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Crisis of Faith

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“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.

“What?”

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.

“What?”

“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.

“Yeah?”

“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.”

“Faith.”

“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.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“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.

“Hey Red.”

“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.

“Faith.”

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-”

“Don’t apologise.”

“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.



Chapter Text

The second night Faith was in Sunnydale, she visited Buffy’s grave.

  
     
  

She hadn’t intended for it to be a long visit, or even an emotional one. She wanted to see it, to remind herself of everything Buffy Summers was, everything she stood for. She had apologised, partly feeling stupid for talking to an inanimate object, but partly feeling as though it was helping. Getting all the words she wanted to say off her chest, finally.

How she was sorry.

She was sorry that she betrayed her.

And ruined her life.

Sorry for everything.

  
     
  

The pain in her chest had increased as she spoke, the ache that she got whenever she thought about Buffy now multiplied tenfold when she thought about the blonde’s sacrifice. Earlier that day, after she’d apologised, and the Scoobies had allowed her to begin to start anew with them, they’d sat her down and told her the whole story about Buffy’s death. It was almost like a very painful reward for sharing her heart, for laying herself on the line and apologising. She was to be told the truth, let into the circle.

  
     
  

Tears started to prick at her eyes as she thought about them, the gang, all sitting in the Summers’ living room, each reluctant to be the one to start talking. Once it had begun, though, there was no stopping them. Each member of the group had something to say. Something to chime in about Glory, this Hellgod they’d never told her about, and her grand plan to destroy the world. About how Dawn is - no, wait, was - a Key with the potential to unlock the gates that would destroy the world. But Buffy wasn’t going to let that happen.

  
     
  

As she stared at Buffy’s grave, she thought of the way everyone’s eyes had instantly welled up the moment her name was mentioned. Dawn, surprisingly, had been the one to continue speaking, even after they’d all clearly become too choked up to talk. She had talked about how Buffy had concocted this amazing plan to keep her safe. How she’d climbed up the tower. How Glory had opened the portal anyway.

  
     
  

Faith choked up as she remembered Dawn talking about Buffy jumping off that ledge so she didn’t have to. By this point, everyone in the room was crying, and no one could seem to stop. When Dawn’s words became more sobs than sounds, Faith had laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder, grateful they were sitting beside one another. It wasn’t much, but she’d felt Dawn lean into it. Seek comfort from it. The idea that they were heading for ‘Okay’ again had caused Faith to relax, even though her heart was breaking all over again.

  
     
  

Faith was jarred from her memories by a sound in the cemetery behind her. The unmistakable noise of footsteps on grass. Combined with the fact that her Slayer sense was tingling, she could tell it was a vamp. Spinning, she launched herself at the attacker, tackling him to the ground. They rolled, and she sprang to her feet easily, lowering herself into a defensive crouch while she waited for him to get up.

And waited some more.

Recognition came to her easily. This is Spike. She’d flirted with him once, in Buffy’s body. He was a vampire, without a doubt. So why wasn’t he fighting back?

“Lemme guess. Leather pants, doe eyes, holier-than-thou glower. You must be Faith.”

“Oh, goodie. A vamp who knows my name. C’mon,” she gestured that he should get up, but the blonde remained lying on the grass.

“Bit of a misunderstanding here, see I’m-”

“Spike,” she cut him off. Yes, this was Spike. Vampire. Bad guy. Guy she could fight. And should be fighting. But why wasn’t he getting up? “I know. We’ve met before. Now get your ass up off the ground before I do it for you.” Her bravado was entirely false, but she’d hoped he didn’t see through it. She couldn’t fight someone who was lying down. Couldn’t fight someone who didn’t fight back. That was too much like the Old Faith.

“I’m on your side now,” Spike smirked, and it irritated her to no end. She wanted to hit him. If only he’d pick his bleached ass off the grass.

“I’m reformed,” Faith bit back.

Doesn’t mean you have to dust me, ” Spike pulled himself up onto his elbows, and Faith’s muscles tensed in preparation. “I can’t even hit the good guys any more.”

“Bullshit.”

“Didn’t the gang tell you ‘bout me?” he seemed genuinely miffed at their lack of communication. “I’m chipped. Can’t do a bloody thing to your lot. Only get to hit demons and the like.”

“So you’re fighting for good now?” she questioned, trying to fit it together. “Like Angel?”

“I’m nothing like Angel!” Spike sat up suddenly, and Faith dropped lower into a fighting stance.

“So you’re bad?”

“Yeah.”

Faith lunged, and he held up his hands in defence.

“But I fight for good. You get it? We’re on the same side.”

“You think I’m stupid?” Faith said incredulously, but something in the back of her mind whispered that he might be telling the truth. Angel was a vampire fighting for good, so why couldn’t Spike?

----

  
     
  

Spike goes flying past Faith’s head, and it’s enough to snap her out of her memories. The vamp that’s thrown him whirls on Faith, and she delivers a solid kick to his side that knocks him off-balance. Tara’s spell-gone-wrong earlier might have made him peppy, but she can be peppier. Is that a word? Ducking one of the vamp’s fists as it flies at her, she scoots around the vamp and reverses their positions so she’s now between Giles and the vamp. As she lands a right hook to his jaw, Spike leaps on the vamp’s back in a flash of bleached hair and black duster.

[Faith].

Willow’s voice in her head is still catching her off-guard, despite the fact that they’ve been practicing this since she came back to Sunnydale.

“What?” she snaps, distracted enough that the vamp’s next swing grazes her cheek. Shit . She’s got to pay more attention.

[Go help Anya and Xander].

Then Willow’s gone. It’s weird, even still, how Willow’s presence in her mind feels almost physical. She can tell when the redhead is just hovering, then again when she’s gone. The first few times they’d tried it, Faith had actually shouted when she felt Willow enter her brain. It felt way too personal. Way too invasive. And yet, it was helping. In a way.

  
     
  

Faith leaves Spike and Giles to fight their fight, and starts in a dead sprint towards where Xander and Anya are clearly struggling with a vampire of their own. Out of the corner of her eye, Faith spies the Buffybot, dressed as impeccably as always, headed towards the same vamp. The Bot gets there first, disengaging Xander from the vamp’s grip and refocusing its attention on her. The shift allows Faith to get the drop on the vampire, tackling it from the side just as it prepares to lunge at the Buffybot.

  
     
  

As Faith fights alongside the robot, she can’t help but notice how strange it is compared to fighting with Buffy. This robot is mechanical, methodical, effective, but it lacks B’s emotion, passion, and most of all, her puns.

  
     
  

When Faith had first found out about the Buffybot, she hadn’t been exactly thrilled.

  
     
  

---

  
     
  

She’d been upstairs showering, and she came downstairs with her clothes tucked under one arm. The first thing she’d seen had been the backs of Willow and Tara and in the living room, and as she descended the staircase, she saw more of the gang. Anya and Xander were there, and Giles. And Spike. And beside Spike…

  
     
  

Faith’s heart stopped at the familiar head of blonde hair, all she could make out among the tangle of people. She skipped the last four steps, choosing to leap straight to the floor, and the slight thud made the gang turn and look at her. She crossed to them in a few steps, and froze instantly when she saw her.

Buffy.

The clothes slipped from Faith’s grip and dropped quietly to the floor as she stared at the sight before her. Buffy. Dressed in a skirt, loose blouse and leather jacket. It’s a clothing set Faith had never seen before, but then again, she had been gone for a long time. Buffy’s head was tilted slightly as she looked at Faith, eyes glazed over just the tiniest bit, but her brow furrowed.

“Buffy?” Faith’s voice was quiet, but she didn’t dare make it any louder. She was pretty sure that if she did, she would end up bursting into tears, or just losing her voice altogether. Maybe shattering into a million pieces. She felt like that right about now.

  
     
  

“Faith, it’s not-” Tara began, reaching out to touch Faith’s shoulder with one hand. It was contact that Faith barely registered, instead too focused on the girl in front of her, the one she’d thought was… gone.

“Hi, I’m Buffy,” Buffy stuck out her hand abruptly, grinning brighter than any time Faith had ever seen. Too bright.

Fury rose up in Faith quickly, and she could swear that her body temperature rose a hundred degrees in a minute.

“What,” she growled, her eyes gliding to every member of the group, “did you do to her?”

“Nothing!” Willow rushed in. “It’s not Buffy.”

“I am Buffy,” Buffy chirped, and her voice alone drew Faith’s gaze back. She looked so healthy. So happy.

“Spike?” Tara said quietly, catching the vampire’s attention. “Could you…?” she gestured to the kitchen, and Spike took hold of Buffy’s elbow, whispered something in her ear, and led her out of the room. A few moments later, he returned, and Faith thought it was just lucky she was so confused and hurt that she’d lost the ability to speak, or else she’d be freaking the hell out right now.

“That’s not Buffy,” Spike’s voice was slightly rough, like it was hard for him to say the words.

“You sure?” Faith knew her own voice was just as rough, but she pushed through it. “Cause it sure as fuck looked like her.”

“It’s a robot,” Tara’s voice soothed her anger, as it tended to do, but her words made Faith feel like the ground was tilting a little. Wait, make that a lot.

“Spike had it made a while back,” Willow offered slowly.

“And stopped using it soon after,” the vampire in question interjected.

Willow nodded her acknowledgement, and continued. “We were thinking we can reprogram it and keep it on so no one outside of us knows she’s gone.”

“What?” Faith whirled to face Giles. “You’re letting this happen?”

“It’s best if it’s seen that she never left here,” Giles started, continuing to talk even as Faith opened her mouth to reply. “If social services found out, they would take Dawn away.”

“Not to mention all the demons that’d love to come play in a Slayer-free zone,” Xander piped up.

“Hey,” Faith spun to face him. “I’m still a Slayer.”

“But none of them know you. Word hasn’t gotten out that you’re here yet. They’ll still come.”

“I can reprogram it, I know it,” Willow tried to diffuse the situation, and Faith had to give her points for it. They seem to have all talked about this without her, and now made the final decision while she was right upstairs. Not that she should have been surprised. They’re the Scooby Gang. She’s just Faith.

  
     
  

“Reprogram it?” Faith’s brain seemed to take a moment to catch up with the conversation, which she figures is fair given all the trauma it went through in the last few minutes. “What was it programmed to before?”

The group all shared a look, and Faith cocked an eyebrow. “Okay, there’s clearly somethin’ everyone’s  not telling me.”

“It was designed for more… unconventional uses,” Giles finally managed, and Faith’s brow furrowed.

“Huh?”

“Sex,” Anya spoke up for the first time, and Faith thanked whatever deity put that woman in Sunnydale. Then her brain catches up with her again.

“Sex?” she looked over at the man that had supposedly had this robot created. “You wanted a robot that looked like Buffy just so you could have sex with it?” And hell, it wasn’t even a robot that just looked like Buffy, this robot practically could have been Buffy. It had the tiny furrow between her brows that Faith noticed would only disappear when she was eating or sleeping. The exact colour of her eyes. It was freaky. And wrong. Spike wanted a Slayer sexbot?

Spike pursed his lips. “I regret it now, okay?”

“Dude,” Faith tried to push away all the images that started to float into her brain of Spike and the robot together. “That’s wicked wrong. Fuck , no matter how much I wanted her, I woulda never gone that far.” Faith realised what she’d said, and immediately tried to backtrack. “I mean, y’know, anyone who wants someone like that should… well…” She trailed off, her brain too overwhelmed at the moment to think of a witty coverup or backtrack.

  
     
  

“On that note,” Giles replaced his glasses on his nose, and Faith only just realised that he’d been cleaning them. “I do believe you should start looking into the programming and rewiring.”

“I’ll help,” Xander chimed in immediately.

“Xander,” Anya whined, gripping his elbow. “You said you’d come home and we could spend all of tonight in bed having sex.”

Faith noticed the reactions to Anya’s bluntness varied from an eyeroll to another glasses polish, to Xander’s hushed “Ahn, we talked about this.” Faith personally loved the fact that Anya always spoke her mind. It wasn’t a quality she found often in other people. Then again, she’d learned recently that Anya wasn’t a person. Well, she was now. But she was an ex-demon, which was the biggest surprise. Also a strange comfort to Faith. She was reformed. She worked with them. That was good.

  
     
  

Faith noticed, as the group started to head for the kitchen, Spike pulled Willow to one side. Her enhanced hearing allowed her to hear Spike’s whispered request.

“You’ll remove everything, right?”

“I’ll do it.”

“Willow.”

“I know. I promise. She’ll know you. But none of those comments we kept hearing.”

“They hurt me as much as they hurt you, pet.”

  
     
  

-----

  
     
  

After Faith and the Buffybot stake the vampire, the brunette helps Xander to his feet.

[Guys]

Faith can tell from Xander’s slight jump, and Anya’s turn to look over at Willow, that the redhead has spoken to all of their minds.

[That’s all of them. We’re done for tonight. Meet Spike and Giles by the crypt they were fighting at]

“Thanks Willow!” Xander calls loudly, and Faith rolls her eyes at him.

  
     
  

----

  
     
  

“I was hoping we could go over your programming,” Willow suggests to the Buffybot the next morning at breakfast.

“Again?” Faith asks around a mouthful of peanut butter and jelly sandwich. At Tara’s glare, she swallows, then continues. “If ya don’t got it by now, ya don’t got it.” As soon as the words leave her mouth, she watches Willow’s reaction, and realises she’s said the wrong thing. “Sorry!” she says quickly.

“It’s okay,” the redhead concedes, and Faith’s grateful they’re making progress. It’s still not Easy Street, but at least she’s finding it much easier to say sorry, and the gang are learning to accept it. She’s truly sorry every time, which is also a huge plus. It feels nice.

  
     
  

“Do you think you’ll be okay at the parent/teacher day today?” Tara asks Dawn.

“I think we can do it,” Dawn glances at the Buffybot.

“Want me to come with ya, Squirt?” Faith snatches another PB and J that the Buffybot has piled up, then nudges Dawn.

“I don’t know,” the teen looks over at Willow and Tara.

“I’d like Faith to come,” Buffybot pipes up, placing yet another completed PB and J on the stack. Faith notices she’s getting quite the collection, and so she grabs one of the Buffybot’s hands to get her attention.

“Unstart,” she says awkwardly. It still hasn’t gotten much easier for her to talk to the Buffybot over time. She looks too much like the real thing. Looking at her face, knowing there’s not really a brain in that beautiful head of hers, not seeing that familiar spark of irritation and amusement that the real Buffy always seemed to have whenever she’d looked at Faith.

  
     
  

It hadn’t taken too long for Willow to program Faith into the Buffybot. Especially once Faith convinced her to leave out a lot of her old mistakes, and all the things she’d done wrong, instead giving the Buffybot just base knowledge such as ‘Faith was bad, now she’s trying to be good’. Which was, in its simplest form, the real reason she was here. It’d made Faith feel a little better watching Willow tap away at her computer keys, practically recreating her with every stroke. This Buffy knew nothing about how much pain they’d been through together. But, then again, wasn’t that part of their story? Their history?

  
     
  

Faith drops the Buffybot’s hand as soon as she’s given the command, and Buffybot smiles brightly at her.

“I helped!”

“That you did,” Tara touches her shoulder gently.

“I am here!” Xander calls, entering through the back door. “I am a man! I have tools!”

“Debatable,” Faith smirks, then tosses him a PB and J. “Catch.”

The sandwich hits Xander’s chest, but he does manage to get a grip on it before it hits the ground.

“My skills are unparalleled,” he says in response to the light laughter from the females of the room. “What’re we talking about?”

“I want Faith to come,” Buffybot repeats, earning stares from the small group.

“I need to make some final adjustments on the Buffybot to prepare her for today,” Willow tells him, gesturing at the toolbox he’s brought with him. “Thanks for that.”

“Can Faith come?” the Buffybot asks, focusing her too-intense gaze on Willow. “I’d like Faith to come.”

“Boy,” Xander takes a bite out of the sandwich in her hand. “She loves her new friend.”

“We’re still working out some things,” Willow defends quickly. “Dawn, it’s up to you.”

“I mean, Buffybot might be easier to handle with two of us, right?” Dawn throws a glance at Faith, who grins easily. They’re not best buds, but she’s grateful Dawn’s actually talking to her. And not completely rejecting the idea of having Faith come along and help out. Baby steps, right?

“She has to be convincing,” Xander reminds the group.

“Thank you Captain Duh ,” Faith jokes, then realises that could come across as rude. “I mean, of course she will be. Red’s got her fixed up real nice.”

“What do I have to be convincing at?” Buffybot directs this question at Tara, who seems unsure of how to answer.

“Because we don’t want Dawn to be taken away,” she says patiently. “Remember?”

“Right!” Buffybot nods eagerly. “Cause she’s my sister. And I love my sister. No one will take her away.”

Faith takes another bite of her remaining sandwich half and casts a look at Dawn, who is too busy staring at the counter to notice much else.

“Hey,” Faith says quietly, half a second before the phone starts to ring. Ignoring the commotion following it, Dawn looks over at the older girl. “You’re not goin’ anywhere, kid. You’re stuck with us.”

  
     
  

“Who was that?” Dawn asks when Willow hangs up the phone.

“Judging by the fact Willow just passed on the message about ol’ Xander being her ‘sugar cookie’ my money’s on his honey,” Faith answers in place of the wicca.

“She’s right,” Willow agrees after a second, and Faith’s glad she’s starting to say that a little more often and with a little less sour look on her face.

“What did she want?” Dawn continues with her line of questioning. 

“Just to check in about the Scooby meeting tonight,” Willow answers. “Faith, are you still good to watch Dawn?”

“Yeah, of course,” she answers.

  
     
  

Initially, it had hurt when they left her out of gang meetings. It’d been hard, very reminiscent of her first visit to Sunnydale, where they seemed to make it a habit of neglecting to invite her to meetings or debriefings. But then she remembered that this time, they had reasons. They had a legitimate reason too. She got to be the one to stay at home with Dawn. Not that she minded, of course. She’d actually managed to bond with the kid pretty well, given everything, and Dawn had taken to not only replying when spoken to, but actually initiating contact, which was a nice bonus in Faith’s eyes. So it wasn’t as bad this time, knowing they were having meetings without her. Willow or Tara would usually come home and tell her about it all anyway.

  
     
  

They’d almost developed a routine, if the witches came home at a reasonable enough hour. Tara would sit on the couch and debrief Faith on what she needed to know, what they were changing, facing or investigating, and Willow would make tea. Then they’d sit and watch cartoons, Faith would make up the couch, and they’d all go to bed. So no, she didn’t mind watching Dawn. Not if there were positives she could focus on.

  
     
  

“We’re gonna have fun,” Faith smirks at her charge, and Dawn gives a small smile back.

“Spike said he’ll be here too, if that’s okay?” Tara looks between the two of them. Faith nods easily. When she’d first met the vamp, she would have had a problem with it, given the fact that he was, well, a vamp. And then he’d brought the godforsaken robot, and she’d been washed with a fresh set of doubts. But she had to keep reminding herself that he’d said it was who he’d been in  the past. Just like with her.  The old versions of them did bad things. The new versions them were trying. Trying to do better. Be better.  

  
     
  

She’s seen him with Dawn. Seen how protective he was of her. Sometimes even volunteering to stay home from patrol to look after her. Ready to jump in front of a bullet for her, if that’s what it took.  Well, maybe not a bullet, because hello, vampire. But she’s got no doubt he’d jump in front of a stake for Dawn.  She’s seen that kind of devotion before. He’s a good guy, she figures, and it’s not like they don’t get along well. Within the first week or so after the Buffybot incident, she’d tried to give him a chance. And he was actually half-way decent. Theyre similar in a lot of ways, she’s found, and it means they have bond in a way she doesn’t have with anyone else in the group, except maybe Anya. Initially, she wasn’t entirely comfortable with being friends with a vamp without a soul, but he’d proven himself enough to her. Angel was fighting for good, and so was Spike. The difference being that the former had a soul, but if the Scoobies trusted Spike, she could too.  

  
     
  

---

  
     
  

“How was it?” Tara practically leaps up from the couch the moment they walk through the door that afternoon. She and Willow are on their feet and in the doorway within seconds, twin expressions of worry on their faces.

“Did she behave?”

“Did she say anything wrong?”

“Did anyone pick up on it?”

“Tell me she didn’t short circuit!”

“Guys!” Faith interrupts as gently as she can, a smirk threatening to lift her lips. “Let the kid breathe, alright?” Dawn hasn’t even dropped her backpack by this point; they’ve been in the house for all of about two seconds and already got the third degree.

“I’m okay,” Dawn insists, then flashes Willow and Tara a smile. “Yeah, she did great.”

“I was a good student!” Buffybot pipes up cheerily, and Faith’s heart hurts a little as she claps the robot on the shoulder.

“Yeah, ya were.” It was true enough. Buffybot was the epitome of a perfect student. The exact sort of person Faith would have wanted to deck if she was still in high school. Or if she’d finished high school. Something about the robot’s genuine honesty and bluntness really resonated with the teachers, and Faith’s starting to think that maybe she could have passed at least one class if she’d acted the way Buffybot acted today.

  
     
  

Their little gang follows Tara into the kitchen, and Faith smiles a little as the Buffybot pops up onto the stool beside Dawn.

“I had a good day today,” she says, as Tara pours Dawn a glass of juice. “I had a good day with my sister Dawn and Faith. Did you have a good day Dawn?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Dawn answers, her smile a little too small and a little too forced to pass as comfortable in Faith’s eyes. “We passed.”

  
     
  

Faith thanks Tara quietly when the other girl places a glass of juice in front of her. Dawn’s choice of words makes her feel strange. She passed. It’s not a feeling she’s used to, but she can see why people aim for it. It’s pretty nice. Not unlike her training with Angel, and the way she felt when she made progress on that.

  
     
  

---

  
     
  

“Nice work!” Faith encourages Dawn when the card she’s tossed glances off the banana they’re practicing on.

“I barely even touched it,” the teen complains. “Show me again.”

“Okay,” Faith lines it up. “Gotta stand like this, right?” she drops into a crouch. “Ready?” At Dawn’s nod, she flicks the playing card from her fingertips. It spins across the room with grace, leaving a deep slash in the skin of the banana. “Get it?”

“Got it,” Dawn tries to imitate her stance, and Faith starts to adjust her grip when there’s a knock at the door.

“Spike!” Dawn places the deck of cards on the counter, leaving Faith in the kitchen while she makes her way to the front of the house. Faith places the cards in her hand on top of Dawn’s, and pulls out a stool. She can hear Spike’s echoing call of “Niblet!” when the door is opened, and within moments, Dawn has reappeared in the kitchen, the bleached vampire trailing behind.

“Faith,” Spike greets her with a nod.

“Spike,” she nods back, then props her elbows up on the counter. “What sorta pizza you got?”

“Half pepperoni for the Bit, half steak for me. Take your pick.”

  
     
  

Faith’s happy to see that they’re actually getting along pretty well, the three of them. She’d always figured she  and Spike would get along pretty well, especially once he worked it was her who was in Buffy’s body, that one time they met in the Bronze.

Spike flips open the box and the three of them each take a slice.

“Hey, wasn’t it that parent/teacher thing today?” Spike says around a mouthful of pizza.

“Yeah, it was,” Dawn nods. “We survived. It was a pretty successful day all around.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

Faith smirks to herself. She knew it wasn’t just her that heard it.

“Buffybot was a hit,” Faith chimes in.

“My homeroom teacher loved her,” Dawn bites her pizza and swallows with a slight eyeroll. It’s not as advanced as Buffy’s used to be, but she clearly learnt from the best.

“An example to us all!” Faith exaggerates, throwing her arms out to the side.

“She wanted to make it National Buffy Day.”

  
     
  

The day had gone smooth enough. Buffybot had behaved, for the most part, and there were no real problems. Sure, they’d had hiccups. Buffybot made some comments about the dioramas, which Dawn easily dismissed. She tried making conversation with some moody teens, which Faith easily diverted. And sure, she made certain remarks in class that drew a hell of a lot of attention, but it wasn’t the bad kind. Faith had been less than an inch from leaping up and hauling Buffybot back into her seat, but the other parents and the teacher started to relate to her, so she’d let it go. Dawn had whispered a comment about how she wanted to be anywhere but here, and Faith had been inclined to agree.

  
     
  

“Makes sense,” Spike shrugs as he eats another slice of pizza.

“It does?” Dawn cocks her head. Faith fights the urge to copy her.

“She responded because a robot is predictable. Boring. Perfect teacher’s pet.”

Faith nodded every time Spike made a statement. She’d gone to school with a few robot-like students. Looking back, she was pretty sure that they weren’t actually robots, but she couldn’t be 100% positive.

“That’s how schools are, y’know. Factories. Spewing out mindless little automatons.”

“Yeah!” Faith can’t help but join in. She’s not sure where Spike’s position on the issue is coming from, but they seem to have similar viewpoints. She shoves the remains of her pizza slice in her mouth and locates three cups. “That’s why I quit,” she continues once she’s swallowed. “Don’t fit no mould. They can’t hold me down.”

“Robots. All of ‘em,” Spike agrees while she pours the drinks. As she places them on the counter, her and Spike seem to remember Dawn’s presence at the same time, eyes widening in unison.

“But good robots that are great people in the big bad world,” Faith tries to cover up.

“Valuable and productive members of society,” Spike adds. “Stay in school.”

Dawn is looking at them like they’re the biggest pair of idiots in the universe, and Faith worries for a moment that they’ve actually driven the teen to decide to drop out.

  
     
  

“So,” Spike picks up the banana they’d been using for target practice earlier. It’s got three open gashes down one side, courtesy of Faith, and a few tiny scrapes from Dawn’s attempts. “You guys run outta knives or what?”

“Faith’s teaching me to throw cards!”

Spike raises one dark eyebrow at the Slayer, who shrugs. “It’s fun. Cool party trick. Handy skill.”

“Handy how?” Spike is still inspecting the banana, testing the slice with his fingers. He picks up one playing card and starts running it along the outside, only succeeding in bending the cardboard.

“Where’d you even learn to do it?” Dawn asks, and Faith shrugs. “Was it in prison?”

Faith looks at the other brunette, eyes wide and mouth open in a small ‘o’. How’s she even supposed to answer that?

“Yeah,” she replies slowly.

“Why?” Dawn’s curiosity clearly can’t be tamed, and Faith looks over at Spike for help. Is it okay for her to be telling stories about her prison time? Would Willow and Tara approve? Would Buffy?

Spike shrugs a little in his usual indifferent way, and Faith hasn’t known him long enough to be able to discern what his eyes are saying behind their bright blue curtain.

“Cards aren’t seen as a weapon in prison. Ya can toss ‘em at someone if they’re gettin’ too close or threatenin’ to mess you up.”

“Neat,” Dawn nods as understanding settles in. “Teach me more?”

Realising she’s basically just told Dawn that she’s going to be teaching her how to slice people, Faith tries to backtrack as fast as she can.

“Anyway, it’s not that important in real life. Wanna play Monopoly?”

  
     
  

As they finish off their pizza and fish out the Monopoly board, Dawn speaks up.

“You guys don’t have to stay, you know. You can patrol, or go to the Scooby meeting?”

“Wasn’t invited, Bit,” Spike shrugs.

“Plus, we said we’d hang here and make sure ya didn’t get into too much trouble,” Faith laughs a little.

“I’m okay, really,” Dawn insists, and Spike whirls to face her from where he’s standing in the middle of the room. His face is stormy, and Faith notices Dawn lean back just the slightest amount when she catches the darkened shade of his eyes. Faith doesn’t know him all that well, but she does know anger. She knows anger rooted in hurt better than she knows almost any emotion. And she can see it starting to build on Spike’s face.

“Hey,” Faith literally steps in between them, wondering somewhere in the back of her mind when she became mediator in this scenario. “Honestly Squirt, I don’t wanna be anywhere but here. Not sure about Bleach Boy,” she throws a glare at Spike that reads ‘calm the fuck down’ as clear as she can make it, “but I’m sticking around.”

  
     
  

Looking back at Spike, she watches the hurt in his eyes. The guilt, the anguish. The feeling of knowing you could have done better. You could have been better. It’s worse than looking into a mirror, and she looks away, praying Spike finds the inner strength it took her way too long to discover. She has no idea what’s caused this flare-up, but she’d prefer if it went back to normal, please and thank you.

“Now,” Faith says slowly, looking between the two of them. She tries to convey a ‘we’ll talk later’ to Spike via glare, but it doesn’t seem to be working. “We’re gonna sit down and play a game, yeah?”

She hears two soft echoes in return.

  
     
  

The rest of the night passes without much incident. After Dawn’s in bed, and Faith and Spike are watching a late-night soap and complaining about it, the Buffybot comes home damaged. Faith watches as Spike tenderly directs the robot to sit down, and tells her to wait for Willow. When the redhead does arrive home, she fixes Buffybot up, and Faith holds the flashlight as she watches Spike’s heartbreak play out on his face. She has no idea what’s gone down, but she knows it’s something.

  
     
  

The following day, Faith trains with Giles and the Buffybot. It’s weird to be fighting with the carbon copy of her twin Slayer, yet having it be such a different experience. Instead of Giles stopping their sparring sessions to correct technique or posture (which he still does to Faith), it’s more about stopping and reminding the Buffybot to breathe. To try and copy the rise and fall of Faith’s chest, the way she allows her breath to flow through her and make it a part of her slaying.

  
     
  

It’s weird to train with a robot. A real physical and emotional workout. Faith relishes in the physicality of it all. Like Buffy, the Buffybot knows all the moves. She is just as skilled as her real-life counterpart. Emotionally, it’s hard to stare into the Buffybot’s eyes and know there’s nothing staring back at her but wiring and mechanics. No spark. No fire. No wit or charm or memories. Just programming. It kills her.

  
     
  

Later that day, when the Scoobies find out that Giles is at the airport, Faith’s surprised that they tell her to come along. She rides in the car feeling out of place, like the gang is a tight-knit group and she’s just the awkward friend hanging off the edge. They do help her to pick something small for Giles at the gas station, and Dawn prints her name as carefully as the bouncing road will allow, double-checking that it’s spelled right. It’s something, she supposes.

  
     
  

Giles hugs her as he says goodbye. She doesn’t think they’ve ever had contact outside of training, and it’s weird to feel his arms around her. This man. Her once-Watcher, ex-friend, now-something. She hopes he thinks of them as friends, especially considering he’s going halfway across the world.

“You have made so much progress, Faith,” he murmurs quickly as he hugs her. “I’m proud of you.”

Giles’ words floor her for a long moment. Proud of her? Proud of her progress?

  
     
  

Her first time around, she had always known Giles saw the world through Buffy-coloured glasses. She was the first Slayer. The best. The favourite. Nothing Faith did or said would ever match up to that. And she knew it. It had been hard to come to a place where Buffy, so like herself in so many ways, had a life, and family, and friends. Where she had people who adored her and looked after her, and that’s all Faith had ever craved. Looking back, she thinks that she craved the father/daughter bond that Giles and Buffy had, so that’s why she loved being with the Mayor. He treated her right, and he treated her like she was important. Like he loved her, just like Giles loved Buffy. He would tell her he was proud of her and that he was amazed by her and all of it meant everything at the time. Now, however, it was a different story.

  
     
  

Giles’ words replay in her mind on a constant loop. He’s proud of her and her progress. Old Faith was happy with the Mayor’s praise. Was willing to do whatever the hell it took to get someone to notice her and love her. And so she did. This time around, it’s the good stuff she’s doing. She knows she’ll never be his favourite. But with his pride tucked into her belt, she doesn’t need to be.

  
     
  

--

  
     
  

After they wave goodbye to Giles, the day passes quickly, until the next thing she knows, She and Spike are getting drink refills in the kitchen while Dawn flicks through TV channels in the living room and tries to find something half-decent to watch. She knows she could have gone patrolling tonight, but without the whole gang here to ensure Dawn’s safety, she’s not sure she’d be entirely comfortable with the idea. She couldn’t let something happen to Dawn. Not to Buffy’s baby sister.

  
     
  

“I’m still right pissed at the gang for not letting us tag along,” Spike opened the fridge, peered inside, and shut it again.

“Someone’s gotta make sure Dawn’s okay,” Faith opens the freezer in search of some ice. “Plus, we’re not official ‘Scooby Gang’.”

“What, they’ve got soddin’ pins or something? Like ‘ooh, you can’t be in our club’,” Spike scoffs. “Don’t get me wrong, I love hanging with Niblet, but it’s not the same, y’know?”

Faith shrugs. By this point, she’s learned to get used to it. If she sat around moping like she did her first year in Sunnydale, she’d probably end up the same way. And that wasn’t an option. On the upside, it always seemed to be the three of them left alone, which she didn’t mind. They were their own mini-team. Spike, her, and - CRASH.

  
     
  

Both her and Spike race towards the living room at the noise, drinks instantly forgotten, before realising that the noise came from down the street. Dawn’s already up and at the window, peering out into the night.

“Demons,” she says simply.

Faith crosses the room in a few long strides, Spike right behind her. One hand lands on Dawn’s shoulder as she looks through the glass. The demons are tall, but that’s not unusual to Faith. They’re dressed in the sort of getup she’d associate with biker gangs, not that there were many of them where she’d come from. As the demons toss furniture through windows and rumble down the streets on motorbikes, she can see their deformed faces, pierced more than anyone or anything she’d ever seen. And they’re clearly here to start shit, with the sheer destruction they’re causing. Already, fires are erupting at various points along the street, some inside houses. They’re ruthless in their approach, and Faith backs away from the window, suddenly thinking this house is too vulnerable.

  
     
  

Spike follows her lead, coming away from the window and dragging Dawn with him.

“Stay away from the windows,” Spike starts to tell the teen, and Faith dashes off to check that none of their windows or doors have been compromised. She yells at Spike to check the downstairs, and she’ll up up. She’s racing down after completing her sweep, only to find Dawn at a window again, the curtain pushed back so she can see. Spike’s muttering something to himself over by the weapons chest as he digs around, then recoils in pain with a small tendril of smoke winding upwards from his hand.

“They’re moving,” Dawn says suddenly, and Spike’s at her side in an instant.

“I thought I told you to stay away from the windows,” he reprimands gently.

“They’re headed this way,” Dawn’s voice is slightly shaky, but Faith is proud of how calm she’s outwardly appearing. For a kid her age, she’s had to deal with a lot of shit.

  
     
  

“Take Dawn,” Faith practically shoves the younger brunette at Spike, who’s looking at her as though she’s sprouted a second head.

“We need to wait for the others,” Dawn pipes up, and Faith looks down at her. She opens her mouth, but it’s Spike who speaks.

“We don’t have time. You have to stay safe.”

“We have to wait for them!” Dawn repeats.

“I’m sorry,” Faith tells her, and she truly is. It sucks to be whisked away from where you want to be, and your safe place, and waiting on the people you love. She can’t imagine how Dawn’s feeling. “Spike’s going to take you away. Keep you safe.” Dark eyes rise up to meet the vampires in an unspoken question, and he nods once, his hands circling Dawn’s shoulders.

“C’mon, Bit, we need to go.”

“Wait!” Dawn says one last time, and Faith presses a quick kiss to her forehead before spinning on her heel and racing over to the weapons chest. She can hear Dawn shouting after her, asking why she can’t come, why they can’t stay. Spike murmurs aren’t loud enough to be audible, but they’re a low hum that obviously intends to bring comfort to the girl as they head out the back door.

“Just go,” she cries after them, wondering if they hear her. Hoping they do. They need to stay safe. She needs to keep them safe.

  
     
  

---

  
     
  

Faith races out to the street to fight the demons before they have a chance to attack the Summers’ house. She can feel the adrenaline already starting to flow through her veins, the sense of peace that comes just before a fight when she knows they’re gonna lose and she’s gonna win. She takes a flying leap at the first one, who just so happens to be straddling a motorcycle with his back facing her. She tackles him to the ground, rolling easily and springing to her feet. By this point, a few of the other demons nearby have taken notice of her, and they’re starting to move her way.

“Oh, goodie,” she grins widely. “Let’s party.”

  
     
  

It’s like a ballet. The moves come without thought, without worry, and she feels her muscles ease into the dance of battle without a fight. The neck of the first demon snaps within twenty seconds, and the few that have gathered freeze for a second to watch. She flashes them a smile, then gets back to the ass-kicking.

  
     
  

She notices after the first few that they’re all muscle and no skill. Not built for slayage at all, mostly just built to break shit. But she’s small, and quick. Much quicker than they are. She ducks under their thrown punches and spins around their lunging bodies.

“Come on,” one of the bigger ones shouts, just after she’s plunged her knife into the fourth demon’s chest. “We can’t get beaten by a girl!”

“You’re not gonna get beaten by a girl,” Faith smirks, delivering a solid right hook to another demon’s jaw. “You’re gonna get beaten by the Slayer.”

“The Slayer?”

She can see the shock on their faces, read it in the lines of their bodies. They weren’t aware she was coming. Of course.

“We thought the Slayer was dead?!” a demon just to her right says in surprise, and he earns a knife to the chest for that comment. The blow feels like Faith’s driving the weapon into her own chest, with the severity of pain that’s taken up residence there.

“Think again,” is all she says, before lunging for a demon a few feet away.

  
     
  

After the few in the street have been disposed of or run away, Faith turns in a slow circle and surveys her environment. There are fires inside houses, broken windows, furniture and possessions strewn across front lawns like every house is having a broken, flaming yard sale. She’s tempted to start fixing it, but her muscles seem to know that there’s more slaying to be done, taking her away from the mess and further down the street, in the direction of where the two demons she’d missed had fled to.

  
     
  

She manages to kill four more demons - they were even in a convenient little group, just what every Slayer wants! - before she slows to a walk, still wandering the streets. Her adrenaline has started to slow a little, but her body is still screaming at her. All that talk to Buffy about slaying making her hungry and horny was completely rooted in truth. To work it off, she thinks of where the Scooby Gang could be, or where Spike and Dawn are. She didn’t see which way they went after they left Revello Drive, which leaves her at kind of a standstill now. Except, her standstill is more like a stand-walk, as she strolls down the road. There’s faint shouting that she’s just picking up, so she head in that direction.

  
     
  

A few minutes later and there’s the unmistakable sound of a motorcycle heading for her, and if she squints, she can see someone running in front of it too. The girl - she can tell by the long, flowing hair - seems to be heading for an alleyway, and Faith lets her run past, stepping in at just the right time to throw the demon on the bike off balance. He skids under his vehicle for about ten feet, then she puts a knife in his chest to ensure he’s dead.

  
     
  

Faith enters the alley that she’d seen the girl run into, and when she notes there’s a giant chain-link fence, she scales it easily and drops over the other side. The girl’s standing here, shaking violently, and she spins at the noise of Faith’s feet hitting the ground. When she turns, it’s obvious to Faith that it’s the Buffybot, though she’s dressed much differently than Faith remembers. Her hair’s also a total mess, and there must be a problem with her wiring because her eyes look vacant and dark.

“Gee, you look positively great, ” Faith teases the robot. When there’s no answer, she tries again. “When’d ya get time to change your clothes?” There’s still no answer, so Faith looks closer at the Buffybot. Dark eyes skim over the robot’s form, looking for obvious signs of damage. As she takes a step closer - in that millisecond before the Buffybot takes a step back - she recognises something she has not felt in a long time. As a Slayer, she’s quickly learned her extra sense could help her pick up on vamps in the area. Or demons. Or witches. Basically, every supernatural being had a signature imprint. And this one is unique. As in, ‘ One Girl In All The World’ unique. This isn’t the Buffybot. This is Buffy.

  
     
  

Despite the fight, the adrenaline coursing through her veins, she’s pretty sure her heart stops. If this is Buffy, the real Buffy, then she’s not dead. She’s alive again. Faith has no idea how or why she’s back, but she is. And she even has that tiny goddamn crease between her brows.

“B,” the familiar nickname slips past Faith’s lips, and Buffy’s wide, scared eyes flick to her own. It’s entirely different than looking the Buffybot in the eye, and despite everything, it feels good. Like coming home, if she’s being cliche about it.

She’s spent too long dreaming about what it would be like to see Buffy again. What she’d say, how she’d act. Then, when she’d found out that Buffy was dead, everything had gone out the window. She’d never know how it would feel to lay eyes on the real Buffy Summers again. To apologise. The words dance at the tip of her tongue, but she knows that this is not the time, nor the place. Buffy looks like she’s been through hell, which now that Faith thinks about it, she may have. Her heart stutters to life again in her chest, and she doesn’t know whether she wants to scream or cry. Or maybe break down into a thousand tiny pieces.

  
     
  

There’s a noise at the mouth of the alleyway and both Faith and Buffy spin to face it, Buffy more so out of fear, Faith in preparation to fight. Her stance relaxes as soon as she realises it’s the Scoobies, but she can’t help but notice that Buffy’s still tense and terrified.

“Guys,” Faith starts, but Willow jumps in.

“Oh no, Buffybot looks like she got messed up again.”

“It’s not Buffybot,” Faith says, but all she gets in return are four confused and disbelieving pairs of eyes.

“No, sorry, it’s Faithbot, my mistake,” sarcasm drips off Xander’s words, but Faith pays it no mind.

“It’s not the ‘bot ‘cause it’s the real deal.” Again with the four blank stares.

“I don’t know what the fuck happened but this is real Buffy and she’s real scared right now,” Faith turns to see if the girl in question is still behind her, but Buffy’s backed herself up against the brick wall, crouching down and hugging her knees to her chest.

“You’re serious?” Anya looks between Faith and Buffy.

“Sure as hell don’t look like a ‘bot to me,” Faith joins in with the rest of the group, facing Buffy but staying a respectable distance.

  
     
  

A scuffle from behind them causes Faith to spin around instantly. The fight begins almost without warning, but that’s mostly from the fact that the leader takes one look at Buffy and his expression is so lecherous that Faith tackles him within a fraction of a second.

  
     
  

They’ve been fighting for a few minutes when Faith realises there’s an oddly familiar swish of blonde hair fighting beside her, body moving beside hers in an intricate dance only they know the steps to. Even shaken up, Buffy is a force to be reckoned with, and Faith nearly gets clipped on the jaw more than once just trying to take it all in. She’s as amazing as Faith remembers and it makes her body sing just to be fighting beside Buffy again instead of the Buffybot.

  
     
  

They manage to eliminate all the demons, and even the rest of the Scoobies play their rather large part in the slayage.

“Wow, Buffy,” Tara says, turning to face the blonde, but Buffy’s already racing out of the alleyway into the darkness, leaving the Scoobies standing clueless in the dark.


Faith blinks once. Twice. “What the fuck just happened?”

Chapter Text

It takes a few moments for the realisation to sink in that Buffy’s just run away. Faith stands with the Scoobies, all of them speechless and shell-shocked, looking in the direction that Buffy ran. Her brain seems to kick in after a while, and she’s able to realise that Buffy just ran away, and she can catch her. They’ve got the same skills, the same speed, and she has no doubt she can catch up with Buffy. If there’s even a chance that she could reach her, Faith knows she has to try.

 

Seeing Buffy again has made her bones feel all weak and fragile. She’s just fought demons, yes, but now that they’re gone, she’s able to start to process exactly what happened and fuck. It feels a little like someone’s taken all her oxygen. But knowing that she could possibly catch up to Buffy, knowing she could find her and bring her home and keep her safe, that’s what spurs her into action now, filling her veins with energy once more.

 

“I’m gonna catch her,” is all Faith says in terms of a goodbye, then leaves the gang in her dust as she sprints out of the alleyway. She has no idea where she’s going, or where Buffy would go. She thinks as she runs, her thoughts pounding in time with her feet on the pavement. Her brain tries to work out what Buffy’s first stop would be, but it’s too busy focusing on the ‘Buffy’ part of the sentence to be of much help. So she twists it and tries to think where she would go if she’d just been wrenched from a hell dimension and finally made it back to good ol’ Earth. Her first thought is that she’d go to Buffy, but since that’s not really applicable to the situation at hand, she’s got to think of something else.

 

Faith can’t help but notice the sheer destruction all around her as she runs. The storefronts are smashed, cars are overturned, and there’s fire almost everywhere. It seems like the demons weren’t just hitting houses, but they wanted to destroy the entire town.

Wait.

Houses.

Home.

Buffy’s gone home .

 

Faith tries to work out the quickest route to Revello Drive as she runs. Thankfully, without realising it, her feet have already started taking her in the direction she wants to go. Whether it’s following Buffy, or following instinct, she doesn’t know and doesn’t care. She just needs to get home and get Buffy. Her energy is waning after all the running and fighting she’s already done tonight, but she continues to push herself. She knows that she’ll hurt come tomorrow - because putting on this much speed after fighting is too much for her body - but she doesn’t care. This is Buffy. And so she digs deep and finds every reserve she’s got, pouring her strength into running faster, taking longer strides, urging herself forward. Being a Slayer has a lot of perks, and the enhanced speed and stamina is certainly one of them. She silently thanks the Powers That Be for giving her the ability to run faster than a normal human. The faster she runs, the sooner she gets there. The sooner she gets there, the sooner she can help Buffy.

 

Revello Drive looks the same as it was when she left it earlier in the night. Untouched by demons, porch light welcoming as she approaches. The lights are on inside, which means Buffy must be home. Oh, thank god.

 

Faith leaps up the stairs two at a time, and opens the door without even knocking. No need.

“Buffy?” she calls loudly, looking around to try and spot the familiar blonde head of hair. “Buffy?”

She’s moved into the living room by the time she hears footsteps on the stairs, and she’s back in the foyer in an instant. Dawn is closest to her, about halfway down the stairs, and Faith breathes a small sigh of relief. Knowing that Dawn is okay lifts some weight off her chest. A few stairs above the youngest Summers is Buffy, looking just as terrified as Faith saw her earlier, but now much more clean. Her shirt is hanging open, her eyes are wide, and her knuckles are busted.

“I cleaned her up,” Dawn says quietly, looking from Faith to Buffy and back again.

“Good work, kid,” Faith knows she should probably take her eyes off Buffy when speaking to Dawn, but she can’t seem to make it happen. Buffy’s here. She’s alive. She’s okay -- well, as okay as she could possibly be. The transition from Hell to Earth would have to be a pretty jarring one. Buffy’s looking at her with those big, scared eyes, and Faith wants to do something, anything, to make her feel better. Her eyes drift to Buffy’s hands, blood seeping from her wounds.

“Her hands,” Faith tries to keep her voice gentle, knowing she might startle Buffy if it gets too loud or too harsh. It must all be too much for her right now. Maybe after a rest, she’ll feel better. Sleeping it off is usually Faith’s solution.

“Oh, yeah,” Dawn starts. “I was just about to clean them up. I don’t know how they got like that though.”
“We fought,” Faith’s eyes are still stubbornly refusing to move from any part of Buffy. She’s too busy drinking her in, reacquainting herself with the real Buffy, not the robot they’ve been using. Her mind idly wonders where the bot is, and if it’ll come home at any point. Cause then they’d have two Buffies and it could probably start to get a little weird. “I mean, she fought. Demons.”

“Oh,” Dawn looks at her sister. “We should probably clean you up then, Buffy.”

“I’ll do it,” Faith volunteers easily, approaching the bottom of the staircase. “Spent enough time patchin’ up my own hands.” And that was true. There were the nights, back when she’d been newly called, and she had no idea how to fight without busting her own body up in the process. The nights in the lonely motel room in Sunnydale, fixing herself up because no one else was there to help her. The times in prison, where she couldn’t let the guards see her injuries. If they did, she’d probably get a beat down for fighting again.

“Okay,” Dawn nods,understanding.

“Grab the stuff, we’ll be in the bathroom,” Faith tries to make her movement up the staircase slow and careful, ensuring she doesn’t spook Buffy. The blonde’s already turned and started heading up the stairs, so Faith follows.

 

They make the trek to the bathroom in silence, and Faith uses the faintest of touches on Buffy’s shoulder to direct her to sit on the edge of the tub. Buffy complies, and Faith crouches in front of her. Her hands reach out slowly, taking hold of Buffy’s, and lifts them up to inspect the wounds. They look deep, but not overly so, and Slayer healing would make sure they’re back to new soon enough. In the meantime, the blood needs to be kept at bay, and open wounds covered, so Faith waits, her hands cradling the blonde’s. They sit in silence, and it’s a few moments before Faith notices her thumb is absentmindedly stroking the back of Buffy’s hand. She stops the movement quickly, cursing herself in the process.

“Here,” Dawn arrives at the doorway, supplies in hand, and hands them to Faith. The older brunette has to let go of one of Buffy’s hands in order to grab the mercurochrome and bandages, and she stamps down on the unhappy feeling she gets at the loss.

“Thanks Squirt,” Faith keeps her voice low and quiet, and she rests Buffy’s hands on her knees while she prepares the antiseptic.

 

Buffy doesn’t even flinch when Faith starts to clean her knuckles, but she does jump when someone bursts through the front door.

“Dawn!” Spike’s unmistakeable voice echoes up to them.

“I’ll be right back,” Dawn gives Buffy’s shoulder a soft squeeze and darts out of the room, leaving Faith and Buffy alone again.

 

Faith cleans Buffy’s wounds in silence, being as gentle as she can. These wounds aren’t deep, they’re not fatal, and they’re probably not even all that painful. But Faith treats them like they’re the worst injuries Buffy’s ever had. Which she knows doesn’t make sense - hello, the girl died twice - but it makes her feel a little better to try and make it not so harsh on the blonde in front of her. She’s been through enough pain in the last few months, and Faith wishes that she could just put mercurochrome and bandages on those wounds. But she can’t, so she settles for cleaning Buffy’s hands as delicately as possible, imagining that instead she’s sponging away all those months of torment, all those hours of pain.

 

She’s so engrossed in her task that she actually jumps a little when Buffy speaks.

“How long was I gone?” she asks tentatively. Faith looks up from Buffy’s fingers, meeting her eyes. She swallows, trying to ensure that when she speaks, her voice doesn’t crack.

“A few months,” Faith is proud of how strong her words come out. “I couldn’t tell you exactly how many days. Spike probably could, but I… I lost track. There were too many.” And counting like that for the rest of her life was only going to drive her insane. “A long time,” she whispers, then realises Buffy could have been in a dimension when time passed differently. She could have been gone for a day. For a year. “How long was it for you?”

“Longer,” Buffy’s voice is quiet.

 

Faith listens as Spike and Dawn come up the stairs. Dawn’s busy trying to explain to him that there’s something he’s going to see and it’s going to be really shocking, and Spike’s too busy griping about how she ran off to actually hear her. But then she hears the two of them appear in the doorway, and their conversation halts.

“I’ve seen the Bot before,” Spike starts to say, but Faith can hear the second he realises this isn’t the Buffybot. It’s the real her.

“What-” his voice is strained, and Faith’s not sure how to act. She’s never been the touchy feely type. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Dawn says. “But I cleaned her up, and Faith’s fixing her hands.”

 

The Scoobies burst through the front door then, Faith can tell by the cries of “Is she here?” and “Is she okay?” She can hear two sets of footsteps leave the doorway, meaning both Spike and Dawn have gone to greet the gang.

 

Her and Buffy sit in silence until there’s the thunder of footsteps up the staircase and down the hall, coming to a stop at the door of the bathroom. Almost immediately, their serene little bubble is popped, as all of the newcomers fire questions rapidly at Buffy while Faith continues to bandage her hands. Even Faith’s head is spinning right now; she can’t imagine how Buffy’s feeling. She doesn’t hear much, given the fact that everyone’s speaking at once, but the one thing she does pick up is how Buffy came back to them. Red did a spell.

 

“Guys!” Dawn snaps, which silences all of them. Everyone looks at the teen guiltily, except Buffy and Faith, as they’re both looking at Buffy’s hands. “She’s okay. Give her some space.”

Faith’s gotta give the girl some credit: It’s good that she’s standing up for her sister. She seems to understand that Buffy really doesn’t need all of this right now. She wants to back Dawn, wants to jump in and tell the gang to back off, but her brain’s suddenly caught up on an earlier part of the conversation. They did a spell? They brought Buffy back with a spell ?

 

She’s not stupid. She knows spells like that, big ones, take planning and discussion and careful construction and she suddenly has the realisation of what all those Top Secret Scooby Meetings were about lately.  Shock and hurt are starting to tangle in her chest, but she knows it’s pretty much to be expected at this point. Yes, she’s been on their side since she’s been here, but they were a gang long before that. She’s not a part of their club. Idly, she realizes that Spike mustn’t be in the know about it either, given his whole “I’m not a part of their club” thing  earlier tonight. Plus, she likes to think that he would tell her if he knew about it. By Dawn’s questioning, she didn’t know either. Other than that, everyone seemed in on it. Wait. Her brow furrows. Does Giles know?

 

Her chest is aching by this point, and her brain’s turning over itself. Yes, it’s to be expected. It’s all they’ve ever done, even back during her first time in Sunnydale, and it hurts like fuck. But then she looks up briefly to meet Buffy’s eyes, and she’s missed this - missed her - so much that she’s not sure if she can even manage to be mad.

 

The gang starts up again, except this time it’s platitudes and statements that are meant to be comforting but rapidly lose their meaning given the deluge they’re delivered in.

“Guys!” Dawn repeats, and everyone looks over at her once more. “Stop.”

“Maybe you should leave,” Faith finds her voice. She realises belatedly that she finished bandaging Buffy’s hands a little while ago, but she’s still cradling them gently. Laying them back on Buffy’s lap, she stands up and faces the group. To her, the bathroom has always seemed pretty huge, but right now it feels more like a clown car. Idly, she notes that Spike’s not with them. He must have left, though Faith’s not sure why. “Give B some space.”

She gets four pairs of wary eyes - and one thankful pair from Dawn - but they do as she’s asked, collectively taking a step back.

“B?” Faith turns again, looking at Buffy. “What do you wanna do?”

“I think I want to sleep,” she says simply.

 

Buffy goes back to her room, Dawn goes to bed, and the rest of them file downstairs. Xander and Anya head off, with Anya insisting that she’s not too tired to have sex and Xander ushering her out the door, embarrassed. After they leave, Willow and Tara seem to deflate, then make the unanimous decision to head up to bed.

 

Faith makes up the couch and half-listens to the conversation Anya and Xander are having outside, which apparently also includes Spike. So he did leave earlier, but obviously he didn’t go very far. As she tucks her sheets in, she thinks about how Willow was saying that Buffy will be back to normal soon enough. The words draw up Buffy’s face behind Faith’s eyes. She can see the blankness, the terror there on full display. That level of fear isn’t something you get over easily. She’s seen that look before. Helpless. Lost. Afraid of everything. She’s lost to something deep within her soul. Yeah, Faith knows that look. She’s felt it. She’s lived it.

 

There’s the sound of a motorcycle peeling away from the curb, and she realises the vampire-induced tingling sensation she’d recognised as Spike is gone. She shifts to try and get comfortable. For some reason, she can’t seem to feel at ease here. It’s the same couch as every other night. It’s the same pyjamas, the same pillow. It should be the same as every other night. Except it’s not. Of course it’s not. Another person’s in the house. Another body. It feels just as out of place as it feels normal.

 

Something in her is drawn to Buffy. She wants to go upstairs. Go see her. Go talk to her. Apologise to her. But she knows that Buffy needs her space, she needs to get used to this world again. It should just be enough that Buffy is here. She’s here and she’s alive and she’s safe.

 

Sleep eludes her for hours, as she tosses and turns. Eventually, she hauls herself to her feet, stretching a little before facing the stairs. Just one trip upstairs won’t hurt, right? Just to peek in and make sure she’s safe. Make sure she’s still here. So she pads upstairs on bare feet, as stealthily as she can. Which, thanks to her training and Slayer skills, is really fucking stealthy. Willow and Tara’s door is closed, as is Dawn’s, and she creeps down the hallway until she reaches Buffy’s room. It’s rarely been opened since Faith’s been here, which the brunette understands completely. None of them really wanted to be in her space. To be surrounded by her and remember that she is gone.

 

One hand on the doorknob, she takes a breath to steady herself. Then she turns the knob and prays for silence as the door swings into the room. The strip of light from the opening falls perfectly on Buffy’s sleeping face, illuminating her as though she’s an angel. Faith watches her for a moment, taking in everything about her, until Buffy’s expression shifts minutely and she has to shut the door. She heads back downstairs, content that she’s ensured Buffy is safe. And that she’s sleeping. Which is something.

 

She’s not sure how long she’s been asleep before she’s woken up again. It’s a gentle hand on her shoulder, and she jolts, eyes flying open before she allows them to focus on the person that’s woken her up. Thankfully, she doesn’t have to reach for the knife on the nightstand, because Tara’s softly smiling face swims into view.

“What’s up?” Faith sits up abruptly, tucking her legs under her and drawing the blanket around herself. Tara sits in the space she’s just created.

“Willow and I were just attacked,” she begins, and Faith’s immediate response is to leap to her feet, knife finding its way into her palm. Tara’s hand encircles her wrist and drags her back down, though, and Faith allows herself to be pulled back to the couch. “Whatever it was, it’s gone now. But it was Buffy-”

Faith’s blood rushes to her head so fast that she completely misses the end of Tara’s sentence. When the other girl’s eyes go wide, and she shakes Faith’s shoulder a little, Faith manages to draw in a breath and try to calm down. It’s not Buffy. It can’t be Buffy. She’s safe. She’s okay. She’s not wrong.

“It was something that looked like Buffy,” Tara repeats, and the air rushes out of Faith’s lungs. “Some sort of demon that makes copies, we think. Willow’s calling Xander now.”

“Has anyone let B know?” Faith asks, because this is the sort of thing she would need to be aware of, right?

“We were thinking of trying not to worry her,” Tara looks towards the staircase.

“She’ll be more worried if we’re all in on something she’s not,” Faith can’t help the slight note of bitterness that creeps into her tone, the familiarity of the situation not lost on her. She tries to soften, to mimic Tara’s smile from earlier. Soft, warm, slightly crooked. “I’ll go get her, you get Red, and we meet in the kitchen for coffee. No doubt she’s telling Xander to come over with his gal anyway.”

 

Faith stands, stretches, then walks upstairs, much less paranoid than before. Three out of the four - no, wait five - people in the house are already up, and Dawn can sleep like a log when she wants to. Faith still takes the same caution in opening Buffy’s door though, wanting to savour the few seconds she got to see Buffy bathed in light again. She is ethereal, and it takes Faith’s breath away for a second.

“B,”  she says once she’s caught her breath. When Buffy doesn’t stir, Faith takes a step into the room and raises her voice just slightly. “B.”

Buffy’s eyes open slowly, and focus on Faith sleepily. There’s a moment where she doesn’t move, just locks eyes with Faith, and the brunette feels unreasonably squeamish.

“Emergency Scooby Meeting,” Faith wonders if she’s allowed to call it that, even if she’s not an official member of the club. “We’re downstairs when you’re ready.”

 

The sun is halfway risen by the time Xander and Anya arrive, and someone decides it’s a good idea to go outside and watch. Faith tells them she’ll be out soon, and watches them go. She’s never really been one for sunrises. She also wants to give them a minute to do their thing before she comes in and the whole dynamic changes. She refills her coffee cup, then props one hip against the counter and sips it slowly. She’s not sure how much time has passed, but her quiet contemplation is interrupted by Buffy’s arrival. When the other Scoobies had wanted to go outside, all bustling and chatty (which is so not acceptable before the sun comes up, in Faith’s eyes), Buffy had quietly said she wanted to go upstairs and change. No one disapproved.

“Hey,” Faith greets her, gesturing to the fresh made coffee. “I made a new pot.”

“Thanks,” Buffy replies slowly, casting a glance towards the back door as she crosses the kitchen. Her movements are less jerky now, less scared. She seems a little more comfortable in her skin, which Faith counts as a very good thing.

 

They drink their coffee in reasonably comfortable silence. Buffy is the first to break it.

“I’m going outside,” she looks over at Faith, and the brunette’s brain takes a second to kick into gear. “Maybe they’ve figured something out.”

“I’ll come,” Faith finds herself answering automatically.

They make it outside to the gang just in time to overhear the mention of killing something. Buffy, Slayer that she is, jumps on it.

“You’re killing something?”

 

Faith notices the way that they all jump at Buffy’s presence, the way they instantly try to placate her. A frown forms on her face as she watches and listens to their conversation continue. She knows she should probably be paying attention to whatever the hell this beastie is, but she’s too busy wondering when they’re going to stop coddling Buffy. Treating her like a kid. Like something precious. Yes, Buffy went through hell. Yes, she needs all the support she can get. But having them all jump at her every word probably isn’t helping her get back to normal. Well, all of them except Anya. Faith decides that she likes the girl even more.

 

Things flow about as easily as they can now that Buffy is back. They knuckle down in research, and Buffy heads out to patrol. Faith has to clamp down on the urge to go with her, reminding herself that Buffy needs her space. She needs some alone time right now. She’ll come back. Faith wasn’t in Sunnydale when Buffy ran away, but she’s heard about it. Buffy’s life went to shit, she couldn’t deal, and she ran away. I couldn’t handle that. She swallows roughly, looking around at the Scoobies. None of us could.

 

They’re in the middle of a good old research party when Dawn’s suddenly possessed and, from their discussions earlier that day, Faith’s first assumption is that it’s the demon that had appeared to the Scoobies last night. Everyone’s frozen as Dawn - or the demon currently in Dawn’s body - starts to speak, voice low and as rough as gravel. It grates on Faith’s ears, but she leaps to her feet anyway, Slayer training kicking in as she tries to work out the best way to deal with the demon without hurting Dawn. She takes a step towards the younger brunette, when suddenly Dawn is breathing fire and Faith has to leap out of the way of the flame. She’s on her feet by the time Dawn collapses, and manages to catch her before she hits the ground. The Scoobies are left scrambling from Dawn’s sudden flamethrower, but Tara’s by Faith’s side in an instant, scooping Dawn into her lap and smoothing down her hair. Faith looks over at Xander, who’s patting out flaming books with a pillow. Holy shit.

 

They work with renewed vigour, and Faith’s not sure when she fell asleep, but she knows she’s done it at some point because she’s awoken by Willow calling out something. Faith snuggles her face deeper into the crook of her elbow, shutting out the world. It’s an effective method that works for about five minutes, until Dawn gets up from the table and the book she’d balanced on a stack slides off and straight into the side of Faith’s head. Her eyes don’t open, but her ears prick up instantly. She can’t make sense of the conversation, but she can hear Dawn talking about Willow potentially taking Buffy away. Her heart seizes briefly in her chest and she feels a surge of solidarity towards the teen. They were both in the dark. They were given an incredible surprise, and now Willow’s thinking of taking it away. Even though the context of Dawn’s words are lost on her, Faith knows one thing. She can’t lose Buffy again.

 

Faith’s just starting to drift off to sleep when the telltale demon voice interrupts. She springs to her feet, realising only just after she’s moved that she’s too late. She watches Xander drop to the ground from across the room, then rushes to his side.

“Xander,” Anya is crouched beside her boyfriend, shaking his shoulders. “Xander!”

“Give him a minute,” Faith makes sure he’s breathing normally enough, then straightens up. “Well, shit.”

 

The minute Xander is conscious, Anya’s on him again, and Faith helps the ex-demon haul him to his feet.

“We need to go to Buffy,” Xander coughs a little, voice still slightly hoarse from the demon possession.

“You guys go,” Willow says from over by the table. Faith notices with a start that her and Tara have been bustling around, collecting bits and pieces for what is obviously going to be a spell. “We’ll stay here. Make the demon take form. That way you guys can kill it.”

“Then we’re gone,” Faith starts heading towards the door, with Anya, Xander and Dawn on her heels.

 

Faith calls shotgun, naturally, but Xander flat out ignores it, instead allowing Anya to sit in the front. Faith supposes it’s only fair, but she’s still a little miffed to be relegated to the back seat. She’s the Slayer. Slayers ride up front. In any case, someone other than Anya should have been sitting beside Xander, because maybe it would stop their near-constant bickering.

“Go faster!” Anya repeats for the millionth time. Faith’s gotta agree with the girl. Xander is driving a little bit like a grandma.

“I can drive faster and I can’t drive!” Dawn pipes up, and Faith’s over it. They need to get home. They need to get to Buffy. And they need to do it fast.

 

Faith lunges into the space between the front seats, slamming her palm down hard on Xander’s knee. The motion presses his foot into the pedal, and they shoot forward. Dawn cheers, and she hears a long string of curses erupt from Xander’s lips, but it’s worth it to watch the street signs hurtle by as they speed into the darkness.

 

Unsurprisingly, Faith is the first one through the door of the Summers’ home. She pauses for a fraction of a second, trying to judge if Buffy or the demon is here. Judging by the crashing and thudding happening upstairs, both Buffy and the demon are home.

 

Faith takes the stairs three at a time, still half a step in front of the Scoobies. Buffy’s signature tingle, and a demon-y one she doesn’t recognise, are emanating from the blonde’s bedroom, so that’s where Faith heads. She reaches the doorway, pausing for just a moment to take in the scene. Buffy is fighting what looks like a ghost, and all of her swings are passing straight through it. Just as Faith is grabbing the first weapon she sees - a stake on Buffy’s dresser - the gang arrives at the door, immediately drawing Buffy’s attention. Before any of them really have a chance to react - or, in the Scoobies’ case, run away - the demon takes corporeal form and Buffy decapitates it easily. Without even looking, she can hear the group in the doorway flinch, but a smug smile just plays on her lips. That’s my girl.

 

A day and a half later, Faith is almost grateful to be shelving crystal balls in the Magic Box. Yes, it’s boring, but at least she’s been involved. Back when the main Scooby hub was the Sunnydale High library, she hadn’t even been invited to research parties. Not that she would have wanted to go then, but an invite still would have been nice. She mentally shakes herself. They’re here now. She’s better now.

 

Faith can sense Buffy just a second before the little tinkle of the bell announces her arrival. She’s still trying to get used to feeling Buffy on her radar again, but it’s a process she doesn’t mind relearning.

“Hey Buffy!” Willow chirps, alerting the rest of the store’s occupants to the blonde Slayer’s presence. Each of them all turn to look, Faith included, and she can’t help but think it’s almost like Buffy’s some kind of superstar. With people falling all over her to try and make things comfortable. The fact that her very presence draws every eyes in the room. She wonders if Buffy feels that way. If she just wants it to go back to normal. Back to when she could walk in, someone would say hey, and everyone would greet her and then move on with their tasks. Instead, all of them are drawn to her like she’s a magnet.

 

“Look, you guys,” she begins, somewhat awkwardly. “There’s this thing. And I’m just gonna say it. You brought me back.”

Faith watches Buffy speak more than listens to her words. She seems almost uncomfortable, which is strange. Buffy’s never seemed like she belongs anywhere other than in front of her friends, leading them and delivering encouraging speeches. Right now, though, it looks like it’s the hardest thing in the world for her.

“I was in a-” Buffy’s gaze lowers to the ground, away from the Scoobies’ faces. “I was in hell.” She pauses, and Faith’s heart clenches in her chest. “I- I can’t think too much about what it was like, but it felt like the world abandoned me there. And then, suddenly, you guys did what you did.”

“It was Willow,” Tara jumps in, nodding proudly at her girlfriend. “She knew what to do.”

Buffy looks thrown by this, but Faith’s not entirely sure why. Willow’s the most powerful witch they know. Of course it was her.

“Okay,” Buffy locks eyes with the redhead. “You did that.” Her voice is flat and hard to read. She doesn’t sound grateful, or excited, which Faith doesn’t understand. “And the world came rushing back. Thank you.” When Buffy looks down, her mouth is drawn into a flat line. “You guys gave me the world,” she looks up. “I can’t tell you what it means to me.” The beginnings of a forced smile are on her lips, and it looks like it causes her great pain to make the effort. “And I should have said it before.” The words are sweet. They’re kind and grateful and so Buffy. But it feels wrong to Faith. Everything about it is telling her that Buffy doesn’t want to be saying this. If she’s so happy to be home, why does it seem to take so much effort to be thankful? Why does it seem like she’s going to burst into tears?

 

The thought bugs Faith all through Buffy’s mini-speech, then through the mandatory group hug session that follows. When they break away and start to go back to their previous jobs, Faith can’t help but notice Buffy drifting away, almost floating towards the door that leads to the alleyway. The quiet nagging escalates in volume in her mind, and so she follows.

“Hey B,” she thinks she’s scared Buffy by the way the blonde jumps, but turns to face her anyway. “Where ya going?”

“Just needed some time alone,” Buffy’s voice has gone soft, like she sounded the first night she came back.

She’s looking somewhere off in middle distance, and Faith ducks her head to catch Buffy’s gaze.

“Yeah?”

Buffy’s eyes slide away from hers, over to the gang, scattered around the store. Her gaze gains a touch of sadness, melancholy, and something else Faith can’t quite place.

“Yeah.”

 

The loud nagging in the back of her mind still hasn’t quieted. In fact, it’s only growing more intense at the look on Buffy’s face, the distance in her eyes.

“B,” she says, as gently as she can. “Buffy.” Are you okay? The words dance on the tip of her tongue, but she knows that they’re something Buffy’s probably heard a million times today alone. So she catches the words before they can escape. She thinks of herself, back when she felt so lost. “If you’re mad, or in pain, I’m here, okay? I’ve got your back.” She takes a bit of a breath to steady herself. Buffy’s gaze has shifted from the gang back to middle distance and she’s not sure if that’s a good thing or not. So she keeps going. “I know I’ve done shitty things in the past, and I can’t even explain how sorry I am.” Buffy’s threat all that time ago comes back with force, slamming into her mind. Apologise and I’ll beat you to death. She can only hope this is a different Buffy. Like she’s a different Faith. “I mean it,” she tries to inflect all of her conviction into her voice. “I wanna do absolutely anything I can do to make it up to you. If there’s anything I can do to make it better.”

“There’s nothing.” Hazel eyes shift to look at the floor. Faith notes the shift in mood, and she’s not quite sure what to make of it.

“I’ve been in some pretty damn dark places myself,” she offers with a sorry attempt at a smirk. “I haven’t been to hell, but I’ve been pretty close.”

“I was happy.”

 

Buffy’s words throw Faith for a loop. She what? Hell wasn’t supposed to be happy. Hell was supposed to be… hell. Right? Words fail her as she simply stands, shocked, eyes riveted to Buffy like she’s looking at her for the first time. The sound of various noises around the store float into the back of Faith’s brain. Willow and Tara chatting as they shelve books. Anya talking about money, and the faint noise of the cash register. But her brain can’t focus enough on any of that. It’s too busy trying to understand exactly what Buffy’s saying.

“Wherever I was, I was happy. At peace,” Buffy’s still talking, but it’s so quiet that Faith has to basically use her Slayer hearing to make sense of it. The moment feels fragile, like spun glass, and Faith’s afraid that if she speaks, it’ll shatter. “I knew that everyone I care about was alright. I knew it.”

Faith wants to mention that they weren’t. They were getting by, so if that’s considered alright, then that’s enough. But they struggled. The world was hard without Buffy. They weren’t alright without her. But the idea of Buffy being happy in hell is making Faith’s brain spin.

“Time didn’t mean anything. Nothing had form. But I was still me, y’know?”

Buffy’s eyes are dry as they flick up to look at her. It’s only a millisecond of eye contact, but it causes Faith’s world to tilt on its axis for a moment. No matter what, no matter where, no matter the dimension, Faith’s totally sure that Buffy would always be Buffy.

“And I was warm,” Buffy’s eyes drift back to the floor. “I was loved. And I was finished. Complete.”

Faith’s heart stutters in her chest, torn between wanting to stop and wanting to pound relentlessly against her ribcage. This sure doesn’t sound like hell to her.

“I don’t understand theology or dimensions. Any of it really,” Buffy attempts a laugh, but it falls flat. “But I think I was in Heaven.”

Faith fights the urge to let her jaw hit the floor. She needs to be calm about this. Buffy needs her to be calm. If Buffy was in heaven, then the Scoobies pulled her out of someplace that was basically the best thing she would ever experience. Oh shit.

“And now I’m not. I was torn out of there. Pulled out by my friends.”

Something falls into place in Faith’s brain. She wasn’t one of the people who engineered Buffy’s ‘rescue’. She didn’t bring her back. She’s just… there. And while that’s usually a bad thing, this time she’s not too upset. It brought her Buffy.

 

“Everything here is hard and bright and violent,” Buffy continues, and Faith’s mind does a mental replay of every moment since Buffy’s been back. There’s been vamps and fights and blood. Demons and stakes and possessions. Some days it’s hard even for Faith. She can’t imagine what it would feel like after being in heaven. “Everything I feel, everything I touch…” Buffy trails off, and Faith thinks this is her opportunity to say something. She’s got no idea what she’s gonna say, but her lips part anyway. But Buffy isn’t finished yet. “ This is hell.”

Oh, fuck.

“Just getting through the next moment and the one after that. Knowing what I’ve lost…” Her eyes lift from the floor to meet Faith’s. There’s emotion swirling in their depths, so much more than Faith could ever hope to decipher.

 

Buffy breaks the contact, stepping towards the door and laying on hand on the knob. Faith doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t think there is anything she can say. So she stands immobile, words hanging on her lips as she prepares to watch Buffy leave. But the blonde pauses, head bowed.

“They can never know,” her voice is quieter than it’s been all conversation, but it’s firm. It’s her ‘no-nonsense’ tone, the one that Faith identified pretty quickly as what she uses when she’s all business. All Slayer. “Never,” is all Buffy says before she slips out the door.

 

Faith turns away from the door, eyes scanning the Magic Box and landing on each of the occupants in turn.

Never, she echoes.

 

She’s promised to never tell the Scoobies about Buffy in Heaven, but Faith comes to the sudden realisation that there’s one person who doesn’t even know Buffy’s back from anywhere. Angel.

Faith steps out the door after Buffy, not with the intent to follow her, but just to get out of the shop. This is a moment for just her and Angel. She closes the door behind her, leaning against it and heaving a breath. How’s she supposed to say this to him? What is she supposed to say? She didn’t get a nice leadup. She didn’t get careful wording. She just got… Buffy. Standing in front of her, scared and shaken. This is better.

 

Dark eyes drift down to the phone in her hand, and she slowly starts to dial Angel’s number. She’s entirely unsure how he'll react. Probably elated, like the rest of the Scoobies. Maybe a little apprehensive, just because that's his nature. She draws out the dialing process for as long as she can, letting her fingers hover over the keyboard for a few seconds before pressing the little green button. Apprehension swirls in her gut as she lifts the phone to her ear.

"Angel," his clipped voice says in her ear, and it's an instant comfort. His voice manages to reach into the very deep parts of her, and soothes the darkness.

"It's me," she says in return, a smile spreading across her face despite the nature of the situation.

"Faith!" his voice turns warm and, dare she say, happy. "How's Sunnydale?"

"We're surviving," she answers automatically, then remembers that there are actually more people surviving than there should be. Buffy. "Angel, there's something you gotta know."

"What's happened?"

She's amazed at the switch of his voice. It's become soft, caring, concerned. It's not exactly a good thing to hear, but it still makes her feel comforted. He cares.

"It's B."

Angel's silent, just as she expected.

"Angel, she's..." Faith draws in a breath. The next words aren't gonna be easy to say no matter how much she prepares. "She's alive."



Chapter Text

Faith’s left reeling for the entire next day, still thrown by the fact that Buffy was in Heaven.

 

She hasn’t thought much about what it would be like after she died. Sure, she’s thought about death itself enough - hard not to when you’re the Slayer - but what comes after that? Hasn’t really crossed her mind. Maybe she’d be sent to Hell for all eternity. Maybe she’d be just lost to the abyss, caught in a limbo where everything is gray and nothing is real. But she’s never considered the possibility of Heaven.

 

Buffy’s description of Heaven is unlike anything she’s ever heard. Heaven was supposed to be filled with angels and harps and clouds and that shit, right? Not some weird dimension where nothing is corporeal and everything’s warm and safe. Where it’s nothing like here.

 

Earth has never really been a warm fuzzy place for Faith. She knows it’s hard and it’s rough and it’s taken a hell of a lot to pick herself back up every single day and keep fighting - both figuratively and literally. But she’s done it, because that’s all she’s known. Buffy, however, knows something better. And that thought scares her. How’s she expected to get back to normal here, to actually enjoy living here, when she knows what’s waiting for her?

 

All of these thoughts are the reason Faith’s up late, baking, of all things. Buffy left to patrol earlier and despite her muscles begging her to go along, Faith decided to stay home. She’d told Buffy it was because she wanted to let her have her space, but truth was that she just wanted to prepare something for her. A little slice of her own heaven.

 

Buffy comes through the back door - it’s easier than the front, she reasons - and Faith turns to look at her. She’s as put together as always, her face displaying just how tired she is, but the satisfaction in her eyes is unmistakeable. Faith loves seeing it there, knowing Buffy’s had a good time and is happy with her efforts. It’s a look she’d seen a lot when they were slaying together, and she’s missed it more than she can express.

 

“Hey,” is all Buffy says,pulling herself onto a chair at the counter and her eyes tracking Faith as she moves around the kitchen.

 

“Hey,” Faith replies, pulling out the various bits and pieces she’s prepared and laying them in front of Buffy.

 

“Whatcha doing?” Buffy props her elbows on the counter, chin in her hands. She’s watching with interest, and the spark in her eyes brings warmth to Faith’s chest.

 

“Okay,” Faith avoids answering the question, instead putting the final touches on Buffy’s surprise. “Here. Heaven.”

 

She knows that she can’t provide her sister Slayer with the real thing. No one can. But this is what she’s thought of that’s close enough. It’s what she thinks of when she thinks of heaven, so she figured it might be a good thing to make some of it for Buffy, then leave her in peace. Red velvet cupcakes (she’d mastered them at age twelve, after a girl brought some to school for her birthday and she hadn’t been offered any) and marshmallows piled high. Warm chocolate pudding (they sell absolutely anything in boxes at the supermarket these days) and hot chocolate with just a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon. Everything Faith thinks of when she thinks warm and safe. It’s not heaven, but it’s close. At least to her.

 

“Enjoy,” she presents it with a flourish, then starts out of the room. She’s still got to make up the couch for bed, and she knows Buffy needs her space, especially now.

 

“Faith,” Buffy says as she’s leaving, and the single word causes Faith to freeze and turn around. She waits for Buffy to speak, her heart thudding in her chest.

 

“Thank you.”

 

The words spread warmth through Faith’s veins, and she manages a soft smile - so like something Tara would give, and nothing like Faith - towards Buffy.

 

----------------------

 

The next morning, Buffy’s decided she’s going to be a handyman and fix the dripping pipe in the basement. Faith had encouraged her, but Dawn had insisted they ring a professional. That’s how they’ve ended up here, in the kitchen over breakfast, with Dawn punching in the plumber’s number and Faith trying to remind her that Buffy’s a big girl and she can do it.

 

“I’m gonna go see if Buffy needs this,” Dawn waves the phone in the air, plumber’s number already dialed.

 

There’s no way she’s going to win this one, so Faith gives in.

“Tell her bacon’s good whenever she gets her ass up here,” she j okes as the teen descends the stairs to the basement. She refocuses her attention back on the food she’s cooking, poking a little at the bacon and causing it to sizzle and spit. She wipes away the oil that hit her hand, before turning and grabbing a plate.

 

“Where’d you learn to cook, Faith?” Tara asks from her perch at the kitchen island. Faith looks at her for half a second, then turns her gaze back to the bacon she’s dishing out. She supposes the question isn’t unwarranted. Since she’s started living here, she’s been cooking for the household. And, by extension, the revolving door of Scooby Gang guests and Spike. It’s not that the others can’t cook, because they can, but she’s just taken to doing it. Usually because the others are so busy that she’s the only one with the time to make something that’s not cereal or pasta. Both of which are great, in her eyes, but she’s learned how to do a bit more. Nothing fancy, just the simple stuff. Stuff a seven year old can pick up. Plus, there’s the extra little gifts she’s been leaving for Buffy almost every night after patrol, but she’s sure the Scoobies don’t know about those. They’re Buffy’s little piece of heaven, or as much as Faith can give her right now.

 

She’s tempted to tell Tara the truth, but something hovers at the back of her mind. The Old Faith, reminding her that she has to keep pretending that everything’s okay in Faithsville. That she’s five by five. But then she has to remind herself that it’s okay to open up. Sharing makes them remember she’s a person. It can show the Scoobies how much she’s grown. How much she’s still growing. One quick glance around the room shows that they’re all waiting for her to answer.

 

“Dad wasn’t around, Mom was too busy chasing the next bottle of booze,” she tosses some more bacon in the pan and it hisses satisfyingly. Without a father in her life, and with a mother who was more interested in alcohol than her daughter, Faith had learned pretty quickly that if she didn’t feed herself, she wasn’t gonna get fed. So she’d learned how to steal things from the store, and how to cook. Starting out with simple stuff, like bacon and eggs, and later on, pancakes and the like. It was no easy feat, trying to cook as an seven year old without parental guidance, but she managed to do it with only minor injuries. And hey, it paid off.

 

“So you had to teach yourself?” Anya questions in her usual direct manner. Faith appreciates the ex-demon’s people skills a lot. There’s no hiding there. No ambiguous intentions, no secrets. She says what she thinks. It’s refreshing.

 

Faith opens her mouth to answer, but a sudden shrieking cuts her off.

 

“Dawn,” Faith says instantly, switching off the heat and racing to the basement door. The other Scoobies seem to have the same idea, and they’re all nearly bowled over by a soaking wet Dawn, who comes rushing out of the basement like it’s on fire. Except, it’s not. Cause she’s dripping wet. Faith doesn’t have time to think it over, grabbing the teen and steadying her.

“Burst pipes,” Dawn manages to get out, before Tara grabs the phone from her hand and hits the dial button.

 

“Guys, towels,” Faith throws over her shoulder, stepping around Dawn and starting down the stairs. “Squirt, go change. You’re messing up the floor,” she flashes a smirk at the frowning brunette before ducking down into the basement.

 

It’s already an inch underwater by the time she reaches the bottom of the staircase.

 

“B, what do ya want off the ground?” Faith asks, already dashing over to an important-looking box and lifting it onto a shelf above her head. She starts on the next one, then looks over at Buffy when she hasn’t answered.

 

“B?” she tries again, but Buffy’s just standing there, immobile, the wrench still in her hand. “Hey,” Faith wanders through the gathering water, laying a hand on her shoulder. “You in there?”

 

“Everything will be fine,” Buffy says calmly, dropping the wrench. It lands with a splash, and Faith eyes her fellow Slayer warily.

 

“Okay,” Faith returns to lifting boxes, hearing footfalls on the stairs that indicate the Scoobies are headed their way.

 

“Well, this is a mess,” Anya pipes up.

 

“Oh my god,” Xander murmurs, and then they all launch into crisis mode.

 

Once the plumber arrives, all of the Scoobies trudge upstairs with damp feet. They leave Xander down in the basement with the plumber, who just so happens to be a friend, and attempt to resume breakfast. Dawn’s managed to change and dry her hair, and is staring down into the basement with a puzzled look on her face. Faith decided the bacon was salvageable, unlike a few of the things in the basement, and is back to cooking.

 

“B, you have breakfast?” she asks, even though she knows the answer. Faith herself has made breakfast for all the others, but Buffy and Dawn were going to deal with the pipe situation before they ate. She’s since fed the small brunette, but Buffy’s still staring into the sink, watching the water run. Faith bustles around the kitchen, finishing up, and lets the conversation flow around her. A bit like a rock in a stream, she’s content to just let it happen. Buffy, oddly enough, seems to be in the same boat, except she’s more literally like a rock, Faith notices, given the fact that she hasn’t moved for what feels like forever. Faith dumps the pan in the sink to rinse it under the water, but even that doesn’t cause Buffy to move.

“B?” she questions gently, almost as though the blonde is a wild animal that could spook if she spoke too loud. She looks over at Buffy, who is still staring at the water that’s now splashing off her pan. “Buffy? You in there?”

Buffy turns her head a little, cocking her head as her eye fixate on Faith’s face.

“Where were ya?” she asks, attempting to make her tone light. It’s a phrase that Angel had used a lot, when she tended to disappear into her head or into her memories. When she got lost and left him for a moment. She can tell by the look in Buffy’s eyes that wherever she was, it wasn’t here with her.

“Here,” Buffy’s voice answers, soft and questioning. Almost like she’s asking if she was here, instead of telling Faith.

“Sure,” Faith nods decisively. “Wanna help me out here?” she gestures to the pan, trying to get Buffy to do something, to respond, and mentally crosses her fingers. To her relief, Buffy reaches out slowly for the pan, and Faith hands her a cloth to start scrubbing.

 

Xander and the plumber choose that moment to reappear, but Faith’s busy enough watching over Buff y that she doesn’t hear a lot of the conversation. She knows it’s about money, though, which is a sore spot for them all at the moment. Faith doesn’t know much, given that she’s not Core Scooby Gang, but she knows something’s up. Apparently Mrs. Summers was sick before Buffy died, and there were lots of hospital bills to pay. Then there’s the house itself, which is lots of money. And feeding four girls, plus more-than-occasional guests, isn’t exactly cheap. And now they have Buffy, too. They’re getting by, she knows, but there have been many whispered conversations she’s overhead. And she’s picked up on things. Money’s tight. It’s the reason Tara wanders around after everyone switching off lights and electricity points, and why they’ve transitioned into short showers. It’s why they have to make the absolute most of all the food they buy, and why leftovers are always eaten before they go shopping. It’s why Faith’s taken to going to The Bronze every so often and kicking ass at a couple rounds of pool. Anya’s really good with their money, and she’s sort of become the unofficial person in charge of it. But even she can’t make it materialise in thin air. And the witches are against doing that, too.

 

Buffy turns from her task, leaving the pan abandoned in the sink, and Faith picks up where she left off.

“What’s the big deal?” Buffy asks, now facing the group, and Faith cringes internally. She’s so glad she doesn’t have to be the one to break the news to the other Slayer. She doesn’t know if Buffy could take that right now. She’s just come back from being dead. She has other things to worry about.

 

“Buffy, we’ve got something you should probably know,” Willow says slowly, her face apprehensive. “Wait here, okay?”

 

Faith listens as Willow leaves the room, presumably to head upstairs and get the Important Box. It’s just like any other box, Faith assumes, except this one’s got all their bills, and bank statements, and the super fun stuff like that.

 

“We should go to the living room,” Tara says to no one in particular, but as she heads out Xander and Dawn and Anya follow her. Faith doesn’t realise Buffy hasn’t gone with them until she speaks up at her elbow.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Faith scrubs at the last of the pans, pursing her lips. “Not my business. Red’ll explain when she comes back down.”

 

“Faith,” Buffy states simply, and the brunette turns and looks at her. “C’mon.”

 

“You always were a bit of an impatient one,” Faith smirks. “You’ll find out in a second, can’t ya keep your panties untwisted for like two minutes?” It’s a joke, and she hopes it’s received as one. She doesn’t want to dance around Buffy like the rest of the Scoobies, treating her like she’s made of glass. She may be resurrected, but she’s still the same Buffy. And that same Buffy rolls her eyes with a reluctant grin, just the way she did in the old days, and Faith feels a small amount of pride at the garnered reaction. Smiling Buffy isn’t something they see often any more.

 

“Buffy?” Tara sticks her head into the kitchen, drawing both Slayers’ attention. Faith isn’t surprised she’s not called, but she still wants to go. She finishes up the pan she’s cleaning, surprised to notice that Buffy’s waited until she was done to start moving towards the doorway and where Tara is waiting. They follow the brunette through the house to the living room, and Faith looks at Willow’s meticulous paper stacks in amusement. Buffy sits on the lounge, and Faith props herself up against the doorway. The Scoobies are sitting across from Buffy, and she can’t help but feel like there’s a division there. Faith watches as Buffy flicks through the papers, scanning them quickly, and turns the nice neat stacks into a mess of paper in about 0.3 seconds. It’s almost amusing to watch.

 

The conversation goes about how she’d expected. Faith pretty much stopped listening once Anya used the word ‘haemorrhaging’ and she only tunes back in when Buffy mentions burning the house down because “fire pretty”. The room is silent, but Faith can’t help the snicker that forms in the back of her throat. Buffy shoots her a look, but it’s so quick that Faith can’t decipher whether it’s amusement or irritation.

 

The whole situation kind of frustrates Faith. They’re struggling money-wise, yes. But this isn’t really Buffy’s problem. She was dead. She’s trying to get used to being alive again. And after being in Heaven? Faith can’t imagine the awfulness of that transition. Still, even with that hanging over her head, Buffy’s still willing to take this on. She’s willing to tell them that she’ll take care of this. It’s such a Buffy thing to do, and it makes Faith’s heart clench a little in her chest. Buffy’s looked after them all so much. Can’t they look after her for once? Deal with their own finances? Let Buffy get back to normal? Maybe I could play some more pool. Oh, or poker. I was good at that in prison.

 

Faith’s so caught up in thinking of ways she can ease Buffy’s burden that she completely misses the entire conversation, until Anya storms out and Xander chases her. The remaining women all watch the couple leave, and sit in silence for a moment.

“So,” Buffy says after a minute, “have we applied for a bank loan yet?”

 

Willow deems Buffy’s general attire unsuitable for a loan application meeting, and so they all head upstairs to Buffy’s room.

 

“Do you have any skirts?” Willow asks, heading immediately for the closet. Faith hovers in the doorway, unsure why she even decided to follow. She doesn’t need to be here. This is a best friend bonding moment, right? She wouldn’t really know. It’s not her strong suit to recognise them; she’s never really have any to go off. In any case, Dawn strides into the room, flopping on the bed, and Faith follows. She crosses her legs under her and watches as Willow offers up outfit after outfit to the Slayer, and Buffy rejects them all. Eventually, Willow digs out an old pencil skirt in the back of Buffy’s closet, and Faith nearly laughs. The impracticalities of that skirt alone make her snicker. But she says nothing, because this is Willow’s domain, and just observes, happy that they haven’t kicked her out yet.

 

When they finally decide on an outfit, Buffy starts to change and Faith averts her eyes. Much as she’d like to watch, this is a friend thing that’s going down. Not an ‘ogle Buffy when you get the chance’ thing. Friends change in front of one another. It’s a thing. When she looks back a minute or so later, Buffy is smoothing down the skirt in the mirror, and Faith’s surprised at her transformation. She looks older, more grown up already, and that’s even before she starts twisting her hair into a bun.

 

“Perfect,” Willow declares a few minutes later, and Faith’s inclined to agree. She’d give Buffy a loan. But then again, she would give Buffy anything, so she can’t really be considered an objective party here.

 

They wave Buffy off to go get her loan, and then head to the Magic Box. After researching for about five minutes - which was really five minutes more than she could take - Faith decides to go train some more. The Scoobies don’t complain, but then again, they rarely do. Her attention is better focused on training than research, and they all know it. She especially thinks her complaining gets on Xander’s nerves just enough, which she’d hoped for.

 

In the training room, with her hands wrapped, she pummels the bag until she’s lost track of time. She could be there for an hour, for three, for twenty. In her mind, the bag is vamp after vamp after vamp. She punches and kicks and slams her imaginary stake into the bag with enough force to actually throw herself off balance. She punches the bag like it’s their waning bank account. Like it’s her old self. Like it’s the tangible representation of ripping Buffy from Heaven. Spinning on her toes, she stakes the bag with her fist, then grabs it and steadies it while she catches her breath.

 

“You seem pissed,” comes a voice from the doorway, and Faith doesn’t need to turn around to know it’s Buffy.

 

“Five by five,” Faith answers automatically, letting go of the bag and smirking at the blonde.

 

“Mind if I join the club?”

 

The idea that Buffy’s pissed off is an interesting one to Faith, but she doesn’t complain as she heads over to grab the boxing pads and Buffy starts to put on the gloves. Buffy hasn’t exactly been Miss Expressive Gal lately, but it’s almost relieving to Faith to see that infuriated spark in her eyes once more.

 

“Loan fall through?” she asks, but Buffy shakes her head.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” her words are clipped. “Already told Wills the whole story. Let me beat something. Please.”

 

“Okay,” Faith slips on the pads, the familiarity of the scenario causing her to falter a little. Sure, she trained with the Buffybot, but this is the first time they’ve used the pads and gloves since back when they were training in the Sunnydale High Library. As they train, as Buffy throws punches at her hands, Faith actually has to dedicate all her energy into remaining still. When Buffy was hurt or pissed off, even way back when, she’d fight with twice the intensity she normally did. Today is no different.

 

Buffy stops for a breather a while later, and Faith’s actually glad for the reprieve. Her hands ache, but she’s not about to say anything. Buffy clearly needs this, and she can take it. She’d take anything to help her. They both take a drink of water and then Buffy explains the entire situation that went down at the bank. They didn’t give her a loan. Faith’s ready to punch the bag again, to send it flying off its hinges. They didn’t give Buffy a loan? Buffy Summers, Slayer and responsible woman extraordinaire. The girl who just came back from the dead. Evidently, Buffy is as pissed off as she is, because she’s gesturing for Faith to put the mitts back on even before she’s finished telling her tale.

 

It’s an oddly satisfying feeling, really. Faith feels like they’re young again, back in the library, and Buffy’s had her heart broken. She always fought better when she was mad. Faith would know; it was usually at her.

 

“Gee, you’re pretty pissed off,” Faith remarks after a particularly hard punch leaves her shaking out her hand.

 

“No kidding,” Buffy’s words are clipped, but Faith can see the gleam back in her eye. It’s that tiny spark she used to have every time she got irritated with Faith, every time she was mad at a demon. It’s that light of humanity, and it causes Faith to smile a little. Coming back from heaven can’t be an easy feat, but Buffy’s managed to do that and handle it pretty well, in Faith’s opinion. Then you add on top of that trying to reconnect with the most base of human emotions, and it’s something of awe to watch Buffy come back. In bits and pieces, sure, but she’s coming back.

 

“Don’t make me hit that smile,” Buffy warns, but it only makes Faith’s grin widen.

 

“Aw, B, ya wouldn’t,” she holds up the pads again, and Buffy drops reflexively into her stance, then pounds Faith’s mitts rhythmically.

 

“Don’t tempt me,” Buffy pauses for half a second in her motions to look up, meet Faith’s eye, and lift one corner of her mouth into a smirk rivaling Faith’s own.

 

“Hey, you’re plenty mad enough without me helpin’,” Faith adjusts her position. It’s energising, fighting with a pissed off Slayer. She’s missed it.

“It’ll pass,” Buffy pants a little.

 

Faith hopes to god it doesn’t.

 

By the time Buffy’s finally worked out her anger, they’re both dripping with sweat and panting heavily. Still, looking over at Buffy, Faith can’t help but think she looks ethereal. The Buffybot could never compare. Sure, it may have had something to do with the fact that it doesn’t sweat, but that’s only part of it. It’s the way she had the gleam in her eye as they sparred. The way her hair sticks to the back of her neck. Even the way she smells. It’s all uniquely Buffy and Faith loves every part of it. Every part of her.

 

They exit the training room after a cool down exercise, and the Scoobies are already waist deep in books, trying to find the demon that attacked Buffy in the bank. Upon hearing this, Faith can’t help but shoot a surprised look in the other Slayer’s direction. Buffy hadn’t mentioned any demon complications in her loan application. She just said they wouldn’t give it to her because she didn’t have a job or something. Which was total bullshit, in Faith’s opinion. Though, it might not hurt for both of them to get a job. To start bringing in a solid income, which would help Dawn and even the rest of the Scooby Gang. The idea of actually getting a job instead of just winning pool kind of makes Faith cringe, but she figures they’re basically at the point where it’s what’s gotta be done.

 

The gang is talking about the demon, but Faith’s tuned out until the room goes quiet. On instinct, she looks over at Buffy, who’s staring at the doorway. She admires the lines of Buffy’s profile for a moment - because how can she not? - and then eventually follows her gaze to the door of the Magic Box. It’s then that she realises the reason everyone’s so quiet, the reason Buffy had trailed off mid-sentence. It’s Giles.

 

Faith hasn’t spoken to Giles since that moment at the airport, when he’d said he was proud of her. She replays the words in her head constantly; they’ve joined Angel’s encouragements as part of her daily mantra. She hadn’t been the one to ring the ex-Watcher. To tell him to come home and see his Slayer again. But clearly someone did, because he’s standing there, dropping his bags, eyes so focused on Buffy that she’s sure she could basically rip open the Hellmouth right here and he probably wouldn’t notice. Buffy falls into Giles’ arms like it’s a magnetic force, and Faith’s heart kind of aches, unable to help the quiet voice in the back of her mind that wishes that were the way he’d welcomed her home. With a wide smile, and love shining in his eyes, and a hug that is so tight it’s painful. But alas, she is not His Slayer, and he’s always had tunnel vision when it comes to the blonde. Faith watches a little forlornly as they disappear into the back room, to catch up no doubt, and wonders if Buffy will ever squeeze her as tightly as she did Giles.

 

After they’re researched out, Giles announces it must certainly be time for bed, and they head home.

“Thank you again, Buffy, for letting me stay here,” Giles says as they walk through the front door. Faith shifts his bag in her grip, and looks around.

 

“Wait, B,” she shoots the blonde a slightly confused look. “Where’s Giles gonna sleep?”

 

“The cou…. Oh,” Buffy trails off, realising her mistake a moment after the words leave her mouth. Faith’s been sleeping on the couch since her return to Sunydale, though Buffy couldn’t possibly know that. But she’s been sleeping on the couch since Buffy was brought back, at least, so the Slayer is well aware of sleeping arrangements. But she, like the rest of them, had obviously forgotten. Faith herself hadn’t even foreseen a problem until just now, when she’s wondering where to dump the bag.

 

“Never mind,” Faith says quickly, noticing that Buffy’s eyes have the ‘ I’m trying to solve a problem’ gleam to them. It’s just easier for Faith to rent a motel for the night, obviously. She places Giles’ bag down by the end of the couch, and starts collecting her things. “I’ll head back to the motel,” she tells them. It’s the best option, the easiest option.

 

“No you won’t,” Tara interjects quickly, causing Faith to look over at the gang, who are still standing in the doorway.

 

“C’mon, it makes sense,” she continues to pack her bag as she speaks.

 

“Faith,” Willow tries, but the brunette doesn’t cease.

 

“You’re not going back there,” Buffy’s voice is what finally causes her motions to slow, then her back to straighten.

 

“Got a better plan?”

 

“Buffy and me can share!” pipes up Dawn excitedly. Everyone turns to look at her, and she kind of holds her hands up in defence. “I mean, that way everyone can stay here, right? Giles has the couch, Faith takes my bed, and then me and Buffy share hers. We all fit.”

 

Faith doesn’t mention there’s a sleeping bag somewhere in the attic she can find and drag down. She doesn’t mention the fact that it’d be squishy and it’d save everyone the trouble if she just grabbed the bag and camped out on the hardwood floors. No, she doesn’t say any of this, because Buffy’s face has a rare look of gratefulness and peace on it, and she’s thanking Dawn for solving her problem. Faith can’t help but wonder about the last time anyone solved anything for Buffy. It had to be years ago, now.

 

Faith leaves Giles and Buffy to bond over making up the couch, and takes her things upstairs. She knows which room is Dawn’s, but she still allows the younger brunette to lead the way, to step into the room and begin collecting her things before she turns and finds Faith still standing in the doorway. She’s got no idea what’s made her stop and wait for Dawn. What’s made her wait at the door for an invitation like she’s a vampire or something. Maybe it’s politeness. Something she’s trying to get used to.

 

“You can come in, you know,” Dawn tucks a pair of spotted pyjama bottoms under her arm, and looks over at Faith. “You kinda need to be in here to use the bed and all.”

 

“Thanks kid,” Faith laughs it off, entering and dropping her bag by the bed. “That’s new info to me.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Dawn’s voice is lighthearted, which Faith takes as a good sign. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing since she’s been back, but they’re making steps. It’s something. “Don’t mess it up,” she warns, with a pointed glance at the bed, and Faith can’t tell if she’s joking or not.

 

“Hey, we’re five by five,” Faith gives her a smirk.

“I don’t even know what that means,” Dawn rolls her eyes good-naturedly, then leaves the room, her parting gift a small smile to Faith.

 

Once Dawn’s left the room, Faith flops backwards onto the bed and stares at the ceiling. Holy shit. Buffy’s alive. Giles is here. There’s so much for her brain to comprehend, and it just spins around in her mind for a little bit. She lets the throughts whirl around, not trying to focus on any one of them. She has the feeling that if she thought about one thing for too long, she’d just drive herself insane.

 

Her stomach growls a little, and she figures something to eat before bed might be a good idea. She reaches the bottom of the staircase just in time to recognise the telltale sounds of fighting, only the voices aren’t ones she hears raised often. It’s Giles and Willow, though the words aren’t clear to her from her position, and she walks in slowly, hoping they won’t turn their wraths on her.

 

Faith enters the kitchen, beelining straight for the cupboard where they keep the cereal. It’s only once she’s halfway there does she realise that Giles and Willow are both staring at each other, completely ignoring her, and the air is so tense she could cut it with a knife. The sound of the cupboard opening breaks the spell that the two other occupants seem to be under, and Faith almost cringes as they turn their gazes to her. Their eyes are still cold from staring at one another, and it causes Faith’s hand to freeze as she’s pulling the box from the cupboard. She’s sure that it’s dropped about ten degrees in this room, and she realises she’ll have to endure it even longer if she wants to cross the kitchen and get out a bowl.

 

In lieu of continuing her plan, Faith draws the box close to her chest, gives both Giles and Willow an awkward smile, and heads straight for the back door, only a few feet from where she’s standing. Faith opens the door, stepping outside and away from the awkwardness hanging in the air. Her back hits the door and she heaves a breath. And she thought Giles could get mad at her. From what she just experienced, apparently he could get upset even at his favourites.

 

Her eyes skim the yard habitually, and she finally notices Buffy sitting at the edge of the porch, elbows resting on her knees and her shoulders tense. Faith shovels some cereal into her mouth and approaches the blonde.

 

“Hey,” she sits down heavily beside her sister Slayer. She swallows her mouthful of cereal before continuing. “Whatcha doin’?”

 

“Just needed to be alone,” Buffy’s voice is quiet in the night, and Faith instantly realises she’s encroached on territory that should definitely not be entered. This is Buffy’s private time. If she wants quiet, Faith can give her quiet. She transfers the cereal box to one hand, and uses the other to start to push up off the step. She’s about halfway up before Buffy’s voice stops her.

“You can stay.”

 

Faith lowers herself back to the step slowly, trying to be as quiet and non-invasive as she can. The step creaks ever so slightly when she rests her full weight on it, but she wouldn’t have heard it if she wasn’t holding her breath, desperate to do whatever Buffy wants, to give her whatever she needs. She reaches into the cereal box to grab another handful, cringing a little at the noise it makes. Surprise etches its way across her features when Buffy reaches out a hand wordlessly to ask for some, but she offers the box anyway.

 

“Why did you bring the whole box?” Buffy asks around a mouth full of cereal. Faith fights the urge to wipe away the tiny piece that’s still stuck at the corner of her mouth.

 

“Didn’t wanna be in there for any longer than I absolutely had to.” She chews on another scoop of cereal for a second. “Like fuckin’ Narnia in there, it was so cold.”

 

“I know,” Buffy’s quiet words throw Faith for a loop. She looks over at the blonde, curious as to what all the fighting could have been about.

 

“What were they fighting over?”

 

“Me. What else?”

 

“Oh. Right.” Out of words to say, Faith tilts the box in Buffy’s direction and waits for the other Slayer to take some. “Giles know yet?” she questions, hoping Buffy will follow her train of thought. The blonde meets Faith’s eyes solemnly and shakes her head just the smallest amount. Oh. Okay. Just me then.

“Did you hear what Giles was saying before?” Buffy’s the one to break the silence that falls over the pair, warm and heavy like a winter’s blanket. Faith swallows her mouthful and shakes her head, glancing over at Buffy.

 

“Nah, they were mostly done by the time I caught on.”

 

“Giles doesn’t think Willow should have brought me back,” Buffy looks down and away, ignoring the proffered cereal box in Faith’s hand. “Can’t say I disagree.”

 

A furrow appears on Faith’s brow as she looks at the girl beside her. She thinks of the best place she’s ever been. The dream picnic with the Mayor. Buffy’s bedroom in their shared dream. She thinks of how warm and safe she felt, and what it was like to come back to earth. Buffy’s experienced this, only worse. So she has a reason to not want to come back. But Giles? The man who probably assumed - like the rest of the Scoobies - that Buffy was in hell? He didn’t want her back?

 

“Giles wants you here, B,” is all she can say, because it’s all she knows as of this moment. No matter what, she has no doubt that Giles is over the moon that his Slayer is home. Is alive.

 

“I know.”

 

“He wants to know how you’re feeling.”

 

“I know.”

 

“He cares for you, B.”

 

“I know,” Buffy sighs, almost like she’s exasperated. It makes the furrow between Faith’s brows deepens. “They all do. They all care. I just… I feel like I spend all of my time trying to be okay, so they don’t worry. And then I-” Buffy cuts herself off.

“Look, B,” Faith says slowly, trying to think of how to phrase her words so they come out right. After a second, she decides fuck it and just lets them flow. “I tried that. The whole ‘yeah everything’s five by five over here’ when it was absolute shit. You, the Scoobies, you tried to help. But I’d already faked it too long and you can’t come back from that easy. You gotta tell ‘em, B.”

 

“I can’t,” Buffy’s voice is quiet and child-like, and Faith’s thrown for a second. “They can never know.”

 

“B-” Buffy whips her head to meet her gaze, and Faith stops talking instantly.

 

“You’re the only one I can tell this to, Faith.”

 

Faith’s heart clenches a little in her chest. She’s never been anyone’s only one before. She hadn’t thought she was anything to Buffy. Especially not after everything she’d done.

“You didn’t… You didn’t pull me out of there. You didn’t know about it. You’re just… here. Actually,” she turns, tilting her head a little like she’s a puppy. “Why are you here? How’d you get out?”

 

“Angel,” Faith answers, and watches Buffy’s face cycle through a myriad of emotions in a split second. She continues, though, not wanting to analyse it. “He pulled some strings. I wanted to come back and help out once I knew you were-” she can’t bring herself to say dead, “-gone. Figured the Scooby Gang could use a Slayer on their side.” She waits for a beat, watching Buffy nod slowly, like she’s taking all this in. “Plus, I kinda wanted to say I was sorry.” Faith thinks back to the moment when Buffy threatened to beat her to death if she apologised. That girl is so far removed from the quiet, clearly nervous one she’s sitting beside now. She wonders if Buffy remembers that moment as clearly as she does. “I did some fucked up shit. I messed up. And I’m sorry.” The words should feel rehearsed, because God knows she’s said them enough times in the last few months. But they’re not. This time, just like the last time and the one before that and even the first time, they struggle up her throat and claw their way past her lips with a struggle and effort she hadn’t been sure she had. Especially because this is Buffy.

 

“Sure,” Buffy’s still staring off into space, focused blankly on a tree about twenty feet away. Faith feels the atmosphere shift, just barely, and she’s suddenly not sure she’s done the right thing. Has she pushed Buffy too far? Did she overload her?

 

“B,” Faith begins, hesitating for just a second. “I want to help. I want to make it better. I will do anything to make it up to you. Anything to make it all better.” Faith knows she’s caused Buffy pain. She caused her a fuckload of pain, and now Buffy’s gotta deal with it on top of being ripped from Heaven. So yeah, if there’s something she can do, she wants to do it.

 

“There’s nothing you can do.” The words float over to Faith in the quiet night, monotonous and matter-of-fact.

 

“Okay, but…” Faith shakes the cereal box at Buffy. “Let me know.”

 

Buffy takes a handful of cereal, and then Faith scoops some into her own mouth. The silence settles back over them, though Faith feels it’s not as tense as last time. Maybe she’s actually making progress.

 

There’s a crashing noise from inside, and Faith’s first irrational thought is that Giles and Willow’s fight has become physical, despite the fact that neither would do it in a million years. Still, instinct causes her to leap to her feet, the cereal box dropping from her hand and hitting the steps. Cereal scatters all over the steps, but Faith’s too busy running inside - Buffy at her heels - to notice.

 

They drag the demon down into the basement as per Buffy’s request, and as they fight in perfect unison, Faith can’t help wondering if Buffy’s missed this as much as she has. If Buffy’s enjoying it as much as she is. Because she loves the adrenaline rushing through her veins, the comfort of Buffy’s tingle in her Slayer senses, the moves that flow like they’re choreographed. It’s completely unique and she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Wouldn’t trade Buffy for the world.

 

When the demon’s finally down, it takes Faith a few moments to realise that Buffy’s still beating its now-lifeless body. She’s ranting about something or other, but Faith’s too busy trying to pry the pipe out of her hands to notice. She finally gets the pipe away, tossing it into the water with a satisfying splash, and Buffy starts to sink, seemingly exhausted. Faith catches her before she can go too far, and tugs the blonde to her chest, holding tight as Buffy trembles ever so slightly against her. A memory tugs at the edge of Faith’s mind. One of her first fights alongside Buffy - one of her first fights in Sunnydale - had seen her in a very similar position. Beating down on a vamp until long after it was necessary, her own fury and exhaustion and pain causing her to take it out on the vamp. Buffy’s taken her pain out on the demon, which is long-dead, and that’s not healthy. She would know.

 

“It’s too much, Faith,” Buffy says after a few moments. She heaves a sigh but doesn’t pull away, and Faith has to take a moment to realise that she’s holding Buffy tight and neither of them are moving.

 

“No more full copper repipe,” Buffy rests her head against Faith’s shoulder, and they stare down at the demon together.

 

Once Buffy has composed herself, Faith reminds her they have to go upstairs and they face the mess that is the Summers household. It looks oddly familiar to Faith, like this is their normal. Mess and chaos. But then the mess seems to become real, and instead of just throwing out everything that’s broken (including the shattered lamp that Faith knows they have no chance of salvaging) they spend a few hours trying to piece it all back together. Faith’s assigned to fixing the table with Xander, and she’s spent the better part of the last twenty minutes trying to convey with looks to Anya that the other girl has nothing to worry about. Look! she holds up her hands in defence. See, no hands anywhere near him.

 

After Xander makes the executive decision to just give up on it all, Faith collects armfuls of the junk and heads outside. Tara holds the door open for her and the rest of the Scoobies, and they file outside, laden down with broken table and lamp parts. When they come back inside, Giles and Dawn kind of look like they’ve been hit by a truck. The words “gee, who died?” dance at the tip of Faith’s tongue, but she catches herself just in time. That’s so many levels of inappropriate, Lehane.

 

“Where’s Buffy?” Tara is the first to speak, and both Giles and Dawn take a moment to register the fact that she’s actually said anything.

 

“Angel,” is all Dawn says.

 

Oh. Right.

Chapter Text

The air around her is still, not even a faint breeze blowing to indicate that she is even present. Faith breathes in deeply, allowing the air to draw into her lungs, stirring up the stillness, and slowly lowers herself down from the pedestal she’s been performing a handstand on.

“Well done,” Giles says from a few feet away, and despite the fact that his words cause a swell of happiness inside her, she shrugs.

“Thanks,” she eyes the pedestal with a challenging glint to her eye. “Bet I could go longer.”

“Possibly, but now is not the time for that,” Giles hands her a long stick they’d been practicing with earlier. “Run through that combination again. More fluidly this time.”

 

Despite the fact that Faith’s been in Sunnydale for months now, she still thinks it’s weird to be training alone with him. It’s the sort of relationship he had with Buffy, really, and never her. When she’d returned, after he’d warmed up enough to train with her, there was always someone on hand. Someone who had ‘nothing better to do’ or ‘wanted to keep an eye on the Buffybot’. Then, upon Buffy’s revival, they’d never trained without her. There hadn’t been any time, or need. It’s an odd feeling to be at the centre of Giles’s attention, but Faith can’t say she really hates it.

 

Her muscles flow easily through the combination Giles had taught her, and she allows her mind to wander while trying to keep her body fluid. Buffy should have been back by now, right? She left before any of them even knew what was up. It was so quick that she’d practically had the little puff of dust in a Buffy-shaped cloud floating behind her. Apparently, despite everything that had happened, there was still something there. Still love between her and Angel.

 

Faith falters a little in one of the movements, and Giles picks up on it.

“Go again,” he says simply, and Faith does. His voice is stern enough she she’s learned not to argue, and she’s actually kind of developed respect for the dude. Plus, he’s probably just as over this as she is by now. They’ve spent most of the day out here in the Summers backyard training and whilst her body is grateful for the stimulation, her mind’s a little over it. Physical training, mental training, balance, fluidity, and more. She’s about ready to eat a horse and then crash on the couch and watch some TV. Judging by Giles’s stance and the way he keeps looking at the back door, he’s thinking the same thing.

 

Once Faith’s run through the combination once more flawlessly, she twirls the stick and raises an eyebrow.

“Done?”

“I would say so,” his words sound formal, but she notices the relaxation of his shoulders and the breath he seems to let out. “I think it’s about time we go inside and freshen up for dinner.”

“We not gonna wait for B?”

Faith wants to kick herself that Buffy is her first thought, but she can’t help the words that just jump out. It’s not like she doesn’t want to eat dinner (training, like slaying, often makes her hungry) or even provide for the gang, because she does. Honest. It’s just that tonight, Buffy’s supposed to be here. Faith doesn’t particularly want to go back to that dinner table with just them, and remember all the nights that Buffy couldn’t be there. All the nights where Dawn’s tears spilled into her pasta and Willow sniffled her way through dessert. After a while, it had gotten better. Okay, even. But she doesn’t know how it will feel now, when they’ve had her back only to miss her again. Only to not know where she is, if she’s safe. If she’s coming back. The thought niggles at the back of Faith’s mind, and she tries to push it away. She ran away because of Angel. Would this time be the same? Would she tell him about Heaven, about not fitting in here, and then decide it’s not her place in Sunnydale any more?

 

Faith shakes her head a little to clear it. Angel wouldn’t let that happen, she’s sure of it. And Buffy’s different now, right? She’s always going to think of Sunnydale as her home. Her responsibility. And she’ll come back, right?

 

Faith comes back to earth only to find Giles’s staring at her with an expectant look. He’s hungry and tired, and she is much the same. Fuck if she’s going to let him down again.

“Alright, Watcher-Man. I’m gonna shower then we’ll get the food on.”

Giles gives her a grateful smile and Faith returns it. The gesture is coming easier now, after so much practice. And Giles is smiling at her more too. That’s something, she supposes.

Faith heads inside and heads for the living room to grab her clothes. On the way, she passes Dawn and Willow in the dining room, both huddled over sheets of paper on the table. Dawn’s doing her homework, and Willow’s apparently helping. Faith had exclaimed how outrageous it was for Dawn to have homework so early in the semester, but alas the school system gave no reprieve. She was kind of glad she hadn’t stuck around for that whole scene. The ‘study and actually put in effort’ way of life was never her deal anyway. Hell, by this point Dawn probably had a higher level of education than Faith herself did.

 

“Hey Faith,” Dawn is the first to notice her presence, and Willow looks up at the comment. “What’s up?”

“Don’t make too much of a mess,” Faith says instead of a proper answer, giving the teen a smirk as she does. “We gotta eat here soon.”

“Without Buffy?” Dawn’s face falls a little bit, her eyes widening as she stares at Faith. The older brunette backpedals instantly, hating the thought she’s caused the look of fear on Dawn’s face. Shit. She wasn’t supposed to be doing this any more.

“She’ll be back,” Faith says, trying to reassure herself as well as Dawn. “She’s gotta. I mean, who else is gonna keep all our asses in line?”

The joke is received as she’d hoped, with a release of the tension in Dawn’s shoulders and a laugh from her lips. Willow simply rolls her eyes, and that causes Faith’s grin to deepen.

“I’m showering, and then you’re helping with dinner, yeah?” she knows Dawn will take any excuse to get out of homework, and from the stormy look Willow’s shooting her way, the redhead knows it too.

“Yeah!” Dawn exclaims, then settles when Willow’s gaze turns to her. “I mean, sure, if I’m done here.”

“Finish quick then.”

 

As Faith heads back downstairs after her shower, she can’t help but wonder if Buffy’s back yet. Or why she hasn’t called. Or something. Faith supposes she can’t blame the girl. Catching up with Angel was always going to be an interesting affair. And it would probably take a while. She can only hope that Buffy returns, and she does it soon. For all their sakes.

 

By the time she reaches the kitchen, she’s just about pushed all thoughts of Buffy and Angel (and Buffy with Angel) from her mind. Giles is standing at the stove in front of a pot of water, pasta in his hand. Dawn’s chopping onion for the sauce, and Faith fishes in the cupboard for a pan before starting on the meat. They slip into a rhythm easily, talking intermittently, and Faith can’t help but take a second to think that maybe she does belong here. Her relationship with Giles and Dawn, and their ease around each other now, is nothing like what they have with Buffy - and nothing like what she has with Buffy - but it’s something.

 

They’re done quicker than she realises, and suddenly Giles is calling for Tara and Willow to come and help them serve up. They’re all settled at the table with food and drinks far too soon, and Faith looks around at the little gang gathered. They all hesitate briefly before starting their meal, almost like they’re waiting for Buffy. Like at any moment, as though it was a movie, Buffy will walk through the door at just the right time and they’ll all be able to eat with her. Instead, they’re all hanging in a strange kind of silence for a few seconds, and Faith takes it upon herself to break it.

“What’re we waiting for, prayer or somethin’?” she jokes, picking up a fork in one hand and sticking it into her bowl. “I’m starved.”

It doesn’t even take five seconds before the rest of the table has joined in, following her lead, and they begin to eat together.

 

It’s nothing like what Faith had imagined it would be. She’d been prepared for awkwardness. For constant glances at the front door and long silences where they all do nothing but wallow in their thoughts and hopes that Buffy will return sometime soon. But she should have known better than to assume things with this gang. It’s easy. It’s light. It’s better than before. The best it’s ever been, aside from when Buffy’s at the table. Tara thanks them for dinner and tells them what a good job they’ve done. Faith spills pasta sauce on her jeans, and Willow immediately says that she’s not washing it. Giles laughs when Dawn tries to slurp a piece of spaghetti into her mouth and it ends up leaving a streak of red along her cheek. It’s almost fun, and that’s something Faith figures she could definitely get used to. It’s almost like they’re a family. And she’s a part of it.

 

Faith’s busy trying to scrub pasta sauce off her jeans when there’s a noise on the porch. It’s covered too well by the conversation at the table for anyone but a Slayer to hear, but the following sound of the front door opening has everyone at the table looking over at the entrance.

“Hey, I’m back! I brought dinner!” Buffy’s voice rings out, and a wave of guilt instantly washes over Faith. She knows they shouldn’t have eaten without Buffy. They shouldn’t have made dinner and continued on like she wasn’t even a part of it. Won’t it make her feel bad? Won’t she think she’s not wanted? Won’t she think they’re better off without her?

 

When Buffy reaches the door to the dining room, the gang is still silent, and her face kind of falls. The shift in expression drives the knife of guilt just a little deeper into Faith’s chest.

“Oh. You already ate,” her voice is sad and Faith instantly jumps up from the table.

 

“I’m still starved.” She takes the box out of Buffy’s hands and flashes her a grin. Faith isn’t hungry - not in the slightest - but B really tried to do a good thing, and damn if Faith’s going to let that go unnoticed. She puts two pieces of chicken on her plate as she sits down, and passes the bucket along to Dawn. She gives the teen an encouraging smile that doubles as a glare of “eat some, for B”, and thankfully, Dawn seems to get the message. She passes the bucket to Giles, and then casts her gaze back to Buffy, still standing in the doorway. The blonde moves slowly to the empty seat at the head of the table, and the whole room stays quiet, even as the chicken is passed on to Willow, then Tara.

 

Everyone’s quiet, and Faith can only assume why. It’s not easy to think about Buffy with Angel (at least for her) let alone talk about it, and no one seems to know what to say. What do normal people say in these situations? Faith really has no idea what’s gone down, and the idea that she’s so lost is kind of irritating. She makes a mental note to call Angel after dinner and get the lowdown from him. Just so that, even if Buffy doesn’t share, she at least has some idea. Plus, that’s what friends do, right? Check up on each other after something’s gone down? She doesn’t particularly want to know what happened, especially the details, and mostly because it’ll be all that ‘woe is them’ and ‘they’re still in love and it hurts’ shit, and fuck if that doesn’t cut her to her core. But still, Angel is her friend. Buffy is her friend. And she’s going to try and be a good person here if it kills her.

 

Dawn’s the first person to mention something about it, and it’s only after they’re all halfway through their chicken and have exchanged maybe a grand total of ten words as a group.

 

“So, how’d things go with Angel?” she asks. Faith knows she shouldn’t be surprised that it was Dawn who was going to mention something. Tara is too respectful. Giles is too diplomatic. Willow is too kind. And her? Well, that’s another story entirely. But Dawn’s the inqusitive little sister and so it’s obviously her role to ask about it.

 

“It was… intense,” is Buffy’s reply. Faith has to physically stop herself from scoffing at that. Angel is ‘intense’ at the best of times. Things with him and Buffy? They’re just off the scale. “I’d rather keep this to myself, if that’s okay.” Mentally, Faith crosses her fingers that Angel won’t be the same.

 

“And what are you going to do now?” Giles asks, and when Buffy starts rattling off a list, Faith feels pride swell in her chest. Buffy’s got this under control. It’s good ol’ B, back in action. Taking charge and making plans. Being responsible.

 

“I meant with your life,” Giles interrupts, and Faith’s pretty sure she just whipped her head round fast enough to give herself whiplash. First of all, no one interrupts Buffy but her. Secondly, the girl was dead. Does no one remember that around here? B’s been back on earth for all of five minutes and they’re already pressuring her to know what she’s doing with her life? Faith thinks back to when she was down and out. When she was at her worst. It took her what felt like an absolute eternity - and a fuckload of pain - before she even had the faintest idea of what she should do. Buffy died. Shouldn’t she get a longer adjustment period?

 

“I have no idea,” Buffy says after a moment, her face painted with the same shocked expression that Faith knows she’s wearing.

 

“And that’s okay,” Faith offers up, then flashes a glare at Giles. Sure, it’s disrespectful, but this is Buffy. Giles’ expression is one of vague annoyance at her, but Buffy looks grateful. She’s still kinda shaky on Dawn and the witches’ feelings about it. “You can just train til you figure it out. Like me.”

 

Training, studying, slaying and looking after a household isn’t exactly the most thrilling way to fill your days, but Faith figures it works for her, so that should be alright for Buffy. At least for now. Her life’s filled with half-decent things, at least. Training and studying during the day until she’s exhausted her mind and body. Cooking for the Scoobies and even cleaning up. Pretending to help Dawn with her homework (and ending up as more of a distraction in the process) and drinking coffee. It’s not a bad life, really. But Willow’s giving her this odd little smile and Faith’s not sure how to interpret it.

 

“You could come to school with me and Tara!” Willow suggests, and Faith’s heart instantly sinks. School would mean that Buffy would be away a lot, like Willow and Tara are. It would take her right back to the last time she was in Sunnydale. Everyone’s away at school or work, and she’s left at home with nothing to do and no one to hang out with. Sure, at least this time she’s got the Magic Box to hang around in instead of a dingy motel room with crappy cable TV and whatever gossip magazines she could swipe. But it’s still lonely. Being relegated to training solo most of the time, and stacking shelves when she’s not, is kind of lonely sometimes. It’s a great selling point when she’s trying to convince Buffy to stay and train, but hey, she’s willing to make it seem more interesting if it keeps the blonde close.

 

One big plus that Faith appreciates about the Magic Box is Anya. Her opinion of the ex-demon has only grown more positive since their first interaction, and Faith’s grateful for the other girl’s ‘no-pretences’ deal. She doesn’t have to prove she’s not Old Faith. She’s just plain Faith. More than anyone else, Faith thinks that Anya understands the transition from bad to good, and if the Scoobies can accept a mass murderer and ex-demon into their folds, surely there’s hope for her? Within seconds, they’re discussing plans for school and classes. Buffy’s almost bouncing out of her chair with excitement, and Giles is wearing this small proud smile on his face, and Faith feels like she’s just lost something. Trouble is, she’s not sure what.

 

Later, Faith’s so caught up in washing the dishes that she almost misses Buffy coming in with more.

“That’s the last of it,” she says. The plates make a soft clink as she lays them on the counter, then grabs a towel without even missing a beat. They work side by side in silence, until Buffy breaks it.

 

“You talk to Angel, right?”

 

Faith’s hand stills on the plate she’s cleaning, but she restarts her movements quick enough that she hopes Buffy didn’t even notice. She nods in response, entirely unsure as to where Buffy’s going with this.

 

“How has be been?”

 

“Didn’t you ask him when you saw him?” Faith knows the words are sounding a little bitter as they come out, but she can’t help it. She loves them both, honest. It’s just that she doesn’t love the idea of them together.

 

“Well, you know Angel,” the blonde does a strange sort of half-laugh, and Faith knows exactly what she means. “He’s not exactly Mr. Open and Communicative.”

 

“True,” is all Faith can think to say.

 

“Plus, the whole meeting was just… weird. I mean, it started out with like a five minute hug in dead silence and I was pretty sure I was going to die again just cause he wouldn’t let me breathe,” Buffy does another half-laugh, but Faith’s not sure how to respond. Didn’t Buffy tell them like five minutes ago that she didn’t want to talk about it? She’d said she wanted to keep it to herself.

 

“He’s probably just thankful,” Faith says slowly. She knows that she is feeling that way, at least.

 

“Everyone is,” Buffy’s voice turns soft and Faith actually pauses in her cleaning of the last plate to turn and look at the blonde.

 

“Except your professors,” Faith jokes, trying to make Buffy laugh away the pain in her eyes. It’s too much. Faith can’t stand to see it. “Now they gotta live with you back in their class.”

 

There’s a brief moment when Faith looks Buffy in the eye and she could swear she sees a brokenness she would never have expected. But then, all too quickly, it disappears as the corners of Buffy’s eyes crinkle up and she laughs.

 

“Shut up,” she swats at Faith with the towel, and the brunette retaliates by flicking her wet hands in Buffy’s direction. Buffy yelps, jumping backwards and Faith can’t help but laugh. This is her sister Slayer. The one girl in all the world with the power to defeat the demons and the forces of darkness, or whatever it is Giles prattles on about. And she squeals when she’s flicked with water.

 

“Ooh look out vamps, big bad Slayer’s on the loose,” she chuckles, flicking Buffy again. “Stay away from her stake, but if you have water you’re safe.”

 

When Buffy dips her hand in the sink, coming up with a handful of bubbles, and blows it in Faith’s face, the raven-haired Slayer thinks she sees Buffy’s first real smile since coming back.

 

The next morning, Faith tries to convince herself that she hadn’t replayed the moment of Buffy’s grin in her brain a thousand times. It’s working really well, until she feels Buffy’s unique tingle through her Slayer sense, and starts thinking of ways she can make her smile like that again. It’s good to have her getting back to being human. Getting back to being Buffy. With the Scoobies so lost without her, it’s about time she came back to provide much-needed support and sarcastic comments. Though, Faith had thought she’d been getting better at those.

 

“Hey, B,” she greets without turning around. The waffle she’s in the middle of making is nearly done, so she finishes that before turning her attention to the blonde. “You’re up early,” she says as she plates the waffle and hands it to Buffy. It’s not early, per se, but it’s early for Buffy. Early for anyone in the house who isn’t Faith, really. Buffy scoffs a little, and Faith quirks an eyebrow. She doesn’t have to say anything, Buffy launches into an explanation straight away.

 

“Not early if you never slept,” her words are matter-of-fact, and delivered without eye contact. She’s so busy drizzling syrup onto her waffle that Faith can’t read her eyes, but she feels her own heart crack a little at the words.

 

“You can’t sleep?” Faith’s sure there’s a more eloquent thing she could have said there, but honestly, she’s beyond caring. This is Buffy, and it’s better to not worry.

 

“Can’t get to sleep. Can’t stay asleep. Can’t wake up. You know, coming back from the dead and waking up in a box will kind of do that to you.” What is supposed to be a light laugh follows her words, but it ends up being more of a half-sigh. “Plus, the dreams don’t help.”

 

Faith knows she can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Buffy, but she gets the whole nightmares thing. For a long time after she’d killed Allan, he was all she saw at night. You would think, given the insane numbers of demons she’s seen, from the gross to the terrifying, her sleep would have been filled with their disgusting mugs. But no, instead she saw this human face. She saw his blood on her hands. His body as she got rid of it. And then, as time dragged on, she’d seen more. All the people she hurt. All the people she killed. She had dreams where she went back to her old ways, where she became Old Faith again. Dreams where she killed people but was powerless against it. She still gets them, sometimes.

 

But she’s better at dealing with them. Being in Sunnydale helps. Being with Buffy helps. Maybe it’s the same for the blonde. Maybe being around the Scoobies, her family, works the same magic it did for Faith. Maybe Angel helps, the same way he did for her. Whatever it is, it better start working soon.

 

“Buffy, you’re up!” Willow says in lieu of a greeting, sliding into a seat at the counter. Faith glances over at Buffy, who is now smiling at Willow as they start chatting. There’s a shutter gone up behind her eyes, something that’s hidden away now that she’s looking at her friend. Faith’s not sure what it is, but she’s sure it’s not supposed to be there. As Faith places a waffle on its plate in front of Willow, Tara enters the kitchen, and greets them all with a level of cheer that’s far too inappropriate for this time of the morning. Even for Faith.

 

Somehow, they all manage to get out the door on time, with Buffy tagging along after Tara and Willow to go to college, and Giles picking up Dawn and Faith in his car. It’s amusing to her, bright and red, and so unlike him. But it serves its purpose, and as they pull into a parking space at the Magic Box, she can’t help but love it.

 

“Faith!” Anya shouts, the moment they open the door. The bell has barely even had a chance to finish ringing before Anya’s by her side, and talking about some shipment or other that was delivered and is far too heavy for anyone else but a Slayer to lift.

 

“Sure, I’ll move it,” Faith agrees to the task before Anya’s even finished talking, and the other woman laughs.

 

“Right,” she smiles, apparently amused at the interruption. “You don’t care what it is.”

 

“Not really,” Faith replies honestly, smirking a bit. At least Anya gets her. “But I’ll move it anyway.”

 

It takes her less than an hour to move all the items Anya has listed for her, then she heads upstairs to get the next work order. It’s apparently a good day for the small things, as the only things the shopkeeper can think for her to do is stack shelves and move boxes and listen to her ramble. Which Faith doesn’t mind, really.

 

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the guy, but he’s really frustrating, you know?” the blonde rolls her eyes from where she stands behind the counter, apparently doing a stocktake. Or something important like that. Faith hadn’t really been listening.

 

“Most guys are,” is all she has in response to that, because yes, she knows that Xander is a male and therefore basically an entirely different species.

 

“I just don’t understand why he won’t let me tell you!” Anya drops her clipboard on the bench, clearly exasperated, but Faith bites her tongue. The two previous times Anya mentioned The Thing That Xander Said Not To Say, she’d asked what it was. And then Anya had proceeded to go on another ten minute rant about how it was unfair. Which Faith doesn’t mind, cause it’s a good way to pass the time. But really, she’s not up for round three.

 

Faith can tell that the girls are back from college before the bell announces their arrival, and she makes sure she’s out in the main store area by the time they come through the door. Not to greet them, of course. Just to… be there. Willow and Tara look dubious and mildly disappointed, if she’s reading them right, and Buffy just looks plain frazzled.

 

“Hello, girls,” Giles smiles warmly at the trio, and Buffy instantly rushes to stand in front of him.

“Giles!” her voice is almost frantic, and she’s bouncing a bit on her toes. Faith can’t tell what’s up, but she knows there’s something.

 

Through all of Buffy’s rambling, Faith can only understand that there was something on her jacket that messed with time. It doesn’t sound overly legit, but Faith’s supposing there’s gotta be some demon related to time travel or something, right? She’s no Giles, but she does remember reading something about time-altering demons. They exist, right? She supposes they’d have to. They’ve got demons for everything these days.

“If school’s not really for you,” Giles hesitates, cleaning his glasses a little and making Faith’s eyebrows draw together. “We’ll have to find something else.”

“It’s not school, Giles,” Buffy’s protesting, but Giles has clearly made up his mind. He’s talking to Willow and Tara about what went on, and Faith just watches as the blonde Slayer’s face kind of falls, looking more defeated than anxious now.

“So, demons messing up time?” Faith says casually as she moves to stand beside Buffy. Xander and Anya are by the register talking about something she can’t make out, and the trio in front of them are still in deep discussions about ‘entering the school scene too early’ and ‘overstimulation’ and ‘perhaps another life path might be a better decision’.

“Yeah,” Buffy half-sighs as she looks at the brunette. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“I mean, we fought a demon that changed colour. The Mayor turned into a giant snake. Nothing’s really surprising any more.”

“Right,” Buffy says slowly, giving Faith a bit of a side-eye. “It really happened, you know.”

“Hey, no judgement,” Faith holds up her hands. And there truly is no judgment. If she’s learned one thing from all her years on a Hellmouth, it’s that anything can happen, and anything can exist.

“Yes!” Xander suddenly exclaims, and Faith realises she’s lost track of all the other conversations that are happening around them. It’s Buffy’s fault, she knows, but it’s not entirely a bad thing.

“What?” Buffy seems to have the same problem Faith does, as she looks around at the small group in confusion.

“You should try working!” Xander continues, as though it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “You could come to work with me! The boss would probably be alright to have an extra pair of hands, and since it’s all heavy work, you’ll probably be able to handle it with no problem!”

“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy agrees, nodding slowly as though she’s still processing. Faith’s brain kind of protests quietly, saying that Xander could have given her this offer at least twenty times by now, but he’s kept quiet until it’s the Original Slayer who’s in trouble. The Golden Girl. If it’s her, there’s clearly no need to worry about money or keeping her body active or going to work with Xander each day. But the second Buffy looks like she’s in trouble (which she’s not, just for the record, at least not in the way the Scoobies think), they leap into action.

Not that Faith can blame them. She’d do the same for the girl.

 

Faith jumps up onto the counter as Xander goes into a back room to ring the foreman. Or the bossman. Or whatever. She doesn’t really know, and quite frankly she doesn’t really care. It’s some dude in charge that will give Buffy a job. Clearly not the same dude who would have been able to give her a job, but that’s irrelevant now. What matters is having Buffy ‘do something’ with her life.

So what does that make Faith?

 

She’s not really paying attention to the situation of the room until Buffy’s suddenly on the counter beside her. The rest of the Scoobies are gathered around the table across from them, chatting away about how good this will be, and the witches are telling tales of their day that don’t involve demons messing with time. Faith thinks it’s not very different than any other day, really, aside from today Buffy’s sitting beside her. She can’t help but feel like it’s a very ‘us and them’ situation, which isn’t too unusual. What is unusual, however, is Buffy being on the outside too. Faith’s not really sure how or when that happened. When Buffy became more like her. An outsider. Especially when all B is trying to do is fit in. It’s not like Faith’s trying any more. But Buffy’s trying enough for the both of them.

 

Faith’s not sure how long they sit there, in silence, watching the Scoobies. Neither her nor Buffy says anything, and the beauty is that she doesn’t feel like she has to. It feels like forever - but in reality, is probably more like fifteen minutes - before Xander returns from whatever he’s been doing. To Faith, it didn’t seem like it should have taken that long, and that fact that it did should spell trouble. But Xander’s wearing is patented smile that says he got something done, and it’s all about to be okay, so it’s probably not an issue. And when Xander happily tells them all that he’s got Buffy a spot on his crew the next day, the Scoobies are overjoyed. Faith’s mildly bitter about it, but pushes that feeling down in order to force a grin on her face. Even if it’s unnatural, it’s better than being bitter and having the gang think she’s unhappy with this development is not what she wants here. So the forced smile ends up on her lips and she shoots it at Buffy. The blonde gives her a mirror expression, and then is swept up in discussions.

 

That night, after dinner, Faith is left to wash up, and Buffy joins her again. Faith can’t find it in herself to complain. Especially when Buffy blows bubbles in her face again and gives her that smile that makes Faith’s heart stutter just a little in her chest.

Yeah. Nothing to complain about there.

 

The next morning, everyone is gathered at the bottom of the stairs, ready to leave, except Faith notices Buffy’s missing.

“Hey, where’s B?” she says to the small group that’s gathered, and they collectively shrug.

“Probably still getting ready,” Willow offers.

“Typical Buffy,” Dawn rolls her eyes good-naturedly and smiles a little.

Almost before anyone has a chance to say anything more, Faith starts up the stairs.

“I’m gonna go make sure she’s-” she was going to say ‘not dead’, but given the recent circumstances, maybe there’s a better word choice for that, “nearly ready.”

“Alright,” Giles starts to usher Willow and Tara out the door, saying they’ll be late to class if they don’t leave now. Faith knows he’ll wait until both her and Dawn are ready before the three of them bundle into his car, but they’d wanted to wait until Xander picked up Buffy before they left. Giles said it was simply to make sure she got off okay, but Faith just wanted an excuse to spend more time around the blonde. Was that weird? Probably. But did she care? Not really. Given that her feelings for the blonde were barely concealed at the best of times, waiting around to make sure she started her first day of work okay wasn’t really too revealing.

 

Faith enters Buffy’s doorway and sees the woman herself standing in front of the closet, pouting. Faith’s heart flips a little at the sheer adorableness of the sight, but then she composes herself.

“What’s up, B?” she asks, noting the way the other Slayer barely registers her entrance. “You’re holding up the party.”

“Oh,” Buffy finally looks over at the brunette, and Faith can’t determine the emotion behind her eyes. “Right.”

“Do you even have anything that’s suitable for construction?” Faith follows Buffy’s gaze into the closet. Sure, she had things for slaying, but they were mostly cute clothes that happened to be functional. Faith’s not entirely sure Buffy’s got any real workplace clothes.

“Uh, I don’t know?” Buffy throws her hands up a little in defeat, and sink onto the bed. “I hope it will work out.”

“I’m sure it will,” Faith can sense this is creeping into feelings territory, something she’s never been any good at. To cover, she heads towards the closet and starts flipping through clothes. “At least it’s better than working retail.” Even though that’s pretty much what Faith does, but she’d rather be out in the workforce, using her muscles and talents, instead of simply shifting things around the Magic Box that are too heavy for anyone else to move. Part of her wants to encourage Buffy to stay with her, to stock shelves and train and learn all day. Sure, it’s boring sometimes but if she wasn’t alone it wouldn’t be so bad, right? And surely Buffy wouldn’t hate the company.

 

Faith digs around in Buffy’s closet for a few minutes - which feels weird given that the girl herself is looking over Faith’s shoulder - before finally settling on something that seems more practical than fashionable, which is really what they want here.

“Thanks,” Buffy takes the clothes that Faith offers, and the brunette turns around to allow Buffy to change. Her mind takes on a life of its own while she stares at the wall, thinking of Buffy behind her, undressing. She can hear when each item of clothing hits the floor, the soft wisp of fabric against tan skin, but she clamps down any impulse to turn around. She’s just making ground with B, just starting to develop something tentative, something that might even resemble friendship, so she doesn’t want to jeapordise that.

“Done,” Buffy says a few moments later, and Faith turns back.

“Stick a hard hat on and you’re construction Barbie,” she jokes with a bit of a grin, and Buffy smiles back.

“Shut up,” she bites, but the words are softened by the grin. Then Buffy brushes past Faith to head out the door, stopping in the hallway to look back at Faith. “Come on,” she tries to be serious. “You’re holding up the party.”

And then she scampers away before Faith can think of a comeback.

 

The next day without Buffy goes much the same as any other. It’s full of stocking and moving things and training and reading. In order to keep her brain off a certain blonde Slayer, Faith trains longer, focuses harder, and reads more. It’s not exactly the most riveting of days, but the time passes well enough.

Faith hits the punching bag, then again before it has time to swing back. She imagines it’s a vampire in front of her, threatening her life, and she pretend-stakes it in the heart. Stepping back, she lets out a breath and drops into her stance again. As her body starts to take over, performing the routine movements on her own, her brain starts to wander. Buffy’s doing better, but she’s clearly still struggling with the readjustment to life on earth. And Faith can’t really blame her. Heaven? That magical beautiful place that Buffy probably wanted to spend all eternity in? And then to be ripped out by the people you loved and trusted the most? That would be hell.

 

Her brain starts to spin with ideas of how she can make it better for Buffy here. She’s already found out sweets are a good thing, so she can make more of those. If she can keep the Scoobies away long enough to give Buffy some more alone time, that could help. And she can take more patrols, leaving Buffy further away from the violence. It feels odd to push her fellow Slayer away from a fight, especially since Buffy seems to come alive, but she knows heaven wasn’t so vicious. Wasn’t so painful. So the more fights Faith can take for Buffy, the easier it’ll be, she hopes. And she could buy one of those uber-fluffy blankets that are so soft and warm and gentle, and just wrap Buffy up in it, trying to imitate heaven. It might not work, but the thought of Buffy wrapped up like a burrito in a fluffy pink blanket is enough to derail Faith’s thoughts for a few moments.

A Buff-rito.

 

The sound of a slamming door brings her back to consciousness, and her heightened hearing picks up on Giles’s loud yelp. Then there’s the sound of Buffy’s voice, high and more fast-paced than usual, and Faith straightens a bit. She’s sweating from the training, and she knows she’s probably not the most attractive human in the world right now, but she doesn’t really care, and heads out to see her sister Slayer anyway. Buffy’s seen her worse than this, she can deal.

 

By the time she reaches the shop, Giles is in the middle of slowing Buffy’s rant. The last bit that Faith hears clearly is “and then I was fired”. Giles starts to speak, but Buffy barrels over the top, asking if he even cares there’s someone out to get her, and hasn’t he already figured out what sort of demons they are yet? Faith’s more confused than almost any other time she’s listened to Buffy speak, and the blonde comes out with some pretty unintelligible things.

“Buffy,” Giles starts, slowly. The blonde pouts at him, causing Faith’s heart to skip a beat or two.

“Yes?”

“If construction is not going to work, perhaps you could try working here, at the Magic Box, with me?”

Faith isn’t sure how to feel about Giles’s suggestion to Buffy. Like Xander’s offer to work, it’s something that could have been extended to her as well, but apparently Buffy is the only one who gets these privileges. Not that she’s surprised. But it just would have been nice to be paid for the work she does around here, like she’s sure Buffy will be. The idea of Buffy going into retail almost makes Faith laugh, but she clamps down, knowing it’s not the time and that Buffy can stand up for herself anyway.

 

To Faith’s surprise, Buffy actually agrees with Giles and they start discussing how it will work straight away. The only excuse Faith can come up with for Buffy working in retail would be that she has no other option - or, thinks she does - and is choosing this as a last resort. It’s probably better than nothing, because at least Buffy will be around all day while Faith’s helping stock and train and just generally hanging around. It means time she gets to be around Buffy, and if she doesn’t get paid for that, she doesn’t really mind. It’s worth it. Plus, it’s probably a bonus for Giles and Anya as well, because if Buffy’s around, there’s a good chance Faith will want to spend more time doing shop things and less time locking herself in the training room.

 

The next day, Buffy rides to the Magic Box with them, and Faith can tell she’s nervous. It’s not obvious - things with Buffy rarely are - but she doesn’t want to do this. It’s in the set of her shoulders, the glaze of her eyes. Faith wonders idly if Buffy’s thinking of heaven, of being back in that beautiful, soft place, instead of down here, forced to interact with customers and work just to live.

They settle Buffy into her role, and Faith can’t help but notice the side-eyes she keeps receiving from Giles and Anya. Sure, now is about the time she’d disappear to avoid work and go train, but that was before they had Buffy in the shop. Faith’s very own lure. After one too many sideways glances, Faith sighs and throws her hands in the air.

“Alrighty, Watcher-man. Surely ya got somethin’ else for me to do round here?”

Giles’s gaze turns suspicious, and she notices that he looks around the shop briefly as if to get Anya’s opinion. The ex-demon is downstairs with Buffy, however, so there’s no one to back him up.

“Of course,” Giles retrieves a book from a shelf just beside her, and places it beside her where she is sitting on the table. “Perhaps you can research what kind of demon Buffy is describing.”

The tone of his voice clearly indicates he thinks it’s bogus, but Faith throws herself into the book anyway, knowing Buffy wouldn’t lie. Not about something like this. Sure, she’s lying to her friends about heaven, but that’s a different story.

 

It’s nice to be included in the research party again, and Faith almost loses herself in the reading. Which is an odd feeling, really, given that she usually stays as far away from books as she possibly can. She supposes this time it’s for Buffy, so maybe she can survive it.

 

Faith is only distracted from her research when she notices Buffy walking up to a customer, looking tired and defeated. It’s almost like she’s been on a twenty-four hour patrol. I wonder if she knows it’s only 10am? Faith watches the sale go down, internally cheering on her girl but keeping her face impassive. The internal cheering is apparently enough, because the sale goes smoothly, from what Faith can tell, and then Giles and Anya are cooing over the blonde Slayer and congratulating her on making a sale. Faith can see the tiredness in Buffy’s eyes, the sheer exhaustion that really shouldn’t come from just making one sale in a magic shop, and ideas start popping into her head again. More cakes, fluffy blankets, sleep ins. Surely those things can help.

 

Faith only comes back to herself when she hears the little bell above the Magic Box entrance ringing wildly, and the sound of a slamming door reverberate around the shop. Her muscles tense, preparing for a fight, but a quick scan of the room reveals there’s no danger. Buffy’s just left. Like a hurricane, too.

 

Faith follows the blonde out of the shop without a second thought, ignoring the confused exclamations of Giles and Anya behind her. They don’t know Buffy like she does. No one knows Buffy like she does. Can they even tell anything’s wrong?

 

Buffy’s put the Slayer speed on, but not enough that Faith’s unable to catch up. She starts jogging after her sister Slayer, knowing she’ll catch up to the other girl’s walk.

“Hey, B,” Faith calls, not expecting the blonde to acknowledge her. To Faith’s surprise, Buffy stops walking and turns, waiting the few seconds it takes for Faith to catch up with her. “What’s up?”

 

“Nothing,” Buffy continues walking, and Faith falls into step beside her easily.

 

A laugh bursts forth from her lips, short and loud. “Bullshit.”

 

Buffy’s only response is to sigh, and Faith knows how she feels.

 

“Same,” she says, and they walk in silence for a bit. Faith’s not sure where they’re going, and she’s not sure Buffy knows either, but it’s something.

 

“I’m just so sick of messing it all up, you know?” Buffy’s words startle her slightly, but she looks over at the other Slayer and tilts her head a little. “My life was already messed up enough, and then someone comes in to mess it up more. Why? Was I not doing a good enough job on my own?”

 

“Hey,” Faith nudges Buffy with one shoulder while they walk, throwing her off balance just slightly. “You’re living just fine.” There’s nothing Faith can say to fix the situation, and she knows that. So instead, she does exactly what she knows would cheer herself up in this situation. “How about we go home, you get your ass into something comfy and we’ll go out, yeah?”

“Nah, I just want to go home and watch TV,” Buffy says, her voice a little smaller than usual.

“Nope, not happening,” Faith’s already planning the night out in her head. Dinner of pizza, of course, and then they’ll go out and dance until they can’t think. Buffy will forget all about the shitshow of earth and her life, and Faith can’t help but feel an odd sense of familiarity.

 

“Alright,” she says as they step into the Summers house. They’ve been silent the whole way home, but Faith’s already concocted the plan. “What pizza do you want?”

“I don’t care.”

“Great,” Faith locates the phone and starts dialing the pizza store’s number from memory. She looks Buffy up and down quickly. “Go get changed into somethin’ a little looser. Better for having fun in.”

Buffy’s look is enough to make Faith laugh.

“Dancing, Miss Mind In The Gutter. Now get that cute ass upstairs and back again in twenty, pizza should be here by then.”

 

Faith’s estimation of the pizza delivery time is almost exact, but Buffy’s still upstairs when she pays the delivery boy and shuts the door on his gaping face. Sure, she’s changed into something a little sexier, but not worthy of the drool puddle on the front porch. It’s only a crop top and leathers. It’s not like she’s changed into lingerie.

 

Faith takes the pizza into the kitchen and starts to eat, wondering just how long Buffy will be gone. That girl could spend a year just dressing up, she has no doubt. I wonder if that’s how long all girls take to get ready, or if it’s just a special Slayer thing.

“Hey, B,” Faith calls for the second time. “If you don’t show up in the next thirty seconds I’m gonna eat all of this.”

The shout seems to work, because there’s a slight scuffle upstairs and then the sound of footsteps on the staircase. Suddenly, Buffy is in front of her, and Faith’s almost forgotten how to breath.

 

Her hair’s still in the loose bun from before,but even as she approaches the kitchen island, she’s taking it out and raking her fingers through it. The sight would have caused Faith’s breath to hitch if she wasn’t already kind of mesmerised by the dark makeup highlighting every one of Buffy’s perfect features, and the shirt that’s showing off a dangerous amount of cleavage. Not to mention the leather pants that Faith didn’t even know Miss Tightly Wound would own. Suddenly remembering the slice of pizza in her hand, Faith shoves it in her mouth, choking down all the comments she could make about how incredible Buffy’s ass looks in those pants.

 

The pizza downed quickly, they decide to walk to the Bronze. The entire walk, Buffy complains about how she really doesn’t need to go, and how she’d much prefer a night at home.

“No, B,” Faith insists, turning to face her as they walk. “You need a night out. Away.”

“I want a night in,” Buffy pouts, and Faith has to rein herself in when the temptation to kiss it away rises up.

“Then go back,” Faith challenges, calling her bluff. Buffy’s dressed now, and out of the house. There’s no way she’s going to go home, and both of them know it. She wants to be out and away, just as much as Faith knows she needs to be. Even if she’s complaining, she’s coming.

“We’re already out,” the blonde hedges, and Faith grins a smug smile.

“Knew it,” she chuckles a little, hoping to god that this night can wipe away that permanent crease of worry between Buffy's brows. “Now c’mon, let’s pick up the pace.”

 

Slayer stamina comes in handy when it comes to getting places quickly, Faith’s found. And picking up the pace at a walk for them is a jog for any normal human, so they make it to the Bronze in record time. Sure, it would have been faster to drive, but there’s no way Faith’s letting either of them get behind a wheel after the night she’s got planned for them. Lots of alcohol, lots of dancing, and probably a rather incoherent Buffy by night’s end. None of which is conducive to a safe trip home.

“Come on,” Faith grabs Buffy’s hand when the blonde hesitates at the doorway. There is no reason for her to be worried about tonight. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. She is supposed to lose all her worries. All her memories of heaven, and being ripped from it. All the violence they’re faced with, night after night. All the stresses of being a sister again, and a friend, and a daughter. Of being The Slayer. She doesn’t need it, and that’s what Faith’s here to erase. All she wants Buffy to think about is alcohol and dancing.

Kinda the perfect night, in her opinion.

 

They make their way through the slight crowd at the Bronze, making a beeline for the bar. Surprisingly, Buffy is silent the whole way, though Faith wonders if it could just be because it’s too much stimulation for her. The Bronze is kind of the opposite of Heaven, really. It’s not soft, it’s not quiet, it’s not isolated. It’s harsh and loud and busy.

Worry claws at her chest, and Faith glances back towards the girl she’s pretty much dragging along. Thankfully, Buffy doesn’t look scared or overwhelmed.

Thank God.

She just looks like she needs a drink, which Faith is more than happy to provide.

 

They reach the bar after what seems like eternity, and Faith orders two shots; one for each of them. After flashing the bartender ID, they watch as he fills two shot glasses with the clear liquid. Faith picks up one, sliding the other towards Buffy. When the other girl picks it up, Faith clinks their glasses together.

“To forgetting,” she says, and nods at the glass to indicate Buffy should drink first.

Buffy tips the shot back, and Faith watches as her body shivers, the alcohol inevitably sliding down the back of her throat and hitting her stomach. Buffy makes a sound of protest, the taste clearly something awful, but then grabs the second shot straight out of Faith’s hand, downing that one in mere seconds. She makes the same noise as the first time, her whole face scrunching up, and it coaxes a laugh from Faith’s lips.

 

“Two more,” she tells the bartender, who eyes Buffy warily. “Don’t worry, I got her,” she says in response.

 

A few minutes after they’ve had their shots, a total of four for Buffy and three for Faith herself, the brunette can start to see the effect of the alcohol on Buffy. Her eyes are wide and bright, her words coming far more enthusiastically than normal. In theory, she should be just as close to drunk as Buffy is, but she’s been at this a lot longer, so she’s had some practice in handling her alcohol. The tiny blonde in front of her, however, doesn’t appear that way.

 

“More drinks?” Buffy asks, placing one hand on Faith’s forearm. By this point, they’ve moved away from the bar, and Faith’s been trying to steer them to the dance floor. Buffy, it seems, has other ideas.

 

“I think you’re good for now, B,” Faith says back. Her voice has to raise in volume the closer they get to the dance floor, but she doesn’t mind. They’ve had enough nights at the Bronze to know that the closer you are to the mass of bodies, the less opportunity there is for talking. And for thinking. Which, Faith figures, is why they’re here in the first place. They’re here so Buffy doesn’t have to think. Have to worry. Because since she’s been back, that’s all it has been. But here, it’s good. It’s noise and it’s busy and it’s enough to overwhelm anyone’s thoughts, let alone B’s. Oh shit. Is it too much? Faith looks over at the girl beside her - now tugging on her wrist with all the insistence of a five-year-old - and thinks about how this might be an overload for Buffy. Since she missed heaven, the quiet and soft place, would this be too much? But the gleam to Buffy’s eyes and the grin on her face are telling her that maybe, just this once, she’s done the right thing by her sister Slayer.

 

The music is upbeat, the people are enjoying themselves, and Faith lets Buffy have a few more drinks. They get something pink and fruity and bubbly, which Buffy instantly falls in love with, and when Faith returns from a trip to the bathroom, Buffy’s already downed two more and is halfway through another.

 

“C’mon,” Faith says, seizing the girl by her wrist. “Let’s get you dancing.” Given the fact that Buffy’s body isn’t used to such an overload of alcohol, Faith thinks it’s best to minimize the damage. Dancing might help the drinks work their way out of her system a little faster, and so might some water. She practically drags Buffy to the bar, making sure their pink fruity abominations are left at the table, and orders a water for Buffy, and a Jack and Coke for herself.

 

“Good thinking,” the bartender says, glancing at Buffy as he hands her the glass of water. The blonde has her elbows on the bar, chin cradled in her palms, and pouts.

 

“This isn’t a Pink Sunrise,” she frowns at the glass, like she expects it to change magically before her eyes.

 

“Nope,” Faith pays the man after receiving her drink, and takes a large gulp. If Buffy’s this far gone, she’s got a long way to go to play catch-up.

 

“But I wanted a Pink Sunrise.”

 

“‘Course ya did,” Faith nudges the glass closer to Buffy, who finally picks it up. “Now drink. Then we’re going to dance.”

 

After Faith finishes her drink and manages to coax Buffy into downing the entire glass of water (“Pretend it’s vodka, it’ll go down faster”), they end up back on the dance floor. Memories float back to Faith, of them doing a very similar thing so many years ago, but with a lot less history and a lot less alcohol. It’s like they’re back then, back to being such young girls, before their worlds went to shit (well, before Faith’s became more shit) and before Faith messed it all up. It’s almost intoxicating in itself to be here, her hand linked with Buffy’s as they dance, completely forgetting about the entirety of the outside world.

 

“How’s it going?” Faith asks in Buffy’s ear after a while. The blonde seems more relaxed. Less stressed. More alive. It’s something Faith’s been hoping to draw out of her ever since she’s been back.

 

“Better,” Buffy mumbles, just loud enough for Faith to hear. “Being here makes it better. Being with you.” The rest of her words are lost to a slur, but the general gist of it all makes Faith’s heart hitch in her chest. There’s a mention of the word ‘history’ and ‘outsider’ and Faith’s got no idea what she’s on about but it’s clearly important to the rather drunk Slayer. The rather drunk Slayer who is now apparently deciding that the dance floor is an appropriate place to start crying.

 

“C’mon,” she uses the hand linked with Buffy’s to pull her away, out of the crowd, and to the door. In her opinion, it’s probably a good idea to get B home before she does something stupid, or passes out. Which would be stupid, she supposes.

 

“Where we goin’?” Buffy asks as they near the doorway, and the crowd thins substantially. Here, they can actually hear each other.

 

“Home,” Faith says, watching Buffy sway slightly on her feet. Yeah, best to get home. They’ve had their fun, they let loose. Dawn’s probably waiting up for them, and she knows that Tara won’t sleep until they’re all home, safely tucked into their beds.

 

“No,” Buffy digs in her heels when Faith tries to pull her forwards, and the brunette sighs, exasperated.

 

“You’re drunk, B. Hometime.”

 

“No!” Buffy’s voice raises just slightly, enough to cause the people around them to look over suspiciously. “I want to be here. You said I could forget. We’re here and here I don’t mess anything up! There is nothing to mess up here! It’s good and it’s fun and I like it!”

 

Faith listens, kind of spellbound by the fact that someone so inebriated can be so verbose. But, then again, this is Buffy. Queen of Surprises. Of course she’d reach the ‘wordy’ stage of being drunk. She wouldn’t be Buffy if she didn’t.

 

“I like it here,” Buffy pouts. “Here no one thinks I’m too dumb for college or too strong for construction work or too lame for retail! Here I get to forget that the only person I find half-decent right now is an ex-homicidal maniac that ruined my life and is now crashing in my little sister’s bed.”

 

Faith’s heart cracks just a little.

 

The grip around Buffy’s wrist tightens, like her hand has a life of her own, and she hauls Buffy outside. Honestly, she’s not sure what she’ll do once they get there. Maybe she’ll scream. Maybe she’ll cry. Maybe she’ll hit something. Maybe she’ll hit someone. By the time they make it out the door, Buffy’s attracted a fair bit of attention. Thankfully, there seems to be no one actually outside the Bronze, but Buffy did give the patrons enough of a show with her rambling about history and how it was all behind them.

 

“Hey, you messed my life up just like they did,” Buffy continues as the door slams behind them, but Faith’s tuned it out. This is only going to hurt, she knows it. “But you’re still here, and I can’t seem to shake you. And you’re also the best person on earth right now because I think you-”

 

Faith turns around when Buffy stops talking, realising only then that she’s stalked a few feet ahead of the blonde in her frustrated haze.

 

“What?”

 

Buffy’s zoned out, lips slightly parted and eyes focused on a big black van a little way away.

“You okay, B?” Faith waves a hand in front of Buffy’s face, trying to get some sort of a response. Is this the alcohol? Does Faith need to be worried? Yeah, she’s experienced the whole ‘loss of consciousness’ thing, but usually that comes hand-in-hand with a faceful of asphalt, and Buffy’s perfectly upright.

 

“Earth to B. You in there?” Faith raps her knuckles gently against the side of Buffy’s skull, but there’s still no reaction from the blonde. Faith’s half a second away from scooping the obviously incoherent Buffy up and carrying her home, but just as she debates the idea, Buffy starts to speak.

“I’ve seen that van before.”

“Yeah, that’s the thing with cars. They don’t disappear.”

“No,” Buffy swings one hand out to smack Faith, but it barely grazes her middle. “At the construction site. There was demons, and a horn,” and as her words dissolve into slurs, Faith contemplates just how much alcohol it would take to drive a Slayer completely bonkers.

 

She’s already moving towards Buffy to drag her away when a tall, scarlet demon steps out from behind the van. Faith’s steps quicken until she’s by Buffy’s side, her muscles already tensed with the promise of a fight. Even though the demon’s easily seven feet tall, and well-muscled, it’s approaching them with slow, awkward steps, so Faith’s pretty sure they can take him. Well, she casts a glance to the side to see Buffy swaying just a little on her feet. I can take him, at least.

 

To her surprise, Buffy lunges out at the demon first, pent up fury from her rant before clearly needing to be released. She misses, however, and the demon starts to laugh. Faith takes a step forward, but even at Slayer speed she’s not quick enough to land a hit before Buffy’s kneed the demon in the groin and caused it to fold in half, crying out in pain. The reaction causes a chuckle to bubble past Faith’s lips, and she turns to pick up Buffy off the ground. The blonde’s a little more unsteady on her feet now, and her cheeks have a decidedly green tinge. Faith spins, ready for round two with their obviously male demon companion, but all he does is shout, throw something on the ground that explodes in smoke, and runs away.

 

“Didja see that?” Buffy turns to her, confusion and irritation obvious in her eyes. “He just disappeared on us! Poof! Up in smoke!”

 

“Sure, sure,” Faith can’t bring herself to correct Buffy, and instead of answering further, just loops her arm around the other Slayer’s middle and starts to direct them home. As they stumble down the street, Faith can’t help but wonder if Buffy’s ever been drunk before. If she’s ever felt as shitty as she obviously does now.

 

The walk home is quiet. Faith can hear Buffy mumbling under her breath every now and again, but she doesn’t pay it much mind. If she really wanted to, between her Slayer senses and her actual focus, she could probably make out what Buffy is saying. Instead, though, she’s happy to just hold Buffy upright with an arm looped around her waist, and just stumble home.

 

They’re about two blocks from Buffy’s house when the blonde stops walking. Faith uses the arm holding her up to attempt to tug her forward, but Buffy’s having none of it.

“What is it, B?” Faith turns to face the other girl, confusion etched on her features. There hadn’t been any mumbling for a few minutes, and there was nothing in their path. No freaky red demons or vamps or anything. Which Faith is actually grateful for. She could easily fight off any vamps that decided to attack, even with the alcohol in her system, but Buffy’s already swaying and Faith would hate to have to look after her as well as fight.

“Just…” Buffy draws the words out to make it sounds a million syllables long, and turns in the circle of Faith’s arm until they’re practically face-to-face. “You.”

“Me what?” Faith props Buffy up when she starts to lean.

“Just you,” she slurs, and Faith rolls her eyes. Well, that was helpful. “I should hate you because you’re bad, but you’re doing good. And I shouldn’t like you because you’re bad, but you’re good, so I should. But I shouldn’t. But I do.”

Faith ignores the rest of the babble past this point, and tries to keep walking. Thankfully, the blonde cooperates this time, her awkward steps nearly in time with Faith’s. There’s really no sense to be found in Buffy’s words, even though Faith’s turning them over and over in her mind trying to find some semblance of sanity. Buffy likes her? Or she doesn’t? Does Buffy think she’s bad or good?

 

In order to keep up the pretense of conversation, Faith occasionally makes some sound of acknowledgement when Buffy pauses. It seems to keep her pretty placated, because they’re all the way at her house before Buffy stops walking again. Faith turns, prepared for another bout of babbling, but Buffy just doubles over and starts to throw up in the gutter. With Slayer reflexes, Faith is by Buffy’s side in an instant, pulling her long hair away from her face as the blonde gasps for breath. She’s never really had friends throw up before - never really had friends, period - but she’s been inebriated enough herself to know what someone needs in this sort of situation. Or, at the very least, what they want. And having someone hold your hair back is a touching gesture. If it were anyone else, Faith wouldn’t touch them with a ten foot pole. But it’s B, and she can’t help herself.

 

Once Buffy straightens again, reaching out and latching on to Faith, the brunette pretty much has to carry her up the walk to her front door. Normally, Faith would be mad that someone’s left it unlocked, but this time it’s their saving grace.

“Buffy, what happened?!” Giles is on them instantly, his gaze shifting to Faith and turning icy. “Where have you been? What did you do?”

“Nothing!” Faith defends instantly. “No demon, no issue, nothing illegal. B here just had a few more drinks than she can handle.” Faith readjusts her grip on said blonde as she starts to slide towards the floor. Faith studies Giles’s face, and finds that even though he’s kind of disappointed in them, he’s mostly relieved. At least Buffy can sleep off alcohol. She can’t really sleep off poison.

“Dawn,” Giles calls, and Buffy cringes at the sudden noise. Dawn appears as if by magic at the top of the stairs, her expression shifting immediately to worry when she sees her sister. As Faith heads towards the bottom of the staircase, Giles continues. “Get your sister a glass of water and some aspirin.”

“I’m taking her to bed,” Faith says, only realising once the words are out that it has come out probably way too forceful. Something she’s really trying to avoid. “She needs it,” Faith continues, a bit softer this time.

 

Faith takes the stairs incredibly slowly, feeling like they’re walking through tar or something at the rate they’re going. By the time they reach the landing, Dawn’s already returned with two aspirin and a glass full of water. Faith starts to thank her, but suddenly Buffy lurches from her arms and lunges for the bathroom. Giles, who has followed them up the stairs at a snail’s pace, stays with Dawn as Faith takes a breath of clean air before heading in. Fucking Slayer senses. Want to know how to make an already gross activity even grosser? How about we enhance your hearing and smell! That will be fun! Goddammit. It doesn’t help that she herself has had a few drinks, and the nausea makes itself known. She clamps down on it, though, knowing that the only thing worse than having one Slayer throwing up is having two.

 

Regardless, Faith figures it’s almost worth it when Buffy slumps, exhausted, against her body. Faith uses the towel Giles threw in to wipe at Buffy’s face, seeing as the blonde is almost too weak at the moment to lift an arm. Faith knows that her slayer metabolism will get the alcohol out soon enough, and it always feels better after being sick, but she also knows that right now, movement is a bad idea and Buffy just needs to rest. The blonde’s weight against her doesn’t exactly make for the most comfortable position on tiled flooring, but she can’t bring herself to complain. Not when Buffy reaches for her hand, desperate for something to hold.

 

When they’re done, finally, Faith helps Buffy clean up her face, and stand. Her legs are a little wobbly, but an arm around her waist is enough to steady her. Faith practically carries Buffy into her bedroom, and Giles follows at a safe distance.

“How are you feeling, Buffy?” he asks as Faith lays her on the bed. Giles hovers, placing her aspirin and water on the nightstand.

“Better,” she answers in a raspy tone. Faith knows it’s due to the trauma of the last fifteen minutes or so, but it’s still an endearing quality.

“Faith,” Giles turns to her, and the brunette is a little surprised. She’d thought he had his ‘Buffy goggles’ on, where nothing mattered but the blonde. “Can I have a moment alone with Buffy, please?”

Oh.

“Yeah, sure,” Faith shrugs. “I’m gonna check on Dawn and head to bed. Reckon she should stay with me tonight?”

Giles glances at Buffy, sipping delicately at her water to swallow her aspirin.

“That might be for the best, yes.”

 

Faith leaves the room with only a slight wave to Buffy, and heads down the hall. As she enters, Dawn looks up from her position sprawled across the bed.

“Whatcha doin’?” she asks, noticing the notebook and pen in her hands.

“Writing,” Dawn answers. “Will Buffy be okay?”

“Oh, squirt, she’s gonna be fine,” Faith crosses the room and starts gathering her pyjamas. “She’ll probably have a headache for the next day or two, but she’ll live. It’s all part of the fun.”

Dawn cocks her head, clearly not understanding the ‘fun’ aspect, and it makes Faith laugh.

“Doesn’t sound like fun,” she answers, then rolls on her side to look directly at Faith. “Plus, only losers drink alcohol.”

Faith laughs along with the teen and prays that she stay this way forever. If there’s even the slightest chance of protecting that innocence, that purity, Faith wants to preserve it.

“So,” Faith leans over, attempting to get a peek at Dawn’s notebook, “whatcha writin’?”

“Nothing,” Dawn closes the book and moves it away from Faith. “None of your business.”

“Everything is my business,” Faith laughs, lunging towards the younger brunette. Dawn’s book drops to the floor as Faith play-tackles her, and then starts to tickle her. Faith hasn’t been around long, but she’s been around long enough to learn where all of Dawn’s most ticklish spots are, and damn if she isn’t going to take advantage of them. She’d had too many years deprived of play-fighting with a younger sister, she’s going to make the most of this.

“Dawn,” Buffy’s interruption is quiet, but it’s enough to stop both brunettes instantly. “Look at this.”

Dawn scrambles off the bed to seize the piece of paper her sister is holding. As she heads over, Faith catches Buffy’s gaze and raises an eyebrow.

“It’s from Giles,” she says, and is then cut off by Dawn’s squeal. The shrill noise causes Buffy to flinch, and Dawn immediately lowers the volume.

“It’s gonna be okay!” she says with just as much enthusiasm, but at a much more acceptable decibel. “We can live!”

“We can,” Buffy agrees quietly, then seems to do a double take on Dawn. Her gaze zeroes in on Dawn’s shirt, which Faith hadn’t even noticed until now.

“New shirt?” Buffy asks.

“Oh,” Dawn looks down, clearly having forgotten what she was wearing. “Nah. I think someone mixed up the washing one week and it ended up in my drawer. It’s Faith’s. But I liked it so she let me keep it,” Dawn beams at the both of them, clearly proud of her new acquisition. In all honesty, Faith hadn’t really minded the shirt, but it had made Dawn so happy that she couldn’t bear to take that away. The poor girl had already lost so much, and this was one thing Faith could give her.

 

As Dawn prances off to go thank Giles, Buffy looks at Faith, her expression completely unreadable to the brunette. Faith can’t see her eyes properly thanks to the only light source being Dawn’s lamp, but she can tell by the furrow of her brow that she’s irritated. Which Faith doesn’t entirely get, given that it should be a good thing that her and Dawn are at the clothes-sharing level.

Shouldn’t it?

Chapter Text

That night, Dawn stays in her own bed, with Faith. The older brunette can’t help the quiet voice inside that says this is a very sisterly thing to do, that this is a bonding experience. She dashes her own hopes before they can get too high, knowing that if Buffy thinks so little of her then she’ll never be close to being a proper part of this family, never be a proper big sister to Dawn. No matter how much she feels like one. In her mind’s eye, she replays the way Buffy had looked at her. The way she’d seemed frustrated, or angry, and it cracks Faith’s heart just a little to know that no matter how much good she does , she’s still got a long way - such a long way - to go with B.

 

After hours of tossing and turning, and hours of staring at the ceiling, Faith silently slips out of bed. It is no use to just turn things over in her mind endlessly. Maybe getting some fresh air will help.

 

Normally, if she couldn't sleep, she would bake. She’d make red velvet cupcakes and clouds and cookies and anything else that might give B a little slice of heaven. But she’s not sure how loud she would be, and waking up Watcherman really wouldn’t be the best idea. So instead she plucks a box of cereal from the counter, and heads out the back door.

 

The night is cool, but bearable, so Faith sits on the step and digs around in her cereal box. Dawn’s already taken the toy from it - which is as endearing as it is frustrating - so there’s only the plain cereal left.

 

Faith chews mindlessly, thoughts of Buffy spinning around in her head like tops. They're distracting enough that she almost misses the rustle of bushes across the yard. In an instant, she's on alert, her hand reaching for the stake that should be at her hip. But she’s in her pyjamas, and she hasn’t bothered to tuck a stake into her waistband as she normally would. Her brain is running through potential weapons within reach, only to be cut short when she realises the noise in the shadows is Spike. The bleached-blonde vampire crosses the yard in eerie silence and comes to sit beside Faith.

 

“Hey,” the brunette greets. She tilts the cereal box towards him in offering. “Haven’t seen you round in a while.”

 

Since Faith returned to Sunnydale, she’s found the vampire to be an odd sort of companion. He’s one of the only members of their little team who actually understands her, who feels as much of an outsider as she is. Even Anya - the eleven hundred year old demon who slaughtered countless people - is more accepted into their little gang. Spike’s given her a sense of familiarity, of solidarity, and most of all, loyalty. She’s seen his protectiveness for Dawn a million times over, and his love for Buffy is as obvious to her as her own. So it seems odd that lately, he’s chosen to hover a bit more in the shadows.

 

“Been busy,” he answers cryptically, taking a handful of cereal. “How’s Buffy?”

 

“She’ll have a bit of a headache tomorrow,” Faith replies, thinking of the blonde’s exhausted form curled up in bed. “But she’ll survive.” There's no point in asking how he knows what Buffy has been up to, or why he cares. She already knows the answers to both of those questions. What she doesn’t know, though, is why he’s backed off. She kinda misses him, if she’s being honest. His company during secret Scooby meetings she can’t join. His friendship with Dawn.

 

“Good,” is all Spike says, stealing some more cereal. “Patrol’s done. Figured you wouldn’t be up to it.”

 

“I’m fine,” Faith protests instantly. “Buffy’s the one who couldn’t patrol if her life depended on it.”

 

“Saw her heavin’ up her guts,” Spike chuckles a little. “Bint can’t hold her liquor.”

 

“Especially when she drinks five pink abominations one after the other,” Faith laughs as well, feeling the ease that comes from talking with Spike seep back in. “I don’t know how she drinks that shit.”

 

“Give her shots,” Spike answers. “Should shut her right up.”

 

“We did those too,” Faith grins at the memory.

 

Spike just rolls his eyes and laughs. They sit in silence for a few minutes, the only sound coming from the rustle of the cereal in the box as they eat.

 

“She doin’ okay?” Spike asks quietly, and Faith doesn’t have to question his train of thought.

 

“She’s not bad,” Faith replies at the same volume. It feels impossible to talk about this any louder. “It’s hard, readjusting. She needs all the support she can get.”

 

The thinly veiled question - and barb - is picked up easily by the vampire beside her, but she ignores the glare thrown her way. Buffy does need support, and she needs the help of the people who love her. The Scoobies are good, to a point, but they’re more happy that she’s back and they can continue to normal. Faith had thought it was different with Spike. He backed away when everyone else rushed towards her, and the question of why simply won’t leave her alone.

 

“She needs you lot.”

 

“You’re part of our lot,” Faith tries not to snap. She’s not entirely sure why she’s mad about this, but she is. “Don’t you care?”

 

That’s a question that really cuts, she can tell by the shattering behind his eyes. Something breaks, and he has to look away. He doesn’t even respond when she shakes the cereal box at him.

 

“You’re her sister slayer,” Spike says, though his words seem detached from himself. “Figured it was your turn at a shot.”

 

“What?” Faith shifts her body so she’s angled a little more towards the vampire, a crease appearing between her brows.

 

“She clearly likes you more than me,” he says slowly. “Figured I’d let her miss me for a while.”

 

“Right, so you’re just gonna show her you don’t need her,” Faith says slowly.

 

“Let her stew a bit. She’ll come back. Might mean she stops chasing you.”

 

Faith works her jaw a little, trying to form words but failing miserably. Sure, her feelings for the blonde are far from expertly hidden - and so are Spike’s - but the possibility of Buffy ever loving her back? No way.

 

“No idea what you’re talkin’ about,” Faith shakes her head.

 

“Just take it,” the look he throws her is somewhere between a glare and a smile. “I’ll still be ‘round for niblet, though. Don’t you worry.”

 

Faith has no response for that. No idea if what he’s saying is even true. Sure, the soft warm smiles have given her hope, but the look from last night still lingers at the edge of her mind. It’s things like that that make her doubt exactly what Buffy feels.

 

The two of them sit in silence until the first rays of the morning sun start to peek over the horizon.

“I should be going,” Spike says, hauling himself to his feet. He grabs a handful of cereal first, then bows his head to her.

 

“See ya round,” Faith gives him a little wave as he disappears into the lingering shadows, leaving Faith with more thoughts in her head than when she first emerged onto the porch.

 

Thankfully, by the time she’s back inside, it’s light enough that she deems it acceptable to start cooking breakfast. Buffy is normally up early, given that she doesn’t sleep much these days, but Faith’s not sure how the alcohol from the previous night is going to affect her. Regardless, she starts breakfast by mixing up some pancake batter. In a separate bowl, she begins Buffy’s favourite cookie dough mix.

 

Before too long, the rest of the gang is awake. Willow sits beside a bleary-eyed Dawn at the kitchen island, and Tara is flipping pancakes at the stove. Faith pours Giles his second glass of juice and manages a smile at Buffy, who looks slightly green, but better than Faith expected.

 

“Giles, slow down!” Tara warns as the man in question downs his juice so fast Faith thinks he must be pretty well-practiced at taking shots. “They’ll still be there when we get there.”

 

“It’s Halloween, Tara!” Giles is more than a little flustered this morning, and Faith thinks he may have good reason. While Halloween is a quiet time in terms of actual demonic activity, there’s a lot going on in the magic shop side of things. So Giles has been rushing them all around the house all morning. Faith snatches a cookie from the plate in front of Buffy and bites down on it.

“Maybe I should dress up,” Giles murmurs, then speaks a bit louder. “Perhaps that wizard costume from the shop’s opening?”

 

The mental image of Giles wearing wizard robes and an oversized pointy hat is enough to make Faith chuckle a little, and suddenly Buffy’s elbow is in her ribs to shut her up. It has the opposite effect, though, and Faith chokes on her cookie. When the rest of the room looks suspiciously at her, she just shrugs. The room descends back into chatter, and Faith looks over at Buffy, thinking she can spot the smallest, softest smile tugging at the edge of her lips.

 

“I’m going as myself,” Willow offers, when Giles makes a mention about how none of them seem to be dressing up. “That totally counts. You know, ‘cause I’m a witch and stuff.”

 

“Me too!” Tara nods. “No costume required.”

 

Giles looks hard at Buffy, and Faith thinks in this moment she doesn’t mind not being the golden child. She doesn’t mind the fact that she doesn’t get pressured into dressing up.

 

At the Magic Box, however, it’s a different story. After pushing their way past the small crowd gathered in front of the store, Faith barely gets two feet inside before Anya is by her side.

 

“You didn’t dress up!” she says incredulously. “It’s Halloween! You’re supposed to dress up!”

 

“Not me,” Faith laughs a little at Anya’s enthusiasm. The ex-demon is clearly throwing all she has into being as human as possible.

 

“None of you dressed up,” Anya looks over their little group, and her voice is tinged with sadness. For some reason, this makes Faith feel worse than when Giles was asking Buffy to dress up, and she realises she doesn’t like it when her friend is upset. Something the old Faith would never have cared about.

 

“Here,” Faith reaches to the nearest table, finding exactly what she needs in mere seconds, thanks to Anya meticulously stocking the store. She holds the stake up for Anya to see. “Look, I’m gonna go dressed as a Slayer.”

 

Anya’s face lights up and she grins. Grabbing another stake off the table, she holds it towards Buffy.

 

“Hey, Buffy!” When the blonde turns towards them, she continues. “You should put have this! Dress up, like Faith.”

 

Buffy looks over at Faith, and the brunette can’t decipher the look in her eyes. When Buffy takes more than a moment to answer, Anya turns to the next available human.

 

“Dawn! Will you dress up as a slayer?”

 

“No thanks, dressing up is for kids,” Dawn shakes her head, her tone clearly screaming ‘ I’m a teenager. I’m too old for this shit.’

 

“C’mon squirt, you’re still a kid,” Faith teases lightly. Dawn reaches out and swats Faith on the arm, but the force of the blow is softened by her laugh. Faith ducks away when the younger brunette attempts to hit her again, stepping back and tucking the stake into her waistband. She tries valiantly to ignore the fact that Buffy’s frown is deeper now.

 

“Alright, where do you want me?”

 

They’re busier than Faith expected. Sure, she knew that it would be busy given that it is Halloween, and the crowd outside the door when they’d arrived had been a good indication, but it still surprises her. Just how many people can want to buy magic supplies the day of Halloween? Through the crowds, she attempts to keep an eye on each member of her team. Anya keeps giving her random little helpful jobs that keep her floating around the store, but she doesn’t mind helping out. It’s for the team, and she’s getting better at teamwork, if she says so herself. The one person she keeps losing sight of is Dawn, though she knows the teen can’t get far. It’s just the magic shop, and much of a kid as she is, there’s a slim chance she’d run out.

 

Faith catches sight of the younger brunette by a table with some jewellery on it, and her brow instantly furrows. Dawn’s face screams everything she’s seen on one too many amateurs’ faces already: guilt. Faith’s not sure about what, but there’s something up. She makes a mental note to talk to Dawn later, maybe when the store doesn’t feel like a vamp nest she’s just walked into.

 

Buffy appears at Faith’s side, and the brunette has to do a double take. She was clearly too caught up in bagging the items for Giles to actually pay attention to B’s signature tingle getting closer through the crowd.

 

“Hey, B,” she greets, a little belatedly. She hands Buffy a bag. “Here.”

 

“Giles,” Buffy says, ignoring the bag that Faith offered. “I was thinking I could patrol.”

 

Faith tunes out automatically when Giles starts talking about how Halloween is actually a really quiet night for the Slayer, and how she’s really of more use here. She really only perks up when Buffy mentioned she could go patrolling with Spike. As much as she understands the bleached vampire’s desire to be around the Slayer, and the fact that they probably undoubtedly fight well together, she can’t help but wonder when Spike spoke to Buffy. Was it before or after he’d told Faith it was her shot? Did Faith even care? Did she even want her shot?

 

Faith is drawn from the swirling questions in her mind by Giles’s firm tone.

 

“Take the night off, Buffy.”

 

Her ears prick up at this. Telling Buffy not to patrol? That’s like telling a fish not to swim. And if they’re trying to get Buffy returning to normal, surely Giles would want her out there patrolling? Faith opens her mouth to say something, but Giles is already talking again.

 

“You too, Faith.”

 

It’s kind of a double edged sword to have a night off. She loves slaying with everything, but a night off is golden. Maybe not for Buffy, though. But Faith keeps her mouth shut on the matter as Giles continues.

 

“You may do whatever you please, as long as it doesn’t involve the two of you staggering home in the middle of the night sick as a dog.” There is a pointed glare at both of them here, but Faith doesn’t even flinch. “Now, keep packing.”

 

Buffy seems to take this as her dismissal, but Faith reaches out and grabs her arm.

 

“No way, B. If I’m stuck in this hellhole,” she glances at the hordes of customers, “you’re sure as shit staying too.”

 

Buffy rolls her eyes at Faith but the brunette ignores it. “Hell mouth, ” she corrects, but there’s a hint of a smile in her tone. “But fine. What do I do?”

 

Faith’s not sure when it happened, but suddenly it’s dark outside and there are no more customers in the store. Dawn shuts the door behind the last couple, and slumps against it. Faith leans over and rests her elbows on the counter beside Anya, propping her head up on her hands. The rest of the gang practically collapse onto the nearest surface, with Willow and Tara at the table, and Buffy and Xander on the steps. Anya is beside her, and all Faith can tell is that she’s so grateful to them for helping her make so much money.

 

Faith is only half paying attention, too busy wondering how she has this much energy after a day like today. Even her and Buffy - the Slayers - are pretty wiped. Maybe working retail is the same to Anya as slaying is to them. It never really exhausts, only energises. It would explain why Anya’s practically bouncing off the walls, and still keen for round two tomorrow. Faith is thinking she’ll want to be far away by then.

 

Anya beckons Dawn over to show her the money, and shows them both the celebration dance. It’s stupid, and lame, and so cheesy, but Faith loves every second of it. For a second, she forgets how exhausted she is. She forgets that she needs to talk to Dawn, she forgets that she’s the outsider, and she forgets all the worry about Buffy. Instead, she dances and relishes in the feeling of completeness and togetherness. The whole gang there, chatting amongst themselves, and doing the money celebration dance. A thought floats into her mind that maybe, just maybe, she can be a part of this family.

 

When Xander calls for their attention, all three girls stop dancing. He approaches the trio and wraps his arm around Anya, his words building up to something important. Her first thought is this must be The Thing That Xander Said Not To Say, out in the air finally, and she simply watches as the couple look between themselves, then out at the group.

 

“We’re getting married.”

 

Faith looks between the two, and pushes aside all her previous thoughts on marriage. All her biases against it, all her fears about it, all her suspicions and teasing. This is no place for that. It’s for happiness, as clearly evidenced on Anya’s face. She’s still a little shaky on Xander’s feelings, but Anya clearly looks happy. She beams at Faith, and the brunette manages a smile back. And when Xander says about how they were waiting for the right moment, Faith can’t help but feel as though there couldn’t have been a better time.

 

Back at the Summers household, Faith’s more than a little surprised when they invite her to join them for a little engagement party of sorts. If she’s being honest, it’s probably just because she pretty much lives here now, so it’s hard to get away. Nevertheless, it still makes her a little warm and fuzzy inside to be included, especially with Anya practically talking her ear off about how excited she is. They don’t have much in terms of party food, but Faith manages to scrounge up a bag of popcorn, a bag of chips, and some drinks. If they’d known this was going to be a big thing, they could have planned, but this is the best they’ve got.

 

“We didn’t really have time to decorate,” Tara says Faith’s thoughts aloud, looking around the room.

 

“That’s okay,” Anya waves a hand dismissively. “There will be plenty of time to plan for the next one.”

 

“Why wait?” Willow chirps, and before Faith can even blink, the redhead is waving her hand and decorations are appearing in front of her eyes. There are streamers hanging from the ceiling, and ribbons on the curtain rods, and balloons around the doorways. It’s pretty amazing, if she’s being honest, and she can’t help but think that having magic would be incredibly handy for everyday life. Just a wave of her hand, and bam. Anything she wanted. How simple. Instead she gets stuck with lame old Slayer powers. Of course. Faith glances away from the sparkling decorations for a second, her gaze scanning the small group, and can’t help but notice the vaguely upset expression on Tara’s face. It’s an odd look, one she’s never seen on the blonde witch before, and she makes a mental note to speak to her later. Making that mental note reminds her that she never made good on her mental note to speak to Dawn, so she tells herself that must be done too.

 

Damn. Who knew this being responsible thing was so exhausting? Old Faith would have ignored it. The very epitome of ‘not my business, not my problem’. The problem now though is that she isn’t Old Faith. She is New Faith. And New Faith doesn’t do shit like that.

 

They chat and drink and eat, and before long Faith seizes her moment. Tara and Willow have just disappeared into the kitchen, and Anya and Xander are talking Buffy and Giles’ ears off.

“Hey, squirt,” she says, as gently as she can. Tara’s the most gentle person she can think of, so she tries to imitate that tone. When Dawn greets back, Faith decides the best way about this is to get straight to the point. “What was up in the store today?” There. Straight to it. About as subtle as a gun.

 

“What do you mean?” Dawn is instantly on the defensive. It sets off red flags in Faith’s brain, and she knows she has to tread carefully. Dawn isn’t like what she was at this age. She’s not careful, and practiced, and hardened. She’s delicate and gentle and too kind to truly be about this life.

 

“Just looked like somethin’ was up,” Faith shrugs, trying to emphasise the fact that she’s not putting a lot of pressure on the teen.

 

“Nothing was up,” Dawn hedges. “I’m fine.”

 

Her eyes and stance tell Faith clear as day that she’s lying, but the older brunette doesn’t push it. She knows that if she keeps going, Dawn will clam up further. She’ll refuse to talk now, or some point in the future. Faith’s put the offer to talk out there, the rest is up to Dawn.

 

“Well,” she says, having decided that dropping the subject seems the best way to not freak Dawn out, “you know where to find me if ya need.” A beat of hesitation. “And B, too.”

 

“Thanks,” Dawn doesn’t look at her as she says this, but Faith doesn’t mind. Instead, she heads to the kitchen for a refill on her drink.

 

She passes Willow on her way into the kitchen, and the redhead looks to be in a huff. There’s a serious frown on her face, and Faith’s curiosity is piqued. Tara is still in the kitchen, sitting forlornly at the island, and something in Faith suggests that if she’s having all her tough conversations, she may as well have them back to back. Tara doesn’t look in the mood for talking, so Faith just strides around to the other side of the island and leans on her elbows, raising an eyebrow and cocking her head. She’s met with a teary silence, and the blonde only meets her gaze for a moment before she goes back to staring at the countertop.

 

Deciding that if Tara wants to talk, Tara will talk, Faith turns to dig in the cupboard. She can tell the witch isn’t moving because the tingle that signifies a witch doesn’t go anywhere. So Faith continues to move food out of the way and reach the back of the pantry, finally reaching her hidden bag of donut holes and pulling them out with a triumphant grin.

 

Tara is still sitting there in silence when she turns back, but Faith opens the bag and offers her a donut hole anyway.

 

“Magic is supposed to be used for good,” Tara says without meeting her eyes, as she reaches out and takes one. “For helping people.”

 

Faith can tell this isn’t exactly the time to interrupt, so she lets the blonde continue.

 

“Magic is for saving people. Too much magic is bad for someone.”

 

There’s no question who Tara is talking about, and the idea floats around in Faith’s mind that Willow may be using too much magic. To her, it really hadn’t seemed like that much, but then again she isn’t exactly an experienced witch. She doesn’t know what too much magic does. And, judging by the look on Tara’s face, she’s not sure she wants to.

 

“When magic is used selfishly, people become dependent on it.” Even though Tara’s speaking in general statements, both of them are aware there’s no secret as to whom they’re talking about.

 

“It’s supposed to be used for the good.”

 

Though Faith has only ever seen Willow doing magic she thinks is good, she doesn’t want to argue with Tara. Not when she really doesn’t have a basis for an argument about magic. Plus, if magic can be as addictive and dangerous as Tara is implying, Faith knows all about that darkness. About thinking you can just touch the edge, and ending up getting sucked in completely. On a whim, Faith reaches across the counter and takes one of Tara’s hands in hers. The action causes the blonde to look up for the first time, and her light eyes are sparkling with tears. The sight of someone like Tara upset causes Faith’s heart to crack, and she can’t help but wonder just how she’s gotten so attached to these people.

 

“She could get swept up in it, Faith,” Tara almost whispers. “It could corrupt her.”

 

Touching something dark inside you never seems like it will be too much, but your hands always come away far more stained than one can imagine. Faith knows this. What she doesn’t know, though, is what to say now.

 

“Did you want me to talk to her?” is the only thing Faith can think to offer.

 

Tara simply shakes her head, and a few tears splash against the counter. “No, it’s okay.” She gives Faith a soft, watery smile, and the brunette tries to return it as best she can.

 

“Okay,” she gives Tara’s hand one last squeeze, before hiding her donut holes and heading back to the living room.

 

Upon their return, Faith can’t help but notice that Dawn’s gone. When she learns that she’s gone to Janice’s, the red flags from earlier start to wave frantically in Faith’s brain. Between the shiftiness at the Magic Box, the evasiveness earlier, and this? There’s something up, she’s just not sure what. And since she doesn’t want to worry B, she keeps her mouth shut and lets the party continue.

 

Anya approaches her, grinning madly, and grabs Faith’s hands.

 

“I finally got to tell you what Xander had told me I couldn’t tell you!” she is practically vibrating with energy, and it makes Faith chuckle, despite the fact that her sentence is the most confusing thing she’s heard all night.

 

“Yeah, Ahn, you did.”

 

“Isn’t it exciting?! It’s such a mortal thing to do, and so very exciting,” the enthusiasm is not lost on Faith, and she looks over to Anya’s fiance to see if he’s sharing the energy. On the contrary, Xander is looking pretty green to Faith’s eyes, and like he’s going to either be sick or pass out. Neither of which are good options, really, and neither of which seem to bode well for the future marriage. But Faith ignores it and tries to refocus on the girl in front of her - who is now apparently prattling on about future baby names - instead of Xander and Buffy heading out to the front porch. When Faith makes a noncommittal sound at the introduction of some unpronounceable name, Anya wraps her arms around the brunette in a crushing hug. The action is odd and unfamiliar to Faith, but she accepts it anyway, deciding that her appreciation for this girl grows every day.  

 

“You’d know better than anyone what putting the past behind me means,” Anya says, and Faith feels the solidarity of their pasts emerge again. It was what drew her to Anya in the first place. The honesty, the clean slate, the bonding over a shared terrible past. Sure, Anya maybe killed a few thousand more people than she did - and was a demon for over a thousand years - but Anya being such an integral part of the gang is what gives Faith hope.

 

Their entire conversation, Faith can tell that Anya isn’t worried at all. She’s excited, sure, and maybe a little overwhelmed, but mostly just looking forward to it. When Xander returns from the porch, though,he looks far from matching his fiance’s enthusiasm. Buffy isn’t with him, and Faith can feel Buffy's signature tingle leave the edge of her senses as she walks away from the house. There’s an odd sinking feeling in her stomach at that, but she stoically ignores it.

 

Before long, someone suggests putting on music. It takes a while before Faith finds an acceptable dancing song, but soon enough she picks one of her favourites and gets most of the group up dancing. Sure, it’s not the atmosphere of the Bronze like she’s used to, but it still feels good to be moving, and some of her companions dance moves are so terrible they’re hilarious. She’s almost forgotten about everything when suddenly the music cuts off, mid-word, and they all turn to look at the speaker. Giles is standing by the dial, looking grim. Faith’s heart instantly leaps into slaying mode, and her muscles twitch. She’s ready to fight.

 

She doesn’t catch the whole explanation, but she gets the main parts. Dawn said she was going there, Janice said she was coming here. It’s the classic switch. Not that she really had any friends to do it with in high school, but it’s common sense. She looks between Xander and Willow, a little confused. Surely they used that exact ruse a million times in school? Faith has to literally catch the tip of her tongue between her teeth in order to stop from shouting out ‘I knew something was up!’, and instead just listens to Giles delegate orders. He will wait at home, whereas they’re all spreading out to look for the teen. And she’s got the excellent duty of trying to find Buffy and tell her what happened.

 

Fucking great.

 

Faith practically bursts through the front door, already running by the time she hits the front path. Her muscle memory takes her straight to Restfield, and she trusts in her body to take her to Spike’s crypt, even though her mind is far away.

 

“Hey!” Spike leaps up from his position in front of the TV when she crashes into his crypt. The door bounces against the stone wall and she holds it open with one arm as she strides in.

 

“Where’s Buffy?” Even though she normally doesn’t have anything against Spike, right now she’s just not in the mood for small talk.

 

“How should I know?” Spike turns away, facing his television again. Faith storms across the room and stands directly in front of him, refusing to be ignored.

 

“Dawn’s missing,” she seems unable to get more than a few words out at a time, and she takes a breath to try and reset herself. It’s unnecessary, though, because Spike’s already on his feet, hunting around the crypt for his duster. He’s rambling about the ‘silly bit’ and ‘should have never left’, and Faith steps in front of him and forces him to stop.

 

“Chill, Bleach Boy. The search can wait for a second. Where’s Buffy?” Sure, finding Dawn is the top of her priority list, but her sister really needs to know the situation too. And Faith can’t think of anyone else who should tell her.

 

“I’ve got no idea where she is, you git. We need to find Niblet.”

 

“You haven't’ seen her?” confusion tinges Faith’s tone.

 

“No,” there’s a pause, and Spike’s brow furrows. “Why?”

 

“She was coming here to patrol with you,” Faith watches the emotion play out on Spike’s face, the hope, the confusion. After a split second, though, it’s shuttered behind his eyes once more and his face is stony.

 

“I’m going into the tunnels to look for Dawn,” he says stoically, and he’s gone before Faith can say anything more.

 

Faith leaves Spike’s crypt and tries to push every other part of life from her mind. Dawn is her priority now. Suddenly, she spots a head of familiar blonde hair across the cemetery, so she weaves between the headstones at a jog.

 

“Faith,” her sister slayer is surprised to see her coming from the direction of Spike’s crypt, clearly where the blonde was headed. “What are you doing here?”

 

Faith pretends there wasn’t a bite to that sentence. “It’s Dawn. She said she went to Janice’s, right?”

 

“Shit,” Buffy swears under her breath before Faith can even finish her sentence. The brunette pauses. “She’s not there, is she?”

 

“And apparently Janice isn’t where she said she’d be either.”

 

“Shit,” Buffy swears again. “Giles?”

 

“At home,” Faith starts. “Willow and Tara took one side of town, Xander and Anya got the other. And Spike’s checking the tunnels.”

 

“So that leaves us with the cemeteries?” Buffy says, and Faith watches the shadowing of her eyes, even in the darkness. She’s clearly worried for her sister, but practicality is winning out. Typical Buffy. She nods in response to the blonde’s statement, and they fall into a rhythmic jog beside each other.

 

They don’t get far before the sound of a shrill scream halts them in their step. Without even looking at each other, without thinking, they head towards the sound at full Slayer speed. Faith can't help but find it amusing that even though Buffy’s older, even though Buffy’s the more experienced Slayer, even though Buffy is the golden child, Faith's still just a bit faster on foot.

 

Following the vamp tingle through her Slayer sense, she reaches the vampire just a mere second before Buffy, but she’s clearly less motivated to fly-kick the demon and force him away from the girl he’s got pinned up against the tree. Leaving Buffy to deal with the vamp, she races to the scared brunette, thinking that they’ve found Dawn and she was being attacked by a vampire. Which is one of the worst scenarios Faith’s brain has concocted. But as Faith stands the girl a bit more upright, brushing the hair out of her face, she realises this isn’t Dawn. This is, however, Janice.

 

“He bit me!” is all she can say.

 

Faith turns to look at Buffy, to see if she’s noticed, and the blonde’s standing among a cloud of dust, staring at the two brunettes.

 

“Where’s Dawn?” Faith asks as the same time Buffy demands: “Where’s my sister?”

 

Janice doesn’t get a chance to answer, before they both notice a vamp, just at the edge of their senses. Faith can tell Buffy’s sensed it too by the dark look that crosses her face, and the fact that she’s already taking off towards the sense.

 

“Go home,” Faith practically pushes Janice away from her, noting that the only injury is barely a scratch at her pulse point. She was hardly even bitten; she’ll survive. “Go straight there and don’t stop.”

 

Her tone is apparently warning enough, because Janice pales and nods, before turning and running through the trees in what Faith assumes is the direction of her home.

 

Despite the fact that Buffy didn’t really get that much of a head start on Faith, she’s already dug heavily into Dawn by the time Faith finds them again. Assessing the scene quickly, she can understand why Buffy’s so mad. Dawn - young, delicate, pure Dawn - was parking with a guy she just met. And a vamp nevertheless! Sure, Faith did way worse at her age - and younger - but that’s different. She wasn’t Dawn. she didn’t have anyone looking out for her. She could handle herself against a vamp!

 

“How could you not tell this is a vampire?!” Buffy shouts, gesturing wildly to the demon beside Dawn.

 

“Because I’m not like you two! I can’t sense a vampire a mile away, thank you very much,” Dawn bites back.

 

“Two slayers?” the vampire complains. “That's not how it's supposed to work!.”

 

“I’ll get to you in a minute, mister,” Buffy threatens, shifting her attention for a moment. But then she’s back on Dawn.

 

Faith lets the blonde run herself out a bit, feeling some other vamps drawing nearer. There’s about four others, she can tell, but they’re all stopped, just hovering. Faith can’t help but think it’s just because they don’t want to incur Buffy’s wrath. Not the Slayer, not a vampire hunter, but Buffy. Protective Big Sister Buffy. She’s a weapon all of her own. There’s a familiar tingle drawing even closer, and Faith knows Spike is behind them without even turning to look.

 

“You!” Buffy suddenly whirls, and Spike looks comically shocked for a second. Faith can see why; she would have thought that Buffy would be too wrapped up in berating Dawn to sense anything else. “Whatever happened to protecting her?”

 

Spike is silent in response to her question, but another vampire speaks in his place.

 

“Uh,” he says, and all eyes snap to him instantly. “Can we fight now?”’

 

Faith’s in Slayer mode instantly, allowing herself to be a little less worried now that Dawn is here, in their sights.

 

“With fucking pleasure,” she grins, then lunges at the vampire standing beside Dawn. She can tell Buffy and Spike start attacking their own vampires, but doesn’t pay them much mind. They can handle themselves. The only one who really can’t is standing a few feet away from her, backing away as Faith and the vampire spar. He mustn’t have been a vamp for long, she figures, because she’s able to stake him far too easily. And within a few moments he is reduced to nothing but a cloud of dust, floating away on the slight breeze. She grabs Dawn by the arm, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to direct her towards the car, away from the fighting.

 

“Dawn,” Faith says incredulously. “What the fuck?” She normally tries not to swear in front of her, but now seems like an acceptable time.

 

“Sorry?” Dawn apologises, but it sounds far more like a question to Faith. The older brunette takes a breath, trying to steady herself. Trying to calm herself like Angel taught her. If she’s angry, scared, or aggressive, Dawn’s not going to respond. After hearing Angel’s calming voice in her head, she continues.

 

“What’s been goin’ on, squirt?” she tries a gentler approach.

 

“I’m fine,” Dawn is acting shifty, and Faith can tell.

 

“Doesn’t look it from where I’m standing,” she says, trying to remove the venom from her tone.

 

“Seriously, there’s nothing up,” Dawn can’t even look her in the eye for more than a second, and Faith feels frustration bubble up inside her. Sure, it’s the same way she would have reacted if someone had asked her about herself when she was Dawn’s age, but she’d never expected to be on this end of the conversation.

 

“I know what it’s like when you’re not the star of attention,” Faith says, trying to imagine herself in Dawn’s place. Dawn may not need to hear the same things she needed to hear, but maybe something will stick. She’s completely operating on a hunch here, so she’s either going to be right or way off base. Hoping it’s the former, she continues. “I know what it’s like when you’re ignored, when you just want someone, anyone, to pay attention to you. And when you’re so desperate, like I was, anyone will do. Because you’re so used to not being the best, to everyone pushing you aside to make room for -” she barely stops herself short of saying Buffy , saving it just in time, “the star.”

 

The memories of her first time in Sunnydale are replaying in her mind’s eye and her chest is suddenly full of an inexplicable ache. “But there’s a right way to do it. And it’s not this. You be you, and people eventually want to stick around for that.” Sure, no one had really stuck around for her, but that was different. Well, Angel counted, didn’t he? She had him. So it proved that people did pay attention to the ignored one. “If B finds out-”

 

“Please don’t tell her,” Dawn interrupts, and Faith can tell by the tears in her eyes and the pleading in her voice that she’s hit right on the mark with this. It’s an odd feeling, but she ignores it.

 

“Only if you promise.”

 

“Promise,” Dawn answers instantly.

 

“What’re you promising?” Spike asks as he and Buffy approach. Faith kicks herself, knowing she should have realised they could potentially be within hearing distance. Neither of their faces seem to give away that they’ve heard anything, so she internally breathes a sigh of relief.

 

“That she’ll carry a stake with her,” Faith covers quickly. Many years of lying have honed her quick-thinking skills. Dawn shoots her a grateful look.

 

“You should already be doing that!” Buffy swats her sister on the arm. “Come on.”

 

They head back to the house in relative silence, with Spike leaving them to walk home on their own. Upon their return, Faith is kind of surprised that no one says anything to Dawn. They probably figure she already got a tongue-lashing from her big sister. Which she kinda already did. After seeing Dawn is home safe, Xander and Anya decide it’s best for them to go, leaving the girls and Giles alone in the lounge, Dawn sulking off to the dining room.

 

“I’m going to bed,” Tara announces tersely, and Faith can see the tension between her and Willow, almost as though it’s a physical thing in the room with them. The question of ‘what’s wrong?’ stings the tip of her tongue, but she bites down on it, telling herself that even if she wanted to ask that, now is so not the time. Especially when Willow follows Tara up the stairs, already apologising. She makes a mental note to talk to Tara about it.

 

Again.

 

Faith decides to leave Buffy and Giles to talk - possibly to discuss punishment or something, she’s not really sure - and heads into the dining room to see Dawn.

 

“Hey, squirt,” she says, as gentle as she can.

 

“Will I be punished?” Dawn asks in lieu of a greeting.

Faith shrugs. “I don’t know.” Honestly, she couldn’t give Dawn an answer if her life depended on it. Sure, Dawn wasn’t Giles’s favourite like her older sister, but she was still special to him. And he wasn’t really her father. So there wouldn’t likely be punishment coming from him. As for Buffy, she’d already dealt out her fair share of punishment in the form of shouts. So there was a slim chance there’d be more from her either. But both of them were wild cards to Faith at times, so she had no idea what the next move was. She was just grateful neither of them was aware of what Dawn was actually up to. And hopefully she’d kicked it in the butt before it had the potential to develop into something fully formed.

 

“You did stuff like this when you were young, yeah?” Dawn looks up at where Faith stands, a few feet away, her eyes searching for solidarity in the older brunette. “Worse stuff, Buffy said.”

 

“Well, yeah,” Faith casts around for the right answers. She’s never really been the good one at talks like this. That was Buffy, or Tara. “But that doesn’t make it the right stuff.”

 

Dawn nods slowly, looking down at the floor contemplatively. They don’t say anything more until Giles walks in. Faith expects her sister slayer on his tail, but the blonde is nowhere to be seen. She’s probably scampered away upstairs, though Faith can’t imagine why.

 

“We need to have a conversation,” Giles begins, and Faith is instantly on alert. This edge to his voice isn’t something she’s heard often, and it makes her a little wary of him. It reminds her what he’s capable of.

 

“Is this the part where you tell me you’re not mad, you’re just disappointed?” Dawn asks.

 

“Well, yes,” Giles answers, and the teen looks relieved for a split second before he continues. “Aside from the not being mad.”

 

Faith is equal parts unnerved and entranced by this version of angry Giles. Sure, she’d seen him angry before, at Willow, but that was loud, explosive anger. This is quiet simmering fury. It’s just as dangerous, at least to her. She wonders idly if he’s ever been explosively angry at Dawn before.

 

“You were reckless tonight,” Giles continues. “You put yourself in danger, and you put your friend in danger. Not only were you out with young men you didn’t know, but you put yourself at the mercy of vampires without any sort of defence.” He pauses here, and Dawn looks at the floor. Faith wants to chime in, but she can’t decide if she wants to reprimand Dawn or defend her.

 

“If Buffy and Faith hadn’t found you , the two of you would have died.” The reality and weight of Giles’ statement hits both brunettes hard, and Dawn gulps audibly. “Or worse, you would have been turned.” Faith thinks this might be too much, might be too hard, but thankfully Giles leans away from the pair and gestures with his head towards the doorway.

 

“Go to bed.”

 

Dawn doesn’t need to be told twice; she’s out of the chair and up the stairs in mere seconds. As her footsteps fade away, Giles sinks into the chair the teen has just vacated. Faith hovers on the edge of the table, unsure whether she should stay or leave. When Giles starts speaking, she knows it’s too late to leave, so she turns her focus to him instead.

 

“Janice was bitten ,” he says harshly. Faith fights herself to correct him that it was barely a scratch. “Dawn was a hairsbreadth from being attacked herself.”

 

The brunette just nods, unable to find the words to contribute to the conversation.

 

“She must learn to behave. Must learn to hone her instincts as you and Buffy do. Must be aware of her surroundings. Good lord, she could have gotten herself killed ,” Giles’ voice turns stony, and Faith finds that she recognises the tone. The expression. The feeling that hits in her own gut anytime Dawn or Buffy or any other Scooby gang member does something stupid. It’s worry. He’s afraid for her. Which is fair enough. The reality of nearly losing Dawn is gnawing at her gut, as is the look on her face as she fled the room. But Faith quiets the worry by reminding herself it’s what she needed at that age. I doesn’t want Dawn to end up where I did.

 

“I’d best be getting some sleep as well,” Giles says, standing up wearily. He gives Faith a look. “So should you.”

 

With that, he is gone. Faith heads upstairs, heading straight for Dawn’s room. Surely they’ll figure out a long term arrangement. In the meantime, however, she’s left alone in Dawn’s large bed. She pauses in the hallway, listening to the sounds of Willow and Tara arguing through their closed door.

 

Once, she came to this home because it was stable. It was safety. It was somewhere where there was no conflict; they were a united front.

 

Now? She’s not so sure.

Chapter Text

Faith has never been one to sing in the shower. Hell, she’s never really been one to sing, period. Maybe a little jam here or there while she was in the Bronze, but pretty much any joy she got from that activity was squashed once her life started spiralling. Then, since she’s been crawling up out of the hole she was in, there’s never been any reason to sing. But yet, for some reason, tonight after patrolling, she decides she enjoys singing, not loudly, but she does it. A small melody under her breath as she showers, feeling the hot water beat down on her muscles, a backbeat to the tune she is humming. The words aren’t anything important, it’s not even a song she recognises, but it feels good to sing out her feelings. Before she knows it, she’s dancing around the bathroom, using Dawn’s hairbrush as a microphone and nearly slipping with her bare feet on the tiles. Patrolling, prison, feeling stuck on the outside of the Scoobies, she sings until she can’t think of any more thoughts to pour out, until she’s filled the bathroom with her history and her pain. Then, like it was all totally normal, she wraps a towel around herself and emerges from the bathroom to get changed and go to bed.

 

The next morning, while she’s making breakfast for the gang, she feels the urge to sing again. It only intensifies when Tara enters the kitchen first, and Faith thinks back to the awful fight her and Willow had. Her brain flips back to a similar moment, Faith on one side of the island and Tara on the other, looking forlorn. Except, this time, Tara looks happy. Like she doesn’t have a care in the world. It’s a nice sight, albeit a bit of an unexpected one. 

“Hey,” she greets the other brunette, pushing a plate of pancakes in front of her.

“You know, you don’t always have to make breakfast,” Tara says as a greeting, and Faith shrugs it off.

“I like it. Plus, I was up anyway.”

What she doesn’t tell Tara is that she was actually up far earlier, early enough to make some more treats for Buffy, and to have already run through her morning meditations on the back deck. But Tara doesn’t need to know that. Especially the Buffy thing. None of their friends know about Heaven, and Faith would very much like to keep it that way. 

“How are you and Red?” she asks instead. Tara offers up a lopsided smile when the redhead in question bustles into the kitchen, Dawn on her heels. 

“Hi sweetie,” Willow kisses the top of Tara’s head. “Hi Faith.”

Faith returns the greeting. Before she can say anything more, Dawn is at her elbow. 

“Can I have bunny ones?” she peers into the pan where a very round and very not-bunny shaped pancake is cooking. 

“Here,” Faith hands her the plate beside her, previously prepared bunny pancakes sitting on top. Dawn’s grin is instant, just like her sister’s. Faith loves seeing little bits of B in her. 

When she pushes a plate of pancakes in front of Willow, something seems off. There’s not even a trace of malice between them, not even a small piece of the frost from last night hanging in the air. Maybe that’s how couples fight? She wouldn’t know. Either way, it seems odd. She already crossed off ‘talk to Tara’ on her little mental list, but she adds it again, uncertain about the dynamics between the witches. There’s no way she’s gonna do it here, not in front of Willow and certainly not in front of Dawn. 

“Where’s B?” Faith tries to keep her voice as nonchalant as possible, tries to act like she really doesn’t care where the other Slayer is. It must work, because no one gives her a funny look. 

“Sleeping,” Dawn shrugs. 

They all seem to accept this as an answer, but it does set off little red flags in Faith’s brain. She wraps up the pancakes she made for Buffy, setting them in the fridge right above the muffins she made last night. Buffy mentioned once after a particularly late patrol that the muffins were her favourite, so of course Faith was gonna make more. Anything to help Buffy feel, anything to help her get back to who she was. 

 

They usher Dawn off to school with still no sign of Buffy, heading to the Magic Box and leaving the blonde a note on the fridge. It’s a slow morning, no big research task to work on and no huge deliveries for her to lift and shift for Anya. So while she leaves the majority of the Scoobies to deal with regular shop stuff, Faith decides she would much prefer to train. Punch, kick, turn. Repeat. Duck, jab, roundhouse. It’s the same as every day, and Faith’s body revels in the familiarity of the routine. Thankfully, there’s no weird urge to sing or dance, as has oddly been happening lately. Like, what the hell? She always hated singing. Now she constantly has a tune in her head. Not fun. 

Buffy’s signature tingle prickles at her senses, and she almost misses the punching bag. There’s no good reason to go out and greet the blonde, but Faith can’t help herself. It’s Buffy. 

When she emerges from the back room, Buffy’s standing in front of the little table, staring down at the books. Faith’s entrance draws her eyes, and there’s a strange look in them. Faith can’t really decipher it, but then again she is kinda out of breath and therefore oxygen to her brain. Y’know, important things. 

“Did anybody, uh, burst into song?” Buffy questions, and the room almost explodes with everyone’s answers. Faith doesn’t speak, but it does explain the impromptu performance in the bathroom last night, singing to the mirror like she was in a wacky music video. It also explains the annoying tune she can’t get out of her head, and why the music seems to sweep when she looks at Buffy. Hearing the others speak, she wonders how it’s affecting all of them. Maybe that’s the reason Tara doesn’t seem affected by the fight with Willow. Maybe singing a big heartfelt duet makes all the problems go away. That’s probably it. Faith starts to cross off ‘talk to Tara’ on her list but hesitates. She should probably leave it. Just in case. 

She’s not sure what anyone else sang about, doesn’t really care, except for Buffy. And when the blonde gives her explanation, Faith knows it’s a lie. Straight up. She’s not sure if anyone else recognises it, can see Buffy’s tells as clearly as she can, but then again there’s probably no one else who’s spent as much time studying the other Slayer as she has. It’s a curious thought though - maybe Buffy sang about Heaven. About wanting to go back. She wants to ask, but can’t do it here. Not now. So she files the urge away for later. 

 

The song starts out of nowhere, basically the same way their regular research parties would start but with music and theories that actually rhyme. Obviously, Faith hates the idea of singing with the Scoobies, of being a part of some weird group number, but she can’t help cutting Xander off once or twice, suggesting maybe it’s a spell or a really musically inclined bad guy who wants a dance off. The ideas themselves don’t make sense, and she tries to stop them before they spill out, but she can’t. And she’s only kind of upset about it. It almost feels like she’s part of the group. 

Her feelings only intensify when Buffy starts to sing, her voice melodic and light and so unlike Faith’s own. There’s no underlying Boston accent, no harsh ending to her words. It’s soft and sweet and fuck it, Faith is in love. 

Still, the song has taken a weirdly optimistic, bright turn, and it feels strange. The optimism doesn’t sit well in her chest, like when you try and put on a shirt that’s too tight under the armpits. She curses under her breath every time she’s forced to sing along, but when she looks at Buffy it gets easier. Yeah, with B singing at her she would go anywhere. She’s an absolute loser. 

As soon as the song is done, Faith steps in towards the group. Unbeknownst to her, during the song, everyone had drawn together to form a little circle, leaving her just a few steps outside of it. Goddamn metaphor that is. 

“Well, shit,” she says simply. 

“Language,” Giles’s response is instant. 

Buffy opening the front door doesn’t help at all - Faith can hear the music from all the way at the back of the shop, and she’s not even sure it’s just because of her Slayer hearing. What the hell is going on? 

 

The day passes relatively uneventfully, thank god. There’s no more songs, no more funky dances through the shelves, and no songs in Faith’s head that weren’t already there before this bizarre day started. Not too long after lunch, Faith bails on the books. She’s never really been one for study, as evidenced by the whole ‘dropping out of high school’ thing. So she does what she prefers, what comes far more naturally. She trains. 

The sound of the door opening isn’t a surprise; she already felt Buffy moving closer to the back room so the blonde’s presence at the door doesn’t catch her off guard. Instead, she focuses on punching, a few quick jabs that smack into the bag like they lived their whole life just to end up there. It feels so right, especially with Buffy at the edge of her senses. So damn natural. 

When she feels Buffy move closer, she turns. 

“Wanna join in?”

Buffy shakes her head. “Just needed to get away from the books for a bit. I think my head is going to explode.”

“Well, maybe we’ll all sing about it and it’ll be okay,” Faith jokes tucking some hair behind her ear. “I didn’t hear any music,” liar , “from out there at least,” she amends. “No more big ol’ songs together?”

Buffy’s laugh is almost tuneless. “Nope. Just us, the books, and my big old fried brain. I don’t think I could take singing any more. It feels so real, but really wiggy.”

Faith waits just a beat. “What did you sing about last night?”

The look Buffy gives her is part shock, part understanding. It’s an odd combination, but it looks beautiful on her delicate features. Her brow furrows, trying to find the right words. Faith can tell B is trying to decide whether to lie or not. Whether to reveal another huge part of herself to the girl who is probably the least deserving out of their whole little clan. The girl who kind of ruined her life once upon a time, the girl she’s clearly having trouble trusting again.

“Heaven,” Buffy answers simply. She says the word quietly, like anyone in the room out there could hear it. Even Faith, with Slayer hearing, wouldn’t have heard it from this far away and through a closed door. And hell, a sonic boom could go off and Xander would probably barely look up from his snacks. Still, Faith understands why Buffy is quiet. They can’t know. Not ever. Of course, Buffy doesn’t need her to promise not to tell, but she swears it to herself again anyway. 

“Little choirs of angels and some harps to join you?” Faith tried to make light of the situation, hoping the joke lands alright. It seems to go over okay, with Buffy looking horrified for a split second before laughing lightly. 

“Nope, just me and some vampires.”

“Man, I didn’t get backup,” Faith fake-complains, rewrapping her hands as she prepares to hit the bag again. “Just me and the shower.”

“I hear the acoustics are amazing,” Buffy retorts, and Faith feels something warm settle in her veins. This is good. This is better than the weird look Buffy gave her when she came in, all the strangeness surrounding the two of them since Buffy was brought back. This is better. This is normal. 

There’s a rise in her chest, an orchestral hum she can’t see or place, and Faith clamps her mouth shut around the words forming in her throat. She’s not going to sing here. Not in front of Buffy, when she’ll probably sing about all the bad things in her life. Yeah, she has a feeling that Little Miss Tightly Wound wouldn’t approve of anything like that. So instead of giving in to the urge, she keeps punching the bag and gritting her teeth. Buffy sits in silence, and as long as Faith keeps her eyes away from the blonde, the music stays just an instrumental in her head. It is, however, pretty damn constant, and Faith just can’t seem to get it to stop, to get it out of her mind. Sort of like Buffy, really. 

 

By the time Dawn gets back from school, they’re all back at the table trying to research what they all seem to be suffering from. No weird music demons so far, which is kinda shit, but the short freestyle rap Xander attempted about their lack of progress almost made up for their lack of info. Almost. 

“You’ll never guess what happened at school today!” Dawn bursts through the door of the Magic Box. Faith already felt her coming, so the teen’s arrival is no surprise, but the rest of the table looks up. No one is surprised that the school kids started singing. Honestly, if there were guys in the street parading around about mustard then Faith’s pretty sure the kids would have sung too.

Dejected, Dawn perches at the counter, and Faith pays her no mind. That is, until she glances over and Dawn has that look on her face again, the shifty spark in her eyes that Faith recognises from Halloween. Something is up. And Faith knows that no one else will really bother to find out what, especially not with this music shit taking their minds off of everything important. 

“Hey squirt,” she jumps up onto the counter beside where Dawn has set up her homework. “How’s it going?”

Dawn shrugs in response. “We sang about math today. Some kid had a dramatic solo in the cafeteria. It’s about as weird as you can get.”

The shifty look has eased a little with Faith’s presence, but the older brunette still senses that something’s off. She has no idea what it is, no idea how to even begin to approach talking to the kid about important shit, but she feels like if she doesn’t do it, no one will. 

“Did you sing?” Faith prods a little, trying to coax Dawn to open up a little. The kid is probably feeling a little overlooked, what with the hell from the almost-massacre at the lookout and now with everyone around her singing. Faith knows the feeling. Well, not personally, cause when she was in high school no one randomly burst into passionate solos, but she figures the sentiment is still there.

“Yeah, a little,” Dawn looks back at her homework, like she wants to do it. But Faith’s never been one to follow school-assigned rules. 

“What about?” she questions. When Dawn doesn’t seem inclined to answer, she continues. “I did a big solo about losing my stake.”

Sure, it’s a lie, but it does make Dawn chuckle a little, and that makes Faith feel accomplished. The Summers girls go through a lot, really, and Faith just wants to help as much as she can. She’s not the best at emotions, but apparently she can make them laugh. So she’s not entirely useless. 

Dawn’s laugh seems to draw the attention of her sister, and Buffy catches Faith’s eye as the older brunette is trying to steal the teenager’s pencil. 

“Faith,” Buffy says, her tone deep in warning. It’s a note that Faith’s heard a million times before, usually when she’s about to push the limits of their training just a bit too far. So she ignores it, until Buffy continues to speak. “Are you using my sister just to get out of doing research?”

“So what if I am?” Faith bites back, a smirk cutting through the edge in her words. 

Buffy rolls her eyes, gesturing with a nod towards the table. “Get back here and help out. I can’t deal with anyone else singing at me today. Pick up a book and let Dawn do her homework.”

“Make me,” Faith feels her smirk devolve into something a little darker, a little more like how she used to tease Buffy back when she was a sexually frustrated sixteen-year-old trying to get the blonde to notice her and maybe even flirt back. 

“If you don’t-” is Faith imagining it, or is Buffy’s smirk matching her own? “I’ll have to tell everyone that you sang a big heartfelt song about how much you loved donut holes.”

“I thought you said your song was about losing a stake?” Dawn chips in, and Faith wants to smack both of them, but her heart has never been so full. 

“Shut up,” Faith flicks the teen’s pencil so it skitters across her notebook, and jumps down off the counter. “And you-” she nudges Buffy with her shoulder, ignoring the musical notes that chime in the back of her mind at the action, “shut up even more.

Buffy’s got this weird look on her face, like she’s heard the music too, little tinkling chimes that echo out from the place where their shoulders touched. But she shakes her head and the look is gone, replaced with an eyeroll and Buffy shoving a book in her face. 

Look, she’s not going to pretend like she thinks she has any chance at being with Buffy. But seeing the blonde smile at her, and seeing just a small spark of humanity flicker back to life behind her eyes? That’s all the reward Faith needs. 

 

When Willow and Tara make some flimsy excuse to leave not long after, Faith can’t blame them. The musical energy that had been floating around those two had almost made even Faith want to jump someone’s bones. She doesn’t know if it’s the music or the witchy-ness, but whatever it was, she’s glad it’s gone. She doesn’t need anything amplifying the feeling in her chest she’s trying so hard to lock down, least of all two very obviously in love witches trying not to bang in the middle of The Magic Box. 

“It’s all kind of romantic,” Faith hears Dawn say to Xander. The mention of romance has her body starting to hum again, desperate to spill its secrets, both of the romantic variety and the not-so-much. The music swells in her ears, and she locks down her emotions just a little tighter in her chest. Yeah, she’s not really a fan of this whole singing thing. She’d much rather keep her feelings deep down in the cave of her chest where they belong, thank you very much. 

Angel’s voice somewhere in her memory reminds her that she shouldn’t be keeping things hidden, shouldn’t be locking herself away from people who want to help her. But that doesn’t really feel like that applies here. What good will come from her telling the Scooby Gang that she’s in love with their other Slayer? How could they benefit from knowing that information? It’s not even something she’s admitted out loud to Angel, though she suspects he knows. And then there’s Spike, which she doesn’t even want to start thinking about right now. He loves Buffy too, but he knows she does. It’s too complicated for her brain to process when there’s already so much other shit she’s gotta deal with right now. For starters, the fact that the people on the street have transitioned into singing about getting a coffee on special and they’re so loud that Faith can hear every word of the second verse. She’s totally ready for this all to be over. 

 

They go home just before sunset, vowing to pick up the research in the morning. Faith thinks that the gang is mostly just trying to get out of any environment that could spark a song, and she’s inclined to agree. No sooner than they’re all through the front door, Faith offers to start dinner, and the rest of the group disperse quickly. Buffy and Giles breeze right past her out the back door, probably for some quality Slayer/Watcher time. And that doesn’t hurt her at all. Doesn’t make her chest ache even a little. 

She’s halfway through making dinner when she hears footsteps on the stairs telling her that the witches are up. She can hear Willow talking to Dawn about some cartoon or another in the living room. The familiar tingle at the back of her neck tells her that Tara’s just come into the kitchen, padding quietly on bare feet. 

“Hey, Tara,” Faith says, without taking her gaze off the pot she’s stirring. There’s a melodic chuckle, and then the soft scratch of a chair against the linoleum as Tara sits at the kitchen island. 

“How do you do that?” her voice is gentle, as always, and Faith is once again thankful for the way the other girl has allowed her to be a part of this household. It definitely wasn’t easy at the start, and it’s not exactly super comfortable now, but it’s so much better with Tara around. Faith wordlessly offers her some of the crackers she was snacking on while she cooked, and shrugs.

“Slayer sense,” she answers. “You and Willow give off a very witch-y tingle. Same as I can feel a vamp.”

“Do all humans feel different?” Tara shakes her head at Faith’s offer of a snack. “Can you tell where Giles and Buffy are outside?”

“Giles, kind of, Buffy yes. She’s a Slayer, so there’s no one else who feels like her.” Faith tries to keep the vaguely wistful note from her voice, clamping down on the melody that sits on the tip of her tongue. Judging by Tara’s expression, she hasn’t entirely succeeded. 

“Pretty unique, then?”

“One girl in all the world.” Faith can definitely feel the music now, so she changes the subject, maybe a little too quickly. “Or that’s what Giles says about a Slayer, anyway. Something about being the only person who can kill vamps, or some shit.”

Tara laughs a little at this, her smile remaining even after the chuckle is gone. 

“Hey,” Faith turns away from her pot, leaves it to simmer as she props one hip against the counter. “I’m glad you and Red made up.”

Tara’s brow furrows delicately. “What do you mean?”

“Y’know, the big fight you had, with all the not-talking and the stomping of the stairs. Normally I’d say that Dawn’s the queen of that shit, but you two were giving her a run for her money last night.”

Tara’s face is confused the entire time Faith speaks, and the brunette can’t help but feel like she’s done something wrong. She’s overstepped some boundary, meddled in something she probably shouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole. She’s not here to fuck up anyone’s life any more. She’s better than that now. 

“It’s none of my business,” Faith tries to wave it off, stirring a pot of sauce that definitely doesn’t need stirring, just to give her hands something to do. “But I’m just sayin’, it’s good for the whole Scooby Gang that you’re not fighting anymore. Though we could do without the blatant horniness in the middle of the research party,” Faith spins, gives Tara a wink that she hopes will lighten the mood a little. But Tara’s expression doesn’t change, fixed somewhere between shocked and horrified. 

“We didn’t fight,” Tara says slowly.

“It’s probably the music, got your memory all fucky,” Faith can’t think of any other explanation. Maybe the music is just pulling out their deepest thoughts, which is that they love each other more than whatever it is they were fighting about. The music is definitely making her dredge up all her feelings that she thought were buried way deep.

There’s silence behind her, for a long enough time that Faith stops her unnecessary stirring and turns back around. 

“You okay?”

“It wasn’t the music,” Tara says, but that’s all she gets out before Dawn is bustling into the room questioning when dinner will be ready, and even getting out the plates before Faith has a chance to answer her. Faith wants to ask more, wants to question what happened if it wasn’t music-related, but Tara’s silently shaking her head, clearly begging her not to. So she doesn’t, much as she wants to. But she adds it to her mental to do list anyway. 

 

They eat dinner in a tense kind of silence. Buffy tries to fill the awkwardness, which Faith loves her for, but the tension between Willow and Tara could be cut with a knife and Buffy’s attempts at conversation don’t really do a lot to dispel it. Giles, always the last to finish a meal, has barely put his fork down before Dawn is leaping up to clear away the dishes, a new trick that Faith’s literally never seen her do before without Buffy having to nag her for five minutes. Following the younger brunette’s lead, Faith pushes back her chair and stands up. 

“I’m going to patrol,” she says, giving Tara a meaningful look. She hopes that whatever this issue is, whatever she’s dredged up by mentioning the witches’ fight, that it can be resolved quickly. She doesn’t need any sort of magic telecommunication to tell the rest of the gang to leave, because within a moment Buffy is insisting she accompany Faith on patrol and Giles is rambling about having to go somewhere or another, probably back to the magic shop. Anywhere except here, where the angry sizzle from Tara and the uncertain crackle from Willow is enough to give anyone an electric shock. 

 

The patrol is quiet, save for a random vamp or two that crawl out of their grave to some haunting music. Faith would never admit it to Buffy, but she kind of likes the way the music swells when they’re fighting, making it a little more fun. They don’t talk much, which is why Faith starts a little when Buffy speaks.

“Do you ever feel like-“ Buffy starts, cutting herself off midway. Faith looks over at her, noting the way her eyebrows are drawn together, the almost nervous way her fingers clutch at her stake.

“What’s up, B?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Cmon, spit it out.”

The blonde sighs, like she doesn’t want to speak, but does so anyway.

“Do you ever feel like you can’t feel anything?”

Ah, there’s the kicker. It’s been pretty obvious to Faith since the other Slayer’s return that she’s been struggling. Of course, Faith has managed to coax out small bits of her genuineness, her humanity, with training and snacks. But Buffy definitely isn’t interacting with the rest of the Scoobies the way she used to.

“Used to,” Faith absently kicks at a gravestone as they pass it. The stake in her hands feels familiar, comfortable. There came a time when she was numb to everything around her. Joy, pain, any feeling that wasn’t retaliation or anger. She can only imagine Buffy would be feeling something like that.

“What do you do?”

Faiths never been one for inspiring conversations, never been good at the whole ‘pep talk’ thing. So instead of responding straight away, she takes a second to consider what Angel would say. He was really the only one who helped her crawl out of the hole she had dug, so he would surely know how to help Buffy.

Something snags in her chest at that thought. Buffy didn’t go to Angel for help. He probably doesn’t even know the full story, with the way Buffy has been Miss Tight Lips about the whole Heaven thing. No, Buffy didn’t tell Angel. She told Faith. Something about that feels heavy, important. Faith shakes it off.

“You find what makes you feel,” she answers, holding up the stake in her hand for emphasis. “Stick with it, the rest will come.”

Buffy looks at the stake in her own hand for a moment.

“What makes you feel?” she asks, so gently that Faith isn’t even sure the question is directed at her. But after a moment, a split second where Buffy looks up and meets her eyes, she registers the other Slayer’s words.

What makes me feel?

The swell of music catches her off guard, the feeling in her chest that steals her breath. Oh shit.

No. Not here not now.

Well, fuck.

Now she’s singing, apparently.

 

Her voice echoes around the empty cemetery, ringing true with the depth of her feelings for Buffy. Things she never thought she would admit to herself, let alone the other Slayer, come pouring out of her mouth before she can stop them.

It’s not love, but it can’t be anything else.

She wishes she could stop, but it feels damn good to finally speak her mind. To release years of tension, unrequited feelings and hurt into the space between them.

Throw you off a cliff, fuckin catch you before you hit the ground.

Through it all, Buffy stands immobile as Faith dances and sings around her. Faith can’t decipher the look in her eyes, it’s too dark in the cemetery to see anything hidden in her hooded gaze. But she doesn’t look unhappy, at least from what Faith can tell. More shocked, if anything. Faith internally curses herself, hoping that the torment ends soon so that she can go back to pretending she doesn’t have any feelings for the blonde. That shit is so much easier.

I will be anything you need. Anything.

 

When it’s all over, Faith stands in front of Buffy, chest heaving after her way-too-involved performance. She could reach out and touch Buffy, if she wanted. Wrap her fingers around her wrist, close the space between them with less than a step. But she won’t. She would never. She is going to be whatever Buffy needs, and right now that isn’t a kiss in a cemetery, no matter how much Faith might want to.

That thing in Buffy’s eyes that Faith couldn’t see before is still there, though.

A small spark of something Faith can’t quite name. But it’s real, and it’s so very human.

Faith doesn’t have time to analyse the light in Buffy’s eyes, doesn’t have time to think of much really, before Buffy is stepping back, breaking whatever connection they had, and gesturing towards the cemetery entrance.

“Well, I’m beat,” she says, and it couldn’t have sounded more like a lie if she tried. “You can finish patrolling on your own, right?”

Even though the question is rhetorical, Faith finds herself nodding in response. Even if it wasn’t a rhetorical question, Faith’s not sure her answer would matter much. Buffy’s already three, four, five steps away, trying to not-so-subtly get away from the awkward air that is now hanging around them. Whatever moment they had has been shoved aside. And Faith isn’t an optimist. She wouldn’t say there was a moment if there wasn’t. But that split second after she finished her song, that look in Buffy’s eye, so desperate to feel something, anything. That wasn’t something she made up. Nope, that happened, and now B is trying to shove it away as hard as she can.

Faith isn’t sure why. Maybe it’s because she’s a girl. Maybe it’s the fact that they have enough history between them to fill a novel. Maybe she’s just not sure what the hell is happening any more. It’s entirely possible that it’s a combination of any or all of the factors, so Faith knows she can’t push it. Can’t reach out and drag Buffy into her arms, much as she might want to. B has to figure this out on her own. Whatever the hell this is.

“”I’ll- uh, I’ll see you at home.”

Just like that, Buffy’s already retreating from Faith’s line of sight. She must have put on the Slayer speed, cause there’s no way she walks that quickly normally. Faith knows, she’s spent enough time wandering beside Buffy over the years - no, wait, for a long time there she was just behind Buffy. Trying so hard to catch up. Desperately seeking approval from anyone and everyone, trying to get the girl she liked to even acknowledge her existence.

Faith kicks the dirt of a newly turned over grave, a vamp they dusted a couple of nights ago.

“Well, fuck,” she grumbles. She can’t go home, not with B all funky like she was when she left. She doesn’t want to keep patrolling. She couldn’t stand the Bronze on a night when everyone is singing and dancing. So there’s really no place left to go. Well, almost no place.

 

Faith shoves open the door to Spike’s crypt without any preamble, revelling in the heavy weight of it. Say what you will about the place, the door is enough to keep out annoyances. Well, annoyances who don’t have Slayer strength.

“Spike?” she calls, feeling his signature tingle on her senses. He’s close, and she registers his presence about three seconds before he emerges from a hole in the floor.

“Come to investigate the singing and dancing, have you pet?”

Faith chuckles loudly, because of course he’s heard about it.

“Yeah, pretty much,” she says, nodding when he wordlessly offers up a bottle of Scotch. “B and the Scooby gang are pretty freaked.”

“Haven’t succumbed to it myself, thank god,” Spike pours them both a small glass of the amber liquid as Faith props a hip against one of the cement coffins. “Don’t know if my Evil Undead rep could take it.”

“Just don’t go near Buffy,” Faith says without thinking, picking up her glass and draining the shot in one quick gulp. “Fuckin’ music will make you wanna do a whole big show about how much you love her.”

Spike’s responding laugh is low, only partly offended but mostly out of solidarity. This is why Faith enjoys spending time with him. Damn, she misses him being around all the time. Despite him saying he would still be around for Dawn, even though he’s trying to make Buffy miss him, she can’t remember the last time he was at a group Scooby meeting. Or even just hanging around in general. Even though there’s a whole lot of fuckery around her feelings for Buffy, and his feelings for Buffy, she really does enjoy being around the guy. She adds ‘talk to Spike’ to her mental list, noting absently how damn long it’s getting. Since when was she the one in charge of responsible conversations? God, the Old Faith would be horrified at just how Good she’s becoming. In her next phone call with Angel, she definitely wants to talk about that.

“Sounds like the voice of experience,” he says, pouring her another shot. “Not go down well, I take it?”

Faith shrugs. Buffy’s reaction was pretty much what she’d expected. Hell, at least B didn’t hit her. That would have probably been too much for Faith’s already bleeding heart.

“Just sayin’.”

“Did you have backup dancers?” Spike teases, fishing a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. “A cute little song and dance number?”

She hops onto the cement block, using the movement to swing out one foot and catch him lightly in the knee. He fakes hurt, and she rolls her eyes.

“Any idea what’s got everybody pouring out their heart and soul?”

Spike offers her a cigarette, and she reaches for it, hand freezing midway. If she came home smelling like smoke, B would have even more reason to hate her. Plus, she really is trying to make a good impression on Dawn. Instead, she waves off his offer.

“Not a clue,” he lights his cigarette, taking a long drag and blowing the smoke into the space between them. “Probably just some demon out here to stir up trouble. No doubt your little gang has done the big soft number about how you’ll definitely beat whatever it is down into the ground.”

The accuracy of the statement makes her laugh, then take a sip of her Scotch. She savours the burn for a moment, leveling Spike with a look.

“You have no idea how damn sickening it is. They’re all so positive.”

“How’s Bit?”

“Ask her yourself,” she fires back.

“Fair enough,” a head tilt in her direction tells her he concedes. “And Buffy?”

The genuine concern in his voice is so familiar, so like the voice she hears in her own head, that it makes her brain spin for a moment. In lieu of answering, she raises her glass.

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

 

The next day goes pretty much the same. They start out researching, but Faith bails before it’s even lunchtime. She just can’t stand to be around Buffy when the blonde is shooting her sideways glances that are impossible to decipher, and there’s this weird hum of a tune in the back of her brain that she can’t quite make out. It’s annoying as fuck, so she disappears into the training room around mid-morning. They’ve found absolutely nothing so far, not a single mention of a demon that would make them all singy and dancey, and the stagnancy of it all makes Faith’s skin prickle. She likes action, she likes progress. Sitting her and finding out nothing is making her remember why she never enjoyed research parties in the library, back in the day. Well, she wouldn’t have enjoyed them if she’d been invited to them. Regardless, the thought is definitely still there. 

“Fancy a sparring session?” Giles almost surprises her - only almost, because she is a Slayer after all - a little after lunch when he enters the training room, Buffy on his heels. 

Faith springs down onto the ground from the pommel horse, fixing the pair with a questioning look. Shouldn’t they be doing something productive, like researching why the whole street paraded about like a goddamn musical when the lady at the shoe shop three doors down had to return a pair of boots?

“Gang’s a little researched-out,” Buffy explains, having already changed into her training outfit from what she was wearing earlier in the day. Faith tries not to notice the way it clings to every line of Buffy’s body, the way the muscles in her shoulder tense and relax as she swings her arms in a warm up. She tries not to notice, but she is only human. “Figured I’d come in here and show you up a little.” 

Faith’s chuckle echoes around the mostly-empty room. “Oh so you think you’re gonna win this time?”

“Don’t I always?” Buffy’s grin makes Faith’s heart stutter a little, and she’s pretty sure she’s not imagining the way it almost makes a drumbeat in her chest. God, she’s so tired of this fucking music. Can’t her feelings just stay away? When Buffy’s in the other room, not standing in front of her with that smirk of hers, she can almost pretend that she didn’t spend a solid five minutes pouring her heart out in the cemetery last night to a girl who all but sprinted away. 

Buffy is the first to drop into a defensive stance, hands raised by her face, but Faith follows a moment later. It seems she’s always following Buffy. It’s all she’s ever done, really. And she’s pretty sure she’d follow the girl into the depths of hell if the blonde only asked. Love really is a shitty thing sometimes. 

Buffy’s punches don’t land, at first, but Faith gets tired only a few minutes in. She’s pretty sure it’s because she’s been trying to keep her brain so occupied in here it can’t think about Buffy or last night or anything except the burn of her muscles. And with the other Slayer resting up all morning and doing nothing more exhaustive than turning a page, there’s a pretty obvious advantage here. 

“You’re slipping, Faith. Lift your guard,” Giles corrects. Faith bites back a retort and does as she’s told, even as her opponent grins brightly. 

“Looks like I really am showing you up,” Buffy steps in with a jab, the attack barely grazing Faith’s shoulder as she ducks. 

“You wish.” A punch that brushes Buffy’s ribs, a block that ends with their faces a few inches apart. There’s the same spark from last night in Buffy’s eyes, but trying to understand it feels like trying to grab at mist. Faith just can’t seem to place it.

The moment between them throws off Faith’s guard enough to allow Buffy to knock her to the floor, wind rushing from her lungs as her head hits the mats. 

“Giles is right,” Buffy says, and the mention of the room’s other occupant reminds Faith that they’re not alone here, and she can’t push the blonde nearly as much as she would like. “You are letting your guard down.”

Faith kicks out, knocking Buffy’s ankles and causing the blonde to sprawl unceremoniously on top of her. 

“Says you,” she laughs, once she has regained enough air to breathe. Buffy smacks her shoulder in annoyance, and Faith realises with a start just how close they are. That Buffy’s skin-tight clothing is pressed against her own very hot, sweaty body. Limbs warm from exertion are tangled with her own, and Buffy’s breath is coming in short puffs across her nose. Oh god. Her body feels alight from every nerve ending, like she is holding a furnace on top of her, and she splays her hands out wide, partly because she wants Buffy not to feel trapped and partly because she is afraid she’ll lose control and her hands will act of their own accord and do something stupid like grab Buffy’s hips and press their bodies even closer together. 

 Giles clearing his throat makes Buffy start from where she’s lying on top of Faith, all knees and elbows as she tries to get up from the ground with some semblance of grace. For a Slayer, she’s a little more awkward than Faith would expect. But then again, Faith isn’t exactly feeling in full control of her faculties right now either. She’s feeling tired, hot, turned on and a little defeated. 

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve had enough training for today,” Giles says, replacing his glasses on the bridge of his nose. Faith watches from where she’s still stretched out on the mats. 

“Yeah, back to research mode,” Buffy can’t look at her, can’t even seem to turn her face in Faith’s direction. Is it disgust? Uncertainty? Faith’s not sure why exactly the other girl is refusing to even acknowledge anything. If it’s something she’s feeling, whether it’s good or bad, that’s a positive, right? It means she’s actually feeling something, she’s slowly getting back to her usual self and not this weird zombie version of Buffy that was returned from the dead. Whatever it is that’s got B so freaked, she practically runs out of the room, leaving Faith alone with Giles. 

“You’re welcome to research too, if you choose,” he offers, though she’s pretty sure it’s only out of pity. “Though I am aware it is not entirely your favoured field.”

“Much prefer the hitting and the staking, but thanks,” Faith gets up slowly. “I’ll see ya out there.”

Giles looks grateful, like she’s given him a free pass, and follows his Slayer out towards the shop floor. Faith looks around the room, now empty and far more silent than five minutes ago. She misses it already. Or maybe she just misses Buffy. It’s hard to tell these days, especially with this crazy music demon or curse or whatever the hell is going on magnifying her feelings tenfold. She can only pray that her feelings go away when they slay this demon or whatever, that she can go back to pretending she doesn’t love Buffy, pretend that they’re just sister Slayers and nothing more, and she’s okay with that. Faith prays to every god she’s ever heard the witches mention, and then throws in a few more she heard on TV, just to be safe. 

 

Her saving grace from Buffy’s presence comes in the form of Dawn getting home from school a few hours later. No sooner than she’s through the door of the Magic Box before Faith is emerging from the back room and offering to take her home. 

“What? I just got here?” Dawn looks confused by Faith’s intense need to get the hell out of this place, but she doesn’t seem to oppose the idea. 

“Yeah, and you got homework to do that doesn’t involve demon research, Squirt. Lemme take you home and I’ll get dinner started.”

There’s a pause, where Dawn seems to be weighing her options. “Only if you make tacos.”

Faith chuckles a little, hears the echoing sounds from the gang over her shoulder that she’s largely ignored up until this point. 

“I’ll see what I can do, kid.” When she turns around to say goodbye to the rest of the Scoobies, Faith can’t help but notice Buffy’s expression. It’s the same look she had on her face when she’d noticed Dawn wearing one of Faith’s shirts. The brunette can’t decide if it’s annoyance, or acceptance. It’s a 50/50 chance, really. She’s not Faith’s biggest fan, so it makes sense she’d want to keep her kid sister safe from someone she didn’t like, or who had a bit of a sketchy past. But then again, Dawn hangs around Spike without any issues from Buffy. The acceptance is a bit more confusing to Faith. If it is that, it means Buffy is accepting that Faith lives in their house, that she’s actually sort of a part of their gang now, even if she’s not - and will probably never be - core Scooby material. But it’s that tiny sliver of acceptance, that small spark of hope that it fosters, that makes Faith grin at the group and raise a hand. 

“We’re out. Tacos at home in an hour.”

Dawn grins, claps, and spins on her heel to head for the door. 

“Faith,” Buffy’s voice comes from behind her, almost too close, and the brunette turns from where she was about to head out. 

“Yeah, B?”

Buffy pauses, and Faith hears music start to beat in her chest. Or maybe that’s just her heart, ‘cause the way Buffy is looking at her right now is very reminiscent of something that Faith had never allowed herself to hope for. 

“What’s up?” she asks, when Buffy is quiet for a moment longer. 

“Please make sure Dawn actually does her homework?” Buffy’s words are genuine, but they seem forced. Like there’s an undercurrent, a subtext that Faith should be hearing, but she can’t, because this damn music is making it hard to focus. God, if only they could find that fucking demon or magic music box or whatever the hell, and kill it deader than dead. That would be real nice. “You can be kind of…”

“Distracting?” Faith supplies with a smirk.

“Annoying,” Buffy corrects, though the look in her eyes tells Faith that she almost wants to agree with the brunette’s statement. 

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith bumps Buffy’s shoulder, stoically ignoring when the same little musical tingles echo out from where their bodies touch. “I’ll look after the kid, don’t you worry.”

 

It turns out that ‘looking after Dawn’ mostly just involves a lot of trying to keep the teenager away from sneaking food while Faith is preparing it, and keeping her on the other side of the kitchen island. 

“Spike always lets me watch TV before dinner!” Dawn tries to argue, about halfway through preparing dinner. 

“Yeah, well, The Bleached Wonder isn’t here right now, and I told your big sis that you’d do all your work before she got home,” Faith tugs the bowl of shredded cheese from where Dawn is picking at it. “So c’mon.”

“I bet you never did homework,” Dawn mutters, and Faith probably wouldn’t have heard it so clearly if she hadn’t been gifted by the Powers That Be. It probably wouldn’t have felt like such a stab to the gut either. 

“Yeah, and look where that got me,” Faith chuckles. “Sitting at home babysitting someone who won’t do their homework and keeps eating my cheese, dammit!” she shifts the bowl to the other side of the kitchen, and Dawn whines. “No way. Finish your work or I’m not serving you any tacos.”

“You wouldn’t,” Dawn mimics a phrase Faith has realised she uses a lot. The truth of the statement makes her stumble a little as she crosses the linoleum to the fridge. There’s no way in the world she would ever let this kid go hungry. No way she’d let Dawn suffer the way she did, not at home and not when she came to Sunnydale. No way. 

 

The sound of the front door opening lets her know that someone’s home, and the little tingle on the back of her neck lets her know that it’s Tara. Just the brunette, no Willow in sight. 

“Hey Tara!” Dawn greets the witch as she enters the kitchen, and Tara offers up a small smile in return. Faith can feel that it’s not entirely genuine, and she knows whatever fight the witches are having is taking its toll. 

“Dawn, how about you go put the food on the table,” Faith nudges a bowl in the teen’s direction with a pointed look. 

“No more homework?” 

“No, you can finish it later. Just don’t let Big Sis know that you ate before it was all done. I’ll be staked.”

Dawn happily drops her pencil onto the open book in front of her and seizes a few of the small bowls before making her way out of the kitchen. 

“Hey,” Faith says, the moment Dawn’s rounded the corner. “You okay?”

Tara doesn’t respond, only shakes her head a little. “There was this spell. It messed with my head. It’s why I couldn’t remember fighting with Willow.”

“Yeah, ya told me. The crazy hell-bitch wiggled her fingers in your brain and turned it to mush. Is this leftover from that?”

Dawn re-enters the kitchen to grab more bowls, and Tara waits to reply until the younger brunette is gone. 

“No. This is different. This is Willow.”

“Shit,” Faith swears under her breath. “Red messed with your brain?”

Tara meets her gaze, her eyes a little watery. “Yes.”

“Well, fuck.” 

Tara doesn’t reply, only picks up the taco shells and takes them out to the dining table. Faith stares at the kitchen counter for a few seconds, completely shell-shocked. Willow messing around in people’s minds? Willow messing around in Tara’s mind? That seemed like way darker, way more fucked up stuff than what Faith thought she was practicing. Especially to use it on Tara. Faith knows that her relationship with the redhead isn’t exactly the best, but she knows that she’s gotta talk to her. From the looks of it, Tara’s the only one really concerned with Willow’s magic use, and if Faith’s the only one she’s told about this mindfuck, then Faith’s only one of two people who know how serious this is. As is becoming more commonplace lately, she adds ‘talk to Willow’ to her mental list. 

 

Dinner goes surprisingly alright - Dawn manages to coax a smile and even a laugh out of Tara, who starts to grow a little brighter as the meal goes on. By the time Faith’s rounding up the plates to start doing the dishes, it’s almost like Tara could be normal. But then Faith catches her cast a wistful gaze towards the front door, and she’s afraid to think of what the reunion could be. Willow and Tara had been solid since she first arrived in Sunnydale. The witches had taken her in, made her feel welcome despite sleeping on the couch, and helped her try and be better. So to have this huge crack in the foundation of the household is really not a good thing, in Faith’s opinion. 

As Faith washes the dishes, she can’t help but think of Buffy. How the blonde usually helps out, wiping the dishes as Faith cleans them, flicking the towel in her direction, and just generally being her adorable, annoying self. There’s no real telling where she’s at now, though Faith suspects she’s training at the Magic Box or patrolling. She’s not really sure, it’s not like she keeps tabs on Buffy 24/7. It’s not like she loves her. Yeah, that sounded like a lie even to herself. 

 

At first, she thinks the noise is just because she put a plate in the sink too hard. So she waits, up to her wrists in the soapy water, and listens. When she hears the noise again - definitely a thud - followed closely by Dawn’s telltale scream, she sprints out of the kitchen. She takes the stairs two, three at a time and practically skids onto the landing. There’s three demons, as far as she can see, all taller than her with these weird wooden puppet heads. But there’s no real time to analyse just how freaky these guys are, because one of them has Dawn in a chokehold and is dragging the teen down the hallway. Like hell Faith’s gonna let that happen. 

Her first punch knocks one of the demons straight to the floor, her second whizzing past the other demon’s shoulder as it ducks out of the way. She rolls, sweeping its feet and jumps up in time to kick the now-upright one in the guts. 

“Faith-” she hears from somewhere off to her left, letting her know that Tara’s opened her bedroom door and is watching the fight. The last thing Faith needs right now is for the witch to get involved, or hurt, and she doesn’t want the demons to fight anything except her right now. 

“Shut the door,” she shouts, knowing it might come across a little harsh but not really caring. Tara must hear the note of urgency in her voice, because she slams the door shut about two seconds before Faith kicks one of the demons into it with a crack. 

She can barely keep track of them in the confined space of the hallway, rolling and ducking as they gang up on her. She might be dreaming it, but music starts to swell around them, stabbing at the air and accenting every one of her moves. It’s like how it was when she went patrolling, and the music added a layer to her fights that she didn’t know she needed. However, when she knocks down both of them, sending one tumbling headfirst down the stairs, and the swell of the music only increases, she knows it can’t be anything good. When she sees the front door open, night air spilling into the foyer, she realises that there’s only two bodies on the ground. 

“Faith?” Tara says from behind her. “Where’s Dawn?”

Well, fuck. Shit. Fucking fuck. 

 

After making Tara call the Magic Box, Faith takes off after Dawn and the demon, sprinting into the night without even shutting the door behind her. Her feet hit the pavement rhythmically, but not fast enough. Even with Slayer speed, she’s not moving as fast as she wants to. Shouldn’t someone have invented teleportation by now? It would be way helpful in times like this.

 

She’s a block from the Magic Box when she turns a corner and nearly bowls over Spike, who’s hauling a demon by the arm. A demon that looks eerily familiar to her. 

“What the fuck?” she practically tackles the guy out of Spike’s arms, ignoring the vampire’s protests, and slams him into the side of a conveniently nearby building. “You took Dawn. Where the fuck is she?”

“Relax, you crazy bint,” Spike edges around her, and she realises only belatedly that the demon isn’t fighting back hardly at all. “I already tried that in the alley back there. This one’s going ‘round saying he needs to speak to the Slayer, and only her. You say something about the Bit?”

“Bullshit,” Faith ignores Spike and turns back to the creepy puppet-looking demon. “I’m the Slayer. What’s so important?”

The demon looks her up and down, then shakes its head. 

“You’re not the Slayer.”

“Am too!” Faith feels her hackles rise. She’s had just about enough of people insisting that Buffy can be the only Slayer, that she’s always going to be the best because she’s the ‘Original’. “What do you gotta tell me? Does it have to do with Dawn? Do you know where she is?”

Spike’s already got the demon by the arm, tugging him foot by foot down the sidewalk towards the magic shop. 

“He won’t talk,” Spike grits out through his teeth. “Not unless it’s Buffy.”

Yeah, alright then. 

“Now tell me what’s goin’ on with Little Bit.”

Faith manages to get out a rough approximation of Dawn’s kidnapping before they reach the Magic Box, and Spike all but throws the demon through the front door, nearly bowling over the small gathering of Scoobies standing there. The music swells loudly, Faith knows that can all hear it, and it’s clear that whatever this demon is about to say, it’s gonna end up in some insane dance number. 

“My master has the Slayer’s sister hostage at The Bronze because she summoned him and at midnight he’s going to take her to the underworld to be his queen.”

Well, she wasn’t expecting that. 

“Sorry, B,” the words come easier than she’s expected. Sorry seems to be something that’s not as hard for her to say these days. It’s kind of nice, if a bit weird. “I got two of them, but I missed the third one. I don’t even know where this one came from.”

Buffy holds up one hand to slow Faith’s rant, and the brunette is kind of grateful for it. She wasn’t really sure where those words were coming from or where she was going with it.There’s a hard edge to Buffy’s gaze, but it’s not entirely stony, which is a good thing in Faith’s opinion. At least she’s not about to rip Faith’s head off for losing her little sister. 

“You were there?” Spike turns to Faith, shooting her a glare from around the oversized demon head. 

“Not the time, Spike,” Buffy interrupts. “I need a plan to go get my sister. Again.”

“Plan schman,” Xander claps his hands. “Let’s mount up.”

For once, Faith’s pretty damn inclined to agree with Xander. Which, in itself, is a strange thing. 

“No,” Giles’s voice cuts through the chatter that had started to rise, silencing everyone almost immediately. Every head swivels immediately to stare at him, and Faith has to physically bite her tongue in order to not scream at him. No to what? No, they’re not going to save Dawn? No, they’re not all going? No, what?

“Buffy will go alone.”

“Fuck that,” Faith steps up beside the blonde, facing Giles. “B’s pretty damn cool and all but I couldn’t even fight off three of these guys at once, and we don’t know how many of these funky puppet weirdos are holed up in the Bronze ready to take Dawn to the seventh level of hell, or wherever the fuck their master is going. You wouldn’t let her go into a vamp nest alone, why’s this different?” 

The rest of the Scoobies object as well, but Giles raises a hand. His gesture shuts them all up far quicker than Buffy had done to Faith before. 

“Buffy must go alone.”

“Don’t be a stupid git,” Spike jumps in, stepping up to Buffy’s other side and squaring off with Giles. He’s taller than Faith, so it looks like a more even match than either of the Slayers. “No way you-”

“If I wanted your opinion, Spike-” Giles’s voice is hard, forceful. It makes Faith think there’s a whole other side to the ex-librarian that she’s never encountered before. And, quite frankly, she really doesn’t want to. “Well, I’ll never want your opinion.”

Anger flares in Faith’s chest, hot and quick. This isn’t Spike being a dick, or stepping in where he doesn’t belong. This is Spike trying to help Buffy - who has just comes back from Heaven, goddammit - save her sister. Sure, Dawn usually gets into trouble and needs saving, but she’s Dawn. She’s their collective little sister. They’re going to save her, whether or not Giles wants them to. 

Faith’s so caught up in the white hot anger in her ribs that she almost misses Willow’s suggestion of using magic to help. She honestly hadn’t even realised Willow was in the room, but it explains why she wasn’t at dinner. When Tara shuts the redhead down, Faith watches the exchange with apprehension in her chest. The tension between the witches is almost unbearable, especially now that she knows what’s caused it. But, unfortunately she doesn’t have time to talk to Willow right now, or deal with anything to do with the witches. They have Dawn to save. Again. 

 

“Forget it Slayer,” Spike turns to face Buffy, his face facing Giles. “I’ve got your back.”

“We can take ‘em.” Faith mirrors his movement. The three of them could wipe out whatever little music demon nest has formed in the Bronze easily enough. They don’t need the rest of the Scoobies, as long as Buffy knows that they’ve got her back, they should be fine.

Buffy turns to face her, narrowing her eyes. The little spark of gentleness she saw earlier has gone, replaced by something brighter, a little more angry, a little more alive. It’s not exactly the ideal way for Buffy to be experiencing more emotions, but it’s better than nothing, she supposes. 

“I don’t need you,” Buffy bites out. “You said you’d be anything I need, didn’t you? Or, more like, you sang it.” Faith ignores the murmur that rumbles through the Scoobies at that comment. “Anything I need? What I need is for you to stay out of my way and let me do my job. Mine. I’m the Slayer.”

Faith takes Buffy’s words on the chin, refusing to let her eyes tear up even a little. There’s no way she’s going to let Buffy know how much she’s hurting. Plus, doesn’t she kind of deserve it? She did fuck up B’s life once upon a time. But she is trying to be better, doesn’t that earn her some credit?

Before Faith has a chance to really process what Buffy’s said to her, the blonde whirls to face Spike. 

“And you ,” she almost growls. “I thought you wanted me to stay away from you. Isn’t that what you sang?”

Fuckin’ hell, Faith had tried to warn him. And what’s with Buffy exposing them both in front of the Scoobies like this? Damn.  

Spike takes the verbal assault a little harder than Faith did, turning on one heel and practically storming out of the Magic Box. He slams the door behind him as he exits in spectacular fashion, not that he ever really does anything any other way. Faith wants to go after him, and not just because he looked like someone had staked him in the chest. She doesn’t particularly want to be here any longer. 

She zones out for long enough that when she comes back, Giles is standing in front of Buffy, who looks confused and concerned all at once.

“What do you expect me to do?” Buffy asks.

“Your best.”

Oh god. Faith wants to punch someone, kill something, break anything. How dare he. How dare he. Every word Giles says only fans the fire in her chest, until her entire body is on fire. Even her fingertips ache with the flame. She watches Buffy go, watches the rest of the little gang stare at the space where their Slayer used to be. 

“Y’know what?” Faith feels the spark against her tongue as the flames lick up her throat. “Fuck this. And fuck you.”

 

The night air bites at her burning cheeks as she sprints out of the magic shop. Not two streets away and her vamp radar tells her that Spike is nursing his wounds in an alley. 

“Hey, Captain Peroxide,” she jogs into the alley, coming to a stop a few feet from the vampire. His cigarette end glows in the darkness, and he offers it to Faith. “You hiding out in here?”

“Evil Dead doesn’t hide, pet. We lurk.”

“Fine, you lurking in here?”

“Got a problem with it?”

“Not at all,” Faith jerks a thumb towards the alley entrance. “I was just going after Little Miss ‘One and Only’ to save the kid. You wanna come? Or would you rather just sit here and,” Faith considers the work, “lurk?”

The small ember disappears as Spike crushes it into the dirty ground with his boot. 

“Fine,” he agrees, standing up. “But for the Bit. Not Buffy.”

“Of course not,” Faith chuckles, knowing his lies are almost as transparent as her own. “Now hurry up, before we start singing something sappy.”

It turns out that the song hits them after a street and a half of jogging. It’s a duet that sets Faith’s nerves even more alight, a strange tingling feeling that makes her feel like this song is bigger than just them. It’s like the music is covering the whole town, slinking through the streets and drawing her - no, them - closer to Buffy. And so they go. 

 

Spike’s the one to slam open the side door, and only a few moments later they watch the door on the other side of the Bronze open to reveal the rest of the gang. They’re all shell-shocked, watching Buffy with fascination and awe and horror as she spins, twirls, growing faster and more passionate with each step. 

There was no pain. No fear, no doubt, til they pulled me out of Heaven.

Faith watches the blow hit the Scoobies like a ton of bricks. Almost immediately, everyone’s expression changes and tears spring to most of their eyes. It’s not the right moment for Faith’s heart to jump a little in her chest and remind her that this proves no one else knew about Heaven, but the traitorous little organ does it anyway. 

“Did you know?” the hiss from her left draws her focus away from the blonde pirouetting in the middle of the Bronze. Faith turns to find Spike looking down at her, eyes watering but mouth set in a firm line. She can’t reply. It was Buffy’s secret, it was her news to tell. There was no way Faith was going to tell Spike, no matter how much she trusted the guy. 

“Fuck,” Spike swears under his breath when Faith takes too long to reply. He shakes his head and turns back to watch Buffy, and she can’t help but wonder if there’s a person alive who’s seen the great Spike cry. She hopes never to see that. He’s way too tough. 

 

Spike leaps into gear beside her while she’s too busy being mesmerised by the way Buffy is spinning and twirling, hair fanning out behind her. Jealousy winds its way into her gut, just a small tendril, enough to make her wish that she’d been the one to reach out, to stop Buffy from spiralling and to sing while staring deeply into her eyes. But, weirdly enough, she doesn’t feel the urge to stop Spike from holding her. As long as Buffy isn’t smoking herself into a meltdown, she’s really pretty easy to please.

Spike’s voice is as deep as it was during their duet on the way over here, a low timbre that makes Faith feel as entranced as Buffy looks. Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the fact she just let out her biggest secret to all of her friends, but whatever it is, it’s got Buffy staring at Spike like he’s hypnotising her. Faith hopes at least a small part of the blonde is actually paying attention. For a dead guy, Spike sure knows how to convince someone to live. 

 

Faith thinks that the demon can sense some change in energy, cause he’s pretty damn keen to get out of the Bronze after Spike’s little number. 

“Buffy, I swear I didn’t do it,” Dawn insists, for the second time. Even though it definitely sounds like something Dawn would do, her words have a note of truth to them that Faith can’t help but believe. She’s seen and heard Dawn lie enough times to notice the kid’s tells, the way she is practically a dead giveaway when she’s not telling the whole truth. And that’s exactly how it sounds when she tries to explain where she got the necklace from. It’s like Faith has a built in lie-detector, and it’s going more than a little crazy when Dawn tries to say that she just ‘found’ the necklace in the Magic Box. Yeah, right. The same way she just happened to ‘find’ all those other things. But for this necklace to be new enough that it was what summoned the weird red demon dude in front of them, it means Dawn’s stolen it within the last few days. Which means Faith’s little speech about doing the right thing definitely didn’t work. Shit. And she was trying so hard.

She’s not even surprised when Xander slowly raises his hand and takes the blame for summoning this Lord of the Dance guy. It’s really a Xander thing to do, and Faith wishes she were closer to him than all the way across the Bronze, cause she really wants to smack him upside the head right about now. You can’t just summon a demon and expect everything to be all happy and sunshine-y. All magic comes with a price. This one just so happened to be that all of them opened their hearts and spilled their secrets like someone took a knife to their gut. And y’know, compared to the real thing, Faith’s pretty sure both sensations are about equal. 

 

Before she knows it, they’re all in the middle of another big group number, and she’s got one hand in Spike’s and one in Dawn’s, feeling more lost and on edge than ever. Now what? Now all their secrets are out, the rest of the Scooby gang know about Heaven, so Buffy probably won’t feel the need to confide in Faith any more. In fact, she won’t really have a need for Faith at all. But the brunette has promised to be around for as long as Buffy needs, and she will be whatever Buffy needs. And she’s kind of grown attached to the Scobbies, especially Dawn. So she wants to stay. She can only cross her fingers that Buffy will let her. 

 

On a turn, she notices Spike bailing out the side door, and she can’t really blame him,. She doesn’t really want to be a part of a sappy group number that’s basically all about how none of them know what to do now, but she wants to be wherever Buffy is, and for now, that’s right here. Buffy follows her eye line, watches the door slam shut behind the vamp, but turns her gaze back to Faith. The brunette reaches out, barely brushing her sister Slayer’s hand, allowing the music to draw Buffy back and finish the song together. 

 

A big final note, a long breath, and then they all stand and look at each other for a moment.

“Well,” Xander claps his hands before taking Anya under one arm. “I think it’s time for us to go!”

Giles’ look can only be read as ‘we’ll talk later’, and before Faith can blink, Xander has disappeared out the door. Speaking of disappearing, she can’t see Spike anywhere.

“I’m gonna patrol,” Faith says, her body screaming for some kind of release. All this singing about her emotions is playing havoc on her mental state. She’s used to beating her demons into the ground, not letting them out to play. She wants to kill something.

At the same time, Willow opens her mouth to speak to Buffy, no doubt to apologise. Faith pauses halfway to the door, too nosy for her own good.

“Buffy, I’m-” is all Willow manages to get out before the blonde is cutting her off.

“I’m going to patrol too,” Buffy scoops up her jacket from where she left it on the floor by the pool table, throwing it over her shoulders as she approaches Faith.

“I’ll see you at home.”

The energy in the room fizzles, cracks with unsaid things, and Faith hurries out the Bronze’s side door into an alley before it can set any more of her nerve endings on fire. She’s never been good at deep, important conversations. Hell, her mental list of conversations she needs to have is already three people long, and growing. She wants to pretend she never sang in that room with them, confused about where she stood and how their little gang would move forward. That she never split her chest open in the middle of a graveyard for a Slayer who didn’t love her back.

“Faith,” Buffy says when they’re halfway down the alley. The brunette pauses and turns, curious.

“B,” she answers, a little warily. They haven’t really had a moment together since Faith’s big number, which she is trying to pretend didn’t even happen, thank you very much.

“I don’t want to patrol.”

Faith’s brow furrows, confused as to why the blonde lied to the gang, but she shrugs it off.

“That’s five by five. You can go home and I’ll meet you there.”

“No,” Buffy steps forward, a little hesitant. Faith has never seen the kind of caution in her step before. It’s one of the things she adores most about Buffy - the way she walks with a purpose no matter where she’s going. “You said - earlier, you-” Buffy takes a breath, and it feels like she draws all the oxygen from the alley with her. Faith suddenly feels her chest grow right, feels the familiar swell of music but can’t really be fucked to care when Buffy is looking at her like that. That same small sliver of humanity in her eyes, desperate to feel something, anything. Anger, hurt, pain. Any emotion that will overpower the cavern in her chest. Faith knows. She’s felt it.

“I just want to feel,” Buffy sings, at the same time Faith feels her own words echoing a refrain of her earlier solo.

“I’ll be anything you need.”

The kiss is sudden, a lunge from Buffy that closes the step between them in a half second. Faith is too shocked to respond for a moment, too wrapped up in the warm, sunshine-y feeling of Buffy’s lips against hers, but then her brain kicks into gear. Well, more like sputters, but eventually her limbs start to move, hands winding their way to clutch at the blonde’s hips. Buffy kisses like she fights: warm, a little desperate, and like it’s the most natural thing in the world. When she slides her tongue along Faith’s, the brunette barely suppresses the growl that rises in her throat. Never in a million years did she think she’d actually get to kiss Buffy, touch her like this, with one hand pressing into the small of her back and melding their bodies together. With Buffy’s incredibly soft lips moving against her own, fingers rising up to brush along Faith’s jaw and tangle in her hair.

Faith’s kissed girls before. Hell, she was fucking as many girls as she was guys back in the day. But no girl has ever been like this. No girl was Buffy. And goddamn, no girl can compare.

 

Faith doesn’t realise they’re moving until Buffy pushes her into the concrete wall of the alley, sending a sliver of heat dripping down Faith’s spine. A little rough, how did B know? She bites Buffy’s bottom lip in response, earning a little breathy noise that makes Faith’s whole body vibrate. Yeah, shit, she’d kiss Buffy all damn day if she could. If this is what Buffy needs, if it’s some weird way to wake her body up after being away for so long, if she needs an escape, Faith can be that. She will be absolutely anything Buffy needs. Any single thing.

Buffy’s hands are tugging at the nape of her neck now, fusing their mouths together tighter than before. They’ve not done any more than kiss, Faith’s hands have barely even left Buffy’s hips, but Faith feels more turned on than she’s been in a while. Goddamn, she wants Buffy so bad. Wants to love her, kiss her, fuck her, and everything in between. Whatever Buffy wants, Faith will give it to her. She wants this instead of her little warm treats after patrol every night? Faith certainly ain’t complaining.

 

The kiss ends all too quickly, with Buffy seemingly coming to her senses and stepping back abruptly. Faith misses the warmth against her front almost immediately, her hands itching to tuck against B’s hips once more. The music stopped a while back, only a few seconds into their kiss, so Faith knows it can’t be coming from that sudden realisation. They stare at each other for just a second, a brief locking of eyes, and Faith knows she feels it too. The connection crackling in the space between them, making Buffy’s fingers twitch at her sides. Yeah, she couldn’t think Faith wouldn’t notice that. But before she can reach out and bring Buffy to her again, the blonde spins on her heel and all but sprints out of the alley.

Unfortunately for Faith, staring at Buffy’s retreating back seems to be pretty par for the course these days.



Chapter Text

Faith really shouldn’t be surprised that she’s not invited to the little Scooby gathering at Xander and Anya’s place. She shouldn’t be, but she still kind of is. They did that whole big group number last night when they were still under the influence of Mr Demony Music guy, but it doesn’t seem to have changed the group dynamic all that much. Faith is still on the outside, left at home to babysit Dawn yet again and try and convince the kid that cheesy teenybopper movies are definitely not cool. Buffy’s nowhere to be seen, which also isn’t that much of a surprise. The blonde has been keeping mostly out of Faith’s way since their kiss, and Faith’s been trying not to think about that. Trying not to think about the look on Buffy’s face a few seconds after she pulled away, then the spark in her eyes right before she ran. Faith isn’t imagining that, surely? She’s not that deep in love that she’s blind to Buffy’s actual emotions, right? Still, she’s replayed the kiss over in her mind about a million times already, least of all when she’d come home from patrolling last night, sweaty and bruised and still sighing Buffy’s name under the shower’s hot spray. She tries to pretend that Buffy doing her famed disappearing act has everything to do with telling her friends about being in Heaven, and nothing to do with the kiss that they’d shared. It’s a pretty convincing answer, actually, given that the group has been walking on eggshells around Buffy since the bomb had dropped. Faith was the only one even trying to treat her normally, and she all but sprinted out of the room whenever Faith entered. 

The creaking of the back door is enough to cause Faith to leap up from the couch, Dawn’s stupid movie easily ignored. It might be B, but with the shit that goes on in this house, there’s just as much of a chance that it isn’t. Dawn wordlessly turns the volume of the TV way down, so the high-pitched voices are barely a whisper in the back of Faith’s mind, as the older brunette creeps towards the kitchen, palming one of the stakes she keeps in the side table as she goes. 

“Bloody hell,” comes an all-too-familiar British voice, seconds after hearing something smack into one of the stools she’s forever telling Dawn to push back in. “Who in the sodding hell would put a chair there?” 

Shoulders releasing their tension, Faith drops the stake onto the couch and gestures that Dawn should just keep watching her movie. Apparently excited to finally be in full control of the TV, the teen turns up her show and Faith exits the room to the sound of tinny teenage laughter. 

“Hey, Captain Bleach,” she greets the vampire. Spike doesn’t seem surprised to see her, but why would he be? She’s the one always here, never allowed out on group missions or for research parties at the Magic Box. She’s always the one left holding down the fort and making sure no more demons try and attack the youngest Summers girl. And there seems to be a disproportionate number of those attacks happening lately. 

“What’s the go?” Spike pulls open a few cupboards, easily finding her hidden bag of donut holes. Normally, she wouldn’t let anyone but Buffy take one, but she just climbs onto the stool he’d slammed into a minute ago and shrugs.
“Special meeting,” she explains. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out what the meeting’s about. Or, more likely, who. Considering they’ve all only just learned about the whole ‘Buffy being yanked from Heaven and now she can’t feel jack shit’ thing, it’s pretty obvious what they all wanted to have secret conversations about. At least B hadn’t spilled any secrets regarding Faith’s little treats that she leaves, or the fact that Faith had already known. That would ruffle way more feathers than Faith wants to deal with right now. 

Her lips set into a line. “B’s out patrolling.” Everything unsaid hangs on to the end of her sentence, dangling in front of Spike. She waits, but he picks it up. 

“I saw,” he responds, offering the bag of food towards Faith. When she takes one, he hops gracefully onto the kitchen island and stares down at her. “Is she-” his voice seems to catch, and Faith recognises the emotion shuttered behind blue eyes. The same pain she’d felt when she’d learned about Buffy’s resting place. “How’s she doing?”

Another shrug in response. It seems like that’s all Faith can do these days. She’s not really sure of anything, let alone anything regarding Buffy. She’d promised to be anything the blonde needed, but she had no clue what that was at this point. 

“Not acting very B-like,” she recalls the kiss. “Freaked out, I reckon.”

“Oh yeah?” Spike raises his scarred eyebrow. Faith steals another donut hole. “What’s she done this time? Light something on fire? Rob a bank? Shag something she shouldn’t?” a pause, enough for Spike to reconsider his words. “Well, that last one does sound like something the Slayer would do.”

Faith hesitates. Is this the sort of thing that should be shared with Spike? Buffy probably wouldn’t be too happy if word got out that they’d kissed, particularly if the news got back to the Scoobies. Who knows what their reaction would be - even though they accepted Faith as part of their group they still all very clearly have their doubts. Though the chances of Spike actually telling any of the gang are pretty slim. Even if he’d been fighting by their side for a while now, he wasn’t likely to gossip with anyone. But then again, isn’t this the sort of news that people would share with their friends? Spike is pretty much the closest thing Faith has to a friend these days. The others put up with her, sure, but no one else is willing to babysit with her, or offer Scotch if she’s had a bad day. Well, no one except Tara, but she has her own problems to deal with. 

Fuck it. She wants to talk about it. 

“She kissed me,” the words are neutral, spoken in a low enough tone to not catch the attention of the teenager in the next room. Still, Spike’s eyes go wide as though she’s shouted it. 

“Thought I could smell something different on you,” he sniffs extra hard for emphasis, licking his lips absentmindedly afterwards. Faith wonders if his vamp sense of smell is anything like the Slayer tinglies. Can he tell people just by their scent? Could he smell the way Buffy was etched into her bones, never disappearing no matter how many showers she took? 

“Gotta say,” he continues, offering her the donut holes, “bit jealous it’s not me unwrapping the pretty pink Slayer package.” Spike’s voice is far away, like he’s deep within thoughts. Faith can only guess at what those are, surprised that even though he’s jealous, he’s taking it fairly well. He was the other one in love with Buffy, after all. “Pity I missed out. You’ll just have to invite me next time.”

Faith pegs the donut hole she’d just grabbed at his bleach blonde head, and tries not to think about what that comment makes her feel. 

 

Spike leaves after Dawn’s in bed, the night filled with only a couple of innuendos that fly right over the younger brunette’s head. A little bored, and more than a little stressed, Faith takes her energy out on a tray of cookies. Thankfully, since she’s started doing this shit for B, she’s made sure to keep the pantry stocked with everything she could possibly need, should the blonde’s cravings strike. The cookies are more of a peace offering, a reminder that they can be as secret as they need to be. Faith will be anything for Buffy. A confidant, a sparring partner, a fuck buddy that takes away the hurt int he lonely hours of night after patrol, when their muscles are aching but Buffy’s desperate to feel so Faith rocks against her and- 

The front door opening makes her nearly drop the cookie sheet she’s just pulled from the oven, too wrapped up in thoughts of the other Slayer that she’s lost her usual unshakableness. Is that a word? God, she’s even starting to think like B. Won’t be long before they’re basically one person, some sort of weird merged superSlayer thing. 

“Hey B,” she greets when Buffy enters the kitchen. She’s already moved back towards the sink to start on the dishes, her back to the blonde. There’s something that feels off about Buffy, but enough shit has happened in the last few days that Faith just chalks it up to exhaustion.  It’s probably better not to try and talk about it, honestly. The other Slayer hasn’t willingly entered her space long enough to greet since they kissed. Even the memory of it sets Faith’s entire nervous system alight, but she clamps her lips shut around the words that threaten to spill out. This isn’t the time. 

Buffy’s quiet for so long that Faith thinks she’s left. Then, just when Faith’s about to turn around to check if she’s even there, Buffy speaks. 

“Hey, F,” she says around a mouthful of warm cookie. Faith does turn around then, a smile stretching her lips entirely against her will, floored as she watches the cookie make Buffy do her happy little food dance. 

“If you’re gonna eat my food,” Faith threatens, though they both know it’s a total lie, “you could at least help.” She reaches over, grabs a tea towel and tosses it towards Buffy. Thankfully, her cookie-filled mouth doesn’t hinder Slayer reflexes, and she catches it before it smacks her in the face. Though Faith wouldn’t have minded that visual either, and it probably would have made her laugh even more than seeing an indignant pout form while the blonde is chewing. 

“Whatever,” Buffy smacks her shoulder with the towel as she comes to stand beside Faith. It’s such a familiar routine that for a moment Faith can forget all the shit that’s happened. Forget that she pretty much poured her bleeding heart open to the girl she loved and got nothing in return. Well, not nothing, because they kissed, but at the time it was definitely nothing. And all this thinking about Buffy and the kiss has her mind wandering enough to let a glass slip from her hands and splash back into the sink. Nothing breaks, but the action does cause some water to spill onto Buffy’s clothes. Acting like she’s been stung, the blonde jumps back with a small yelp, glaring at Faith.

“Hey!” she frowns, but there’s a spark in her eyes. Faith looks away, too uncertain about everything to even think of deciphering it. “Not fair.”

“Well excuse me, Princess,” Faith picks up one hand, letting it drip soapy water back into the sink menacingly, “I figured your clothes were disgusting after patrol, so they could use a wash.”
“Don’t even think about it,” Buffy’s eyes dart to Faith’s other hand, now lifting slowly out of the sink to splatter bubbles on the linoleum. “Faith, don’t-”

But Faith’s never really been one to follow orders.

The shriek she gets in return for flicking Buffy with her soaped-up hands is reward enough, but then two warm hands are grabbing her shoulders and shoving her to one side. Buffy scoops up some of the bubbles in the sink and blows them directly into Faith’s face, giggling when the brunette splutters. When Buffy’s hand reaches for the sink again, Faith loops her fingers around the slim wrist, stopping it dead in its tracks. The grip isn’t hard, but it’s electric enough to make Buffy’s breath hitch, and Faith is suddenly very aware of their proximity. If she wanted, she would just have to lean forward to press her lips to Buffy’s, just reach out to have the other Slayer’s hips in her hands, ready to shove her back and press her lithe form into the counter. But she doesn’t. She simply freezes, waiting. She’s not about to make Buffy do something she doesn’t want, no matter how many green lights she feels like she’s getting. After a moment, Faith lets go, half expecting Buffy’s arm to drop uselessly back to her side. Instead, Buffy drops the towel from her other hand like it’s on fire, backing up until she bumps the kitchen island. Their gazes don’t break contact until Buffy turns and leaves, and Faith blinks into the darkened hallway she’s run down. 

“What the fuck?” 

 

Faith wakes slowly, stretching her muscles languidly as she listens to the sounds of their house waking up. She’d been asleep when the rest of the Scoobies had finally come home - or at least, she’d been in bed trying to sleep - but she’s still not the first one awake. For the first time in a long time, she’s not the one making breakfast, or the last one dressed and running down the stairs as Dawn yells at her to hurry up. No, for once she’s actually ready to go, waiting at the bottom of the stairs while Dawn calls a familiar phrase to Willow. Since waking up, she’s felt a little off. Not like something is wrong, necessarily, but just strange. Weird. Unsettled. She blames it on the fact that Tara and Willow are still struggling with what Willow had done, and that’s why it feels like the entire house’s foundations are shaking. Willow running late only amplified the wacky feeling, but she tried to ignore it. She can only try so much, though, because when she’s halfway down the porch steps her Slayer sense seems to yell at her to turn around. Maybe it’s magic, maybe it’s her intuition, maybe something else entirely, but a strange feeling prickles at the back of her mind. 

“I’ll just be a sec,” she shouts to Buffy, Dawn and Tara, who are now a few feet in front of her. “I just forgot something.” The lie twinges in her chest, but she doesn’t have time to explain right now. Angel would say that lying is wrong, but surely this case would be acceptable. Surely there’s some stuff that it’s okay to lie about, right? She’s not really sure. All this being Good stuff comes way easier to Buffy and not her. 

The house is quiet when she enters, though she expected Willow to be stomping around upstairs while she got ready. It’s not that the witch is heavy-footed, but Faith’s enhanced hearing can usually pick up if there are people moving on the upper level. And it doesn’t quite sound like there are. What it does sound like, however, is someone talking in the other room. 

Faith rounds the corner to see Willow crouched by the fireplace, flames crackling into the magically charged air. Faith’s never been good at any sort of magic, never tried really, but she can tell when there are goings-on happening. Or maybe it’s more that her Slayer senses are screaming at her that something just doesn’t feel right about this. And what’s with the flowers in Willow’s hand?

Without speaking, Faith storms across the space. Willow doesn’t even raise her head until Faith’s a foot away, eyes wide as she watches the brunette kick the flaming bundle from the fireplace and crush it under her boot.  

“What the fuck?” Faith hisses. She’s very aware that she could be overreacting right now, that it was an innocuous little spell, but Willow’s immediate panic tells her that it’s anything but.
“Faith, it’s not what it looks like-” the redhead starts, but Faith isn’t taking any of that shit. Anything that starts with those words is usually a bad thing. She grabs the little baggie of flowers Willow has now dropped on the ground, staring at them for a long moment before shoving them into her pocket. They’re familiar, though she can’t quite place why.

Being probably a little rougher than she needs to, Faith all but hauls Willow to her feet, stepping back so she can wave a hand at Willow’s outfit. The witch is looking far more put together than she was a minute ago, and it wouldn’t really take a genius to guess why. It doesn’t even take Faith more than a couple of brain cells to figure it out. 

“What was that spell, Red?” her eyes flick towards the fireplace. Willow follows her gaze, but says nothing, biting her lip nervously. “Why did you lie to us?”

The inclusion of herself in that statement isn’t intentional, but damn if it’s not true. Willow had told them all to just go, that she was running late and would catch up. If all she needed was twenty seconds to do a spell, why didn’t she say so? 

“Please don’t tell Tara,” Willow starts in lieu of an answer, and Faith actually steps backwards in shock. So that’s why Red was keeping it a secret. Tara probably doesn’t want her doing magic any more, what with the whole brain-fucky stuff. 

Willow must notice the horror painting itself across Faith’s features, because she stammers out an explanation quickly. 

“It’s just, after the memory stuff, and Glory, Tara doesn’t really want me doing magic and-” she trails off when it becomes apparent on Faith’s face that her explanation is doing more harm than good. “I just wanted her to forget how bad it was. And Buffy, too!” she throws in, like that makes it better. The idea of anyone messing with her B’s brain makes Faith’s blood boil, but she bites the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming. Willow isn’t the bad guy. She just thinks that she can play with this dark force, that she can control it. But if she’s already lying to Tara, Faith can’t see this ending well. It feels very reminiscent of the Old Faith, thinking that she can just touch the darkness and coming away far more stained than she could have ever imagined. 

“Just,” Willow heaves a breath, and Faith watches her try not to cry. “Please don’t tell her.”

Faith shakes her head. “If you don’t tell her,” she thinks of the brunette’s soft features, her warm aura. The pain this will cause her. Her voice drops a little. “I swear to God I will. Now,” she gestures towards the door with an open arm. No way is she leaving Willow in this house alone right now. “Go.”

 

By the time they get to the Magic Box, Faith is ready to leap through the front door and do literally any task that Giles or Anya asks of her. Willow had been unable to stop shooting her anxious glances, so much that even Dawn had checked if she was okay. The younger Summers had believed Willow’s answer, but Tara looked at Faith with pursed lips. Even Buffy was feeling a little more strangely disconnected than usual. Things didn’t seem like they were going to go down well. 

“Anything you need me to do, boss man?” Faith’s usually not the first one through the door, so the surprise on Giles and Anya’s faces is pretty warranted. Anya even tilts her head a little, making Faith think of a puppy. 

“Not at this moment Faith, thank you,” Giles seems confused to be saying the words, but he does put down the book he’s been holding. 

“What’s the scoop?” Dawn stops at the top of the stairs, rocking on her heels. Faith watches as Buffy walks straight past Giles without even greeting him. Damn, who peed in her coffee? Unless there’s something particularly bad going on between them, but surely she would have told Faith last night? Mentally, Faith kicks herself. Just because Buffy told her about Heaven doesn’t mean that she’s going to tell her everything now. It doesn’t mean that the’re best buddies or anything. She was just the only one there. It’s like the kiss thing. The first warm, willing body. Well, other than Spike, but he wasn’t exactly warm. 

“We’ll wait for Xander,” Giles tells the teen, and Faith gets the weird unsettled feeling again. There’s something that Giles isn’t sharing, and it’s making her feel mad uncomfortable. Normally it doesn’t matter who’s in the room before Giles starts spouting random creature knowledge at them, basically forcing them all to pick up a book. But now he wants to wait? It feels like a weird time to start being polite. 

Regardless of how weird it is, they do wait for Xander to arrive. And when he does, Giles begins one of his all-too-familiar speeches. He’s only a sentence or two in before Buffy climbs down off her perch on the ladder. 

“Why don’t you just say it?” her voice is mocking, angry. Faith feels the energy like a slap, and the words aren’t even directed at her. “Jump straight to the point.”

Everyone in the room, especially Giles, looks shocked at Buffy’s outburst. Faith wants to reach out to her, to ask what’s wrong, but that’s not what they are. They’re not friends. They’re just… Well, they’re just them. 

Spike entering the Magic Box isn’t usually a shock, except he does it with such flair this time that everyone turns to look. Faith is surprised to see him dressed in a strange brown suit instead of his usual duster. It doesn’t flatter him at all, and it certainly doesn’t look like him. Though, the reason for that is explained as he tells the group that someone’s after him. Faith carefully clocks the expressions of the rest of the gang, noting that very few of them seem to actually care. No matter how much good Spike does for them, he’s always going to be left to fight his battles alone. The thought is kinda sad. 

Anger flares up immediately at Giles’s revelation. He’s leaving? Now? After everything that just happened, after finding out just last night that his surrogate daughter had been yanked from Heaven? That was a low blow, even by the Old Faith’s standards. Now she understands why Buffy had been so off last night, why she looks like she’s about ready to behead anyone who rubs her the wrong way. She’s hurting, again. Fuck. 

“I can’t do this,” Buffy storms past them all, brushing just close enough by Faith that she feels her own pulse spike. Faith figures she just needs some space, maybe just to go cool off. To hunt down a demon or two and kill them just so she stops thinking. It’s a familiar dance, really. But Willow doesn’t seem to get the memo, because she’s too busy trying to apologise yet again to Buffy. The blonde scoffs, arms wide as she stares in disbelief at their little gang. The only people she doesn’t make eye contact with are Faith and Spike. 

“I can only take so much,” she says, and Faith’s usually stone-cold heart cracks a little. To see her girl in pain is never easy, to watch it happen in real-time is even worse. “I can’t take it any more.” 

She turns and leaves a silent shop in her wake. Faith doesn’t bother to look at anyone else, not Willow who is undoubtedly crying again, not Tara who is cradling the redhead to her side. Not Giles, who just destroyed Buffy’s fragile sense of stability yet again. She looks over at Spike, sees the same hurt she’s feeling reflected in calm blue depths. An almost imperceptible nod towards the door, and she’s off. Buffy may not need people to be sorry, but she does need people. 

 

Running after Buffy isn’t the smartest idea she’s ever had, but it’s definitely not the stupidest. She can think of a handful just off the top of her head, but stops short of actually listing them. That would be way weird. Instead, she focuses her energy on the blonde who’s practically racing away from her, Slayer speed making her walk seem like a jog. 

“Yo, B,” she calls, not expecting the other Slayer to stop. Surprisingly, she does, but doesn’t turn around. Waiting until Faith comes alongside her to start walking again, Buffy speaks to a crack in the road.

“Don’t make me go back there,” she says. “Don’t tell me it’s going to be okay.”

Faith doesn’t. Not only because Buffy has asked her not to, but it’s just not who she is. Things are shit right now. Watcher Man has decided to abandon his Slayer in one of the toughest times of her life - or is it her afterlife now? Either way, Buffy’s just come back from the dead and he’s leaving. Faith’s furious at the man, but she can tell that Buffy isn’t up for a discussion right now. 

“You know,” she says, recalling another time when Buffy had needed distracting. Her brain unhelpfully reminds her of their kiss, that there could be other, more heated forms of distracting, but she tries her best to ignore it. “The Bronze is open.” Never mind how she knows that, never mind that it’ll be a weird place to go in the middle of the day. Never mind anything, because Buffy’s laughing and damn if that sound isn’t the nicest thing she’s ever heard. She ignores the little flutter her heart does at the sound, choosing instead to bump the blonde’s shoulder as they walk. Buffy doesn’t miss a step, just continues to chuckle. 

“No way.”

“Okay, smartass,” Faith rolls her eyes. “What did you have in mind?”

The look Buffy gives her is hard to read, but even harder to misinterpret. A flash of heat trickles down Faith’s spine, coiling in her lower belly. Tripping slightly over the uneven sidewalk, Faith focuses on her feet instead of the girl beside her. 

“Somewhere where the alcohol is free,” Buffy muses with a mischievous smirk. 

 

The door to Spike’s crypt isn’t locked, and Faith doesn’t think it could even if he wanted it to. It makes for a kind of dangerous game, any manner of demons having open access to your living quarters, but it does make it easier for two Slayers hellbent on drinking to get in and steal his alcohol. 

Faith follows Buffy into the crypt, their feet echoing against the concrete walls. She doesn’t think it’s a great idea to be stealing from the Evil Undead, but she figures Spike would be of the mind that anything that makes Buffy feel better is definitely good. If that means stealing his alcohol in the middle of the day, so be it. He’s a vamp. He doesn’t actually need it. 

Faith immediately locates a bottle of Scotch, the same one he’d offered her when she’d come here after pouring out her soul to Buffy. Feels a little like dramatic irony to be offering the same bottle to the very blonde she’d been complaining about, but Faith can take it. Her intention had been to just grab the Scotch and go, but Buffy sits herself on top of one of the stone coffins and takes a huge swig from the bottle. Yeah, that idea’s pretty much toast. 

 

Turns out that alcohol was exactly what B needed to feel better. She’s passed the stage of loud drunk, dancing drunk, and is just starting to come out of the chatty drunk stage. Faith’s dragged over Spike’s comfy chair from where it was parked in front of his TV to be closer to the sarcophagus Buffy’s sitting cross-legged on top of. She’s had nearly as much as the blonde, but can definitely hold her liquor better. For one, she’s not currently trying to slide off the stone tablet with all the grace of a baby gazelle. 

“Watch it, B,” she smirks as Buffy wobbles upright. “Feelin’ a little tipsy?” 

“I’m feeling a little somethin’,” the end of Buffy’s sentence comes out slurred, and Faith realises they’ve gone straight from chatty to flirty. While that’s normally a fun development, she’s not thrilled about Buffy being drunk while doing so. 

“We should get you home,” Faith says, stopping just short of saying that Giles will be waiting for her. He’s probably the last person that Buffy wants to see now. “C’mon Goldilocks.”

She’s just about to stand up when Buffy lands directly in her lap. Unsure if it was intentional or not, Faith’s first instinct is to catch her and make sure she doesn’t end up ass-first on the concrete floor. Her second instinct is to bury her face in the crook of Buffy’s neck. That impulse she does actually manage to squash. 

“Woah,” she straightens in the seat, releasing Buffy when she’s satisfied that the other Slayer won’t crack her head open. “You’re such a lightweight,” she chuckles. 

“Am not,” Buffy pouts, and it should be illegal for her to be this cute and for Faith to know exactly what that full bottom lip feels like between her teeth. But Buffy is drunk, and Buffy is desperate, and as much as Faith wants to stand by her promise, something about that just doesn’t feel right. It’s why, when Buffy leans forward in an attempt to kiss her, Faith pulls back. 

“I thought you wanted to kiss me?” her face is confused, but not hurt. Faith can’t tell how that makes her feel. 

“Sure, B, if that’s what you want,” when Buffy opens her mouth to protest, she continues. “But not when you’re drunk. I don’t want you regretting shit.” Regretting me

“True,” tears spring to Buffy’s eyes suddenly, and Faith absently figures they’ve barrelled straight past Flirty Buffy to Crying Buffy. It’s not a fun change. “What am I doing?” she sobs with a crack in her voice, burying her head into Faith’s shoulder. The brunette can only sit in shocked silence as Buffy sobs a few times, her breathing sharp before it quickly evens out and her limbs go slack. God, for a Slayer she falls asleep way too easy. 

The idea of moving her definitely comes to Faith’s mind. It’s logical, part of her brain argues. They should go home, there are things they have to do. But when Faith can’t seem to think of those things, she gives in and thinks that Buffy can just nap here for a while. 

 

Faith figures she’s dozed off too, because she’s woken by the creaking sounds of the crypt’s door. 

“Bloody demons,” she hears Spike curse. “Always coming in and-”

He stops short as Faith meets his eyes over Buffy’s sleeping form still curled in her lap. 

“My arm’s dead,” she offers up. Spike’s too far away and too cloaked in his giant black duster-turned-sunshelter for her to read his eyes. “Do you mind?” with a nod, she gestures towards the sleeping blonde. 

“Can’t hold her Scotch at all,” Spike grumbles as his heavy boots clomp across the stone. Buffy barely stirs. “Bloody git,” he curses, tucking his arms under her back and knees. “Fuckin’ lucky I love her or else I’d be tossing her out quicker than she could stake me.” A considering look towards Faith, now shaking out her arm to regain feeling. “Or you could stake me, I suppose.”

“Not planning on it, Peroxide,” Faith stands up, finding her legs asleep too. She does a weird little dance to get feeling back into them, thankful that Spike’s too busy trying to get Buffy to stand up to pay attention to her strange movements. 

“Spike?” Buffy’s voice is no longer fuzzy from alcohol, but sleep. Thank god for Slayer metabolism. If she goes home and has another nap, she’ll be fine by dinnertime. Faith would know, she’s done that shit too many times to count. “What’re you doing here?”
“My place, bint,” he steadies her, eyes flickering over to Faith. “You’ll be right to get her home?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she waves off his words, though appreciating the concern. As long as Buffy’s forgotten about her pain for one day, that’s all that matters. And Spike doesn’t seem too fussed about losing the alcohol. As she winds her arm around Buffy’s middle and starts to lead the other Slayer outside, she hears Spike call after them.
“And you owe me a bottle of Scotch!”

 

It’s mid-afternoon by the time that Faith drags Buffy through the front door of their house. By this point it is pretty much dragging, given that the blonde’s legs had given up about halfway through the walk and Faith’s been supporting most of her weight since. She’s tipsy, so they did stumble a few times, but they made it. The house is oddly quiet, not a witch or Dawn or Giles in sight. Not even Xander or Anya. With such a revolving door of faces, it’s kind of weird to have it so empty in the middle of the afternoon. 

“There ya go,” Faith unceremoniously dumps Buffy onto her bed, the mattress barely dipping under her slight weight. The drunken Slayer grumbles quietly as she turns over, burying her face in pillows. 

“What am I doing?” is all that Faith can make out. It’s kind of a miracle that she can understand any words at all when Buffy’s wiggling her leather-clad ass right in front of her. 

“Tell me about it,” Faith tears her eyes away, haphazardly tosses a blanket over Buffy’s now snoring form and leaves the room. 

 

Faith crashes out on Dawn’s bed for an hour or so, waking up just as the sun is starting to set. The gang will be back from the Magic Box soon, but she’s craving pizza so she orders one. And then, thinking better of it, a second one for Buffy. She goes downstairs to find Buffy already in the kitchen, pouring two glasses of water. She’s changed, apparently, because she’s now in more comfortable looking pants and a t-shirt. Her sock-clad feet are quiet against the floor, and Faith hesitates in the kitchen doorway for just a moment to appreciate the way that she moves easily around the space, warm afternoon sun haloing the hair falling around her face. 

“Thank god for Slayer metabolism,” is all Buffy says, pushing one of the glasses towards Faith. She doesn’t say anything more, doesn’t talk about the kiss or the crying or anything going on in their lives. So Faith takes her lead.

“I ordered pizza,” she sips her water. It tastes fucking amazing, so she downs the glass. “More please.”

Buffy’s laugh is as warm as the rays of sunlight dancing around the room. “Get it yourself, lazy.” 

 

They sit in silence and eat pizza, sipping water and waiting until the front door opens. When it does, Buffy leaps up to greet the rest of their housemates. Faith’s a little offended that Buffy is so eager to get out of her company, but then again shit’s kind of weird. So she doesn’t really blame her. 

Tara’s first through the door, smiling and happily greeting Buffy with just as much enthusiasm as the blonde offers. Then Dawn, and Willow brings up the rear. She figures Giles must be staying late at the Magic Box, probably finishing up some last minute things. That is, unless his flight is tonight? She hadn’t really stuck around long enough to figure out the finer details. 

Willow meets her gaze sheepishly, and Faith raises an eyebrow in silent question. Guilt washes over the witch’s features, and Faith is immediately exasperated. She gets up, abandoning the pizza she’s only half-finished, and crosses the room to the foyer in sure steps. For the second time that day, Faith seizes Willow around the wrist, dragging the other girl through the house and practically tossing her on the back porch. The door swings loudly shut behind them, but Faith can’t find it in herself to give a shit. 

“You didn’t tell her,” the accusation in her voice is clear, and Willow reels back like she’s been slapped. 

“It just wasn’t the right time, there wasn’t a chance for me to-”

Faith holds up a hand, stemming Willow’s rant. Willow’s playing with dark magic, and she’s hiding it from her girlfriend. Even Old Faith would know that was a bad thing. Sure, she wouldn’t have cared, but she would have known at least. 

“Why.”

The word isn’t phrased like a question, the edges all sharp as it leaves Faith’s mouth. Still, she looks expectantly at the redhead for an answer. 

“I promised her,” her voice is small. “I promised I wouldn’t do magic for a week. But really, Faith, it’s no big deal, it was just a little-“

For the second time in as many minutes, Faith holds up her hand to stop Willow talking. 

“What the fuck.”

Without saying anything more, Faith turns and storms back inside. Willow is on her heels, begging her to just wait a moment, to think about what she’s doing. Faith ignores her pleas, beelining straight to where she knows Tara is sitting in the living room watching TV with Buffy. The brunette looks up as she enters, a whirlwind with a witch following behind, and her brow furrows in concern. 

“Faith, are-”

Faith wrenches the flowers from her pocket and tosses them onto the coffee table. They hit the wood with a soft pat, and Tara looks from the flowers to Willow, confusion etched onto her delicate features. 

“Will? What’s happening?”

“Yeah, Will,” Faith emphasises, well aware that she’s being rude and mocking, but too angry to care. This is going to explode right back in her face, but it has to happen. Someone else needs to be aware of Willow’s problems, and it should probably be the girl right at the centre of it. “What’s happening?” 

Before the redhead can answer, tears already streaking her cheeks, Faith turns to Buffy. Up until this point, the blonde has been sitting wide-eyed on the couch, watching the exchange. Now, Faith gives her a pointed look. 

“Hey, B, I’m gonna patrol. Wanna give me a hand?”

Faith doesn’t wait for an answer, and tries not to hear the pained voices of both Willow and Tara as she speedwalks out of the house. Listening to the crack in Tara’s voice, the plea in Willow’s, it’s too much. She doesn’t want to be there. And she certainly doesn’t want to think about what the aftermath will be. This is going to suck. But she’s pretty done with keeping secrets, including those belonging to other people. Well, secrets that don’t involve her kissing a certain blonde Slayer. The same blonde Slayer that’s jogging to catch up with her now, sneakered feet thudding against the pavement. 

“Let’s not talk about it,” Faith waves a hand dismissively before Buffy can speak. She’s kind of not in the mood, and she knows a good fight or two will help Buffy forget about the shitty events of today too. Plus, she needs to work off any lingering alcohol in her system. Yeah, that’s exactly the reason Faith takes the long route to the cemetery. 

 

The graveyard is quiet, which is frustrating to Faith. She wanted to get B out of the house, wanted to make her body move in ways that were familiar, purposeful. Wanted to erase the pain of Giles leaving, of her friends fighting, of being back from Heaven. The dull look she’d been wearing these past few weeks is back, brought on by pain. Faith wants to get rid of it. Part of her mind very unhelpfully reminds her that there are other, far more sexy ways to make someone feel things, but she shoves away the memory of Buffy’s lips on hers with such ferocity that she loses focus on where she’s walking for a moment. 

“You okay?” Buffy says, noticing her stumble. Fuck. 

“Five by five,” Faith answers automatically. “Vamps seem to be taking a night off, don’t they?”

“Maybe they’re all leaving for England too,” Buffy’s sudden melancholy gives Faith a minor case of whiplash. “Maybe it is me.”

“Hey,” Faith feels anger rise up in her chest, absently tries to tamp it down. Losing her shit would be way unhelpful right now. She reaches out to grab Buffy’s wrist, the hold tight but nothing a Slayer couldn’t handle. “What Watcher-man is doing, what happened, is so not your fault.”

It makes Faith feel a little more confident when Buffy doesn’t immediately snatch her hand from Faith’s grip. If anything, the touch makes the blonde lean into her a little more. 

“You sure?” Buffy’s voice is a mixture of forlorn sadness and a tiny spark of hope. “Cause it sure as hell feels like it.”

Faith doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know how to reassure Buffy in a way that isn’t her smacking the other Slayer against a mausoleum wall and demanding that she accept no blame for any of this. What Giles is doing is shit, Faith is ready to admit that. But Buffy doesn’t have any hand in him running back to England. And as long as she thinks she does, Faith is gonna argue with her. 

“What does it feel like?” her inner Angel comes out for a moment, and she thanks all the sessions she had with him. She may not be very good at analysing emotions, but he was. 

Buffy raises her gaze from where it was apparently locked on the stake in Faith’s grip. 

“Huh?”

“Feelings,” Faith drops the hold she has on Buffy’s wrist, noting the lack of warmth far more intensely than she should. “Y’know.”

Buffy stares into the space beside Faith’s head for a second. 

“Empty,” is all she says. “I don’t feel.”

“Find what makes you feel,” Faith starts walking again, a strangely uncomfortable feeling growing in her chest. The memory of walking side by side with Buffy, right before her big musical number. 

What makes you feel?

The feeling of Buffy’s lips on hers, the way her body had sparked, a livewire under the blonde’s touch. 

That, B. That’s what feeling feels like

“You know what makes me feel?” Buffy says, and Faith is so caught up in her memory she almost doesn’t register it. She turns, about to reply, when there’s a bundle of blonde Slayer in her arms, lips clumsily slanting against hers. It’s messy, it’s a little desperate, but god it’s hot. 

Faith kisses Buffy back with as much intensity as she can muster, her tongue flicking into the other Slayer’s mouth and finding hers. Whatever beast was sitting in Faith’s chest, desperate for Buffy’s touch again, is now singing. Smacking against Faith’s ribs in a heavy drumbeat. Or maybe that’s just her heart. Faith can’t tell and she doesn’t have the brain space to give a fuck right now. Not when Buffy is pressed up against her, all strong limbs and hot lips. 

“Feel this, B?” Faith kisses down to the blonde’s pulse point, feeling the way Buffy’s body practically melts under her touch. She brushes her lips over the scars at Buffy’s shoulder, marks of a history long ago, and feels Buffy shiver. 

“Yes, please,” Buffy’s words are strained, and Faith can’t help but wonder how long it’s been since Buffy has been kissed. Since she’s been touched. 

“Make me feel,” the fingers in Faith’s hair are strong, pressing the back of her skull in an attempt to keep her there, keep her kissing Buffy’s neck like her life depended on it. 

Eventually, after leaving more than a few bruising bite marks on Buffy’s neck, Faith moves back to her lips. It’s more intense than the first time they kissed, driven by something far more passionate than a swell of music. Faith feels Buffy’s tongue slip between her lips, swirl with her own, the sensation immediately sending liquid heat down her spine. God, the things this woman could do to her. 

Lips still firmly attached to Buffy’s, Faith finds both of the blonde’s hips with her hands. They’re sharp, but strong, canting just slightly into Faith’s touch, and the tiny movement almost makes her drop to her knees right there. 

Faith walks Buffy backwards until her back slams into a mausoleum, the blonde’s head dropping back to the concrete with a surprised ‘oh’. The noise makes Faith’s nerves static, wanting to draw out more noises like that, to make the blonde lose herself in sensation until she can’t think about heaven, or her friends, or the way her watcher abandoned her. Until all she can think about is Faith. 

Faith uses her body to press Buffy into the concrete, one thigh shoved between her legs. The brunette lets her hand roam, sneaking under the hem of Buffy’s shirt to touch the skin of her warm, exposed stomach. It’s taut, toned by years of slaying and training, and Faith feels the muscles ripple with tension when she nips at a particularly sensitive spot just under Buffy’s ear. 

Without warning, one of Buffy’s hands is on her own, covering it, shoving it beneath the waistband of her pants and into her underwear. Faith can’t help but follow Buffy’s instructive movements, her fingers slipping past soft blonde hair. She pauses, a hairsbreadth away from where Buffy really needs her, and lifts her mouth from the blonde’s neck. 

“You sure?” This feels like too much.

“Yes,” Buffy’s answer is immediate. “Please, god, just make it go away.”

Faith knows what she’s talking about. The thoughts, the guilt, the absence of feelings. All pushed aside when there’s someone between your legs, lighting every part of your body on fire. She knows, she’s been there. She promised to be whatever Buffy needed, and if this is it, then she will sure as shit be here. Not like it’s a great burden or anything. 

She runs two fingers along Buffy’s slick heat, and the moan she gets in her ear will fuel years of her own pleasure, she knows.  Then she pushes her fingers inside and oh, fuck. Buffy is wet. Buffy is fucking dripping , and the sensation around Faith’s fingers is molten gold

Faith drops her head to Buffy’s shoulder as the blonde lets out a low moan in her ear. God, she’s going to spontaneously combust being this close to such heat. She could stay here like this forever, fingers buried in Buffy, but the blonde grinds her hips impatiently and she’s reminded of the real reason B needs this. She needs to forget how to think, to lose herself in sensation. And Faith can definitely help with that. Pulling her fingers out, she pushes back in slowly, feeling more than hearing the moan rumble through Buffy’s chest. She knew from experience that Slayer muscles were superior in every way, but she’d never really had a chance to figure it out on anyone but herself. If she wasn’t also something more than human, she’s pretty sure her fingers would be snapping in half right now. 

Faith uses her other hand to press against Buffy’s lower back, holding her in position as she starts a slow rhythm with her fingers. 

“B,” she can’t help but groan, feeling the blonde’s hips roll in response. Lifting her head from where it was resting against Buffy’s collarbone, she’s finally able to look in the other Slayer’s eyes. They’re glassy, unfocused, pupils blown wide and eyes darker than Faith’s ever seen them. And she should know, she’s spent enough time staring at Buffy’s eyes. At Buffy in general, really. She watches in awe as a particular bend of her fingers has Buffy’s head dropping back against the stone wall behind her. Never in a million years did she think she would be here. If she told sixteen year old Faith that she’d one day be fucking Buffy ‘I only go for undead monsters’ Summers in a cemetery, the girl would have laughed in her face and told her to save the fantasy for a lonely motel night. But no, here she is, trying to make Buffy’s brain into enough of a pile of goo that she doesn’t have to think about the pain of the outside world. The pain that’s been so damn constant since she came back. She goes to kiss Buffy, but stops short. Their breath shares the small space between their lips, Buffy’s hot pants blowing across Faith’s cheeks while she continues to explore exactly what makes the girl in her arms moan just so. Kissing would feel too intimate, too much like everything Faith wishes she could have. Too much like everything she’s never allowed herself to admit to wanting. So instead, she bites another mark into the blonde’s neck, thumb seeking out the spot that has Buffy’s thighs quivering. 

“Please,” is all Buffy says, hitching one leg around Faith’s hip and drawing her closer. Fucking hell, how is Faith supposed to keep normal brain function when she does something like that? Her own pants are starting to feel uncomfortably tight, the friction in her jeans only made worse every time Buffy rolls her hips to meet Faith’s thrusts. But that’s a problem for later, she reasons. That’s something she can deal with when she doesn’t have a very hot, very wet Slayer practically begging her for release. She knows they’re in public, some small part of her brain reminding her that they could both be attacked by vampires at this very moment, but she doesn’t really care. Her hand is down the pants of the girl she loves, teeth running along the corded muscle of her neck with just enough force to have Buffy rendered speechless. What was once ‘please’ is now a wordless whine, growing steadily in pitch and volume as Faith increases her pace. Bending her fingers just right has Buffy drawn tight around her, back bowing off the stone and pressing her body harder into Faith’s. If Faith wasn’t a Slayer, she’d definitely have lost feeling in her fingers by now. But because she is a Slayer, the only girl in all the world who can take this kind of delicious torture, she keeps going. One more press of her thumb and Buffy is coming apart in her arms like the most glorious explosion Faith has ever seen. Not that she’s seen a lot of explosions, really, but she can guess that this is better than all of them combined. Buffy’s rolling her hips, little keening noises being drawn from her throat as Faith extends her orgasm with crooked fingers, a little bit more roughness in her thrusts, and a bite just under Buffy’s jaw that would bruise any other human. If Buffy’s anything like her, she gets off on a little pain. And judging by the way Buffy’s moan becomes guttural, her hands grasping desperately against the back of Faith’s leather jacket, she’s right. 

 

Faith watches the blonde flutter back to earth, eyes slowly opening and blinking at her in the darkness of the cemetery. Her hand is still in Buffy’s underwear, fingers slicked with Buffy’s wetness, but she doesn’t move. For a long moment they just stare at each other, though she’s not sure if it’s because Buffy just needs to catch her breath or if it’s something more. She has another urge to just lean in, close the gap and press her lips to Buffy’s, but doesn’t. She wants to be exactly what B needs. And if that’s a quick fuck and then getting tossed to the side, she can do that. Probably deserves it, even. But Buffy’s looking at her with dark eyes, lids still half-lowered, and she’s not sure what’s about to happen. After a moment, though, Buffy grabs Faith’s wrist and removes her fingers from where they were still pressing against her clenching walls.  They don’t break eye contact as Buffy sidesteps Faith’s body and starts to walk backwards away from the mausoleum. 

“You okay, B?” Faith asks, concern overriding the heat that is flooding her system. Unhelpfully, her brain keeps replaying every second of the last however long, watching Buffy come apart again and again in her mind’s eye. “Was that okay?” She had kind of figured it was, given the begging and the obvious enthusiasm from both parties, but B was definitely acting all spooked. 

Buffy nods decisively. “That was what I needed. Thank you.” Her words are strangely stilted, and Faith can’t restrain herself from taking a step towards the other girl. 

“Uh, you’re welcome,” she tries to lighten her tone with a smirk. “I’ve been told I’m pretty good at what I do.”

Buffy doesn’t answer, just nods again while staring off into space. Faith’s not really sure what to do with that response. The animalistic part of her wants to grab Buffy again, slam her back into the concrete wall and make her come again until her voice is hoarse. But she can’t. Not unless that’s what B needs. And right now, it feels like she’s more than a little confused and very skittish. Faith is reminded of the nature documentary Willow made them all watch once about deer. 

“I can, uh, finish patrol?” she offers. She doesn’t mention the fact that there’s probably fighting witches at home, or that they’re gonna have to wake up in the morning and still live together. Somehow, she knows this didn’t change any of that. They didn’t have to talk about it, she just knows. It’s a release, it’s a way for Buffy to feel. And that’s what she swore, wasn’t it? 

Again, Buffy only replies with a nod. Faith wipes her still-damp hand on her jeans and picks up the stake she hadn’t realised she’d dropped. Buffy is looking towards the entrance of the cemetery like it’s a lifeline. 

“Okay, well, see ya at home,” Faith doesn’t move, just gestures back the way they came. Buffy does exactly as she expected, and walks away. On shaky legs, Faith notes a little proudly. It may have been a while since she’s been in that situation, but she’s still got the skills. 

 

Finishing patrol alone is just about as boring as she expected. It feels kinda shitty to be left alone by Buffy for a second time, patrolling alone because the blonde ran away yet again. It’s definitely made worse by the ache between her thighs and her still-swirling head. That was all B needed, right? Just a quick fuck and then to bounce. Faith should know, she’s done that tons of times. Sure, not since she’s been back in Sunnydale, but she used to do it all the time. Fucking just for a release, to make you forget about the world around you for as long as someone is making you feel alive. She tries not to question whether it will happen again, tries not to think about the idea of actually getting Buffy naked or on a bed or-

“Woah, Dark and Broody,” Spike has to duck out of the way so she doesn’t bump into him. She hadn’t even realised where she was walking - so much for heightened perception. “What’s got your brain all fogged up?”

The look she gives him in return must be answer enough, because he just furrows his brow and stares at her for a moment. She thinks he’s just contemplating, but then she notices his nostrils flare. Of course. 

“Look,” she starts, but Spike chuckles loudly. 

“Bagged yourself a Slayer,” his grin is bordering on lecherous. “What was it like?” She can see his chest rising and falling in more unnecessary breaths as he very clearly tries to scent her out. She wonders if he can smell her too, or just the lingering Buffy aroma. Cause both are kind of wigging her out. 

“It’s Buffy,” she answers, because that’s all she can think of. 

“Always figured she’d be a bloody good shag,” his voice is only slightly tinged with jealousy. “Woulda given anything to hear her scream.”

“Cool it, Blondie,” she starts walking again, Spike falling into step beside her. “She just needed a good ol’ fuck, y’know? Wham, bam, thank ya ma’am.” She’s not sure what makes her say the next part. “The Heaven thing’s got her pretty messed up. Plus, G-Man is leaving her. And the witches aren’t doing so great.”

“Trouble in paradise?” 

“More like trouble in,” she thinks for a long moment, trying to come up with a metaphor. “Whatever’s full of magic and darkness and shit.” 

Spike just nods knowingly. “Sounds like a right good party.”

Faith just scoffs, noting that they’re reaching the edge of the cemetery and Spike’s steps are slowing. 

“Hey, Slayer 2.0,” he says, just as she’s starting to walk away. She turns, and his expression is kind of unreadable. It looks as though he’s gonna say something soft, gentle, but then the trademark leer is back. “I want in next time.” Faith just rolls her eyes, fighting back the responding smile that’s tugging at her lips. 

She’s feeling generous. “If you’re lucky,” she tosses over her shoulder. 

“Make sure to bring that Scotch!” 

Chapter Text

The house is quiet when Faith returns, which isn’t really a surprise. It’s well past the middle of the night, and she’s made sure to hit every single cemetery as well as a couple of vamp hotspots. The fighting has tired her out a bit, but she’s still pretty juiced from earlier. If she closes her eyes, she can still see Buffy arched back, the crease between her eyebrows as she came. No matter how many vampires she’s dusted, the images don’t go away. And she’s not entirely keen on going home to an awake Buffy and having to deal with that just yet. Not to mention the bombshell of a fight she’d left the witches in the middle of. Yeah, doesn’t make for a super exciting time. 

The porch steps creak slightly as she climbs them, feet dragging against the wood. The spare key - which may as well be Faith’s key, for how often she forgets her own - is still where she left it, and she lets herself into the house quietly. Out of habit, she catalogues every sensation that her Slayer sense can pick up. There’s nothing out of place in the house, thank god, and she can feel both Buffy and Dawn. There is, however, only one distinct tingle that tells her a witch is in the house. Tara must have left after the fight, which makes Faith’s heart feel oddly heavy. It’s not like she expected to come home to sunshine and rainbows, she’s far too much of a pessimist for that. But she hadn’t expected things to go so far south that Tara left. Hopefully it’s just for tonight, but Faith has no idea what tomorrow will hold. And quite frankly, she doesn’t want to think about that. Tomorrow probably involves dancing around Buffy, or the blonde dancing around her, and trying to coax the events of tonight out of an unwilling Willow. So yeah, right now she’s just itching for a hot shower, some release, and then a good sleep. She thinks that the memory of Buffy will disappear once she makes herself come, but the moment just after, the moment of Buffy coming back down to earth, plays on a loop in Faith’s mind right up until she falls asleep. 

 

Tara isn’t in the house the next morning. It’s not that much of a surprise, given the events of last night, but it’s still weird to wake up without her. Faith’s gotten used to seeing her face over the kitchen counter every morning, her gentle smile and the way she speaks to Dawn like she’s talking to her own child. Faith flips the bacon she’s cooking and hums quietly to herself in contemplation. 

“No pancakes today?” Dawn’s the first one up, or at the very least she’s the first one to come downstairs. Faith’s not sure if she’ll see Willow today, given that if it were her she’d probably hole up in bed for a week, and Buffy’s probably doing everything she can to avoid the brunette. Which is fine, it’s definitely not bothering Faith at all. It definitely doesn’t make her feel like a discarded sex toy. It’s fine. 

“Nope,” Faith pushes an empty plate towards Dawn. Pancakes are for happy times, really. And she’s not sure what she’s feeling right now, but it’s not happy. And none of the house’s other occupants really seem like the type to want pancakes today either. “How much do ya want?”

 

Once the dishes are washed and stacked, Faith doesn’t know what to do with herself. Giles would normally be calling everyone to the Magic Box for research, but he’s not here to do that. Buffy isn’t here to spar with. So she does what she knows will kill time in the best way, plus work out a bit of frustration. She trains. The backyard is warmed by the sun, so she sweats probably a little more than usual, but it’s okay. It gives her something else to focus on that’s not the chaos her life has suddenly become. How did she even manage to get herself in this position? Loving a girl who doesn’t love you back is pretty much torture, but she just had to go one step further and offer herself up for anything. She must be crazy. Or some kind of masochist. 

Every now and again, she’ll glance back towards the house. Dawn’s gone to Janice’s, far as she knows, so the figure moving through the kitchen can’t be her. And by the way that it scurries away when Faith looks a moment too long, she’s pretty confident in her assumption that it’s Buffy. Willow comes down once or twice, but Faith doesn’t go inside to greet her. She needs some space, Faith reasons. Though her motives aren’t entirely unselfish, because she’s really not feeling in the mood to do some big feelsy thing where they talk about Willow’s emotions and what they’re going to do now. Girl talk is much better left to the more girlier members of their gang. Like Buffy. 

 

When the sun goes down, Faith has a shower and sits next to a recently returned Dawn on the couch while some romance movie plays. She’s not interested, more distracted by the trashy gossip magazine she finds tucked into the side table. It’s not really something she’s proud of, nor something she’d willingly tell another soul, but trashy magazines were her escape back in the day. It makes sense that now she finds one to dive into, leaving the tense household behind for just a moment. 

And it is really just a moment, because when she goes upstairs to pee, she hears voices coming from Willow’s bedroom. It’s Willow and a voice she can’t place, a tingle on the edge of her senses that’s not quite human, but it’s not not human either. She’s never really encountered it before, and it makes her intrigued. Faith knows logically that she shouldn’t invade people’s privacy, that it’s wrong and bad and all those things. But as Good as Faith’s trying to be, she’s not perfect yet. 

When she pushes open Willow’s bedroom door - it was actually a bit ajar already so she’s not being totally insensitive - her jaw drops and she blinks at the sight in front of her. Willow, standing in front of the bed, looking elated and confused at the same time. A naked girl that Faith doesn’t recognise sitting curled up on the covers. Faith’s rendered speechless, and not just at the sight of a naked woman. Um, what the fuck? 

She must say that aloud, or Willow’s just really good at reading minds, because she immediately spreads her hands and starts speaking. “It’s not what it looks like,” she begins, and Faith barely suppresses the urge to roll her eyes so hard they fall out of her head. It’s the second time in two days that Willow’s used that line, and she believes it about as much as she did the first time. Willow’s in a fight with Tara, and now there’s a naked girl on her bed. It’s not hard to put two and two together. It’s a bit weird though, because Faith never pegged her for that sort of girl. Then again, she was the one lying to her girlfriend when Faith had thought they were the strongest couple she knew. So maybe she doesn’t have the redhead figured out at all. 

“Amy’s a rat,” Willow continues, then looks sheepishly at the girl on the bed. “Well, she was. Now she’s not!”

“Willow turned me into a rat by accident,” the girl - Amy, Faith supposes - pipes up. “Which is fine, really, because I’m now not a rat. I’m Amy, by the way.”

“Faith.”

God, could this situation get any weirder? Faith does vaguely recall Willow having a pet rat, but she’d never thought to ask questions. Who asks about that sort of thing, anyway? Like hey, where’d you get your rat? Is it some girl that you accidentally transformed and can’t figure out how to turn back?

“Three years, huh?” Amy keeps talking, her gaze shifting to Willow. “That’s gonna take some adjusting.”

“Adjusting! Right, cause you need to get used to being a people again. Or person. Anyway,” Willow’s bustling around the room, her nervous energy leaking out into the air. She opens a few drawers, closes them, and opens a cupboard. When she turns back around, it’s with an armful of clothing. “You can keep adjusting while you get dressed. And then I can tell you all about what happened after the high school blew up.”

Just thinking about that day makes Faith’s stomach twist unpleasantly, and she’s too distracted by the memory that she doesn’t hear Willow saying her name for a solid thirty seconds.

“I know it’s a lot,” Willow wrings her hands as she moves to sit on the bed. For a second, it looks like she wants Faith to join her, but the brunette’s not sure how to feel about that. She just hovers in the doorway, uncertain. “But I just missed having someone to talk to, you know?”

Faith does know. Her first time in Sunnydale, she spent almost the entire time in a lonely, shitty motel room that got one and a half TV channels and had a mini fridge that would stop working at least once a week. And since being back in Sunnydale this time, everyone’s had their person except her. She still goes to bed alone every night, Buffy and Dawn together, and Willow with Tara. She looks around the room, noting the half-empty closet and the bare spots on the dresser. Willow’s just learning what being alone feels like, she’s not used to it yet. So Faith knows how much it must suck. 

“It’s more magic, Red,” is all she can think to say. Tara’s absence in the room feels huge, like it’s pressing on Faith’s chest. This is the exact reason why Tara left last night, doesn’t Willow realise that? Maybe if the witch could just chill out on the spells for a while, she’d be able to fix her relationship. But judging by the look on Willow’s face, she doesn’t look like she wants to stop anytime soon. 

“Well, of course it is,” Willow waves a hand dismissively. “But it’s totally of the good. Rats only have an average lifespan of three years, so Amy was probably going to die anyway. I just made her life like, a bunch of years longer.” She’s smiling, like she’s proud of herself. But Faith isn’t convinced. Frustration bubbles in her chest, stinging like acid. Faith’s done a lot of bad shit over the years, she knows that. But she can at least admit it. She’s apologised and she’s trying to be better and she’s come to terms with the wrong stuff she did. It wasn’t easy, but she did it. And now, to see Willow just completely avoiding everything and refusing to take any blame, it’s fucking annoying. 

“What about Tara?” Even saying her name feels like betrayal, and Faith’s not even the one in a relationship with her. She just cares for the girl, her soft nature and the easy way she has of holding their entire household together. Without her, it feels like they’re barely clinging on. Willow needs to remember the real reason that she’s here alone, not just trying to avoid thinking about it. Faith’s not exactly the right person to talk about avoiding shit, given how she’s been with Buffy all day, but this feels different somehow. Important. 

“Tara left,” Willow bites out. “It’s complicated right now, okay?” 

Faith’s about to open her mouth, about to say more, when she hears the front door open. It’s Buffy, she can tell, but she’s not quick enough to leave her post at Willow’s bedroom door before the blonde rounds the top of the staircase. 

“Willow, can I talk to you about-” Buffy cuts off when she sees Faith, and realisation hits in the pit of her stomach. Was she about to tell Willow about them? Not that she cares, but she really doesn’t want to lose whatever small kernel of trust she’s managed to earn. If anyone in the little Scooby gang found out about her and Buffy, they’d probably have some issues with it. With her. She’s so not in the mood to deal with that on top of everything else that’s happened in the last few days. 

“Faith, I-” Buffy starts, but the brunette raises her hands in surrender. 

“I was just leaving,” she nods towards Willow, still sitting on the bed. “Red here is doing some bonding with her rat friend.”

“Ex-rat!” Willow calls. Faith rolls her eyes. She’s so not in the mood for a girly reunion right now, so she bails. Down the hall, past Buffy without meeting her eyes, and making a beeline for the TV. 

“My turn,” she plucks the remote from where it’s laying abandoned on the couch. If it’s not in Dawn’s hand, it’s fair game, right? 

“Hey!” Dawn lunges, but she’s not quick enough. Faith sits back and listens to the late night news pour into the living room, chuckling as Dawn pouts on the other side of the couch. Her facial expressions are so much like Buffy sometimes that it’s scary. She must have learned how to sulk by watching her sister. Thankfully, she hasn’t yet learned that Faith would give her anything she wanted if she was really upset, so she doesn’t switch on the waterworks or anything. Just sulks quietly, but still watching the news. Faith knows that Dawn’s like a sponge, always wanting to learn more about the world around her, so the news can’t be too bad of a choice. That is, until she actually pays attention to what’s on the screen. Some guy, frozen solid in the middle of the museum. A huge diamond missing. It seems like something the cops could probably handle on their own, but something is whispering at the back of Faith’s mind. This isn’t normal, this is weird. What if it’s some kind of ice demon going around freezing people? If her or Buffy got turned into a block of ice, the Scoobies would be screwed. Despite her reservations, Faith climbs the stairs again and heads towards Willow’s room. 

“Yo, B,” she steps into the open doorway a moment after speaking. “Funky demon activity.”

Buffy seems exasperated, but not annoyed. Faith is taking that as a good sign, and the fact that Willow hasn’t tried to explode her where she stands probably means that Buffy hasn’t spilled any beans yet. Or she has, and Willow’s taking it a million times better than she thought. Leaning towards the former, she crosses her arms and jerks her chin towards the staircase. 

“Big freeze happening down at the museum. I’m gonna check it out.”

She can see the struggle playing out on Buffy’s face as clearly as though it’s happening in words. Buffy doesn’t particularly want to spend any more time with Faith than she absolutely has to, that much is obvious. Probably because she’s still working through her shit after their little rendezvous in the cemetery last night. A thought occurs to her briefly - is this the first time Buffy’s had sex with a woman? She doesn’t have much time to contemplate that idea before Buffy’s pushing herself up off the bed with a little jump. 

“Okay, tell me what you know.”

 

They walk to the museum in silence after Faith’s dumped everything she heard on TV. Her mind is spinning with possibilities, though she has to keep bringing it back on track. Having Buffy so close, the faint scent of her perfume tickling the back of Faith’s brain, isn’t exactly the greatest recipe for a focused Slayer. Faith tries to put the blonde out of her mind, and is only half-successful. They’re approaching the museum, flashing police lights illuminating the quiet Sunnydale night, when a rustle from the bushes has them both reaching for their stakes. 

“Jesus,” Faith lets out a breath when she recognises the head of bleach blonde hair. 

“Not even close,” Spike replies. His eyes dart quickly over to the slowly gathering crowd of people. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Some guy’s frozen,” Faith shrugs. The news wasn’t exactly forthcoming with information, but that’s what they’re here to find out, she supposes. 

“Thought we’d check it out,” Buffy supplies. At her words, Spike seems to really take note of the situation for the first time. His eyes, darkened by the lack of streetlights, rake over both of them. Immediately, Faith can tell what he’s thinking. She doesn’t have to be a mindreader like Willow, it’s written on his face plain as day. 

“You told him?!” Buffy must read it too, and she reaches out to smack Faith on the arm. It’s not hard, but it’s enough to make Faith frown in response. She opens her mouth in indignation, but Spike beats her to it. 

“No one had to tell me, pet,” his smug smirk remains in place as he looks them both over. “Coulda smelled you and Boston here a mile away.”

Right. The cemetery, when Buffy’s scent was all over her, fingers still sticky and the blonde’s breath in her lungs. She doesn’t want to think about how Spike knew exactly what the smell was. 

“Ew,” Buffy makes a face. “You’re disgusting.”

“You love it,” Spike raises an eyebrow. “Never picked you for an exhibitionist, though.”

Faith’s not quick enough to stop Buffy reaching out and punching Spike’s nose, and she’s not even quick enough to stop his retaliating swing to the side of the other Slayer’s head. Buffy grunts, and Spike howls in pain. She’d forgotten about the chip, though she’d heard stories. It’s been a long time since it fired, but it’s kind of nice to know it’s still working. 

“Easy, tigers,” Faith steps between the two, holding out her hands. At the end of each arm, a stubborn pair of eyes stare back at her. Heaven help her if these two ever were truly mad at her, not just mildly pissed off because she stopped their semi-public beatdown. “You,” she looks at Buffy, “get as close to the cops as you can, see if you can figure out what the hell’s happened here.” She shifts her gaze to the other side, where Spike is still rubbing the side of his head. Now out of her sight, Buffy starts off towards the flashing blue and red lights. She meets Spike’s eyes. “And you,” she sighs, rolls her eyes. What can she even say in this situation? “What are you doing here?”

Spike shrugs. “Heard a commotion,” he looks over her shoulder, probably at Buffy’s retreating form. “Figured the good guys would show up at some point.”

By the ‘good guys’ she knows that he means Buffy. And she can understand his desire to be close to her, the showing up out of nowhere just for a chance to bump into her. It’s how Faith used to feel, back when she was a newly called Slayer and the blonde basically despised her existence. 

“Look, she’s-”

“Sensitive,” Spike finishes. 

“Going through some shit,” she corrects. 

“So you two aren’t,” Spike trails off. Now it’s Faith’s turn to look over her shoulder at the blonde’s back, where she’s trying to wile her way past the cop standing at the police tape. 

“I have no fucking clue.”

“Ouch,” Spike lets out a low whistle, expression unreadable. “Anyway. I’m off. Demons to fight, kittens to win, that sort of thing.”

When Faith turns back around, he’s gone. 

 

Turns out that there’s not a whole lot of information they can dig up at the museum. Trudging back home, Faith doesn’t bring up Spike or the strange little interaction they’d had. She doesn’t really want to irritate Buffy further, and the blonde seems pretty lost in her own thoughts right now anyway. It’s not the most exciting walk home, but she does get to dust a couple vamps, which lifts her mood a bit. 

“What’s the lowdown?” Willow asks. Her and Dawn are sitting at the dining room table, hot chocolates in their hands.

Faith shrugs. “Could be sciencey, could be demony. The guy wasn’t exactly giving up a whole lot of info.”

She revels in the small smile her joke draws out of Dawn. 

“We’ll go to the Magic Box and do some research tomorrow,” Buffy sounds like her brain is a million miles away. Faith can’t help but be curious about what’s on her mind. But it’s not her place. She’s not sure what they are, but they aren’t friends. 

“Can we?” Dawn interjects. “You know, research. ‘Cause that’s usually Giles’s area of expertise, and now he’s not here. Do you think he’d be okay with us going into the Magic Box to do that?” Dawn doesn’t seem to realise she’s put her foot in it, but the other three occupants of the room do. Faith watches Buffy’s features cycle through irritation, hurt, and anger, before settling on pure exhaustion. 

“The Magic Box is Anya’s now,” she says, voice as tired as she looks. “And we’ll go there tomorrow. No more questions. Now go to bed, it’s late.”

Surprisingly, Dawn does as she’s told, leaving half a mug of hot chocolate on the table. Faith drinks it before taking herself to bed too. 

 

The Magic Box research party the next day is pretty much the same as it was before Giles left. Xander brings snacks, Faith tries to get out of reading, and Buffy avoids her. Nothing out of the ordinary there, except for Tara and Dawn out getting milkshakes instead of joining them. 

Watching Willow start to research on a computer is satisfying for all of about three seconds, until the witch practically pushes her hands through the keyboard and her eyes start to glaze over. No way is that happening on Faith’s watch. She’s going to try and get Willow back on track if it kills her. Well, maybe not that far, but she is going to try. 

Faith leans over, shoving the computer away with one hand and severing Willow’s magical connection with an audible pop. When the redhead looks like she’s going to complain, Faith just slips a book into her empty hands instead. If she can’t research on a computer without being tempted, she shouldn’t be near it. Simple as that. Faith keeps one eye on Willow as the other girl starts to read. For a moment, she looks as though she’s going to try a spell, but her eyes dart to Faith, still staring her down, and she clearly thinks better of it. 

 

They research for a while more, and Faith finds absolutely nothing. Nothing in any of the big heavy books about demons that have freezing powers or that need diamonds for rituals or anything. Anya had chimed in a couple of times that maybe the demon had just wanted the diamond for the cash value, but she’s largely ignored. They feel connected. Why would a demon want to try and get into a museum, freeze a guy, and steal a diamond of all things there? Nothing about it makes sense to Faith. To any of them, if their tired and confused faces are anything to go by. 

“I’m gonna go home to check on Amy,” Willow says out of the blue, closing the book she’s been skimming. “You guys keep looking, tell me if you find something.”

They all wave goodbye, and Faith wishes she could go home too. It seems so much better than being stuck here researching. Normally at least when they had Giles here she could bail and he’d pick up her slack. But now, with Giles gone and Willow heading home, she’s stuck here. 

Faith thinks of Amy, left at home to keep trying to adjust to life as an actual person and not a rat. She wonders what the other girl is doing, hopes that she’s not snooping through the house. Not that Faith’s got a lot to hide, other than her secret bag of donut holes. She just hopes that Amy hasn’t sniffed out their hiding place just yet. Wait, is sniffed an insensitive term for an ex-rat? And is Amy really an ex-rat or is she just back to being a person? Faith’s not really sure, and it’s kind of hurting her brain to think about. There’s enough shit crammed in there already, not to mention worrying about Willow on top of all the Buffy stuff. Her brain is probably gonna explode if she tries to get concerned about one more thing. 

“I’m worried about Willow,” Xander brings up, and Faith could almost kiss him, she’s so grateful. Not that she ever actually would - that was a one-time mistake - but the idea of being able to actually talk about Willow’s addiction is freeing. 

“She hasn’t stopped using, even with Tara gone,” Faith chimes in. She’s normally worried to be putting herself in the middle of discussions that seem very core-Scooby related, but she feels uniquely qualified to speak about Willow’s problems right now. She’s dealt with a fuckton of addicts in her time, starting with her mother, and even herself. She wasn’t necessarily addicted to magic, because she’s never even used it, but the constant abuse of violence and alcohol and sex to numb her pain was enough. That black hole she disappeared down what feels like a million years ago is looming on the horizon, and she can see Willow standing at the edge of it. 

“What do we do?” Anya looks at her. It’s unnerving to have a thousand year old ex-demon looking to her for advice. It’s even weirder because, not that long ago, the Old Faith probably would have been encouraging Willow to take that leap into the darkness. Telling her that it’s fine, she’s being safe, she can stop whenever she needs to, but she doesn’t need to. Faith looks over to Buffy, who is looking at her too. The expression is something Faith can’t quite understand, and she has to bite the inside of her cheek to bring herself back to the present. Buffy’s dealing with her own shit right now, but it’s not deadly. This darkness Willow’s tempting definitely is. 

Faith shrugs. “Keep an eye on her?” She can’t think of a whole lot else to do. Willow’s not completely out of control, and so long as she’s got people surrounding her that are trying to encourage her to not abuse magic, she’ll be okay. Right? 

Something in her memory tells her she should call Angel. Or maybe she should get Willow to call Angel. Faith’s not really ready for his probing questions just yet, not ready for him asking how Buffy is and how she’s doing, when she doesn’t have a solid answer to either of those. Angel was the one who helped her out of that deep, dark hole she ended up at the bottom of. Maybe he could do the same to Willow. She doesn’t bring up the Angel idea though, because Buffy would probably flip out. So she keeps it to herself, accepting the small nods from the group as the end of the conversation.

 

She gets bored of researching just as it’s getting dinnertime. The gang wants to order pizza, but Faith’s kind of done with the whole scene. Plus, she wants some time away from Buffy’s curious eyes and Xander’s incessant food puns. So she goes home, justifying it to the rest of the group that someone should make sure Willow’s handling her ex-rat friend okay and that she doesn’t have to face Tara when she drops Dawn home. 

Dawn and Tara aren’t back by the time Faith gets home, and Willow doesn’t appear to be there either. The house is quiet and empty, which Faith takes for granted. She makes herself cereal for dinner and sits on the countertop without a certain blonde Slayer yelling at her to get down. 

 

Tara brings Dawn home before Willow and Amy return, and Faith thinks that’s probably the best scenario they could have faced. Having to look at Willow and another girl so soon would undoubtedly cause Tara pain, and Faith wants to avoid that as much as possible. 

“Bedtime, Squirt,” Faith says by way of greeting when the pair enter the kitchen. The kid has school the next day, plus she really wants a minute alone to talk to Tara. 

“It’s so early!” Dawn argues.

“Go,” Faith waves her hand towards the door. “Or I’m changing the TV channel to documentaries and hiding the remote.” 

The threat is pretty lame, as far as threats go, but it seems to work. Either that or Dawn’s sensed that she wants to talk to Tara and is respectfully giving them space. She really wants to believe it’s the second one, just out of faith in the teen. 

“Is everything okay?” Tara asks, once Dawn’s footsteps have disappeared upstairs. Faith can still hear her moving around, getting ready for bed, but it’s oddly comforting. 

“Are you okay?” Faith replies. She hasn’t had a chance to talk to Tara since slamming down the weird memory flower things in front of her and bolting out of the house. It was kind of a shit move, if she’s being honest, but Tara doesn’t seem to hold it against her. 

“It’s hard,” Tara sits down at the counter, and Faith goes to the fridge to get them both juice. 

“Is she okay?” Tara must have noticed that Willow wasn’t home, because her gaze keeps darting towards the front door. Faith feels an ache in her chest watching the action. 

“She’s out with a friend,” Faith explains, unsure exactly how much she should reveal. Then again, Tara should probably know what’s going on. Even if her and Willow aren’t girlfriends any more - and that clarification isn’t something she wants to question - they’re still friends. “Something about a girl who used to be a rat but is now not?”

“Amy,” Tara says softly. So she had known. That’s more information than Faith had started the interaction with. Without saying anything else, Tara just looks up at Faith from where her finger is tracing the rim of her glass. Her eyes flick to the back door, so quick that it’s almost imperceptible, but Faith notices. 

“I don’t know where they are,” she answers the witch’s unasked question. “Probably out getting her some cheese or something.”

That coaxes a smile out of the other brunette, and Faith takes a little pride in herself. 

“Don’t worry,” she tacks on a little reassurance, guessing that it might be what Tara needs to hear right now. As unnatural as it feels to her, she keeps going. “We’re keeping an eye on her.”

“But she’s still doing magic?” 

Faith sighs, sips her juice. The tang sticks to her tongue, makes it heavy in her mouth. 

“We’re trying,” is all she says, and they drink the rest of their glasses in silence. 

 

After Tara leaves, Faith feels herself deflate. Heavy conversations aren’t really her area of comfort or expertise, so she feels a little drained having to talk about everything. She just hopes that whatever Tara’s feeling, it can be made better by her talking to Willow about it when she gets home. Whenever that will be. 

Deciding that Willow can fend for herself whenever she does decide to return, Faith washes the glasses that she and Tara have used and heads upstairs. With Dawn in bed and Buffy on patrol, the shower is empty and is totally calling her name. She heads straight for the bathroom, locking the door before stripping down, stepping in and turning the hot water on. 

Faith lets the warm water beat on her back, the heat washing away everything she’s holding tight in her muscles. She doesn’t want to think about Tara, about the pain in her face when Faith had brought up Amy. She doesn’t want to think about Giles leaving. She doesn’t want to think about Buffy, about how she’s hardly spoken to the blonde all day, and definitely not about anything that matters. There was no definite clarification on what they were, which is kinda fine in Faith’s opinion, but doesn’t stop it from being hella confusing. She puts her head under the shower spray, knowing that if Buffy wants something, she’ll take it. Faith’s practically laid herself out on a silver platter for the other Slayer, and she doesn’t want to think too hard about how vulnerable it’s made her. There’s no feelings involved, she knows this. Or at least, she knows there’s not supposed to be. And as long as she keeps her own shit under wraps and doesn’t start another musical number where she confesses her love again, then she’ll be fine. She’ll let herself be used for as long as Buffy needs her. She deserves it, really, for how much she fucked up the other girl’s life. For how bad of a person she was. 

Faith’s jolted from her thoughts by a knock on the bathroom door. Her Slayer sense says it’s Buffy, though she’s got no idea why the blonde can’t just wait until she’s out of the shower. Maybe her thoughts have worked some weird kind of conjuring magic and Buffy’s just shown up. Or maybe Buffy just really needs to pee. 

“Hang on, B,” Faith calls, about to step out of the shower. Before she has a chance, she hears the telltale sound of a lock shattering, and the door swings open. Buffy steps into the room, and Faith can’t move. She had figured that if she was locked in here, there was no real need to bother with a shower curtain, so she’s standing in all her naked glory for the other Slayer to look at. And as frozen as she is, Buffy seems to be even more so. Her eyes are the only thing moving, traversing up and down Faith’s body like she’s studying it. 

“Mind closing the door?” Faith gestures towards the open doorway Buffy’s standing in. She’s not ashamed of her body, hence not grabbing immediately for a towel, but she doesn’t particularly want to traumatise the kid living here. Though she doesn’t speak, Buffy closes the door behind her. Over Faith’s shoulder, the shower is still running, providing a backing track for Faith’s racing heart. This is the girl she loves, staring her down. Faith has a sneaking suspicion as to why the other Slayer is here, but she doesn’t move. If Buffy wants this, she has to instigate. Faith’s not pushing anything. She’s just being what Buffy needs. And if that’s just eye candy right now, Faith can deal with that. She kind of enjoys the warmth spreading through her at the appraisal, and the dark look Buffy’s eyes get. 

“Do you believe in coming back from the dead?” Buffy asks, and it’s so not what Faith is expecting to hear. She just blinks in confusion as the blonde takes a step closer. “In zombies?” Buffy’s right by the edge of the tub now, and Faith watches her pale shirt get splattered with tiny water droplets. “I think I am one.”

“What are you talking about, B?” Faith doesn’t step back, much as her body is feeling more alive with every second she’s close to Buffy. She wonders if the blonde can see just how ready she is, chest heaving as she fights the urge to just drag the other Slayer into the shower with her. Electricity seems to sizzle in her bones, warming her from the inside out. She has no idea what Buffy’s talking about, why she’s on this weird tangent about zombies, but her body is responding of its own accord. Her body doesn’t care that Buffy’s started talking in a cryptic kind of code, it only cares that there’s a very beautiful girl in front of her and she’s standing there, naked and wet in more ways than one. 

“I’m not a zombie, right?” Buffy continues talking, and Faith gets the feeling the words aren’t really directed at her. They’re too soft, too easily getting tangled in the noise from the shower and the rush of blood in her ears. Buffy’s talking to herself, but about what she can’t really figure out. Then again, it is Buffy, so she could just as easily be reciting the latest mall specials to herself. 

Buffy lifts one leg, stepping into the shower beside Faith. It’s big enough for the two of them, so Faith doesn’t have to shift much other than turning to face her. Buffy’s feet are bare, but the rest of her is clothed, now starting to get drenched from the spray. The water keeps pressing against Faith’s back, pushing her forward, pushing her closer to Buffy. Or is that Buffy coming closer to her? She’s a little out of it, too confused and turned on to really register what the fuck is happening right now. 

“B, I-”

“I can feel things,” Buffy says, more to herself than to Faith, and suddenly they are pressed together and her arms are winding around Faith’s neck while her tongue slips into Faith’s mouth. No matter how many times she kisses the blonde, Faith still feels like she’s breathless,  her entire body vibrating, set alight at each point they connect. Her wet hands grip Buffy’s hips, feeling the rough material of denim against her palms. Why on earth Buffy would get into a shower fully clothed is beyond her, but she can’t really complain right now. Not if it means that Buffy’s kissing her like she’s oxygen, hands gripping at Faith’s naked shoulders to try and pull her closer. 

“What do you need?” Faith finds herself asking, one hand already splayed against the warm skin of Buffy’s stomach. The other is cupped at the base of her neck, keeping their faces close even as she speaks. 

Instead of answering, Buffy wriggles slightly out of Faith’s grip, one elbow nearly catching Faith in the temple as she wrestles off her soaked t-shirt. And then, somehow, Faith straight up forgets how to breathe. How to make her heart beat normally, because surely this can’t be real. Surely she doesn’t have a half-naked Buffy in the shower with her, dressed in a simple black bra that’s somehow the hottest piece of underwear Faith’s ever seen in her life. Her tanned skin is damp from the shower still beating down on Faith’s back, droplets riding the skin of her chest only to disappear between the most perfect pair of boobs Faith has ever encountered. And she’s seen her fair share. 

“Fuck,” she says, under her breath, then she can’t say anything more because Buffy’s back to pressing up against her, their slicked skin sliding easily against each other. God, it feels as though the temperature of the entire room went up about a hundred degrees, and Faith’s not sure what brought on this little display but she’s not complaining. She’s not even complaining that Buffy’s still mostly clothed while she’s butt naked. 

While her mouth is occupied with Buffy’s, Faith lets her hands roam. Buffy’s jeans are practically painted on, they’re so tight, and it gives Faith the perfect opportunity to explore the curve of her ass. Her other hand is busy feeling the warm skin of Buffy’s newly exposed shoulders, dipping down to brush at just the top edge of her bra. That earns her a little gasp, their mouths breaking contact, and Faith uses the opportunity to move her mouth to the blonde’s throat. Her teeth brush Buffy’s skin lightly, fingers toying with the material. When Buffy arches her chest, presses her breast firmly into Faith’s hand, she’s powerless to refuse. She slips her hand underneath the bra, cupping Buffy’s breast and skimming the thumb over the taut skin of her nipple. Another little breath, a moan as Buffy’s head rolls back. The noises this woman makes make Faith feel like she’s melting from the inside out. 

She walks them back, a bit of a balancing act but careful enough that she can press Buffy into the cold tiles. She knows from experience that the sensation of cool tile on heated skin is electrifying, and it doesn’t disappoint this time either. Buffy moans deeply, cutting herself off halfway through by biting her lip. Of course, they’re in a house this time. There are other people that live here, namely her sister, that Faith doesn’t really want to hear Buffy’s noises. Though she’s more than happy to show the rest of the world, if the blonde will let her. 

Faith doesn’t move her head from where it’s tucked into Buffy’s shoulder, tongue tripping over her prominent collarbone. Her skin tastes like sweat and dirt, and it’s so very Buffy that it makes a low growl form in the back of her throat. She wants to make Buffy come again. Ideally, she’d do so screaming Faith’s name, but that’s kind of a long shot at this point. She’ll settle just for the Slayer’s hands on her skin, fingers clenching tight as she falls apart. 

Faith uses the hand still gripping Buffy’s ass to ease her leg up and over Faith’s hip. The rough denim is a delicious feeling on her bare skin, and it’s made even hotter when Buffy pulls her close and traps her other leg between Faith’s own. It means that every roll of her hips, brought on by a nip at her jaw or a squeeze of her breast, brushes across Faith’s most sensitive area. She bites back a groan when Buffy does it again, more forcefully, and feels her fingers grip onto the blonde’s ass hard. Buffy’s head drops to Faith’s shoulder as she moans into the pale skin there. Yeah, Faith had thought right. She does like a little pain. 

There’s a bruise on Buffy’s shoulder that looks fresh, and Faith presses the flat of her tongue into it just to see what happens. Buffy’s hand flies to her head, tangling in wet brown strands as she pushes Faith harder against her. It almost feels like she’s trying to push Faith through her, down deep beneath her skin. Faith takes that as a good sign. 

Her hands could never get tired of holding Buffy’s boobs, really. She’d never stop if she had the choice. But with each pass of Faith’s thumb over her nipple, each squeeze of her ass, she grows more insistent. Her hips push into Faith’s hard, a small moan choking out when Faith happens to find the perfect combination of ministrations. 

Buffy’s own hands have been pretty tame, compared to Faith’s, mostly just roving over her back and trying to draw them closer together. It’s not that Faith doesn’t like it, because Buffy’s hands on her feels like the most glorious thing in the world. She’s more than happy to be the one to push, to make Buffy feel a million different sensations. After all, isn’t that what their whole little arrangement is about? 

Faith’s fingers trip a path down to the edge of Buffy’s jeans, far beyond saving and so wet they’re stuck to her skin like glue. It takes a bit of work for Faith to get her fingers under the hem, but she does, hesitating just slightly. Her lips lift from where they were pressed to Buffy’s neck, and she pulls back just enough to meet the blonde’s eyes. They stare at each other for a long moment, brown eyes locked on green. Then Buffy kisses her, long and deep and with enough passion to make Faith feel wet all over again. 

“Please,” she says on a breath, and that’s all Faith needs. 

She works her way underneath Buffy’s underwear and presses her fingers to the heat she finds there. Even without moving, Buffy is moaning against her, back arching in a search for friction. Faith doesn’t move, committing the moment to memory. Buffy doesn’t seem to be thinking a whole lot right now, so she’s doing her job well. Time to do it better, she supposes. 

The noise that Buffy makes when Faith pushes inside her is enough to draw an echoing moan from Faith’s own throat. Buffy’s wet enough that she can slip two fingers inside with ease, curling them just slightly. At the movement, Buffy’s hips buck, a very low and drawn out curse word filling the steamy air around them. Slowly, achingly slowly, Faith starts to move. In, out, barely brushing past her clit but just enough to make Buffy’s thigh twitch where it is wrapped around her hip. With each thrust, Buffy moans a little, and soon Faith can’t tell what her mind is replaying and what noises Buffy is actually making. 

“Tell me,” Buffy starts, her words interrupted by little whines when Faith pulls out and curls her fingers just the right way. “Tell me I’m real.”

It’s a confusing request, but Faith’s not about to question it. Not now, at least. Not while Buffy is clenching tightly around her fingers, all warm wet heat, and she’s feeling short nails rake wounds into her back. Fuck, Slayer strength truly is a bitch. 

“You’re real,” Faith says. She finds once she starts talking, it’s kind of hard to stop. She’s usually incredibly vocal in bed, but she’s been holding back in their unconventional little arrangement for fear of pushing Buffy too far. Now, though, she just can’t help herself. “And you’re so fucking hot.”

As though she’s looking for more praise, Buffy arches her back, her chest pushing straight into Faith’s face. And who is she to deny the woman in front of her? Faith uses her other hand to unclip Buffy’s bra, her mouth immediately closing around one pink peak. She flicks her tongue at the same moment she puts pressure on Buffy’s clit, and the blonde is shattering apart in her arms. Continuing her assault on Buffy’s breast, she increases the pace of her hand, clenching muscles begging her wordlessly to stay buried deep. She feels the blonde start to slow, her fingers regaining some blood flow, and she’s tempted to stop. But Buffy asked to forget about the pain. She wanted to feel. So Faith gives her that. She catches Buffy’s nipple between her teeth, using her hip as leverage to drive into Buffy with renewed force. The movement causes her own body to respond, the seam of Buffy’s jeans pressing directly against her clit with each thrust. She can feel the heat start to build at the base of her spine, a groan erupting as she both feels and hears Buffy come around her fingers. The pain spurs her on, keeps her going despite the ache in her wrist, and she feels Buffy’s extended orgasm echo through every inch of her own body.  

When Buffy starts to twitch, her body wracking with aftershocks, Faith stops. She releases Buffy’s nipple with a final kiss and looks up to meet the other Slayer’s eyes. She’s still naked, that little fact hasn’t been forgotten, and her fingers are still deep in Buffy. But neither of them move. That is, until Buffy reaches behind her and clips her bra back together, hands finally leaving Faith’s skin. The heat from the shower does nothing to warm the cool patches they leave in their wake. Faith draws her fingers out of Buffy, curling them one last time as she does so. The blonde pitches forward, head bumping Faith’s shoulder as her body seizes up for a fraction of a second. Then, with a forceful exhale, she stands upright again. It’s almost as though they could be having a civil conversation outside, where the shower isn’t still running and Faith’s actually wearing clothes. Buffy doesn’t say anything, just gives Faith a quick parting kiss and climbs out of the shower, drawing the curtain closed behind her. 

Confusion mingles with the heat boiling through Faith’s blood, though she can’t exactly think straight right now. On an impulse, Faith brings her fingers to her lips and runs her tongue over them. Goddamn, if she’d thought she’d tasted anything good before, this is a million times better. Even if she never got to fuck Buffy again, even if that was all they had, at least she had this memory. She knows what Buffy tastes like, what sounds she makes when she comes and the look in her eyes when she wants to beg for it. 

Faith removes her fingers from her mouth, letting them settle between her own legs. Not two minutes ago, those same fingers were inside Buffy, pressing into her warmth and coated in her wetness. Like she’s taken an electric wire to her body, Faith feels alive. She presses two fingers inside herself, the same Slayer muscles clenching hard around the intrusion. They are the only two girls in the world made like this, the only two that have these sort of muscles. And she is lucky enough to know what Buffy’s felt like spasming around her, holding her tight. Her free hand presses into the tile, and Faith picks up the pace. Her brain is replaying the sensation of being inside of Buffy, trying to imagine how it would feel if it were Buffy’s fingers inside of her now. The quiet, breathy moans that Buffy made right into her ear, the sting of the welts that the blonde has no doubt made in Faith’s back. Each tiny memory draws her body tighter, closer, and she’s on the edge in less than a minute. She comes silently, feeling her whole body seize up and squeezing her eyes so tightly shut that she sees stars. Her lips are pressed tightly together, a thin line that stops her from shouting the one name she really wants to. She thinks of Buffy biting her shoulder, presses her fingers into the bruise left there, and the sensation amplifies. It’s enough to bring her to her knees, smacking hard against the floor of the tub. Reveling in the pain, Faith doesn’t stop. She keeps going until she can’t physically move, wringing out every last drop of sensation until her breath is sharp in her lungs and she’s left trembling with a head full of cotton wool. Is this the best day of her life so far? She’s not sure, but it’s ranking pretty damn high. 

 

When Faith finally has enough energy to right herself, she reaches up and switches off the showerhead. Her thighs give another twitch, but her brain is already back online. She’s thinking of Buffy, the way she’d held close to Faith like she was afraid she was going to fade away. That’s definitely a conversation for another day, same with the comment about being real. Was Buffy okay in the head? Cause Faith didn’t want to be dealing with that shit on top of everything else. She pulls open the shower curtain, trying to quiet her mind enough that she can just get into bed and go to sleep. That would be nice. 

Fuck. The little minx has stolen her towel. 

Chapter Text

The sun wakes Faith up, warm rays striped across her closed eyelids. It’s kinda her own fault for leaving Dawn’s blinds open, but she still curses under her breath anyway, rolling out of bed and moving to shut them. Unfortunately, she’s up now, her brain shaking itself from the cobwebs of sleep and already refusing to lay back down. She’s awake, much as she really doesn’t want to be, so she decides to go downstairs and start breakfast. 

As she moves through the hallway, she senses Buffy and Dawn in Buffy’s room, and she can see the shattered bathroom doorknob laying on the carpet. She kicks it out of the way with one sock-clad foot, figuring that’s a problem she’ll deal with later. Well, actually, since Buffy was the one to break it, she really should be the one to fix it. Her mind starts to wander, to remind her of her unexpected shower companion last night, but Faith pushes the memories from her mind before she doesn’t something stupid like get distracted and fall down the stairs. She does notice that there’s no sensation from Willow’s room, no prickles on the back of her neck that tell her a witch is near. It’s empty, the absence feeling strange. Kind of like when you lose a tooth, and nothing quite feels right around it. Not that Faith has lost a tooth in a while, but she figures it feels about the same. 

The kitchen is bathed in the same glow as Dawn’s room was, but Faith doesn’t bother to close the blinds this time. It helps to be able to see while she’s cooking. 

Faith pours herself a glass of juice and climbs onto the kitchen island. Her feet bump against the cabinet as she thinks, turning over Buffy’s words from last night in her mind. What on earth could the other Slayer possibly have meant? Of course she’s real. She’s a person, a Slayer, and a badass. There’s gotta be something she’s missing here. 

“How many times do I have to tell you to get off the counter?” Buffy’s voice behind her is just loud enough to startle Faith from her thoughts, but not quite enough to make her jump. Still facing away from the door, she grins. 

“A few,” she sips her juice again. “But one more can’t hurt.” 

“Get off the counter,” Buffy says predictably, though her tone doesn't hold any venom. She rounds the kitchen to brush past Faith’s knee, nudging it with a pointed glance. Faith’s too busy reveling in the touch to argue, and she slides off the counter without protest. 

“Hey, B,” Faith starts, not really sure where the sentence is going to end up. Buffy’s head is in the fridge, probably searching for the juice carton that Faith’s just emptied, and she makes a noncommittal hum in response. 

“What makes you think you’re a zombie?” 

There’s really no dancing around the point, none of their trademark Faith-and-Buffy avoidance going on. It’s straight up, and Faith can tell she’s surprised the other Slayer by the way that Buffy straightens her spine immediately. 

“It’s nothing,” she shrugs, and Faith watches the muscles of her shoulders ripple from where they’re peeking out of her pyjama top. 

“Liar,” Faith leans against the kitchen island. “Something’s got you major wigged. What’s the deal?”

Buffy turns to look at her, eyes wide and scared. Faith is shocked enough by the expression that she drops the subject and waits in a stunned kind of silence. The blonde opens her mouth, like she’s about to say something, but she’s cut off by Dawn’s voice and the sound of a kitchen chair scraping against the linoleum. 

“What’s up?” 

Buffy doesn’t exactly look like she’s in any kind of mental state to answer, so Faith speaks instead. 

“Not a lot, Pipsqueak,” she turns to look at the younger brunette. “Whaddya want for breakfast?”

“Pancakes?” Dawn’s expression is so hopeful, so much like her sister, that Faith just can’t say no. Plus, when she looks over at Buffy, the blonde’s expression looks almost like gratefulness, and Faith can live with that. 

 

Dawn’s eaten three bunny pancakes and is in the middle of her fourth when there’s a noise from the back deck. It’s loud enough to make both her and Buffy snap to attention, Faith wielding the spatula like a weapon as she tries to figure out who it could be. A half-second before the back door opens, she registers it as Willow and Amy, and she watches Buffy’s tense shoulders fall as the other Slayer comes to the same realisation. 

“Willow!” Dawn exclaims as the redhead enters. She’s giggly, like she’s drunk, but there’s a weird kind of feeling rolling off the two of them. It’s like there’s magic seeping from their very pores, and it makes Faith immediately uncomfortable. Willow was supposed to be getting better, not staying out all night doing magic shit with her ex-rat friend. If she was a dog, there’d definitely be hackles prickling on the back of her neck. As it is, she can feel a low growl building behind her ribs. 

“How was your night?” Dawn continues, and Faith wishes she had just a sliver of the teen’s innocence. 

“You should have seen Willow,” Amy starts, and Faith feels the growling sensation intensify. She hasn’t trusted this woman from the second she stopped being a rat, and now doesn’t feel any different. “She was on fire. Well, not literally, but there was so much cool stuff. She was putting these boys in cages and making them dance, and then there was this band. Oh, and she put everyone in the Bronze in these really cool costumes and-”

Faith tunes out the rest of her rant, choosing instead to focus on Willow’s face. The redhead at least has the decency to look sheepish, hair falling across her cheek as she ducks her head from Faith’s view. 

“Dawn,” Faith says, her word cutting through Amy’s rambling like butter. The other brunette turns to look at her. “It’s time for school.” 

Normally the argument to get Dawn to go to school is long and drawn out, but there must be something in Faith’s tone today that leaves no room for discussion. Instead, the teen gets up, abandoning a half-eaten bunny pancake, and dashes upstairs. 

“Get some rest, Red,” Faith switches off the stove, putting her spatula to one side. She’ll deal with the dishes later. Then she turns around and meets Amy’s eyes. Jerking her chin in the direction of the kitchen door, she heads out of the room and expects the witch will follow. 

The small room off the kitchen is kind of empty, but it’s the perfect size for Faith to whirl on her heel and stare Amy down. The other woman looks shocked, but then tilts up her chin defiantly. 

“You need to stay away from Willow,” Faith starts. It feels like she’s crossing some kind of line, but she can’t bring herself to care. This is Willow they’re talking about. The girl that Faith has tried to keep from going off the deep end, the one that Amy’s practically leading into the abyss by the hand. She puts on her deepest, scariest voice, honed from practice in prison. If you sound scary enough, no one will mess with you. Amy looks like she’s going to argue, but Faith keeps talking. “No. You need to leave. Leave this house right now.” Amy’s brow furrows, her mouth opening again, but Faith holds up a hand this time. She’s not having someone jeapordise Willow’s life like this. That darkness is just waiting to swallow her whole, and Faith’s not about to let some ex-rat straight up feed her to it. 

“If you don’t get your skinny ass out of this house in the next five minutes, you’ll be back in that rat cage,” she threatens, thankful that Buffy and Dawn aren’t here to hear her. She’s not proud of resorting to threats of violence, but it feels like it has to be done to protect Red. “I might not know magic, but I’m pretty sure I can make you fit.”

Amy swallows audibly, eyes drifting to where Faith’s fists are balled at her sides. The brunette knows that her muscles are tense, biceps straining from the effort of not punching the rogue witch in the face, and she probably looks downright terrifying right now. It works, though, because Amy scampers off without another word and she hears the front door slam a moment later. Faith lets out a breath the way Angel taught her, releasing the tension from the muscles, and goes back to the kitchen to clean up. Buffy’s still sitting at the counter, Dawn’s leftover bunny pancake suspiciously missing. 

“You could have just asked her to leave,” Buffy says from her stool while Faith clears the dishes. 

She shrugs. “What’s done is done.”

There’s a moment of silence, the only sound being the running tap as she fills the sink. Then, so quietly Faith thinks she could miss it, there’s a very soft voice from behind her. 

“Thank you for looking out for Willow.”

When she turns around to respond, Buffy’s already gone. 

 

As Faith climbs the stairs, she can hear Dawn fussing around in her room as she gets ready for school. Buffy’s bedroom door is shut, and Faith really doesn’t want to open that particular can of worms, so she walks past it and straight to Willow’s room. The door is closed so she knocks, and there’s a faint noise of acknowledgement so she pushes it open. 

“How ya doing?” she props one shoulder against the doorframe and looks down at the witch sprawled across the bed. The curtains are still open, but so are her eyes, so Willow's obviously not sleeping. “Seems like your little playdate with the rat kinda used up all your energy.”

Willow looks up, an apology in her eyes. 

“She’s gone, Red. And if she knows what’s good for her, she’ll stay gone.”

“Why?” Willow asks, her voice cracking slightly. Even her eyes are closing as she talks, the words making their way over to Faith like they’re moving through honey. “We had fun. It was safe.”

“It wasn’t safe,” Faith walks forward a few steps to stand over Willow’s bed. The redhead looks up at her. “You gotta stop this whole magic deal. At least for a while.” 

“I can control it-”

“I thought so too,” Faith cuts her off. “I thought I could control myself. And guess how well that worked out for me?” A vivid memory, her knife against Willow’s neck a lifetime ago. Her hands shake, just once, and Willow’s eyes slide closed. She’s quiet for so long that Faith thinks she’s fallen asleep, so she turns to leave. 

“I’m scared,” the words are jagged, like they don’t belong. Like they’re a truth that doesn’t quite fit. 

“I know,” she replies, then continues out the door. 

 

Leaving Willow to sleep it off, they meet the rest of the gang at the Magic Box for yet another research party. Faith is beginning to wonder why she ever felt jealous of not being invited. If this is how often and how much they researched, she would much rather watch shitty daytime soaps in the motel alone than join in the Scooby fun. She tosses a quick greeting to Anya and Xander where they’re perched at the round table before moving into the back room. It’s the same as always, an empty space where Faith feels like she can let her frustrations loose. She runs through a warmup far quicker than Giles would normally let her - but he’s not here, so it doesn’t matter - and punches the bag for a while. Then she moves onto throwing some knives, and eventually some balance on the pommel horse. She has no idea how much time has passed, but her brain is full of nothing except her next move. It’s only when she’s lying on the mats, panting and spent, that her thoughts start to filter back in. The worries about Buffy, the concern over Willow. Anger towards Amy. She lets them wash over her, spreading her arms wide and staring at the ceiling. When did her life get this damn complicated? She doesn’t know if it’s supposed to be a good thing or not that there are so many moving parts to her life now, so many people she has to interact with and so many things to be concerned about. 

Before she can really register what she’s doing, she’s standing up and fetching the phone that’s mounted on the wall. Dialling Angel’s number from memory, she waits impatiently as the line rings. Where should she even start with this? She decides that it’s probably for the best if she leaves out the stuff about kissing Buffy and fucking her in a cemetery. That’s not really something he needs to hear, and she’s not entirely certain that she wants to share it. 

“Faith,” Angel greets, once she introduces herself. “How’s Sunnydale treating you?” 

“I’m five by five,” she answers automatically. “But hey, you’re good at digging addict out of holes, yeah?” There's probably a better way to start this conversation, but to hell with it. 

Angel’s pause is long. “I would say yes, I think so. Why? Is everything okay?” 

“It’s Red,” Faith answers. She tells him about Willow’s increasing magic use, and Tara leaving. She even tells Angel about when she’d caught Willow in the middle of a spell. Like always, he listens patiently while she relays her story in half-finished sentences and a lot of uncertainty. 

“That does sound like a problem, Faith.”

“That’s what I thought,” she agrees. “Cause like, I know she can handle herself and shit, but she’s heading towards some pretty dark stuff.”

“What would you like me to do?”

Faith shrugs, then remembers the vampire can’t see her. “Uh, I dunno. Call her? Work your funky voodoo magic like you did with me.”

His chuckle is deep and amused. “There was no voodoo, Faith. You did that work on your own.” 

Part of her wants to preen under his praise, but she tamps it down. 

“Yeah, well,” a pause. “Anyway. Just give her a call?” 

“I can do that,” his tone is so familiar, so sure. It makes her feel far more confident that she’s made the right decision. 

They say their goodbyes and hang up, with Faith promising to check in more often. She’s not sure how much of that last part is a lie, but there’s enough spinning around in her head that she can just let it go. Then she lies back down on the mats and closes her eyes. 

 

The rest of the day passes slowly. They find nothing on the ice demon, and there’s no news reports about anyone else turned into a human popsicle. With so little to go on, Anya just closes the shop and they all head home. Faith walks a few steps away from Buffy, putting some distance between them, and tries not to speak. It’s hard when all she wants to do is talk about what happened, why Buffy’s feeling this way. It also doesn’t help when the other Slayer turns to look at her, moonlight gleaming off her soft curls and a spark in her eye. All it does is make Faith want to kiss her, so she shoves her hands deeper into her pockets and tries not to think about the blonde. 

They pass Willow and Dawn on their way out of the house, and almost immediately the teen is ranting to her sister about how excited she is and giving a detailed description of the movie they’re going to see. Faith takes the opportunity to grab Willow gently by the elbow and lead her a few steps away. 

“You okay?” 

Willow’s expression is unreadable in the dull porch light. 

“I’m okay,” she flashes a grin, partly false but mostly real. Faith thinks she’s getting better at reading the witch. “Angel called this afternoon. Said he just wanted to chat, completely out of the blue, no ulterior motive whatsoever.”

The sparkle in the redhead’s eyes makes it clear that she doesn’t believe the excuse in the slightest, but if she’s not going to mention it then Faith isn’t either. 

“How nice of him,” she muses. “Must be a pretty good guy just to check up on you like that.” 

“He just wanted to see how I was going with my magic,” Willow almost rolls her eyes, and Faith watches her stop partway through. “I told him it’s hard.”

Faith gives a noncommittal hum. 

“I also told him I’d call him tomorrow as well,” she looks brighter at this, a little proud of herself, and Faith nudges her arm goodnaturedly. 

“Wicked.”

“Weirdly enough,” Willow’s expression relaxes a fraction, “Amy hasn’t been back either.” Faith tries to stop the pride shining on her face as the witch continues. “You wouldn’t have any idea why, would you?”

“Not a clue,” Faith says, then gestures that Willow should go meet up with Dawn, who is bouncing on her toes impatiently at the edge of the own. “Have a good night, yeah?” 

“Yeah,” Willow says, starting to walk away. Then, after just a moment, she looks back. “Thank you.” 

She’s gone before Faith can answer, and when the brunette turns to go into the house, Buffy’s already walking through the front door. 

 

Faith’s halfway through making dinner when her Slayer sense prickles the back of her neck. She can tell Buffy’s sensed it too, but it only takes a second before she can place the feeling. It’s Amy. 

The witch in question slowly opens the back door, and Faith meets her eyes. Clearly she wasn’t expecting anyone, as her eyes go almost comically wide when she catches the brunette’s gaze. 

“Fuck,” Faith swears under her breath, abandoning the half-cooked pasta to beeline out toward the back deck. Amy’s halfway across the porch by the time Faith gets outside, but she’s not fast enough. Faith grabs her by the bicep, spinning her around so they’re standing face to face in the crisp night air. Amy’s pupils are blown wide, almost taking up her entire eye, and Faith has to double take. Fuck, this looks bad. Whatever the hell Amy’s gotten wrapped up in, she better keep it far away from their house, and ever further away from Willow. 

“What are you doing?” Faith says, fingers tightening on Amy’s arm when she doesn’t answer. “I told you to not come back. You really wanna try and fit in that rat cage?” 

Amy flinches, words spilling from her lips. 

“There’s this guy, he’s really good, like really good, and I tried to take Willow. But she won’t come, said she’s trying to go good now, and I think y'know that’s probably because of you. Which is fine, it’s okay if she wants to go straight, a little boring but it’s okay. And she won’t need her things any more, since she’s trying to be so good. So I thought I’d take them off her hands.” 

Her babbling is as irritating as it is nonsensical, but Faith doesn’t care. All she knows is that this girl needs to leave. Like, now. 

“Find your own shit,” Faith all but tosses Amy down the back stairs. It’s not hard enough for her to fall, but it does make her stumble. The sight makes Faith feel powerful, but she quickly pushes the sensation away. This isn’t about her, and there’s no use getting all dark and murdery again when she’s trying so hard to keep Willow from going off the deep end. Amy scurries off into the night - is scurries an insensitive way to talk about an ex-rat? - and Faith turns to go back inside. 

 

They eat dinner in silence, and Faith’s a little surprised when Buffy comes to stand by her side at the sink afterwards. Dish towel in hand, she’s clearly ready to help, and Faith’s not going to question it. It makes her feel a little more normal, a little less like the woman she loves is slowly going crazy. 

“Hey,” she tries again, turning to face the blonde. The dishes are done now, but her hands are still damp from the sink water. 

“We should split up tonight,” Buffy cuts her off, and Faith’s so taken aback that she agrees without thinking. 

“I’ll take Restfield,” she adds on quickly. If they’re gonna split up, then she’s going to need someone to talk to about the hell of a day she’s had, and the shit going down with Buffy, so a visit to Spike is definitely on the cards. The blonde Slayer looks relieved, and Faith isn’t sure whether it’s because she’s agreed or because she offered to patrol Spike’s cemetery. Whatever it is, Faith doesn’t have much of a chance to ponder it before Buffy’s slipping off her stool, dropping her dishes in the sink and darting upstairs with the excuse of needing to get changed. 

Faith looks down at her black jeans and equally black tank top. 

Yeah, she can fight in this. 

 

The patrol is routine enough to let her mind wander. She dusts vamps mostly from muscle memory alone, her brain only half-aware of what’s happening. A couple of vampires nearly get in a lucky punch, and more than once she finds herself barely turning out of the way as a fist whizzes past her face. God, she’s definitely not paying attention tonight. There’s too much to worry about, and her head is full of thoughts of B. She’s still a person, still human even though it’s kind of covered up by years of trauma and coming back from the dead and the whole ‘deceased mother and now practically raising her little sister’ deal. Faith’s whole thing had been to try and help Buffy reconnect with herself, trying to help her be a human again. But if Buffy’s right, and she’s not human, what does that make her? Last night had felt different from when they’d kissed and when they’d had sex the first time. It wasn’t just about feeling any more, it was about affirmation that Buffy was here, was real, and was capable of being a human being. That went far beyond what Faith had signed up for, but she wasn’t planning on going anywhere. It was just a huge change. 

Deciding that musing over this herself isn’t going to do her any good, so she decides to go and pay Spike a visit. It was the reason she’d taken this side of town, after all, because she didn’t particularly want to go home and she wanted to see her friend. It’s strange to think of Spike as that, but he’s kind of the best she’d got right now. The only other one who would come close is Tara, who she hasn’t really connected with since the witch left. She makes a new mental list of things to do tomorrow, and puts ‘call Tara’ at the top. Sure, she’s been trying to look after Willow lately, but the brunette is probably struggling just as much. 

Restfield is quiet, only two newly risen vamps to dust on her way to Spike’s. The heavy crypt door swings open with a loud creak, and Faith pushes her way inside. There’s no light, only filtered moonbeams coming through the small windows. She supposes it makes sense that, in the home of a vampire, there’s not exactly a whole lot of opportunity for natural light. Thankfully, part of the Slayer package is enhanced senses, so she doesn’t find it too difficult to navigate. Spike is laying on one of the concrete slabs, a slash of pale skin in the darkness. Though she doesn’t think vampires can sleep, the bottle of alcohol (Scotch? Whiskey? She’s not sure) clutched in his fingers explains why he is oblivious to her entrance. 

Faith picks her way over to the vampire, snatching the alcohol from his fingers. He lets out a snore, but doesn’t otherwise stir, so she figures it’s safe to drink without him yelling at her that she owes him even more alcohol. Not that she’s paid him back for the last bottle, and she probably never will. 

The alcohol (vodka, she realises) burns her throat pleasantly, and she climbs onto the other concrete coffin, bored. Going home would probably mean facing Buffy, and she’s not sure if the blonde is ready for that yet. Or even if she is herself. So instead, she takes another painful swallow of vodka and glances over at the unconscious vamp beside her. 

He’s attractive, she’s gotta give him that. The confidence he possesses is definitely not unfounded, with the chiseled line of his jaw and the lean but very clearly defined muscles of his arms and chest.  It makes for a good observation that he’s apparently shirtless, skin even paler in the filtered moonlight. Faith lets her eyes roam further south, at the sheet draped over his lower half. She can’t tell if he’s wearing pants or not, but it doesn’t stop her from looking. Especially when he’s probably just as fine below the belt. 

Spike comes to with a start while she’s in the middle of her musings, and he sits bolt upright with a gasp. 

“You okay, Fang Boy?” Faith takes another swig of vodka as Spike looks around, clearly concerned about losing his alcohol. 

When Spike turns to look at her, his eyes are glowing yellow. It’s the first time Faith’s seen them that colour without the accompanying bumpy forehead, and it’s a little weird. 

“You’re drinking my alcohol again,” Spike says, irises fading back to blue. He reaches out a hand expectantly. 

“Hang on,” Faith allows herself one last gulp, fire chasing down her throat, before stretching out the bottle. She doesn’t move to place it in Spike’s hand, instead letting it hover in the space between them. 

“You want it? Come get it.”

Spike makes a move to get off the concrete slab, but stops partway through the shuffle when the sheet tugs at his waist. Looking down, Faith watches as he apparently realises for the first time that he’s not wearing any clothes. 

“Oi!” Spike shuffles backwards, away from the vodka, and collects the sheet around himself. Not that it makes much of a difference, but if that’s what he wants to do then Faith’s not gonna stop him. It does keep the vodka with her, and she’s not complaining. “You can’t just come in here while a fella’s naked and steal his vodka.”

“To be fair,” Faith chuckles, pulling her hand back and sitting the bottle beside her, “I didn’t know you were naked when I came in here.” Not that she really cared, either. 

Bunching up the sheet, Spike manages to keep himself decent while reaching over to grab the bottle. 

“Intruding bitch,” she hears him mumble before raising it to his lips. 

“Yeah, well, I’m here now,” she shrugs, warm alcohol starting to spread through her blood. “I wanted to talk to you about B.”

Spike swallows, unflinching, and levels her with a glare. She knows that one, the one that’s trying to work out her intentions. Refusing to back down, she lets herself be examined, even sitting back on her hands as his eyes scan her in the semi-dark. Apparently satisfied, Spike moves to the edge of the coffin, within passing distance, and offers her the bottle. 

“What about the Slayer?”

“Something’s up,” Faith takes the alcohol, staring at it for a moment. She thinks of Buffy in the shower, begging her to say that she’s real. Of Buffy this morning, and the wide-eyed terror when Faith had wanted to talk about it. “She’s not alright in the head.”

“Well duh,” Spike snatches the vodka for another sip. “She’s shagging you.”

Faith wishes she had something to throw at him, but settles for kicking him in the shin. 

“Shut up, Peroxide,” she takes the vodka, gulps it. “It’s like the Heaven thing again, but weird. She thinks she’s a zombie. Do you think Red’s magic might have fucked with her brain?”

He purses his lips, thinking. “Not her brain, no. Her body, maybe.”

Faith thinks that he’s about to make another comment about her little unconventional relationship with the blonde, but he keeps talking. 

“My chip doesn’t work on her.”

Spike is fucking lucky that Faith wasn’t taking a sip at that moment, or else he’d be covered in spray. As it is, Faith chokes on nothing and blinks at him a couple of times. 

“Come off it,” she shakes her head, the memory of Spike howling in pain coming to her mind. 

Spike just shrugs, which makes Faith start to think that it was all an act. But why? 

“So it didn’t go off when you hit her?”

“Not even a tickle.”

She considers the vodka again, setting it to one side. 

“Why?”

“Hell if I know,” Spike looks around, searching for an answer. “Reckon she came back wrong. Somethin’ in her just isn’t human. Isn’t real.”

Buffy’s words from last night echo in her mind, the soft whine bouncing off tiled walls. Tell me I’m real. Things start to make a little more sense, slowly, her brain slogging through the vodka to try and fit all the pieces together. 

“You saw her last night?”

Strong brows furrow, regarding her with renewed suspicion. 

“Why?”

Faith lifts one shoulder and drops it. “She said something just like that last night.”

“Yeah, I saw the Slayer,” Spike mimics her gesture. “Thought she’d hit me round a bit for no good reason, the crazy woman. So I hit her back.”

Faith doesn’t mention that Buffy probably had her reasons for hitting Spike, or that she wouldn’t usually beat up a vampire who couldn’t fight back. She bites her tongue against the protests, and instead just shakes her head. 

“Must’ve got her riled up real good,” Spike says, and Faith doesn’t doubt that. He probably told her right to her face that she wasn’t real, which explains why she was so wigged out about it when she got home. “She ever get so angry she just kiss you?”

A weird sensation crawls up Faith’s spine. It’s not like her and Buffy were exclusive or anything, so she’s pretty sure the feeling isn’t jealousy, but she can’t quite place it. Maybe if it were someone else, instead of Spike. Maybe if it were a random person Buffy was just making out with in the Bronze in an attempt to feel something. But this is different. It’s Spike, the one person in the world who loves Buffy ass much as she does. The only other person she can bond with over pouring their hearts out to the blonde in big dramatic musical numbers. The only person who’s also had their heart then stomped on by said blonde. Her and Spike are pretty alike, she thinks, and she doesn’t entirely hate the fact that Buffy kissed him. The realisation should feel weird, but it doesn’t.

“Maybe she just kissed you to shut you up,” she fires back. 

“Bullshit.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, she was just sick of your pompous British ass,” there’s no real heat to her tone, and Spike knows it. She can tell by the way he gives her a sly grin, eyes flashing darkly. 

“Pretty sure she likes my ass more than yours, Boston.”

“I’m sorry, who actually got to fuck her last night and who barely went to first base?”

“You little shit,” Spike snatches the vodka from beside her, flipping her the bird as he does so. “Just give it time.”

Spike takes a huge swig of vodka, offering it back to Faith when he’s done. She copies him, the alcohol warming her bones. Maybe it’s the vodka, maybe it’s the revelation of Buffy kissing Spike, but she feels the need to keep talking. 

“Don’t know how much longer I’ve got with that, honestly.” Time isn’t exactly something she has faith that Buffy will give her. Maybe a fuck here and there, but Faith’s not entirely certain the other Slayer will ever want anything more. Some small part of her dares to hope, but she keeps it pretty damn locked up. 

“B‘s never gonna see me like a person, yknow?”

It’s the most vulnerable Faith’s ever been with Spike, and the most vulnerable she’s been with anyone since coming back to Sunnydale, if she’s not counting the song and dance she did against her will. 

“Right,” Spike says with a hum. “You’re not alone there.”

“She’s always just gonna think I’m the shithead that ruined her life,” Faith sighs, resting back on her hands. B’s probably always going to focus on the bad parts of Faith’s past. Granted, there are a few pretty awful things there, but Faith’s really trying to move past that. She knows that Spike understands, given the amount of times that Buffy’s dismissed him too. 

“Stupid git’s never going to see past the fact I don’t have a soul. Captain Forehead had a soul and he still left her, don’t know what fucking difference it makes,” Spike looks flatly at her. “Apparently if I had one she’d have no problem boning me. Pity that.”

“I’ve got a soul and she’s not interested in more than a lay, my guy.” 

“Still a better deal than spending every night with a bottle.” A long silence stretches between them, making Faith feel much further away from the vampire than just a few feet. “Least I got to kiss her, though.” 

Faith tilts her head to one side as she regards the man in front of her. She tries to think about what would make Buffy kiss Spike, aside from the obvious. Buffy’s small frame would fit easily against Spike’s more muscled one, her tanned skin in stark contrast to his. Faith thinks of Buffy’s lips on Spike’s with the same intensity she’d pressed against Faith, and a warm heat coils sharply in her gut. It surprises her enough to derail her train of thought, and she’s staring blankly into space for a few seconds before Spike calls her name. 

“You okay there, Killer?” The nickname from anyone else - especially one of the Scoobies - would make her bristle. But Spike’s killed far more people than her, so it doesn’t feel like a thinly veiled attack. 

“Yeah,” she shrugs off the lingering heat at the bottom of her spine, blaming it on the fact that she hasn’t gotten laid in way too long and there’s a very attractive and naked body only a few feet away. She just needs to go home and deal with herself, that’s all. “Should probably be heading back though.” Sliding off the concrete, she dusts her hands on her thighs. “Thanks for the vodka.” 

“You still owe me,” Spike replies, and is that innuendo in his tone? Faith can’t see his eyes properly in the dark, so she can’t make out what he’s trying to say. Saving her brain the confusing amount of options, she just rolls one shoulder and chuckles as she turns to leave. 

“You’ll get it someday.” 

 

The house is quiet. Willow and Dawn are clearly still out at their movie or whatnot, and Buffy’s not home from her patrol. It’s not often that she gets the house to herself these days with the sheer amount of people coming and going, but it’s happened a fair bit lately. She’s not sure what to make of that. 

Faith digs through the fridge until she finds the plate of brownies she made for Buffy yesterday. Her body thrums, reminding her that she didn’t really get a chance for a fight tonight, or at least she wasn’t present for it. She feels wired, unfinished. It would be all too easy to just go to the Bronze and dance it out, finding some easy lay and going back to their place for an hour or two to work off steam. It would be easy, but she doesn’t want it. Not even a little. She doesn’t really want anyone except Buffy. 

As though she’s been summoned, the blonde walks through the door a few moments later. 

“Hey,” she greets, pushing the plate of brownies across the counter towards Buffy. When the other Slayer only hums a hello, Faith keeps talking. 

“Spend the night with a certain bleach blonde vamp again?”

Buffy’s eyes go almost comically wide, and Faith chuckles at her expression. She’d only meant to tease, and it’s amusing that Buffy’s taking it so seriously. 

“I-“ she starts, stuttering over the word a couple of times. 

“Relax, B,” Faith tells the other Slayer, watching the blonde’s shoulders visibly sag. “If that’s what you need to get your rocks off, you don’t gotta feel guilty.” In fact, Faith’s all for Buffy doing things that make her feel more alive. With the way Willow’s going, and Giles leaving, and the witches breaking up, the blonde could probably do with a bit of a mental break. It’s not like her and B are exclusive or anything, they’re not in a relationship. They’re just… Well, Faith doesn’t really have a word for what they are except maybe friends with benefits, but that would hinge on the idea that they’re friends to begin with. So if Buffy wants to go back or even fuck someone else, Faith’s got no claim over that. The thought of Buffy kissing or being touched by some random person twists Faith’s insides like a knife to the gut, and she forces herself to breathe out. This isn’t about her, this is about Buffy. And if Buffy wants to go kiss a random in the Bronze, she’s allowed. If Buffy wants to go kiss Spike, she’s allowed. In fact, that’s probably more preferable. Faith wouldn’t mind that, actually. 

“It’s just that, well-“ Buffy starts, but Faith holds up a hand. She rolls her shoulders to release some of the tension gathering there, and she watches as the other Slayer’s eyes follow the action. 

“It’s five by five,” she tells Buffy. “Just cause I sang a solo about you doesn’t mean ya owe me anything.” It’s the first time she’s really brought up her feelings, drawn her emotions back into the spotlight after trying so hard to shove them down. Buffy has to know how much this all means for Faith, she’d have to be an idiot not to. But Faith isn’t about to tell her straight up that it means more. She’s not going to put even more pressure on the blonde, and she’s certainly not going to risk this little arrangement they have. 

Buffy’s quietly contemplative for a long moment, and Faith speaks just to fill the silence. 

“You do what you want, yeah?” 

Buffy’s eyes skip over the kitchen, skating up Faith’s bare arms before landing on her face. Faith doesn’t miss the flick of Buffy’s gaze to her lips before she speaks. 

“Want, take, have, right?” Faith hears the echo of her own words, a million years ago. It had been her motto back then, the only way she could make it through the day. If she slowed down, if she thought too hard, then she just might end up going insane. So the easiest way to deal was to pretend that everything was okay, and that she was just barreling through life without a second thought. She fucked basically anyone that moved, drank herself stupid almost every night, and did whatever she wanted. Now, though, it’s different. Everything is so different for her now, standing in front of the woman she loves. But Buffy’s eyes are wide, scared, and Faith can’t bring herself to say no. She doesn’t want to lie, but she can’t tell Buffy how much all of this means to her. She just can't.

“Yeah, B,” the lie burns her throat, sharp and acidic. “Just like that.” 

Buffy leaves the kitchen without another word, and leaves Faith alone with her brownies. 

 

Want, take, have? It’s more like want, fuck, pine these days.