Bed of Roses

KW Jordan


Very few of the following characters belong to me. Most are the property of Joss Whedon & Co. I'm merely borrowing them for my own amusement. I haven't, nor will I ever, make any profits off of the creation of this story. The scenario, however, does belong in its' entirety to me.

I'll warn you ahead of time that the contents of this story may be considered inappropriate for anyone under the age of eighteen. I'm just that kind of person. I like violence, and I like sex—better yet, I like sex between women and sometimes it's rough. If you don't heed this warning and you continue ahead, I don't want to hear about it if you dislike what you find.

However, if you would like to express your interest in the story, I would love to hear about it—in great detail even. I'm open to suggestions for future reference. Or if you would like to borrow my idea, please e-mail me. Please do not post my work anywhere without my permission.

Any quotes or lyrics used are here without permission. I meant no disrespect to the writers or the musicians. I apologize for not requesting permission to use them beforehand, but please allow me to leave my work intact. No profit will ever be made from the use of your work here.

Song Credits:

Bed of Roses – Bon Jovi

Personal Jesus – Marilyn Manson

Heartbreaker – Pink

Favorite Girl – O-Town

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Rating: NC-17

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer alternative fan fiction

Pairing: Buffy/Satsu, Buffy /Faith

POV: 3 rd

Summary: Post S7. Relationships suck, the Chosen Two try something a little different for them, and the unlikely becomes likely. (Some relation to the comics, though I do add some originality)

AN: Thank Jove, one helluva beta reader. And thanks for the all-clear, Amy.


Chapter One: One of Those Days

Tendrils of sunlight crept across the plush cream colored carpet and reached for the small blonde curled up in a recliner near the window. The warmth made her shiver and her grip tightened on the tumbler in her right hand. She brought it to her lips and sipped, sighing as the vodka burned a trail down her throat.

Her bloodshot hazel eyes lifted to gaze out the window to the trees beyond and she let her head rest back against the chair. She sniffled and a tear trickled down her left cheek. She swiped at it in irritation, shifting in the chair to try to get comfortable.

Downstairs she could hear the sounds of dishes being clanked around in the kitchen and the rasp of a faintly familiar voice. She briefly contemplated going to investigate, but she came to the conclusion that she didn't really care. She wasn't hungry and she didn't feel like being sociable.

She realized she wouldn't be able to avoid her sister forever, but for now she was going to continue hiding in the guest room until she had no other choice. Considering what she'd just been through, she was more than deserving of some alone time.

Ugh, don't go there , she thought in disgust. Thinking about it leads to crying and I've cried enough in the past week for one lifetime.

The stereo across the room switched tracks and the first strains of the new song caught her attention. She tilted her head and listened curiously. It wasn't one Buffy recognized.

Must be something one of Dawn's guests left in the changer, She mused.

Sitting here wasted and wounded
At this old piano
Trying hard to capture
The moment this morning I don't know
‘Cause a bottle of vodka
Is still lodged in my head
And some blonde gave me nightmares
I think that she's still in my bed
As I dream about movies
They won't make of me when I'm dead

Whoever left the CD must have been the same one that left the bottle of vodka. She smirked and toasted the air.

“Thank you.”

With an ironclad fist I wake up and
French kiss the morning
While some marching band keeps
Its own beat in my head
While we're talking
About all of the things that I long to believe
About love and the truth and
What you mean to me
And the truth is baby you're all that I need

Her smirk disappeared and she took another sip from the tumbler. She set the glass aside on the table by the chair and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. Her mussed blonde hair fell down in a curtain around her face and she idly tucked it behind her ears.

I want to lay you down in a bed of roses
For tonight I sleep on a bed of nails
I want to be just as close as the Holy Ghost is
And lay you down on a bed of roses

Well I'm so far away

That each step that I take is on my way home

A king's ransom in dimes I'd given each night

Just to see through this payphone

Still I run out of time

Or it's hard to get through

Till the bird on the wire flies me back to you

I'll just close my eyes and whisper,

Baby blind love is true

She scrunched her face up and scrubbed at her burning eyes. Too much crying had left them dry and irritated. The past three nights had been spent in a bar, the smoky atmosphere not helping any.

I want to lay you down in a bed of roses
For tonight I sleep on a bed of nails
I want to be just as close as the Holy Ghost is
And lay you down on a bed of roses

She vaguely remembered calling Dawn to pick her up in the early morning hours when the bartender cut her off, which was how she'd come to end up where she was. She really wasn't looking forward to explaining herself to her little sister at all. But it was inevitable.

The hotel bar hangover whiskey's gone dry
The barkeeper's wig's crooked
And she's giving me the eye
I might have said yeah
But I laughed so hard I think I died

She sighed and looked around the neatly arranged room. The dark blue silk sheets on the queen sized bed were the only thing out of order. She wasn't planning to make it up. She figured she'd end up there again soon, so what would be the point?

Her own home had seemed too empty to stay there. Memories had haunted her and kept her from getting any rest. She had simply packed her stuff up and ended up at a motel to get away from it and to avoid everyone she knew. She hadn't wanted to speak with anyone else because that would eventually lead to questions and explanations.

She'd ended up at a bar that first night when she couldn't sleep. The motel room didn't have a mini-bar. Then she'd just kept coming back to the same bar because it was the only thing she had to fall back on when her mind betrayed her. At least drunk, the memories didn't seem to hurt so badly. So far the only reason she could come up with for why she had called Dawn had been that the alcohol had made her stupid.

Now as you close your eyes

Know I'll be thinking about you

While my mistress she calls me

To stand in her spotlight again

Tonight I won't be alone

But you know that don't

Mean I'm not lonely I've got nothing to prove

For it's you that I'd die to defend

Her chest tightened and she cursed inwardly as more tears filled her eyes. Damn it. She stood and stomped over to the stereo. She hesitated with her finger on the power button, uncertain as to why the song was even affecting her.

I want to lay you down in a bed of roses
For tonight I sleep on a bed of nails
I want to be just as close as the Holy Ghost is
And lay you down on a bed of roses

She shook her head in confusion and turned it off. I have to get out of here for a while.

She looked down and considered the slightly baggy black silk boxers and the fitting white tank top she'd found in the dresser before she'd passed out earlier. She shrugged and turned to leave. Whoever's down there can deal with me like I am.

She left the room and walked down the short hall to the stairs, feeling a tingle go up her spine that meant there was a Slayer nearby. She sighed and forced herself to continue down, almost afraid of which one she'd find down there.

I think I'm actually hoping to find Faith or Kennedy down there. Buffy snorted at the thought. It wasn't likely though since Faith spent most of her time out of the state and Kennedy didn't get up before noon if she didn't have to. The last she'd heard, Faith was in Texas reigning in one of their rogue Slayers.

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she paused. The tingling had taken on a familiar intensity stronger than the usual and a wry smile spread across her lips. The unlikely was likely to happen when she least expected it.

She shook her head and walked through the living room to the kitchen. She paused in the doorway, unseen by the room's occupant. Her eyes took in the sight before her.

Faith stood in front of the stove in a pair of tight jeans and an even tighter black tank top. The dark wavy hair was slightly shorter than the last time she'd seen it, now only brushing Faith's shoulders, and had a lighter tint to it. She blinked and then her eyes took in the full scene, making her wince.

Faith was standing in front of the stove. But the part that truly frightened her? Faith was cooking breakfast. And she was apparently doing a good job of it considering the room didn't smell like anything had been scorched. In fact, the bacon, eggs, and pancakes had her stomach growling.

“Good morning, Buffy.”

She jerked her head in the direction of Dawn's voice and her eyebrows furrowed. She'd been so fixated on Faith's presence that she hadn't noticed Dawn. She shook her head and entered the kitchen reluctantly. Then she dropped down onto a stool beside Dawn and leaned her elbows on the breakfast bar.

“Morning,” She muttered.

“Mornin', B.”

Dark brown eyes glanced over a bare, pale olive-toned shoulder at Buffy, their eyes locking. Buffy clenched her jaw and jerked her gaze away from Faith's. She didn't think she could handle one of their usual interactions right now.

So it's one of those days , Faith mused.

She started to look back at the stove and then did a double take when she registered the clothes Buffy was wearing. Irritatin' little clothes thievin'... She rolled her eyes, unable to muster any real annoyance at the sight of her sometimes-enemy in her PJs.

Finding her self smirking, Faith returned her attention to the pans on the stove. She flipped a pancake and then crossed to a cabinet to retrieve another plate. Stacking it on the others by the stove, she returned to her task.

Guess I must've left the damned things in D's guestroom last time I stayed over, She considered with a mental shrug.

It wasn't impossible considering that when Faith visited, she almost always stayed with Dawn. They had settled their problems with each other what seemed like forever ago. All they'd had to do was find some common ground to stand on.

Behind her, Dawn studied her sister and then sighed. “Did you even get any sleep?”

Buffy contemplated not answering, then with a shrug, said, “A couple of hours.”

Concerned, Dawn asked, “Why didn't you just go back to sleep?”

“I didn't feel like it, okay?” Buffy snapped.

She didn't want to admit that every time she closed her eyes the fight with her partner replayed. She sighed. I knew coming down here was a bad idea. Now she's going to expect explanations and that's the thing I've been trying to avoid all week.

Dawn held up a hand in a placating gesture. “Whoa, calm down. I'm just worried, Buffy. You called me at three A.M., drunk out of your mind. Then when I picked you up, it was pretty obvious you'd been at it for a while. I'm entitled, y'know?”



Chapter Two: The Hardest Part of Breaking Up

Trying not to be obvious, Faith listened to their conversation as she finished up their breakfast. If she were being tortured, she'd have to admit she was concerned too. Dawn had picked her up at the airport an hour ago and filled her in on the way to her house. In the fifteen plus years she'd known Buffy, never had Faith heard of Buffy getting so drunk she had to call for a ride.

That was more Faith's style. That and Dawn's description of Buffy's tearful reaction to an innocent question about taking her home had certainly pricked her curiosity. Faith piled a big helping of the food on a plate and set it in front of Buffy. Slayers didn't get severe hangovers unless magic was involved, so she knew there wasn't anything to worry about.

“Need somethin' to drink, B?”

Hazel eyes studied her in wary consideration. Faith smirked.

“Would ya rather I started a fight? ‘Cause I can, y'know.”

Buffy shook her head and snorted. Though ten years had passed since the last time they'd exchanged blows, it was still odd to have Faith being nice. It just didn't sit well with her. Sarcasm and agitation still ruled their interactions for the most part.

Everyone realized it was an act on both sides, but they refused to admit to it. The Chosen Two found that they enjoyed their verbal spars. They had their moments when they got along without the antagonism, but those were few and far between.

“So do ya?”

She blinked and looked at Faith in confusion. A tilt of the dark head reminded her of the question and she simply nodded. For now, she could do without the aggravation. Maybe they'd make time to have an argument for old time's sake before Faith went back to her life.

“A glass of orange juice will be okay.”

Buffy reached for the fork stuck in the stack of pancakes and pushed the gently steaming eggs around in her plate. She tried to ignore Dawn's expectant look, but it didn't seem to be working. The requested glass of juice was set next to her plate and she lifted her eyes to watch Faith filling two other plates with food.

Finally, Buffy blurted, “Satsu left me.”

“What?” Dawn screeched.

“Dawn!” Both Slayers objected and rubbed their ears, giving her warning looks.

“Sorry,” Dawn mumbled sheepishly.

Buffy stabbed the fork back into the pancakes and her shoulders slumped as she leaned on the breakfast bar again. She forced a smile and brought her eyes up to see Faith hand Dawn one of the plates. Unable to handle the sympathetic look Faith gave her, Buffy's smile disappeared and her gaze dropped back to the bar top.

“Yeah, she uh, she asked for a divorce,” She reluctantly continued with her explanation.

“Why?” Dawn asked in confusion. “I thought everything was going good for the two of you.”

“I did too,” Buffy muttered desolately. “But apparently I was wrong ‘cause according to her, she fell out of love with me.” Her face darkened and her voice broke. “Then she proceeded to fall into bed with someone else.”

“Oh my God,” Dawn whispered. “Buffy, I'm so sorry.”

She shrugged and gave her sister a weak smile. “I'll live.”

“Yeah, well, she won't,” Dawn grumbled. “I'm so going to kick her ass.”

Faith kept her eyes on her plate and continued to chew slowly on the bite of pancake she'd taken. Anything she could say right now would probably be taken wrong. Faith hadn't ever liked Satsu and it wasn't a secret. They had come to blows more than once in the past.

They hadn't told Buffy, but Buffy had to have heard about it. There were usually plenty of witnesses and there wasn't a chance Slayers could resist that juicy piece of gossip. Faith had come to realize that Satsu had some twisted view of the love/hate relationship between Buffy and her. She'd been jealous of something that would never happen.

It couldn't happen. Anything more than the quasi-friendship they had would be asking for trouble. Not that she wanted anything to happen.

Sh'yeah, right, Faith snorted inwardly. Me and B date? We'd wind up killin' each other.

She swallowed and reached for her glass, her gaze lifting to the older Slayer. Her jaw muscles clenched at the dejection obvious in Buffy's very posture. Dark smudges circled Buffy's bloodshot, puffy eyes and her shoulders were slumped like she was trying to curl in on herself. Faith forced down the irrational urge she felt to go track Satsu down.

And what would I do if I did go after her? She snorted inwardly. Beat her to death? What for? She ain't the first person in the world to cheat on someone.

How the fuck would I even explain somethin' like that? ‘Oh sorry, she fucked around on my sometimes-enemy, so I had to kill her'? It ain't like I've never hurt B, so I ain't got any room to talk.

Still, it pisses me off, She concluded reluctantly. I wish I could do somethin' to cheer her up, at least.

Faith winced. She'd never liked seeing Buffy hurt. Even when she was the one doing it, part of her couldn't stand it. And though she'd never admit it to anyone, much less Buffy, Faith truly hated seeing it now.

Jesus, Faith grumbled silently. If B could read my thoughts right now she'd be havin' herself a good fuckin' laugh.

“Dawn, don't start anything with her,” Buffy answered tiredly, pulling Faith from her thoughts. “I just want to move on.”

Or try to anyway, Buffy thought with a grimace.

Unnoticed by the blonde now focusing on demolishing her breakfast, the two brunettes shared a look full of meaning. Disliking Satsu had been their common ground. Their friendship only grew once Buffy had married the annoying woman four years earlier.

Faith dropped her gaze to her plate, shoveling a forkful of food into her mouth. If Dawn was expecting her to make any comments, she was going to be severely disappointed. She didn't want to push Buffy too much. She also didn't want anyone reading anything into her actions, either.

Fuck knows what B would think if I suddenly started tryin' to take up for her, She thought, feeling a faint shiver run up her spine. And I know what Dawn would think.

She shook her head. Some of their friends and fellow Slayers were in agreement with Satsu, thinking there was something between them. Unfortunately, Dawn seemed to believe it too. Faith was just grateful that Dawn knew better than to harass her about it too much.

Dawn huffed. “I'll try not to, but if she says anything...”

Buffy looked up from her plate and rolled her eyes. The look on Dawn's face was a familiar one. It meant trouble unless she nipped it in the bud right now.

“Promise me, Dawn,” She said firmly.

Dawn narrowed her eyes and studied her sister for a long moment, trying to see just how serious she was. Then her shoulders slumped and her bottom lip jutted out.

“Fine,” She grumbled.

“Thank you,” Buffy said with exasperated fondness.

“What about Faith?” Dawn asked, a sudden smirk sprouting. “Doesn't she have to promise not to do anything either?”

Faith's eyes jerked up from her plate. She gave Dawn a warning look, which was cheerfully ignored. Damn it, Dawn... Don't bring me into this shit. She groaned internally.

“I mean, she'll probably do worse than bitch Satsu out.”

Buffy looked over at the other Slayer, a faintly amused grin spreading over her lips. She met a pair of glaring dark brown eyes and arched an eyebrow. Faith hadn't ever really needed an excuse to fight with Satsu, she knew, but she also realized Dawn had a valid point. If Faith thought there was even a remote chance of getting by with it, she'd probably go after Satsu as quickly as she could.

Faith hurried to swallow another mouthful of food and took a gulp of her drink. Then she set her glass on the breakfast bar with a thump and shook her head. Raising her hands in front of her defensively, she snorted.

“Don't fuckin' look at me. If short-shit wants to fuck around, it ain't my problem.”

“Gee, thanks,” Buffy said sardonically.

“My pleasure,” She answered cheerfully.

Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head. She noticed a familiar glint in the dark eyes across from her and an answering twinkle appeared in her own hazel ones. It was obvious what Faith was trying to do. She wouldn't say it, but she was grateful for it.



Chapter Three: Layers

Faith smirked, her dimples flashing as she winked. “‘Course, if she happens to walk into somethin' or trip, that ain't my problem either.”

Dawn snickered. “Of course it isn't.”

“Faith,” Buffy warned.

“What?” She asked defensively. “Short-shit's always been kinda clumsy.”

“Uh-huh,” Buffy drawled, a reluctant smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “I can remember some of those incidents.”

She shrugged. “See?”

Buffy nodded. “Yeah, and it's really funny how you were always around.”

“I was just tryin' to help her out,” Faith said, trying for innocent but sounding far from it.

Dawn was giggling hysterically by now. She gave Faith a wink, grateful that she'd gotten Buffy to cheer up a little. She rolled her eyes when the Slayer gave her a disgruntled look.

“Strange how I don't remember you ever being that helpful before,” Buffy continued contemplatively.

“I have layers,” Faith answered, unable to keep from snickering.

“And most of them come off when you take a shower,” She returned, a slight challenge in her tone.

“You've been thinkin' ‘bout me in the shower, B?” Faith smirked, touching her hand to the area of her chest above her heart. “I'm touched, really.”

“The only touching going on is what you're doing to yourself.”

Getting herself calmed down, Dawn managed to gasp out, “Stop it, both of you! I can all ready tell this is delving somewhere extremely disgusting!”

Faith chuckled, scooping up another helping of eggs on her fork. “You'll live, squirt.”

Buffy cleared her throat, “Faith?”

She sighed deeply and shrugged. “Aight, ya got my word. I won't go after her.”

“Thank you.”

“Whatever,” Faith muttered, shooting Dawn a glare as Dawn giggled.

Buffy cleared her throat. “Anyway, that's enough about my issues. What brought you back, Faith?”

She smirked. “Wishin' I was gone all ready?”

Buffy leaned her elbow on the breakfast bar top and propped her chin in her open hand. She rolled her eyes.

“Yes, I'm just waiting for you to leave so I can throw a party.”

“Bet it'll have a theme and everything, won't it?”

Buffy nodded, “Uh-huh, I'll call it, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it is now safe to let your sons out to play'.”

Faith tilted her head, her expression contemplative. Then she shrugged, “Seems a little long for a theme name.”

“I thought you were in Texas taking care of Terri or whatever her name was,” Buffy said, returning to her original topic.

Faith took the last bite of her eggs and chewed it quickly. Then she gulped the rest of her juice down and settled back on the stool. She shrugged.

“I got that sitch settled and Giles suggested a break. I didn't have anywhere else to be, so I hopped the plane with him and here I am in dear old Cali.”

“How did things go with Perry, Faith?” Dawn asked. “I know Giles was really worried.”

Faith's expression turned serious. “She's pretty messed up. Some things were done to her when she was a kid that caused her to have a mental breakdown and the power of bein' a Slayer was too much for her. We had to call Red in.”

Buffy's eyes were pinned to Faith's face as she spoke. No matter how many times she saw it, the change in the dark haired woman when she spoke about work amazed her. She wasn't anywhere near as bad as she once was, but there was still a certain amount of immaturity in her behavior most of the time. But certain things, like the work she did with the troubled Slayers, brought out the adult in Faith like nothing else could.

She'd been skeptical at first when Giles suggested Faith become a Social Worker of sorts for the Slayers who had trouble coping with the power. She'd thrown a fit about it for weeks and then when Faith brought in the first girl, Giles had forced Buffy to watch the way the girl responded to Faith. It had been nothing short of amazing. The young Slayer had spoken to Faith with a rough respect that she didn't afford anyone else.

Now, almost eleven years later, Sharon was one of Faith's most successful cases. She was also a Social Worker for the Council herself now. There had been other successes and several failures over the years, but it was blaringly obvious that Faith was their best. She just had a way with them that no one else could duplicate.

Buffy shared a wince with Faith at the mention of calling Willow in. That was a last resort. It meant having to take the girl's power away. Neither of them liked it, but sometimes it had to be done for everyone else's safety.

“I guess you'll be staying here?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah,” She answered.

“You'll have to use the foldout on the couch,” Dawn said apologetically.

Faith shrugged. “That's aight. Just means you gotta gimme some PJs.”

“What?” Dawn asked, confused. “Why?”

“Texas is too fuckin' hot to wear anything to bed so I didn't take any with me.”

“You don't have anything upstairs?”

Faith smirked and gestured at Buffy as she said, “Unless B's plannin' on givin' those back to me, nope.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “I'm not staying here tonight, so you'll have the guestroom back.”

“Wait,” Dawn said softly. “Where are you going to go? Last night you were mumbling something about a motel?”

“I've got a fucking big mouth,” Buffy muttered.

Faith's eyes widened and her mouth twitched. She wasn't sure if it was so much as what Buffy said or how she'd phrased it. Either way, it struck her as hilarious. She bit her bottom lip, shaking her head as she tried not to burst into laughter.

“Don't even say it,” Buffy growled, not even bringing her gaze to Faith.

“Say what?” She gasped out, losing the struggle.

“Whatever it is that's bouncing around in your deranged little brain.”

Snickering, Faith held up her hands in front of her. “Not me. I wasn't thinkin' anything.”

At Buffy's skeptical look, she added, “Honestly.”

“Anyway,” Dawn said loudly, interrupting what she was sure would be another in a long run of mutual antagonistic harassment. “It won't kill Faith to sleep in the den. It isn't the first time she's had to do it.”

“Yup, me and the couch are old buddies by now,” Faith said flippantly.

Buffy eyed Faith warily. “Well it may not kill you, but it might just be the final nail in my coffin if I walk downstairs and find you naked.”

Faith smirked and leaned on the breakfast bar. “Y'know, B, you keep talkin' ‘bout me naked and I'm gonna start thinkin' you got a thing for me.”

“In your dreams, F,” Buffy replied dryly.

A sudden flash of memory from earlier that morning caused a flush to creep up Buffy's face. She'd gotten dressed in the PJs she'd found and fallen into the bed. Just before she'd passed out, she'd buried her face in the tank top and inhaled deeply. She recalled fuzzily thinking the faintly familiar spicy scent was the sexiest thing she'd ever smelled.

Now, all she could do was force herself to keep eye contact with Faith as she balked inwardly. Oh, God. What is wrong with me?

“At least we're havin' fun there, B,” Faith snickered.

It was the alcohol. Buffy told herself sternly. There's absolutely nothing sexy about her. Except her lips, her eyes, her breasts, her a—No, don't even go there! There's nothing!

Jerking her attention back to Faith, she rolled her eyes. “I'm sure you are, at any rate.”

“Stop it,” Dawn said in exasperation. “If you don't, you'll both be staying in a motel tonight.”

Faith shrugged and pushed her stool back as she stood. She grabbed her plate and glass, rolling her eyes when both Summers women immediately held theirs out to her. She glared at them as she stacked the dishes.

“Y'know, I cooked. I shouldn't have to clean.”

Dawn giggled as she stood. “Yeah, well, we have to get dressed so we can leave. We need to pick Buffy's stuff up from the motel.”

“And you really don't want me helping anyway,” Buffy chuckled as she got up. “I suck at domesticated chores.”

“Uh-huh,” Faith grunted and then carried the dishes to the sink. “I think I'm bein' handed a load of bullshit, but whatever. Get outta here all ready.”

“Later, Faith,” Dawn tossed over her shoulder as she turned to go.

Buffy took one last look at Faith before following her sister from the room. She didn't know what was going on in her head, but whatever it was? She had to get out of that room because things were looking a little dangerous.

Faith looked over her shoulder to watch Buffy leave, a smirk spreading across her lips. She'd seen Buffy's blush and knew she'd won this round. She couldn't wait for the next one to start. This trip is startin' to look a whole lot better.

She frowned. As long as she doesn't start cryin' or nothin'—'cause then I might have to go kick short-shit's ass.



Chapter Four: The Trouble with Relationships

“I don't know, Dawn. I just can't go inside that house right now.”

Dawn sighed in frustration. “You're going to have to eventually.”

“It's just too soon,” Buffy mumbled.

“Okay, we'll wait. But you won't be able to hide in my guestroom for long, Buffy.”

“I get that,” She muttered.

Dawn closed the front door behind them, calling out, “Faith, we're back.”

“Good, that means B can get me some more vodka since she drank my stash,” Faith answered as she walked down the stairs.

“Buffy,” Dawn said slowly. “Tell me you didn't end up drinking more this morning when you got here.”

“Okay,” She answered obediently. “I didn't drink more when I got here this morning.”

“Then what happened?” Dawn asked, momentarily confused.

“I drank it when I woke up,” She said with a shrug.

Dawn sputtered, “Jesus, Buffy!”

“I'm going upstairs,” She said, interrupting her sister before she could get any further into her rant.

“It's not even noon yet, Buffy.”

She shrugged, and crossed the room. “I just want to be alone for a little while.”

“Want me to come get ya when it's time for lunch?” Faith asked, stepping aside so Buffy could reach the stairs.

“No,” Buffy muttered. “I'll come down when I'm ready.”

“Aight,” Faith replied with a shrug, “Later, B.”

“Uh-huh,” Buffy grunted, shifting her bag on her shoulder as she headed upstairs.

Faith glanced after her and then turned to see Dawn about to speak. She held up a hand to stop her.

“Don't, D. Let her have some time to herself.”

“But I'm worried about her,” Dawn muttered.

Faith waited for Buffy to disappear upstairs before she closed the distance between them. She grabbed Dawn's arm and pulled the protesting woman through the doorway by the stairs. She shut the door to the den and released her.

“D, I know you understand that it's tough as fuck for a relationship to work. But it's even worse for a Slayer. It ain't often we can find someone we can be ourselves with.”

“I know that,” Dawn answered sharply. “I've been here through all seven of Buffy's relationships, y'know?”

“Okay, then how do you think she's feelin' right now?” She asked her, brown eyes darkening with intense understanding.

Faith crossed her arms over her chest and continued, “It was doomed from the start with Spike and Angel ‘cause of the whole Slayer and vamp thing. Scott wasn't even in the runnin' and neither was Riley. Neither of ‘em could ever come close to bein' her equal.”

A smirk twitched her lips and she added, “Don't even get me started on Parker Abrams. I wasn't there for that one but I've heard enough about it over the years. Apparently the juice wasn't even worth the squeeze.”

“What's your point, Faith? None of this is a good reason to let her become self-destructive,” Dawn snapped.

Faith licked her lips and held her arms out at her sides. “Point is? Satsu had everything B wanted in a relationship. She understood, she accepted, and she could give and take just as much as B could. It doesn't get any better than that.”

She dropped her arms back to her sides and stuffed her hands in her pockets. Heart aching in sympathy, Faith continued softly, “B's feelin' like she just lost her only chance at happiness, Dawn. She needs time.”

Dawn's anger evaporated just like that and she moved over to sit down on the couch. She leaned her elbows on her knees and looked up at Faith.

“How is it that you understand this better than I do? All I can focus on is that I don't get how anyone could love Satsu enough to be all that broken up over losing her.”

Faith sighed, smiling sadly. “It's kinda how I felt when Robin left. ‘Cept B's lost more than I did with him, ‘cause he wasn't ever my equal.”

Dawn winced. She recalled the breakup between Robin and Faith vividly. It happened over five years ago, but it wasn't easy to forget having nearly every glass object in your kitchen broke. Slayer temper tantrums weren't easy to deal with. She still wasn't sure what exactly had been said or what had led to the destruction of her kitchen.

Wanting to change the subject before Faith became depressed too, she asked, “So what was the problem with Dorian?”

An eyebrow lifted in response, and Faith smirked. “He was an evil serial monogamist and he chose the wrong fuckin' Slayer.”

They snickered, recalling Buffy's last relationship before she'd moved to Scotland to work for the Council. It hadn't lasted long and ended shortly before they discovered that he'd only dated her to try to get to the Slayers. Apparently immortality wasn't all that it was cracked up to be because The Immortal was now deceased. It was the one time Buffy hadn't put up a big fuss about Faith going after one of her lovers.

No, in fact, Buffy's exact words when Faith had shown up in the middle of the fight with Dorian had been, “Kill that son of a bitch, F.”

Faith's amusement faded and she shrugged. “Just give her some time, D. The good thing ‘bout bein' a Slayer is that we ain't gotta worry about becomin' an alcoholic.”



Buffy sighed, staring down at the boxers and tank top on the bed. Since she now had her own clothes, she could give these back to Faith, but she didn't really want to. She sighed and rolled her eyes at herself.

What is wrong with me? Maybe it's just ‘cause I'm so messed up from the breakup. I mean, this is Faith for God's sake!

She picked the clothing up and turned toward the door. She paused with her hand on the knob, frowning.

Okay, so is it really hurting anyone if I do keep them? I mean, I felt pretty comforted by her scent. She rolled her eyes. God knows why that is.

She let her hand drop and moved to sit down on the bed. Bunching the boxers up in her hand, she rubbed her thumb over the silk. A slight, reluctant smile formed.

Okay, so there's no denying that she's attractive—more than that really. She snorted. But I'm not over Satsu yet. It's not like I'd want anything to happen between me and Faith anyway.

She laughed hoarsely. We'd end up killing each other.

The laughter died in her throat and was replaced by tears. “Fuck,” She muttered as she swiped in irritation at her eyes.

I think this may have been the final straw, She mused. I'm starting to understand why Faith doesn't bother with relationships. How many times have I tried, only to end up with my heart being ripped out? Is it even worth it?

Right at that point, her heart was telling her no. And her mind was more than willing to listen as painful memories flashed before her mind's eye. It made her want to shut out the world and hide.

She tossed the boxers back onto the bed and stood, kicking her shoes off. She crawled onto the bed and curled up near the head of the bed, wrapping her arms around her waist. She stared forlornly at the door as her thoughts continued.

None of my relationships have ever turned out for the better. I had to send Angel to Hell, and Scott was just a desperate attempt by a heartbroken girl trying to cling to normalcy. Then when Angel was sent back, it wasn't the same and he left for LA.

She swallowed hard and a tear trickled down her cheek. I can't even count Parker. And while I loved Riley, I wasn't ever in love with him. Spike was just a complete disaster who I ended up caring a lot about but I never even reached the point of loving him.

And then there was Dorian. She snorted, causing more tears to overflow her eyes. I can't even pretend that I actually cared about him. He was just really good in bed and I was kind of enamored with the different lifestyle he was showing me.

I mean, who can resist their very own prince charming who can give them almost anything they want? I just got caught up in the things my old friends and I used to babble on about back at Hemery. She swallowed hard. But I still ended up hurt.

He left me for someone else five months in and not even a week later, I found out he'd only been dating me ‘cause he wanted control of the Slayer line. He just gave up on me ‘cause he realized I'm not exactly the Chosen One. I still don't get why he didn't try to go for Faith when he found out it was her.

She blinked tiredly and buried her face in her pillow. She struggled to stay awake, but she was losing the battle. With a sigh, she gave in and drifted off.



When Buffy woke up, it was late. The pale moonlight was streaming in from the window across from the bed, leaving the room shaded in silver. She simply laid there for a long span of time, the tightness in her chest overwhelming her.

Then, with a shaky breath, she got up from the bed and moved for the closet. She had to get out of there for a while. She stood in the closet doorway, looking at her clothes musingly. Her eyes fell on a black leather mini-skirt and she smirked.

She wasn't looking to pick anyone up, but she could do with feeling appreciated right now. She reached for the skirt and let her eyes search out the perfect top. With a sigh, she turned and went to the dresser. A white tank top would be better.

Once she was dressed, she pulled on a pair of knee-high leather boots with spiked one inch heels. Then she grabbed her toiletry kit and went to the bathroom to finish getting ready. When she was done, she paused to survey herself in the mirror over the white porcelain sink.

Smoky, dark green eye-shadow brought out the green in her hazel eyes, black eyeliner only adding to the effect. Mascara further darkened her dark blonde eyelashes and a light pink lip gloss made her lips shine wetly. Her long blonde hair was loose, framing her face in gentle waves. A satisfied smile creased her lips and she turned to go.



Faith heard the sound of light footsteps upstairs and recognized it right off. Buffy was awake and most likely preparing to sneak out considering how quiet she was being. She glanced at the clock, seeing that it was ten thirty. She sighed.

She'd spent most of the day silently worrying while Dawn hadn't been quiet about it at all. If she didn't follow Buffy, Dawn was going to kick her ass. Hell, she might even let her. But how would Buffy react?

Ah fuck it. With a mental shrug, she reached for her jeans. She'd just have to deal with that later.

She finished dressing and just as she was tying her boots, she heard almost inaudible movement on the stairs. She sauntered to the doorway of the den, pausing with her hand on the frame. Buffy came into sight and all she could do was blink as her eyes hungrily took in the vision before her.

She'd never seen Buffy look more dangerous, or gorgeous. Faith swallowed hard. This is a bad idea, her mind whispered.

Her mouth opened as if to say something and then Buffy's eyes caught hers as she came even with her. She closed it with a click of her teeth and lifted an eyebrow in question. Buffy's eyes lowered to take in her jeans and tight black T-shirt and then she shrugged. Faith followed Buffy out of the house, her eyes on the leather clad backside.

Oh, there's gonna be trouble tonight. I just fuckin' know it.



Chapter Five: One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor

“I think I've figured out what it is I've been doing wrong.”

“Huh?” Faith asked, startled.

Those were the first words they'd said to each other all night. The ride over in Dawn's car had been tense and drawn out. Then they'd reached the bar and the only words spoken had been to the bartender. That had been an hour and four beers apiece ago.

They were seated at a small table in a back corner, unbothered by the others around them. A few people had taken notice of them, but none had been brave enough to try to speak to them over the music blaring from the speakers. They were grateful for it, but neither believed it would last for long.

Not receiving an answer, Faith looked up from her inspection of her beer bottle's label to find Buffy picking at her own. She tilted her head and caught her gaze.

“What was that?”

Buffy sighed and leaned her elbows on the table, taking a swig from her fifth beer. Then she set it back down.

“I've figured out what I've been doing wrong.”

“Aight,” Faith drawled curiously. “What's that?”

“I need to quit getting into relationships,” She answered seriously.

“You okay, B? You're soundin' kinda like me,” Faith snorted. “You can't be that drunk yet.”

“I'm not,” Buffy whined and then she frowned. “Well, not much. But, think about it. Is there really a point in dating?”

Faith winced and said uncomfortably, “Maybe you should be talkin' to Dawn or Red or someone else about this.” Anyone but me, She yelled in her head.

“Come on, Faith,” She snorted. “Will's like the queen of relationships and Dawn is more of a romantic than I ever was. You of all people should get where I'm coming from.”

Faith tilted her head, conceding the point as she finished off her beer. She did understand. Probably more than Buffy wanted her to, actually.

“Anyway,” Buffy continued. “The only reasons people date are to have someone to have sex with, someone to talk to, and someone to hold. Am I right?”

Faith shrugged as she reached for the last beer. “I think there's supposed to be a bit more to it, but yeah, basically.”

“Okay, so why do that? I have friends I can talk to, and I can get a fucking vibrator for needy times.”

Faith coughed, nearly choking on her beer. She grimaced and wiped the back of her hand over her mouth. Then she took another swallow of beer and glared at Buffy.

“Warn a bitch ‘fore ya say that kinda shit, aight?”

“Sorry,” Buffy said, her smirk giving away her insincerity.

“Uh-huh,” Faith drawled doubtfully as she gestured for a nearby waitress.

A woman quickly appeared out of the crowd, a pen and pad in her hand. She leaned her hip against the table and gave Faith a sly grin.

“What can I do for you, sexy?”

Faith lazily ran her gaze up the lithe brunette's body, pausing to appreciate just how short her skirt was. A low, nearly inaudible growl tickled her eardrums and she smirked.

“Eight shots of tequila and a couple beers will do. We wanna celebrate.”

The woman straightened and finally brought her gaze to the blonde across from Faith. She sighed and shook her head sadly. Then she smiled, back to business.

“All right, so what are we celebrating if you don't mind my asking?”

Faith started to answer and was interrupted. Buffy leaned over the table and said loudly, “Relationships suck and we're celebrating the fact that neither of us is in one.”

The waitress laughed and turned to go, “I'll be right back with your drinks, ladies.”

Once she was gone, Buffy kicked Faith under the table. “What was that about?”

“Ow,” Faith yelped, giving her a dirty look. “What the fuck, B? What was what about?”

She at least had the good grace to look apologetic. “The way you were looking at her. I didn't think you were into women,” She explained.

“I'm not into dating them,” Faith answered with a teasing glint in her eyes. “But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate ‘em.”

“Huh?” Buffy asked, confused.

Faith shook her head and leaned forward, letting her thick dark hair fall down around her shoulders to frame her face. She gave Buffy a sexy grin.

“It's like this, B. A lot of men don't expect much, but women usually do and I ain't lookin' to be attached to nobody's ball and chain,” She paused and licked her lips. “So while I can appreciate the softness, and the beauty of a woman, I ain't ever taken one for a ride.”

“But—but—” Buffy sputtered, confused.

Something about that explanation didn't sit well with her. It didn't seem right that the original, “get some, get gone” bad girl would deny herself any kind of pleasure. Before she could question it further, the waitress returned.

“Here you go ladies,” She said and then took the requested drinks from the tray in her hand and set them down in front of the two women.

“Thanks,” Faith said, tossing a folded up bill on the tray.

The woman glanced at it and then faded back into the crowd as she replied, “Enjoy.”

Faith reached for a shot glass and lifted it, arching a challenging eyebrow at Buffy. She just waited as Buffy considered her briefly. Her companion finally shook her head and took one for herself, making Faith smirk.

“Aight, so got a toast ya wanna make?”

Buffy considered it briefly and then lifted her shot glass. “To relationships—hopefully I'll never make that mistake again.”

“I'll drink to that,” Faith laughed and knocked back the shot.

She nearly choked once again at the face Buffy made as she forced herself to swallow. She bit her lip to keep from laughing but lost the struggle when Buffy glared at her. It didn't take long before Buffy dissolved into laughter as well.

When they calmed down, Faith retrieved a second shot glass. She lifted it and waited for Buffy to do the same.

“This one's mine, just gimme a sec to think of one.”

Her face scrunched up into an intense expression of concentration, making Buffy giggle. Faith rolled her eyes and then licked her lips. Then she gave a half-grin.

She rasped, “To the single life—may Duracell never go out of business!”

They broke into laughter again and ended up half-sprawled over the table as they tried to regain their composure. Somehow they managed not to spill the shots and after a few seconds, they were finally able to drink. Their eyes locked just as they knocked them back and then they set their glasses down with a thump at the same time.

They didn't waist any time with the next, not even waiting for a toast. Faith set her glass down and looked up to find Buffy's heated gaze on her. She swallowed hard, suddenly apprehensive.

“What's up, B?”

An inscrutable smile was her answer and then Buffy was up and moving around the table. She grabbed Faith's hand and tugged, trying to get her to stand.

“Come on, let's dance, F.”

Faith studied her for a moment, indecisive. The flush on Buffy's skin told her Buffy was definitely feeling the drinks. But she wasn't sure what Buffy's behavior meant. She could just be looking for some harmless fun like they'd had back in Sunnydale before all the badness.

She sighed and stood, letting Buffy lead her out onto the dance floor. She wanted some of that fun, too. They pushed their way through the crowd until they reached a clear spot. Then they turned to each other as they let the music move through them.

The song changed, making Faith grin as she closed her eyes. She leaned her head back and ran her fingers through her hair, getting lost in the rhythm of Marilyn Manson's “Personal Jesus”. Then she felt her body react as Buffy closed the distance between them. Familiar hands clasped her hips, pulling her to Buffy possessively.

She was suddenly aware of just why this wasn't a good idea as the room became unbearably hot. Being this close to Buffy and feeling their connection intensify had always affected her strongly. Her eyes snapped open and she was looking into dark green eyes up close. Buffy's gaze fell to her lips and Faith bit her bottom lip reflexively.

The music was completely lost on her as Buffy leaned closer. She bypassed her lips, going directly for Faith's ear. Hot breath brushed her skin, making her shiver.

“I will deliver. You know I'm a forgiver. Reach out and touch Faith,” Buffy whispered along with the song.

There wasn't any mistaking the intent in Buffy's voice, but Faith didn't have time to react. A large body pressed up against her back, thick arms wrapping around her waist and forcing Buffy to back up a couple of steps. She stiffened in response, giving Buffy an aggrieved look. Then she grabbed the guy's arm and twisted it, forcing him to let go.

He groaned in pain and she released his arm, turning around to face him. She locked eyes with him and just as she started to tell him to fuck off, a fist flew over her shoulder and slammed into his jaw. He flew back, crashing into a table a few feet away. The table shattered and bottles went flying as the table's occupants hurried to move away.

Faith surveyed the mess and eyed the man lying unconscious in the pile of wood. Then an incredulous smile creased her lips as she turned to face Buffy. What the fuck was that? Faith's eyes locked with Buffy's and Faith just tilted her head in question.

Buffy's eyebrows furrowed and she met Faith's gaze. Then her face paled as her eyes widened and her stomach dropped. She turned away from Faith just in time for the liquor and alcohol to come rushing back up and for a wave of dizziness to catch her off-guard. A strong arm went around her waist as she started to collapse, unconsciousness reaching up to claim her.



Chapter Six: Something Different

It was mid-morning when Buffy regained consciousness. She blinked her eyes open and licked her lips, grimacing at the sour taste in her mouth.

“Jesus, what the Hell died in my mouth?” She muttered.

“Three shots of tequila and five beers,” A familiar voice rasped from nearby.

She jerked her head to the side and her eyes widened at the sight of Faith lying in bed next to her. She sat up, scrubbing her face as she tried to recall what had happened. Oh shit. Her shoulders slumped and she buried her face in her hands.

“Oh, God,” She moaned, blushing hotly. “Kill me now.”

“I would, but the thrill is gone.”

Faith rolled onto her side and propped herself up on one elbow, leaning her temple against her fist. She studied Buffy, still wearing last night's clothes with the exception of her boots. A small smirk crossed her lips.

Buffy lifted her head and glared at her. “What are you doing in here, anyway?”

“Well, y'know, I brought ya up here, and then when I started to leave, ya just latched onto my arm and wouldn't let go.”

She rolled her eyes and blew out a harsh breath. Then she scrunched up her nose and scrambled out of the bed. “Whatever. I need to go get this taste out of my mouth.”

Faith flipped the covers off her and climbed out on the other side of the bed. She stretched, arching her back and bringing her arms up over her head. Her back popped, drawing a satisfied moan from her.

The sound made Buffy glance back, hesitating in the now open doorway. She blinked, the sight of Faith in a short black T-shirt and boi shorts wreaking havoc on her sleep-addled brain. The t-shirt rode up her torso, exposing flexing abdominal muscles to the appreciative hazel eyes. The sight of the familiar scar to the left and above Faith's belly button shocked her back into action and she quickly left the room.

Huh? Faith quirked an eyebrow and dropped her arms, following Buffy from the room. She paused in the bathroom doorway, leaning against the doorframe, and watched as Buffy started to brush her teeth. Then with a smirk, she caught the hazel eyes in the mirror.

“Seriously though, B. You were all over me last night, just gropin' and kissin' on me and shit like that.”

“Go fuck your self, F,” Buffy mumbled around the toothbrush.

“That'd be too easy,” She snickered. “I'd rather work my skills on you.”

Buffy spit toothpaste into the sink and turned the water on to rinse it out. She smirked and shook her head.

“Honestly though, why'd you stay in the room last night?”

Faith gave her a sheepish look, her smile fading. “Just wanted to make sure ya didn't choke or nothin' in ya sleep.”

“Thanks,” Buffy muttered as she finished rinsing her toothbrush off.

Faith sighed and ran a hand through her hair, wondering if she should say anything about the previous night. With a mental shrug, she decided to charge ahead. It ain't like she'll belt me one for it. We ain't done that in years.

“What were you thinkin' last night anyway, B?”

She could see the sudden tension in Buffy's shoulders and she smiled wryly. Then again, she may just do it for old time's sake.

Buffy put the toothbrush in the holder and turned to face Faith. Frowning, she mirrored Faith's posture and leaned back against the sink.

“What do you mean?” She asked edgily.

Faith pushed off the doorframe and moved further into the bathroom. She stopped just short of touching Buffy and studied her face. Then she sighed again.

“Goin' out to drink without eatin' first, B. I know Slayers have a really strong constitution, but even we have to watch that shit.”

She rolled her eyes. “ You're going to lecture me about taking care of myself?”

Faith shrugged. “We all know I'm fucked up. Then again, it's been a long time since I went on a weeklong bender, too.”

“Yeah, right,” She snorted. “I'm having a really hard time believing that.”

She grinned suddenly. “B, don't be so fuckin' defensive.”

“I'm not,” Buffy snapped.

“Then why are ya back to treatin' me like the psycho slut-bomb? That ain't been me in years and ya know it.”

Buffy's expression fell and she lowered her eyes. “I'm sorry, Faith. I didn't mean to do that. I'm just having a really difficult time right now and I'm not dealing well.”

“I know,” Faith said, reaching up to clasp Buffy's shoulder. “But last night can't happen again, B.”

Her eyebrows furrowed and her gaze jerked back to Faith's. “Is it ‘cause of—”

“No,” She interrupted. “Last night was fun ‘til ya puked and passed out. But ya can't keep doin' that to yourself. Ya ain't gonna be able to get past this shit if ya keep it up.”

“I didn't do it to hurt myself,” Buffy choked out, tears starting to fill her eyes.

“No, I don't guess ya did,” Faith replied. “I've been there, B. Breakups suck, but ya can't let it break ya.”

She wrapped her arms around her own waist and lowered her head. “The memories are just too much sometimes.”

“Yeah, I'm sure they are. But drinkin' ‘til ya feel like your guts are tryin' to come up doesn't get rid of ‘em.”

She brought her eyes back to Faith's, giving her a sad look. “You sound like you have a lot of experience with that.”

She smiled wryly. “Let's not go there. One self-destructive Slayer's enough and if I start thinkin' about that shit, I'll probably be right there with ya.”

Disappointed, Buffy straightened and turned back to the sink. She grabbed a washcloth from the linin cabinet next to her and started to wash her face. She paused with the water running over the cloth and looked up at Faith's reflection.

“Maybe someday we can sit down and actually talk about that stuff?”

Faith tilted her head and smirked. “That would be that thing we don't do. Sure ya wanna go there?”

Buffy ran the cloth over her face, wiping away the slightly smudged makeup from the previous night. She finished and put the washcloth in the dirty clothes basket before she turned to face Faith again. She considered the question for a moment and then gave Faith a soft half-smile.

“We spent a lot of time hating each other for a while,” Buffy started, giving Faith a warning look to keep her from interrupting. “We even spent a year or two avoiding each other whenever possible. Then over the past eight years, we've formed a really freaky friendship.”

“I'll say,” Faith muttered, gaining a smirk from Buffy. “Our relationship could give a therapist whiplash.”

“Yeah, well,” She chuckled. “That's us. But, I think maybe it's time we spent some time getting to know each other for once.”

Faith's eyebrows furrowed, though she was smiling slightly. “I'm cool with that. But what brought this on?”

She bit her bottom lip for a moment and then released it with a sigh. A slight blush crept up her cheeks and she dropped her gaze again.

“Last night was sort of different for us. I mean, yeah, we've done the club scene together before, but...” She trailed off.

Faith nodded, her mind flashing back to the dance floor and the body pressed against her own. Some of that heat resurfaced for a brief second, leaving her shaking. She laughed nervously.

“Yeah, I get what ya mean. It was definitely different.”

Their gazes locked again and they froze. Neither of them wanted to admit that it hadn't really been all that different. The memory of another time, another city, another dance floor flickered through both of the women's minds.

Buffy cleared her throat. “But, last night I was showed another glimpse at the person I used to catch sometimes looking back at me when we were kids. I think I want another chance to find out what makes her tick.”

She paused and then added softly, “Maybe even learn the reason why you feel the need to hide her.”

Faith swallowed hard. Ya don't know what the fuck you're askin', B. Her eyes searched Buffy's face, seeing the pain still lurking in her eyes. Or maybe ya do.

She opened her mouth to speak just as they both heard a sound from downstairs. She closed her mouth and frowned, hearing the doorbell ring a second time soon after. She saw Buffy bite her bottom lip and gave her an apologetic look as she turned to leave.

Fuck, someone's got shitty timin'. She shook her head and started down the stairs.

“We're not done here, Faith,” Buffy called after her. “We will finish this conversation.”

No, I didn't think we were. She smiled reluctantly.

She reached the bottom of the stairs and walked over to the door. Then she opened it, letting sunlight filter in. Her eyes found a pair of darker ones looking back at her and her expression darkened. Faith felt a sense of satisfaction as she saw her presence register in the sudden flinch on Satsu's face.

“Satsu,” She growled.

Satsu held up a thin manila folder. “I need to talk to Dawn or Buffy.”

Faith hesitated, wavering between letting her in and telling her to leave. If she let Satsu in, it would give her the chance to hurt Buffy again. If she sent her away now, Buffy wouldn't even have to know she'd ever been there. The memory of Buffy's tears making her clench her fists in barely controlled anger, Faith started to do exactly that.


“Who's at the door, Faith?” Buffy called from the top of the stairs.



Chapter Seven: The Guilty

Faith sighed, suddenly brought back to reality by the sound of Buffy's voice. Nothing they'd just talked about would be possible if she did what she'd been thinking. Reluctantly, she backed off to let Satsu inside.

“It's short-shit,” She called.

“Damn it. Can't she just go away?” Buffy muttered as she started down the stairs.

Faith smirked, knowing that if she'd heard it then so had Satsu. A glance to her right showed Satsu's upset expression as she closed the door behind her. Suddenly much happier, the ex rogue leaned back against the wall by the den door.

It wasn't until Buffy reached the bottom of the stairs that Faith realized just how bad this looked. Her standing there in her underwear, Buffy still wearing last night's wrinkled clothes. Her amusement faded, but she forced her expression to remain unchanged. She gave Buffy an apologetic shrug and glanced at Satsu, seeing that their appearance hadn't escaped her notice either.

Satsu's features were flushed with anger and she was almost vibrating with tension. Her fingers were gripping the file she held tightly and her other hand was clenched into a fist at her side. Her eyes kept darting from one Slayer to the other, her breathing growing erratic.

Faith's attention returned to Buffy and she saw the moment it dawned on Buffy. She saw the mix of anger, pain, and guilty pleasure in the hazel eyes. Fuck, nothin' good ever comes of it when B gets emotional like this. She winced and darted her gaze to the den, wondering if she should leave them alone.

Part of Faith chafed at that idea, wanting to be there in case Satsu did something stupider. It was the same part that was itching to slam the smaller woman up against the wall and let loose some inner rage on her. She clamped a tighter hold down on her emotions and forced her attention to Buffy, waiting for her reaction. She wouldn't leave unless Buffy told her to.

Buffy didn't know how to react. There was a part of her that still ached to hold her partner, the part that wanted to just forget everything that had happened and go back to the way things were. Then there was the part that had been shattered by their breakup. That part was a contradiction of pain, wanting to just cry, and anger, that Satsu even had the nerve to be pissed right now.

Guiltily, she admitted that there was something thrilling about having Satsu see them right now. It felt a little like vengeance. She bit her bottom lip and glanced at Faith warily, recognizing the tension coming off her easily—Faith's inner Slayer was itching for a fight. And Faith herself was probably just looking for an excuse to do it.

If she didn't do something now, the two younger Slayers would end up at each other's throats—again. She sighed as she returned her attention to Satsu, wavering between wanting it to happen and knowing it shouldn't. Damn it. Why do I have to be the responsible one all the time?

Keeping her eyes on Satsu, Buffy licked her lips nervously and asked softly, “Faith?”

Faith replied tensely, “Yeah?”

“Would you mind giving us some privacy?”

Hell yeah, I fuckin' mind, She grumbled inwardly, shooting Satsu a sneer. Satsu returned the look with equal measure.

“Faith,” Buffy warned.

Their eyes met again. Faith could read the plea in Buffy's and it helped to defuse a little of her anger. She forced a reassuring smile and stepped forward to gently clasp Buffy's shoulder. She winked and then turned away.

“Whatever,” She answered glibly and entered the den, slamming the door behind her.

The tense silence that surrounded them quickly gave Buffy a headache. She sighed and turned to lead Satsu further into the living room. Then she leaned against the back of a recliner and watched Satsu stand near the couch and fidget with the file in her hand. They stood there, Satsu glaring, Buffy trying for impassive, for a long moment.

“So what brought you by here?” She asked softly, causing the other woman to jerk.

Satsu's eyes snapped to her face and flashed angrily. “Why? Did I interrupt you and your little slut?”

“Satsu,” Buffy warned. “Don't go there.”

She snorted. “You couldn't even wait until we were divorced to run to her, could you?”

Buffy shoved off from the chair and walked around it to close the distance between them. She stopped in front of her and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I've told you before that there is nothing going on between me and her,” She hissed.

“I'm supposed to believe that?” Satsu laughed bitterly. “You show more passion when you two get into one of your little verbal sparring matches than you did in our entire relationship, Buffy.”

Buffy lowered her eyes in shame, knowing it was true. That had always been the sticking point for them. She'd never felt the burning passion for her partner and their relationship that Satsu felt. But her relationship with Faith was nothing but passionate.

Passionate? She laughed internally as her mind supplied her with several images. Faith's face flushed with anger, brown eyes darkening with lust, lips curled into a sneer, her eyes glinting with amusement, head thrown back in laughter. ‘Explosive' is more accurate.

Sensing her distraction, Satsu continued, “How can you expect me to believe that you've never fucked her, Buffy? I mean, Jesus! Have you even seen how you look at her?”

Buffy swallowed hard and shook her head, scarcely recognizing the woman she'd loved. Tears burned her eyes and she took a shuddering breath, trying to calm down.

Shakily, she asked, “Why did you come here, Satsu?”

“Even now, when we're over, you can't tell me the truth,” She snarled.

“There's nothing to tell,” Buffy snapped, her voice rising. “Yes, Faith's an attractive woman, but I would've never done that to you. You know better!”

“I don't know shit,” She returned, her volume matching Buffy's. “All I have to judge by is that I came here to talk to you and she answered the door half-naked, with you coming downstairs dressed in clothes that look like you were out partying all night and fell asleep in them.”

Satsu paused and then added in disgust, “Or maybe even had them taken off and thrown on the floor while you were fucking.”

Enraged, Buffy shouted without thinking, “I was out last night, just like I have been for the past six days. But it wasn't to have fun. I've been drinking myself stupid just so I don't keep hearing you tell me that you fucked someone else!”

Her partner blanched at her tone, but Buffy ignored it. She snarled, “And yes, I probably would've fucked Faith if she'd have let me last night. But I ended up puking my guts out and she had to take care of me instead.”

The dark haired woman's expression darkened once again and she pointed at Buffy. “You just admitted that you wanted to fuck her! I goddamned knew it, Buffy!”

Buffy laughed hoarsely in disbelief, tears threatening to overflow her eyes. She choked out resentfully, “I never even thought about it before. I left the cheating to you.”

“I've all ready told you it was a mistake,” Satsu said, her voice trembling.

“And that's why you kept doing it, and waited three months to tell me, right?” She asked sardonically.

The other woman closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. Her shoulders slumped and she dropped her hand, reopening her eyes to look at Buffy. She swallowed hard and licked her lips.

“I didn't want to hurt you.”

“And yet you still are,” Buffy said flatly.

“I know,” She choked out. “But I never meant to.”

Buffy shook her head and took another shuddering breath. “Just tell me why you're here, Satsu.”

She held out the manila folder in her hand, waiting for Buffy to take it. Then she stuffed both of her hands in her pockets.

“Those are the divorce papers.”

Buffy opened the folder and looked down at the papers inside. She gave a tremulous, disbelieving smile, wondering how they'd gotten to this point. She hadn't realized there was even anything wrong with their relationship until Satsu had laid it all out. Weren't there supposed to be signs for that sort of thing?

Neither of them had been avoiding the other one. No one had worked any later than usual, no one had started sleeping somewhere other than their bed, no one had made excuses of having a headache to avoid making love. There hadn't been more fights than usual, no strange women, or men, calling at odd hours. No weird behavior at all.

She lifted her eyes from the papers, meeting Satsu's still angry gaze. Over six years and this is it? She clenched her teeth and then blew out a harsh breath.

“Give me a pen.”

Satsu pulled a pen from her pocket and handed it to her. Then she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Don't you want to read the terms first?”

Buffy leveled a look at her that could've killed a lesser being. “I don't want a fucking thing except my stuff. For all I care, you could take the house and turn it into a harem.”

“I, uh,” Satsu stammered. “I had the lawyer sign the house over to you. I don't want anything but my stuff either and I've all ready picked most of it up except for a few things we bought together.”

Buffy nodded and signed the top paper, her hand shaking. She searched for any other lines that needed her signature on the other two pages and then did so before she closed the file. Feeling her tentative hold on her composure threatening to break, Buffy grimaced and slapped the file into the other Slayer's hands. Then she turned her back to her and wrapped her arms around her own waist.

“There, now get out,” She choked out.

“Not even the tiniest bit of hesitation, huh?” Satsu asked bitterly over the sound of paper rustling. Then she heard her slap a sheet of paper on the coffee table as she added, “Well fuck you too then, Buffy. I hope you and the slut are happy together.”

Buffy closed her eyes and clenched her fists, her body shaking violently as the other woman walked away. She tensed, and then the door slammed shut, causing her to jump though she'd expected it. Then she collapsed to her knees as a loud sob tore from her throat, the tightness in her chest becoming unbearable as her grief consumed her.

She didn't hear the sound of the den door opening or of the soft steps of bare feet over the plush carpet. The tingling going up her spine increased just before she was pulled into familiar arms. She turned immediately, wrapping her arms around Faith's shoulders and curling up in her lap as she buried her face in her neck. The hands gently rubbing her back and the soft, nonsensical words being murmured into her ear only caused her to cry harder.



Chapter Eight: Resolutions and Solutions

Faith hadn't been sure what to do at first. It had taken everything in her not to charge into the living room when their voices rose. She could hear everything clearly from the den, including the pain in Buffy's tone. She'd wanted nothing more than to shut Satsu's venomous accusations up.

She hadn't even been able to find satisfaction or amusement in Buffy's revelation about her attraction. Then a few minutes later, the door had slammed shut, making the picture frames on the wall rattle and then the house had grown silent. She hadn't even made a conscious decision to do anything before her body was set into motion.

The sound of Buffy's heart-wrenching sobs had been like a vise-grip on her heart as she stepped into the living room. She'd reacted without thought once again, by sitting down behind her and pulling Buffy into her arms. The closest she'd ever really been to this type of situation was when she'd broke down with Angel, so she'd only had instinct to go on. She'd been relieved to find that it seemed to work.

Now they'd been there for half an hour and her foot had fallen asleep where it rested under her right thigh. Buffy's sobs had tapered off, only a small one occasionally making her shoulders shake. The tears soaking into her shirt and drenching her neck had finally slowed as well. Faith sighed and gently ran her hand over the back of Buffy's head, guiltily enjoying the feel of the soft blonde hair.

With a shuddering breath, Buffy slowly pulled back. She kept her eyes down as she wiped at the tears on her cheeks, refusing to meet Faith's gaze. A hand gently grabbed one of her wrists and she jerked, finally forcing herself to look up. Her heart clenched at the sympathy looking back at her from the dark brown eyes.

Absently placing one hand on Faith's shoulder, Buffy swallowed hard and muttered hoarsely, “Sorry about this.”

Faith's arm squeezed her around the waist. “It ain't your fault.”

She paused, trying to slip her foot out from under her. Wincing at the tingling that immediately shot through it, she bit her bottom lip. Shit.

Buffy glanced down at the movement and then smiled sheepishly, scrambling to slip off of Faith's lap. She stood and held a hand down to Faith.

“Come on, let's get on the couch.”

Faith grabbed her hand, allowing herself to be hauled up. She limped to the couch and dropped down onto one end. She bent her left leg at the knee on the couch while she kept her other foot flat on the floor. Settling back against the couch arm, she watched Buffy look at the couch in consideration for a moment. Then she was taken by surprise when Buffy chose instead to take a seat between her open thighs.

She could only stare, open mouthed, as Buffy lay back against her chest and settled on her side. Then she snapped her mouth shut and cleared her throat, an incredulous smile forming. Buffy tilted her head back and looked up at her, questioningly.

“Comfy there, B?” She asked.

Buffy's eyebrows furrowed and she stammered, “Uh, t—this is okay isn't it? I can move if you aren't comfortable with—”

“It's aight, B,” Faith interrupted. “I'm here for ya, and if ya need me to hold ya or somethin', then whatever.”

“Thank you,” She whispered.

Faith wrapped her right arm around Buffy's waist and let the other one rest on her leg, her hand dangling over her knee. She smirked.

“Just don't fuckin' tell anybody. Can't have ‘em thinkin' I've gone soft.”

Buffy smiled shakily and shook her head. “No, we can't have that.”

Faith rolled her eyes. “Besides, can't ya just hear the shit they'd be sayin' if they found out we were actually gettin' along?”

Buffy's smile faded and her gaze dropped to the floor. She closed her eyes briefly and took a shuddering breath. Tears filled her eyes again and she scrubbed her face in irritation with her left hand. Then she dropped her hand and let it rest on Faith's stomach.

“I guess you probably heard everything we said, huh?” She asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Faith answered just as quietly.

“I—I'm sorry,” Buffy stammered, nervously twisting the gold wedding and engagement rings on her left ring finger.

Faith gently clasped her hand, rubbing her thumb over the large diamond on the engagement ring. She ran her tongue over her teeth, and then she shook her head.

“Like I said before, ain't any of it your fault. She's been sayin' that kind of shit for years, B. It's part of why I ain't ever gotten along with her,” She said and then added, “That, and the attitude she gives me really just fuckin' pisses me off.”

“But still—”

“What exactly are ya tryin' to apologize for?” Faith interrupted again. “That I had to hear it? I don't really give a shit about that part.”

She snorted. “Or are ya tryin' to apologize for thinkin' I'm sexy?” She paused and then shrugged as she continued, “That ain't your fault either ‘cause it's just a fact of nature. Like hot sex on a Friday night and Saturday morning cartoons the next day.”

Buffy giggled softly, making Faith snicker. Then she sighed and added softly, “Don't try to take the blame, ‘cause she's a jealous bitch, aight? It's all on her, B. She's the fuckin' freak who's been seein' shit that ain't there.”

“I can't figure out why else she'd act like this, Faith,” Buffy choked out. “I had to have done something to make her think it. She wouldn't be so bent out of shape if I hadn't.”

She released Buffy's hand and cupped her chin, forcing her to look up at her again. She searched her gaze for a moment and then she shook her head.

“B, tryin' to figure out what her damage is won't help ya any.”

I hate to admit it, but she's right. Knowing why won't make it hurt any less. She gave a reluctant nod and sighed tremulously, “And the way she was acting? Jesus! We've argued before, but never that viciously. I didn't even think she could be like that.”

“Jealousy does weird shit to people's heads, B,” Faith replied, wincing a little in memory.

“Yeah, I guess it does,” Buffy muttered, sharing a knowing look with her.

“Besides, I think right now she's tryin' to find a way to take the blame off her shoulders, y'know,” Faith said, an apologetic look on her face. “Like maybe if she can convince herself that you're with me, then it wasn't her that fucked things up.”

“God, it hurts so much that she could even think I'd do that to her,” Buffy muttered, another tear squeezing from her eye.

She tightened her hold on Buffy and sighed. “B, there's always been somethin' between us, and it ain't just our connection. God knows what the fuck it is, but when other people see it they don't know what to make of it. The only thing they can come up with is that we're fuckin' or that we wanna.”

Buffy took a deep breath and smiled wryly. It's the thing that makes us get along really well, or hate each other intensely. Then she sighed, her smile fading.

“It's so intense and when it comes out, it's either sexual or violent,” Faith continued with her explanation. “People get confused by that, B. But that don't excuse the way she's treatin' ya.”

No, it doesn't. Her jaw clenched. She should've trusted me enough to know I wouldn't do that to her.

Faith saw the glint of anger in Buffy's eyes and smiled slightly. She was on the right track. Getting her to really believe that she wasn't the one in the wrong here would go a long way to helping her move on. And she knew personally, that her former enemy hated taking the blame for someone else's issues.

Now here's to me hopin' I don't get my ass kicked for this next one, She smirked inwardly. She took Buffy's hand in hers and held it firmly, catching Buffy's eyes intently. Her free hand came up to gently grasp the rings on her finger, slowly sliding them off.

“And these right here? Ya don't need ‘em,” Faith rasped, determination hardening her tone. “What ya need is to move past her and find yourself again, B.”

She slipped the rings off and held them in the palm of her open hand, the diamond sparkling in the sunlight streaming in from the wide window across the room. “‘Cause the woman that's been hangin' around the past week? That ain't you.”

Buffy pulled her hand from Faith's, flexing it against the odd feeling of bareness and then sighed. She lifted her gaze from the rings to Faith's, easily reading the challenge there. The dark haired Slayer was daring her to move on. She felt her inner Slayer stirring in response.

Still, she was too curious not to ask, “Oh yeah?”

“Oh yeah,” Faith nodded with a wide, dimpled smile. “‘Cause the bitch that kicked my ass all over the ‘Dale wouldn't be takin' the blame for some fuckin' junior's issues.”

Buffy couldn't help but smile slightly and she lifted an eyebrow. “Would I have a sidekick for this adventure?” Her expression darkened. “‘Cause I don't think it's going to be that easy. There are going to be moments when the pain's too much.”

“‘Course it ain't gonna be easy,” She answered with a soft smile which quickly turned into a smirk. “But yeah, B. I'll be here to kick your ass when ya need it.”

“Gee, thanks,” She drawled.

Faith sighed, trying to appear annoyed. “Aight, I'll even hug ya if I gotta.”

“You make it sound like it's such a hardship,” Buffy said dryly.

“Yeah, well, can't let ya think that I like ya too much,” She answered flippantly.


Their eyes locked and half-smiles creased both their faces. Buffy sighed and lifted her hand, placing it on Faith's and closing her fingers over the rings. She nodded decisively.


Faith returned the nod and then smacked Buffy on the ass, making her squeal. She snickered.

“Good. Now shake that ass on up off of me so I can get a shower and fix us some grub.”



Chapter Nine: I Remember (You)

“So when did you learn how to cook?”

Faith finished chewing the bite of sausage she'd just taken and swallowed it. She shrugged and reached for her juice glass.

“It's somethin' they made us learn in prison.”

“Oh,” Buffy muttered uncomfortably.

The dark haired Slayer looked at her knowingly. That was another subject they'd have to discuss. They'd somehow managed to avoid any real conversations about their past over the years. The most serious subjects they ever brought up with each other were the ones revolving around work and what was going on with their friends.

Might as well get that out of the way. She gulped down the rest of her juice and set it down on the breakfast bar with a thump. Leaning forward, Faith caught her gaze.

“Listen, B. I've never seriously held that against you, even though there were times that I blamed ya ‘cause I was in a bad mood or somethin'. But prison was a good thing for me. I had no choice but to actually think about my actions for once, ‘cause there wasn't anywhere to hide from it.”

“But I should have been in there with you.” Buffy argued.

Faith blinked, surprised at the words. What? She shook her head and leaned her elbows on the breakfast bar.

“B, that's bullshit.”

“No, it isn't,” She countered, refusing to meet the other woman's eyes. “I touched him, Faith. I should've known Finch was human.”

It was unbelievable, just how good it felt to finally have Buffy admit it. It reached inside and wrapped itself around her heart, flooding her with warmth. She smirked inwardly at herself. God, I'm such a fuckin' chump.

She caught sight of the guilty, haunted look on Buffy's face and sighed. I gotta put a stop to this shit, right fuckin' now. Beatin' herself up for it ain't gonna do any good. She shook her head. There had been a time this situation would've thrilled her.

Faith stood up and moved around to Buffy's side of the breakfast bar. She settled on the stool next to her and reached up, grabbing Buffy's chin. She forced her to face her, giving her a sad grin.

“B, he was an accident. It took me for fuckin' ever to finally convince myself of that, but ya really shouldn't let the guilt eat ya up. Maybe ya should've been in there with me, but fuck that. The world needed a Slayer and at the time, you were the better one.”

She wanted to argue, but couldn't. The resolute look on Faith's face told her it wouldn't do her any good. She could all ready feel the words serving their purpose though, as some of the tension drained from her. It was something they'd have to discuss later.

She wasn't ready for another emotional conversation just yet. She needed a little more time to get her head on straight before they could get to their more complicated stuff. But it was nice to know that they could do it without any bloodshed. She gave Faith a tentative smile as the other woman released her chin.

“Only at the time, huh?”

“Yup,” She replied, with a knowing grin.

Her eyes narrowed. “Care to test that theory?”

“Nah,” Faith replied. “It'd be takin' advantage of ya right now, ‘cause you're all broken up over short-shit.”

“If that's what you need to think to get past the fact that you and I both know I could totally kick your ass, that's fine with me,” She returned.

“Uh-huh,” Faith snickered. “But anyway, I learned a lot of shit in prison that I never had a chance to when I was a kid. Some of it was actually kinda interestin'.”

“Like what?”

Faith shrugged sheepishly and muttered, “Just a little of this, little of that.”

“Come on, tell me. I promise I won't laugh,” She cajoled.

“I'll tell ya later, aight?” She replied as she stood and turned to leave. “Let's just go watch a movie in the den.”

Buffy sighed and stood to follow her from the room. “I will find out sometime.”

“Uh-huh, but not right now,” Faith called back as she disappeared into the den.



“Oh my God, that move so wouldn't work in real life.”

Faith couldn't help but smile at the blurted comment as she kept her gaze pinned to the two men fighting on the large flat screen TV. She'd forgotten that it could sometimes be just as entertaining listening to Buffy's commentary as watching the movie. She shifted on the couch, laying back against the couch arm, and settled her feet on the middle cushion next to Buffy's.

“Fuck, dude's gonna be singin' soprano for a while.”

“Definitely,” Buffy muttered and reached for the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table.

“Remind me again why we chose an action flick?” Faith asked in confusion.

“‘Cause they're extremely ridiculous and amusing,” She replied around a mouthful of popcorn.

Faith shrugged in agreement as the movie came to an end. She turned her head and looked down the length of her body to the other end of the couch. Buffy was in a similar position, except she'd stolen Faith's pillow when they'd first entered the room. She'd thought about stealing it back, but then she'd decided against it.

Damn pillow thief, She grumbled internally even as a reluctant grin creased her lips.

Sensing eyes on her, Buffy turned to look at Faith. She arched an eyebrow in response to the expression she was receiving.

“What caused that goofy look?” She asked in amusement.

Faith blinked and shook her head, suddenly smirking. “Oh, just thinkin'. Wanna watch another movie?”

“Sure,” Buffy answered immediately. “Maybe this time we can watch something different, though?”

Faith retrieved the remote from the floor by the couch and then paused to look at her warily. “Like what?”

“Maybe a romantic comedy,” Buffy replied with a shrug.

“You sure you wanna do that, B?” She asked, more than a little surprised.

It had taken her at least a year to be able to watch those types of movies after Robin had left. She winced briefly at the memory and then shook it off. Though it didn't hurt nearly as bad now, it still wasn't a good idea to dwell on that. Not when she was doing her best to help Buffy get through her problems.

Buffy bit her bottom lip, taking a deep breath through her nose. The scent from Faith's pillow filled her, relaxing her further. The only tension left was a delicious one building in the pit of her stomach, making her smile slightly at its' warmth. She released her lip with another shrug.

“Yeah, I am. Maybe it'll help remind me that relationships do have their good points.”

“Aight,” Faith said skeptically, raising her eyebrows slightly.

She pressed a button, calling up the TV guide. Searching through the channels, she dismissed several of the movies simply because they were almost over. She rejected a few more out of objection to the sappiness. She was about to pass another one when Buffy stopped her.

“Wait a sec, Faith.”

She reluctantly paused, giving Buffy the chance to read the information. ‘French Kiss' hadn't ever been on the list of movies she was dying to see. But she'd watch it if she had to.

“How's that one?” She asked.

“Sounds good,” Buffy answered.



Faith realized half-way through the movie that it hadn't been a great idea. How she had come to that conclusion? The presence of the crying blonde curled up in her arms once more was a very big clue. She wasn't sure what had set off the waterworks this time.

It hadn't even been a particularly sappy scene. In fact, it had seemed to her that Luc was about to get smacked. She shook her head and gently rubbed Buffy's back, feeling her sobs finally start to lessen.

Buffy sniffled and pulled away slightly, looking at the wet spot on the shoulder of Faith's white t-shirt in chagrin. “Sorry,” She muttered.

Faith frowned and pulled her back against her. “Stop it with the badass Slayer routine, B. I ain't gonna think any less of ya if ya cry a little.”

Buffy was tense for a moment and then she slumped against Faith's side. She returned her head to Faith's shoulder and sighed.

“Okay, I'll try,” She muttered.

“Aight, now tell me what this was about, ‘cause ya got me a little confused.”

Buffy blew out a tense breath and shook her head. “It was stupid.”

“Hey,” She objected and tightened her arm around her waist. “It ain't stupid if it made ya bawl like that, B.”

Keeping her eyes on her hand which was resting just above the other woman's blue jean clad knee, she swallowed hard. “It just reminded me of something Satsu said once and it kind of hit me hard.”

She gently grabbed Buffy's chin and forced her to look up at her. Their eyes locked and she paused, momentarily distracted. There was so much trust looking back at her, and honest to God affection, too. She shook her head and sighed.

“That stuff's gonna happen occasionally, B. You got a lot of memories of her and you're gonna hurt ‘cause of the loss. Ya just can't let it completely derail ya like it did before, y'know?”

Buffy's reply was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. She sighed.

“You should probably answer that.”

“Why do I gotta do it?” Faith asked, disgruntled.

“‘Cause you're a regular guest here and I'm not,” She answered, smirking.

“But she's your sister,” She grumbled, all ready reaching for the tiny black annoyance.

“Just answer it all ready.”

Buffy watched Faith answer the call, smiling slightly. Despite the emotional rollercoaster she was on, one thing was clear. Something good would come out of this. She was finally going to get the friendship that had been offered so tentatively once before.



Chapter Ten: The Next Contestant

Faith shut the cab door and started up the path towards the three story brick house in front of her. She hadn't wanted to leave Dawn's, but she hadn't had any choice. Dawn had called to ask her to stop in at the Council's headquarters for a meeting with Willow. Much to her disappointment, she couldn't tell Dawn to fuck off since she was a watcher—at least not with business matters, anyway.

She was amused that she'd been more annoyed at having to let go of Buffy than at having to attend a meeting, though. While she'd never been a fan of meetings, she hadn't ever been a fan of cuddling either. And no matter which way she tried to look at it, or whatever the reason for it was, she couldn't convince herself that it had been anything other than that.

Fuckin' A, She snickered and shook her head as she stepped up onto the porch.

She let herself into the house and glanced around, pausing as she tried to remember the location of Willow's office. She let her gaze move from the door of Giles's office on her left to the stairs across the foyer from her. Ah, right. Red was babblin' about ‘em movin' her to the second floor last time I seen her.

She headed for the stairs, ignoring the gaggle of younger Slayers that were coming down them. It wasn't too hard to find the other woman's office once she reached the second floor. She could all ready hear Dawn's voice coming from the open doorway. She paused outside the room and looked in, smirking.

The youngest Summers was perched on a corner of the redhead's desk, while Willow herself was seated behind it. Kennedy was sprawled across the dark brown leather couch to the left and Xander was leaning against the wall by the filing cabinets on the right. She shook her head and sauntered into the room, immediately drawing their attention.

“What's the what?” She asked, quirking an eyebrow at Willow.

“Just a Scooby meeting,” She answered easily.

“So where's Buff?” Xander asked, turning his attention back to the redhead.

“Couldn't get a hold of her,” Willow answered, looking a little concerned.

Faith bit her lip and exchanged a look with Dawn. It was Buffy's place to tell them what had happened with Satsu, but what were they supposed to do in the meantime? She sighed and shrugged. Fuck it, it ain't my business.

“Did ya try her cell?” She asked nonchalantly.

“Yes and all I got was her voicemail,” The redhead replied.

“Maybe she's just busy?” Dawn asked nervously.

The dark haired Slayer looked away and caught Kennedy looking at her strangely. She lifted a questioning eyebrow. What's that about?

“Whatever,” Kennedy interrupted in a bored tone, sitting up. “Why don't we just get to the point of this? I'm sure somebody can fill Buffy in when they see her.”

Faith tried to ignore the meaningful glance she was given. She took a deep breath and suddenly realized exactly what it was that had garnered that reaction from Kennedy. Since she hadn't changed clothes before coming here, Buffy's scent was all over her. Anyone else would've put it off to a change in perfume or something, but Kennedy was one of the ones who swore there was something going on between them.

She gave Kennedy a warning look and settled down in one of the guest chairs in front of Willow's desk. She could only hope Kennedy would keep her mouth shut. The last thing Buffy needed at that point was more rumors about them going around.

‘Don't even,' Faith discreetly mouthed to Kennedy.

‘What?' Kennedy mouthed back, trying to appear innocent.

Fuck, Faith grumbled internally. This is gonna be all over HQ ‘fore I can even get the fuck outta here to warn B.

“I guess Ken's right,” Willow started, immediately launching into a detailed explanation of Faith's last case.

After listening for a moment, Faith decided this part of the meeting was more for the benefit of the other Scoobies. Then she came to the conclusion that she didn't need, or want, to hear her own words from the report she'd turned in. Tuning the redhead out, she let her thoughts run rampant. Then she realized exactly what it was her mind wanted to focus on and, rolling her eyes, she reluctantly gave in.

Aight, so we're tryin' to do the friend thing. And it ain't goin' so bad, She mused with a faint smirk which quickly faded. Thing is, it ain't just the friend thing that's happenin'.

B's always made me feel a lot, and most of it has always either confused the fuck out of me or scared me shitless, but it's so much stronger now. Seein' her cry's got me stuck between wantin' to slam Satsu's head into the nearest wall and just wantin' to pull B into my arms. And holdin' her makes my heart do some fucked up thing that feels like it's caught in a motherfuckin' vise-grip. Makes me all kindsa horny too, but that's my natural state of bein' anyway.

I think I know what it is, but I don't like it at all. This is B, for fuck's sake. I can't want that with her. It was bad enough with Robin, but her?

Willow's voice jerked her out of her thoughts, “Did you even hear a word I just said, Faith?”

Damn it. She winced at the irritation in the redhead's tone and sighed. “Sorry, was thinkin' ‘bout somethin'. Mind tellin' me again?”

Gotta be more careful, Faith warned herself. Gettin' lost in those thoughts like that's bound to get my ass in trouble.



“Aight, so we'll be puttin' the more problematic chicks through this extra trainin' as of August,” Faith said as they made their way downstairs after the meeting was over.

“Yup, that's what Giles decided,” Willow said. “That way we'll have a better chance at catching the ones that really aren't suited for being a Slayer.”

She nodded. “Who's the unlucky bitch that's gotta deal with that?”

“Well, we were thinking about having Satsu handle the classes,” Willow replied.

Faith stiffened in response and looked at her in disbelief. Say what?

Willow caught the look and sighed. “Listen, I know you and Satsu really don't get along—”

Faith laughed humorlessly and stopped on the bottom step, turning to catch Willow's arm and gently pull her to a halt next to her. She caught her gaze and shook her head.

“That's a fuckin' understatement, Red. But that ain't why I'm thinkin' you're nuts for wantin' to put her in charge of those trainin' sessions.”

Exasperated, Willow asked, “Then what's the problem?”

Shaking her head, she replied, “Most of those girls are a lot like me, attitude wise. Not only will they not wanna deal with her shit, Satsu ain't gonna wanna put up with them.”

“She's a mature adult, Faith. I think she can put aside her personal issues with you to do her job.”

Not liking the emphasis the redhead placed on that phrase, Faith winced. She took her gaze from Willow's and glanced around, clenching her jaw when a familiar sight caught her attention. Oh, fuck. This ain't gonna end well.

Satsu stood in front of the door across the room, anger evident in her stance. Her hands were balled into fists at her sides, her knuckles turning bone white. She was taking deep breaths, obviously trying to stay calm. Even more obvious was that it wasn't working.

Their gazes locked and Faith smirked, unable to stop it. If Kennedy had been able to recognize Buffy's scent, then Satsu wouldn't have a problem doing it as well. It didn't take long for Satsu to finally lose it and Faith's expression took on a predatory edge as Satsu approached.

“I don't think you're right about that, Red. Not anymore,” Faith muttered as she stepped off the stairs to meet the other Slayer.

“What?” Willow asked, confused.

“You fucking bitch!” Satsu growled as she stopped within Faith's personal space.

“Yes?” She drawled in amusement.

That only seemed to make her angrier. She poked Faith sharply in her upper chest and snarled, “It isn't enough that you're fucking her, but now you have to come in here like this when you know everyone else can smell her on you?”

Faith grabbed her hand and twisted her wrist painfully as she brought her face closer to the other woman's. She answered as calmly as she could, “I'm just gonna warn ya this once, ‘cause I know B don't want me fuckin' ya up, but don't fuckin' touch me.”

Then she released Satsu's wrist, shoving her back a few steps with the force. She shrugged off the hand that grabbed her shoulder from behind and crossed her arms over her chest. She just watched the other woman, waiting for her reaction.

Rubbing her wrist, Satsu laughed bitterly, “At least one of you isn't denying it anymore. I knew Buffy was lying when she said she hadn't fucked you.”

Faith chuckled and shook her head. “You have to be the stupidest bitch in the Goddamn world. I've told ya before, and I'll tell ya one last time, I ain't ever fucked her.”

“I'm supposed to believe you ?” Satsu asked disdainfully.

“Nah, ya should've believed B when she first fuckin' told ya that,” She snarled, closing the distance between them again. “Instead ya let your fucked up imagination twist ya ‘til ya fucked up the best thing that's ever fuckin' happened to ya.”

“You're the reason my marriage is fucked up,” Satsu hissed. “I tried, but I just couldn't love her anymore, not with knowing that the little whore had let you touch her.”

The older Slayer closed her eyes, struggling to contain the sudden surge of anger. She tried counting to ten, then she tried deep breathing, and she even tried visualizations. Unfortunately, the only image she could find was one of Buffy kneeling on Dawn's living room floor in tears. She acted without thought, her fist catching Satsu's jaw at full strength and making her stumble backwards until she fell to the floor.

Faith lunged forward to go after her and several hands clamped down on her arms and shoulders, jerking her to a halt. She struggled to get free, her eyes never leaving Satsu's. Another set of Slayers went to restrain Satsu, making a sneer crease Faith's lips as she reluctantly stopped moving.

“Faith,” Willow said tensely, trying to draw her attention from the other Slayer.

“What?” She snapped, forcing herself to look at the redhead as she moved around in front of her.

“What's going on here? I know you two fight, and I've definitely heard Satsu's thoughts on your relationship with Buffy before, but this is a bit much.”

“It ain't my place to tell ya,” Faith said quietly as she forced herself to relax.

“Let her go,” The redhead said, gesturing to the three Slayers behind Faith.

Kennedy asked uncertainly, “You sure?”

“Yeah,” She answered.

“Thanks,” Faith grunted as they released her and then she rolled her shoulders, ignoring the other two Slayers as they walked off.

“Please tell me what's going on,” Willow muttered, only loud enough for Faith and Kennedy to catch it.

Faith's dark brown eyes darted to Satsu who was still being restrained and then back to the redhead. Red ain't gonna let me leave ‘til I tell her. She sighed, giving into the inevitable. B's gonna fuckin' kill me.



Chapter Eleven: Love Began Here

Her gaze tracked over to Satsu once more and Faith felt her control over her emotions slip a little. Her voice reflected her anger and disgust, “She's been fuckin' ‘round on B for three months and waited ‘til last week to tell her and now she wants to act like she's the one who got shafted.”

“What?” Willow whispered, her eyes flicking from the older Slayer to Satsu and back.

“B's stayin' at Dawn's right now and this mornin', short-shit came over to give her the divorce papers,” She continued, ignoring the redhead's question.

“Why is she staying—” The Wiccan began, only to be cut off.

“Forget it, Red. You wanna know more?” Faith shrugged at her expectant look. “Take it up with B. My ass is gonna be in enough trouble as it is.”

“All right,” Willow said reluctantly.

“Can I get outta here, now?”

“Sure, if you'll tell Buffy to call me,” She said slowly.

“Whatever,” Faith mumbled as she stepped around her.

“Are you heading back to my place?” Dawn's voice came from behind her.

She turned to find the younger brunette standing next to Kennedy on the stairs. She contemplated the question for a second. Do I go back there, knowin' B's gonna be pissed when I tell her what happened? She sighed.

Fuck. I just had to promise I'd be back as soon as I got done, didn't I? If I don't go back now, she's probably gonna get all upset.

“Yeah,” She muttered and then rolled her eyes at the smirks she received from both the former Key and Kennedy.

“I'll probably be here a while,” Dawn snickered and turned to go back upstairs.

“Bitch,” Faith grumbled playfully.

“Uh-huh, that's me,” She replied cheekily.



Buffy sat on the last step on the staircase with her forehead in one hand and the phone in the other. Her elbow was propped on a bent blue jean clad knee and the phone was dangling over her left knee, her wrist resting on her kneecap. She swallowed hard and sniffled. Damn it.

The day had been difficult enough as it was, but what she'd just learned had made it worse. Dawn had called to let her know that there had been a fight between Satsu and Faith and that Faith had spilled some of her situation to Willow in front of a few others. She hadn't expected to be able to keep it quiet for much longer, but it was her business to tell and she hadn't wanted everyone to know. Now it was just another part of the rumor mill.

The front door opened, letting in the afternoon sunlight around a very familiar figure. Faith closed the door and then paused, her gaze falling on Buffy. She noticed the phone and reluctantly brought her eyes up to Buffy's, her stomach dropping. It didn't take a genius to guess what had caused the anger and frustration being directed at her.

“Um, hey,” She faltered, uncertain of what she should do.

“Faith,” Buffy said tensely.

“Red wants ya to call her.”

“So I heard,” Buffy said dryly as she stood.

“Listen, B,” She said slowly. “I know I shouldn't have said anything, but I didn't have a choice, aight? I mean, no way was Red lettin' me outta there without findin' out what was up after what Satsu said.”

“You could've told her to t—talk to me,” She said, her voice cracking. “It wasn't your place to say anything, Faith! And now, thanks to you, the people I have to work with every day know exactly what happened.”

Faith snorted scornfully. “Oh, would ya rather I let ‘em think you're the one who fucked up your marriage?”

Buffy closed the distance between them and grabbed a fistful of Faith's shirt. She jerked her closer, bringing their faces just inches apart. She took a deep breath and resisted the urge to close her eyes as the familiar warm, spicy scent filled her. She swallowed hard and forced her thoughts back on track, angry with herself for the distraction.

“They wouldn't have known anything if you hadn't picked a fight with Satsu.”

“She started it!” She objected, her voice rising. “She came in the door and got all up in my face, spoutin' some bullshit about everyone bein' able to smell you on me. Then she started the same old song and dance about us fuckin'.”

“And that gave you the right to hit her?” Buffy asked sharply.

Faith jerked away from Buffy and crossed her arms over her chest. She gave Buffy an incredulous look and shook her head.

“Don't tell me you're gonna try to take up for that bitch! Damn it, B! I wouldn't have had to say anything about it to Red if short-shit hadn't opened her fuckin' mouth.”

Buffy took a deep steadying breath and rubbed a hand over her eyes. Then she dropped her hand and sighed.

“All right, I get that an explanation couldn't be avoided. And I'm not trying to defend Satsu, but I want to know why you hit her.”

Faith clenched her jaw and swallowed hard, her eyes darting away from the hazel ones studying her. The explanations, ‘because she had it coming', and ‘because she just didn't like the bitch' were good enough for her, but she knew Buffy well enough to know that she wouldn't be satisfied with either one. Fuck. She sighed in exasperation.

“I snapped. The fuckin' bitch was runnin' her mouth and callin' you a whore, and I just couldn't take it, aight?” She snarled. “Is that a good enough reason for ya, princess?”

Without waiting for an answer, she turned and left. She slammed the door shut and paused on the front porch, contemplating her destination. I need to go somewhere quiet and clear my head ‘fore I do somethin' stupider. She growled audibly and set off at a fast pace in a familiar direction.



She was taking up for me. Buffy almost giggled. It should have made her mad, but her anger had dissolved into a giddiness that made it impossible to think clearly.

She wasn't certain which was funnier, Faith's actions or the expression on her face when she was admitting to it. It had seemed as if it hurt just for Faith to say the words. Buffy bit her bottom lip. Actually, it was cute more than anything else.

Oh my God. She closed her eyes briefly and then turned her gaze up to the ceiling. What am I thinking? I'm nowhere near ready for those thoughts.

She shook her head and went to the den to return the phone to the base. Then she sat down on the couch and looked around the room. Her gaze fell on a line of picture frames on a shelf above the TV on the entertainment center. Drawn to the display, she stood and walked over to get a closer look.

The pictures were various combinations of the Scooby gang, plus a few of the other Slayers and some of Dawn's college buddies. One photo had the original Sunnydale group, including Cordelia and Oz, another had Dawn, Buffy and Joyce, and the rest were more recent ones. She smiled sadly and paused to gently trace her finger over the image of her mother with her arms around them. It was one of the few pictures they had left of Joyce since Sunnydale had been destroyed.

Mom would be completely amazed at the turn our lives have taken, She thought, not for the first time. She chuckled. She'd be proud, though.

Another photo caught her attention and she smirked. It was probably the only one of her, Dawn, Giles and Faith that existed. They were at a table in some restaurant she couldn't even remember the name of, her and Dawn on one side and Giles and Faith on the other. She recalled that Giles had forced Faith to switch seats when Faith had decided to move from verbally harassing Buffy to throwing food at her.

It hadn't stopped them from glaring at each other and exchanging insults, though. The photo had been taken just shortly after they'd started talking again, but it was before their silent decision to be friends had been made. Willow had said the photo was proof of something after she'd taken it, but she'd refused to explain what she meant. But now, looking at it, Buffy knew exactly what her best friend had meant.

The expressions on their faces were telling. Faith's eyes were dark, containing a faintly amused glint and a sexy little grin displayed her dimples. Something about the look just screamed “I know you want me” to Buffy. Her own half-smile and narrowed eyes caused her to blush as she realized just how transparent she had been.

She rubbed her cheek, the heat radiating from her skin causing her to chuckle. It's not like I didn't all ready know I think she's hot. I've even admitted it, indirectly, to her. But I think there's more to it than that.

But right now, She mused with sigh. Right now, I need a friend more than anything else. If I still feel the same when things settle down, maybe I can explore a little and see what comes of it then.



Faith leaned back against the boulder and picked up a handful of sand, letting the fine grains trickle between her fingers. She sighed and dropped the rest of the sand as she let her gaze lift to the ocean just a few feet away. The only sound to be heard was the surf and the voices coming from further down the beach. The natural rock alcove she was in not only kept her from view, but filtered out some of the Saturday afternoon crowd's noise as well.

This little section of the beach had been her safe haven since she'd discovered it several years back. She came here alone and never brought anyone with her since she wanted to keep it to herself. She'd discovered by accident that it had a soothing affect on her. The peacefulness seemed to be just what she needed to think, too.

She hadn't come here to think this time, though. No, she'd needed to get out of there and calm down before she blurted out something that didn't need verbalized. It didn't take much contemplation to discover the reason for her reaction to Satsu. She'd been down that road before and she knew the signs.

She was in love. She was mature enough to admit it, and accept it. She was also smart enough to realize there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn't run from it, but she couldn't try to act on it either.

Yeah, we'd be wicked hot and bring a whole new meanin' to the phrase “makin' sweet music together”. A leer crossed her face briefly and then she shook her head. But B's hurtin' ‘cause of that fuckin' bitch and she needs me to be there for her as a friend. I'll just let things happen as they come along, no need to rush.



Chapter Twelve: To Have and to Hold

A few minutes had passed with her sitting in silence, just listening to sound of the surf and reveling in the warmth of the contentment curling in her chest. The decision to just be Buffy's friend was curiously satisfying. It took off a lot of pressure.

Besides, She mused, smirking. This way we won't end up killin' each other if we do get into a relationship. We'll get everything settled and talked out ‘fore things get to that point. It'll give me time to deal with the way I'm feelin', too.

It's not that I don't like the thought of bein' in love. I'm just freaked at startin' anything with her ‘cause she has more power to hurt me than anyone else. I know that from past experiences. The bond between us is both a blessin' and a curse sometimes.

She sighed, her expression shifting to one of annoyance. Enough of this shit, all ready. There'll be enough time for this later. I need to relax before I go back there.


B's probably gonna smack me for walkin' off like that, too, Faith winced. At least she didn't seem nearly as pissed by the time I left. Her eyebrows twitched slightly as she considered it. Come to think of it, she would've come after me if she was all that angry.

She shook her head and popped the knuckles of her left hand. Then she started to pop the other set and winced, finally taking notice of the abraded skin on her knuckles. She grimaced and flexed her hand. Fuck, forgot just how hard that bitch's jaw is.

Faith gently probed the tender skin, a soft hiss escaping as the pain increased. It was all ready starting to heal, but that didn't stop it from being painful. She was just relieved that it wasn't broken. She sighed and scraped a bit of dried blood off her hand with her nail.

If she was honest with herself, Buffy wasn't the only one upset by her fight with Satsu. She'd gotten better at controlling her anger in the past few years, but there were still moments when it was all too easy to slip back into the familiar patterns. Unfortunately, there were two people who had the ability to cause those incidents frequently; Satsu being the main one and Buffy being next in line.

She smirked. Who would've thought B would ever be second to anyone in the category of ‘who pisses Faith off the most'? I used to live to piss her off, too. There's just somethin' so fuckin' thrillin' ‘bout seein' little Miss Tightly Wound lettin' loose.

Her amusement faded. It wasn't so funny after that last time though. That was the first and only time I ever believed I could actually have killed her. Yeah, we used to be on opposite sides, but I didn't ever put any real effort into killin' her–I couldn't.

When I was workin' for the Mayor, the thought of bein' completely alone in this world scared me too much to follow through. I couldn't let anyone else know, so I put on a show. I let ‘em think I could've done it. But I couldn't kill her even when my life depended on it in the end.

That last time we fought, though, I was so fucked up. I don't know who I was more pissed at; B, ‘cause of what she'd said, or Genevieve for makin' more problems for us. Comin' that close to killin' B was the last straw. I think I was more tore up about what I'd done to her than the fact that I'd had to kill again when it was all over with.

Faith's eyes fluttered shut for a moment, the memory of that night making her chest tighten with grief. Her fists clenched tightly in the sand and she shuddered. The phantom memory of Buffy's struggles beneath her in the water made her feel sick.

Shaking her head roughly to clear away the memories, she stood abruptly. A brief glance around made her aware of just how late it was and she smirked. The sun had started to set, bringing nightfall with it. That meant she could patrol the cemetery a block away from the beach and probably catch a few vampires.

She chuckled. A good Slay is just what I fuckin' need right now. She set off at a jog, turning the corner of the alcove and startling a few beach goers as she passed.



Faith had seen plenty in her time as a Slayer. Slimy demons with control issues, vampires who were fashion disasters, horned demons with a thing for cows... But a vamp holdin' a picnic basket? What the fuck?

She paused behind a tree, pressin' up close to it as she peered into the open door of the crypt. He was waiting for the last rays of the sun to disappear. He seemed pretty anxious, too. She arched an eyebrow.

She'd all ready busted in on a few others, gleefully adding their dust and blood to the clutter on the floor of another mausoleum. Her heart was pounding from the adrenaline and her body throbbing with it. Her instincts were screaming for the satisfaction of a good hunt. She wouldn't be able to get that until nighttime.

For now, she'd just have to pacify her inner Slayer with this Goth-wannabe. She smirked and made her move, deciding it was way past time to end him. She moved with full Slayer speed, slamming into him and causing him to drop the basket as he grunted in surprise. He stumbled backwards, her weight bringing him down to the cement floor.

For a moment, there was no movement. Then he shook off his surprise, automatically trying to power out of the hold she had on him. They grappled, his hands grasping at her randomly as he attempted to roll them over. She ended his struggle with a right-cross and then a sound caught her attention briefly, making her look up.

He tried to use her distraction to his advantage and without missing a beat she grabbed his arm and twisted until she heard the bone in his forearm give with a sick snap. She concentrated and over his agonized moaning, she heard it again. It was a low, plaintive mewling, one she recognized from the alleys back in Boston. She snapped her head around and glared down at him.

“You sick son-of-a-bitch! You got kittens in here?”

He chuckled nervously. “Well, isn't it better if I drain kittens than humans, Slayer?”

“Nah, it'd be better if you were gone,” She answered, pulling her stake and dusting him before he could react.

She stood, wiping her blue jeans off as she glanced around. Her eyes found the basket in the open doorway and she winced. The cloth had fallen away, and four small, furry forms were now sprawled over the littered entryway. She approached warily and crouched down, her forehead wrinkling as she realized that none of them were moving.

“Shit,” She muttered, feeling her chest tighten in reaction.

She hadn't ever cared much for animals, but seeing these creatures like this definitely had an effect on her. It was one she found that she didn't much care for. They were just defenseless babies, She thought with a sharp, ragged intake of air.

She swallowed hard and started to stand, only to freeze when something caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She glanced at the kitten farthest from her and a shaky, relieved laugh escaped. Grayish blue eyes were peering forlornly at her from a dark gray and cream colored face, the small form moving toward her tentatively.

That's gotta be the one I heard. She paused. Wait a sec... Faith turned her attention from the kitten for a brief moment, gently pressing her fingers to each of the others.

Faith was disappointed to find that none of the others were breathing. The kitten reached her and weakly nudged her hand with another sad cry. She looked down at it and her eyebrows furrowed. It bumped its' dark nose against her again and she sighed.

“What do you want, huh? I ain't got anything for ya.”

It meowed again and she sighed in annoyance as she gently wrapped her hands around the trembling, furry body. She lifted it and cupped it in one hand, steadying it with the other as she brought it up close to her face. It tried to lick her nose and she glared.

“Hey, what do ya take me for, huh? I ain't havin' none of that.”

Tiny paws scrabbled over her skin as the kitten squirmed, trying to get to her. She frowned and held it further away from her.

“How do you know I ain't gonna just finish what he started, huh?”

It meowed again and nuzzled her fingers, sharp, tiny claws flexing against the base of her hand. She shook her head and shrugged as she stood. The kitten protested loudly and she brought it close to her chest. It snuggled against her breasts and Faith smirked wryly.

“Don't get comfy there. Only one pussy I want that close to the twins and you ain't it, aight? Soon as I figure out what to do with you, you're gone, buddy.”

She could've sworn it sighed in contentment as it closed its' eyes, as if ignoring her. She just shook her head and started towards the gates, grumbling under her breath.

“Stupid cat, gotta ruin' my night. Ain't no way I can Slay with you here; should've just left ya there. You better hope B doesn't come lookin' for me ‘cause she'll never let me hear the end of this if she sees ya.”

She paused underneath the arch of the cemetery gates, a wide grin slowly forming. Her eyes glinted with amusement and she glanced down at the kitten. The grayish blue eyes blinked open, sensing the pause in her rhythmic stride. It looked up and meowed.

“Oh that's just fuckin' perfect,” She snickered. “B's gonna love ya, buddy.”



Faith paused inside the darkened kitchen, looking down at the box in her hands. She was suddenly unsure of the reception of her gift. She could hear the faint scrabbling of the kitten's claws against cardboard and see the moving form through the air-holes she'd poked in the box. She sighed and set the box gently on the counter.

She set a plastic grocery bag on the counter next to it and bit her bottom lip. What if she doesn't like cats? I mean, it ain't like we've ever talked about pets.

She heard movement from upstairs and felt the familiar tingles growing stronger. Faith shook her head and pulled an envelope from the bag. She set it on top of the brown box and turned to leave. I'll find out soon enough.

It's not like I can just take this stuff back tonight since the store was closing when I got there, anyway. She smirked slightly at the memory.

She'd arrived at the store just before closing. She'd had no trouble at all in convincing the pet-store clerk to keep the store open just a little longer for her. She'd been a little lost when she'd seen all the different choices but flirting with the clerk some more had solved that. He'd been all too willing to help her choose the best supplies to care for a kitten.

He'd even helped her figure out that it was a female and that she was around two months old. Men, She snickered. They're way too easy.

Approaching footsteps caught her attention and her eyes widened. She slipped out the backdoor and moved around towards the front of the house. She didn't want to be around when Buffy first saw the kitten. That way if Buffy was pissed, she'd have time to calm down first—and also, if she got sappy, Faith wouldn't get caught up in it.

Wonder if I can pass the kitten off as symbolic? She snickered. I'll just tell her I always wanted to give her some pussy when she asks about it.

She flinched and shook her head. That was too crude even for her liking. She wouldn't have hesitated to say it in their younger years, but even she had her limits now.



Chapter Thirteen: Girl Talk

Buffy had waited for a couple of hours for Faith to return, but the day's exhaustion had eventually gotten the best of her. Then she'd awakened just a couple of minutes ago, feeling Faith's presence. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she paused and rolled her eyes as the tingles faded.

“Chicken,” She muttered and shook her head as she made her way towards the kitchen.

It was apparent that she'd taken too long getting dressed, giving Faith ample time to escape. Guess I'll just have to wait a little longer to finish our conversation. She sighed and flipped the light on, pausing as a sound reached her ears. Her eyes immediately found the source of the noise and she raised her eyebrows.

“Where did that—” She broke off as a scrabbling sound reached her ears and then a soft thud was heard just as the box moved slightly down the counter.

She approached slowly, her sensitive ears picking up a soft, rhythmic breathing. Her gaze took in the plastic bag and then she noticed the air-holes on top of the box. She picked up the envelope, immediately recognizing the bold, slightly messy handwriting that formed her name in red ink. A curious half-grin creased her lips as she used the nail of her left index finger to open it.

She slipped the folded sheet of notebook paper from inside and unfolded it. She read it, pausing halfway through as she closed her eyes and laughed. Then she re-read it a few more times, scarcely believing it was from Faith. The wording, however, convinced her that it was.

Hey, B –


The other night at the bar you came up with substitutes for sex and convo. But you never said anything about the problem of something to hold. I think this'll fit the bill. But if she ain't enough, I could probably be bribed to hug you.



“I'm sure you could,” Buffy muttered wryly.

She snickered as she set aside the paper and then she pulled the lid off the box, her eyes immediately finding the small kitten inside. Her mouth dropped open and she gasped, “Oh my God, it's so cute!”

The kitten sat in the middle of the box, looking around curiously. Buffy picked her up and held her close to her chest, gently brushing her fingers over the thick, soft fur. A rough tongue licked her fingers and she giggled. Then she rolled her eyes and glanced at the envelope.

“I can't believe she did this.” Her eyes returned to the kitten. “Can you?”

Buffy bit her bottom lip and studied her. She'd never had a pet, though she'd wanted to get one at one point in her childhood. Her father Hank hadn't wanted an animal in the house and by the time it was up to her mother, she'd gotten past that. Now the question was if she wanted the responsibility.

The kitten propped her chin on Buffy's breast and looked up at her, their eyes meeting for the first time. Buffy felt her heart clench at the soulful expression and smiled ruefully. I'm so going to kick Faith's ass later.

She lifted the kitten and placed a gentle kiss on her head. “Welcome to the family. Now what on earth am I going to name you?”

Not having any idea, Buffy shrugged in answer to her own question. She gently settled the kitten back into the box. Hearing a protesting meow, she arched an eyebrow at her.

“You'll get over it.” She glanced at the bag. “Now let's see what that so-called badass bought for you.”

She opened the bag and looked inside. Finding the expected litter pan, a small bag of litter, a small bag of kitten food, and a couple of cans of soft food, she nodded. Looks about right, She mused as she removed the items. A soft jingling reached her ears and she smirked, immediately finding a bag of brightly colored plastic balls in the litter pan.

What's gotten into her? I know she's changed, I've seen it happening over the years. I mean, I've seen her show a lot of maturity and empathy when dealing with her charges and some of our friends. But I just never expected to be treated to it myself.

I think it's more likely that I never thought she'd want to show me the softer side of her. She shook her head at herself and retrieved the kitten before it could fall out of the box. Grabbing the supplies, she turned to leave the room. I think it's about time I stop underestimating that woman before it gets me into trouble.



Buffy was sitting on the living room floor with the kitten, still attempting to figure out a name for her when Dawn returned home. She entered the house, a familiar figure following behind. Buffy sighed and closed her eyes briefly, offering a plea for strength to whoever was listening.

“Hey, Buff,” Willow said awkwardly.

“Hey,” She muttered as she started to stand.

“Oh, don't get up,” She said hurriedly and at Buffy's startled expression, she added, “You look comfortable where you're at.”

“Where'd the little ball of fluff come from?” Dawn asked, crouching down to hold out a hand to the kitten.

“Believe it or not, Faith left it here. She bought some basics for her, too.”

Willow gave her an odd look and then shook her head. She took a seat on the other side of Buffy and cleared her throat awkwardly. She'd been considering how to bring the subject up ever since she'd decided to come over, but she hadn't had any luck. With a mental shrug, she chose the nonchalant approach.

“So, anything you want to talk about?”

Hazel eyes lifted from the kitten rubbing against Dawn's hand to meet Willow's green ones. She searched her longtime friend's features to judge how determined she was, finding the familiar resolve face firmly intact much to her chagrin. She sighed and her expression darkened.

“I'm going to have to talk about it, aren't I?”

“Well, uh, no, you don't have to. It's not like I can physically force you to,” Willow babbled. “But I am your friend and that's what friends are supposed to be for.”

“Where's Ken?” Buffy asked, stalling for a little time to decide what to say.

Blinking in confusion, Willow answered slowly, “She's on patrol with her team. She's going to drop Renee off at Xander's before she comes to pick me up.”

“Oh,” She muttered. “Good, that's good.”

“I get that you don't want to think about it, but you all ready are, so what would it hurt to just go ahead and tell her?” Dawn asked, exasperated.

Buffy closed her eyes briefly, taking a deep breath as she tried to center herself. Then she brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. Leaning her cheek against her knee, she started speaking.

“So I came home from patrol last Sunday and Satsu's sitting at the table. I didn't think anything about it as I went about my normal post-slay routine. I was fixing myself something to eat when she told me with no warning whatsoever.”

“I've been cheating on you.”


The butter knife hit the floor with a clatter, splattering mustard all over the white ceramic tiles. Her heart was shattering even as she turned to look at her lover. Satsu wouldn't even look at her, keeping her dark gaze on the tabletop. Buffy's eyes traced the familiar features, the guilt and self-hatred in her expression finally registering.


“What did you say?” She asked incredulously, the words so soft she could barely hear them over the thunderous sound of her heartbeat.


The dark head lowered even further. “I met her a little over three months ago when I went on that mission in LA.” She finally lifted her tortured gaze to meet her partner's. “I swear to God, I never meant to hurt you, Buffy.”


Her nostrils flared as she sucked in a harsh breath at the jolt of pain that shot through her chest. Her throat tightened and she clenched her teeth as she fought back the tears burning her eyes. Then she turned her back on Satsu, unable to look at her any longer if she wanted to maintain her composure.


It took a long moment for her to finally speak. When she did, they were the most painful two words she'd ever had to utter.


“Get out.”


She heard the chair scrape across the tiles. Then she felt the other Slayer approaching her and she let out pained half-sob, half-growl.


“I said, get out!”


“It was a mistake, Buffy,” She whispered hoarsely, reaching out to grasp Buffy's shoulder.


Before her hand could make contact, Buffy spun to face her. The expression on her face spoke volumes to the other woman. She was sneering at her with the same amount of disgust and vitriol she'd give a vampire just before she'd stake it.


“Touch me and so help me God, I won't be responsible for what I'll do to you,” She hissed.


They just gazed at each other for a long moment before Satsu nodded reluctantly and left. The sound of the front door shutting signaled the onslaught of her tears.

Buffy hesitated. She wasn't about to tell them how she'd lain on the kitchen floor crying until she vomited. There was only so much degradation one person could handle in a single week. She opened her tearful eyes to be greeted by Willow's sorrowful expression.

“I couldn't handle staying at the house, so I went to a hotel later that night. Then when I tried to sleep I couldn't get my mind off of it, so I went out to a bar.” She winced in memory of that first night.

It was one thing to get so drunk you got sick when there was someone to take care of you. But it was a completely different matter when you got sick and woke up all alone in an alley. She shrugged off the thoughts in discomfort. After that, she'd taken precautions so that it didn't happen like that again.

“After a couple of nights of that I ended up calling Dawn. Faith pretty much told you the rest.”

Willow looked down as the kitten stumbled towards her. She reached a hand out and gently rubbed her fingers over the kitten's head. Lifting an eyebrow, she glanced up at Buffy. Noticing Buffy wiping away a few stray tears, she decided a change of subject was in order.

“Yeah, Faith's just full of info, isn't she?” Willow asked, her eyes glinting in amusement.



Chapter Fourteen: Hugs ‘N' Kitties

“Oh God,” Buffy groaned. “Don't tease me, Will. I don't think I'm up for it.”

The redhead looked at her contemplatively for a moment and then smiled. “All right, I'll go easy on you for now.”

“That's as good a promise as I'm going to get, isn't it?” She muttered.

“Afraid so,” Dawn giggled.

“It's Faith we're talking about,” Willow answered easily. “You've only yourself to blame for any future comments, teasing, and “I told you so” attitudes.”

“There's nothing going on between us other than friendship,” Buffy whined.

“Uh-huh,” Her friend mumbled in disbelief. “That's why Ken said she could smell you all over Faith and why Satsu flipped.”

Buffy's shoulders slumped and she gave Willow a pained look. “I've been upset off and on today and Faith was there for me; she was just being a friend, that's all there was to it. She didn't do anything you wouldn't have if you had been here.”

“What sent Satsu off on a tangent, then?” She asked gently.

Buffy ran her fingers through her hair and rolled her eyes. “I'd just woken up a few minutes before she arrived. I'd barely had time to brush my teeth and I don't think Faith had been awake much longer than I had. Faith was in her PJs when she opened the door and I was still wearing last night's clothes when I came downstairs.”

Willow winced. She could just imagine what Faith's PJ's were. Blinking to clear her mind of that interesting imagery, she shook her head. She questioned hesitantly, “Do I even want to know what the two of you were wearing?”

“She had on boi shorts and a T-shirt and I was wearing a leather mini and a tank top,” She answered sheepishly.

“Ohh, not good, Buffy,” Dawn hissed.

She turned her head and shot her sister a look that said, ‘no, you think?'

“Enough with the evil looks, B,” Faith's husky voice interrupted.

She jerked her head up and looked over the back of the couch, startled to find Faith leaning over it. She sat frozen for a moment and then scrambled to her feet. Before Faith could react, she came around the couch and pulled her into a tight hug. Then she pulled back slightly and looked up at her.

“Where'd you find my new friend?”

What the fuck? Faith blinked dazedly, stunned by the sudden body contact. A soft snort jerked her out her stupor and she glared at Dawn briefly before she returned her attention to the woman still wrapped around her. She frowned as she tried to remember what she'd been asked and then her expression cleared.

“Uh, found her in a vamp's crypt after I dusted him.”

She pulled away from Buffy and leaned over the couch to gently take the kitten from Dawn. Then she straightened and brought her close to her chest. A soft purr vibrated in the kitten's chest as Faith's fingers stroked over the gray and crème colored fur. Carefully keeping her gaze off Buffy, she shrugged indifferently.

“The vamp killed her brothers and sisters. I didn't think it was a good idea to just leave her for another one of those bastards to get and I didn't know what else to do with her, so I brought her here.”

Buffy watched her in confusion. The nervous note in her voice was easily discernible, along with the flush of embarrassment flooding her face. She's trying to downplay her gift, She realized suddenly. She briefly contemplated calling Faith on it, but the rapt audience of two made her realize it would be better to wait until later.

She always closes herself off whenever she gets uncomfortable around me. If I comment on how sweet she's being in front of them, it'll just destroy the progress we've made. She gave Faith a reassuring smile as she reached out to stroke the kitten.

“Well, thanks anyway. She's great.”

“You named her yet?” Faith asked curiously, relaxing as relief rushed through her.

“No,” She answered with a slight pout. “I can't really think of anything good.”

A look of what she could only describe as childish glee appeared on Faith's face. Oh my God, I don't think I've ever seen her look that... innocent before. She waited, unconsciously holding her breath, to see what Faith was about to say.

Faith lowered her gaze and asked quietly, “What about the name “Cookie”?”

Buffy glared at Willow and Dawn, warning them not to make a sound. She could tell by the amusement on their faces that they were just dying to laugh as they quickly covered their mouths. She returned her gaze to Faith, trying not to giggle herself.

“May I ask why?” She choked out.

“I always thought it was kinda cute for a pet's name and she's almost the same color as those Cookies and Cream bars that they sold in Sunnydale too,” She mumbled, blushing hotly.

Fuck, I should've stayed gone longer. Faith sighed in annoyance as a few snickers greeted her hearing.

“Forget it,” She snapped as she set the kitten on the floor.

If I don't get outta here, someone's gonna get hurt. Without glancing at the other three women, Faith stomped towards the kitchen.

“Shit,” Buffy muttered as she hurried after her.

She caught up to her just before she could open the back door. She gently grabbed Faith's elbow and tugged her back around. Eyebrows furrowed, she studied the other woman's stormy expression. She mentally scrambled for a way to diffuse the situation.

“Hey, I'm sorry. The way you were acting was just so cute,” Buffy said contritely.

“Whatever,” Faith grumbled. “Lemme go, B. I don't wanna fight.”

“Then don't,” Buffy replied simply. “No one was ridiculing you in there. You're the only one who thinks you have to maintain this outer badass persona. You said earlier that you wouldn't think any less of me if I cry, well we won't think less of you if you show a little emotion every once in a while.”

“I'm not being a bad—” She cut herself off as she realized that she'd been doing exactly that. Her shoulders slumped and she grimaced.

“I thought I was past that,” She muttered despondently.

“Faith,” Buffy said softly. “I don't think any Slayer can ever actually get past that. We just have to try to correct it when we realize we're closing ourselves off.”

Buffy heard the front door open and then the faint sound of Kennedy's voice reached her. She tuned out the conversation going on between her and Willow and kept her attention on Faith. She sighed at the conflicted expression, wishing she could do something to help Faith. The look gradually faded and then Faith looked up at her with a sheepish smile.

“So you like the kitten, huh?”

“Yeah,” Buffy chuckled, nodding in acceptance of the apology lurking in those words. “She's adorable, and I really like the name Cookie for her. Thanks for the idea.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith muttered, rubbing at the back of her neck in discomfort.

“Don't worry, I won't hug you again if that's what you're afraid of,” Buffy chuckled.

“Fuck you,” Faith replied, the grin twitching the corners of her lips giving away her amusement. “I think you just wanted to cop a feel.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh yes, ‘cause a hug is just a great vehicle for groping.”

“Fuck yeah, it is. Your tight little bod was all pressed into mine,” Faith rejoined, finally smirking. “And I could've sworn I felt a hand grab my ass.”

“Now that's just wishful thinking on your part, Faith,” She chuckled dryly.

During their conversation, the two women had unconsciously moved closer. Unaware of what she was doing, Buffy lifted a hand and placed it on Faith's belly. Her fingers absently traced the lines of muscle beneath the cotton tank top as she gazed up at Faith. A coy smile played over her lips in answer to the knowing look she was given.

A throat cleared, interrupting the silent exchange. They turned their heads in unison to look at the redhead standing in the doorway. Her eyes widened at the intensity in their gazes and she stepped back instinctively in response. Then she shook her head and quirked an eyebrow at them.

“Sorry if I'm interrupting anything. I could leave if you'd rather have some privacy.”

Nothing other than friendship, my ass, She mused. They might not be ready to act on it yet, but there was something there. A blind man could see the connection between them, and it wasn't just the Slayer bond. If it was a Slayer bond, then Willow figured other Slayers would behave the same way.

Buffy glanced down, blinking as she finally registered where her hand was. Sighing in exasperation, she jerked her hand back and crossed her arms over her chest. Then she rolled her eyes at Willow.

“There's nothing for you to interrupt,” She grumbled. “Now what do you want?”

The redhead narrowed her eyes at her for a moment and then snickered. “Dawn wants to have a Ben & Jerry's night. We were wondering if you and Faith were interested in joining us.”

“What the fuck's a Ben & Jerry's night?” Faith asked curiously, ignoring the woebegone look her blonde counterpart was giving Willow.

Sensing pending victory, Willow happily explained, “It's just a girl's night. The point of it's to try to cheer up someone who's just gone through a breakup. We'll get to talk about our own breakups, and relationship disasters, pig out on ice cream, and the best part is it's a free-for-all on who can make the most inventive insults for Satsu.”

Buffy glanced at Faith warily. Seeing the mildly interested look, she sighed and rolled her eyes. She was dreading it, but she couldn't turn it down if Faith was interested. Faith probably hadn't had the chance to do things like that often, if ever.

“We can if you want, Faith,” She said softly.

Faith tilted her head a little, considering her and the idea. She wasn't usually one for the whole girly slumber party type stuff, but it seemed like something that might be good for Buffy. The slightly fearful look on Buffy's face decided it for her. She smirked and returned her gaze to Willow.

“Sounds fun, you can count me in, Red.”

Buffy's shoulders slumped and she looked at Willow. She hadn't given in with any of her other breakups, and she didn't quite understand why she was doing it now. Seeing the expectant look, she nodded reluctantly.

“Fine, I'll let you torture me this once.”

Willow smirked. She wondered if her friend even realized she hadn't once considered letting Faith join them alone. Then she decided it was doubtful. Looking at Faith, Willow realized Faith was probably suffering from the same bout of denseness.

Goddess save us from lovesick Slayers, She snickered internally.



Chapter Fifteen: Let's Give Them Something to Talk About

“Hey, is Ken back from the store yet?” Faith called out as she came down the stairs.

“I'm here,” She heard Kennedy reply from the kitchen.

She entered the room to find the other women fixing their ice cream. She took in their appearances and shook her head. Buffy was in Faith's boxers and tank top, Willow wore an oversized Orange and white football jersey, Kennedy wore a pair of blue PJ bottoms and a white T-shirt, and Dawn wore black boxers and a dark red tank top.

“Whoa, nobody said nothin' about this bein' a slumber party,” She snorted. “And how the fuck did all of ya have time to get changed? I wasn't in the shower that long.”

“Ken decided to add some alcohol into the mix,” Buffy explained, gesturing with her head at the wine coolers sitting on the counter. “We figured it'd be safer for them to stay, so while we went to change Will did her mojo and voila, PJs for her and Ken.”

“And where is everyone plannin' to sleep?” She drawled.

Buffy bit her bottom lip and then released it. “I figured on crashing with you in the den so Will and Ken could have the guestroom.”

Faith scratched absently at her eyebrow and licked her lips. “Aight, gotta be the oddest way of gettin' into my bed anyone's ever come up with, but whatever floats ya boat.”

Buffy yelped, “Faith! That's not... I mean, I wasn't—”

Amused, she drawled, “Chill out, B. I was just fuckin' with ya.”

Buffy scrubbed roughly at her flushed face and muttered under her breath, “Not that I would mind.”

Dark brown eyes jerked up to look at her, startled. Then Faith chuckled softly and bumped hips with Buffy as she sidled up to the counter where the ice cream was. She noticed that there were two bowls in front of Buffy and couldn't help herself.

“Got a bitch of a cravin' to satisfy, B?”

Huh? Buffy blinked in confusion, and then following Faith's line of sight, her expression turned sheepish. Oh, yeah. She dug out another large scoop of ice cream and dumped it in one of the bowls before handing it to Faith.

“This one's for you. It's that Ben & Jerry's Half Baked Dawn said you like.”

“Hell yeah,” She replied as she immediately spooned up a bite. “This is my favorite.”

“Of course it is,” Buffy replied dryly as she picked up her own bowl and headed to the living room.

“Hey, what's not to like?” Faith asked, grabbing two wine coolers and following after her. “It's got both vanilla and chocolate ice cream, throw in the fact that it has brownies and cookie dough in it too, and you've got the perfect ice cream.”

Buffy sat down on the couch, leaving just a little space between her and the arm of the couch. She glanced over her shoulder at the approaching woman and nodded.

“And more sugar than any one person needs.”

Faith set her bowl and the wine coolers on the end table and reached for the button of her pants. “And your point is?”

“You're hyperactive enough without it,” Buffy said absently, her forehead wrinkling in confusion as she watched Faith undo her pants. “What are you doing, Faith?”

Lowering the zipper of her jeans, Faith glanced up with a smirk. “You guys are in your PJs, or in your case, mine, so I'm gonna strip down and get comfy too.”

“Oh God,” She groaned, slapping a hand over her eyes as Faith pushed the tight jeans down her hips. She tried not to think about the smooth skin being uncovered.

“Holy fuck, what are you doing?” Dawn choked out, chuckling as she entered the room.

“Torturin' your sister,” She replied, slipping the pants off.

Buffy groaned and removed her hands from her eyes, struggling not to stare at the bare legs inches from her. “Did you have to do that down here?”

“Yeah,” She answered simply as she retrieved her bowl.

She chuckled as Buffy rolled her eyes and grumbled as she scooted down to make room for her on the end of the couch. She sat down and squirmed until she was comfortably leaning against the arm of the couch. She couldn't help but smirk as the position pressed Buffy tightly against her side. Their eyes locked and Faith lifted an eyebrow as she scooped up a spoonful of ice cream, this time holding it out to Buffy.

Hazel eyes dropped to look at the offering, considering it seriously. Then she sighed and shook her head as she gave in. She took the spoon into her mouth and licked the ice cream off it, moaning as the rich taste flooded her senses. She winked at Faith and chewed quickly so she could swallow the treat.

“Okay, so it is really good.”

She scooped up some of her own and looked questioningly at Faith. When Faith shook her head adamantly, Buffy shrugged and took the bite. Oh well, more FroYo Cherry Garcia for me.

Willow and Kennedy entered shortly after and glimpsing their closeness and Faith's state of dress, they shared an amused look and decided to sit in the recliners instead of on the couch. Dawn sprawled out on the floor, leaning back against the opposite end of the couch. It was quiet for a little while and then Faith looked up from her bowl.

“Ain't we supposed to be like bashin' Satsu and all our exes or whatever?”

Willow swallowed her ice cream. “Well, we all know about my one big breakup.”

“Ya mean with dog-boy?” Faith quipped.

“Yes,” She said dryly, having long since resigned herself to Faith's nicknames.

Kennedy took a long pull from her wine cooler and then set it aside as she pushed her chair into a reclining position. She crossed her legs at the ankles and stretched briefly.

“I never had any really serious relationships until Will, so I wasn't heartbroken or devastated when the others ended. It was sort of just like, okay, whatever.”

Faith handed Buffy one of the wine coolers she'd brought in and then took the other for herself. After she opened it and took a sip, she looked up to find everyone looking at her. She widened her eyes slightly and shrugged defensively.


Buffy pressed closer against her side, gently placing a hand on her thigh. The silky feel of Faith's warm skin threw her off and then she let out a shuddering breath as she shook her head to clear the haze of lust that was fogging her mind.

“I don't know about them, but I'm a little curious about the one breakup we've seen. I mean, we've all heard about Ronnie, Steve, and Kenny, but...” She trailed off.

“You wanna know about Wood,” Faith sighed and smiled weakly as she looked at the others, who nodded in confirmation.

“You don't have to if it's too painful,” Willow added. “This is supposed to cheer Buffy up, and I doubt you crying or something will do that.”

“Any more at least,” Faith quipped.

Buffy smacked Faith in the belly. “I never would've been happy seeing you cry. Even when I was busy committing Hari-kari.”

Faith rolled her eyes. “I've realized that by now, B. I was fuckin' with ya.”

“Oh,” She chuckled sheepishly. “Sorry.”

Faith gently bumped her shoulder in acknowledgement. She looked around the room at their friends and sighed. For once she actually felt like it might be safe to open up. She was comfortable, happy, and... She glanced down at where Buffy's body was touching hers. And warm.

Very warm, She mused, shifting slightly. She draped a leg over Buffy's thighs and, ignoring the wide-eyed look she received in response, ate the last bite of her ice cream. She set the bowl aside and leaned her head back against the couch as she swallowed.

“I'm sure you've realized by now that Wood was my longest relationship ever,” She starts quietly. “He was also my most serious one.”

She smiled sadly. “He showed me that not all men are dogs and treated me with more respect than I'd ever been given in my life. And I loved him for it.”

Buffy gently squeezed her leg and watched her expression as she spoke. She was fascinated by the difference between her earlier countenance and this one. She'd gone from running to keep from showing others that she was an actual human being, to opening up and talking honestly about matters of the heart. She was starting to realize that the contradictions were part of what attracted her to Faith.

“But, in the end, I just couldn't change enough to be able to fully accept him in my life,” She said, wiping away a tear that had escaped her eye. “I enjoy my job, my life, and I while I wanted to have the things he was offerin', I didn't want to give anything up.”

“What do you mean?” Willow asked softly.

Faith shrugged. “He wanted to settle down and have a family somewhere away from Slayin' and the Council. We argued about it a few times, and in the end he decided he wanted to find someone who could be what he needed.”

“And that led to the destruction of my kitchen, how?” Dawn asked with levity.

Faith narrowed her eyes, trying not to smirk. “You've just been waitin' to ask that, haven't ya?”

“Well, yeah,” She answered, shrugging as if it were obvious.

“I kinda flipped like a ghetto bitch.”

“Well that's obvious,” Kennedy interrupted with a soft laugh. “But I think she meant that she wanted to know why you flipped.”

“He told me that I'd never be able to maintain a relationship if I couldn't... get past bein' a Slayer,” She answered, her voice wavering. “It just hit me wrong.”

Buffy frowned and set her bowl and the wine cooler on the coffee table. Ignoring their audience, she shifted to face Faith and wrapped an arm around Faith's waist. When Faith looked at her questioningly, she gave her an understanding grin.

“I don't think there is a right way for something like that to hit someone, Faith. I mean, some might say trashing the kitchen was overreacting, but they wouldn't be a Slayer. He basically said you'd never find love if you didn't change who you are.”

Faith nodded, smirking slightly. She cautiously curled her arm around Buffy's shoulders and idly glanced around at their friends. Seeing that they maintained indulgent, amused expressions, she relaxed and held Buffy tighter. It was out of character for her, she realized, but she was starting to believe it wouldn't hurt to let that go occasionally.

She took a deep breath, feeling the solid warmth of the other woman's body all along her side. ‘Specially if lettin' go means I get to touch her like this. She bit her bottom lip and glanced down. It ain't gonna be as easy as I thought, tryin' to just be a friend.

“So,” Willow said loudly, trying not to smirk as she watched her friends jump. “Anyone else wishing I'd have let Faith smack Satsu around a little longer today?”

Faith stayed silently, happily turning her gaze to the kitten meowing for her attention on the floor. She'd gotten into enough trouble with that issue as it was and she wasn't about to remind Buffy that she was supposed to be upset with her. She released her grip on Buffy briefly as she leaned over to retrieve Cookie, and then she returned to her position. She settled the kitten on her lap, idly tracing her fingers over the soft fur.

“It's okay, Faith. I know I was upset earlier, but I get why you did it,” Buffy murmured, just loud enough for Faith to hear her.

She jerked her gaze up from her lap to look at Buffy, and then she nodded in acknowledgement. She turned her attention back to their friends.

“I wish she would have broken the bitch's nose again or gave her a fat lip,” Dawn grumbled. “I never did like her and this only made it worse.”

“You know, I never did get why you and Faith hated her so much,” Buffy added, looking at them with narrowed eyes.

“We never got why you liked her so much, so we're even,” Faith snickered.

“Smartass,” Buffy muttered. “You probably started it, too.”

“No, I really didn't,” She laughed.

“She's telling the truth, Buff,” Willow added through her laughter.

“Yeah, it started when Faith came into the gym and asked me where you were,” Dawn added. “I think she said, ‘Where's little miss tight ass?', and then Satsu turned from whatever she was doing and asked what she wanted with you in a snotty tone.”

Buffy winced at the thought. She of all people knew just how Faith responded to someone taking an attitude with her. She looked at Faith apologetically.

“Was that before or after the Scythe went missing?”

“It was right after we got it back when I was tryin' to find ya to tell ya me and G-man was headin' back to the states,” She muttered.

“Anyway,” Dawn continued. “You can guess how Faith reacted, and it just snowballed from there. It became a contest to see who could be the bitchiest Slayer, I guess.”

“And I'm sure Faith came out the bitchiest of us all,” Kennedy quipped.

“Of course,” Faith snickered. “B may be the queen Slayer, but I'm the queen bitch.”

“We're well aware of that,” Dawn said dryly. “As for me, she just got on my nerves because...” She paused, confused. “I don't think I ever did figure it out, actually.”

“It was ‘cause she used that attitude of hers on everyone but the second B entered the room, she was all sweetness and light,” Faith muttered.

“Why couldn't you guys have told me this before I fell in love?” Buffy grumbled. “You could've saved me some problems, you know.”

“We tried,” Dawn objected. “You just refused to listen. Then when I noticed that you were happy and she treated you well, I just kept my comments to myself.”

“Kept ‘em to your self, my ass,” Faith grumbled. “I never heard the end of it.”

Buffy shook from trying to hold in her laughter and then finally just gave in. I guess this isn't so bad after all, She mused, laying her cheek in the crook of Faith's shoulder. The arm around her shoulders tightened and a warm ball of happiness formed in her belly as her gaze fell on the kitten in Faith's lap.



Chapter Sixteen: Good-bye My Lover

Buffy finished mixing the creamer and sugar into her coffee and blew on it to cool it a little. She inhaled the steam rising from the cup, smiling as the scent of coffee and hazelnut reached her. She took a sip and sighed as she settled down at the breakfast bar. It was seven o'clock, so she knew she had a little time before Faith would be up.

In the two weeks that had passed, Buffy and Faith had gradually grown closer. With Faith on vacation and Giles giving Buffy time off to get her affairs in order, they had a lot of free time on their hands. They'd spent a lot of it just getting to know each other, something they'd never really tried when they were teenagers. They were both determined not to make the same mistakes twice.

Of course, with their growing emotional bond came the increasing need for physical contact. Any time they were in close proximity, their bodies unconsciously reached out for the other, whether it was a hand resting somewhere, a head pillowed on something, or their arms going around each other. It served for embarrassing moments when they realized just what they'd been doing. They both received a lot of teasing from their friends any time they happened to get either Buffy or Faith alone.

On the downside, or on the upside depending on how you looked at it, Buffy had received notification that the divorce proceedings had begun. She didn't know whether to cry or be relieved that Satsu had filed all ready. On one hand, it meant the end of their marriage, and on the other, it meant it would all be over soon. At least she'd had time to get back to a steadier emotional state before she'd gotten the letter.

It had hurt, but reading it hadn't left her in tears like it would have a week ago. She was grateful for that and not just because she hated hurting. There were things that needed to be done and she couldn't do them if she were crying like a baby. Now that the proceedings had started, she needed to get the house ready to be sold.

She took another sip from her coffee and then set the mug on the island. She gazed into the dark red porcelain mug at the steaming light brown liquid inside. She needed to go by the house to see what needed to be gotten rid of, what needed to be packed, and maybe even get a little of it done. She just didn't want to do it alone and she'd been hesitating for the last three days to ask Faith.

Buffy felt a little strange asking her to help pack up the life she'd lived with someone else. It just seemed inappropriate somehow. She could, she knew, get any one of her friends to do it. But her heart was set on having Faith there to help her get through something that was bound to be painful.

“Yo, B! What's with ya?” Faith laughed, snapping her fingers in front of Buffy's face.

She'd entered the kitchen to find her staring into her coffee mug like she was searching for the answers to life's greatest mysteries. As amusing as it was, Faith wanted to find out why Buffy was up this early and she was impatient. Not getting any response, she swooped down to pick up Cookie and then set her on Buffy's shoulder. The reaction wasn't long in coming.

Cookie flexed her paws, digging her nails into the firm surface she was sprawled on. Buffy snapped back from her thoughts and bit her lip, whimpering slightly as the nails pierced her skin. She gently grabbed the kitten and, pausing to loosen the claws from her t-shirt, she then sat Cookie on her lap. Hazel eyes lifted to glare at Faith.

“That was so not funny. You could've caused me to hurt her, Faith!”

Faith's smile faded and she lowered her eyes. “Sorry, B. I was tryin' to get your attention and I didn't really think before I did that.”

“It's okay, just don't do it again,” She said softly and then turned her attention to the kitten. “How can you stand her, huh? She's such a brat.”

Faith snickered. Though she'd given her to Buffy, Cookie had attached herself to Faith instead. She figured they'd confused her by sharing a bed her first night there and at first had thought Cookie would eventually start sleeping in Buffy's room, but it hadn't happened yet and they'd resigned themselves to it. Now every morning she woke to find Cookie wrapped around a body part or sprawled on top of her.

“So what's the what?” Faith asked, crossing the room to fix a cup of coffee.

“Um, well, there's something I wanted to ask you,” Buffy muttered, keeping her gaze on the purring kitten.

Setting the coffee pot back on the maker, she turned slightly at the odd tone in her voice. She studied Buffy briefly, seeing the uneasiness in her posture. Turning back to the counter, she continued fixing her coffee.

“What can I do for ya, B?”

Buffy took a long drink from her coffee, stalling. Then Faith turned to face her again and she sighed as she realized she wasn't going to get away with it. She set the mug back on the breakfast bar and returned to stroking Cookie's back.

“I was going to head out to the house today,” She said quietly.

Faith's eyebrows furrowed in concern. “Why?”

Buffy hadn't returned to the house in the time she'd been at Dawn's. She'd had Faith take a couple trips over there to pick up any clothing she'd needed. Buffy sighed and looked up at her.

“I've decided to sell, and I need to start packing up so I can get the house cleared out before I put it on the market.” She shrugged and lowered her gaze again. “I was wondering if you'd come with.”

“I'm so there,” Faith answered quickly. “No way am I lettin' ya go through that shit alone, B. Want me to call the gang and see if they'll come too?”

A slight smile creased her lips and she shook her head. “No, I just want it to be us. I'm probably not going to be fit for company today.”

“Aight, that's cool. Want me to fix breakfast before we go?” Faith asked, easily accepting her decision.

Buffy bit her lip, considering the question. She'd fallen in love with Faith's cooking. It was definitely another one of those “mad skills” Faith liked to brag about. She sighed and her shoulders slumped.

“I just kind of want to get this over with,” She murmured dejectedly.

“Aight, we'll grab somethin' from the Waffle House on the way there,” Faith replied. “Then you can make it up to me by lettin' me fix lunch.”

Buffy's eyes twinkled in response. She wasn't the only one with an affinity for home cooked meals. She'd learned that Faith preferred them since most of her life she'd had to settle for restaurants or microwave dinners when she could even afford to get food. Faith had also explained that when she was on missions she usually ended up with the options of junk food or greasy diners, which the very thought made Buffy's stomach turn in sympathy.

“I suppose I could be bribed to eat your cooking if there's no other option,” She sighed aggrievedly, trying not to giggle in response to the good-humored glare she received.



Buffy reached over and before Faith could react, she nabbed the last bite of Faith's waffles. She chewed her ill-gotten food happily, ignoring the indignant protest she received. Then she glanced around the kitchen and sighed.

“Guess it's time to get to work, huh?” Faith questioned quietly.

“Yeah, why don't you get the boxes from the car while I clean up this mess?” She asked, gesturing at the Styrofoam trays their breakfast had come in.

She waited until Faith left the room to get the boxes they'd gotten on the way there and then looked around. Her gaze fell on the table and she frowned at the recent memories. Then she shook her head and gathered their trash. The sooner they got this over and done with, the sooner she could say good-bye to this part of her life.



“Yo, B,” Faith shouted from the master bathroom.

“What?” She asked, crossing the bedroom to poke her head inside.

“What are we supposed to do ‘bout the furniture?” Faith asked, jerking her thumb over her shoulder at the tall, light colored oak cabinet by the garden tub.

Buffy sighed and tucked her hands in her back pockets, leaning her shoulder against the doorjamb. She regarded the piece of furniture seriously and then shrugged.

“Just leave it. I'm going to try to sell the house as furnished.”

Faith's eyebrows furrowed and she asked, “Couldn't ya use this stuff somewhere else?”

“Satsu and I picked most of this out together,” Buffy explained quietly.

“Ah, I get ya,” Faith said, nodding slightly. “Don't want the reminders, right?”

“Right,” She answered dryly. “There are enough of those without keeping any of this.”

Faith absently fidgeted with her belt buckle as she glanced around. Then she nudged the box by her foot and looked up at her.

“I think I got everything in here packed away. Wanna check to make sure?”

Buffy glanced at the two medium sized boxes and then shook her head. “No, that seems about right for this room. We'll do a quick run-through when we're finished to make sure we have everything before we leave.”

“Aight,” Faith muttered as she stepped around the boxes towards the doorway.

She paused as she looked around the bedroom, noticing that nothing had been touched in this room yet. She turned a questioning gaze on Buffy and sighed when she noticed the swollen, reddened eyes. She held out a hand for Buffy's and then tugged her close, linking their fingers. She cupped the back of Buffy's neck and kneaded it gently.

“Wanna tell me about it while I help ya pack up this room?”

Buffy closed her eyes briefly and sighed. Then she reopened her eyes and looked up at Faith.

“I can't ask you to do that. It wouldn't be right.”

Faith smiled knowingly and shook her head. “I'm your friend, B. That's what I'm here for.”

She released Buffy's hand and moved to the bed, grabbing a few flattened boxes. She assembled them and then searched out the packaging tape, quickly fixing them so they could hold stuff. She set a box on the bed and opened the nightstand drawers. Then she began emptying them and setting the items out on the mattress so Buffy could sort through them before they packed the boxes.

“Better start talkin', B.”

Buffy reached out and grabbed a picture frame, turning it over in her hand. She studied the image, a melancholy smile creasing her lips. It was taken shortly after they'd first started dating. Buffy was leaning against a tree with her arms wrapped around Satsu's waist and her chin propped on her shoulder, and both were smiling with genuine happiness at the camera.

“You know, after the first time I slept with her I freaked out,” She murmured quietly, gaining a snort in response. She smiled wryly. “Yeah, I guess it isn't really a surprise.”

Faith carefully kept her gaze on what she was doing. Buffy needed to get this out and she didn't want anything to distract her in case it made her close off. She'd tried to get Buffy to do this a few times, but Buffy had shut her down each time. She was glad they'd gotten somewhere finally, even if it did mean having to hear about Satsu.

“She was so understanding about it, too,” Buffy mused. “I guess that's part of why I didn't listen to what everyone said about her. She never once showed that side to me until now.”

She sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Then when we went on that mission in Florida, we finally got together after two years of dancing around the subject. By the time I realized I was in love, I was so gone there wasn't any doubt in my mind about us ‘cause she was so patient and gentle.”

Tears blurred her gaze and she set the picture aside, wrapping her arms around her waist. She squeezed her eyes shut and choked out, “God, it hurts so fucking much. I thought it was getting easier, but it hasn't.”

Faith sat down next to her and pulled her into her arms. Buffy buried her face in Faith's chest and Faith gently rocked her, leaning her chin on Buffy's head. The deceptively strong body shook from the sobs and Faith tightened her hold.

“Sayin' good-bye's never easy,” She murmured and closed her eyes as tears filled them, her heart breaking when the sobs grew louder.



Chapter Seventeen: Retail Therapy--Slayer Style

Faith tried not to snicker as she watched Buffy's face light up. It was amazing what just being in a mall could do to change Buffy's mood. It had always been a source of amusement for Faith. She crossed her arms over her chest and followed her into the store she'd made a beeline for.

She silently watched Buffy go from rack to rack. She didn't quite get what was so fun about shopping for clothes. Now, shopping for weapons? That she could totally get behind and even happily participate. The only reason she'd even suggested this was to cheer Buffy up.

Earlier they'd finally finished packing her belongings after two days of sorting through it and talking about some of the memories the items held. She'd learned more about Buffy's relationship with Satsu than she'd ever had a desire to. Of course, she wouldn't change it since gradually it had changed to where Buffy actually smiled and laughed during the stories instead of bursting into tears. That alone had made it worth it.

Buffy glanced up from the lacey blue shirt she was looking at to see the slightly bored expression her companion was sporting. She smirked and put the shirt back on the rack. Then she turned to face Faith fully and put her hands on her hips.

“Are you going to just stand there or help me find something to go slaying in tonight?”

Now that had her interest. She hadn't gone slaying since before she'd gone on that last mission, and it had been even longer since Buffy had been her Slaying partner. Faith put her hands in her pockets and shrugged.

“Sure, I'll help. Gotta tell me what you're lookin' for first.”

“Something sexy but serviceable,” Buffy answered, all ready turning her gaze back to the shirts on the rack.

Faith paused and looked at her. She scratched absently at her ear and narrowed her eyes. She just knew she'd regret asking, but she couldn't hold it in.

“Why not just wear one of the hundreds of outfits now crowding the guestroom closet?”

“Do you seriously need me to answer that?”

“Well, yeah,” Faith drawled. “I wouldn't have asked if I didn't.”

“None of them appealed to me,” She shrugged, lifting a top to inspect it.

Faith blew out a breath and muttered, “I'm startin' to understand why ya got so many clothes that I nearly broke my back carryin' the boxes into the house.”

“You're exaggerating,” Buffy said dryly.

“No I'm not,” Faith snickered, curiously tilting her head to look at the shirt Buffy held.

Buffy held it up in front of her for Faith to see. “What do you think?”

Faith blinked, her mind going straight in the gutter. The hunter green top was short, stopping somewhere around the belly button. It had a low riding neckline and was strapless. She cleared her throat and shook her head, forcing her gaze back to Buffy's.

“B, you're askin' for trouble if ya wear that out on patrol.”

Chuckling quietly at the dazed expression still clouding Faith's face, she asked, “How so?”

Faith narrowed her eyes and pointed at Buffy's chest. “One wrong move and the girls are gonna be poppin' right the fuck out.”

Buffy turned the shirt around and tilted her head, considering it. Then she blinked and put it back on the rack, snickering.

“You may have a point.”

“‘Course I do.”

Buffy jerked her head towards the next rack as she said, “Let's keep looking. Then we can go check out that hunting goods store we passed.”

“Fuck yeah,” Faith said excitedly. “That's more like it.”



“Check this one out, B,” Faith muttered, leaning closer to the display case.

Buffy set aside the jacket she was looking at and crossed the store to where Faith stood. She wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders and propped the other on the display case as she leaned over it. She tilted her head and studied the bone-handled bowie knife curiously before bringing her gaze back up to meet Faith's at close range.

“Cool ain't it?” Faith mumbled, distracted by their close proximity.

“Uh-huh,” She answered, her eyes dropping to Faith's full lips.

Faith's tongue darted out to lick the cleft in her bottom lip. Unconsciously leaning closer, she darted her own gaze from Buffy's mouth back to her eyes. A cough pulled them back to reality and they slowly pulled apart. Things like that had happened often enough lately that they'd gotten to where they didn't jerk away any more.

“Can I help you ladies?” A deep voice asked.

Faith looked away from Buffy and glanced at the aging shopkeeper. She nodded and gestured at the knife they'd been looking at before.

“Yeah, I'd like a closer look at that knife.”

“All right,” He said, flicking his gaze over her hands that were resting on the glass top with a smirk. “Guess I don't have to ask if you know how to handle one.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Buffy asked, frowning.

Faith shook her head and rubbed her thumb over the calluses on her hand. She turned one hand over and held it up for Buffy to see. Slight calluses could be seen on the base of her palm, along the side of her thumb, and in other key areas as well.

“He wasn't bein' an asshole, B. He's probably worked in stores like this long enough to realize what these come from.”

“Oh,” She muttered, slightly embarrassed at her own defensiveness.

The shopkeeper unlocked the display case and brought out the bowie knife. He set the box on top of the case and watched as Faith lifted the knife out of the velvet lining. She wrapped her hand around the chilled, rough bone handle and brought it close for inspection. Then she lifted her gaze to meet his inquiringly.

“What type of bone was the handle carved from?”

He smirked. “You probably wouldn't believe me if I told you.”

“Try us,” Buffy countered. “I bet we'll surprise you.”

His gaze took in the expert way Faith spun the knife in her hand and the comfort at which she held it with. Then he nodded, conceding her point.

“My son used to work for the military,” He said quietly, leaning closer so that no one else could overhear. “Since he was discharged, he's gone out every night around midnight. Every once in a while he'll bring back strange looking stuff.”

Faith stiffened and asked warily, “Stuff like what?”

He shrugged. “Just odds and ends like the pile of wide, curved bones he brought back a couple of months ago. He occasionally comes in looking kind of banged up too.”

“The military unit he worked for wasn't called the Initiative was it?” Buffy asked in a cold tone.

“I couldn't tell you,” The man answered apologetically. “He said it was classified when I asked, so I dropped it.”

Faith nodded, settling the knife back into the box. She wrapped her arm around Buffy's back and gently massaged the tensed muscles as she turned them back towards the rest of the stores. She led them away from the counter.

“We're gonna finish lookin' ‘round, but I want three of those knives.”

“All right, I'll pull a few out of the storeroom,” The man called, watching them as they walked off.

Buffy stopped them when they were out of earshot and looked at Faith questioningly. “Why did you ask for so many?”

Faith smirked and explained, “One for me, one for you, and one for Red's geeks.”

“Who said I wanted one?” Buffy asked teasingly as she inspected a crossbow hanging from a hook on the wall.

“I know that glint in your eyes well enough by now, B.”

“True,” Buffy muttered, scrunching her forehead up in concentration as she tried to make sense of the letters on the crossbow.

“Don't bother, B,” Faith said, chuckling. “It ain't in English.”

“How do you know?” Buffy asked, pouting as she moved to the next item that had caught her attention.

She shrugged. “Most of the stuff in this store ain't from here. I think a lot of it's German and Russian. A few of the companies might be Mexican, too.”

“I didn't realize you'd been in here before,” Buffy murmured, slipping her hand into Faith's back pocket absently.

“I haven't. I just noticed it,” Faith rasped, darting a questioning glance at Buffy.

She doesn't even realize she did that, Faith mused and shook her head at the distracted look on Buffy's face. I ain't gonna be the one to tell her. If she wants to play with my ass, then she can go right ahead.

“Remind me to call my real-estate agent tomorrow,” Buffy muttered, flexing her hands.

A low groan caught her attention and she blushed, closing her eyes as she realized what had caused Faith to make that sound. She tried to figure out a way to move her hand without calling attention to it, but she couldn't quite concentrate. The feel of the firm muscles clenched beneath her hand had her mind sliding into X-rated imagery.

“What did I say that made ya think about your agent?” Faith asked, trying to help Buffy get back on track.

“She's from Mexico,” Buffy answered gratefully as her thoughts regained a little clarity.

“Gonna have her start lookin' for buyers for the house?” Faith asked, gently reaching back to remove Buffy's hand from her pocket.

It wasn't that she didn't want it there. It was just distracting and a little too arousing when they were supposed to be doing the friendship thing. She entwined their fingers and gently bumped hips with Buffy.

“That and I want to ask her to start looking into apartments for me,” Buffy answered, pausing to run her free hand over a velvety soft deerskin rug. “I can't stay at Dawn's forever. We'd end up killing each other.”

“Sure you could,” Faith muttered, feeling her chest tighten in disappointment.

She internally rolled her eyes at herself. She'd known it would happen eventually. She'd just really enjoyed the past couple of weeks. The time they'd spent together had been priceless and she'd love to have more.

“It'll probably take her a good while to find a place,” Buffy said, smiling at the thought.

“Soundin' a little too happy about that, B,” Faith teased.

Buffy paused to look over at Faith with a sarcastic expression plastered on her face. She wasn't even going to dignify that with a response. They both knew the reason for it, even if they weren't saying it aloud. She shook her head at the wink Faith gave her.



Chapter Eighteen: Welcome Back

“Come on, let's motorvate, B,” Faith grumbled over the chime of the door ajar alarm. “The guys should all ready be here.”

“Just let me finish checking my make-up,” Buffy muttered, looking in the visor mirror of Faith's rental car.

Faith dropped her head back against the headrest and sighed. She rolled her head to the side and absently studied Buffy in the dim overhead light. It was amazing the difference a month had made. She'd made major progress in regaining her confidence and strength. Faith was proud to have been part of the solution to Buffy's problems for once.

Over the course of the past month, she'd been at Buffy's side almost constantly. They'd gone Slaying together, went to movies, stayed in to watch TV, and even gone shopping a few more times. It had been an interesting experience. She smirked.

Been frustratin' as Hell, too, Faith mused. She enjoyed their closeness, reveled in it even, but she was a hot blooded Slayer. There was only so much contact she could take before her body demanded more. The only consolation she had was that she wasn't the only one suffering.

She glanced at the club they were parked in front of and shook her head. She didn't know what they were thinking when they'd agreed to come here. They'd both stayed well away from this type of atmosphere since the night they'd gotten drunk. It hadn't been a conscious decision; it was just how it had gone.

It was one of our better decisions, ‘cause God knows the last thing we need is our judgment impaired, Faith thought with a soft snort. We do just fine on our own.

“You ready to go?” Buffy asked, flipping the visor up and reaching for the door handle.

“‘Bout fuckin' time,” Faith muttered, pushing her door open the rest of the way.

“Oh bite me,” Buffy replied, smirking slightly as she moved around to Faith's side.

“Don't tempt me,” She replied, crossing the parking lot to the front door of the club.

She bypassed the line, ignoring the shouts of protest from the people waiting to get in. Willow had made reservations to get them in as VIP, so there was no way she was waiting in line. The rest of those people could kiss her ass if they had a problem with it. She pulled the pass from her pocket as she noticed the massive doorman stiffening at their approach.

“You have to go to the end of the line, ladies.”

“We got passes that say differently,” Faith rasped, holding up the silver plastic card.

“Let me see some ID and both of your Club Avalon VIP Visas, please,” He replied, holding out a hand for the items.

Faith turned and took the cards Buffy was holding out and then handed them to the doorman along with her own. She crossed her arms over her chest and watched as he swiped first the VIP cards and then their IDs. Seconds later the pager on his belt beeped and he nodded, returning the items to them.

“Sorry about that, ladies. We have to be careful,” He said apologetically as he punched in a code on the system by the door.

The doors slid open and Faith turned to flip off the people waiting in line as she walked backwards into the club. She laughed as the doors closed behind them on the loudly voiced complaints from the crowd. She winked at Buffy and handed her back her cards. She ignored the rolled eyes she received and slid her own cards into her back pocket.

“Come on, let's find the gang before you get us into trouble,” Buffy muttered, slipping the cards into her pocket.

“Red said this place was split into two sections, the coffee shop and the club, right?”

“Yeah, but did she say which part they'd be waiting in?”

“Excuse me, ladies? May I help you?”

They both turned at the sound of the voice and found a raised dais just a few feet to their right. A woman in a black and white tux stood behind a podium, a polite smile creasing her lightly glossed pink lips. They shared a look and stepped closer.

“Yeah, we're meetin' some friends here. Can ya tell us where they are or somethin'?”

“What were your passes registered under?” She asked, glancing down at the silver PalmPilot Handheld in her hand.

“Re—Willow Rosenberg,” Faith replied, stumbling over the redhead's name.

She spun the stylus in her fingers and then touched it to the screen several times. Then she glanced up and gave them a slight smirk.

“They're waiting for you inside the club. Ms. Rosenberg left instructions for you.”

Buffy gave her a wary look. “I'm not so sure I want to know, but go ahead and tell us. Be warned, I may end up killing my best friend depending on what she said.”

“She simply said for the two of you to stay away from the bar since they weren't in the mood to see lust-bunnies tonight,” She relayed the message, trying not to laugh.

“Which way do we go to get in?” Faith asked, gently rubbing the mortified blonde's back between her shoulder blades.

“Those doors right there,” The woman replied, leaning over the podium to point to the back of the coffee shop where another set of steel double doors waited.

“Thanks,” Buffy muttered gently shoving Faith ahead of her.

She followed behind her, trying to get the heat in her face to recede. She couldn't be too upset with her friend, since she was very aware that it was a genuine concern. Her gaze dropped to the leather-clad ass and hips swaying in front of her. Then she sucked in a breath and forced her attention to move ahead to where the doors were.

The two Slayers were only a couple inches from the doors when they slid open. Loud, sensuous rock music greeted them and they entered the multi-colored strobe-lit club. The doors slid shut behind them and Buffy hooked a finger through Faith's belt loop. Faith reached back and grabbed Buffy's free hand as they dodged a few of the more enthusiastic dancers.

Faith briefly closed her eyes and concentrated. Then she smirked as she reopened them and followed the Slayer bond to where Kennedy was. They were led to the back of the club where a seating area had been set up. Several overstuffed sofas lined the back wall, with a few recliners set up in a half-circle in front of each and coffee tables in the middle of each half-circle.

Kennedy was sitting on one end of the sofa at the left end of the room with the rest of their group spread out in their area. Dawn was seated in one of the three chairs, while Willow sat next to Kennedy with Xander on the other side holding hands with Renee. Kennedy glanced up as she felt their approach and gave them a nod.

“They're here,” Kennedy said, bringing them to the attention of the rest of the group.

“Hey, guys,” Willow called out as they reached them.

“Hey,” Faith muttered, lowering herself into one of the recliners.

“Hey, what do you think you're doing?” Buffy asked, tugging on her belt loop.

Faith sighed and paused with her hands on the chair arms. “Sittin' down, what does it look like? You had me runnin' around the mall all fuckin' day, B.”

“You poor baby,” Buffy murmured. “Want me to kiss it and make it better?”

Faith narrowed her eyes and straightened, leaning her face closer to Buffy's. “Nah, but there is somethin' ya can kiss,” She said sweetly, smiling so her dimples showed.

“Maybe later,” Buffy laughed. “But first, you're getting me a drink and then dancing with me.”

Their friends watched in amusement as Faith just shook her head and stomped off, muttering under her breath. Then they looked back at Buffy to see her take the seat Faith had been about to settle in. In unison, they rolled their eyes and reached for their drinks on the coffee table. It was going to be yet another interesting night.

“So how do you feel about going back to work Monday?” Xander asked, his voice breaking up the silence that had settled on the group.

Buffy smiled slightly. As much as she'd enjoyed the last few weeks, and she had, all good things must come to an end. The vacation time Giles had given her was officially over. That was the reason for their outing tonight actually—the gang had wanted to give her a night out in honor of her return to work.

“I'm caught between looking forward to it and dreading it, honestly,” She replied with a wry smile. “Once I got everything settled all there was left to do was bum around, and I never thought I'd say it, but that gets old after a while.”

“I totally get that,” Renee said, leaning into Xander's side. “That's how I felt before I learned about the whole Slayer gig. I was bumming around after college and it was starting to get really boring.”

Buffy nodded and her expression fell slightly. “But I have to admit I'm going to miss having so much time with Faith. I've really enjoyed getting to know her better.”

“Aw, gee, B. I've enjoyed it too,” Faith said with a sarcastic edge as she leaned over the back of the chair to hand Buffy her drink.

Buffy looked up at her and Faith winked. Then Faith took a sip of her own drink and paused to lean her chin on Buffy's head.

“Wanna tell me why you stole my seat?”

Buffy shook her head and sipped from her drink, blinking in surprise as the taste hit her tongue. She pulled away from Faith and looked up at her.

“This is plain Coke. Why?”

“‘Cause the last thing we need is alcohol.”

“True,” Buffy muttered, ignoring the smirk Kennedy was giving them.

“Glad we're agreed,” She murmured, wrapping an arm across Buffy's upper chest.

“Drink up so we can hit the dance floor.”



Half an hour later, Buffy was regretting her decision. There was only so much she could take. She didn't even know how Faith was managing to contain herself with the way their hands kept straying. Then again, it seemed to her that Faith wasn't really trying to.

Faith's hips writhed against her ass and the arm around her waist kept Buffy in place as her other hand strayed to caress anything within her reach. She had little choice but to stay and dance, which was the only reason her arm was reaching back to wrap around Faith's neck. Or at least that was what she was telling herself.

The leg between hers that was rhythmically grinding against her center pressed harder with each beat of the drums in the song playing. Their breathing was as out of control as their heartbeats were. The heat they were generating in each other was solely to blame for the sweat drenching both women, even with the crowd surrounding them.

Their hearts weren't the only things pounding. Buffy whimpered softly as the seam of her tight jeans rubbed against her aching clit. Faith's thigh pushed harder against her and she gasped, feeling her pussy convulse. Her nails dug into Faith's nape reflexively, drawing a hiss of pleasure from Faith.

Their friends had been watching the show with a mixture of alarm and amusement. They'd seen it plenty of times, but this time it seemed a little too... serious. The energy coming off them had Kennedy and Renee's Slayer senses going crazy. It wasn't until they noticed things heading into dangerous territory that Willow decided to intervene.

Faith's hand cupped her through her jeans and Buffy's mouth fell open. Her hips jerked reflexively against the strong, confident touch. Her mind was telling her to put a stop to this but her body refused to listen. Just as her body was starting to win out, the two women were gently guided apart by an unseen force.

Faith blinked the haze of lust away and felt her stomach drop as reality set in. Oh fuck. She chanced a glance at Buffy and released a groan. That was too fuckin' close.

“What the fuck, Red?” She ran a hand through her hair as she tried to steady her breathing.

“Hands were in naughty places,” Willow muttered, grabbing Buffy's arm and pulling her in the opposite direction of where Faith stood.

“W—where are we going?” Buffy stammered in confusion, trying to comprehend what was happening since her brain hadn't quite caught up.

“I'm putting you in timeout until you calm down. Don't even think about following us, Faith,” She called back, chuckling as she heard both Slayers muttering indistinctly.

She kept tugging the reluctant blonde until they reached the bathroom. She pushed the door open and Buffy followed her inside. She checked to make sure it was empty and then turned to face her friend. Noticing Buffy's flushed features and dilated pupils, she smirked and retrieved a handful of paper towels from the dispenser.

She quickly wet them at the sink and then approached her friend, holding the paper towels out to her. Not getting a reaction, Willow rolled her eyes and moved Buffy's hair away from her neck so she could place the wet paper against her neck. Buffy flinched at first and then let out a shuddering breath, groaning in relief at the chill.

“What's the problem, Buff?” Willow asked, concerned. “You two have always been intense, but this was a little much for even the two of you.”

Buffy took over holding the paper towels against her skin and moved to lean against the row of sinks. She blew out a harsh breath and gave the redhead a sardonic look.

“The problem?” She asked hoarsely, her eyebrows lifting expressively. “The problem is that we've found a new way to torture each other.”



Chapter Nineteen: Back to the Grind

Buffy rolled her chair back from her desk with a groan. She'd entered her office earlier to find a full inbox on her desk and an even worse off one in her e-mail. It had taken her the entire morning to sift through most of it. She turned her chair to face the window to her right, gazing out at the expanse of trees in the backyard.

The day had gone better than she'd expected so far. There hadn't been any messages from Satsu, nor had there been any awkward silences whenever she'd entered a room. That was of the good. It meant that maybe—just maybe, their problems had all ready made the circuit and were now old news.

She could hope, at least. She turned her head to look at the white phone sitting by her monitor, contemplating calling Faith and inviting her to lunch. Then it rang and she jumped, blinking in surprise. She laughed and shook her head as she turned to answer.

“Buffy Summers, how can I help you?”

“I need to see you in my office, please,” Giles replied abruptly.

“I'll be right there.”

She pulled the phone away from her ear and stared at it. I can't believe he just hung up on me. Who pissed in his tea?

She winced and shook her head as she replaced the phone on the base. I've been spending entirely too much time with Faith.

Buffy stood and left her office. Then she walked down the hallway to the office at the end which displayed, “Rupert Giles, Head of the Watcher's Council”, in gold letters on the glazed window. She opened the door and peered inside, entering at Giles' gesture. She crossed the room to settle in one of the comfortable leather guest chairs.

“What's the what?” She asked, tilting her head curiously.

Giles smiled and leaned back in his chair, folding his hands on top of the desk. “I simply wished to inquire as to how you are and find out if your return has gone smoothly.”

“It's been a little tense, but other than that everyone's minded their own,” Buffy replied, leaning her elbow on the chair arm.

Giles leaned forward unconsciously and caught her gaze, giving her a concerned look. “And how are you?”

She smiled slightly and murmured, “Better than I'd expected, truthfully. Faith really came through for me and helped me deal a lot better than I would have without her.”

Giles settled back in his seat once more, smirking faintly. “That doesn't surprise me. I'll take this time to say something I should have long ago. I – told – you – so.”

Buffy stuck her tongue out in reply and then chuckled along with Giles. She sighed and nodded. “I owe you a lot for not letting me mess up again back then.”

They shared a knowing look. When Giles and Faith had first returned to work alongside Buffy to retrieve the Scythe, he'd had to run interference more than once. They hadn't had time to deal with the aftermath of the mess with the rogue slayer, Genevieve since they'd continued to avoid each other. Buffy was determined to force a confrontation, while Faith had simply wanted to get the job done and get away from Buffy.

Then one day she'd managed to catch Faith alone and they'd argued bitterly. Giles had arrived just as Faith stormed from the room. He'd been absolutely livid and went off on Buffy, explaining exactly what had happened before and after her appearance during Faith's mission in vivid detail. Then he'd told her exactly what kind of effect it had had on Faith and he'd given her a clear warning to stay away from Faith if she insisted on continuing with their past behavior.

It had been a sobering experience for Buffy to have him so angry at her. Then once she'd calmed down later on, his words had actually sunk in and she'd finally felt the weight of it. Learning the effect her words and actions had had on Faith and the situation had flooded her with shame and guilt. That had been the turning point for her and the cornerstone of her decision to try to change the way she reacted to Faith.

A knock on the door interrupted Giles' reply and he called out, “Come in.”

Buffy lowered her head slightly, smiling broadly as the tingles told her who it was. Faith had still been asleep in the den when she'd left for work that morning. She turned to look over her shoulder as the door swung open and then Faith sauntered in.

“Mornin', G-man, B,” Faith rasped, approaching them.

“It's closer to afternoon, Faith,” Giles said, arching his eyebrows slightly.

“We've had this discussion before, ain't we?” Faith asked, moving to sit on the arm of Buffy's chair.

“Yes,” He muttered and then added, “You do realize there is another chair, don't you?”

“Yeah,” Faith replied, shrugging.

“Are you here simply to drive me insane?” Giles asked when she didn't move.

“Nah,” Faith replied with a smirk. “I figured that was what B was for.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and leaned her elbow on Faith's thigh. She head-butted Faith's arm and then it settled over her shoulders. Then she glanced up at Faith and narrowed her eyes.

“Why are you here?” She asked. “I was planning to call you when I got back to my office to invite you to lunch.”

Faith tugged at a strand of blonde hair that had fallen loose from the bun Buffy had her hair in. She glanced briefly at Giles and smirked at the obvious attempt he was making to ignore their actions as he cleaned his glasses. Then she glanced back at Buffy.

“Y'know, great minds and all that,” She replied, wiggling her eyebrows.

Giles put his glasses back on and sighed, “As scintillating as your conversation is, ladies, I do have work to do unlike some people.”

Faith ignored the pointed glance she was given and tilted her head, looking at Buffy curiously. “Ya ever get the feelin' he's tryin' to get rid of us?”

“Constantly,” Buffy replied, snickering.

“Let's go see if Red and Ken can stomach our company,” Faith said, standing and holding out a hand to Buffy.

“It's you they can't stand,” Buffy grumbled as she grabbed the offered hand and let her friend tug her up from her seat.

“Un-uh,” Faith replied as she led them from the office. “You're the one who ran ‘em off Friday night.”

“Nope,” Buffy muttered. “That was you and your roaming hands, miss grabs-a-lot.”

“I wasn't alone—”

The door closed on Faith's words and Giles laughed. “Dear lord, I think I preferred it when those two didn't get along,” He muttered, smiling despite his words.



As they entered the dining room, both Slayers were still laughing from the teasing they'd subjected each other to. Their arms were loosely wrapped about each other's waist and their comfort with each other was obvious. Buffy laid her cheek on Faith's shoulder as Faith glanced around, looking for their original quarry. Their visits to Willow and Kennedy's offices had come up empty so they'd hoped to find them here.

Faith found the two women almost immediately. Her gaze locked with Willow's and she gave her a nod as she tugged Buffy toward their table. They released each other's waist and entwined their fingers together so they could navigate between the small tables that dotted the room. She slowed as they approached their friends, taking in the files and paperwork strewn over part of the table.

“Hey, what's the what?” Buffy asked as she took the seat opposite Willow.

Faith turned her chair backwards and straddled it, crossing her arms and leaning them on the back. She tilted her head and studied the sheepish look Willow was giving her. Then she sighed and shook her head.

“I got the feelin' I ain't gonna like it, whatever it is.”

“Well, neither of you probably will,” Willow muttered, glancing back down at the page she held.

“Just tell us and get it over with, please,” Buffy said, her tone on the verge of becoming a whine.

In answer, Willow replaced the paper she held in one of the files and slid it across the table to Faith. Faith simply glared at her in annoyance and Willow gestured at it with her head.

“Look at it and you'll see.”

Faith flipped the file open and scanned the first page, her lip curling into a sneer. It was apparent that work was about to intrude into her vacation once again. There was a photo from the Slayer's ID and she studied it briefly. The girl seemed familiar, but considering just how many Slayers she'd met with multi-colored hair and far too many piercings, she wasn't surprised.

“Can't one of the other caseworkers handle her?”

“No, this one needs someone we know can get the job done. She's one of the more volatile cases we've been dealing with lately and she's only getting worse.”

Faith nodded in resignation. That meant they'd tried everything and this was their last chance. She glanced at Willow.

“Am I going in as a caseworker, a team leader, or a grunt?”

Willow sighed in relief and replied, “Shawna doesn't respond well to authority. Giles suggested sending you in as a teammate, since those are the only ones she'll really interact with.”

“Aight, so grunt it is,” She muttered, running her fingers through her hair.

She hated the cases that required that. One of the things she truly disliked about it was that it meant lying to the Slayer-in-Training. It also meant risking damage to her progress if someone blew her cover. She glanced at Buffy and met disappointed hazel eyes.

“Sorry, B. Looks like I'm gonna have to give lunch a miss.”

Buffy reached over and clasped Faith's thigh under the table. She gently rubbed the firm surface with her thumb and shrugged. She was disappointed, but she understood that they both had responsibilities.

“It's okay. Will I see you before you leave?”

“Dunno yet,” Faith replied as she got up. “Gotta go get briefed by G-man first.”

Buffy stood and pushed the chair out of the way so she could hug Faith. She wrapped her arms tightly around Faith's waist and was immediately surrounded by strong arms that encircled her shoulders. She rubbed her cheek gently against Faith's bare shoulder, and couldn't help but smile at the contact.

“Try not to be gone too long,” She whispered in Faith's ear.

“I ain't makin' any promises, but I'll see what I can do,” Faith mumbled, and then she kissed Buffy's temple as she reluctantly pulled away.

“Bye, Faith,” Willow said when the Slayer turned to retrieve the file from the table.

“Later,” She replied as she turned to jog from the dining room.

Buffy watched until she was gone and didn't move until she felt someone approaching her from behind. She turned and bit back several cusswords as she came face to face with Satsu. She met the obviously upset Slayer's gaze steadily as she crossed her arms over her chest. This is not going to be good, She mused.



Chapter Twenty: Separation Anxiety

“Satsu,” Buffy greeted tensely. “How are you?”

She was making a token attempt at keeping things civil. The last thing she wanted was to cause more problems for them. She studied Satsu's features for a moment, slightly concerned at the amount of strain visible lining her face. Then Buffy inwardly rolled her eyes, irritated.

She's someone else's problem now. I have enough issues of my own without worrying about her. Buffy gave Satsu an impatient look.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Satsu growled, stepping closer to Buffy.

Buffy was peripherally aware of Kennedy and Willow's movement as they got up from the table and came to stand behind her. She ignored them for the moment and gave Satsu a confused look. The aggression coming from Satsu didn't worry Buffy in the least. She'd dealt with Slayers far worse than Satsu could even dream of being.

Trying not to smirk at the thought of Faith, Buffy asked slowly, “At which time? ‘Cause just now I was wondering what Faith's going to bring back for me from her trip.”

Satsu's eyes narrowed as she swallowed hard. She opened her mouth to speak and then clamped her jaws shut. Then she exhaled sharply and shook her head incredulously.

“Cut the crap, Buffy,” Satsu finally managed to growl. “Did you request a transfer for me from Giles?”

“What?” Buffy asked, her eyes widening. “No!”



“I cannot believe the nerve of that woman!”

The exasperated exclamation was the first thing she said as she entered the den. Faith simply raised an eyebrow in response and settled more comfortably on the couch. She watched Buffy pace the floor in front of the entertainment center for a few seconds and then sighed silently.

“B, get over here and sit down so ya can tell me who pissed ya off this time.”

Buffy growled in frustration as she turned to face Faith. She put her hands on her hips and stomped her foot.

“I don't want to sit down! I want to smack the Hell out of Satsu,” She whined.

Fuck, I'm gonna miss her. Faith tilted her head slightly in concession and scratched absently at her eyebrow. “I totally get it, ‘cause I get that urge often, but what I don't get is why now.”

“She fucking accused me of requesting a transfer for her,” Buffy muttered, crossing the room to flop down on the opposite end of the couch.

She blinked and asked, “Ya didn't, right?”

“No! That's why it has me so pissed off,” Buffy explained, exasperated. “I don't think she believed me when I told her, but I'm not so sure I care. I'm starting to think it's actually a good idea, to tell you the truth. Not because of me, but because of her!”

“Can't blame ya there,” Faith said, chuckling softly. “God was I ever grateful when Wood requested a transfer to NY.”

“That's not it. I don't want her gone just ‘cause our relationship's over with,” Buffy said sadly. “If it weren't for her behavior, I'd probably be able to deal with her on a professional level. But she can't accept the truth about anything I say and I doubt she ever will.”

Faith gave her a knowing look. “B, you've forgiven your exes for a lot of shit, but I doubt even you can forgive the fact that she cheated.”

Buffy winced and shrugged sheepishly. “Okay, so I probably would've been a complete bitch to her whenever I had to face her alone, but still.”

Faith chewed the inside of her cheek as she considered her. Buffy was stressed, that was for certain. There was also a hint of dejection there too and that needed to be taken care of before it got out of hand. Faith smirked and stood, holding out a hand to Buffy.

“C'mon, let's get ya into a hot bubble bath while I'm cookin' dinner. Then ya can come down here and I'll tell ya all about the briefin' G-man gave me.”

Buffy looked up, considering her. Then she put her hand in Faith's and allowed her to tug her up. A gentle hand nudged her toward the door and she moved slowly.

“Get a move on, B. And I better not see ya before I get dinner done.”

She looked over her shoulder at Faith and gave a half-smile. “Thanks for this, Faith.”

Faith shrugged. “I ain't done anything yet, but maybe I'll give ya a massage later so you'll have a reason to thank me.”

“Okay,” Buffy agreed easily before she left the room.



“Okay, so are you going to tell me about your mission?”

Faith looked up from her plate and quickly finished chewing. She swallowed and then chased it down with Pepsi. Then she set her glass back by her plate and shrugged.

“First, tell me what you're gonna do about short-shit's transfer and then I'll help ya get your mind off her.”

Buffy rolled her eyes and muttered, “Nothing. Obviously Giles thought it was necessary and I'm not going to argue with him about that. I'll bitch him out for getting into my business, again , but I'm not going to try to change his mind.”

“Aight, that's completely understandable,” Faith replied, nodding.

“Why didn't he mention any of this when we were in his office?” Buffy asked, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion.

She smirked. “I can only guess that he didn't wanna hear ya bitchin' about him meddlin', and he wanted someone else to be blamed for interruptin' my vacation.”

“So what did he tell you about it?” Buffy asked, absently twirling her fork around in the spaghetti on her plate.

“You remember that kid, Shawna Nocona?” She mumbled around a mouthful of garlic bread.

Buffy's eyebrows furrowed. The name was familiar, but she just couldn't recall why. She shrugged in answer.

“Not really. Is she a Slayer?”

Faith nodded. “Yeah, she is. I think it was like four, maybe five years ago when Red and her geeks located her. A couple caseworkers went out to explain her status to her parents, and they ended up refusin' to let us anywhere near the kid.”

Buffy's eyes widened as the memory cleared up. She leaned forward and said, “Yeah, I remember that now. Like three months later they were out late and were attacked by vamps. It was just by luck that one of the older Slayers happened to be in the area and she got there just in time to save the kid, but her parents were all ready dead.”

They shared a sad smile and then Faith continued with her explanation. “Yeah, that was her. Well, she refused to come to the academy, but agreed to be placed with a watcher. We put her with an older one who could train her the way we were trained.”

“Okay,” Buffy said slowly. “So what's the problem?”

Faith winced. “She's actin' out, gettin' into all kinds of trouble, y'know? Sorta like I was when we first met, but she's more of a delinquent than nuts.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “You weren't nuts, you were just out of control.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith drawled. “However ya wanna put it, it doesn't change the fact that this thirteen year old kid is headin' for disaster. They've tried everything, but she won't cooperate, and she barely socializes. She responds better to her teammates than she does watchers and caseworkers, but even that's dicey.”

“They want you to go in as a teammate, right?” She asked, recalling the information Willow had given at lunch.

“Yeah, ‘cause it'll put me in a position to get close to the kid and figure out what makes her tick,” Faith replied, her shoulders slumping slightly.

“What's wrong?” Buffy asked, looking at her in concern.

Anguished dark brown eyes lifted to study her. Then Faith exhaled sharply and shook her head.

“I hate havin' to deceive these kids. In the world most of ‘em come from, secrets and lies are usually part of their biggest problem.” She shrugged. “I guess I just feel like such a fuckin' bastard ‘cause I'm doin' almost the same thing the people who fucked ‘em over did.”

“No you're not,” Buffy objected, realizing what it was Faith was getting at. “You're lying to actually get somewhere you'll be able to help them from. Those other people were doing it for their own sick, twisted gain or protection.”

“Hmm,” Faith murmured noncommittally and then she sighed. “Anyway, Giles has a flight set up for me at nine AM.”

Buffy studied Faith for a moment, considering whether she should argue the point further. Then she decided she'd wait until the mission was over. It would be easier to convince Faith she wasn't a bad guy when the kid was safe. Or at least Buffy hoped it would be.

“Have you packed yet?”

“Yeah, I did that as soon as I got back.”

Buffy stood and started clearing the breakfast bar of their dirty dishes. She gave Faith a brief smile as Faith joined her and they quickly had the breakfast bar cleared. As they were washing the dishes, Buffy kept glancing at Faith. Then she sighed.

“How long do you think you'll be gone?”

“It could be anywhere from three months to a year,” Faith muttered, wincing slightly.

Buffy's heart clenched painfully in response and she bit her bottom lip. Tears welled up in her eyes and she swallowed hard, fighting to maintain her composure. She set the plate she was cleaning back into the sink and retrieved a hand towel to dry her hands. Then she leaned against the counter and finally forced her gaze back to Faith's.

“That long, huh?”

Faith gave her an understanding smile and reached out to pull Buffy into her arms. Buffy immediately burrowed into her embrace and Faith nuzzled her ear. Buffy shivered and Faith tightened her hold, rubbing her hands over the tense back.

“C'mon, let's go upstairs and I'll give ya that massage I promised.”

Buffy pulled back slightly and shook her head, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “I don't think that's a good idea,” She mumbled, letting out a shuddering breath.

Trying not to whine, Faith asked, “Why not?”

“We both know what's going to happen if we go up there right now. I'm not strong enough to pull away and neither are you.”

Faith gave her a half-grin in acknowledgement. Neither of them was ready for a repeat of what had happened at the club. With the neediness we're both feelin', it wouldn't take too much for it to spiral out of our control again.

She brushed a tear from Buffy's cheek and sighed. Fuck, it's too soon to be leavin' her like this. She's still dependin' on me so fuckin' much every day.



Chapter Twenty-One: What's My Age Again?

San Francisco

Faith paused with her fist prepared to knock on the red oak door in front of her. She dropped her hand and her gaze fell. There were two approaches to choose from. The first was as a team player, someone who could and would play by the rules.

She grimaced. The very thought gave her shivers, and not the good kind. That type had never been her. The second, it was only slightly better. It involved being the badass she hadn't truly been in a very long time.

She wasn't certain she could stomach either one, but at least the latter didn't have her feeling as if she were seconds away from crawling out of her skin. It simply bothered her for reasons she'd never been able to comprehend. This was far from the first time she'd had to use her old defenses and armor to help with a mission. For now, she'd just have to steel herself to the best of her abilities and do what was necessary.

As Buffy had so helpfully pointed out, she was doing this to get somewhere to help the kids. A faint smile twitched her lips briefly and then she shook it off. And for that, she'd do damn near anything. At that reminder, she squared her shoulders and rapped her knuckles firmly against the door three times.

Then she stepped back and leaned against a support post on the porch. She studied the fresh coat of brownish-yellow paint covering the house as she waited. What the fuck drives a person to paint their house a color that reminds me of bird shit?

She heard steps approaching the front door from inside and then sighed as she took on an impassive expression. Maybe I'll ask them if I get bored enough. Her left eyebrow twitched faintly, the only outward sign of her amusement.

The door swung open and she tilted her head as she came face to face with the house's assigned watcher. She took his appearance in with the rapid precision of a Slayer and came to the conclusion that Giles' original assessment was correct. ‘Pompous' was the only word that could describe this man.

From Italian loafers, pressed black slacks, a stuffy white collared button-up shirt, and wire-rimmed glasses to thinning dark hair slicked to the side, Aaron Graves screamed ‘Old Council'. He vaguely reminded her of an older version of Wesley Wyndham-Price at his arrival in Sunnydale. Giles had informed her that Aaron had been a staunch supporter of Quinton Travers and that he'd only kept him on-staff because they'd been sorely in need of experienced watchers. That in and of itself would make it easier to stomach the attitude she'd get to display.

“May I help you, miss ?”

Judging from the expression on his face, the Brit had performed his own inspection and she'd been found lacking. She smirked, though the humor didn't follow to her eyes. She was beginning to suspect something and she couldn't wait to find out if she was right.

“You're Aaron Graves of the New Council.”

“Ah, yes. You must be Faith...” He trailed off pointedly.

“You gonna let me in?” She asked impatiently, not filling in the blanks.

Giles had informed her that it might be best to keep her identity hidden. She'd objected initially, but quickly saw the light. It would be easier to interact with Shawna if she didn't have a watcher trying to kiss her ass. It had happened before because of her relationship to Giles and she doubted not at all that Aaron Graves was just that type.

Without waiting for an invitation, she brushed past him into the house. Then she turned and crossed her arms over her chest as she waited. The next couple of minutes would define how their interaction would go for the duration of her stay. She had to admit she was curious to see just what kind of watcher he was.

“Please, do come in,” He muttered with a sickly smile as he turned to face her.

“I did, thanks,” She quipped.

“Yes, well, let's take this to my office,” The watcher said dismissively. “I need to tell you the rules and work out your place on the training roster.”

Training roster? She mused silently. Her eyebrows furrowed and she shot him a look.

“What the fuck's the trainin' roster?”

“I give each Slayer a few two hour slots during the week to train,” He answered. “That way I can concentrate on their skills individually and keep the competition to a minimum.”

Her only outward reaction was a slight twitch of her lips. Inward, however, her Slayer was growling. Ain't no fuckin' way they're gettin' enough trainin' that way. There was something else irritating her just a little more.

“But the competition's half the fun,” She commented, curious to hear his reply.

His expression hardened and he lowered his tone, “That may be, but this isn't meant to be fun. Your calling is deadly serious, and should be treated with caution and reverence.”

“Whatever,” She growled, letting loose her temper for a moment. “Where's my room?”

“There are things we need to discus before you get settled.”

“They can wait. I'm tired, and trust,” She said, giving him an evil grin. “Ya don't wanna deal with me if it gets any worse.”

That was true, but that wasn't the reason for her sudden need to get away from Aaron. She just didn't want to rock the boat too soon. There would be plenty of time to let their views clash down the road. For now, she'd just keep her mouth shut on the topic.

She was there to help Shawna, not to tell him that there was no place in the New Watcher's Council for someone with that view. She knew all too well what happened when the girl wasn't allowed her humanity to combat the darkness of the Slayer. If Shawna had been in Aaron Graves' care since her parents had died, it was no wonder she was getting out of control. Faith just hoped she wasn't too late to reach her.

He studied her warily for a long moment and then capitulated. “All right, we'll table our discussion until this evening after dinner.”

“Glad ya see it my way,” fucker. We won't be discussin' anything if I get my way.

He gave her a sickly smile once again as if he could hear the unspoken ending. “Allow me to give you a tour of the house before I show you to your room.”



“And this is your room,” Aaron said, knocking briefly before opening the door.

Faith gave him an incredulous look. Motherfucker won't be doin' that shit again, I guarantee it. He'll learn to wait for a Goddamn invite if it's the last thing he does.

“What do you want?” A low, musical voice demanded.

She smirked at the typical irritated adolescent greeting. She'd heard it numerous times over the years from countless teenagers. It was even occasionally directed at her.

Least it ain't me this time, She mused as she followed the watcher into the room.

“Glad to see you're actually here, Shawna,” Aaron noted with a smug tone. “This is your new roommate, Faith. Faith, this is Shawna Nocona.”

He stepped away and Faith was given her first impression of her charge. The watcher slipped from the room as they stared, closing the door behind him. Faith stepped further inside and dropped her bag on the foot of the second twin bed. Then she returned her attention to the younger Slayer.

Shawna was sprawled on her belly on the bed, a book open in front of her. Her black hair was pulled into a ponytail, two stray blue-tipped locks curling on either side of her face. She was comfortably clad in a pair of well-fitting blue jeans and a black t-shirt. Leather wrist-bands adorned both wrists and a pair of headphones was half-hidden beneath one hand.

Faith lifted her eyes to meet the reluctantly curious dark hazel ones watching her. Then she lifted an eyebrow in question and gestured between them.

“What's with this? I thought they were supposed to keep roomies close in age-range.”

Shawna smirked faintly and asked, “How old are you? And before you ask, I'll be thirteen in two months.”

“Uh...” Her mind momentarily blanked and then she stammered, “I'm t—twenty-four.”

Way to go, brain-trust, Faith's inner voice snickered. Damn near gave yourself away.

Giles had explained that he'd thought Shawna might respond better to someone closer in age. Faith didn't think she'd ever felt her age as much as she had at that moment. Is it really such a fuckin' crime to be thirty-one? The only thing that had kept her from complaining was that she didn't want to reveal just how touchy she was about it.

She was just glad that she at least looked twenty-four. Hot chicks with superpowers have all the luck. When we ain't gettin' beat down, at least.

“You're the same age as Di,” She commented absently.

Faith's eyebrows furrowed momentarily and then her expression cleared. She'd gotten the lowdown on the other members of the team during the briefing. The team leader was Diana Rolland, a twenty-four year old Slayer from Florida. She was apparently the closest to Shawna in the household from what little Aaron had told Giles.

“Yeah, so why didn't they put me with her?”

The girl studied her again. Seeing that she was merely curious and not upset, Shawna's eyes dropped and she sighed. Then she glanced back up and their eyes met. Pain darkened her expression and then a familiar look of defiance hardened her features.

“The others won't room with me ‘cause I'm something of a troublemaker and Di shares with Cori.”

Faith felt her heart clench almost painfully. Understanding softened her eyes as she nodded. Then she turned her attention to unpacking. She knew better than most that pushing any further just yet would kill any chance of future success.




“Do you realize how much damage you could've done, Giles?”

Rupert Giles loved this particular Slayer like his own daughter. There just wasn't any getting around it. But there were times when she irritated him as almost no one else could. This was one of them.

“I was doing what was best,” He answered, pulling his glasses off to clean the lenses.

And he had been—even if it did make him a meddling old fool. He replaced his glasses and then lifted his eyes to meet Buffy's. His expression softened and he could see her resolve wavering.

“Everyone's going to blame me. You do realize that, right?” Buffy asked, exasperated.

“They won't,” He answered. “I spoke to several Slayers and even a few of her friends before I decided on a course of action. They are in agreement that her behavior as of late is abhorrent.”

“Why didn't you just use the normal disciplinary actions?”

“Do you not recall what sort of effects antagonism between senior Slayers has on the Slayers-in-Training? I'm well aware it wasn't their first fight and I doubt it will be the last, but something had to be done. It was you, Faith, or Satsu, and the two of you have far more important roles here than she does.”

It took a few seconds for it to sink in, and then Buffy's shoulders dropped. Her eyes darkened and she nodded. It was obvious that she recalled it more than she wished to. Then again, it was hard to forget when they were still suffering the repercussions of it.

Once Giles and Faith had finally settled in with them in Scotland, their past had somehow made the rounds in the gossip mill. Of course, the tension between them had been obvious all ready. The confirmation of their troubles had divided the Slayers-in-Training, which of course led to arguments, fights, and disrespect. It didn't calm down until Giles had forced Faith and Buffy to confront the younger Slayers about it.

There were still the occasional arguments, but it hadn't gotten violent since they'd spoken to the Slayers-in-Training. Buffy sighed and pouted.

“Couldn't you have at least warned me first?” She whined.



Chapter Twenty-Two: Rules Are Made to Be Broken

San Francisco

“So what are we supposed to do for fun around here?”

Shawna looked up from the book she was reading and regarded the Slayer lounging on the bed opposite hers. There was something about the woman that didn't quite fit the image she was trying to present, but Shawna couldn't tell what it was. She honestly didn't care enough yet to try to puzzle it out yet, either. She raised an eyebrow and met Faith's gaze with a sardonic smile.

“Haven't you figured it out yet? We aren't allowed to have fun.”

Faith paused and her eyes flickered to the door and back. She'd noticed during her tour that most of the rooms on the lower floor had an unlived-in feel to them, the exception being the library. She'd also noticed that there wasn't a TV or a computer to be found. I can tell this is gonna be one of those assignments.

She snorted and gave a careless shrug. “So far this whole Slayer gig's been fuckin' boss to me.”

She waited to see what the reaction to that statement would be. It would be telling, of that she was sure. There were three general responses she was used to getting from the girls she worked with. There were those who thrilled at the power, those who were frightened of it, and those who were careful with it.

The response would tell her how to handle the girl along with her Slayer. That was one of the biggest problems the old watcher's council had. Either they dealt with the Slayer and neglected the girl, or it was the other way around. It couldn't be done that way because it was guaranteed that the Slayer never forgot about the girl and the girl couldn't forget about her Slayer.

“I guess,” Shawna muttered, shrugging as she turned her attention back to her book.

Only years of experience kept the grin from breaking out on Faith's face. Shawna's uneasy expression gave her all the answer she needed. The girl wasn't frightened of the power, but she wasn't high on it either. There was still hope for her, and Faith was determined that she'd help Shawna in any way that she could.



It was entirely too quiet. Faith took the last bite of her dinner and then set her fork down on the plate. She glanced around the table at the others and grimaced internally. It was unnatural for Slayers to be this subdued.

She noticed that two of the other girls were finished eating and her eyebrows furrowed. Then she rolled her eyes and slumped down in her seat. The anal-retentive prick probably has some kinda rule about not leavin' the table ‘til everyone's finished.

The tension in the room was making Faith edgy and had her wishing she were elsewhere. She picked up her cup and took a gulp of water as she tried in vain to keep from fidgeting. Then she set the cup aside and crossed her arms over her chest as she considered what she knew of the other Slayers.

Diana Rolland sat to her left, the redhead being the oldest in the group. The file Giles had given her had portrayed a Slayer with great potential and skill. She'd grown up the oldest of four, which was most likely the reason she was successful in her role here. There was something in the Slayer's eyes that reminded Faith of Willow.

It took a moment for Faith to recall the brunette on her right's name. Janice Martin was a plain name, which seemingly matched the seventeen year old girl's appearance. Her pale brown hair matched the shade of her eyes and she was of average height. The one thing Faith remembered clearly from Janice's file was the statement that the only notable thing about her was her fighting style.

On the other side of Janice was Corrine Novoa, a sixteen year old born and raised in Havana, Cuba. Most of everyone at the Council's headquarters knew her story. She'd been abused for most of her life and the night she came into her powers would probably haunt her for the rest of her life. Willow had had to use magic to make all traces of Corrine disappear from Cuba to keep the authorities from coming after her.

Faith shuddered. She'd gone through some awful times, but at least she had the cold comfort that it hadn't been at her own father's hands. The sound of a chair scooting back on the hard wood floor of the dining room dragged her from her thoughts. She glanced up to see that everyone had finished dinner and were gathering their dishes.

She pushed her chair back and stood, grabbing her plate and cup. Then she followed Diana into the kitchen and set her dishes in the sink before escaping the small room. She walked towards the dining room door that led to the living room and froze when she heard her name called. She sighed and glanced over her shoulder at Aaron.


He frowned at her tone and went on, nonplussed, “I need to see you in my office.”

Faith ran her hand through her hair and then gestured him ahead of her. “After you,” She muttered.

As she followed him from the room, Faith rolled her eyes. Fuck it, the more rules I learn, the more I can break with a smile on my face.



Faith's head lolled back on the seat as she stared up at the ceiling of Aaron's office. His voice droned on in the background, but she'd tuned him out after fifteen minutes. She could only stand to listen to just so much bullshit before her short attention span caught up to her. She blinked as something he said broke into her daydreaming.

“Electronics are not allowed on the premises, and any found will be taken. If you must have any form of entertainment, there are books in our library. No outings are allowed unless they are pre-approved and I must accompany you. There will be no exceptions.”

“You gotta be fuckin' kiddin' me,” Faith sputtered, sitting up and glaring at him.

Aaron's expression hardened and he leaned forward, “No, I am not kidding. I don't care what they allowed at the Slayer house in Boston. I will not allow anything to distract you from your duties as a Slayer.”

Her nostrils flared faintly as she took a deep breath, allowing it to calm her as he continued on. This mission wasn't just about saving Shawna any more. Something had to be done before they lost a Slayer because of this man's attitude. Oh, she was going to enjoy taking him down a few notches.

She smiled, and it wasn't a nice one. He faltered in his speech for a moment and she forced her features to impassivity. It wouldn't do to give him any warning of just what he'd started. No, she wanted it to be a nasty surprise.



Faith had discovered something she hated more than Aaron Graves. She should've known it would happen, but she hadn't really thought about it. Being new, she wouldn't be allowed to patrol until the Watcher had the chance to evaluate her abilities. If she were in Cleveland, that wouldn't be so bad because Buffy would be there.

But here, the only thing to distract her from the urge to hunt was her thoughts. Unfortunately, her thoughts left her with an intense longing. In the last several weeks, she'd gotten used to a certain amount of physical contact and social interaction. Now here she was without it and she didn't know what to do with herself.

The disturbing part for her was realizing that she was only faintly disgusted by that. There's a fuckin' clue I ain't the same bitch I was way back when. She snorted.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the bedroom door opening. She glanced up to see Shawna enter the room.

“Yo, what's up?”

“Patrol's back. They found a nest.”

She glanced at the alarm clock on her nightstand. “Somebody get hurt?”

“No,” Shawna drawled.

Faith's eyebrows furrowed and she asked, “Then why the fuck did they come back early?”

Shawna smirked, “You didn't listen when Aaron went over the rules, did you?”

Faith snorted, “Fuck no. He lost me after about fifteen minutes.”

“Well, one of the rules is that any time patrol finds a nest, they have to do recon and then come back to the house to fill the rest of us in. We make a plan and then the entire team goes to clean it out the next day.”

Huh, Faith mused. Makes sense if there's only three in a patrol.

“Aight, let's get down there and see what's what,” Faith said aloud as she got up.



“We followed two of the vamps back and they led us to that system of caves inside the park on Westbridge Avenue. We had to stay hidden for a while because they stood outside talking to the two lookouts. As soon as they went inside, we spread out to see what we could find.”

“And what did you find?” Aaron asked impatiently.

Faith rolled her eyes and watched as Diana shifted from foot to foot. She felt a strong desire to suggest the Slayer smack him around a little, and only barely resisted it. As amusing as it would be, it would just delay the information longer. And she wanted to go Slay more than she wanted to see the annoying Brit hurt, but only just.

“There's about fifteen or more vamps nesting there,” She answered. “Depends on how many were out at the time.”

“Hmm, and you're certain they weren't aware of your pursuit?”

“Yes,” Diana answered stiffly.

“How well do we know that area?” He asked, glancing around at the other Slayers.

“Pretty well,” Janice piped up. “We frequently have to clear out some demon or another from there.”

“I see,” He answered. “Do you have a set battle plan yet?”

Diana leaned forward in her seat and it was then that Faith realized what it was about the young woman that reminded her so strongly of Willow. There was an obvious intelligence there that even the most oblivious of people couldn't miss. It made Faith wonder why she was here instead of positioned at their headquarters. That was something else she would have to work on rectifying.

“I thought that I'd have Janice circle around to the back entrance to the caves, taking Faith and Shawna with her. Then I'd go in through the front with Corrine, taking the heat off them by drawing the vamps' attention. Then once they hear the fight, they'll come in and distract them so that we can get any captives that might be in there out. When we have them clear, we can rejoin Janice's team and take out the rest.”

“Mmm,” Aaron murmured. “I don't much care for sending an untested Slayer in, but I suppose there's no other option at the moment.”

Faith smirked. She'd let his comment about untested Slayers go for now. She was more focused on the fact that she'd get to go Slay something soon.



Chapter Twenty-Three: Lesson #1 - Respect

Faith gazed up at the ceiling through the darkness of the early morning hours. She didn't usually wake up this early. It was nearing six o'clock but she'd awoken a short time ago and had as yet been unable to return to sleep. The bed was firmer than she preferred and the room was too hot.

Fuck, She moaned silently. I've been around B and Dawn so fuckin' long that I'm even whinin' in my head.

Her thoughts drifted off track as another wakeup came to mind. A sad smile formed.

It was the morning after their sleepover. She had been floating in a comfortable haze, halfway between waking and sleeping. She'd tightened her grip and pulled the slight source of warmth half-draped over her closer. A shrill objection rang out just moments before four sets of claws dug into her calf, tearing her from her sleep. It was only Buffy's swift reaction that kept her from tossing the hapless kitten across the room before she could grasp what was happening.


“Fuck, that hurt,” She'd muttered as Buffy reached down to pry Cookie's claws away from her skin.


She'd settled back down on the pullout, her breathing slightly elevated. Her heartbeat slowed and her breathing finally settled. It was then that she'd realized Buffy was still cuddling against her side. She'd opened her eyes to glare down at the silently giggling Slayer.


“It ain't funny,” She muttered hoarsely.


“Sure it is,” Buffy countered. “You'd be laughing your ass off it were me.”


“That's different,” Faith snickered.


Buffy lifted a challenging eyebrow and asked, “How so?”


“That's you, not me,” Faith had answered, smirking.


Buffy had simply rolled her eyes in response. Then they'd laid there quietly for a short while, Faith holding Buffy and Cookie curled up in the tangle of their legs. She'd looked down curiously when she'd felt Buffy shift to bury her face in her neck. A hot tear hit her skin and she'd been about to question it when Buffy suddenly spoke.


“Last night I told Dawn and Willow about what happened with Satsu.” She paused and then continued brokenly, “But I didn't tell them everything. I didn't want their pity.”


“You don't gotta tell me anything,” Faith had assured her in the silence that followed.


“I know, but I want to,” Buffy'd admitted. “I wasn't kidding when I told you that I want to get to know you, and I want to let you get to know me too.”


“Aight,” Faith had replied softly. “You can tell me whatever you want.”


“I know I keep saying that Satsu left me,” She had begun hesitantly. “I guess it's not really the way it happened, but that's the way it feels.” She shook her head and continued, “Anyway, she called sometime later after she'd left, I think it was around three, but I'm not sure.


“At first she tried to guilt me into answering the phone by begging, using our relationship mostly. Then she tried to piss me off, trying to goad me into it by describing the affair,” Buffy choked out, wincing at the memory.


Faith had begun kneading Buffy's tensed back. It was an attempt to both comfort Buffy and to sooth the anger boiling in Faith's blood. It wasn't as successful as she'd have liked, but apparently it was enough to hide just how much she wanted to rip Satsu's heart out. Faith had tightened her grip on Buffy's waist unconsciously as Buffy continued.


“I guess she ran out of patience, ‘cause she finally just said she wanted a divorce.” Buffy'd lifted up to look at Faith, tears staining her cheeks. “It feels like she left me ‘cause as pathetic as it sounds, I think I would've taken her back if she'd just given me time.”

Faith was pulled from the memory as a sound reached her. Reflexively, she retrieved one of her knives from under her pillow. She silently slid it from the sheath, and then forced her body to relax as she listened to the footsteps coming up the stairs. Recognizing the tread, she stowed the knife and then she shifted to get out of bed.

She moved to stand at the side of the door and waited in the dark room, her eyes flicking briefly to Shawna's sleeping figure. She smirked in anticipation. Theirs being the first room on that level, it wasn't long before the footsteps approached the door. An abrupt rap of knuckles on the door was all the warning she had before the door swung open.

Aaron entered the room and then jumped as the door swung shut behind him. Something slammed into him and he felt the air rush out of him as he was shoved back against the door. An arm pressed against his throat, cutting off the air as a slender form pinned him in place. The light flicked on and he found himself looking into Faith's snarling countenance.

She studied him for a moment, a smile playing at the corners of her lips at the fear she saw in his wide brown eyes. Then she got in his face, sneering. Her voice was a guttural whisper when she spoke.

“You will learn to respect our privacy if it's the last motherfuckin' thing ya do. Ya get me?”

His face was turning an unhealthy scarlet shade. Faith ignored Shawna's movements behind her as Shawna got out of bed. All of Faith's attention was on the bastard before her. She reluctantly eased up on the pressure at his throat so he could answer.

A couple of moments passed as he gasped for breath. Then she smacked him upside the head to regain his attention. As their eyes met, she repeated her question.

“Do you fuckin' get me?”

An outraged expression flooded his face. He opened his mouth, but before he could say a word, she grabbed his jaw and squeezed. She shot him a warning look.

“Think before ya say whatever threat's lingerin' in your pea-brain ya uptight son of a bitch.”

Faith wondered if he was stupid enough to ignore her threats. She was disturbed to find that she hoped so, though not very surprised. She had to play the part, but it was toying with the darkness that dwelled within every Slayer. It was a dangerous game, one she'd played before and she'd never liked the results of.

“You think you'll get away with this behavior?” Aaron sputtered.

So he really was that stupid. Good. She grabbed him by the throat and slid him up the door until his feet were no longer touching the floor. She could feel his throat convulsing against her hand as he struggled for air. She smiled.

“I will. Because you ain't near the man it'd take to stop me.” Her thoughts flickered to Angel and some of her darkness receded.

“Hey, what's going on?” Shawna's voice interrupted from just behind her left shoulder. “Maybe you should back off, Faith.”

She'd been amused by the scene before her when she'd first awoken. But it was going a little too far now. As much as she loved seeing him get his, she couldn't just stand by and do nothing as a human was hurt. It went against everything her instincts were screaming.

She chose to ignore the part of her that was thrilled—that part of her always made Shawna feel a little sick. She eyed Faith warily and put a little more distance between them. Faith didn't behave like any of the other Slayers. There was something about Faith that screamed that she was something more than them, something far more dangerous than they could ever dream of being.

“Nah,” Faith said, interrupting Shawna's musings. “I think I need to teach watcher-man here a lesson or two. Don't worry, kid, I won't kill him. I ain't even gonna hurt him too bad.”

Yet, She finished silently.

The hands clawing frantically at her arm in an attempt to get free finally succeeded in gaining her attention. She glanced irreverently at the trails of blood trickling from the scratches he'd left behind on her forearm. Then she flicked her gaze back to Aaron's. She shook her head.

“You will learn to respect our privacy,” She said in a monotone. “And you will stop actin' like you're our master. The other girls may have accepted bein' your slave, but I won't.” She paused and then finished in a snarl, “Now I'll ask ya one more fuckin' time.

“Do ya understand me?”

He gave a miniscule nod of his head, her hand restricting the movement. She eyed him briefly. Then she stepped back and let go, allowing him to collapse to the floor. She watched dispassionately as he sobbed, sucking in air gratefully.

“Good. You ain't gonna like it if I have to repeat myself.” She tilted her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “Now get the fuck out of here.”

That was all he needed. Still breathing heavily, Aaron scrambled to his feet. He jerked the door open and left, slamming it behind him. The room was left in eerie silence.

Faith turned to look at Shawna. She waited to see if Shawna would say anything. She could see the myriad of emotions clouding her eyes—fear, panic, excitement, fascination. They were typical reactions the other Slayers had to her and Buffy.

Even when they didn't know who the older two women were, their inner Slayers did. Faith wondered if anyone realized how much their instincts resembled that of werewolves. She smiled briefly. If Buffy were their Alpha wolf, then she was sure as fuck the Omega.

“You probably shouldn't have done that,” Shawna cautioned as she turned to move towards the closet. “He's just going to make you regret it.”

“He ain't got what it takes to do that,” Faith replied, smirking.

“If you say so,” She muttered.

As her adrenaline began to fade, Faith suddenly asked, “How often does he send you into fights?”

That question had been tickling at the back of her mind since the night before when Diana had doled out their assignments. There was a Council-wide age-limit for Slaying. Slayers under thirteen weren't even supposed to go out on patrol unless it was part of a class lesson. And none of them were allowed to go into a major fight until they reached sixteen.

Shawna turned from pulling on a pair of jeans. She gave Faith a confused look.

“The same as everyone else,” She answered with a shrug. “Why?”

“The house leader in Boston said somethin' ‘bout an age-limit,” Faith lied.

“It was probably house-oriented.”

Faith only grunted in reply. Oh yeah, Aaron had another lesson on the way all ready. She couldn't wait to give it to him.



Chapter Twenty-Four: In the Thick of It

The cavern was pure chaos. There hadn't been any live captives. The Slayers were grateful that there'd been more vampires than expected—instead of the fifteen or so vampires, they'd found at least thirty. It meant they didn't have time to focus on the victims who'd died because they hadn't found the vampires out soon enough.

Faith had learned over the years to keep an eye on her surroundings as she fought. It was a survival mechanism that had taken what had felt like forever to master. She'd only managed it once she'd learned to exert some self-control in a fight; which wasn't nearly as easy as it sounds, because her inner Slayer didn't like being controlled—not even by her. She was thankful for it now as she studied the techniques and skill-levels of the others while she watched their backs.

She was pleased to see that Diana's file hadn't lied. She was exceptionally skilled. Her first opponent was taken out within seconds with a swift stake to the heart. The next one was done slower, but with the same clean execution.

Janice, now she was a masterpiece. Faith couldn't help but think that whoever had trained the girl had best be proud of what he'd done. She slipped through the different styles and flavors of martial arts with a fluid grace that could make a master cry. It was beauty incarnate.

A vampire slipped between Faith and her view of Shawna. It didn't even register that her eyes had been darting back and forth from her observations to the girl since their entrance. An unreasonable anger flared white hot and she snarled, striking out in a reverse roundhouse punch. The crack of his jawbone fracturing could be heard dimly over the din of the fight.

Faith threw several more punches in rapid succession. In a move that caught him off-guard, she hit him once more full-strength and then drew back to launch a kick at him. Her combat boot caught him in the solar plexus and his feet left the ground as he flew back. He crashed into the cavern wall several feet away, his body sliding down to the ground, and didn't move again.

Now her view of Shawna was unrestricted once more. Shawna might be wary of what she was, but she knew what to do with it. Of course, that didn't make Faith any happier about there being a barely thirteen year old girl in the thick of a fight. It just reminded Faith entirely too much of the times when she'd been forced to fend for herself as a child.

The satisfaction of slamming her stake home in another vampire's chest helped get her mind off that track before it could really begin. She shook her head and returned to her previous scrutiny. There was something about Shawna's fighting techniques that appealed to her... a certain controlled violence in it that she found difficult to draw her eyes away from. It was reminiscent of a blend between Buffy's fighting style and Faith's own.

It was almost impossible, but she finally managed to turn her attention to her last survey. She couldn't have contained the wince she gave in reaction if she'd tried. It was obvious that Corrine still held a lot of unresolved issues over her past. Faith's anger surged again as she wondered why they hadn't gotten the girl the help she so obviously needed yet.

She gritted her teeth and put all of her attention back on the fight. Corrine's situation was yet another thing that she would have to address before this was all over. She wouldn't—no, she couldn't , let a Slayer keep going into the thick of it like that. That way lays trouble.



Shawna was... There was no word for how she felt at what she was seeing. She'd thought several times since they'd first met that there was something different about Faith. But seeing her fight confirmed it. All the other Slayers she'd ever met had moved with a superhuman grace—but not Faith, hers was an almost inhuman one.

Every hit, every move was savage, full of a violence that was just barely contained. A primal light lit Faith's eyes. It all spoke to Shawna in ways she didn't understand. She trembled from the tension that was coiled up inside her.

Several times throughout the fight, she'd been distracted from her own opponent by the older Slayer. It wasn't anything sexual. It was something else—something ancient. She jerked her attention away from Faith once again and just barely missed being gutted.

She shook her head in exasperation and maneuvered herself so that Faith wasn't in her line of sight. There would be plenty of time later to ponder the mystery that was her new roomie. It would be a Hell of a lot safer at least. And maybe it would give her something to do that would keep her mind off the adrenaline high aftereffects.



There had been a nagging familiarity that began the moment she'd been introduced to Faith. It was obvious that Diana hadn't met her before. Faith wasn't the type of woman one forgets. But still, it was there and had only intensified the moment Faith had thrown herself into the fight.

Then she'd felt the other Slayer's eyes on her at odd intervals in the fight—felt herself being judged. There was an unmistakable sense of pride that had caught her by surprise, nearly causing her to miss a knife strike from her opponent. She'd just known that it was Faith's approval in her. The thought of it had sent a wave of contentment through her that she didn't understand.

There was something animalistic about Faith. Diana had recognized that right off. Maybe what she was feeling was just her demon essence reacting to whatever made Faith that way. It was something she would have to contemplate later.

It wasn't until Faith threw a double reverse roundhouse that it all fell together. It was true that Slayers had a superhuman grace. But there was another Slayer out there who moved with something inhuman, something primal lurking beneath her skin that occasionally peered out of her eyes. Buffy Summers was the only one Diana had ever seen move like that.

Incidentally, there was one other slayer who could most likely have—and from the rumors, had —taken Buffy in a fight. Coincidentally enough, that Slayer's name was Faith. Diana smirked. That just drew the question of why she was there. Since whatever the reason behind her presence was most likely sanctioned by Rupert Giles, the team leader decided to sit back and enjoy the show.




“You jerk,” Buffy huffed as she stalked the vampire. “I just had this manicure done today!”

She ignored the snickers from the two people standing back by the sidewalk. She'd deal with her so-called friends once she'd taken care of this nuisance. They were just asking for it. A broken nail was a very serious offense to her.

She feinted left and then threw a combination of punches at him, alternating right and left handed moves. The last punch caught him in the side and she felt his ribs give beneath her fist. The vampire bent instinctively, wrapping his arm around his ribs and she smirked as she retrieved her stake from her waistband. It was so much fun to play with fledglings.

She lashed out, aiming for his chest. His head jerked up at the movement, but he was too late to stop her. The stake slammed home and his eyes shot open wide just before he turned to dust. She slipped her stake back into her waistband and turned slowly, narrowing her eyes.

“What?” Willow asked innocently.

“I will have my revenge,” She promised in a humorously ominous tone.

Buffy rolled her eyes as that set off another bout of laughter. And I've missed this, why? She mused sarcastically. Shaking her head, she chuckled under her breath and turned to head to the next cemetery.

This was the first time the three of them had patrolled together in several months. They each had their own responsibilities, both professional and personal. It wasn't often they got the chance to get out together, though there had been more occasions in the past couple of weeks. She winced as that reminder brought other things to mind.

Satsu would be gone as of Wednesday of the following week, six days from now. Giles had made it official that afternoon. She was just relieved that Giles had been right and it didn't seem as if anyone was too upset over it. The last thing she'd needed was more drama.

After the memo had gone out, Willow and Xander had dropped by her office. They'd asked if she wanted to go out on patrol with just them. She'd seen right through it, but gladly agreed if only to get her mind off Satsu. She just wished Faith was there.

Jeez, She snorted internally. She's only been gone a day. Get over it all ready.

The admonition did nothing to lessen the tightness in her chest. She knew what it was, had actually been expecting it. They'd grown close, closer than she'd have ever expected. And she'd never done well with being separated from someone she had feelings for.

She knew she should be using this time to decide what she wanted. Should even be using it contemplate her feelings for Faith. And eventually she would—though she all ready knew what she would come up with. It wasn't as complicated as it might seem.

She wasn't even going to tackle the fact that it was probably too soon to even be thinking about someone else like that. The thing about that was Faith wasn't just anyone. She was her other half, the person Buffy had fought against, and then fought alongside of, for years, and hated more than anyone. And she wasn't stupid—no one could hate someone that much without loving them, too.

She just hadn't been ready to accept it until now. She realized she'd loved Faith long before now, roughness and vulgarity included. It had just taken seeing a whole new side of her along with the old one to make her see it. It didn't take a genius to realize Faith felt something for her as well.

She had no doubt that she was the only one who'd ever seen Faith let down her walls like she had been recently. Sure, Angel had seen Faith break down. But at that moment he'd only seen her as someone helpless, though, while Buffy had been given the chance to see Faith as a woman, and a person. And she could privately admit that she felt a little jealous that Angel had seen Faith at her weakest.

The sound of someone screaming broke her out of her thoughts. She threw a look back at her friends and then took off running. She could only hope Faith would call soon. The last thing she needed was for Willow and Xander to recognize her distraction for what it was; she'd never hear the end of their teasing then.



Chapter Twenty-Five: Lesson #2 – Conduct Unbecoming

San Francisco

They'd missed one last vampire. He got the jump on them just as they exited the cavern. No one had expected it, they'd all been too wrapped up in the post-slay energy. He'd jumped out of the shadows and before they knew it, plunged a knife into Shawna's thigh.

Faith had been the closest. At a sharp cry of pain, she'd jerked her head around to a scene that caused her anger to flare violent and dark. One of the vamp's arms was around Shawna's throat and his other hand still gripped the knife hilt, twisting it slightly. The girl's eyes were wide as she pulled ineffectively at the arm at her throat and her skin had paled considerably as her jaws clenched to prevent any further sounds from escaping.

He was unprepared for what happened next. Then again, most demons weren't prepared for a fully-powered Slayer's attack; there really wasn't a way to do it. An inhuman growl was torn from Faith's chest and before he could react, she'd been on him. She'd wrapped her hand tight around his throat and pulled him bodily away from Shawna.

“Try me on for size,” She'd snarled.

It was a short fight. She'd been too angry to really take her time. Several brutal punches had broken most of his ribs and as he knelt in agony on the ground after a kick to the groin, she'd plunged her stake into his heart through his back. It had been satisfyingly violent.

Then she'd quickly set up a tourniquet around Shawna's thigh above the wound using her belt. They'd have to wait until they were at the house to properly tend to it. That was another issue she'd have to address; regulations required all Slayers to be fully trained in first aid and for each patrol to carry a Council-approved kit at all times. The list just kept racking up against Aaron.

Now they were returning to the house. Faith was supporting Shawna on one side and Diana had the other. She'd tried to pick the girl up, only to receive pointed objections. She'd shrugged it off, knowing how she'd have felt in that position and then they'd compromised.

The tension was unbearable and it grew even more so the closer they got to the house, to Aaron. It made Faith angry in a way that so little else did anymore. Slayers were supposed to celebrate, to reaffirm life every time they were given another chance at it. But instead, that prick of a watcher had these girls so anxious that it was making her sick.

Aaron was waiting for them as they entered the house, his posture radiating impatience. Faith's nostrils flared in irritation. She needed, she knew, to calm down, to stop letting the post-slay adrenaline drive her. But that look, that condescending look on his face was fueling her aggression. And she'd never really needed help in that particular department in the first place.

Then his eyes drifted over them and fell on Shawna's wound. Faith could see it coming. She'd been around Wesley Wyndam-Pryce at his worst. She knew the signs of a watcher's lecture well.

“What sort of careless foolishness have you been a part of this time?”

Faith's lips pulled back in a snarl and a low growl erupted from her chest. Aaron's gaze caught hers and he faltered. Right now all she wanted was to take care of Shawna and he was standing in the way of that. Her expression challenged him to continue, to keep trying his luck.

“Now ain't the time, old man. We need to get her stitched up.”



She was on her way back from the bathroom. She'd just finished cleaning up, having taken a shower and dressed in dark blue silk boxers and a white tank top for bed. As she approached their room, she heard Shawna's voice raise in obvious anger. Faith paused outside the door, leaning against the frame and crossing her arms over her chest to listen.

“I'm really getting sick of you, you know that? All you ever offer are criticism and complaints. You never try to show us what we're doing wrong, or even offer suggestions for improvement. Are you even capable of doing your job, or is being a complete bastard all you're capable of?”

Faith smirked. She hadn't really had much opportunity to really interact with the kid yet, aside from the few incidents since her arrival. But she was fast becoming fond of her. There was just something so deeply amusing about someone who could take a man apart with mere words.

“As your watcher and guardian it is my place to punish you as I see fit. How you view it is your problem, not mine, Ms. Nocona. As for the disrespect you've just shown me, you've added two more days onto it. You won't be allowed to patrol or train for this entire week.”

And just like that, Faith's amusement faded. Her expression hardened, eyes darkening to almost black. Patrol would be one thing, but training? It was bad enough that he had Shawna patrolling, but not allowing her every opportunity to train as well was a death sentence.

Shawna's body was still growing, changing into that of an adult. Add in that she was still adjusting to the power of the Slayer as it increased every year... She needed to be afforded every bit of training she could get just to have any hope of her body being able to cope. What Aaron was doing was unethical and inhumane.

“Yeah, well, fuck you,” She heard Shawna snarl.

Then there was shuffling, hurried footsteps coming at the door. Faith crossed to the other side of the hall and took up a similar position near the banister. She watched the door expectantly.

She couldn't help a grim smile as Aaron stumbled from the room. His exit had obviously been powered by a half-strength shove from an angry Slayer. The door slammed shut behind him and he glanced back at it, his expression disbelieving. Then he shook his head and tugged at his sweater, straightening the wrinkled material.

Faith shifted, allowing all traces of her amusement to fall aside. She waited until he looked up. He jumped and she gave him a mocking smile. Then she let her expression go blank.

“Apparently you have issues with respect in all aspects, not just our fuckin' privacy.”

“That conversation was between me and Shawna,” He blustered. “It has nothing to do with you.”

“Oh, it has absolutely everything to do with me,” She drawled, shoving off from the wall. “‘Cause I just know that you think you're gonna be able to pull that shit with me.”

“As your watcher it is my place,” He huffed, putting his hands on his hips.

“You seem to have gotten your wires crossed,” She replied, closing in on him. “There's a difference between a watcher and a warden. I know it's confusin' ‘cause they start with the same letter, but there's a world of a fuckin' difference.”

She refrained from commenting that she knew the differences from personal experience. Too many hints and he'd realize who he was dealing with; watchers weren't hired for their stupidity after all, even if half the old Council were ignorant in some way. And she was beginning to enjoy this. She didn't want him to know a snake was about to bite until the asp sunk her fangs into him.

“I am merely doing my job,” Aaron argued. “Are you suggesting that I should let her continue with the sort of recklessness that got her injured tonight?”

He stepped back from the approaching Slayer. His question seemed to have incensed her further. He watched her anxiously. He wasn't sure what it was about her, but she frightened him. She was so much more dangerous than any of his other Slayers could hope to be.

She made him think of what he'd heard about Slayers of old. He swallowed nervously. He didn't know how, but he would have to find another way to gain control over this Slayer. It was obvious that his usual tactics weren't going to work on her.

He wondered what made her so different. He wanted to know what it was that made her seem so inhuman, what fueled the darkness in her eyes. But part of him, something deep inside, told him he didn't want to know. It recoiled in terror every time she got close.

His back hit the wall but Faith kept moving. She crowded into his personal space like she had earlier that morning. He made as if to squirm away and she put a hand to his chest, a casual display of strength keeping him in place. Her eyes locked with his again, anger burning bright.

“If you wanted to prevent carelessness, you'd tell her what went wrong. You'd show her how to keep it from happenin' again,” She hissed. “You wouldn't punish her for somethin' that could've happened to anyone. You don't even know what happened, ‘cause you ain't been briefed yet.”

He opened his mouth as if to protest and she gestured sharply, cutting him off. She didn't want to hear his voice. It was a struggle to keep from applying enough pressure to his chest to make it hurt as it was. She gave a look of disgust that, unknown to him, was directed mostly at her self.

“You criticize them when you ain't even prepared them to do any better. Any efforts you've made to teach them have been half-hearted at best,” She continued speaking, her voice harsh and unrelenting. “You're doin' your damndest to break them, you son of a bitch. You're strippin' those girls of their humanity and their blood's gonna be on your hands.”

Faith steered her mind away from the images that thought brought to mind. She didn't want to think about Allen or Lester. She really didn't want to think of the handful of Slayers that had given her no other course of action than to end their lives in the last decade. All she could think of was that Aaron was not going to be the reason she had to do it again.

She shoved Aaron away from her and turned to go back to her room. She stopped just before the door, her hand on the knob. She smiled humorlessly and turned to look at him over her shoulder.

“You step one foot out of line, make one more degradin' comment, continue to disregard us as human, keep treatin' us like we're chattel? And I'm gonna show you what a Slayer really is.”

Then Faith was entering her room, closing the door behind her. She ignored the questioning look from Shawna. Instead she went to her bed and rifled through her jacket pocket until she found what she'd been looking for. Then she went to the window and, completely disregarding the seal around the base and edges of the window, she pushed it up.

It resisted at first, then the seal cracked and the window slid up. Faith sat down on the frame and took a cigarette from the pack in her hand. She lit it with shaking hands. Her eyes closed with the first inhalation and she bit back a sigh.

Faith blew out the smoke in frustration. She knew Shawna had heard their confrontation. She knew the other girl had questions. But she was going to make the other girl come to her, because it was time she focused on the real reason she was there.



Chapter Twenty-Six: Busted

“How long are you going to keep them in the dark?”

“Huh?” Faith asked sharply, looking up at Diana in confusion.

Diana glanced around. Then she sat down on the end of the garden bench across from Faith and ran a hand through her hair nervously. Diana had been contemplating whether or not to confront Faith since last night. Then when she'd seen Faith go out the back door after lunch, she'd decided that if she was going to do it then there wouldn't be a better time.

Diana sighed and gestured towards the cigarette pack in Faith's hand. “Can I bum one?”

“Sure,” Faith shrugged, tossing the pack and her lighter to her.

Diana tapped the bottom of the pack, knocking a couple of cigarettes halfway out, and then she pulled one completely out with her mouth. She flipped open the Zippo and brought the flame to life, inhaling as she touched the tip of the cigarette to the fire. She flipped the lid shut, gently pushed the second cigarette back into the pack and passed them back to Faith. She let a stream of smoke slip out around the cigarette, exhaling slowly.

Faith smirked faintly at the look of relief on the redhead's face. It was no wonder. She didn't doubt for a second that that prick Aaron had a smoking ban. Her smile faded quickly.

“So, what is it that you think I'm keepin' someone in the dark about?”

Diana carefully considered how to answer the question. Then she shrugged. She took the cigarette from her mouth, flicking her ashes on the ground as she did.

“My recruiter was Buffy Summers,” She replied, her eyes lifting up to meet Faith's gaze.


Faith barely contained a wince. It wouldn't take a genius to tell where this was leading. Faith sighed internally. And she'd been doing so well, too.

“Yeah,” Diana said, nodding. “It was pretty cool. I was one of the last Slayers she recruited.”

During the first few months after they'd defeated the First, ‘the originals', as they were now known, had had their hands full. They'd all had to pitch in when it came to rounding up the newly Empowered Slayers. There had been too many of them around the world for just a couple of recruiters. Buffy herself had even assisted for a while, once she'd returned from Italy.

Of course, Buffy had been forced to turn her attentions elsewhere eventually. The annual apocalypse waited for no one, and someone had had to make sure the girls were prepared for it. It just so happened that no one had been better suited for that task than Buffy at the time. Afterwards, it had only seemed natural for Buffy to continue in the role of a leader.

“So what's your point?” Faith asked, gazing at Diana curiously.

“Sparring with her was awesome. I've never seen anyone else move like that,” Diana said, pausing to take another hit from her cigarette. Then she exhaled, looking at Faith pointedly.

“Until now,” Diana finished.

It was official. Someone else was going to have to start doing the undercover missions. This wasn't the first time someone had busted her during a mission. And for the exact same reason—Called Slayers were just far too distinctive to blend in with the Empowered. She'd even run into a few older vampires that had recognized what she was in the last few years on patrols.

“How long have you been stationed at this house?”

“Uh, going on three years,” Diana replied slowly, giving Faith an odd look.

Faith leaned forward, bracing her elbows on her knees and cupping her chin in her hands. She glanced sideways at the redhead, and then shook her head. She flicked the butt of her cigarette away, and then ground it under the heel of her boot. She looked off into the trees.

“Why haven't you requested a transfer?” She asked bluntly. “You don't seem stupid enough to believe half the shit Asshole spouts, and I know if you spent time with B, then you don't at all.”

Diana studied Faith for a moment. Then she smiled and chuckled. There wasn't any use in lying.

“Someone has to keep an eye on him.”

Faith nodded. Things were starting to make sense. She'd had suspicions since arriving, too many things hadn't added up. Shawna wasn't nearly the miscreant the reports made her out to be, and Aaron was too entrenched in Old Council ideals for a higher up not to have noticed before now.

A quick glance to the watch on her wrist told her that further questioning would have to wait. She returned her gaze to Diana, considering her briefly. Then she nodded again as she stood.

“I'll catch ya later. I gotta see Asshole for my evaluation ‘fore the kids get back from school.”

“Sure,” Diana replied, watching her go.

Diana inhaled deeply. It seemed like something was finally going to be done. It was unfortunate that it came at the price that it had, but late was better than never. She smiled.




Buffy was sat in her desk chair, leaning back with her feet on the desk. Her head was tilted back over the headrest of the chair, eyes gazing unfocussed at the ceiling. She was at work, but her thoughts were far from professional. Well, unless you were in Vegas or Hollywood.

It was one of the unfortunate side-effects of slaying—actually, it was only unfortunate if you were single. Left with only one outlet for the energy created by slaying, her mind became one long, filthy gutter. Self-love could only satisfy her so much before she was left aching as she drifted off to sleep, where her dreams would take over taunting her. It was frustrating.

Mmmm, She hummed internally. I wonder if it's even physically possible to do that.

The thought stemmed from her dreams the previous night. One part had featured Faith in all her sweaty naked glory, writhing in a position Buffy hadn't ever even imagined. Buffy sighed.

She also wondered when she had become such a pervert. Her eyebrows furrowed briefly, and then she shrugged. She'd never admit it to anyone, let alone Faith, but it was quite possible she'd been that way all along. Her thoughts certainly hadn't been clean when she'd met Pike in LA.

Buffy smiled in fond remembrance. Those thoughts had been innocent compared to the things she wanted to do to Faith. No, her younger self would've been mortified at these needs and desires. It was partly because Faith was very much female, but mostly because even Cinemax didn't feature some of the things she'd been dreaming about.

She wasn't even sure just where some of the ideas had come from. She also doubted she'd ever have the courage to do any of it, let alone talk to Faith about it. Though, it was definitely nice to contemplate. Buffy was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn't hear the door open.

Dawn leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over her chest. She couldn't help but smirk. She also couldn't help but be thankful for the call she'd received a few minutes before. She loved her sister, and she loved Faith, but she wanted her house to herself.

Moreover, she wanted them both out of her house before they acted on whatever sick fantasies were floating through Buffy's head right now. She shuddered. Those were sound effects she did not need. And she really didn't want to know what had caused Buffy to have that expression.

“Earth to Buffy,” Dawn called.

It was amusing to see Buffy jump like that. No matter how mature she'd gotten, tormenting her sister was still Dawn's favorite task. Maybe she hadn't matured that much, after all. She couldn't help but laugh as Buffy clutched frantically at the desk to keep the chair from tipping backwards.

Buffy let out a startled squeak as she heard Dawn's voice and shot forward in her seat. She overcompensated, almost tipping the chair backwards. Her hands flew out, grabbing the edge of the desk to keep upright. The desk creaked ominously under her grip as she shifted, bringing the chair back onto all four wheels once again.

“What do you want, Dawn?” She grumbled, glaring up at Dawn once she was settled.

“One thing I don't want,” Dawn started slowly as she closed the office door behind her. “Is to hear whatever you were just thinking about. I'm sure it was wrong on so many levels.”

“Ha, ha,” Buffy said dryly. “Is there a reason you're here? Other than to pester me, that is?”

“Well, I thought that you might like to go out for lunch to discuss the phone call I received earlier,” She replied tartly. “But I don't know if I want to eat a meal with someone so rude.”

Dawn dropped down into one of the guest chairs, pulling her legs up under her in the seat. She pushed her shirt sleeves up to her elbows and leaned forward, bracing her forearms on her knees. She lifted her gaze back to her sister's, smirking at the look Buffy was giving her. She shrugged.


Buffy shook her head, holding back a smile. Sitting there in loose faded blue jeans and a black and pale blue double shirt, Dawn appeared much younger than her twenty-seven years would suggest. It certainly didn't help that for once, Dawn had allowed her hair out of the bun she usually kept it in. It brought back mostly happy memories from their time in Sunnydale.

“Why does Giles let you come to work dressed like that when he forces the rest of us to adhere to that stupid dress code when we aren't in apocalypse mode?” Buffy muttered.

“Because unlike you guys, I spend most of my time in the archives where people aren't likely to care what I wear?” Dawn suggested, shrugging again.

It was a familiar argument, one that had begun less than a week after Giles had instated the requirement for employees to dress appropriately. Unless they were involved in physical activities, they were required to wear dress clothes. The only exceptions being for times of duress when no one cared about appearances, and for the more relaxed environments, such as the gyms and the archives where they kept their more sensitive artifacts and books.

“Uh-huh,” Buffy grunted. “Whatever. So, what was that about lunch?”

“I thought maybe we could go to Bucky's,” Dawn replied, speaking of a Southern restaurant a few blocks away. “I know Faith was planning to take you there before she got called away, so I figured I'd introduce you to it since she didn't get the chance.”

“Sure, why not?” Buffy quipped.



“What's with that phone call you mentioned?” Buffy asked, wiping her hands on a napkin.

They were seated across from each other in a green leather and dark oak booth near the back of Bucky's. To their right, a window provided a view of the ocean. To their left, they had a clear view of the bar and of the double doors at the entrance. The Wednesday afternoon lunch crowd had thinned considerably since they'd entered over half an hour ago.

“It was from JJ.”

Buffy's eyebrows furrowed at the mention of their real-estate agent, Juanita Juarez. The Council had become frequent clients of hers since they'd arrived in Cleveland. She'd acted as an unofficial guide to the city, having helped them find their way around at the beginning. It helped that the woman was very much aware of the Supernatural, due to her upbringing.

“Why'd she call you?”

“She said she'd tried your cell, your office, and my house before calling my office,” Dawn replied. “Considering the state you were in when I came to get you, you probably didn't even check your voicemail when you came back after your ten thirty.”

Buffy winced. She really hated it when Dawn was right. She had been preoccupied most of the day, and hadn't even thought about her voicemail when she'd returned for her office hours. Buffy had had difficulty enough as it was just focusing during her training exercises with the class of juniors she met with every weekday from ten thirty to twelve fifteen.

“Yeah, yeah,” She muttered as Dawn burst into laughter.

“Anyway,” Dawn continued as she chuckled. “She wants you to call her. There's a couple interested in the house, and you only have a few days before they go elsewhere.”

Buffy's expression darkened. Her chest tightened almost painfully as a lump formed in her throat. She'd known it was coming, had even planned for it. But this was the place that had been her home for the last few years, had been their home together.

“I'll call her when we get back to the office,” Buffy said tightly.

Dawn shot a concerned glance at her sister. Buffy's tone had deepened, taking on a harsh quality that usually meant tears were either imminent or all ready being shed. Dawn sighed. There really couldn't have been a worse time for Faith to be gone.

It wasn't that Dawn didn't feel bad for Buffy. ‘Cause, she did, she really, really did. So much so that Dawn wanted to hurt Satsu in the worst kind of way. Dawn just didn't know how to sympathize with Buffy's pain, not after so many years of wanting Satsu out of their lives.

“C'mon, Buff,” Dawn murmured as she stood up, dropping a few bills on the table. “Let's get back to the office.”

She held out a hand. She'd try, at least. She had no idea what to say to help her, but she couldn't leave Buffy to deal with it alone. She'd kick Faith's ass for making her deal with this alone later.



Chapter Twenty-Seven: Quality Time

San Francisco

“Where have you been?”

A brief glance at the sports watch on her wrist showed Faith that she was only three minutes late. She shot an annoyed look at Aaron and continued towards the bench at the back of the basement. She dropped her duffle bag on the wooden bench and turned to sit down. Purposefully, Faith ignored the watcher's expectant expression as she retrieved her wraps from the bag.

Instead, she took her time checking the room over as she wrapped her hands with the long strips of black cloth. The basement had been converted into a gym, hardwood covering what had most likely once been a cement floor. Blue floor mats lined the wall to her left, and a set of doors were off to the right. She could only assume that it led to the locker room and the showers.

Various pieces of exercising equipment were spread around the basement, chief among them weightlifting and cardio equipment. A chin-up bar was set into the crème painted brick walls in one corner of the room and several heavy bags were suspended from the rafters off to one side. A thickly padded ring was set up in the center of the room, its' purpose obvious to the Slayer.

“Ahem,” Aaron cleared his throat. “I believe I asked you a question.”

“Dude, I was only three minutes late,” Faith scoffed, standing back up. “Get over it all ready.”

He looked as if he were going to continue his protests. Faith just gave him a pointed glare. Then he lifted the clipboard he held and scanned it briefly. He glanced up at her, taking in her outfit.

“Couldn't you have worn something a little more appropriate?”

Faith glanced down her body at the white T-shirt and the slightly loose black mesh gym shorts she wore. She'd become accustomed to wearing less revealing clothing for training. It made for a better impression whenever a Slayer's family was around. It was more Giles' influence than hers.

“What exactly is the problem with what I have on?”

Her voice had dropped dangerously low. If Aaron gave her some flimsy excuse that just betrayed how much of a pervert he was, she was going to lose it. She didn't like him enough as it was. He didn't need to add sexual predator to the list of reasons she'd begun to build up in her head.

It had started out as a list of reasons to maintain her cover. Then it had quickly deteriorated into a list of reasons to kick his ass. He'd pushed too many of her buttons at once in less than forty-eight hours. It brought out the violent psycho that wasn't buried nearly deep enough inside her.

“Most of the testing I do requires demonstrations of your abilities,” Aaron answered stiffly. It was apparent that he'd been offended by her not so veiled conclusion. Good.

“And your point would be?” Faith crossed her arms over her chest.

“One of them is stealth,” Aaron continued. “Your shorts will make noise as you move.”

Oh, that. Faith smirked. Then she lifted an eyebrow, challenging him.

“Bet you they don't.”




They'd just reached the turnoff for their parking garage when Dawn suddenly twisted in her seat to flash Buffy a reckless grin. Despite the emotional turmoil she was in, Buffy was extremely worried. That wide smile and the upward lift of her eyebrows spelled trouble. It was all Faith.

It was times like these that she was reminded the most that Faith was Dawn's best friend. Dawn would give Buffy a look or make a comment that could have only come from one source. The same could be said for Faith, who sometimes slipped into Sunnydale speak with frightening ease. Those memories eased the tightness in Buffy's chest enough to make her breathe easier again.

Smiling softly, Buffy asked cautiously, “What?”

“I've just had the most brilliant idea ever,” Dawn said dramatically.

Now Buffy was truly disturbed. Then Dawn was reaching for the cell phone mounted on the dashboard of the SUV and Buffy began to get an idea of what Dawn was hinting at. She knew she should be responsible and tell Dawn no. She'd only just come back from her ‘vacation'.

But... Buffy sighed, watching as Dawn punched in the speed dial for the office. I just want to curl up somewhere and sleep until either Faith comes home or I forget everything else. I don't think I can handle going back to the office and wading through paperwork until my three o'clock.

The sound of the phone dialing filled the car, once, twice, and then the phone clicked as it was answered. The click was the tap they kept on their phones, another of their security measures. A throat cleared and then the familiar, pleasant British voice of Giles' secretary spoke up.

“Rupert Giles' office, this is Evelyn. How may I direct your call?”

“Evie, it's Dawn,” She announced. “How are you?”

“Oh, Ms. Summers, I'm doing well, and yourself?”

“I'm fine,” Dawn said gently. “But I need to log myself and Buffy out.”

“Oh my,” Evelyn murmured. “Is the poor dear all right?”

“She'll be fine,” Dawn replied, glancing at Buffy out of the corner of her eye. “She's just received some upsetting news while we were at lunch and isn't really fit for work now.”

Buffy cringed, but didn't bother to object. It was all ready all over the office about the divorce and the reason behind it, even if the gossip had been kept out of her hearing range. It wouldn't make any difference if she went off on Dawn for that comment. Any rumors at the office would continue to spread through the gossip mill even without fuel added to the fire.

“You tell that sister of yours to take all the time she needs,” Evelyn said sincerely. “I'll inform Rupert of your off-site status as soon as he's free. You just help her get better. Rupert should be ashamed for sending Faith away just now, even if something does need to be done about Aaron.”

Buffy's brow furrowed. There's a problem with someone named Aaron? I thought she was supposed to help—Wait, that's the name of the Watcher in charge of the San Fran house. Before Buffy could question Evelyn, Dawn was cheerfully ending the call.

“What was that about, Dawn?”

“What was what about?” Dawn responded distractedly as she shifted to look over her shoulder at the approaching traffic so that she could pull back into the other lane.

“I wasn't aware there were problems with the Watcher in San Fran. I thought the issues were with Shawna's behavioral problems and that was why they asked Faith to go in.”

“I'm not really sure,” Dawn muttered, turning the wheel and stepping on the gas to shoot back into the flow of traffic while she still had the right of way. “That's not my area of expertise.”

“Mmm,” Buffy murmured, leaning her head back against the headrest and closing her eyes.

She would call Faith later. This was as good an excuse as any. That thought made her smile. Despite the lingering ache in her chest, the day was looking as if it would end on a better note.



Dawn was used to her sister's insanity. She'd had twenty-seven years of it; or thirteen, depending on how you looked at it. But this was a bit much. Buffy had gone from being on the verge of breaking down to relatively serene for a Slayer suffering from heartbreak.

Dawn knew better than to mention that to Buffy, however. She would just count her blessings. Dawn could still recall the expression on Buffy's face the morning they'd gone to retrieve Buffy's stuff from her motel room. She never wanted to see that much desolation ever again.

“Are we going to talk about this?” She'd asked as she turned the key in the ignition.


Buffy had tilted her head and eyed her warily, “About what?”


“The reason you have five large suitcases packed full,” Dawn had replied gently.


That was when she'd happened to glance over at Buffy. That look hadn't been something Buffy could hide. It was despair and pain and so much rage. Not even at the pinnacle of her depression after her resurrection could've been compared to what Dawn had seen and it had frightened her.

So now, she just watched from the doorway as Buffy hesitated at the base of the stairs. She finally understood why Faith hadn't let her ride Buffy's case two months before. If given enough time, Buffy could deal with her emotions. It was obvious from the sudden shift in her mood.

But when Buffy turned and headed instead for the den, Dawn had to bite back a laugh. So maybe it wasn't that Buffy could deal with her emotions on her own. Apparently, even over the distance between them, Faith was still working her magic. So maybe she wouldn't try to kick Faith's ass.

Dawn was about to head for the kitchen to check Cookie's water and food dishes when Buffy suddenly leaned halfway out of the doorway of the den and asked semi-cheerfully, “Coming?”

Her eyes widened in trepidation. She tried to think of anything she might've done or said wrong in the past few days and couldn't come up with anything that would warrant quality time. With a martyred sigh, Dawn trudged ahead. She might kick Faith's ass just on principle upon her return.



San Francisco

Faith was feeling inordinately pleased with herself. As was evidenced by the wide, dimpled smile she was currently sporting. She'd gotten the chance to work off some of her frustration. And there was a very distinct possibility that Aaron would never, ever, have children now.



Chapter Twenty-Eight: A Propensity for Violence


“You know I've never seen Faith as relaxed with anyone as she was with you that night?”

The couch was pulled out into the full-length bed and the two sisters were settled comfortably at opposite ends. Both were lying sideways across it, Dawn sprawled on her stomach across the foot of the bed, and Buffy curled into a semi-fetal ball at the head of the bed between the couch arms. Cookie was sprawled on her back near Buffy's head, purring as she absently stroked the kitten's belly. Across the room, the TV was tuned into some action flick, volume on mute.

Buffy couldn't help but smile at Dawn's pronouncement. They were discussing the Ben & Jerry's night they'd had. She wasn't certain just how they'd gotten onto that subject, but she wouldn't complain. It was nice to just spend time with Dawn for once.

“Mmm, yeah,” Buffy murmured, her eyes glinting softly. “I kind of guessed. I mean, she hates being vulnerable, and she's admitted that that was one of Robin's biggest complaints. Despite the fact that she truly loved him, she still refused to just be ‘his girl', in her words.”

Dawn rolled her eyes and muttered, “Fucking stupid man. He probably blames that on her being a Slayer. He doesn't want to think that it's because she has childhood trauma issues.”

Buffy just nodded silently. She'd always been afraid to consider it any further than that. The thought of what could've caused those issues made her feel a little ill and a whole lot violent. No matter how much she wanted to know everything about Faith, she would never ask about that.

That would be something Faith would have to bring up. She didn't want to inadvertently hurt Faith by bringing those memories to light. And even if that was a copout, it was still the truth. Buffy wanted to hurt Faith far less than she could ever care about her own discomfort.

“You love her.”

It wasn't a question. Buffy smiled, wide and bright. It was all the answer Dawn needed. There was a genuine happiness there that outshined anything else her sister had ever displayed.

“I'm not sure how or when it happened,” She admitted sheepishly. “I just know that in the last couple months it's grown obvious that Faith is my everything. She's become my rock. And if her being there for me like she has hadn't cemented it, the ache her absence is causing would have.”

“But you still love Satsu don't you?”

Buffy shot a look at her sister. Seeing only genuine curiosity, she sighed. Then she just nodded and chuckled humorlessly. It was definitely one for the books in all her romantic entanglements.

“I think I always will a little,” She replied ever so quietly. “I still love Angel. And even if I never fell in love with Spike or Riley, I still felt something for them both and to some degree, still do. They were a part of my life, for better or worse, and that forges a bond that can't be broken.”

“But it's Faith that you're in love with, right?” Dawn asked hopefully.

Buffy rolled her eyes. Obviously that was a fact her sister was going to dwell on. She should have known. Dawn had tormented and teased her about their relationship for years.

“Yes,” She said in amusement. “I, Buffy Summers, am in love with Faith Lehane, okay?”

“It's five by five with me,” Dawn said, holding up a hand in defense. “You won't get any protests out of this woman. I'm a diehard Fuffy-shipper all the way.”

Buffy's eyebrows shot up in a comical expression and her hand froze on Cookie's chest. She tilted her head slightly and eyed Dawn warily. She was almost afraid to ask. But she would.

“You're a what?”

“I'm even considering having T-shirts made,” Dawn continued, ignoring her question.

“Dawn, don't make me hurt you.”

The kitten finally meowed in protest. Buffy glanced down at Cookie and smiled. Her fingers continued to caress the thick fur. Then her eyes lit up devilishly and she glanced up.

“Hey, Dawn?”

Cheekily, Dawn asked, “Yes, Half of Fuffy?”

“You realize that I haven't missed that you've never shared any of your dating disasters, right?”

“Oh, shit. You noticed that, huh?” Dawn asked weakly, scrambling to get off the bed.



San Francisco

Faith was seated on the lid of the toilet in the bathroom on the second floor. Her hair was wrapped up in a towel on the top of her head, keeping the wet strands from obscuring her vision and another towel was draped over her shoulders. She was bent toward the floor, vigorously applying lotion to her right calf. Her leg was stretched out in front of her, toes pointed downward, muscles flexing as she smoothed the unscented lotion into her silky skin.

A lotion aided rubdown was a habit she'd fallen into once she'd realized how good it felt to get a massage when her body was achy from a workout. It was a remnant from her relationship with Robin that she refused to lose. It was one of the few memories she had of them that didn't feel tainted. Her heart still clenched at the memory of his touch the first time he'd done this for her.

It was one thing that she'd never let slip to anyone else, not even Robin. She was a complete pleasure hound. For her, there was nothing more pleasurable than that faint ache that made her muscles throb just right and the hot shower that always followed a workout. That combination always filled her with a fuzzy lassitude that made her want to sleep for the rest of the day.

Even now, Faith's eyelids were half-lidded from the effort of staying awake. It would wear off gradually as the heat from her shower wore off and her body tensed up. But it was always nice while it lasted. With a last stroke of her leg, Faith straightened and stood up, finished.

She pulled the white towel from around her shoulders and wrapped it around her, tucking the end in near her left breast. She was reaching for the pile of dirty clothes she'd left on the edge of the sink when she heard footsteps approaching the bathroom door. It didn't even take a moment for her body to register that the assured tread belonged to a Slayer. She relaxed almost instantly.

When the expected knock came, she called out, “What's up?”

“It's Di,” Came the reply. “I wanted to check in with you about something.”

“Just hold up a sec and I'll be right out.”

Faith gathered the small black case that served as her bathroom kit and retrieved her workout clothes. With one last glance around, she made sure that she'd left nothing behind and then let herself out of the bathroom. Her appearance apparently startled Diana, as Diana stepped back reflexively the moment the door opened. Faith just arched an eyebrow.

“If ya wanna talk, you can hang around while I get dressed. Or it can wait.”

Diana just shrugged and followed Faith to her and Shawna's room, explaining, “It doesn't really matter. I just wanted to see if you have any idea why Aaron's in such a foul mood.”

Faith burst into laughter as she closed the door to her room behind them. Shaking her head, she crossed the room to the open closet door and tossed her clothes in the hamper just inside. Then she pulled a pair of jeans down from her side of the closet and tossed them over her shoulder at her bed. A shirt quickly followed the path of the jeans and then she closed the closet door.

“Yeah,” Faith said through her chuckles. “Maybe if you're good, I'll give you girls a story later.”

Giving her an odd look, Diana commented, “You know, you're a very strange person.”

“Well, yeah,” Faith answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “But so is B.”

“You are talking about Buffy, right?”

“Duh,” She replied as she crossed back over to the long dresser near the door. “Sexy blonde, tiny, has a propensity for violence, sharp objects, fluffy pajamas, and pigs?”

She was digging through her underwear drawer for a pair of panties so she missed the look of realization that dawned on Diana's face. Faith pulled out a pair of black boi-shorts and then shut the drawer before bending slightly to pull the underwear on beneath the towel. It wasn't until she was finished that she realized that her visitor had fallen silent. Faith glanced back at Diana.

“You got a problem?”

The slight edge of menace that bled into the older Slayer's words didn't bother her in the least. Diana just smiled softly and shook her head. She wasn't going to be the one to point it out if Faith herself hadn't realized it yet. She wasn't one to throw anybody out of the closet.

“No,” She answered easily, and then changed the subject. “So—Aaron, what's his problem?”

“Told you I'd tell you later,” Faith replied in amusement as she walked to the bed. Retrieving her pants, she pulled them on, wiggling slightly to get them up over her hips.

“Okay,” Diana said reluctantly. “But what do you think we should do about dinner? He's never left us in charge of mealtimes before, so I have absolutely no clue what I'm supposed to do.”

“Wait, he's what?” Faith asked, and then smirked as she reconsidered, “Never mind. Considerin' the state he was in when he stumbled up from the basement earlier, I ain't surprised. But what's with the whole freaky mealtime Gestapo routine anyway? I noticed that last night at dinner.”

“He says it's so that he can monitor our protein and vitamin intake,” Diana said, and Faith heard her doubt. “But I think he's just paranoid that one of us would slip something into his food.”

“Aight,” Faith said with a low chuckle. “So what are our choices?”

“Well, I know from past conversations that Corrine can cook, but she doesn't really like to, which I think you can guess why,” Diana stated grimly, gaining a slight nod from Faith. “I can cook, too, but only the bare basics, since I learned from my dad and he was a Devil Dog through and through. But Janice is a vegan and Shawna hasn't ever had the chance to learn how to cook.”

“I can cook pretty well,” Faith said, settling down on the edge of the bed as she readjusted the towel still covering her torso and chest. “But I have an idea, and I can fuck off if you don't like.”

“What's that?” Diana asked, smirking at Faith's phrasing.

“When was the last time you girls had an honest to God burger or fries?”

Diana's expression was something approaching lustful as she asked hopefully, “Or pizza?”

“Pizza,” Faith confirmed, “That way we can hit all the requirements; cheesy, meat, and vegan.”



Chapter Twenty-Nine: Lesson #3 - Freedom

It was just past four when Faith heard the screech of the school bus's breaks as it approached. She was slumped against the island in the kitchen under the amused gaze of Diana. She was still pouting over the delivery time that the phone operator at the pizza joint had given them. Faith considered it cruel and unusual punishment to make a Slayer wait forty minutes for her food.

Faith eyed the refrigerator, briefly considering the premade meals Aaron kept stored for their mealtimes and snacks. Then she just shook her head. As hungry as she was, that stuff could get old real quick if she was forced to eat it more than was necessary. Besides, she wasn't going to give him that sort of satisfaction by eating anything he'd fixed when she didn't have to.

At breakfast and earlier that afternoon, she'd just followed along for the time being. She'd figured that there wasn't a point in arguing over food. It wasn't as if it was horrible. Faith just thought it was disturbing how Aaron seemed to be trying to control every aspect of their lives.

She shot a mildly annoyed look at Diana and then braced her hands on the edge of the island to give herself a boost up. She ignored Diana's soft chuckle in reply as she let her legs dangle, her booted feet bouncing gently off the cabinets below. Faith's annoyance didn't last long. She could barely contain her amusement as she heard the key in the front door's lock.

She was stirring up trouble again. What could be better than that? Well... She reconsidered. There were a couple of things she could think of, but still, it was better than having nothing at all to do.

“I'll go get them,” Diana volunteered, all ready shoving off from the counter across from Faith.

Faith shook her head and reached out to catch Diana by her upper arm to stop her from leaving as she called out, “Yo, girls! We're in the kitchen. Get your asses in here.”

Faith heard Shawna's amused snort as the front door was closed. She let go of Diana and gently shoved her back towards the counter. Then she shot her a look that said, ‘just follow my lead'. She could only smirk as Diana rolled her eyes briefly before finally hopping up to sit by the sink.

She really did like that woman's attitude. Diana seemed to just roll with the punches. That was something Faith admired in a Slayer. It made both theirs and her lives that much easier.

Shawna was the first one through the doorway that separated the kitchen from the dining room. Her steps slowed as she caught sight of Faith and their team leader until she was standing still. Corrine and Janice stopped just behind her, their bewilderment obvious. Faith merely smirked.



To say she was confused would be an understatement. This wasn't normal. They usually took their book bags up to their rooms to do their homework as soon as they got home. But before they'd even shut the door behind them, Faith had bellowed for them to come to the kitchen.

Then there was the sight of their leader and the newest Slayer as she and the other two entered the room in question. Shawna wasn't stupid. She realized something was up the moment Faith had called out for them. That wasn't the way things were done here because it was loud.

According to Aaron, standing out or calling attention to yourself anywhere in any form was expressly forbidden for a Slayer. It was why he rode Shawna so much about her appearance. She just had a form of selective memory disorder. She happened to like the way she looked.

Shawna was fairly certain Corrine was about to faint, though. She didn't think someone with that skin tone was supposed to be that pale. She'd certainly never seen it before at any rate. It was either from shock or from fear; or it could have been from both, considering.

There was the devil dancing in Faith's eyes, though. And Shawna just knew that whatever was about to come out of Faith's mouth was going to be bad. She steeled herself not to laugh. Shawna still didn't know what it was, but Faith brought out something strange in her.

“Since our fearless leader is indisposed ,” Faith said, smiling sardonically, “And some insane person or deity has placed us in charge... you three are ours until further notice.”

“Huh?” Janice managed to get out.

And Shawna lost it. Janice's expression was just priceless. She couldn't help it. There had been so much tension in her life for so long and laughter was one of the best kinds of relief.



The smell of garlic was heavenly to Diana as she bit into her third slice of pizza. It had been far too long since she'd had pizza. Hell, even spaghetti or ravioli, and it had been even longer since she'd had caffeine. She eyed the can of Coke on the table possessively as she chewed.

A swallow of food and then another of her drink was followed by a squelched burp. Then she let her gaze drift to where Shawna was sprawled between the two living room couches. She was obviously thoroughly enjoying this as was evidenced by the smirk she'd kept since her laughter had died down. Corrine and Janice sat stiffly opposite Diana and Faith as they ate in silence.

Diana could tell that they were worried. Aaron was MIA as far as they were aware and Faith was an unknown. Sudden changes in the routine weren't necessarily bad, but for them, it could be. She was just waiting for one of them to get the nerve to speak up and she knew who it would be.

“Where's Mr. Graves?”

She wasn't disappointed. Corrine had issues with men; you could even say she was frightened of them in a way that angered Diana to see. But she had no trouble dealing with women. And when it came to handling Slayers, Corrine was more than capable of holding her own against most.

“He's resting,” Diana interjected before Faith could open her mouth. “He seemed kind of sick when he asked me to take over the schedule until he gave further notice. I asked Faith for help.”

Expression a little less hostile, Corrine demanded, “So why the sudden changes? We're just going to get into trouble once he realizes what we've done. You know he hates takeout.”

“No one's askin' him to eat it, now are they?” Faith cut in. “He don't even gotta know if you're all that worried about his reaction. It ain't like I paid for it with his money or anything.”

Diana shot Faith a look. She really wasn't helping matters much. Faith just rolled her eyes in reply and took a bite of pizza. Diana shook her head and returned her attention to Corrine.

“I just wanted us to have a meal that we'd all enjoy,” Diana said soothingly. “I'll handle him if there's any fallout from tonight, okay? None of you will get into trouble for it.”



Faith sighed inwardly. This tension was going to ruin her appetite and that would be a damn shame. That left her with only a few options and Faith really hated small talk. Chasing her last bite of pizza down with Pepsi, she eyed the book bags she'd told the girls to drop by the couch.

“What kind of classes do you guys take at school?”

It was silent for a second, and then Shawna answered in a bored tone, “I got Algebra, Social Studies, Science, English Lit, Gym, and Art.”

“American Lit, Latin, Trig, European History, Chem, and AP Art History,” Janice chimed in, her expression warily curious.

When Faith looked at Corrine, she just looked at her sullenly until Janice gave her a sharp jab in the side with her elbow. Corrine shot a dirty look at her and huffed, “What?”

“Just answer her. What's it going to hurt?” Janice hissed, much to Faith's amusement.

“Fine,” Corrine reluctantly mumbled and then brought her gaze back to Faith's. “English Lit, Algebra II, French, US History, Biology, and Home Ec.”

“Y'know, those all seem kinda generic,” Faith mused, eyebrows furrowed. She hadn't stayed in school long when she was a kid, but she'd remedied that in the last half of her life. She'd gotten her GED in prison, and then later on she'd taken a few courses in an online college.

“That's because Aaron wants us to keep it simple,” Shawna muttered. “He doesn't see any point in the other classes they provide at school and he hates that some of the electives are mandatory.”

Faith's jaw clenched so hard she was sure they could hear her teeth grinding. The concerned look Diana threw at her confirmed her suspicions and she knew she had to relax. She held back a few choice curses and mentally counted from fifteen to one as she exhaled slowly. Though she was beginning to wonder why she ever even bothered with that technique because it rarely worked.

In the end, it was a memory that kept her from snapping. Tai-Chi was part of her daily routine and it was something Angel had taught her. Angel had taught Buffy as well and it had become common practice the last couple of months for Faith and Buffy to do their forms together. It was the visuals of Buffy's body flowing through the forms that helped Faith calm down this time.

Shortly into Buffy's recovery, she'd started joining Faith every morning for the exercises on Dawn's back porch around sunrise. The play of shifting, gliding muscle beneath golden tan skin in the pearly gray light of morning had mesmerized Faith from the beginning. If it weren't for the ability to multitask, slaying, patrolling, even just training would have been impossible for her.

Hell, Faith snorted internally as she shook herself out of those the memories. Even just coexisting with her would be impossible if it weren't for that particularly handy skill.

“Sounds like you got a class in mind that you wanted to take,” Faith finally offered, lifting a questioning eyebrow at the girl as she tossed her used napkin on the paper plate in her lap.

“There's a couple,” Shawna agreed vaguely, nodding once.

Faith refrained from rolling her eyes, just barely. Then she saw the faintest traces of amusement in Shawna's eyes and sighed internally. What was it with teenagers and being difficult? Was there a gene that caused it and if so, was it possible to use gene therapy to remove it?



“So for the last test he sends me out to the trainin' course in the backyard, right?” Faith briefly gestured over her shoulder before leaning forward, her elbows on her knees. “Which, by the way, that place is way freaky. I mean, it reminded me of the oubliette in The Labyrinth .”

She ignored the looks she got at the reference. Corrine was confused, which was understandable since there wasn't a TV in the house and Faith doubted her childhood had included movie nights. And Shawna, Janice, and Diana were amused. Faith would just blame Dawn if teased about it.

But she was serious about her comment, mostly. The paths winding through the thick woods out back could get a person lost if they were anything less than supernatural. It even had traps, which by the way, had made her ever so thankful for the tall fence enclosing the back half of the land. Though it might have been funny to hear the excuses Aaron would've been forced to come up with when some lamebrain decided to trespass on their property and wound up gravely injured.

“I was still pissed off at the snide comments that he was makin' all afternoon, so I decided I was gonna lull him into a false sense of security before I got the drop on him. I wanted to make him feel like the ass he really is by showin' him just how little he knows. I hid behind one of those huge trees just a few yards down the path from the entrance and waited ‘til he came outside.

“I kept pretty close on his trail the entire time,” Faith said, unable to stop the wide smile as it broke out yet again. “I let him go on for close to two hours before I finally gave in. But instead of just steppin' out and announcin' myself, I decided I was really gonna get the drop on him.”

She had to pause for a couple of minutes to get her laughter under control and then she shook her head, “He didn't even see me before I stepped off that branch. Then the sound he made when he hit the was just priceless. I've never heard a grown man screech like that before.”

She chuckled again at the memory. She'd landed on top of him with her knee in a very, very sensitive place. Of course, the downside was that she'd had to carry him back to the basement because he'd lost consciousness from the pain. She shot Diana a wicked grin, unapologetic.

“Satisfied?” Faith asked over the sound of Shawna's giggles.

“Not lately,” Diana dryly returned, shaking her head in amusement.



Chapter Thirty: Cut Deep

“I wanted in the band program.”

“Say huh?” Faith asked articulately.

They were on patrol. Diana was on point, with Corrine and Shawna playing wingmen. Faith was guarding the rear, and there were so many comments she could make about that but she didn't. She was supposed to have stayed at home but had conned Diana into letting her come with.

“The classes I wanted to take,” Shawna quietly explained, glancing back at her briefly over her shoulder. “You asked about that earlier at dinner, remember?”

Faith murmured her acknowledgement. Just one more piece to the puzzle that's starting to come together way too easily. She's about as antisocial as pipsqueak on a bad day.

“Okay then,” Shawna continued. “So that's your answer; band class. And I kind of wanted to take their drama course, too. But Aaron thinks they're useless ‘cause they aren't applicable.”

Faith's eyebrow twitched as she bit her inner cheek. The drama thing made sense, kind of. But she was trying to fit the image of the girl in front of her with that of a band geek. It wasn't meshing.

“Stones in glass houses, yeah?” She muttered under her breath.

“What was that?” Shawna asked.

“Oh, nothin',” Faith replied, “Just thinkin' out loud, the kind of thing that's gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion with a friend of mine back home.”

It was second nature now. Cleveland really was her home now, no matter where she was or how long she'd been staying there. Though Faith knew it wasn't the place, but the people, that made it that way. Before they'd had to demolish the castle, Scotland had become home, too.

“Back home? That's Boston, right?” Shawna gave Faith a curious look.

“Mmm,” Faith grunted.

She'd purposefully kept that reply ambiguous. She didn't want to lie if she didn't have to, even if it was only half a lie. She had been born there, after all. She just hadn't lived there in years.

“I guess this is a culture shock for you, huh?” Shawna asked.

“It's somethin', aight,” Faith replied, chuckling wryly. “It's mostly Aaron that's weird to me.”

“Is he really all that different from your old Watcher?”

“Oh yeah,” Faith muttered in amusement.

Was Aaron anything like Diana Dormer? Not in a million years. What about Giles? Never. Aaron even fell short of Wesley's league by a couple thousand miles.

“Think maybe you guys can shut up sometime soon?” Corrine snapped without even sparing a glance at either of them. “We're supposed to be patrolling, not socializing.”

Faith winced. They were forever going to be unraveling the mess this situation had become. She was going to find out who had assigned a Slayer with Corrine's potential issues to Aaron's command. She was going to tear someone a new asshole for that decision.




Buffy was still curled up at the head of the foldout. She'd left earlier for dinner and then quickly returned. Now she could hear the shower running upstairs where Dawn had disappeared once they'd finished cleaning up after themselves. She smiled faintly at the memory of the brief water war they'd fallen into as they'd washed the dishes, an abandoned ritual from their childhood.

It had been nice to spend some time with Dawn today, despite Buffy's mercurial mood swings. It wasn't something they often did alone anymore. Though Buffy knew it was her own fault. She'd been so utterly wrapped up in her relationship with Satsu and with work for too long.

She frowned at her thoughts and unconsciously pulled Cookie tighter to her. Cookie meowed in response, causing Buffy to look down at the kitten cradled in the crook of her elbow. Faith had been gone for about three days and Cookie hadn't left Buffy's side by choice since then. She'd become a source of comfort for Buffy.

Speaking of Faith, She sighed longingly, taking a glance at the clock on the entertainment center. I wonder if I've waited long enough to call her. I don't want to interrupt anything important.



San Francisco

I keep thinkin' ‘bout that little sparkle in your eye

Is it a light from the angels, or your devil deep inside?

Faith was smirking obnoxiously with the first strains of her ringtone, “Heartbreaker”, by Pink. She didn't even have to look up to know that Corrine was glaring at her. She'd developed a sort of radar for that over the years. Also, being around Buffy, you just came to expect it.

What about the way you say you love me all the time

Are you liftin' me up to heaven, just to drop me down the line?

Or at least Faith did, at any rate. She dug the tiny phone out of her front pocket, wincing as her jeans scraped over her knuckles. Most of her pants were a little too tight now. Two months at home had lead to her gaining a couple of pounds despite regular workouts and Slaying.

She had never purposefully skipped meals. She liked eating entirely too much for that. She just wasn't always so great at taking care of herself when she was alone. At home, though, Dawn never let her forget to eat, and Buffy had proven herself to be just as adept at it as her sister.

Faith flipped the phone open, stepping away from a fresh grave. “Yo, B. Missin' me all ready?”




Buffy inhaled sharply at the sound of Faith's voice. It was like being immersed in living warmth. Buffy let the breath out unsteadily as she fought off the onslaught of emotion. It took her a while to regain her control and even then, her reply came out hoarse and shaky.

“You know it.”

“Sure do,” Faith chuckled huskily. “What's not to miss?”

“You really want me to go there?” She asked teasingly.

“Nah, don't want ya to have to make up lies to make yourself feel better.”

I already feel much better. This was better. Buffy smiled. Trust Faith to keep her grounded.



San Francisco

Faith just lifted an unimpressed eyebrow when the mounds of dirt in front of Shawna and Diana began to press upward. Her gaze flicked to the grave in front of Corrine and Faith smirked. The dirt was shifting, but the occupant was either caught on something or deeply stupid. She figured that it could go either way, though it was most likely a combination of the two.

“What are you up to?” Buffy asked.

“Graveyard greetin',” Faith drawled. “The fourth visitor of the night gets Slayed by yours truly.”

“Should I let you go?” Buffy asked through her laughter.

Faith gave it a brief thought, and then said, “Nah. I'll let the kids get it. I'll bag the next one.”

“Okay,” Buffy murmured, and Faith smiled genuinely.

The tone of Buffy's voice was that of profound relief. Faith's smile quickly faded into a concerned frown. Then she stepped further away from the other Slayers as Diana and Shawna confronted their opponents. She found herself near a bench between two older graves and absently sat down.

“Is everything all right?” Faith's voice lowered, her emotions bleeding into her words.




“Y—yeah,” Buffy stammered, and internally cursed herself for a fool as she continued more firmly, “I just wanted to check with you about something I heard earlier today.”

“What's that?” Faith asked.

“You're there to help Shawna, right?”

As she awaited Faith's answer, Buffy picked absently at the comforter. Faith's scent and her own mingled, surrounding her. It was almost enough to distract her. But she was determined.



San Francisco

“That's what Giles said in the briefin',” Faith said absently, despite her own rising suspicions.

It wasn't the time or place to discuss what she suspected even if she wanted to. She didn't want to alarm the younger Slayers. She did need to have a private discussion with Diana, though. It had been made obvious that whatever was really going on, Diana was very much aware of it.

“Why?” She prompted when Buffy remained silent.

“Evie made a comment about Aaron. She said that something needed to be done about him. It sounded really odd to me ‘cause I hadn't been aware of any problems with him. Were you?”

Faith watched as Diana finished off her opponent just in time for the fourth and final vampire to struggle out of his grave as Buffy spoke. Corrine was already finished with hers, as she'd been impatient enough to stake him before he was even half way out of the ground. Shawna was still playing with her vampire and Faith smiled faintly. Then her gaze strayed back to Diana's fight.

Diana's gaze locked with Faith's just as the meaning of Buffy's words slammed home. Faith's eyes hardened, causing Diana's to widen in surprise and confusion. Faith looked away as Diana's opponent took advantage of her distraction with a punch to her ribs. Faith's jaw clenched.

“No,” Faith answered with a faint tinge of bitterness. “I wasn't.”

Her suspicions had been confirmed. But it felt like some things never change. It occurred to her that Giles might've had good reasons for withholding that information. It just cut a little deep.



Chapter Thirty-One: Cut to the Chase

Okay, Faith sighed internally, gazing up at the ceiling of the darkened bedroom. So I have three mildly maladjusted Slayers, one of which is underage, and a team leader with more smarts than is really called for in a low activity zone. An Old Council indoctrinated Watcher.

Her brow furrowed. And reports that make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Not for the first time, she silently wished she'd brought the file on Shawna with her. Unfortunately, it would've been incriminating evidence if she had, which was why she'd left it with her stuff at Dawn's house.

It wasn't that she couldn't remember what she'd read, because she could. It just would've been nice to have a visual of the information Giles had provided her with to compare to the reality of the situation. Faith grimaced. She was going to have to gain access to a computer soon.

That was going to be fun. Not. She could use a computer as well, or better, than most people. She'd spent enough time with Willow to learn a few tricks. She just didn't like computers.

Faith rolled her eyes. Whether or not she liked them was immaterial. She needed to access the Council's database to review the files. And maybe find something related to Buffy's question.

Faith was trying not to let that get to her. She didn't want to jump to conclusions. There were plenty of explanations for not giving a complete report to a field operative. But she couldn't help but think that Giles wasn't supposed to consider her just another field operative.

They were friends first and foremost. They'd spent a lot of time together since he'd been estranged from Buffy all those years ago. Faith wouldn't tell him, but she saw him as a father figure. He'd given her support and trust when nobody else had been able or willing to.



Faith paced back and forth outside Diana's bedroom door. She'd gotten maybe two hours of sleep before she'd finally given up and now here she was. Most of the night had been spent organizing her thoughts and she still wasn't sure where to start. Or even which questions to ask.

The door swung open and Faith's steps faltered. She snapped her head up to meet Diana's gaze. It didn't come as a surprise to find that Diana didn't appear confused. Faith guessed Diana had been expecting the coming interrogation before now.

“I need to talk to ya.”

Diana just nodded and stepped back, waving her in. Faith slipped inside the room and turned to face her. Absently, she noticed that the layout of the room was identical to her own. Shaking off her distraction, she hooked her thumb in a belt loop and gripped her bicep with her free hand.

“Tell me why you're here.”

It was as good a starting place as any. Diana let out an explosive breath, shoulders slumping. Then Diana crossed the room to sink down onto the edge of her bed. Faith was about to push her for an answer when Diana finally began to speak.

“I was second in command of the Miami house until last year. Shortly after I finished my training at the police academy, I was approached by Rupert Giles for this position.”

Faith wasn't shocked. It wasn't so farfetched an idea that Diana was a cop. Military and law enforcement were common secondary careers for Slayers. However, that didn't explain why Diana out of hundreds of other qualified Slayers, some of which were much more experienced.


Smiling faintly, Diana asked, “Why what? He wanted a cop because of our investigative skills.”

“Don't play stupid,” Faith growled. “Why you ? No offense, but there's a Ranger in Texas that would've been more qualified if he absolutely had to have someone in law enforcement.”

“He wanted someone who wasn't jaded,” Diana explained softly. “Those were his exact words. The more qualified candidates would have been way too confrontational for this situation. I didn't really get what he meant until you got here and I saw the way you interact with Aaron.”

“What exactly is ‘this situation'?” Faith asked, pouncing on that opening.

“First, tell me what you've noticed so far,” Diana countered, leaning forward.

Faith eyed her, judging her seriousness, and then she sighed, “Neglected and underage Slayers. And all I've seen of Aaron screams absolute incompetence. He's been lax in his duties and he abuses his position as Watcher. I also suspect he's stealin' funds from us to cover up his activities—or lack there of—as well.”

“Mmm. All that in under seventy hours,” Diana murmured. “I'm impressed.”

“What were you officially sent here to investigate?” Faith asked, ignoring her comment.

“Giles suspected Aaron's reports were being padded. When I reported my observations on the under stocked supplies and the lax training, he wanted me to find out why. I haven't been able to determine Aaron's motivations. Giles gave me orders to remain here as team leader. He didn't want Aaron left in charge unsupervised, not that my presence has been a deterrent.”

“Did you get anything at all?” Faith asked, making a mental note to revisit that last statement.

“Nothing that differs too greatly from what you've uncovered,” Diana admitted. “Observation has been my main source of information from day one. He's an ass, but an anal-retentive one.”

“Mmm, damn,” Faith grumbled. “What do you suggest, then? I need to know what Giles has gotten me into and I'd like to find out sooner rather than later.”

“Want to get home to your girl, huh?” Diana teased. “Yeah, I caught part of that call last night.”

“Gotta make her mine, first,” Faith smirked. “But yeah, somethin' like.”

“I'd suggest going through his computer files. I've attempted it, but I wasn't familiar enough with Ms. Rosenberg's systems to breach her encryptions and firewalls.”

Faith winced. Yeah, so she wasn't getting out of that anytime soon. And here she had been hoping to avoid that particular source. The Powers were apparently getting their revenge.





“You said they were just under my asking price, right?”

“Yeah,” Juanita Juarez replied. “They're just shy of a grand under.”

“Mmm,” Buffy murmured thoughtfully, leaning back in her desk chair.

Her mood having been buoyed by the previous day, Buffy had decided to call Juanita as soon as the workday had started. The real-estate agent had been congenial about the delay and had extended her condolences on Buffy's coming divorce. Then she'd proceeded to give Buffy the details on her prospective buyers. Buffy wasn't disappointed by what she had heard.

“Well,” Buffy said slowly, “We did make allowances for that, remember? The final asking price is set even lower than their range, so I don't see a problem.”

“I just wanted to keep you informed,” Juanita replied amiably. “When are you available to sign?”

Buffy lifted her eyes to gaze blankly at a random point on the wall as she considered the question. She didn't have any classes scheduled for the rest of the day. And her office hours could be shifted as required. She couldn't recall any pending appointments either.

Just as she was about to reply, a light for another line began to flicker on the phone base. With an irritated roll of her eyes, Buffy said, “Excuse me for a sec, JJ. I have another call.”

“Sure thing, Buffy,” She heard Juanita reply as she leaned forward to switch lines.


“Hey, Buff. You got a moment or two?”

“Uh,” Buffy took a second to recognize Willow's voice. “I think so, why?”

“I need you to snag Dawn and come down to lab four.”

“Let me finish up with Juanita and then I'll track her down, okay?”


Buffy switched back to line one and said, “Sorry about that, Juanita. About the signing, do you think I can get back to you on that? I'd like to say this afternoon, but I have to meet Will in the lab and all kinds of catastrophes could come of that, doubly so since I have to bring Dawn.”

Juanita laughed, “That's all right, chica. I'll just let them know you've accepted their proposal and tell them to chill ‘til you get back to me with an appointment time.”

“Muchos gracias,” Buffy replied. “I'll catch you later.”


Buffy ended the call and placed the phone back on the base as she pushed her chair away from the desk. Then she mentally steeled herself to deal with the overwhelming scents of old books, dust, metal, and polish. Buffy was happy Dawn enjoyed her work. But Buffy hated the archives.



The New Council's headquarters had three stories. A couple of emergency living quarters were on the third floor, their offices and classrooms were on the second, and more offices were on the first. Also on the first floor were the cafeteria, a storage room, and the waiting room. The basement contained their gym and unbeknownst to anyone outside of the Council, elevators to three sub-basements had been added in the time they'd been there.

Sub-Basement Three contained four laboratories and an infirmary. That was where the handful of scientists, tech-support, Wiccan-support, and doctors they employed were stationed. Sub-Basement Two held containment and interrogation cells. Sub-Basement One held the archives.

After retrieving Dawn from the stacks in the archives, Buffy had her answer as to why Willow hadn't contacted Dawn herself. Dawn's cell had been off and she'd been at the far end of the archives opposite from where her office and phone were. Buffy'd made a mental note that they needed to do something about that. Then she'd dragged a protesting Dawn to the elevator.

“How'd your call to Faith go last night?”

Shooting a look at Dawn, she rolled her eyes, “Fine for the most part. Whatever's going on, she didn't know about it and I think it kind of hit her the wrong way when I told her what Evie said.”

“Did you try to reassure her, at least?” Dawn asked as the elevator came to a stop at Sub-B 3.

“She didn't seem to need it,” Buffy answered as she followed Dawn out. “She passed it off as Giles having his reasons. She obviously believes it enough that she's trying not to let it bug her. She sounded more cheerful by the time we hung up, even though she was still a little down.”

“Who's still a little down?” Willow's voice intruded.

“Faith,” Buffy answered as she glanced ahead to find Willow waiting for them outside a lab.

“Oh,” Willow said.

That, was odd, Buffy mused as Willow abruptly turned to lead them into lab four. Suspicious, Buffy sped up so that she could get in front of Willow. Stopping next a workstation, she crossed her arms and eyed Willow. When her friend flushed, Buffy simply smirked.

“She's so going to kick your ass for not telling her whatever you know.”

“Well, um, maybe not,” Willow said hopefully and waved a hand at the cluttered workstation, a familiar knife in amongst the odds and ends. “We have results, finally.”

“Oh?” Buffy asked, eyebrows lifting in interest.

“Yeah,” Willow said, moving forward to retrieve the knife. Holding it up, she gestured with it at the computer. “We did a compound test and ran the results through the database. We got a hit from the information we have on Polgaras. It was a ninety-nine point nine percent match.”

“Oh,” Buffy repeated with a wholly different inflection. “Who is this guy?”

“I guess it's a good thing we ran a background check on the store owner and his son, huh?” Willow replied absently. “Sergeant Brian O'Malley. He's one of the survivors of the Initiative. He was given an honorable discharge just after the Sunnydale fiasco and he came home.”

“Well, that explains it,” Buffy said, still disgusted. “He's obviously insane.”

“Buffy,” Willow admonished. “He's mostly harmless. We had one of the squads do a little surveillance. Besides, it's not as if you and Faith didn't like the knives anyway.”

“Well, they are kinda cool, if a little grotesque.”

“Uh-huh,” Willow nodded in agreement. “But I think someone should bring him to Riley's attention, preferably before he gets himself or someone else injured during his solo patrols.”

“Not me,” Buffy immediately protested.

She hadn't spoken to her ex since they'd broken Twilight's thrall over the military a few months after they'd left Scotland. And she had absolutely no desire to change that any time soon. Her luck had run true to form and he'd overheard some of the Slayers gossiping during his visit. Riley's reaction to the rumors that Buffy had slept with Satsu left a lot to be desired.

“Leave it to Giles to handle the clean marine,” Dawn suggested, using one of Faith and Spike's favorite nicknames for Riley, much to Buffy and Willow's amusement.

“That's a plan I can totally get behind,” Buffy muttered.



Chapter Thirty-Two: Step Back...

San Francisco

Passing the time when you've nothing to do is damn near impossible. Faith was just grateful Aaron had yet to show his ugly mug today. Though that worried her as much as it reassured her in that she'd rather he was where she could keep an eye on him.

Shawna, Corrine, and Janice were still at school and Faith was fairly certain Diana was studying for something. Or at least that's the conclusion she'd come to when she'd checked in on Diana earlier and spied several textbooks open on the bed amongst sheets of paper. That left Faith with very few options. That was the reason she found herself entering the library off the living room.

A faint smile creased her lips at the smell of leather, wood, and aged books. Faith would never admit it out loud, but she'd always held an appreciation for books. With few avenues of entertainment, it had at times been a comfortingly familiar pastime. She'd often used reading to escape her reality as a child and as a slayer she spent countless amounts of time doing research.

Running her fingers gently over the spines of a random row of books, Faith eyed the shelves in search of something of interest. She somehow doubted that Aaron would have fictional books. Not that she had anything against nonfiction. She was just in a particular mood.

Her gaze fell on two massive dark brown leather bound volumes and her expression turned amused. They were first addition Grimm's Fairy Tales , volumes I and II. The books were her childhood favorites, written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Once upon a time, Giles had ruined them for her by telling her that the majority of the tales contained within were based on reality.

With a mental shrug, Faith reached for the first one, “What the Hell.”



“Bored, much?” Shawna's amused voice came from near the doorway.

“Eh, a little,” Faith drawled, reluctantly tearing her gaze from the page she was reading.

She rolled her shoulders, feeling the tension coiled beneath her skin. It was obvious she'd been seated for entirely too long. She hadn't noticed the passage of time as she'd sat curled up in the armchair near the library's single window. It was only Shawna's presence that told her that it was four thirty at least, and a glimpse at the position of the sun was confirmation enough.

“Tell me somethin', kid,” Faith started, gaining a mildly annoyed look in response that she cheerfully ignored. “How do you keep that MP3 player of yours hidden from the Asshole?”

“I run the bud wire up my shirt instead of letting it dangle and I keep it on me at all times except for training. Then I keep it stashed in the tampon box in my nightstand,” Shawna shrugged. “Why?”

“Huh,” Faith nodded and smiled. “Wanna go AWOL for a couple of hours? I think I need to pay a visit to the mall and then maybe somewhere with internet access.”

Shawna studied her for a few seconds. She was obviously weighing her options and the consequences. Then she flashed a devil-may-care grin. Her decision was apparently made.

“How do you plan to get us there?”

“Thought I'd use a magic carpet,” Faith quipped, shaking her head as she dug a set of keys out of her pocket and then she waved them at her. “We're borrowin' Di's car.”

“Did you actually ask?” Shawna inquired, growing suspicious.

“Maybe,” Faith chuckled, setting the book aside as she stood.

“Ummm,” Shawna hesitated, torn. “Maybe you should talk to Di first.”

“Nah,” Faith declined, approaching her. “It'll be fine.”

“What if she gets pissed off?”

“She won't.”

“How can you be so sure?” Shawna asked worriedly. “You don't know her that well yet.”

“Would I lie?” Faith asked as she slipped around Shawna and out the door.

“Ummm, Faith—” That was all Shawna could manage as she followed her out of the house.




“Ava, this is Buffy Summers,” She said pleasantly. “Is Juanita available?”

“Hold on just a moment, Ms. Summers,” The young woman said. “I'll check.”

Buffy sighed as music began to play indicating that she'd been placed on hold. Despite the fact that it at least wasn't opera or country, she still wasn't thrilled. There was a distinct possibility that she disliked pop music even more than the latter two. When it clicked off, she sighed.

“Buffy?” Juanita asked.

“Hey,” She greeted. “Do you think the buyers would be available in the next hour?”

“You're rather anxious, no?” Juanita teased gently.

“It hasn't been so long since you went through your own divorce,” Buffy rejoined easily. “I think you can recall how much relief you felt once everything was over and done with, no?”

“True,” Juanita admitted. “Anyway, if you can stay on the line a minute or two, I could give them a call and see if that would be too late of a notice for them to rearrange their schedule.”

Their schedules wouldn't generally have been much of an issue, but meeting the buyer was one of Buffy's stipulations. She'd made far too many enemies in her lifetime. It wouldn't be too much of an assumption that one of them might try to use this situation to their advantage. She wanted to meet the buyer to ensure herself that that wasn't the case here.

“I'll be here.”

“Great,” Juanita said enthusiastically just before the music began to play again.

Buffy shared a look of amusement with Willow who was seated opposite her in the booth. They'd just finished dinner at Bucky's when she'd recalled that she was supposed to get back to Juanita. Dawn had disappeared off to the restrooms just minutes before. They'd agreed to accompany Buffy to the agency's office to prevent her having to take a cab in the sunset rush.

Buffy had just reached for her drink when Juanita came back on the line, “Buffy?”

“I'm still here.”

“They've agreed to meet here at my office in thirty-five minutes. That's enough time for you to get here, right? I have Mr. Donahue on the other line waiting for your confirmation.”

“That'll be more than enough time, JJ,” Buffy said, flashing Dawn a smile as she returned.

They exchanged goodbyes and then ended the call. Buffy finally got her sip of Coke and then she finished it off. Then she began to gather her belongings, shooting Dawn an impatient look. Buffy shrugged into her black leather jacket as they stood in unison, Willow following suit.

As they were exiting the restaurant, Willow asked Dawn, “Isn't this the place Faith intended to take Buffy to once the sale of her and Satsu's place went through?”

“Huh?” Buffy managed in unison with Dawn's reply.

“Yup,” Dawn confirmed succinctly, shooting Buffy a bratty smile.



San Francisco

Faith often found it amusing just how many of the juvenile things she'd learned in her misspent youth were applicable to her job. She would never, even under threat of torture, admit how often she'd had to resort to hotwiring a car in pursuit of, or while fleeing, demons, or Slayers. And she had lost count of just how many times she'd been forced to pick a lock, such as now.

Luckily, however, interior doors were always easier than exterior. There were rarely any alarms to fret over and the manufacturers tended to provide such simple locking mechanisms. When she felt the faint click as the lock turned, Faith closed and pocketed her knife. Then she eased the door open and let herself in, gently closing the door behind her before crossing the room.

Slayer eyesight paved the way around the desk and she booted up the computer as she pulled the chair from under the desk. Settling herself in the seat, she waited for it to load. Her knee bounced absently as she silently drummed her fingers against the oak desk. A faint smile creased her lips.

While shopping wasn't the most pleasant task to Faith, she'd enjoyed the chance to get to know Shawna outside of Aaron's earshot. The girl had revealed a sarcastic sense of humor that Faith just knew would drive Buffy insane. It was her enthusiasm that was going to drive Faith nuts.

Shawna might show reluctance at times, but if she was discussing something of interest to her, there was apparently no stopping her. It reminded Faith of a cross between Dawn and Buffy, with a little bit of Willow's geek genes thrown in. She really wanted to introduce those three and step back to let the fireworks blow. There would be no little amusement, Faith suspected.

The visit to the electronics boutique at the mall had proven interesting, to say the least. Shawna's love of music rivaled Faith's own. Of course, Faith was fairly certain that she was going to regret having let Shawna handle downloading the music for her new MP3 player. She just hadn't been able to tell her no when she'd given her that pleading look at the internet café they'd visited.

Shaking off the memory as the computer prompted for a password, she scowled as she considered the screen. She'd suspected from Diana's comment that he'd kept it password protected, so she wasn't surprised, just a little irritated. Then again, Faith smirked as she set her fingers typing. She was fairly confident she knew what his password was.

Shortly after she and Giles had returned to the fold, Willow had forced Faith and Giles to take a crash course in the systems she'd programmed and set up at the castle. Over the years, as their operation expanded, Willow had become responsible for their servers and systems worldwide. So Faith was very much aware of the standard password that Willow set for each system ordered.

“Guess the tool didn't get Red's memo about changin' the passwords monthly for security purposes,” Faith muttered as the hourglass appeared on the screen, signaling her success.

She waited for the desktop, toolbar, and Council menu to finish loading. Faith didn't want to slow the process down. The desktop displayed the Mozilla Firefox icon, along with several others, including the icon for Willow Tree, Willow's personal security software. The toolbar contained the typical icons one expected to find, plus a tiny tree and a scythe.

The scythe was the icon for the Council's menu, which was all ready displayed in the lower right hand corner above the clock. The options on the tiny menu read, ‘Watcher', ‘Slayer', ‘Wiccan', ‘Administration', and ‘Support'. Feeling a streak of mischief, Faith used the trackball to guide the pointer over the menu and clicked ‘Watcher'. A page popped up and Faith held back a curse.

Faith wasn't going to question her own luck. Aaron had been stupid enough to save his login. Faith winced internally at the implications of that for the Council's security, though. Thinkin' maybe I should just turn his ass over to Red and let the fuckin' fireworks blow.

A few seemingly random clicks and a couple of memorized codes brought her to the Council's internal servers and she snickered. It was always so much fun to play with Willow's programs. A couple more clicks brought her to the current investigation reports. Of course, that wasn't in the label, but anyone who actually knew Giles, knew that ‘Pending Inquiries' was a euphemism.

Faith searched the titles until she located the file with Shawna's name as the header. She entered the file and scrolled down until she reached the complaints filed against the girl. Briefly scanning each of the reports filed by Aaron, her teammates, and several caseworkers, Faith frowned. It seemed on the up and up, but it just didn't ring true to her, not even in the least.

Shaking her head, Faith began the highly, and annoyingly, convoluted process of backing out of the programs and servers she'd entered. Then she exited Aaron's personal Council menu and turned her attention on his documents. She wasn't sure what she was looking for, but she figured she'd know it when she saw it. She was hoping for an unedited journal of sorts like Giles kept.

And much to her surprise, she found it. He had an unencrypted folder in his documents labeled ‘Grave Matters' that she stumbled upon. Within were seven documents, each one baring a label for each Slayer under his care , including Faith. It was the fifth and sixth documents that caught Faith's attention and forced her to reevaluate the questions she'd come in here with, however.

She hadn't once considered the reason there had been a vacancy on the team for her to fill. She hadn't even thought about the Slayer there before her. Faith's mind began to race as she accessed the files. And the horrifying thought occurred to her that whatever the reason behind the sudden vacancy, it would explain why Giles had brought her in despite Diana's presence.



Chapter Thirty-Three: And Let the Fireworks Blow

Faith was very much aware of the rousing of the other occupants of the house, and not just because the door to the office was now wide open. She was waiting for something—some one , and her senses, all ready supernaturally enhanced, had grown hypersensitive. She was still seated behind the desk, but she'd pushed the chair back and was currently comfortably settled. Her right foot was dangling over her bare left knee, and her fingers were interlaced on her belly.

Faith was almost utterly still. Even after all these years, it didn't come naturally to Faith. She was fairly certain that if tested, she would prove positive for ADHD. Nevertheless, for once—and she wasn't counting the times she'd been in a coma—Faith was still . Her breathing had grown shallow long before now in an attempt to keep her from going off the deep end.

From inside out, she was trembling from the effort she was exerting to maintain her tight reign over herself. The tension was visible in the hard lines of her jaw and in the way her knuckles had gone white. But those were the only indications. Her mask was nothing if not scarily efficient.

To say that she was angry would have been an understatement of the highest degree. She was perfectly clear as to why Giles had withheld information from her now. And she wished she wasn't. Because just this once, Faith wanted to kill a human, and she didn't regret that thought.

The past five hours had been a lesson in restraint. She'd read through each of his Watcher's Journals and then hunted down the ledger he'd been foolish enough to keep on their system. Faith hated and it had grown deeper and darker with every secret revealed. How she hated.

Giles had been right to go about things the way he had. Any other and her perceptions would've been colored, tainted. She wouldn't have been capable of giving enough rational thought to her actions and Aaron would've never stood a chance. She'd have called it a justifiable homicide.

But now she'd had time to think because she'd had to make the discoveries on her own. Well, mostly. And no matter how much she wanted, needed it, she knew she couldn't kill Aaron. But it would take Faith a while to come to terms with the fact that she didn't question if she should .

For now, she would wait. She would make him come to meet his own end. And if he didn't, he'd wish he had when she came for him instead. Play time was over and so was his little side-job.

It was the sound of Aaron's bedroom door opening, finally, that made Faith smile with dark satisfaction. She'd been fairly confident that even he wouldn't be able to justify taking another sick day for the injury she'd inflicted. She continued to wait in silence. He wouldn't be able to see the door of his office until he headed towards the kitchen due to the position of the room.

Faith wasn't surprised to hear another door open before Aaron was even halfway down the stairs. She'd figured that Diana was very much aware of the possible consequences of her actions the moment she'd suggested that Faith go over Aaron's files. She doubted that Diana ever did much of anything without a purpose. Diana just didn't seem the type to do things otherwise.

Faith knew the moment Aaron registered the open office door and the light on inside. His steps faltered briefly before changing direction and speeding up. The trembling stopped abruptly, replaced by tightly coiled tension as she waited with anticipation. She tilted her head just slightly and eyed the door, her entire body screaming calm detachment to anyone who didn't know her.

Anyone who did know her would recognize it for what it was. She was preparing to pounce. The sound of Diana gathering the other Slayers faded into the background like white noise. The moment Aaron entered Faith's line of sight, she adapted a mocking smile, waiting still.

“What are you doing in here?” Aaron asked, his lips turning down into a stern frown.

In between one breath and the next, Faith assessed him. Aaron was dressed, meticulously and pretentiously as always. His argyle knit dark blue and pale pink sweater was tucked into a pair of khaki pants and he wore a pair of leather loafers. And as far as she could tell, he was unarmed.

“I was just checkin' in back home.” Faith eased out of the chair, hands held up in feigned innocence.

There must have been a note in her voice that she hadn't hidden very well. His eyes grew wary and he stiffened noticeably. Though, that might have been because of the way she was prowling towards him. Anyone who had spent any amount of time with a Slayer knew what that meant.

“My office is off limits,” He managed to keep his voice steady. Faith was impressed.

It was in the visible jump of his pulse point and the way his gaze kept shifting that she realized he was frightened. Faith was now just a couple of feet away from him. The distance didn't mean much for a Slayer. She could close that space in less time than it took for him to breathe.

Faith stopped right in front of him, personal space never having meant much to her at any rate. She caught his eyes with hers and let her humanity fade to the background. Her mask fell away, letting him see every dark impulse and every ounce of hatred that she felt for him in that instant. One second bled into another and then he tried to bolt and Faith was more than ready for him.

It was the sight of Faith pinning Aaron to the wall with his right arm pulled up behind his back at a painful angle that Diana, Shawna, Janice, and Corrine entered to find. Faith was sure it was an odd sight to see. She was several inches shorter than him and she was leaning her weight into his back, pressing his arm up even higher. She was also still dressed in her boxers and tank top.

“What the bloody Hell do you think you're doing, bitch?” Aaron gasped out.

“There he is,” Faith said sardonically. “I was kinda wonderin' what it would take to get you to give up your lame excuses for propriety, you fuckin' scum suckin' maggot.”

“Let me loose,” Aaron snarled, struggling against her.

He let out a high-pitched squeal when Faith leaned a little harder into him. It was the low din of protests starting up that reminded her of the presence of the younger Slayers. An urge, twisted and primal, wound its' way through her soul deep and she fought the desire to inflict damage. Instead, she reared back and slammed him against the wall as a concession to her darker half.

“Hey!” Corrine and Janice shouted in unison, but Faith ignored them as Diana kept them back.

“Don't get involved,” Diana warned them.

“But she's—” Corrine started defiantly.

“Aaron Brighton Graves, by the power invested in me by the Powers that Be,” Faith interrupted, tone too cold to ever be considered professional, “I hereby place you under arrest. Anything you say, can, and will incite me to beat the ever lovin' hell out of you, you son of a bitch.”

“What?” Several voices screeched at once.

Faith resisted the urge to cover her ears. Instead, she just winced internally. Releasing Aaron's arm and keeping him pinned with a hand against his opposite shoulder, she reached behind her to retrieve warm metal from her waistband. When she brought her hand back around, she quickly slapped one end of the handcuffs around the wrist of his right arm.

She'd discovered the handcuffs during her investigation of his desk contents. It had been by pure force of will that she'd managed to maintain her composure at the discovery. She hadn't wanted to consider their purpose, sexual or not. There are just some things that don't bear consideration.

She stepped back, jerking Aaron away from the wall and then shoving him toward one of the two black iron guest chairs. Before he could right himself, she pushed him down into the seat and attached the second cuff to the thin arm of the chair. Then she moved out of range and settled herself on a corner of the desk. Catching Diana's gaze, she jerked her head toward the door.

“Get them outta here. I need to have a little discussion with Asshole.”

“I'm not going anywhere until you tell us what the Hell is going on here,” Shawna demanded, finally speaking up. “You're just a little too in touch with your inner mistress of pain for me to feel comfortable leaving you alone with him. He may be an ass, but he's still human.”

“Shawna,” Diana started, reaching for the girl's shoulder.

“No, I'll handle it,” Faith said, holding up a hand to stall her and then giving Shawna her full attention. “You think this is uncalled for, right?”

“In a word,” Shawna managed, despite her confusion, “Duh.”

“Good,” Faith said, nodding seriously. “That means you'll be just as disturbed by the fact that he's the one that drugged both Christina Elliot and Danielle Oscar and sent ‘em to their deaths.”

The room fell silent. A brief glance at Aaron told Faith that he was seething, despite his obvious fear. Faith eyed the three youngest Slayers who were beginning to show their anger and disbelief, waiting for their reactions. It was Corrine that broke first.

“You're lying,” She spat, confused and a little desperate. “He's our Watcher.”

“Cori,” Janice said quietly, pulling her towards the door. “I don't think she is.”

“But, they were sick, that's why they weren't able to defend themselves,” She choked out. “You remember, right? In both cases they'd been losing their strength for days beforehand. He said...”

“That it was the flu,” Faith finished flatly. “It wasn't. He shot ‘em up with a combination of adrenaline suppressants and muscle relaxants. It's a drug the Old Council used for a test they called the Cruciamentum, a test which was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Slayers.”

“Who are you?” Aaron gritted out.

“Wow,” Faith said, blinking in amazement. “You really are that dense. I'd have thought you'd have realized by now, or at least have gotten an idea or two about who I am.”

“Stop fucking about and tell me who you are!”

“Maybe it's ‘cause of my name,” Faith said absently. “I mean, Buffy is a little more memorable.”

The penny dropped. Aaron fell silent, eying her in growing horror. Faith just gave him an obnoxiously maddening smirk. Just because she couldn't kill him didn't mean she'd behave.

She lifted her gaze to find three sets of wide eyes staring at her. She chuckled humorlessly. Then she shot a meaningful look at Diana. The redhead nodded and began to herd the others out.

“The name's Faith Lehane,” She drawled, giving Aaron a dark look. “I'm the bad Slayer.”

It wasn't a description she really used that often any more. She was self-aware enough to know that that wasn't her now, no matter how often she might feel like it was. But he was a relic of the Old Council. She liked the way it made him squirm to realize just who he was dealing with.

“Diana,” Aaron snapped as she started to close the door behind them. “What do you think you're doing? You cannot just abandon me here with this—this... rogue Slayer. I absolutely forbid it.”

Diana turned her head slowly, giving him an incredulous look over her shoulder, “You what?”

“I forbid you to leave me here with her,” He repeated anxiously.

“Ooh-Rah, Asshole,” She enunciated as she exited the room, firmly closing the door behind her.

“I don't have anything left to say to you,” Faith said as she fiddled with the base of the computer monitor. “I just want to see how you react when I bring your entire world down around you.”

“What do you mean?” He asked reluctantly, expression sullen.

It was a violent surge of motion that took him by surprise. One moment, she was sitting almost calmly, absently tracing the base of the monitor. The next, she lifted the monitor, stood, and threw it across the room all in one fluid motion. It hit the wall in an explosion of glass, metal, plastic, and sheetrock that made him jump, even as she simply stood there looking at him emotionlessly.

“You think your crimes against my girls are the only ones I'm aware of?” She asked rhetorically, reaching up to pull the lanyard around her neck out of her tank top and holding up a flash drive.

“That's just the thing. Keepin' your records on Red's systems? Not the smartest idea.”

He stayed silent and Faith chuckled harshly, shaking her head, “You've had a good run, man. You made a couple million, and didn't even have to get your hands dirty. All you had to do was keep the patrol routes from crossing into his territory and you had it made. Sounds easy enough.

“I mean, you probably would've gotten away with it. But you just had to get a Slayer killed. Chris found out about your deal with your pet demon and you just couldn't let it go, could you? Gave her a little bit of the juice every day and then set her up with some of his goons, right? You just didn't expect anyone at the Council to notice the compound in her blood in the autopsy.”

Faith watched the color bleed out of his complexion as recognition set in. It was only conjecture at this point, but she didn't doubt that she was very close if not spot on. It would have set off alarms for Willow, if not for anyone else. They'd had their own experiences with it.

“Your biggest mistake was doin' it a second time, though,” She finished. “They may have just been suspicious of the circumstances when they sent Diana. But when a second Slayer wound up dead and her blood work tested positive, they didn't just suspect it anymore. So they sent me.”

For good measure, Faith reached over and grasped the cord of the phone on the desk, giving it a good yank. She heard the plastic snap as it left the phone jack in the wall behind the desk. Then she grabbed the phone, throwing it full strength in the same direction the monitor had gone. Once that was done, she tucked the disk drive back under her shirt before approaching Aaron.

She considered him briefly, and then shrugged. Aaron didn't have a chance to react before Faith struck out at him, clipping his temple with her fist. After confirming that he was out, she patted down his pockets quickly and efficiently. Once she was assured that he had nothing on him that could be used as a means of escape, Faith turned and walked out of the office.



Chapter Thirty-Four: S.I.C.

She took her time about contacting Giles. She wanted to be calm when she spoke to him. He wasn't the one who had done wrong and didn't deserve to be treated as if he was. Though, there was a part of her that felt that he should have had them move in on Aaron sooner than they had.

There were regulations in place, she knew. She even respected them, for the most part. They may run the New Council, but that didn't mean that they could act with impunity. There had to be a proper investigation and physical evidence of someone's crimes before they could be indicted.

They'd had plenty of proof of his embezzling. He'd been padding his expense reports since just after he'd been placed in charge of the San Francisco house to hide his actions. They'd even had proof of his negligence. But Giles had wanted proof that he had aided in the murder of a Slayer.

Faith understood why Giles had waited, really. It just sucked that it had come at the price it had. Two Slayers, one barely in her early twenties, the other just shy of sixteen, had been killed. And it hadn't even been in the name of control, but in that of greed and it made her so, so sick.

She sent the others upstairs to finish dressing, and pulled a few items from the fridge to prepare breakfast. It had occurred to her that Aaron may have been adding something to the meals. His insistence on controlling their eating habits didn't sit well with her in light of her discoveries. It was the thought that Willow may need to test it for drugs that kept her from trashing the lot of it.

It gave her a little alone time to contemplate the situation. The revelations of the morning had obviously shaken the three young Slayers and she got that. Their Watcher, the person they needed to trust, had betrayed them. He'd killed two of their teammates, their sister Slayers.

Part of their confusion and disquiet probably had a little something to do with her as well. A lot of the younger Slayers she'd met didn't have a clue how to interact with Faith. That, she was certain, was both because of what she was, and because of her in-your-face personality. Add in that she'd had to lie to maintain her cover, and their current dispositions were understandable.

Unfortunately for them, there were things to be done and they were going to have to deal with her a little longer. Maybe in that time she would be able to, if not regain their trust, at least ease their concerns some. It wasn't really one of her priorities, but she would do what she could. She hoped that they would at least be able to see that what she was doing was for the best.



Faith leaned back in her seat after having finished eating. It was time to begin getting things sorted out. There weren't any more excuses for putting it off, at least not reasonable ones. She let her gaze shift from one Slayer to the next, contemplating how to start, and then she shrugged.

“Di, I need you to call the girls out of school.”

“What?” The expected protests came in stereo. “Why?”

Holding up a hand to stall their protests, Diana asked, “What should I tell the Attendance Secretary? He's going to want to know why the three of them aren't coming in.”

“Aaron's listed as their guardian, right?”

“Unfortunately,” Diana said in disgust.

“Just tell ‘em there's a family emergency.”

“What's the point in keeping us home?” Shawna interrupted, eyeing Faith warily.

“I'm gonna have to call Giles in about...” She paused, checking her watch. “Fifteen minutes. And then him and some friends are gonna make a personal trip out here. He's gonna have questions.”

“Oh,” Shawna muttered. “You mean Rupert Giles?”

“The one and only,” Faith replied easily.

“This whole thing's not just some hoax, is it?” Janice interjected. “You really are one of the Chosen Two and our Watcher really did just turn out to be our next big bad, didn't he?”

“Well,” Faith hedged, wincing. “I wouldn't say that he was your next big bad. He's just a creep.”

“He may not have been the one baring the claws and teeth, but he killed Christy and Danni all the same, and he did it for money,” Corrine said flatly. “He's not just a creep.”

Faith didn't reply. There really wasn't anything she could say to that. For them, Aaron was a big bad. He had betrayed them, and for a Slayer, that was so much worse than bringing about an apocalypse.



“Evie, it's Faith,” She enunciated tightly. “Transfer me through to Giles.”

“Certainly, dear,” Evelyn agreed amiably.

The ringtone began to sound once again. Faith leaned against one of the porch's support posts, waiting for Giles to answer. It wasn't long in coming. The second she heard the click, she spoke.

“If you want him in one piece, you'll be out here within the next seven hours, Giles.”

“Ah, yes, Faith,” Giles stammered. “How are you?”

“I'm mildly homicidal, vergin' on psychotic,” Faith smiled tightly. “And you?”

“Glad to hear you're doing so well,” He teased. “How are the girls taking it?”

“I think they're gonna need a little extra help coping,” Faith admitted. “But, yeah. You really do need to come out here, Giles. And bring a team with you—maybe B, Ken, Rona, and Vi?”

“Do you really need them all?”

She could almost hear the wince. She understood. She was asking for most of his other heavy hitters. That meant she was either going for overkill, or the situation was really dire.

“It would be for the best,” Faith confirmed. “I don't want any of the other newbies in on this. It might cause them to start questionin' their own Watchers and most of them don't deserve that.”

“Well, all right, that appears to be a reasonable enough request,” Giles assented. “If I recall correctly from the rather sparse information we've gathered, it should be a short cleanup.”

“Uh,” Faith managed, cringing at the thought of breaking the news. “It's not gonna be as simple as you might think. There was some shit goin' down that your girl didn't know about...”




Five phone calls, a page, and an hour later found Giles' office crowded with four Slayers. He'd called them immediately after ending his call with Faith. She was more than capable of handling things on her own, but he'd recognized that edgy undertone in her voice. Faith was enraged and keeping her in close quarters with the object of her anger could be hazardous to Aaron's health.

Giles didn't blame her. The information Faith had given him explained so much. They'd assumed that Aaron's negligence of the Slayers was Old Council indoctrination. They hadn't even once considered that Aaron might have allied himself with the other side.

Though, Giles couldn't be certain that some of Faith's ire wasn't directed at him. He'd only given her half the information going in and had blatantly falsified parts of it. It wasn't the first time he'd employed that method to maintain the integrity of a mission, but he disliked it as much as she did. And no matter how reasonable Faith was, it still deeply affected her each time.

Now, however, Giles had another briefing to handle. And judging by the impatient look Buffy was sporting, he wasn't getting to the explanations fast enough. Though, depending on what he'd interrupted with his call, she'd have been impatient no matter his alacrity. Giles sighed.

“A little over a year ago, a team leader was killed in action. Willow came across the autopsy report and noticed an alarmingly familiar compound in the toxicology report,” He began, very much aware of the growing iciness in Buffy's eyes. “She brought it to my attention and then began doing what she could on her end. Through her systems alone, she managed to gain just enough information to warrant further investigation, and so we placed an officer in the house.

“Plenty of incriminating evidence of Aaron's abuse of his position was gathered before recent events,” Giles confessed, feeling his throat tighten. “However, I wanted to nail him for the death of Christina, the Slayer that brought him to our attention. Unfortunately, another Slayer died before we could find solid evidence. It was that which prompted Faith's current mission.”

Suspiciously enough, some of the tension bled out of Buffy. Giles glanced at her curiously. His only reply was a shrug as Buffy slumped back in her seat. He eyed her warily.

“Is there a problem, Buffy?”

“He was Old Council, right?” She inquired, the words clipped with her anger.

“Yes,” He admitted. “Aaron is a former supporter of Quinton Travers.”

Her eyes seemed to fill with relief as his wording registered and her voice unintentionally softened as she asked, “The Cruciamentum?”

“The drug, yes,” Giles confessed. “Aaron's purposes, however, were even darker, if possible.”

Before Buffy could ask, Kennedy interjected, “How so?”

“He's made a deal with a local demon lord,” Giles answered, kneading the back of his neck. “Aaron ensures that the patrol routes don't cross into his territory, and that the Slayers stationed there are ill-equipped to handle his henchmen, and he gets paid off. Both Christina and Danielle discovered his deceit so he drugged them and turned them over to the demon's thugs.”

“And we didn't make a move before now, why?” Buffy asked, the deadly calm of her voice not fooling him a bit.

“Buffy, I'd have loved nothing more than to do so,” He explained gently. “But as you know, there are procedures we all must follow even when we would much rather not do so. We needed to be absolutely certain that our information was not purely speculation. Neither Diana, Willow, nor I meant to allow another Slayer to die in the process, but he somehow got by us.”

“It's time for a cleanup, right?” Rona asked, cutting to the chase. “I mean, someone has to take care of the demons Aaron's been letting roam unchecked to prevent any retaliation.”

“Yes,” Giles replied, relieved at the distraction. “Faith requested the four of you to keep the situation from causing prejudice against the other Watchers amongst the rest of our Slayers. You each are experienced and old enough to not allow Aaron's actions to color your perceptions.”

“When do we leave?” Vi jumped in enthusiastically.

“Within the next four hours, preferably,” Giles answered dryly. “I shudder to think what Faith shall do to Aaron if she's forced to remain in his vicinity for too long unsupervised.”

“Um, Giles,” Buffy chuckled humorlessly. “What you should worry about is what she's already done to him. She might not kill him, but there are lots of other things she's very adept at doing. And if she was calm when she spoke to you, that means she's all ready vented on someone.”

Despite her words, Giles could tell Buffy was worried. Somehow, he knew it was more for Faith than for anything the other Slayer might do. It made him smile inwardly. How things changed.

“Perhaps it's just being in charge that has forced her to remain calm?” He suggested hopefully.



Chapter Thirty-Five: My Favorite Girl

Buffy had initially been more than a little anxious when Giles had summoned her to his office. His brief explanation over the phone that there had been changes in the San Francisco situation hadn't been the most reassuring thing to accompany her on the walk to Giles' office. Her walk would have actually been more of a brisk jog to a normal human being. That Giles had made her wait for the others to arrive before giving her any explanations hadn't been much of a help either.

Now she was torn. There was irrational anger that Giles had sent Faith anywhere near someone who had access to that drug. There was hope that Faith would be okay and a little irritation that Faith hadn't seen fit to call her. And there was also giddiness and that didn't need explanation.

At least, it didn't for her. She was hyperaware of the almost throbbing need to see and touch Faith that was the driving force behind the giddiness. She was going to see Faith. She was going to be able to put her arms around Faith and she was going to kiss Faith, come Hell or high water.



She was my favorite girl

She was sweet as candy (sweet as candy)

And I gotta tell her that I wanna make her my baby (my baby)

And if we get the chance (the chance)

The chance to meet, yeah

That's when I'll tell her

That I need her so

Buffy had just finished zipping up her overnight bag when her cell phone's ringtone began to go off from where she'd left it downstairs in Dawn's living room. The half-smile that followed in response was entirely involuntary. Most of her previous irritation was swept away by the simple words of O-Town's “Favorite Girl” as she raced to reach the phone in time. She dived onto the couch, sweeping the phone up from the coffee table and answering it in one swift motion.

“Hey, you,” She greeted breathlessly.

“Hey,” Faith replied roughly.

Buffy winced in commiseration. She wasn't certain just what Faith was going through. But she had her own ideas. Betrayed Slayers—never an easy or particularly pleasant thing to deal with.

“Hang in there, F,” She said softly. “We're coming.”

“Mmmm,” Faith grunted faintly. “Do you have a timeframe for me?”

“Four, maybe five hours,” Buffy replied, eyebrows furrowed in thought. “We can have Will teleport us if you'd rather not wait, though. She has some free time today, I think.”

It was one of Willow's three days off. They usually gave a day off for every day worked for their casters to prevent burnouts. Buffy wouldn't have volunteered Willow if she hadn't known for a fact that Willow hadn't been working in a magical capacity the previous day. She wasn't stupid.

“Nah,” Faith eventually managed. “It's not an emergency. I'm just really on edge. I wanna get the ball rollin' and get these girls set up somewhere that they can get the attention they need.”

“Aaron's done a number on them, huh?”

“I think Janice and Shawna will be fine,” Faith confided. “But I'm not so sure about Corrine. She needed help before they placed her with him and he just never bothered to make sure she got it.”

“She's the Cuban kid we dragged out of that Hellhole three years ago, right?”

“Yeah, the one from Havana,” Faith replied absently.

Buffy grimaced at the memory. She hadn't been there personally for the retrieval or cleanup, but she had seen the crime scene photos afterwards. It was a wonder that any of the Slayers that had been sent to retrieve Corrine could sleep. Corrine had accidentally murdered her father in self-defense and then a pack of demons had found her when she ran.

A cornered, angry, and frightened Slayer is a dangerous creature. That a Slayer was capable of rending a demon's muscle from bone wasn't shocking. That she hadn't even been thirteen yet was the part that caused most of them pause. Gore was nothing to most of them these days.

By the time their team had found Corrine, a week had passed. The girl had been half starved, dehydrated, hadn't bathed in even longer, and her wounds had been mildly infected. They'd had to tranquilize her to keep her from killing any of them. It hadn't been a high enough dose to knock a Slayer out, just enough to calm her down long enough for them to talk sense into her.

“On a scale of one to five, how badly is she behaving?”

“Uh,” Faith snorted. “It's nothin' as bad as that. It'd probably be a little less worryin' if she was lashin' out. I wouldn't have even noticed anything off if it weren't for the way she fights.”

“She's a ticking time bomb, huh?” Buffy could imagine.

“Oh yeah,” Faith agreed tiredly. “And I'm just hopin' I get this done in time to diffuse her.”

“I'm sure we'll manage,” She said comfortingly.

“Here's hopin',” Faith said roughly. “I'm gonna let you get back to packin', B. I just wanted—Well, I kinda just wanted to hear your voice, get that reminder that I'm not alone, y'know?”

Buffy's heart just sort of... melted. That was the only description she could think of to fit the sensation that followed Faith's declaration. It was obvious Faith was as reluctant to return to the dance their relationship had reverted to in the past two months as she was. That was fine by her.

“I certainly do,” She replied softly. “Take care, okay? I want you in one piece when I get there.”



San Francisco

“Sure thing,” Faith managed to get out before she snapped her cell phone shut.

She let out a heavy breath as she set the phone on the porch rail. It felt kind of like her heart was in her throat now. She wasn't certain what had prompted her admission, but she didn't regret it in the least. She thought it was about time she acted on that thing she'd idly mentioned to Diana.

There wasn't really anything standing in her way. Buffy's marriage status was just a technicality. Her divorce would be finalized soon enough, and in the meantime, Satsu wouldn't be around to make a fuss. She and Buffy had been dancing around their relationship for weeks as it was and the rumor mill had certainly picked up on it, especially after that goodbye scene in the cafeteria.

They just needed to make it official. So, they'd have to talk about it. Faith winced. They'd made progress in that aspect of their friendship, but communication still wasn't one of their best assets.

Faith bowed her head in thought as she absently trailed her toes against the grain of the porch. She'd originally come out here for privacy to call Giles and to escape the awkwardness that was inside. The phone call to Buffy had been completely spur-of-the-moment. She couldn't find it in herself to be annoyed that it had left her with even more on her mind than she'd already had.

That reminder caused her to snap her head up and she had to stifle a groan. Mind on the job, She admonished. Y'know, you did have a semi-reasonable excuse for callin' her when you started.

Faith retrieved the phone and hit the speed dial once again. As the ringtone sounded, she started an internal mantra of, you are an adult. You are not a twelve year old kid. You are an adult.

“Is there a problem, Faith?” Buffy's voice intruded on her thoughts.

“Ah, no,” Faith stammered, a little out of sorts. “Well, kind of. I forgot to mention that I need you to bring my laptop when you come. There was an incident with the computer here.”

Faith squirmed in discomfort. She hadn't meant to destroy it so totally. She'd just needed to release a little steam and her choices had been Aaron or an inanimate object. She'd already taken out her anger on him more than she'd intended and she hadn't wanted to go there again.

“Yeah, I can do that,” Buffy chuckled. “But you know I'm not going to leave that alone, right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith muttered. “Tell me somethin' new.”

“I'll see you later.”


The sound of the doorknob turning made Faith look up to see the front door swinging inward as she shut the phone. Her gaze met Shawna's and she cringed internally. Shawna's eyes were dark brown bordering on black from confusion and pain. Aaron hadn't just been Shawna's watcher, he'd been her only parental figure since the deaths of her parents and Faith knew that betrayal.

Faith knew it intimately. Faith had been in and out of three different foster homes after the courts had revoked her mother's custody. For almost a year, the first family had been a real home to her and then Faith hit puberty and the foster dad finally showed his true colors. She hadn't even been at the second place for a month before it had started all over again, and she didn't give the third one the chance to even begin before she ran away.

Aaron's was a different kind of betrayal. But it was betrayal all the same. No matter how much of an asshole they were, it still hurt to have the people who were supposed to care turn on you. It could consume you until you were a bitter, angry shell, and Faith didn't want that for anyone.

Faith made a decision right then and there. She knew she might regret it, but she couldn't leave it alone. She would get the others the help they needed. But she was making Shawna her priority.

Corrine needed help. Janice even needed someone to encourage her to stand out more. But they didn't tug at Faith's senses this way. Shawna felt like family, like Dawn always had.

Shawna stepped out onto the front porch, shutting the door behind her. The movements pulled Faith from her thoughts and she sighed. She noticed a slight change in Shawna's expression. It was obvious Shawna had something to say, but she was reluctant, or wary, about saying it.

“What's up, kid?”

“I thought maybe you should know...” Shawna started and Faith groaned silently because it just sounded like the beginning of something that she really wasn't going to like.



Chapter Thirty-Six: An Echo

She wanted to scream. She felt like crying. Or maybe she just really wanted to hit something. Well, she knew who she wanted to hit, but Shawna wasn't going to go there, no matter what.

The night her parents were killed, Shawna hadn't known there was any danger. They hadn't told her that the monsters from her dreams were real. They hadn't told her why she was having those nightmares. They hadn't told her why her favorite glass had shattered when she'd picked it up.

Shawna glanced down at the palm of her left hand where she could still see the faint remainders of the scars. The shards had been embedded so deep and the blood had been so startlingly red. It hadn't been the first time she'd been injured. It was just the most memorable of them all.

It was impossible to forget the night someone died so that you could live. And she had no doubt that she would be dead by now if it hadn't been for her predecessor's death. Demonic activity had been rife in the area Shawna had lived in. She was lucky to have survived there as long as she had.

There were days when she missed her parents so bad it was a physical ache. They'd loved her with everything they had. Then there were others when she was so angry with them that she shook from the emotion. They'd denied this part of her and allowed it to take them from her.

She understood, at least as much as a kid could. Her parents had been scared for her. They'd just been trying to protect her. But that understanding didn't help when she woke up screaming.

In the weeks following that night, the memories had tormented Shawna. She'd heard echoes of her mother's terror and then the crack of her spine as her neck was broken. She could smell her father's blood as a vampire ravaged his throat. Then the memories had gradually faded until the one thing that remained clear and haunting even now was the sight of a Slayer unleashed.

Shannon was her name and the way she'd moved had been the most beautiful thing Shawna had ever seen. She'd crept up behind the vampire feeding on Eric Nocona and staked him before anyone else had seen her. Then she'd caught Eric before he could hit the ground and laid him down gently before turning. Shawna had only been able to watch the ensuing violence.

The damage Shannon had wrought before killing the last vampire had left a lasting impression. Shawna hadn't understood it until later. If a Slayer could tear the head off of a supernaturally enhanced being like a vampire, what could she do to a human? Shawna didn't want to know.

Shawna really didn't remember much from the first couple of weeks after the death of her parents. The shock was just too much for a child to handle and her mind had all but shut down. She vaguely recalled the reasoning behind her refusal to attend the academy. She hadn't wanted to have to deal with so many people with their questions and their expectations at once.

It was her training that started to bring her back to herself. Oh, she'd disliked Aaron from the very beginning. He had been every bit as pretentious and full of it then as he was even now. But the savage satisfaction Shawna had felt every time she'd landed a hit on Aaron or the training dummy had been both unsettling and intriguing enough to draw her out of her grief.

Somewhere along the way, as reluctant as she'd been at the start, Shawna had become attached to the people in her home. Her sister Slayers, the girls she could feel in every fiber of her being, they fought alongside her and they patched her up whenever she got injured. They fought like sisters and they took sides in arguments at times but still. Even when they were refusing to room with her because she frequently called attention to herself, they were the only family she had.

Christina had been like a surrogate mother to her. She'd given Shawna the attention she'd needed that Aaron hadn't seen fit to because it wasn't related to their duty . She'd stepped in whenever it seemed like Aaron was being a little too harsh in his treatment of Shawna. Losing that hurt.

Then Danielle had been killed two months ago; Danielle, who had been so exuberant when it came to anything in life. She'd tackled Slaying quite often with a smile and a song on her lips. Next to Christina, Danni had been the least reluctant to befriend Shawna. That loss hurt too.

But Aaron, as much as she couldn't stand him, had given her the tools she'd needed to survive. He'd helped—albeit reluctantly—with her homework whenever Christina or Danielle, and later Diana, hadn't had time to. And now some stranger—who just so happened to be one of the two most dangerous Slayers ever—had told her that he'd betrayed everything he'd taught her to stand for. She'd always known something was off here, but there weren't enough words in the English language or even the dialects of her father's ancestors to describe what the truth made her feel.

And she didn't even know where to start with Diana. Shawna wondered how much of what she'd learned about Diana over the past year had been a lie. They'd been listening in at the door of the office after Diana had come out and it would have been difficult to miss what Faith had said. It had made it blatantly obvious that Diana was as much of a plant as Faith had been.

Shawna was so confused about everything. And to top it all off, she was worried. One concern was that she could sense that everything was about to change on her again. The other concern was more about how angry Corrine had seemed when she'd gone upstairs after breakfast.

Shawna had known that Corrine had emotional problems since before she had even understood why. She still didn't even know the entire story. She just knew enough to know that something was going to have to give eventually. Corrine would only be able to hold all that in for so long.

She'd noticed the rare moments when Corrine would let her guard slip. That was how Shawna had realized that men completely terrified Corrine. Any time Aaron got angry or upset, Corrine was the first one to start trying to placate him. Any time Aaron told them to do something, even when their team leader questioned it, Corrine didn't even bat an eyelash before giving in.

She'd also noticed a disturbing trend. Corrine's fighting style was always a little violent and unpredictable. But it grew increasingly so on the days when Aaron was at his most demanding. That recklessness was the reason Diana always paired herself with Corrine in her strategies.

Put her at anyone else's back and Corrine could get them injured or worse. Shawna didn't think that Corrine would mean to, and she doubted that Diana believed it either. But it was better not to take that risk. And that was the exact reason why Shawna was waiting where she was.

She was sitting on the floor outside the office with her back against the door. Shawna wanted to be able to say that she was there because she was protecting Aaron. That was the right thing to do when someone was bound and defenseless. But she was really kind of apathetic toward that.

There was just too much going on inside Shawna to care. Right now, she needed a distraction. She needed something to keep her from just going in there and breaking him. And what better to do that than to focus on keeping someone else from snapping and doing the exact same thing?

The logic may have been skewed. It wasn't noble. But it made sense to her. And it was working.

And that was the reason Shawna wasn't surprised in the least when Corrine finally came downstairs. Shawna had heard mentioned before that the Slayer was made from a demon. In that moment, looking up at Corrine standing just in front of her, Shawna knew it to be true. Corrine's dark eyes were fathomless pits of black and her expression was hard and unyielding.

“Move,” Corrine bit out.

Something shifted inside Shawna. Instead of the expected protest, she silently unfolded from her seated position and stood to step aside. Shawna's chest was tight from emotion. Her hands balled into fists at her sides as she just watched Corrine enter the office and close the door behind her.

“It took you lot long enough,” Shawna heard Aaron spit out venomously just as the door shut.

There was no reply from Corrine for several long, agonizing moments. Then Shawna caught a sound that was more familiar to her than anything else was these days. A sharp, pained cry followed the hit. Shawna let out a shuddering breath as Corrine spoke in rapid-fire Spanish.

Shawna briefly closed her eyes against the noise that followed. Then she turned and strode down the hall towards the front door. As much as everything in her screamed to let Corrine do as she would, she couldn't. Shawna just wasn't stupid enough to try to stop Corrine on her own.

She opened the front door and paused, her eyes meeting Faith's. This was her last chance to back out. If she stepped out there, she would be placing her trust in this woman. She'd be betraying a member of her family even if she was just trying to protect her all in the same move.

Taking a deep breath, she bowed to logic and her heart. She stepped outside and closed the door behind her. She pretended not to notice Faith's expression. Shawna wasn't interested in gaining Faith's concern, and she sure the Hell wasn't interested in her pity or any kind of sympathy.

“What's up, kid?”

“I thought maybe you should know...” She started, then hesitated a moment before blurting, “Corrine just went into Aaron's office, and she didn't look too concerned with his safety.”

There was a long moment where Faith just gazed at her with an odd look. Shawna was aware that her wording sounded more than just a little bit Disney censored. She saw when Faith registered her meaning in the widening of her eyes and barely had time to move out of Faith's path. Shawna glanced around the yard, then sighed and shook her head as she turned to follow.



Faith reached the office and shoved the door open, pausing to take in the scene before her with a sort of morbid curiosity. It was almost a mirror image of another room at another time with a different set of players. Corrine's fist was cocked back for what was obviously just another in a long line of punches judging by the blood and color already staining Aaron's skin and hers. Faith shuddered at the parallels and she had to remind herself to move when Corrine's fist descended.

She closed the distance between them in a blur. Stepping between Corrine and her intended target, she caught Corrine's fist in her own. The momentum of Corrine's arm came to a dead stop, making Faith's palm sting lightly from the impact. Corrine's incensed gaze jerked up to meet Faith's and Faith wasn't surprised at the maelstrom of emotions she found.

It was always there. In every girl Faith had helped since Giles set her on this path, she'd seen that faint echo of herself. She suspected that was why she did this. This way, she'd never forget.

Faith just waited. She knew what would be coming. It always did. It was what came easiest for the ones like them, like her and Corrine, like Shawna, and even Buffy herself at times.

It was so much easier to feel anger. It was so much easier to hate. It was so much easier to lash out. Anything was easier than that kind of pain, than the tears that would inevitably come.

Faith saw the moment the change came over her. Everything else Corrine was feeling faded from her expression. It gave way to untainted fury. Tension vibrated through the fist still held firmly in Faith's own, making Faith's body ache in shameful remembrance of that sensation.

“No,” Faith said harshly, letting go of Corrine's fist, “That is not the answer.”

“Move out of my way,” Corrine snarled.

“You really think that will help?” Faith asked, voice unconsciously softening.

She stepped to the side. It was supposed to help make a point, but Aaron's sullen glare made her realize her mistake immediately. She sensed the movement as Corrine's body coiled up, prepared to strike. Faith caught Corrine's fist again and flung it away, stepping back in front of Aaron.

“It won't make the hurt stop,” Faith continued. “The ache will keep comin' back and you'll keep hittin' harder and faster to make it go away. You'll keep goin' ‘til you're just so tired you can't tell up from down and nothin' will make sense. You think you're in control, but you're not—”

“Shut up!” Corrine snapped, stepping into Faith's personal space. “Just shut the fuck up!”

“I've been where you are, Corrine,” Faith finished, undeterred. “And the longer you go on like this, the faster and harder you hit, the more it hurts for everyone involved; the more they win.”

Faith wasn't just talking about Aaron. And she knew the second it registered for Corrine. A shudder wracked Corrine's body even as hate twisted her features. Faith sighed in regret, then she let it all fall away and all that was left was the dominant predator inside her, the Slayer.

“But if you're so determined to take it out on someone else, you're fuckin' insane if you think for even one second that I'm just goin' to let you inflict your damage on a human—even him.”

Faith didn't react when Corrine's body uncoiled in a savage release. She let the punch make contact with her jaw and rolled her head with the blow. A satisfied grin creased her lips as a copper tang burst inside her mouth. She turned to face her, licking blood from her lower lip.

“Let's see what you got then, little sister,” Faith laughed as she shifted to retaliate.



Chapter Thirty-Seven: Hell or High Water

Buffy's anxiety had increased the closer the black rental van got to the San Francisco house. Faith had been out of sorts on the phone, and she hadn't even tried all that hard to cover it up. Buffy just didn't know if that was the norm for Faith when she was on a job. They'd definitely have to have a talk if it was, because Buffy was so over that kind of self-sacrificing routine.

She'd gone that route before, both sides of the path. Buffy didn't want Faith to wake up one day, considering letting her reflexes falter just enough . Nor did Buffy want to find herself holding her breath every time Faith went out, hoping that she was enough for Faith to stay. Buffy wouldn't, couldn't , let herself settle for the kind of existence she'd had with Spike, or with Angel, again.

Buffy blew out a silent breath, ignoring the amused glance Kennedy tossed her from beside her on the bench seat in the middle row of the van. Buffy was aware she was acting out of character, more so than had become the norm in the past couple of months. Serious moods and silences had been exceedingly rare for Buffy since they'd left Scotland. But she thought that the situation at hand was more than explanation enough, so they didn't need to know her heart was in her throat.

She had the sliding door open and was out before the vehicle had even come to a complete stop in the driveway of the council house. As soon as the van stopped moving, Buffy moved around to the back and opened the doors to retrieve her overnight bag and Faith's laptop case. Then she turned and made her way across the yard to the front porch. Buffy didn't wait for the others to catch up before she lifted her fist, prepared to knock on the oak door.

Before Buffy's knuckles could make contact with the door, a sound she was intimately familiar with reached her ears and she changed the direction of her hand mid-motion. Impatiently, she repeatedly pushed the doorbell with her index finger. She ignored the concerned questions of the other three Slayers as they joined her up on the porch. Then when Giles arrived at her side, Buffy was about to ask if he had a key when she finally, finally heard someone approaching the door.

“What's wrong, Buffy?” Giles asked, gesturing for the others to fall silent.

“I thought I heard Faith shout,” Buffy shrugged, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye as she reluctantly let off of the doorbell. “It probably wasn't anything, but still...”

The deadbolt on the inside of the door was flipped and Buffy's eyes snapped back up to the door. The door swung inward violently and Buffy was met with an irritated glare from a familiar face. The expression softened just slightly as Buffy was recognized and the Slayer then lifted her gaze to take in the rest of group. It took Buffy a moment to figure out where she knew the younger woman from, but before she could greet Diana, the sound she'd heard before was repeated.

“Jesus Christ,” Faith snapped in a hard, guttural tone that sent a shiver up Buffy's spine and made her wince. “Did you replace the fuckin' alcohol with goddamn battery acid?”

“Ahem,” Diana cleared her throat. “Buffy, Mr. Giles, how are you both?”

“We're just peachy,” Buffy drawled, interrupting Giles as he was about to speak. “Are you going to let us in, or are we supposed to stand out here until we draw the local nightlife's attention?”

“Oh, sorry,” Diana reached up to massage her neck and chuckled sheepishly as she stepped back to let them in. “It's um, been a little... hectic, I guess you could say.”

“I'm sure,” Buffy said sardonically as she entered the house, falling silent as her eyes were immediately drawn to the wreckage of the section of the banister at the foot of the stairs.

“Yeah, um, hectic,” Diana repeated, eying Buffy nervously.

Buffy's gaze tracked the length of the foyer as she set her bags down. She scanned the pieces of the splintered door scattered across the floor and then let her eyes come to rest on the archway to her right. She turned and angled her head just enough so she could see inside. The sight Buffy found simultaneously flooded her with relief and annoyance, and she sighed, chuckling shortly.

Trust her to soothe my anxieties and piss me off all in the same moment.



Faith looked up from watching Janice bandage the gash in her lower calf and met Buffy's eyes at that sound. She'd fallen silent as soon as she'd felt their approach. Faith couldn't put a name to the sensation that curled up in her gut at the knowledge that Buffy was there. But now Faith was more than a little nervous, because despite her amusement, Buffy didn't look happy.

Faith cringed internally. After the fight she'd just had with Corrine, she really wasn't ready for some one on one with Buffy. It had taken an hour to wear Corrine out enough to see reason, and then another three hours to calm her down. Faith just didn't have enough energy left for more.

“Okay,” Janice smoothed down the edges of the gauze wrapped around Faith's calf and stood. “You are done. Di needs to recheck her stitches tomorrow, plus she'll need to take a look at your ribs while she's at it, too. Don't get the stitches wet, and take Tylenol if the pain gets too bad.”

Faith didn't acknowledge her words. She couldn't look away from Buffy's hazel eyes. They'd softened just a little at Janice's pronouncement. The corners of Faith's mouth lifted slightly.



Buffy's expression shifted, taking on an exasperated fondness. She stifled a few expletives. Faith wielded her dimples as effectively as she did any weapon. It had always thrown Buffy for a loop.

It made her lower belly throb painfully. And suddenly Buffy was acutely aware of the cleft in Faith's lower lip. She absently licked her own and then almost smiled when Faith's lips parted. Buffy's feet started moving forward quite without her permission, but she wasn't objecting.

Eight feet from the couch Faith was perched on, Faith shifted to stand up but remained leaning against the arm of the couch. Seven feet from the couch, Faith's eyes lightened to a soft brown that made Buffy forget having ever been angry. Six feet from the couch, Faith held out a hand to Buffy with a gentle smile of invitation and even if she'd never admit it, Buffy's knees started to shake. Five feet from the couch, Buffy just barely managed to return the smile; it was kind of hard to do so when you were breathless and you couldn't hear for the heartbeat in your ears.

Four feet from the couch, their audience had all but been forgotten. Almost three feet from the couch, Buffy placed her hand in Faith's and Faith's long fingers curled around hers. Two feet from the couch, Buffy's knees buckled and Faith tugged her into her arms. One foot from the couch, Faith held Buffy tight as only the two of them could handle, and they sighed in unison.

Buffy's face tilted up at the same time Faith's tilted downward. They had to force their eyes open from where they'd drifted shut in utter contentment. Then Faith's smile faded and she lowered her head the rest of the way. Their eyes were closed again by the time their lips touched for the first time, and by that time, their audience wasn't even a footnote in either of their thoughts.

Buffy was certain she'd whimpered, but she couldn't care less. She fit into Faith's embrace like Faith's arms were made to hold her. But that wasn't what had her absolutely absorbed, though. Faith's lower lip was between hers and they were kissing like it was their very first time ever.

It wasn't at all like she ever would have thought it to be. She'd have thought that kissing Faith would be like losing control. But the way Faith was kissing her, so softly yet determined and self-assured, wasn't taking control; Buffy was giving it. It made Buffy tremble.

Buffy remembered her actual first kiss and doubted that Billy Fordham could have made her feel like this even with years of instruction and practice. That thought made Buffy remember all over again just who she was kissing, and she violently pushed away the notion that occurred to her next. She didn't want to think about who else Faith might have kissed like this, ever. Then Faith's arms tightened even more around Buffy's waist and Buffy knew without a doubt. Faith hadn't ever kissed anyone else exactly like this; she couldn't have, not without hurting them.

She was selfishly grateful. And she pitied every last one of Faith's former conquests because they would never know just what they were missing out on. Because with Faith's tongue now teasing Buffy's top lip, Buffy felt that she could afford to be a little magnanimous. But just a little, mind you, because Faith was still officially off the market now, and she was hers .

Some small part of Buffy was crowing in victory. She smiled faintly—almost smugly—and then parted her lips, opening her mouth just enough in invite. She was more than a little disappointed when Faith didn't immediately take her up on her offer. Then Faith's lips and tongue were gone and Buffy immediately felt the loss and she couldn't help it as her lower lip crept out.

“No,” Buffy whined, just barely resisting the urge to stomp her foot.



Faith didn't know where she'd gotten the strength to pull back. Buffy was in her arms, so soft and warm, and she was letting Faith kiss her. She'd felt Buffy tremble, and had been reminded that the strongest woman she knew was still just that—a woman. And Buffy was a woman who would never forgive herself for losing control of her self in front of a group of their co-workers.

It was that thought that reminded Faith that they weren't alone. Once upon a time, that wouldn't have mattered to Faith. In fact, she would have thrived on the thought of bringing Buffy down to her level by pushing Buffy as far as she could. And in this case, Faith couldn't say that wasn't her anymore, because she did like to embarrass Buffy. But looking down at Buffy's flushed features Faith couldn't bring herself to tease Buffy when it came to this—not yet.

“Shhh,” Faith pressed a quick, firm kiss to Buffy's mouth.

When she pulled back again, Buffy tried to follow her. Faith evaded her attempts to reclaim her mouth and waited. After a few seconds, Buffy's shoulders slumped in defeat. Faith lowered her forehead to Buffy's and a soft sigh escaped Buffy's parted lips. She finally opened hazy eyes, and Faith's stomach clenched at the naked need obvious in the wheat colored depths.

“Have mercy, B,” Faith chuckled almost silently as she heard Giles grumbling as his glasses squeaked in protest under the cloth he was rubbing over the lenses, again.

“Yes, please do,” Giles said a bit louder.

“This ain't the time for that,” Faith finished, ignoring Giles.

The darkening of Buffy's already flushed features told Faith that she'd caught her underlying meaning. Faith was telling Buffy that she wanted her, but that it wasn't going to happen while they had an audience. It was most likely the reminder that Giles and the other Slayers were in the room that had the most profound impact on Buffy. Faith relaxed when Buffy chuckled.



“Well, I did say come Hell or high water,” Buffy muttered.

“What?” Faith sputtered, snickering.

“Uh, nothing,” Buffy mumbled, glancing away briefly.

“Uh-huh,” Faith said disbelievingly, and then shook her head. “You gonna let me go?”

“Shouldn't I be the one asking that question?” Buffy teased.

For emphasis, Buffy tapped the nail of her index finger against Faith's collarbone. Her hands were still braced against Faith's upper chest as they had been since the start of their embrace. Buffy would have wiggled her hips against Faith's to punctuate her words, if not for her awareness of the group awkwardly awaiting their attention in the room behind them. Still, Buffy was rewarded for her disclosure by the adorable flush racing across Faith's features.

“Um, yeah,” Faith muttered, obviously disconcerted. “Sorry.”

“It's okay,” Buffy murmured, gently rubbing her thumb against Faith's skin. “But I think that maybe you should show Giles to Aaron before he has a conniption. I think he's a little worried. Then you and I need to have a little chat before we get to work on this problem of theirs.”

Faith cringed at that. She finally looked up to find Giles still waiting several feet away with most of the San Francisco team and his other heavy hitters scattered behind him. He was still absently cleaning his glasses and was staring at the floor, his eyebrows furrowed. Faith dropped her arms from around Buffy and stepped around her, catching Giles' attention with the movement.

“C'mon,” Faith motioned Giles towards the door. “I'll show you where Aaron is. Then the girls and I will get to work on the plan I've been kickin' around for the last little bit.”

Buffy gave Giles a pointed glare the second that Faith's back was turned. He needed to hear Faith out before he spoke. Buffy wasn't sure what had gone on before their arrival, but she doubted that it was anything as bad as what he was probably thinking. She smiled gratefully when Giles nodded at her, and then she watched as he slipped out of the room behind Faith.



Chapter Thirty-Eight: Miscommunication

Faith led Giles to the office. She knew there was something he wanted to say, but for whatever reason, he was holding it in. She figured it had something to do with the evil look that she just knew Buffy had given him. Faith chuckled softly under her breath, startling Giles.

“Sorry,” Faith shrugged unapologetically. “B's just... somethin' else.”

“Yes, quite,” Giles agreed dryly. “I have yet to puzzle out just what that “something else” would be after all the years I've known her, but Buffy certainly is something else .”

“Listen,” Faith sighed inaudibly, pausing several feet away from their destination. “This whole situation is just one big mess.”

“That it is,” Giles readily agreed as she faced him.

“Readin' some of the things he said in his journals left me with a lot of questions,” Faith said bluntly, “One of ‘em bein' just what the Hell you were thinkin'.”

Giles sighed, dropping his gaze. He didn't have to ask which decision Faith was questioning. He himself was wondering now why he hadn't given Aaron's placement second thoughts. There had been plenty of questionable things about Aaron Graves since the beginning, and yet...

“Even if he wasn't such an anal retentive control freak,” Faith continued heatedly, “Aaron's absolute refusal to take in any Slayers over the age of twenty-five should've brought him under scrutiny, Giles. For all you knew, Aaron could have been a goddamned sexual predator.”

Giles cringed inside. He'd forgotten. As someone that was in charge of hundreds of girls and young women, he shouldn't have, but he had. Giles hadn't even considered the thought that someone might try to take advantage of them that way, even after everything he'd seen.

“You're right,” Giles conceded. “I should have considered that. I just never even thought of it.”

Faith let out a shaky sigh. Running a hand through her hair, she glanced away from Giles for a moment. This wasn't getting them anywhere. She just shook her head and looked back at him.

“He never even got Corrine the help she needed,” Faith finished. “Giles, she needs to see a psychologist. I think this damn near broke her, and it's not somethin' we can just fix .”

“All right,” Giles nodded. “We will get her the help she needs. I'm not entirely sure why we overlooked her needs in the first place. The case worker that went with the team to retrieve her said something similar about her needing help a Watcher or another Slayer couldn't provide.”

“Glad that's settled,” Faith said, chuckling humorlessly. “I don't think I can take that again. But this conversation ain't done, G, ‘cause we gotta make sure this shit don't happen again.”

Giles was starting to get a clearer picture of just what had resulted in the damage around them. It wasn't as extensive as it could have been, he was sure. He eyed Faith. He really wasn't so certain he wanted to ask just what had led up to the fight between her and the other Slayer, Corrine.

“Mmm, most definitely,” Giles agreed again, and then he changed the subject, much to Faith's relief, “Perhaps I should get to questioning Aaron so that we can begin staging our attack?”

“Go right ahead,” Faith gestured towards the office as she started to back away. “He's all yours.”

“Thank you,” Giles said dryly.

“But, um...” She started hesitantly, “Giles?”

“Yes?” Giles drawled, shooting her a curious look.

“When you see him? Just don't ask,” Faith suggested, deadpan. “You'll be happier for it.”

Giles watched as she disappeared back into the living room. Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, Giles turned and entered the office. He stopped right in his tracks. The scene seemed normal enough, until he took notice of what had been used as Aaron's gag.



Buffy was mildly disturbed to see the expression Faith was sporting when she returned to the living room. Faith was feeling smug about something. A smug Faith was a troublemaking Faith—sexy, but still a troublemaker. Buffy gave Faith a wary look as she approached.

“What did you do?”

“Who me?” Faith asked innocently.

“No,” Buffy said sardonically, “The other Slayer standing behind you.”

“I didn't do anything,” Faith shrugged. “I was just giving Giles some friendly advice.”

“Uh-huh,” Buffy muttered doubtfully.

They fell silent. It was awkward and made it all the more obvious that neither of them was certain where to start. There was a lot that needed to be talked about. But for whatever their reasons were, now that the time was here, both Buffy and Faith were hesitant to go there.

After a few seconds, Faith limped over to resume her seat on the arm of the couch. The wound on her calf was starting to throb in time with her heartbeat. They hadn't had much in the way of pain killers in their first aid kit. The Tylenol was all ready starting to wear off.

Sighing, Faith gave in, “Did you bring my laptop?”

“Yeah,” Buffy breathed as she turned to face her, relieved. “I left it by the door.”

Despite her relief, Buffy felt a little disappointed. Sure, she'd hated the unease that was starting to set in. Who wouldn't? But she'd thought maybe Faith was ready to make this real, and now she could see Faith retreating behind defenses Buffy hadn't been on the outside of in a while.

Faith nodded jerkily, but didn't move. It was easy to think it was time for them to talk. But it was a lot harder to do when her body was aching as a reminder of how much easier hate was. Faith clenched her jaw and glanced away from Buffy briefly, struggling against her instincts.

She never used to let any one in, not after her parents. In a lot of ways, that was even easier than hate. If you didn't let them in, they couldn't give you a reason to hate them. She'd broken herself of that defense in the last several years, but right now, her heart was screaming at her to stop this.

“So um,” Buffy started, causing Faith to look at her again, “Could you maybe give me a run-through of everything that's happened since you arrived? I'd like to know what happened.”

Faith nodded again, and started talking. She gave a brief summary of her arrival, and her initial assumptions. She admitted that she'd suspected from the beginning that Aaron was at least following the old Council's doctrine. Then she went on to give a detailed account of her discoveries and reactions, and then she started on the reactions of the younger Slayers.

There was something lurking beneath the surface of their exchange. Faith knew what it was. It was fear. It was the same thing that used to push at her until they had no choice but to fight.

Faith didn't like it. She didn't like the hurt she could see in Buffy's eyes. She didn't like the spreading ache in her own chest. She paused and took a breath, and then when she exhaled, her agitation had faded to a manageable level and she could relax again as her guard went down.

“I was thinkin' maybe we need to send a couple of samples of the food to Red,” Faith continued, unable to prevent a slight smile. “But it's more for my peace of mind than anything concrete.”

“No, I get it,” Buffy nodded in agreement. “He was way too concerned about their eating habits.”

Buffy didn't know what had changed from between when they'd started talking again and now. She just sensed that something had. She could see it in the softer look Faith was giving her. The conflicted emotions brewing behind Faith's eyes were at least hidden if not gone.

“What happened to the foyer?” Buffy asked, at a loss for anything else.

“There was a bit of a scuffle with Corrine,” Faith admitted. “She wanted to take out her anger on Aaron, and I couldn't let her do that, y'know? I tried to talk her out of it first, but it didn't do anything but make her angrier. The door got broken up when she shoved me through it headfirst, and the banister was destroyed when she lost her balance and fell backwards through it.”

“She lost her balance?” Buffy asked doubtfully.

Corrine was a Slayer. No matter how angry they got, their balance was rarely—if ever—affected. Buffy gave Faith a knowing look. Then she just waited as Faith started to smile sheepishly.

“Okay, so she might've had some help there,” Faith shrugged. “We were fighting and somehow ended up on the stairs. I tried to get her in a headlock so I could ram her into the wall and Corrine went backwards trying to dodge me.”

“I'm guessing since you're not in even worse shape, you eventually got through to her?”

“Yeah,” Faith sighed. “It wasn't easy and it took a while, but I did.”

“How did you get your leg sliced up?” Buffy asked, reaching out to brush her fingers over the stark white gauze. “Did she do that or was it the result of crashing into something?”

“I don't really know,” Faith shrugged again. “Di said she thinks it happened when I went through the door. She wasn't really sure ‘cause she was distracted by somethin' at the time.”

“A Slayer distracted during a fight?” Buffy quipped. “There's something new.”

“Yeah,” Faith snickered. “But she had good reason. Aaron wouldn't shut up and she'd had enough. She came in and stuffed a golf ball in his mouth and duct taped it shut.”

Faith grinned as Buffy burst into startled laughter. The delighted sound was nice to hear. Faith sighed, and bowed to the inevitable. If they were really going to do this , they needed to talk.

“You know I love you, right, B?” Faith said, almost casually.

Buffy's giggles died off as she stared at Faith. She knew she'd heard the words. She just couldn't respond for the tightness in her chest and she seemed to be having trouble breathing. Buffy just nodded, giving Faith a shaky smile, feeling like her heart was going to explode in her chest.

Faith gave Buffy a half-smile. Then her expression turned pained. This wasn't easy. And it really, really wasn't going to be fun, but this stuff had to be said, because it was the truth.

“I don't understand how...” Faith admitted, confusion bleeding into her expression. “After everything we've done to each other, and all we've been through, it should be impossible. But I do love you, and maybe it was all that stuff that made it possible. I know I didn't used to feel like this, ‘cause if I did, it would have made everything we did to each other so much worse.”

Buffy was listening to every word, completely wrapped up in the sound of Faith's voice as it grew ragged. Tears were in her eyes. It hurt to hear what Faith was saying, to hear the underlying pain. It echoed everything she herself felt, everything Buffy had been trying not to think about.

“And I gotta wonder, B...” Faith shook her head, “Should we even try to do this?”

Buffy opened her mouth, but nothing would come out. Her face crumpled and she drew her hand back from Faith's leg like she'd been burned. She was shaking. She gave Faith a wounded look.

Faith was hurting inside. She wished she hadn't said that. Steeling herself, Faith held up a hand to stop Buffy from speaking. She ran a rough hand through her hair and stood up to pace.

“I know, B—we'll never know if we can make it if we don't try,” Faith laughed without humor, making Buffy cringe. “But we have the potential to hurt each other so bad, and it ain't just us we gotta worry about. You and me, we always get rough, and our friends like to get in the way.”

Buffy's shoulders slumped and she buried her face in her hands. She took a few deep breaths to try to find her center, but she knew it was useless. She was too upset by everything Faith was saying. It was more upsetting to know that she had no argument that could hold up against it.

“Faith,” Buffy groaned, raking her hands through her hair. “We've been there, and I don't see us letting things go that far ever again. We've done pretty well so far, haven't we?”

“You'd think,” Faith said tiredly. “But I've seen people who loved each other tear each other apart, takin' an innocent kid along with ‘em. And I don't want to go through that again.”

“What?” Buffy whispered, unable to say it any louder.

“My ma and dad,” Faith choked out, and a faint tinge of bitterness colored the words that flowed out of her mouth, “Even though they both hated me, they loved each other. No one who'd ever seen ‘em when they were sober could say they didn't. But the minute one of ‘em got drunk, they'd fuck the other one up. Then one day, dad just left, and ma was never the same after that.”

Faith almost flinched at that understatement. She'd always known her parents hadn't wanted her—according to them, she'd ruined their lives. They'd been on the fast track in high school when her mother got pregnant with her and had to drop out. Neither of them had ever touched her out of anger; not until her dad ran out on them and her mother became a stranger to her.


Buffy tried to reach out to her, and Faith flinched back. Buffy let her hand drop and wrapped her arms around her own stomach. She ached to hold Faith, but Faith wasn't having it. Buffy shook her head, hurting and hating that she couldn't make Faith's look of anguished fear go away.

“Your parents had problems just like most couples do,” Buffy finally managed to say. “Theirs were just some of the worst kinds that a couple can have. My parents used to argue constantly about everything. That doesn't mean that we're headed in the same direction, Faith.”

She could tell she wasn't getting through to Faith. Buffy smiled derisively, because it was all she could do to keep from crying right then. Buffy was confused because for a minute there when Faith had told her she loved her, she'd thought nothing could bring her down. She didn't get how she could have been so wrong, not when Faith had given her that look, that smile, just before.

“Okay, obviously, you need time to decide if we're worth the risk,” Buffy continued hoarsely, looking away and missing the confused look Faith gave her. “So, you do that. Take the time you need, but it's gonna have to wait ‘til we're done here, ‘cause we have work to do right now.”

Faith wanted to object, she wanted to scream in frustration, she wanted to grab Buffy and kiss her to make her shut up. She didn't need time. Faith knew what she wanted; she'd just stupidly wanted to make sure Buffy knew what she wanted, too. But right now, Faith knew that Buffy was right, this really wasn't the time or place to let their personal problems distract them.

Buffy turned to leave. She wasn't going to look back, certain she wouldn't be able to walk away—however temporarily—if she did. She wanted to grab Faith and kiss her until she stopped talking so stupid. Buffy was taken off guard when Faith grabbed her upper arm and spun her around, and her protest at being manhandled was preempted by a pair of determined lips.

Buffy was stunned at first, and then she kissed Faith back with everything she had. She couldn't help it. Faith was kissing Buffy like she was trying to make her take her words back. Her lips were soft, but her attack was fast and demanding, and this was a kind of punishment Buffy would willingly submit to.

Then Faith was pulling away and leaving. All Buffy could do was turn and stare after her, breathless and confused again. Faith paused and looked over her shoulder at Buffy. The regret there made Buffy's chest hurt again, and she wanted to make that go away, but she couldn't.

“We'll talk later, B,” Faith sighed. “We got our wires crossed here, and we need to straighten ‘em out, but you're right. We got work to do and we can't afford to be distracted right now.”

And then Faith was gone. Buffy wanted to say “fuck work”. She wanted to pitch a fit. She wanted to drag Faith upstairs and lock them inside a room for as long as they could handle.

“Huh?” Buffy finally choked out.



Chapter Thirty-Nine: Escalate the Situation

Now :

Rona glanced back over her shoulder and just barely resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose between her thumb and her forefinger in frustration—huh, maybe she'd spent too much time around Giles. But she figured the reaction was justified. There were some very good reasons behind the age restrictions for the people on the frontlines of their fight. But somehow, someway, Shawna and Janice had argued their way into coming with them this time.

Earlier :

“You're not coming,” Faith had said, and Rona had figured that would be that.


“This is our turf,” Shawna said, and her tone of voice was hard enough that it made Rona do a double-take. “They've been fucking us around on it long enough. It's our place to take it back.”


There was an exchange between Faith and Buffy that Rona hadn't understood. It was something like understanding and sympathy but there was more in there. She guessed it had something to do with the before time, back when it had just been the two of them in Sunnydale. But that was a subject none of the Empowered Slayers were stupid enough to broach within their hearing.


“Aight,” Faith nodded. “But if we let you kids do this, then you'll let us do our evaluations and exams without objections afterwards. We don't know what all Aaron has left out of your trainin', and we ain't in the habit of lettin' untrained Slayers out in the field if it can be helped.”


“Fine,” The two girls said in unison.

Now :

Rona felt the pager in her left pocket vibrate, and she smiled, a startling white against the dusky hue of her skin. It was the signal they'd agreed on. She glanced over her shoulder and nodded. Then she watched as Janice crept through the overgrown grass of the warehouse yard.

Janice reached the curbside and pushed up to her feet to stand. There was a shout of alarm and then the guards outside the warehouse across the road were racing towards their position. Rona just waited. Then as the guards reached them, she finally stood up and revealed herself.

“Guess the boss should've known better than to trust that fucking Brit—oh shit,” The greenish-brown scaled demon that was speaking stopped as he spotted Rona, his eyes widening in fear.

It was an interesting reaction. Rona liked it. It was one most of the Sunnydale veterans received these days. There was something to be said for surviving a walk into the mouth of Hell.

Earlier :

“Their leader, Breh'En, is a Mari'n'En demon. They're a humanoid breed, with greenish-brown scales, and usually resemble the steroid pushing linebacker or bodybuilder types. His crew is generally of the same breed. He doesn't play well with others and he hates vamps.


“This guy ain't small time. He considers himself the demonic counterpart to the mafia. The Mayor had a deal with him and his crew back in the day. But that makes this a bit easier.”


“And how is that?” Giles prompted.


“I have some insight into his habits. The Mayor didn't trust him so he had me do some recon.”

Now :

Vi finally felt her pager vibrate against her hip and she jerked her head forward, signaling for Kennedy to go ahead. Then the two Slayers ducked and weaved through the line of cars parked alongside the curb. The residential neighborhood was quiet. They took that as a good sign.

They paused next to a manhole and Kennedy knelt down. Vi held back a little, to give Kennedy space to do her thing. Normally, Vi would've been working with Rona, but there had been some rearrangements to accommodate the presence of the younger Slayers. The cover slid off the manhole without the slightest bit of sound, and Vi noiselessly followed Kennedy down.

“Shit, this reeks,” Kennedy grumbled under her breath as Vi covered their tracks.

Vi was okay with this arrangement. Kennedy was awesome, as long as she wasn't in command.


“He'll have what little forces he has posted at three points. One will be camouflaged, the second underground, and the last will be in plain sight—which is where he'll be. He's cocky like that.”


“How certain of this are you?” Giles interjected cautiously.


“About as certain as I can be,” Faith admitted frankly. “The few references Aaron made to him in his journals kinda reinforced what I already knew; Breh'En is nothin' if not a creature of habit. He still keeps his youngest brother, Eleh'En, nearby at all times and his only bodyguards are his much younger first cousins on his mother's side, Ebeh'En and Weller'En.”


“I see,” Giles murmured, unsurprised, “I don't suppose you have any thoughts on strategy?”


“I figured on doin' some simple divide and conquer,” Faith shrugged, unconcerned.


Her hand blurred as she drove three knives into the map spread out on the table. When she stilled, the silver handles of the knives were still vibrating. The knives were adjacent to each other, alongside a line that went through the Southeast side of San Francisco. Faith grinned.


“By process of elimination, I've managed to narrow down the most logical locations to, here, here, and maybe here. These three are the closest matches I could find to Breh'En's preferences in the areas Aaron routed his patrols away from,” She pointed out.


Removing the lanyard from around her neck, Faith tossed the removable disk drive to Giles as she offered, “You're welcome to my laptop if you wanna check for anything I might've missed.”


“It wouldn't hurt to be certain,” Giles sighed, reluctant to use the machine, even though he had grown used to them over the last several years. “I believe some recon of the area you've outlined might be in order, however. Your instincts are not to be questioned, I've learned.”


“Aight,” Faith glanced around at the group gathered, “Any input for team configuration?”


“I want Rona with the girls,” Buffy spoke up firmly, ignoring the garnered protests. “She's generally levelheaded enough to corral them if either of them gets out of hand.”

Now :

Rona drove her elbow into her opponent's head. They were just outside the warehouse's back exit now. She was relieved Faith had made the changeup to Giles' orders. Waiting sucked, and this was fun. A quick survey confirmed that Shawna and Janice were both holding their own.

Earlier :

“Done,” Faith absently nodded again as she crossed off that consideration as cemented. “That leaves Vi paired up with Ken to balance things out. That okay by you two?”


“Whatever,” Kennedy said dryly in unison with Vi's chipper, “Sure thing.”

Now :

“Oh shit,” Kennedy blurted, and Vi had to back up as Kennedy rounded the corner again.

“What's going on?” Vi asked, impatient.

That was when Vi noticed the echoes coming towards them. She nodded, unperturbed. So that was what was going on. She gave Kennedy a reckless grin and hefted her pistol crossbow.

Earlier :

“And that leaves you with me,” Faith finished, flashing Buffy a knowing grin.

Now :

Faith was leaning back against the trunk of a refurbished yellow 1954 Plymouth Savoy parked curbside across from a fenced-in white suburban house. She suspected that Breh'En had seen far too many old mobster movies. She was surprised that he didn't have one of his bodyguards standing guard over the car at all times. It looked like it had taken somebody a lot of work.

Faith was maybe feeling a little anxious. She and Buffy were alone and Faith wanted to talk, and she could tell Buffy did too, but now really wasn't the time for that. That was the way to get killed. Faith sighed silently and then glanced back up as the front door of the house swung open.

The familiar forms of Breh'En and his posse were revealed as they each left the confines of the house. Faith was careful not to let her demeanor change even as the Slayer coiled tightly beneath her skin. The time to play would come soon enough. She just wanted to make them come to her.

Yeah, for all Faith's talk, she guessed she hadn't really changed as much as she liked to think. Thinking straight, Faith would have chosen a less conspicuous place to observe. Thinking straight, Faith would have kept this outing strictly recon. Instead, here she was, body humming, blood screaming, aching for a fight, and more than willing to escalate the situation into one.

Buffy slipped down off the hood, sliding her body down Faith's side as she did so. Their eyes met in a heated stare. Then Faith shook her head and glanced away. Buffy smiled faintly.

For all Buffy's talk, they both knew she felt it too. Her body was humming with the tension of anticipation. Her blood was screaming with the onslaught of adrenaline. She ached for a fight.

Faith saw that they now held Breh'En's full attention and gave him a smirk. She knew they recognized her from the sudden fury darkening his and his guards' expressions. A casual shift of her arms and Faith pressed the enter key on the Blackberry attached to her belt. The chime confirmed that her page had been sent and Faith shoved off from the car negligently.

Earlier :

They were doing a last minute brief before they split up. Buffy knew she should be listening to Faith's instructions, but the words were just so much white noise to her. She was too distracted by the feral intensity in Faith's eyes. It was the heated anticipation that drove every Slayer.


“G-man just wants us to do some recon for confirmation, and get back here STAT,” Faith shrugged inelegantly. “My instincts are tellin' me that this is it though. It might not be, but if it is, I want you guys to be prepared to go in head first on my sig. I want this thing done, tonight.”

Now :

“Slayer,” Breh'En greeted flatly as Faith and Buffy crossed into the yard.

“Demon,” Faith returned in the same tone.

She stopped a few feet from him and studied his appearance, all Slayer and not hiding it. He hadn't changed at all since she'd seen him last. Not that that surprised her any. Demons of his breed matured in less than six years and unless dealt a mortal wound, they could and would live forever. Breh'En was as old, if not older than Mayor Wilkins had been before his ascension.

“Care to introduce me to your friend?” Breh'En requested with a steely undertone.

“Aw, B,” Faith turned to shoot her an apologetic smile. “Damn, seems I lost my manners.”

“I wasn't aware you had any,” Buffy quipped. “Would you like me to help you look for them?”

“Maybe later,” Faith replied suggestively. “You know how Giles is.”

“Yeah,” Buffy sighed in regret. “All work and no play.”

“This is my girl, Buffy,” Faith finally told him. “I suspect you've heard of her?”

“Just as I suspect you know that your presence here is not welcome,” Breh'En said coolly.

“Damn, man,” Faith shook her head, giving him an aggrieved look as she leaned in towards him and gestured towards her heart, “I'm startin' to think you don't like me no more and it hurts.”

Before he could respond, Faith blurred forward. One of her knives was buried to the hilt in his heart before anyone but Buffy registered the movement. Breh'En's dying body was crumpling to the ground before his guards even took notice. And Faith; she was grinning the whole time.



Chapter Forty: In Due Time

There were protocols for cleanup. Life threatening injuries had to be dealt with first and foremost while under the supervision of the Slayer in Charge. Second, any witnesses or perpetrators still living had to be rounded up, interviewed, and then handled accordingly. And last, corpses had to be disposed of properly and scenes had to be scoured of any trace evidence and/or torched.

For once, fate seemed to be on Faith's side. There were no life threatening injuries, nor were there any witnesses, and Slayers rarely left their opponents living. Currently, they'd just finished walking through the warehouse and she'd given Rona and Vi orders to stand guard. They would keep an eye out until either the fire department arrived or the fire burned itself out.

Meanwhile, Faith had a few things that needed to be taken care of. One, Shawna was bleeding like a stuck pig from a superficial wound that needed stitches. Two, Faith was fairly certain she wasn't too far off from being the same. Three, her body was pulsing in some painful ways.

Some days she hated being a senior Slayer. She could have passed it off to Diane and taken off to lick her wounds in peace. But Faith wasn't comfortable asking her subordinates to do something she wasn't willing to do herself. It was one of the major differences from her teen persona.

“Come on, kid,” Faith called over her shoulder to Shawna. “Let's get that taken care of.”



“Aight, you know the drill so I won't bother rehashin' much,” Faith taped the bandage down over Shawna's shoulder blade. “Just remember to find one of us if you feel anything pop.”

“Okay,” Shawna agreed as she turned around. “You need anyone to help you with yours?”

“Nah,” Faith grunted, tossing an idle glance at the ragged, bloodied tear in the pale yellow t-shirt sticking to her lower ribcage. “It ain't that bad. A few butterfly strips and I'll be fine.”

“It'll be okay, Shawna,” Buffy entered the living room. “I've got her covered.”

Faith glanced up from rearranging the small first aid kit. She hadn't seen Buffy since they'd returned to the house. Buffy had mentioned something about grabbing a shower and then briefing Giles while Faith looked after Shawna. Silently, Faith returned her attention to the unraveled length of gauze in her hand.

Faith pretended not to notice Shawna's exit. She pinned the roll of gauze closed and was about to return it to the first aid kit when a hand over hers halted her movements. She sighed and glanced up to meet Buffy's gaze. At the determined look Buffy gave her, Faith relinquished the gauze.

“Shirt off,” Buffy demanded.

“Well, if ya wanted me naked...” Faith trailed off as she reached for the tail of her shirt.

“Yeah, yeah,” Buffy teased. “I've seen it before.”

Buffy inhaled sharply as Faith lifted the shirt up away from her wound. She could tell from the way Faith's abdomen clenched and rippled that it was painful. She could see why. The edges of the gash were jagged and gaping, glistening with copious amounts of blood and tissue.

“A few butterfly strips, huh?” Buffy asked mockingly.

“Yeah, yeah,” Faith muttered, tossing her shirt. “Thinkin' I should maybe hit the shower before you get started on me. It'll be easier than tryin' to avoid gettin' this damned thing wet.”

“You're right.” Buffy blew out a harsh breath as she jerked her head towards the door, “Go on up. I'll bring the kit with me and I'll take care of it before you get dressed.”



“So, I gave Giles a rundown of the report you gave me earlier.”

Faith glanced down at Buffy's bowed head. They were in her and Shawna's shared room. Faith was lying on the bed and Buffy was straddling her waist; the better to see, according to her. Faith figured Buffy was feeding her a line, but she wasn't about to complain about their position.

“Yeah, what'd he have to say?” Faith asked absently.

Faith suspected they were both a little nervous. They were free and clear to talk. They just didn't know where to start. And the adrenaline from the battle wasn't making it any easier to do so, not when Faith was lying there bared from the waist up and shower fresh as she was.

“He's going to interview the girls, and they're gonna bag and tag the food,” Buffy glanced up at Faith briefly. “It's kinda scummy to think about, but you may have had a point about that.”

Faith winced as Buffy tugged the thread a little too hard. She smiled at Buffy's apologetic pat to her side. Buffy then continued to guide the needle and thread through Faith's skin and Faith kept her breathing low and even so as not to give too much resistance against the stitching. Faith idly scratched the back of her head as she contemplated a neutral topic of discussion.

“So what's been goin' on back at home?” Faith finally asked.

Buffy felt Faith's chuckle at Buffy's very audible sigh of relief and she paused in her meticulous work to deliver a flick to Faith's uninjured side. Then Buffy was off, giving a detailed analysis of everything that had gone on since Faith had left. Buffy was sure to tell Faith of Cookie's obvious longing, and she took time to complain about Dawn and her “younger sister syndrome”. She babbled a little about Sgt. Brian O'Malley, and then finally, hesitantly, Buffy broached the subject of the success of the meeting she'd had with Juanita and the buyers she'd found.

“So the house is off the market now?” Faith interjected when Buffy finally fell silent.

Buffy just nodded as she tied off the stitches. While she waited to see if Faith would say anything else, she tidied up her handy work. When it seemed Faith wasn't going to speak, Buffy just threw her leg over Faith's so she could get off the bed. She was reaching for the first aid kit when Faith's hand reached out and clasped her wrist, gently stilling the motion.

“You okay?” Faith asked, and Buffy's heart stuttered at her sincerity.

“Yeah,” Buffy looked up, smiling faintly. “I had a few moments where I wasn't, but it passed.”

“You're sure?” Faith probed gently. “This is me, B.”

“Trust me, I know,” Buffy nodded. “And yeah, I'm good.”

Faith sat up slowly, tilting her head a little as she examined Buffy's expression. After a moment, Faith nodded as well and returned Buffy's smile with a soft quirk of her lips. Then Faith climbed out of the bed and crossed the room to the dresser. She ignored the odd look Buffy shot at her.

Faith rummaged through the top drawer until her fingers brushed the velvet material of the object she was looking for. She pulled the small sack out, fingering the rings inside as she considered. Then Faith sighed and closed the drawer. Leaning forward, Faith braced her hands on the wood above the mirror, eyeing the reflection of Buffy's questioning expression directed at her back.

“Love hurts,” Faith shook her head as Buffy started to speak. “That's one of those early life lessons I'll never forget. I loved my parents, I wanted them to love me, and they couldn't have cared less, and then my father left, and my mother blamed me. They hated me, and they made me hate them; I was eight years old and I resented them for everything and I wanted to know why.”

Faith's expression was covered in a hundred shadows of a broken past. It made Buffy's hands clench as she ached to reach out to Faith. She knew it would be a mistake if she gave in. Faith needed to get this out, and Buffy needed to hear it, even if it left her raw and bleeding inside.

“You told me once that you wanted to know why I felt the need to hide,” Faith took a shuddering breath and forged ahead, “By the time I met you, I'd figured out that no one could hurt me if I didn't love them. I'd figured out that you couldn't hate someone if you didn't love them. I fought too hard to keep everyone at arm's length to protect myself and eventually I broke.

“Earlier, I asked if we should even try to do this,” Faith gave Buffy a pained look. “I'm sorry I hurt you, B. I was tryin' to give you one last out. I forgot for a moment that we already are .

“We disagree, we scream, we ignore each other, we pick fights just ‘cause we can, we get so mad at one another that we're brewin' for a brawl, and we lose our heads,” Faith swallowed tensely. “We've all ready lost our hearts to one another. We're so deep into this thing between us that it's too late for either of us to back out, not without hurtin' the other so bad it'll never really heal.”

Faith saw Buffy lose her fight against the need burning inside her. Buffy closed the distance between them and Faith's eyes closed in anticipation. The moment Buffy's hands closed around her upper arms, a shiver rolled up Faith's spine. Buffy leaned her head between Faith's shoulder blades, pressed a kiss to the bare skin, and Faith's hands convulsed so hard the wood cracked.

“Oops,” Faith chuckled roughly.

She felt Buffy's lips turn up. The breath trickling across her skin sent goose bumps racing down Faith's arms. Faith let go of the mirror and reached back to clasp Buffy's hips, pulling Buffy tight against her backside. Buffy let out a ragged gasp that made Faith's insides tremble.

“Problems, B?” Faith finally opened her eyes.

“You're kinda naked here,” Buffy muttered, muffled.

“Only a little,” Faith smirked. “Got the hammer and nails handy?”

“Ugh,” Buffy decided not to dignify that with a response.

Instead, Buffy turned her attention to Faith's arms. Faith had nice arms. They were all... muscled and silky and, and firm. She slid her hands up Faith's arms to her shoulders and sighed.

Faith tried not to react, really she did. But damn it... Buffy shouldn't be touching her like that. The adrenaline from before was oil and Buffy's hands were a match. She needed Buffy.

Buffy's head lifted. She could have sworn she felt Faith shudder. An intrigued smile creased her lips and she kneaded the knotted up muscles beneath her hands as she pressed closer.

Buffy let her exploration slip lower, sweeping her massage down across Faith's shoulder blades. Her thumbs dug into Faith's well-muscled back in a particularly tense spot. That time, she knew she'd felt it. Buffy's gaze flicked to the mirror and her breath caught in her throat as she found Faith's dark eyes looking back, intent and needy and— oh, God, Buffy groaned internally.

Then Faith turned on her and Buffy found her hands caught between a rock and a hard place; the rock being her and the hard place being Faith. Not that Faith was hard, because Faith was so lacking the equipment to be hard . Buffy wasn't given much time to consider that statement. Faith's lips were a heat-seeking missile and Buffy's lips were definitely hot blooded.

Faith didn't pull away until her lungs burned. They stood there, chests heaving against each other. Moments passed in silence, and then Faith nodded. She tightened her arms around Buffy.

“You deserve flowers and candies and dates and entire days where you tease me ‘til I'm goin' nuts,” Faith panted, “And you'll get ‘em. But right now, I really kinda need ya bad, B.”

“I—I think maybe I'm okay with that,” Buffy nodded, equally breathless. “I'm so okay with—”

Faith wasn't interested in waiting to hear the answer. She just wanted Buffy's fingers digging into her back as she called out her name. Buffy's tongue darted into Faith's mouth and the forgotten sack fell from Faith's hand. That was all right; they'd finish their talk in due time.



Chapter Forty-One: As Close As the Holy Ghost Is

Sex with Faith with Faith was relentless. Faith needed her, and Faith took what she needed. Faith took her again, and again, and again. She took Buffy to the edge, she brought her down, and she drove her over. It was a long, hard fall to the bottom of that cliff.

Buffy had lost control, and it was glorious. Yet somehow Buffy instinctively knew she still had control. Faith controlled how hard, how long, how deep, how quick she made love to Buffy, but Buffy felt it. One word from her and it would all stop. Buffy didn't want to say the word... ever .

She didn't feel worshipped; that was reserved for her very first time. She didn't feel humble; that was reserved for the frailty of her few human lovers. She didn't feel dirty; that was reserved for the darkest time of her life. She didn't feel content; that was reserved for her first time with a woman. For this first time in her life, Buffy just felt loved and needed and oh-so-satisfied.

Buffy was still breathing hard and her eyes were shut. Faith was lying on her stomach between Buffy's thighs with her head pillowed on Buffy's lower abdomen. Buffy's hand was buried in Faith's hair, fingers tangled in the thick curls. Buffy didn't think she could move even a toe.

She was still throbbing inside from that last orgasm. A groan reverberated in her chest. Then Faith shifted and Buffy groaned again as Faith freed herself of Buffy's restraining hand. She forced her eyes open and glanced down the length of her body at Faith, too tired to glare.

“Why?” Buffy grunted.

Yeah, she wasn't feeling particularly verbose at the moment. Her throat was a bit hoarse from their activities. Well, more from her expressions of enjoyment than the activities, themselves.

Faith didn't respond to Buffy's question, she just smiled languidly. Buffy watched as Faith crawled her way up her body. She couldn't take her eyes from Faith's. Then Faith was looming over her, and kissing her again, and Buffy suddenly found the energy to move some more.

Faith had yet to lose her jeans. Buffy could feel the dual sensations of rough denim and silky skin sliding all along her body and it made her moan into Faith's mouth. It felt all kinds of good. But she really, really wanted Faith to lose those pants, and in the worst kind of way.

Buffy arched her back... and promptly forgot what she was about to do. Rubbing up against Faith when every nerve ending in her body was sparking was bound to make a girl forget herself. It was Faith's raspy chuckle that reminded her. Buffy arched her back, twisted her hips, and flipped them over, coming out on top and grinning wildly against Faith's lips as she did so.

Buffy broke the kiss and sat up, straddling Faith's waist much as she had earlier. She drank in the sight before her. Faith was beautiful, all flushed and breathless with her hair sprawled out around her head in a dark, mussed halo and her lips bruised from kissing. Faith's eyes were wide open, so vivid, and shining bright with everything she was feeling. Buffy's heart clenched painfully.

She inhaled sharply and gave Faith a shaky smile. Then Buffy leaned forward and lowered her head to press her lips to that shadowy hollow set between Faith's collarbones. Faith's body was calling to her, and Buffy was answering. She wanted Faith's voice to join the symphony.

Her lips and tongue blazed a slow trail down the length of Faith's body. Faith tasted clean like water and soap and salt. Buffy was lost. The sounds pouring from Faith didn't even register.

Buffy's hands deftly worked the closure of Faith's jeans open and Faith lifted her hips up to give Buffy maneuverability room. Faith's buttocks clenched hard when Buffy cupped her backside and then held her there while she made love to Faith's panty line with her mouth. Buffy's teeth nibbled and teased the delicate skin. She reveled in the tiny tremors she sensed more than felt.

Buffy let go of Faith's firm butt with a squeeze and then hooked her index fingers inside the waistband of Faith's pants and her underwear. She tossed a triumphant smile up at Faith and started sliding the clothing down Faith's toned thighs. It was probably one of the slowest jobs any Slayer had ever done at stripping her new lover. Buffy couldn't resist though; her hands were kneading the contracting muscles of Faith's legs as she crept down the bed.

Then the pants and boi shorts were gone and Buffy was kissing her way back up Faith's body from the inside of her ankle. When her hands brushed gauze, Buffy faltered as her focus shifted. She eased the bandages off, careful of the tape. A row of neat nude toned stitches adorned the thickly muscled calf, the very edges of the wound still an angry pink color. Buffy let out a soft hiss and glanced up at Faith, concern and sadness written across her features.

Buffy wanted to confront Faith about the cause of the injury. She wanted to confront Faith about the reason behind her drive to be in these situations. But mostly, she wanted to kiss away the hurt and make them both forget the past for a while. She pressed her lips to the wound and continued on her previous path, paying a profuse amount of attention to any and all of the scars she crossed.

The smell of sex was heavy in the air. Buffy could taste it thickly on the back of her tongue. She could feel it swelling her clit. The closer she got to Faith's apex, the more it overwhelmed her senses. By the time Buffy reached her eventual destination, she was craving Faith.



For her part, Faith was clutching at Buffy's back, the sheets, the bed, anything she could reach in order to stay grounded. For Faith, sex had always been about Faith's needs, and Faith's ultimate fulfillment. She was finding that that really wasn't the case here at all. Here with Buffy, Faith just wanted to bury herself inside Buffy and never come up for air again. It was unsettling.

Buffy's hands worked the closure of her jeans open and Faith lifted her hips up to give Buffy more maneuverability room. Faith clenched her buttocks hard when Buffy's hands cupped her backside and then held her there while she made love to Faith's panty line with her mouth. It wasn't with so much of a conscious decision that Faith let go of her anxiety. She just did.

This felt too good. Buffy's hands and mouth were on her. Their skin glistened from sweat and sex. Faith's body was burning in that oh so good way. She thought maybe this would kill her.

Faith felt the momentary change in the mood when Buffy uncovered the wound from Faith's earlier bout with Corrine. She wanted to reassure Buffy that she was okay. She wanted to wipe away that look and make everything okay. Then Buffy's lips were on her again and Faith couldn't speak for the tortured, oblivious moan of pleasure that tore from her throat.

Buffy was trying to drive her insane. Every touch of her lips, every trail her tongue made, every mark her teeth left behind, was all devised to make Faith lose her mind. Faith was certain of it. Then Buffy's mouth finally touched Faith where she needed it most, and Faith keened, loudly.

Buffy was...relentless. The teasing was over with. Buffy's mouth was everywhere as she tried to clean up every drop of wetness that spilled from Faith. Buffy's tongue was stabbing deep inside Faith's pussy, again and again, and then her lips were wrapped around Faith's clit. Buffy sucked, hard, and then Faith was calling Buffy's name loudly as release thundered through her.



Faith had no idea what time it was. She was too drained to even turn her head to find out. She didn't know how long she'd been lying there. Her head was fuzzy with lassitude and desire.

She had no idea how that was possible. Jesus... Faith muttered internally. She shouldn't have been conscious at this point, much less capable of needing anything...more. Faith sighed.

Buffy was sprawled on top of her. She was solid, and warm, and... and so goddamned beautiful. Faith's heart ached to look at her right now. Buffy had more than fulfilled Faith's every need.

Faith blinked away a tear, startled. Buffy was everything Faith needed. Something clicked inside Faith's heart and resounded in her mind. She was finally as close to home as she'd ever been.

I want to be just as close as the Holy Ghost is
And lay you down on a bed of roses



“I know you're awake.”

Faith's amused voice drew Buffy's attention from the heartbeat under her ear. Buffy just snuggled closer, pressing her lips to the pinnacle of the valley between Faith's breasts. She'd been awake for a while now. She'd just been...basking. Well, more like reliving.

“We need to talk, B,” Faith sighed.

Buffy cringed. Those weren't the words anyone wanted to hear after a night of lovemaking. Yet, Faith didn't sound worried. Faith sounded almost enthusiastic. Buffy forced herself to nod.

“Do we have to move to do so?” She almost whined.

“Not just yet,” Faith conceded and Buffy felt Faith's hand dip lower to the small of her back. “I'm gonna have to get up after, though. When I'm done talkin' to you, I gotta see G-man.”

“Mmm,” Buffy murmured agreement, “If we have to.”

“I was thinkin' after you fell asleep,” Faith admitted thoughtfully. “I need to make some changes. I love my job, and I love my life. Robin wanted me to give that up.”

Buffy tried not to tense up. She kissed Faith's chest again. She would listen. Chances were, this was something in Buffy's favor, so she could deal with the semi-reminiscing Faith had done.

“I'd never ask you to do that,” Buffy couldn't resist.

“You wouldn't have to,” Faith sighed again. “You live this life the same as I do. I don't have to be so far away from home to do my job. I don't have to be so far away from you to do it.”

Buffy lifted her head to meet Faith's gaze. Then she pushed up onto her elbows, not once looking away from Faith. If Faith was saying what she thought she was... Buffy bit her lip.

“Giles and Red have this trainin' program they cooked up,” Faith seemingly changed track. “Satsu was supposed to take up the position. But now that she's leavin'...”

“They're gonna need someone who can handle those girls,” Buffy completed the thought.

“I think it's time I really came home,” Faith's eyes questioned Buffy.

Buffy's mouth trembled. She hadn't even had the opportunity to think about what would happen when Faith had to work again. She tried to speak and her voice broke. She nodded jerkily.

“Yeah,” Buffy finally managed. “Yeah, I think so, too.”



“Ah, Faith,” Giles greeted her as she came into the office. “There you are.”

“Yeah,” Faith said absently. “Here I am.”

She glanced around the room. It had been tidied up. The totaled computer monitor had been removed and the debris had been swept up. And Aaron was conspicuously missing.

“He's been teleported out for trial,” Giles interpreted her unspoken question, giving her a mild look. “I would have thought Buffy would have told you that when she found you last night.”

“Imagine that,” Faith chuckled. “It must have slipped her mind.”

“Ahem,” Giles cleared his throat as he removed his glasses. “Then perhaps you are ready for a full debriefing now? I can inform you of anything else Buffy may have failed to mention.”

“That works,” Faith nodded, taking a seat. “I got somethin' I need to run by you, anyway.”

“Oh?” Giles asked.



“Your idea for a Special Operations division may warrant a closer inspection,” Giles commented as Faith stood to go. “I believe it would certainly benefit the girls more than any course would.”

“Most of ‘em just need a positive outlet with the right kind of guidance to lead them into whatever their purpose is,” Faith shrugged. “They need someone who knows them.”

“You are more than well-equipped for that role,” Giles agreed, and then gave her a look over the lenses of his glasses. “And you are certain you're prepared for this step? You weren't before.”

For anyone else, Faith probably would have told them to mind their own business; only not so nicely. For anyone else, Faith may have forgone the verbal and belted them one. This was Giles, Buffy's father figure and Faith's mentor and everyone's role model. Giles, more than anyone other than Dawn, had dealt with the fallout of Faith's drawn-out breakup with Robin.

“I'm not giving up anything for her,” Faith gave Giles an easy smile. “I'm gaining everything.”

“Oh,” This time it was said with a different kind of inflection.

“Yeah, oh,” Faith nodded. “I'm more than ready for whatever life throws at me...”



...Except for maybe Shawna waiting outside the office. Faith almost tripped over the girl. She caught herself just in time. Faith threw a questioning glance at her as Shawna got to her feet.

“Sorry, I wanted to catch you before you, uh, disappeared again,” Shawna muttered, giving Faith a sheepish expression as she flushed scarlet. “There was something I wanted to run by you.”

“What's up?” Faith asked easily.

Faith wasn't going to tease the girl. The one drawback of their enhanced hearing; there was no privacy in a house of Slayers. Someone did the deed? They ran the risk of getting overheard.

“I don't want to go to another Slayer House,” Shawna rushed out.

“Kid—” Faith tried to interject.

“I didn't even really wanna come here,” Shawna continued. “But it was either this, or the academy. I wanted to go there even less. I've found myself back at square one, really.”

“There aren't too many other options,” Faith shrugged apologetically.

“Maybe there is,” Shawna hesitated, looking almost pained as she glanced away.

“What did you have in mind?” Faith prompted gently.

“You,” Shawna flicked a glance at the stairs and Faith followed her gaze to find Buffy coming towards them. “Well, you and her. You could take me. You could be my fosterers.”

“Say huh?”

And then life goes and throws her a curveball. Faith determined to keep her mouth shut from now on. She'd wanted to make sure Shawna was taken care of. She just hadn't had that in mind.

Epilogue: A Propensity for Pigs

They were in First Class on a plane heading for Cleveland. Giles was seated with the other girls several rows ahead in the mostly empty compartment. Faith could hear his soft snoring amidst the gentle, even cadences of the Slayers. Behind her, she could hear Shawna's matching breaths.

Faith was trying not to think about her right now. She hadn't been able to deny the kid; not when she knew what that kind of openness took. She'd told Shawna her coming home with them was just a trial run. Faith was too anxious to make any promises. Faith figured she would screw up.

Buffy was convinced things would be okay. Faith glanced down at Buffy's head pillowed on her chest. Faith secretly hoped Buffy was right. Shawna felt like family; like Buffy and Dawn and Giles, and even Xander and Renee and Willow and Kennedy. She really kinda wanted this.

Faith consciously pushed those thoughts aside. There was something else she wanted too. Her eyes flickered down to see her hand sandwiched between Buffy's thighs. She squeezed, gently.

“Mmm,” Buffy murmured, sleepily nuzzling Faith's grey Henley-clad cleavage.

Faith waited until Buffy tilted her head back and then swooped down, bringing their lips together. She kept it soft until Buffy was conscious enough to return the kiss, then she put more effort into it. Buffy moaned, her thighs parting a little. Faith grinned and slipped her hand up the denim-clad surface of Buffy's inner thigh, teasingly drawing circles with her fingertips. She wasn't surprised in the least when Buffy's thighs clamped tight around her hand.

“Don't,” Buffy warned against Faith's mouth.

“Please,” Faith let her voice break in just the right place.

“No,” Buffy pulled back with a shiver, straightening up in her own seat with a rigid self-control that Faith could never manage. “Behave, Faith. We aren't alone.”

“Hey, come back here,” Faith muttered, reaching for Buffy's hand. “Just ‘cause you don't wanna make out doesn't mean ya have to move. You know I had to try at least once.”

Buffy eyed Faith for a moment. Then she cracked a smile. She allowed herself to be guided back into the waiting circle of Faith's arms. This was a bit of that normality she used to crave. Buffy captured Faith's wandering hand before it could return to her thigh and entwined their fingers.

“You're such a pig,” Buffy muttered, still smiling.

“Well, yeah,” Faith drawled, grinning. “Why else would you love me?”

The End


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