“What?” Faith feels like the word comes out on a rasp, a barely-there whisper against her throat, which has closed up. She tries to remember to breath, but it’s hard.
“Buffy’s gone, Faith,” Angel’s voice is low and quiet. Normally, Faith would find that soothing. It’s part of what’s helped her over these couple of years. However, now it causes something in her to rise, growling and furious at his calm tone and demeanor when she’s heard the news and it feels like an semitrailer has run over her head.
“She-” Faith has to stop, swallowing roughly around the lump that’s formed in her throat. She battles down the anger that threatens to make an appearance, the fury warring with the grief in her chest. “Really?”
Angel’s nod causes the crack in her heart to deepen, nearly shattering it completely. Buffy. Gone. Dead. How could this happen? Was it her fault? Was it because she wasn’t good enough to stay and protect her?
“Faith,” Angel’s calm voice draws her gently back from the memories and worries clouding her mind. “Where’d you go?”
“Here with ya, Angel.” And she is, except for this pesky prison glass separating them, and the fact that they’re talking through a telephone. “What’s gonna happen now?” Faith tries to keep her voice steady, and she’s pleased that she manages it.
“I don’t know.”
It unsettles her that she hears this man, her teacher and her friend, say those words.
Faith thinks of Sunnydale, now empty without the bubbly blonde to fill it. Now unprotected without a Slayer guarding it. She thinks of the Scoobies, who would undoubtedly try and cover for Buffy, but also undoubtedly fail. They’re all human, nothing like a Slayer.
Nothing like her.
“I wanna go back,” she says softly.
Faith looks up from where her gaze has drifted to her fingernails. She knows he’s heard her - vamp hearing is good like that. But he’s going to make her repeat it. God, as much as she likes him, he can be a pain.
She heaves a breath, trying to make the words come to her again.
“I wanna go back,” she finds it’s easier to speak once she starts. “I wanna continue B’s work.”
And she does. It means going back and finally redeeming herself with the Scooby Gang. It means going out and fighting the good fight again. But it also means she’ll have to leave here. Leave prison, where she belongs. Where she needs to stay and atone for her misdeeds and the very long list of bad things she’s done. There’s too much red in her ledger. She needs to stay. Maybe suggesting going back was a bad idea.
“We can make that happen,” Angel’s voice, while soothing, startles her, and she clutches the phone just a little bit tighter in her hand.
“We can get you out on parole. I can take you there.”
“I don’t know…” Faith feels the doubt almost like a physical presence, hovering over her shoulder.
“There’s redemption to be found on the battlefield, Faith,” Angel is quietly insistent, and some part of Faith is grateful for it. Another part is screaming that it’s a bad idea, redemption can be found just as well here behind these walls, and can’t the Scoobies drop by to chat instead?
“I’ll talk to some people,” Angel nods decisively, and Faith feels a mixture of worry and excitement drop into her stomach.
For Faith, the next three days seem to pass super-fast and super-slow all at once. She goes through the motions of eating, working out, pacing the yard. Crying silently in her bunk for hours before she sleeps. Spending every free moment rehearsing her apology to the gang. Then to each individual person. Giles. Xander. Willow. Dawn. Wesley. Cordelia. Her brain starts to swirl, thinking of all the atonement, all the apologies, all the things from the past that are creeping out from the shadows in her mind. There’s so much. There’s too much.
She swings back and forth on her decision to leave prison right up until the moment Cordelia walks her out the front doors. It had initially shocked her to see the other woman there, but she’d remembered that, hello, sunlight, and whilst Angel would have loved to come pick her up, it’s a little hard to drive home if you’re a pile of dust.
Faith lowers herself into the car beside Cordelia, the awkward tension nearly causing her to snap. She hears Angel’s voice in her mind, reminding her that she can do this, she can make it, and apologies are difficult but necessary.
“Cordelia,” Faith starts, and the other woman jumps a little in surprise.
“I’m sorry.” This earns her a surprised sideways glance, but she continues. “For everything. I lost control. I hurt you. I’m sorry.”
Cordelia looks like she’s about to split in two, and Faith watches the internal struggle play out on her face.
“So, did they make you wear an orange jumpsuit and everything?” she asks, attempting a smile, and Faith figures this is a good sign. “Cause that stuff is so not attractive. Or your colour.”
After returning to Angel Investigations and apologising to Wesley - which involved a lot of tears, only a few of which were Faith’s - Faith hovers by the door, waiting while Angel speaks to his employees.
“Ready?” he finally says, and it takes everything in her to say yes, wave to Wesley and Cordelia, and follow him out the door.
“I was kidding,” Faith says, casting a glance at the Summers’ house from the front seat of Angel’s car. “Totally kidding. Just take me back now.”
“Go inside, Faith.”
“I can work with you! I can fight the good fight with you and Cor and Wes.”
“Seriously, I’m five by five. We came, we saw, we’re leaving. Time to go.”
“You go,” Angel’s using his no-nonsense tone, and he’s leveled her with a glare. She’s beginning to think it might not be so great to work with him if he keeps bugging her about this.
“Fine, I’m going,” she opens the door without a second thought, hauling her duffel off the back seat after she’s climbed out. “And Angel?” she says softly, after standing motionless for a few moments. His vampire hearing ensures that he hears her, even though she practically whispered it, and he turns to face her.
“Go. Be good,” he offers up a smile. The words are innocuous enough in themselves; it’s a harmless phrase so many parents tell their children, or friends tell their friends. Coming from him, though, in this context, it means so much more. She returns his smile, and starts heading up the walk. Halfway there, she realises that he hasn’t pulled away from the kerb, and it’s probably because he’s making sure she goes inside. Of course.
Hey, maybe she could just turn around, run down the path and leap into his car. Could that be an option?
Stop, she scolds herself, even as her feet come to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. You have to do this.
It takes all of her strength to climb those few stairs. Uncertainty tugs at her, begging her to turn around, to run for the hills, to get the hell out of Dodge before something more goes wrong, before she messes up her relationship with these guys all over again. But something else in her, something more stubborn, urges her to take those few steps, and knock on the door.
There’s a scuffle inside, and she hears a familiar voice shout ‘I’ll get it!’. Faith steels herself for coming face to face with Dawn. When the younger brunette opens the door, as Faith had expected, she’s only visible for a few seconds before the door is shut in her face.
The quiet voice inside her grows louder, telling her to run away. Telling her she’ll mess it up if she stays. Telling her they won’t take her back. She hushes it with another knock to the door. This time, it’s Willow who answers. When the door isn’t immediately slammed, she figures it’s a positive sign.
“Faith,” Willow’s tone is emotionless and flat.
“Look, Willow,” Faith begins, automatically turning to look at Angel behind her. His car has pulled away, leaving nothing but inky blackness in his wake. She faces Willow again, heaving a breath before launching into her story of her time in prison, how she worked with Angel so hard. How she’s sorry. How she wants so badly to make things right. Angel believes in her, and she’s really ready to atone for all the things she’s done wrong and every way she made the redhead’s life harder, or just plain hellish.
“I want to make it right. I couldn’t make it right with” Faith cuts herself off, Buffy’s name on the tip of her tongue, stinging her eyelids with tears, causing her throat to tighten. “I’m sorry. For kidnapping you and threatening you and,” she pauses, thinking of how exactly to phrase what she did, “turnin’ this whole town into a shitshow. I’m not that person any more.”
Faith runs out of steam, swallowing hard and meeting Willow’s eye. Her words are gone now, hovering in the air between them while Willow makes her decision. Faith can see the struggle behind her eyes, the conflict she’s coming to recognise goes hand in hand with apologising to someone you’ve wronged so terribly. It hurts, but she knows it’s necessary.
“You really worked with Angel?”
“He visited every week. Never missed one.”
“But you worked with him?”
“Of course. I wanna be better. I promise.” Why does it feel like she’s begging for forgiveness and acceptance? Oh, right. Cause she is.
“And why are you here?”
“Like I told ya. I wanna fight the good fight. Get back to doing the right thing.”
“Being the Slayer?”
They are both quiet for a long moment. Faith’s not sure what’s going through the other girl’s head, but all she can think about are Buffy’s incredible and stylish shoes she’s got to fill, and how she can never hope to come close to it. But she’ll try. Because that’s what good people do. She wants, no needs to continue Buffy’s work here, and that means stepping up.
Willow eventually lets her inside, and Faith notices a swish of brown hair disappear around the corner at the top of the stairs, indicating Dawn’s departure. Faith can’t blame her. She did some awful things to her big sis, and that gives her a reason to be pretty pissed off. Angel had told her it would take time, some more than others. Dawn was gonna fit into the ‘some’ category, apparently.
Faith follows behind Willow as the redhead leads her into the living room. A girl Faith vaguely recognises as Willow’s girlfriend stands up from one of the chairs.
“I thought it was you,” she says, and Faith searches the recesses of her memory for the brunette’s name. It stays stubbornly just out of reach, and Faith internally groans. Apologies are so much easier when you can start off with the person’s name.
“Your aura fits much better in that body than it does in Buffy’s,” the girl smirks a little, one corner of her mouth twitching up, and Faith hopes she’s correctly interpreting it as a joke.
“I’m sorry for bein’ a bitch. Try again?” Faith offers one hand to the girl,understanding instantly how much she must mean to Willow if she’s still sticking around. If she wants to make things right with the gang, she’s got to make it right with their partners too. “I’m Faith.”
“Tara,” the girl slips her hand into Faith’s, and it’s warm and soft, like her ensuing smile. “You want something to eat?”
“God yes,” Faith answers before she can stop herself. She bites the inside of her cheek, adding a hesitant “please?” onto her former statement. She’s about to apologise when Tara laughs a little and heads towards the kitchen. Willow falls into step beside her girlfriend, and gestures for Faith to follow.
The kitchen looks about the same as Faith remembers it. Homely, warm. Full of food. As Tara and Willow start to grab a couple of various food items, Faith leans awkwardly on the counter, unsure if she should help.
“Do you have somewhere to stay?” Tara asks as she hands Faith a bag of potato chips. Faith shakes her head, her gaze following Tara around the kitchen. She likes this girl already. Sweet, clean slate, and gives her food. Big points in Faith’s eyes.
Tara glances at Willow, and Faith’s eyes follow it. Willow gives her girlfriend a look back, and Faith looks down at her food. Based off that look, she assumes that they’re doing that freaky mindspeak thing she’s heard about. The raven-haired Slayer tugs open her chips and pops a couple in her mouth. Her brain starts to whir, calculating all the money she has, including the cash Angel has given her. With some quick calculations - and crossed fingers that inflation isn’t a thing - she works out that if she goes back to that old motel she used to live in, she can live comfortably until-
“Stay here,” Tara’s soft voice interrupts her thoughts, and Faith looks up, startled.
“What?” she asks, then realises she has a mouthful of chips. After swallowing, she tries again. “What?’
“I guess you could crash on the couch,” Willow places a glass of milk on the counter when she makes her addition, and Faith can tell it’s with reluctance. But it’s a huge positive that she’s willing to let Faith stay in their home, right?
“I shouldn’t take up space,” Faith hesitates.
“Are you gonna go back to that motel?” Willow asks suddenly, and Faith cocks her head questioningly before nodding in understanding. Of course. Buffy must have told her. “Then you stay here. Not that place.”
“But Dawn?” Faith looks towards the ceiling, knowing Dawn is somewhere up on that second floor. And she is pissed.
“I’ll go talk to her,” Tara offers, heading out of the room.
There’s a few minutes of silence once Tara exits, and Faith sips her milk.
“Tara told me about what you said when you first met her. In the Bronze.”
“I’m so sorry. It’s actually really wicked that you found someone. It’s a cool bonus that it’s a chick. And she seems good. I’m happy for ya, Red.”
“Thanks,” Willow’s answer seems automatic, and Faith takes the opportunity to eat another handful of potato chips.
“Look, Faith,” something in Willow’s tone causes the brunette to set her bag of chips down and focus hard on the redhead. “Not everyone’s going to be as accepting as Tara is. I’m not. But she seems willing to give you a chance and I believe in her. You insulted her, yeah, but you did a whole bunch of worse stuff to everyone else.”
“I know,” Faith meets Willow’s gaze. “I did some shitty stuff. I did some really shitty stuff. But I gotta own up to it. I already did it in jail, now I just wanna make it right with you.”
“Time will tell,” is all Willow says, as she heads out of the kitchen, Faith on her heels.
They’ve already finished making up the couch by the time that Tara returns downstairs with Dawn. Faith’s perched on the couch, trying to will herself not to be so tense about this. Her muscles weren’t cooperating, though, but it was worth the effort. Faith spots Tara and Dawn before Willow - who is sitting across from her - does. Tara looks about the same as when she headed upstairs, if a little emotionally exhausted. Dawn, on the other hand, looks like the human version of a storm cloud. And Faith would know; she’s seen that look in the mirror too many times before.
“Hey squirt,” she smiles at Dawn.
The older brunette is taken aback by how Buffy-like the girl sounds, and she’s speechless for a moment.
“I know I wasn’t a great person, okay? I know I ruined everything. I’m sorry I became so awful. I’m sorry I messed up your life. I want to make it right.”
“You believe her?” Dawn turns to Tara.
“I’ve been trying real hard to do better,” Faith continues, hoping she’s making progress with the teen. “Seeing Angel all the time!” she catches the momentary shock at the vampire’s name, but pushes on. “I really am sorry, Dawn. Took me a long time ‘fore I could say that and mean it. But I do now.”
“Okay,” Dawn shrugs, looking up at Tara and Willow again. When the brunette nods, the younger girl spins on her heel and heads up the stairs.
A few silent moments after Dawn leaves, Tara speaks up.
“I’m heading to bed.”
“Me too,” Willow chirps. “Don’t destroy the house.”
“‘Night,” Faith tells the couple, settling back onto the cushions as she watches them ascend the stairs. When they’re halfway up, she can’t help but say something.
“Wait,” she calls quietly, half-hoping they don’t hear. They do, though, and she purses her lips as they stop and turn to look at her. Damn. She hates saying stuff like this. “Thanks.”
“See you in the morning,” Tara says, taking Willow’s hand, and they continue up the stairs.
The next morning, Faith is up and moving before anyone else in the house. Not that it’s a surprise. She’s still running on her prison sleep schedule, and that doesn’t exactly allow for much of a sleep in. She folds the blankets, laying them at the end of the couch, and makes her way into the kitchen.
After rifling through the pantry and the fridge, Faith determines she’s got all the fixings for bacon, eggs and waffles. The variety will be good, she reasons, and she’s got no clue what the other ladies in the household like for breakfast, so having options is a good thing. The bacon is cooked and warming, and she’s three-quarters of the way through making waffles when she hears someone approach.
“Breakfast?” she asks, without turning around, expecting it to be Willow or Tara. When she hears Dawn’s response in the positive, she spins to face the teen in shock. “You’re up?” It’s surprising, given that she knows when she was Dawn’s age, she would sleep in for as long as she possibly could. Dawn’s clearly different.
“Yeah, getting out of bed is a thing people do,” Dawn responds, sliding warily onto a stool at the counter.
“I meant that you’re up before Red and her girl,” Faith gets the bacon from the oven, and slides a waffle onto a plate. “Eggs?”
“Sunny side up,” Dawn answers automatically, and then continues in the same fashion. “I’m usually up early. I watch TV really loud. Willow and Tara don’t really ever want to get out of bed. I think they kind of hate moving here cause I’m the reason they have to get up and actually do things,” Dawn’s rambling now, and it reminds Faith of Buffy. She can’t help but laugh at Dawn’s insinuation, and the noise seems to startle Dawn, almost as though she didn’t realise she was even speaking out loud. They stare at each other for a long moment, neither speaking, until Faith holds up the pan of bacon. “How much do you want?”
Surprisingly, it’s only half an hour after Dawn that Willow and Tara show their faces. Their expressions morph from sleepy to surprised when they find Faith in the kitchen, and Dawn sitting at the counter. She gets up when the witches enter, and starts cracking eggs into the still-warm pan. When Faith starts loading up Tara and Willow’s plates with waffles and bacon, she’s pretty sure their eyebrows are going to disappear into their hairline. They both say thank you, though, and start eating, albeit warily. Halfway through, Willow puts down her silverware and sighs.
“We need to tell the others.”
Later that day, Faith waits inside on the couch while Willow debriefs the Scoobies on the front porch. She assumes it’s supposed to be to put some sort of a barrier between them, but it doesn’t work all that well, what with Faith’s Slayer senses allowing her to hear it all too clearly. She closes her eyes, praying to a god that she doesn’t believe in that they give her the opportunity to redeem herself. They seem to have a lot to say.
Once they’re in front of her, however, it’s a different story. They’re all deadly quiet for three minutes and twelve seconds. Not that Faith is counting.
“You look different,” Xander says slowly. “Pri- Being good changed you.” Faith lets one side of her mouth lift in a smirk at his attempted cover-up. They’d gotten all their frustrations out on the porch, so she’s getting the leftovers. It’s a good thing, she supposes.
“Better than a new haircut,” she jokes back, but her guilt taps her on the shoulder and reminds her of what she did to Xander. “Look, Xander-”
“Please,” she starts, then stops abruptly, suddenly remembering Buffy’s threat that she would beat her to death if she apologised. Her heart starts to ache, but she pushes on. “I gotta say this. You gotta know that I mean it. I was really lost back then. I had no control. I’m not sayin’ it wasn’t my fault or nothing, cause it was. I did shitty things. I nearly-” her voice cuts out on her abruptly, and she clears her throat in an attempt to get it back. “I nearly raped you. Damn near killed you too.” She can’t even look around at the Scooby Gang’s faces. God, whatever happened to all that confidence she possessed once upon a time? She misses it. It always seems to desert her when she needs it the most. She takes in a breath, wishing for the millionth time that Angel were here. Or Buffy.
“I’m sorry,” she manages to look him dead in the eye, and his gaze meeting hers spurs on her confidence. When Xander doesn’t reply for a full forty-seven seconds - she’s not counting or anything, of course - she gives up on waiting and uses that confidence to turn to look at Giles.
“Giles,” she says, and he’s already removing his glasses to clean them. She doesn’t stop to debate whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, just presses on.
“I’m sorry I messed up so bad. I screwed it all up. I know ya probably would’ve helped me if I’d manned up and asked. I’m sorry I ruined everythin’. I’m sorry I wasn’t the Slayer you needed me to be.”
The ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t Buffy’ doesn’t leave her lips, but judging by everyone’s expressions, they’ve heard it just as loud in her silence as if she’s screamed.
“Willow and Tara say you have been working with Angel, is that true?” Giles says after a long silence.
“All the time!” Faith jumps at the question. “Promise. Been tryin’ real hard.”
“Would you mind if we contacted him to confirm?”
“Nah, go ahead. He’ll probably answer. I think he’s sticking ‘round for a bit in case you wanted to check in. Otherwise, Cordy can vouch for me.”
There’s another pause, and Faith wonders if she’s done something wrong. If she’s said something out of line. She replays her last few sentences in her head, but Giles’ voice interrupts her thoughts.
“Thank you, Faith. For the apology, and for the return. We will keep an eye on you, though, you must understand. Now, Willow, I believe you promised tea?”
“Oh, yeah!” Willow leaps up and practically sprints towards the kitchen.
Faith watches as everyone collectively stands and starts to head out of the room. She drops her gaze to her hands, picking at the edge of one nail absently, figuring it’s best to let them have some alone time to talk about it all. To talk about her.
“You’re Faith,” there’s a voice that comes from nowhere, and it causes Faith to look up quickly. She could have sworn she was alone.
“Yeah,” she answers, trying to place this girl in her mind. Did she meet her once before her world went to shit?
“You had sex with Xander.” It’s a statement, not a question, and Faith starts to piece it together. The way this chick was hanging off Xander earlier reminds her that she’s seen them in a situation like this before, only she was looking at them through Buffy’s eyes. They hadn’t really spoken then, because this girl had thought she was Buffy.
“I did,” she’s unsure of what else to say. Is this the place for another apology? God, she wishes Angel was here.
“Are you going to have sex with him again? Because we’re in a relationship which means I’m having sex with him and you can’t.”
“Hey, no, I’m five by five,” Faith holds up her hands in a defensive position. She really wasn’t planning on having sex with Xander again, especially if he was in a relationship. The old Faith wouldn’t have cared. This Faith did. “Been there, done that, he’s all yours now.”
“Oh,” the girl nods decisively. “Right. Glad we got that sorted. It’s interesting to finally meet you. They talk about you a lot. I’m Anya.”
Faith tries not to think about the gang talking about her. About the things they would say, which would undoubtedly be scathing, because they’re describing the Old Faith. They wouldn’t be talking about her. The girl sitting, pretty terrified out of her damn mind, on the Summers family couch while her ex-friends were standing just out of hearing range (even Slayer hearing) and probably talking about her. The New Faith. Shit.
“Aren’t you gonna go talk about me with them?” Faith jerks her head towards the doorway everyone else exited out of, then realises she’s slipping. “And hey, Anya.”
“Eh,” Anya shrugs. “You murdered a couple people and stole someone’s body. I’ve seen worse. I’ve done worse.”
Faith’s stomach pitches at the mention of her past, but it’s quickly eclipsed by Anya’s following statements. She opens her mouth to speak, but Anya cuts her off.
“And you said sorry. And you’re not gonna do it again. Like me,” she smiles proudly.
“Wicked,” Faith says slowly, trying to fit together the pieces. As much as she tried, though, they weren’t coming together. Who was this girl? What the hell had she done that was worse?
At least the upside was that Anya had done worse, and she was still a member of the Scooby Gang. Faith let out a tense breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. If they accepted Anya, maybe here was hope for her.