Je me souviens
She had been dreaming.
She was sure of that much. There were still images flashing through her mind. A rainstorm. A knife. Something about falling. She frowned and tried to hold on to the pieces. If she could catch them, then she could force them to make sense. But the dream faded too quickly, and she was blinking at a ceiling so white it hurt.
In fact, everything hurt. She ached. Her body felt like a lead weight. That was wrong. She heard machines beeping and hissing. The ceiling showed only blank tiles. She needed to move. There was somewhere she needed to be. She lifted her arm – God, it was heavy – and stared at it. Pale skin. An I.V. taped to her hand dripped clear fluid into a vein. She turned her head. An I.D. bracelet banded her other wrist. She squinted at it, tried to focus. Finally, the blurred letters cleared.
Faith Wilkins. No allergies. 5/20/99.
She tried to roll over onto her side. All her muscles protested. The I.V. pinched her skin. She bit her lip and pushed herself up with one hand, until she was sitting in the bed. The room was small and bare. One bed, surrounded by machines counting out her pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. She watched the little spikes travel across the screen, blip blip blip. And thought, I'm supposed to be somewhere.
She turned her head when she heard a rattle outside the door. Her whole body tensed. She wanted to run away. She was trapped, and that was bad, because someone had been chasing her.
In her dream?
The door opened. She edged across the bed, as far as she could from the light in the hallway. A woman rolled a cart into the room. She was dressed in white, short and round, with brown hair cut in a bob. She was reading a chart, making notes with her pen, and then she looked up. She jumped nearly a foot in the air, her hand going to her chest, the chart clattering to the floor, the pen rolling under the bed.
"Oh, my dear," she said. "How you startled me!" She smoothed her uniform and picked up the chart. "You're awake," she said. "Well, of course, you already know that! Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Nurse Owens."
She nodded at Nurse Owens. She glanced at the door and wondered if she could reach it before the nurse. Escape. She swallowed.
"Well, well, this is certainly a surprise," Nurse Owens said, bustling to the bed with her cart. She bent down and retrieved her pen. "I'm afraid I was already writing down that there had been no change! Just goes to show, you can't let your assumptions lead the way, not in nursing, anyway. Poor child. Well. I guess you're hungry. I'll have to get the doctor, of course, no sense starting you on solid food and then getting my knuckles rapped for my presumption. But then, I'm not the only one, am I?" Nurse Owens smiled and reached for her wrist.
She yanked her hand away. Her eyes darted to the doorway again.
"There, be easy, I just want to take your pulse. Can't trust the machines forever, can we?" Nurse Owens touched her hand, then clasped her wrist. Her hold felt firm and gentle at the same time. "Hmm, strong, good. I told them so, of course, but doctors are too high and mighty to listen to me." She made a note in the chart. "They said that with a coma of this magnitude, we need never hope for a full recovery! But you were different. Lots of REM activity. I pointed it out on the EEG – most coma patients, you get very little in the delta region, of course. You were more asleep than unconscious. But listen to me go on. How are you feeling?"
She shrugged. "I –" The croak that emerged surprised her, and she cleared her throat. Nurse Owens shook her head and went to the sink, getting her a small paper cup of water. She drank slowly, feeling her fingers tremble around the fragile cone of the cup. Finally, she spoke again. "I'm supposed to be somewhere," she said. Her voice still sounded husky, but far more natural. She licked her lips.
Nurse Owen patted her hand. "No, dear, I'm afraid not. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you've been in Sunnydale General Hospital – the long term care ward – for eight months."
"What happened?" She looked around again. The room was incredibly clean, even for a hospital. Everything smelled like bleach on top of vomit, like there were some smells that couldn't be washed away. It was all too clean. No one ever visited here. There were no flowers, no get well cards. Shouldn't your friends send you flowers in the hospital? Wasn't that the right thing to do? Maybe not after eight months. Maybe not if they thought you wouldn't wake up.
"Well, dear, I'm not sure. I only transferred here five months ago. Let me see..." Nurse Owens flipped back through the pages of the chart. She looked over the nurse's shoulder and saw line after line of the same quirky handwriting. Patient condition shows no change. No change. No change.
"It says here that you were in a motor vehicle accident. A pedestrian. Hit by a truck...Upper left quadrant wound, possibly impaled on debris...subdural haematoma. That's what's listed as the root cause of the coma." Nurse Owens peered at her. "What is the last thing that you remember?"
"I –" She hunched her shoulders. She twisted the bracelet on her wrist.
Faith Wilkins. No allergies. 5/20/99.
"I remember that – I have to be somewhere. I have to go." She turned her hips. Her legs were tangled in the covers. She pushed at them.
Nurse Owens caught her hands. "Here...Miss Wilkins...or may I call you Faith? Such a pretty name."
She tilted her head. Did she like one or the other? "Whatever."
"Faith," Nurse Owens decided. "There is no possible way I can allow you to leave the hospital." She shifted Faith's legs back onto the bed and freed the covers, then started tucking them in again, properly, with hospital corners. "First, you are still far too ill. We would want to see a substantial recovery before you were released. Second, you appear to be suffering from amnesia. Where would you go? And, finally, you are still a minor. We can contact your next-of-kin for you, but you can't leave all by yourself."
Faith let Nurse Owens raise the bed until she was sitting more comfortably. The room was hazy in front of her eyes. She leaned back against the pillows. If she fell back asleep, would she ever wake up again? "Who are they?" she asked.
"Who are who, dear?"
Faith forced her eyes to stay open. She was much warmer with the sheets tucked around her. Everything was warmer. She didn't hurt as much, now. "My next-of-kin," she said. "Who are you going to call?"
Nurse Owens opened the chart again. "Your guardian is Richard Wilkins...oh..."
"What?" Faith wriggled upright again. "What's wrong? What's 'oh'?"
"Your guardian – he was the Mayor of Sunnydale. He, ah, he died...just shortly after you were hurt. Faith, I'm so sorry."
Faith tightened her lips. Dead. Her guardian. And there was someone chasing her, with a knife – no. That was only a dream. She shook her head. Richard Wilkins. What had she called him? Dad? Mr. Wilkins? She moved her tongue around the names. Nothing felt familiar. Was she supposed to be sad now? She wondered if she would cry if she remembered him. She reached out for memories. There was only a thick fog, and the sound of a thunderstorm. Rain, falling. Blackness. Nothing.
"Oh, but there is someone else," Nurse Owens said. "In case of emergencies...here we are. Rupert Giles. All his information appears to be current." She rested her hand on Faith's shoulder. "You must be exhausted. Don't worry. You're going to be fine. I'll make the calls, and I'll have the doctor come and check on you, just to be sure. All right?"
Faith nodded. She tried to relax. She laid back on the bed. Rupert Giles. There was still nothing, no associations. It was kind of a strange name. She pulled harder, trying to find some crack in her mind where all her memories had disappeared.
"Shh, there." Nurse Owens soothed the hair off her forehead. "Don't try too hard to remember. Amnesia is common in coma patients, and it's usually temporary. You'll be yourself in no time. Everything will be fine."
Faith gave her a tentative smile. "Thank you," she said.
Nurse Owens smoothed the blankets one last time. "Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite." She turned off the light and wheeled her cart back into the hall.
Faith closed her eyes and listened to the rattle of the wheels for what felt like a long time. Good hearing, or else she was imagining that she could still hear it...the murmur of other people's voices...the shuffle of footsteps... The weight of the hospital settled on her chest like chains holding her down.
She fell asleep and dreamed of escaping into the rain.
They let her eat soup the next morning. They'd taken the I.V. out of her arm, and all the other tubes as well. The oxygen machine was pushed into a corner. An orderly wheeled a cartful of trays into her room. He extended the table arm over her lap and placed the bowl in front of her. She held the spoon easily. The shakes in her fingers were gone. The broth was thick and warm and filling, but tasteless. When the orderly returned, she asked him if Nurse Owens was there, but he shook his head. "Late shift," he said, and offered her a bedpan.
She grimaced. "No."
"You'll be able to walk soon enough, once you've had some physio. Then we won't pamper you," he said, grinning. "Don't worry, I won't watch. I'm a professional."
She cautiously returned his grin. Was that the kind of person she was? A kidder? "Thanks. Not now."
"Okay." He pointed at the call button. "You can try the nurse's station later, but they might be busy. Don't get too impatient."
She waited until he'd left, the door clicking behind him, and then she shoved the blankets aside and swung her feet over the side of the bed. She didn't feel weak. The pain was mostly gone, except when she stretched too far. She put her weight on her feet. It was fine. She walked to her bathroom easily. She thought it made sense that a person who hadn't moved from their bed in eight months ought to need physiotherapy. Didn't muscles atrophy after that long – a use it or lose it kind of thing?
But she felt fine. Strong, even. She came back into the room and tried a few warm-ups. Her body seemed to know what to do. She went through an entire routine of stretches without thinking about it. When she finished, her body felt like it was hers again. Nothing stiff or unnatural about it, not like when she'd woken up yesterday. The quicker thump of her heart was gratifying. Her breath came evenly. She made a fist and smiled at it. She flexed a bicep and felt it with her opposite hand. Nice. Her whole body felt good, toned and hard. She was too pale, but once she got out of the hospital, the sun would take care of that.
She hopped back on the bed. How long until that guy, Rupert Giles, came to see her? She listened to the sound of people passing back and forth in front of her door. If she concentrated, she could hear the drone of a television down at one end of the hall, and call bells ringing at the nurse's station at the other end. Wicked. She hadn't been imagining it. Her hearing really was that good.
And, if she knew her hearing was good, it meant she knew that other people didn't hear as well as she did. Was that like a memory? She closed her eyes and thought about it. She knew stuff...she knew lots of stuff. How to stretch enough so that her muscles felt the pull, but not so much that she hurt herself. She knew the orderly had spoken with an accent – Texas. Screwing up her eyes, she imagined a map of the country. Geography. She knew that.
But when she thought about anything to do with herself, there was nothing. She knew her name and that she had no allergies. She knew she'd been in a car accident on May 20, 1999. She counted the months. That meant it was February 2000, or close enough. She'd seen her chart and knew she'd missed a birthday while she was unconscious. She was seventeen now. She knew that the guy whose name she had was dead.
Rupert Giles. She knew nothing about him at all. Would she recognize him when he walked into the room? Would she suddenly remember everything as soon as she saw him?
Waiting was boring. She knew that, certainly. She sighed and kicked her legs. The hospital gown was ugly and faded. Had they left her wearing the same one for eight months? Her head itched and her hair was greasy. She picked up a hank of it and studied the thick, black strands. Well, as long as she was meeting this guy, she might as well look good, and maybe find something to do while she waited.
She headed for the shower, stripping off the gown as she walked. She grinned as she dropped it behind her on the floor. Obviously she didn't care too much about showing off her body. She stared down at herself with a slight smile. She ran her hands down her sides and then up to cup her breasts. Everything was in the right place, that was sure. And in working order, she thought, when her nipples stiffened. But there was something – she moved her right hand over her stomach, just under her ribs. There was a ridge of scarring there, puckered pink against her pale skin. She moved closer to the mirror and watched her fingers move over the bumps and roughness, then back onto smooth skin. It didn't hurt, but it felt weird. As if it should hurt – it should hurt forever. She frowned at the girl in the mirror. She was a stranger. She didn't know anything.
In her dream about the knife, she'd been stabbed. Right there. Same place. Who had done it? The person chasing her...
Impaled on debris in the accident, Nurse Owens had said. The dreams were part of the coma. They didn't mean anything.
She ran the water as hot as she could stand it. The hospital had tiny bars of soap and a shampoo dispenser on the wall, no conditioner. Still, it felt amazing to be clean, even better than stretching. The towels were too small. She dried herself on the top sheet of her bed. She made a face at the hospital gown, but was all she had. She put it back on. Without a brush, she couldn't do anything with her hair. She finger-combed it a bit, then tucked it behind her ears.
And again, she was left with nothing to do. Would stupid Rupert Giles never get here? Long lost – what? She tried to decide on a relationship. Relative? Friend? She hesitated, then threw in lover? for good measure. Well, anyway, when a long lost whoever wakes up from a coma, then you went to them first thing. This was getting annoying. She paced around the room once and thought again about just leaving. Running. But that was stupid. Like Nurse Owens said, where would she run to? She didn't remember where she was or where she was supposed to go.
Staying in the room for another five minutes, on the other hand, would drive her stir-crazy.
The sound of the TV down the hall decided her. She left the sheets thrown back on the bed and went to see what was on.
"Nurse, I must insist, this is urgent."
Faith glanced up for a moment as a middle-aged man in a too-big sweater and khakis hurried by. He chased after a nurse, not paying attention to much else. She turned back to the news she'd been watching. Now, at least, she knew where Sunnydale was, and also what kind of weather to expect for the next week.
Shockingly enough, they were predicting sun.
Another group of people rushed past. Faith looked up again hopefully. Sooner or later Rupert Giles had to show. That name was all she had to hold on to. She was doing her best, but so far nobody had come asking for her. She watched the group running down the hall. They were about her age. There was a guy with floppy brown hair and two girls, a brunette clinging to the guy's arm and a redhead in the world's ugliest skirt and blouse combination. Too young, she decided. She glared at the old man half-asleep in his wheelchair. He was drooling on the remote. She'd been waiting for him to nod off so that she could grab it and channel surf to something more interesting than reruns of the Golden Girls.
"The room is empty. I'm telling you, she's fled the country. That's what felons do, isn't it?"
"Maybe you're right, Xander. It could be for the best. At least then we wouldn't have to deal with her."
"Yes. Let the psychotic killer go murder foreigners. Meanwhile, Xander, I think we should go back to your basement, so that we can light those candles I bought and then have sex near them."
Faith gave a snort of laughter. She leaned her head back. The little group was standing near the nurse's station. The brunette girl was fawning all over the guy. He was shooting panicked looks at the redhead, and she was rolling her eyes. Faith snickered to herself. This was better than anything the TV had to offer.
"When did Buffy say she'd get here?" he asked.
"Right after her last class – psychology."
The guy – Xander – nodded and glanced over his shoulder. "Do you think she could be, you know – lurking? Waiting to pounce? 'Cause I gotta say, the pouncing did not go in my favor the last time. It was very 'Faster, pussycat, kill, kill!'"
Red shook her head. "Nah, she's too dumb to lurk. It'd be, like, ooh, I'm so cleavagey and slutty, I don't need a plan! I'm just gonna attack right now!"
Faith laughed again. These people certainly had a way of expressing themselves.
Who on earth could they be looking for? Another couple was approaching them, some big lumbering football type and behind him, a blonde girl. Faith leaned further back to get a better look at her. Something about her –
Maybe this was someone she recognized. It felt like that. Like she knew something about her. It was as if she had a word on the tip of her tongue and couldn't quite remember it. She frowned and shook her head. How did she know the blonde girl?
"Hey, Buffy," Xander said. "Are you bringing the whole Initiative with you, or just Riley? 'Cause I'm thinking even you might need back up on this one."
"She's gone?" Buffy asked. "It doesn't feel like it."
"You can sense her?" the football lunk asked. He looked down the hall, his eyes passing over Faith. She turned away so that it wouldn't be obvious that she was listening. "What does it feel like?"
"Yeah, Buff, spill. We want details," Xander said. His girlfriend whacked him. "What?" he asked. "It's a psychological graduate student thing, right, Riley? Research."
Before Xander could get hit again, the older man came back from the nurse's station. He held a medical chart under one arm. He took off his glasses and started cleaning them. "I'm afraid they don't know where she could have gone. She ate breakfast in her room, but she is certainly not there now. The nurse I spoke to was convinced she would be too weak to even get out of her bed unassisted."
Buffy glared at him. Faith had to strain to hear what she said. "She's a Slayer. Of course she's not too weak. She could be anywhere by now, Giles!"
Faith blinked. Rupert Giles had arrived at last. And that meant they were looking for her.
Psychotic killer? Slayer?
Cleavagey and slutty?
The urge to run was coming back.
But Faith kept bumping into the same brick wall. Where would she run to? If these people knew her, then maybe they could help her remember things. Like the blonde girl, Buffy. She felt so familiar. It sort of tingled.
She took a deep breath. No matter what they thought of her, she had to do something. They'd find her eventually. She stood up and headed down the hall. She stared at Buffy. What was it about her? It was almost uncomfortable, how strong it was. Tingly, and, well, strangely good.
Buffy had her arms crossed and was frowning at the floor. She shifted, like she could feel it too. Then she looked up. Faith stopped. Buffy sure as hell didn't look welcoming.
"You!" she said. She pushed through her friends.
"Yeah," Faith said, wondering what to expect. They might know her, but it was clear they didn't like her. She really wanted to run. This was too much like her dreams. Fear, mixed up with that low-down tickle. She flinched, but she waited for Buffy to approach her. "Uh, hi," she said.
"You should have gotten out of Dodge while the getting was good," Buffy said.
Faith shrugged. The whole group surrounded her. Only Xander, Buffy, and the redhead girl looked angry, though. The other two younger ones only seemed curious. Rupert Giles was studying her carefully. "I didn't have anywhere to go," she told him. He was the easiest one to explain it to. Wasn't he her emergency contact?
"Did you think we were gonna go easy on you?" Red asked. "That we'd just forget everything you did?"
"Well," Faith said, trying a smile, "I did." God, what had she done? She fidgeted. Maybe this was why her body kept trying to run away. It knew more than she did.
"Ha!" Xander pointed at her dramatically. "You still show no remorse. A TV judge would so give you the smackdown for that."
"Xander." The older man, Giles, took his glasses off and glared. "Before all of you get carried away, I believe she's speaking literally." He settled his glasses on his nose again and lifted the chart. "According to the nurse who phoned me, a preliminary analysis suggests that Faith is suffering from complete retrograde amnesia."
"Isn't that convenient," Buffy said. She wasn't exactly sneering, but Faith could hear it in her voice. Why did the only familiar person in the world have to be such a bitch?
"Maybe we should phone the police," Red said. "Let them deal with her."
"Why?" Faith asked. She tried frantically to remember the car accident, or anything before she woke up yesterday. How did the police come into it? "Did the guy who ran me over die or something?"
"Ran over?" Buffy laughed, but she didn't sound amused. "What are you talking about?"
"The nurse told me that's how I got hurt." Faith lifted a hand to her stomach. She could feel the scar through the thin material of the hospital gown.
Buffy looked at the spot, then frowned and backed off. "Anyway, the police won't be able to handle her."
"Nor is there, in fact, an outstanding warrant for her arrest," Giles said. "Or else it would be listed in her medical file, and she would have been placed in a more secure ward. I believe the Mayor managed to bury all reports of her involvement."
"The mayor...you mean Richard Wilkins?" Faith asked. "He was my guardian." That only got her more glares. Shit, didn't they realize how scary it was to stand around listening to people discussing her criminal past when she didn't even know what she'd done? "You are Rupert Giles, aren't you?"
"Then shouldn't you be taking care of me or something? The nurse said you were my 'in case of emergency' guy." Everyone was staring at her. Faith crossed her arms. It was getting cold in the hallway with just the stupid gown on. "Listen, I don't know you, any of you, and I don't know whatever you think I did. But I want to leave the hospital sometime, and they won't let me unless you say so, 'cause I'm a minor. Can't you just, like, get me out of here, then tell me what the hell is going on?"
Giles stuttered for a moment. He blinked at her, as if he'd just noticed that she was only wearing the hospital gown. That, and how pale she was. "Well, I suppose so," he said. "I'm sure we can get you discharged." He smiled. It wasn't reassuring.
"And what, pray tell, will we do with her after that?" Xander asked.
Faith glared at him. She didn't want him talking about her as if she wasn't standing right in front of him. He flinched as if she'd leapt at him with a knife. What was it with these people? Was there anything she could do to get a straight answer out of them?
"Normally, I would suggest we contact the Council for instructions," Giles answered, with a doubtful glance at Buffy. "But I think we're agreed that their actions would most likely be..." He hesitated, then made a chopping gesture. "...less than helpful."
"Yeah, and what if she's faking?" Red folded her arms and narrowed her eyes at Faith. "We get all trusting and sympathetic, and then she strikes."
Giles shifted a bit. He lifted a hand to rub the creases in his forehead. "I hardly believe..."
"We can test that," Buffy interrupted.
Faith turned back to her. She'd felt the Buffy's eyes on her throughout the conversation. It was worse than Red's anger, Giles' caution, Xander's fear, and all the curious stares. She'd tried to ignore it, but she still felt that maddening sense of familiarity. She hated it. Faith didn't want to know Buffy. There was something frightening about her. Fear stabbed her like a knife each time the blonde girl spoke.
Buffy prodded her backward a few steps. "Hit me."
Faith's mouth dropped open. That was the last thing she'd expected. "What?"
"Go on, give me your best shot." Buffy brushed away Riley's restraining hand and his warning mutter of "Buffy, maybe this isn't the best idea..."
"Here? In the hallway?" Faith picked at the gown. "In this?"
"Yeah, unless you're afraid." Buffy raised an eyebrow, but Faith could only stare at her in confusion. "Show me what you remember."
"I don't remember anything," Faith said. She realized it wasn't true the moment she spoke. Her brain refused to cooperate, but her body knew things. Stretching. Strength.
How to run away.
Faith looked at her hands, then back at Buffy. Hit her? Faith curled a fist. She felt a flash of memory. She had done this before. They had stood like this, eye to eye, fighting, or – competing, somehow –
And how dare they come to the hospital and accuse her? They insulted her and threatened her and refused to explain anything. What gave them the right to judge her? She'd woken up from a coma and they treated her like she was an inconvenience to be shoved back into a cage. Faith frowned and tightened her fist. She knew how to do it correctly. She adjusted her fingers. Anger boiled in her stomach. How dare they? How dare Buffy be so familiar, and scary, and cold, and not tell her why?
That's what they expected. They wanted Faith to attack. She would prove them right if she did. But Faith thought she remembered how to turn the tables. She knew how to keep an opponent off guard. No, that was wrong. She didn't know.
But her body did.
Buffy blinked. She was sprawled on the floor. Xander and Willow gaped down at her. She stood up and swung around to face Faith. Faith backed up a step, holding out her hands. "Wow," she said. "Sorry. I didn't mean to do that. I don't even know what that was!" She stared at her hands. "It was wicked cool, though."
"Buffy, are you okay?" Riley put an arm around her, as if she needed to be supported. Buffy pushed away from him.
"I'm fine." She narrowed her eyes. Faith was grinning at her hands, as if congratulating them for acting completely on their own. Buffy hadn't anticipated Faith's sweeping throw. She'd been knocked off her feet. Before, she'd always been able to see Faith's moves coming from a mile away. She exchanged a glance with Giles. Even one good punch from Faith could have hurt her badly. Faith hadn't even tried. She wasn't even gloating about her throw. Much.
Xander and Willow were close to freaking out. They'd only seen Buffy tossed into a wall. They couldn't understand it had been done in a friendly, almost gentle way – for a Slayer. Riley might have been able to tell, but he was blinded by his macho protective-guy strutting. All three of them were glaring at Faith with a mixture of hatred and fear. They were setting themselves for a fight.
Faith looked up from admiring her hands. Her eyes widened. The Scoobies had closed in the circle around her. All except Anya, who had missed Faith's attack entirely. She was trying to feed a particularly well-loved dollar bill into a pop machine.
"Look, I'm telling you, it was an accident, okay?" Faith said. Her voice started to edge into anger. She flexed her fingers. Buffy knew Faith could take them all on at once. Did Faith know that? She seemed to be holding herself back from trying. "Buffy told me to do it, didn't she?"
"Yeah, some accident," Xander said. "What's a shattered spine between friends?"
"With friends like you guys, who needs enemies?" Faith shot back. She backed off a few steps. Buffy noticed she was careful to keep her back away from a wall. "I don't know what kind of crack the nurses are on, but if you guys are my emergency contacts, then I'd hate to see what my family's like."
Buffy held herself back. This was not Faith. Faith was never scared, and certainly never confused. She had never once spoken about her family. Buffy had tried to learn more about them, and Faith had told her in no uncertain terms to back off every time. More than anything, Faith didn't back down. Buffy tried to see her as a stranger would. Faith was pale and shivering. Exhaustion ringed dark circles around her eyes. Her hair was damp and stringy. And they were all standing around her like overeager executioners.
Buffy stepped between Xander and Willow. The Slayer-tingles she hadn't felt in what seemed like too long were washing over her in jumbled waves. Buffy was almost dizzy with them. So what could Faith be thinking, if she wasn't faking the amnesia? Buffy wanted to be cautious, but the lost, scared look that Faith was trying to hide was too much. "You hurt us, before," she said. It was the closest she could come to saying 'You hurt me.'
For a moment, it looked like Faith was going to answer angrily. Then she stopped. "Yeah, well, I'm sorry, then."
Buffy could tell by the looks on Xander's and Willow's faces that Faith's half-hearted apology wasn't going to be nearly enough. "You don't remember any of it," she said.
"Buffy..." Willow started warningly. Buffy shook her head. Willow grimaced, but she didn't say anything else.
Buffy leaned closer to Faith, as if she could see the old Faith hiding somewhere inside the new one. "You really don't remember," she repeated.
"I really don't," Faith said. She tensed up as Buffy stared at her. Buffy almost shivered. She hadn't been this close to Faith since she'd kissed her and left her in this hospital. She'd done her best to stop thinking about Faith. There had been a few unsettled Slayer dreams at first. And for the last few months, nothing. She'd wanted to forget, and she'd managed it. Until right now. And Faith wasn't lying, but she wasn't exactly telling the truth, either. She remembered something. Buffy could see it in the way Faith was trying to back away and lean closer at the same time.
Buffy sighed. She gave Faith some room, waving the Scoobies back, too. To soothe Riley's ego, she allowed him to slide her under his arm. "So she's got amnesia. Now what?"
Giles cleared his throat. "I'm sure the doctors will attest that there's nothing physically wrong with her." He tried to catch Buffy's eye. She knew what he was implying. The police were out of the question. The could hardly let Faith go back to her ratty motel. And there was no way in hell Buffy was going to call the Watcher's Council in. No matter what Faith had done, the Council wouldn't know how to handle her.
The problem was, none of them had the room or the ability to host a renegade Slayer. She and Willow shared their dorm room. Xander was living in his parents' basement. Giles had his hands full with Spike dropping by for blood and Passions. That left only Buffy's house. But she could never leave her mom alone with Faith. Buffy would have to stay with them. It was the last thing she needed dumped on her plate right now, with Professor Walsh dead and Adam on the loose. Somehow, though, Faith always ended up being her responsibility. What the hell had she ever done to deserve that? In her brightest, fakest voice, Buffy said, "Of course Faith can stay at my place. I bet my mom would think that'd be just super."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Bitch," she muttered, too quietly for anyone but Buffy to hear.
Buffy spun around. She wasn't too happy about inviting Faith into her home. She wasn't going to be gracious about it. And she didn't need to be insulted for it. "Listen, you –" she started, but Faith was blinking at her strangely. "What?" Buffy asked.
"What's wrong, Buffy?" Willow asked. She and Xander had been walking ahead as they led the way back to Faith's room. They hadn't seen anything.
"You heard that?" Faith asked at the same time.
Buffy stopped short. Giles' mild look felt worse than an hour-long lecture. If she believed that Faith didn't remember, then she had to accept everything that came with that. Faith didn't know Buffy's hearing was as sharp as hers. She didn't know – anything. Faith had always been such a mystery that forgetting, for her, didn't seem like such a big deal. Buffy tried to imagine going home from the hospital with complete strangers, and failed. Worse, all of them had made it very clear that Faith was worth less than the bus fare they'd used to get here.
"I'm sorry," she said, instead of a thousand insults that sprang to mind. And, because Faith had to be scared even if she was too good at hiding it, she added: "It'll be okay."
Xander and Willow stared at her as if she'd lost the few marbles she'd had left. Faith snorted in disbelief. "Right," she said. "Rainbows and kittens, I'm sure."
"Perhaps we can let Faith settle in at Buffy's today, and meet again tomorrow?" Giles said. "I'll give you two a ride home, Buffy, after Faith retrieves her things."
"I can –" Riley started, but Buffy laid a hand on his arm to stop him.
"Thanks, Giles." Buffy wanted to go with them to get Faith's stuff, but Riley pulled her aside.
"So this is the arch-enemy?" he asked. "Did I miss something, or...?"
Buffy glanced over her shoulder. Giles followed Faith to her room, glaring at the others to keep them where they were. "I don't think I said enemy," she said.
"Well, you certainly didn't say friend." Riley heaved a sigh. "You're going to stay at your mom's place with her, aren't you?"
Buffy frowned. "It's my social life, too, Riley. I'm not exactly thrilled."
"But she doesn't even know you two used to fight. She doesn't know about Slayers, or demons, or vampires. Are you going to tell her about all of that?" Riley crossed his arms. "And how could it possibly help her if you did? Your mom can take care of one sick girl, Buffy."
She glared at him. "You sound as if you're jealous."
"You look like there's a reason I should be."
"Riley!" Buffy held down a hand that itched to slap him. "We weren't always at each other's throats, you know. I was Faith's friend...for a while. And maybe that's what I'm hoping she'll remember. If we do things right, this time."
Riley shrugged. "You're basing this hope on what clinical evidence? Amnesiacs regain all of their memories or not, but you can't choose which ones Faith will get back."
Buffy shook her head. "She's dangerous, whether she knows it or not. This is my job, Riley. I'm going with her." Without another word, she turned and walked away from him.
Faith had just finished dressing when Buffy walked in. Buffy gasped. Faith wore the clothes she'd been in that night – the night of the rooftop, the night it all went wrong. And it meant nothing to her. These were the clothes the hospital had saved, that's all. Faith looked down at herself. She smoothed her hands over the leather pants. They were looser than they had been. She smiled nervously.
"Cleavagey and slutty," she said, softly enough that Buffy wanted to deny it.
"We'll get you something else at my place," she said.
Faith nodded. "So that's still on."
"What do you mean?"
"You couldn't find anyone else willing to take me." Faith's hands twitched away from the clothes. "I'd rather you gave me a bus ticket and some traveling cash."
Buffy winced. "We wouldn't do that – you're sick, still –"
"Once I'm better, though. You won't see the back of me fast enough." Faith shrugged. She picked at the shirt. "This is it, you know. I don't have anything else. Leather pants and a skanky top they couldn't wash the bloodstains all the way out of."
Buffy hugged herself and leaned against the doorframe. "Faith..."
Faith met her eyes for a moment. "I hurt you."
Buffy didn't miss the emphasis on 'you'. "But that was a long time ago. I do want you to get better. It's just...things might change when you remember."
"If I remember." Faith shrugged. "I don't think I'm going to try."
"It will get better." Buffy walked across the room, the few steps it took to get to Faith's side. She touched Faith's arm. "I promise."
Faith stared at her fingers. "You feel that?" she asked.
Buffy pulled her hand back. The Slayer-tingles, which had doubled the moment she touched Faith's skin, faded again. She thought of Riley, and of what would happen when Faith remembered she was a Slayer. "Feel what?" she asked.
"Nothing," Faith said. "Just...nothing."
Buffy nodded. "Let's go get Giles," she said, and led Faith out of the room.
Giles hung up the phone at the nurse's station as Buffy and Faith approached. Buffy raised her eyebrows at him. He sighed and studied Faith as he spoke. "I've called your mother, Buffy, and informed her that we're on our way."
"How'd she take it?" Buffy asked. She tried not to look at Faith as she asked. Mom didn't know the whole story where Faith was concerned. After Angel left, Buffy didn't want to talk to anyone about it. Willow and Xander were happy forgetting Faith, too, if for different reasons.
"She seemed eager to help," Giles said. "Riley said he had to go, but that he would call you later. Are you ready?"
Buffy shrugged. Faith crossed her arms and looked away. Neither of them answered.
"I'll bring the car around," Giles said. "Faith, I've arranged for a wheelchair for you, if you like."
Faith blinked. "I don't need –"
Giles cleared his throat. "Yes, well, hospital policy or somesuch...You can come with me. Buffy will meet us outside in a moment."
Buffy opened her mouth to protest, but Giles always had his reasons. She glanced down the hall. Xander and Willow waited in the lounge. Anya watched The Price Is Right and ignored their whispered argument. "Right," Buffy said. "I'll be right there."
She headed for the uncomfortable-looking orange plastic chairs. Xander looked up as she sat down. Willow glared at the floor.
"Listen, you guys..."
"Buffy, we don't really wanna listen," Xander said. "We know what you're gonna say. Redemption. Second chances. Nurse Buffy to the rescue...possibly wearing some sort of naughty nurse uniform..."
Anya swatted Xander without looking away from Bob Barker estimating the cost of a toaster oven.
"I mean." Xander shrugged and waved his hands. "Faith has tried to kill us both. If that's not enough to persuade you she's bad news, then we're not in the mood for you to convince us she's a little kitten up a tree."
Buffy leaned back. "And when people try to kill my friends I usually kill them right back," she said. Willow hadn't been this quiet for this long since the first day they'd met. "But –"
"There's always a 'but' with Faith," Willow burst out.
"No kidding," Xander said, leering.
It earned him another swat from Anya.
"Buffy, she's gonna remember some time, and how safe are we gonna be once she does?" Willow asked. "You aren't going to get a nicely engraved RSVP saying, oh, hey, turns out I hate you, try not to get murdered in your sleep. You're taking her home with you. To your mom! You can't watch her all the time and you can't trust her, amnesia or not."
"You're right." Buffy shrugged when they both looked up, surprised. "Of course you're right. But you also know there's nothing else we can do. She's...well, I put her in here. I mean, she killed two people, and threatened a whole bunch, but I'm the one who stabbed her and tried to feed her to Angel."
Xander sighed and looked at Willow. Buffy met Willow's eyes, seeing the hurt there. "I just – I can't forget that," she said, trying to explain. "Faith's my problem."
"You've got a great big Faith-shaped hole in your brain," Willow said. "You're shoveling guilt in there trying to fill it, but that's not going to help. It's not up to you to fix what she did wrong."
Buffy stood up. "I'm not," she said. "I'm trying to fix what I did wrong. Will..." Buffy held out her hands hopelessly. "I'll be by later to get some stuff. Maybe we can talk about Adam?"
"Yeah, number one hacker on the job," Willow muttered.
Buffy wanted to say something to help, but they were – all three of them – stuck in this trap of taking their own side. She didn't know how to get out of the hole she'd dug. They didn't understand how she felt about Faith. Buffy wasn't sure she understood it herself. Faith was a responsibility Buffy didn't need, but Buffy owed her; and, more than that, she wanted to help her. She wanted Faith to find herself, so that they could talk or fight or whatever they needed to figure out how something that had been so good had gone so wrong.
So, instead, Buffy left them and went out front. Giles pulled up in his old car, with Faith in the front seat. Buffy climbed into the back. Giles met her eyes in the rearview mirror, but Buffy could only shrug. Willow and Xander would come around eventually...or else Faith would prove them right. Buffy could only hope it would be the former.
Giles made some 'aheming' noises in his throat, but he couldn't seem to settle on a conversation opener. Buffy stared out the window, trying to see Sunnydale as Faith was – for the first time. It looked small.
The ride to her mom's house was a short one, and Buffy was glad to escape the car. Mom came out to meet them.
"Faith, honey!" she said, running down the steps and enfolding Faith in a hug.
"Um...hi," Faith said, blinking at Buffy over her mom's shoulder.
"I'm Joyce, Buffy's mom." She peered into Faith's eyes. "Oh, honey, I'm so sorry...but at least you're awake now! I've been worried about you."
Faith smiled. "Thanks. I guess." She murmured, "You're the first," and raised an eyebrow at Buffy.
Buffy pretended to ignore the remark, as if she didn't have the same sensitive hearing as Faith.
"Well, come on in, all of you," Mom said, herding them inside.
"I'll show Faith my room," Buffy said. She didn't want to get her mom on more of a nursing kick than she already was. They left Giles and Mom talking in the kitchen. "We can only hope Mom's not using it for storage space," she said, climbing the stairs. "If there are crates, I'm carrying them all straight down to the living room."
Faith laughed behind her. Buffy had to remind herself that Faith didn't know she was talking literally. It wasn't time to let the whole super-strength thing slip. Maybe, in a day or two...or after Faith had picked up a car by accident...
Buffy sighed and led the way into her room. It was, mercifully, crate-free. "Home sweet home," she said.
Faith nodded, her fingers hooked in her belt loops. "So, Buffy...when do I get the full story?"
Buffy bit her lip. "What do you mean?"
"I'm talking about your friends." Faith entered the room and examined the pictures on the shelves. "Red and Xander look like they're gonna faint if I even look at them wrong. It makes me want to sneak up on them and yell 'Boo!'"
"Don't do that!" Buffy said.
Faith turned around and grinned at her. "Aw, come on. Just to see the looks on their faces. I'd let you watch."
Buffy tried to glare at her repressively, but she found she couldn't quite hide an answering grin. It would be pretty funny. She didn't know whether she'd bet on Willow or Xander to have the girliest shriek. It wouldn't help them to trust Faith at all. In fact, it would probably make things worse. But they were both wound so tight as it was... She chuckled despite herself. "Okay, it would be funny. But don't do it."
"Fine, fine." Faith waved the idea away. "But don't try to tell me you've never had an uncontrollable urge – you knew something was wrong, but you just wanted to do it anyway."
Buffy shrugged. She wasn't going to think about her uncontrollable urges. She'd always been good at ignoring them, and then forgetting them. She didn't want to dig up all her old urges. Especially not to tell Faith. Time to change the subject. "Why do you call her Red?" she asked.
Faith blinked. "'Cause I don't know her name. Nobody's said it yet."
"Oh." Buffy blushed. If she was going to buy the amnesia story, she couldn't get caught up thinking of Faith as the person she'd known for months. She felt bad for not doing introductions. "Her name is Willow."
Faith nodded. "And you're warning me that she wants me to call her by name. Why? What's wrong with Red?"
"You used to call her Red. You were pretty big on nicknames."
Faith seemed to digest that piece of information. "I was, huh?" She sat down on the bed, picking up Mr. Gordo and hugging him. She smiled a bit at the stuffed pig. "I bet I had a great one for you."
Buffy blushed harder. Was that a hint of Faith's old banter? "No, not at all."
Faith's smile widened. She set Mr. Gordo aside. Her eyes were sparkling. She hadn't lost any of her teasing instincts. She sensed a weak spot, and she was going to exploit it. "Oh, yeah, I did. I called you something and you hated it." She tilted her head. Confusion clouded her face. "Or else –"
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Or else what?" She wondered again how much of Faith's memory loss was an act. Her confusion seemed real, and nobody had ever accused her of being any good at lying. Faith was too open with her emotions to be a convincing actress.
Faith shook her head. "Nothing." The smile came back. "I don't know if I'll remember it, but I can probably guess it. You'll tell me if I'm right?"
Buffy started to protest, then stopped. It wouldn't hurt, and maybe it would help Faith to get her memory back if she exercised it. "Okay. But I'll tell you right now, it wasn't Rumplestiltskin."
"Damn, there goes my first guess." Faith lay back on the bed, folding her arms behind her head. Her shirt pulled up as she did, exposing her toned stomach...and the scar. "So are these my digs now, or what?" Faith asked, but Buffy wasn't listening.
She was reliving that moment eight months ago. The feeling of sharp steel sliding into skin hadn't truly left her hand in all that time.
Faith sat up and pulled her shirt down. "Listen, I'm not – I mean, I have no idea if we ever –"
Buffy frowned when Faith didn't finish her sentence. "What are you talking about?" she asked. She pulled her mind away from the memory of Faith's eyes, brimming with pain, as she let herself fall. Buffy had felt as if she'd been stabbed herself, when she saw Faith plummet from the roof.
"I'm not gonna sleep in here, am I?"
"No, we have a guest bedroom..." Buffy pointed vaguely. Why was Faith blushing?
"Okay. Great. Because...I'm kinda tired." Faith jumped up from the bed. "I'm gonna check it out. I'll...see ya."
Buffy watched her go, then picked up Mr. Gordo. All this tip-toeing around the truth was not going to help once Faith started to remember. She didn't want Giles giving Faith the facts of life – he'd probably pull out the "One girl in all the world" speech. And Xander and Willow were both too bitter to want to help. It would be up to her...if only she could figure out how.
The guest bedroom was small. A double bed and a dresser took most of the floor space. Faith sat down on the bedspread and bounced a bit. There was too much art on the walls, a weird mixture of tribal African masks and impressionist paintings. Faith lay back on the bed. She wished she still had Buffy's pig to hold. She wished she had someone to talk to who didn't hate her, or expect her to know stuff, or who made her stomach do flipflops.
Buffy did all three. Faith wasn't really tired, but she couldn't stay in Buffy's room. The way Buffy stared at her made her want to squirm. Faith didn't remember herself. The person who woke up in that hospital room wasn't her. But she knew she didn't like being out of control. Buffy's stare ripped up her certainty and threw the pieces all over the place. Of everyone she'd met, Faith knew Buffy the most – and the least. Both, at the same time. Faith felt like they could talk about anything and she would know what Buffy's opinion was before she said it. Then, something would happen. A wall would crash down, and Buffy would be a stranger just like the rest of them.
A stranger who lied to her. The car-crash story sounded less likely with every passing moment. Faith slipped a hand under the white tank top the hospital had kept for her. A single cut in the material matched the scar in her stomach. She wriggled her fingers through the hole. The bloodstains had been bleached away, mostly, but the cut remained. One hole, as if the shirt had been sliced by a very sharp knife.
Like the knife in her dreams.
Faith squeezed her eyes closed. Each dream was the same. She was hunted by someone carrying that knife, and she was stabbed, and she died, and the thunderstorm washed her blood away.
There was a knock at the door and Faith was on her feet before she could think. She stared at her hands. She was holding them up, curled in loose fists. Her weight was balanced on the balls of her feet. She felt like she could jump in any direction, defend herself from any attack. Her heartbeat thrummed, faster than usual, and her breathing deepened, but her mind was calm and alert. She had never felt so ready for anything. She forced herself to relax. It was only Buffy standing outside the door.
"Come in," she said. She lowered her hands and sat on the bed.
Buffy opened the door. Faith took a deep breath and released it. How had she known it was Buffy? Her skin tingled, and she absently brushed the small hairs on her arms so that they lay flat. Buffy stayed in the doorway. She held out a jumble of clothes.
"I got you some stuff to wear," she said. "It's not a lot. You're too tall for most of my clothes. We can go shopping tomorrow if you want."
Faith took the pile. It was mostly t-shirts and sweats. Still, anything would be better than the skin-tight leather pants and sliced tank top. Most of all, it meant something that Buffy was genuinely offering to help her buy clothes tomorrow. Maybe the bitchiness was only an act. "Thank you," she said.
"Yeah. Well." Buffy scuffled a foot on the carpet. "Is this okay?"
Faith dumped the clothes on the bed. "The room? It's fine. The art's a little..." She shrugged. "I don't know. Not my style? Am I supposed to know what my style is?"
Buffy leaned back against the door jamb. She studied the walls. "No. It's not your style." Her lips twitched as if she was laughing at a private joke. "Definitely not your style."
Faith frowned. Buffy was so confident about what she liked and didn't like. Buffy thought she knew Faith better than she did herself. "Maybe it is. Now. I could change."
Buffy glanced at her for the first time since she'd come in. Her eyes sparkled with laughter. "So you're going to start collecting Waziri war masks and Group of Seven landscapes?"
"Well..." Faith tried to look serious, but Buffy's attempt to hide her smile was putting a dent in the effort. "You don't know. I could."
Buffy nodded, pursing her lips to hold in her laughter. "Okay, I'll keep it in mind. No more Dingoes CDs for you."
Faith nearly asked, "Do I like Dingoes CDs?" but stopped herself. It wasn't fair that everyone assumed they knew what kind of person she was. The kind of person who liked nicknames but not art, the kind of person everybody hated and feared and had secrets from. The kind of person whose body knew how to fight, whose body wanted to fight. She leaned back against the headboard. Buffy stayed in the hallway.
"You wanna come in?" she asked. "You can."
Buffy shrugged. "It's weird having you here."
Faith snorted. "Because you hate me."
"I don't –"
Faith raised an eyebrow at her.
Buffy hugged herself and looked down. "I don't."
Faith thought about the way Buffy's eyes had lingered on her body when her shirt rucked up. The way she blushed when she talked about Faith's old nickname for her. The way Faith could tell Buffy was lying when she said she didn't feel the sweet tingle every time they touched. Maybe Buffy didn't hate her. Maybe it was something else entirely.
Buffy could have been in love with her. They could have been girlfriends, or exes, or something. It was a weird idea, but not a freaky one. Faith considered it, half-squinting at Buffy as if she could focus hard enough to make the memories come back. Buffy was attractive, no doubt. Blonde hair falling in little tendrils around her face, most of it caught up in a messy ponytail. Bright green eyes, gorgeous smile, cute nose. Killer body. And there were the tingles. The shivery goodness of her presence. As if Buffy being there was all it took to make everything okay. Like they were stronger together. They could take anyone on, any odds, any fight, and come out on top.
And, out of everybody, Buffy was the one familiar face. Maybe because Faith had known her better? Loved her, even?
Yeah, and maybe she'd really been in a car accident. Unlikely.
"So...how did we meet?" Faith asked. Who was she to Buffy? Just a friend? How did anyone become enemies – real, true-to-life nemesises...nemeses...arch-enemies – with a college student?
Buffy squinched up her face at the question, but she swayed a foot or two into the room. "Meet?"
"Yeah. Meet. Y'know, you, me, first impressions. And stop hovering, you're making me nervous."
Buffy made an incredulous sound. "I make you...? Never mind." She hesitated for a moment longer, then walked in to the room and sat down. "It was at this club, the Bronze. You were dancing with this guy, and, uh, he looked like bad news, so when you left with him I followed you. And, he was. But you took care of him, and then, we were sort of standing there. So...that's it. That's when we met."
Faith nodded. "Did I do that a lot?"
Buffy blinked. "Dance? All the time. We...I mean, it's one of your favorite things."
"I meant, pick up bad-news guys." Faith knew she sounded angry. The more she got to know about herself, the less she liked who she was. The girl Buffy was talking about was an irresponsible slut. Was she really that girl?
Buffy didn't answer right away. And that made it worse.
"Fuck, Buffy, I'm trying to find out who I am, y'know? Okay? Could you just answer the question?"
Buffy picked at the bedspread. "Okay. Yes. You picked up guys a lot." She looked up. "But that's – that's not who you were, you know? Not to m – not to us."
"Right." Faith drew up her legs and hugged her knees, drawing into herself. If she picked up guys all the time, it kind of dismissed the in-love-with-Buffy theory. Except it was a theory she didn't really want to let go of. "Cleavagey and slutty. Psychotic murderer. Evil. That's what I am to your friends."
Buffy looked like she was going to cry. Tough shit. Little guilty looks and regret weren't going to cut it. Faith wanted to know why she was being lied to. Why Buffy was lying to her. And she was going to push her until she found out.
"You were a lot more than that," Buffy said. They were both uncomfortable now, sitting on opposite ends of the bed, not looking at each other.
A lot more than that. Faith shot a quick glance at Buffy. Was she just imagining it when Buffy sounded angry – almost jealous – about the guys she'd picked up? In the hospital, everyone had implied that Faith had hurt Buffy, badly. Her, specifically, more than anyone else. But Willow and Xander were the ones who were angriest. Buffy just looked upset, like she wanted to solve this problem but didn't know how.
"This is not fucking fair," Faith said calmly, finally, after they'd sat in silence for too long. "The way you're all treating me."
Buffy's eyebrows raised. "Because I'm supposed to be ready for this? After eight months?"
"At least you had those eight months." Faith tapped her skull. "And now I don't even have whatever life I did before. Not like that's your fault, but –"
Buffy flushed again, her eyes darting away.
Faith stared at her. Car crash, her ass. Buffy was trying to cover up and sucking at it. "But did I do anything, one fucking thing, wrong since I been here?"
"No," Buffy whispered. "But I can't forget..."
"And I can't remember. So maybe you could try telling me the fucking truth, Buffy."
Buffy shook her head.
"Unless you really do hate me. Unless this is supposed to be payback."
Buffy opened her mouth, closed it again, then got off the bed and retreated to the doorway.
"I wasn't in a car crash," Faith said to her back.
Buffy whirled around, her eyes wide. "You do remember," she said.
Faith frowned at her, feeling her hands fist almost against her will. She wanted to punch something. Someone. She wanted to fight. "No. But you pretty much just told me I'm right. So are you gonna tell me what really happened?"
Buffy backed up a step, into the hallway. "I just came to give you the clothes. I have to go."
Faith felt empty inside, hollow and hurting. No memories. No friends. She stayed where she was. "You're lying to me," she said. "All of you. Giles. The hospital. Your friends."
Buffy shook her head, denying it, but even she didn't seem convinced. Faith figured it would make sense to be angry about it, but instead she just felt sad. She turned away and looked out the window. Buffy stood outside the room for a minute longer. Once or twice Faith heard her start to speak, but in the end, she walked away.
Faith waited for another minute. Buffy didn't come back. Faith punched her pillow. This was a fucking head-trip. No one was going to tell her what was going on. She'd die of old age before Buffy decided to open up and share. She simply didn't trust her. Faith glared at the empty doorway. She wasn't going to sit around and wait. There had to be another way.
Faith slipped out of the guest bedroom. Buffy had gone downstairs, but she hadn't left yet. She was talking to Giles and Joyce in the kitchen. Faith stopped on the stairs. If she concentrated, she could hear what they were saying. She held her breath and listened.
"...so I'm going on a quick patrol, first."
"Are you sure that's wise? Adam is still at large, not to mention the fact that the Initiative is no longer friendly." Giles' voice was a low whisper, intense and concerned.
"If I see Adam, I'm gonna run," Buffy said. "I don't need my butt handed to me again. I just need to see how Willow's doing...on the encryption, and stuff."
Oh, this was excellent. The people she was staying with were all superspies. Encryption? Initiative? She'd woken up from her coma into an action movie.
"And Faith?" Giles' question seemed to imply more than he was asking. Faith wished she could see his face. He sounded like he was holding himself back from asking what he really wanted to know. There was a long pause. Buffy wasn't answering. Or, if she was, it was with a look Faith couldn't see.
"Faith will be fine here," Joyce said. "The poor girl, Rupert. She only got out of the hospital today. She doesn't even remember why you're all so angry with her."
"Yes, well, her memory may return, and that concerns me." A chair scraped across the floor. Giles started pacing, his voice coming closer, then retreating. "But more than that, it is the fact that she may discover her Slayer powers – and when she does, she'll only have more questions. The sooner we tell her, the more trust we'll gain."
There was that word again. Slayer. Faith bit her lip. Willow had used it in the hospital. Along with murderer. Was that what she had forgotten? That she'd killed someone? Faith stared at her hands. It had been so easy to make a fist, so easy to knock Buffy off her feet. She could have done something far worse. She could feel the potential for violence in her body every time she moved.
"So we gain her trust, and then what?" Buffy sounded bitter. "We turn around and trust her right back? For how long? Let her get her rocks off slaying until she goes wacko again?"
"Buffy. You know that if Wesley hadn't interfered, we might have saved Faith before things went so far. We still have this chance. We must reach out to her –"
More silence from Buffy. Faith ached to see what was passing across her face. Maybe Buffy had done all the reaching out she was prepared to do.
"Buffy..." Joyce's voice, cajoling. "You were so close to her before. What ever happened to make her turn on you...it has to be more than 'because she's evil'. You can't label people like that."
"On the Hellmouth you can." Buffy sighed. "Look, I said she could stay here. I want her to get better. I just don't want her to know about everything – not yet. Not until we're sure..."
"If you think that's best." Giles sounded doubtful.
"It's better then 'In every generation a Slayer is born'," Buffy said. "No offense, Giles. But it's a sucky way to find out about your destiny."
Okay. For real. These people were off their rockers. Destiny? Faith mouthed the word. It didn't sound like it applied to her. But then, nothing did. The three of them were being serious – unless they'd figured out she was listening and they were putting on some kind of show. Faith doubted that. They'd rather avoid her questions than tell her outright lies, if only to gain her trust. Yeah, right. Like she could have any confidence in people who eyed her like a criminal and discussed her destiny behind her back.
There were footsteps in the hall. Buffy was coming from the kitchen. Faith climbed the stairs and ducked back into the guest bedroom. She left the door open, hoping to hear more. No luck. Buffy and Giles put on their shoes and said goodbye to Joyce, then the front door closed behind them.
Joyce sighed and started up the stairs. Faith threw herself on the bed and waited. It wasn't hard to look bored and nervous when Joyce knocked on the open door. She crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe.
"Faith? How are you doing?" she asked, with a concerned frown.
"Five by five," Faith said.
Joyce's eyes widened. Blue. Worried. "Really?"
Faith raised a hand and rubbed her temple. "Uh. Yeah. I meant, fine."
"Well, it's just the two of us now. If you need anything..." Joyce trailed off invitingly.
Like answers. That was the only thing she needed. "Nah," she said. "I guess I'm just gonna sleep."
"All right. I'll be here if you need me."
Faith nodded. "Thanks." None of this was Joyce's fault, as far as Faith could tell. She was the only remotely welcoming person Faith had met yet. "I appreciate you letting me stay with you guys," she added.
Joyce's eyebrows raised, but she smiled. "It's no bother. You were always welcome here."
Faith gave her a doubtful look. "Uh-huh."
Joyce had the grace to blush a bit, but she said, "I would never turn you out of this house, Faith."
Faith relaxed. She let go of the sarcasm and the doubt. Joyce was being straight with her. Even if she wasn't volunteering information, at least she wasn't lying. "Thank you," she said again, meaning it.
"You're welcome." Joyce stepped back into the hall. "I'm just down the hall..."
"Okay." Faith sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Joyce was nice, a real mom's Mom, but that didn't satisfy her. If she wanted to know what was really going on, she was going to have to go to the source.
So she hadn't been in a car crash. Buffy knew what had really happened, but Buffy wasn't telling. And now Buffy was heading out on a patrol, and talking to Willow about her spy stuff. Faith stripped off her old clothes and put on a pair of Buffy's sweats and a black t-shirt. The t-shirt was pretty tight across the chest, and the pants were a bit too short, but at least they were something different, something new. Faith didn't want to be the person Buffy had described to her. The skank. The murderer. She was going to be herself, and if that meant following Buffy to find out who she truly was, then that's how it would be.
Faith headed downstairs, quietly. It wouldn't do any good for Joyce to hear her sneaking out. She stamped into her heavy black boots and tied the laces quickly. She opened the door softly, holding her breath. She dialed up her super-hearing, but she didn't hear Joyce coming to investigate. She closed the door just as carefully, and went down the porch steps.
Buffy lived on the university campus with Willow, so that would be the safest bet. If she could get directions from somebody...except the streets were deserted. It was only about nine o'clock, but there were zero people out and about. Maybe it was a small-town thing.
Faith had paid attention to enough of the car ride from the hospital to know the way to Sunnydale's single main street. There would probably be more people there. She headed in that direction.
But Buffy hadn't gone that way.
Faith looked over her shoulder. Down the block and across the street there was a line of tall bushes. She turned to face the hedge. That sense of Buffy's presence that she'd felt when Buffy was standing outside her door was back. It was like the hum of contact, but different, muted. She closed her eyes. This was more strangeness, but...she knew where Buffy was. Not in terms of distance, but direction.
Faith opened her eyes, glanced at the hedge, then towards downtown. She shivered and bounced on her toes a bit. Her pulse throbbed in her wrists. Adrenaline slid through her chest, her arms, her legs. The whole world was sharp and clear, never mind that it was dark. Okay. Chalk that up next to the hearing. Night vision. Some weird connection to Buffy.
And a sort of...excitement? Faith realized she was grinning. Her breath slid quickly between her teeth. She wanted – something. Her fingers curled easily into fists. She felt warm, energized. She laughed, and it sounded a bit manic, so she forced it down. She had to be quiet if she was going to stalk her prey...
This was part of what nobody wanted to tell her. Whatever she was feeling, it meant something.
Time to go find out what.
Faith followed her instincts, jogging down the block to the hedge. She found a convenient gap in the bushes and slipped through.
There was a cemetery on the other side. Headstones and graves checkered the lawn sloping away. The sight of them spiked Faith's excitement. This was familiar. She recognized this – moving softly among the tombs, sliding through the deeper shadows, hunting –
Her prey. Buffy. The light from a full moon shone on her hair. She looked like she belonged to the night. She stood the same way Faith had when Buffy's knock at the door had startled her. Balanced on the balls of her feet, leaning forward a bit, both hands up defensively. She was holding something in one hand, and she was talking to a group of guys standing in front of her. Faith glided closer.
"Come on, five against one, that's not very sportsmanlike," Buffy said. "Should I wait for you to call up a few friends?"
The guy at the front of the group laughed. "You're arrogant. I like that. It means you will die easily."
"Um, do you even know me?" Buffy circled the guys carefully as she spoke. "Killing demons professionally for five years running?"
"Every Slayer dies," the man said, and lunged.
Faith gasped. Buffy tossed the guy over her hip and met the charge of the four other men. She swept the legs out from underneath one and sent two more stumbling back with vicious punches. Faith heard bones crack, but none of the guys seemed fazed in the least. Faith's first instinct was to rush into the fray. She wanted to help Buffy. She wanted to fight. Instead, she gripped the side of the mausoleum she was hiding behind, and watched. Buffy closed with the last man. They spun around together, Buffy's foot snapping out in a sharp kick, the man grunting as he took the blow. Faith could see his face – it was deformed, with wrinkled ridges rising up over his forehead, and when he opened his mouth, Faith swore she could see fangs. Buffy launched herself on top of him and –
Faith blinked. She was sure there had been five guys. But now there were definitely only four, and Buffy was still fighting. And where did she get the skills to beat off four guys at once? Buffy moved like a dancer, all grace and flawless intent, like every move came from years of practice, of perfection. Faith gaped at the whole scene. Buffy hadn't shown anything like this before. She was a college student. A teenager. A normal person.
An amazingly beautiful woman.
Suddenly, there were only three guys. Faith saw it happen this time. Buffy plunged her hand down to the man's chest, and there was a poof, and then he turned to dust – skeleton and skin ripped away into nothingness. Buffy just kept going. She did this, and her friends called Faith a murderer? Two guys had just disappeared right in front of her! Faith felt dizzy. She realized she'd been holding her breath and let it out in a long, shaky sigh. Her muscles were twitching. She wanted to run out there –
Oh, God, she wanted more than that.
One of the guys was running away, and Buffy was too busy with the others to follow. It was quick, now, one puff of dust and then another, in the space of two heartbeats. Buffy stood still, panting slightly, looking in the direction of the man who'd fled. Faith couldn't stop staring at her.
Buffy tucked whatever weapon she'd used inside her leather jacket. She stayed motionless for another moment, then, slowly, she turned her head. She was looking in the direction of Faith's hiding spot. Faith saw a frown cross her face. Faith stopped breathing. The tingles had grown to a sizzle of sensation down her spine. Faith leaned against the stone wall of the mausoleum. She was wet, her pussy aching, her nipples hard and chafing inside her bra. And Buffy was still staring straight at her. Surely she couldn't see through walls?
"Faith?" It was only a whisper, but Faith could hear it. And Buffy would know she could. Faith peeked around the corner.
Buffy hadn't moved. Faith closed her eyes and didn't answer, didn't move, didn't think. She was keyed up, feverish, and most of all, bewildered. How could this happen? What did it mean, this whole Slayer business? What the fuck was between her and Buffy?
Who was she?
A long minute passed, then another. Faith heard when Buffy moved away, running across the graveyard as if she knew every inch of it, and wasn't afraid of tripping. Faith stepped out into the open.
Buffy was gone. The man who'd run away from her was back.
"Slayer," the deformed guy said – or, growled, really.
"What the fuck!" Faith yelled. "Is everyone in on the secret except me?"
The weirdo backed off a step. He growled again, confused, his frown making his forehead even uglier, if that was possible. He waited for a moment, obviously expecting something more from her than she was providing. Faith watched him. If he was like his buddies, he'd attack her as soon as she looked vulnerable. So. Look strong. Feel even stronger. Faith's right hand spasmed shut. She needed a weapon. Buffy's had looked like nothing more than a pointy stick.
So, okay. There were trees around. Faith sprinted for the nearest one. The guy was behind her immediately. Faith reached the tree and tugged on the first branch. Would she even be able to snap it off?
The branch splintered cleanly in her hand. Faith stared at it for a second, surprised. She hadn't even put that much effort into it.
There was no time to wonder any more. Mr. Forehead was almost on her, running as fast as he could, his yellow eyes eager and hungry.
Faith gasped and jabbed her branch at his chest, the way Buffy did. The guy couldn't stop himself on time. He was already mid-jump. He hit the pointy end of the stick. Faith felt it pierce his clothes, his skin – his heart...
There was a poof! and he was gone. Dust swirled on the breeze for a second. Faith closed her eyes and threw the branch down. She didn't know how the dusting worked, but that guy was dead. Was it that easy to kill a guy? Was that what made her a murderer?
Then why did it feel so good?
Buffy unlocked the dorm room gingerly. Her hand shook. The key rattled in the lock. Buffy gripped the door knob and closed her eyes. Willow had been gone a lot lately, studying or practicing spells with someone from her Wicca group. Buffy had hoped she'd be out tonight, but through the door Buffy could hear the click of keys from Willow's laptop. It sounded like Willow was working on the encryption and getting nowhere fast. She wouldn't be going anywhere soon. Damn. Buffy opened the door and tiptoed in. After their argument this afternoon, the last thing she wanted to do was annoy Willow further.
Buffy sat on the end of her bed and lay back. Sweat trickled down her temples into her hair. She concentrated on her breathing, trying to calm down. The patrol had been intense. She'd felt – watched. Hunted. Ordinary vamps didn't have that effect. There was only one thing that did. One person. It couldn't have been Faith, though. Buffy had left her at home. There was no way it had been Faith out there. She was still weak. She didn't know she was the slayer, or that she was the One Girl In All The World. It was better that way. If Faith knew, she'd run away, or go crazy, or try to kill them all, or something.
Hell, she might do something crazy anyway. Faith wasn't the type to wait patiently for explanations. Even with amnesia, that was still clear. Buffy hated the look in Faith's eyes that said she thought everyone was against her. That she was alone, and helpless, and still trying to come out on top. The only thing Faith knew how to do was fight. And why? Because Faith had never known a time when she was safe, when she didn't have to fight.
Maybe last year. Maybe, one or two times, when Buffy was patrolling with her, Faith had seemed genuinely happy. She still talked incessantly about sex or dancing. She wasn't as cynical, though, and not as bitter. She would tease Buffy gently, without the sarcastic edge that was all Willow and Xander ever saw. Those patrols were the best Buffy could remember. The low-level awareness of Faith's presence, a more or less constant thing, would flare and shine with Faith's satisfaction. And she'd feel –
What she'd felt tonight in the cemetery. The quick blaze of excitement that came when she'd finished off those four vamps. One had gotten away. Buffy groaned a bit, wiggling on the bed. She should have had him. The feeling of being watched had distracted her just enough to let him go. She'd been left hanging. She wanted the kill. It was her fault she'd missed. Heat spilled through her, and she lost concentration. That warmth came from Faith. And Faith was back, that was all. Safely at home, but awake nonetheless. Hurt, and weak, but alive...
Oh, God, Faith was alive.
Alive. Buffy felt like she couldn't breathe and like a huge weight had been lifted off her chest at the same time. She wasn't a murderer – she hadn't become Faith after all. But Faith was back. With all the hurt and broken friendships Buffy had though she could forget forever. Faith had betrayed her, and how could she leave Faith alone with her mother? Faith the killer. Faith the psycho.
Faith, the girl she'd stabbed, the girl she'd almost killed. Faith, wounded and vulnerable and as open as she'd ever been because she didn't know any better, didn't know what was really going on. There was no way to keep everything from her. Faith would figure it out. And then what? Would they be enemies again?
If Faith went bad, Buffy knew she wouldn't be able to stop her. That fight, eight months ago – every move, every punch, every strategy was burned into her brain. Buffy couldn't do that again. She couldn't kill Faith, not again, not for real. And if she told Faith the truth, then that's what it would come to. Buffy had to change things, to make them better. How? Faith didn't trust her. Who would, after the way they'd all treated her today? There was simply no way out. Tell Faith the truth, and lose her forever. Keep her in the dark, and drive her away.
Buffy opened her eyes. Willow was still typing. She was ignoring Buffy as much as she could. She was used to these post-patrol rituals of Buffy's. Buffy shed her inner Slayer like she was taking off a coat, but it took concentration, effort. Every night she had to shove down those uncontrollable urges Faith had mentioned earlier.
The urges were always more uncontrollable when Faith was around. Tonight, slaying those vamps, Buffy had nearly melted from the sensation. God, why couldn't Willow be at her friend's place tonight? Buffy seriously needed to get rid of some tension.
She had to go back home soon. There'd be no relief then. Giles and Mom thought she was checking up with Willow on the Initiative after her patrol. She was actually escaping Faith. Buffy would never be able to touch herself when Faith was within sensing distance. Faith had never been shy about letting her know she'd fuck anything that walked on two legs. "As long as they're breathing," she'd told Buffy once, "which is a higher standard than you seem to have, so really, I don't know why everyone thinks I'm the naughty one here."
Buffy quickly shook that image out of her head. She sat up and sighed. Willow glanced over her shoulder.
"How's it going?" Buffy asked, waving vaguely at Willow's laptop. She didn't understand what Willow was trying to accomplish, at least, not beyond "Initiative computers bad, sneaking in good."
Willow twisted her face into an apologetic grimace. "It's going perfectly, if our plan was to see if my eyeballs really could turn into cubes," she said. She closed the laptop and twisted around to face Buffy, resting her chin on her chair back, pouting slightly at her failure. "How was patrol? Are there lots of little piles of dust out there getting together to organize a Buffy Kicks Butt convention?"
"Four, at least," Buffy said. "But I think the convention was called off when they found out the hotel double-booked them with vacuum salesmen."
Willow gave her a look that was nearly an eyeroll. Buffy sighed. So they hadn't moved past the Faith thing by avoiding each other all afternoon. That meant they still had to talk it out. Just wonderful.
Willow got up and started cleaning the room, straightening things on her desk that were already at right angles and tucking an overhanging sock all the way into the laundry basket. Buffy hugged her pillow and watched. She wanted a shower, but if she left the room now, Willow would probably go to bed so that they could avoid this talk for another day. Buffy frowned. When was the last time they had really talked? About stuff that was important, not just Scooby business? Never, really, since Willow had baked guilt-cookies, just after Oz left. Buffy had Riley, and Willow had magic.
And now there was Faith. Standing between them. Again. Still.
"White elephant," Buffy said. It was almost a sigh.
Willow glanced over from where she was tucking her sheets in so tightly she'd probably have to become two-dimensional if she wanted to get into bed. "Huh?"
"In the room. You know, the one we're not talking about?"
Willow plopped down on her bed. "We talked this afternoon."
Buffy winced. "Yeah, but maybe we didn't listen."
Willow snorted. "Are you gonna listen this time when I say Faith shouldn't be staying with you?"
"No...probably not." Buffy ran a hand through her hair. Ick. Really, shower should be higher on the list. But, first, Willow. "I know you don't think so, but I can handle her. It's more the why – not the 'she tried to kill us' why, you know, the other why – the why that was why before she tried to kill you."
Willow's lips tightened. She hugged her knees, frowning fiercely at her bedspread. "It's nothing."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Then it's something. Can't we just –"
Willow flung herself down on her bed and curled up, facing the wall away from Buffy. "No."
Buffy opened her mouth, then closed it again. Willow sniffed – quietly, and normally Buffy would pretend she hadn't heard. But not over this. Buffy cautiously shifted her position. Silently, she moved across the room and sat down on Willow's bed. Willow tensed when she felt Buffy's weight on the mattress.
Buffy sat cross-legged and reached out a hand to stroke Willow's hair. "What did she do?" she asked.
"Willow, if Faith did something to you..."
Silence. Buffy could see tears running over Willow's nose.
"She really doesn't remember," Buffy said. "Giles says she might get her memory back, but she might not. I don't know about you, but if I woke up and everybody around me hated me, I'd want to know why." She sighed. Her fingers combed through Willow's hair, over and over, soothing. "She's so...alone. Before, you know, she had me...sort of. I mean, I had you guys, but it's..." Different. Buffy tried to find words that wouldn't make Willow feel worse. No matter how much help Willow and Xander were, with research or getting donuts or magic or even as bait, they still didn't know what it was to be the superhero. It was lonely. And, for those few months with Faith, it...hadn't been. They argued and fought and disagreed, but Faith understood. Willow understood her, too, but not about the Slayer stuff. And not always about Angel, either – Faith always knew, and Faith always told the truth, even if it was awful. Even if it hurt. "Faith thought she only had me," Buffy said. "I guess I never got that before. But if she hurt you, Will, if she did something to you...you're my best friend, you know that, right?"
"Yeah." It came out shaky. Willow shifted a bit. "She didn't do anything. Not like – not like you think. It...it doesn't matter."
"It matters to me." Stroke. Stroke. Staring out the window. It was a full moon. Somewhere, out there, Oz was wolfing out. But he was gone. And maybe Willow was still hurting over that. When was the last time Buffy had checked to see how she was doing? Last year, it was the same thing. Buffy must have really missed a lot. So wrapped up in Angel that she didn't see whatever had caused this big crack between Willow and Faith. She knew Willow didn't like Faith. It was partly her fault, for getting caught up in that warm, tingly togetherness, the rightness of slaying with Faith. They were both jealous of any time Buffy spent with the other one. But she couldn't cut herself in half. She couldn't be that girl for everyone.
"Buffy..." Willow stumbled over her name. She was nervous. Buffy could feel a babble-fest coming.
"Yeah?" Quiet. Calm. Tell me what's wrong. Tell me where we lost each other.
"Have you ever had...um, like, feelings, the kind of feelings that are – feelingy, but you didn't know if they were the real feelingy or just, maybe, friendship, like good friends feelingy?" Willow looked up hopefully.
"I guess," Buffy said cautiously. Had Willow finally found someone after Oz?
"Maybe...they make you feel good, and when you look at them you think 'wow', but you know everybody's gonna think they're pretty much the wrongest person for you?"
"I haven't forgotten Parker yet, Will."
Willow squirmed. "Not that kind of wrong. The kind where you...I mean, have you ever felt – like that – about someone who was less than guy-like?"
Buffy's hand froze. She could hear Faith's voice, teasing and dark. "You ever get that good, down-low tickle?" Watching Faith pump her hips and grunt, Buffy's body had immediately provided her with a perfect example of the feeling in question. She blushed. Was this what had Willow so upset? "I am not attracted to Faith!" she protested.
Willow's eyes widened. "Not Faith – me!"
Buffy backed up. She nearly fell off Willow's bed. "I don't feel that way about you, either!" She stared at Willow in horror. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry."
"I'm not hitting on you, Buffy!" Willow sat up, anger burning bright colors on her cheeks. "I'm telling you why I was mad at Faith. And this is why – she said – you're acting just like –" She clamped her mouth shut. "I wanted you to meet somebody. Who I maybe...like. A lot. But if you're...going to be like this...I'm just, I can't. I don't want to talk about it."
Buffy stood up. "I'm not acting like anything."
"You're acting like I just told you I had leprosy." Willow spread her arms. "This is me! Lesion-covered Willow! Infectious and rotting!"
"I don't – you just, you caught me by surprise. I'm sorry." Buffy sat down on her own bed. Willow likes girls. No, Willow likes a girl. Buffy tried not to feel weird about it. It didn't work. She'd brought up the white elephant in the room and now it was stampeding through her brain. "And...Faith knew?" she asked. How awful with that? Willow was her best friend, and Faith knew while she didn't?
"Not exactly." Willow calmed down and sat across from her. "Faith told me."
"She...told you..." Buffy shook her head.
"She said, out of the blue one day, no reason, she just was in the library and she told me I didn't really love Oz. And I got upset and tried to leave and she just called after me, 'Trust me, when you find her, you'll know Wolfy was just about having a boyfriend in a band.' And...I hated her for that, because...it was Oz, you know?" Willow sniffled and pushed her tears back with the heel of her hand. "And now...I guess, she's right, and when I saw her today, and I was already thinking about telling you...it just. All came back." She glared at Buffy. "Plus I'm still not forgetting the holding-a-knife-to-my-throat thing, because being a hostage? Not the warm-fuzzy feeling you'd expect."
Buffy nodded. She didn't know what to say. Willow had shocked her, but it was wearing off. She wondered how Faith had known. What had Buffy missed seeing? Maybe it was just that Faith had been known to – again in her words – "scratch the itch" with whoever was handy. Faith knew, because Faith liked girls. Buffy thought again of Faith's teasing, Faith's flirting...but, that was so the wrong direction for her thoughts to be headed right now. "So," she said. "Who did you want me to meet?"
"Tara," Willow whispered, subsiding a bit.
"From your Wicca group, Tara?"
"Well...okay. Yes. I want to meet her. I want you to, um...follow your heart. But in a less Afterschool Special kind of way." Buffy smiled. "And, with Faith...can you be okay with her? I mean, if she recovers, and she...hates us...that's different. But, for now?"
Willow shrugged. She looked down for a minute. "It's not that I don't want to give her a chance, Buffy. I know she's sick, and hurt, and all that. But we've given her lots of chances, haven't we?"
"Maybe not." Buffy struggled with her words. She kept having to face this issue over again. But with Faith being memory-loss girl, it just kind of changed the way she saw it. "We never gave her a chance this time. Because she was meeting us for the first time and already the deck was stacked against her." Buffy sighed. "I don't know, Will. I just want her to understand. Maybe none of us can forgive each other if she doesn't know what she's done, but if she remembers, I want us to be able to."
Willow sent her a pained glance. "If she remembers –"
"Then she'll probably run," Buffy finished. "Or kill me. I know."
"I know you can handle her, Buffy. I do trust you that much."
I don't trust myself that much, Buffy thought, but she didn't say it. It would hurt so much if Scared Faith turned into Psycho Faith...if Buffy had to face her as an enemy. Again. "I'm going to take her shopping tomorrow, maybe get her used to...things," she said. "Did you want to – ?"
"Join you? Buffy, I'm trying, okay, but that's a bit much. I'll try and talk to Xander, though." Willow climbed to her feet. "It's late. Riley called before, he said he'd drop by after his patrol. He'll probably be here soon."
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "And I'm all stinky."
"They say the course of true love never runs smooth," Willow said in her snootiest voice.
Buffy grinned. This was good. They'd talked, they hadn't wigged, and things were better. "Right. Shower for me." She tossed on her robe and grabbed her toiletries, then headed for the bathroom.
The hot water reminded her how tired she was. Buffy worked shampoo through her hair, feeling the pleasant ache in her muscles that told her she'd had a good patrol, a good fight. Stepping back under the spray, she stood there, feeling the needles of water heat her skin, rinsing the soap away. She cast her mind back to the cemetery. If only that one kick had connected...she could have snapped the fifth vampire's neck, maybe even decapitated him, if she'd been a hair quicker. Buffy reached for the conditioner. The slayage had been good, though. Better than good. Buffy squeezed the conditioner into her hair, rubbing at the small, tense knots in the back of her neck at the same time. She'd been on top of her game. Five at once was pretty steep odds, even for her. But she'd felt...smooth, practiced, perfect. In sync with the world. And – watched. Like she was in the Olympics, the way Faith had joked once. The world's eyes on her, admiring her, somehow in tune with her.
Buffy sighed and ran her hands down her body. The air was thick with steam, the shower almost too hot. The bath gel was slick on her skin. Her body was tingling again, the way it did when –
When Faith was watching her. When their Slayer connection flared up with Faith's attention, her appreciation.
Buffy's breath caught in her throat. Don't think about Faith. She didn't stop herself from bringing her hands up to her breasts, sliding her palms over her nipples. They were hard, slippery with the gel. God, this was what she needed, what her body had been demanding since the end of the slay...when the too-familiar feeling washed through her. The one she'd denied to Willow, packaged up and stored in the back of her mind where she didn't have to think about it.
I am not attracted to Faith!
Faith, stretched out on her bed, her shirt sliding up...showing her flat stomach dipping below her ribs, the flare of her hips under the too-loose pants. Her breasts moving up and down with every breath...
Buffy pinched her nipples, sighing. The electric feeling speared through her body. Her legs felt weak, her pussy throbbing. She reached down to touch her clit, the bath gel mixing with her own wetness. Buffy ran her finger up and down her slit, slow and hard, feeling her body twitch each time.
Shouldn't be thinking about Faith. Think about...Riley. Or Angel. Or even fucking Parker.
Buffy tipped her head forward and bit down on a moan. It was no good. Faith filled her mind, dancing, strutting, teasing her. Grinning, her full lips inviting Buffy to give in, go bad –
"Fuck!" Buffy yanked her hands away from herself and hit the wall of the shower stall. She was not going to come while thinking about Faith. Faith was just...on her mind. With the waking up and the returning to her life and the completely messing up her head.
Buffy wrenched the taps closed and toweled off quickly, trying to convince her body that it should be satisfied. She was flushed, her pulse throbbing on the surface of her skin. Her pussy ached, wanting to take up where she'd left off. It wouldn't happen.
Of course Riley was waiting for her when she got back to the room. Buffy blushed guiltily when she saw him, but she forced herself to smile and kiss him quickly. He grinned and ran his hand down over her ass, then stepped back. "I'll wait in the lounge," he said. "You're coming over, right?"
There were a thousand excuses at the tip of Buffy's tongue. She had a load of homework. She was exhausted. She had to get back home. She was worried about Faith.
Faith. Faith sleeping down the hall in the guest bedroom. Faith wearing Buffy's clothes...or, maybe, not wearing Buffy's clothes.
"Of course," Buffy told him. "I'll just be a minute."
Buffy dawdled over getting dressed, until Willow asked if she had lost something.
"No. I'm going. It's just –" There was no good way to explain. A single Really Big Conversation per night was plenty. "I wanted to know when I'm going to meet Tara."
Distracting Willow was that easy. She blushed. "Uh...tomorrow night? The Bronze?"
"Okay. Great. Well..." Buffy stared around the room. No more delays. "Great. See you then."
Riley held her hand as they walked through the dark campus to Lowell House. His meaty hand was sweating, and Buffy felt lost in his grip. When had this happened? She used to like his size – his broad shoulders, his chest, his farmboy grin. Now there was something claustrophobic in standing next to him. Buffy looked up at his smug smile and tried to figure out how she'd never noticed how tall he was.
"So," he said, smiling down at her, his eyes twinkling. Buffy realized he thought he'd just caught her checking him out. "Is everything settled at your place?"
Buffy gave an uncomfortable shrug. "We don't know. Faith still doesn't remember anything. I don't know how long she'll be there."
"Well, as long as you don't help her too much," Riley said. "Not that you shouldn't try to help, but don't forget about yourself. School. Patrolling."
"You?" Buffy asked drily.
Riley grinned. "Well. Yeah."
"Don't worry," Buffy said. "Faith is taken care of. She's under control."
"Good." Riley paused and bent down to kiss her. "Because I wouldn't want to lose you. You do so much as it is..."
"Yeah," Buffy said. At least his kiss was beginning to remind her why she'd come to Lowell with him.
As soon as they were in his room, he wrapped his arms around her. Buffy fought the urge to kick herself free. His mouth was rough where he hadn't shaved, his lips eager and sloppy. He tugged her by the hand towards his bed. He knew she was usually happy to go along with him after they'd both patrolled. Buffy kissed him back, trying to find a rhythm with his too-large body. He used his fingers and his mouth, and it felt good – to a point. Buffy rolled him over and got on top, which usually worked for her. She shifted, trying to find the angle that would make everything tip from pretty good to simply amazing. Riley was starting to get desperate, but he was trying to hold back and wait for her. Like a gentleman. Buffy could have cried in frustration. She wanted this. She needed this.
She wasn't getting any closer.
This was horrible.
Faith would probably laugh at her.
Faith would probably know what to do.
Faith would –
Buffy gasped and came before she knew what was happening, burying her mouth against Riley's collarbone to stop herself from crying out anybody's name. Riley let go a second later. He snuggled up next to her afterwards, murmuring "I love you," into her hair.
Buffy stayed awake in the beefy trap of his arms, thought about Faith, and wondered what the hell was going on.
Faith crept back into Buffy's house. The lights were out. Joyce must have believed Faith was safely asleep. Faith trudged upstairs to the guest bedroom. She turned her back on the watching African masks and skinned out of Buffy's clothes. The sheets were crisp and cool. Faith lay in bed, arms crossed behind her head. She'd spent eight months of her life asleep. After what she'd seen tonight, she didn't think she'd ever sleep again.
She had killed a man. It wasn't all her fault. He'd attacked her, apparently without reason. Maybe he was a criminal, maybe he was a complete wacko. It didn't matter. Faith had stabbed him. She'd watched how Buffy did it, and it looked so easy. When Faith jabbed the branch into the guy's chest, it felt like it was what she had been born to do.
Buffy had said something about that, earlier, in the kitchen with Joyce and Giles. That Faith had a destiny. That she would get off on slaying.
And Buffy did too. Faith didn't question that for a second. She could feel it through the shimmering contact of their bond. She saw Buffy's ragged breathing, that not just the fight could account for. Faith smelled it in the night air. That scent – Buffy's arousal – it was another teasing familiarity. Part of her memory itched to tell her what was going on. The harder she pushed, the further away the memories seemed. Faith felt blocked. Trapped.
She had thought it would be so easy to start fresh. She wanted to be someone new. Not the killer everyone accused her of being. Yet here she was, with blood on her hands. Sort of. Dust, anyway.
And if she could forget the killing for a minute, there was the fact that they guy had disappeared. Turned to dust and blown away. Faith couldn't ignore the freaky stuff anymore. Her sight, scent, hearing, strength – all of them were enhanced. This thing with Buffy. And the magic vanishing dead guy.
The moonlight moved across the artwork on the walls. Faith closed her eyes. All around her were the threads of a mystery. None of them was close enough to touch.
And at the center of it all was Buffy. Faith could feel the ghost of her touch even now. Buffy was lying to her, about so many things, but Faith felt like Buffy didn't want to be. As if there was something larger that she didn't dare reveal. There was so many things behind Buffy's eyes, half-hidden emotions that Faith didn't know what to do with. Somehow, Buffy reached into Faith's heart and triggered feelings that were almost memories. It was all so confusing, but Faith knew – she knew – that when she was watching Buffy fight, she loved what she saw.
Loved, and feared...
When Joyce called her for breakfast, Faith dragged herself out of a restless sleep. She rubbed her eyes and tried to hold on to the fragments of her dream. Something about Buffy...kissing her forehead, and whispering in her ear...
"Thank you, Faith. You saved me...and I'm so sorry..."
By the time Faith showered and hauled on a fresh set of Buffy's handmedowns, it was already fading. Joyce fixed her with a motherly eye when she slumped into the kitchen and sat at the island.
"How are you feeling today, Faith?" Joyce brought over a pot of coffee and set a mug in front of her. "Black, three sugars, right?"
Faith wrapped her hands around the mug while Joyce poured. "Sure. Whatever."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I should let you remember on your own." Joyce sighed. She set the coffee down and ran a hand through Faith's hair.
"Not that that's working out so great," Faith muttered, trying not to sound too bitter. She took a drink of the coffee, fast enough to scald her tongue. The sugar was definitely a good idea.
"You just need to have a little patience," Joyce said, returning the pot to its place under the percolator. "You've already remembered more than you know." She turned around and leaned on the island opposite Faith, crossing her arms. She met Faith's eyes. "The doctors never expected you to wake up at all," she said. "You've beaten so many odds...if it takes a few days to get your memories back, it's not because they aren't coming."
Faith nodded. She traced a finger over the pattern on the coffee mug. "You really figure, huh?"
"Yes. I do."
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Then why won't you just tell me? Save the middleman or whatever."
Joyce tipped her head. "It's not my place. And, I don't know everything that you would want to know."
"So wait for Buffy to get over herself." Faith made a disgusted noise. "'Cause that's gonna happen sometime in the next century."
"Buffy has been my daughter for nearly nineteen years," Joyce said. "And if there's one thing I can say, it's that it might take a while, but usually, she can and does 'get over herself'." She smiled. "Now, how about breakfast? Today, I've got toast, and there's also...toast."
Faith snickered. "Good choices." She took another gulp of the searing coffee. "Can I help?"
"Plates are in that cupboard...jam is in the fridge."
Faith set herself a place. Joyce put the toast in front of her. Faith had just started digging in when the front door opened and closed. A moment later, Buffy walked into the kitchen. She snagged a piece of toast from the toaster and munched it dry.
Faith concentrated on spreading jam on her own slice. Buffy was wearing the same clothes that she was last night in the graveyard. Faith's nostrils twitched. The scent of dust and dry sweat was obviously too faint for Joyce to notice, but for her it was a huge sign screaming that everything that happened last night was real. Buffy had showered – Faith could smell soap, as well, and her hair was shining clean – but the clothes were steeped in last night's fight, last night's lust.
Faith bit into her toast. The awkward silence that started when Buffy came home kept growing. Joyce fiddled with the coffee maker, adding fresh grounds. Buffy stared at Faith whenever she thought Faith wasn't watching, but Faith kept catching her. She looked frightened.
Scared of me, Faith thought. How could Joyce even think that they were going to get back to being 'good friends' or whatever they had been before? Buffy not only been horribly hurt, somehow, by Faith, but now she didn't trust her as far as she could throw her. Although, considering how far Buffy had thrown a few of those thugs last night, maybe it was even less than that.
"Sorry I didn't call," Buffy said, wiping crumbs off her shirt, carefully not meeting either her mom's or Faith's eyes. "I thought you'd be okay. I stayed at Riley's."
"That's nice. How is he?" Joyce asked brightly.
"Fine," Buffy mumbled. "So...anyway, I don't have class today, so I thought Faith and I could go shopping. She needs..." Buffy waved a hand at Faith's too-tight t-shirt and too-short pants. "Well. Everything."
"That sounds good. I'll get you some money." Joyce headed out of the room. Faith tensed, wishing she still had the barrier of her presence. Buffy seemed even more tense than she had been last night, if that was possible. But maybe Joyce was right. If they could get past this tension, break the ice...maybe there was potential for so much more between them.
Faith watched Buffy pour some coffee for herself, adding milk and sugar. "Rambo?" she asked.
Buffy turned around. "What?"
"I'm guessing my nickname for you, remember?" Faith started jamming another piece of toast. Then, with a malicious smirk, she asked innocently, "Shorty?"
Buffy glared. "No."
Faith licked a bit of jam off her knife. "Mmm. Um. Sugarmuffin?"
"No!" Buffy's glare cracked, and her lips twitched into a smile. "Where did that one come from?"
"I don't know. I'm just, y'know, covering a broad spectrum."
"It wasn't anything like –"
Faith held up a hand. "No hints." She paused to consider. "Do I get something when I guess? A reward?"
"I don't think so." Buffy brought her coffee to the island and sat across from Faith. "Nope. That definitely wasn't established in the rules."
"There are rules now?" Faith grinned. "And here I was thinking I was a rebel, the kind who doesn't play by the rules, just a little dangerous..."
"Yeah," Buffy said softly. "Yeah, you are that."
Faith pointed the knife at her. "Not fair."
Buffy's eyes focused on the knife. "I know."
Faith looked at the knife. She felt a flash of her dream, of pain and falling. She dropped the knife on her plate with a clatter. Faith shook her head, trying to regain her balance. "Jesus...Buffy –"
Buffy circled the island in a flash. Too fast for any ordinary human to do it, of course, but Faith knew that. She knew that Buffy was a freak. Hell, they both were.
Buffy put a hand on her shoulder, steadying her. "Are you all right?"
"Dizzy..." Faith squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them again. "It's nothing."
"It's not nothing. You were in a coma. Nothing is nothing." Buffy pressed her shoulder. Faith took a deep breath, feeling excitement seep through their contact. The world steadied in her vision. Faith stayed stock still, trying to extend for as long as possible Buffy's touch.
Joyce came back from the other room.
Buffy jumped back from Faith's side. Faith heard the hitch in her breath. "Mom!" she said.
Joyce looked up from where she was rummaging through her purse. "What?"
"Nothing. Sorry. Just – lunch money, too, okay?"
Joyce gave Buffy a glare. "You know, a part-time job wouldn't kill you."
"The one I have just might," Buffy said sweetly. She flinched, then looked at Faith.
"Fine. Lunch." Joyce handed over some cash.
"All right. I'll just get changed." Buffy smiled uncertainly at Faith. "You'll be ready?"
Faith nodded. What choice did she have? "Yeah."
As it turned out, shopping with Buffy wasn't as painful as she'd feared. Buffy had conned the use of her mom's Jeep, so the trip to the mall was short. Store after store, bag after bag, Faith's arms filled with clothes that fit. Buffy let her choose whatever she wanted, but Faith stayed away from the slutty clothes. She was going to dress like someone new, anyway, even if the rest of her stayed the same.
Around lunchtime, Faith's growling stomach finally put an end to the shopping spree. Buffy smiled at her.
"Okay, Faith, I get the message. I've just got one more thing to get. Meet me in the food court?"
"Great," Faith said. She was starved. She picked out the sign at the edge of the food court that led to the washrooms. She pushed through some swinging doors with her bags of clothes. Beyond, there was a back service corridor with the washrooms at the end.
As she was coming out, hauling her bags and grumbling about Buffy's shopping stamina, she heard the scrape of feet in the hallway behind her.
Faith turned sharply at the sound of the deep, gravely voice. She was getting used to strangers calling her that. She glanced over her shoulder. The hallway was deserted. Faith peered into the shadows. Someone was standing there – huge, muscle-bound, and...green?
"What do you want?" Faith challenged.
"I have a gift...from a mutual friend."
Faith tensed. She shifted position. It was too subtle for most people to notice, but Faith was getting used to this too – sliding into the perfect fighting stance, fists loose and ready, feet balanced, prepared to defend any attack and lash out at the same time. "Yeah?" she asked. "And who would that be, exactly?"
The hulking figure in the shadows backed up a step, an instinctive response to Faith's aggressive pose. Faith could see more of him now. He wasn't just green, he was also covered with scales. Horns rimmed the top of his skull. His mouth was full of sharp teeth, and a forked tongue shot out to wet them before he spoke again. "The boss," he said. "Take it."
He moved, and Faith barely controlled her preemptive strike. A package, tied with brown paper and tape, sailed out of the dark. Without taking her eyes off the monster, Faith snatched it out of the air with her left hand. It was hard and rectangular, with a bulge on one side that rattled when she caught it. "What is it?"
A hissing laugh. "Find out."
"Faith?" Buffy's voice, from the entrance to the hallway. "Are you done yet?"
Faith wrenched around, her heart pounding. She didn't want Buffy to know about this. If Buffy was going to keep secrets from her, then Faith sure as hell wasn't going to tell her that guys looking like horny toads were giving her mysterious packages in dark hallways. "Coming," she called. She turned back to the monster, but he was gone. At the end of the hall, the exit door closed with a clang.
Faith backed up slowly, just in case the ugly dude had backup. She slipped the 'gift' into one of her bags filled with clothes, stuffing it underneath two tops and a pair of jeans. With a final look around the corridor, she turned around and joined Buffy back in the food court.
"I was beginning to think you'd fallen in." Buffy reached out a hand for a few of Faith's bags.
Faith shook her head. "I got it."
"Okay." Buffy snaked her way through the lunch crowd. "Found a table," she said over her shoulder.
Faith followed her. Her mind was more on the monster than on Buffy. She squeezed the handle of the bag that hid the package. Now what? Like she didn't have enough puzzles right now. A gift from 'the boss'. Someone she'd known eight months ago, another forgotten name, forgotten face. Maybe she shouldn't even try to dig up the past. She was bad news back then. She could toss the package in the garbage and never think about it again.
But if she did that, then her only link to the past outside of Buffy would be lost. And Buffy still wasn't talking. Faith frowned at Buffy's back. If Buffy wouldn't tell her what she wanted to know, then she'd have to find another way to get her memory back – and some weirdo had just provided her with an opportunity she'd be stupid to turn down.
If only Buffy had been willing to answer her questions. If only Buffy trusted her. Faith sighed. There were way too many 'if onlys' in her life. She needed the information. She would have to go behind Buffy's back. There was no use feeling guilty about it. As soon as she was alone, she'd open the package.
Buffy led her to one of the tiny tables with the molded-plastic chairs. It was spread with more food than Faith thought they could eat in a week's worth of meals, let alone one lunch. Pulled back from her thoughts, she laughed. "You hungry or something, there, B?"
Buffy's eyes widened. "You did it!"
Faith paused, her burger halfway unwrapped. "Did what?"
"That's it. That's what you used to call me." Buffy's gaze was suspicious.
Faith squinted and thought back over their conversation. "B? That's it? That's the boringest nickname I ever heard." She shook her head. "You got that annoyed that I called you by your initial?"
"Well..." Buffy's face scrunched up uncertainly. Faith snickered. Buffy would probably whack her if she told her how cute she looked. "It was the way you said it."
"Uh-huh. Right. Well, I'll stick to Buffy if you want." Faith bit into her burger.
"No...it's okay." Buffy heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Whatever you want."
Faith laughed through her mouthful. "Fine. B it is."
Buffy blushed and smiled down at her own hamburger. Faith could hardly believe a simple nickname would affect her like that. Buffy's blush was absolutely adorable.
And where did she think she was going with thoughts like that? For one, Buffy had a boyfriend. She spent the night with him – it must be pretty hot and heavy. And besides that, they were not friends. Buffy didn't trust her. Faith was going to do an end-run around her and figure out what she wanted to know. She had the ability – and, apparently, she still had friends from before the coma. Mr. Green And Scaly might not be her first choice for a bosom buddy, but if he was going to tell her the truth, he had to be better than Buffy...
Except Faith wanted it to be Buffy.
Buffy pushed the remains of her hamburger aside. Faith realized she'd finished four while she was thinking. Obviously Buffy knew how much lunch to buy, after all.
She knew Faith so well.
Well, fuck her, if she didn't want to tell what she knew.
Buffy crumpled her garbage together and sat looking at the table for a minute. Faith could feel her nervousness. Her heart sped up, her hands felt cold. She dropped the last bite of her final burger. Buffy wanted to tell her something, but she didn't know how.
Maybe, at last...
"I got something for you," Buffy said. She smiled, like a sunrise, and Faith couldn't help but smile back. "Here."
Buffy slid a small black velvet box across the table. Jewelry? Faith held her breath. "What – ?"
Faith bit her lip. Slowly, she lifted the box and clicked it open. On the silk bottom there lay a necklace with a silver cross hanging from it. Faith pulled it out of the box. "It's beautiful...but..."
"Here – let me put it on." Buffy leapt up and moved behind Faith. Faith felt her body warm as Buffy stood behind her. Obediently, she brushed her hair out of the way and gave the necklace to Buffy.
Buffy's fingers skimming over her neck made Faith shiver. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She couldn't believe how much she was enjoying such a small touch. The necklace quickly warmed at the touch of her skin. Buffy fixed the clasp, then smoothed Faith's hair over it. Faith touched a finger to the cross. It fit in the hollow of her throat, just where her collarbones met. Buffy stood behind her for a moment longer before she abruptly moved back to her seat.
"It's..." Faith touched the cross again. "It's too much."
"No, it's, um...important," Buffy said. "I just – I wanted to –" She blushed. "Um, I wanted to get you something. Because, I'm sorry we've all been so..."
"Yeah." Faith felt her cheeks warm. Obviously the necklace wasn't just an apology. There was more to it than that. If Buffy didn't want to say...
Well, there was always the package. What Buffy didn't know about wouldn't hurt her.
Liar, Faith thought. She was hurt by what Buffy wasn't telling her.
"So, have you had enough shopping for one day?" Buffy asked.
"Are you kidding?" Faith tried to smile. It felt shaky. "I'm dead on my feet."
"Okay. Well, I have a lot of homework to do, so we can go home...you can hang out, watch movies, whatever, while I work. Then, tonight, I told Willow I'd meet her at the Bronze. It's a club. She's bringing a friend, and I thought maybe you'd want to go." Buffy hesitated, then added, "You love the Bronze."
"Sounds like a plan." Faith stood and grabbed her bags. "Let's go...B."
The ride home was quiet. Faith kept one hand on the bag that held her package. After Buffy pointed her to the living room and went upstairs to work, Faith took it out. The brown paper tore away easily. Inside, there was a video tape and a little metal gadget. It looked like a pair of scissors that someone had melted down and deformed, with too many finger-loops and a weird crystal thing in its center. She fiddled with it, finding a way for it to fit over her left hand. The crystal bit went in the center of her palm, the loops around her fingers and thumb. Faith glanced towards the stairs, then put the video in Buffy's VCR. She turned on the television on with the volume down low.
On the screen, there appeared a friendly looking guy sitting behind a desk. The nameplate said "Mayor Richard Wilkins III."
Wilkins. This was her guardian. The man Nurse Owens had told her was dead. Faith leaned towards the television. She wanted to cry. This was the man who should have come for her when she woke up. He obviously didn't hate her. She tried to make sense of what he was saying, but mostly, she watched his eyes. Friendly. Believing in her.
Wilkins stepped out from behind the desk. "Now, Faith," he said, "As I record this message you're, uh...sleeping. And the doctors tell me that you might never wake up. I don't believe that. Sooner or later, you will wake up and when you do, you'll find the world has gone and changed on you."
"No shit," Faith breathed. She stared at the gizmo on her hand. This was supposed to make the world a better place for her?
Funny how she didn't really trust the messenger. Too many weird things had happened in the last two days. The green monster in the hallway had raised her hackles. Last night in the cemetery she'd had the same feeling. All her inner voices were urging her to kill him, screaming that he was the enemy. Buffy might not be truthful, but at least she didn't set Faith's interior alarm off. Faith wanted to trust her.
Anyway, what could this stupid doohickey do? Change the world? Yeah, right. She didn't even know what to do with it.
"And, hey, just because it's over for my Faith, doesn't mean she can't go out with a bang!" On screen, Wilkins chuckled. The scene faded. Faith sighed and started to take off the thing on her hand.
Faith jumped. Buffy had crept up on her. "What?"
Buffy shook her head, unable to speak. Her green eyes filled with tears. "You –" she whispered. "You're still with him."
"With who?" Faith asked harshly. "I don't even know who he is –"
Rage filled Buffy's face. "I can't – I believed you didn't remember – and you were laughing at us, you played me –"
"No – Buffy, what the hell?"
"What is that?" Buffy made a grab for Faith's hand. Faith pulled away.
"A little parting gift from the Mayor? That's nothing?" Buffy's fists clenched. Without realizing what she was doing, Faith mirrored her, until they were staring at each other in the living room, both quivering on the edge of violence. "You bitch."
"You're so full of bullshit, Buffy!" Faith said. "You're a killer way more than I am! I saw you last night! Don't tell me that four guys disappearing is a regular night for you!"
"You followed me –"
"You didn't tell me anything! If this mayor guy will answer a few questions then I'm sure as hell going to listen –"
"I won't let you hurt my friends."
"Who said anything about –"
"Give it to me, Faith." Buffy held out her hand.
"What?" Faith took a step back. "No!" She'd beaten Buffy in the hospital...tossed her into a wall. She could do it again.
Buffy lunged for her. Faith tried to get out of the way, find a place to stand where she could pivot cleanly and send Buffy flying. Buffy was too fast. She grabbed Faith's hand to wrench the device away from her, and –
And there was a burst of light. Faith tried to gasp and couldn't breathe. She didn't have lungs. She didn't have a body. She was flying, dying, falling – just like all her dreams.
Buffy stared into her own face. She blinked, and her reflection blinked too, eyes wide with horror. "What...?" She couldn't finish the question. It was all too clear. Magic. Faith had lulled her into a false sense of security. Amnesia? Yeah, right. She should have known better than to think Faith would ever get over her hatred. Faith had always been jealous. She was still trying to steal Buffy's life. This time, literally.
Buffy yanked her hand back. It was the little device of the Mayor's that had done it. She grabbed Faith's wrist – that now looked exactly like her wrist – not bothering to hide her Slayer strength. She ripped the gadget off Faith's hand. She wanted to crush it out of existence. Just when she thought she could trust Faith again – just when she was almost ready to start over again – just when she had felt that there might be something between them...
"What the hell did you do to me?"
Buffy glanced up, startled. Even the voice was hers. How much damage had the spell done? Faith's face – her face – was white with shock. She looked terrified. She backed up a step, then another, as if Buffy was the monster here.
"I didn't do anything, Faith. Maybe next time you should read the instructions before you try to kill me!" Buffy clapped a hand over her mouth. Where the hell had that voice come from? Deep, husky, rough...almost a growl. She stared at her hand squeezing Faith's wrist. The skin was pale but still darker than it should be. Thin blue lines of veins showed beneath not enough flesh. The fingers were too long, gripping Faith's wrist tight enough to turn the knuckles white. Buffy could feel the hand, but it wasn't hers. She dropped Faith's arm like it was on fire.
"Oh, no. No. Tell me you didn't –" Buffy stopped talking in the voice that wasn't hers and settled for shaking her head mutely. She turned and ran for the bathroom. She slammed the door open and flicked on the light.
Faith gaped at her from the mirror. Her jaw hung open, anger and denial written on her features, her eyes dangerous and dark. Her mouth was forming the word "No" over and over again, but not making a sound. Buffy lifted her hands to touch her face...and the mirror-Faith copied her exactly. It was her reflection. Faith had switched their bodies.
Buffy started when her own face appeared in the mirror behind her. She whirled around, hands automatically curling into fists. "Undo it, Faith!"
Faith stared at her, then over her shoulder to the mirror. "You have got to be shitting me."
Buffy flinched away from hearing Faith's words in her voice. What had Faith done? How could she? And would they ever be able to undo it? Buffy pushed the fear down. "Whatever you did –" She held up the little twist of metal and crystal. She shoved it into Faith's chest, letting it drop between them. " – it's not going to work. Giles will figure it out – or Willow –" Buffy could hear her voice getting even rougher, desperation creeping into her tone, but she just pushed forward, shouldering Faith out of the bathroom. "I beat you once, and I'll do it again, I swear, if you don't fix this –"
Faith's eyes were getting wider and wider. Cords stood out in her neck. Muscles knotted in her shoulders, where her tank top left them bare. She coiled like a spring. When Buffy ran out of words to throw in her face, Faith exploded.
"Fuck you!" She launched herself at Buffy, slamming her face with an elbow and kicking her legs out from under her. Buffy felt her breath whoosh out of her as she hit the floor. Pain cracked the back of her head, flaring red and black across her vision. Buffy didn't even have time to gasp. Faith threw herself down on top of her. "Don't tell me what I did, don't fucking tell me what I'm like, I don't know, don't you fucking get it? I – don't – know!"
Buffy tried to get her knee between her body and Faith's. Faith fought like a wildcat. She wrestled Buffy to the ground. She didn't fight like the Slayer. There was nothing calculated or controlled in her assault. She punched randomly, not using the strength Buffy knew she had. She lashed out without a thought or a plan. Her face twisted. She looked crazy – psycho –
Seeing that look on her own face frightened Buffy more than the useless attack. She knew it was Faith, but those were her eyes, green and wide, her blonde hair streaming over her shoulders, her body struggling to pin Buffy down. Faith was crying like she didn't even know it was happening. Angry tears streamed down her face. She fought to control Buffy's arms, slapping them aside and trying to grip her wrists.
"Don't tell me, you bitch, you don't tell me anything..."
Buffy froze. Faith's words finally penetrated her anger. She could hear Faith's confusion, her desperation. Faith didn't know what was going on any more than Buffy did. She wasn't fighting for the sake of their grudges, but because Buffy had pushed her too hard – demanded too much. Buffy felt a lump settle in her throat, hard and painful. She'd let her suspicion take over and jumped to conclusions. No wonder Faith had attacked her. Buffy was lucky it hadn't happened sooner. With all the evasions and half-truths she'd tried to feed Faith, what could she expect?
Buffy had to turn this fight around. She twisted her arms inside Faith's and grabbed her forearms. Faith reared back. She wasn't fighting like a Slayer. She didn't really know what she was doing. Buffy did. With a sudden roll, she was on top, controlling Faith's kicks by wrapping their legs together. She panted, suddenly realizing how close their bodies were twined around each other. She could hardly tell which limbs were hers and which belonged to Faith.
"Stop...Faith...listen..." Buffy tried to sound reassuring, but Faith's voice just wasn't built for it. The words came out sounding almost seductive, both rough and soft, like broken velvet.
Faith stiffened in Buffy's hold. Buffy relaxed a fraction. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." Buffy whispered the apology, over and over. It felt incredibly good to say. She'd been holding the words back for so long that she'd been ready to explode if she didn't let them out. The truth, finally, the truth. "It's not your fault, I'm sorry..."
"What are you doing to me?" Faith's question was an incredulous murmur that Buffy only caught because of her Slayer hearing. Did she really sound like that? Was her voice so...whining, almost pleading? Or was that just Faith?
Faith had never sounded that way before, she was sure.
But this could no longer be about what Faith had been before.
"I'm going to let you up," she said. In Faith's voice, it sounded like a threat. "Please, Faith. Just...I'll explain. I promise."
Buffy backed off. It hurt to let Faith go. She hadn't allowed herself to feel their mutual Slayer tinglies at first. She couldn't trust herself to accept the warmth of them. Faith had called her on it in the hospital, and later, there had been the casual touches that came from living near each other. Buffy wouldn't let herself feel them. Not after last night. In the shower...Oh, God, she couldn't let Faith know what she did to her. Laying on top of Faith, Buffy felt the pleasure rush over her in a sudden wave. She had missed this...well, not this, but...training with Faith. Being able to touch her. In sparring sessions, and that sort of thing. Not like... Buffy shook her head to shut up her internal babble. She released Faith, hoping that she could control the face that wasn't hers. She had to hide what she felt.
She kept hold of Faith's hand, holding the Mayor's toy in the other. How could that bastard still cause so much trouble even after she'd blown him to boot leather? She'd have to keep the device to see if Willow or Giles could use it to reverse the spell. She wasn't about to go experimenting. Willow's accidental run-in with her vamp-twin had taught her that much.
Faith stood up slowly and glared at her. She shook her hand free, rejecting whatever Buffy had been offering her...not that Buffy knew what that was, herself. Comfort? Support? Something. Buffy wanted to cringe. Faith's expression on her face was so cold. The green eyes were like ice. No wonder people gave way before Buffy's anger. She never knew she could look so...forbidding.
"So? Spill." Faith crossed her arms, an eerily familiar gesture.
Buffy bit her lip. How was she supposed to start? The truth was way more difficult than it seemed at first, more complicated. She and Faith had always had an instinctive understanding. Even when they were enemies, they knew what the other one intended more often than not. It was what had made them such an amazing team. It was what had made that last fight on the rooftop so surprising. Buffy never would have thought Faith would jump...she never thought she could have stabbed Faith.
"In every generation a Slayer is born," she said. The words sounded wrong in Faith's voice, full of sarcasm. But maybe Giles' way was the best, after all.
"I know that much," Faith said, rolling her eyes. "So what the hell does it mean?"
"It means – what do you mean, you know?" Buffy frowned at her.
"I listened to you talking to Joyce and Giles. I followed you last night...the guy that got away from you called me that. And the ugly dude who gave me that thing." Faith waved at the gadget Buffy was holding.
Buffy stared at her. "That vampire came after you?"
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Vampire? What are you –"
"You must have slayed him, since you're...well, alive." Buffy's heart constricted at the thought of Faith facing a vamp without even knowing what he was. Faith was staring at her in disbelief. Buffy realized she'd have to explain. "You shoved a stake in his heart and he turned to dust, right?" she asked.
"Yeah," Faith said softly. "I killed him. So there you go. I just can't seem to shake the evil thing." She glanced up at Buffy, green eyes glimmering through the sooty fall of eyelashes. "I am a murderer."
"No! Faith, that's not...you're not evil." Buffy took a step towards her, but Faith flinched back. It was so weird, seeing fear on her own face...seeing how small and vulnerable her own body looked. And how did she look to Faith? The body she wore was overpowering at the best of times, brash and confident. She didn't know how to be herself in it. She shied away from Faith, trying not to overwhelm her. "He was a vampire. Like, fangs and bloodsucking and demony. Vampires are real. We are vampire slayers. We protect people. We're not evil. We're the heroes."
"Yeah. Right." Faith looked away. "I thought you were gonna be straight with me, B. For once."
Buffy tamped down her anger. Why couldn't Faith believe her, trust her?
Well, all the lying she'd done might be a clue.
"Listen, Faith, I know you've felt it," she said. She rubbed her hands together and started pacing, staring down at her arms, her legs...her chest. She blushed and tried to focus on the conversation. "Your hearing, your eyesight...all our senses are enhanced. And you're stronger than you know. And if you dusted that vampire, you must remember how to fight. It's an instinct, you can't not slay, I know. I didn't want to, for years, but even when I ran away from it I couldn't stop...it's too –"
"Good," Faith finished, when Buffy stopped. "It feels right."
Buffy tried to laugh, smoothing down the tiny hairs on her arms that stood up at attention when she talked about the slaying. Faith's body was so responsive. Did she feel this much all the time? No wonder she'd always needed one night stands to calm down. "It's destiny," she said, in that dark-as-smoke voice that made everything sound like a come-on.
"And this?" Faith waved at the two of them. "I swear I didn't know –"
"I know. I just thought...never mind." Buffy frowned. "Magic's real too, and that's what I think this is. A body switching spell."
"I barely got used to that body, and now we're stuck like this?" Faith asked. She flicked her fingers as if she didn't expect them to move the way she wanted. "No offense. I mean, you're hot and all, but I just think I'd rather be me...even a me I don't remember."
"You think I'm hot?"
Faith smirked at her, then down at the body she wore, grinning.
Buffy closed her eyes and cursed herself for blurting out that particular question. Especially after last night with Riley. Back up, don't think about it, that is so not the point of this conversation.
Fortunately, Faith wasn't making an issue of it. Still staring down at herself, she asked, "Are we gonna be able to switch back?"
Buffy shrugged. "I don't know. I don't know anything about it. Except the Mayor had something to do with it."
Faith glanced at the television. "He was my guardian. He was proud of me."
Buffy nodded. "He...he was evil, Faith. He was a demon."
"Fuck." Faith slid down to sit on the couch, staring at the dark screen. "That's what I did, isn't it? I helped him. I was evil."
Buffy circled the couch and sat beside her. Holding her breath, she dared to place a hand on Faith's back, staring at the cornsilk hair that should be hers. "You made a mistake."
Faith shrugged – not to push Buffy's hand away, but as if to say that there was no real difference.
"You saved me, in the end, when I had to fight him," Buffy said, stroking her hand down Faith's back. "I never got to thank you for that."
Faith leaned back, trapping Buffy's hand between her back and the couch. "Is that how I really got hurt? Because I know it was no car accident."
Buffy felt her blood turn to ice. "No," she said, surprised that she was able to get the word out without choking. Automatically, she glanced at Faith's stomach. Of course the scar wasn't there. It was on her body now. She slid her free hand under her t-shirt, over her flat stomach, feeling the rough ridge of tissue running in a ragged line just below her ribs. She shuddered as her body interpreted the touch way differently than she'd meant it. God, she couldn't control herself. She wanted to feel so much more. The Slayer connection wasn't confused by the body switch. She could feel it through her hand on Faith's back, and where their thighs were pressed together. Buffy bit back a sigh.
"I have this dream..." Faith said slowly, watching Buffy carefully. "Where I'm being hunted. Where I'm killed. It's the same knife, every time, except I can't see who's holding it." Faith's eyes dropped to Buffy's hand. Buffy jerked it away from the scar. "It was you, wasn't it."
It wasn't a question. Buffy stood up. She yanked free of Faith. If only her confusion could be shaken away that easily. This body reminded her too much of her past mistakes. She couldn't act right, couldn't think right, couldn't even look at herself or at Faith. There was so much that was wrong with the whole situation. Faith was being way too calm, for one. Buffy thought as soon as Faith knew that she was the reason Faith had lost eight months of her life, that she'd attack, go crazy, whatever. How could Faith just look at her like that? Sitting there, studying her, and using her expressions to do it with!
Buffy felt like she'd lost herself. Like there was nothing left to hang on to in her life, no place for her to stand and be herself.
This must be what it's like for Faith, she thought, not remembering anything. God, how selfish can you get? She's way worse off than you right now.
But she couldn't force herself to go back to the couch. Why did Faith have to come back? Things were good now. Faith only brought back emotions Buffy thought she'd forgotten. "We have to find a way to switch back," she said. She ignored Faith's accusation. They both knew it was true. She was more eager to get her body back than to dig into that history.
"No kidding. And you have a plan to do that how?" Faith tipped her head back on the couch, pouting.
Buffy smiled at the sight. Faith used to tease her endlessly about that pout. Seeing her do it made it...cuter.
Faith cocked an eyebrow at her, and Buffy realized she'd been staring. She ducked her head to hide her blush. "God, this is such a wig," she said. "Seeing you like that."
"Feeling's mutual." Faith held her hands out, staring at them. "What the hell do we do now? Just say abracadabra and hope something works?"
"Willow," Buffy said.
"You wanna go to her party tonight like this?" Faith asked. "Kinky."
"No – Willow's a witch. We have to tell her what happened. We'll give her the thingy to look at." Buffy winced. "She isn't going to be too happy about this. But Giles would be worse. When he's mad he makes this clicky sound in his throat..." She sighed and checked her watch, then realized it was on Faith's wrist now, not hers. She leaned over the couch and took Faith's arm. Faith raised her eyebrows and Buffy stepped back quickly, embarrassed. "We can go now. We might be early."
"What, like this?"
Buffy frowned at Faith. "What do you mean?"
Faith was starting to grin. It was a strange expression on Buffy's face – it looked almost as dangerous as when she had her own body. "You're telling me that magic is real. Your best friend's a magician –"
"Whatever. And you...we are, like...hot chicks with superpowers. We can't go like this!" Faith waved at their clothes. "Come on, B, find the fun a little. After Willow waves her wand, you're never gonna get a chance like this again...to be someone else for a while, right?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Barring other freaky spells? I really hope not."
"So let's do this right." Faith grabbed her bags of new clothes. She started up the stairs to Buffy's bedroom. She turned back when Buffy didn't follow her. She waggled her eyebrows, leering a little. "Don't tell me you don't want to find out what my body is capable of."
Heat washed through Buffy at Faith's words. She fought to keep control of her breathing. This was not happening. "You are not going to test drive my body, Faith!"
"We'll see about that," Faith said. "I'm gonna make you look so sexy..." She disappeared up the stairs.
Buffy glanced down at Faith's body. She'd never been so...that is, there was so much...Oh, hell. She ran her hands down her sides, over the soft cotton of the t-shirt. She shivered. Lightly, she trailed her fingers over the skin of her sides. Her stomach dipped in, the muscles quivering under her hands. She stroked her thighs, feeling the taut strength of her legs beneath the denim. She slid her hands upwards, ignoring her brain screaming that this was so very, very wrong. She palmed her breasts, feeling the soft, heavy weight of them. God, that was good. Her nipples hardened, and she wondered what they looked like beneath the shirt. Darker than hers, she imagined, and a bit larger, and...fuck. Faith was right. She did want to know exactly what this body could do.
But she wanted to find out while she was herself. This was just...weird.
And that thought was even weirder. She wanted...Faith. She wanted to – to touch her, like this, to give Faith the pleasure she was feeling now.
No. No. She couldn't be thinking that. Faith would regain her memories soon...already she was acting more and more like her old self. "Find the fun"? Not a good idea, not now. When Faith remembered – for real – she wasn't going to want to hang around Sunnydale longer than it took to get her revenge. Buffy couldn't want Faith...because all Faith would want was to run.
And what about Riley? Buffy jerked her mind away from the thought of him. Things hadn't been going well with him in a long time. It took Faith's awakening to remind her of why. He couldn't even get her off last night. Right now, looking at Faith's body in her own hands, she was closer than she'd been then...
Shit. She had to stop this.
What was Willow going to think when they showed up at the Bronze like this? Buffy had agreed to meet Tara. Showing up in Faith's body, and dragging Faith along in hers, was not the way the evening was supposed to go. Poor Willow. Every time Buffy tried to have best-friend time with her, something Hellmouthy had to happen to wreck it. Would Willow even be willing to help them fix this?
Would she even know how? Buffy bit her lip and forced herself not to think about what her life would be like if she was stuck like this forever. It couldn't happen. There had to be a reversal spell. Focus on that.
Oh, right. It was just that simple. And what was Faith doing with her body right now? If her own actions were anything to judge by, then Buffy really didn't want to be dwelling on that question either.
Buffy heard the sudden spray of water from the bathroom.
"Faith!" She ran for the stairs. "Get my body out of that shower!"
There were times when, no matter how much you shook your head and said "What the fuck?", the situation still stubbornly refused to make sense.
Faith figured this was one of those times. She'd ignored Buffy's knock on the door and showered anyway. She half expected that she'd be able to rinse away Buffy's tawny-gold tan along with the soap, and get out of the shower wearing her own body again. This was freakier than waking up in the hospital. At least then she didn't know what she was supposed to look like. Two showers in two days and each time she'd discovered a new body.
Faith wrapped herself in a towel. Over her shoulder, she caught sight of herself in the half-steamed mirror. It was like a stranger had walked in on her in the bathroom. She glared at her reflection. She closed one eye, then the other. She squinted. Grimaced. Stuck her tongue out. She turned away, then whirled back, trying to catch her reflection not paying attention.
It wasn't fooled. Of course.
Faith tilted her head, to one side, then the other. She met her own eyes. Except they weren't hers. They were Buffy's.
Buffy really was beautiful. Her skin glowed, washed clean, like spring time. The heart-shaped face stared solemnly at Faith, lips a little pouty, eyes a little hurt, a little worried. Her body looked so fragile, but Faith knew there was steel in the wiry muscles over the slender bones. She was strong. She was –
Some kind of superhero? Like, wearing spandex and living in the bat cave? That was worse than the spy idea Faith had imagined at first.
One part of her brain flatly refused to believe it. That sort of stuff wasn't real, for fuck's sake. It was another lie, some stupid attempt to mess with her head. The whole body-switch thing was pretty convincing, though, unless she and Buffy were somehow sharing a hallucination.
Besides, another part of her understood that what Buffy had told her was all there was. The truth. What she lived for. Destiny.
Slaying that...vampire...last night. The hot rush of yeah baby this is it, do it, yes...
This is it.
This is all you have left.
Faith dropped her eyes. The image in the mirror seemed to know too much. Faith opened the door. Buffy was leaning against the wall outside the bathroom, waiting. She rolled her eyes at Faith's towel.
"This isn't a game, Faith," she said, exasperation turning husky in her throat. "This is serious. This is –"
"Oh, whatever. I left you some hot water."
Faith held her towel closed with one hand and slowly pointed from Buffy to the bathroom with the other. "You. Shower. Gettin' all wet and hot and, quite possibly, soapy –"
"Okay, okay, enough." Buffy was turning an interesting shade of red. "I don't want to – I mean, I'm not going to –"
"Uh-huh." Faith didn't stay to hear the denials. "I'm gonna check out the wardrobe sitch."
She headed for Buffy's room, and grinned when she heard the bathroom door click shut quietly. The water started running a second later. Faith picked through Buffy's closet. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but the red leather pants seemed to almost leap into her hands. Faith held them up to her waist, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. There was a clingy black top that went with them. She didn't know how she knew that. She pulled them on. She couldn't stop running her hands over the cool smoothness of the leather, watching the way her body moved.
Her dream images flashed in her mind. This time, she knew the hand on the knife was Buffy's.
Buffy, wearing these clothes.
Just a quick impression, of heat and the pressure of another body against hers, like when Buffy had rolled on top of her in the hallway. Then, cold, and air rushing past her, and the ozone scent of lightning. Raindrops flung against her skin until she was chilled and soaked through, and unable to move. She was broken.
Faith shook her head. She remembered.
It wasn't enough. She still had no idea why. Buffy was willing to give her answers now. Faith had to know the rest of the story, to know what it meant.
The water cut off in the bathroom. Faith couldn't help but smile. Buffy had taken the world's fastest shower. Faith didn't know which of them Buffy was trying to convince that she wasn't at all interested in Faith's body, but it sure as hell wasn't working.
That was another part of her memory Faith desperately wanted to regain. What had she felt for Buffy, before? Right now, she had so many different feelings, she didn't know what to think. While they were shopping this afternoon, Buffy had been friendly, open, bright, sparkling. It was a far cry from the cold anger when she'd first seen Faith in the hospital, or the furious joy of her fight against the vampires last night. There was something fascinating about every mood, every side of her. And the fact that Buffy couldn't keep her eyes off her...er...herself, now...well, that was pretty flattering.
Of course, there was the boyfriend, Whatshisname. On the other hand, Buffy hadn't mentioned him all day. So maybe it wasn't serious...
Faith ran a hand through her half-dry hair. She was not going start something with Buffy. How dumb would that be? She didn't even know how Buffy really felt about her, beyond getting that low-down tickle out of seeing her. Faith didn't even know how she really felt, for that matter. What if she hated Buffy for some reason she couldn't remember right now?
"Okay. I'm ready." Buffy appeared at the door, dressed in Faith's new clothes, tight black jeans and a cleavage-baring blouse, the most daring thing Faith had chosen at the store. She froze when she saw Faith, dark eyes going wide.
Faith ignored her look. "Yeah. Me too. Let's go meet your buds."
Buffy made an effort and smiled. "Right." She took one last look at Faith's outfit and turned away.
Faith followed her downstairs. They grabbed their jackets and headed out of the house. Buffy locked the door and then, with a pained look, took a sharpened bit of wood out of her pocket and handed it to Faith.
Faith stared at it – it looked like it might've once been a table leg – and then eyed Buffy. "What's this?"
"A stake." Buffy took another one out of her pocket and jabbed it at the air in front of her, demonstrating. "You're a Slayer. And Sunnydale's dangerous at night. It's built on the mouth of Hell."
"Oh. I shoulda figured." Faith curled her fingers around the stake, as naturally as breathing. Oh yeah. This was right. Another bone-deep memory that surfaced as soon as she felt the smooth-whittled wood against her palm. She squeezed the stake, then, with a reluctant sigh, tucked it into her jacket's inner pocket. "So, you figure Willow's going to be mad about this?"
"I wouldn't blame her." Buffy kicked at a rock in the road, sending it flying. They both winced when there was a sound of glass breaking from halfway down the block. Buffy glanced over her shoulder, meeting Faith's eyes. "I'm supposed to be meeting her girlfriend. It's a big."
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Willow has a girlfriend?"
"Tara. Another witch, I guess." Buffy hugged herself briefly, and Faith found herself thinking about wrapping her arms around her to keep her warm. Not gonna happen.
"How do you feel about that?" she asked instead, watching the passing houses. How did Buffy feel about girls having girlfriends in general?
Buffy shrugged. Out of the corner of her eye, Faith tried to see how Buffy felt wearing a different body than she was used to. Curvier. Taller, by an inch or three, and even more with the thick, chunky boots she wore. Buffy wasn't giving anything away, but she was trying to hide herself, as if she could somehow escape notice. It didn't work. Faith's body had...presence. Look at me. Here I am. Yet, somehow, Buffy wasn't awkward with it. She had enough pride to carry it off.
"Willow's been so upset since Oz left," she said. "And...this is new. I don't know. I'm sure Tara's wonderful, I mean...it's just different."
Faith nodded. They were walking through Sunnydale's main drag, heading for the run-down buildings nearer the docks. It didn't take long to get anywhere in a place as small as this. Buffy led the way past a few warehouses and down a crowded back alley to the doors of the Bronze. Faith followed her past the short line, into the club.
Buffy spotted Willow sitting on the couches in the back. She grinned and headed over. Willow looked up as she approached. The soft smile she'd been directing at Tara fell away. She narrowed her eyes at Buffy.
Buffy didn't notice the sudden change. She took a seat opposite the two witches. "Will, hey!"
Willow ignored her. She made a 'you brought her?' face at Faith and said, "Buffy, can I talk to you for a second?" Pause. Glare at Buffy. "Alone?" She grabbed Faith's elbow and wheeled her around, guiding her towards the bar. "We'll get drinks!" she called over her shoulder.
Over her shoulder, Faith saw Buffy's cheerfulness turned to stunned hurt. She heard the beginning of Buffy's explanation to Tara, then Willow dragged her far enough away that she couldn't hear what they were saying over the music and shouted conversations. Faith opened her mouth, but didn't know what to say. "Willow –" she started, but Willow interrupted.
"Buffy, how could you?" Willow was staring over her shoulder at Tara and Buffy. "Okay, that's all I wanted to say, like, this is a bad idea, but I shouldn't leave them alone. Do you think Faith will say something stupid? She'll probably hurt Tara's feelings. I'm going back over there."
"Jeez, Willow, you don't have much confidence in me, do ya?" Faith rolled her eyes. "I'm not gonna insult your girl. I have these 'Pot, meet Kettle,' issues about it."
Willow whirled around, shocked. "But – Buffy –"
Faith sighed. "I'm not Buffy. I'm Faith. It was an accident. Magical fuckup, body switch...it's not a pretty story."
Willow's mouth dropped open. "You know?"
"About the slayer thing? The cat kinda clawed its way out of the bag after the shiny lights decided I should take a vacation in Buffy's body." Faith crossed her arms at Willow's utter bewilderment. "Didn't exactly mean to tell you like this. Sorry."
"Sorry? You're sorry?" Willow sputtered for a second, then got her glare under control again. "You're trying to – well, I don't know what your evil, skanky plan is this time, but I know you aren't going to get away with it."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, you hate my guts, and of course it's all my fault." Faith headed for the bar. "You might want to go explain to B why you gave her the cold shoulder there. Talk about saying something stupid." She shook her head. "I'll get drinks."
Faith didn't wait to see what Willow's answer would be. She ordered four Cokes from the bartender and paid with her leftover lunch money. She didn't really want to go back to the couches. She watched the dancefloor. They did have some pretty good music here. It would be great to stop thinking for a while and just move to the beat. When the bartender handed her the Cokes and her change, though, she headed back. Fresh start, and all that. Whatever.
Buffy and Willow were staring at each other in silence. Tara looked like she wished she could disappear. She was hunched over as much as possible, hiding behind the veil of her hair.
Faith put the glasses down on the table, then deliberately sat right next to Tara. "Hi," she said, in Buffy's bubbly, enthusiastic voice. "I'm Faith. I guess I used to be evil and kill things, but I don't remember any of that – now I hear I'm supposed to kill things, but only the undead kind. If I seem confused, it's 'cause I'm not really myself today."
Tara gave the tiniest nod and a crooked half-smile. "I-I'm T-tara."
"You and Willow been going out long?"
Tara turned a delicate shade of pink. "N-not that long."
Willow looked like she was about to explode. Buffy was pouting at all of them, refusing to get involved. Faith nodded airily. "That's great. You look cute together."
"Th-thanks." Tara uncurled a bit, and brushed her hair back. Her smile was gentle and warm, silently grateful that Faith was going to shove conversation at them whether they wanted it or not.
There was another pause. Faith took a swig of her Coke. No one else had touched theirs. She caught Buffy watching her, but Buffy looked away as soon as their eyes met. Faith clenched her teeth and turned back to Tara.
"So, you're a witch? That's amazing. I didn't even know magic existed until...well, this whole thing." She pointed at Buffy and herself.
"Um, yeah. My – my mom taught me a lot. And, practicing with Willow. Sh-she's very p-powerful." Tara's smile turned warm and loving. Willow couldn't keep up her glare. She smiled back at Tara, like a lovesick puppy.
Faith shifted uncomfortably. It didn't look likely that she'd ever have anything so obviously right, so sweet. "Yeah? Willow's got the big mojo? But if you've been learning since you were a kid..."
"Oh, I do d-different things." Tara's stutter faded as she got involved in her subject. She had some confidence, it was just buried beneath the shyness. Willow's hand, clasped in hers on her lap, seemed to help, too.
"She's wonderful," Willow said, thawing a bit as long as they were discussing her girlfriend. "She's incredibly intuitive, she can read auras, all sorts of stuff." She smiled as Tara blushed and ducked her head again. "And she's modest."
"I-I'm n-not that –"
"Aw, sweetie. Trust me. You're amazing." Willow dipped forward and kissed Tara, a quick peck on the lips.
"Cool." Faith glanced at Buffy again. Buffy was trying not to stare at Willow and Tara acting all cutesy. She had a weird look on her face, sort of surprised, but curious at the same time. "So could you read my aura?"
"It's not like you're an open book, Faith," Buffy said. "Maybe it takes more than just looking at you."
Faith shrugged. "Yeah, but I'm into learning more about myself." She eyed Buffy. "Can't think why that'd be."
Buffy snorted and stared sulkily at the dancefloor.
"I might be able to see something," Tara offered.
"All right." Faith sat up straight and held her breath. "What do I do?"
Tara laughed softly. "Relax."
Faith nodded. "Simple as that?" she joked.
"Hmm," Tara agreed. She turned to face Faith fully. Her blue eyes unfocused slightly. For a moment, she didn't move, and then she tilted her head and frowned. She peered more closely, while Faith tensed under her stare.
"What is it?" Buffy asked, leaning forward, wavy dark hair falling around her shoulders.
"I-I'm n-not sure." Tara shook her head and sat back. Willow caught her hand again, urging Tara to lean into her shoulder. "It's like you have this fractured energy...like something's been, uh, pushed in where it doesn't belong."
"You mean, like, because she's in my body?" Buffy asked. "Do I have the same thing?"
Tara frowned in concentration. She focused on Buffy for a long moment, then sighed and relaxed. "No. I can see the...fault lines...where your soul and Faith's are...mingled. But it's not b-broken, like hers is."
"Broken?" Buffy asked, just as Faith said, "That doesn't sound good."
"It's not," Tara said quietly. "I don't know what caused it."
"This is just great." Faith crumpled her empty plastic cup and threw it on the table. She tried not to show the fear Tara's words sparked. Broken? Like dreams of knives and rain and dying... She shook her head. "Like I didn't have enough problems."
"Maybe not," Willow said. "I mean, not like I want you to have more problems, but, they could all be connected. The coma, and the amnesia...No one ever asked what caused it, did they? You should have healed way faster than eight months, you're a slayer. So maybe it was something else...like, the same thing that's messing with your aura." She smiled triumphantly. "See?"
Tara nodded, and smiled sweetly at Willow. "You're so smart."
Buffy got up and started pacing. "But that doesn't tell us how to fix it," she said. "And, I'd really like to get back to my body, too. Can you guys help with that?"
Willow grimaced. "Maybe. Research is my middle name."
"Your parents have a weird sense of humor, then," Faith said, grinning. At least there was a chance that this could get better. The thought got her charged up, ready for action. She'd gotten used to the feeling, sort of. She was beginning to recognize it as a slayer thing.
Willow tensed. "Faith..."
Faith forced herself not to get too defensive. Would Willow never get over whatever their history was? "What?"
"I'm still not sure about you, you know. You did try to kill me." Willow sighed. "But, you haven't done anything evil recently, so I'm gonna give you the benefit of the doubt."
Faith's heart stopped. She stared at Buffy. Buffy looked back, eyes dark and sad. "Faith –"
Faith cut her off with a gesture. "I tried to kill you?" she asked Willow. No wonder, she thought, no wonder they hate me.
Willow blinked at her. "Yeah...I thought Buffy told you."
"No..." Faith backed up, holding her hands up defensively. "I thought...I mean, I know I was on the wrong side..." She shook her head. Buffy reached out a hand to her and Faith slapped it aside. "You promised you were telling the truth."
"I did! Just...not all of it...yet." Buffy's muscles were taut. She held her hands open with an effort. "Faith, I didn't want you to feel –"
"You didn't want me to feel what? Like a murderer? I know you called me that. How many people did I kill – real people, not your stupid vampires?"
Buffy shared a glance with Willow. She slumped a bit, her shoulders dropping. "Two," she said. "But one was an accident..."
"Right. An accident. Well, that's okay then, no problem, I'll just forget all about it...oh, wait, I already did!" Faith knew she was ranting, but she couldn't stop. Tara was watching her with eyes as old as the world, and Faith couldn't take the understanding she saw there. It was too much like pity. "Some superhero," she said, and pushed past them, heading for the door.
"Faith!" Buffy called after her, but Faith didn't stop.
She headed out into the back alley, brushing past the bouncer and the gang of muscle-bound college types waiting in line.
"Buffy!" called a voice behind her. Faith kept going, not wanting to run into any of Buffy's little friends while she looked like this. Footsteps ran after her, and Faith resisted the urge to turn around fighting.
"Buffy!" A hand on her shoulder turned her around. "Didn't you hear me?"
Faith shrugged angrily. Storming out dramatically was difficult when people followed you. This guy was half-familiar. Tall, all-American, open farmboy face – oh, yeah, Buffy's boyfriend. Whatshisname. Riley, that was it.
"What's wrong, Buffy?" He gave her a concerned frown. Behind him were two other dudes from the line outside the Bronze, all of them looking like athletic models, with the ramrod-straight posture of soldier-boys.
"Nothing," she muttered, easily pulling out of his grasp. He was the last person she wanted to explain the whole body switch thing to. She wanted to get away from people for a while. She could deal with this if she could just get some time to herself. Then she'd go back, say sorry to Buffy for wigging. She'd known she was evil. That had been clear from the first. It was just...two people. Dead because of her.
Faith was so busy hating herself, she didn't notice Riley leaning in. He was kissing her before she had a clue, meaty tongue thrusting between her lips, beefcake arms holding her gently.
"Fuck off!" Faith shoved back, using more strength than she'd meant to. Riley went flying back into his friends' arms, and nearly knocked them all down like bowling pins. The shorter, compact one checked to make sure Riley was okay, while the taller black guy stepped forward threateningly.
"Forrest! Back off," Riley said, his voice cracking out the command sharply. "Go on without me."
"Riley –" The second guy was staring at him, blank-faced, jaw clenched.
"Go on, Graham, get out of here." Riley waved them away. He turned back to Faith before his two buddies followed his orders and headed for the Bronze. "What the hell was that?" he barked.
"I'm not your girlfriend," Faith spat.
Riley went white. "What...?"
They both looked up the alley. Buffy was running towards them. Faith couldn't help but notice that she looked really good running.
Riley looked back and forth between the two of them. "Buffy, what is going on?"
"It's a mistake," Buffy said. Riley frowned at her and looked to Faith for the explanation. Buffy laid a hand on his arm. "Riley. It's me. We got caught by a body-switching spell."
"She did this?" Riley asked.
Faith threw her head back, giving a frustrated groan. "I didn't do it."
"It was really more of a we thing," Buffy said.
"When did this happen?" Riley demanded, eyeing Buffy as if he was trying to find some trace of her inside Faith's body.
"This afternoon," Faith said, when Buffy seemed at a loss for words.
Riley glared at her, then, taking Buffy's arm, turned her away from Faith slightly, as if that would stop her from hearing every word. "You could have phoned me, Buffy. I wouldn't have made an ass of myself in front of Forrest and Graham."
"Doubt that," Faith said, just softly enough that Riley could pretend he hadn't heard.
He didn't pretend. "Are you sure this is the best idea? The Initiative could –"
"Riley, I'm not letting the Initiative get their hands on a Slayer. Or have you forgotten that they created Adam?" Buffy jerked her elbow away from his hand. "Look, we're researching the problem, and we'll fix it. Until then –"
"I thought you said Faith was a murderer, and dangerous," Riley said, not bothering to lower his voice any more. "That she was your responsibility. And here you are treating her to a night at the Bronze? In your body?"
Anger boiled up inside Faith. Buffy clamped a hand down on her wrist, as if she knew that Faith was about to explode. She probably did. Faith could feel Buffy's anger, like a raging fire, beneath the surface of her skin.
"This isn't your concern, Riley," she said, the rough voice turning a simple statement into sarcasm.
"I think it is. I think you owe me an explanation."
Buffy's eyes snapped black and deep. Anger flushed her cheeks red, bringing out the dark beauty of Faith's body. "I don't owe you anything, Riley. Not now, not ever. You don't own me."
"Buffy, that's not –"
"Later," Buffy said, obviously trying to reign in her temper. "We'll talk later. I'm... We have to patrol."
"You're taking her –"
Buffy gave him one last glare. "She's a slayer, Riley. She can keep up."
Buffy stomped away, and Faith turned hesitantly after her. The last view of Riley she had before they turned a corner was his mouth hanging open in shock, and the jealous fury in his eyes.
"Buffy, wait up!" Faith sprinted down the alley after Buffy, not knowing what else to do. Buffy's longer legs carried her faster, but Faith pulled on the strength she knew she had and caught up with her.
Buffy stopped and turned around so fast Faith nearly smacked into her. "I can't believe I said that!" She kicked a dumpster, the clang echoing in the empty alley, leaving a dent the size of her boot.
Faith glared at her. That was what Buffy was worried about? "Well, you did."
Buffy rolled her eyes in disgust and twisted on her heel. She crossed her arms and resumed walking down the alley. Faith glanced back towards the Bronze. Looked like Riley wasn't the only one who was going to get his evening ruined. So why the hell should she follow Buffy?
Just because Buffy defended her to Riley. Just because Buffy's excuse for lying was that she didn't want to hurt her with the truth.
Not good enough.
But she went after Buffy anyway. She couldn't keep away. It was a familiar feeling, like so much about Buffy; as if some part of her brain remembered this half-painful attraction. It was the sort of thing Faith couldn't think about, couldn't reduce to reason. Where Buffy led, she followed. She slipped a hand to cover her hidden stake, touching the grain of the wood with a fingertip, and felt better. The night felt warm and soft on her skin. There was a tingle in the pit of her stomach. It was different from her connection with Buffy. She couldn't have said how, except that the twinge felt dangerous, and Buffy was safe.
"This is your fault," Buffy said, staring at the ground in front of her feet.
"My fault?" Faith asked, and almost smiled. She wondered why she wasn't more upset.
"Your body's fault. Hormonal much? I've never been so angry." Buffy cracked her knuckles. "I shouldn't have said that, about him keeping up. The last thing I need is Riley acting all pouty and manly-wounded."
Faith gave a snort of laughter. So Buffy was better at keeping her temper, which explained why this was a lot funnier than it should be. "He's used to you stroking his...ahem...ego?" she asked, smirking a bit.
Buffy's shoulders knotted but she didn't look up. "Shut up."
"Yeah, tell me to fuck off, that's what you want to do, right?" Faith danced around in front of Buffy, where she couldn't ignore her. Buffy tried to step around her, but Faith stayed in her way. "Go on. Get angry."
"I'm not mad." Buffy gritted out each word separately between clenched teeth.
"Then you're doing a great impression of it. You practically have steam coming out of your ears." Faith prodded Buffy with one finger, just above her collarbone. "Told you my body would be fun," she teased.
Buffy didn't laugh. She held onto her control, but barely. "It's my fault. I wasn't fair to Riley –"
"Oh, yeah, 'cause I'm sure he was being fair to you." Faith stepped forward, into Buffy's space. "You're right. You don't owe him shit. Boyfriend is too good a word for him."
Buffy pushed her back, hard enough to put her off balance, but Faith was expecting it. She stayed on her feet. Stepped forward again. Buffy's hands twitched, inches from violence. Faith wondered if this was how she'd fallen into evil – just because her body needed action, and fury was too close to the surface.
"What do you care?" Buffy asked, bitter, not meeting Faith's eyes.
That question Faith didn't want to know the answer to. I don't. About him. She stepped forward again, just because it was good to see Buffy step back. "Farmboy like that, I'm surprised you didn't just use him and lose him," she said. Provoking Buffy. Why? Some almost-memory warned it was a stupid thing to do, as if she couldn't tell that for herself.
Buffy didn't explode, like Faith expected. Even in Faith's body, it was Buffy's mind, Buffy's anger. She was dark and dangerous with it. "You haven't changed," she said, dryly, like it was just some observation, some careless fact.
Faith forced herself to stay still, not to give ground. The words hit her like a sucker-punch to the gut. She reached for anger, but all she found was hurt. Something prodded her to carry it further. Buffy had to lose. The thought came to her, knife-edged and depthless. Faith wanted to ask Why do we do this to each other? Every time, it's the same, every time. How she knew that she didn't know, but it was true. They circled and fought and tried their damnedest to find the weapon that would do the most damage. It was the same now as it always had been. Anger on top of safety. Fear and hurt where there should have been caring. Faith felt the slow burn of rage simmer in Buffy's body, sharp and hopeless. She ignored Buffy's barb and threw one of her own. "I would've dumped him like yesterday's meatloaf," she said. "He kisses like a fish."
Buffy's eyes narrowed. Faith could see echoes of her own evil there. That was a face that could have murdered. That was a body capable of killing. "Going for the boyfriend," Buffy said, vicious and tight. "That strategy's getting old."
Faith had time to think I went for her boyfriend before? and then the meaning of Buffy's words penetrated. "I didn't go for him!" she yelled, and the echoes murmured off the close-set brick walls around them. For a moment Faith was aware of how closed in they were, how high and steep the walls, how there was an overhanging barb wire fence at the far end of the alley. The twinge in her stomach returned. It fueled her anger, made her stronger. "What do you think, I want your macho pig soldier boy? You really think I'd do that? That I'd do that to you?"
It was Buffy's turn to advance, shoving Faith back. Mirroring so many feelings. How many fights? How many times before had they done this? "You kissed him," Buffy said, like she was right, like of course she always had to be right, just because she was Buffy.
Faith flung her arms out and shouted, "He kissed me!"
"Like that makes a difference!" Buffy shouted back at her.
"There's a huge difference," Faith yelled, hating the way Buffy's voice made her sound like a little kid.
Buffy got in her face. "Yeah, like what?" she asked, low and menacing, voice like dark chocolate.
"Like this," Faith whispered, and kissed her, hard.
Heat flared between them instantly. Faith reached out blindly and grabbed the front of Buffy's coat. She tipped her head back and pulled Buffy down. She'd caught Buffy's mouth half-open, ready with a comeback, and their mouths met in a tangle of tongues and lips. Buffy gasped. Satisfaction surged through Faith, and she pressed her advantage. Buffy's hair, loose and dark, swayed around their faces, hiding them from the world. Faith stroked Buffy's tongue with hers. Pleasure coiled low down in her stomach, the tingles of their contact spraying like hissing fireworks across every inch of her skin. God, she wanted this, needed this. There was nothing to compare it to, no memory of other women or other men, but Faith knew it was the best she'd ever had. She didn't need to remember to know that.
Buffy groaned, harsh and low, and Faith fought to keep the kiss going. She sucked on Buffy's tongue, licking every sensitive part she could reach in Buffy's mouth, kissed her until she felt she would fall apart. She'd meant this to be a lesson, to show Buffy that it was a violation to be kissed without wanting it. But Buffy wanted as much as she did, and she was kissing Faith back.
Faith maneuvered nearer, shoving her arms inside Buffy's jacket to wrap around her waist. Every inch of contact was like a starburst of tingling awareness, a flood of this is Buffy, this is good, this is safe, she is like me, she is mine. Faith pressed herself into Buffy as if they could melt together. Buffy had one hand curving over her collarbone, just below her shoulder, the other reaching up to cup Faith's head. Faith didn't know whether Buffy was about to push her away or yank her closer, deeper.
It didn't matter. They were kissing, and that should have been familiar, too, like all that Buffy was; but Faith knew she'd never felt the bone-deep heat of Buffy's mouth. Buffy was new, like this, twisting in her grip, lips burning and desperate. Faith was dizzy and breathless, her body syrup-slow and sweet with the pleasure of the kiss. She felt Buffy's gasp, the twitch of her hips against hers. Faith backed off, enough to breathe, and then with an incredulous moan, leaned forward again. Mouth on Buffy's jaw, wet, exploring, skin soft and tasting of soap and salt.
Buffy made tiny sounds in the back of her throat, rough surprised syllables, like she didn't know that kisses could turn you molten and leave you broken. "Ah, y-yeah, oh – oh God..."
Faith listened to each breathless husk from the voice that should be hers, and wondered how wrong this was. She was kissing herself, sort of, but it wasn't her, it was Buffy, and that was wrong too. They were enemies and this had started as a way to hurt her. Faith would wind up the one hurt. When she learned whatever truth was left, she was going to realize this was probably the worst idea she'd ever had.
But it felt so good, and Buffy wasn't fighting her. Buffy slipped her hand lower and it pressed against Faith's breast now. Even through coat and shirt and bra, Faith felt it like a brand. Her nipple tightened, fire sliding along her nerves. Her body tautened, like a wire, and she paused in her kiss just to pant against Buffy's skin. "More," she whispered, into the smooth line of Buffy's neck. Buffy's voice didn't sound right on her, too pleading. Wrong. Wrong. This was not going to end well.
Fuck that. Fuck endings. Faith didn't even have beginnings now, no past, and this would be whatever they made it. Faith kissed Buffy's neck again, an apology for them being like this right now. She let her tongue draw shivering lines up to Buffy's mouth, and kissed her again. Buffy let her, and her hand was circling Faith's breast now, avoiding the hard peak of her nipple. Faith drew in a shaky breath. She was wet, pulsing, and Buffy hadn't even touched her yet. God, so close. Buffy was teasing her, taking a slow hot delight in making Faith squirm. Faith crashed their mouths together. Buffy's tongue twined easily with hers, and her hips thrust forward, pushing into Faith's.
Faith gave a high-pitched whimper, wrong sound, wrong voice, but oh, fuck, Buffy was pressing into her thigh, each time like little tiny bolts of lightning. Faith lowered her hands, cupping Buffy's tight, high ass, rough denim under her fingers, and pulled with Buffy's rhythm. Pull, pull, Buffy riding her, each time sensation rising higher, Buffy's fingers brushing her nipple now, waves of wanting pulsing over her. Faith wanted to scream, but Buffy's tongue was in her mouth, licking, nipping, tasting, and what came out was more squeal than scream. Buffy was caught up with her body's lust. Hormonal much? she'd said, and this is what she'd meant, desire rising to the surface, body almost too ready. Faith broke free, breath sobbing in her throat, feeling like the world was falling away under her feet. "Buffy," she gasped, and wanted to say something about their fight, about the alley being dirty and trashy and wrong wrong wrong.
She didn't have time to say any of it. The danger-twinge she'd felt before suddenly surged upwards. Fear spiked through her, sharp and immediate. Buffy jerked back from her. "Vampires," she growled. She looked like a part of the night, witch-dark hair and wild eyes. Faith didn't see her grab her stake, but one second she was empty-handed and the next she was holding it, the pale, pointed wood showing up against the dark grime of the alley.
Faith glanced around at the rusty bins and scraps of garbage. She didn't see them, but she felt the inner clamor that said they were nearby. It was like last night, except now she wasn't watching. She was a Slayer. Here was destiny, handed to her on a plate. Just freaking wonderful. She raised an eyebrow at Buffy's tense, watchful stance, and pulled out her own stake. She fell into a defensive posture as if she'd been doing it all her life. Maybe she had.
Buffy nodded towards the fence at the end of the alley. Faith started to protest, then stopped. Buffy leapt up and caught a bit of rebar extending from one building. She swung her body around it. Her flip carried her over the barbed tips of the chain link. She landed neatly on the other side. For a minute, Faith thought she was getting left behind. Then, Buffy turned back and raised an eyebrow at her. Faith met her eyes through the metal diamonds.
"You can do it, you know," Buffy said. "Slayer's honor."
Faith looked up at the rusty steel bar. There was a hungry chuckle behind her in the alley, and the almost-soundless step of feet. The vampires were close. Now or never, superhero.
Faith didn't let herself think. This was a physical thing, something known more in her body than in her head. She jumped up. The bar slapped cold and solid into her hand. Wind rushed past her. She landed on the balls of her feet as easily as a cat, bending her knees to take the impact. She let out a relieved sigh, only half joking. Grinning at Buffy, she bounced a bit on her toes. "Now what?"
Buffy started to smile back at her. Then, as if she'd just let herself focus on Faith's features, her face went sullen and cold. She didn't say a word, just jogged up the alley, expecting Faith to follow her.
"What? Come on!" Faith checked back over her shoulder as they ran. Shadows shifted near the fence. They were being followed. "Buffy!"
Buffy led the way through a maze of backstreets, then vaulted over a stone wall. A smooth lawn stretched ahead of them. Faith could hardly tell if this was the same cemetery as last night, or a different one.
Faith walked backwards, holding up her stake. Excitement pounded through her, adrenaline and the slinking pleasure from before. She'd kissed Buffy. She'd sworn she wouldn't start anything, and – well –
No wonder Buffy had gone all stiff. She'd finally acknowledged whose tongue was in her mouth – whose body she was feeling up. Faith let the tingles slide through her, enjoying it. The vampires creeping up on them just made the sensation more intense.
"So what the hell do I do?" she asked.
"Don't die," Buffy answered shortly. She kept her back turned to Faith and hid them behind a mausoleum, where they could get a drop on their hunters.
"I kissed you," Faith said, because obviously Buffy trying her damnedest to pretend it hadn't happened. As if she could turn the Slayer on and off like a tap. Fight vampires now. Think about what the kiss meant later – if at all. Faith could see the wrinkly-foreheaded dudes heading for them, ten or so, all with big fangy grins.
"Don't sound like that," Buffy said. She rammed her stake into the first vampire who passed their ambush, pulling it out quickly as he dusted.
"Like what?" Faith asked. Her voice squealed indignantly. There was no use being quiet. The vampires had seen them.
Buffy attacked the biggest one. "Like you're some innocent schoolgirl with a crush!" she yelled between punches, weaving under the clumsy grabs of the vampire.
"It's your voice!" Faith hurled herself onto one of the vampires. Her heart was slamming against her ribs. Don't die. Wonderful advice. She took a punch that stunned her, then ducked the next one without thinking. She blinked, and when she looked again, there was dust in front of her and another vampire charging.
"That's not the point!" Buffy emphasized her last word with another stake to a heart.
"You liked it," Faith said, sweeping her leg out to catch a girl vamp under her knees. Two of them went down when she shoved, like dominoes. She jumped on top of the pile and got a knee in her stomach for her trouble. "Oof!"
"I'm fine," Faith forced herself to say. Beneath her, the girl vamp's yellow glaring eyes erupted into dust and vanished. Faith had landed on her chest, stake down. Luck. Or destiny.
Buffy hauled her to her feet by the scruff of her neck. "I said don't die!"
"I heard." Faith shook off Buffy's hand. "You're freaked because we did it in each other's bodies."
"I'm freaked because it's you!"
Faith tackled Buffy out of the way of a vampire's lunge. The vamp stumbled and Buffy drove her stake up into his chest as he fell.
"So you're not freaked that we're both girls?" Faith flipped from her back to her feet without thinking how she'd done it.
Buffy's face flushed and she stopped pounding the vamp in front of her. "That's – I mean –" The vamp caught her with a kick that sent her sprawling. He followed up by jumping on her, but Buffy got her legs up and kicked him off. He flew past Faith, breaking a headstone with his landing. "I'm with Riley!" Buffy yelled. With a vicious grunt, she staked the vamp.
"Stupidest excuse I ever heard, you don't even like him!" Another vampire launched himself onto Faith with a growl and she turned her hip and tossed him right into a low, jutting tree branch. Poof. Awesome. She didn't even know she'd been aiming him there. She paused to admire it.
Buffy grabbed her upper arm and swung her around, throwing her back into the fight. "God, you have the attention span of a gnat," she said.
Faith avoided a crescent kick and weaved around a series of obvious, flailing punches. "You're the one changing the subject."
"This isn't about Riley."
"Finally, we agree."
"It's not – Faith, I'm not –"
"And I'm supposed to know whether I am? Was I before?" Faith grabbed her vampire's shirt collar and used him as a wrecking ball on the nearest tomb wall.
Buffy glared at her. "You think I would know?" A roundhouse kick crunched the face of her opponent.
"You might." Faith doubled the vampire over with a knee. "You're –" Kick. " – the only –" Jab. " – one I know! You, I remember –" Left hook. "Only you. But when I kissed you –" Right uppercut. Punch. Punch. Punch. "It. Was. Right." Stake. Dust. Panting.
Heart racing. Body trembling. Heat rushing between her legs.
Buffy staring at her.
"Are we –" Faith stopped, licked her lips. Buffy was looking at her like a hunting owl eying a mouse. Faith watched her eyes, her mouth. It had to be wrong to be so turned on by her own body. It was Buffy she wanted, Buffy's lust behind those dark eyes. "Are we always this honest when we fight?"
Buffy opened her mouth, then dropped her gaze. "Each other, maybe."
"We did that a lot, huh." It was a statement, not a question. Faith rolled a kink out of her shoulder and surveyed the graveyard. Nothing. No vampires. There was no question of believing in them anymore. If the body-switch hadn't convinced her, then the fight had. She shivered, not from cold, but from reaction. She took a deep breath, trying to hide how it shuddered in her throat. The tingle of Buffy's nearness cut through any thought she tried to form. Kissing her had been so good. Faith wanted to kiss her again. She moved forward before she knew what she was doing.
Buffy shrugged away from her. "We've got to get home," she said curtly. She flinched away from Faith when Faith started walking beside her.
"No." Buffy held herself rigid. Faith shot her a look, half worry and half angry disbelief. Buffy didn't stay to answer it. She headed for home in quick tense strides that jarred her body with every step. All the panther grace of the fight was erased.
Faith rolled her eyes and followed. "So tell me you didn't get off on it."
Buffy sucked in a breath. Faith glanced at her sideways, saw her flushed cheeks and fever-bright eyes, the quick, light breaths.
"You're turned on right now thinkin' about it."
Buffy stopped. "Listen. It's just a Slayer thing, a reaction, okay? It doesn't mean anything."
"It was a Slayer thing in the alley before the vampires showed up?" Faith taunted. She stepped close to Buffy again, pushing into her space. This time, Buffy's eyes went down her body, and instead of the horniness Faith knew she felt, there was only disgust. Faith watched her face. Buffy's lips lush and warm from kissing, a hickey red against the paleness of her neck. "You want to kiss me again?"
"I don't, I –"
"Because it's like kissing yourself," Faith said. "That's all."
Buffy stared at her. At the body Faith wore. "I can't."
"It's easy," Faith whispered, in her soft Buffy-voice that was more reassurance than sex. "Close your eyes."
Buffy swallowed. She let her eyes drift shut.
Faith drifted nearer. "When Willow fixes us..."
"Don't. Don't say anything."
"When I remember." Faith brushed her lips against Buffy's. The tiny touch felt like a gunshot, exploding throughout her body. Faith shook, her breath coming faster. "Then –" she whispered. "Then it'll be okay." She kissed Buffy, slowly, her tongue darting out to taste her. Buffy's breasts pressed into hers with each uneven hitch of breath. Faith ran her hands down Buffy's arm, catching her wrists loosely.
Buffy leaned forward, into the slow, sensual kiss, warm with promise. Buffy kept her eyes closed, even as she sank deeply into the kiss. Her stiffness bled away. Faith felt her heart thrumming through their clothes, fast and light. She had forgotten. Faith moaned silently, aching for the touch of Buffy's lips all over, everywhere, now. The slaying had killed Buffy's inhibitions, maybe, trapped as she was with Faith's hormones, Faith's needs. The rest was all them, the two of them, finding each other at last.
"Let's go home," Buffy said, in her slow rough drawl. "I don't know, I don't know if I can..."
"Don't look," Faith said. "Don't look and you won't know it's not me."
Buffy nodded. "Please, Faith. I need it to be you."
Before I remember, Faith thought. She needs me before we're enemies again.
Want, take, have. Buffy closed her mind to any other thought. Want, take, have. The mantra was set on replay inside her head, pounding like a drumbeat. Her body – not her body – was flushed, shaky, uncontrollable with a desire she'd always managed to hide before. She was crazy, certifiably insane. Taking Faith home? Letting Faith kiss her? Oh God, oh God, she kissed me, she –
Faith kissed her. Even the memory burned her, the urgent intensity of skin, lips, tongue, want.
Buffy forced herself not to run. She wanted to contain this body of Faith's. Impose limits. She wasn't Faith. She wasn't going to be railroaded by her eager body, taken hostage by the slamming avalanche of sensation. Buffy walked, as if she was paying attention to her patrol, and took the shortest route home. She didn't look at Faith.
That didn't mean Buffy was unaware of her. Faith walked beside her, far enough away that anyone would think they were ignoring each other completely and just happened to be going in the same direction. But Buffy felt her nearness like a caress. Faith's attention was like a laser, a bright flare of heat focused tightly on her.
What the hell was she getting into?
Close your eyes.This was weird in a whole new universe of weird. If she looked at Faith – if she saw that expression of naked lust on her own face – she'd wig. Start thinking, all those thoughts that said she couldn't do this. Thoughts like "What about Riley?" and "Is it cheating if I'm fucking my own body?"
Don't think. Close your eyes. Just feel. Her body was begging for more, for the long, lingering kisses that touched her soul, for Faith to take her places she'd only been in her imagination, in dreams. But it wasn't fair to Faith – none of it was. Buffy was taking advantage of so much; of Faith's amnesia, of her post-Slay hornies, of the subtle familiarity Faith felt for her. She shouldn't be going this far with Faith. She shouldn't be doing this at all. There were so many reasons not to; maybe only one to go through with it.
Buffy jumped and gasped when Faith took her hand. "Where are you going?" Faith asked, school-girl sweet on the surface, upset underneath.
Buffy shrugged, but didn't pull her hand away. Don't look and you won't know. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here."
"Then stop beating yourself up."
"I'm not...it's just, Faith, you don't know – what you really feel. You're..."
"Don't tell me what I know. I fucking want this, Buffy. I want you." Faith squeezed her hand, forgetting her strength for a moment. Their hands looked like they should: her small tan hand with coral-pink nails, twined together with Faith's long, delicate fingers. Buffy shivered, a small involuntary thrill, wishing that it could have been like this before. Before every complication in the world had come to stand between them. Faith's awakening had brought all the old desire to the surface. She was finished denying it to herself.
"I want you too," she whispered. She'd never been so turned on, not after the hardest slays, not with Angel... Part of it, maybe, was Faith's body. Her muscles trembled, aching to move, to act, to grab Faith and kiss her senseless. Buffy wanted to discover all the things she'd never let herself think about too closely before. Even more, she wanted Faith to regain her memory. She wanted everything to have a fairy tale ending – for Faith to forgive her, for Faith to want to stay. That was too much to hope for. Enough that she had Faith now, tonight.
They turned on to her street and headed for the house. The windows were dark. Buffy had left a note for her mom saying that they'd be late. She hoped they wouldn't have to explain the body switch to her. And, thank God, her mom slept like a log. Awkward questions were the last thing Buffy needed.
"B..." Faith tugged on her hand, pulling her closer. Buffy let herself be drawn in, wrapping her arms around Faith, the tiny waist, the amazing strength in the small-boned frame. Her body. She flushed and looked down the street, anywhere but at those sea-green eyes that had no business looking at her from anywhere but a mirror. Faith tensed. Buffy knew she'd hurt her by refusing to meet her eyes. It didn't matter how understanding Faith was about the body-switch. Buffy skewered her every time she turned away.
Faith dragged a hand through Buffy's hair and jerked her close. Buffy gasped at the pain in her scalp, but it was easily overwhelmed by the violent hunger of Faith's kiss. Buffy felt her body surge into control. The fierce longing that had been building in her since the alley returned in a flash. She moaned into Faith's mouth, seeking Faith's tongue, exploring her mouth as if she'd never get enough. She suspected she never would. One night was not enough to tire of this endless passion.
Faith pressed both her thumbs over Buffy's closed eyelids until Buffy saw stars. Buffy wrestled Faith's tongue with hers, as if she could kiss her hard enough to make it all better. Light-headed and panting, Buffy kissed blindly, loving the short soft breaths that escaped Faith when she whimpered.
Faith pulled back for a moment. "It's me," she said. "Don't you get that? It's me." She kissed Buffy again, a vicious, frustrated twining of lips and tongues. Her teeth closed on Buffy's lower lip, biting sharply.
Pain flared through Buffy's body, swift and piercing as pleasure. She'd never felt so aroused, her nipples tight beads pushing against her shirt, her clit throbbing. "Faith...Faith..." She chanted her name between kisses. She couldn't think, only react, and maybe that was better.
It seemed to take forever for them to stumble their way into the house and up the stairs to Buffy's room. Buffy pretended she couldn't see in the dark. She wasn't going to destroy this second chance. Faith was someone new. Without memory, without her own face, this was a first time for Faith as well as her. Buffy wanted to make it perfect – better, somehow, than all their history. If Faith had lost their past, then Buffy would too: she could forget Riley, Angel, and the night eight months ago on the roof of Faith's apartment building when she'd shoved a blade into Faith's stomach and felt the spurt of her blood.
Buffy shoved her hands beneath Faith's shirt, feeling the warm whisper of heated skin underneath. No scar. Smooth skin, tanned, dipping at the waist. Buffy searched Faith's body with her hands. She'd never felt so aggressive during sex. She was wanton, almost joyfully savage. Buffy yanked Faith's jacket down off her shoulders until it trapped her arms. She felt wild, like a predator, finding a smug satisfaction in Faith's gasp. Faith didn't wait to be freed. With an enormous yank, she ripped her arms free of the material.
Buffy gave a half-breathless laugh. Oh yes. This was Faith, not some doppelganger. Not herself. She abandoned logic and let her body pull her forward. She pounced on Faith and kissed her again. They went tumbling backwards on to the bed. Their kisses were quick and messy, one following another too fast for them to catch their breath between. Faith's fingers worked feverishly at her clothes, undoing her jeans fly and pushing her shirt over her head. Buffy grunted and let Faith's lips go for long enough to lose the shirt.
"Buffy...fuck..." Faith reached for her, her hands brushing up her sides, over her ribs. Buffy flinched when Faith's fingers ghosted over the rough ridge of scar tissue. It was instinctive, some body-memory deeper than her mind went. Buffy shook her head. She didn't want her brain to be in control now. She took Faith's hands and moved them up.
She lost her breath in a deep, shuddering sigh when Faith cupped her breasts, tweaking her nipples between her knuckles. "Oh, oh God...Faith..." She sat back, open-mouthed, moaning as Faith pinched and rolled her nipples. Excitement spurted through her, centering deep in her stomach. Buffy rolled her hips forward, thrusting against Faith's stomach. "Yes, yes, yes..."
Faith's hand moved up behind her neck and pulled her down again. "Stay with me," she said. "Be patient..."
"You've – got – to be kidding me," Buffy panted, sucking and nipping at Faith's neck, writhing on top of her. "I can't believe...I'm like this..." Sweat sheened Faith's skin, in the hollow of her throat, on the line between her breasts. "You...Faith, you're making me so hot..." Buffy followed it with her tongue, tasting salt and her own flesh. She sighed and closed her eyes, moving her mouth over Faith's breast, finding her nipple hard and straining toward her. Buffy took it gently between her teeth and stroked her tongue over the tip.
Faith sucked in a sudden breath, her body tensing. "Oh fucking God, oh Buffy –"
Buffy licked her nipple over and over, drawing out Faith's cries. She slid a hand down to cup Faith's pussy, pressing against her clit with the heel of her hand. Faith writhed beneath her as if this was new. Buffy wondered for a brief second if Faith's body remembered more about making love to a woman than she ever knew. Her hands knew just how to touch, her fingers sinking between the lips of Faith's pussy so softly, so easily, that it felt like she'd done this a thousand times before. Buffy released Faith's nipple and nibbled her way to her other breast, long tongue strokes that left Faith humming. Buffy slid her fingers deeper into Faith's pussy, rubbing back and forth softly enough to be teasing.
"Buffy...please, fuck me..."
Hearing the insistent tone in her own voice broke through Buffy's concentration, her persistent denial to herself that this was way too freaky. "I've never...I mean...when it was me..." She kept up a steady, circular rhythm, now hard and slow, now soft and fast.
"Just – like that..." Faith's eyes squeezed shut, her thighs parting to give Buffy better access. She gripped the sheets until her knuckles were white. "Ah, oh yeah, just – just harder, please, B..."
Buffy concentrated on kissing the side of Faith's neck, long, open-mouthed kisses. She couldn't believe how wet she was. God, Faith's body was going to kill her. Arousal poured through her with every gasp and moan that Faith let slip. Buffy hurt with need, her pulse racing, her skin prickling with the flaring tingle of Faith's touch. She glowed with sweat, her breathing ragged, her hands trembling as she stroked Faith's clit. She pressed her fingers down, exploring. "Always wanted this," she muttered into the hot skin beneath her lips. "Always wanted you."
Slowly, Buffy slid a finger into Faith's entrance, feeling the tight ring of muscle contracting around her. Faith arched off the bed. "Mmmm...yes! Ahh –"
Buffy focused on the sound of Faith's breathing, her pleas and moans. She thrust her finger deep inside, keeping her palm on Faith's swollen clit. God, what it was to be with Faith...she remembered fantasizing, way back when, even while she was with Angel, but it was nothing compared to the reality. She kissed Faith, taking in her breath and her words, and joined her first finger with a second. Faith tensed, then jarred her hips forward. She was close to coming, her hips jerking erratically, surging forward into Buffy's hand. Buffy closed her eyes and tried to remember every trick that ever sent her over the edge, tracing desire on Faith's flesh, kissing her desperately.
Faith threw back her head and called out when she came. Buffy felt the backlash through their connection. The sensation ripped through her, shattering her. Ecstasy scalded her. Buffy worked her fingers back and forth, drawing it out, squirming against Faith as she felt her orgasm reflected. Heat and pleasure rolled through her. Slowly, Buffy drew her fingers out.
She dropped kisses along Faith's jaw, just behind her ear, at the corner of her mouth. She couldn't stop touching her. Her body – the body she wore – was restless and aching, shivering with need. Yet she couldn't open her eyes. Shame was coming flooding back. Buffy didn't want to see what her face looked like, sated and languorous. So she kept up the small kisses, now Faith's collarbone, now the inside of her elbow.
"Turn over." Faith's lips touched the point of her shoulder. She sat up, rolling over Buffy until her front was pressed against Buffy's back. "Like this...you can't see me...I can feel all of you..." She kissed Buffy's shoulder again, then moved her mouth sensuously across the back of Buffy's neck, her hands gathering the fall of dark hair and lifting it away. Buffy sighed and let her head fall forward. She was quaking, melting, feeling the moisture of Faith's pussy driven against her ass. She moved her hips, nudging backwards.
"Don't, not yet," Faith murmured, running a hand down to Buffy's hip to hold her still. "I want you so bad, all of you...fuck, Buffy, so good..."
Buffy moaned. Faith's fingers were drawing through the moisture that slicked the inside of her thighs, moving upwards. Buffy's breath was harsh in her throat. She couldn't get enough oxygen. She was too busy feeling Faith's fingers trailing their way upwards, Faith's lips moving against her back and neck. Buffy couldn't even speak. Lust stormed through her. Faith's hands reached their goal. Buffy cried out as Faith buried three fingers in her hole, filling her, expanding her until she thought she would die from the wonderful sensation. She had never felt so complete, as if Faith were a part of her she'd been missing.
"You're so wet. Oh yeah. Perfect..." Faith pulled her fingers away, Buffy moaning at their loss, and then drove them forward again. Buffy caught her rhythm, the bed shaking beneath them as Faith worked Buffy's pussy.
Fire surged through Buffy's veins. She was going to come harder than she ever had, and faster. Faith's touch was like lightning, electrifying her, centering around her clit and the incredible feel of Faith's fingers reaching deeper and finding her g spot. Buffy screamed when Faith massaged the soft spot inside her. She drove her hips back, making Faith gasp and push harder. The wet clicking sounds of her cunt filled the room, emphasized by their panting breaths. Sweat slid between them, and Buffy could feel the peaks of Faith's nipples against her back each time they swayed together.
With a sudden move, Faith looped an arm around Buffy's waist and caught Buffy's clit between two fingers, squeezing and releasing, rolling the hard, swollen nub. Buffy froze as her climax exploded inside her. Frenzied excitement took control of her. She couldn't think, couldn't move. White light gripped her and sent her flying. Faith's fingers never stopping their insistent thrusts, her other hand pressing tight against Buffy's clit. Buffy called out her name, over and over, until, ragged and exhausted, she collapsed. Faith's weight was warm and welcome against her back.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Hmm," Faith said, sleepy-voiced. There was one last touch of lips against her skin. "Amazing."
Buffy felt tiredness stealing over her. Faith's body was worn out by all the brief, storming rages of its emotions. God, Buffy could never get used to it. Not that she'd have to...Willow and Tara had seemed optimistic that they could do something, find a way to reverse the spell. But maybe there was something to be said for Faith's kind of living. Quick to anger, quick to passion, with no checks against speaking out or doing something crazy. Maybe this was what Faith meant when she talked about finding the fun. Grab life and shake it till it gives.
Faith snuggled closer behind her. Buffy sighed and let herself relax into her arms. Who could imagine Faith a snuggler? Was it Buffy's body that did it, or the lack of memories? Faith seemed like the same person. More and more as time passed, Faith's familiar phrases and mannerisms were creeping back. She was remembering, if only slowly.
But what was the deal with Faith's fractured soul? Buffy shifted closer to Faith, reassuring herself that she was still there, still solid, still warm. Tomorrow she'd ask Tara to look again. Maybe there was some clue in Faith's aura that she'd missed. There had to be a place to start looking for answers.
It all came down to whether they wanted answers. If Faith regained her memory...Buffy knew she would leave. She'd known that all along. Faith was a criminal, even if the police weren't looking for her. They were still enemies...weren't they? Tonight couldn't change a year's worth of jealousy and fighting. And besides, Faith wasn't the loyal type. Get some, get gone. It was only a matter of time until she remembered that motto.
Buffy's eyes felt hot, her throat tight. Silent tears leaked down to soak her pillow.
Faith would leave. And maybe that was for the best. Buffy was with Riley. Just last night...
Just last night she'd used him to get off while thinking about Faith. Sign of a healthy relationship, it wasn't.
Why did she have to realize this all now?
Suddenly restless, Buffy shifted away from Faith's grip and slid out of her bed. Faith mumbled, but she didn't wake up. Buffy wiped her eyes. She needed to get out, to escape. Faith was going to leave her. It would hurt less if she left first. Buffy walked to the door. Turning, she could still see Faith clearly. Darkness didn't matter to a Slayer's sight.
She finally looked at her own face. Faith lay sprawled across the bed, her fingers still reaching for Buffy. She was small and slim, and her golden hair spread across the pillow. Buffy opened the door and slipped halfway out.
God, was this what Angel saw when he left her, the night they'd made love? Her sleeping face looked so peaceful, so young. Had Angel laughed as his demon rose up? Watching her sleep, knowing how vulnerable she'd be in the morning when he wasn't there?
Faith had been abandoned so many times in her life. She'd always refused to talk about it with Buffy, but that didn't mean she didn't know. Her mom was dead. Her dad had dumped her as soon as he could. Her Watcher, killed by Kakistos. And then, Sunnydale...everyone here had left her in one way or another. Maybe Buffy most of all.
Buffy clutched the doorknob in one hand, the metal creaking beneath her strength. Tears choked her. Faith had given her something tonight, something even greater than making love. Faith had finally trusted her. Even without memory, even knowing that they had problems, Faith had chosen to be with her.
Could she really walk away from that? What if there was a chance that Faith would forgive her – that they could start over?
Buffy shivered. Away from the bed and Faith's warmth, the night was colder than it had any right to be. She was restless...she wanted to run.
Faith's body wanted to run.
Buffy held herself in place, balanced on a knife-edge. Who was in charge, her body or her mind? Faith had an ingrained habit of running, of not sleeping with whoever she dragged back to her bed. Buffy...Buffy wanted to lie down beside Faith, to wrap her arms around her and not care what her face looked like in the morning. The face was temporary. What she felt – what she might feel – that would last longer. Oh, please, it had to last longer.
Buffy glanced out into the hall. Then, with an act of will, she went back to Faith's side. She sat on the bed, stroking the blonde hair off Faith's heart-shaped face. Faith hummed and rolled over, leaving room for Buffy to slide back into her place at her side.
Buffy drew the covers up and lay down beside Faith. Facing her, she gently maneuvered to twine their legs together, to wrap her arms as tightly as she could around Faith without waking her up.
This would mean dumping Riley. This would mean coming out to her mom and her friends.
Willow had done it. Tara seemed like a wonderful person. And Willow's parents were far stricter. That was bravery.
This would mean finally letting Faith have the chance she deserved. Whether she took it or not...maybe it didn't matter. Buffy needed to give her the opportunity. Finally, she was ready to forgive Faith, once and for all.
Buffy settled her head on the pillow, angling herself so that she would wake up to Faith's eyes looking into hers.
Buffy was certain Faith's body had never blushed so much. Her blood was probably confused at rushing to her face all the time. She couldn't help it. She'd be wolfing down the plate after plate of waffles Mom set in front of her – Buffy herself didn't eat this much in a month of breakfasts – and then her breath would catch. A delicious tingle would send shivers racing through her, like cool ocean spray against sun-warmed skin. She'd look up – and meet Faith's gaze across the table. That was all it took. Buffy couldn't look away. Faith's eyes sparkled with a wicked gleam. There was mischief there, and lust, and a tantalizing, teasing promise. It was the sort of look that said "I know you're thinking what I'm thinking, and when can we do it again?" Butterflies fluttered in Buffy's stomach, and her face turned hot and red. She beamed at Faith, an embarrassed, coy smile that completely escaped her control. She ducked her head to hide it, but she couldn't help peeking at Faith through her lashes. There was something incredibly...Faithlike...about the smug way she licked her lips, exaggerating the slow, sensuous movement. Buffy tried to cool her cheeks in her hands and felt dimples against her fingertips. God...Faith just wasn't built for embarrassment, because the flutter in her stomach was moving lower and becoming more insistent the longer she stared into Faith's eyes.
"But what I don't understand," Mom said, entering the room and shoveling another load of bacon onto Buffy's empty plate, "is this matter of Faith's soul being...broken."
Buffy blushed harder at Mom nearly catching her making googly-eyes at Faith and speared the bacon with her fork. Her breathing was quick and shallow, and she made an effort to concentrate on eating without choking.
Faith raised a taunting eyebrow at her and picked at the remains of her single waffle. "So the whole body-switch thing's making some kinda sense to you that I missed somehow?" she asked.
"Oh, that," Mom said, with an airy wave of her hands. "Evil spells. The Mayor turned into a giant snake at Buffy's Graduation. If I didn't run to Chicago for that, then this is hardly news. Willow did say she could fix it, didn't she?"
"Scooby meeting here today," Buffy mumbled around a bite of toast. "We'll see what she and Tara came up with. And Giles can be Bookman again. I think he misses tweed." She licked her fork thoughtfully.
Faith grinned at her. Buffy reddened again, realizing what she must look like. She let the fork clatter to her plate. "I...I'm done," she said. "Okay. Dishes...they go in...large metal water...thing. Sink. I'll get right on that." She jumped to her feet. Her pulse was thrumming in her wrists. She felt Faith's stare on her back as she walked into the kitchen, and her body responded by adding a bit of swing to her hips. Body-switch or not, she knew that's where Faith's eyes were glued. Buffy couldn't blame her. Faith's ass was undeniably hot.
Okay, so she'd freaked out a little last night. Okay, more like a lot. And then...this morning...
Something came of giving in and trusting Faith. Trust didn't mean believing things were going to work out. But, like forgiveness, she didn't give it because she necessarily wanted to. Faith needed it. At this point, it was really all she had to hang on to.
Faith had still been beside her this morning. That had meant more than a lot of betrayal. Buffy felt her body warm, the unrelenting throb of blood to her crotch. She breathed in, eyes closed, holding the edge of the sink. Calm was not a word in her vocabulary lately.
"Buffy?" A hand on her shoulder made her look up. Mom sounded tentative – she wasn't used to attaching the name to this face. "Are you all right?"
Buffy hoped that Mom didn't have enough practice to read Faith's emotions. She knew how easily everything Faith thought passed across her face. World's worst liar. Even when Faith was betraying them, she'd believed she was doing right. World's second best actor. "Fine." Not exactly a lie. She'd rarely felt better, physically at least.
"You seemed a little...flustered...in there." Mom crossed her arms and leaned back a little, as though to get a better look at her. "Is it something Faith did?"
It was more something that Faith was, but Buffy wasn't about to explain what it meant to be dealing with Faith's body, with being Faith. "No," she said. And then, after a pause: "You were right."
Mom smiled, a wry twist of her lips. "That's something a mother doesn't hear every day."
"Faith's...not evil. I mean, she could be...but it's not for sure. She could change her mind."
"I'm glad you see that. Because she is getting her memory back." Mom glanced towards the entrance to the dinning room.
Buffy followed her gaze and remembered that Faith had overheard them talking last night. What would she make of this conversation? "She is?"
"Slowly, but, yes. She told me she was 'five by five' the other day." Mom raised an eyebrow in emphasis.
Buffy nodded. "She called me B last night."
"I want her to trust me, but..."
"You're still worried. That's understandable." Mom sighed. Worry-lines creased around her eyes. "Buffy...seeing you like this..."
"I know." Buffy wrapped her arms around her mom, squeezing as tight as she dared. "Your local Hellmouth tax dollars at work." She tried to smile. "It's not for long."
"Right. I'll keep that in mind." Mom released her from the hug, shaking her head with resigned amusement, concern lurking in her eyes. She studied Buffy, touching her cheek. "I know you're in there somewhere." She looked up when the doorbell rang. "Looks like the gang's here," she said. "If Xander's coming, I should probably run out for Twinkies and cheese doodles."
Buffy laughed. "Good idea." She went with Mom to the door. Faith had beaten them there. She opened it to Riley, standing on the porch, looking nervous, and suddenly everything that was wrong about last night came crashing down. Rationalizations didn't help when your lover and your boyfriend were glaring at each other across the threshold. Buffy wanted to hide. It was like looking at a funhouse mirror version of her and Riley. Riley looked like he was staring at one of his psych experiments gone horribly, horribly wrong. Faith was caught somewhere between sneering and looking smug. The expression didn't look good on Buffy's features, either way.
After a moment, Riley looked past Faith and focused on Buffy. The psych-experiment stare didn't fade. "Um...Buffy...I'd –"
"Yeah, so, if you need me, I'm gonna be...elsewhere," Faith interrupted. She turned around and headed upstairs, leaving the door open behind her and Riley outside.
Riley stepped inside and closed the door behind him. "Mrs. Summers," he said, nodding at her. "I, uh, may I speak to Buffy alone?"
"Of course, Riley. I was just heading out to do some shopping." Mom smiled at him, then, turning her back on him while she put on her shoes, widened her eyes at Buffy in a silent question. Buffy shrugged miserably. This was going to go badly. She was a Slayer and had premonitions of apocalypses...apocalypti? This felt a lot like that.
She gestured Riley into the living room. When they'd both gotten their voices back, after the Gentlemen had been killed, they'd sat across from each other in her dorm room for what seemed like forever, not talking. Now sitting was the last thing she wanted to do. She started pacing. It'd be nice if she could just slay a vamp right now, or at least maim a demon. Facing Riley was about the last thing on her list of to-dos...
Which, again, wasn't fair to Faith. Or to Riley. Or to herself, for that matter. It wasn't that Riley was a bad guy; he was nice. He was...stable, good-looking, even-tempered. Buffy winced to herself. She sounded like somebody's grandma, describing Riley that way. Shouldn't she be saying...hot? Exciting? Someone who challenged her and pushed her buttons and...okay, someone like Faith. But the fact was, Buffy had enjoyed having a boyfriend a bit closer to normal, because that way she could pretend that she was normal, too.
Oh, God. That was such a horrible reason to stay with him. And...and he was talking. Okay. Listen. Do not let yourself run away from this situation.
"Buffy..." He said her name doubtfully, like he believed she and Faith were playing some sort of practical joke with the body-switch. Or maybe it was the pacing. Usually, when they Talked, the kind of Talk with a capital T, she was the calm one and he was restless. "About last night. I made a mistake." He tried a smile, and a bit of a chuckle. "But you know there was no way I could have known that you and she were – that she wasn't you."
She nodded. "I'm sorry, too. I...I shouldn't have said that stuff. I'm just..." She rolled her eyes and repeated Faith's excuse to Tara. "I'm just not myself right now."
"I know. And the sooner you're back to – you, the better. Faith is –" He shook his head, wry confusion on his face. "Well, she's something else. Definitely not you."
Buffy whirled to face him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing! Just that –" Riley shrugged, blinking. "Well, you said she'd be here temporarily. That she was your responsibility. And..." He smiled again, the kind of self-satisfied smirk that had always been tolerable before but suddenly pissed her off to no end. "And, well, if you're her – and she's you – then, when we...I don't know, Buffy. I'd just rather you were in your own body. Don't you?"
Buffy tensed up. "Yeah? Well, Riley, what if I was stuck this way? What if Willow can't find a spell, and I'm like this forever? You'd go after Faith because you like my body better?" She got louder as she went on, the words coming from nowhere, a sudden storm of anger that she'd had no way of predicting.
"Whoa! Buffy!" Riley's eyes widened. "Where the hell are you coming from? Of course not –"
"You know what?" Buffy advanced on him. "You probably didn't even care it wasn't me. You probably wouldn't even have figured out it wasn't me!" Buffy listened to what she was saying and knew it sounded stupid. But everything would be so much easier if it were his fault. It probably was his fault, somehow, and anyway, being angry felt a hell of a lot better than feeling guilty.
"I think I would have been able to tell," Riley said, laughing a little. So fucking assured, so fucking superior, damn him! "I mean, yes, I kissed her, Buffy, before I knew, but it wasn't like I slept with her."
Buffy froze. She felt her face go white, but she couldn't do anything except stare at him. All her anger drained out of her faster than it had blown up.
"What?" Riley's grin faded. "What is it? Buffy –"
"Nothing. It's not –" Buffy shook her head and tried to back away. "Can we just –"
Riley's face turned from confusion to shock in slow motion. Buffy's heart squeezed in her chest, a pain more for him than because of him. "Please – Riley –"
"No." Riley held up his hands, as if she was attacking him, as if he needed to defend himself from her. "What the hell are you saying – you – you slept with Faith? You had sex with her? Buffy, I don't understand. You can't – you can't be telling me this."
Buffy bit her lip. The urge to run was overwhelming. It was an effort just to be here, talking to him. "Riley, Faith and I –" Nothing, nothing at all that she said was going to make this right. Not excuses about Faith's hormones, and not even the truth – that she'd wanted Faith far longer than she had ever admitted to herself. "It just happened," she said lamely, knowing it was nothing of the sort, knowing how much those words would hurt him.
Riley clenched his jaw, muscles working near his temple. "You never even thought about me. You cheated on me and you – you didn't care."
"I – I care, Riley, I do," Buffy said. But not enough. She knew it. She could see that he knew it, too.
"Yeah, right," he said bitterly, anger bursting from him. His shoulders bunched. "I can't – I don't think I want to be here right now. I can't even talk to you, looking like that – like her."
Buffy bridled at how close he'd come to insulting Faith, but she nodded. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I guess I should have known." Riley shook his head in disgust. "Willow told me I might be some rebound thing for you. I thought what we had was better than that, Buffy. I thought I was more to you than you moving on from some great mystical love." He stepped forward, the edge of his glare softening slightly. "But now I see you'd rather go back to her – even though she hurt you. I hope you know I'd never do that. I wouldn't have hurt you."
Buffy gaped at him. He thought that Faith was...? That Faith was the person she'd been pining for when they first started dating? But then, she'd never told him about Angel – the specifics, anyway. And was he so wrong to assume that about Faith? Buffy had been feeling guilty about her for way longer than she'd ever suspected. It was all tied together with Angel leaving, with the Mayor, with all that history that was so wonderfully blank for Faith right now. Angel, her first love, who she hadn't even been allowed to be with since his return from Hell...or Faith, fellow Slayer, secret crush, always nearby, always on her mind – whether as her friend or her enemy?
"I know," she answered Riley. "I know you wouldn't..."
There was so much more she wished she could tell him. That he was too safe for her...that, somehow, as a Slayer, she needed pain. The course of true love shouldn't run smooth. Faith was dangerous, and uncertain, and desperate; and despite that, or because of it, Buffy wanted her.
None of that would make this better. Riley was decent, and she'd treated him like dirt.
"Yeah. Well. I'm going." Riley made a sharp about-face, then strode for the door, hunched over and angry still. Buffy closed the door gently behind him, bowing her head slightly. At least she wouldn't run in to him anytime soon. Her psych class had been cancelled due to a severe case of professor death. They didn't live anywhere near each other on campus. Even when patrolling, she was usually in the graveyards while the Initiative took the area around the university. It was amazing, really, how painlessly Riley could be removed from her life, leaving barely a scar to prove he'd been there.
There was a knock at the door. Buffy started, then automatically opened it. Xander stood outside, with Willow and Tara coming up the walk.
"Hey, quick service! I could get used to this," Xander said. He paused in the foyer and peered at her, then, playfully, tapped on her forehead. "Buffy? You in there?"
Buffy swatted his hand aside. "Xander –"
"And I thought Willow as a vampire was the top of the chart as far as the creepiness factor goes." He walked around her, studying her from every angle.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "This isn't an opportunity for ogling, Xander. You know what Faith looks like."
"Wow! And she really has the Buff-speak down." Xander nodded, impressed. "Okay. I give. You're you. Er, her. Yourself. In there."
Buffy exchanged pained looks with Willow as she and Tara entered the house. "Look, can we just not right now, Xander?"
Xander's face screwed up in an apologetic grimace. "Buffy, I know. Look, you took in a murderous Slayer who doesn't know she's a murderous Slayer, except now she kinda does, and you accidentally took the Personalized Docent Tour of her body. Plus, on top of that, it turns out my best friend has a girlfriend." He gave a cheesy grin and waved at Willow and Tara. Willow rolled her eyes and waved back. "See me embrace the maturity! I don't do it that much, so appreciate it when it comes, okay?"
Buffy smiled. "Sorry, Xander. It's not you."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Riley didn't look too happy leaving. You're probably waiting for the witchy stuff to be over so you can go and have a reunion." Xander kicked off his shoes and threw himself onto the armchair.
"Actually, I just broke up with him."
Xander snickered. "Right, or you just broke up with him – wait, did you say you just broke up with him? That is serious stuff!"
Willow immediately wrapped her in a hug. "Oh, Buffy, I'm sorry!" She leaned back and frowned at her. "I think. Or is this not the double-mint-chocolate-fudge-caramel-cookie-dough ice cream kind of break up?"
"It's barely Rocky Road," Buffy said. "It's a long story, not the point right now, and if I feel the need for fudge sauce you're the first person I'll call."
Willow nodded, and shared a look with Tara. Xander eyed them suspiciously. "Man, that is pretty much my quota for shocking developments in the lives of my friends," he said. "I hope you have cheese doodles."
"Mom's out getting some." Buffy glanced up the stairs, wondering where Faith had disappeared to. Speaking of shocking developments...
"Well, Giles is bringing about as much as he's got left of his library," Xander said. "Willow and Tara already have a couple ideas, probably along the lines of nose-wiggling and blinking forcefully. So, I'm guessing that means I'm pizza-ordering guy."
"Great. You go ahead and get set up." Buffy ushered them into the living room. "I'm just gonna..." She stopped and made a vague gesture towards the stairs. Only Tara seemed interested in her interrupted sentence. Buffy blushed under her calm stare. "Well. You know."
Tara nodded understandingly, which just made the blushing worse. Probably her aura had already betrayed her – screaming, "I had incredibly satisfying sex last night" or something similar. At least Tara didn't seem the type to go spreading it around – not even to Willow. Buffy sent her a grateful look before she headed upstairs.
She felt ahead of herself for Faith's location. She was in the guest bedroom, where she'd spent her first night back. Buffy knocked on the door, tentatively, then opened it before Faith had a chance to tell her not to come in. She had no idea how Faith would be taking her dumping of Riley, or his of her, whatever it had worked out to in the end.
Faith was lying on her back on the bed, one leg bent at the knee, the other crossed over it, her arms behind her head. Buffy felt suddenly nervous. The day-after stuff had never worked out for her, and so far today her conversation with Faith had been limited to good mornings and discussions of breakfast.
"I don't know what the hell you expect."
Buffy paused. Faith's words had burst out before Buffy had finished saying her name. And what did she expect? That just because she had forgiven Faith, trusted her, that Faith could immediately return those feelings? Hardly. Again with the unfairness.
"I don't expect anything." Buffy cautiously sat on the bed beside Faith, drawing up her knees and resting her chin on them.
"You think I can replace your farmboy?"
"No...not replace..." Buffy frowned at the bedspread. "Faith, all I know is that you showed me something...that it's not working with Riley. I don't expect...I mean, if you want...but..."
"You figure you can brainwash me before I remember anything. That if I love you now, then of course I'll still be buying you roses once I have my head screwed on straight!"
Buffy drew in a swift breath. Love? Did Faith just say love?
No. Faith wouldn't.
But Faith had. Because she still didn't remember, she still didn't know, and none of this was fair because Buffy wanted her to have said it. The thought that came immediately was, Back away and she can't hurt you.
"The gang is here," Buffy said instead of answering. "Do you want to go down...maybe research, find out what's the what?"
Faith finally moved – turned her head and glanced sideways at Buffy. "You've gotta be kidding me. One, I tried to kill your friends. Two, I have no idea what we're looking for. Three."
"Three?" Buffy prompted when Faith didn't continue.
Faith gave a half-shrug. "I don't know. Whatever. Might as well." She rolled to her feet on the opposite side of the bed as Buffy.
Buffy followed her down the stairs. Faith paused at the bottom, fear flashing through her eyes for a split second. She squared her shoulders, getting the determined look that was so familiar to Buffy from her past several world-saveages. Closed. Grim. Like she was going to face a firing squad. Buffy reached out and put a hand on her shoulder before she could go further. Faith turned and looked at her. They were standing in the hallway, the stairs behind them, the living room just around the corner. Xander's quips and Willow's laugh carried to them easily.
"Faith..." Buffy stopped. She wanted to close up. Shove up walls as fast as she could build them, hide until nothing could get through to hurt her. Faith's old defensiveness, pushing through what she wanted. Instead, she asked, "What was three?"
Faith stared at her, green eyes like glass, like emeralds, hard enough to hurt. "I think I am remembering," she said softly. "Blurs. Pictures. What I felt..." She looked down, away. "You're fucked up if you can forgive that," she said. "I'm fucked up."
Buffy didn't have the words to contradict her. "Faith," she whispered, and pulled her close, and kissed her.
At the first touch Faith's lips parted. Buffy gave a tiny sound of encouragement. Liquid heat shot through her body at the speed of thought. She found Faith's tongue with hers, caressing it, drawing it out. She meant the kiss to be a reassurance, a reaffirmation, but with a sudden twist Faith was pressing her against the wall beneath the stairs, hands holding her in place. Buffy's heart pounded, and she moaned, breath catching. Faith kissed her like she was remembering everything, hatelovejealousylust, her lips hot and quick and frantic.
Buffy let herself be shoved into the wall, hard behind her, Faith in her body like a flame in front. She drew her fingers up, resting on Faith's hips, then sliding lower. Faith panted, mouth open wide, slanting across Buffy's, and Buffy met her, joined her, curving into her heat, her body, her, them both, as if their bodies didn't matter, as if there was only feeling, rapidly drawing to a point, like a knifeblade.
Buffy gasped, found Faith's neck beneath her lips, and mouthed her skin, the taste of her, the sharp line of her chin. Faith's tongue swirling around her earlobe until Buffy's rapid breath filled the spaces between them. She tried to be quiet but she knew there were sounds she couldn't help but make, "Ah!" and "yes" and "F-Fai – Faith!", because they were the only words she had left. Words that meant something. Words that held trust, love, forgiveness.
Which was how Xander found them.
It was the smash of the cheese doodle bowl that brought Buffy out of the haze of kisses. Xander stood in the hallway, staring, dark eyes wide and shocked. Buffy imagined what he saw. Xander knew they'd been switched, but coming upon them, he probably couldn't help but perceive it differently. Herself, dominant and aggressive, using her power to lean on Faith's body, pressing her into the wall. Faith, blushing and flustered, pink-cheeked and bright-eyed, gasping for breath. It's not what it looks like darted stupidly through her brain, but then, he knew that: it was the opposite of what it looked like, but that didn't change the fact that he'd caught the two of them kissing.
"Xander," Buffy said, in her roughdark voice, made huskier by arousal. It was the wrong thing to say to him, the wrong voice; a look of disgusted disbelief washed over his face, and he walked straight out the front door.
The door swung open and Xander stomped back into the house. "Okay, I'm back. But only because I forgot my shoes," he said. "The dramatic exit still stands."
Faith stepped away from Buffy. She glanced at Xander's gleaming-white socks, then at his little-boy-lost pout. And, as quickly as that, she was laughing – well, giggling, really, Buffy's thousand-watt smile and infectious silliness taking her over. Buffy stared at her, then at Xander, then at Xander's socks. She started to smile.
"I'm serious!" Xander protested. Willow and Tara came to the foyer to see what was going on, and Xander turned to them for support, gesturing wildly at his feet. "I used the last of my bleach on these! And just because I live with a washer-dryer set..."
Faith giggled harder, tears of mirth gathering in her eyes. She leaned on Buffy, who offered her tiny 'there, there' pats on the shoulder. Willow and Tara smiled at her cautiously, as though they couldn't figure out what was quite so funny. Faith waved at Xander, then at Buffy, trying to explain. "He's – and you're – acting like we robbed a bank – but the socks – the socks brought him back –"
Xander grinned sheepishly at his feet and wiggled his toes. "The storming out is just tough on them," he said, giving the socks a sympathetic look. "They really do their best."
Faith got control of the giggles. She felt a sudden surge of affection for Xander, who needed to be dramatic, but whose quick turnaround proved he was willing to be won over. The first day, in the hospital, she'd felt his anger and reacted with wary self-protection. Today, in Buffy's body, felt like a fresh start, like she was willing to open up to these people and be friends.
"Storming out?" Willow asked. "Why is there storming out? And please don't tell me you guys robbed a bank. I hack for business and pleasure, but fixing police records makes my stomach all rumbly."
Tara smiled gently at her. "I d-don't think it's anything illegal, sweetie," she said. "Xander's just surprised."
"Surprised? Try shocked! Shocked, I say!" Xander pointed an accusing finger at Buffy and Faith, then gave a defeated shake of his head. He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it even messier than before. "But, hey, I can deal. I'm supreme-dealy guy. They could hire me at Circus, Circus. That's how great a dealer I am." There was still a trace of bitterness in his voice, but he shrugged and smiled at Buffy and Faith.
"Um, still in the dark here?" Willow said. "Deal with what?"
Faith looked to Buffy to answer. But Buffy stared at Willow, shame-faced, and didn't say anything. Faith wondered that it wasn't obvious, because Buffy's arm was still around her waist, and she was leaning into her. She could feel her mind struggling to remember, murky details from the past fighting to surface. She remembered that she wasn't like this, a hugger or a cuddler. Yet waking up in Buffy's bed had been wonderful...warm, and safe...like it could go on forever.
Her memory warned her that nothing was forever. Her mind told her that she was independent, that she didn't need Buffy, didn't need anyone.
Her body stayed curled against Buffy's, though, enjoying the feel of her, the scent of her skin.
And still no one answered Willow's question.
"I-I think he means that B-Buffy and Faith are t-together," Tara said softly. She held Willow's hand and studied her anxiously.
"What?" Willow tilted her head and stared at the two of them. Faith met her gaze steadily. She felt a blur, a disconnection, and remembered Willow's face from another moment, another time. Fear, and anger, and righteousness.
You did try to kill me...
Faith had held a knife to her throat, and Willow's expression had been the same.
"You gotta admit it's weird," Xander said, tromping all over the silence. "First Will and Tara, now you two? Were they handing out the naughty crack at the Bronze last night?" He appeared to think about that for a moment, then gave a dopey grin. "And why wasn't I invited?"
"That is not fair, Buffy," Willow said.
"I'm so, so sorry, Will," Buffy said. "I didn't know. I didn't mean to hurt you –"
"Oh, gee, well then, that makes it not too late at all," Willow said. "I think I left a book open. Excuse me." She turned around and headed for the living room.
Buffy was right behind her. "Wait – Willow –"
"Whoa. Am I the only one the clue train missed at the station?" Xander asked.
Faith shook her head, just as bewildered. Willow shouldn't be having any problems about the fact that Buffy had been with her...unless they were problems due to the fact that it was her. Last night Willow had started to seem almost friendly. And Faith had fallen for it. The more she remembered, though, the more she couldn't believe that Willow would ever forgive her. And maybe that's what she was talking to Buffy about right now.
"I-it's not you, Faith," Tara said, putting a hand on her arm. "Don't think that."
"What, you read minds as well as auras now?" Faith asked roughly.
"No...but faces." Tara glanced at Xander, then back to Faith. "M-maybe we should go somewhere else...let them talk."
Xander shrugged. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea." He glanced out the front window. "And if it's not perfect timing for G-man and the Bookmobile."
They all helped Giles cart in his loads of books relating to transformations and consciousness exchanges. Faith watched blankly as the others dove into researching, feeling out of place. She could hear the low murmur of Buffy's and Willow's voices through the wall, and started to jack up the super-hearing.
Xander slapped her arm.
"After four years as a Scooby, I know that look," he hissed.
"Buffy's 'I can hear you breathing from the next room' look." Xander gave her a concerned glance, fiddling with his book. "I think Tara's right. It's not about you. So don't."
Faith glared at him – another tried and true Buffy expression. She didn't want to admit how lost she felt when Buffy wasn't with her. There was nothing familiar left, and the clamor in her mind kept throwing images up, sights she didn't want to relive, broken, angry memories. Why today? Why did everything seem to want to come rushing back now – now that things had changed? Now that she was building new memories. Faith didn't care for Buffy just because she felt safe. She should be able to be strong on her own. It seemed like she used to be able to separate herself from situations. Use anger or sex so that she wouldn't have to admit to being scared. Now that defense was gone. She cared. She was more confused than ever, but she knew that last night with Buffy wasn't a mistake. And she certainly didn't want Buffy to be with her only because she felt guilty, or whatever the hell was motivating her. Faith didn't know what was going on with Buffy, and it left her adrift.
"So...how did...um...I mean, you and..." Xander gave various eyebrow wiggles and finger-flicks to finish his question. "I mean, again, resident Scooby, did not see it coming."
Faith raised an eyebrow at him.
Xander waited for a second, then shrugged. "Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?" he sighed. He obviously didn't expect her to crack and spill details.
"She makes me remember good stuff about myself," Faith said.
Giles looked up mildly from his books, pushing his glasses up his nose. Tara smiled softly behind the veil of her hair. For an instant, Faith wished she hadn't said anything. She didn't have the automatic lock on her thoughts any more, the shut-up-or-they'll-know valve. But she found she didn't mind them knowing. They already knew about the sex, or the kissing at least, so why make herself look bad in their eyes by recalling the person she'd been before? The cleavagey and slutty Faith they thought they all knew?
Xander blinked, then suddenly grinned. "That's of the good, then."
"Yeah." Faith met Giles' eyes. He was still an unknown quantity. She hadn't really had the time to get to know him. He seemed to take the news that she and Buffy were together pretty calmly. "It is."
Giles steepled his fingers. "As long as you're prepared to remember that when you regain your full memory, Faith, I shan't worry."
"Why? You think I'll go berserk?" Faith glanced around at all of them. "You're all still freaked that I might, aren't you?"
"How much do you remember, Faith?" Giles asked. He looked at her steadily, not in disbelief but not with a whole lot of confidence either. "Enough to know whether our concerns are groundless?"
Faith broke his gaze and stared down at the tabletop. "I don't know. All I can see is pictures...maybe what I felt...and not even you guys, mainly. Stuff from when I was a kid, I guess." And none of it pleasant. She supposed she didn't need to add that. They probably already knew.
Tara tilted her head and studied her. "May I – look at you again? All of you?"
Xander's grin grew about three times. Faith punched his arm, pulling it a little. "I think she means my aura, Xan."
Tara blushed and ducked behind her hair.
"Sorry, Tara," Xander said.
"And it's fine." Faith stood up and moved around the table so that Tara had a full view. "What are you looking for?"
"I-I think I'll know w-when I f-find it," Tara said, still stuttering after Xander's teasing.
Faith shrugged and stood still. Tara peered at her – not directly, but as though there was a surface above her skin, a flickering shadow-shape only she could see. Tara's eyes softened and lost focus. Her breathing slowed and became deep and regular. She stood up and reached out to Faith, raising a hand as though to stroke it down her shoulder to her arm. Faith watched, but didn't flinch. Tara's hand curved, but didn't quite touch her. Tara ran her fingers down from Faith's head, pausing over her stomach, then moving away. Each time, she would reach for a different point on Faith's body, coming within an inch or two, and then her hand would flow towards a point just below Faith's ribs on the left-hand side.
Tara blinked, and took a quick breath. "Here," she said, the one word more certain and confident than anything Faith had heard her say.
"What is it, Tara?" Giles asked. He'd taken his glasses off and had watched the entire procedure intently.
"A...a darkness. A wrongness." Tara sat down again, quickly. Her legs had become to shaky for her to stand.
"Tar? Are you all right?" Faith asked, seeing the tremor in Tara's hand as she brushed the hair back from her face.
"I'm fine. I-I just...I had to go deeper than I expected." Tara shivered slightly.
"Xander, could you perhaps put on a pot of tea?" Giles asked. He knelt in front of Tara. "Are you saying that Faith's coma was not merely a matter of her injuries? That there is something more fundamentally wrong?"
Tara nodded, a quick jerk of her head. "It feels like a blockage. I don't think it's as strong as it was last night...the fracture doesn't spread as far."
"That must be why Faith is regaining some of her memories," Giles said.
"What does it mean?" Faith asked, pressing a hand against the spot Tara had indicated. The exact spot where the knife-scar was on her body. Buffy had given that to her. Faith knew that, although she couldn't remember it yet...only that sense of falling, and the sound of rain. Under her top, on Buffy's body, there was nothing but smooth skin. How had Tara known?
"It means," Giles said, "that you cannot heal entirely on your own. There may have been some improvement, some vector that aided you last night, but essentially, if your soul does not mend, then you will die."
"Cheerful," Faith said, trying to sound unaffected. She felt sick, her stomach clenching.
"However," Giles said, "if we can narrow down the causative factor that helped you..."
"Yeah, like maybe some of that sweet hot monkey lovin' with Buffy!" called Xander from the kitchen. He came back to the table carrying a teapot and a mug already well-dosed with honey for Tara.
"Xander –" Giles removed his glasses and glared.
"I know, stop joking and keep it in my pants," Xander said.
"No. You may be right." Giles nearly shuddered as he said the words. "This soul-fracture, along with the exchange of consciousnesses, may have been far more complicated than we realized at first. If Buffy's soul and Faith's are entwined, and they engaged in an act...as deep, and as meaningful...as making love, then perhaps..." Giles cleared his throat and shrugged. "Buffy's soul could have triggered the healing process."
Tara, holding her tea carefully in both hands, nodded. "It could help us find a cure," she said.
Faith sat down again in front of the piles of books. She already owed so much to Buffy...and now Buffy was the only thing standing between her and dying? She didn't want that. Last night, she'd kissed Buffy on her own terms. She'd wanted something and she went straight for it. Now it was getting messed up by all this soul-stuff. Almost...dirty. Like it wasn't about them anymore.
Giles started pouring tea for the rest of them. Everyone had fallen silent, thinking about the implications of what Tara had found.
Willow and Buffy walked back into the room. Faith looked up immediately. Buffy's eyes were a bit swollen, and Willow seemed way more subdued than she had been earlier. Willow immediately went to sit next to Tara. Buffy waited in the doorway for a moment, her eyes meeting Faith's. Faith smiled before she knew she was doing it, an invitation. It was easier to be open, easier to show what she felt. And...even if the wound in her soul came from Buffy's hand, from her knife, from their fight...Faith couldn't let that stop her. She didn't remember it! She couldn't imagine it; the hatred between them, whatever had caused them to throw down like that. What she remembered was last night...every detail, every moment. That was what mattered.
Buffy came around the table and took the chair next to her. "I kind of freaked when Willow told me about Tara," she said softly, in a voice pitched for Faith's hearing only. "I was awful to her, because I was scared." Buffy's eyes went to the two witches, who were also talking in soft whispers. "So when Tara told her about us..." She shrugged.
"There's an us?" Faith asked. It was the first question that popped into her head, following hard on thinking about whether she loved Buffy...and whether she still would, still could, when she had her memory back.
Buffy glanced at her quickly. "I don't know...is there?"
Faith started to say...something...and stopped. "I don't know," she admitted. She glanced across the table. Willow and Tara were staring deep into each other's eyes, as if it didn't matter that the world was going on about its business around them. Tara seemed to glow with happiness, and Willow's half-smile took it in and returned it just as much. That was love, Faith supposed. Whatever memories were returning to her certainly didn't include anything of the sort. Lust, yes, and friendship maybe...
"I trust you," she heard Willow whisper, and then, on Tara's objection, "I. Trust. You."
Tara's smile at hearing those words was beautiful.
Faith sighed and sank down in her chair. Buffy had given her a lot of trust...enough to let them come together last night, enough to tell her friends about it. Enough to send her douche-bag boyfriend packing. But Faith had heard her in the kitchen this morning, talking to Joyce. Buffy couldn't let go of their past.
None of them could, not yet. They were all waiting for the moment when the old Faith would emerge. They said they forgave her, but every time there was a silent "for now" attached to their words.
And Faith couldn't offer them anything better. She knew what she wanted. She knew she could love Buffy, maybe did love Buffy. But without knowing who she was and where she came from, what could that love possibly be worth? Two days together, one night in each other's arms. That was nothing compared to eight months in a coma because of Buffy, to a year spent fighting with her and against her. The only true thing between them was the Slayer connection.
Right now, it hurt.
"We think we can do it," Willow said, turning slightly to address everyone.
"Do what, precisely?" Giles asked, looking up from his volume and taking a sip of his tea.
"There's a sp-spell," Tara said. "A conjuring..."
"We can find a way to put Buffy and Faith back where they belong, and maybe help Faith at the same time," Willow said. She smiled at Tara. "Tara wants me to anchor her while she finds the missing piece of Faith's soul on the ethereal plane. Then, we use it in an exchange spell...poof!"
"N-no actual poof," Tara clarified. "It's more of a light."
"Does that mean Faith's amnesia will be gone?" Xander asked. He darted a quick, anxious look at Faith.
Faith stared straight back at him. "Still worried, champ?"
"It's not like it's your fault that you don't know if you'll want to murder us," Xander offered helpfully.
Buffy whapped him upside the head.
"Um, okay, I'm guessing too much time having conversations with Anya."
Willow snorted. "You have conversations with her?"
"Hey!" Xander grimaced. "You know what I mean. Remembery Faith could be Enraged Faith. You don't know."
"I know," said Buffy. Faith caught her breath. Buffy sounded so certain.
Xander opened his mouth again. Giles eyed him and gave a small shake of his head. Xander shrugged. "Well, I guess somebody had to say it."
"Like you did with Angel," Buffy said. "Spare me, Xander. We know the risks. I'm willing to take them. Just because Faith remembers last year doesn't mean she'll forget the past two days."
Faith smiled again – it was just too easy in Buffy's body – and caught her hand below the table. This was Buffy's trust. This was a gift.
"I won't forget," she said. Promising. Buffy's fingers trailing against hers, the tingle of skin on skin, warm, shivery, wonderful.
"Is there any danger in performing this conjuration?" Giles asked.
Tara glanced at Willow. Willow's chin lifted. "A little," she said. "Not like the books locked in your filing cabinets. But some."
Giles frowned at her, then turned his gaze on Tara. "I don't suppose it would make any difference if I asked if you'd thought this through?" he asked. "The ethereal plane is not one reached lightly."
"I can do it," Tara said, softly but firmly. "If I have Willow."
Giles sighed. "Then we had best make our preparations."
"We just need a place where we can be private, and quiet," Willow said. "It won't take long."
"All right," Giles said. "But be aware I will be nearby, and if I sense any distress –"
"You'll come charging to the rescue. We know." Willow grinned impishly at him. "Thanks, Giles."
Faith watched the group bustle around, gathering books together, grabbing spices and herbs for Tara's spell. Again, she was the outsider, not a Scooby, not knowing what she was supposed to do. But Buffy sat beside her, as if she didn't have a part to play either...or as if she was making the most of this time before Faith-the-enemy returned. She didn't let go of Faith's hand, the small strokes of her fingers over Faith's palm sending amazing sparks of feeling through her. Willow and Tara disappeared upstairs to Joyce's room, where they figured there would be enough room to cast their circles of protection, while still leaving them some privacy. Buffy and Faith waited, Faith still and quiet, focusing on the touch of Buffy's hand; Buffy, nervous, fidgeting, glancing from clock to doorway to Faith.
"Usually I just get them to point me at stuff to kill," Buffy said finally. She looked sideways at Faith. "Are you worried?"
Faith looked down at their linked hands. "Hell, yeah."
"You know I said you hadn't changed..." Buffy squeezed her hand until Faith looked up again. "It's true. But, Faith?"
"You don't need to. You're not someone else. You made some mistakes, so did I..." Buffy's free hand fell to rest on her stomach, on the knife wound. The old soul-scar that came from being enemies too long. "Don't stop being you just because..."
"Just because of you?" Faith asked.
Buffy nodded, tears blurring the darkness of her eyes, the secrets there. "I'm not trying to change you."
"I would, you know." Faith focused on their hands, on drawing patterns on silky skin. Her skin, soon to be hers again. For now, she had Buffy's body, Buffy's easy, open mind. "For you."
Giles entered the room, clearing his throat loudly. "Willow and Tara are ready."
Faith waited to see if Buffy would finish her sentence, but Buffy just stood and headed for the living room. When they were seated, Willow handed Buffy a glowing orb that fit into her palm.
"It's just like the Mayor's gadget," she said. "All you have to do is touch it together."
"Are you ready?" Buffy asked, meeting Faith's eyes. Dark eyes where there should be green. Faith closed her eyes for a moment, searching through memories, holding tight to this moment. What if she hated Buffy? What if there was no chance, no possibility? What if she really was a monster, a murderer, a psycho bitch?
Buffy trusted her. Hold on to that.
"I don't know," she said. "I'm not the one who knows what she's missing."
Buffy took a deep breath. "Okay," she said, holding out her hand. "On three?"
"One," Faith said, and grabbed hold.
The green glow in Buffy's hand expanded, like a sphere of light, until Faith's eyes burned and she had to close them. She concentrated on the feel of Buffy's palm, warm and soft against hers, fingers entwined. She squeezed, and Buffy squeezed back, and it was the last thing she felt. Brilliant light washed over them, erasing them, sending them flying into nothingness.
Faith remembered the sound of thunder, the hiss of rain, the cold damp seeping through her clothes and leaving her shivering. She remembered hating. She remembered fear. She remembered pain, punches and kicks and slamming into walls. Buffy, attached to her by handcuffs, dragging at her, death in her eyes. Buffy, with a jagged knife in her hands. Blood and pain like acid, steel sliding under her ribs, Buffy's eyes hurt-scared-shocked, and the gasp on her lips.
"Should have been there, B. Quite a ride..."
Faith remembered falling, backwards into empty space, falling and wondering if it would ever end, if she could ever pay enough for what she'd done. Falling into dreams.
She remembered Buffy's lips against her forehead, and her whispered, "Thank you."
Without a body, without a thought, Faith died into emptiness; and she remembered.
She remembered it all.
Buffy stared at Faith, hardly aware that anyone else was in the room. They were both silent except for the sound of their breathing – something Buffy was distinctly grateful she could do with her own lungs again. She realized their hands were still clasped. Willow's conjured ball of light was gone. Faith stared right back, and Buffy couldn't help but think how beautiful she was – black eyes you could fall into endlessly, full lips soft enough to kiss forever, the hint of a cleft in her chin, and the wanton fall of dark hair. The body switch had worked. Buffy was definitely herself again, so Faith must be, too. But there was no sign that Faith had regained her memory.
Oh God, we've broken her, we've broken her brain,Buffy thought, as the silence stretched and Faith did nothing, said nothing. Faith's eyes were wide and dark, with a look of almost childlike surprise. In Faith's body, Buffy had always been compelled to act, to move, anything but stillness. A hard, cold lump settled in her stomach. Faith looked like a hurt animal, like a feral cat that would hiss and scratch and run rather than let anyone help her. Buffy knew – finally she understood – what Faith felt.
They'll hurt me so I have to hurt them first. They'll leave me so I'd better start running.
Buffy remembered this morning, watching Faith sleep. Adrenaline had settled on her like a second skin, every instinct screaming at her to get away before it was too late. The cold, nauseous fear of rejection – the endless guilt that flashed too easily to fury. That was what Faith dealt with all the time. Last year, Buffy had been so sure that since she could control herself, Faith should be able to as well. God, what a self-righteous bitch she'd been! Twenty-four hours in Faith's body had turned her whole life upside down. Buffy had stomped on Riley's feelings, taken advantage of Faith's vulnerability, and came out to her friends with barely a second thought. She'd left herself totally open, defenseless, if Faith hated her now. Buffy's heart thudded, frantic and hurtful. What if Faith wanted to kill her? What if Faith ran?
Worst of all, what if Faith never wanted to be with her again?
I'll love her anyway,she thought, with a forlorn certainty. Even if she kills me, even if we fight. I love her. Last night, her control had barely allowed her to lay down next to Faith. But she had. She stayed. No matter what Faith's body told her, Buffy knew she had to take a chance and trust Faith. Trust that Faith wouldn't hurt her. For Faith, it might not be that easy. She might lash out instead, try to free herself from restraints. Get some, get gone. Run. And even so, seeing Faith now – frightened, confused – only made Buffy want her more.
Buffy searched Faith's eyes, looking for the affection and warmth that had been there before they switched back. Please, Faith, she thought, please forgive me. Please stay.
If Faith heard, she didn't answer. Her eyes flickered to their hands, still clasped in front of them, like they'd been glued together during a high-five. Small tan hands with coral pink nails. Long, delicate fingers too thin after eight months in a coma. The same hands. The same tender touch. Buffy felt the faint tingle of their connection: warmsafe, wantyou, you are like me, you are mine. When Faith looked up again, the confusion was gone. Her eyes were shuttered, as if she'd pulled a shade down and hidden herself behind it. She looked confident, almost arrogant. There was the tiniest trace of a sneer on her face, the same one Buffy remembered from when Faith dared her to chase vampires into a sewer. Buffy gasped, soft as a sigh, like a last breath before crying.
The others hadn't noticed anything was wrong yet. Xander watched them solemnly, looking for some sign as to whether the switch had worked. Willow was practically quivering with suppressed excitement. She gawked at Buffy and Faith, looking like she was dying to ask if her spell had worked. She knew better than to interrupt. She'd gotten between the two Slayers before. Tara frowned slightly, eyes worried and concerned, but she wasn't watching their faces. She stared at Faith's stomach, as if she could see through the cloth to the scar beneath. Of all of them, only Giles was watching Buffy. When she saw Faith's expression change – when Faith's surprise and uncertainty faded to defensive contempt – Giles closed his eyes, and his shoulders sagged.
Faith dropped her hand, their first movement since the spell. Buffy felt her heart reach into her throat to choke her. She tried to shake her head, deny this was happening. Faith's eyes were wild beneath her surface calm. Buffy wanted to say something, reassure her, but she couldn't speak through the lump in her throat.
Faith tensed slowly, her muscles rippling, shifting her center of balance forward until she was poised over the balls of her feet. To anyone but a Slayer, it would look like she'd barely moved. To Buffy, it was obvious what she was doing. Faith maneuvered for position until, even though she was still sitting on the couch, she was completely prepared to attack, defend, or run. Buffy knew she could match Faith's action just as subtly. They could circle for the advantage without ever standing up. But doing that could destroy whatever fragile trust Faith was still clinging to. She hadn't tried anything yet. Faith was testing to see if Buffy would try to stop her. But Buffy didn't want to fight, and she didn't want to drive Faith away.
She remembered last year, on Faith's rooftop. Buffy could nearly feel the weight of Faith's knife in her palm. Starlight glittered along the blade, and as Buffy turned it in her hand, it caught the glow of the moon, like quicksilver. They were there again: Faith poised on the edge of the roof, and Buffy with a knife in her hand.
Except this time Buffy wasn't driven by rage. Love and fear churned inside her, each one stealing her breath and leaving her trembling. And she knew, all too well, what would happen if Faith let herself fall.
When it happened, everything fell apart at once. The door opened, and Mom walked in, a paper bag of groceries in her hand. "I'm back," she called, leaning into the living room. "And I brought Twinkies."
Xander leapt to his feet with a startled "eep!", sending his chair tumbling over. Giles started stuttering out an explanation before he'd fully turned to see who had entered. Tara gasped, wrenching her eyes away from Faith's stomach. Faith was standing in the doorway before anyone but Buffy had seen her move.
Buffy stayed where she was.
The tone of the room changed in an instant: from eager, cautious observers to frightened hostages. Buffy glanced at Willow and Tara, huddled together; Tara shivering and speechless, and Willow glaring at Faith as if it was her fault. Xander's flinch turned to defensive anger. Giles looked to Buffy to lead them – to guide their reactions. She couldn't do anything. The sense of standing on the edge of a cliff was stronger, as if Faith was waiting for Buffy to push her off. Mom, uncertain, turned to Faith, touching her arm, and asked cautiously, "Buffy?"
Faith shrugged away her hand. "Not this time."
Her voice: Buffy had been the last person to speak with it, but she'd never realized how powerful it was. Faith used it like a weapon, jagged and dangerous, every word just a little bit harder, contemptuous, pushing away any kindness. Any weakness.
"Faith," Buffy said, and her voice was too high, tight and controlled, and Faith's name came out like an accusation. Why did she sound like that? Why couldn't she say the words she knew were there? You don't need to change. It was never your fault. I want you to stay. Oh, God, please stay.
I love you.
The cliff was crumbling beneath her feet. Faith looked like an enemy. She was so hard, and cold as steel, anger burning bright in her like a diamond shining in the night.
What had changed? Were Faith's memories really so terrible? Did she hate Buffy that much? Then where did last night come from? Faith had kissed her. Faith had loved her.
And before? All those months of Faith watching her, eyes wandering, lazy half-smile on her face. Faith's teasing, Faith's sly jabs and innuendo, the way they had danced together, like they were the only two people in the world –
Was Faith thinking of that? Of last night – the slow, exploding heat between them, the way it should have been, the way Buffy still wanted it to be. The way they'd woken up together, small sleepy sighs and soft touches, smiling into each other's eyes. Buffy's breath hitched with silent tears. Had Faith lost that, somehow? She'd promised she would remember! She couldn't just toss last night aside, as though it was a mistake, as though it was nothing...
"What is going on?" Mom asked, searching everyone's faces for an explanation, and getting none. "Why are you all acting like Faith is suddenly your enemy?"
"Because I am," Faith said, not taking her eyes off Buffy. "Isn't that right? No matter how much you wanted to think I wasn't. Nice try, B, but it was never gonna work."
Everybody watched Buffy, waiting for her to speak, to tell them how to act, how to handle this new Faith. They'd only forgiven her halfway, and what the hell did that even mean? If you forgave somebody, you couldn't go back on it, you couldn't keep bringing up the past. Say something! her mind screamed, but the huge aching lump in her throat wouldn't let her. She couldn't breathe, couldn't move, and behind Faith's anger she saw a flash of disappointment that hurt worse than a thousand knife cuts.
"Yeah," Faith said, disgusted, after a long moment. "That's what I thought."
And before anyone could stop her, she ran.
The door banged shut behind her. The silence lasted for a split second longer, and then everyone started to talk. Giles tried to explain to Mom what had happened while she was gone. Willow asked Tara what was wrong, and Tara shook her head, unable to answer. Xander picked up his chair, babbling the whole time about how if he never got zapped by a body-altering spell it would still be an eon or three too soon.
Buffy stood up and walked to the door, Faith's words still ringing in her mind. Did she really believe they could never make things work? Faith with her memories back would have no reason to trust her. Buffy had let her down too often. She'd shied away from being Faith's friend because she was worried that Faith might try to make it more than that. And Faith had hurt her, too – tried to pin Finch's murder on her, tried to steal Angel's soul – if she really did care for Buffy, if last night really meant something, then she must be feeling the guilt of all those betrayals. Every fight, every disappointment.
It wasn't Faith's fault she couldn't handle it. None of them had been able to prepare her for what her memory would hold. Faith had always been so independent, so stand-offish about her past – none of them knew what she was facing right now.
And Buffy wasn't going to let Faith's memory destroy her. She opened the door. Faith was nowhere in sight. With Slayer speed, there was no reason she should be. Everyone in the living room was still arguing. Xander calmed himself with a therapeutic Twinkie. Tara was the only one looking in her direction. Silent and calm, she raised her eyebrows, asking Buffy why she was still here. Buffy smiled at her. Through the chaos of the Scoobies' argument, Tara was encouraging her to go and find Faith.
Buffy slipped out of the house, closing the door softly behind her. She closed her eyes. Two nights ago, hunting vampires, she had felt Faith's presence: the strength of her, the surprise that gave way to fierce longing, the heat of their connection. Faith had followed her by the muted hum of their Slayer-tingles. Buffy pushed down her own feelings and searched for Faith the same way. She opened up to the part of herself that knew, without understanding, where Faith was.
Maybe it shouldn't have surprised her that it was Faith's old apartment.
The building, on the outside, was worn down and dirty, edging the factory district on one side and tenements on the other. Inside, even the stairways and elevators looked old, with chipped paint and cracked plaster. Buffy trailed a fingertip over the rough brickwork. The last time she'd come here, she'd expected Faith's apartment to be as dingy as her motel room. It had crossed Buffy's mind to feel sorry for her, despite the fact that she'd come to kill her. And, even with Faith's knife in her hand and Angel's blood on her sleeves, she had paused here long enough for regrets. The lobby seemed built for them, dim and dusty like old memories.
Buffy climbed the stairs. It wasn't that she didn't trust the elevator so much as that she was retracing her steps. Eight months ago she'd come this way, knife in her hand and murder in her heart. Giving herself over to rage because if she allowed herself to calm down, she'd know she didn't want this, didn't want Faith's death. She only wanted Faith to come back to her. To come home.
Seeing that the Mayor had completely remodeled the apartment had been a shock. Seeing Faith acting completely at home there had been worse. It had helped, at the time – helped her to be angry, helped her to be cold.
Now, pushing the door open in the last of the afternoon light, everything had changed. The apartment was empty. No furniture, no large-screen TV, no stereo system. Golden light, sliding through the wide bay window, lit the dust motes floating in the air. Canvas had been stretched over the frame where the window was smashed, but someone had peeled away the duct tape, and now it flapped in the breeze.
Buffy stepped over the railing in front of the window seat and brushed the canvas aside. Faith stood on the stone railing, staring down, as if she could chart her own fall to the road below if only she looked hard enough. Buffy climbed out onto the balcony, silent as only a Slayer can be, but Faith knew she was there anyway. It was something Buffy never thought about before: how much their connection meant. Or was it that it was stronger now? Buffy had always been aware of Faith's nearness, and when they touched she felt the soaring fever of her skin. Maybe only now did she realize what it meant.
Buffy lifted her head at Faith's question, low and sudden. She wanted to scream at her to get down, but she answered calmly instead. "In L.A. He left just after – after Graduation."
"You see him much?"
"Once. To confirm it was over."
"Love of your life. Soulmate, remember? Gone like that." Faith raised her chin and stared away over the rooftops. "Traded him in for Captain Cardboard."
"I didn't exactly trade..." Buffy stopped. They were falling into the old pattern, Faith goading her with tactless honesty and making her tense and defensive. This wasn't really about Riley, or Angel for that matter. "I think we just finally realized that he's going to live forever, and I'm really, really not."
"And I'm a Slayer, so you figured I'd at least be someone to die with."
Buffy shook her head. "No. I wanted someone to live with."
"And now you've left soldier-boy for me, is that it?" Faith let out a snort of unamused laughter. "I can't say I'm liking the progression, here."
Buffy stepped over to the barrier and leaned against it, so that she could look up into Faith's face. She still wanted nothing more than for Faith to get down, away from the edge. Faith didn't look like she was going to jump, but at least if Buffy stood here she could pull her back if she tried. "I didn't break up with Riley for you," she said. "I did it for me. I didn't love him."
Faith smiled, distantly. "But you do love me." She said it flatly, but Buffy could hear the question in her voice.
"I do," Buffy said softly, studying the railing, Faith's boots beside her.
"Bullshit!" Faith was suddenly loud, and her voice cracked. "Bullshit, Buffy, because two days out of a coma means nothing, not one fucking thing. You don't love me. You love the me who doesn't remember the way we fucked each other over last year."
"I'm not the one who forgot what you did! Or what I did. And I didn't fall in love with you in two days, either. I just –" Buffy paused, wondering what she had done. "I forgave you."
Faith crossed her arms. "I don't need you feeling sorry for me. I didn't then and I don't now."
"It's not pity, Faith." Buffy gripped the stone in front of her until she felt the mortar starting to crumble. "You never knew the difference."
"And you never knew when to back the fuck off." Faith glared down at her.
Buffy glared right back. Faith was holding up her walls as best she could, but Buffy had lived in her body. She knew the signs, and she knew how hard it was not to let everything come rushing out. It was so easy to be angry, for Faith. So easy to just keep pushing.
"You kissed me first," she reminded Faith, suddenly smiling. Last night she'd been the one denying it. Faith's mouth against hers, the quick mingle of their breaths, had shocked her. Not the action, but her instant response. She drew in a breath. Faith's lips had tasted so good, the wet glide of her tongue catching against hers, until they were wrapped together so tight Buffy was sure they still hadn't let go.
Faith's face flushed and her breathing was quick and light. "Why'd you do it, anyway?" she asked, nearly whispering.
Buffy turned around, so that she could lean back against the warm stone. Faith was gorgeous in the sunset, all dusky skin and glowing eyes. Buffy couldn't help but smile. It wasn't her smile – it was the ghost of Faith's leer, so familiar from the face she'd worn for the past day. "You know why," she said, letting her eyes trail down Faith's body.
"You were – I was horny," Faith said. "So you finally got it, huh?"
"You always feel that much?" Buffy asked, as if she didn't know, hadn't felt it. "That's – I don't know. Scary. Amazing. How do you...control it?"
"Badly." Faith let out a breath. "Buffy, you know I always wanted you – even when I didn't know I always wanted you, I wanted you. God. I – I can't –"
"It's all right. I know..." Buffy wanted to reach out to touch Faith, to hold her. She smiled to herself. She wanted more than that. She wanted to kiss Faith, to melt into her the way they had last night. This time, in their own bodies...for real, this time. For them. Staring at Faith, her lips slightly parted, Buffy shivered and let a sigh escape her lips, nearly a moan.
Faith closed her eyes and shuddered. "Don't."
"You're here. I'm here." Buffy gave in to her desire and let a finger run down the back of Faith's calf. This wasn't like her at all, but maybe she'd learned something from Faith's body. They were alive today. They were here. Buffy wanted her; she wanted Faith to stay, and maybe this was the only way to convince her. Maybe, if Faith had learned something in return, she would finally open up...and give up the idea of running.
Faith caught her breath. "I held a knife to Willow's throat," she said, like she was reciting a list. "I nearly strangled Xander while I was raping him. I poisoned Angel. I –"
"I remember that stuff now, Buffy. I can't pretend it didn't happen! You can't forgive me for that!" Faith kicked a rock off the roof-edge. It shattered a window across the street.
"I can," Buffy said. "You had no idea what was happening for the past two days. We switched bodies and fought vampires. You could have freaked out but you didn't. You helped me! That's who you are, Faith." She touched Faith's calf again, softly, feeling their connection buzz through her fingertip. "That's who I fell in love with. Not your mistakes."
Faith's shoulders drooped, falling out of her tense, defensive stance. "All those times I flirted with you..."
"Scared the hell out of me," Buffy admitted. "It's not like I didn't notice."
Faith smiled, shakily. The sun was lower than the tops of the buildings around them, draping the balcony in twilight. Faith's eyes shone, and Buffy felt her heart squeeze. Tears...how long could it have been since Faith had cried? Had allowed herself to let anyone see?
"Come down, Faith," she said, at last, when there seemed nothing more to say.
Faith glanced down at the street below, then turned to Buffy. "You ever dream of flying?"
"Yes..." Buffy tightened her grip on the barrier. What was Faith doing?
"I never did." Faith spread her arms, a bird ready for flight. "It's a lot like falling, I bet. Except you think you're in control."
"Faith –" Buffy heard the fear in her own voice, the desperation. "Please, get down."
"You're not, though," Faith said, almost to herself. "You never are." She took a deep, uneven breath. "Buffy..."
"I love you." Faith let her arms drop, her eyes drift shut.
Buffy felt her fear melt away. Back at the house she'd had no idea what to do, what to say to make Faith hers. Now, in the fading shadows of evening, it was easy, so easy. She leapt up beside Faith, so that they were both standing above the city with nothing between them and that awful fall. She circled Faith with her arms, buried her face on her shoulder, and let herself cry.
Faith's arms wrapped around her. Her skin was soft, and warm, and even though it had been hers for a day Buffy knew she could never have worn it this well. Faith was really Faith now, and Buffy held her as if it was the only thing making them real. Faith's shoulders shook, and Buffy felt the heat of her tears. Early this morning, in the dim cold light of dawn, Buffy had forgiven Faith, in the choice between running and staying. But until now, Faith hadn't let herself accept it.
Now, on the rooftop, with the night cool around them, Buffy sighed into Faith's neck. She brushed her lips against Faith's throat, whispering love into her skin. Faith's arms tightened around her.
"B..." she sighed, in the husky voice that was all hers, all Faith. Buffy felt her mouth, open and warm just behind her earlobe.
Faith's tongue flickered out, tracing over the tiny, sensitive places behind her ear, along her jaw. Buffy gasped. Faith knew her body so well, and she was using that knowledge, turning Buffy's legs to water. They wobbled, and Buffy laughed breathlessly through the last of her tears. If they fell now, what would Willow and Xander think? That this had ended in another death match?
"Faith," she said again, and for once her voice came out right: husky-soft, dark with desire. "Let's get down."
"I have lots of plans that involve going down," Faith replied.
Buffy moaned. "Now...please?"
Faith's only answer was to kiss her. Buffy flowed into the kiss, forgetting the danger. Her hands wandering over just above the flare of Faith's hips, over, and then under her shirt. Then –
Faith jerked back, looking suddenly apologetic. "What?"
"Take off your shirt!"
"What, now? Here?" Faith raised an eyebrow, thinking about it. "I think I love you even more."
"No – look!" Buffy tugged impatiently at Faith's t-shirt. "Feel."
Faith lifted a hand to her side, running it over her stomach. Her eyes widened. Buffy stared, touching the spot where eight months ago she'd sunk a knife deep under Faith's ribs. There was no sign of it now.
Faith's scar was gone.
Faith held Buffy's hand as they came out of the apartment building. Grey twilight, fading to orange in the west, glimmered above them in the narrow lanes of sky between buildings. Faith turned away from the light, into the long shadows that inked the alley. Buffy followed her, only the eager gleam of her eyes and the flash of her smile giving away her position. Faith sank into the rhythm of hunting as naturally as breathing. She was a Slayer, and it was good, so good, to have that power. Night was their time – hers and Buffy's. God, she'd missed this! Eight months! It felt like a lifetime. She'd fallen into a deeper darkness than any she'd known, but she'd climbed out on the other side, and somewhere along the way, she'd learned to fly. She felt like a falcon, light and strong and fierce. Joy filled her in a sudden wave, and she laughed, and pulled Buffy into her arms just because she could.
"You know how long I've wanted to patrol with you?" she asked, letting her hands fall to Buffy's hips and tugging her closer.
"We patrolled together all the time," Buffy said. She blushed, flustered and pink, but she smiled coyly at Faith through her lashes. Her hands crept up Faith's arms until they linked behind her neck.
"Not like this," Faith murmured. Buffy's eyes were so incredibly green, like the sea when it grew deep enough to be dangerous. Faith started to smile, losing herself in Buffy's dreamy, unhurried gaze. She'd never been able to stare for as long as she wanted. She'd never come close to filling herself with just looking. Buffy's eyes darkened, and it was like watching a storm drift in over open waters. Faith felt like she'd never breathe again, and that it didn't matter, she wouldn't need to. Buffy was there to bring her back to life, every time. Faith leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. Excitement shimmered through her, and she knew better than to think it was nothing but their Slayer connection. Buffy's lips parted slightly, and Faith heard the sharp intake of her breath.
"What are you thinking?" Buffy's fingers whispered through Faith's hair, tracing shivery trails over the back of her neck.
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Remember Homecoming?" she asked, grinning. She did. She remembered, which was almost as good as the memory itself.
"I remember being wet and muddy –"
"I remember your dress nearly falling off 'cause the strap was torn. You were so fucking beautiful..." Faith smiled. "Still are."
Buffy's answering smile was like a sunrise. "Not like you." She leaned forward until their lips met. Faith caught her breath and closed her eyes under the gentle assault of Buffy's tiny butterfly kisses.
Faith had never believed in luck, just in shitty things happening, but she had to be luckiest person in the world right now. Her amnesia was cured – and if a lot of her life was terrible, then a lot more was memories of Buffy – her adorable, embarrassed blush when Faith had pressed her about loving the Slaying; every smartass quip she'd ever made during training or on patrol; the way they'd danced...like lovers, teasing each other with every melting look and flirting touch, knowing that they'd come together eventually but in the meantime pretending to be just good friends, really. And it had all gone to shit, yeah, but here they were now, and Buffy was so soft, so wonderfully warm in Faith's arms. Impatient, Faith sucked Buffy's lower lip into her mouth, pushing forward. This kiss came with memories: the sweet-dusky taste of Buffy's mouth, the insistent, heated slide of her tongue.
"Buffy," Faith breathed, the word lost in Buffy's lips. "God, yeah..." She hooked her hands under Buffy's ass, pulling her up until she was half supported by Faith's thigh, and half by her arms around Faith's neck. Buffy moaned softly, both satisfied and longing, a sound of oh, finally, yes.
Buffy deepened the kiss, her mouth slanting across Faith's, their tongues meeting and twining together. Eagerly, Faith massaged Buffy's ass, her hands moving in time with her thundering pulse. For a long moment after Tara and Willow's spell, she'd felt like she had two lives: the person she'd been before the coma, and the person she'd become. She'd felt cracked in half, dizzy and uncertain. How could she be both – the enraged Slayer and the woman who'd fallen in love in the space of a day? Kissing Buffy, now, here, was like every answer she'd ever wanted. She'd always loved Buffy. The yearning she'd felt, the familiarity, was her heart remembering more than her mind ever could. Remembering that this was possible, Buffy kissing her more and more frantically, her hips moving in tiny jerks under Faith's hands.
Buffy broke away from the kiss, her breathing harsh and uneven. "Ohhh...Faith...love you," she panted, and rolled her hips forward, slow and hard. Her head dipped forward, her fingers clutching the back of Faith's neck. She gasped and rocked forward again. Faith watched for a long moment, her mouth open, hardly able to breathe. Buffy was so goddamn sexy, her body trembling as she desperately tried to control the rhythm of her hips, squeezing Faith's thigh between her legs, that Faith barely realized her hands were helping Buffy push closer each time.
Faith took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "Hey," she said, releasing her grip and stroking her hands down Buffy's back. "Thought I was the horny one here?"
Buffy tilted her head back, her eyes dark and half-closed, breathing quick and light. She pouted slightly. "I never said I wasn't..."
"You did learn a few things in my body then..."
"Just...that I didn't have to hide it all the time..."
"Mmm." Faith lifted Buffy away from her, half her mind telling her not to be stupid, go for it, here was as good as any other place, and the other half saying that they were still in an alley and maybe that would be good enough someday but right now it sure as hell wasn't. She wanted all of Buffy, naked and spread on soft sheets and breathlessly begging Faith to oh God just do it, please Faith, I'm so close, I need you, want you, love – you – oh – Faith! "Not yet."
Buffy pouted harder for a second, then suddenly grinned. "Race you?"
Before Faith could answer, Buffy took off, running down the alley. "Hey!" Faith yelled, sounding like her old self, of angry sex and laughter. "No fair, B!"
Buffy spun around at the corner where the alley met the street, her blond hair whipping over her shoulder. "Aw, you weren't ready yet, Faith?" She touched her forefinger to her breastbone, then ran it slowly down the front of her blouse, letting it catch on the dipping waist of her jeans, tugging them lower. Faith felt all her breath leave her body. Buffy's eyes slid closed, and she licked her lips. Faith slumped back against the cement, her knees melting, her pulse pounding so hard she was amazed she didn't keel over from a heart attack. When exactly had Buffy learned to do...this? She was going to die, she was really going to die of wanting Buffy naked and moaning beneath her. Buffy looked up, slowly, staring at Faith, her finger toying with the top button of her fly. "'Cause I was."
Faith groaned. "That...is not...fair."
"I didn't think so," Buffy said with a wounded sniff.
Faith pushed off from the wall and sprinted for Buffy. Buffy squeaked in surprise when she saw Faith coming after her. She bolted, laughing breathlessly, glancing over her shoulder to see if Faith was catching up. She ran like a cheetah, golden and graceful and faster than any human could ever be. Faith matched her, pushing hard to close the distance between them. Their feet pounded the asphalt, Buffy's laughter and Faith's curses echoing off the walls.
Buffy didn't run directly for home, but dodged into a sidestreet, then burst out into a kids' park, racing across the soccer field. Faith closed in behind her, adrenaline surging through her. She was only a breath behind when Buffy hurdled a fence into another maze of back streets. Faith knew all of them like the back of her hand. Buffy was a flitting shadow in front of her, disappearing and reappearing as she chose an almost random series of lefts and rights. Faith followed her easily. She remembered every dark corner, every make-out spot in all of Sunnydale. She'd used more than a few of them in her time, and saved a lot of people from fatal hickies in the rest. She reached for a burst of speed, caught Buffy's wrist, and jerked her to a stop.
Immediately they were kissing again. Buffy slid into Faith's grasp, soft and yielding, abandoning any sign that she'd ever wanted to escape. They were both panting and frantic. Buffy stepped back for an instant and yanked the hand Faith held across her body, spinning her around. Faith ended up pressed face-first to the wall. Buffy held her there, one hand over hers on the bricks, the other squeezing her hip. They kissed again, Faith with her face turned sideways to meet Buffy's mouth. Their lips crashed together. The kiss was hard and deep and rough and oh so right. Faith bucked backwards. Buffy slammed her body forward again.
"Stay," Buffy hissed. She pushed her hands under Faith's t-shirt. Her fingernails grazed the skin over Faith's ribs, then moved up.
Faith gave a high-pitched moan, almost a sound of pain. Her pussy ached, a sudden throbbing demand, and how did Buffy know? "B-Buffy –"
"Want you," Buffy muttered. Her hands cupped Faith's breasts. She circled her thumbs around Faith's nipples through her bra. They hardened under her touch. Faith felt her hips shove forward in instinctive response. There was nothing to press her pussy against, and she whined in protest. Buffy gasped when Faith's ass rammed back into her crotch. "You like this, hmm, Faith?" she asked, panting. She pinched Faith's nipples. Faith surged backwards. Her whole body was on fire, her nipples sending shocks of pleasure deep into her center. "You like me...in charge. God, I was so horny yesterday...when it hurt just a little bit..." Buffy took a shuddering breath, then closed her teeth on the juncture of Faith's shoulder and neck.
"Ahhh – Buffy!" Faith's breasts pressed into the wall, her nipples hard and electric with pleasure-pain from the rough touch. Her face turned so that half was scraped by the bricks, the other half meeting Buffy's skin, her lips hot and violent, her hair brushing between them. Faith spread her legs as she leaned forward, loving the feel of every inch of Buffy's body pinning her to the wall.
Buffy turned her bite into a sucking kiss, just under the collar of Faith's shirt. Faith shuddered beneath her. Before...before, she'd always wanted control, needed it, demanded it. Buffy stripped it away, left her needing more than she'd ever get, and Faith loved it anyway. Her body wanted to lose control. Anger or passion, it was all the same, and Buffy knew that, Buffy was giving her permission to lose herself in feeling. Buffy's hand splayed open on her stomach, then crept lower. Buffy was the only one who could control her body when she let loose. Her hand pushed beneath the waistband of Faith's pants. Her fingers went further, until they rested an inch above where Faith wanted her most. Faith writhed, her legs opening wider, her body begging for that touch.
Buffy's breath puffed against her ear. "You...don't want this here..."
Faith squeezed her eyes closed. It was hard to focus on anything. Buffy's fingers were pressing, circling, and at any moment they might move down that last tiny distance to her clit. Fuck, she could feel herself getting wet, desperate for Buffy's touch. But, no, not here. She wanted Buffy on her own terms: their own bodies, both of them knowing what they were getting into. Taking all their history into account and saying that none of it mattered. Faith gripped Buffy's wrist and slipped her hand out of her pants. She turned around, still holding Buffy's hand, and kissed her fingertips. She could smell herself, and she closed her eyes for a second, getting her control back. "Your place?" she asked. "What if everyone's there?"
Buffy nearly growled, sounding sexy as fuck. "Then they'd better have stakes and holy water, because I am kicking them out."
Faith tried to picture Buffy forcing a stake into her mom's hand and hustling her out into the night just so they could get down and dirty, and raised an eyebrow, amused. Buffy had learned a thing or two about want, take, have. And it seemed to work both ways. Faith leaned back against the brick wall. She was horny as hell, yeah, and it wasn't like her body wasn't yelling for her to get back to the business at hand, but there was something deeper than that, too. A sort of deep, slow satisfaction, a lazy sense that they had all the time in the world. A feeling that maybe it was just as good to want as to get; that stolen kisses in all of Sunnydale's alleys were enough in themselves.
Buffy stepped closer, between her legs, and lifted a hand to touch her cheek, and Faith leaned forward to taste her lips. God, she loved Buffy, and maybe what Buffy's body had taught her was that forever was possible. They kissed, and it was so, so gentle, but there was an amazing emotion behind it, and for once, Faith wasn't scared. They were still Slayers, still like as not to die some night when a demon got lucky, but Faith had woken up this morning in Buffy's bed, in Buffy's arms, and even now, remembering everything, she knew she wanted the same thing tomorrow. The itch between her shoulderblades that had kept her running every year since her mom kicked her out had finally vanished. She watched Buffy's eyes, in the tiny moments between kisses, and felt a love so deep she knew it was printed on her bones, in her muscles; it was part of her, part of her body. Beyond memory. Buffy studied her solemnly, and traced her thumbs over Faith's cheeks. In the touch of her skin Faith knew that Buffy felt the same thing. It shone through their connection like moonlight, white and clear.
"Let's go," she said. "Home."
It wasn't far. The lights were off, and Buffy had to use her key to let them in. "Okay," she said. "Either they decided we're trying to kill each other and have gone searching for us, or they figured out we're not trying to kill each other, in which case I really don't want to know how they explained that to my mom."
Faith picked up a note that was laying on the small table near the door. "Um, B, I'm thinking it was door number two."
Buffy snatched the note from her and read it. "Tara seems to think I should work late tonight. Very late. We will talk in the morning, young lady."
Faith wrapped her arms around Buffy from behind and rested her chin on her shoulder. "It doesn't say 'young lady'."
Buffy dropped the paper. "Oh yes it does. I can just hear it tacked on at the end."
"You can hear the writing that isn't there?" Faith grinned.
Buffy nodded. "Yes. Yes I can. That or 'Buffy Anne Summers, you had better stay put.'"
"Hmm." Faith turned her head slightly, pushing Buffy's hair away, and kissed the side of her neck. "Is that bad?"
Buffy shivered. "You...ah...don't understand..."
"I don't?" Faith nibbled her way up to Buffy's earlobe, teasing it over and over with her tongue.
"Nooo..." Buffy's eyes slid closed and she tilted her head, baring her throat. "Tara's...a complete stranger...Mom's never even – unnh – met her..."
"Mmm-hmm." Faith let her mouth follow a leisurely path down Buffy's neck, pausing randomly to lick small patterns, or suck gently on her skin. "So?"
"So...she's...uh..." Buffy seemed to lose her train of thought for a moment, then shook herself slightly and continued. "So Mom shouldn't have heard it from her."
"You don't trust Tara?" Faith asked, smiling into Buffy's skin. She returned to Buffy's earlobe again, exploring the tiny spot behind it that had driven her crazy last night whenever Buffy touched it.
"It's just..." Buffy gasped and panted softly. "Oh...Faith..."
"You know what..."
Faith bit gently at Buffy's throat, just below her ear, and teased her tongue over Buffy's skin. "I do?" she whispered, her breath raising goosebumps. She knew Buffy was close to cracking, and the thought that she was the one doing it, she was the one Buffy was moaning for, was such a fucking turn on.
Buffy whimpered, her hands clutching at Faith's on her stomach. "Okay, okay! I'm taking a magnifying glass and asking the gift horse to say 'ahh'."
"More like a telescope," Faith said, trying not to smirk. Oh, yeah, she was good. The house was empty and Buffy wanted to analyze it to death. Faith could appreciate patience better now, maybe, but that didn't mean she was dead. Less thinking, more groping!
"I do want to tell her –"
"We'll tell her," Faith assured her. "Tomorrow."
"Yeah," Buffy sighed, melting backwards. "God, you're incredible. I don't think I can walk."
"Really not a problem," Faith said. She swept Buffy off her feet, grinning at her astonished squeal, and charged up the stairs. Faith grinned. The crashing, exultant joy from earlier was back. "We're Slayers, girlfriend!"
"The chosen two," Buffy answered, laughing. She slipped out of Faith's hold at the top of the stairs.
Faith waggled her eyebrows, daring her, laughing. She was a Slayer! No one could beat her. Only Buffy could match her. And it wasn't like she was going to try to win. Much. "You gonna try something, B?"
Buffy gave a show of innocence, then, faster than even Faith expected, stepped forward and hooked her leg behind Faith's knee. She jerked Faith off-balance, catching her as she fell. Buffy smiled smugly, carrying her the rest of the way to her bedroom, and said, "You're not the only one."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Like I could forget," she said with a snicker. Even when she'd first woken up, disoriented and aimless, she'd known there was something superhuman about Buffy. "Put me down."
Buffy raised an eyebrow, a hint of a smile curving her lips. "Make me."
"Oh, B, you did not just challenge me..."
"Oh, I think I did," Buffy said. The smug smile was back in full force.
Faith gave her most dangerous stare, but Buffy didn't flinch. Probably because Faith couldn't seem to stop smiling for more than a second. She knew what was coming. They might not be enemies, but part of their friendship had always been the half-serious contest to see who could come out on top...and this was just another way of winning. Faith stretched, arching her entire body in Buffy's arms like a lazy cat, letting out a moan that was nearly a purr. She caught a bit of the smug smile herself when Buffy's eyes widened and her breath hissed out. Before she could regain her control, Faith reached down and pulled off her shirt in a single lithe motion, flinging it away.
"You sure you don't want to put me down?" she asked, letting a single fingertip drift down her stomach to her bellybutton, her own featherlight touch making her shiver. Buffy wasn't the only one who knew how to tease. Her nipples hardened, dusky pink and straining through the black lace of her bra. She was going crazy, wanting Buffy's mouth on her, sucking and biting. She licked her lips, staring into Buffy's eyes, and without thinking, let her hand brush across her breast, sighing when her nipple tingled in her palm.
Buffy nearly dropped her. Her mouth was open slightly, her eyes full of shocked arousal. "Bed. Now."
Faith was so eager to do just that, she forgot to gloat. That one whispering touch had brought back all the urgency of their earlier kisses. Her pussy ached, and she was so fucking wet, and she could smell that Buffy was too. Keeping her eyes on Buffy's face, Faith unhooked her bra, letting it follow her shirt to the floor.
"Oh, God...Faith..." Buffy's gaze was hotter than sunlight. Faith felt like she'd be burned by her look alone. The awed, open desire on Buffy's face made her even more beautiful. She stepped forward slowly, as if she was walking through water, and her eyes took in every detail of Faith's body.
She reached for Faith hesitantly, as if she was suddenly shy, and her touch was softer than anything Faith could remember. Faith groaned in frustration. She took Buffy's wrists and moved her hands to where she wanted them. "Like before," she whispered.
Buffy met her eyes for an instant, then, without warning, she bent forward and took Faith's nipple in her mouth.
"Oh fuck," Faith whispered. Sweet fire erupted low in her belly. The only thing that existed was Buffy, her mouth, her hands pulling Faith towards her. Buffy bit her nipple, swirling her tongue across the peak over and over again. Faith gripped her arms hard enough to leave marks, gasping for more. Buffy's hand found her other nipple and pinched it. Faith jerked and shuddered. Buffy traced ghost patterns on her skin, and ran a fingertip along the crease under her breast, her teeth nipping and exploring at the same time. "Ah fuck that's it, yeah – B – so good –"
Buffy ran her tongue up over the curve of her breast. "You're gorgeous..."
Faith chuckled breathlessly. "I noticed...yesterday..."
"So did I," Buffy admitted, blushing.
"Did you touch yourself?" Faith asked. She met Buffy's eyes for a long, burning moment, and then Buffy ducked her head to hide her embarrassment. "Did you?" Faith insisted, dark-voiced, pushing. "In the shower, imagining it was me?"
"Yeah," Buffy breathed. Her eyes were bright and wild with embarrassment and remembered heat. She shoved Faith onto the bed and climbed on top of her, her hands busy on Faith's belt. She pushed Faith's pants open and closed her eyes, breathing deeply of Faith's scent. Faith lay back and let her, transfixed, her skin burning. She was so hot, and Buffy blushed even harder when she said, "I couldn't help myself. I always...just...I mean, you were always so sexy, so obvious...and I wanted a part of that. I...love your breasts...your stomach..." She massaged each part as she named it, ducking to kiss Faith just above her bellybutton, her tongue flicking over her skin. Faith panted each time she felt the nibbling pass of Buffy's mouth. Buffy was so fucking good, every word she said bolting through Faith like a thousand touches. She pressed her palm to Faith's pussy, and Faith arched off the bed. "I love this," Buffy whispered. "So soft..." Roughly, suddenly, she pulled Faith's pants off her hips.
"Fuck, Buffy!" Faith felt the heated tide of all of Buffy's kisses running through her. "You gotta lose the clothes."
Buffy kissed her, then backed away with a secret smile, looking down at herself. She was fully dressed, straddling Faith's hips, and she brushed her lips next to Faith's ear. "I do?" she asked, full of sweet coyness. "Why, what do you want to do to me?"
"Everything," Faith said, dropping her hands to her sides in total surrender, total honesty. She wanted to memorize Buffy with her eyes, to imprint her brain with every moment she never thought she'd have. She wanted to create a memory she'd been forbidden before. She'd always believed Buffy's love would save her. Maybe not so literally, bandaging the soul-wounded parts of her that needed this moment even more than her body did, but she'd known. Buffy was the only one Faith would allow to give her everything. The only one she'd give everything to in return.
Buffy breathed out, desperately slowly. "Oh, Faith..."
"I love you, Buffy." It was easier saying it now, as if practicing could make it flow from her lips. It would never be commonplace, though, never words that Faith could drop like casual conversation.
Buffy smiled and backed away, standing up past the end of the bed, her eyes never leaving Faith's. She grabbed the hem of her shirt and raised it over her head, letting her whole body tighten in one long glorious stretch, showing off, her muscles rippling under her summertan skin. Faith watched, watched, couldn't look away, remembered the softness of that skin in her own shower, remembered it hard and hurting a thousand other times, remembered it best when Buffy touched her last night, wanting her and not the body she wore. Buffy unfastened her bra and dropped it, unbuttoned her pants and stepped out of them in an easy graceful motion. Moonlight outlined her ribs, the shallow curve of her breasts, the perfect dip of her side where her waist met her hips. Faith's eyes traveled down, to the trimmed hair between her legs, glistening with arousal. Faith forced herself to stay still, waiting while Buffy teased them both, lifting her hands up through her hair the way Faith did when she danced.
"You have a fucking amazing body, B," Faith whispered.
"Mmm..." Buffy preened, half aren't-I-pretty happiness, half dark eagerness, and her nipples stiffened into hard peaks, and Faith wanted to taste them. She wanted to laugh, suddenly, amazed all over again that she was here. Buffy came to her, crawling across the bed, and Faith forgot she'd wanted to laugh. She was dizzy and feverish and Buffy felt like hot silk against her, that gorgeous skin against hers. Her thoughts whirled, oh sweet fuck, oh God, and she remembered flying again; being with Buffy was flying.
"I want..." Buffy closed her eyes, then opened them again, looking half-drugged with moonlight and love.
"What?" Faith asked, mapping Buffy's body with her hands, finding every spot that made her moan, made her heart pound. "Tell me."
"You...I want to touch you..." Buffy kissed her, her breath hitching and uneven, trying to hold back and failing. She moaned. Faith swallowed the sound, met it with desperate words of her own. Buffy's tongue struggled with hers, and their hands tangled reaching for each other. Faith flipped them over, rolling Buffy half underneath her, and kissed her way down her body.
"Ahh...oh Faith...yes," Buffy whimpered, shivering when Faith reached her breasts. Faith gave her a wicked grin and taunted her with her tongue, mouthing the rounded side of her breast, licking over and under and down to her stomach and returning and giving her nothing. Buffy jumped and quivered, her stomach taut under Faith's kisses. She bit her lip on a frustrated groan. "You...uhhn..."
Faith kissed her stomach, sent her tongue darting into her bellybutton, fucking it teasingly. The sound of her name on Buffy's lips urged her on, and she ran a hand down to Buffy's thighs. "God, you're so wet."
"For you..." Buffy lifted her hips slightly. Faith gasped, seeing her exposed, her pussy lips deep pink and swollen. She pressed against Buffy's thighs, spreading her, brushing her inner thighs with her fingers. "Ohhh – unnh!" Buffy's muscles trembled, and Faith could see her hole clenching and releasing, so ready for her touch.
"B, fuck you're beautiful, oh God..." Faith positioned herself over Buffy, between her legs, then lowered herself until their clits rubbed together.
Buffy's head lolled back and her mouth opened in a silent cry. She moved under Faith's weight, grinding her body upwards.
"Ahhh, shit, Buffy!" Faith pushed her hips back in instant response. Her muscles pulsed in reaction, pure pleasure centering so deep inside. She dropped her head, kissing every inch of Buffy's skin she could reach, finally taking Buffy's nipple into her mouth. Buffy's breath exploded out, her body going insane, moving into Faith's touch.
"Ohh...uhhn – Faith –" Buffy moaned over and over, her hips flaring upwards in flawless rhythm. Every sliding movement jarred Faith with exquisite sensation, perfect and untouchable. She was hot and wet and sliding her clit against Buffy's pussy, supporting herself on her arms, pleasure ripping through her in long dark waves. She pressed her hips down in a light circle. Buffy's hand clamped down on her wrist, her mouth open and panting, her eyes fixed on Faith's. Her legs twined around Faith's back, pulling them together. "So close," she said, fast and frantic. "So ready. I'm...going to come for you, Faith, for you –"
"Buffy...Buffy..." Faith said her name each time she rolled her hips down, with each flaring burst of excitement.
Buffy bit her lip, her fingers digging into Faith's wrist. Her eyes flickered shut. With an amazed cry, she froze, then bucked up harder and faster. "Oh! Oh! Yesss!"
Faith tried to match Buffy's pace. She felt her orgasm building, so close, like sunlight, like ocean waves, like joy filling her mind and leaving her empty and pure. Faith came in a rush, wild and delirious, pressing her mouth to Buffy's, kissing her, kissing her. She felt each shudder that ran through Buffy's body, the long slow sigh as she relaxed.
"Mmm..." Buffy moaned deep in her throat. She reached up a hand, burying it in Faith's hair, holding her still for the soft kisses that were bringing them back to themselves. Faith rocked her hips forward a few more times, slowing and finally stopping.
"So good," Faith muttered, kissing around Buffy's ears, smiling when Buffy sighed. She didn't know what else to say. She buried her face in the hot junction of Buffy's neck and shoulder, kissing and nibbling. How could she tell her how much this meant – how there had never been anyone who gave her so much without causing pain?
But then, Faith didn't really want to think about before. She'd been given a second chance, and really, wasn't that enough? Her scar was gone, and she could feel that her soul was her own again. If her connection to Buffy was deepened because of that, then that was a good thing – it had to be. If she tried, Faith could sense the thrumming contentment running through Buffy's mind. Probably it would only make them better Slayers, a better team.
Was that what Buffy wanted now? Where was Faith's place? Yesterday she'd had no idea what the Scoobies meant when they called her psycho, murderer, slut. Now she couldn't forget.
Buffy slid her fingertips down the length of Faith's back. "Do you remember that day?" she asked, suddenly, her hands never pausing their light strokes.
Faith shifted her weight. She didn't need to ask which day. She remembered Alan Finch's blood on her hands, Buffy's horrified face as Faith pulled her away. The thing about regaining her memory was that she couldn't shut it off when she wanted. "Yeah."
"I almost..." Buffy paused. "I mean, I would have. That night. If..."
"If I hadn't killed that guy." Faith muttered the words, muffling them in Buffy's chest. She hated talking about it. She hated remembering. Maybe that had always been her problem. She lived like the future was the only thing, running away from any yesterday that was less than perfect. She kissed along Buffy's collarbone, hoping to distract her, and wishing she knew a better way.
"I just wanted you to know." Buffy gave a Slayer-swift twist, and she was on top, looking down. Her hair was mussed and golden-dark, her skin hot and glowing with sweat. She stared into Faith's eyes. "That's when I knew I loved you."
Faith couldn't help the bitter laugh that escaped her. "You mean when I was dumping bodies and trying to sell you out to Giles?"
Buffy frowned, a slight twinge of Slayer anger. "I was so scared for you. I hated what we'd done...but I was so fucking terrified that I would lose you! That's how I knew. And it just made me push you away, and I hate that too."
Faith looked away. "Why are you telling me this shit now?"
"Because!" Buffy kissed her, hard and quick, not letting her turn aside. "You're not the only one who wishes you could forget stuff, Faith!"
"You felt that?" Faith struggled with the idea that if she could feel Buffy's emotions, the surfaces of her thoughts, then it worked both ways.
"Yeah." Buffy kissed her again, gently. "I could have loved you sooner. We could have had this sooner. You think I didn't try to forget that, every day you were in that coma? And it worked...but I wasn't happy."
Faith brushed a strand of Buffy's hair away from her face, studying her. Without a word, without thought, she lifted up and kissed her; apologizing silently for everything she'd become after killing a man.
Buffy returned the kiss, her eyelids fluttering closed. "I'm happy now," she said, and Faith realized she was shaking in Buffy's arms. The kiss was so sweet, and she was suddenly, wonderfully aroused; the sound of Buffy's whispers and the taste of her tongue revving Faith's body back up to full throttle.
"Buffy..." she moaned, and Buffy sucked her tongue into her mouth until Faith thought she would fall apart from feeling it. "Please," she said, and half-remembered that she'd never said that before...but this wasn't about before, this was about Buffy kissing her way down Faith's body, licking and sucking and –"Oh fuck! Oh Buffy –"
"Let me do this..." Buffy murmured. "God, Faith, I want this..." There was no warning, not this time, and Faith knew-felt-understood that Buffy had learned this from her body, and Buffy licked her way between Faith's legs, covering her aching clit with her tongue.
"Unnh – ahh, Buf-Buffy!" Faith almost sat up. Buffy flicked her clit, increasing the pressure and then taking it away. Faith's hips jerked, so far beyond her control she barely knew they were hers. She took a few quick breaths and then just held it. She lived for the pleasure of Buffy's mouth, sucking her hardened nub, over and over again, and then Buffy's fingers joined her mouth, sliding into Faith's cunt so easily, so fucking easily, because she was still so wet and oh God this time when she came it was going to hit her like her past, like her memory. So hard, and all at once, and Buffy's fingers fucked her like nothing she'd ever known, slowfast, softhard, again and again and again –
With a burst of fiery, unbelievable sensation, Faith came, and she didn't know if she was moaning or screaming Buffy's name. Her eyes squeezed shut and she forgot, forgot everything, if only for this moment. It felt like the world had stopped for them, for their love, for this. "Oh God oh God oh Buffy –"
"Feel me, Faith, feel it..." Buffy curled her fingers and Faith felt herself flying again, flying, like love, like falling, like leaving her doubts behind. "Love you..."
"Yesss...Buffy...always," Faith said, and sent the warmsafe glow of it through their connection.
Buffy sighed, and kissed Faith's stomach. She moved up the bed, collapsing on top of her. Faith opened her eyes. Satisfaction rolled through her body, deep and hot. Buffy smiled, and kissed her. "Believe me," she said.
Believe that you'll always have a place. Believe that I love you. Believe that tomorrow will be as good as today...that we can have a future despite our past.
"I do," Faith said, and once again she was wrapped in Buffy's arms as she fell asleep, and for the first time she knew she didn't need to run.
Naked and wet from her shower, Faith stared into the bathroom mirror. Her eyelashes were black and spiked with water droplets, and she blinked them away. Her eyes flicked back and forth as she tried to see all of herself at once, and each part that made her who she was. Her level brows and straight nose, her full lips that curved as if she wanted to smile; the hint of dimples that deepened when she grinned, and the smooth line of her jaw half-hidden behind the curling fall of dark hair. Her skin was nearly back to its normal tan. There was no sign that she'd been sick. Looking at her, no one would know she'd lost eight months of her life.
No one would know what she'd gained, either. Faith couldn't see it, and she knew what she was looking for. If love had softened the cynical look in her eyes, or eased the angry set of her shoulders, it didn't show.
She laid a hand on her stomach. She could feel her abs beneath the taut skin. Slipping her hand higher, she touched the one place where memory had been etched onto her body. Scars, like the tattoo on her arm, were supposed to be permanent. They were a reminder that life-changing events left marks, not just on your body but in your mind. Faith didn't think she would ever forget the feel of Buffy stabbing her. Even with amnesia, that memory had followed her in nightmares. The pain was nothing. It was the look in Buffy's eyes that Faith could still see. Neither one of them could believe she was doing it. Buffy's horror had followed her all the way down on that endless fall.
Why had the scar disappeared when Tara's spell had healed her soul?
Faith heard steps in the hall outside the bathroom, and smiled. The girl in the mirror smiled back, an achingly tender look. The footsteps paused outside the door. Faith reached for the handle and jerked the door open. She raised an eyebrow at Buffy. "Do you listen to all your guests in the shower?"
Buffy's eyes widened. She looked like she wanted to lick off every water drop that was still trickling down Faith's body. "Only the hot ones," she said.
"Showers or guests?"
Buffy blinked and tried to look innocent. "Umm...yes?"
"Get in here." Faith pulled her in and slammed the door shut. "You don't know when your mom might walk by. Jeez, are you trying to traumatize her even more?"
"I think there's still some hope that she isn't traumatized at all," Buffy said. "And you're the one opening doors naked."
Faith grinned. "I knew it was you."
Buffy nodded. She was still having trouble keeping her gaze above the level of Faith's shoulders. "The connection is stronger. Does that mean something?"
Faith shrugged. Buffy's eyes followed the gesture appreciatively. "We can ask Willow and Tara when they get here." She frowned. She'd agreed to another Scooby meeting today, but after running out on them all yesterday, she wasn't sure how she felt about it. They'd worked so hard to cure her, but that didn't mean they were going to be thrilled with the results.
"So...are you going to get dressed soon, or am I going to have to jump you right here?" Buffy leaned back against the door and smiled up at her.
Faith glanced down at herself. "Once again, you have the clothes advantage. In what universe is that fair?"
"It's not an advantage," Buffy said. "Trust me."
Faith waggled her eyebrows, stepping closer. "Why's that?" she asked. Buffy's eyes closed and she shivered at the husky sound of Faith's voice. Faith closed the distance between them, pressing herself against Buffy's jeans. "You a little uncomfortable, there, B?"
"I'm fucking wet, Faith, okay?" Buffy lifted her eyes, staring into Faith's, and deliberately ground her hips forward. "Does that clarify the situation for you?"
"Yeah..." Faith took a deep, slow breath, then dropped to her knees.
"Faith!" Buffy gasped, a strangled sound halfway between scandalized and turned on. Her face flamed.
Faith grinned. "Know what else I remembered? How to open a fly with my teeth."
Buffy's head fell back against the bathroom door. "Oh God. You're not going to –"
"Not if you don't want me to," Faith said easily, skimming her hands up and down the inside seams of Buffy's jeans. The smell of Buffy's arousal was killing her, but she wasn't going to say that. Two nights together, and they hadn't come close to satisfying all her fantasies. Faith couldn't count the number of times she'd imagined this...though usually the featured bathroom was at the Bronze, and they'd come there after slaying and dancing for most of the night, and they were high on adrenaline, on each other... Faith sucked in a breath and buried her face between Buffy's legs, teasing her through the denim.
Buffy squirmed her hips. "I...you're driving me crazy doing that..."
"Uh-huh." Faith leaned back to watch Buffy's face. She cupped her over her jeans. "That's kinda the point."
Buffy's breathing echoed loudly in the small room, and her legs parted as if by accident. Faith moaned. "Fuck, B...I wanna taste you..."
"My mom –"
"So be quiet." Faith didn't wait for an answer. Buffy's splayed thighs were enough for her. She growled as she took the zipper tab between her teeth and pulled. Buffy wasn't wearing anything underneath the jeans. "Jesus, Buffy," she muttered, pushing the pants off Buffy's hips.
"I...might've planned this," Buffy admitted, with a silly grin. "Just a bit." Her eyes slid closed in pleasure, her breath coming in hot uneven pants. One hand brushed Faith's wet hair back from her face.
Faith turned her face into Buffy's hand, kissing her palm, then, with a groan, she covered Buffy with her mouth. Buffy twitched, biting her lip to stifle a whimper. Faith clutched her hips with both hands, sinking her mouth deeper, finally tasting Buffy's arousal. Fuck, it was good, and Faith sucked harder, her tongue flicking out along Buffy's outer lips.
"Ah – Faith –" Buffy's hand convulsed in her hair. "Oh, my God, you feel...your mouth –" She tried to whisper, her voice husky and soft.
Faith's pulse hammered through her. The way Buffy talked was so hot, and the way her muscles quivered under Faith's hands only made her want to fuck her harder. She licked her way into Buffy's pussy, the slick salt warm on her tongue, Buffy's desperate whispers urging her on. Her clit was swollen and hard and Faith swirled her tongue around it.
"Uhhn! Faith!" Buffy jerked forward as hard as she could against Faith's face. Faith moved her hands behind Buffy's ass and pulled her closer, opening her up further, and continued exploring with her mouth. On some level she knew that they'd left 'quiet' behind and were heading towards mindblowing, but she couldn't stop. Buffy rocked forward with every twist and thrust of her tongue, thudding against the door with each stroke. Neither of them really noticed. Faith pressed her legs together, trying to find some relief. She shoved her hand into Buffy's pants, deep into her wetness, finding her opening with one finger and sliding inside. God, Buffy was so tight. Her muscles contracted around Faith's finger, pulling it deeper.
Faith squeezed her eyes closed. For an instant she just knelt there, breathing hard, the feel of the moment overwhelming her. She could remember other moments like this, going down on nameless guys and faceless women. Her mind threw up images, sights, sounds, voices...and they were all dulled by distance and time. If she couldn't forget Buffy's knife slicing into her side, then she knew this moment was its opposite. It would act like Tara's spell, like a healing, bright and flawless. Buffy chased her here. Buffy wanted her to stay.
Faith kissed the inside of Buffy's thigh and flexed her finger. "I love you," she whispered.
"Faith...I love you..." Buffy's voice was soft now, her hand caressing Faith's hair. Her legs were shaking. Faith curled her finger and twisted it, thrusting, and kissed everywhere she could reach. Buffy's whole body tensed, her stomach dipping as her muscles flexed. Her jeans rasped Faith's chin. Faith found her clit again and sucked, matching the rhythm to the movement of her finger. Buffy was so fucking wet, so beautiful, and they were getting loud again, and Faith couldn't care less. Buffy cried out with each thrust, tiny, incredulous sounds, and Faith wanted her to come so badly. The sound of Buffy's pussy around her finger was driving her crazy.
"Uhhn...Faith...I'm gonna...I can't...stand up...oh God..."
Faith backed off for a second, and Buffy moaned in protest. "Lean on me," Faith gasped. Buffy got the idea and placed her hands on Faith's shoulders, leaning forward until Faith was nearly underneath her, pumping upwards.
Buffy moaned, moving in erratic jerks. "Oh...Faith...yes!" Faith pressed her tongue against her clit, hard. Buffy's hands clamped down, her fingers biting into Faith's shoulders. "Uhn! Faith!"
Faith swallowed the gush of fluid as Buffy came, taking her time, waiting until Buffy could stand on her own again. She rested her forehead against Buffy's stomach.
Buffy's shallow breathing slowed and she moved to kneel in front of Faith. "God...that was..." She shook her head, and leaned in to kiss Faith. She hesitated for a moment, tasting herself on Faith's lips, then she pushed forward again. "Amazing," she whispered.
Faith kissed her back. "You are so hot."
"Have I mentioned your pot-kettle issues before?" Buffy asked. "Because, really..."
There was a knock at the door.
Faith jumped. She'd completely forgotten that they weren't alone in the house anymore. Buffy's eyes practically jumped out of her skull. She blushed to the roots of her hair. She waved at Faith to answer. Faith gave her an incredulous look and shook her head. It was Buffy's voice that you probably could have heard down the block. Really, they could probably pretend this wasn't Faith's fault at all. Buffy rolled her eyes and prodded her. Faith gave her a half-serious glare and answered.
Joyce's voice answered. "Breakfast is ready. And, girls, we are going to have a talk, so I expect you at the table in five minutes or less."
"Right, Mrs. S," Faith called. There was silence from outside the door, and even though Faith couldn't see her, she could just imagine Joyce's motherly glare. Finally, her footsteps retreated, leaving them alone again.
Buffy immediately swatted her shoulder.
"What?" Faith asked.
"She's gonna know I was in here!"
Faith stood up and grabbed a towel to wrap around herself. "B, get with the picture. She already knows you're in here, and she probably has a pretty clear idea of what we were doing." Faith couldn't help but grin and lick her lips. "You might need more work on your seduction plan next time."
"I forgot to take into account that you're a sure thing," Buffy said, smiling wickedly.
"So next time bring a gag," Faith said, leering.
Buffy thought about that for a second, then sighed. "But I'm always plan girl. It can be someone else's job now. I just want..." She shrugged. "Well...you."
Faith lifted her eyebrows. She tucked the towel together, trying to figure out what to say to that. Buffy had a way of making the most obvious things sound the most significant. "Oh."
"Yeah. Oh." Buffy stood up. She tilted her head, studying Faith. "It was a kind of you-thing, me coming in here, wasn't it?"
Faith nodded. There did seem to be a residual effect of the spell, or of the body-switch, or something. If this scene had happened eight months ago, she wouldn't let Buffy leave until she'd gotten her off. Now, she was more worried about what Joyce was going to say. And Buffy jumping her in the shower really was more Faith's style. She'd always pegged Buffy as too uptight to even think about it. Now she knew better...God, did she ever.
"Well, then, I want you to do...me-things," Buffy said, her eyes dropping as she struggled for words. "Like...live here. Be a Scooby. Maybe...even...go to school?"
Faith opened her mouth, realized she had no idea what to say, and closed it again.
"Just...think about it, okay?" Buffy didn't wait for an answer, but slipped out of the bathroom to her bedroom.
Faith went to the guest room and pulled on the first clothes that came to hand. She wanted to stay here, but somehow her imagination hadn't gotten past the same set up as last year – holding down some crappy job to pay for an even crappier motel room, and living for the nights when she could slay with Buffy. She thundered down the stairs.
Buffy was already at the dining room table, poking at scrambled eggs. She'd changed from her jeans into a short skirt. Faith couldn't help wondering if she'd decided on panties this time, and she almost blurted out the question. But Joyce was in the kitchen just around the corner. As soon as she saw Faith, she brought in another plate, piled high with hash browns and bacon, as well as eggs.
"Thanks," Faith said, cautiously.
Joyce nodded, at the same time eying her suspiciously, as if she didn't trust Faith for an instant.
Buffy blushed into her eggs.
There was a long moment of silence. Faith's knee started jiggling under the table. Just before desperation reduced her to small talk about the weather (still sunny), Joyce spoke up.
"It's wonderful that you have your memory back, Faith."
Faith swallowed. "Yeah. Thanks."
"Of course, you remember our conversation yesterday."
Faith thought back. "I wanted you to tell me stuff about me."
Faith glanced at Buffy for help, but got nothing. "And you said it was up to Buffy, 'cause you didn't know everything I'd want to know."
"Right again." Joyce raised her eyebrows expectantly. "Now, I think that was fair. Because I didn't know the whole situation. Buffy doesn't always like to share." This time Joyce glared at Buffy, who was pretending that she'd never encountered such fascinating scrambled eggs before in her life. "But I think this is different...because you and Buffy are insisting on involving my house. And my bathroom."
Faith smiled a bit. Joyce seemed more concerned about the damage done to her fixtures than the fact that Faith had been with Buffy. "Um...sorry?"
"I told you I would never turn you out of this house. All I ask is that when you're living under my roof, you aren't quite so...demonstrative." Joyce pursed her lips and folded her hands primly on the table. "Call me old-fashioned, but I'm pretty sure that's what college dorm rooms are for."
That made Buffy look up. She started to say something and choked on a piece of egg. Coughing and sputtering, she waved away Faith's offer of help.
Faith waited until she was done, then turned to Joyce. Joyce smiled at her. "And, Faith, don't forget, you're not eighteen yet...so there will be a curfew, and if your homework isn't done, then you don't get to go slaying."
Faith gaped at her. Was it her imagination, or had Joyce emphasized "slaying" in a really really wrong way? It was supposed to be Faith's superpower to make everything sound dirty. And...curfew? Homework?
"I've arranged the details with Mr. Giles," Joyce continued, as if both Faith and Buffy weren't staring at her in silent shock. "Now, I'm going in to work today." She considered them both for a moment, her eyes twinkling. "I'll phone before I come home." She stood up and nodded once, sharply, to herself, as if she'd just crossed a major point off her To Do list. She picked up her purse and left the room, calling over her shoulder, "It was wonderful meeting your friend Tara last night. Do the dishes, okay?"
"Okay," Buffy said faintly. She looked completely bewildered.
Faith blinked at the doorway where Joyce had disappeared, then at Buffy. A huge grin broke out over her face. She whooped and jumped up, pulling Buffy's chair back and then straddling her lap. Catching Buffy's face between her hands, she kissed her, not able to stop smiling even as she brushed her lips across Buffy's.
"Wha –" Buffy gasped and leaned back, giving Faith better access. "Why are you kissing me?" she asked after a moment. "A demon has possessed my mother! She's under the influence of some alien! We should...um..."
Faith wriggled a bit, getting comfortable on Buffy's lap. Very comfortable. "Neck?"
"Uh...that seems like a reasonable solution..." Buffy initiated the kiss this time, resting her arms on Faith's thighs and holding her waist.
The doorbell rang.
"Fucking shit!" Faith jerked back, glaring towards the front door.
"Ooh, wash your mouth out," Buffy said. "Or let me."
"We're not home!" Faith yelled at no one in particular. She kissed Buffy again.
Buffy laughed into her mouth. "It's Willow."
"Maybe it's not."
"She's on the porch. She's waving through the window."
"But, Buffy..." Faith whined, in her best approximation of Buffy's voice. "I want you to fuck me."
Buffy's eyes sparkled, her face glowing. "Later?"
"Later is so...not now," Faith explained, rolling her hips forward.
"Ohhh...now Xander's there..." Buffy's head fell back. "Oops. He brought Anya." She snickered.
"You're not paying attention." Faith looked over her shoulder and saw Anya chasing Xander around the porch, swatting him. "Fine, we'll let them in. Only because I'm feeling redemptiony. Xander shouldn't suffer just because we looking fucking hot."
Buffy's eyebrow quirk. "And I want to know what kind of mind-magic Tara's been working on Mom."
Faith hopped off her lap. "That, too. Maybe we can reverse it and there won't be anymore talk of homework. Or curfews."
Buffy fixed her with a glare. "Those are good things."
"Oh, right. I bet that's exactly what you were thinking when you ditched chemistry class for me." Faith left Buffy trying to come up with a response and opened the door. Willow was grinning. Tara was blushing. Xander and Anya were arguing.
It was wonderful how much things didn't change.
"Hey," she said.
"You're better! You're you! Not that you weren't you before, but I'm glad that you and Buffy worked things out...not that we were worried. Because I so wasn't. It's just nice that you're not evil!" Willow breezed past her. "And Tara's fine, so I don't need to beat you with a sledgehammer."
Faith turned to Tara. "When weren't you fine?"
Tara smiled. "Never. B-but Willow w-worries. I was just tired."
Faith nodded. "Hey, I just wanted to say, y'know, thanks." She touched her stomach. "Did you know?"
Tara smiled lopsidedly. "When you realize there's magic in the world...you can believe in a lot of things. Like soulmates."
"Me and B?" Faith dipped her head. Suddenly she was the shy one, and Tara's gentle smile was wise. "She had Angel for that."
Tara shook her head. "But her soul isn't connected to his."
"After the rough ride it's had? I guess not." Faith glanced over her shoulder. Buffy and Willow were talking in the living room, smiling and joking.
"Faith...what I mean is, I think you've always been connected, ever since you were Called. The energy that you share... When Buffy died, you took some of her essence; when she came back to life, she took some of yours." Tara shrugged. "And now...the Mayor's magic deepened it. I know you think he's evil...Willow told me. But the way the spell was built –"
Faith frowned. "The Mayor didn't care. He just wanted me to do his dirty work."
"I think there was more than that," Tara said simply. "I think he knew." She ducked behind her hair. "Don't think he couldn't love you, Faith. Your scar is gone...you can forget him if you want to."
Forget the boss. Faith sat down on the stairs. "You think he did this. The amnesia. Everything."
"I talked about it with Mr. Giles last night." Tara sat beside her. "If the Mayor became a demon, he'd have killed you along with everyone else. If he lost...he wanted to give you a chance."
Faith didn't answer. She wanted to hate the Mayor. Even while she was working for him she'd wanted to hate him. Back then she would have given a lot to hate Buffy, too. In Boston she'd hated a lot of people. Teachers. Cops. Her dad. It was too easy for her, hating. Forgetting that had let her finally be with Buffy. If she remembered the Mayor only to hate him, she'd ruin this second chance. She'd learned to look back as well as forward. Her memories had shaped her. This time, she didn't want to give that up.
Xander trailed Anya into the house, looking hangdog. He brightened when he saw Faith. "Congratulations! You're a Scooby again!"
"I guess I am." Faith tried to smile at him. "Think it'll be weird?"
"Nah. After the weird syphilis and the demon-magnet thing, I figure I can handle anything." Xander glanced at Anya. "Well, mostly."
"Sounds like I'm going to have to have story time, hear what I missed." Faith followed him into the living room and sat on the couch. Maybe she couldn't forget a lot of that stuff, her past, but she was willing to let it go. Like Willow and Xander, forgiving her even though she probably didn't deserve it. They were just...like that. Generous. Buffy was right – it was time she learned the difference from pity.
"Well, it's no alligator wrassling..." Xander shrugged. "How'd it go with Buffy's mom, anyway?"
"Horrible," Buffy answered, sitting next to Faith. She buried her face in her hands. "I have never been so embarrassed in my life."
Faith leaned close to her ear. "We'll have to work on that," she whispered, smiling. Thinking of all the places they hadn't been caught. Yet.
"But...Tara laid the groundwork!" Willow protested. "There was tea! I saw! It was all so civilized!"
"Yeah, but then there was this morning," Faith said. "B and me –" Buffy's hand clamped down on her thigh, probably hard enough to crush bone. "Ow! Jeez! What?"
Willow's eyes widened. "You mean you...and she...and Mrs. Summers saw?..."
"Heard," Faith amended, rubbing her leg. She tried using Buffy's pout, which she'd learned so recently. Turnabout was fair play. Buffy just rolled her eyes, but she was hiding a smile. Score one for the pout. "Mrs. S was way better about it than I figured. Anyway, I wasn't getting any complaints at the time." She grinned at Buffy, who glared, but didn't deny it.
"That seems counterproductive," Anya said. "Xander keeps insisting that humans don't want to see or hear anyone having sex."
"I couldn't help it," Buffy hissed, blushing furiously. "She pulled me into the bathroom, and she was –" Buffy waved at Faith. "Well, she was –"
"Naked?" Faith supplied.
"Oh," Anya said. "I understand, then. I would have done the same thing."
Xander's jaw dropped. "Huh?"
"Faith is very attractive. I'm sure she can be quite irresistible when she tries," Anya explained. She eyed Xander. "You're imagining me having sex with her right now, aren't you?"
"Yes," Xander whispered, cringing.
"Good," Anya said. "As long as I'm in your fantasies, I won't slap you." She smiled brightly. "You see, I'm not threatened at all by your previous conquests."
"Conquest?" Faith sputtered.
Anya reached across the table and patted her hand sympathetically. "You had your chance." She turned to Xander. "Just remember, Buffy will kill you if you try anything. And what I'd do? Would be worse."
"Understood," Xander said fervently.
Buffy rolled her eyes at Faith. Faith shrugged back. She figured they were doing pretty well in that no one had judged their relationship, so really, the fact that Xander was dating a demon was not a problem.
"I'm thinking party," Willow announced. "We've had a weird couple of days, which is so not unusual, but you know what? We haven't seen any big bads for weeks and I think I'm finally getting somewhere hacking into the Initiative files, so really? We deserve a break. Possibly involving ice cream."
Buffy grinned. "And when and where would this party take place?"
"Well, I'm thinking at some time that's other, you know, later, not now," Willow said, turning suspiciously red. "Several hours in the future, even. Or a whole day."
Anya nodded. "That way we could all have time for orgasms. It's quite obvious Buffy and Faith want us to leave so they can get back to that. That's very sensible, Willow."
"Thanks," Willow mumbled.
"Well, I'm very glad we've had this pointless gathering," Anya said. She smiled brightly. "Xander, let's go. Your uncle Rory won't be home till six."
"Uh...right." Xander grinned at the rest of them. "Hey, what can I say? You all know it's true."
Buffy swatted her.
Willow smiled at Tara and took her hand. "We'll show ourselves out," she said, raising an eyebrow.
Faith barely waited until they were gone before she pounced on Buffy. "What's with the hitting?" she asked, grinning.
"You're worse than Anya!" Buffy struggled briefly underneath her. Struggled, and lost. On purpose. Faith could tell, but it was still very gratifying.
"They're doing this for us, in case you couldn't tell." Faith trapped Buffy's wrists and held them above her head. "And, well...for themselves. But mainly for us. We can't waste this time! It was a gift."
"You're just horny," Buffy said, with a tolerant smile.
"You can tell, huh?" Faith leaned in closer, raking Buffy's body with her eyes. "You're still not wearing anything under your skirt."
"You can tell, huh?" Buffy mimicked her. Her eyes lingered on Faith's mouth, then traveled down. She stopped wriggling. "You're wearing it."
Faith held her breath. The necklace had been the last thing she'd put on before coming down to breakfast. Fixing the clasp, she'd shivered at the memory of Buffy's fingers slipping it around her neck at the mall. She understood now that Buffy just wanted her to be wearing a cross, as long as she had no idea about vampires. But it had felt like more when Buffy bought it, and it felt like more now. "Yeah," she said.
"Thank you." Buffy arched off the couch and kissed her. Faith let her eyes close. Amazing, that she could say so much with a kiss, with a touch. It rushed through her like a wind, but she wasn't falling anymore. Faith had forgotten the person she'd once been only to find someone better. Mirrored by Buffy's body, she'd learned more than memories could ever offer her.
Without her scar, she could tell herself a million stories about how she'd come to be here, and each one could be true. You could twist memories, remembering only the good or the bad. You could run from the past, or you could live there forever, trapped.
Faith kissed Buffy, tenderly, with the muted echo of hard and fast and later. She kissed her, and felt the cross at the hollow of her throat, like another kind of memory. It wasn't a scar, full of hurt and old pain. Buffy had offered it to her as protection, as an apology, as a promise for the future. Faith kissed Buffy, gaining back the time she'd lost in her coma.
They made love, and in the soft spaces between kisses, Faith remembered herself all over again.end