestures back into the hallway.

“Nah. She’ll get over it.” Faith chokes down the laughter, and stretches out. “You ready for some new stuff?”

“Well…” Kennedy moves in closer. “I was hoping you could refresh my memory on some old stuff, actually.” She runs her fingers down Faith’s arm. “You know… some classic positions?”

Faith takes a step back. “Kenn, we’ve been through this.”

“Yeah. And I’m still not getting it.” Kennedy takes the space Faith’s given up. “What’s the problem? We don’t owe them anything!”

“It’s not about them. Not really.” Faith backs off again. “It just doesn’t feel right anymore.”

“I remember it feeling pretty phenomenal!” Kennedy uses her best sexy look. “Did for me anyway.”

“Kenn, I’m serious. It’s not gonna happen.” Faith turns away, slicking her sweaty palms against her jogging pants. “So if you don’t wanna train, you should probably go.”

“So you’re saving yourself now? You think she’s gonna care?” Kennedy doesn’t handle rejection well. “You think she’s even gonna notice?”

Faith doesn’t turn around. She’s breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. Kennedy doesn’t see the signs.

“She’s so wrapped up in her own stuff; she can’t see anything for what it is!” Kennedy is yelling now. “She’s not coming to the rescue! She doesn’t CARE!”

“Kenn…” It’s low and venomous. “You shouldn’t talk about things you don’t understand.”

“She doesn’t care! It nearly killed me! She…” Kennedy’s voice cracks. Breaks into a whisper. “She didn’t come to me. She didn’t even try…”

Faith turns to her friend, the anger washed away in a wave of sympathy. “Hey…” She pulls Kennedy into a tight hug. Stroking her hair. Letting her cry.

“I’m sorry…” Kennedy whispers into Faith’s shoulder. “I just felt… I needed something…” She sobs. “It hurts too much…”

Faith rests her chin on the top of Kennedy’s head.

“Right there with ya, Junior.”

“Ooh! Ooh!” Excited doesn’t cover the outburst from the corner of Dawn’s office.

Emma looks up with weary eyes. “Hmmm?” Somehow over the course of the day they’ve changed positions. Emma’s sitting at the desk, and Dawn’s sprawled out in the chair. Her head is where feet should be and her feet are kicking at the wall above.

“Whaddya make of this?” Dawn manages to tumble herself upright with lightening speed. She rushes over to a profoundly amused Emma. Points vigorously at the page. “Is it something? Please tell me it’s something…”

Emma turns the book to her. Her look changes, gets more serious. “It’s definitely something.”

“What do you think it means?” Dawn sees the glint in Emma’s eye.

“Don’t think I’m crazy.” Emma rushes her thoughts out of her head. “But something about this Abaddon guy’s been bugging me from the start. Nothing we’ve got on him makes any sense. I mean, look at this!” Emma waves at a pile of notes. “There’s almost four thousand years worth of stuff written about him! And each time, a different name? A different M.O.?”

Emma realizes she’s shouting. Her ears burn red. “Sorry. I’m just feeling stupid. I should have seen it before…”

“Seen what, exactly?”

“That it’s different this time.” Emma gulps down the little bit of fear sitting at the back of her throat. “It’s not a Hellmouth. There’s no parallel dimension, or portal to close… it’s right here.”

“What’s here?” Dawn tries to follow along.

“He’s here. On Earth.” Emma finishes.

“But…” Dawn tries to refute it. “All the demons were exiled. Sent away! All of them! Everything tells us that.”

“I know. Thus the ‘don’t think I’m crazy’ qualifier. But there’s no other explanation.” Emma leans back in the chair. “All this! It proves he’s been here all this time. How else…”

Emma stares down at the piles of notes, the discarded books. Dawn sits on the edge of the desk, spilling a few pages onto the floor.

“I have a question.” Dawn gets Emma’s attention. “If he’s here. If you’re right...”

“Then why?”

Buffy closes the door with a gasp. So many girls. Loud, shrieking, bathroom hogging teenaged girls. In the halls, in the meeting rooms, everywhere. She should have stayed in her room.

But then, Willow. She hadn’t meant to start the depresso fun time. But then it came out and she couldn’t take it back.

“You here for round two?”

“Whazzat?” Buffy spins around, fearing the sight of another teenager, lost and alone. But no. It’s just Kennedy. Sitting by the window, looking lost and alone.

“I asked if you were here to pummel me again.” Kennedy’s tone tears at something in Buffy.

“I was gonna train.” Buffy keeps her voice soft. “But I can go…”

“No…” Kennedy turns to face Buffy. No tears, but her eyes look red and raw. “It’s okay.”

“I shouldn’t have hit you. I’m sorry about that.” Buffy walks further into the room. Arms crossed. But her face is gentle.

“I always figured we’d thrash it out eventually.” Kennedy lets out a little snort. “Never thought it’d be over a girl, though.”

“You’re telling me.” Buffy’s face contorts into a half frown, half pout.

“We’re not together, you know.” Kennedy doesn’t say sorry. “We never were, really.”

“Oh?” Buffy is betrayed by her lungs. Her attempt at casual disinterest thwarted by a deep sigh of relief.

“It hurts, you know?” Kennedy does explain, however. “It hurts like hell, knowing that she doesn’t… feel the same. That I’m not HER, so it can’t be real.”

Buffy moves closer. She doesn’t know what to say. She sits beside Kennedy on the sill, almost touching but not.

“But I could pretend she did. We could be together and I could almost feel like… Tara was gone.” Kennedy looks out the window. “And then… And I knew for sure...”

“And you wanted to hit things.” Buffy finishes for her. “I totally get that.”

“Not right away.” Kennedy’s breath on the pane makes little circles of frost. “First I wanted to feel better. That was what you saw. Me trying to feel better.”

“The kissing?”

“Yeah. But you missed the part where Faith turned me down.” Kennedy shrugs her shoulders.

“She did that?” Buffy smiles a little.

“That’s when I ran into you. THEN I wanted to hit things.” Kennedy smiles now.

Buffy rolls her eyes, and lets out a snort. But the smile’s still there.

“So, we good?” Kennedy asks the window.

“Good as ever, I guess.” Buffy shrugs. Tries to think of something nicer. “I think… she does. Do you want me to…”

“No.” Kennedy turns to Buffy with a stern look. “Don’t. If you tell her to, it’s not real. And I need it to be real.”

“I just want to help.” Buffy’s surprised that she means it.

“There’s too many people in my relationship already.” Kennedy smiles weakly. “But thanks.”

“Hey lovebirds!” Dawn comes bursting through the doors. “Big meeting in the dining hall! Twenty minutes. Be there!” And she rushes out again.

“We so need a better system.” Buffy stands up, wiping the dust off her jeans. “Um… Kennedy?”

“Mmm?” Kennedy reluctantly pulls her body upright.

“You too. Thanks.” Buffy tries not to look as uncomfortable as she is. “For…”

“Telling the truth?” Kennedy stretches out, avoiding eye contact.

“Yeah.” Buffy looks at the floor.

“You’re welcome.” Kennedy cocks her head in Buffy’s direction. “This is weird.”

“I know.” Buffy smiles her cynical smile. “We’re practically civil.”

“Feels wrong.” Kennedy grins wide. “I almost prefer the punching.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Buffy nudges Kennedy with her shoulder.

“Seriously?” Kennedy nudges her back. “This doesn’t freak you out?”

Buffy shrugs. Starts walking toward the door.

“It’s not the end of the world.”

Emma walks down the hall. Knocking on every door. You’d think they’d have a better system. She ticks off the names on the list. She knocks on the last door. The last names on her list. Buffy Summers and… Please be Buffy. Please be Buffy. The door opens.

Willow Rosenberg. Oh crap.

“Umh. So… there’s a meeting in the dining hall in thirty minutes. It’s important.” Emma blurts it all out as fast as she can, and turns to leave.

“Hey, wait!” Willow takes a deep breath. “I should… We should talk.”

“Are you sure? Because I can just go.” Emma grabs at her sleeves. “I don’t want to…”

“I’m sure.” Willow steps aside. Emma takes one glance at Willow’s face, and meekly enters. No one can deny that look.

Emma stands awkwardly in the centre of the room. Willow closes the door, and leans up against it.

“Buffy says you’re a sweet person, and Dawn just goes on and on about how smart you are and how funny…”

“Really?” Emma pushes a strand of hair out of her face. Tucks her hand back under her sleeve.

“Really, a lot! So here I am hiding and being all skittish and then zowie! Here you are at my door! So now I’m thinking I should make with the moxie and maybe talk to you and then you’ll be you and I won’t get confused anymore.”

“Huh?” Emma’s not used to Willow rambles.

“I’m nervous and I talk when I’m nervous. Or excited. Or when something’s really interesting and I want to explain it. I get all in depth and lectury, like when I took over computer lab. Which was fun, but for some reason people don’t really take a seventeen year old seriously. Which is hardly fair when she spent a lot of time and effort on those overheads!” Willow looks endearingly frustrated. Then embarrassed. “Yup, pretty sure it’s the nervous thing.”

“Right.” Emma lets it all sail right over her head. “So, you’re nervous.”

“Boy howdy!”

“And I can help fix it?” Emma doesn’t think so.

“I’m not sure.” Willow is starting to fret. “I don’t know the rules for this. I just know that I have to be… better.”

“Why?” Emma bounces her hands against her hips.

Willow doesn’t have the answer for that one either. Emma watches the pain on Willow’s face. It’s hard for her not to.

“People deal with this stuff on their own time. It’s not like you can just turn it off.” Emma is delicate with her words. “And from what I’ve been told, she was really something special.”

“She… was.” Willow makes sure to use the right tense.

“I’m probably not the person you want to talk to about this.” Emma gestures at the door. “I could go get…”

“There’s nobody to get.” Willow sighs. She steps away from the door, walking the few steps to the end of her bed. She sits down, the perfect figure of isolation and heartbreak.

“I’m sure Buffy…” Emma starts.

“No.” Willow chokes down a little sob. “I can’t…”

“But she’s your friend.”

“I know.” Willow’s eyes flit up, the green in them obscured by a veil of threatening tears. “My oldest, closest friend who’s going through her own stuff. And she’s heard it all before, and hello? End of the world! She’s got ‘Do Not Overload’ stamped on her shoulders right now.”

“And Xander?” Emma smiles at the thought of him. “He seems like a good guy.”

“He’s the best guy.” Willow smiles a little too. “But again, the shoulder issue. Not enough room for my head.”

“They seem pretty brawny to me.”

“That sounds dangerously like crush talk.” Willow has the strength for a wee smirk.

“No. I mean… But no.” Emma blushes straight down to her toes. “I mean, he’s perfect. For someone not me.”

“Sounds about right.” Willow wipes the damp from her eyes. “What’s say we move on from the morbid, and get to the bloodcurdling horror?”

“Meeting?” Emma offers her hand, pulling it out from her sleeve.

“Meeting.” Willow takes it without hesitation. On a hunch, she gives Emma a quick hug. “You’re not so scary.”

“Not the worst thing a person could say.” Emma steps back from the hug, giving Willow her best languid smile. The light plays tricks…

Willow doesn’t flinch. She gets a soft dreamy look. Reaches out and touches Emma’s cheek.

Emma gets a lump in her throat. Nobody’s ever looked at her that way before. Or touched her like that. With such infinite tenderness.

“You’re not her.” Willow says it out loud, her fingers still tracing the edge of Emma’s chin.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Willow lets her hand fall to her side. Her eyes focus, and the dream fades. “Thank you.”

“But I didn’t …”

“I got to say goodbye.”

Chapter Text

The pub is usually quiet this late. A few locals, some farmers and sometimes their wives, might be sipping a pint at the bar. Jawing about the rain, or the sheep, or who’s died recently. It’s a small village, after all.

But tonight, the music pumps out loud into the streets. Coloured lights flash in the windows. It’s packed and sweaty and full of chatter. The locals have gone elsewhere, seeing the words ‘Closed for Private Party’ taped to the door.

Buffy stands outside, shifting her heels in the light snow. Taking a breath, she opens the heavy door and slinks in. She keeps to the darker areas of the pub, ducking the stray lights from the makeshift dance floor. She knows she can’t really hide. And she doesn’t want to. She just doesn’t want to make a big entrance. She’s getting tired of the drama, and her stomach being twisted all the time.

She takes a look around. Booth upon booth filled with girls laughing and talking over the heavy guitars and bass. Some men, watchers and support staff. She can see Willow and Kennedy, talking awkwardly at the bar. Dawn gesturing fervently to Giles and Emma. Xander looking handsome and eye-patchy, being dragged onto the dance floor by Renee. She scans past them to the pool tables. And she sees her. Faith chalking her cue, talking to a few girls on her squad. Immediately Faith’s eyes find her in the crowd, and she smiles. Hands her cue to her friend, and starts moving across the room.

Buffy makes her way silently to the table covered in gifts and cards and boxes. Rummages in her purse and takes out a slim gray envelope. She hesitates. Not sure. She almost stuffs it back in her bag. Then, steeling herself to the mission, she clutches it to her chest.

“Whatcha got there?” The husky voice comes at her from behind.

She turns, smiling in spite of her nerves. “I… um, totally crashed your thing. But…” She darts her arms out for a self-conscious half-hug. “Happy Birthday.” It’s a relief that they can touch now, without getting sucked into each other’s thoughts.

“S’ok.” Faith grins. “More the merrier!”

Buffy looks around at the chaos. “This your idea?”

“Kennedy’s.” Faith eyes the envelope in Buffy’s hand. “Is that for me?” She gets a greedy look.

“Yeah…” Buffy gestures nervously, the envelope flapping around.

“Gimme!” Faith grabs at it. It makes Buffy laugh. Like, really laugh. She hides the present behind her back.

“Not yet. I wanted to apologize first.” Buffy giggles through it. “I have a whole speech prepared.”

“Kennedy already… You’re sorry. I get it.” Faith pouts something fierce, trying to snatch the prize. “C’mon, B! I wanna know what you got me!”

Buffy twists away from Faith’s grasping hands.

“You’ve got a whole pile of presents right here!” Buffy gestures to the gift table. “Mine’s… It’s not…”

“It’s crappy?” Faith raises her eyebrow.

“I couldn’t think of anything else… I wanted it to be something you really wanted…” Buffy cringes and gives up the envelope.

Faith starts to tear through it. Letting the gray covering fall to the floor, she examines what looks to be… more paper?

“Couldn’t make it to the mall, huh B?” Faith grins and opens the folded pages. In the dark, it’s hard to see that there’s something written there in Buffy’s careful script.

“I… I’m sorry if it’s not…” Buffy bites her lip. But she’s not running anymore.

Faith isn’t listening. Faith’s eyes have adjusted. And she’s finally seeing the gift that Buffy’s given.


Faith mouths the words as she’s reading… to help her understand.


I don’t know what else I can give to you. Stuff is just stuff. I know! Me saying that. Alternate universe. But this is the only thing you’ve ever asked me for, so here goes.
You’re right, I lie. I’m a big dumb liar. I’ve been doing it ever since… ever, I guess. I lie to myself and to everyone else, especially to you. Or about you, or on the subject of you. It’s all still a little hard to put into words. The little balls of paper on my floor will back me up on that. But you deserve to know. So my gift to you, out here in the real world: the truth… about everything.

I’ll start with the easy stuff. Yes, I do. And non-fat yogurt is hopeless for taking the edge off…

“I knew it.” She mumbles it, chuckling quietly. Reading on, slowly taking in each word. Re-reading parts to make sure.

Willow says I’m selfish. Kennedy says I’m a nutcase. I don’t know who’s right. All I know is that I feel… You mess me up, Faith. I don’t know what I think I know when you’re around. You push me, you argue with me, and you grate on my last nerve sometimes. And when you’re not around, everything goes back to safe and easy. And boring, and stupid and lonely.

Turning the pages, open mouthed.

I know what I did. I can remember every second of it. I can’t take it back, no matter how much I want to. I can’t ever make it better. There’s nothing... So I won’t say sorry. I’m not doing this so you’ll forgive me. This is about truth. What happened, why I left. So I’ll just tell you…

Buffy stands there impatiently, watching and waiting as Faith’s face contorts and shifts with every reaction. But it’s her own fault. It’s a long, long letter.

…maybe that’s why we’re always trying to kill each other. Maybe it’s not really about the slayer thing. Maybe it’s just us. Maybe it’s just too strong and we fight it by fighting each other, because we know it won’t end… until WE do… Did any of that make sense?

I hope I didn’t forget anything.

Happy Birthday, Faith.


Finally, Faith stops reading. Carefully, she bends down to pick up the scraps of the envelope. Folds the letter back along its creases, and tucks the white sheets back inside the gray, making sure the pages don’t rip. She keeps it, trapped between clutching fingers. Doesn’t want to let it go just yet.

She’s quiet, absorbing and thinking. Lost in words.

“Faith?” Buffy’s still standing there, her face a weird mix of terrified and teary-eyed.

“Musta been hard for you, huh?” The beginning of something starts on Faith’s face.

“The hardest.” Buffy’s lowers her head.

“Hey…” A light touch. Two fingers gently raise Buffy’s head. Forcing her eyes to see the widest, dimpliest grin ever.

“So… You’re not mad?” Buffy’s eyelids lower, and she’s forced to look up at Faith from under them.

Faith steps directly into Buffy’s personal space, still with the idiot grin on her face.

“No…” With her eyes sparkling like that, Faith’s grin is less silly and more sappy. “Definitely not mad.”

“So, good present?” Buffy bounces on her feet, a hopeful smile peeking out.

“Yeah.” Faith leans in and gives Buffy a real hug. A two-armed, wrap-around, squeeze-the-air-out-of-your-lungs, lift-you-off-the-floor-and-shake-you-a-little-bit kind of hug. “Great present.”

Buffy’s feet find the floor again. Her arms stay wrapped around Faith’s neck. Her head stays gently pressed into Faith’s neck. She breathes her in. Dazed by a mix of cigarettes, whisky, leather and soap. It kills her restraint, buoys her courage. She opens her eyes to the delicate silky skin below Faith’s ear. And almost reaches it with her lips. Stops for a second to exhale.

As Buffy’s warm breath tickles the fine hairs at her neck, Faith pulls back. Removing Buffy’s hands.

“I didn’t… It wasn’t…”

“Shhh. It’s okay. But this…” Faith holds up the envelope. “This is… a lot. I mean…” She looks to Buffy for understanding. “It’s enough.”

Buffy gets it. She stops pushing. Biting her lip with the self-control she’s pulling out of thin air.

There’s a moment. Like they’re all alone, and it’s quiet. Just them and the almost foot of air between them. It’s more than Buffy’s newfound restraint can take.

“Hey! I’m hogging the Birthday Girl!” Buffy steps back a bit. “You should get back to your game.”

“You’re not getting off that easy!” Faith grabs her hand, dragging her away from the dark corner. Secretly sliding the letter down into her bra. It’ll be safe there, tucked tightly over her heart.

“No… Faith.” Buffy struggles lightly. “You should have fun with your friends.”

Faith stops. Gives Buffy her confused look. Then grins wide, pushing Buffy onto the dance floor. “I am!”

Buffy squints as the light from the disco ball hits her eyes.

Xander bumps into her from behind, then turns with a grin. “Hey Buffster! Didn’t see you come in!”

Buffy shouts over the music. “I was sneaky!”

Faith puts her arm around Buffy’s shoulder, tossing a look over to Xander. “Mind your girl there, hot stuff… Looks like she’s gettin’ a better offer.”

“Oh, she’s not my girl. We’re… I mean she was… But now…” Xander turns back to see Renee dancing with a random guy in the crowd. “Hey! Go shake your groove thing somewhere else, mister!”

Faith and Buffy watch Xander’s attempt to reclaim Renee’s attention. Once the fun is over, their gaze is back on each other.

“So?” Faith’s brows jump to the beat.

“You don’t have to…” Buffy feels shy.

Faith starts swaying to the music. Her hips sliding back and forth in a crazy eight. She lifts her hands over her head, running them through her hair on the way up.

“Dance!” Faith commands Buffy with a smile. The real dimply smile from before, but with mischief behind it.

“I… I should go.” Buffy stands on the dance floor, conspicuously still amongst the flailing bodies. “I only…”

“It’s my birthday! There’s a rule.” It doesn’t seem possible, but Faith manages to look even more suggestively at Buffy. “I get whatever I want.”

Buffy can feel it. She’s gonna cave. Her lips smile. Her eyebrows rise up. Her hips start to grind out the rhythm of the song. She catches Faith’s hand in the air, pulling her closer to the spotlight. Stealing some of Faith’s confident happiness for herself, she purrs into her ear.

“Let’s show ‘em how it’s done.”


The girls groan, but start the routine from the beginning. Kick, punch, block. Block, throw, punch. Kick, kick, roll. Fifty girls in rows of ten, battling invisible enemies under the critical eye of their leader.

“That’s better. Now, break off into groups of two.” Vi paces at the head. “Swords.”

The girls are packed in tight. Body to body, standing and sitting and leaning wherever they can. All crowding to get a good view. A new girl, pretty and tanned, presses play on the remote.

“Good morning, Slayers.” Andrew pops up on the widescreen, looking overdressed and fidgety. He pauses, waiting for an answer.

“Good morning, Andrew.” A few giggling voices reply, feeling very Charlie’s Angels.

“Greetings from beautiful Roma. Although I can’t be with you on this very special mission…” Andrew sighs dramatically. “I’m sending a special treat along with some of the girls.” Andrew stands, stepping in and out of the frame. “My Christmas present to you all… unless Christmas isn’t your pizza margherita… Then it’s…”

He hits the microphone with something, muffling his skillful recovery. The camera rocks dangerously, and tumbles over. He’s still talking though.

“You carry the fate of us all, little ones. And your paths will be rocky. Riddled with fire and ash and dust.” The camera wobbles again. Goes blurry. “But like the Spartans, who held off the Persian armies despite being vastly outnumbered… I’m sure you will emerge victorious!”

“Um. Andrew?” A whispered voice off camera. Female, harsh and extremely sarcastic. “They all died…”

“Thank you to my lovely assistant Iris for pointing out that slight… possible… mix up.” Andrew’s forehead becomes sharp and clear and huge. He steps back with a sigh, revealing a white dry-erase board. He pulls a big marker out from somewhere. “But onward! After conferring with experts in the field, I have taken the liberty of providing each of you…” He pauses to write down ‘experts in the field’. “…with something to assist on your latest, most dangerous quest against evil.”

He waits expectantly. Nothing happens. He looks off camera. Nods his head sideways, grimacing and insisting with his eyes.

A woman walks reluctantly beside him. She’s clad in what seems to be a rubber bodysuit, and she’s carrying a helmet.

“A form fitting yet fashionable new outfit, you say?” Andrew nods his head wisely. “Ah, yes. And so much more.”

Iris rolls her eyes.

“Each of you will be equipped with a suit, tailored to your measurements. My friend Massimo? He knows everything about fabrics and designers… and he’s got a Vespa. He’s the coolest.” He writes down ‘Massimo: cool’. “Except that I wanted the helmets to be more Boba Fett, and he said it’d be too bulky. But what’s more streamlined and efficient than an interstellar bounty hunter?” Still obviously sulking about it, he writes down ‘Boba Fett, NOT bulky.’

“Oh for God’s sake!” The lovely assistant is getting restless. “Enough with the Star Wars!”

“Retract the claws, Catwoman!” Andrew snaps back in his screechy voice. He then turns to the camera with warm, condescending eyes. “Ah, the impulsiveness of youth.”

“I’m gonna get impulsive on your weenie little butt in a second…”

Andrew flinches, his eyes widening. He takes a breath.

“Okay then…” Andrew recovers. “The suits are made of a temperature resistant rubber, which can withstand extreme heat or cold. They’re self sealing…” He nods to the model, clicking a button on the remote in his hand. The camera zooms in on Iris’ shoulder.

With a sigh, she holds a knife to the fabric and cuts through it. Immediately, a black tar-like substance fills the cut. She tugs on it for effect.

The camera zooms back quickly. It’s jarring. Andrew has written ‘self sealing’ on the board.

“…and embedded with Kevlar padding.” Andrew nods approvingly as Iris points to her shins and knees, chest, shoulders, elbows and back.

“I feel like a damned flight attendant.” She grumbles.

“The helmet…” Andrew waits. She puts it on. “The helmet is totally cool. It seals itself into the suit, wrapping you up in an airtight little cocoon. And don’t you think that Steve Guttenberg was underrated? He had a quiet charm… A sort of boyish Peter Pan thing going on…”

Iris struggles with the neck of the helmet. She pulls it off with a gasp, and throws it forcefully at Andrew. He leaps back as it narrowly misses his head.

“I quit!” She tugs at the zipper, pulling it down to her cleavage. “You nearly killed me for your stupid little fashion show.” She storms off. He watches her go, mouth agape.

“Ahem.” Andrew turns to face the camera. “Please remember to attach the oxygen before you seal the helmet…”

The girls watching the video giggle and point at Andrew’s red face. He continues to extol the virtues of his battle ensemble.

About twenty minutes later the white board is full of random phrases; including visor, harness attachment, bathroom, stretchy, VERY IMPORTANT, and some scribbling about Timothy Dalton. Andrew says his elaborate goodbyes, and the screen goes black.

The group files out of the entertainment room, chattering and excited to try their new gear. Andrew may be a little strange, but the suit is just damned cool.

A new assembly crowds in right after them. Taking up the space. Filling the air with their gossip and breathing.

The screen flickers.

“Good morning, Slayers.”

Buffy rushes down the stairs, taking them two at a time. She’s late, again. But she keeps forgetting the stupid helmet.

She reaches the landing for the first floor. One to go. She barrels around the corner, and runs smack into…

“Faith! Hey!” Buffy puffs.

“Late again?” Faith moves out of her way.

“Always.” Buffy grins, but she doesn’t run off. “Haven’t seen you…”

“I know.” Faith twists around Buffy, taking the top step. Looking down at her. “I’ve been taking my team out. Rappelling drills today.”

“Ugh. I’ve got climbing.” Buffy makes a face. “I’m feeling much too soldiery these days.”

“Maybe not soldiery enough?” Faith looks at her, as sternly as she can. “I am your C.O. remember? And here you are slackin’ right in front of me.”

“Right!” Buffy’s tinged a little pink. “Sorry!” She starts to jog down the steps.

“What? No salute?” Faith holds her smirk in.

Buffy flips Faith’s salute over her shoulder.

The dining hall is loud. Loud with chatter and music. Dawn tries to keep hold of Emma’s hand, weaving her way to their table.

“Dawn! Emma! You’re so late!” Willow smiles up at them. “It’s almost time! Y’know? For the yelling and the numbers!” She giggles at something in her head. “Like Bingo! Except with booze. Oooh! Is there Bingo with booze? Cos that might be a little thorny, with the coloured dabbers and all.”

“Don’t mind her.” Kennedy kicks out a chair. “She barely looked at the champagne and she’s this sloppy.”

“Is there any left?” Emma sits in the seat Kennedy’s offered up. “Lord knows I could stand to get a little sloppy.”

“You look hot, by the way.” Kennedy grins up at Dawn. Quirks a brow at Emma, passing her the bottle. “Both of you.”

“Because I like you, I won’t tell Buffy about you checking out her sister.” Emma chugs her champagne because she’s very thirsty. That’s the only reason. “Where is she by the way?”

“Her team’s late getting back.” Kennedy shrugs. “One of the choppers conked out.”

“That’s lame.” Dawn stops searching the crowd, and flops onto the seat beside Emma. Takes the glass she’s offered.

“Totally.” Willow seems to be agreeing. She sighs, and rests her head on Kennedy’s shoulder.

The crowd erupts. Noisemakers and yelling and the squeaks of those little paper horn things. “FIVE!”

Emma turns to watch the crowd bring in the New Year. Smiling, relaxed faces. Some obviously drunken faces. And Faith, leaning against the wall near the entrance, scanning the crowd too. Neither smiling nor relaxed.


“There’s Faith! We should call her over.” Emma shouts it over the din.


“Where?” Willow pops her head up. Sees her, and starts waving frantically. “Faith!”


Faith doesn’t move. Can’t see, can’t hear.

“Well, that’s just rude.” Willow’s head falls back down into its comfy spot.


Emma keeps her eyes on Faith. Still hoping she’ll catch her eye. Get her to come over. Nobody should be alone…


She watches as Faith slowly pushes off the wall. Takes a few steps into the party. Auld Lang Syne starts playing, and everyone sings along to the few words they know. She gets a few friendly pecks. A few of them a little too friendly. She smiles, gives them a very polite brush off and wanders away. Emma loses her in the crowd.

“What is this song about anyway?” Kennedy places a small kiss on Willow’s temple. Ignoring the fact that Willow’s passed out, and drooling a little on Kennedy’s shirt.

“I don’t know.” Dawn takes a moment to plant a chaste kiss on Emma’s cheek. “I could look it up.” She doesn’t hear Emma squeak her surprise.

“Take the night off, please?” Emma begs, recovering. “If you go all Research-Girl, then I’ll have to sidekick…”

“Hey!” Buffy rushes up, breathless.

“What’d I miss?”

*Vvvvt* * Thwick*

The bolt hits the target dead centre.

“That’s what you’ll need to do.” Renee brings the crossbow down, resting it on her thigh. She steps behind the line. “Every time. No mistakes, no almost.”

The squadron raises their weapons as one.

“What are we gonna do?” Xander asks. He feels helpless.

“We are regretfully ill-prepared.” Giles’ voice is gloomy.

“Five days.” Dawn agrees. “Not enough time to pull anything off, really.”

“Maybe she’ll understand.” Xander feels panic rising. “And it’s not like…”

“We’re not just gonna ignore it!” Faith shuts him down.

“No, but perhaps something small.” Giles ponders that. “An intimate gathering. Friends and family.”

“She’ll like that better anyway.” Willow chimes in. “Less chance of disaster.”

“No. Same chance of disaster.” Dawn deadpans. “Less chance of casualties.”

“Fine.” Faith takes charge. “But it can’t be lame.”

“It won’t be.” Willow reassures her. “It’ll be great.”

“Yeah!” Xander swaggers a bit. “You take care of the tunes; I’ll get the munchies, and Will does the fancy streamer magicks…” He pauses.

“She won’t know what hit her.”

Buffy opens her eyes. It’s bright. She pushes her fists into her eyes, trying to force them to adjust.

“Hey, B…” Faith slings an arm around her shoulder. “Ever get the feeling…”

“We’ve déjà’d this vu?” Buffy nods her agreement.

They walk to the picnic blanket, not bothering with the food. Just standing, watching. Waiting.

“So whaddya think this is all about?” Faith basks in the dream sun.

“The PTB want me to get the tan I so richly deserve?” Buffy hopes that’s true. She looks at her pale arms, frowning.

The sun hides behind an ever growing blue-black cloud.

“Guess not.”

Faith takes a few steps away from the picnic. Her eyes on the horizon.

“Check it out.” She points, holding her hair back with her other hand. The wind has picked up.

Buffy squints, crossing her arms against the chill. Rain starts tapping against her skin.

The hills, far in the distance, are dark. Darker than they were. The cloud that’s taking over the sky started from there.

“I’m going to go out on a limb, and say this is not going to end well.” Buffy shivers as the rain seeps through her clothes, her skin. Her hair plastered to her face and scalp.

“Close your eyes.” Faith whispers, shutting her own lids.

Buffy squeezes her eyes shut, covering her ears with her hands instinctively. The flash lights up her skull in red. The crack reverberates in her ears.

She opens her eyes to shadows. Everything in shades of grey and black. Faith’s outline barely visible a few feet in front.

Except for the hills. The hills glow red.

As Faith reaches for her hand, Buffy hears it. It crows twice.

“Did you…”


She squeezes Faith’s hand tight, pulling her closer.

“Aren’t we supposed to wake up now?” She whispers through her chattering teeth.

“I’m sorry. I know you hate the cold.” Faith wraps her arms around her.

Faith’s face is inches away from hers. Still not fully visible in the sheer blanket of dark that surrounds them.

“I’m always cold.” Buffy leans in.

“Me too.” Faith closes the space between them.

Buffy feels a soft brush of warm against her lips. She opens her mouth, pushing herself closer to that warmth. It feels like she’s coming apart.

“It’s time.” A broken whisper in the dark. A strange voice. Foreign.

A flash of white.

“Damnit!” Buffy wakes up swearing. Never a good thing.

“Buffy?” Willow’s sleepy voice visits from the other side of the room.

“Sorry.” Buffy grumbles, pulling on some sweats. “Just got a wake up call from Samosa.”

“You mean Sraosa?” Willow rubs her eyes.

“Whatever, he just gave me his best Chicken Little impression.” Buffy finds her sneakers.

“The sky is falling.” Willow looks on the floor for her slacks. “Good reference.”

“And also, because of the chicken.” Buffy looks proud.

“Are you hungry or something?” Willow laughs, pulling a sweater over her camisole.

Buffy checks. Yes. Yes she is.

“That’s not the point.” She nods to the door. “Let’s go wake up Giles.”

Willow smiles feebly. Waking up Giles is always entertaining. She’s making her way to Buffy’s side when she’s struck by something terrible.

“But Buffy!” Willow gasps. “Tomorrow’s your…”

“Don’t say it, Will.” Buffy holds up her hand to stop the words. “Just don’t.”

Willow talks to the air, sounding completely deflated.

“But there was gonna be cake.”

“It’s confirmed.” Giles walks swiftly through the hall. “Reports of volcanic activity in Columbia.”

“Columbia?” Xander keeps up. “That’s like… far?”

“South America.” Giles mourns the state of the U.S. education system. “I’ve sent the helicopters ahead, with a small team. They’ll set up a base camp, and be ready when we get there.”

They stop at the double doors. Both needing their breath. They spare each other a glance.

“Ready?” Xander asks.

“Not hardly.”

They push through the doors, bracing themselves for the days ahead.

“Alright people, you know what to do.” Xander finishes giving his final orders. “Get it done.”

He scans the crowd. It seems strange that they can actually fit this many people in a room. Granted it’s a gigantic room. But still. Five-hundred and… seventy-four at his last count.

“Med teams?” Giles waves his hands over his head. “Follow Dawn please. Stay with your groups!”

Xander walks purposefully across the room, eyes locked on his goal. Waits to be noticed.

“Hey.” Renee smiles up at him.

“Hey.” Xander indicates that he wants to talk privately. They start moving toward a moderately quiet corner. “There’s not a lot of time, so…”

“Don’t you dare say goodbye.”

“Never. It’s just…” Xander looks serious. Earnest. “The women in my life. They have an annoying habit of dying. Sure, they pretend it’s some crazy heroic trying to save the world thing.” He’s trying to wave it off. Get it out there without really saying it. “It’s giving me a complex.”

“Uh-huh.” Renee knows him. “I’m not that desperate to get away from you. Yet.”

“Ah. Here I was hoping you’d be the one to break the vicious cycle.” Xander is charming. Funny and charming.

Renee only smiles.

“So… Basically, what I’m saying here…” Xander wraps his lanky frame around her.

“I know.” Renee hugs him back. It’s not goodbye. Even though it feels like it.

“Teams Omega through Zeta!” Giles’ voice is thin. But loud. “Boarding O through Z!”

“That’s me…” Renee hides in Xander’s sweater. “I should…”

“No. None of us should.” He pulls her back from him. Wants to see her face. “But we do it anyway.”

“There’s a word for people like that.” Renee sniffs. Smiling despite herself.

“Moron?” Xander tries for a better one. “Nope. I got moron.”

Renee pulls her hands from his back. Touches his face, feeling the traces of stubble on his chin. She lifts up on her toes, placing a light peck on his cheek. Her lips hover by his ear. She whispers.

“Hero.” She falls back on her heels. Gives him a last look, and then runs off to join her squad.

Xander blinks, caught off-guard. He’s feeling a little floaty. In a manly way of course. But also sad, and a tiny bit turned on.

“All in all…” Xander makes his way back to the head of the class. “I’d say that went well.”

Chapter Text

The rumbling of the earth. They can hear it over the com chatter. They can hear it over the whirring of the blades and the whine of the engines. It digs into their skin. Pulses with their heartbeats. Waves of deep bass and roaring static. It is the sound that terror makes.

Faith leans out, looking down at the beast. The high clouds of ash and spew can’t hide the glowing red that spills from its mouth. Trailing down the mountain, leaving a charred emptiness.

“A-Team, ready for drop.” Her voice doesn’t betray her. The fear doesn’t slip out with the words.

“That’s everyone. Just waiting on the Wiccas. Stand by for go.” Xander’s voice is not so clever.

“Standing by.”

Faith drags her eyes away, and pulls her body back into the helicopter. Looks around at her team. They’re nervous. Silent. She should say something. Some heartfelt speech about good triumphing over evil, about courage and honour and fighting the good fight. She flips up her visor, and inhales. Hoping it comes out right.

“We are a go! Repeat, we are a go!” Saved by the death knell.

Faith stands. Watches her team scramble, hooking into the rappel lines. She checks the lines. Checks her harness. Checks the ties that hold the scythe to her back. Looks up at the girls. At their faces lit by the glow of molten rock and metal.

And she dives. Down through the swirling gasses, through fire in the sky. Into the abyss.

“A-Team is in position.” Faith’s voice cuts through the hiss of the com, breathy and low.

Buffy looks up, squinting. Watching as hundreds of black shapes fall from the sky, soundless and dark as night. Disappearing almost as their feet touch ground. A glimmer of blue against a black sky. The shield is holding for now. The plan is working. The plan is good.

She looks back at her team. They’re ditching the harnesses, attaching the oxygen canisters. Pulling supplies and weapons from their kit bags. Everything else gets left behind. The group sets up at their perimeter. A jagged crack in the mountain, made by heat and pressure. Still glowing with fire.

“B-Team is in position.” Buffy’s hand reaches for the hilt of her sword. Something to hold on to.

The other team leaders call in their status one by one. So many girls. Not enough. Buffy hears the trembling voices crackle into her ear.

She waits. Body tense. The temperature and anxiety making her sweat. Eyes drift up to the fire above where the heat is unbearable, and the poison filling the air makes eyes water and lungs strain to breathe.

She looks down. Pasto spreads out its streets and houses in a tangle below. The evacuation order was given days ago. But some lights are twinkling up at her. If the shield fails… If everything fails, it will be the first city to fall.

“Okay, people! Visual is up. Phase Two is a go. Repeat. A go.” Xander’s voice comes out strong.

Crouching low, Buffy moves out of position. She signals to her team to follow her in.

She whispers, forming the words under her breath. It’s become her thing. A mantra. A tribute.

“We’ll go be heroes.”

Willow can fly. She figured it out in Brazil. It’s a physics thing. You just have to do a little rearranging, on an atomic level. At first she hovered about an inch. Then she could sorta float a few feet up.

Now she’s way up, just below the clouds. Safe in her little air bubble, watching the action way down there. She can hear them all just fine. No need for suits and intercoms. She’s more comfortable in her jeans and peasant blouse, and rubber makes her look hippy.

The shield looks strong. She inspects it carefully, redistributing the energy where needed, feeling it flow through her as she touches it lightly, guiding it. Listening to it.

Energy has a voice. She figured this out in Brazil too.

She hears Xander. His voice is louder than energy. Less crackly.

Willow concentrates her thoughts downward. Probing through the rock and the earth, seeking the source. The reason for all this.

“Oh! Ow!” It touches her, searing against the inside of her skull. It’s familiar and it flips her heartbeat for a moment. A tinge of anxiety, mixed with anticipation and a heavy revulsion.

Evil. A concentration of very powerful evil.

Willow pulls her thoughts back. Steadies them, putting them back in her head the right way round.

Evil has a voice too. She’d figured this out long before Brazil.

It had been music, once. Soothing and sweet and so long ago.

Willow is no longer a fan.

Faith checks her GPS. Nearly there. She blinks away the sweat stinging her eyes. Feels it pooling in the folds of her gear. The closer they get to the core, the heavier the air is around them.

She leads her squad further down the tunnel. No need for stealth now. They’ve killed the lookouts. Killed the guards. Killed everything that stood in their way. They’ve carved a path of blood through this mountain and it’s worn them down. Breathing heavy, sticky and dehydrated, arms sagging with the weight of their weapons. And it hasn’t even started.

The blaze of red that lights the cavern has changed. There’s a thick intensity in the air, and the light dances on the walls in patterns of orange and gold. The core. Faith signals a halt. They’re in position. They can rest. She holds up two fingers. They acknowledge. Some sit. Some lean against the wall. Some shake their arms and legs, trying to work moisture away from skin. She takes her canteen from her belt, and pushes the straw through the slot in her helmet to sip at it. Passes it around.

Faith does another headcount. Forty-one. Four girls short. She knows this, of course. She heard them scream. Watched them fall. Left their bodies behind to burn.

With a sigh, she checks her watch. Time’s up. She signals her troops. They jump up. Check weapons and oxygen levels. And stand ready.

“A-Team in position.”

“Copy that. Stand by for Phase Three.” Xander hesitates. “Casualties?”

“Four dead. Two injured but mobile.”

“Then you’re lucky.” He clears his throat.

“Yeah. Lucky us.” There’s no time for this. Keep the lines clear. Let the others get through. “Standing by for go.”

She moves through to the front of the pack. There’s no need for words now. No cliché, no rousing speech is going to prepare them. Make them stronger than they are.

“ALL TEAMS! We are go for Phase Three! Repeat, we are go!” Xander yells into her ear. But it doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t hear words.

She hears a battle cry.

First is the heat. Blinding. Physical.

Second is the stench. Sulfur, and choking decay.

Third is the roar. Fire, rupture, and the gathered masses.

Fourth is the exultation. The Destroyer comes, bringing pain and terror and beautiful writhing agony.

He will unlock the gates, and free them all.

Last is the knowledge.

It’s found in a hail of arrows. A cloud of righteousness, raining upon their armies. Cutting them down. Stinging like hope.

It’s found in sharp steel, and thunderous fists. In the intruders’ faces, glowing with intent. So alike to the pure ones they’ve tortured, sacrificed, killed, or eaten. But these are not innocent.

These bring only death.

Hordes. Legions. Swarms.

Buffy’s never really thought about what those words mean. What sheer numbers they contain in so few syllables.

She’s thinking about it now.

Ripping her sword across red, scaly flesh. Swinging it over her head, slicing cleanly through bone and skin. Ducking a mace. Rolling under the hooves of another, jabbing upwards and tearing the blade past sinew. She’s killed so many. But there are more. There’s always more.

She wipes the blood from her visor, smearing red into pink. It’s a moment’s pause. A breath.

A mistake.

A glimmer of steel catches her eye, and she twists her body down and left. She can hear the blade singing as it passes.

She spins around, slashing as she goes. Two fall before she’s stopped turning, thick hands caught at their throats. She pushes her sword into the chest of another, pushing it deep and letting it shred down to the stomach. She yanks it back, flipping it down and back and feels it tear into the gut of the monster behind her.

Hordes. Legions. Swarms.

Don’t stop. Don’t think. Just chip away at the evil until it crumbles.

Slaughter good. Sword bloody.

It takes two people. One to carry them. The other to fight their way through. Of course some try to be brave, limping and hobbling and dragging themselves back. But they’re the ones that don’t make it. They’re the gazelles.

Kennedy tries to protect them. Loading the crossbow. Aiming for the throat. Pulling the trigger.

She doesn’t miss. She doesn’t fumble. Load, aim, fire. It takes seconds.

Getting the injured behind the line. Back to the Safe Zones set up in the tunnels. Where Meds and magicks are waiting to fix them up, and send them back.

“Z-Team, got two more coming your way.” Xander’s all hoarse and breathy.

“I see them.” Load, aim, fire. Without blinking. Eyes on the target. “Clearing a path.” Load, aim, fire.

The first injured girl gets through. Kennedy doesn’t spare a glance. She knows it’s Renee being gently lowered to the makeshift gurney. Her escorts are winded from sprinting through the battle. Hands on their knees, taking deep stilted breaths.

Renee doesn’t breathe at all. There are people working on that.

“Renee? Is she alright?” She can hear Xander’s voice. It doesn’t distract her.

She can hear shouting around her. Calling for water and sutures and hands to keep Renee’s body still. No time for painkillers.

Load. Aim. Fire.

“She’s alive, Harris.” They brought her back. Good.

Renee groans in pain. But she doesn’t scream. Some of them scream.

Kennedy hears Xander exhale.

“You know, I thought we were clear about this whole ‘not dying’ thing.”

“Sorry, Sergeant. Won’t happen again.” Renee tries to cover up the fear.

“Better not.”

Hearing Xander’s relief, she smiles. Keeping the rhythm. Load, aim, fire.

It takes seconds.

Seconds to watch as the second escort team is overpowered. As they get ripped to shreds by hungry teeth and claws.

They’re the gazelles.

And there are just too many damned lions.

Faith swings the scythe over her head in a wide arc. Cutting a path.

“Stay tight!” Faith calls through the com. “Backs to the wall. Nothing gets through!”

She doesn’t have to check. These are her girls, her team. They’ll follow orders.

“Force them to the centre!” She’s reminding them. There is a plan. They have a purpose. They’re not alone.

She learned this from Giles. His calm, soft voice has reminded her of these things. It always helps her in battle. And in those quiet moments.

When she’s afraid.

“Look at me!” Dawn holds the girl’s head in her hands. “You’re fine! You’ll be fine!”

The girl stares out into nothing. Blank. Safe now in this artificial bubble filled with breathable oxygen. But not really here at all.

“You’re a Slayer!” Dawn’s voice gets growly and stern. She slaps the soldier out of her shock. “Damnit, you’re a Slayer!”

The girl blinks, the first sign of her slow return.

“Tell me.” Dawn gets on her knees in front of the girl. “It’ll be okay.”

Her eyes focus on Dawn. Her lips move. But nothing comes out.

Emma watches from the corner of her eye. Wrapping another arm, suturing another wound. Her hands work without the company of her brain.

She watches the girl’s lips.

“Oh my…” Emma forces the bile back down. It’s too awful.

“What is it?” Dawn whips her head around. Notices the sickened look on Emma’s face. “Do I want to know?”

Emma shakes her head.

Dawn turns her focus back to the girl leaning against the tunnel wall. Puts the canteen to her lips and forces her to sip.

“They…” The girl tries again; her vocal cords better now they’ve been whetted. “She… I couldn’t stop them…”

“It’s not your fault.” Dawn tries to comfort the girl.

“I… Monsters…” The girl chokes it out. “They… Bones. Gnawing on her bones. I…”

Dawn can’t find words for that. They don’t make words for that. She can only stroke the girl’s hair and let her cry it out. Let her vomit or scream or punch at the wall. Whatever she needs to do to get through it.

Because Dawn has to do her job. Because there’s no place for sympathy in war.

The girl’s not injured. She’s going back in.

Chapter Text

“B-Team!” Buffy tries to be encouraging. But she’s tired. Aching in places she forgot were attached to her body. “We’ve got them trapped, like sardines… Or like fish in a barrel. Although why you’d put fish in a barrel… And why fish? Is it always fish?” Deliriously tired. That’s what Buffy is.

She shakes her head.

“Whatever. They’re all crammed together. Get stabby!” Buffy used to have better speeches.

She can see the other teams getting into position, cutting off the escape routes, pushing the army of demons into tighter and tighter quarters in the centre of this cavernous battlefield. It’s a good strategy. Even though it’s Andrew’s strategy.

Buffy shakes her head again. Yanks her sword from the chest of another carcass. She struggles to raise it over her head, fighting the pain in her muscles, the soreness of eyes that have seen for too long.

A clatter, metallic and high pitched. She hears it faintly over the clamour of the fight, like music. She turns her head to it.

The scythe. It’s hit the ground hard, sliding toward her through legs and arms and the sea of blood covering the ground. She’s already bending to pick it up, her eyes tracing back along its path. Looking for Faith.

She starts running, scythe in one hand, sword in the other. She can see a tight group of demons, circling and attacking something, someone. She sees a flash of black, a swift arm blocking a heavy blow. A fist pushing through the sharp teeth of some awful looking thing.

Faith is almost holding her own against ten or twelve armed and armoured demons. Almost. They overpower her, sending her to the stone floor.

Buffy adds a burst of speed to reach them, bringing her blades down hard and fast, cutting through the enemy. She can almost see Faith through them. Feel where she is, how she’s fending off their blows with her arms and her legs.

She hacks and slashes without hesitation, giving Faith the chance she needs to get clear. She sighs in relief when Faith rolls free and stands up in one swift motion.

“Thanks.” Faith punches through another jawbone. She nods to Buffy. “Let’s cut ‘em down to size…”

“That’s almost as lame as my fish speech.” Without a thought, Buffy throws the scythe to Faith. Instinct and training puts them back to back, weapons raised.

“Nothing’s as lame as your fish speech.” Faith deadpans.

The enemy surges toward them, a sea of metal and might attacking in a wave.

Buffy tilts her head.

She’s not tired anymore.

Giles paces along the outside of the shield. Back and forth across its blue glimmer, keeping an eye on the small group of Wiccas under his care, muttering the incantation under his breath. He keeps his crossbow down, keeps his eyes up. Guarding his charges while they chant. Guarding the perimeter.

It pains him to listen to the chatter on the com, but he strains to hear every word nonetheless. Every fibre of his being wants to take up his sword, and charge into the battle. Stand shoulder to shoulder with his slayers, with his friends. Fight once again at their side.

But he won’t. His place is no longer on the battlefield. He’s too old, too frail and too human. There’s no reason to risk his life unnecessarily. That’s what Buffy told him. Less eloquently, of course. But she’d been right.

Giles swallows a breath, and his pride.

And moves on. Pacing back and forth along the outside of the shield.

“D-Team S.O.S!” Leah’s voice comes booming out of the speakers.

“D-Team, report!” Xander taps his knuckles against his palm, his hands at his back. Looking very much the soldier.

“Ten dead! Fifteen injured! We’re getting annihilated out here!”

“On it! Keep your com line open Leah.” Xander hits a button on the makeshift com panel. “Sniper Teams! We need reinforcements on the ground. Kennedy, I want Z-Team down there ASAP! Meet up with Leah and get her clear!”

Kennedy’s quick acknowledgment is cut off.

“Everybody back!” Leah’s voice is filled with panic. “Go! Into the cave!”

“Leah! Status!”

A few seconds of breathing feel like minutes.

“They’re right outside!” Leah struggles not to lose it. “We’re cut off, and most of my girls can’t fight!”

“Help is on the way.” Xander keeps his voice calm. “Take your injured deeper into the tunnel. Don’t try to fight them unless you have to.”

Xander listens to Leah relay his orders. He presses a different button on the panel.

“Kennedy, how long?”

“We’re pushing through, Xander.” Kennedy’s words are punctuated with deep breaths. She’s running. “We’ll get there. Promise.”

Xander waits. He listens to Leah breathing and barking orders through the com. He checks his watch. One minute. He takes a few steps, checking the monitors. Two minutes.

“Z-Team swooping in to save the day, as promised!” Kennedy grunts into the com, obviously engaged in some fierce fight.

“Leah, Kenn’s got your back!” Xander’s glad he can give some good news for a change. “Stay put, and we’ll send Meds and an Evac squad to you. Don’t…”

“Xander!” Leah interrupts. “You need to get Buffy and Faith down here now!”

“Kennedy can handle it…”

“It’s not for her. We found… in the tunnel… I can’t even describe it…” Leah trails off.


“Wow, that’s a big hole.” Buffy stands with Faith at the edge of a wide circular pit, stone steps cut into the smooth walls. “Can you see the bottom?”

“Nope.” Faith stops trying. “But the stairway to hell kinda…”

“Implies bottom-ness.” Buffy shivers, and takes a few steps away from the edge. She turns away from it, facing Leah and Kennedy.

“You guys get out of here. Kenn’s team can escort.” She jerks her head back toward the pit. Then back to Kennedy. “I’m thinking this is the way to what’s-his-name, so leave anyone you can spare to guard the entrance.”

She and Faith watch them leave. Once the last of them is gone, they turn to each other.

“So, we just go down there?” Faith gestures at it.

“I guess.” Buffy can’t look at it either.

“Right then.” Faith steps aside. “You first.”

“No chance.” Buffy backs up. “You’re the boss. You go first.”

“I can order you to go first!” Faith ducks around Buffy, giving her a little shove.

“But you won’t.” Buffy veers away, stepping beside Faith. “That’d be just plain mean.”

They stand there, staring down into it. Their eyes following the steps as they spiral around and around and get lost in a deep thick black. It’s dizzying. That much empty.

After a moment, Faith clears her throat.

“So we just go down there?” But she doesn’t move.

“You make it sound so easy.”

There’s a shifting, like stone against stone. They turn together, and watch as an opening appears in the thick walls of the tunnel.

“It’s never easy.” Faith says what they’re both thinking.

The passage widens, and a new sound follows. Footsteps, heavy and in synch. Like a heartbeat, a deep and frightening rhythm. The pounding gets louder, closer.

They raise their weapons once again.

What comes through makes Buffy choke on her breath. She can hear Faith’s gasp in her earpiece. She thought she’d seen monsters. Seen demons. Seen everything.

But these hideous creatures she’s pretty sure she’s never seen. Vaguely humanoid in shape, but with wide legs that seem to bend the wrong way, and pinchy insect faces. Locusts maybe. Buffy’s not sure.

“I hope they don’t have wings…” Buffy whispers, mostly to herself.

“Not my biggest worry right now.” Faith points with the stake end of the scythe.

Buffy’s eyes follow. One of the walking horrors is looming above them, something rising from behind the thing like a snake. But not a snake.

Buffy remembers now. From the meeting.

“The tail of a scorpion!” Buffy blurts it out loud. “I never thought… I mean, who’d believe that!”

The creature strikes out at Faith, who rolls out of the way. The stinger hits hard against the stone floor.

Buffy raises her sword. Faith swings the scythe over her head. They both know it’s time. The connection between them opens, flowing through them, giving them new strength.

There’s a slight hesitation in time. A brief moment in which both sides are frozen, poised at the edge of attack. Then, as though some unspoken signal is sounded, the instant’s peace is shattered. The battle is on.

Buffy tears through the tough shell of two of these creatures. At the edge of her vision, she sees Faith behead another.

Her arms swing out again and again, hacking away at whatever comes near. Faith is behind her, and she ducks to avoid another sweeping arc of the scythe.

They fight together. Two instruments finely tuned. It’s a shame there’s nobody around who can appreciate the true beauty in their movements, the fluidity and grace they draw out of each other. Sword and scythe, both sharp and glimmering, equally beautiful and effective.

Buffy does a quick head-count. Five at the mouth of the tunnel, seven blocking their way down the spirally steps. Faith hops out in front of her, claiming the seven for herself. Buffy smiles, turning to take on the five remaining.

“So, you guys have ears or what?” Buffy slices cleanly through a stinger heading her way. “I’d hate to be punning to myself.” She raises her sword to block a shredding blow from serrated steel. Ducks under and smashes her fist through the tough exoskeleton.

Never stopped you before. Faith chuckles, grunting with each heavy sweep of her weapon.

“Oh gross!” Buffy pulls her hand out, covered in goopy green innards. “The reasons to kill you all dead just keep piling up!” She shakes off her hand, using her sword to deflect her attackers. Not even conscious of the speed and skill coursing through her.

She takes them out, cutting and spilling their insides on to their outsides. One final spin, and the last head rolls. Buffy keeps turning, checking on Faith.

Faith uses the scythe like a staff, brute force and the power of her will forcing the last two monsters back. She needs room to swing the blade, room to maneuver. She cuts deep into the neck of the closest, sending him to the edge of the deep black, teetering there, finally starting to slip.

It happens in slow motion.

Faith turns to face down the last locust demon, swinging her scythe around and bringing it crashing down into its head. It seems to pulverize on impact, sending a spray of green in all directions.

See, not a scratch! Faith turns to face Buffy, about to raise her hand for the high five.

Show-off. Buffy starts to smile, relief threatening to relax her.

From the corner of her eye, she spots something slithering up from the black. Hooked and knotted and aiming for Faith’s turned back.

It’s not a thought. Not a conscious decision. Faster than eyes can see, Buffy’s there. Pushing Faith out of the way, twisting into its path.

She’s surprised by the pain. It’s heat and fire inside her. It’s choking and pressure and cold. Her eyes can’t focus, her limbs are failing her.

She catches a blurry glimpse of Faith, turning in shock. Her eyes visible through the visor, through the blood and guts coated on thick and smeared. Buffy watches them cloud. Darken. But everything’s so dark, it could be a trick.

Faith drops the scythe. Rips the tail in two with her hands, sending the last demon into the pit for good. She turns to Buffy, catching her in time, laying her gently on the stone floor. Chokes at the sight of the sharp black barb poking through her chest from behind. Through her heart, it looks like. She hesitates, not certain if she should remove the stinger. Not sure which is worse, the wound or the poison.

Buffy vomits blood. She’s choking on it. Faith can’t take off her helmet, can’t see her. Can’t…

The helplessness is too much. Her rage takes over.


Faith’s voice is louder than the battle, louder than the com, louder than the damned volcano threatening to blow. Anyone who hears it understands that sound.


“Oh Goddess!” Willow falters. The pain in Faith’s voice cripples her concentration for a moment, and she drops tens of feet from her perch in the sky.

It’s the cry she’s dreaded. The one that means she’ll have to make a choice. Either way…

Willow closes her eyes. Takes a breath, focusing her mind on Faith. On that pain.

Before she blinks out of the sky, her thought completes itself.

Either way, we’re going to lose…

“Get back down there!” Xander yells. Still clutching at his ears. Faith’s howl still ringing through the room.

“Consider me there!” Kennedy crackles through the busted speakers. “Bringing the goddamned cavalry with me.”

“They’re not...” Xander pushes down the dread. “They’re not answering the com, Kenn.”

“I got it, Xand.” Kennedy softens her voice as best she can. “I’ll be your eyes and ears.”

Xander can’t respond. It hurts too much to force down. For the first time since it all began, he leans against the desk. Letting his worry and fear take hold. Letting out all the sorrow he’s been holding back. His tears fall freely, openly, bravely.

No one rushes to him. Nobody speaks. Not one word.

He knows more about courage and responsibility, more about compassion and loyalty than any of them. They have no right, no place trying to remind him of these things.

He’s Xander Harris. He knows, above anything else, when it’s time to grieve.

Willow snaps her head up, opening her eyes. Faith is kneeling at Buffy’s side. And Buffy…

“Buffy!” Willow rushes over, expanding her pocket of air to encompass the three of them. Dropping down, she helps Faith remove Buffy’s helmet. Helps Faith unzip the rubber suit, peeling it away. The white tank underneath is soaked in sweat, but still turning wine red with the constant flow of blood escaping from around the puncture wound.

“Fix her!” Faith demands, her voice lost between pitches, between a screech and a cry. She tears off her helmet and gloves, letting them fall.

Willow puts her hands on Buffy. Trying to pull energies from the earth. Trying to see without seeing, the damage that’s been done inside.

“I can’t.” She falls back, gasping. “It’s all contaminated! I can’t risk it.”

“Do something!” Faith’s voice falters farther. “We have to do something!”

“I can’t heal, not here.” Willow searches for Buffy’s pulse under her cold, white skin. “Is she…”

“She’s alive. Weak… She’s fighting.”

Damned right.

Buffy? Faith’s voice is cracked, even in her own mind.

You got other voices in your head I should know about? Buffy sounds quiet. Far away.

Nah, it’s always you. Faith smiles a bit. Reaches out and finds Buffy’s hand.

I figured it out. Buffy’s face doesn’t change. The whole thing. The prophecy, the dreams.

Oh yeah?

Yeah. Buffy’s voice is warm. Soothing.

“We’re taking this… thing… out of her.” Willow’s voice is low. Angry. “Faith, you have to do exactly what I say, when I say.”

Faith nods, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“When I tell you, you have to press here, hard as you can...” Willow points to the wound. “…or she’ll bleed out before I can do anything.”

Faith waits, hands trembling.

“Defaeco!” Willow aims a blast of colour and light at the stinger. It bursts into black flame and disintegrates. “NOW!”

Faith slams down on the hole in Buffy’s chest, her hands trying desperately to stop the blood bubbling up through her fingers.

Buffy’s body convulses. Her mouth opens, croaking and spitting up blood and ragged air.

Faith’s eyes are wide with panic.

Faith! Buffy’s voice is a whisper. We’re running out of time.

I’m here. Buffy’s barely there, but Faith listens hard to every word. Straining to keep their link open, pushing it beyond tested limits.

Willow starts chanting, casting her hands around Buffy’s body. Something is happening. Buffy’s body stops its wild flexes. Her breathing sounds a little clearer. The blood at her mouth and in her throat disappears.

“That’s the best I can do…” Willow’s voice fades away.

Faith doesn’t hear anything but Buffy. The soft words she’s always wanted to hear.

And it’s not how she ever imagined it. Not once in all the years of hoping did she think it would be like this, a nightmare. Buffy’s blood on her hands. An end instead of a beginning.

She leans in, and touches Buffy’s cold cheek.

And carefully, perfectly, tenderly, Faith gives Buffy the kiss that’s been waiting on her lips for ten years.

There should be a sigh. A smile. A flutter of lashes and a miraculous awakening. Faith has read those books, she knows the rules.

She presses her lips tighter against Buffy’s, pulling her up and cradling her limp body. She won’t accept it. This is not the way it’s supposed to go.

That shudder, that rattling isn’t right.

She rocks back and forth with Buffy in her arms, as Buffy’s soul leaves her body.

Chapter Text

Willow is blown back by the force of it. The force of what exactly, she’s not sure. She is however, very sure that she’s on her ass about ten feet away from where she was.

She opens her eyes. Faith is lying on her back about thirty feet away. Buffy’s still…

Willow scurries back to Buffy, on hands and knees. She checks for a pulse. Breath. Anything.

“Damn!” Willow starts threading thin streams of magic together, trailing light from her fingertips across Buffy’s still form. “C’mon!” She looks up, hands still weaving. “Faith? You okay?”

Faith sits up, stiff and straight. She cracks her neck slowly. Stands, wobbling on her legs. She looks around her, inspecting everything with the same vacant look.

“Faith, it’s okay.” Willow thinks that it’s shock. “I can…”

She stops, puzzled. Faith is clenching and unclenching her fists, turning them around and staring at them, blank and empty.

“You alright over there?” Willow tries again. Her hands on automatic.

Faith turns her body towards Willow, still watching her hands. She opens her mouth to speak. Nothing. She widens her mouth, closes it again. Flicks her tongue out awkwardly. A glimmer in her face. A note of surprise and realization.

“Faith?” Willow senses impending weirdness.

“No. Not exactly.” This time Faith manages words. She looks away from the fascinating mechanics of her muscles and sinews.

Faith’s eyes, usually so dark, now have a glint of green.


“Sort of.” Faith smiles Buffy’s wry smile. Her eyes catch sight of Buffy’s body. “I look terrible. Am I…”

“NO! Not yet.” Willow cringes. “I… I did a thing. A little spell, nothing fancy. To stop you getting any worse. I kinda just… slowed time down around you a little. Okay, a lot. And I know you said that I shouldn’t, but it’s not that! It’s entirely different, and…”

“It’s good, Will. I’m gonna need somewhere to go.” Faith looks down, and Buffy frowns at her new body. “Not so roomy in here.”

“You’re tellin’ me.” Faith’s mouth never stops moving. But the tone changes, and the accent.

“Faith?” Willow asks apprehensively. “You’re in there too?”

“Looks like.” Faith smiles her own smile, breaking out the dimples. “It worked. It really…”

She shivers. Her neck spasms sharply to the left.

Willow feels a presence, a power creeping around her. It’s strong, vibrant. And strangely, not evil.

“Uh, guys?” Willow watches Faith. The subtle change, the unfamiliar posture. Her staring is met by cold, steel grey eyes.

“Where is he?” Faith’s voice has an eerie, flat quality.

“He who?” Willow asks before she thinks. Then she thinks while she talks, fitting the pieces together. “OH! It’s YOU! There’s them, and you. And you’re all smooshed inside… well, you! Like she’s some kinda mini car and you’re all a bunch of clowns…”

“You rang?” Kennedy bursts in at full tilt. “One rescue party, no dela- Hey!” Something knocks Kennedy from behind. She turns to face her attacker. “Hey! Watch it!”

“Not my fault you- Ooof!” Rona doesn’t have time to regain her balance before Vi hits her at a run. Rona topples into Kennedy, and they both hit the ground. Kennedy shoves Rona off and quickly jumps to her feet.

“Sorry!” Vi cringes a little, helping Rona to stand up. “Sorry.”

“Hey guys.” Willow greets them with a quick glance.

Faith’s body turns faster than anything should move, eyes locked on the intruders.

“Whoa!” Rona’s impressed.

“Dude, that was so cool!’ Vi agrees. “Are we gonna be able to do that?”

“What happened?” Kennedy’s noticed the bodies and parts strewn on the ground. The other body, wrapped in magic. “How’s Buffy?”

“Umm… Which part?” Willow doesn’t know where to start. “Her spirit seems fine. Little weird at first, with the switching, but way creepier when it’s the Saoshyant. She’s just… creepy. Oh! And Buffy’s body? I’m still working on it.”

“Faith?” Kennedy takes a step forward. “You okay?”

“We are…” Faith seems to be searching her mind for something. “...fine, thank you. Where is he?”

“Creepy!” Kennedy takes that step back, and another just in case. She turns to Willow. “Did you just say what I think you said?”

“Yup.” Willow levitates Buffy’s body up off the floor. She quickly gestures to Faith. “Buffy’s in there.”

“Hey Buffy!” Vi waves at Faith. “I’m glad you’re not dead!”

“God, Vi.” Rona smacks Vi’s hand down. “Quit it!”

“I’m just being polite!” Vi defends herself. “Not that I’m lying!” She turns back to Faith. “I AM glad you’re not dead.”

Faith stares her down, her new grey eyes a piercing weapon.

“Well, I am.” Vi mumbles.

“We all are.” Kennedy tries to salvage some dignity. “But this changes the plan. I’m going down there with you.” She gulps as her eye catches the deep dark.

Faith walks stiffly over to Kennedy. Inspects her. Shakes her head.

“No. You cannot.” Faith turns away, inspecting the pit carefully. “We are the Saoshyant. We…” The words give rise to a new awareness. “I go alone.”

“Kennedy! Report!” Xander can’t wait another second. “Is she alive? Are they…”

“Sorry Xander.” Kennedy takes a step away from the rest. She’s not going to try and explain any of this right now. “Things are… strange down here. But Buffy’s um… alright, I think. Hurt, but alive.”

“Right. Good.” Xander doesn’t want to push his luck. “Prep for Evac. We’re getting the hell out of here!”

“We’re quitting?” Kennedy sounds incredulous.

“No, we’re leaving.” Xander sounds forceful. “We came, we saw, we more or less brought the smackdown. We’re done here.”

“What about Abaddon?” Vi puts her hand up. She quickly takes it down, looking furtively around to see if anyone noticed.

“And what about unh… Faith… Buffy… thing?” Rona doesn’t put her hand up. She just waves it sloppily in Faith’s direction.

“The Army of Darkness is pulling the big scaredy run-away, and I say we let ‘em go.” Xander is one step away from pulling rank.

“No.” Faith turns on her heel. “No escape. No mercy. No survivors.”

“Faith?” Xander’s not sure how he heard that. It sure as jiminy didn’t come through the speakers.

“You take commands from me, do you not?” Faith speaks quietly. It reverberates. It almost shines.

“Uh, yeah. Sort of.” Xander talks to the air.

Faith takes a step backward. There’s a schickk sound when her body penetrates the air bubble.

“Faith! Your helmet!” Kennedy stops short, watching as Faith takes a deep breath of poison.

“I have no need for such contrivances.” Faith turns toward the pit’s edge. She looks down briefly, her eyes focused on something distant and deep.

“You have your orders.” The edge of her lip curls up. Her brow rises. “Kill them all.”

Without another word, she races to the edge and leaps into the void.

“Jesus Murphy!” Kennedy rushes after her. “Did you see?” She turns back, pointing down into the pit. “Did you?”

“Are we gonna be able to do THAT?” Vi gapes into the darkness.

“You WANT to do that?” Rona pulls them back to a safe distance.

“No, not exactly that.” Vi back tracks nicely. “But still…”

“We’ve got movement in the tunnels!” Xander breaks up the act.

“Where do you want us?” Kennedy stiffens.

He stops, listening to another voice in his ear. “They’re attacking the Safe Zones!”

“Dawn!” Willow says it out loud.

It’s like floating. The carved walls fly past her eyes, inches away. She twists herself around. The stairs signal the depths she’s sinking to. She glances down. Her eyes can see in this darkness.

Feet first is best.

She tucks, rolling her body over. Enjoying the feeling of being inside this body. Still learning, discovering the parts that make her up. It will be hard to let this go. To die. To disappear again. It’s always so brief.

But she is the Saoshyant. She does what she must. What she was made to do. Over and over, she fights this battle. Always the same. She is born for death.

Death is your gift. A strange voice in her head.

She struggles to keep herself merged. The bottom approaches. No time for stray thoughts and stray personalities. She is stronger as one.

She is the Chosen, after all.

“Gnugh!” Faith’s body lands feet first. Crouched low. Eyes shining in the black.

Such a strong body. She stands, stretching out her new muscles. She blinks, and the path is clear.

She doesn’t need to see. She can feel him calling to her.

Aesma-daeva, the enemy. The fallen wretched monster sings to her. She knows only him. She feels only him.

She prays this is the last time. That her victory will be the end. The cycle will complete, and she can take her place at the right side of her Father, and be at peace.

Finally at peace.

“We’re on secondary protocol, people!” Xander gives the order. “I repeat, secondary protocol. Remember your training! We’re merging the teams!”

Kennedy freezes. She knows what that means. She looks around. Her eyes settle on Willow, who’s gently pushing Buffy’s body out of the cavern, away from the pit, and down into the tunnel.

Rona salutes, and Vi waves shyly. They both run down the tunnel to meet their teams.

“Kennedy. I need you out there.” Xander’s got an edge in his voice. “I’m sending someone to escort Willow and Buffy’s… well, Buffy.”

“I could…” Kennedy wants to stay.

“No.” Xander has no time. “You’re the Field Commander now. So get on the damned field!”

“Copy that.” It almost sounds timid, if that’s possible from Kennedy.

“Good.” Xander has less than no time. “I expect a report from you in five.” Xander out.

Kennedy sighs. Pulls the helmet up and over her face, hearing it lock and seal. Looks down into the pit.

“Kenn?” Willow taps her on the shoulder, forcing Kennedy to stop and turn.

Willow turns away. It’s easier to talk to the wall, especially about these things.

“Kenn, I know I never really said anything before and I wanted to… And I know we’re good now and all. But I wanted you to know for sure. When I left… I left because of… Because I wasn’t sure that what we had was like… epic, and forever, and all meant to be. I was jealous, I think maybe. I saw something… perfect… and I wanted it.” Willow takes a breath. Trying to get the courage to turn around and face her lover like a grown up.

Kennedy shifts her weight. Lets out a sigh.

“Okay, okay… But now I know that it doesn’t have to be. Not that it isn’t, but holy that’s a lot of pressure and then pressure builds and explodes and I don’t want any more exploding. I don’t want any more running away or worrying or questioning. I just want you. I know that now. And I’m not just saying this because you could die in the next ten minutes. Well, probably yes, that’s why I’m saying it. But that’s not the reason I’m saying it. I’m saying it because I lo-…”

“Will.” Kennedy spins her around. “I don’t have time for this right now. Say something!”

“I was talking!” Willow looks mystified. “There were words, all out loud and everything! And heartfelt things, and probably some rambling…”

“Uh huh.” Kennedy chuckles, and taps her helmet. “Unlike some people, I’m not a mind reader. And I’m due to report in two minutes.”

Oh. Willow looks lost. She remembers to project her thoughts this time. Okay.

Kennedy smiles. Runs a gloved finger across her lover’s cheek. Turns and walks away, toward the final battle.

Just before Willow loses sight of her in the darkness, she turns and starts walking backwards. Kennedy shouts it to her.

“I know!”

“We have ten minutes!” Dawn scrambles back into the Zone. “Move everyone out!”

“If you can walk, get going!” The Meds start a chain gang of the battered and broken, handing them off until they reach the outside.

“What about them?” Emma points to the farthest corner, to the rows of girls lying still and quiet, faces covered by their helmets.

“I- I don’t know.” Dawn really doesn’t. She grabs one end of a home-made stretcher. “We ha-have to…”

“If we can.” Emma grabs the other. “We get the living out. We’ll come back for the dead if we can.” The girl using it moans as they lift her up and start walking.

“That just seems so…” Dawn’s voice strangles in her throat. “They deserve better.”

“I know.” Emma has nothing else to say. They hand off their cargo.

“They’re coming through!” A slayer bursts into the tunnel, flipping up her visor as she hits the oxygen bubble.

“How long?” Dawn’s jaw sets. “How many?”

“Too many.” The girl pants, sword raised. “Right now.”

Dawn looks around for a weapon. She finds none.

“Just go.” The girl sees the desperation in Dawn’s face. “I’ll buy you some time.”

They lock eyes for a split second. They both understand exactly what it will cost.

“Thank you.” Dawn nods.

The girl turns back the way she came, and speeds toward the enemy.

“They deserve better.” Dawn walks purposefully to where the bodies are laid out. “Everyone’s going home.”

Chapter Text

“Come into the light.” His voice is lilting and beautiful. “I want to see your new face.”

She doesn’t comply. She stands in the shadows cast by the multitude of flickering candles that light up the columns and make wavering black spaces on the floor and walls where the light cannot reach.

He sighs. “It is exasperating, that you remember so little.” He raises his hand to his face. Leans back in his carved throne. “Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, I tire of our little dance.”

“I didn’t come here to dance.” She steps out of the dark, and Faith’s face is bathed in the light of a thousand little fires. She leaps the space between them, aiming a forceful blow to his sternum.

He grabs her hand, standing with grace and assurance. He holds her tightly to him for a brief moment, before flinging her away with a snarl. He turns his head as she impacts against the wall and crumples to the floor.

“Sadly, that is all we ever do.” He steps down to the cavern floor, light catching on his features.

He’s tall. Taller than is human, and thinner. He seems not to be made of flesh and bone but of some other, lighter substance. His skin, a dark olive, shows neither lines nor scars. His hair is fine and almost white, long against his back. He is breathtakingly handsome. But there is something cold and frightening in his eyes. His steel grey eyes.

He walks to her. Slow and graceful, he walks to her and offers his hand.

“Shall we?”

She looks at him with a deep hatred. She stands, using the wall to assist her.

“I will not give you the satisfaction. Whatever game you are playing…”

“What game I am playing?” He roars. “Do you think this is my doing? Do you think I chose this… this… state?”

“Am I to cry for you?” She retaliates. “You who stole from him? You who betrayed him?” She prepares herself for the fight. “You deserve no pity from him. Or from me.”

With a growl, he backhands her in the face. She lurches back, crying out and spitting up blood and teeth. The violence in him seems to dissipate with the sound of her pain.

“You’re right.” He looks at her with regret. “But I am only what he has made me. I am the villain because he chooses it to be so. And you are the hero, because it serves him.”

“I will not listen to your lies.” She wipes the blood from her chin.

“But you will listen to his.” He turns his back on her, taking a few steps away.

“The Father does NOT LIE!” She screeches, attacking with all of her righteousness. Almost mindless in her rage, she flies toward him.

“HEAR ME!” He spins around and grabs her wrists. He stares down at her; his immense height makes him seem a colossus. “He is immortal, not infallible! He has made mistakes! Terrible, painful mistakes.” He looks deeply into her grey eyes, seeing only himself reflected. He drops her hands and turns away again. He can’t bear this. He sits down on the arm of his throne, looking resigned. “If you only knew what he has done.”

“Why don’t you tell me, then?” She spits, circling him, waiting for an opening.

“Oh, believe me I’ve tried.” He smiles weakly. “But you see, it’s against the rules. He will not tolerate cheating. Would that be irony? I never quite get that right…”

“I think that’s called self-pity.” She cracks her neck. “And I am tired of it.”

“You and me both, dear one.” He closes his eyes. “I had hoped this time would be… But that is the point then isn’t it? Hope. That’s what makes his plan so exquisite…”

She does not answer him with words. Words do nothing but confuse. She relies on what she knows.

She lunges at him, using Faith’s strong hands like pistons against his chest and face. He lurches back with every blow.

It almost seems reluctant, the way he fights. He barely defends himself and the punches he manages to throw are weak, barely splitting her skin.

She increases her attack. Hammering down with her fists, elbows and knees. His smooth perfect skin begins to show the damage she’s doing. His blood is red, but not the same. It’s lighter and thinner. It spills like tears from the cuts on his face. It makes her bold.

“You disappoint me.” She laughs. “I expected more than this… pathetic creature.”

Blackness. It’s all around. She blinks, widening her pupils, but there is no light to capture.

“I could kill you with a breath.” His voice whispers at her ear, his breath on her skin. She can sense the closeness of him.

“I could kill you with a thought.” His voice echoes in the cavern, not dissipating but increasing with every reverberation until it’s a screeching cacophony. She holds her ears to block it out. She’ll go mad. It has to stop, or she’ll go mad…

“I could…” Quiet again. Only one soft voice in the dark, coming from somewhere in front of her. “I could pull the stars from the sky, and watch the people fret and pray because all the lights have gone out.”

She feels a breeze against her skin. And then it’s bright and blinding, painfully so. She rubs her eyes. She opens them, realizing that it’s only the candles. They’ve been re-lit.

“But I don’t.” He caresses the flame of the candle nearest him. “And perhaps for that, I am… what was it you called me? Ah… a pathetic creature.”

“If you can kill me…” She won’t be fooled or frightened by his tricks. “Why have you not yet managed it? Not ever.”

He stares, his grey eyes searching for something in her. Whatever it is, he does not find it.

“Good question.” He gives her a wry, soft smile. “I see now… there is no way. He has seen to it.”

“It has to end.”

His fist hits her body before her eyes recognize that he’s moved. Two more blows land, breaking ribs and the left collarbone, before she can register the pain of the first. She tries to block with her elbow, only to feel it snap. His long thin fingers wrap around her neck. Cutting off air and blood. She kicks and scratches and pulls at him. With her last breath screaming in her lungs, she whispers out a prayer.

“Hyâ ýâsâ nemanghâ ustânazastô rafedhrahyâ manyêush Mazdâ!”

“Yes, let’s call to him.” He traces her chin, watching as the steel gray leaves her eyes. He shuts them, resisting the urge to kiss the lids. He gently lays her limp body down. She does not moan, or stir. He looks up, eyes focused somewhere beyond the flickering ceiling.

“Are you satisfied?” He screams upward. “I have ended it!”

There is no response. His cries echo in the cavern until only silence fills the room.

He begins to pace. Something has gone wrong. He has surrendered and something has gone wrong. He stares at the body on the ground. The weight of his betrayal sinks in.

He doesn’t know whether to cry or to rage. He chooses rage. He slams his fist into the closest pillar, and it shatters. He doesn’t feel better.

“Did you hear me?” He tries again. “She is DEAD!”

“Sorry to disappoint, but we’re very much alive…” A foot hits him three times in the back. He falters, tripping up the step to his throne. “And very much kicking.”

Good one. Buffy puts a smile on Faith’s face.

I thought so. Faith replaces it with her own patented smirk.

“What is this?” He turns. “One last joke at my expense?”

“Wow.” Buffy raises Faith’s brow. “Bitter much?”

He stares at them, looking past the body to the souls entwined within.

“Oh, damn. That hurts…” Faith finally feels the extent of the damage done to her body. “Knew I shouldn’t have let ya under my skin. Oh god, ow…”

“Oh right, so this is my fault?” Buffy pouts. “I should have just died then?”

“That seems to be your answer to everything.” Faith wishes Buffy was in her own body, so she could nudge her or something. “I mean you die at the drop of a hat these days.”

“Fine!” Buffy wishes she were in her own body, so she could cross her arms and look as huffy as she feels. “Next time you’re about to be impaled from behind by a giant monster tail and wow is this sentence going in the wrong direction.”

“This is… truly absurd.” He laughs, and it is a striking sound. The chiming of church bells and the rumble of thunder. “But perhaps only as absurd as the rest.”

“You wanna compare notes?” Faith pushes the pain down. Gets her angry up. “There’s two other people callin’ dibs on my body.” She holds her broken arm to her chest while punching out with the other. “I’m in the basement of a freakin’ volcano.” Her fist catches air. She kicks out with her right leg. “Just killed more demons in one day than I probably have my whole life.” Her foot makes contact with his side but it doesn’t seem to concern him. “And now I’m what? Playin’ footsie with the real live Devil?” She rolls her eyes. “I think I kicked your ass on the whole absurd thing, Captain Emo!”

“You think I’m…” He deliberates inside his head. “I admit there are some similarities, but I assure you I am far worse.”

“Worse than what?” Buffy’s having trouble following. “The Devil? Cos I can’t think of anything worse than whiny boy rock.”

“The Devil is like a scientist, working on a singular hypothesis.” He muses, not caring if anyone else is listening. “My agenda is strictly personal. This makes me infinitely more dangerous.”

“Put your evil where your mouth is, then.” Faith works her injured arm, clenching her jaw as she clenches her fist. “Let’s see what you got.”

“This isn’t going to be a battle.” He walks calmly toward her. “If I decide to kill you, I will. You will have no say in the outcome.”

Faith is about to say something really cutting and sarcastic. But then she’s queasy.

You feel that? Faith thinks maybe it’s just her.

Sorta. Like seasickness. Buffy can only grasp at the edges of it. Like the pain before: she’s aware of it but it’s not aware of her.

I think it’s her… The So-She-Whatever. Faith resists the urge to fight the other presence.

He watches Faith intently during the internal dialogue. Catches the differences in the face, in the eyes when each of them is more present. He watches as a silver gray passes over the eyes.

“Maybe…” He grabs at Faith’s collar, and aims a fist at her face. He brings it down hard. The gray flickers and fades.

“Ah!” He drops her to the floor, excited. “So that’s how it works!”

“How what works?” Faith spits out teeth. “You hit, I hurt. It’s called a fight, dickhead! Except now it’s my turn!”

Faith lunges. Unleashes a full volley of kicks and punches. She makes her target, but nothing seems to distress him. He stands and takes every hit without flinching.

“You misunderstand.” He backhands her. She soars, hitting her head against the rock wall. There’s a trickle of blood. “But perhaps… Yes, perhaps I can make you understand.”

“Perhaps you can make me wear plaid with stripes, but we’re a long way from that yet.” Buffy puts her two cents in.

“Shall we dance?” He waits for her to rise.

She doesn’t offer him any such courtesy. She dives at him.

His fist hits first.

“You will listen to me.” He strikes hard against Faith’s body. “I will prevent her from returning for just long enough. And maybe…”

“It doesn’t matter if you kill us.” Faith lisps through the gaps in her teeth. “There’s more where we came from.”

“Yeah. I already died once tonight, and I came back for an encore…” Buffy isn’t sure that’s technically true. But it sounds good.

“I could do this for days and not kill you.” He throws them away as if they were a pebble. Faith’s body flies back, skidding along the chiseled floor. “I don’t want to kill you. Not yet.”

He strides over to them. Faith can offer no resistance. Buffy can only watch.

“Shall I tell you a story?” He grabs them by one shoulder, and hurls them against the throne. Something in Faith’s spine snaps.

“I’ve heard children like stories.”

How far back should I go? The very beginning? My first thought as I awakened from nothingness into the cradle of this universe? Should I explain the wonder of watching the planets cool over the millennia?

No, I think not. That is not something you could really understand. Eternity. Your lives are too small. You barely grasp time and space after all. But love... I think even you can understand love. And love is what this story is really about.

So I shall begin, I think, nearer the end. Your place in this farce… and the choice that will face you soon enough.

My Father had a lot of children. Not in the messy way of your kind. In the way that we are his and he is our Father. You have to know that life has not always been a cycle. Once, long ago, it just was. But that all changed of course. It had to. Things must die, things must be re-made. Ah… I’m wandering too far from the path…

Among us was one that I found especially fascinating. A daughter. She was beauty. Light shone from her. In her eyes lay the truth of all things. It was easy to love her. And I did, fiercely.

Soon, to my amazement, she began to love me back. We would spend eternities together, me lying in her light. We could not bear to be apart. We craved the happiness we could only find in each other.

And of course, it was this that brought the wrath of our Father down upon us. It was not that I loved her. Not that she loved me. But that our love for each other might rival our love for him. He was wrong, but the damage was done. His goodness was broken by it. Jealousy and fear found a foothold within him. You don’t comprehend the meaning of it… we had tainted his perfection. He was beyond furious. Our betrayal had destroyed him, thus he was bent on destroying us.

We begged. We pleaded with him to see reason. We tried in so many ways to show him that our love could not hurt him. That it was pure and infinite and expanding like our universe, like our existence. That it would only allow us to love him more.

He would not see it. He could not, I think. He could only see it as disloyalty. The more we argued, the angrier he became.

I was afraid he might cast us out. Might forbid us to be together. If I had known what he had in store… It still amazes me, how his mind turned to cunning so quickly.

He said we would be tested. Our love for him and for each other would be tested. He spoke so softly and for a moment I was relieved.

He grew quiet. We stood at his feet and waited. He did not speak, did not move. Not for eons and we stood like lambs waiting for our good master to bring the knife down.

And so he did.

He killed her. Right then and there without any hesitation as I gasped and cried out my fury. He touched her, stole her light from her body and put it far away in the black. Then he touched me, and I felt myself falling. It takes ages to fall from such a height. I felt physical pain for the first time when I finally hit the ground.

It was only then that I realized what he was teaching me. The concepts of loss, violence, hatred. All things I would need to play my part. Things I would never have grasped before. Things he never would have let touch us.

He promised me that I would see her. That I could bring her to me if I was willing to do what needed to be done. If I could kill and maim and destroy, she would be re-born and come to me.

I was sure I wouldn’t. I always liked your world, and the life on it. Playful and intriguing, so prone to laughter… Such beautiful children you are. How could I want to harm you? I was sure…

But I missed her. Time passed and I was aware of it. Days, weeks, years… It became unbearable. Knowing she was just outside my reach. That I could have her again if I just…

He made me a monster.

And this is what you have stumbled into. Your fight, your great battle against evil. It amounts to nothing in the end but a family squabble. But you’re not finished yet. The pawn must make a move before the game is over.

So here is your choice. You may kill me. I will kneel at your feet and allow you to twist my neck. Of course I won’t die permanently. I’ll recover. I’ll wait as long as I can, until the loneliness is too much and the hope within me regains itself. Then I shall wreak my havoc upon the earth once again, just to see her.

Or you can allow me to kill you now. Give me permission. The cycle will end. She will die and be lost to me forever. And I… I will return to my Father, a slave in his house.

But if she can remember. Who she is, what we are. Then the cycle ends and everything will be healed. Our father will forgive us, and that act will repair the damage we have done to him. But only if she can remember.

The trouble is she never has. Each time I rise, she comes to stop me. So filled up with righteousness, anger and the lies he’s put in her head. She can’t see past it. She can’t hear me.

Maybe she can hear you.

Chapter Text

“The tunnel is clear!” Dawn yells over the roar. “Take everyone down!”

Dawn watches as her team makes a trail down the mountain. The bodies are handed down into the chopper, a solemn parade of the fallen.

She hears a noise behind her. In the tunnel. Screaming.

She turns back, running toward that sound.

“Dawn!” Emma tries to stop her. “You can’t…”

“I have to try!” Dawn’s face is dirty and torn, splotched with blood and sweat. But Emma can see that flash of determination shining through.

“You mean we.” Emma follows behind. “We have to try.”

They reach the mouth of the cave. The screaming never stops, never wavers, until now.

The girl is thrown through the air, landing so hard on the ground that the noise is a squelch instead of a thud. Her sword skids across the stone.

Emma rushes to the girl. Nothing left. No pulse, no breath, no recognizable features.

Dawn rushes to the sword. She picks it up, weighing it in her hand. She looks at it. Knows who held it last.

The shadows slink swiftly around the corner, blocking the bright red glow altogether.

“They’re coming.” Dawn raises the sword. She glances at Emma.

“Get behind me.”

He gathers the body into his arms, breathing only slightly heavily. Places it gently down in his throne, careful of the head. He can feel them inside. Not dead, but hiding from the pain in sleep. Unconscious; he remembers the word.

He cannot wait for them to wake. He touches them, pulling most of their pain into himself. Memories like visions push themselves into his head. Two lives, intertwined. He smiles. He can use this surprising little gift.

He looks at them, willing them to surface. His patience only starts to show cracks when he hears a quiet grunt.

“How did you like my story, little ones?” He smiles. “Do you understand now? What you are here for, what you are meant to do?”

“Telling a story with your fists…” Faith frowns, trying to move her legs. “It’s a novel approach. Get it?” She coughs up some blood and spits it out. “Story? Novel?”

He blinks.

“Ahh, forget it.” Faith waves him off.

I got it. Buffy reassures her.

“You’re healing fast. She will return, too soon for my liking.” He paces. “If I do not have your answer then, I will take your lives and end this myself.”

“I don’t deal well with threats.” Faith runs her tongue over the gaps in her teeth. She can still taste blood. “Makes me uncooperative.”

“I am only asking you to try.” He stares her down. “This may be the only chance…”

“I think you’ve done enough talking.” Faith uses her hands, shifting her body into a sitting position. “I say you kneel like a good puppy and let me put you out of my misery.”

“Faith…” Buffy warns. “We should discuss this.”

“What?” Faith snaps to the ceiling. “It’s my body he’s pummeling, my body he’s threatening! You think he’s telling the truth?”

“I think that we should consider the possibility, yes!” Buffy is the voice of reason, sorta. “You’re being rash.”

“I’m being a Slayer!” Faith is getting a migraine. She lowers her voice. “And could you not argue with me in front of the Bad Guy? It’s embarrassing.”

“Fine.” Buffy turns Faith at the waist to face the enemy. “Could you give us a minute?”

“Of course.” He looks both amused and annoyed, but distances himself anyway.

“See? All better.” Buffy crosses Faith’s arms.

“Jesus, B.” Faith wrenches her arms apart and runs her mangled fingers through her mangled hair. “This is just your style. A broody guy tells you his lame-ass sob story and you fall right under his spell!”

“What exactly are you trying to say?” Buffy can feel a growl coming on.

“That you’re a sucker!” Faith wants to scowl. Buffy won’t let her. “People are dead! You’re pretty much dead and I’m running a close second! I can’t move my damned legs and you wanna play matchmaker?”

“It’s a battle. Plans go awry. People die.” He takes a step forward, a glint of malice in his eyes. “Some of yours. Seemingly all of mine. That means you’ve won.” He sneers at the girl within a girl. “That is what you said, more or less?”

Buffy would blink, but she’s too thrown to keep control.

“Isn’t it?” He steps closer. “Do you think I haven’t seen every step you’ve taken in getting here? Do you think it’s a secret, your little tryst with the demon that set you on this path?” He looks at her curiously. “Everybody knows about you. The loneliness, the ache to just be with someone. Anyone. Even if it kills them.”

Stop. Stop it. Buffy retreats into Faith, still listening but not wanting to.

“Hey! She’s on your side!” Faith leans forward, protecting Buffy in a theoretical sense. “If it was up to me you’d be splattered on the floor by now!”

“And you!” He scoffs. “You care about her, even after what she did to you? Oh, I saw that little bit of treachery from the front row. It was so vicious! But surely it was fair trade for all those past crimes of yours, wasn’t it?”

“That’s it.” Faith tries to stand. “You’re dead.” But she can’t get her legs to obey.

“You two, such weakness.” He rants, beginning to show his anger. “Such undeserving, unholy cowards. The things you’ve done. The horror you inflict on one another. The lies, the ineptitude. And still, you can’t see…” He stares directly into Faith’s eyes, speaking with a new clarity and venom. “…how anything as terrible as me can feel anything as pure as love.”

“Oh.” Faith’s shame creeps up in a blush. “Right.” She nods an apology to him.

“Finally!” He bellows his relief.

Willow looks at Buffy’s body laid out on the stretcher. The ground under the plane is safe. Pure. She channels the energy up and through her. Willow can see inside her now; the poison carried in her blood, the rough tear through Buffy’s lung, the shredded artery.

Willow breathes in and out. The wound is easy. Tell the cells to regenerate. Force them to close over the puncture, merge and knit. It’s the other part…

The poison. Her hand over the hole in Buffy’s chest, drawing it out and into herself. It feels like fire under her skin.

Buffy’s blood is clean. Willow takes her hand back, panting and sweating and shaking. So much paler than before. She lies down, already feeling her body cramping. She’ll need to wait a while before the poison will come out of her in torrents of vomit, black and thick and putrid.

She looks over at her best friend’s shell. Willow’s eyes are blurry with tears and pain, but still she smiles.

Happy Birthday, Buffy.


“That’s the deal.” Faith puts out her hand. “Take it or leave it.”

She shivers as his cool hand grasps hers.

“Okay. I’m gonna start now.” Faith closes her eyes. “You just keep quiet…”

“…and maybe go stand over there.” Buffy takes over, pointing to the far corner of the cave. “I can’t get trance-y if you’re breathing all over me.”

He gives them some space, pacing out a rhythm with his steps to match her breaths.

Faith rests her hands on her knees. Breathes in slow through her nose, out slow through her mouth.

God I hope we’re right. Buffy resists the urge to cross Faith’s fingers.

It’ll be okay. Faith can feel it. This is why they’re here. Together, like this.

Buffy guides herself into a matching position inside Faith’s body, hands on knees. The only sound is breathing, punctuated by the light accent of his steps.

“Hey!” Faith opens one eye. “Just a thought, but if this doesn’t work…”

He turns to face her, a question in his eyes.

“You might wanna try…” Faith grins and gives up on the idea of tact. “Just kiss the girl.”

“What will that accomplish?” He asks quietly.

“Dunno.” Buffy takes over Faith’s thought. “But it’s how all the best stories end.”

“Who’s on Evac?” Xander’s voice punches through the panic.

“Kappa!” Caridad salutes him. “We’re waiting on three teams, and Med 6. You got an E.T.D.?”

“We wait.” Xander knows who’s still out there. He peers out the cargo hatch, hoping to see…

Giles stumbles in, a group of Wiccas trailing behind. He stops, leaning on the frame, catching his breath. The chopper had dropped them off just outside Giles’ jogging range.

“Xander… A word… If you please.” He puffs. “In… private?”

“There is no ‘private’ here, Giles.” Xander gestures inside the belly of the plane. Slayers, Wiccas, and Meds are crammed in every corner, leaving space for the injured to lie in relative comfort.

“It’s just…” Giles has his breath, but he’s still at a loss for words. “I do believe… I should say I have some evidence to support…”

“Spit it out, Giles.” Xander has lost his patience and he’s not about to go looking for it now.

“It’s going to blow.” Giles does what he’s told. “The volcano. It’s going to erupt in minutes and without Willow, the shield won’t contain it.”

“You’re sure?” Xander asks. He only gets a glare in response. “You’re sure.”

Xander’s eye wanders over the faces of his army. Bruised and bleeding, faces etched with the wear and worry of this long night. Choose them, or choose his friends over them. He needs time to think.

“So, boss. When do we fly? We need a deadline!” Caridad realizes immediately afterwards that she shouldn’t have used that word.

Xander looks back, out toward the glowing red haze.

“We wait.”

“Where is he?” Grey eyes flutter open.

“I’m right here, my love.” He looks down at her, aching with expectation.

“So soon?” She looks around, and down at herself. “This is the same…”

“Is it?” He stares her down. “How do you feel? Think!”

She tries to stand. In her failure, she looks at him. Same eyes, same hatred. “You coward! You’ve crippled me!”

He can feel the grief rising from his chest, squeezing his heart and cinching closed his throat. It builds like a tremor and escapes as a howl that shakes the cavern walls.

“I will not go through this again. I cannot.” His body becomes thick and heavy to him as he surrenders to his misery. Promises and handshakes mean nothing compared to his pain. He will not let the cycle continue. He will do as he should have done millennia ago. He will kill her and surrender to his father. The two little ones will never know about his duplicity. They will be dead.

“Please, don’t fight.” He begs, lifting Faith’s body into his arms. “I will make it quick. It will be painless.”

She beats her fists against his chest. She bites him. She tries to throw herself to the ground. She will not give in to this new tactic. His sorrow is just another lie.

“Be silent.” Her body can’t help but obey his command. He wraps his arm around her, holding her still. His kind does not cry. They have never had need before. But still, his cheeks are wet and his breath is hesitant.

“Close your eyes.” He brushes his hand over her face. Traces her cheek, her jaw. Imagines the face he can almost remember from so long ago. Runs fingertips down to her neck, enveloping her throat, beginning to squeeze.

This time he does not resist. He leans in slowly and brushes his lips against her forehead. Then her eyelids. Her cheek. His tears spill down onto Faith’s skin.

“Goodbye.” He whispers this last word, his breath on her lips. He touches them lightly with his own, forgetting the hand on her neck. Forgetting everything but the feel of her. He wants to keep his eyes closed forever. Keep them both locked here in this last silent moment.

With a sigh, he opens his eyes. He can’t do it. He can’t kill her even now when he knows there is no hope left.

He lowers her gently to the steps and turns to his throne. He is finished. He will remain here until the end of time. He will not bring her to him again. He sits, lost and blinded by his grief.

“We have to go!” Vi turns to Kennedy. It’s getting hotter. And there’s shaking and rumbling and all kinds of little avalanches. “We have to go now!”

“Like hell we do!” Kennedy runs deeper into the tunnel. “Faith is still down there!”

“I know that.” Vi follows her. “But…”

“But what?” Kennedy turns, frustrated and hiding her pain in anger. “We leave them behind? We let them die?”

“There’s nothing we can do.” Vi has tears in her eyes. “We have to get out of here! We’re running out of time!”

“Screw that!” Kennedy shouts at her. “And screw you!” She turns back and runs toward the chasm.

“Kennedy!” Vi runs to catch up. She hears a terrible roar and puts on a burst of speed.

She finds Kennedy standing at the edge of the pit. The last echoes of Kennedy’s fury die down as Vi looks down into the darkness.

The stairs have crumbled away in places, hit by some falling rock or debris. As far as her eyes can see, there’s no way down.

“I’m sorry.” Vi takes Kennedy’s hand.

“I can’t leave them.” Kennedy forces down a sob. “I’m in charge. I’m the Field Commander. I-I can’t just...”

“You’ll die.” Vi decides it’s time for plain talk. “And I’ll die because I’m not leaving you here to die alone! You really want to sacrifice yourself, and my self, and all the other ‘selfs’ that we could be helping, because you think you owe them your life?”

Vi takes a deep breath. Yelling solves nothing.

“Well, I guess you do. We all do.” Vi locks her arm into Kennedy’s. “But I don’t think it’s a debt they’d want to collect.”

Kennedy doesn’t move. Doesn’t talk. Vi’s not sure that she’s even breathing.

“Kenn?” Vi tugs harder on Kennedy’s arm, managing to pull her away from the edge. “I’ll drag you if I have to.”

Kennedy turns to Vi, helpless. She tries to speak. But she doesn’t know what to say. The only words she can think of aren’t words she wants to say out loud. Instead she lowers her head.

“Come on.” Vi grabs tightly onto Kennedy’s hand, and they run.

“What is this place?” A new voice in the chasm.

“A prison.” He doesn’t look up.

“Are you the guard or the captive?” It’s a lovely voice. Chimes and summer breezes.

“Both.” He wipes his eyes.

“Then you should sneak out while you’re not looking.” Tinkling laughter.

“I’m afraid.” He shields himself from a bright light. Snaps his fingers to kill the candlelight.

“I’ll go with you.” It’s still bright. He raises his head. “Where do you want to go?”

“Home.” He stares wistfully into the radiance.

“I know you!” The light moves closer. There’s a shape hiding in the glow. It fades slightly to reveal a beautiful woman, smiling down at him. “Manah?”

He falls back against his throne. It can’t be. It’s not real. But maybe…

“Asha?” He says it, not believing it as the word forms in his throat. It’s been so long.

She comes up to him, kneeling before him, touching his face.

“I feel as though forever has passed since I saw you.” She smiles and her light grows infinite, shooting through the cave and beyond. “My love.”

“I am fallen, Asha. I am ashamed.” He cringes, waiting for her to reject him.

“You are Manah.” She takes his hand. “I am Asha.” She places his hand on her chest. “We… We are.”

He stands, looking down at himself. He is changed. There is a glow inside him. Not white and blinding, but colourful. Red and orange and yellow, with blue and white. It dances under his skin and behind his eyes. It sparks.

“Hey! Not to break up the love-fest or anything…” Faith ruins the moment immediately after coming to. “A little help over here?”

The beings turn to see Faith dragging herself up the stairs with her hands. Asha looks at her with sympathy.

“And maybe turn down your heartlight a bit?” Buffy interjects. “It’s all squinty.”

“You really have no taste in music, do you B?” Faith glares sorta down and to her left.

“Thank you.” Manah turns to them. “You have our gratitude. We can all go home now.”

“Yes. Thank you.” Asha walks over to them. She crouches beside Faith’s body. Touches a place on Faith’s temple with her finger. “Rest now.”

“That burns!” Faith glowers. Something shifts inside. She feels it, like a tether loosening and falling away.

Asha looks up. Then at Manah. “We must go.”

A deep rumble from below them, bringing down a small tumble of rock and stone.

“My father knows of your sacrifice. He is indebted, as are we.” Asha wraps her light around Manah. “It will not be in vain. Do not worry.”

The rumble becomes a vibration, becomes a tremor. Rocks fall, smashing down around them. It fades as Asha surrounds herself and Manah in her light, and it expands into white.

Faith covers her eyes with her hands. When her eyelids stop glowing red inside, she opens them again to find her vision skewed by a large black floaty thing in front of her eyes. She blinks it away.

She still can’t see. There’s no light at all.

“Well, that was different.” Faith deadpans. “And what did she mean? Sacrifice?”

Not sure. Buffy’s voice sounds different. Smaller. Faith?

“But really…” Faith wiggles around until she’s lying on her back. “I’m thinkin’ she coulda fixed me up if she was so damned grateful. How we’re gettin’ up all those stairs…”

Faith? Buffy sounds nervous. Scared. I’m… Something’s happening!

Faith feels it too. Tugging inside her. Like something tearing away. Like Buffy tearing away.

“Stay with me!” Faith can’t push away the panic. “Hold on!”

I’m trying! Buffy’s voice matches hers in panic, but not in volume. It’s like a whisper.

Buffy! Please! Faith tries to cling to the echo. Don’t just leave me here…

Buffy’s cries fade to nothing.

… alone.

Faith stares into the darkness, hearing the walls come tumbling down around her. She’s not dumb. The light throb of pain is building fast. It’ll be too much for her soon. She’ll pass out. She knows now, she’s not getting out of this.

She closes her eyes. She’s tired, and there’s nothing to see anyway.

“I guess this is what they meant.” Faith says it out loud, to no one in particular. “Sacrifice.”

Inventory. Giles has spent most of his life counting inventory. First at the Council, then the library, then the Magic Box. Checking and re-checking, making sure that things were in their right place, undamaged. Accounted for. Even now, it’s what he’s been asked to do. Find out who’s here, who’s injured, and who’s missing. Inventory.

Dismissing his bitterness as quickly as he can, Giles turns his gaze to the back of the plane, scanning down the aisle, looking for what his heart wants to see most.

Either way…

Buffy, lying still and pale in her cot. Willow beside her, pale but not still. Instead she writhes and sweats as the pain grabs at her insides. Xander, intact on the outside, directing people to their sections as the engines whine to life.

He imagines the faces of the rest. The ones he can’t bring himself to write down under the ‘missing’ column. Dawn. Kennedy. Faith. So many more.

Either way… We’re going to lose.

Giles doesn’t take his seat. He walks carefully to the cargo doors that are still open, looking down at the volcano from their safe perch miles away. A sign of Xander’s reluctance to leave, perhaps. Nobody’s complaining.

The sky lights up red, and for a moment Giles is at a loss. Then he feels the shockwave pass through the plane, pass through him. He clings to the bulkhead to steady himself, watching the volcano begin its final and deadly eruption.

Somewhere on the periphery of his perception, Giles is vaguely aware of the commotion that erupts with it. Screaming, people running around inside the plane. Xander barking over them to sit down and strap in.

Giles watches in awe, in fear, in desperation. He tries to convince his eyes to look away. He has seen too much death already today.

In a blink, there’s a change in the light from red to blinding. A tower of silver breaks through all the smoke and reaches up into the sky, pulling with it all the fire and ash and bubbling rock, leaving only a strange quiet. Giles uses it to breathe.

The night sky, now clear and clean, reveals its sparkling decoration. Constellations. Unending stars winking down at him. One, especially bright, gleams vividly just above the mountain that had been raging just moments ago.

He will never be able to describe that moment. He will never have the right words, not in any of the languages he can read and write and speak. But on the occasions that he is asked to try, he will say it was the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.

A black helicopter, its searchlight shining like a beacon, coming in low and fast.

Chapter Text

The plane is filled with quiet for the most part. A cough now and then, some stifled weeping. But mostly it’s a thick silence, the kind that nobody wants to break. Every person in their own world. Every thought one of pain and loss and shock. The only peaceful faces are those of the dead.

“It’s broken…” Willow stirs in her fever. “Can’t… can’t kiss it better…”

“Shhhh.” Kennedy strokes Willow’s hand. She leans in close and whispers. “I’m here. I’ll kiss it better.”

Kennedy pulls the blankets up tight against Willow’s chin. The worst seems to be over, but Kennedy isn’t taking any chances.

“Come back to me, Will.” Kennedy rests her head against Willow’s chest, feeling it rise and fall in a scattered rhythm. “I know you can do it. Find me. I’m right here.”

“Won’t go.” Willow slurs, shifting in discomfort. “I tried but…”

Kennedy sighs. Lifts her head and looks around her. At the people she’s come to see as hers. Her team, her friends, her family; whatever fits best. She can see how they’ve been beaten and broken, shoulders hunched and heads down. Most clearly she can where and how she failed to help them, to save them.

“I lost all the pieces…” Willow whimpers.

She turns quietly back to Willow.

“Me too, babe.” Kennedy fights hard against the stinging in her eyes, the sob waiting at the back of her throat. She doesn’t deserve the luxury of tears. “Me too.”

Xander listens for the last low hum of the engines to fade away. The plane has stopped. They’re safe behind the castle walls.

“Alright everyone,” Giles stands up, clapping his hands for attention. “Let’s let the Meds take the injured out first. Everyone else stay seated for the moment.”

Xander casts a grateful glance to Giles. Happy to let someone else be in charge. He stares out at the open cargo hatch, and watches the Meds do their work, efficiently and gently. All his people, every one. He feels a pang for each, but can’t move from his seat to help. Can’t stand once again over the bodies of his friends. He can’t help them now. He never helped, not really. He only got in the way, always trying to prove he could keep up with his super-friends. But he just got people hurt. Just put people in danger, or got them killed. He’s no superman. He’s not even a man.

“Alright then, Xander?” Giles puts his hand on Xander’s shoulder. “We’re almost home.”

Xander smiles weakly. Fumbles with the safety belt and stands up, holding the back rest for support. He only has to pretend for a few more minutes.  Get everyone inside.  Then he can go hide in his room.  Under the covers preferably, where no-one can see him, or ask him to be or do anything more than he is.  A coward.  A loser.  A failure. 
He shuffles down the aisle, letting the press of moving bodies shove him toward the exit. Someone behind him shoves a little too hard. He stumbles forward, gripping an armrest to stop himself falling. His eyes settle on something ahead that stops him cold.

“Giles!” He shouts, hopping on his toes to catch sight of the man. Giles has pushed ahead, too far away for a discreet conversation. Xander makes a decision.

“Please!” Xander shouts hoarsely, climbing over the seat in front of him. “Everyone, please! Stop!”

A few girls notice Xander’s weak plea and turn back to face him. Xander continues to walk over the seats, bowing his head to avoid hitting it on the low bulkhead. He needs to make this work. He needs to do something. To help, even in this small and sad way.

“Everyone, stop!” Xander’s voice has an edge. It cuts through the crowd and like a wave, the sea of faces turn to him expectantly.

“We can’t leave them here. It’s not right. They’ve come this far… and…” Xander’s voice cracks with hesitation and weariness. “I wouldn’t ask. It’s wrong to ask. But I can’t do it alone.” He stops in front of the open hatch, and gestures down to the rows of bodies lying silent on the floor of the plane. “Please.”

Xander doesn’t ask again. He just bends down, lifting one limp body over his shoulder. Without looking back, he staggers toward the castle.

One by one at first, then en masse, the soldiers pick up the dead. Some take two, hoisting one up over each shoulder. Carrying their sisters home.

Dawn wakes up. Her mind is fuzzy, and all she can hear is a loud buzzing noise. She brings her hands up to her ears, trying to keep the bees from climbing into her brain. Her fingertips brush against cloth. She feels around. Gauze has been wrapped around her head. Her hair’s been shaved. Not all of it, but a big chunk on the side is missing.

She remembers. She got hit in the head, and… She slides her hand down to her cheek; feeling for the scar she knows is there. It’s been stitched up. She runs her finger down the length of it. Counts eight stitches, from just under her eye to the top of her lip. She should find a mirror.

She moves her body into a sitting position. Her Watcher training reminds her that she has a concussion, maybe more injuries she’s not aware of. She takes it slow. She pulls the covers off, checking for casts or other bandages. She’s wearing a hospital gown made of paper. It’s crinkly. She can hear that over the bees now. No, it’s not bees. The buzzing is in her head.

She’s in the infirmary. She recognizes that finally. She takes one step, then another. Passing white cots with white sheets. All of them have people on them. She stops at the foot of the next bed. This girl has red hair. The girl is writhing and glistening with sweat. Another girl with dark hair is sitting at her bedside, cooling the redhead’s forehead with a white cloth. The dark haired girl is trying to speak to her. Dawn only hears the buzzing, and crinkle of her paper dress.

The next bed has blonde hair. Dawn knows that’s not the right way to explain. She tries again. The girl in the next bed is blonde. Pretty, pale and unmoving.

“Is she dead?” Dawn turns back to the dark haired girl. Her voice sounds muffled.

“No. She’s in stasis or something.” Kennedy moves slowly, standing up, trying to seem casual. “I think you should get back to bed, Dawn.”

Kennedy checks the door, glancing meaningfully at the night nurse who is walking determinedly towards them. Her look says ‘stay close, but not too close’.

“I need a mirror.” Dawn says it blankly. “They cut my hair.”

“They had to.” Kennedy takes a step. “Buffy will be fine, I promise. But you have to get back to bed. You’re not ready to be moving around.”

“That’s Willow.” Dawn takes another look at the redhead, her face showing her sudden recognition. “And that’s Buffy.”

“Good.” Kennedy takes another step forward. “It’s good that you remember their names.”

Kennedy grabs Dawn gently by the elbow, guiding her back to her bed. She takes quick glances back at Willow, obviously hesitant to leave her bedside.

But Dawn is fixated on the two invalids. Kennedy does what she does. She sweeps Dawn up into her arms, and carries her back to her bed.

“You did this before.” Dawn is struck by another memory. “You carried me…”

“Don’t know what you mean.” Kennedy deflects, putting Dawn down gently in front of her cot. She turns back toward Willow.

“No. No, I remember.” Dawn is adamant. Almost shouting. “I remember. You… You…”

Kennedy cringes, waiting.

“You took me away from her!” Now Dawn is screaming, the flashes of memory searing her mind like fire. “She needed my help! And you took me away!”

Kennedy sits down beside Willow. She stares across the beds to Dawn. Draws a deep breath for courage.

“Dawn.” Kennedy pushes the words out, keeping her voice as blank as her face. “She was dead. You were badly injured. I did what I had to do.”

“Dead.” Dawn shivers, all the fight in her stripped away with Kennedy’s words. Her face goes white. Her head is throbbing. Then the nausea, gurgling up from inside her. Her eyes roll back into her head. She starts to slip.

“Nurse!” Kennedy waves her over.

The nurse rushes to Dawn’s bedside, just in time to catch her and lay her gently down.

“Stay with her tonight if you can.” Kennedy’s voice is rough.

“I’m on rounds, Ma’am.” The nurse has responsibilities beyond this one girl.

“Just…” Kennedy pushes down the urge to intimidate, to yell. “Please. She doesn’t have anyone else.”

The nurse just nods. Pulls up a chair.

Giles sits at his desk, which for once is immaculately tidy. He’s been sorting through papers. Putting his books back on their shelves. Avoiding the task that he knows is waiting. But for all his efforts, he cannot find anything else to occupy him.

He opens the bottom drawer with a deep sigh, and pulls out a thick folder. The first of many, he is sure. Flipping to the first loose sheet of paper, he reaches for the phone. Dials a number.

“Hello, this is Rupert Giles from the Academy. Am I speaking with Mrs. Knowles?” Giles keeps his voice steady. “Yes Rita, it’s urgent. I’m very sorry, but I thought you deserved to know as soon as possible. Your daughter Hailey… I’m very sorry Rita… but she died last night.” He hears the anguish in her voice. The weeping as this mother tries to understand.

“In the line of duty.”

“No, I know that isn’t much comfort to you and your family.”

“Of course, Rita. Hailey was an exemplary Slayer. She saved many lives.”

“I understand. My deepest condolences. I will call again in a day or so to confirm the arrangements.”

“Goodbye, Rita.”

Giles puts his finger on the hook. Lifts it up and waits for the dial tone. Flips to the next page. Dials.

“This is Rupert Giles. Could I speak with Mr. Salvatore? Regarding Serena, yes.”

Buffy opens her eyes. It’s difficult, painful. She blinks, squinting hard to clear the haze from her eyes. Finally she looks up to see Willow cross-legged on the end of the bed, chanting in a low whisper.

“Will?” Buffy croaks. “Hey, Will…”

“Oh, hi!” Willow is jolted out of her trance. “You’re up! That’s way faster than I thought. I was expecting at least a week and here you are, two days ahead of schedule!”

“I’ve been out for five days?” Buffy sounds louder and more panicky.

“I’d say not bad, considering the soullessness and the giant hole in the chest.” Willow’s feeling a tad defensive.

“Sorry, it’s not you. I just hate being out of it. Makes catching up that much harder.” Buffy tries to shift herself up. She fails. “Everything’s so heavy.” She grimaces.

“No go on the get-up-and-go.” Willow slips over to Buffy’s side. “You’re still not completely anchored to yourself. Everything’s gonna be slightly… well… wacky, for a little while.”

“How long?” Buffy tries to move again. She fails.

“A day or so, maybe.” Willow ballparks it. “I’m not sure about any of this stuff. We can’t have your soul getting loose and spilling out or floating away, so we have to be careful.”

“Good call.” Buffy visibly whitens, lying perfectly still. “Careful Buffy. No soul spillage. Got it.”

Buffy starts to ask something. Decides not to. Looks down at the thin blanket covering her cot.

Willow wants to fill the silence. She knows there are a million things Buffy needs to know, but this doesn’t seem like the right time. They can sit in silence for a minute. Maybe a few minutes. There’ll be plenty of time to tell her everything. To tell her about Kennedy, and about Faith.

And Dawn.

Dawn looks in the mirror. At the bald square on the side of her head. The red jagged line cutting through it. The long scar across her cheek. She looks like the Bride of Frankenstein, except less patchworky. She giggles.

Willow offered to magick the scar away. She refused. She wants to keep it. To remember every day why she’s different now. Why she’s changed.

She runs her fingers through her long dark hair. Feels how soft. Sees how shiny.

Grabbing a chunk in her fist, she reaches for the scissors and hacks at it. Grabs another bunch and shears it off. She’s picking handfuls at random, just yanking and cutting.

Her hair hits the floor in thick, long strands. They fall into each other on the floor; a pool of soft, shiny despair at her feet.

She looks in the mirror, admiring her handiwork. She snips at the tufts that remain scattered around her scalp.

She drops the scissors on the floor. Drops her clothes there too. Steps into the shower, turning the heat up as high as it goes. It stings. She raises her hands to her bare head, feeling the soft fuzz that remains there. She likes it.

She feels better.

Chapter Text

Kennedy sits in the chair. This room, so familiar. But so different without Faith’s caustic energy. She thinks this must be how it was when Faith was in a coma. Kennedy wasn’t there for that. That Faith was a girl she never knew.

“So, I’m here.” Kennedy looks at the ceiling. “Dunno what good it’ll do. You can’t hear me, or see me. But you’re still my best friend. Hell, you’re my only friend.” She snorts out what passes for laughter these days.

“I figured this is where I’d come, you know. To talk.” Kennedy rolls her eyes, turns away to the wall. “This is so stupid.”

Kennedy stands, looking at the flowers and cards propped up all over the room.

“Looks like everybody misses you, Faith.” Kennedy checks out the inscriptions on a few. “Everybody’s grateful.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jealous or anything.” Kennedy waves away that idea. “They’re giving me the hero treatment too. For what I did.” She air quotes that last part.

Kennedy puts the card back on the shelf. Turns back to the chair.

“Thing is, I didn’t do anything. And I don’t understand…” Kennedy closes her eyes. Remembering. “I left you. And Buffy. I ran through those tunnels scared outta my mind, knowing you would die because I couldn’t do anything to save you. And because I couldn’t save you, I tried to save everyone else. And then…” Kennedy trails off for a moment.

Kennedy turns to the sleeping figure in the bed.

“How, Faith?” Kennedy grabs Faith’s limp arm, shaking it roughly. “How the hell did you get out of there?”

“Hey.” Buffy slips through the crack in the door. Stands at the threshold. Stares blankly at the stacks of boxes piled neatly against the walls. She knows what they are. To whom they belong.

“Hey. You can come in.” Dawn rolls her eyes, sitting up on her bed. “I’m not as crazy as everyone thinks I am.”

“Nobody’s thinking that.” Buffy sits beside her sister. Reaches up to ruffle her hair. Stops halfway.

“It’s okay.” Dawn grabs Buffy’s hand, pulling toward her head, moving it up and down. “It feels nice.”

“Yeah.” Buffy gently strokes Dawn’s short cropped hair. “Different, but nice.”

“So, what’s with the awkward?” Dawn pulls her head away.

“Nothing. Guaranteed awkward-free over here.” Buffy puts her hand in her lap. Takes a breath. “I see you’ve got everything packed up.”

“Yeah.” Dawn grinds her teeth. “No big.”

“Dawn, if anything is a ‘big’, this would totally qualify.” Buffy reaches out to Dawn. “It must have been hard.”

“Nothing I haven’t done before.” Dawn’s voice is getting growly. “A few times, even.”

“Hey, I understand…” Buffy doesn’t get to finish.

“No, you don’t.” Dawn rolls away and stands up. “You can’t understand.”

“How can you say that?” Buffy does too understand.

“Because you’re a Slayer! Because you always get it right!” Dawn points an accusing finger. “You never fail, Buffy!”

“That’s not how it feels.” Buffy feels like she’s failing now. “I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Good.” Dawn walks to the door, opens it. “Here’s how we can avoid that situation.”

Buffy stands and reluctantly follows Dawn to the door.

“Dawn, I love you. And I’m sorry…” Buffy blinks back her sadness. “I’m sorry I can’t help you.”

“I don’t need any help.” Dawn quietly closes the door in her sister’s face.

Willow carefully closes the door, and pads over to Faith’s bed. She sits cross-legged at the end, careful not to disturb its occupant. A soft gray light flickers through the drapes. The moon is out.

“Hey there,” she whispers, “I couldn’t sleep. Figured I could come hang with you.”

Willow gives Faith a thin smile in the dark, then closes her eyes. Places her hands palm up on her knees. Slows her breathing. Reaches out, feeling for the energies that she can channel into Faith.

We’re gonna work on some of the small stuff, I think. Willow figures it’s only polite to make conversation. Makes it less creepy that Willow sneaks in here every night. Less lonely too. Your bruises are a little better, and I think your bones should heal up nicely.

Willow catches the thread of energy from the earth and pulls it up and into her. She places her hands on Faith’s shins, over the blanket that covers her. She channels that power into Faith’s body, directing its flow. She can feel it working. From the root, pushing out through the gums. New pearly white teeth. Filling the gaps that fists made.

The pain Willow feels isn’t hers. It’s part of the healing, every time, with every girl. Willow can take it, she’s strong. And it’s not like there’s another option.

“See?” Willow opens her eyes, releasing the thread. “Who needs dentists?” She pats Faith’s leg gently.

Her work done for the night, Willow quickly shores up Faith’s sleeping spell. She’s really very proud of it. It keeps a person unconscious until the pain level subsides to something they can handle physically and mentally. She’s used it on some of the other patients too, but she made it especially for Faith.

The light in the room has gone from gray to pink. The sun is warning everyone of its arrival with streaks of colour against the sky.

She doesn’t leave right away. Kennedy will be getting up in an hour or so. She can sneak in a few minutes before that, pretend she was there the whole time.

“Is it cool if I stick around a while?” Willow whispers out the window. “Keep you company?”


“Thanks, Faith.” Willow smiles. “You’re a pal.” Curls her legs up and hugs them with her arms. Stares out the window.

The sun is coming. Willow will wait for it.

Xander throws his pen across the room. It hits the wall with a thunk. Homework, he’s never been good at it. And this assignment sucks.

He can’t do it. Maybe he can copy someone else’s. He looks at the slim pile of ignored reports on his desk. He hasn’t read them. Same reason he can’t finish his own.

Because they’re a lie. What he tried to write was a lie. Sure, he got the facts straight. The time of every event, the battles, the strategy. The injured, the dead, all counted. The names are all spelled right.

But it’s not even close to what happened out there. Nothing he puts down seems real.

Buffy hasn’t written hers yet. When Xander asked Kennedy, she sent him a scrap of paper with some choice words written on it. Dawn hasn’t come out of her room and he’s a bit scared to ask. Giles, well… Giles wasn’t there. His was perfect, and completely useless.

There needs to be a record of this. Even if the outside world never knows what happened… In this world, the people that come after, they should know.

Xander reaches across his desk. Grabs another pen.

Someone else can write the report.

He’s going to write the truth.

Buffy knocks, peeking in before she gets a response.

“Oh, is that my hour?” Vi is startled, dropping her book on the floor. She picks it up. “I was reading to her.”

“What book?” Buffy is curious.

“Unh… Sleeping Beauty.” Vi blushes. “I thought it might be… inspiring?”

“Cute.” Buffy takes the book Vi’s offered. Flips through the illustrations. “Ooh, pictures. Pretty.”

“I stole … borrowed it from Giles’ office.” Vi giggles. “I figure it can’t hurt.”

“Did you finish?” Buffy looks up. “I hate stopping in the middle, you know? Even if I know the story.”

“Just started, really.” Vi takes the book, flipping through from the start. She stops and points. “I got to here.” Vi hands the book back.

“The Princess, being young and foolish, was too eager to try the spinning wheel for herself. She seized the spindle, and it pierced her finger. A drop of red blood stained the wool. The Princess fell to the floor…” Buffy keeps reading, unaware that she’s slowly walking to the chair beside Faith’s bed. Unaware that a smiling Vi has discreetly let herself out.

“You would have thought her an angel, she was so fair to behold. The trance had not taken the lovely colour from her complexion. Her cheeks were delicately flushed, her lips like coral.” Buffy sits, crosses her legs. Takes a quick peek at Faith before returning to the words. “Her eyes, indeed, were closed, but her gentle breathing could be heard, and it was therefore plain that she was not dead.”

Buffy keeps reading, almost as much for herself as for Faith. She reads slowly, studying and describing the illustrations, turning the book so Faith can see.

“…He placed upon her lips a kiss of such purity, such selfless love, that as his lips touched hers, her eyes fluttered open. The curse had been lifted. The Prince scarcely knew how to express his joy. He declared that he loved her better than he loved himself. His words were faltering, but they pleased the more for that. The less there is of eloquence, the more there is of love.”

“Erm… Pardon…” Giles haltingly interrupts.

“It’s time already?” Buffy checks her watch. “I’m almost at the end. Can you give me a few more minutes?”

“Of course.” Giles closes the door, leans against the wall.

“Okay… Where were we?” Buffy scans the page. “Ah… As the princess awoke, so did the world around her. The thorns withdrew into the earth, and in their place grew beautiful trees and flowers. In the thicket, birds sang and the animals of the forest once again played. Inside the castle the people awoke, and from King to cook they smiled and sang and hugged one another in relief and joy. Soon, life at the castle returned to what it had been. To the delight of all around them, the Prince and Princess were soon married, and everyone lived happily ever after.”

With a sigh, Buffy closes the book. She looks over at Faith. Up to Giles.

“Happily ever after.” Buffy stands up. Stretches. “Where can we get some of that?”

“In time, Buffy.” Giles gives her a gentle smile. “It took one hundred years for this Sleeping Beauty. I think we shall see ours awake much sooner.”

She hugs him. Presses the book into his hands.

“Thanks Giles.” Buffy feels better.

She leaves quietly, and he takes his position on the window sill. He looks absently at the book. Recognizes it as his.

“Cheeky buggers.”

Chapter Text

Xander steps into the makeshift office, looking around nervously. The woman behind the desk gestures to the large wingback chair across from her. He smiles wide and anxious as he sits.

“And you are…” She starts.

“I’m fine.” He states.

“Good to know,” The woman checks her notes. “… Alexander.”

“Xander.” He corrects her.

“Ah. Xander, then.” She smiles. “I’m Doctor Amani. Adia, if you prefer. Don’t be nervous, alright? We’re just going to talk. I’m here to help.”

“And I’m glad.” Xander smiles back. It’s less than sincere. “After…y’know… Some people are gonna have some trouble dealing. Not me, though. I’m fine.”

“So you said.” She writes something down in her book.

“What?” Xander eyes the pen suspiciously. “What’s worth writing? I haven’t said anything yet.”

“Don’t worry about what I’m doing.” The doctor talks softly, in an accent that Xander can’t place. “I’m just making notes.”

“Oh, I’m not worried.” Xander eyes the clock above her head. Fifty-seven minutes to go. “I’d be worried if there was something wrong with me… but I’m not… worried. I’m fine.”

“Right.” She agrees, still writing. “How are you sleeping?”

“Good. Good. I sleep.” Xander’s not telling. “You know, when I can. I have a lot to do. Work. A lot of work things.”

“Like what?”

“The girls… The um…” He sighs. “We’re spread pretty thin right now.”

“That sounds like it could be stressful.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.” Xander says it without thinking. Fifty-three minutes.

“Of course.”

“I’m not dumb. I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?” Adia raises a questioning brow.

“You’re being all soothing and agreeable so I’ll talk to you.” Dawn talks with her hands.

“Is that a bad thing?” The doctor asks in her soothing, agreeable voice.

“No, it’s a shrink thing.” Dawn rolls her eyes.

“Have you seen a psychiatrist before?”

“Yeah. After my mom died and no, I don’t want to tell you about my mother.” Dawn puts her hands behind her head. Her hair is growing back so fast. Maybe a little too fast. She makes a note to spy on Willow.

“You don’t have to.” She leans back in her chair. “Did therapy help you through the situation?”

“What do you think?” Dawn looks away.

“What I think doesn’t matter.”

“Then why do I have to be here?” Dawn asks triumphantly. “If none of this matters?”

“You don’t.” Adia reconsiders her approach. “You can go.”

“I can?” Dawn doesn’t like this. It feels like a trap.

“Of course.” She smiles. “The door isn’t locked.”

Dawn hesitantly rises from the chair.

“I’m sure Giles and… Buffy, your sister?” Adia plays her trump card. “I’m sure they’ll understand why you feel you don’t need to be here.”

“What?” Dawn stares at her.

“These are mandatory sessions.” Adia walks to her desk, shuffles some papers. “You’ll need them to approve it. But I’m sure they’ll see that you’re too smart to fall for my tricks.”

Dawn blinks.

“Call the next girl in, would you?” Adia waves her out absently. “Hopefully she won’t be as smart as you, Dawn. Otherwise I won’t be able to help her either.”

“I don’t need help.” Mumbling under her breath, Dawn heavily drops back into the chair.

“Changed your mind?” Adia can’t hide a little smile. “Alright then.”

“I know what you’re doing.” Dawn sulks.

“Does that matter?”

“I just think I should know who I’m talking to, that’s all.” Buffy crosses her arms. “I mean sure, that degree looks fancy sitting up there on the wall. But how do I know it didn’t come out of a cereal box?”

“Are you sure you’re not just trying to avoid talking about yourself?”

“I’m not avoiding.” Buffy denies all charges. “I’m just making sure that you’re not evil. That’s my job.”

“Do you think I’m evil?” Adia replies evenly.

“Maybe not evil…” Buffy pretends to think. “But that doesn’t mean you’re good. There’s shades, yanno. Gray… a-and lighter gray.”

“I see.” The doctor is in. “Does that bother you?”

“Does what bother me?”

“That good and evil aren’t clearly defined opposites.”

“Well, it’d make my life easier if the bad guys would wear black and have twirly moustaches and shifty eyes.” Buffy makes a wish list. “And a creepy villain laugh. Oooh, and maybe carry a big sign that says ‘I’m evil, ask me how!’.”

“But life isn’t like that.”

“Tell me about it.” Buffy slumps back. “It’s like, just when I think I get it… I’ve got the rules down and I know who’s ‘us’ and who’s ‘them’… Everything changes around and the bad guys are sorta good and the good guys are sorta bad and before you know it I’m feeling sorry for the guys I’m supposed to be punching.”

“Must be hard to trust people.”

“Totally…” Buffy catches on. “Hey! I trust people!”

“I’m sure you do.” Adia appeases.

“I mean yeah, it’s hard to know. You can’t really ever know.” Buffy knows that much.

“Go on.”

“But how do you decide? What’s the right thing to do? Who to let in? Should you even let anyone in, because it’s not just that they could get hurt. They could die. Or they could hurt your family. And how do you decide that one person is good and another is evil?” Buffy’s just riding the thought train. She’s not the conductor. “I mean, people change. People grow. People do bad things and good things and how do you weigh it up and just decide for everyone that they’re one or the other? How can I judge that? How can I even tell if I’m good or evil? What’s the test? I mean…”

“Are you concerned about that?”

“What? Being evil?” Buffy’s startled out of her thoughts. “No. No… I’m just…”

“You’re not sure that you’re good?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you’re not eating.” Adia checks her records. “The medical report says you’ve lost an unhealthy amount of weight.”

“I have a fast metabolism.” Kennedy stares at her.

“Not that fast. You’ve lost eleven pounds just this week.”

“I work out.”

Adia stares back for a moment, then turns to the window.

“You walked out on our last session.”


“So why did you come back?”

“Giles. Told me it didn’t look good for a Team Leader to break the rules.” Kennedy rolls her eyes. “Said I should be setting an example.”

“And you disagree?”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s the boss.”

“Of course it matters.” Adia treads carefully. “Don’t these girls look up to you?”


“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

“It means I’m tired of people looking up to me, looking over me, looking down on me!” Kennedy’s voice is rising. “I can’t relax with everybody in my face all the time!”

“You can’t relax?”

“You try to get some peace in this place!” Kennedy’s eyes flick to the door. To Adia’s hands. “I’m getting so sick of everything and everyone. I just want…”

“Go on.”

Kennedy clenches her fists. Controlling herself.

“You just want what?” Adia pushes.

“Forget it.” Kennedy bolts for the door. “I can’t do this.”

“Maybe not for yourself. But for them?”

Kennedy stops. Turns back for the last word.

“They’re on their own.”

“But don’t they need you?”

“Oh, they’ll muddle through.” Giles leans his head against the side of the chair. “Andrew should be arriving shortly. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to find out he’s in charge of something.”

“Scheduling the housework?”

“Believe me, he’ll be delighted.” Giles takes off his glasses. Pinches his nose with his forefinger and thumb.

“And it doesn’t hurt that you get to skip the boring meetings.”

“It is an unforeseen bonus, yes.” Giles sneaks in a brief grin.

“I’m sure.”

“Actually, I popped in for a reason.” Giles taps on the leather. “I was wondering… I had meant to ask…”

“Now, Mr. Giles. You know I can’t talk about my patients.” Adia chides him. “I know that you’re concerned about your people, but…”

“No, no. Quite right.” Giles agrees quickly. “I understand completely.”

“Now,” Adia stands up, sorting her papers into a tidy pile. “I have about thirty…” She glances at her watch. “…six minutes until my next appointment and I’d like to get some lunch.”

“Right.” Giles stands, fumbling for his glasses. “Certainly. I’ll… erm… leave you to it then.”

“Oh.” Adia looks momentarily disappointed. “I’m sure you have important things to do.”

“Yes, of course.” Giles replaces his glasses. Walks to the door. “Dr. Amani, I did want to say… We… I am grateful for your people being here. I have dedicated my life to… this.” He gestures around him. “And to this group of remarkable people. I have seen what they’ve gone through and I fear… I fear that for some the burden has become too much to bear. If you and your team being here can ease that for them even in the slightest…”

“What about you, Mr. Giles?” Adia smiles at him generously. “What about your burden?”

Giles gives her one of his small, sad smiles.

“I try not to think about it.”

“How often are you successful?” Adia leans in.

“Well, I… It’s not a big deal, really. I mean it is a big deal… but it’s like, you’re there and things are happening and you make a choice and worry about the after part well… after.” Willow hopes she got the answer right.

“And what happens, after?”

“Usually nothing. Nothing bad, I mean.” Willow thinks hard. “Magicks are about balance. You do something, and something else has to happen to balance things out. It’s like unh… the tide. It comes in and goes out with every wave, see? So with magicks you have to make sure that whatever you do, you don’t make the wave so big that it messes with the flow of things. Get it?”

“I understand about magic, Willow.”

“Of course you do.” Willow’s eyes widen. “I mean you work for some super secret organization. You probably know all kinds of stuff. I didn’t mean to… Sometimes I get excited about explaining.”

“I see.” Adia smiles. It’s hard not to smile around Willow. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Haven’t I?” Willow’s voice gets all high pitchy. “I meant to. I thought I did…”

“Willow.” Adia shakes her head. “This isn’t a test. It’s a conversation, sometimes a difficult one, but there is no right or wrong here. Only what you think, what you feel.”

“I don’t understand your crazy world.” Willow jokes. “What was your question again?”

“We’ll come back to that.” Adia looks at her. She can see the dark circles, the weariness etched on Willow’s face. “You’re not sleeping. Is your schedule too much for you? I can get you some time off, to restore your energy?”

“NO! I mean, no thanks.” Willow plays with her hands. “I have to… They need me, and I’m the best one they’ve got for the healing. If I take time off, that just makes it harder for everyone else. I can’t not do this.”

“Still, I am going to have a chat with the medical department. I can see they are wearing you out.” Adia looks determined. She scribbles furiously, peeking up at Willow with one eye.

Willow plays with her fingers, obviously fretting.

“You don’t have to do that.” Willow is shrill. “I’ll stop… I’ll fix it. Take some time off or something. You don’t have to…”

“Just remember that I will if you don’t. We’ll move on to something else…” Adia makes a quick note. “Kennedy.”

“Kennedy? Umm… she’s good.”

Adia raises a brow.

“Not good as in good, of course. More like good as in really, really bad.” Willow backtracks like a pro. She decides to spill. “I don’t know what happened. Everything was good and then we got back here and now she’s different and I don’t know how to make it better. She acts like I don’t get it, which duh! Of course I don’t because she won’t tell me. And then there’s the moping and the brooding and the random scary anger moments… I’m kinda… afraid?”

“Afraid of her?”

“No! No way!” Willow is emphatic on this point. “Kenn would never hit me or anything. But I am afraid. I’m afraid she’s going to a bad place. I’m afraid she’s going to hurt herself, or that she’ll keep shutting me out, or that she’ll just implode or something.”

“You’re afraid to lose her.”

“Yeah.” Willow’s sadness comes through her smile. “I’m afraid she’s going somewhere I can’t follow.”

“I’m sorry Willow.” Adia feels bad, but there are only so many hours in a day. “That’s time.”

“Oh.” Willow doesn’t want to go just yet. She’s still all filled up with stuff.

“You’ll be fine.” Adia tries to calm her a bit. “You try to get some rest, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Willow leaves the comfort of the chair. She breathes in deeply and out forcefully. Gives Dr. Amani a brave, tight grin and a wave. Remembers to leave the door open for the next appointment.

“Right. Tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

It’s warm. Soft and comfortable. Faith drifts in this in-between space, content and quiet. Her mind is blank; her body is no longer a concern. Everything is safe. Everything is nice. Everything is silence and peace. No guilt, no fear. No voices in her head… No voices…

No Buffy.

The loss rips her into consciousness with a scream. She’s pulled back into the physical, back into her frail, shredded body. Panic and pain sear through her mind. Her eyes open to the brightness of the day, quickly taking in the details of the room. The dark wood beams of the ceiling. The stone walls and stained glass. Her denim jacket hooked over the bedpost where she left it. An array of cards and flowers on her desk. The I.V.’s dangling from a perch above her head.

None of it penetrates. None of it matters. All that registers is that she’s alone.

Buffy checks her watch, biting her lip. She leans in the doorway, hidden at the back. When she’s here, she feels guilty for not being with Faith. When she’s with Faith, she’s guilty about not being here. So she ends up compromising, and feeling guilty about both at the same time.

A girl, no more than sixteen, is up at the podium. Buffy thinks her name is Paula.

“…my best friend. She was loud, and told the best knock-knock jokes, and left her socks on the floor. She smiled and laughed a lot.” Paula breaks off, clearing her throat. “Grace helped me… with my training, and with other stuff. , y’know, life stuff.” Paula gives the group a little, painful smile. “She was brave. She was a good person. And a great slayer. I… I guess that’s all.”

A hand on her shoulder forces Buffy’s attention away from the girl. Giles is standing close beside her, reaching for his glasses.

“What is it?” Buffy’s whisper can’t hide her worry. “Is it Faith? Did she…”

“Buffy.” He matches her volume. “As far as I know, Faith’s condition is the same.”

“What do you mean, as far as you know?” Buffy hisses. “It’s your shift! Someone’s supposed to be there when she wakes up!”

“I know that. I didn’t expect…” Giles sighs. “I received an urgent call from Cleveland. It seems…”

“None of you really got a chance to know her.” The shy, quiet voice wavers. “I guess that’s my fault. I kinda kept her all for myself…”

Buffy and Giles turn their heads to the familiar voice.

“She wasn’t a slayer. But she was really smart. She understood stuff…” Dawn doesn’t know how to say everything she wants to. “She was my friend. She came here to help me, and even though she was shy and didn’t know anyone, she always somehow managed to make things better for everyone.”

Buffy’s heart aches. Dawn looks so… alone.

“Emma saved my life. She was so scared.” Dawn’s voice cracks, then breaks. Tears well and slip past her cheeks. She fights to get the words past her throat. “She was…”

Buffy tries to go to Dawn, to help her, to hug her and make it all better. Giles holds her back.

“Giles, let me go!” Buffy’s tears are threatening to fall. “I should be there for her.”

He doesn’t answer. He simply gestures to the stage, where Willow has stepped up behind Dawn.

“She was special.” Dawn gives in to her sorrow, spilling out simple truths with her sobs. “She was my friend. She was…” Willow envelops Dawn in her arms, guiding her off the stage.

“Not who she claimed to be.” Giles finishes Dawn’s sentence a little differently. He gives Buffy a knowing look.

“What?” The information isn’t sticking in Buffy’s head.

“I made some inquiries to Cleveland regarding her next of kin.” Giles takes a deep breath. “In case she had family who may have wanted to take her home…”

“We do that for all the girls.” Buffy’s not catching on. “What’s the big?”

“They erm…” Giles clears his throat. “They had no records. No paperwork. And not one person could remember her.”

“How is that even possible?” Buffy’s whisper becomes harsher. “We’re supposed to be secure!”

“We are.” Giles looks at her meaningfully. “Emma had all the necessary credentials when we brought her here. Now that she’s gone…”

Buffy bows her head, absorbing. After a good few moments, she lifts her head to Giles, her face wet with tears. “Giles, was it her? Do you think maybe it could have been her?”

“There’s no way to be certain.” Giles fumbles in his pocket for his handkerchief. “Emma herself didn’t seem to have known anything about Ta-...”

“Then it doesn’t matter.” Buffy wipes her eyes and nose on her sleeve. “Whoever she was, she saved Dawn. That’s enough for me.”

“Rightly so.” Giles offers his hanky, too late.

“I have to get back…” Buffy remembers something, rolling her eyes to stop more tears. “Dawn was right.”

“Pardon me?”

“Dawn was right.” Buffy turns, walking backwards. “She was a gift.” She spins around again and walks away.

Giles raises his handkerchief, removing his glasses. Wipes quickly under his eyes. Watches Buffy go. With a glance upward, he replaces his glasses, leaning against the stone wall with a sigh.


Buffy quietly closes the heavy wooden door. She leans her head against it for a moment, her hand still resting on the knob.

“Rough day?”

It’s barely a sound at all. But Buffy’s head whips around in shock.

“Faith?” Buffy smiles her million watt smile. “You’re awake!” She has an overwhelming urge to cry, to laugh, to jump up and down on the bed and start singing. Instead she walks to the bed and sits on the edge.

“Guess so.” Faith still has no voice. “I thought…” She shakes her head, looking down at herself. Her eyes move from the morphine drip to the cast on her arm to the garish purple and blue marks on every inch of exposed skin.

“What?” Buffy takes her hand.

“I was ready, you know? To be done.” Faith clears her throat. “It woulda been okay with me.”

“Not with me!” Buffy is resolute on the matter.

“How did I…” Faith gestures around the room.

“We’re not sure.” Buffy shrugs. “Kennedy found you. Said you were just lying there outside the tunnels.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Faith thinks hard. “I couldn’t have gotten myself out.”

“No, you couldn’t have.” Buffy looks at her meaningfully. Strokes Faith’s fingers with her thumb.

“Wow.” Faith ponders that. “Divine intervention?”

“Looks like.” Buffy nods.

They sit there in silence for a while.

“I can’t feel you.” Faith’s eyes flutter for a moment. She yawns, wincing as the cuts and bruises stretch. “The old tingle is there, but...”

“It’s gone. The super-connection thingie.” Buffy looks incredibly sad about that. “I tried to reach you… and I couldn’t.”

“You were here?” Faith’s voice is getting worse with use.

“Of course! We were all here! Me, Xander, Giles, Kennedy and Willow, lots of the girls…” Buffy gently pats Faith’s thigh. “You were never supposed to wake up alone.”

“I felt that!” Faith looks down at her legs, shocked. “My legs!”

“Willow.” Buffy grins. “She did you after she did me.”

Faith raises a brow, smirking as much as she can through the pain.

“In a completely non-sex way.” Buffy rolls her eyes. “And ew! I was mostly dead at the time, Perv.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Another yawn tears at the fine cuts and scrapes on Faith’s face, the damage to her throat. Flinching, her eyes close with the pain.

“I should go.” Buffy’s playful voice is gone now, replaced by a caring and concerned one. “Let you sleep some more.”

“Stay.” Faith grabs Buffy’s hand in hers, mumbling. “It hurts less when you’re here.”

Buffy smiles, curling up on the thin edge of the bed, grateful for a chance to rest. Thinking about what Faith just said. How it applies to them both.

Xander’s on a mission. A very important, take no prisoners kind of mission. He imagines that his features have that grim, steely and serious look that shows he means business.

He pushes through the double doors. A little too steely and determined, because they whip open and smack hard against the paneled walls.

Fifty girls whip their heads around at the noise.

“Uh, hey!” Xander wipes his sweaty palms against his dark jeans. “I was um… Sorry.”

The girls giggle and titter until a loud whistle from the front of the room shuts them up.

“Eyes front, kiddies!” Renee’s strong voice leads Xander’s gaze past the throng of trainees.

“Renee, can I see you outside?” He’s proud that his voice doesn’t crack.

“Take five, everyone.” Renee moves quickly to Xander’s side, whispering at him. “What’s wrong?”

“Outside.” Xander escorts her through the doors, opening and closing them more gently this time.

“What’s going on?” Renee barely waits for the doors to close. There’s worry in her voice. “The way you burst in, it’s got to be something major.”

“I think it is.” Xander doesn’t smile, doesn’t joke. “There’s something you need to know.”

“What is it? Are we under attack?” Renee starts to panic, trying to read his face. “Is there another apocalypse?” Her face falls. “Oh. No. It’s not… Faith? She didn’t…”

“No, no, and Faith’s fine.” Xander tries to regain control of the situation. “She woke up a few hours ago actually.”

“Thank god.” Renee sighs in relief.

“Apparently.” Xander allows a brief smile. He puts his hand on her shoulder. “I need you to listen to me for a minute.”

Renee closes her mouth.

“Right.” Xander takes a breath. “So… unh…”

She raises her brow, waiting for more.

“You died.” Xander has a mission.

“Only for a second.” Renee defends herself.

“But you died.” Xander emphasizes. “And it made me… Um…” He takes her hand. “So, here’s the thing.” He pulls her in and decisively kisses her on the lips. It doesn’t take long for Renee to answer his lips with hers. He eventually pulls away. He has more to say.

“I don’t know what went wrong with us before. And I don’t care.” Xander stops her talking with a finger to her lips. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll fix it. But I’m not going to let it scare us or stop us again, whatever it is.”

“But…” Renee looks up at him, a question in her eyes.

“You died. I didn’t like it.” Xander is firm. He pulls her tight, his voice breaking. “Don’t do it again.”

Renee smiles, resting her head on his shoulder. “’Kay.”

“Have you gone to see her today?” Willow walks out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel.

“Yeah, this morning.” Kennedy stretches out on the bed, stiff after her workout. “She’s looking a lot better, thanks to you.”

“And you!” Willow smiles. “You found her.”

“I nearly tripped over her.” Kennedy frowns. “She was just… there. I didn’t do anything.”

“Not true!” Willow goes to Kennedy’s side, wrapping an arm around her girlfriend’s waist. “You got all those people out before the volcano went kablooey!”

“I failed!” Kennedy stands up, pacing. “My first time really being in charge. Really being a leader! Everything I thought I deserved and I…” She turns to face Willow. “I choked.”

“I know.” Willow has her serious face on. “Vi told me. About the…”

“Vi’s gonna get a lesson in shutting the hell up.” Kennedy growls.

“She’s worried about you.” Willow’s voice starts out gentle. “So am I. You’ve been Miss Volatile since we got back. I understood when I thought it was about Faith being so broken, but she’s getting better and you’re still…”

Kennedy pushes out a short breath that ends up sounding more like a snarl.

“…like that.” Willow gestures at Kennedy. “Vi was only trying to help.”

“Nobody can help.” Kennedy stops pacing. She lowers her head.

“Let me try.” Willow reaches out her hand. “Please, baby?”

Kennedy looks at her girlfriend. Willow’s face, all sympathy. Willow’s arms outstretched and waiting for her.

She won’t allow herself that comfort. She shakes her head.

Willow drops her hands, hurt and disappointed.

“I can’t.” Kennedy tries to explain. It doesn’t work.

Willow turns away.

With a sigh, Kennedy walks to the bathroom. Willow hears the click of the lock. Kennedy’s never done that before.

“Kenn?” Willow starts to worry. “You need anything?”


She paces.

She hears a low cry. The shower trickling, then hitting the base of the tub with its full force. And a soft voice hiding underneath, cracking with sobs.

Willow leans her ear against the door.

“I’m sorry.” Kennedy is on repeat, barely audible. “I’m so sorry.”

Willow doesn’t say anything. It’s not her that Kennedy’s apologizing to. It’s not her temper that Kennedy’s apologizing for.

Instead she pulls a blanket and a light sheet from the bed. Sinks down against the closed door, making herself as comfortable as she can. With a sigh, she lays her head against the frame. Closes her eyes.

Chapter Text

Buffy crouches behind a small hedge, stake in hand. Looks behind her, makes a signal. The shadows seem to shift, ripple for a moment. A hand touches her arm, and suddenly she’s surrounded. Buffy smiles. Her girls are perfectly sneaky.

“Grab-and-go.” Buffy whispers. “Moira, you take point.”

The girl nods. She disappears into the darkness ahead.

Buffy signals for the team to fan out and wait for Moira’s all clear. Getting it, she reaches position, back flat against the wall. The neighborhood is quiet, suburban. This house doesn’t look different to any house on the street. It’s just a small two storey building. Except for the nesting family of Lagash demons.

Buffy carefully peeks in the window, turning just enough that she can catch some movement in her peripheral vision. She twists away. Movement bad. She’d hoped to catch them sleeping.

She taps her earpiece twice. Then twice again. Plan B. Slips her stake back into its holster. Pulls the scythe from her back.

She hears two clicks in her earpiece. Then three. She nods. Counts three seconds.

She spins and slams her foot against the door. It flies into the wall opposite. She steps in, hearing the crash of her team entering the building. Moira flies through the window, somersaulting through the glass and landing in a crouch. The other girls ramming through doors, windows, sealing off all the exits, squashing resistance as they go through the house.

“Surprise!” Buffy strokes the scythe. Eyeing up the two demons growling at her.

“What?” She asks a giant fist aimed at her head. Counters with the scythe. No more impending fist. “You were expecting the welcome wagon?”

The giant ugly grabs his wrist, screaming as the blood pours out in waves of blue. His sibling comes rushing to defend him.

Buffy leaps up, kicking out hard. Her foot makes contact with a squishy face. It reels back, flailing.

Stomping up from the basement. Family reunion.

“I need backup!” Buffy doesn’t bother with the headset. She just yells. Aiming her blade toward the new arrivals.

Two girls come rushing in. The basement door bursts open, and nine more demons rushing out.

“You will not stop the ceremony!” The largest of them roars. “You will all die!”

“That’s the thanks we get for trying to clean up the neighborhood?” One girl grins as she plants her axe in the big guy’s kneecap.

“Inez!” Buffy takes out the other knee. “Excellent punning! You get an A.”

The giant demon falls hard onto the flower print sofa.

“Teacher’s pet.” The other slayer mock glares at Inez, and takes the demon’s head cleanly off.

“Party pooper.” Buffy sticks out her tongue. Swings out to catch another bad guy with the pointy end of the scythe. “I had a Neighborhood Watch joke all lined up, Autumn!”

“Sorry, Boss Lady.” Autumn rolls her eyes. Then ducks and rolls away from a mace. Stabs up with her sword, through the demon’s chins. He jerks and falls to the floor.

“Main floor and upstairs, all clear!” The rest of the team comes in. “Need a hand?”

“Nope, we need the package.” Buffy points to the basement. “Go check it out. We’ll keep these guys entertained.”

They disappear down the basement stairs, thudding and slashing noises mean they’ve met the rest of the clan. The seven remaining demons look worriedly at the basement door, and at the girls standing in their way.

“Alright. Pick your dates, ladies.” Buffy chooses Ugly’s… sister? …brother? And the two hulking things closest to her. “And let’s dance.”

“How come you get three?” Autumn pouts, targeting the two beasties that are trying to stomp her with their giant feet.

“Cos I’m cuter than you.” Buffy smirks.

“I’m tired of getting your cast-offs.” Inez laughs, faking a huff. Tossing her hair.

Without another word, the slayers attack. Sword, axe and scythe. Buffy kills the first one instantly, chopping off its head as it lunges for her. She kicks at the other, keeping it at bay for now. She throws the scythe up, pummels the third until it’s down. Reaches out and catches the scythe on its way down, letting it swing back in her hand to gut Number Two. Bringing it back to strangle Three.

“All done.” Buffy singsongs.

“Package is retrieved, Buffy.” The team returns from the basement, holding something wrapped in blankets.

Buffy looks up. The living room is destroyed. The carpet and walls are stained blue, in large pools and spattered lines. Nobody else seems to notice the wreckage, the huge slimy bodies lying all over the floor. All the girls are crowded around the girl holding the package.

“Hey,” Buffy pushes through. Wipes some blue blood from her face. “Some space?”

Buffy takes the bundle into her arms. Gently pushes the fabric away a bit. Peers into a little face, with little hands in cute little fists. She brushes her lips gently across the baby’s smooth, chubby cheeks. Looks around at the faces of her team. Exhilaration, pride, maybe a couple of sappy smiles. No trace of the uncertainty and pain she’d been seeing. She turns back to the baby, who’s awake now and making those gurgly baby noises and grabbing at her blue-stained finger.

“Hey, little guy.” Buffy whispers, taking a few steps away from the group. “I hope you don’t remember anything that happened here tonight like, ever. But if you do, remember this. You may think that we saved you, ‘cos technically yeah, we did, and y’know, yay for us.”

“But you saved us too.” Buffy hugs the infant close. “Never forget that part, kay?”

Buffy turns back to her team, removing all traces of mushy baby smile from her face.

“Alright kids.” Buffy smiles, handing the child to Moira. “Field trip is over. Prep for extract.”

Her team starts hurriedly grabbing up their weapons and equipment.

“Xander?” Buffy calls on the headset. “Package acquired. Request Extraction.”

“Um… Hi Buffy! Xander’s unh… just stepped out for a sec. He said it was urgent. Although, that was a while ago. So, not bathroom urgent…” Andrew’s voice comes through high and squeaky. “He left with Renee.” There’s a weird hollow sucking sound. “I’m covering his shift right now.”

“Andrew, can you please not do that in my ear!” Buffy takes her earpiece out for a second, wiggles her finger in there. Puts it back.

“But it’s so sweet and frosty!” Andrew sighs. “I love slushies.”

“I’m sure you do.” Buffy rolls her eyes. “You need to get a car here asap. And send along a Wicca, if you can. Our stealth mission turned out not so stealthy.”

“Kay.” Buffy hears some muffled voices, and some feedback. Andrew’s covered the microphone with his hand.

“Andrew!” Buffy rips out the earpiece. Yells into her mic. “How many times?”

“Sorry!” Buffy can hear Andrew squeaking. She wants to crush his head. Instead she sighs, puts the little piece of plastic back in her ear. “An extraction team is on its way.”

“Good. And if they’re here in less than five minutes, I’ll let you personally hand the kid over to his parents.” Buffy is a good leader. She has an incentive program.

“They’ll be there in four.” Andrew sounds giddy. “I love the part where people are happy and grateful. It’s so… satisfying. Like that time when we saved that village in Iceland… or oooh! That time in Portugal, with the flowers and the parade…”

“Right. Just like that.” Buffy cuts him off. “Buffy out.”

Buffy turns to her team.

“We ready?” Buffy checks the area.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Her second in command nods.

“Good.” And that’s the word that resonates in Buffy’s head. How she feels. What she does. Who she is.


Dawn sits in her office. Her laptop lies open and glowing. Her desk an organized clutter of parchment and papers and books. She stares up at the ceiling. She’s given up even the pretense of work. Her eyes won’t focus on the pages. The words don’t make sense. Nothing makes any sense anymore.

Her eyes wander to the wall of photographs. Buffy, Xander and Willow smiling out at her from the lawn of Sunnydale High. Willow and Tara at the Magic Box. A younger version of herself, sitting between Xander and Anya on the couch, watching some movie she can’t remember now. And her mom, smiling tentatively at the camera, at Giles as he tries to capture some random happy moment in their lives.

She cherishes these pictures. These memories of who they used to be. And the reminder of who gave them back to her.

She allows herself to stare at the image of Tara. Her throat closes. Her eyes go blurry with tears. For Tara, for Emma. For everything and everyone.

Dawn stands up. She needs some air.

“Figured you’d be round to see me sometime, Doc.” Faith smirks from her bed.

“You’ve been cleared by the… Meds. I thought I’d stop by and introduce myself, but I see you have already heard about me.” Still working on the lingo, Dr Amani sits down. “I’m here to make sure that you are alright.”

“Nobody’s alright.” Faith rolls her eyes. Her voice slips into street-mode almost automatically. It’s an authority thing. “What went down? Ain’t nobody gonna be alright for a long time.”

“I read the reports.” Adia looks curiously at Faith.

“So you think you got a handle on it?” Faith scoffs. “What we went through?”

“Not at all.” Adia replies honestly. “Do you?”

“Don’t ask me. I just woke up.” Faith grins. “I haven’t even started the brooding and whining part of the process.”

“Is that what the others are doing?” Adia sits back. “Whining?”

“Nah. I didn’t mean it like that.” Faith retracts her statement. “It’s just hey, I’m alive, y’know? Didn’t think I would be. And yeah, it was bad. The whole thing was a big old mess of bad. Saw things, things I never…”

Faith’s eyes focus somewhere not in the room. She remembers the doctor’s presence and snaps out of it. Smiles wide and forced.

“But I’m not gonna sit and cry about things I coulda done different. What I shoulda done better.” Faith almost convinces herself.

“From what I’ve read, you all did exceptionally well.” Adia is blunt. “The enemy’s sheer numbers alone. It’s a miracle any of you survived.”

“A miracle, huh?” Faith snorts. A harsh sarcastic noise.

“Poor choice of words?” Adia knows what she’s doing.

Faith takes a breath.

“I should be dead.” Faith looks away. “But someone… something… whatever, pulled me outta that pit.”

“And that bothers you.” Adia isn’t asking. She’s prompting.

“I don’t get it.” Faith throws her pillow in frustration. “All the girls… every single one of them, did something brave and amazing and dangerous. Every one of them nicer and smarter, better than me. So why me? Why do they get to be dead meat, and I get to keep on living? What the hell did I do that makes me so damned special?”

“I don’t know.” Adia stands up. Walks to where the pillow landed. Picks it up, walks over and hands it back to Faith. “That is something we can never understand. Why some live and some die.”

“So, what? I just gotta deal with it?” Faith takes the pillow. Tucks it back under her head. The strain of the conversation and the pain of her body shows in her face.

Adia stands up. Walks to the door.

“No, Faith.” Adia smiles at her, genuine and caring. “You get to live with it.”

Dawn looks out over the village. It’s windy up here and she forgot her jacket. Why Faith likes sitting here so much, she can’t figure out. It’s quiet, and maybe the village does look pretty, but it’s pitch black and freezing.

Still, Dawn’s not going anywhere. She’s alone, finally. Maybe that’s what Faith’s always climbing up here for. Not lately of course, but before…

Dawn stops that thought. Can’t go there.

She pulls the sleeves of her sweater over her hands. Lays down to look at the stars. She always liked stars. Tara used to show her the silly constellations she’d made up. Dawn would laugh, and everything was perfect. She can still sort of remember them. She raises her hand to trace around…

“This isn’t the bathroom.”

Dawn turns sharply. Scowls at Andrew who’s looking around the rooftop, obviously hoping for some mystical port-a-potty.

“Bathroom’s down one flight, third door on the left.” Dawn sits up. The moment is ruined. “It’s easy to get lost.”

“Not as easy as you might think.” Andrew shuffles forward a bit. Takes a moment to sip on his slushie. “I don’t seem to be able to do it. Not the way everyone wants, anyway.”

“You feeling third-wheel-y?” Dawn nods. “I get that.”

They stay silent for a while. A while being a few seconds, which for Andrew is an extraordinary feat.

“Want some of my slushie?” Andrew offers the gallon cup.

“What flavour?” Dawn is curious. She takes it.

“Cherry, mixed with cola and just a hint of root beer.” Andrew says it proudly. It’s his own special blend.

“I do that too, except I always add a little blob of the green stuff.” Dawn takes a big gulp. “Adds a kick.”

“I’ll try that next time.” Andrew sits down.

They sit in silence, passing the enormous cup of cold sugar back and forth.

“I saw Willow sneaking into the infirmary.” Andrew says it to the air. “Is there going to be a broken-hearted slayer in the house?”

“Nothing that juicy. Willow’s been on a mundo guilt trip. Healing instead of sleeping.” Dawn answers, still staring out at the night. “It’s less now, but she’s gonna wear herself out. Make everything worse. But nobody listens to me, not since the haircut.”

“I like it. New hair for the new you.” Andrew inspects Dawn’s head. “Y’know, I could trim it up a bit, give it some style…”

“It’s like, two inches long.” Dawn gives him a raised brow. So much like her sister’s. “What can you do to make this look less ‘psycho-bald-chick’?”

“Actually, there’s more to work with than you think.” Andrew gets excited. Finally, something he can do. “We could do something blunt, asymmetrical… Very chic.” Andrew plays with Dawn’s hair. “No… No, I think you’re more of a classic beauty. We’ll go with that. Audrey Hepburn, Roman Holiday. That movie made me cry, don’t tell anyone, kay? Except for Gregory Peck. I thought he was a little stiff.”

“You think?” Dawn looks up at Andrew with a tiny smile. The first smile she’s given anyone since before the battle. But he called her a beauty.

“I know.” He smiles back. Gregory Peck totally ruined that movie.

Dawn twists the straw around. Tries to get some liquid, but she only gets that slurping sound.

“All gone.” Dawn hands Andrew the empty cup. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay.” Andrew shifts uncomfortably. “I still have to pee.”

Andrew stands up. Watches Dawn try to get off the ground. Offers his hand.

“I can do it. I don’t need help.” Dawn pushes herself up.

“Actually it’s for me.” Andrew looks a bit green. “Heights make me dizzy.”

“Everything makes you something.” Dawn smirks at him, almost affectionately. But she takes his hand.

“Let’s go find you that bathroom.”

Chapter Text


Buffy stretches out, pushing the covers down with her feet. Rolls her ankles, yawning. Looks over at the clock.

“Ugh.” Buffy groans, rolling into a sitting position. Scratches at the itch on the back of her head. “Morning isn’t supposed to happen so early.”

She stands, raising her arms to the ceiling, the hem of her baby tee riding up over her bellybutton. Fumbles to the bag beside the bed, absently grabbing her workout clothes.

Tying her hair back into a loose ponytail, she drags herself to the bathroom for her morning get-ready routine. Wash face, brush teeth, apply moisturizer. Attempt to put on track pants while gargling mouthwash. Lose balance. Try again, this time sitting on the edge of the tub. Spit out mouthwash, wipe stingy tears from eyes. Curse mouthwash.

Buffy looks in the mirror, practices her smile. Better. More with the cheery, less with the creepy Buffy-Bot impersonation.

She nods to herself. A job well done.

Now changed, Buffy emerges from the bathroom. Heads toward the door. She turns to check on her bed buddy. Faith’s arm is wrapped tightly around Buffy’s pillow, her face mashed into the mattress. Buffy giggles, wishing she had a camera. Wishing the pillow was Mr. Gordo. Visions of blackmail dance in her head.

She’s been sleepover-ing with Faith every night since she woke up. It seems to help Faith’s recovery to have her close. And Buffy likes being helpful. In fact, she’s found there’s nowhere she’d rather be. Which of course, Giles hadn’t taken into account when making up this week’s work schedules.

Stupid Giles.

“Nice extension.” Buffy walks slowly past each girl, checking their form. “Svetlana, stop looking at your feet. Keep your head up.” Buffy imitates the pose she’s looking for, tapping under her own chin. “Better.”

“Alright, that’s great.” Buffy smiles at them, turning to face the mirror. “Let’s go through it again. Follow my speed.”

Buffy closes her eyes. Trying to find her centre. She breathes in and out slowly a few times, and begins the slow series of movements.

A giggle from the back of the room interrupts her flow. She pretends not to hear it, but opens one eye, just a little. She peeks out at her students. Most are doing well.

She spies the culprit, and makes her move.


Crystal looks up, all colour draining from her face as she sees the harsh look on Buffy’s face, not two inches from her own.

Buffy doesn’t speak. She glances down at her outstretched hand, waiting expectantly if not patiently.

Crystal hands over the offending item. It comes blinking and buzzing to life in Buffy’s hand.

Buffy grins maliciously, flipping open the phone and answering it as Crystal stares in what can only be described as fearful mortification.

“Hey, Darren. Crystal can’t come to the phone just this minute.” Buffy says it casually. Crystal winces.

“No, I don’t think Crystal’s gonna be able to come to the phone for quite a while. Like say, a month.” Buffy’s eyes widen, listens to the young man’s reply. She puts on a perfect impression of her teenage self. “I know! Totally! Teachers can be such jerks, yanno? Yeah? Uh-huh? Sure, I’ll tell her…” Buffy bites her lip to keep from laughing. “I’d be happy to.”

“Bye, Darren.” Buffy imbues her voice with every shred of flirtiness she can muster. She presses a few buttons.

“This phone is for work. Not for texting…” Buffy manages to both mock and glare. “omg ur so sweet. Miss u lredy, luv Cryssi.”

Crystal is of course, cringing and blushing furiously. The rest of the class giggles and ‘awww’s appropriately.

“And certainly not for long distance conversations with your boyfriend.” Buffy snaps the phone shut and tucks it in the band of her pants. All the better to cross her arms and glare. “You can come see me after if you want this back.”

Crystal visibly relaxes, her humiliation over.

Buffy walks casually back to her place at the front, stretching her arms behind her back.

“And what have we learned from this?” Buffy turns back to face the class, shaking her finger at them. Grins like an evil Cheshire Cat as she answers her own question. “You can’t respect a guy who admits to being called Dare-Bear.”

Crystal groans, covering her face with her hands.

Buffy jogs down the wide hallway, taking random bites from an apple as she goes. She has her wet hair up in a sloppy bun, and has changed into a pair of loose jeans and a graying tee with flecks of peeling colour that were once the Backstreet Boys.

“Hey Giles.” She jogs right through the doors and into her seat at the meeting table. “Sorry, running late.”

“That seems to be the rousing theme for today…” Giles mumbles, indicating the empty chairs. Looks down at the itinerary. “I suppose I could begin with…”

The doors whip open with a bang. “My bad.” Faith grunts, pushing hard against the slim rails, propelling her wheelchair forward. “Don’t quite have the hang of this thing yet.”

Giles gestures to the empty space at the table.

“I’m sure you’ll be doing wheelies in no time.” Buffy is encouraging, putting a hand on Faith’s shoulder. “Oh, and I’ve seen people playing basketball in them. I bet you could do that no problem!”

“Don’t plan to be usin’ it that long, B.” Faith raises a brow, scooting herself awkwardly under the desk. The armrest hits the edge with a loud thump. “Just wish I could stop ramming into things.”

“Don’t we all.” Giles saves his teacup. He mutters under his breath. “Bloody menace.”

“It’s your own fault.” Kennedy comes in through the open door. “You won’t let anyone push you around.”

“Never have before.” Faith snorts. “Not startin’ now.”

Buffy giggles.

“Kennedy, please take your seat.” Giles turns a page, takes off his glasses.

“What’s his problem?” Kennedy mouths to Buffy from across the table.

Buffy shrugs. Rolls her eyes in solidarity. Careful to make sure Giles isn’t looking.

“Now, as I was saying…” Giles finds the page he was looking for, replacing his glasses in order to read it. “Activity in Cleveland is, for the moment, relatively minimal. They seem to be managing with the one squadron we’ve sent back. I’ve sent the appropriate paperwork, and should be receiving confirmation from them about keeping the remaining Cleveland teams here for the time being. As for the situation in Antarctica…”

“There’s badness in Antarctica?” Xander stumbles in, looking bleary and disheveled, with an equally unkempt Renee at his side. “What is it? Giant man-eating penguins?”

“Yes, actually.” Giles stares him down.

Xander’s eyes widen. There’s gonna be nightmares about that now.

“If you’d read the brief, you’d know that in fact I’m referring to the Oreida demons that are terrorizing the local scientific community.” Giles gives him a withering glance.

Xander withers appropriately, taking his seat between Giles and Faith. Renee kisses him on the cheek, and goes to sit with the other Team Leaders.

Buffy smirks at Renee. Then at Xander.

“Morning, Stud.” Faith elbows Xander, working her eyebrows.

Xander blushes, giving her a quick smile.

“The Oreida, then.” Giles’ voice is a little strained. “I’ve sent two teams down to take care of them. To cover their workload means another revised schedule, which is now sitting in front of you. If you have any problems with your schedule, I suggest you grin and bear it because I will have neither the time nor the level of sympathy required to modify it again.”

Giles takes a breath. Looks around at the group at the table, who are looking suitably disgruntled.

“Team Leaders.” Giles looks up, making sure that everyone is paying attention. “Our numbers are as such that we can no longer maintain three of our international branches. Therefore, I am suggesting that we close New York, Moscow and Cape Town. They can be integrated into the remaining forces, which will somewhat make up for our recent losses.”

“What if we cut the crews down?” Renee thinks aloud. “The outposts are crucial for intel and…”

“I am aware of their importance, Renee.” Giles cuts her off. “And I’ve already reduced the squads significantly. We still can’t muster the manpower to keep those posts. I assure you, these three are the ones we can most afford to lose.”

“I’m sorry.” Renee feels like she said something wrong.

“Don’t be. Questions are good.” Xander whispers, taking her hand. Holding it tight. “Even if the answers aren’t.”

“Now then.” Giles flips a page. “As to the battle reports. There are still a few people who have failed to submit them. Anyone who falls into this category must have them on my desk by tomorrow night. Please notice my use of the word ‘must’. It denotes a lack of choice on your part.”

Kennedy grumbles, sinking lower into her chair.

“On a slightly related topic, Doctor Amani and her team have prepared a list of people that are released from their sessions.” Giles passes it around. “If you do not find yourself on this list, you are still mandated to attend. As the heads of your respective areas, you will also be held accountable if any one of your charges fails to attend. Furthermore…”

“It doesn’t make sense.” Dawn saunters in, Andrew trailing behind. “The physics are all wrong.”

“You can’t just say that!” Andrew’s voice hits a new pitch. “I’ve read all the manuals. I’ll lend them to you, and then you’ll see! It will happen in our lifetime! Transporters and holodecks and replicators…”

“Oh my.” Buffy says dryly.

“Look, to convert matter into energy is easy enough. You burn wood, you get a pretty fire and a pile of ashes.” Dawn simples it up. “But to convert energy into matter? That’s never been done outside of a particle accelerator. If it could be done, which it can’t, it would take so much energy that it’d be pointless. Why replicate a cup of coffee when it takes the power equivalent of a nuclear bomb to re-arrange the particles? What’s wrong with Starbucks?”

“But… Bu-huh...” Andrew stops in mid-but. Giles’ face is all red.

“If you don’t mind…” Giles grits his teeth, his glasses very dangerously close to breaking as his hand squeezes into a fist around them. “I would very much like to get through this meeting before the next apocalypse. I have a full day filled with unpleasant tasks that need attending to. So, if everyone would please refrain from speaking about Xander’s sex life, or Faith’s inability to do anything without a wake of destruction in her path, Andrew’s obsession with ridiculous pseudo-scientific contraptions, or sodding killer bloody penguins…”

With a loud pop, Willow appears in the meeting room, a concerned look on her face.

“Killer penguins?” She looks at Giles, then around at the group. “Sorry I’m late! I lost track of… Oh Dawnie! Your hair! It’s adorable!”

“It looks beautiful, Dawn.” Buffy touches Dawn’s hand, smiling softly.

Dawn returns it. Andrew looks proud.

Mumbling to himself, Giles shakes the little pieces of glass from his hand onto a piece of paper. Sucks at a small cut on his finger. Puts the remains of his glasses into the wastebasket. Pinches his eyes with his forefinger and thumb. Closing his mind to the chatter around him, he lets out a long and weary sigh.

A few long moments pass.

“’Kay, so…” Willow’s voice is bright and chipper as she takes her seat. She grabs at the sheets in front of her, giving them a quick once-over.

“Giles?” She looks up, grinning. “What’d I miss?”

“That was the boringest meeting of… ever.” Buffy and the rest bolt out of the meeting room like kids at recess. They walk collectively down the hall to the elevators. “Not to mention the longest.”

“Ugh, totally.” Dawn nods her agreement. “And what is up with Giles? He was uber-cranky today.”

“Giles was cranky?” Willow looks bewildered.

“He was the undisputed cranky champion, Will.” Xander offers, taking Renee’s hand. “He was King Cranky of Crankerton.”

“All work and no play…” Kennedy walks two steps ahead of everyone.

“Giles… He doesn’t have an axe, does he?” Andrew shambles up from behind, eyes wide with apprehension.

“He doesn’t need one.” Faith wheels herself into the gang. “Weren’t you just in there with us? Now THAT was a horror show.”

“Who wants to get lunch?” Buffy addresses them all. “I’ve got fifteen minutes before my next thing, and I’m starved.”

“Sorry, sis. I have to get back to the office.” Dawn yawns, then shakes it off. She leans over and presses the ‘up’ button. “I have a parchment coming in that I need to sign for. And then spend all day and night translating. And then comes the requisite crawling in to bed and passing out part of the day.” The doors open with a ding. She steps in, and waves goodbye. “Such is the glamorous life of a Watcher.”

Willow leans over, presses the ‘down’ button.

“So how about it?” Buffy checks her watch. “We haven’t all hung out in ages.” There’s still time for a quick snack.

“No can do, Buff.” Xander smiles down at her. “I’ve got a double shift in C.C.”

“And I’ve got training.” Renee waves as she and Xander head down the hallway.

“Will? Faith?” Buffy looks from one to the other. They shake their heads. “Kennedy?”

“Classes.” Willow looks apologetic.

“Physio.” Faith shrugs.

“Workout.” Kennedy smirks and runs into the stairwell.

The elevator doors open. Faith wheels herself in, only hitting the door twice in the attempt. Willow follows, giving Buffy a sad smile.

“Maybe later?” Willow talks as the doors are closing.

“Yeah, later.” Buffy tries to muster some enthusiasm.

Buffy stops staring at the shiny metal doors, sets her hands on her hips. Shakes her head. Checks her watch again. She’s late.

“Oh, for the love of…” Buffy smacks the wall. With a light skip, she starts a paced jog down the hall. “I guess Giles figures I don’t need food. Or friends. Or time to myself, or…”

As Buffy’s ranting trails away, Andrew scuffs his toe against the stone floor. He watches her go until she turns a corner and disappears.

“I could eat.” He says, too late.

Buffy throws a last light punch at the heavy bag. She rests her hands on her thighs, breathing heavily and shaking off the sweat. Straightening up, she grabs her ankle and pulls it up behind her, stretching out her tired muscles. As her arm arcs back over her shoulder, she wrinkles her nose.

“Stinky me.” She lets her leg drop down.

She grabs her duffel bag, throwing her towel and iPod in. She zips it up and throws it over her shoulder. Her stomach growls.

“Hungry me.” Buffy frowns. “Stinky, hungry me. I remember when I was cute, perky me.”

She passes the mirror, unable to resist glancing at herself. She has bags under her eyes. She gets closer. Peers carefully at her face. Gasps in horror.

“Lines!” Buffy accuses herself. “I do not have lines. Lines grow up to be wrinkles!” She looks again, nose almost pressed against the glass. “Oh, god. I have lines.”

Mirror-Buffy responds with a powerful yawn.

Buffy turns away from herself with a sigh.

“Tired, old, stinky, hungry me.”

“I swear I heard something that time.”

“It’s nothing.” Buffy trips a little on the cobblestone. Her heeled boots weren’t made for this kind of rough terrain.

“No, really!” The girl stops walking, letting Buffy catch up. “I heard something. Like… rrrrrrrghlll…” The girl tries again. “Rrrrrrghhhlllrrrrrggg.”

Buffy’s stomach rumbles in response.

“There it is again!”

“Seriously, it’s nothing.” Buffy looks straight ahead. Pulls her jacket tight around her. It’s cold tonight. “It’s been five minutes. What should you be doing?”

“Oh gosh! I already forgot.” The girl grabs her headset, pushing it in her ear. “Marnie here. All clear. Heading to the north graveyard.”

Marnie listens to the responses for a minute. Turns back to Buffy.

“Everyone’s okay.”

They walk side by side a while.

A strong breeze comes down from the rooftops of the old houses. Buffy breathes it in. Moss and slate and something frosty and wet that might be snow by morning.

“Okay. I know I’m new here, but there is for sure something out there.” Marnie wrinkles her nose, smelling something completely different. “Ugh. Whatever it is I hope it’s not as evil as it smells.”

Buffy nearly chokes.

“See?” Marnie gets excited. “You smell it too! There’s some kinda growly, smelly monster out there! Let’s get the rest of the gang and…”

“It’s me.” Buffy says it so quietly.

“Pardon?” Marnie has manners.

“It’s me.” Buffy cringes. “I’m the monster. I haven’t eaten all day, and I seriously tried to get five minutes to shower but…”

Buffy is cut off by Marnie’s uncontrollable giggles.

Buffy taps her foot. Gives Marnie a well practiced scowl. Marnie works hard to reign it in.

“Sorry, Buffy….” Marnie can’t help the few sniggers that escape. “But do you honestly think I can’t tell the difference between monster stink and people stink?”

“So you knew?” Buffy’s voice is rising. “Why didn’t you just say something?”

“Well, duh!” Marnie taps her forehead with her palm. “I was trying to be polite!”

“How is calling me a stinky growly monster in any way polite?” Buffy’s voice has hit a surprising new pitch.

“I wasn’t!” Marnie rolls her eyes. “I didn’t!”

They stop. Both thinking. Both coming to a realization.

“So, the smell?” Buffy asks very quietly. “Not me?”

Marnie nods.

“And the ‘grrrr’? Buffy whispers.

Marnie nods again, her eyes wider than eyes should normally be.

“And because I know how much the Powers like to taunt me, it’s probably standing…”

Marnie points over Buffy’s shoulder.

“Of course.” Buffy shakes her head, and gives Marnie a low smile. “Run.”

Marnie doesn’t wait to confirm that order. She bolts down the alleyway.

Buffy makes a face. She can smell the smell. It’s pungent to say the least. She cracks her neck. Unhooks the knife from her belt.

“Now, this is nothing personal…” She tilts her head. “Actually? It really, really is.”

Buffy turns, throwing the knife as hard as she can.

Buffy limps angrily into her room, making a bee-line for the shower. Rips off her torn and stained shirt, throwing it directly into the trash. Hops out of her equally destroyed jeans, leaving them on the floor.

Not waiting for the water to heat up, she jumps in the shower with a little squeak. Just stands under the stream for a moment, feeling the goosebumps come up on her skin, the gash on her leg stinging. As the water turns from freezing, to lukewarm, to steaming hot, she grabs for the body wash and pours a huge blob onto a rough sponge.

She scrubs her skin red. She pours shampoo on her damp hair, working it in hard with her fingers.

“Please come out…” She mumbles, over again like a chant.

She rinses. Sniffs her hair. Gags a little.

“Stupid, evil demon stink.”

With an angry grunt, she tears the shampoo from the shelf.

Buffy drags herself to Faith’s room. Finally clean, but exhausted and starving. Someone on this floor has food and it’s making her stomach all avalanchy inside. Her mouth waters, and briefly she wonders if she would have the strength to break the door down, steal the yummies and make a run for it.

Sadly, she does not. Instead she pushes through Faith’s door.

“Hey. How was…” Buffy stops talking. Her mouth doesn’t close. There’s drool.

The bed is covered with food. Six large pizzas, a heap of wings and garlic bread, and two giant submarine sandwiches. On the table are three bottles of soda.

“Thought you might still be hungry…” Faith lounges in the chair, chomping on yet another sandwich.

Buffy staggers to the bed. Kneels in front of it as if to pray. She grabs two slices and folds them over, stuffing them into her faces as fast as she can. Barely chewing, and already reaching for more.

“Omigaa Faif I ruv roo.” Buffy talks with her mouth full, moving some now empty boxes out of the way so she can sit on the bed. “Where roo geh ahh diss foog?”

“There’s a killer Italian place, just off the 85.” Faith watches as Buffy devours everything in reach. “I got Andrew to go.”

“Ven I ruv Andwoo too.” Buffy gulps at the soda. Swallows and groans. “Thank you so much. You have no idea the day I’ve had.”

“You done with this?” Faith takes one of the boxes, sits it on her lap. Grabs a piece of pizza with both hands and starts munching.

Buffy looks covetously at the box on Faith’s lap.

“What?” Faith swallows. “There’s still a ton of grub there!”

“But I wanted that one.” Buffy pouts. “It has extra cheese.”

Faith stares her down. Buffy points at the box, looking sad and pitiful.

“Fine!” Faith tosses the box at her.

“Thanks.” Buffy grabs it easily. Pops the top and reaches eagerly for the last two slices. “Sucker.”

“What’d you just say?” Faith growls.

“Suck-er.” Buffy enunciates, grinning crazily. “Whatcha gonna do about it, huh? All weak and puny and invalid-like, sitting over there with strong, gloating, pizza-eating me all the way over here?”

Faith doesn’t waste time on a comeback. She just lunges.

Buffy grunts as Faith tackles her off the bed. She grinds the pizza into Faith’s face. A last defense.

Faith wipes the sauce and cheese from her cheek. The startled, disbelieving look on her face turns slowly into a malicious grin. Reaches for the bottle of soda. Covers the top with her thumb and shakes it.

“No.” Buffy puts her hands out in front of her. “See, you don’t wanna do that. I just showered like, a zillion times. And this is your room, a-and… I’m injured! And unh… you’ll never get that out of the sheets, and…”

Buffy makes a mad squealing dash to the bathroom as Faith aims the bottle and lets fly the carbonated sugar of war.

Everybody knows about you.

Buffy mutters in her sleep. Rolls to her side.

The loneliness…

Her breathing halts. Then returns in a stuttered intake and forced exhale.

The ache to just be with someone.

Faith responds to the loss of heat. Rolls over and wraps an arm across Buffy’s waist.


Buffy whimpers.

Even if it kills them.

Buffy bolts awake, breathing hard. Sits up like a shot, looking into the shadow of the room, finding her bearings. Notices the arm slung casually on her lap. For some reason it breaks her heart.

Buffy puts her face in her hands. The dream, again. It won’t leave her. Won’t let her sleep. Won’t let her just have this tiny scrap of happiness.

She starts to cry. Softly, so as not to wake Faith.

They have never talked about it. Not what happened down in the pit, or anything that happened before. They’d sorta glossed over it. As though when the magical connection had been severed, so had any reason to deal with what they knew, what they’d seen in each other. And with Faith still in recovery, Buffy had decided it would be enough just to be near her. To be friends. And maybe to hope that one day they’d both be ready.

And on that day, what then?

Too many thoughts tumbling around in her head. Too many worries, too much guilt. Too many questions and no answers except for the ones she doesn’t want to hear. The ones that come to her in nightmares.

Faith lying in pools of blood. Faith glaring at her with burning hatred or immeasurable sorrow, walking away. Faith dead, Faith gone, because of her. All variations on the same theme.

“Even if it kills them…” Buffy whispers it aloud.

She won’t let it happen.

Chapter Text

Buffy slowly and quietly extracts herself from under Faith’s arm. Faith looks as though she’s sleeping hard, breathing deep and heavy into the pillow. She seems much better. The bruises are fading; the cuts and wounds are traceable but not as garish against her skin. Buffy sits, one leg tucked under her thigh, just looking at the sleeping girl. No, woman. They’re not girls anymore. They haven’t been girls for a long time.

Buffy watches Faith sigh and roll onto her back. She leans in and pulls the blankets up against Faith’s chin. It’s important. Everything about this moment is important. The way Faith’s hair splays across the pillow. The way her arm tucks under her head. The soft look on Faith’s face as she sleeps. It’s all so achingly important and Buffy works hard to memorize it all.

With a soft, slow and painful sigh, Buffy puts her weight on her feet. Standing up, eyes still straining to catch details of the cloth gathered under Faith’s hand, the light from outside exaggerating the shadows on the bed from Faith’s body.

Every step makes her heart hurt, every breath away from this moment is harder to take. She blinks back tears. She slides her hands across her stomach, holding in the pain there. Trying to harden herself to its lure. To the comfort and relief it provides. That she provides.

Faith whines, a little sleepy “Mmhhh”.

Buffy turns, taking one full step away from the bed.

Strong fingers latch on to her wrist, stopping her escape. Buffy drops her head. She stands, not turning back, not moving forward. She didn’t even hear the sheets move.

“Faith.” Buffy’s voice isn’t there. She mouths the word.

The fingers on her wrist soften, and brush their way across her skin to slide into her palm.

She feels the gentle tug against her arm, but Buffy isn’t ready. If she turns around, if she sees it in Faith’s eyes, her resolve will drop away. Her small attempt to be good, to be smart, will be forgotten.

Faith watches her.

She’d felt Buffy’s absence. It had woken her with its strength.

And now she’s kneeling at the edge of her bed, stretching out her hand and waiting for Buffy to decide. It’s the closest thing to praying that she’s ever experienced. ‘Please’ is the only word she knows, and it’s a whisper echoing in her brain.

She won’t let it out. No begging, no coercing.

So she watches. She holds Buffy’s hand, watching her battle whatever remnants of guilt or fear she has left inside her. Not keeping her, but caressing her skin with her thumb and fingers.

She feels Buffy’s fingers gently squeeze hers, returning the light strokes. Faith links her fingers into Buffy’s, pulling gently again.

This time, Buffy lets herself be pulled.

Buffy sits on the bed, facing away from Faith. Afraid to take that last step. Afraid of what it might cost. Just afraid.

Faith’s warm hand still lingers in hers, barely there but still tracing soft designs into her palm and across her thumb. She feels a light touch on her neck, sweeping across her back, pushing her hair gently away. It settles over her shoulder, tickling her skin.

That hand, those delicate fingers stay at her neck, drawing lines and patterns across her skin that burn into Buffy’s senses. The strap of her camisole gets pushed down, leaving her shoulder bare. Buffy tilts her head, giving Faith access and permission.

She feels Faith’s body pressed against her back, legs appearing on either side of her. The sensation of it, the heat, makes her inhale sharply. She tentatively leans her body into that sensation.

Breath against her neck. Buffy closes her eyes.

The moment Faith’s lips find her skin, her body shivers and her stomach convulses, shooting waves through her. Her lungs inhale deeply.

Her skin rises up in a river of goose bumps, and she instinctively turns her head.

The look in Faith’s eyes matches her own. The depth of it.

She’d been right before. And completely wrong. Her resolve doesn’t drop away. It shatters. That look splinters and breaks everything inside, leaving nothing to protect her.

But it’s safe in those dark eyes.

Faith breathes out. It’s long and slow and gets caught in her throat. Buffy had seared her with her eyes, with those slow sighs and light moans. She needs a moment to recover.

She leans back, and puts her hand on Buffy’s shoulder. The other slides carefully around and slips under Buffy’s silky top to feel the muscles on her stomach. She asks without words. Buffy understands and shifts around, turning the rest of her body into Faith’s. They stare, now that they have the time and the opportunity, picking up details in each other’s faces. Buffy’s hand lies trembling on Faith’s thigh, the other pushing its way up Faith’s shoulder.

Faith closes her eyes. Takes a quick breath.

Their lips meet awkwardly at first. Shy lips, closed and dry. Eager and afraid. Noses in the way, making Buffy giggle and Faith feel something she’s never felt and therefore can’t define.

Faith pulls back, smiling soft and warm and silly. She wets her lips with her tongue, watching as Buffy does the same.

They try again. Faith pulls Buffy in, gently taking control. She starts slow. Light kisses again and again on Buffy’s lips, her cheeks, her chin. She takes it a little further, sucking on Buffy’s lower lip, running her tongue along it.

Buffy’s groan, accompanied by a subtle shift in her hips. It makes Faith want. Her one hand is lost in Buffy’s hair. The other pressing hard against Buffy’s back, pulling her in, finding its way under her camisole. She pushes her tongue into Buffy’s mouth, insistent. Buffy growls and accepts it, offering her own in exchange. Hands are grasping, pulling. Faith feels the heat and need gathering in her chest, making it hard to think, to slow down.

Faith pulls away, breathing hard. She can’t possibly explain, make it sound the way she means it. Instead she smiles, touches Buffy’s face. Kisses her again with that feeling she doesn’t understand.

Buffy’s not having any of it. She leans up on her knees, and swiftly straddles Faith before there can be any protest. Pressing her body close, feeling Faith against her under the thin layers of fabric between them. She’s not going to take over, not going to wrest control from her. Buffy knows that would be stupid and dangerous. But she’s not letting go now. Never letting go.

She kisses Faith hard and fervently, making her position clear. She raises her arms and pulls her top up and off in one smooth motion, flinging it away. The look in Faith’s eyes softens her next kiss, makes it tender instead of insistent. Still deep, still searching, but in a different way.

It’s not fear in Faith’s eyes; it’s wonder. Confusion, mixed with lust and some disbelief. But Buffy is kissing her. She’s feeling Buffy’s skin against her. It’s real and it’s happening and in returning the kiss her disbelief is swallowed up and forgotten.

They mingle their bodies, Faith gently laying Buffy back. There’s nothing frantic about it. They don’t tear at each other’s clothes, or grope at each other’s flesh. They uncover each other with reverence, taking time to carefully explore each new place, each new feeling. Every touch is forgiveness, understanding; a dialogue between two people who no longer need words to communicate.

And at last, there’s nothing between them. Faith pulls Buffy close, feeling that delicious contact of skin to skin. The warmth of Buffy’s body against hers starts a shiver inside. Buffy’s hands calm her, settling at the small of her back, pushing it away.

They kiss. The bursting, never-ending, intense and compulsive sort of kiss.

Faith’s hand slides down Buffy’s cheek, down across her neck and shoulder, to her breast. She cups it in her hand. Feels the nipple rise up against her palm. With a moan, she slips down and nibbles gently at Buffy’s ear, flicking her tongue out against her neck, sucking light on her skin.

“Ohhh…” Buffy didn’t mean to let that out. But Faith’s fingers just pinched her nipple and she couldn’t stop it.

She also didn’t mean to grind her hips up against Faith’s knee. Or to cling so desperately, or to want this much.

Faith’s dark hair tickles her skin. It drapes across her, as Faith moves quickly to envelop Buffy’s nipple in her mouth. Sucking light, nipping with her teeth. Buffy can’t hold back and she bucks her hips, needing something to touch or to feel or to kiss.

Her hands explore, running up and down Faith’s back, trailing her nails with every pass. She slides one hand in between their bodies, searching for Faith’s breast. Faith should feel what she’s feeling.

Faith gasps as Buffy’s fingers squeeze and roll against her nipple. It’s a light touch, barely there. But to Faith it feels like everything and she pushes herself against it.

“I can’t reach you.” Buffy’s voice is pouty. “Come back up here.”

“I can reach you though.” Faith runs her hand along the length of Buffy’s body. Feeling the tight muscles of her stomach, the slightly too raised hipbone.

“Please…” Buffy tries not to sound pleading. “I need…”

Faith relents, and slides herself up. She’s rewarded with kisses, soft and intimate. These light kisses turn quickly into heavy, searing attacks as Faith tickles along Buffy’s trimmed blonde hairs.

Buffy wraps one arm around Faith’s neck, pulling her in as close and kissing her as deeply as she can. She opens up. Letting Faith in. Her free hand grips hard at Faith’s hip. Her breath catches. Her body tenses.

Faith is inside her. Fingers exploring, finding the places that make her cry out. The places that make her shiver. Buffy fights to keep her hips from dancing, her mind from thinking things that might break everything apart. And she wants to touch…

Faith breaks the kiss, breathing in sharply. It’s all too fast. Faster than she’d ever dreamed, awake or asleep. Buffy’s at the edge, she can tell. But she knows she can’t tease. Not this time. Not the first time.

“I want so badly to make this pure for you.” Faith’s thought comes out in words before she can stop it. Make it sound less painfully tender.

“It is.” Buffy feels the lump starting at her throat. But there will be no more tears today. “We are.”

The look on Faith’s face as it changes from an earnest serious look to a soft dimpled grin; it makes Buffy want to show her. That it’s for both of them.

The hand that was grasping at Faith’s hip moves quickly around and between. Buffy knows she can’t push, can’t just assume. She rests her hand there, gentle against the delicate silky skin, waiting for a sign.

She doesn’t wait long. Faith presses hard against her. Buffy feels her hand slick with the wetness that’s escaping. She uses it to slip between the last barrier between them. To slip inside and finally have everything Faith has always offered.

They move together, with a synchronicity they’ve only ever found in each other. It pulls them in and lays them bare. What they denied for so long, fought desperately to destroy, killed and mourned and died over, has become a blessing. Their bond. Their connection.

Almost too soon, they find themselves over the edge. Buffy first, shuddering and grasping at skin with her nails, squeezing with strong thighs. Faith follows soon after, biting Buffy’s shoulder to muffle her ragged moans. Both clutching the other a frenzy of longing finally given form and feeling and fulfillment.

Faith drops weakly down to the bed, feeling every muscle ache, every drip of sweat on her body. She lands on an equally exhausted Buffy, who wraps a lazy arm around Faith’s back. Buffy gathers her remaining strength, and curls herself into the warmth of Faith’s body. They don’t sleep right away. They let their minds wander, occasionally voicing the random thoughts that pop into their heads. Teasing and nuzzling and caressing until they both drift into sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33: If You Leave

“You’re sure?” Giles peers down at Kennedy from atop his new glasses.

“I don’t know anything for sure.” Kennedy rolls her eyes, un-crosses her legs. “But it’s got to be better than this.”

“There isn’t much time.” Giles reminds her. Fiddles with the paperweight on his desk.

“Sooner the better.” Kennedy stands up. “Before I can change my mind.”

So, you’re sure?” Andrew can’t help but think it’s too good to be true.

“I’m not sure about anything.” Dawn sighs. “But I think it’s the right thing.”

“There’s not much time, you know.” Andrew fidgets. “It’s soon.”

“The sooner the better.” Dawn nods, her decision made.

Giles rifles through his desk. The chaos has returned to his small corner of the castle, and it seems he’s lost a very important address.

“Am I interrupting?” Dr. Amani smiles at him through the open door.

His irritation dissipates almost immediately, the hunt abandoned and forgotten.

“Not at all.” Giles rushes to the chair opposite his desk, quickly gathering up the parchments and books scattered on the seat. Once it’s acceptably empty, he offers it to her.

“Thank you.” Adia sits gracefully down.

“Sorry about the state of, well… erm… everything.” Giles steps back behind his desk, pulling on the hem of his shirt. Runs his fingers through his hair. “It’s been a bit hectic…”

“So I have heard.” Adia looks at him with affection. “Everyone coming to my office has tales of long days and little sleep. It is an epidemic.”

Giles turns to face her. He thinks she looks strangely at home amongst his collection of rare and precious artifacts. She is most definitely as beautiful. He realizes that he’s thinking this, and his face becomes flushed with red. He looks to the floor.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Dr. Amani?” Giles manages to refrain from stuttering. Avoiding eye contact seems to be the key.

“You mentioned yesterday that you had something in your possession that I would find most intriguing.” Adia turns her head to look around her. “I see now that you have many things that fall into that category.”

“Ah, the particular item I was referring to…” Giles flits around his office, looking through every drawer, scattering every shelf. “…it’s something quite…” He turns in mid-sentence, hurrying back to his desk. He disappears behind it. “…I had hoped you would… ah here it is!” Giles pops up, holding his treasure aloft in his hand.

Adia stands, intrigued.

He hands it to her, still wrapped in its fragile brown paper. Rocking expectantly on the balls of his feet as she unwraps it.

“This is from my village.” Adia is too overwhelmed to do more than whisper. “How did you… This is…”

“I believe so.” Giles lowers his voice to match hers. “Our people caught up to it in Mek’ele. Once I knew what it was, I had them send it here.”

Adia looks over the small earthenware pot, cracked in places but still retaining its graceful form. Tracing her hands over the tribal designs she hasn’t seen since childhood.

“I think you should have it.” Giles can’t look at her. He knows this should be a private moment.

“Oh, I can’t…” Adia can’t look away from it. “It should be in a museum. I…”

“I believe that some things aren’t meant to be gawked at from behind glass. Dr. Amani.” Giles takes off his glasses. “And I have done enough research to know that it does in fact belong to you.”

Adia looks up sharply.

“You are the last in the lineage.” Giles says simply.

“Who else knows about this?” Adia asks carefully.

“Nobody.” Giles replaces his glasses. “The artifact came to me. I have not spoken to anyone about it, and don’t plan to.”

“Thank you, Mr. Giles.” Adia looks relieved. “For everything.”

“Now, I do believe it’s time for lunch.” Giles reaches for his jacket.

“You are quite right.” Adia places the priceless object reverently on Giles’ desk. “I shall come back for that after I have made a safe place for it. I am in your debt Mr. Giles.”

“I’m certain we can come up with something to even the score.” Giles purses his lips to cover a thin smile. “For starters, you could honour me with your presence in the dining hall.”

Adia smiles, nodding.

“After you,” Giles moves to the door, waiting at the threshold. He smiles boyishly, extending his arm. “Your Highness.”

“Really, Mr. Giles!” Adia swats his arm. “How do expect to keep my secrets if you cannot stop teasing?”

“By hiding you in plain sight,” Giles waits for her to finally take his arm. “Princess.”

“That is Doctor Princess to you.”

Buffy rolls over, pulling the sheets up over shoulder. The bed is too cold, and too big. And too empty. She verifies her aloneness with a half opened eye. Pouting, she sits up. Runs her tongue along her teeth. Yanking her fingers through the tangles in her hair.

Making a mental note to discuss her morning-after-the-first-time abandonment issues with Faith, she drags herself out of bed. Yawning, she tiptoes to the bathroom, hugging her naked self. It’s cold this morning.

A few moments later, she pads back into the bedroom, her mouth filled with foam and a pink Kim Possible toothbrush. She roots through her backpack for her gym gear. Her eyes happen to pass over the alarm clock. It takes almost a full thirteen seconds for the information to reach from her eyes to her brain. Then she panics.

“Eleven thirty-two?” Buffy dumps the contents of the bag onto the bed. “I’m dead.”

No workout clothes. No clothes at all. Not even a sock. She’d been so tired last night.

“I’m so dead!” Buffy throws the backpack to the floor. Looks around frantically. She was wearing clothes when she came in here last night. They have to be around somewhere.

She searches the floor. Under the bed, the bathroom. The dresser and the closet. Pulling and yanking at anything in her way.

“I get it now. We had sex! Obviously Faith’s gone evil. It’s the only explanation.” Buffy talks to herself, yanking the chair so hard it topples. “She hid my clothes and left me here to make me late! And naked… a-and insane!”

Huffing, Buffy rips the sheets off the bed. Lifts her pillow, throwing it across the room. Wrenches Faith’s pillow from the bed.

A tiny white flutter.

Buffy grabs at it. Unscrunches it. There’s words scrawled on one side, barely legible.


Don’t freak. Figured you could use a day off. I got you covered.

Meet me after?

Buffy stares down at it. She frowns. It’s definitely not Shakespeare, which is good because Buffy never understood all that weird rhyming stuff. But there’s something about it. Buffy’s sure it means more than just what it says. Only, she can’t figure it out. She sighs. Might as well be Shakespeare.

Buffy folds the note in half. It can’t really fold more than that anyway. She should put it away somewhere. Not a pocket, since she’s all naked. She looks around...

Buffy gapes at the chaos she’s created.

“I’m so, so dead!”

“When were you going to tell me?” Willow is on the verge of tears.

“Once there was something to tell.” Kennedy’s not going to cave in. “Now there is, so I’m telling.”

“But… but this is a talking thing! Not a telling thing.” Willow gets indignant. “You don’t just wake up one day and decide something like this! There’s supposed to be this whole part before that where you, oh, I dunno, maybe talk about it with YOUR GIRLFRIEND!”

“I know it’s not fair to you.” Kennedy doesn’t raise her voice to match Willow’s. “But I have to do this…”

“See, again with the ‘I have to’ and the ‘I’m going to’ and the ‘me, me, me’ that is you!” Willow is crying and yelling. “We’re supposed to be a ‘we’! Or an ‘us’. I’m confused as to which one right now cos I’m just that angry!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Kennedy looks it, too. “I’m doing everything wrong… Saying everything wrong.”

“How else could you have said it?” Willow gives up on yelling. Concentrates on crying. “So, about the many, many years of togetheriness? It’s not really working for me, and I can’t stand to be around you anymore so I’m gonna go far, far away for a long, long time. No hard feelings?”

Kennedy stares at her for a second, stunned. Then rushes over to the bed and wraps her arms around Willow, holding her tight.

“Willow, I’m not breaking up with you!” Kennedy wipes tears from her lover’s eyes. “I could never…”

“But you’ve been so...” Willow won’t let herself hope. “And things have been kinda…”

“I know.” Kennedy sighs, loosening her hold on Willow just enough to see her face. “That’s why I have to go. I can’t be here anymore. It’s… too much.”

“You could try.”

“I have been.” Kennedy reacts to the disbelief on Willow’s face. “Will, I’ve been trying every day. I thought things were getting better… but they’re not. Every day, it’s like… suffocating, you know? Everything’s pushing in on me, and I can’t breathe. I don’t trust myself to lead my team. And I don’t trust myself… with you.”

“With me?” Willow’s head unburies itself from Kennedy’s shoulder. “You would never do anything to…”

“Hurt you?” Kennedy raises a brow. “I’ve been hurting you. In all the ways that matter, and I don’t even know I’m doing it until after I’ve done it. And I don’t want to do it anymore.”

“But…” Willow feels small. “But… what if you go away and forget all about me?”

“Never happen.” Kennedy turns Willow to face her. Locks into her eyes. “Never.”

Kennedy pulls her in, kissing her tear-stained cheeks. Kissing her trembling lips.

Willow’s arms fling themselves around Kennedy’s neck. Willow pushes herself against Kennedy’s body. She’s been starved for so long, that now she’s had a taste she can’t help but gorge herself. She reaches for the hem of Kennedy’s shirt.

“Never ever?” Willow needs to know.

Kennedy pushes Willow down on the bed. Lifts Willow’s skirt up above her thighs. Runs a hand heavily over the bare skin she hasn’t dared touch in weeks. Hooks her forefinger into the waistband of the sensible cotton underwear hiding under the pleated fabric. Pulls gently, one side then the other. Willow lifts up, and Kennedy slides them off.

Kennedy leans in to kiss Willow’s thigh. To kiss and lick and nibble at the ticklish spots, and to move closer to the place they both want her to be. Without looking up, without stopping, she murmurs.

“Never, ever.”

“Did you know about this?” Buffy accuses.

“Andrew brought it to my attention this morning.” Giles responds sternly. “I agree with him, much as it pains me to say it. I think it would do her a world of good.”

“Hello? I’m actually in the room, you know! And also,” Dawn crosses her arms. “Not needing anyone’s permission.”

“Technically, you need mine.” Giles leans on his desk. “All transfers go through me.”

“Good.” Dawn turns to her sister. “See? I’m going.”

“Not yet, you’re not.” Buffy puts her hands on her hips. “I’m not gonna let you go marching off to god knows where, doing god knows what, with… with… god knows who!”

“Um… Rome, research, Andrew.” Dawn raises her brow. “Ooh! Does that make me God? Because of the… knowing?” Dawn looks at them hopefully. They don’t seem amused. “Guess not.”

“Since I don’t seem to be required for this… conversation, I’ll let myself out.” Giles gathers a few things. “Try not to destroy anything valuable.”

“Fine! Go!” Buffy sulks after Giles. “See if I’m around to help next time you need a… a helpy thing!”

Giles doesn’t even look back.

Buffy turns to glare at Dawn.

“See? You upset Giles!” Buffy accuses.

“Oh, grow up.” Dawn rolls her eyes.

“You... you grow up!” Buffy retorts.

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” Dawn throws her arms in the air. “See the world, do things on my own. Make friends… have a life!”

“You can do that here!” Buffy isn’t thinking. She’s just yelling.

Dawn gives her an incredulous look.

Buffy sees it. Thinks about it. Her face gets sad.

“No, you can’t.” Buffy deflates.

“I really, really can’t.” Dawn tries to be gentle.

Buffy’s arms are crossed so hard. Her head hangs down, hair falling over her face.

“Hey, are you crying?” Dawn moves in. Wraps a gangly arm around her sister’s shoulder. “Don’t do that. Crying is for wimps.”

“So’s leaving.” Buffy’s not gracious. She sniffs. “Jerk.”

“Wuss.” Dawn pushes the hair out of Buffy’s eyes. “Besides, you should be happy about this.”

“Oh yeah?” Buffy rubs her eyes with her sleeve. “Why’s that?”

“You can visit me!” Dawn shakes Buffy. “Think of the culture! And the food. And the shopping!”

“Ooooh.” Buffy’s eyes glaze a bit. She’s elsewhere for a little while. “And the shopping!”

“Yeah.” Dawn shakes her head. “And that.”

Buffy smiles her wry smile. Puts her arms lazily around Dawn’s shoulders.

“You think we can hang out while you’re still here?” Buffy gives Dawn a little squeeze. Steps back.

“Sure!” Dawn smiles. “How about now? There’s a chick flick playing in town.”

“I’m up for some girlie action…” Buffy hears what she just said. Frowns a little. “And you… don’t know how true that really is.”

Dawn raises a questioning brow.

“Okay, I’ll tell you…” Buffy has a caveat. “But no gagging…”

“Why would I do that?” Dawn’s confused. They walk together down the hall.

“Because every time I say anything about sex…”

“Gyeah.” Dawn shivers. It’s involuntary.

“See?” Buffy accuses.


“Sex.” Buffy experiments.

“H-ukkkk.” Dawn gags.

“Writhing, naked, sweaty, sex-having me.” Buffy pokes Dawn in the shoulder with every word.

“Oh, I’m gonna be sick.” Dawn heaves. “Stop it!”

“Fine.” Buffy taunts. “If you can’t handle it, I won’t tell you what happened last night.”

Dawn gulps, working to recover from her nausea. She can sense juicy gossip.

“I’ll try, I promise!” Dawn tugs on Buffy’s sleeve. “Sisters don’t keep secrets! C’mon…”

Buffy keeps walking, grinning from ear to ear.

“That’s not fair!” Dawn takes two long strides to catch up. “You can’t just…”

“Sex!” Buffy raises her hand.

“Ughhh.” Dawn’s stomach turns.

Buffy giggles.

Xander hurries down the hall. Some clean clothes, some hygiene products, maybe the tiniest of tiny dabs of cologne. That’s all that stands between him and bliss. Bliss being defined as private snuggles with Renee in the media room. He finagled that with only two bribes and some wheedling.

“It’s good to be king.” Xander is proud of his abuse of power. “Big screen, big burger, and big boobie- Er, love. Yes, big love… Oh hi Willow!” Xander covers his almost-blunder with more talking. “I didn’t see you standing there. But there you are, at my door… standing.”

“Hi.” Willow gives him a feeble smile.

“What’s up with the sad face?” Xander opens his door. “Anything I can help with, in say, thirty seconds or less?”

“Kennedy’s leaving.” Willow follows him in. Sits on his bed. “Not me, but here.”

“So what’s the big? Anywhere she goes, you just...” Xander searches his closet for the grey shirt. It has a collar. He grabs it and snaps his fingers in a ‘like that’ gesture. “And you’re in Kennedy’s personal space.”

“I know.” Willow sighs. Leans back on the bed. Gets comfy. “I just can’t help… I’m feeling blue, Xander. Cobalt, even.”

Xander throws the shirt beside her and rushes to the bathroom. Leaves the door open.

“Will, you’re adorable in blue.” Xander lathers his face. Reaches for his razor. “Basically, you’ve got a big need to fix. Kennedy’s gone and gotten herself a little cracked, and you feel guilty that you’re not her superglue.”

“I should be her glue!” Willow sits up, teary eyed and defiant. “We should be sticking together! Not wandering off all willy-nilly, in little Willow and Kennedy pieces! That’s too many little fragments, and what if you can’t find the little part that makes the seam disappear…”

“Sorry.” Xander pops his head out. “No time for the rambling portion of the conversation. Pass me that shirt?”

“Oh.” Willow picks it up. Tosses it to him. “I think I cried on it, just a little…”

Xander holds it up. Just a couple small spots. They’ll dry. He puts it on. Steps out of the bathroom.

“You look nice.” Willow admits grudgingly.

“Ah-thank you!” Xander grins. “Now as to your adhesive issues. Sometimes…” He works through the analogy. “Let’s say you got two pieces of wood, and you realize that they fit together perfectly. But what keeps them together?”

“Not me, obviously.” Willow mutters.

“You know how interruptions distract me.” Xander scolds her. “Where was I?”

“I’ve got wood.” Willow rolls her eyes.

“Um… How about you never say that again?” Xander refrains from looking to check. “So you’ve got these two pieces, and they fit together. To make them stick, it takes time and energy and effort and both pieces have to...”

“I do that!” Willow argues.

“I know.” Xander runs his fingers through his hair, a tad frustrated. A carefully sculpted lock falls over his forehead. “Will, you’re not the glue. You were never the glue. You’re not supposed to be the glue!”

Willow’s face contorts from confused, to thoughtful, to understanding.

“Ohhh.” Willow smiles up at him. “I get it! I’m not the glue!”

“Good!” Xander pulls her up by her shoulders. “Come on.”

He escorts her out into the hall. Gives her a quick hug.

“Now, all better?” He asks sincerely.

Willow’s not looking at him. She’s sputtering and pointing down at the end of the hall.

His eyes follow her arm. They bug out a little.

Buffy’s back is against the wall. Faith is leaning in hard, pushing against her. Mouths and tongues colliding at a frantic pace. Buffy’s legs wrap around Faith’s waist. Faith’s hand holding her up from underneath, the other fumbling at the door. They push through to Buffy’s room and disappear from sight.

Xander blinks.

“Well… That happened.” Willow composes herself.

“Yes indeedy, it did.” Xander coughs.

“About damn time.” Willow smiles.

Xander can’t tear his eyes away.

“Hey!” Willow nudges him.

“Hmmm?” Xander turns to her. Sees her frowny face. “Oh, right. All better?”

“Yes.” Willow kisses his cheek. Gives him a shove. “Now, go be with your boobie-love.”

“Uhmm…” Xander blushes. Grins like a kid. “Okay.”

She watches him race down the hall.

“Xander?” Willow calls after him.

“Huh?” He turns.

“We’re the wood, right?” Willow asks. “Me and Kennedy? We’re the wood?”

Xander laughs. A nod and a wave. Then he’s gone.

Willow breathes in. Breathes out. She feels lighter.

She stands straight for the first time in a long time.


Chapter Text

“Buffy!” Giles catches up to her in the hall. “I’d like to run something past you.”

“Can you walk it past me?” Buffy stops, leaning against the wall. “I’m feeling a little slow.”

“If you like the idea, I’ll announce it at lunch.” Giles flips through his agenda. “Give everyone some time.”

“Time to do what, exactly?” Buffy furrows her brow.

“Find a date, obviously.” Giles twitches his lip. “One can’t have a Valentine’s Day Dance without dance partners.”

“Valentine’s Day? Already?” Buffy blinks. Calculates. Then squints at him suspiciously. “Who are you and what have you done with Giles?”

“I assure you Buffy, I am myself.” Giles raises his brow. “Our morale needs boosting. Our spirits need lifting. The bonds that keep us together need to be reinforced!” He pumps his arm with enthusiasm.

“And from my experience with teenaged girls,” Giles gives her a fatherly smile. “Whatever they may be up against, nothing will keep them from a good party.”

“I didn’t know I was such a good influence.” Buffy smiles up at him affectionately. She allows herself a moment to reminisce. “It’s a great idea.”

“Excellent.” Giles adjusts his glasses. “I’ll get on it then.”

“Who is she?” Buffy tilts her head. “The one that’s got you all about the cupids and the cinnamon hearts?”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” Giles backs away down the hall in a hurry. “Very busy. Must go.”

Buffy gives the wall a conspiratory look. “There is so totally a ‘she’.”

Kennedy pulls the rental car up to the curb. Checks the address Giles gave her against the number marked sloppily on the bricks in faded white paint. Satisfied, she steps out of the car. Hits the lock button twice to hear the short beep of confirmation. Squinting against the flickering floodlight, she walks up the unkempt path and into the lobby. Studies the ancient intercom. Finally she finds the right button, and presses it.

“Who’s that then?” The voice is gruff, and male.

“My name is Kennedy…”

“We don’t want any.” He cuts her off. “Clear off!”

She presses the button again.

“Go away!”

“Listen! You called us, buddy!” Kennedy spouts off before he can hang up again.

She waits. The only answer she gets is a light click. He’s unlocked the door.

Kennedy takes the stairs two at a time.

Reaching the apartment door, she finds it open. The smell of musty air and grease hang heavy. The lights are all off, or they haven’t paid the electric bill in a while.

“Hello?” Kennedy pushes the door open, and the light from the hall spills in. “Mr. Laramie?”

She takes a step into the foyer.

“He’s gone to his room.” A quiet voice from the darkness.

“Brigitte?” Kennedy takes another step. “My name’s…”

“You’re from that place.” The voice wavers. “You’re here to take me away. They said… they take freaks like me and they…”

“You’re not a freak.” Kennedy peers into the dark. Finds a shape. “You’re special. And I won’t take you anywhere you don’t want to go.”

The shape takes a step forward, becoming a girl about the age of thirteen. Long mousy brown hair, too skinny to be pretty. She holds her arm across her with one hand. She won’t look up.

“When did it start?” Kennedy tries to build a connection.

“’bout three weeks ago.” Brigitte stares down, shifting on her feet. “My mate at school, he pushed me. I-I pushed back. He just… flew!”

“Is he alright?” Kennedy has to ask.

“He didn’t even bleed. He was just angry because he cried.” Brigitte scoffs. Then gets uncomfortable. “But his parents made a big thing of it… and now… Everyone’s afraid of me. Even me Dad…”

“Your father, is he…” Kennedy doesn’t know how to be tactful about this. “Does he… hurt you?”

“No! Never!” Brigitte’s eyes get watery. “He l-loves me… we used to go out, have a laugh. But now…”

“He ignores you.” Kennedy growls.

“Yeah.” Brigitte’s tears start their downward journey.

“Hey…” Kennedy takes one step, reaching for her hand. “I’m starved. Let’s you and me go grab some food. Talk about some stuff.”

Brigitte looks down the dark hall, fixed on the closed door at the end.

“We can bring something back for him, if you want.” Kennedy offers. “My treat.”

Brigitte smiles. Just a little lift at the corners of her mouth. Her bony fingers land gently in Kennedy’s palm.

It’s enough for Kennedy. She grins back.

“You have enough stakes?” Buffy flits from the window to the bed.

“Yes.” Faith rolls her eyes. Finishes tucking her pant leg into her boot.

“How about the scythe? Is it sharp?” Buffy reaches for it.

“It’s magic! Of course it’s sharp!” Faith holds it up over Buffy’s head. Points at the bed. “Go. Sit.”

Buffy sits on the bed, knitting her fingers into knots.

“What about your team? Are they ready?” Buffy’s brows gather in the centre of her forehead. “A sloppy team makes for sloppy slayage. I should tag along. Watch your back.”

Buffy stands up. Faith walks over, pushes her in the chest. She falls back down with a bounce.

“It’s a routine patrol. Nothing I can’t handle.” Faith stares her down. Turns back to her weaponry. “With my luck, it’ll be a quiet night.”

“Aha! You’re going looking for badness!” Buffy leaps up, beginning to pace. “You’re gonna jump in without thinking! You’re gonna put yourself in danger! God, you’re gonna get yourself…”

“That’s it!” Faith storms back to Buffy. Grabs her firmly with both arms. “Get a grip, B. Right now!”

“I’m gripping!” Buffy struggles. “I’m gripping the fact that you’re so eager for some action that you don’t care if… mfffff!”

Faith’s put her in a headlock. One had firmly over Buffy’s mouth.

“Back in the day, I’d have hit ya. And you’d have bitten my hand off by now.” Faith whispers, chuckling. “I’d say we’ve both grown.”

Faith moves Buffy against the wall. Turns her around, facing her. Keeps her hand over Buffy’s mouth.

“Now, here’s the deal.” Faith looks into Buffy’s eyes. “I’m gonna go out on my patrol. When I come back without a scratch, you’re gonna never worry about this with me again.”

“Bu-hfff!” Buffy tries to argue. The hand says no.

“No buts!” Faith takes a step back, leaving Buffy free to scowl. “We do what we do. No point in working yourself up about it. Whatever this is, it can’t touch us.”

“How can you…” Buffy wants to scream. Which makes her want to cry.

“No.” Faith cups Buffy’s chin. Flexes her thumb over the soft skin. “This ends now.”

Faith gives Buffy a lopsided grin. Grabs up a set of knives, tucking them in her belt.

“Later!” Faith saunters toward the exit.

“Faith!” Buffy shouts after her.

“First rule.” Faith pauses at the door. “I remember.”

Buffy rewards her with a rough smile. It’s real but filled with worry.

She watches Faith go. Long after the door has closed and the sound of footsteps have echoed away.

She sits on the bed. Stares at the ceiling.

“Don’t die.”

Willow hops nervously at the entrance to the dining hall. Her eyes flit from one end of the room to the other. Her hands, damp and itchy, rub against the ice blue fabric of her dress.

“Look at us!” Buffy walks up behind her. “All gussied up, with no dates in sight. Memories of high school. They should bottle it… and unh, bury it somewhere. Cos really, nobody wants that.”

“Wow, Buffy!” Willow takes in the sight of her friend. “You look amazing!”

Buffy fiddles with the chain of her bracelet. Looks down at the slinky, pale gray dress she’d agonized over for the past week. She smiles, checking out her friend.

“Thanks Will. You look pretty amazing yourself.” Buffy touches Willow’s dress. “Silk? I love silk!”

“Uh-huh, for all the good it’s doing.” Willow frowns. Takes another look around.

“Ahh. No Kennedy, no happies for Willow.” Buffy leans against the wall. “She’ll show. She’d be crazy not to want to be rubbing up against you in that dress.”

“Buffy!” Willow looks down, embarrassed. But smiles at the compliment.

“C’mon, Will. That was tame.” Buffy teases. “That was like, the PG version of what I was gonna say.”

“Faith is a bad influence on you.” Willow scolds.

“Am I rubbing you the wrong way?” Buffy stops to giggle. “You think Faith’s rubbing off on me?”

“Buffy!” Willow turns a deep and interesting shade of red. “Enough with the… rubbing!”

“But I have more!” Buffy starts to elaborate.

“Punch?” Willow hastily tries to distract Buffy with liquid refreshment.

“Sure.” It works.

Willow grabs two cups. They stand awkwardly and silently, staring out at the people starting to file in. Minutes tick by.

“Oh god. We’re those girls.” Buffy gasps.

“What girls?” Willow doesn’t know.

“Those girls that can’t function in social settings without our dates!” Buffy is horrified.

“Oh, you mean those girls that hang out by the refreshment table so they don’t look like…” Willow’s eyes bulge. “…total losers!”

“Exactly!” Buffy shrieks.

“We can’t be those girls!” Willow denies. “We hated those girls!”

“I know!” Buffy’s incredulous. She bangs her paper cup down for effect.

“All dependent on their men.” Willow agrees. “Waiting for their stupid boyfriends to show up and validate their existences…”

“Ladies!” Xander walks up to them, open armed.

“We don’t need you!” Willow points at him. “We’re perfectly valid on our own, you know!”

Xander opens his mouth, about to ask for an explanation. Then he just shrugs, lowers his arms and turns. He walks into the crowd.

“You sure told him.” Buffy nods.

“Damn skippy.” Willow puts her hands on her hips.

The silence between them starts off comfortable. Grows large and cumbersome. The weight of it finally gets to them.

“Xander!” In unison, they both rush off to find him.

“You cost me ten bucks.” Xander whispers into Buffy’s ear.

“Then you and Willow should stop betting on my love life.” Buffy smirks.

“And Kennedy.” Xander gestures to an out of the way table, where Willow and Kennedy are happily smooching away.

“Kennedy?” Buffy shakes her head. “You guys suck.”

Xander spins her out and pulls her back. It’s rather elegant.

“Happy?” It’s all that matters to him.

“I would be if she’d get here.” Buffy looks out over Xander’s shoulder.

“I’m singing the same song.” Xander grins his sloppy grin. “Renee’s on the late shift.”

“I’m glad you guys worked it out.” Buffy lays her head on his shoulder. “She’s good for you.”

“Truer words were never… Hey!” Xander objects to the arm forcefully pulling him away. Until he sees who it is.

“Hey yourself.” Faith wraps an arm around Buffy’s waist. Whispers in her ear. “Wicked dress.”

“Thanks.” Buffy blushes down to her toes. “You too… I mean… You look…”

“Hot.” Xander speaks the truth.

“I thought so.” Faith grins, looking down at her black pinstripe trousers, heeled boots and loose backless v-neck.

“Modesty,” Xander pecks her on the cheek before she can step away. “Such an attractive quality.”

“Eyes front, Harris!” Renee spins him around.

“Yes, ma’am.” Xander gives his girl a quick kiss. “Although technically I can only obey half that order.”

“Details, details.” Renee pulls him away. Turns to the girls. “I’m stealing him. See ya!”

“Later!” Faith rolls her eyes.

“Speaking of late-itude…” Buffy inquires. “Why are you?”

“Had a thing.” Faith pulls Buffy close. “You’ll forgive me.”

“Unless it involves many feet rubbings and chocolate feedings,” Buffy warns. “I wouldn’t be too sure.”

“You won’t stay mad.” Faith pulls Buffy to the dance floor. “Trust me.”

Buffy does.

Giles watches the crowd. He sips delicately at the overly sweet punch, eyes wandering from face to face. Catches movement at the open entrance. A man in a dark tuxedo. A young woman, breathtaking in a slim black dress. Her short boyish hair wavy and dark. Clearing his throat, he makes his move.

“Ah, Mr. Campbell. Delighted you could make it.” Giles grabs his hand, shaking it enthusiastically. His smile a little too wide. “How are things at the bookstore?”

“Ach, same as ever! Little mongrels coming in, messing about. All mooning over this Twilight fella. Ruddy sparkling vampires, have ye ever heard such a load of nonsense?” Mr. Campbell wipes at a red stain on his white shirt. “Have ye met my grandson, Colin?”

A tall, chiseled young man strides up behind them.

“Colin, I presume.” Giles reaches for his hand.

“Aye.” The boy takes it, gripping hard. “Thank ye for the invitation.”

“It’s nothing, really.” Giles winces, taking his hand back and shaking out the pain. He spots the couple from before, and steers the Campbells in their direction.

“Dawn!” Giles calls out. The woman in black turns.

“Hey Giles!” Dawn grins. “This is awesome! Did you see my dress? Andrew and I were shopping for days and then I saw this and it was all over.”

“I already had this.” Andrew steps up from behind her, fidgeting in his tuxedo. “I wanted Timothy Dalton from License to Kill, but Massimo said…”

“Dawn,” Giles makes the introductions. “This is Mr. Campbell and his son Colin.”

“Hiya-yaahhh…” Dawn notices Colin. Her eyelids flutter. She stands up straighter. Extends her hand.

“This is the lovely lass I was telling you about.” Mr. Campbell ribs his son. “More hours in the bookstore, m’boy! Told ye it’d do ye good!”

Dawn smiles shyly. Colin returns it for a moment, taking her hand and bowing to kiss it.

“Like father, like son.” Dawn murmurs, blushing lightly.

“Now, dear. Has Colin told ye that he’s away at college?” Mr. Campbell asks, dragging the two young people aside. “No? Come on lad! No need to be shy…”

“Andrew, could I have a word.” Giles escorts Andrew a few feet away.

“I’m supposed to stay with Dawn.” Andrew eyes the refreshment table. “She’s my date.”

“Yes.” Giles takes off his glasses. Pulls the handkerchief from his breast pocket. Wipes down the lenses. Places both in his pocket. “Regarding that.”

Giles leans in.

“There is something I wish to explain to you. I would very much like it if you remained silent for the entirety of the conversation, unless you are asked a direct question.”

Andrew looks up. Notices that a small crowd has gathered behind Giles. He points.

“I am aware.” Giles steps back.

“What are your intentions toward Dawn?” Buffy steps in, arms crossed.

“I love Dawn!” Andrew protests. “She’s smart like Willow, and funny like Xander, and cool like Faith, and brave like you! But she’s better, cos she doesn’t gang up on me or ignore me…”

“You’re right.” Willow steps up. “Dawn is the best part of us. And we would hate to see her in trouble, or in pain.”

“Right. Because there’s this thing I like to call…” Xander steps in, pausing for dramatic effect. “The Chain of Pain.”

Andrew gulps.

“Dawn gets hurt? That makes us all hurt.” Xander comes threateningly close. “And you know what happens next?”

“I hope nothing with blood.” Andrew closes his eyes. “Blood makes me queasy.”

“Then you’d best take special care of her while she’s under your charge.” Giles gives him a menacing glare.

“Because I hear even a whisper about something happening to Dawn?” Faith gives her best psycho impression. “A hang nail, even. I’m coming to bring the pain right to your door.”

“We’re all coming.” Willow smiles. “Remember the last time I got miffed at you?”

“Was that a direct question?” Andrew shakes in his Italian boots.

“I believe that was rhetorical.” Giles looks back at Dawn. She seems fairly distracted by Colin’s broad shoulders. “This is not. Do you comprehend what we’re telling you?”

Andrew pauses. A glimmer of understanding reaches his face.

“I think I do.” Andrew stands up straight. “You’re trusting me. And you’re worried. But I’ll take care of her, I promise.”

Buffy steps up, her lips raised in a smile that’s both sad and grateful.

“Thank you, Andrew.” She puts out her hand. She expects him to shake it.

Instead he raises it to his lips.

“Non è affatto, mia ragazza.” Andrew smiles proudly.

“Um, ew!” Buffy yanks her hand back. The group of them start to walk away.

“Remember!” Xander feels unfulfilled. He turns back for one last glare. “Chain of Pain!”

“It’s over, Xander.” Willow pushes him away.

“You guys can still come visit!” Andrew calls after them as they disperse.

“What was that all about?” Adia gestures behind Giles.

“Oh, nothing really.” Giles smiles briefly, gathering more sickening punch into a paper cup. “Small unh… personal matter to attend to.”

“I see.” Adia holds out her empty cup.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” Giles fills the cup, careful not to spill.

“I am. Very much.” Adia takes a sip. It’s much too sweet. “Although I do feel a bit out of place. The music… is… how do I say…”

“Abhorrent?” Giles helps. “Ghastly?”

“I was not going to say that!” Adia laughs. “I might have thought it. But I wasn’t going to say it.”

“Well, let’s see what we can do about it.” Giles puts his drink down. Strides over to the booth and has a word with the D.J.

Adia watches him flip through the young man’s collection of CD’s. He pulls one out, presses it into the man’s hands. It looks as though Giles is giving him a stern talking to. The D.J., looking suitably terrified, clutches the disk and nods. Giles turns, walking toward Adia with a smile on his face.

“Bloody pillock doesn’t even know what he has.” Giles looks disgusted.

“And what is it you asked him to play?” Adia asks.

“And now…” The D.J. tries to sound smooth over the microphone. “By special request, something a little different.”

“Some music, for a change.” Giles hears the first few notes. He extends his hand. “If you would do me the honour.”

“Oh, this song!” Adia smiles, full of nostalgia. “It is so beautiful…”

Giles leads her to the dance floor. Mick Jagger sings softly against the straining violins. They dance in the way they have been taught; his hand on her waist, hers on his shoulder. Giles leads her around in a refined half-circle.

The crowd on the floor changes from a throbbing chaos to organized pairs, watching and trying to emulate the older couple. As the last strains of Tears Go By fade out, the D.J. manages to appease Giles further by digging out some more classics. He pulls Adia closer, changing his rhythm effortlessly.

“I know this…” Adia starts.

“Whiter Shade of Pale.” Giles answers immediately. “I must have terrified the poor bastard.”

“All the better for us.” Adia looks up at him. A chill runs through her.

“Are you alright?” Giles takes a step back.

“Very much so.” Adia takes a step forward.

From across the floor, Buffy watches them carefully. She turns to Faith with a definitive nod.

“I knew there was a ‘she’.”

“These shoes are evil!” Buffy hops in place, trying to take them off. “My blisters have blisters!”

“So why’d you buy ‘em?” Faith offers her arm.

“They were pretty and they went with my dress.” Buffy takes it, steadies herself. Pulls the shoes off with relative ease. Dangles them in her fingers as they continue walking down the hall. “And then you said my legs looked lickable… And then my mind went a little fuzzy. Next thing I knew, I was at the register.”

“So it’s my fault.” Faith nods solemnly.

“Yuh-huh.” Buffy agrees.

“Then I should do something to fix it.” Faith doesn’t give Buffy a chance. She scoops her up and carries her to the end of the hall.

Buffy squeals and fakes dissent with some lame kicks and weak slaps. She’s actually quite happy with the arrangement.

Faith sets her down, fumbling for her key. Once she manages to unlock the door, she turns to Buffy. There’s an entirely new look on her face.

“Can you…” Faith fidgets. “Unh… close your eyes?”

Buffy realizes that the look she’s getting is embarrassment. Maybe even a little shyness. She smiles indulgently at Faith. Does what she’s told.

Faith leads her blindly into the room. Just a few steps.

“So…” Faith forgets her lines. “You can open ‘em, I guess.”

Buffy opens her eyes. She looks around.

She wants to cry.

Faith has redecorated. A hundred tiny hand-cut construction paper hearts have been taped sloppily on the wall. Petals strewn on the floor from more than just roses.

“I thought maybe you were probably kinda over roses.” Faith squirms. “Everybody gets those, you know? So I grabbed a whole bunch of different ones…”

Buffy looks over to the bed. Petals cover the sheets. Something pink nestled between the pillows. She leans over to inspect it.

Then bursts out laughing.

Faith has taped white construction paper wings onto a pink pig that more than resembles Mr. Gordo. Buffy scoops it up, hugging it tight. Still unable to keep her laughter in check.

“What happened to cherubs?” She giggles.

“Creepy.” Faith shrugs. “Fat babies that care about who’s doin’ who? Seriously wrong.”

“And the pig?” Buffy kisses its little pug nose.

“Made sense at the time?” Faith looks uncomfortable.

Buffy loops her arms around Faith’s neck. Her head resting on Faith’s shoulder.

“Something about ‘when pigs fly’, I’m guessing.” Buffy zooms the pig around behind Faith’s back.

“Something like that.” Faith mumbles, trying to pull away.

Buffy stops flying the pig. Pulls back from Faith. Looks at her very carefully.

“This is the best thing anyone’s ever done for me in the everness of ever.” Buffy stares Faith down. Then thrusts the pig in her face. “So stop with the mopey and help me name him.”

“Bacon?” Faith grins, both at her joke and at Buffy’s words.

“Rude!” Buffy smacks her with the pig. One of the wings falls off. “See what you did?”

“What I did?” Faith rolls her eyes. “You’re the one introducing him to violence!”

“You’re the one planning to eat him!” Buffy pets the pig’s head.

Faith raises a brow. Takes a step forward.

“Him? No.” Faith’s eyes make her intentions clear.

Buffy stutters. Blushes.

Exactly what Faith expects.

Chapter Text

Faith crouches. Shoulders hunched, feet in boots planted firmly on the castle’s stone ledge. Knees bent, parallel to her shoulders. She’s a gargoyle. She stares out at the shadows of trees swaying gently, the breeze that touches them accelerating swiftly to play in her hair. She feels it on her cheek. Cups her cigarette in her palm, protective.

She brings it to her lips, deeply inhales. It fills her up, hurts her lungs. Finely crafted rings push from her lips. Smoke curls up, into her nostrils. French inhale. She deftly flips the white stick through her fingers like an expert drummer. Flicks the filter with the nail edge of her thumb to drop the ash.

Faith knows all the tricks. Cigarettes have seen her best and her worst. Hell, they were accomplices to her worst.

One final, exquisite, crackling drag. The tip is still red, blazing brighter when the wind hits. Still weaving the blue-gray wisps she used to love to watch float gracefully up from her mother’s ashtray.

She sighs. Holds out her hand and lets it go. It falls, spiraling downward. Caught by wind and gravity, trailing a line of red until it disappears from even Faith’s enhanced vision.

Faith stands, working out the stiffness in her knees and calves. Her eyes still fixed on the darkness below.

“Whatcha doin’?” Buffy strolls up behind her.

“Nothing.” Faith is defensive. For a moment, she’s angry with Buffy for interrupting.

“Looks like something.” Buffy lays her hand on Faith’s back. Peers over to see whatever Faith’s hiding.

“Just saying goodbye.” With that touch, all is forgiven. Faith steps down from the ledge.

“Should I be jealous?” Buffy frowns. “Is the Marlboro Man a threat?”

“We had a thing for a while.” Faith plays along. “Turns out he was trying to kill me the whole time. Can you believe that?”

“Totally.” Buffy likes this game. “Never trust a man on a horse.”

Faith rewards her with a short laugh.

“So, why now?” Buffy has questions. Well, one question.

“Feels like… I dunno… I got away with something, you know?” Faith shrugs. “Time served, no strings. Just a pat on the back and a shove out the door. I figure if whatever it is wants me down here so bad… Least I could do.”

Buffy leans into Faith’s body, grinning up at her.

“Plus, there’s this.” Faith wraps her arm around Buffy’s waist. Gives her a quick squeeze. “And what we do…”

“You mean the slaying, right?” Buffy’s on the verge of a major blushing episode. “Not the… not that it’s not great, because it is… great. So, so great... Amazing, even. But life-changing? That’s a whole…”

“Relax.” Faith can’t stop smiling. For months now. “I meant the slaying.”

Buffy looks both relieved and a little disappointed. Faith wonders how she manages it.

“It’s like… It’s war. Every day.” Faith searches for words. She hates words. “The bad out there. It wants us gone. So I’m done giving them a head start.”

“Smoking is evil.” Buffy is all-knowing. “We should make a public service announcement.”

“Slow down, B.” Faith chuckles. “It’s been two seconds. Let’s wait a few years before hoppin’ on that train.”

“Kay.” Buffy kisses Faith’s nicotine laced lips.

“Aww.” Willow opens the door. Leans against it, all sappy-eyed and mocking. “Xander, look! Snuggles!”

“I don’t snuggle.” Faith glowers.

“I know what I saw.” Xander steps on to the roof. “That was a classic example of snuggles in action.”

Faith growls in response. It’s not the best comeback.

“All set?” Buffy changes the subject.

“Yup.” Willow hauls her overnight bag on to the roof.

“I got your stuff, Faith.” Xander tries to make nice. “You sure pack light for a girl.”

Buffy has to hold Faith back.

“What’d I say?” Xander’s perplexed. “What?”

“Take a wild shot in the dark, Xander.” Willow rolls her eyes. “Sheesh.”

“The girl thing? But she is a girl!” Xander defends himself. His fingers definitively point out the areas of girliness on Faith’s body. “I’m a master of ‘girl’! I’ve had a lifetime of study. I can spot ‘girl’ a mile away!”

“Which is exactly how far they should stay away from you.” Buffy smirks, stepping into the painted red circle.

“At least.” Faith sidles up behind Buffy. Drops her backpack on the ground beside her.

“Renee is a brave one.” Willow looks around. Kicks the handle of her bag back into the circle.

“Or crazy.” Faith adds.

“Or lucky.” Buffy leans over. Kisses Xander’s cheek.

“It’s hard to tell.” Willow winks at Xander. Pushes him just outside the red line. Raises her arms.

There’s a pop.

Xander is befuddled. The look on his face doesn’t leave him. Not while he stares at the empty circle. Not while he turns and goes inside, down the stairs and back to his room. Not while he showers and gets ready for bed.

“Deep thoughts?” Renee turns to face him. The sheets pull against her body.

The look he’s carried slips away so easily. Replaced by something soft and needing.

“Nope.” Xander steps toward her. He smiles a little. “I can never seem to get past ‘girl’.”

There’s a pop.

Willow opens her eyes. Takes in the ornate mezzanine. Carved pillars, wide windows. High ceilings adorned with faded frescoes. She smiles.

Faith staggers forward. Unsteady.

Buffy bends over, holding her stomach. Fighting the nausea.

“Greetings friends!” Andrew approaches. “Welcome to Bella Roma!”

Buffy raises her head. Sees Andrew. Pukes on the marble floor.

“Eeeew!” Andrew complains, taking a step back. “I just had that polished.”

“Sorry about that.” Willow apologizes for Buffy. “It takes some getting used to.”

“I’m not good with vomit.” Andrew takes a step back. He looks pale and uneasy. “My mom always said I had a delicate constitution.”

“You?” Willow smirks. Snaps her fingers. The colourful pile of tuna on rye disappears. “I don’t believe it.”

“No, it’s true. Jonathan used to try to make me… Oh, that was sarcasm.” Andrew shifts his weight. “Can we maybe move away from the scene of the…”

“Spew?” Faith inquires. Trying to look less malicious than she’s being. “Retch? Puke?”

“I was going to say incident.” Andrew swallows some saliva. He takes a few steps down the long hallway.

Faith uses one arm to grab her backpack from the floor. The other to catch Buffy by the elbow.

“I got what’s mine.” Faith nods. “Lead the way.”

Willow catches up to Andrew, looking back at Faith. Faith grins at her, nodding.

Faith turns her attentions back to Buffy. Hefts her backpack over her shoulder. Lets Buffy lean on her as they walk. Buffy groans with every step.

“Those three bags you sent earlier… All Buffy’s?” Andrew whispers to Willow. Turns back to inspect Buffy cautiously. “Does she look a little green to you, still?”

“She’s probably fine.” Willow doesn’t check. “She usually only pukes once after this type of thing. But this one time? She had some bad seafood or something and she was totally barfing like… like a geyser! Like Old Faithful, but less predictable and way more often and just when you thought she had nothing left to give…”

“I have a delicate constitution!” Andrew manages that before quickly covering his mouth. He runs off down the hall in a panic.

Willow turns to gloat. Faith drops her backpack, raises her hand. High five.

“Go team.” Buffy glares at them.

“It was just a little fun, Buffy.” Willow’s look of triumph fades.

“And it’s only Andrew.” Faith backs Willow up.

“Either of you evil masterminds happen to know where we’re going?” Buffy asks them both. “What room? What floor? Which wing?”

Faith shrugs. Looks to Willow. Willow looks back at Faith. Then they both look down at the floor.

“Seemed like a good idea at the time.” Willow mumbles.

“Finally!” Buffy groans, falling dramatically on to the giant four poster bed.

“We’re here now.” Faith drops her backpack. “I’ll run you a bath to make it up to you.”

“You’d better.” Buffy leans up. “That was forty-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”

“I still say it was worth it.” Faith calls back from the bathroom. “And totally funny.”

“Maybe it was a little funny.” Buffy smiles up at the carved angels on the ceiling. “Just a little.”

“So you forgive me?” Faith leans against the doorframe. The sound of water hitting ceramic resonates behind her.

“Depends on if there’s bubbles.” Buffy looks skeptical. “There are bubbles, right?”

“Just a sec.” Faith quickly disappears, looking a little panicked. Struts back seconds later, her old confidence returning with her. “Yep. Bubbles.”

“Nice moves.” Buffy giggles. “Very smooth.”

“I get the feeling you’re making fun of me.” Faith raises a brow. Steps closer.

“Me?” Buffy creeps back on the bed. “Never. I’m in awe of your moves. You have excellent moves.”

“I do, don’t I?” Faith grins. Crawls over Buffy’s body, catlike. Hovers over her, only inches away.

“This one’s looking pretty good.” Buffy’s breathless. “Move-wise.”

“Aw, gross.” Dawn walks through the open door. “Seriously, guys. Leave me some tiny shred of sanity.”

Buffy groans. Pushes Faith off. Faith rolls to the side of the bed, almost giggling.

“Your timing sucks, as always.” Buffy hops to her feet. Gives Dawn a heartfelt, extra long hug.

“And you still don’t know how to close a door.” Dawn returns the favour.

“D.” Faith nods, getting up reluctantly from the bed. “Nice tan.”

“Oh, you can tell?” Dawn spins in a circle.

“You’re practically toasted.” Faith wanders back to peek into the bathroom. “B, your bath’s ready.”

Buffy makes an apologetic face.

“It’s cool, go.” Dawn gestures to the bathroom. “I just came to make sure you were all tucked in. Wasn’t planning a big family reunion.”

“Love you.” Buffy kisses Dawn on the cheek. Walks to the bathroom door, stopping to give Faith a quick peck. “You too.”

The bathroom door closes with Buffy behind it.

Faith wanders over to a large armchair. Gets comfortable.

Dawn hovers by the door.

“How’s life?” Faith starts.

“Same old.” Dawn leans against the frame. “I’m still working. Still training. Still losing sleep over old books written by dead people in dead languages.”

“But you’re good.” Faith wants to know. “You’re better.”

“I think so.” Dawn shrugs. “A little.”

“Good.” Faith nods. “Andrew treating you okay?”

“He’s kinda over-protective. Like a little Mini-Buffy.” Dawn furrows her brow. “It’s weird.”

Faith smiles a bit.

“Like, weird for him.” Dawn clarifies. “I scraped my knee last week, and he totally freaked. Ran screaming for a friggin’ medic! And he kept mumbling something under his breath. Sounded like ‘chain of pain’?”

Faith laughs out loud.

“What?” Dawn looks frustrated. Then she glares. “Did you say something?”

“Wasn’t just me.” Faith explains. “We all explained a few things. Didn’t think he’d take it to heart.”

“Oh my god.” Dawn is aghast. “You guys…”

“Are making sure you stay out of trouble.” Faith tilts her head. Changes the subject. “Speaking of trouble, you heard from Colin?”

“Not lately.” Dawn looks down and away.

“You will.” Faith leans back. “Boy’s a goner.”

“As in gone.” Dawn has her hurt face on. “He emailed every day since I got here, for like three whole months. I asked him to visit. He said he would. But I haven’t heard from him in weeks.”

“I’m sure he’s just busy.” Faith isn’t really sure. There just can’t be any other explanation. “Guys can suck like that.”

Dawn shrugs. Her fingers tremble as they trace down her cheek. Following the path of her scar.

Faith stands up. In a blink she’s caught Dawn’s hand in hers.

“Don’t.” Faith holds it tight.

“I should have let Willow fix it.” Dawn’s voice catches. “I should have let her…”

“No.” Faith pulls Dawn to the mirror. “Not if it means something.”

Faith turns Dawn to face herself.

“I’m ugly.” Dawn tries to look away.

“You’re you.” Faith pulls up her shirt. “And I’m me.”

Dawn looks down to Faith’s stomach. Sees it for the first time, the scar there. It’s longer, deeper than she’d imagined.

“This is me, Dawn.” Faith grabs her hand. Touches it to the raised white mark. “This is who I was, who I am. It’s a line I crossed. This scar… it… God, I suck at this stuff.”

Dawn follows the edge of it with the tips of her fingers. Delicately.

“Everything that made this scar…” Faith takes a breath, starts again. “It happened. It means something. And it’s mine.”

Faith huffs in frustration. “You get what I’m trying to say?”

Dawn reaches the end of the road. Stands up, meeting Faith’s eyes.

Gently, she takes Faith’s hand. Raises it to her cheek. Allows Faith to travel the thin red range with her fingertips.

“Everything that made this scar.” Dawn repeats in a wavering voice. “It happened. I-It means something...”

Faith waits. Her hand moving away from the stripe on Dawn’s cheek. Stopping on Dawn’s shoulder.

“And it’s mine.” Dawn exhales heavily.

“And if Colin can’t see past it to the hotness of you?” Faith pulls her in. “Then he’s a douche.”

Dawn snorts. Pulls back, giving Faith a wry smile.

“You don’t suck at this stuff as much as you think.”

“Well, don’t go telling everybody.” Faith sniffs. Takes a step back. “I’m not advice-guy, or whatever.”

“Gotcha.” Dawn goes for the door. “Wouldn’t want people to know that you’re smart, or kind, or insightful…”

“Start with that again, and you’ll be dealing with the old me.” Faith throws a pillow at her. “You got that?”

“Yipe!” Dawn dodges the pillow, barely. “I’ll behave!”

“You’d better.” Faith stares her down.

Dawn giggles. Closes the door behind her.

“You did good.” Buffy makes her presence known.

“Heard that?” Faith looks uncomfortable.

“Hard not to.” Buffy wraps the towel tight around her chest. Steps up to Faith. “Thank you.”

“Didn’t do anything.” Faith stiffens. Buffy’s arms close around her. Buffy’s head falls against her chest. Buffy’s breath warms the skin at her neck. Buffy’s body, not pulling away, not leaving her.

In time, there’s a change. For a moment, Faith’s mind lets go of some past hurts, some little defenses. Her body relaxes. Her breath slows. Her arms reach out, hands longing to touch Buffy’s skin. Her head bows, resting against Buffy’s cheek.

“Thank you.” Buffy repeats. She knows Faith didn’t hear it the first time. Didn’t really understand.

Faith leans into the comfort of Buffy’s arms, Buffy’s body. And it’s safe, for just this moment, to accept gratitude without fear of it being stolen away or twisted into blame. Faith nuzzles into Buffy’s neck, mumbling. But Buffy hears it.

“You’re welcome.”

Willow opens the door to her room. Looks around, inspecting the walls and tabletops. No signs of Kennedy. With a sigh, she opens the closet door. Hangers sway, empty on the rail. She heaves her bag on to the bed. Unzips it and starts to unpack.

“There you go, lonely little tee-shirt.” Willow pats it, smoothing it over the hanger. “There’ll be more clothes to keep you company in a minute. That’s more than I can say for me.” She reaches into her bag. “See? A nice friendly sweater! You guys can hang out! Get it? Hang?”

“Talking to yourself?” Kennedy smirks at the doorway. “You are in serious need of a good fu-unh!”

At the sound of Kennedy’s voice, Willow leaps the space from the closet to her girlfriend’s arms. “Missed you.”

“Me too.” Kennedy lifts Willow up, whirling her around.

“Wooo, dizzy!” Willow cautions.

Kennedy puts her down. Backs up a step, just to look into Willow’s eyes. She had really missed those eyes.

“Why aren’t I in your room?” Willow swats away the sappy look on Kennedy’s face. “I got all excited coming here, and then I got all sad when I got here! You know I can’t deal with big emotional roller coasters! I’m not even good with real roller coasters… except for the kiddie ones… But then I get made fun of because ‘ooh, the big scary powerful witch likes the baby coasters’, and that’s just not very nice, you… You!”

“This is my room, doof.” Kennedy smiles. But it’s more than just that. She glows. “I’m just here on a mission.” She pulls her bag out from under the bed. “I don’t have permanent digs.”

“Oh, okay.” Willow smiles, her rant forgotten. “Is it a cool mission?”

“I think so.” Kennedy reaches for Willow’s hand. “I have to find a girl. Bring her in.”

“I could help.” Willow remarks casually. “I could do a spell or something.”

“Um, yeah. You could.” Kennedy tries to be tactful. “But…”

“But obviously you have everything under control.” Willow pedals furiously backward. “And this is something you need to do for yourself, and by yourself. So I should maybe let you do your thing and if you need my help you’ll ask for it?”

“Something like that.” Kennedy brushes some stray hair from Willow’s cheek. “But I do. Need your help. Just not with this.”

“What is it, baby?” Willow looks concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve got this ache…” Kennedy whispers the rest into Willow’s ear.

Willow listens to Kennedy’s murmured and explicit invitation. It doesn’t make her whimper, or blush. She doesn’t stammer. Doesn’t get weak at the knees.

Instead she turns to her lover, a strange and sexy smile on her face. She kisses Kennedy roughly. Pushes her down on the bed with a strength that catches her slayer off guard.

“I think I can manage that.” Willow’s voice comes out low. She leers down at a prone and wide-eyed Kennedy. She licks her lips. Makes her approach.

Surprising herself, she growls.

“I think this might qualify for Best Day Ever!” Buffy skips in, arms brimming with bags and parcels.

“Still think you should let me have the Pucci dress.” Dawn doesn’t look too upset by it. She lays her not insignificant amount of bags on the floor. “It looked way better on me.”

“Did not!” Buffy drops her bags.

“Did so!” Dawn kicks off her shoes. Mutters. “At least I filled it out.”

“Well, I saw it first.” Buffy invokes the First Law of Shopping. Case closed.

“Lucky.” Dawn pouts. But then she feels better. “I’ll just borrow it.”

“Not in this lifetime.” Buffy takes off her jacket. Throws it on a chair.

“How was your day, ladies?” Andrew steps in. His eyes bulge at the sight. Such a mess. “Successful, I see.”

“Oh, it was awesome. We went to Sabatini’s for lunch and then went into like, every store in Rome!” Dawn chatters. “And I picked something up for you!”

“Really?” Andrew’s taken aback. “You got me a present?”

“You got him a present?” Buffy doesn’t remember Dawn buying anything un-frilly.

“It’s in one of these bags…” Dawn rifles through it all. “A-ha!”

She pulls out a small box. Hands it over.

Andrew opens it. Pulls up the tissue paper.

“Oh, Dawn!” Andrew reverently holds up his prize. His eyes water. “You shouldn’t have! It’s just…”

“I thought you’d like it.” Dawn moves to give him a light hug. “And I…”

“I’m overcome!” Andrew throws himself at her, gripping hard and weeping. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met!”

Dawn looks at Buffy over Andrew’s shoulder. Begging for help.

“What’d she get you?” Buffy asks. She sucks at helping.

Andrew manages to hold out the gift between sobs.

Buffy peers at the small bracelet over in her hand. Its thick silver chain meets a smooth solid piece at the centre. It’s very pretty. A little chunky for a girl. She turns it over. The inscription reads, ‘To my Obi Wan: The Force will be with you, always. Your Leia.'

Buffy smiles. Looks up to see Dawn still trying to extricate herself from a clingy Andrew.

“Andrew.” Buffy uses her hard voice. “Get off my sister, please.”

Immediately, Andrew jumps back. Wiping his eyes and sniffling. Buffy hands him back his chain.

“Can you maybe take care of our stuff?” Buffy has urgent business. “Dawn and I…”

“Have to talk.” Dawn finishes. “Sister stuff.”

“Ah, I understand.” Andrew nods, looking wistful. “Go on! I’ll just be…”

Buffy tugs Dawn away.

“Here.” Andrew picks up a few bags. Tries to take too much. Puts it all back down. Stares at it. Sighs petulantly. Grabs the handles of three bags. Starts walking to the stairs, mumbling. “A real Jedi would just float it all up to their rooms.”

“So, you’re buying him jewelry?” Buffy interrogates. Pulling her out of earshot. “We’re at the jewelry stage?”

“Stage of wha… Oh! You don’t think…” Dawn makes a very unpleasant face. “Buffy, give me some credit! I may be rejected and disfigured, but I do have standards!”

“But… jewelry!” Buffy adds up the evidence. “And you with the moving here! And cute, geeky love notes! And jewelry!” She pauses for breath. “And he said he loves you.”

“Of course he does.” Dawn is exasperated. “I let him talk.”

“See, that’s not helping your case.”

“Look.” Dawn crosses her arms. “Andrew is my friend. Yeah, he’s a freak. But he’s a smart, loyal, nice freak. And under all the stupid crap he talks about? He’s lonely. I get that. So I bought him a present, and I let him talk.”

Buffy tilts her head. Inspects Dawn, like it’s the first time they’ve met. Shakes her head, a low smile.

“You really are the nicest person he’s met.” Buffy ruffles Dawn’s hair. It’s just long enough to muss.

“And isn’t that the most heartbreaking thing ever?” Dawn makes sad face.

“Kinda…” Buffy thinks about it. “Yeah.”

“We’re gonna be late.” Buffy pulls away from Faith’s groping hands. Reaching for the new dress she’s laid out.

“Nobody’ll notice.” Faith lunges for Buffy, grinning.

“We’re the guests of honour.” Buffy gives Faith a look.

“But I haven’t seen you all day!” Faith argues. “While you were out seeing the sights, I was stuck here with Kennedy…”

“I’d feel bad about that if I didn’t know you.” Buffy chides her. “You had a blast. Some sparring. Probably a stupid amount of anti-cultural fast food after that. Then some chest-beating, and a nice graphic debate about which of you is better in the sack?”

“Sorta.” Faith gives her that. And a hand planted firmly on Buffy’s behind. “Although, it was about you and Willow. Performance wise.”

“Really.” Buffy twists away. Throws a pile of denim at Faith. “Put your pants on, Tarzan.”

“You won, by the way.” Faith smirks, but Buffy’s not looking. “I don’t want to wear those.”

“Then pick something.” Buffy pulls up the straps of her dress. Fiddles with something at the collar. “It’s just a reception. A couple of hours. Meet the girls, eat some food. No big.”

“Then what?” Faith roots through her dresser. Finds a clean-ish pair of black jeans. “You wanna celebrate your victory?”

“First of all, bragging to Kennedy about my ‘skills’ isn’t gonna get you anything but a trip to the couch.” Buffy has a list. It’s short and to the point. “Second, if you’re not dressed and ready to go in two minutes I’m… I’ll…”

“Leave without me?” Faith looks hopeful.

“I’m thinking.” Buffy pouts.

“Take your time.” Faith leans back on the bed. “I got nowhere to be…”

“I’ll tell Andrew about your comic collection!”

“You wouldn’t!” Faith looks a little alarmed.

“And your high score on Dance Dance Revolution.” Buffy threatens.

“No!” Faith leaps up, frantically wriggling into her jeans. “Look! I’m getting ready!”

“And that you watched the whole Babylon Five series with Xander last month.” Buffy deals the final blow.

Faith grabs the tee shirt she was wearing all day and pulls it hard over her head. “Done! Let’s go!”

“No.” Buffy walks calmly to Faith’s dresser. Pulls out a cleaner, dressier, less-black polo shirt. “Wear this.”

“But…” Faith protests.

“Babylon Five, Faith.” Buffy throws the shirt at her. Crosses her arms. “Babylon. Five.”

Faith looks down at the two choices. Looks at Buffy.

Picks up the polo shirt with an aggrieved sigh.

“In the final battle between good and evil…” Andrew pauses. Looks around at his captive audience. Returns to his tale, his voice attempting to sound deep and dramatic. “There will be no victory. A small but battle-hardened group of warriors must make the journey into the bowels of the earth. There, they will face the unknown forces of the enemy… and destroy them. Or die trying.”

Andrew looks up from the pages in front of him. He hadn’t really been reading from them, he already knows the story by heart. He just wants to do it justice.

“Some of you were there. Some of you might think I’m wrong to tell this tale. But without storytellers, the deeds of these few, the brave and noble sacrifices of dear friends may be lost in the mists of time.” Andrew looks nervously to his left. Willow and Kennedy nod at him. Dawn just sits, eyes closed. Andrew waits for her to give the smallest of signs. She does; a minimal bow of her head.

“Then we should begin at the beginning.”

Andrew takes a breath.

“The weary few that returned did not find a paradise awaiting them. Oh no, kind listeners. Just the mundane responsibilities of survival and recovery.” Andrew stops for a moment. A new ending comes to him like a flash, lighting up his brain and filling him with the sorrow of it.

“There can be no happily ever after for these soldiers of light. For evil and its ambassadors… they are always working to destroy our world. And our champions will always be called upon to fight, and sometimes to die protecting those that can’t fight for themselves. Because it’s their calling.”

Andrew looks at the rapt faces of the few new arrivals.

“Because they’re Slayers.”

The silence that follows is deafening.

Andrew shifts uncomfortably.

“Kinda bleak.” Faith turns to Buffy. Takes a step into the room.

“Tragic.” Buffy agrees, straightening out of her resting place against the wall. “I’d go with something like ‘…and then they had ice cream and watched Gilmore Girls.’  But yours was good too!”

“Oh, good evening Buffy!’ Andrew stands. Smooths out his jacket. “Faith. I didn’t see you come in.”

“We didn’t want to interrupt.” Buffy smiles at him. “Everyone seemed so into it.”

“You think?” Andrew is happy with the praise. Like a puppy. “Really?”

“Really.” Buffy finds a place amongst her friends. Hugs Dawn to her.

Faith steps awkwardly around the bodies seated on the floor. Pushes someone off the edge of the couch and claims it.

“Go on.” Faith sits.

“Don’t stop on our account.” Buffy gives the reins back to Andrew.

A girl in the front raises her hand.

“The story’s over…” Andrew frantically tries to think. He gingerly sits back down. “I don’t know what else…”

“You gonna get that?” Faith asks Andrew, pointing at the now waving arm.

“Oh.” Andrew points to the girl. “Question from the floor?”

“You weren’t even there, so how come you know so much about what happened?” The girl looks around her. “We’ve got real actual survivors here. Why aren’t they telling the story?”

“Because…” Andrew tries to work out an answer that isn’t lame. “Unh… Because it’s rude to ask a soldier about their time in battle. And I know what happened because I have this.”

Andrew holds up the sheets of paper from his lap.

“Xander wrote it. In pen. You can see what he crossed out and what he added, and you can see here where he cried on the paper so it has to be true because Xander is brave and honest and totally the sweetest guy...”

“Andrew.” Dawn reminds him. “Digressing.”

“Right.” Andrew takes a breath. “Sorry.”

“And he’s right.” Buffy has her quiet voice on. “We were there. Some of it… It’s still too hard.”

“Like when you died.” Another girl speaks without raising her hand.

“Not hard for me.” Buffy makes a joke. “I’m used to it. But for the others…”

“It sucked.” Faith grabs at Buffy’s hand.

“There’s something I don’t understand.” A girl with brownish hair speaks directly to Faith and Buffy. “That demon bloke you shagged… that started all this. He made you act like Faith, right? So what was the…”

“Brigitte!” Kennedy growls. “Shut. Up.”

Buffy turns to look at Faith. A look of guilt and fear, regret and sadness. A flash of real pain.

“Buffy... No… I can’t.”

“Buffy? Please!”

Faith shakes her head. Brushes the look away with her palm. Finds Buffy’s hand again.

“The demon. It granted people their heart’s desire.” Dawn speaks up. “Their deepest wish. But twisted it, made it dark and wrong.”

“But what was it?” Brigitte is un-deterred.

“She just wanted a piece of me.” Faith covers for Buffy. Tells jokes. “But who can blame her. I’m smokin’.”

Willow bores into Buffy’s skull with her eyes. Buffy feels it. Turns to meet Willow’s gaze.

Buffy nods.

“Actually, I wanted Faith’s heart.” Buffy clarifies. She stops for a moment, frowning. “In hindsight I could have probably phrased that better.”

“Yeah. You could have ended up with it wrapped in a bow on your doorstep.” Kennedy grimaces.

“In that case,” Buffy ponders, “I definitely should have been more specific.”

Faith opens her eyes with a start. Looking into Buffy’s eyes. And they are Buffy’s eyes. Still captured by the threads passing between them, she can see. She can see everything. Knowing that Buffy can see her too. Can see her pain, her shame, her fear. It’s too much.

But Faith can’t close her eyes. Can’t stop feeling the connection. The threads of light. Buffy’s soul threaded with her own. It’s so pure. So clean. She never knew.

She’s deeper now. She can see Buffy’s dreams, her fears, her heart. Heart’s desire. The secret thought. The question that lingers there.

“Has it always been for me?” Buffy’s raw need is hard to feel. “Is it mine?”

They don’t talk about it. At least not to each other. They don’t need to.

There are looks. Long and lingering. Meaningful. And there are casual touches. Fingers entwined. A soft hand against a soft cheek.

And there are smiles. Some brief and slight. Private. And some that spill out joy, painting everything around them with reflected light.

There are nights. And when it’s not enough…because it’s never enough… and they want to just be closer… just be inside each other’s skin... they can be.

They don’t fight. They don’t have stupid misunderstandings and sulk for a while so that they can make up later. There’s no more storming off, no more tears.

They’re not children.

They’re Slayers. The Chosen Two. They save the world. Sometimes it takes them away from each other. Sometimes they fight side by side. They know that one day, one or the other or both just won’t come back. Just won’t be strong enough or fast enough. Won’t be lucky enough to beat the other guy.

They don’t talk about that either.

They don’t do the relationship talk. They don’t make promises, or waste time agonizing and defining and worrying.

Because there’ll be no picket fences. No suburban dream. No forever.

They just take the days that are given to them. Spend them as wisely as they can.

They are what they are. They have what they have.

“Is it mine?”

The answer that lies in her own heart. Always there for Buffy to see.

‘Till death.