DISCLAIMER: None of these characters are mine. They have been used without permission and not for profit. No copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: Up through season four. Other than that, it's completely non-canon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To annebar76[at]gmail.com
SERIES: Second in Friends Forever series.
Willow and Tara stood outside Stevenson Hall as Giles drove away in the armored truck. They were both exhausted after having spent the last forty-eight hours helping Buffy get back into her own body, but neither one wanted to leave the other.
"So, you do stuff like that every day?" Tara asked.
"Yes and no. That was relatively tame compared to what normally happens. I mean, there's usually a lot more research, death, and mayhem. Not too much, though. Research, I mean. Well, I do a lot of research, not so much death and mayhem I'm in babble-mode I'll stop now. See, this is me stopping." Willow looked at Tara almost apologetically.
"It's okay Willow. I don't mind your babble-mode." Tara grasped Willow's hand briefly before letting it go. She felt the familiar butterflies in her stomach. Being so close to Willow always seemed to do that to her. "I guess we'd better get some sleep. Can I call you tomorrow?" Tara's voice was tentative.
"Sure, maybe we can try the Bronze again."
"Um, yeah, I guess so." Tara wasn't sure if she wanted to go back there. She knew it was irrational, but she still felt that way.
"Okay then, I'll talk to you tomorrow." Willow disappeared into the dorm.
Tara turned, lost in thought as she began walking back to her room. Faith had said some nasty things to her. For the most part, Tara knew them to just be fifth-grade taunts that she heard on the playground. So Willow's not driving stick anymore, was the one that went through her mind the most as she went into her room and tried to put the incident out of her mind. She needed sleep now, not to think too much. After putting on a nightshirt she lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
What Faith said about Oz was the only thing that really bothered her when she thought of the dark slayer's taunts. He and Willow had been together for a long time, and even though Willow didn't mention him much, Tara knew Willow still loved him. Tara let a tear escape, letting it fall to her pillow. Willow had become very important to her in a very short time. Maybe I should just tell her how I feel - rejection will hurt less if I do it now instead of waiting until I'm in love with her. What am I talking about? I am in love with her.
She finally decided that no matter what, she didn't want to risk ruining the friendship she had with Willow. The redhead had said she trusted Tara. Then her little, doubting voice piped up, reminding her that Willow hadn't taken the Doll's Eye Crystal. When Willow wouldn't take the gift, she had felt pieces of her heart breaking off and shattering on the floor.
Not to mention the fact that Tara had told the other witch she was hers. After everything that had happened since then, she had almost forgotten about that. She knew she had made a fool out of herself. She also knew Willow was still in love with Oz and knew Tara had a crush on her, but was too nice to tell the blonde to get lost.
But Willow had also trusted Tara to be her anchor. So many things in that spell could have gone wrong, but Willow had trusted her to bring her back. The notion that anyone trusted sweet, if slightly clumsy, Tara that much brought tears to her eyes, but they were good tears.
She looked at the clock. 4:23 PM. Tara found herself wondering if Willow was sleeping.
Willow couldn't sleep. She kept thinking about Tara and the bond that was forming between them. She hadn't felt anything this strong since Oz. Actually that wasn't true. It was different, stronger somehow. Whenever Willow was around Tara she just wanted to live in the blonde's eyes.
When Oz left, her world came crashing down around her, and she finally understood why some people went insane after a breakup. I guess I did get a bit wiggy, Willow thought as she turned over for about the hundredth time. The thought of him no longer brought a churning mass of emotions to her heart; it hadn't in a while now. She no longer hoped he would come back and try to patch the tattered remains of their relationship back together. She had healed from the wounds the relationship's end had caused, but the fear of being hurt still remained.
When Tara tried to give her the Doll's Eye Crystal, Willow knew for certain that Tara had a crush on her. Those feelings were mutual. The mere inkling of admitting those feelings aloud and letting the walls down she had built so carefully after Oz left frightened her more than any vamp or demon she had ever faced. She wondered if she was going to let what Oz did to her dictate the rest of her life, and ultimately decided the definite answer was no.
She said she was mine. A smile crossed her lips and her stomach did a little back flip at the thought. Her stomach had been doing a lot of back-flips since she met Tara. She had the maddening thought of having it try out for the U.S. Gymnastics team, and she giggled a bit as she tried to imagine a stomach 'going for the gold' on the parallel bars.
She rolled over and looked at the clock. 4:23 PM. She wondered if Tara was asleep.
She said she was mine. Willow kept going back to the memory. Making a decision, she sat up and dialed Tara's number.
"Um, hi, it's me, Willow." Duh. Tara already said that. "Did I wake you?"
"Wow. Good. I mean, not good that you weren't asleep but good that I didn't wake you. I can't sleep either. Can I come over? I want to talk."
"Okay, great. I'll be over in a few minutes. Bye."
She was off the bed before she even hung up the phone. She dressed quicker than she had her entire life and sped out the door, nearly running into someone in the hall. She told herself to calm down, knowing that getting herself killed on the way over there wasn't going to help at all.
The ringing of the phone broke Tara from her thoughts. "Hello?"
"No, I can't get to sleep." You keep invading my thoughts.
"Oh, um, sure."
Tara hung up the phone, wondering what Willow wanted to talk about, knowing that the redhead probably wanted to stop seeing her so much. Trying to get rid of the self-doubt, she figured that if Willow wanted to do that she would have told her over the phone.
She got dressed quickly and made her bed. Sitting down, she tried to calm herself using a breathing technique she'd learned years ago. It didn't work this time. She had the feeling that her life was about to change, but she just didn't know how. She looked at the clock again, wondering how it could take Willow a half an hour to make it across two dorms.
Tara had just started pacing the room when she heard someone knock softly on the door.
Breathe, Willow, breathe, Willow thought. After all, what was the worst thing that could happen? She willed herself to stop thinking about that. Willow walked down the hallway and stopped in front of Tara's door. Then she walked back down the hall. Why was she doing this? They were fine as friends. The only problem was that she wanted more than that. Turning around and putting her resolve face on, she walked to Tara's door for the second time. She stood there for a couple of minutes, faltering just a bit. People passing in the hall started staring at her a bit, but she barely noticed they were there.
She knocked. No answer. Then she realized she hadn't even touched the door. She knocked again.
The door opened slowly. Tara stood there, the most beautiful person she had ever seen. All of Willow's doubt fell away. There was only love.
"Thanks for letting me come over." Willow said as she walked into the room.
"It's okay, I couldn't sleep anyway, so at least we'll be able to keep each other company." Tara smiled her little half-smile and Willow melted inside. Tara was afraid to ask her question, but she took deep breath. "Um, what did you want to talk about?"
"Well, could you sit down? 'Cause I have a lot to say and I don't know how long it'll take me to get it out." Tara sat on the edge of the bed. "Thanks." Willow started pacing in the same spot Tara had been pacing just moments before.
"Okay, so I have feelings. Wait, I don't mean that. I mean, I mean that, just not the way it came out. We all have feelings, right? Sometimes the warm fuzzy kind, and sometimes we have the cold prickly kind of feelings. Not that I'm feeling the cold prickly kind of feelings, 'cause I'm not. I just " Willow stopped as she looked at Tara for the first time since launching into her speech.
"Willow, it's okay. Whatever you have to say, I'll listen. That's what friends do." Tara's voice wavered with the emotion she felt. She couldn't take the anticipation much longer.
Willow took a deep breath. "You're right. We're friends. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think I love you." Suddenly that damn David Cassidy song sprang into her head, and she knew that cheesy piece of fluff wasn't going to do her any good.
"As much as you said that you were mine, I'm also yours Tara. No, wait," Willow said as Tara began to get up. "Please let me finish. I'm on a roll. I don't just think I love you, I know I do. Every time I see you, my heart starts beating a mile a minute. When I'm not with you, I want to be with you. If you don't feel the same way, just say the word and I'll leave. We won't ever have to talk about it again. I just had to tell you how I felt. Okay, I'm done." Willow stopped and looked down at Tara, who had the most incredible smile on her face.
Tara stood and slowly crossed the room, standing inches away from Willow. "I love you, too." She whispered as she took Willow's hand. Willow brought her other hand up, cupping Tara's cheek even as Tara brought their lips together in a kiss.
It was a kiss so gentle, yet so powerful. Both their worlds became nothing but that kiss. Willow leaned into it, wrapping her arms around Tara's waist. Willow felt all of the emotional walls she had built in the last couple of months come crashing down.
When they finally broke the kiss, they still held on to each other. "Wow," Willow said breathlessly. "That was "
"Magic." Tara smiled.
"Our spells don't have anything on that kiss." With that, Willow kissed her again. Her tongue sought Tara's mouth, and Tara let her in. They slowly backed up to the bed, only breaking the kiss when they sat down. Tara's hand moved to Willow's breast, lightly touching her nipple through the fabric. Willow moaned into Tara's mouth and kissed her harder.
Suddenly Willow pulled away. "Are you okay?" Tara asked.
"I just want to take things slow. I want this to be special. And, please don't be mad, but I really need some sleep!"
Tara started giggling; then she started laughing and couldn't stop. She finally calmed down, and looked into the amused face of her Willow. "I'm sorry, I don't know why that was so funny; I'm tired too. Do you want to sleep here?"
Willow considered this for a second, but only a second. She wanted to sleep, and then wake up in this woman's arms. "Sure, but no funny business. Well, not too funny."
"Okay, then. You want a nightshirt?"
"I guess I didn't come prepared, did I?"
"Not exactly. Did you think I was going to kick you out or something?" Tara asked as they began changing, turning their backs to each other for privacy.
"I wasn't sure. I was scared you would do that, or that you would kiss me."
"I did kiss you, silly."
"Oh, right. Well, that part scared me for a different reason." They finished changing and looked at each other.
"You've never kissed a girl, have you?"
"No, but that's not what I was scared of." She walked to Tara and they wrapped their arms around each other. "I've never felt anything this strong before."
"The feeling's mutual. You want to go to bed?"
"Sleep, mmm. I miss it so much."
Willow placed a small kiss on Tara's lips and led her to the bed. They were asleep before their heads hit the pillow.
The sun was streaming into the room as Tara slowly drifted out of sleep. There was something warm beside her. No, there was something warm on top of her. Then she remembered what happened the day before. Willow loved her. She did a little happy dance inside as she looked down at Willow, who had somehow managed to tie herself up like pretzel trying to get close to the other woman. She lay in bed patiently, waiting for the human pretzel to wake up.
Tara kissed her gently on the forehead as Willow began to stir. Their eyes met, and the rest of the world disappeared again. Tara kissed Willow tenderly. It might have lasted seconds, minutes, or hours; Tara wasn't really sure which.
"Can I wake up like that every morning?" Willow asked.
Tara giggled. "If you want."
"Mm, yes. Thank you."
"For everything, but mostly for last night and this morning." Willow reached up and started playing with a lock of Tara's hair.
"Well, I don't want to start mutual admiration society or anything like that, but thanks for last night too. I'm glad you had the courage to say something." Tara absently traced circles on Willow's back.
"Oh no!" Willow sat up in bed, taking Tara partially with her. "What time is it? I've got an exam at ten! Oh, this is bad, this is very bad," Willow said as she got up and started putting on her clothes.
"I'm sure it'll be okay. You'll be fine."
Willow turned while she was trying to get her skirt on, almost tripping in the process. "No, it won't. I was going to study this weekend, then when this thing happened with Buffy I was going to study last night "
" and I kept you from it." Tara looked down at the blanket, toying with a frayed edge.
Willow rushed to her side with her shirt still over her head. "Nnnph, dnmpt spha dt."
"Huh?" Tara looked up.
Willow finally got her shirt on. She kneeled down and grasped Tara's hands. "I said, 'No, don't say that.' Do you see this face? The words 'No Regrets' are stamped in big bold letters." With that, she lightly kissed Tara and stood. "I love you, don't forget that."
"I love you, too. Good luck on your test."
"Hey, don't you take the same class?"
"Ugh!" Tara leapt out of bed. She and Willow scrambled to get Tara's clothes on, Willow pulling on the skirt while Tara put on her shirt. If they hadn't been in such a hurry, they might have found it quite funny. They grabbed Tara's backpack and headed Willow's room to pick up her stuff.
They finally made to class - about ten minutes late.
"How do you think you did?" Tara asked when the test finally ended. They were the only ones left in the room.
"I don't even want to think about it. I mean, who needs Shakespeare when you're living on the Hellmouth anyway? How about you?"
"The same, I think. The failing grade was worth it though." Tara gave her a half-smile.
Willow loved it when the blonde smiled. Willow gave her a quick peck on the cheek before grabbing her hand. "C'mon, let's get out of here."
"Where are we going?"
"Giles has some really nifty spell books -" Willow stopped and turned, nearly bumping into Tara. "Unless you don't want to do that. I'd kind of like you to meet him when we aren't in crisis mode."
"I'd like that too, but " Tara dropped her voice to a whisper, "I have to have a shower first. I feel icky."
Willow giggled. "I feel the same way now that you mention it. You wanna meet back at my room in an hour?"
"You're cute when you giggle."
Tara was humming softly to herself as she walked back to her room. She was happier than she had been in a long time, maybe happier than she had ever been. "Mini-Me, you complete me," she mumbled to herself. Ew, she hated that movie. It was true, though. Willow did complete her. Not that she wasn't a whole person without her, she was simply more of a person around her.
Trusting had never come easy to Tara; she had always been the shy one in school. The one whose name no one could quite remember. She had liked it that way, at least until she met Willow in the Wicca group. At that moment Tara had wanted nothing more than to be with Willow. And it had really happened. This intelligent, beautiful, charming, and wonderful person loved her back. She couldn't help but feel giddy at the mere thought of it.
She dressed quickly, wanting to see Willow as soon as possible. Suddenly her heart felt joy, but just as suddenly it felt like it was being ripped in two pieces. Collapsing to the floor, she got a flash of intense anger, confusion, and sadness. "Willow," she croaked, trying to catch her breath. She didn't know what had happened, but she knew she had to get to Willow as soon as possible.
Willow wrapped a towel around her wet head and padded down the hall to her room. She opened up the door, glancing at Buffy's side of the room and hoped her friend was okay. They hadn't been spending a lot of time together lately, and Willow knew that Buffy would be having a difficult time with the whole Faith thing. She had Riley, though.
And now Willow had Tara. Their bond was strong, and since the night before Willow noticed that she could sometimes feel the other woman's emotions. No, it had been going on longer than that. They both seemed to have a sixth sense about each other. Maybe it was a witchy thing. She made a note to ask the Tara about that.
She hadn't given much thought to the fact that her new love was a woman. Truth was, it didn't matter. What could it matter when they fought vamps and demons every day? Besides, she had loved Buffy throughout much of high school. But Buffy had Angel and Willow had Oz, and her love for the Slayer changed to a deep friendship they still shared.
She had just finished drying her hair when there was a knock at the door. Feeling a surge of joy, she opened the door. There were no words to describe what she felt when she saw the face in the hall. Two years of her life passed in front of her eyes in a split second, and she felt almost every emotion imaginable with such an intensity her breath caught in her throat.
Oz stood in the hall, looking at the door to Willow's dorm room. After what seemed like an eternity, he knocked. It opened and he looked at the woman he loved for the first time in months. She looks happy, he thought for a split second. Then her face went through an amazing transformation. He didn't think it was possible, but she looked like she wanted to cry, tear his eyes out, and hug him at the same time.
Willow slammed the door in his face before immediately opening it again. "Sorry, I'm just a little shocked. Come in." Willow stepped back, letting Oz into the room.
"I know. Sorry I didn't call before stopping by-"
"'Stopping by'? What is that supposed to mean?" Willow spoke in a very even, low voice. "You pack up, leave without telling me where you are, you're gone for months and I don't even know if you're alive, and then you show up on my doorstep and say 'Hey'? Well, 'hey' just doesn't cut it mister."
"Will, I know you're probably still upset about what happened-"
"Actually, I'm not. I'm angry because I was worried about you. Maybe you don't realize it, but we spent two years together, and with the exception of the last couple of weeks of those two years, I was happy." Willow sighed. "I still care about you."
The fact that she hadn't said 'I love you' wasn't lost on him, but he knew he had no right to question it. "I'm sorry. I really am, but I couldn't be around you until I was in control of the wolf."
"And are you now?"
They both turned when the heard a loud banging on the door.
Tara practically flew across campus, calling an occasional 'I'm sorry' when she bumped into someone. After the initial intensity of the emotions washed away, she sensed that Willow wasn't in any immediate danger, but she was still frightened at what would have caused Willow to feel that way. She tried not to think of the possibilities. What if something had happened to Buffy? Tara knew they were close, and if Buffy had been hurt Willow would definitely have feelings similar to the ones that had floored Tara moments before.
She rushed up the stairway of Stevenson, down the hallway, and banged on the door to Willow's room. She was breathing heavily when Willow came to the door.
"Are you okay? I mean, I felt something big. Is everything all right?"
"Um, yeah Tara. I'm okay." Willow's eyes told a different story altogether. She looked back to a man who was sitting on the edge Buffy's bed, gazing out the window. Tara's gaze followed Willow's.
Willow stepped into the hall, shutting the door behind her. Sighing heavily, she looked to the floor. "Oz."
"Oh." The small exclamation conveyed all of the devastation Tara felt at that moment.
Willow looked up quickly and grasped her hand. "I'm so sorry Tara-"
"No, i-it's okay. I mean, I understand. You want to try to work things out with him."
"That's not it at all." Willow looked directly into Tara's eyes and gently kissed Tara's palm. "I love you, my beautiful blonde witchy-woman. Nothing can change that, but I have to talk to him."
"Okay," she whispered. She turned to go, but Willow held her back, pulling her into a strong embrace. She barely felt the light kiss Willow placed on her cheek before letting her go.
"I won't be long, I promise." Glancing back at Tara one last time, Willow opened the door and disappeared into her room.
Tara slowly went back to her room to wait for Willow.
Oz sat on the bed, waiting for Willow to come back in. He looked around, noticing that the room had changed a bit since he had last seen it. He could faintly hear the conversation outside the door, but was trying not to listen. It wasn't working. At one point he thought he heard the words 'I love you,' but he couldn't be certain. One of his eyebrows shooting up in a Six Million Dollar Man way was the only outward reaction he showed.
The door opened and Willow stepped inside, taking a deep breath. "Why did you come back?"
Oz stood and started walking towards her. "I want to try to work things out."
Willow held up her hand, and he stopped dead in the middle of the room. "It's too late for that Oz. Did you think I would wait for you while you found your 'inner wolf'?"
"No, but I hoped-"
"Hoped what? That I wouldn't meet someone else? Well, I didn't mean to, but I did. I really care about this person, and I don't want to mess things up with them." She said quietly, almost apologetically.
"Are you happy?" Oz felt his heart breaking.
"What's his name?" He was blinking back tears now. I never thought I'd lose her.
Willow sat on her bed thinking about what had just happened. It made her sick to know that she had hurt him again. Even after everything he had done, all the pain he had caused her, she still hated hurting him, but she had. She had never seen him cry, not even after the 'Xander incident'. She looked to the spot on Buffy's bed where he had broken down.
"What?!? Are you kidding? You're dating a girl? Do you actually think I believe that?"
"I didn't ask you what you believe, I only told you the truth. I don't expect you to understand, but I love her."
"Really?" Oz was becoming visibly upset for the first time in his life. "Then what was I to you?"
"You were my first love. You were my life for two years, and I'll always care about you, but I'm not in love with you anymore." She had said the words; there was no going back.
Oz's eyes filled with tears and he crumpled to the bed. She held him while he cried, and when the sobs ended she held him some more. Finally, he kissed her lightly on her forehead and stood.
She didn't think she had any right to, but she asked, "Are you staying in town?"
"Yeah. I'm staying in my old room for now."
"Can I call you, I mean, after you've had some time and all "
"I'll call," he whispered. He turned and left the room quietly.
She had made her choice. It was almost tempting for her to run back into Oz's arms when he had shown up. Even though they had been through some terrible things, he was safe for her. Tara was a different matter altogether. It wasn't that Willow didn't feel comfortable around her, it was quite the opposite, but there was still so much they didn't know about each other. For example, how had Tara known something was wrong?
Her thoughts were broken as the door opened and Buffy walked in. "Hey Will, what's up?"
Everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours poured out of Willow. Tara, Oz, Tara and Willow she told Buffy everything. Buffy just sat on her bed and listened. When Willow finished, she looked at her best friend of four years and waited to be told what a terrible person she was. That was not what happened.
"Do you love Tara?"
"With all my heart."
"Do you think you made the right decision?"
Willow stood and began pacing. "Yes, but I hurt him. You didn't see him, the look on his face when I told him I loved someone else wait a second!" She turned her gaze to Buffy, "You don't care that I'm in love with Tara?"
Buffy's lips curled up slightly in a smile. "Nope. I might have cared five years ago, but I've been living on the Hellmouth for four years. I have two lists - a wiggins list and a non-wiggins list. Seeing my best friend happy is definitely on the non-wiggins list."
Willow pulled the Slayer into a hug that would have crushed a normal person. "Thanks. I was so scared you'd hate me."
"Never in a million. You're my best bud. Even if I marry Spike and have little baby vamp children with him because of some spell."
Willow smiled. "Don't worry, I won't be doing any more 'thy will be done' spells any time soon. Hey, speaking of 'love is in the air' where's Riley?"
"I don't know and I don't care right now. He slept with Faith."
"Only because he thought he was sleeping with you."
"If he really knew me he wouldn't have done it." Buffy looked down.
"Buffy, look at me. I'm your best friend and I didn't even know you weren't you. The only person who knew was Tara, and she didn't even know you. And can I say the word 'know' any more in this speech?"
"You could try," Buffy said, chuckling.
"Nah, I don't think so. Do you get my picture, though? Riley does love you, and he wouldn't have slept with Faith in her own body. Now buck up little camper, before I have to tickle ya!"
"Okay, okay, stop the insanity!" Buffy backed away as Willow started doing her impersonation of The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
"Are you going to make nice-nice with G.I. Joe?" Willow kept coming.
"Yes!" Willow started tickling. "Yes. I said yes!" Buffy squirmed.
Willow stopped her attack after the third yes and stood back.
"I said 'yes' - why'd you keep tickling?"
Willow shrugged. "'Cause it was fun."
"That's it!" They both collapsed into the tickle match to end all tickle matches.
A couple of minutes later, both the Slayer and Willow lay on the floor, panting. "Okay, I haven't had that much fun since -"
"You became cave-slayer?" Willow finished.
Willow's face turned serious. "Thank you."
"Making me feel better."
"No prob. Don't you think you should call that Tara girl?"
"Nope. I'm goin' over to see her." Willow flashed a wide grin.
"You go girl!"
"I do go, and quickly too." Willow stood and held out her hand. "You should get up and call Riley."
"I will. Thanks for the kick in the teeth."
"Anytime. Wish me smoochies!" Willow turned to leave.
"I hereby wish you smoochies." Buffy said with mock seriousness.
Where is she? Tara thought as she looked at the clock on her wall for the tenth time in as many minutes. It had been three hours since she had last seen Willow, and the phone hadn't rung once. Well, there was that guy who tried to sell her a magazine subscription or something, but she didn't feel he counted.
She had tried doing her homework to pass the time, but the only thing she could think about was Willow. Her eyes, her laugh, her smile and the way Willow's lips feel like soft velvet against her skin. Tara shook her head, trying to get rid of the images; she had to, at least for the time being. She couldn't feel the redhead. But then, why could she feel her to begin with?
She ran for the door at the sound of the knock, but stopped short. What if Willow was coming to tell her she had changed her mind and just wants to be friends? The thought ran through her mind, but she quickly chased it from her mind.
Willow stood outside Tara's room for the second time in as many days. Here goes everything. What if she doesn't want to see me? She thought as she knocked.
The doorknob turned, and then Willow was looking into Tara's blue eyes. Willow realized, and not for the first time, that she could dive into dive into their depths. "Can I come in?"
Tara didn't say anything; she just opened the door wider. The moment Willow was inside she pulled Tara to her, holding her tightly. "I missed you."
Tara chuckled, "I missed you too. You okay?"
"Well, I wasn't wearing a smiley-faced button earlier, but I'm much better now." She pulled back a bit and rested their foreheads together. "I haven't felt this good in a long time." She leaned in and lightly brushed her lips over Tara's. The kiss began slowly at first then intensified, and when their lips parted out of necessity, Willow still wanted more.
"I know I didn't call-"
"Don't worry. This is definitely better." Tara said, still trying to catch her breath.
After a couple of moments, Tara spoke again. "Did you get everything sorted out?"
Sighing, Willow broke contact and looked out the window. "Yeah. It was hard though. How do you make someone you loved for two years understand that you love someone else now?"
"I think so."
Tara walked up behind Willow, putting her arms around the red head's waist. "You want to talk about it?"
"Not yet, but I want to ask you something though." Willow turned in Tara's arms and started lightly rubbing Tara's arms. "How did you know something was wrong?"
"I don't know. One second I was getting ready to meet you and the next there was this explosion of emotions. I've never felt anything like that before. I knew it was coming from you, but I didn't know why. I just knew I had to get to you."
"I'm glad you did." Willow softly kissed Tara's eyelids. "Do you feel anything now?"
"I feel you, and love. Can you feel anything?"
"The same. And I felt your worry in the hall. You think it has something to do with the spells we've been doing?"
Tara shrugged in Willow's arms. "I don't know."
"We should go see the God of All Things Bookish."
Tara pulled back a bit. "Who?"
As they approached Giles' apartment, they heard the sounds of an intense battle being fought inside. Someone yelled, "Ayiyiyiyiyi!" through a clatter of swords. Both women rushed inside, not knowing what they would find.
"Giles! Are you o-" Willow stopped short when she saw the reality of what was going on. Tara giggled softly behind her as Giles stood quickly and turned off the television.
"You were watching Xena?" Willow risked a glance at Tara, who was trying to contain her laughter, and started laughing too.
"It's a perfectly good show. I don't see why you find the fact that I watch it amusing." Giles said when the two girls calmed down.
Willow took a breath. "No Giles, that's not it. We thought you were in danger. I mean, the sounds of battle and all-"
"Ah, I see, you were concerned for my safety. Thank you. Would you like to tell me why you're here?" Giles sounded quite irritated, but Willow knew he would calm down soon.
Willow's face turned serious. "We need to ask you some questions."
"Of course, of course. Please, sit down. Would either of you like something to drink?" Giles asked.
"No thanks," both women said in unison as they sat on the couch.
"Very well, what would you like to know?" Giles said, his eyes glancing at the two women's linked hands.
Willow and Tara both told him about practicing spells together and of Oz showing up. As they spoke, he stood and went to a pile of books.
"That is interesting. I assume the two of you have become close friends?" Giles asked when they were finished. They both nodded. He began flipping through the book. "Ah right, here it is. Sometimes, although rarely, witches who have become, shall we say, close, begin to share a link. Emotions, thoughts, and sometimes even physical pain can be felt. It depends on how powerful the witches are."
"We'll be able to read each other's thoughts?" Tara asked.
"Quite possibly. You both have already demonstrated enormous power, and your link is already quite strong. Control over that link will most likely come in time. You'll have to learn to focus your emotions and thoughts."
"How do we control it?" Tara kept thinking of the physical pain she felt when Oz showed up.
"I would think that you would do it the same way you channel your thoughts and powers during a spell. If you'd like, I'll be happy to help you. Come over tomorrow after school."
"Sure Giles. We'll see you tomorrow." Willow said as they stood. Tara went outside, but Giles held Willow back for a moment.
"Are you okay with this Willow? This may affect both your lives in ways you cannot imagine."
"I know Giles, and I'm okay with it. I dated a werewolf for two years, and my best friend is the Slayer. I think this'll be a good thing."
"Just be careful."
"We will. Thanks." Willow gave Giles a brief hug before leaving.
Willow and Tara began going to Giles' house every day after school, practicing their concentration techniques. With each passing day, it became easier for them to block their emotions from each other when necessary. They were also becoming quite good at projecting thoughts and feelings, but blocking was most important. Nobody wanted a repeat performance from the other day.
A week after the visit to Giles, Buffy and Willow stood in the middle of their dorm room with their bathrobes on staring at the former contents of their closet, which were piled on their beds. Both of them sighed.
"That does it. The next time we get a chance, we're going shopping." Buffy said.
"But that doesn't do us any good now. What are we going to wear tonight?" Willow was nervous. Not only were she and Tara going out on their first official date, Giles had given Buffy the night off as well, so it was going to be a double date. Somehow that made matters worse.
"Relax, Will. We'll figure something out." After thinking a moment, Buffy chose a skirt from Willow's bed, then a blouse and sweater from her own bed. Putting the outfit against Willow, she nodded.
"This is good."
"Yes, you may like it, but will she?"
Buffy looked at her. "In case you hadn't noticed, she's head over heels in love with you. The only other person in this world I have ever seen with a case of 'Aw, isn't she wonderful' any worse is you. She'd like it if you went out with nothing but a garbage bag on. And besides, you probably wouldn't look half bad in a garbage bag. I'm sure she's just as nervous as you are."
Willow laughed and opened her mind to Tara, feeling the other woman's nervousness. "You're right. She is."
"Did you just do that thing? You know, that I'm-a-telepath-but-only-with-my-girlfriend thing?"
Willow smiled proudly. "Yep. Pretty nifty, huh? Hey, we need to find you something."
"Not a problem." She pulled out some pants and a blouse from her pile. "What do you think?"
"You are one hot mamma." Willow glanced at the clock. "They're going to be downstairs in fifteen minutes."
"To the Batmobile!" Buffy exclaimed even as she started pulling on clothes.
Willow shot her a look. "Bats? You really had to go there?"
Buffy shrugged and zipped up her pants. "It sounded good at the time?"
"Slayers and bats do not mix."
"Only in polite company. C'mon, we still need to fix our hair."
If anyone asked them later, they wouldn't have been able to tell them how they got dressed in time, but they walked into the lounge just as Tara and Riley walked in the door.
The evening went well, with all four people telling stories over dinner. After Riley and Buffy decided to go to the Bronze, Willow and Tara decided to head back to campus. Willow was still spinning a tale as they walked up the steps to Tara's dorm.
" so Buffy the princess was just standing there, waiting to be sucked on by a vampire, but Giles smashed the statue of Janus just in time. The next thing I knew, I woke up under my ghost sheet on the porch of that woman's house."
"Wow, you're such a danger girl!" They stopped at the foot of the stairs.
"Nah, not really. That's Buffy's department. We usually fall under the 'help, please save me' category."
Tara laughed. "Do you want to come up?"
Willow suddenly had some serious butterflies flying in her stomach. "If you want me to, I'd like to, but if you don't-"
Tara placed two fingers on Willow's mouth, stopping the babble. "I want you to."
"Do you want anything? A Coke or something?" Tara asked when they got back to her room.
"Uh, yeah. Sure. Uh, I mean no thanks." Willow walked to the CD player, taking off her sweater as she walked.
"I'm glad we got that sorted out. You can put something on if you'd like," Tara said as she sat on the floor. She's so beautiful - I still want to pinch myself to make sure this is real, she thought as she gazed at Willow's back.
"I can't believe I never noticed your collection before." Willow held up a CD. "You mind if I put this one on? I haven't heard it in ages."
"Sure, it's an oldie but a goodie."
Willow put the CD in and pressed play, and the sounds of music filled the room. She turned, and looked down at Tara. There was nothing in this world she wanted more than to be with Tara. "Dance with me," was all she said as she held out her hand.
Tara stood, and was pulled into Willow's embrace. They began swaying to the music, their bodies tingling with the closeness.
Willow's eyes closed as she let the music wash over her. Tracing light circles at the base of Tara's back, she lightly kissed the base of her neck. Tara sighed and began kissing up Willow's shoulder to her ear. Her lips traced Willow's jaw, and when she reached the redhead's chin, she moved to her mouth. The kiss was tender, kind. Willow lips moved to her nose, then her eyelids.
"I love you." Tara whispered, her voice husky with desire.
She leaned in and traced Willow's lips with her tongue. Opening her mouth, Willow let her in. The kiss became more intense until Willow felt Tara's hand under her blouse. She pulled away slightly, looking into Tara's eyes.
"I'm sorry, Willow. I didn't mean to-" Tara broke their embrace.
"No, Tara." Willow pulled her back. "I wanted you to know something. You are in everything I do, everything I see, and everything I am. Every day when I wake up, you are the first thought in my head, and you are the last thought I have before I go to sleep. I love you so much." She kissed Tara lightly. "There's no other place I want to be right now than here with you."
"No one has ever said anything like that to me before."
"Well, I hope no one else does. Now, I think you should kiss me before I do something terrible." Willow said, smiling.
"We can't have that, can we?" Tara laughed and kissed her passionately. They only stopped kissing when they lifted their shirts over their heads. Willow caressed Tara's breast tentatively, then grew more confident. She opened her mind and felt Tara's pleasure, and she couldn't believe how wonderful it felt. Her lips replaced her hand, and as her tongue flicked over Tara's nipple, she sent shockwaves through both women. Running her hand along the hemline of Tara's skirt, she removed it swiftly.
Tara groaned. Nothing else existed in the world but them. Opening her mind, it doubled the sensations to her breasts, causing both of them to climax. Willow quickly came up and kissed her mouth. "You okay?" She asked when Tara stilled.
"Yeah," Tara said, running her fingers through Willow's hair, "That was intense."
"Mm," Willow's eyes closed, enjoying the feel of Tara's hands in her hair. "None of the books we read about our link ever said anything about that."
"That's a surprise I'll take any day," Tara chuckled. "We're still a bit overdressed for this, don't you think?"
"And it might be easier if we were actually in bed."
They quickly took off the rest of their clothes and slid between the sheets, staring at the ceiling. Turning to face each other, they moved closer. "Maybe we should keep our blocks up a little longer this time." Tara placed her hand on Willow's chest.
Willow's breathing came in gasps, and she was having a very difficult time forming words. "Uh, yeah, blocks, right, keep up " Those were her last coherent words to come out her mouth for the night as Tara's mouth descended on hers, and she found herself underneath the blonde witch.
Tara began her exploration slowly, kissing every inch of Willow's body. I've never felt this good, Willow thought briefly before Tara entered her; then there was nothing but the sensation of her lover inside her. When she finally felt Tara's mouth join her hands, she couldn't hold on anymore. All conscious thought ceased as she moaned Tara's name into the night.
Tara felt the orgasm rush through her lover, and her own came seconds after. Waiting until they had both relaxed, Tara removed her hands and kissed her way slowly back up Willow's exquisite body. She pulled her limp form into her arms, holding Willow to her.
They stayed like that for a while, neither one wanting to break the moment. Finally, Willow spoke. "I could stay like this forever."
Tara kissed the top of her head and smiled. "We might actually like to eat sometime."
Willow looked into Tara's eyes. "Mm, I have everything I want to eat here." She pressed her lips to Tara's, rolling on top of her.
When they finally slept, it was a dreamless sleep.
Willow woke the next morning, hearing the typical morning dorm sounds. " now, gotta get to class. I'll call yo " came a male through the door.
She opened her eyes, making sure she didn't dream last night. Nope, I guess not, she thought when she looked at the still nude form of her lover.
Tara stirred and gazed into Willow's eyes. "Morning, love."
"Good morning to you, too." Willow gently kissed her lips.
"What's all the noise outside?"
"Everyone's getting ready for classes-" she glanced at the clock, "It's eight."
"Oh - do you want to get up?"
"And give this up? No way. I'm enjoying being right here too much."
Tara laughed against Willow's chest, then brought her head up, suddenly serious. "Last night was real, wasn't it?"
"Either that, we just like naked wrestling." Willow gestured to their bodies.
"Good. I wasn't sure if I'd dreamed it all or not."
"Nope, you didn't. I'll even prove it to you." With that, Willow's head ducked underneath the covers.
They didn't make it to class that day, and they were both just fine with that. They had what and who they needed, and each was content in the surety of their love.
Willow leaned back in her chair with a satisfied smile on her face. She couldn't help but laugh at the thought that crime did indeed pay. Not that she or anyone else in the gang were criminals; she, Buffy, and Xander ran a security consulting firm. Having been hired by one of the largest banking firms in the country to test the firm's system, it had only taken them a couple of days to break the security. Xander and Buffy handled the physical breaking in, while Willow dealt with the computer end. Having just sent the bank her report and recommendations, she knew the funds would be in the company's account by tomorrow.
She closed her eyes for a moment, relishing the fact that, in just two days, they had made enough money to be able to sustain the entire Scooby Gang for another year. They could do what they loved to do most; they could get rid of the bad guys. Buffy rarely, if ever, went slaying by herself any more. Xander finally began to use his knowledge of weaponry, and had become a formidable opponent, at least whenever Anya let him fight. Tara and Willow were able to do some amazing things with, as Buffy put it, "that witchy thing they did."
She looked at the pictures beside her laptop as a summer breeze blew in from the open window. The first one was taken the year before and showed Buffy, Tara, and Willow laughing with their arms around one another. It had been graduation day for them, and Giles had taken pictures of everything that moved. At least we didn't destroy the school like we did in high school, she thought as she chuckled softly to herself.
Another picture was taken six months after the first one and had been another excuse for Giles to photograph everything. She still couldn't believe Xander and Anya were married. It showed the gang, or at least what was left of them, on the steps of the gazebo where the couple were married. Giles had tried to pose them so they looked a little dignified, but had failed miserably. Buffy, Tara, and Willow decided to tickle newlyweds the second before the picture was taken, so what Giles really took was a picture of three women with mock evil faces and two newlyweds looking very tortured while all were laughing uncontrollably.
Her smile faded a bit as she thought of all the friends they had lost: Miss Calendar, Oz, and then Riley. Oz had been killed during the fiasco with Adam and the Initiative and they had lost Riley a few months later. He didn't realize that he wasn't as strong without his the pills given to him by the Initiative, and a vampire had taken him with little effort one night. Buffy found him just after he died; the vamp that had killed him was still standing over his cooling body. She staked the vamp before having to stake Riley.
That had been a terrible time for everyone, but especially for Buffy because in many ways she blamed herself for his death. Her depression had lasted for months, and Willow had been afraid she would never recover, but one day she just began to overcome the grief that had enveloped her soul. When Willow and Tara decided to rent a house off-campus at the end of their sophomore year, they had asked Buffy to move in with them. Neither witch wanted to admit it to the Slayer, but they were still very concerned about her. The arrangement worked out well, even though they were cramped in the tiny house.
It was about that same time the three of them moved in together that Willow had started offering her services, albeit quietly, to companies for security checks. She never told anyone except Tara about it, and never spent any of the money she made. Instead she invested it and by the time they graduated, she and Tara were able to buy the three-story beach house just outside Sunnydale that became a home and the base of operations for the company and their friends. Buffy moved in with them after the remodeling, mainly because the two witches wouldn't take no for an answer. The three of them had become too used to living together.
They had been able to talk the real estate agent into selling the house for an unbelievably low price because the spirit of an actress who had died there supposedly haunted the house. It was only a legend, but it was enough. They altered it to fit their needs, while keeping to the original design as much as possible.
Willow smiled broadly when she looked at the last picture. It was her favorite. Tara was sitting cross-legged on the grass at UC Sunnydale, and Willow's head was in her lap. Tara had been running her fingers lazily through Willow's hair while Willow read a book to her. She had reached a funny part just as a photography student snapped a picture, forever capturing the sweet joy in Tara's face as she tilted her head back in laughter.
She stood, running her hands through shoulder-length red hair and stretching her sore muscles. She turned the computer off and pushed her chair back from the desk. Looking out the window at the herb garden that she and Tara tended to when they had the chance, she sighed. Neither one had too much time to look after it anymore, so it was a bit overgrown. Willow silently promised herself that they would make the time one day.
She walked into the main living area and went up the circular staircase to her bedroom. The walls facing the ocean had more window space than wall space, and she and Tara had enjoyed many sunsets from this room. A king-sized bed stood opposite the door, and their bathroom was just to the side of that. Going to the sink, she splashed some cold water on her face to refresh herself a bit. With a smile on her face, she left her bedroom and went downstairs.
The downstairs area was split into two levels. To one side there was a kitchen and a dining area, in the middle was the general living area, and on the other end was their entertainment center, complete with every comfort for the entire group whenever they had movie night.
Love? She sent.
Mmph! Oops, sorry - didn't mean to send that. You done? Tara's voice echoed in Willow's mind.
Yeah. Is the gang ready?
Uh-huh, as ready as they're going to be. Ooph! Sorry again, I just hit the ball and took a header. You want to come down for a sec?
Willow laughed as the image of Tara lying face down in the sand popped into her head. I'm on my way now. Love you.
Love you too.
Years ago, when Willow and Tara first declared their love for one another, a bond stronger than either one of them had ever experienced formed. At first, they had only been able to feel emotions, but within months they were able to send thoughts to each other. Their bond was such that they never felt completely alone, and they always felt the love of the other. Not only had it made them stronger as a couple, it made them stronger witches as well.
Willow smiled as she walked onto the deck, watching the four people on the beach playing volleyball. She couldn't quite believe that Giles was playing volleyball, and on Anya's team no less. She chuckled silently when she saw Xander and Tara planning their next move. She would never get over just how beautiful Tara was. In Willow's eyes, it was as though she glowed. Tara looked up from the huddle immediately and waved her over. Xander poked her in the ribs and said something like, 'Aw, aren't you two cute?'
Cute? Did he say 'cute'?
Well, we are now officially winners of the 'Miss Sappy Award.'
Is that a bad thing? Tara smiled as Willow started walking toward them.
Nope, it's the best thing in the world. Willow walked up to Tara, took her in her arms and kissed her until their toes curled.
"Do you two need to get a room?" Anya asked.
Willow broke the kiss, but didn't look away from Tara. "I missed you." She whispered. "Sorry, guys. You ready for the marathon?" They pulled out of the embrace and turned to the other three, hands entwined.
Giles groaned. "Must we do this?"
"You have to give us a chance to prove our theory." Xander piped up.
"Really? Twelve hours of proof? Can't you simply put together a compilation tape?"
"No can do, G-man. Anya, hon, let's take the non-believer to the house and get ready to show him the way." Xander put his arm around his wife.
"Can't we just go home, and 'you know?'" Anya said.
"Later pumpkin, I promise." Xander turned to Willow and Tara, "You coming?"
"Give us a sec." They both said in unison.
"Good game Tar, you're a great player." Xander said as he, Anya, and Giles made their way toward the house.
Willow turned to Tara. "Where is she?"
Tara sighed. "She's out on the same rock she usually sits on. I'm worried about her this time."
"I am, too. She hasn't been this bad since-" Willow hesitated.
It was Willow's turn to sigh. "I'll go talk to her. Meet you back at the house?"
"Of course. Good luck. I couldn't get through to her earlier."
"You're wonderful to even try." Willow gave her a quick kiss. "I'll be up in a minute."
Willow slowly approached the still, blonde form of her best friend. Every year about that time, Buffy withdrew from almost everything, and it seemed to get worse every year.
Buffy didn't turn. "You here to cheer me up?"
"It's our ritual." Willow sat next to the Slayer, putting her arm around her friend.
Neither one spoke a word for a long time; they just watched the waves crash upon the shore. It was Willow who finally broke the silence. "It's been three years. It still gets to you, huh?"
The only reaction she got was a tear escaping from Buffy's eye.
"Riley knew what he was getting into. You didn't get him involved."
Buffy turned to her best friend. "I know that. It's just he was my friend, not just my lover, and I had to kill him."
"You didn't kill him. He was already dead and you know that." Willow's worry grew a bit more.
She was holding back tears now. "You know that's only a concept. Riley still knew who I was, and even if his heart wasn't beating, I still killed his memory." She sighed deeply. "Do I kill everything I love?"
"That is the most ridiculous question I've ever heard. Angel's still alive, well kind of. No matter what you think, you were not the cause of Riley's death. And besides, you love me and I'm still here, aren't I?"
"Just give me time." Buffy muttered.
"Don't you dare say that. You think you've got a corner on the market as far as guilt goes? Well, you don't. You're not some bad luck charm, killing everyone in her path. Look at me and say that you think you'll be the cause of my death." Buffy just stared. "I didn't think so."
"Why are you angry at me?"
Willow closed her eyes for a moment. "Because I love you, and I hate seeing you like this. Self-pity doesn't suit you at all."
"I know, but I just can't seem to stop it right now. It's almost the anniversary of " Buffy stopped and looked at her feet.
"His death, I know." Willow finished quietly. "I still get overwhelmed about the time of Oz's death. It's difficult to be one of the survivors, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is." Buffy reached for Willow's hand, holding it tightly.
"But you have the Scoobs, and you've got your Mom. You have more than most people dream about."
"All crammed into about twenty-five years. I know that my time is almost up. Slayers don't live to be old and grey."
"Is that what this is really all about? You're afraid of dying?" Buffy nodded her head, almost imperceptibly.
Willow sighed. "I worry about you dying every day. You've been my friend and family for so long that I can't imagine not knowing you. Thinking about a time when we might have to say goodbye makes me want to tear the world apart piece by piece, so I try not to think about it too much. No matter what, I have no regrets about the last eight years of my life. Not one. So don't you go having regrets for me."
That brought a small smile to Buffy's mouth. "You mean you don't even regret that bad haircut you had last year?"
Willow hit Buffy's arm playfully. "Hey, it wasn't that bad, was it?"
"I'm not telling." Buffy put her hand to her mouth and made a turning motion. "Mmph, mmph, mmph."
"Okay, okay, I'll drop the hair thing. Could you at least unlock your mouth and speak like a Buffy would?"
Buffy turned her hand again, then slightly drooped her shoulders and mock-frowned. "You're no fun."
Willow stood and helped Buffy up. "Yep, that's me alright. 'Miss No-Fun'. For my finale, I'd like to read War and Peace to you."
Buffy closed her eyes and held her hands over her ears. "No, the torture!" After a couple of seconds, she opened one eye and saw Willow looking at her, barely able to contain her laughter.
"Are you quite finished?" Willow did a dead-on impression of Giles, sending both of them into a fit of laughter.
Willow was the first to gain her composure. "Are you ready to have twelve hours of torture?"
"What kind of torture are we having this time?" Buffy asked as they began walking back to the house.
"It's Xander's sparkle torture."
"It that what I think it is?"
"Yup. That means vegetarian vampires."
Buffy laughed. "So why are we seeing films about the worst non-vampires that ever didn't walk the Earth?" she asked as she linked arms with Willow.
"Because Giles refuses to see them."
"And he's agreed to it now?"
"Um, not exactly. He didn't have a choice. Xander and I beat him in a game of Name That Demon."
"Oh, you are so cruel." Buffy said through her laughter.
They had reached the steps to the deck, but Willow put a hand on Buffy's arm. "You sure you're okay?"
"I'll be fine. I just have to have my moment of self-pity once a year." Buffy smiled a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.
"I know you're lying, but I'll let it go with a warning this time, but don't let it happen again." Willow said, pulling her friend into a warm hug.
"Okay - you ready for movies galore?"
"That's not a real word."
"Nope, it's a Willow word." Willow said as they walked up the steps.
"Willow word - yeah, I like it."
They opened the sliding glass door, prepared to spend the next few hours doing nothing but watching codependent vampire films.
The freighter ship Pegasus pulled into the Los Angeles docks just before the sun rose. Deep within the bowels of the ship, a woman who looked much older than her years lay on a cot. As she rolled onto her side, she thought idly that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous would never be filming there.
If anyone looked closely, they probably would have noticed that she had been beautiful once, but not anymore. A jagged, red scar ran down the right side of her face from her temple to her chin, barely missing her eye. Her brown hair, once shoulder-length, had been hastily cropped by a razor blade in Hong Kong just before getting on the ship, but patches of it still looked as though they had been burned off. Her clothes were battered and torn, and she hadn't bathed in a couple of weeks.
Even with all of that, what made most people turn away on sight were her eyes. They were almost dead, as though she had seen more than anyone should see in a dozen lifetimes. It was the kind of look some soldiers had when they came home from war.
"It's show time," she said without emotion, swinging her legs off the cot and standing in one fluid motion, picking up a small bag at the same time. The sounds on deck indicated the ship was in its final docking procedure, and she needed to get off before the customs officials arrived. The crew on the lower decks knew she was there; she had bribed them into getting her food during the trip, but they made it clear that she needed to be gone before any questions were asked.
She ducked through the corridors silently, stopping only when she reached one of the larger portholes at the bow of the ship. She opened it quickly, slipping half her body easily out and looking around. The water below didn't look that clean, but the thought of being put in jail again, especially for something like stowing away on a ship, didn't appeal to her either. Even though she was bone thin from too many starving nights, it was still a tight fit to get the rest of her body out.
Her body screamed with cold when she hit the water, but her already numbed mind felt nothing. She swam to the next dock and climbed up the ladder with little effort, despite her cold limbs. Her teeth chattered and she shivered in the morning breeze as she made her way toward the warehouses. There had to be some dry clothes in one of them.
Ten minutes later she emerged from a warehouse wearing men's pants that were four sizes too big and a black t-shirt that said 'I love L.A.' in bright yellow letters. It wasn't exactly inconspicuous, but it definitely beat what she had been wearing.
Cordelia Chase was sitting at her desk when Angel walked into the office. "Morning, Cordy." Angel smiled as he went to the coffeepot.
Cordelia barely looked up from her computer screen. "Uh-huh, hey Angel."
"Did you have a good night fighting the bad guys, Angel?" Angel gave his best impersonation of Cordelia.
"Why yes, Cordelia, thank you for asking. I took out an entire army of Mary Kay dealers single-handedly." He never thought he would know what a Mary Kay dealer was, but working with Cordelia had taught him many things, most of them he would rather forget. Still, he genuinely cared for her and considered her to be a good friend.
Cordelia finally looked away from the screen and stared at her boss of almost five years. "Good morning, Angel. Is that what you wanted to hear? I mean, hello, I am actually working here."
Angel chuckled. "I guess you're all right then."
Her face softened. "Yeah, I am. Sorry I bit your head off."
The door opened and a disheveled person came in, looking as though he or she had been living on the streets for a long time. Angel did a double take, and then just stared. "Faith, you-"
"-look like shit. Yeah, I know. You don't have to tell me."
"Are you-" He was cut off again, this time by Cordelia.
"Oh my God. What the hell happened to you? And your hair-"
"Cordelia, that's enough," Angel said quietly before turning to Faith again. "Come on, we'll get you cleaned up." He led her to the elevator, calling back to the former cheerleader, "Tell Wesley that I don't want to see anyone right now."
Faith stepped out of what was one of the best showers of her life and dried what was left of her hair. Not sure exactly how she was going to get through the next few days, she looked down at herself, staring at her battle-torn skin. A thin white scar ran across her side from where Buffy stabbed her, and her left thigh sported four wide scars from when a demon tried to claw her to death a year ago in New York. Faith couldn't figure out how or why she was even alive. She quickly pushed the thought from her head before she could pursue that line of thinking any further. Dressing in the clothes Angel lent her she stepped into the kitchen, where he was making an omelet. She sat at the table and played with the placemat.
"I figured you'd be hungry. How long has it been since you had a good meal?" Angel asked with concern in his eyes.
"I'm not sure. A while, I think. Thanks."
"Don't mention it." He set a plate full of hot food in front of her. She devoured it like she hadn't eaten in years.
After the initial feeding frenzy, she was able to look up between bites. Angel hadn't changed much in the last three years, except he was less tortured. Even though she had been on the other side of the world, she had heard that The Powers That Be had permanently granted him his soul. He still worked for them, and he was still a vampire; however, happiness was no longer something that was out of his reach, and he had found it with Kate. Faith envied him that happiness.
When she was finished she made a move to clean, but Angel stopped her. "Leave it. Let's talk."
Their friendship had been one that was very slow in building, and very strong. Both had caused so much pain, and both wanted to atone for that pain. When she had shown up on his doorstep four years before, he hadn't even questioned her; he just accepted that she wanted to change.
They sat on the couch, Faith staring ahead and Angel looking directly at her. "I never thought I'd say this, but you look like hell."
"It was harder getting back here than I thought it would be."
"Do they know who stole it?"
"No, I'm pretty sure I stayed one step ahead of them, but " She paused for a moment. "I ended up killing one of them in Genoa."
"Could it be helped?" Angel knew the answer, but he had to ask.
"No, but it's not like killing a demon. This guy had a family somewhere."
"But he wanted to kill you. There's nothing wrong with what you did. It was for survival."
She looked at him with sadness in her eyes. "You know, I used to rationalize what I did that way. I did so many terrible things in the name of my survival that I'm not quite sure what that means anymore."
"Then you have to trust me when I tell you that you are not the same person you used to be."
A small smile passed her lips before fading. "I wish there was a self-help group for Slayers. You know, kind of an 'I'm OK, you're dust' thing."
Angel grinned. "Now that's the Faith I know and miss."
"I'm sorry I didn't get the artifacts." Faith said, changing the subject slightly.
"Don't worry about it. The stones were more of a sentimental value to my friend, and she felt you were lucky to have made it out of there in one piece anyway."
"Well, I think I'll be going back there anyway, so I'll try to pick them up next time if I make it out."
"You don't have to do it by yourself, you know."
"Oh no, you're not helping. You've done enough already. There's enough to do here, and besides, you have Kate. I don't have anything to lose anymore." She took a deep breath. "There is something else, though."
"Can you make my record disappear and get me into Sunnydale?"
"You're going back there? I won't let you do it."
She looked at Angel. "I have to go. They're in danger. She's in danger." Faith almost whispered the last sentence.
Angel took a deep breath, even though he didn't need one. "Why would you want to do that to them, or to yourself? Just tell me what they need to know, and I'll go up there and tell them. They'll probably accept it better from me anyway."
"You know as well as I do that Buffy doesn't want to see either of us."
"Yes, but she doesn't hate me."
She looked to the wall again. "This has to come from me. I'm in danger too. And besides, I want to see her one last time."
"Okay. I'll see what I can do."
Everyone was just sitting down at the table when Willow and Tara came down the stairs. The food that was piled on the table smelled so delicious that both women's stomachs growled loudly.
"Hungry much?" Xander asked as he scooped some eggs onto his plate while simultaneously grabbing a banana from the pile of fruit.
"It looks so good," Tara said as her eyes roamed over the food.
"Thanks, it was worth all the work." Anya beamed. Then she looked at Xander and whispered, "How was that?"
"Great, Hunbun. Could you pass the pancakes?"
They sat down, and they all dug into the food enthusiastically. Giles looked at the five younger people and just shook his head at the lack of manners, then decided to join in the fun. After all, the point of including him in movie night this time was to get him to loosen up a bit on the tweed guy, as Xander had so aptly put it.
"So Giles, are you a believer now?" Tara asked, seemingly reading his thoughts.
Giles almost jumped out of his skin because that had been the first thing said by anyone, other than grunts, in about ten minutes. Settling back into his chair, he responded with a voice a bit higher than usual. "Er, well it was " He noticed that everyone was looking at him, waiting expectantly for his answer.
"Yeah, what'd ya think?" Xander asked.
"Well, I can certainly appreciate the scenery "
Buffy spoke up between mouthfuls. "There's a 'but' in there somewhere, right? There better be a 'but'."
"I cannot look at them as any kind of art. Perhaps I'm too "
Buffy and Anya were the only ones who didn't speak up. Buffy didn't because she was still stuffing her face with food; the Slayer's appetite never stopped. Anya just sat there staring at Giles.
"They're more than not being art. They're misogynistic pieces of drivel that can't even get a vampire right." Anya said forcefully.
"Aww, sweetums, I love it when you say things like that." Xander's eyes started to glaze over a bit.
"Yes, you're right, although I don't really see any-"
Giles was quickly cut off. "-any problem with helping me clean the dishes. Right Giles?" Buffy said with a pleading look on her face.
"Yes, yes of course Buffy. Tara, Willow? Since you didn't help earlier-"
"Sure Giles, we'll help," they said in unison. Xander and Anya stood from the table and walked onto the balcony, staring into each other's eyes the entire way.
Faith sat on the cleanest seat she could find, and even that one had some unidentifiable stain on it. She ran her fingers over her newly shaved head and wondered when it would grow back to the way she remembered it being, or if she would even be alive long enough for that to happen. She closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the seat, trying to push the thoughts of dying out of her mind. It was something she thought about constantly, and had even wished for more times than she could count, but she had made it out of more tight situations than James Bond. Gee, I'm such a lucky girl, she thought sarcastically.
She looked out the window at Cordelia, who was just getting into Angel's car. She could never understand why they had forgiven her. But Angel, Cordelia, and even Wesley had given her another chance.
After telling her story to the vampire, Angel had made her take some money for some new clothes and other essentials. The first thing she bought was a pair of clippers, and then she went into the public restroom and shaved her head. It wasn't her favorite hairstyle, but at least no one could tell that clumps had been singed off. After that, she had bought everything she thought she would need for the next few days.
When she got back to Angel's he had handed her the bus ticket and hotel confirmation, telling her that everything was arranged and not to argue. Then he did the most shocking thing; he hugged her. She had pulled away quickly, not knowing how to handle the contact. She felt like a coward for it.
The bus pulled out of the station at a snail's pace. Faith tried not to get too impatient, but when they finally made it out of the city their speed picked up to the point where she could allow herself to relax a little. Not enough to sleep though. She hadn't really slept in weeks, and she wasn't about to start on a bus with twenty other people who would love to steal the bag she was clutching. Instead she just stared out the window, trying to think of what she would say to Buffy and the gang when she saw them.
'Hi, remember me? You're all in danger because of some stupid ancient prophecy, and I'm here to help you.' Oh yeah, they'll love that one. Or better yet, 'Hey B, sorry I tried to steal your life the last time I was in town. You wanna fight some bad guys?' Right, she believes I'm the bad guy. What about, 'B, I've always loved you even though I had a funny way of showing it before. Let's run away together.' She would put a stake in me. Maybe I should have asked Angel to come - no - no reason to put him in danger too.
She passed the time this way until the bus reached the Sunnydale city limits; then she concentrated on how the town had changed in the last five years. About the only change she noticed was a chain bookstore that had sprouted up where a Mom & Pop hardware store used to be.
The bus finally entered the station, and once she had her new overnight bag from the luggage compartment, she checked her hotel confirmation for the first time. It was in the nicest hotel in town, not like the dump she lived in when she lived there. She made a mental note to thank Angel for that if she ever saw him again.
She checked in once she reached her hotel and went to her room, avoiding the looks she was getting from everyone as she passed by. Breathing a sigh of relief when she finally closed the door to her room, she set her bags down and immediately took another shower.
She looked at the complimentary clock on the dresser as she dressed, realizing she needed to leave soon if she was going to catch Buffy on patrol if the blonde's habits were still the same. She had Buffy's address, she just wasn't sure if it would be a good idea to show up there. Tying a black handkerchief over her head, she left her room, still not having any idea of what she was going to say to any of the gang when she saw them.
Buffy, Willow, and Tara walked carefully through the cemetery, checking for any fresh graves. It was about an hour after sunset and the perfect time for catching newly risen vampires. In the summertime demon activity was normally slow, so they had a lot of down time.
Buffy turned her head as something caught her attention. "Hey guys, is that what I think it is?" She began walking in the direction she had been looking.
Willow started following, pulling Tara along with her. "Yep. I'm seeing some slayage in our future."
They reached the grave and stood a few feet away, waiting. "I hate this part. I wish we could just stake them in the ground." Tara said.
Willow whispered, "We could, but that would take all the fun out of it."
Buffy glared at her friends for a moment, her stake held poised in her hand. "Shh, we don't want to wake him prematurely." Tara and Willow smiled and made key-turning motions against their mouths at the same time.
The earth of the grave was disturbed, and a young man flew out and stood on the ground. He looked disoriented for a moment; then he saw and smelled the three women standing to his left. His face became the distorted mask of the vampire, and he rushed at Buffy, who was standing slightly in front of her friends. The second before he reached her, she stepped aside and held out her arm, staking him easily in the heart. He just stared into her eyes as he turned to dust.
"You know, they just don't have anything witty to say anymore, it's just rush and bite. Oh, to go back to the good old days " Buffy had a mock-wistful tone to her voice.
"Buffy, you can't mean that," Tara said.
"I guess just kind of miss the days of Spike and Dru. At least they were original."
Willow spoke up as they began walking toward a crypt that had had some activity recently. "And if I remember correctly, you were miserable."
Tara turned around suddenly and shivered.
Willow went to her lover and took her hand. "You okay?"
Tara shook her head, breaking the sensation. "I just felt an incredible sadness."
"Maybe it was one of us."
"Maybe " Tara said uncertainly.
"Hey guys, c'mon!" Buffy called.
The figure that lurked in the bushes didn't make a move from her hiding place. After walking through the streets, it was difficult to remember why she had come to Sunnydale, but looking at Buffy reminded her. The other Slayer was more beautiful than Faith had remembered. She was aching to help them patrol, to help them in some way, but she couldn't quite make herself stand just yet.
The three friends approached the crypt, and Buffy began sniffing the air. They snuck up to a small opening and looked in on what appeared to be at least seven vampires. "Will, you and Tara go around to the back entrance and come in that way. I'll take them from the front," she said quietly.
Faith's lips formed a small grin. Sunnydale was probably the only place in the world that had backdoors to crypts.
"I'm having a weird feeling about this."
"I'm feeling it too. Like something huge is about to happen." Willow looked into Tara's blue eyes. "We'll be okay, though."
"I know. I just think that Buffy-" Tara was interrupted by the sound of Buffy's voice inside the crypt. They both rushed in.
"Aw, did I break up the party? I've heard the undead can really get down. Anyone mind if I join in the fun?" Buffy asked as the seven vampires began circling her. One of them lunged at her and she staked him easily. "Can't you do any better than that? Jeez, you should really check your membership criteria."
They all came at her at once, and the only thing Willow and Tara could see was a mass of limbs and bodies. They concentrated, and two of the vamps flew away from the battle in opposite directions. Both shook their heads after they hit the ground and began approaching the witches.
"You stupid bitch," one of them said.
"Is that all you can come up with? You guys should really get out more," Willow said as she made a small motion with her hand. A piece of wood that was at her feet shot up and flew into his chest, turning him to dust.
The second vampire went for Tara, who just stared at him and said, "No one ever taught you that sometimes it's better to retreat and regroup, did they?" She muttered a couple of words the demon had no hope of understanding, and a beam of light came from her outstretched arm, cutting off the vampire's head.
"Ooh, I love it when you do that." Willow said after the dust settled, wrapping her arm around Tara.
Outside the crypt, Faith watched the battle unfold, noting that Willow's abilities had grown. Sensing a vamp approaching the crypt, she pulled out her stake, dusting him before he got close the entrance. Looking back inside the crypt, she saw that the battle was over and quickly ducked back into the bushes.
Buffy had easily fought the remaining three vampires, even having some time to watch Tara's display. "That was great guys, but could you work on your timing a bit next time? I thought I would have to fight them myself for a second."
Willow smiled. "And you would have beat them to a bloody -"
"-dustball?" Tara offered.
"Very funny, guys. You want to grab some coffee?"
"Sure, Buf." Willow said as the three of them walked back into the night.
Tara stopped, whirling around. "Who's there?"
"What is it?" Buffy and Willow asked in unison.
"Over there, in those bushes. Do you see it?"
Buffy and Willow looked to where Tara was pointing. "Well, it looks like a person, but my spidey-sense isn't tingling." Buffy spoke louder. "Whoever you are, you'd better come out, because you don't want me getting you out. It will be painful."
Tara touched Buffy's arm lightly. "This person doesn't want to hurt us. I can feel it."
Deciding to throw caution to the wind, Faith stepped away from the bush.
Buffy, Willow and Tara watched as the figure stood, and Faith could tell they were trying to figure out who she was. She stood in the same spot, not wanting to alarm them. She had seen what had happened inside the crypt, and she really didn't want her head cut off. Just do it. Worst thing that could happen is that they kill you and read the Codex, and you still save their lives. Maybe.
"Faith," Buffy said as she moved away from her friends and moved into her battle stance. "What do you want? To screw up our lives again?" All of the hurt and anger came out in her words.
Faith sighed deeply. "No, I just want to tell you something. After that, I'll leave and you'll never see me again."
"Not after what you did. You don't just get to hurt everyone I care about, breeze back into town, and then leave again. You and me. One on one."
"B, I don't want that." Faith took a chance and stepped forward a few feet. It was a mistake. Buffy immediately attacked, throwing a roundhouse kick at the dark slayer's face. Faith was knocked backwards over a headstone and didn't get up. Buffy knelt over Faith, punching her in the face until someone pulled her off.
Faith welcomed the descent into unconsciousness. At least she could get away from the pain, both physical and emotional.
Buffy looked up to see Willow looking at her with concerned eyes. "You've really got the anger thing under control, don't you?" She asked softly.
Tara bent over the dark slayer, checking the extent of the injuries. She only looked at Willow when she spoke. "Her face is smashed in. I'm sure she's got a broken nose, maybe a fractured cheekbone and jaw." She looked a Buffy as if she were seeing her for the first time. "After all these years, you still don't trust me? She could have changed. Everyone changes. Help me get her to the car."
Buffy snorted. "You've got to be kidding. I'm sorry I didn't believe you, but this is Faith. She doesn't change, unless she gets more evil. I'm not putting her into the car."
"Fine. Walk home. I'll put her in the car and get her some help. Willow?"
"Yeah, I'll help." Willow wasn't sure about Faith, but she was sure about Tara. She picked Faith up by the feet and Tara grabbed her shoulders and a bag that had fallen, and they began carrying her to the car, while Buffy stood where she was with a dumbfounded look on her face. By the time she snapped out of it, Tara and Willow had Faith in the back seat of the SUV. She ran over to them.
"You coming, or are you walking?" Tara asked angrily.
Willow stopped strapping Faith in. "Tara-"
Tara looked at Willow. "I know. I'm sorry." She turned back to Buffy. When she spoke, her voice was softer. "C'mon, Buffy. It's seven miles back to the house. Come with us."
Buffy kept staring at Faith. "Okay, but if she wakes up-"
"You can knock her unconscious again."
The ride back to the house was uneventful and quiet, with the exception of Faith moaning a bit in her pain. The three women were too deep in thought to speak to each other. Buffy sat in the back seat with her, with her fist ready to punch the dark slayer.
Tara pulled the car into the driveway, and the three of them managed to get Faith into the spare room that was just off the entertainment room. As soon as they had her situated on the bed, Buffy went out the sliding glass door to the deck. Willow and Tara went to the medicine cabinet to get supplies.
"Tara, you know I trust you-" Willow was wiping some of the blood off of Faith's gaunt face. She removed the bandana, revealing a shaved head. She couldn't fathom what might have happened to the dark slayer.
"-but you're not sure I'm right? Look in my mind and see what I saw. She's not here to hurt us, and she definitely isn't the same person she was four years ago."
Willow took a moment and did see things from Tara's point of view, and she understood. "But Buffy can't see this. The only thing she can see is what Faith did to her life."
"I know, and I'm sorry I got so angry. She just doesn't trust me like she does you and Xander."
"She does trust you-"
"Not like she trusts you. You two have been through so much together; you were her friend from the beginning. I'm just the girlfriend of her best friend."
"You're her friend, too. I don't know that she would have listened to me either tonight. Her feelings toward Faith run pretty deep."
"Were they ever-"
"No, I don't think so." Willow stopped when she heard Faith moan. "Let me go talk to her. Will you be all right in here?"
"Yeah, she's not going to hurt me."
"Okay, but just in case, we'll be outside."
"I know." Tara stood, pulling Willow into her arms. She kissed her lightly on the lips before pulling away.
Willow went out in search of Buffy.
Faith woke up feeling pain, but she also felt a tender touch. Her head felt like a watermelon after a Gallagher comedy act. She tried to open her eyes, but she could only open one of them halfway. At least she knew how Buffy felt about her. Through the slit of her one good eye, she looked at the woman who was dressing her wounds. She was chanting something quietly as she worked. Tara, Faith remembered her name from years before.
She tried to speak, but nothing came out except unintelligible mumbles.
"Shh, don't try to speak yet. Give it a few minutes." Tara said before she began chanting again. Faith began to feel her mouth feeling a little like it could move, and some of the pain was lessening.
The chanting stopped. "There. You should feel much better tomorrow."
"Tara?" Faith's voice barely sounded human.
"Why - why are you helping me?" The words were spoken haltingly.
"Because we can. Now, try to get some sleep." She placed her hand lightly on the injured woman's forehead.
Faith lay back on the pillow and felt sleep quickly envelop her.
Buffy stood on the deck, torn between Tara's wishes and the instinct to pummel the dark slayer until there was nothing left of her. She wondered if Tara was right in saying Faith had changed. Angel had changed, but only because his soul was given back to him. Faith simply didn't have a conscience. She couldn't bring herself to believe that someone who had caused her so much grief was actually human. It was still difficult to comprehend how she thought even for a moment that she might love Faith. She had never told anyone about her feelings. Not even Willow. When Faith had gone bad, Buffy chalked her feelings up to lust and let it go at that. It was easier than thinking she had made herself that vulnerable to the dark slayer.
Her trip down memory lane was broken when she heard footsteps on the deck. "You want some company?" she heard Willow say.
"I guess." Buffy continued to watch as the waves crashed onto the beach in the moonlight.
Willow leaned on the railing next to her. "I don't suppose you want to talk about it."
Buffy glanced at her friend before turning back to the ocean. "Faith betrayed me more than anyone, including Angel. At least he had an excuse. She didn't, except for the 'I-just-didn't-feel-like-I-belonged' excuse, which was very thin to begin with; then she tried to kill the people I cared most about. Now she comes back and expects me to forgive and forget? God, it's like I'm in some Jerry Springer alternate universe."
"I know, and I felt the same way-"
"Felt? You don't feel that way now? Don't tell me that you've forgiven her."
"No, I haven't. But I'm willing to hear what she has to say. Tara doesn't sense anything evil about her anymore."
"Tara never knew her like we did, though."
Willow sighed. "Maybe that's a good thing. She's not thinking of the past."
"That's the only way you can make a judgment about Faith. She gets you to let her into your life then she kicks you when you're down. That's just how she works."
"A judgment? Buffy, listen to me." Willow turned her friend so they were facing each other. "Angel was the personification of evil for months and you wouldn't kill him. He killed Miss Calendar and you still couldn't do it. Did you ever ask yourself why you were so quick to give up on Faith but not Angel? She wasn't evil, she was just lost. There's a big difference."
"Gee, thought about this much?" Buffy's voice was sarcastic.
"I've thought about it a lot. You never talked to me about it - you just acted like 'I hate Faith today so you should too'. I know what she did was terrible, but I noticed something after going over it in my head a thousand times. She sat on the fence between good and evil for a long time, and we all helped push her over to the evil side."
"How can you believe that?"
Willow's voice was quiet. "Do you think she was always evil?"
Buffy sat in a chair and buried her face in her hands. "I wish she had been." She felt a hand on her knee and looked up to see Willow kneeling beside her.
"It would have been easier, huh?"
Buffy nodded. "Tara really believes she's not going to hurt us, doesn't she?"
"She does, and I wish you'd trust her in that. She's really hurt right now because you don't."
"I do trust her. I just don't think she's right."
"That's just it; you never think she's right. She's never led you wrong, has she?"
Buffy thought for a moment. "I guess not. Do you think I should talk to her?"
Willow ran her fingers through her hair. "Only if you're completely honest with her. She's never known where she stood with you."
"But I thought-"
"You thought that she would know just because we live in the same house and we slay the baddies together? We fought with Cordelia, but you never really trusted her, did you? She was just Xander's girlfriend."
"That was Cordelia I'm-so-much-better-than-you Chase. Tara's nothing like her. I do think of her as my friend, not just your girlfriend."
"Then show her. I know you've been hurt, but you're not going to be hurt by her. Trust me in that."
Buffy looked up as Tara stepped onto the deck. Willow walked to her lover, kissing her on her cheek. "How is she?"
"She's sleeping finally. With the healing spell I put on her and her own natural ability, she should be fine in a day. I think I'm going to sit with her tonight, just in case anything happens."
Buffy walked toward them. "I'll do it, Tara. You look exhausted." Tara took her eyes off Willow and stared at Buffy, and the slayer knew that what Willow had said was true. She put her hand on the witch's arm. "I believe you. I don't forgive her, and I still way don't like her, but I believe you."
Tara's face lit up like a light and a smile spread across her face. "Thanks, I appreciate it."
Willow and Tara went back into the house. Buffy knew she would still have to talk to her, but at least things were smoothed over for the moment.
Buffy sat in the chair beside the bed Faith was sleeping in and stared at the woman she had tried to kill twice. Her life had been so different from the still form that lay battered and bruised beside her. She couldn't believe Faith was still alive. Buffy knew in her heart that no matter how many times she put on a brave face, she wouldn't have survived this long without her friends. Faith had no one. A small voice in the back of her mind whispered that Faith deserved everything she got.
But she knew that wasn't true. Faith looked like she had been to hell and back again. A thought struck her: Angel would know. She hadn't spoken to him in almost a year, they didn't really know what to say to each other anymore, but they were always there for each other.
She picked up the phone at the other end of the room and dialed. It rang four times.
"Hello?" It was a woman's sleepy voice.
"Who is this?"
"It's Buffy. Is Angel there?"
There was a sigh. "Yeah. He's here. Hold on." Buffy could hear muted arguing in the background.
"Is everything okay?" Angel's voice sounded like he had been asleep, too.
"I can call tomorrow-"
"No. I know you wouldn't call unless it was important. What's up?"
"I know. I sent her up there."
"You what?" She tried to keep her voice down, even though her anger was boiling over.
"I sent her up there. Hasn't she told you anything? She's trying to help you."
Her anger flew out of her, replaced by guilt. "Um, she can't exactly talk right now."
"Why am I afraid to ask why?"
"Because I kind of hit her. Repeatedly."
"Damn it, I knew I should have come up there. You didn't do anything else insanely stupid, did you?"
"No - she's sleeping now. Tara took care of her."
"Good. I guess you need to know why she's there, since you weren't in a talking mood before."
"Please, Angel. I'm sorry."
She heard a sigh on the other end. "No, I'm sorry. I should have called or come up there. This could have been avoided."
"Why didn't you?"
"She wouldn't let me. She didn't want to put me in danger. Look, most of the answers are in that bag she's carrying, and everything else is in her head."
"Do you think she's changed?"
"If you call helping people wherever she goes changed then yes, she has." He paused before saying quietly, "She's spent the last four years trying to make up for what she did to you."
Buffy was silent for a moment. She looked at the sleeping figure on the bed. "Why? When did this start?"
"It started when she came down to L.A. after waking up from the coma. I don't know why. She would never tell me."
"Thanks, Angel. You've helped a lot."
"Goodnight. And Buffy?"
"Give her another chance."
Willow climbed into bed next to Tara and curled herself against her lover. "Do you think they'll be okay down there?"
"I hope so. Whatever brought her back had to have been important."
Willow rolled over so that she was half-on, half-off Tara. She rested her chin on her hands, which were resting on Tara's chest. "I think so, too. I can't even believe she's still alive. Apparently the Watchers' Council has been looking for her for a while now, but they can't even figure out where she's been until way after she's left an area."
"You amaze me sometimes."
"You can find out anything in the world from that little computer downstairs."
"What can I say, I have many skills."
Tara laughed. "You've been watching Xena reruns with Giles again, haven't you?"
"Guilty as charged. He's corrupted me."
They both broke out into laughter over the thought of Giles corrupting anyone. When they calmed down, Tara looked thoughtful. "Do you think they'll realize they love each other before or after they kill each other?"
Willow looked surprised for a second. "Now it's my turn to be amazed. What makes you think that after tonight?"
Tara shrugged. "Because Faith traveled halfway across the world, probably not the easy way either, to give Buffy information that could save her life. And I've never seen Buffy hate anyone that much. It's like she loved her once and got hurt."
"Hell hath no fury-"
"-like a woman scorned. I think it's more than that though. I never knew her when she was with Angel, so I can't say anything about that. She never really opened up to Riley, though. When she had to kill him, she seemed more upset that she was the one who had to kill him, not that he'd died."
"And with Faith she let her get under her skin, and then Faith went loco. I get it now. Before Faith started working for the Mayor, I kind of thought there was something going on between them. I didn't know what at the time, I was just jealous that they had become such buds."
Tara yawned, but tried to hide it.
"Why don't we talk about this in the morning?" Willow brushed her lips over Tara's before pulling away.
"I want a real kiss." Tara pulled Willow back on top of her and kissed her, breaking it before it became too passionate. "I love you."
"I love you, too." Willow smiled, knowing she would never get tired of looking into those blue eyes. She leaned in for another light kiss and rolled to Tara's side.
Tara leaned over and turned out the light, and they were asleep within minutes, snuggled together like two jigsaw pieces.
Faith ran through the dark corridors, trying to find her way out of the maze. The feeling that getting out was impossible kept growing. She turned right, seeing dim light coming from the other end. Relief flooded her when she realized there was a way out.
She stepped onto a hillside, the ocean in the distance. Looking around, she saw a woman standing with her face into the late afternoon sun. Suddenly she became the woman. Faith leaned back when she felt her lover's arms enfold her, and a total feeling of safety came over her.
"I love this time of day, don't you?" Buffy's voice floated into her ear.
"Mm, I love the feel of you even more." Faith turned and deeply kissed the other Slayer.
When she opened her eyes, she found she was kissing a skeleton. Pushing the bones away from her, Faith saw that her scene had changed completely. She was in her mother's old apartment back in Boston, and her mother was sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of whiskey in front of her.
"Mom," Faith said, her voice sounding like that of a child's.
Her mother looked up from her glass and sneered at her only child. "You slut. You'll never amount to anything if you keep spreading your legs like some cheap whore."
"And drinking my life away is so much better."
The glass hit Faith directly on the forehead, shattering. She was blinded by the whiskey and blood streaming down her face, but she heard her mother's words clearly. "You want that Summers girl so much. Well, she's got way too much class for you. She would never stoop low enough to even touch. Besides, you'll only get her killed."
When she could finally see again, she was in a dark and cold room. Buffy sat on the floor with manacles on her wrists and ankles, her head resting on her chest. She looked up, and Faith gasped and took a step back when she saw that Buffy had no eyes. "You'll kill me," was all she said before her head fell back down. Her body disintegrated into dust.
"No!" Faith fell to her knees and sobbed.
Faith awoke with a thin sheen of sweat covering her. For a moment she couldn't figure out where she was; then she remembered the night before. Her face still felt like it had been used as a punching bag, but most of the swelling had gone down. Sitting up, she noticed for the first time that Buffy was asleep in a chair next to the bed. Resolving not let Buffy die, Faith quietly stood, and once she located her shoes and bag she tiptoed quietly out of the room.
It was still dark outside when she sat on the couch and wrote the note. Digging in her bag, she pulled out a large leather bound book and set it on the table under her note. She went to the front door and turned around. Her last thought before turning was to wish Buffy a long and happy life. She closed the door and didn't look back again.
The sun was just rising over the horizon when Buffy woke up. The first thing she noticed was that she was definitely not in her bed. When she opened her eyes, she shot out of the chair she had been sleeping in. She franticly checked the bathroom before going into the living room, and it wasn't until she passed by the coffee table that she noticed the note on top of the book. Picking it up, she started to read it.
Buffy sat staring at the letter, her face contorted with the conflicting emotions she was feeling. She wanted to just let Faith leave. Didn't the other woman deserve that pain? After talking with Angel last night, she wasn't so sure. If Faith had changed and Buffy didn't give her a chance, she knew that would be lower than anything Faith had ever done. Finally making her choice, she paused on her way out the door only long enough to scribble a note to Tara and Willow, grab her shoes and car keys, and take her cell phone.
She drove like a madwoman trying to find Faith. She tried the hotels first. Since there were only three, it didn't take long. There was no one by Faith's name registered at any of them. Driving into the seedy area of town, she pulled into the parking lot at the bus station, hoping beyond hope that Faith would be there.
The phone rang. "Hello?"
"Did you find her?"
"Not yet, Tara. But I will, don't worry."
"Is there any place you haven't tried in town? Maybe we could help out?"
"I'm at the last place I can think of for now. If she's not here, I don't know where else to try."
"You'll find her."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"I can just feel it."
"Good. That totally makes me feel better. I'll call you if she's here."
"Okay," Tara responded before hanging up.
Walking into the terminal, she saw Faith immediately, sitting on a chair and not really watching a show on the tiny TV on the wall. The bruises on her face had already yellowed, and Buffy noticed for the first time that Faith had a scar running down the right side of her face. She also noticed the defiant pride which once ran through the dark slayer was gone. For the hundredth time in the last twelve hours, Buffy wondered how the woman was still alive.
Taking a deep breath, she walked toward Faith. "You mind if I sit, or were you saving it for someone?"
Faith jumped in the seat and looked up. "Why'd you come?" She asked quietly.
Buffy sat down and looked Faith in the eyes. "I've been fighting with Willow and Tara, and I even fought with Angel last night about you. They all said to give you a second chance, so here I am."
"That's the only reason?"
"I'm not trying to kick your ass anymore, am I?" Buffy asked, making a poor attempt at a joke. She could tell from the look on the other Slayer's face that she said the wrong thing. "I didn't mean to say that. I believe you when you say you want to help. I'm not sure why, but I do."
"Even after everything I've done?"
"I have it on good authority that you've changed. I am sorry for getting all wiggy on you last night."
"It's okay, I deserved it."
Before Buffy could respond, the announcer spoke over the intercom in a crackly voice. "Bus number twenty-seven to Los Angeles is now boarding."
Faith stood. "That's me, B. Gotta go."
"Come back to the house with me."
Faith's eyes showed all the doubt she had in the Slayer's intentions. "Huh?"
"We need you, and you need us." She picked up Faith's overnight bag.
"I'm never going to figure you out, am I?" Faith followed the other Slayer to the car.
Buffy shook her head as she dialed a number on her phone. "Will? Hey, I've got her." She opened the back and threw Faith's bag into the car. "Call everyone. We're going into research mode." She laughed as she got behind the driver's seat. "I know. You live for me to say those words, don't you? See you in a bit."
Hanging up the phone, she pulled away from the bus station. Faith couldn't help but think that they had both just sealed their fates by just being together.
Faith hung back a bit when they got to the house, letting Buffy go in first. "C'mon Faith, now's not the time to chicken out. You've done the hard part." She mumbled to herself.
Buffy was through the door when she turned around. "What?"
"Nothing. Sorry, I didn't mean to say that out loud."
Buffy walked back to her, concern in her eyes. "You're afraid."
"You have no idea what I've been through to get here, and once I walk through that door there's no going back for me."
"Going back to what, Faith? You're past the point of no return already just by coming here."
Faith sighed. "Let's do it then."
They walked through the house, entering the library through the doorway in the dining area. Faith's stomach dropped as soon she saw the looks on the Giles and Xander's faces. They had a cross between fear, anger, and pity on their faces. There was another woman in the room who had her arm around Xander very protectively. Willow and Tara leaned side by side against the desk, their hands linked.
"So, I guess you guys want to know what's down with the skinny?"
"You bet your sweet bippy. Starting with why in the hell did you come back?"
"Xander, shhh! Let her speak."
"Fine Will, but when she goes el loco again, just remember that I told you so."
"Xander, do give her a chance to speak at least." Giles turned to Faith. "Could you start with how you managed to obtain this book?"
Taking a deep breath, Faith began her story.
Faith had been in London for a month, and still wasn't used to the weather. She wondered if the sun ever came out there as she pulled up the collar of her jacket, trying to keep off some of the rain. Angel had told her about a group of demons had stolen some artifacts from a friend's home in France. Faith normally wouldn't have even bothered with something like that, but it was a favor for Angel.
It had been difficult getting information in the city. Not because there was none to be found, and not because they didn't want to give her any. England was the home turf of the Watchers' Council, and she couldn't tell who was working for them and who wasn't. Angel had tried to help by giving her the names of some people she could trust, but beyond giving her food and a place to stay, they hadn't been able to help her much.
Then, just a day before, she had gone into a pub frequented by demons. It was the same pub she had been going to since arriving in London, and there she overheard a conversation about a small group of demons that had just taken up residence in the sewers. They had kicked every other sewer-dwelling demon within a mile radius of them out, staking out their territory. Those had to be the demons she was looking for, or at least they knew something. She had listened to the conversation long enough to find out where the demons were, then left the bar.
Two hours later she was just getting to the entrance of the sewer that was closest to where she needed to be. She double checked her coat to make sure her knife and stake were secure. After that was done, she pulled her hair into a ponytail and lifted the manhole cover. As she climbed down the ladder into near darkness, she couldn't help but wish there was a way to make the sewers smell a little better.
The only visible light was from a lantern about a hundred yards away. Marking the wall with some chalk so she wouldn't get lost, she carefully began moving to the light. The closer she came to the corner where the lantern was, the more distinct the voices and smells became.
"I don't want to have to stay down here for much longer. Why don't we just leave and start spending the money?" One of the demons asked.
"Because you idiot, they told us not to, and since they're the only people on this planet that I won't double-cross, I'm not going to risk it. I also want the extra money they promised if we stay down here. They wanted the crap, and they've got it. We can live in the sewer for another month or two; then we can go our separate ways and live like kings," the second demon said.
The third demon spoke up. "I'm with him. We've got the money, who says we can't go down to Cancun or someplace like that?"
"I do. I'm the only one who knows where to find it in this sewer, so just shut your mouth and deal with it."
Faith stepped into the light. "I'd be kind of curious to know where the money is. Wanna tell me?"
"Who the fuck are you?" One of the demons asked as he started for her. The other two were close behind.
"Aw, aren't you guys so cute? Do you really think you can take me? C'mon, three against one, that's a bit unfair, don't you think?" She shifted her feet apart a bit for balance, but nothing else about her stance changed.
The head demon rushed at her. She let him get in a couple of hits before throwing a roundhouse kick that sent him flying into the other two. "Now, I didn't want to resort to violence, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do." She pulled out the knife, testing it in her hands.
The head demon was still on the floor, but the other two stood up and attacked. The fight didn't last long. The first one lunged at her so clumsily that she stabbed him in the gut with little effort. The second one proved to be a bit more of a challenge, but not by much. Punching him in the face a couple of times, she sliced his throat open with one swipe of her blade.
The last one was just getting up as demon blood spattered the walls. "Stay there, unless you want to end up like your friends over there." He sat back down. "Good. You must be a little smarter than they are."
"What do you want? You want the money?"
"I don't give a rat's ass about the money. I want to know what happened to those artifacts you stole."
"You'll never be able to get them."
"That's not something you have to worry about. The only thing you should be worrying about is whether or not you'll be living in an hour. If you tell me what I want to know, you will be. If not " She ran her finger up the blade.
The demon swallowed. "Okay, I'll tell you. Have you heard of the Watchers' Council?"
Faith was shocked, but didn't show it. She couldn't help but wonder what the Council would want them for. "I think so," she said nonchalantly.
"They're the ones that asked us to get the artifacts. Said they needed 'em for something."
"They didn't say what they needed them for, did they?"
"Uh-uh. We don't ask questions, we just take the jobs."
"Do you know where they are?" Faith turned the knife a bit, shining the reflection in the demon's face.
"Somewhere just outside of London. That's all I know, I swear."
"You don't know anyone's name, do you?"
"They never used names."
"That's not good enough. See, I have this sixth sense, and right now it's telling me that you're holding out on me." She took a couple of steps forward.
"Okay, okay. The only name I got was Arthur - Arthur Black. All the rest just used first names."
"Thanks. If anyone asks, you never saw me, right? 'Cause if you tell anyone, I'll find you no matter what slime pit you crawl under. Got it?"
"I got it."
"Good." She knocked him out with one swift blow to his head, and got out of the sewer as fast as she could.
"So you're saying the Watchers' Council has something to do with this?" Giles was amazed.
"They have everything to do with it. I thought you might be a part of it until I talked to Angel."
"I never knew anything about this. There are many different factions within the Council. Besides, I quit the Council about a year after giving the Codex to them."
"Why did you give it to them, Giles?" Anya asked.
"The Council had been searching for it for generations. No one could understand why such an important text was simply lost. When Angel located it for me, I assumed the best thing would be to turn it over to the Council for translation." Giles took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I gave them the very thing that could kill us."
"You did what you thought was right, I would be surprised if you hadn't done that." Tara put her hand on his shoulder in support.
Willow waved her hand a bit. "Okay, anxious girl here. I'm on the edge of my seat."
"All right, here goes. I left the sewer and, after getting a shower, started looking up every variation of Arthur Black I could find "
It wasn't until the eighth entry that Faith finally got lucky. The Arthur Black she was looking for was a tall, proper man in his early forties. She found him early one morning just as he was leaving his home. Waiting until she knew there was no one else in the house, she went around to the back and broke the lock easily.
Not wasting time on the other rooms, she went to the study and started searching the desk, finding what she was looking for almost immediately. Snatching the small black book that had the address for the Council in it, she wrote the address down and stuffed it into her pocket while putting the book back in the drawer.
Closing the desk drawer, she stood and went down the hallway. She had reached the top of the stairs when she heard the car pull back up into the drive. Judging the distance down quickly, she hopped over the railing and onto the floor ten feet below. She ran out the back door just as Black came into the house through the front.
Knowing she would most likely regret what she was about to do, Faith still threw caution to the wind and climbed into the trunk of the car. It was a tight fit, but she managed. Black finally started the car again, and after what seemed like an eternity, reached wherever he was going.
Squeezing back out of the trunk, she looked at her surroundings. Just outside London, my ass. It was a huge estate in the country, and nowhere near the city. She knew that would make it even more difficult to get in and out of the building, but she was so close to getting what she wanted that she didn't care about the danger. Since there were only three cars in the parking area she wasn't too worried.
Ducking behind the car when she heard footsteps on the gravel drive, she stayed as still as possible while listening to the conversation.
"Are you certain we can prevent the prophecy?"
"If the signs begin to point that way, then we have everything in place. Don't worry, Thomas."
"It's part of my job to worry, Arthur. Lest you forget, everything in the Codex has come true up until this point."
"To an extent. Miss Summers died only briefly-"
"-but she still died."
"Yes, I know." There was a pause. "Thomas, you're exhausted. You've been working for what - two days straight? Go home and get some rest."
"But sir, I only have a few pages left to translate."
"Yes, and it will still be there in the morning. Go home and get some rest. That's an order."
Faith heard a car door close and an engine start. She waited until the car left and the door to the house shut before leaving her hiding place. Though she didn't know what the Codex was, she figured that taking that as well wouldn't be a bad idea.
Someone turned on a light on the second floor, and she heard muted voices through the glass. Running quickly to the kitchen entrance, she double-checked to make sure no one was in the large room. Not seeing anyone, she picked the lock and went inside. She kept thinking that an alarm would go off, but none did.
Creeping softly through the first floor, she checked every room in search of the artifacts but she gave up on them once she reached the library on the second floor. In one corner of the room was a large work area that looked like a hurricane hit it, and on top of the mess was a large leather-bound book. Checking some of the notes left on the table, she knew that was the book she was looking for, so she tucked it under her arm. Reaching the bottom of the staircase, she ducked into the cupboard under the stairs when she heard voices.
"-don't agree, Arthur. We must take action now if we are to stop this."
"And do what, Marcus? We cannot kill the Slayers now. They may not even be the ones who will fulfill the prophecy. They are both rogue, and they both hate each other. We have seen enough evidence to support the fact that the signs of destruction simply aren't there. If we don't perform the ritual at the right time, we will be without the Slayer and there will be no one to fight the demons. I, for one, am not prepared to take that chance."
"What about the witches? They are part of this as well."
"And so far they are the only things that point to the End. They will survive the current Slayers, and I'll wager that they will influence the next. They will have to die too, but not yet. We must have patience and wait for the signs."
"Yes, sir. Do you need me for anything today?"
"That will be all. I wanted to catch up on some research. I would like to ask you a favor, though. Would you call the others and tell them there will be a meeting tomorrow morning at nine? I want to discuss the matters at hand."
"Certainly. Good day, Arthur."
"And to you as well."
Faith heard the front door shut, but her mind barely registered it. Her mind was reeling from the conversation she just heard. She had her issues with the Council, but she never thought in a million years that they would want to kill a Slayer, let alone two of them. When she thought about it further, she realized that if they were doing business with demons, it was open season on Slayers.
Shaking her head, she stepped from her hiding place. The artifacts forgotten, she slipped quietly out of the house.
Faith sat heavily on the bed. It had taken her a while to get back to the city, but she had finally found a train station and hitched a ride. She pulled off her jacket and opened the book, even though she knew she had no hope of reading it. Angel had only begun to teach her rudimentary Latin before she left L.A., and this particular book appeared to be in some language she had never seen and had no frame of reference for.
Picking up the phone next to the bed, she dialed Angel's number.
"Angel Investigations. We help the helpless."
"Cordelia? It's Faith."
"Hey, how'd it go? Did you get the artifacts?"
Suddenly she remembered why she was in England. "Shit, no - no I didn't. I'm sorry. I need to talk to Angel. Is he there?"
"Yeah, he is. He's not going to be too happy, though. Hold on."
The line was silent for almost a minute, during which time Faith was sure that Cordelia was telling Angel how the Slayer had messed up. Someone came on the line. "Is everything okay?" Angel sounded concerned.
"Yeah, I mean no. I'm fine for now. Angel, those demons weren't acting alone. They were hired by the Watchers' Council to steal those artifacts."
"The Watchers' Council working with demons? Are you sure?"
"That's not all. I overheard them talking about some prophecy in a Codex."
"The Pergamum Codex?"
Faith looked at the book. "Yeah, how'd you know?"
"It's one of the most important books in Slayer lore. I gave it to Giles."
"Giles? Buffy's in real danger then."
"I don't think so. Did you at least get the book?"
"Yeah. I overheard them talking about some prophecy, and about killing the Slayers. Why would they kill what they're supposed to protect?"
"Fear. That's the only thing I can think of. Lay low for a while. Once they find that the book's missing, there's no telling what they'll do. Come here as soon as you can."
"I plan on it. Just in case I don't make it back-"
"You'll make it. Go downstairs in an hour. There will be a package for you. Be careful, Faith. I want you back here in one piece."
"Yes boss." She hung up the phone slowly.
"We're part of the prophecy, too?" Willow gestured to both her and Tara.
"I didn't realize that until I got here, but yeah."
"Faith, you said Arthur Black is in his forties?" Giles folded his arms across his chest.
"About that. He couldn't have been more than forty-five. Why?"
"When I was in England, there was a Watcher there by that same name " Giles stopped.
"And?" Willow prodded.
Giles shook his head. "And he was nearly seventy years old." He said, almost to himself. "I sent the Codex to him."
"Here's a logical assumption: maybe he had a son with the same name." Xander offered.
"That is a possibility. We never delved into each other's personal lives."
"So I guess you never had a company Cricket team?"
"No, Xander, we didn't." Giles shot Xander a look before turning to Faith. "Do they know it was you who stole the book?"
"No, but I'll get to that part. I waited, and after an hour, I went downstairs and picked up Angel's package "
Angel's care package had some cash, and a map of the freight lines and names of ships that traveled which route. Silently thanking Angel and vowing to repay him some day, she stuffed the cash and the map in the breast pocket of her duster and stepped onto the sidewalk.
She usually traveled light, and this time was no exception. She had one waterproof bag that had a change of clothes and some other essentials. Her duster had several pockets, many of which she had sewed on herself, where she kept little stashes of first aid supplies and other essential items.
Deciding that no matter where she went she needed to get out of London, she caught a train to Southampton, where she easily stowed away on the ferry to France. She didn't think that anyone could have been on her trail until she reached Italy.
Though her two-week journey had left her tired, Faith walked quickly through the streets of Genoa. The ship to Egypt left in thirty minutes, and she was pretty sure she wasn't going to make it. It was crowded that time of the day, with locals and tourists milling about the town in search of food and entertainment. Even through her rushing, she still saw the man who was following her from across the street. Abruptly turning right into an alley, she hid in a doorway and waited for him to walk by.
He didn't disappoint her, and she kicked his legs out from him the moment he was past her. She waited for him to get up, ready to attack. "Why are you following me?"
The man's eyes were wide with fear. "I - I wasn't - I'm just a tourist." He said with a thick and proper British accent.
"Bullshit. You've been following me for at least a half-mile. You're a Watcher, aren't you?"
"I d-d-don't know what you're talking about, ma'am. I just took wrong turn and-"
"Cut the crap, Jeeves. I'm in no mood. Tell me the truth and you don't get hurt."
His eyes lost their fear and his mouth became set. "I think you're very wrong about that. I can't wait to tell them of my luck. I've been trying to find you for two years now." He pulled out a Taser gun and a knife. "On the authority of the Watchers' Council, I hereby place you in their custody-"
"Blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I've heard it all before. You gonna try to shoot me with that thing or what?"
He fired, but Faith was too quick. "Strike one. Do you want to go for strike two?"
The man only grunted, and threw the Taser down. He lunged, but Faith dodged the knife and punched his face. He went down hard on the ground, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.
"Why don't you quit while you're behind?"
"Will you just shut up?" He stood and rushed her again.
When he was close enough, she grabbed his wrist, fell back, and kicked him over her head in one swift motion. He flew into the air and landed hard on his stomach. Faith was still on her back when she heard a clicking sound. She was on her feet instantly, checking to see where the sound came from.
"We both die, Slayer." The Watcher's knife was sticking out of his chest, and in his left hand was a grenade.
When the blast hit her, she was knocked unconscious into the street. By the time she woke up, there were people standing over her and shouting instructions to one another. "I'm fine, just let me get up," she tried to say, but it came out funny. Then she felt the wetness on her face and smelled the odor of burned hair and flesh. She prayed over and over that the blood she felt wasn't hers, but she could feel the huge gash on her face.
She was taken to the hospital, and the nurses tried to get her to stay still and wait for a doctor to see her, but she knew she couldn't stay in Genoa any longer. The Watcher would be missed soon, and she didn't want to still be there when the Council came searching for one of their own. Waiting for the nurse to leave the room, she pulled the IV out of her arm. Grabbing what was left of her duster, her bag, and some medical supplies, she walked out of the hospital.
"I was lucky. If I hadn't had my coat on, or if I had been closer to him, I would have been dead and the Codex would have been destroyed. All I had to do was stitch this up," she indicated her face, "let a couple of burns heal, and lay low for a couple of days. Then I caught a freighter to Egypt, then India, Hong Kong, and I got to L.A. a couple of days ago." Faith finished her story quietly.
"Watchers don't carry anything like grenades and Taser guns. I mean, aren't they strictly mace and crossbow types?" Willow asked, worried about this new facet of evil.
"They weren't when I was a part of the organization, but times have apparently changed in the Council," Giles said. "Field operatives were allowed their choice in weaponry, though. Even though a grenade might not kill a demon, I suppose it would slow them down quite a bit."
"Field operatives? It sounds like the CIA," Tara said.
"They are the ones who have been hunting Faith all these years." Giles glanced at Faith, who dropped her eyes.
"A couple of them have gotten close to catching me, but never that close." She grew a little pale.
"Speaking of which, and I'm not trying to go for the mean thing, but why would we believe you?" Xander asked, genuinely curious.
Buffy, who was looking out the window, said something so quietly no one but Faith understood.
"What?" Almost everyone said at once.
Buffy turned around, her eyes locking with Faith's. "I said, 'Because she's not the same person she used to be'."
Faith started growing uncomfortable with the strength of Buffy's gaze and looked away. Even after all those years, Buffy still could make Faith see nothing but her.
Tara and Willow exchanged a look. It's happening. They thought at once.
"Okay, story hour's finished, let's get you settled in." Tara walked over to Faith and held out her hand.
Faith did a double take. "What are you talking about?"
"You're staying here, right?" Buffy asked.
"You want me to?"
"We won't take no for an answer." Willow smiled. "Face it, you're staying. We don't wanna have to hog tie you."
Faith laughed for the first time in a long while. "Okay, I give. I'll stay here." She allowed Tara to pull her out of the chair and they both went to the car for her stuff.
Giles sighed heavily. "She certainly knows how to drop a bomb."
"Yeah, she does. Can you, Willow, and Tara translate this thing?" Buffy's mind was still on Faith and her story.
Willow looked at the text. "I think we can. It looks like some form of Gaelic."
"Yes, but not any form that I've ever seen. Note how the " Giles and Willow became engrossed in the text.
Anya's voice broke Buffy from her thoughts. "You really believe her, don't you?"
Buffy looked at the couple. "You guys didn't see her last night. She wouldn't fight back - it was like she didn't want to hurt me."
"I trust you, but I still have my doubts." Xander squeezed his hand around Anya's.
"I understand, and if you don't want in on this, I won't think any less of you."
"No Buffy, we're with you, aren't we?" Anya said with a glance to her husband.
Buffy's jaw nearly dropped to the floor. Anya never volunteered for anything.
Xander simply kissed his wife on the cheek. "Yep. We're with you one hundred percent. What do you want us to do?"
Recovering from her shock, Buffy thought for a moment. "I know Will usually does this, but go ahead and make the travel arrangements. I think we're going to England."
"Woohoo! I just love traveling. First Class tickets?" Xander and Anya stood.
Buffy shrugged her shoulders. "Of course."
"Your carriage awaits." He held his elbow out as Anya took hold and they made a wonderful exit.
Buffy glanced over at Willow and Giles and went into the kitchen. She smiled to herself, knowing that once Tara made it back they would happily be in there for hours.
"What are you smiling at?" Tara asked, walking over to the refrigerator.
"All of us. Our world could end tomorrow, but you wouldn't know it to look at us."
"But that's good, isn't it? I mean, just because we fight doom and gloom every day doesn't mean we have to act like we do." She opened the door and pulled out some veggies, hummus, and a bottle of water.
"I couldn't have said it better myself." Buffy's face grew somber. "Tara, about last night "
"You don't have to explain-"
"Yes, I do. I should have trusted you. I do trust you. It's just well, sometimes I can be big dumb slayer and run in punching, you know? That doesn't mean I don't care about or believe what you say. I do." Buffy paused. "Damn, I had this whole speech worked out in my head, and now it's gone."
"It's all right. I understand. I understood last night, but it's nice to hear you say it." Tara hugged the Slayer to her, planted a kiss on her cheek before letting her go. "I have to go help Faith for a bit." She gathered up the food.
"Let me do that. Giles and Willow have already started translating."
"And I'm missing it? Bye!" Tara loaded the food into Buffy's arms and ran into the library.
Chuckling as she grabbed some water for herself, knowing that Willow and Tara made the perfect couple.
"Faith?" Buffy asked cautiously as she stood outside the spare room. Not hearing an answer, she peaked inside. Seeing the other Slayer's bags on the bed, Buffy breathed a sigh of relief.
"Tara, is that you?" Faith's voice called from the deck.
"It's me." Buffy carried the food outside and set it on the table.
Faith leaned against the rail, looking at the waves crashing against the shore. The midday sun was warm on her face. She turned, and Buffy saw the raw sadness in the other Slayer's eyes before it was quickly covered by a neutral mask.
"You didn't have to bring me food."
"Tara's locked herself in the library with Willow and Giles, so I didn't think you'd want to wait until midnight to eat something." Buffy grinned.
Faith sat down at the table and began eating. "True. Thanks."
Buffy watched the woman sitting next to her eat in silence. Her hair looks kind of interesting shaved. I wonder what it would feel like to run my hands over What the hell? Yesterday I want to kill her and today I want to - I don't know - okay, I do know - I just think it's a fluke. Yeah, that's it. I'm not attracted to women, especially Faith. It's just some kind of mothering thing - I just want to take care of her, and tell her she's still beautiful and - stop it! The thoughts kept running rampant through her mind.
"You okay?" Faith said between mouthfuls.
Shaking her head, Buffy took a swallow of water. "I'm fine." Then something that she had been wondering since Faith got back hit her. "Why didn't you just send us the Codex, or leave it with Angel? Why did you come back here when you knew what I'd probably do?"
Faith put the carrot that was inches from her mouth down. "I had to. I didn't even think about it until I got to Angel's place. By that time, I figured I would give you the book and leave. I just hoped you'd take it."
"Did you think we wouldn't care about what happened to you?" Buffy asked the question without thinking, and realized the truth the moment she said it. Two days ago she hadn't cared one iota.
Faith's voice was low, almost a whisper. "I tried killing almost everyone that was just in that library, and if I didn't, I tried to humiliate them. Why would any of you care? Why do you care now?"
"Because -" Buffy stopped, not saying the words she wanted to say. "I wish I could tell you. All I can tell you is that I do."
Buffy decided it was time for a change of subject. "Do you feel up to a workout?"
"You mean, like a gym? I didn't think you'd go in for that."
"No, I mean sparring. If we end up fighting the big baddy, we're going to need some practice."
"Sure, where to?"
"Upstairs." They both cleared the table and went inside.
"This is huge!" Faith exclaimed when she reached the top of the stairs. The workout room was the size of the entire third floor of the house, which gave the entire gang plenty of room to practice their drills. Along one wall hung an assortment of weaponry, everything from stakes and crossbows to pikes and swords. A small storage room took up one corner, and next to it was a bathroom. The most spectacular thing about the room was the wall that faced the ocean, which had nothing but shatterproof windows.
"Yeah, we need the space." Buffy went into the storage room and pulled out some workout clothes. "Here. This should fit you."
Faith went into the dressing room as Buffy began moving some of the obstacles against the wall. Some of them were equipped to have a dummy spring up, thanks to Xander's ingenuity. The room was very much like a mini version of a police obstacle course. She finished quickly and stood at the window, waiting for Faith to finish changing.
"You gonna look out the window all day, or are we gonna to practice?" Faith's question startled the other Slayer.
"Huh? Oh yeah, just let me get changed."
Faith replaced Buffy at the window and she quickly became lost in thought. The last four years of her life began playing through her mind: all of the near misses, and all the times when she wished she would just die. Most of all she thought about the times she wished she could just be with the woman in the dressing room at that very moment. Get some, get gone - remember that? A little voice whispered in her mind.
She's not like that - she's-
Your true love? Forget about that. Who could ever love a face like yours? The voice had turned into her mother's voice. You were never worth anything to anyone-
STOP! Faith leaned her head against the window, breathing heavily. The voice was silent, and for that she was grateful. I love her. I've always loved her. A tear fell slowly down her face.
Wiping the tear off her face, Faith turned around. "Ready as I'm gonna be. Let's do it."
The two Slayers circled each other in the center of the room. "Don't hold anything back. I know I won't," Faith said with a smile on her face.
"Wouldn't be a fair fight any other way." Buffy grinned and threw a punch that Faith easily dodged.
Faith swung her leg in a kick. Catching her foot, Buffy threw Faith off balance and she landed on her backside. She instantly got back on her feet as though nothing had happened.
"Nice move." Faith said as she jumped over a low kick.
"Thanks, I try." Buffy smiled as she blocked a punch.
They continued sparring that way for a while, neither one besting the other. Then Faith did a spinning kick, hitting Buffy hard in the chin. Buffy went down on the mat and didn't move.
"B?" Faith bent over the other woman, checking her for damage. "Are you okay? Come on, wake up." Her voice was getting higher the longer Buffy didn't move.
Suddenly, Faith found herself flat on her back, her arms pinned above her head with Buffy straddling her. She could feel the other Slayer's breath on her face they were so close.
"Gotcha!" Buffy said with a grin, but that gradually faded when she realized their positions.
Faith watched as Buffy's expression changed from triumph to desire, and her own need grew. She realized that the woman holding her wrists was feeling the same need inside.
Their heads slowly inched closer to each other while Buffy released her hold on Faith's hands. When their lips touched, Faith knew she wanted more. Moving her hands behind Buffy's head, Faith ran her fingers through the blonde hair. All of her pain melted away as their tongues met softly first, then passionately.
You'll kill her. Faith's dream came back into her mind, and she broke the kiss. Releasing her hold on Buffy's head, Faith wriggled out from beneath her. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean to-" She looked away.
"Buffy? Faith?" The intercom sounded loud in the quiet room.
"Yeah. What's up?" Buffy stood.
"Meet us in the library. We've finished with the translation." Willow's voice sounded tense.
"We'll be there in a sec." Buffy adjusted her clothes. "You ready to hear our destiny?"
Faith blinked when she saw the sadness in Buffy's eyes. It had been a mistake to kiss the other Slayer, and Faith knew it from the look on Buffy's face. "Yeah." Her voice broke on the one syllable word.
Buffy and Faith sat at opposite ends of the room, trying not to look at each other. "Where's Giles?" Buffy asked.
"He went home to pack." Tara looked worriedly at Willow. She could feel the anxiety and desire between the two Slayers. What happened to them up there? she sent.
Willow glanced up from the text. I don't know, but you know this is more important right now.
You want to go first? Tara asked her lover, hoping that the answer would be yes. She hated telling people bad news.
Willow took a deep breath and began. "It was difficult to translate the prophecy, but we think we have an accurate English version now."
"Will-" Buffy started.
"I know you're impatient, but this is hard for me." Willow reached for Tara's hand and grasped it firmly.
"Shutting up now." Buffy's head drooped a bit.
"Here's what we have: There will come a time when two Slayers shall roam the Earth, and they will be the most powerful Slayers the world has ever known. When joined with the two who have become one, they will have the power to destroy the Council, and even the world." Willow looked up from the text. Buffy's mouth hung open.
"That's it? You mean, we're in danger over something that won't even come true in our lifetimes?" Faith was a little upset, not just over the prophecy.
"That's not it." Tara's voice held a quiet power. "That prophecy will come true in our lifetimes. Part of it already has. See, Willow and I are-" she looked into her lover's eyes.
Faith shrugged. "Yeah, I know - girlfriends or something. What's the big, huh?"
"We're more than that. When we first met, a bond started to form between us. We're linked in ways not even we understand. I feel Willow's emotions, thoughts, and even physical pain -"
"And I can feel hers. Don't you see? Tara and I are the two who have become one." Willow's face was tense with emotion.
"But that's not the last part of the prophecy. Here's the rest." Tara bent over the text again. "They will die during the lunar eclipse or demons shall roam free around the world. Chaos shall rule and civilization shall crumble."
"Why would we want Chaos to rule and demons running all over the place? We kill them. We don't set up playgrounds for them. The Council has to know this can't be right." Buffy said worriedly.
"Buffy, you're both rogue Slayers. They don't really know what you've been doing. For all they know you could have turned evil. It's happened to Slayers before, you know that." Willow explained.
"So we have to die to save the world? That's bullshit. There's no way I'm gonna go up and volunteer to die." Faith stood and began pacing the room.
"Are you sure it's right?" Buffy voice was strained.
"We're sure. We checked and double-checked. The prophecy calls for our deaths." Tara's eyes locked with Willow's.
"It can't be right. Why haven't the Watchers come for us then?" Faith stopped pacing and crossed her arms.
Buffy looked at Faith for the first time since the incident upstairs. "Because they think we hate each other. Why would we fight together?"
"Then it's easy, right? I leave, everything goes back to normal."
Tara walked over to Faith, placing her hands gently on the Slayer's shoulders. "It's not that easy. Willow and I are linked, and you and Buffy don't hate each other anymore. The signs are all there. By trying to avoid the prophecy, we'll probably end up causing it."
"So you're not going to let me get outta Dodge?" Faith asked.
Buffy stood and looked out the window, her face a whirling mass of emotions. "You're welcome to do what you want, Faith. No one's going to stop you from running away, but we're going to England to make sure this prophecy doesn't come true."
"I'm in, I guess. I don't have anything to lose." Faith looked directly at the other Slayer when she spoke.
Willow put an arm around Buffy's waist. "We're not going to die."
"Yes, we are. Don't you feel it?" Buffy leaned into her friend.
Tara stood on the Buffy's other side. "I don't. I feel an enormous change coming, and so does Will. We also sense something strange about the prophecy itself." The last sentence was barely audible, even to Buffy's ears.
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Buffy didn't understand anything at the moment.
Willow walked Buffy over to the Codex while motioning Faith over as well. "See, the prophecy is written in a slightly different language than the rest of the prophecies. Almost like "
"-someone wrote it after the rest of the text had been written. We both sensed-"
"-an enchantment." Willow finished. "The prophecy itself may not be true, but the meaning is. Someone in the Watchers' Council wants us dead for a specific purpose."
"That's only if you're right about the enchantment." Buffy flopped down in a chair.
"Either way, we have to go fight this thing - whatever it is." Tara's voice was determined.
"Don't worry, I've never backed down from my own death and I'm not about to start now. Let's get ready." Buffy headed out the door, Willow and Tara following close behind. Faith stood there for a moment before following, the dread evident in her features.
They made it to the plane just as the airline worker was announcing the last boarding call. Buffy was a little irritated because Xander had none of the weapons packed, and they had had to throw them into a bag at the last minute.
Buffy looked around the First Class compartment, and gave Xander an angry look. "Did you book all of First Class?"
Xander shrugged. He knew Buffy wasn't really angry. "Hey, it's a long flight. I figured we could use the room, especially since we have a couple of extra people."
"Um, Xander - Faith's the only extra person here." Willow pointed out.
Anya poked her husband in the ribs. "Tell them," she whispered into his ear.
"Okay, hon. Anya's pregnant." Xander beamed, at least until he and Anya were smothered in the tightest group hug of all time. Buffy, Tara, Willow, and even Giles joined in, while Faith stood back, not quite knowing what to do.
"When did you find out?"
"How far along are you?"
"Is it a boy or a girl?"
"Why are on this plane? Is it safe?"
All of these questions assaulted the happy couple's senses at once.
"Whoa, wait a minute. Not - able - to - breathe!" Everyone stood back when Anya spoke up.
"Okay, now that that's over. We just found out this afternoon, which is why we were late, I'm about a month into the pregnancy, we don't know if it's a boy or a girl, and it's perfectly safe for me to be on this plane supporting my friends." Anya was grinning from ear to ear as Xander put an arm around her shoulders.
A flight attendant came into the cabin. "I'm sorry, but you need to be seated. We need to ready the plane for takeoff."
Anya and Xander sat down side by side, Buffy sat next to Giles, and Willow and Tara sat together. Faith went a couple rows back from the gang and took a window seat. Even though everyone was going out of their way to make her feel at home, she still felt like an outcast. It wasn't because of anything the gang was doing, and she knew that. She was just so afraid of them, and she couldn't figure out why.
Tara held Willow's hand as the plane left the runway. "Honey, I have no circulation in my hand."
"Huh?" Tara looked down at her white knuckles entwined with her lover's. She loosened her grip. "Sorry. You know how I am at the beginning of a flight."
"It'll be okay." She brought Tara's hands to her lips as she projected a feeling of calm around the two of them. Gradually Tara relaxed.
Thanks. That helped a lot. Tara rested her head on Willow's shoulder.
What do you think happened between Faith and Buffy? Willow asked.
Don't know, but they haven't looked at each other since we were in the library. I can feel Faith's fear, but I don't have any idea what she's afraid of.
I can think of several things, love, all of them having to do with her past. Willow gently sent images of Faith from a few years before.
"I get the picture. Now I understand." Tara spoke aloud.
"Understand what?" Buffy's head appeared above the seat.
"Um, how to get the hypotenuse of a right triangle?" Tara couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Right," Buffy responded, drawing the word out. "You guys were doing that mind thingy again, weren't you?" Buffy's eyes held a smirk.
"I was only trying to calm Tara down. You know how she gets." Willow said, stroking Tara's hand gently.
A small ding sounded through the cabin. "The Captain has turned off the fasten seat belt sign. You are free to move about the cabin." The disembodied voice of the steward came over the intercom.
"Do you mind if I sit down?"
Faith looked up to see Tara smiling down at her. "Huh? No, go ahead." She turned back to the window.
Tara sat down next to the Slayer, and after a couple of minutes she opened a bag of peanuts. "Want some?"
Faith looked at the bag, then at Tara. The Slayer couldn't understand how this woman could be happy when they all probably going to die. "You're not afraid, are you?"
"Of dying? I'm scared out of my wits. Who isn't?" Tara chomped down on another handful of peanuts. "You know, I really think they give you more peanuts in First Class. You sure you don't want any?"
"Sure, I'll have some." Faith found her calm to be infectious. "Do you mind if I ask you something?"
"How did you guys get all those weapons onto the plane?" Faith spoke quietly, not wanting any of the flight attendants to hear the word weapons.
"Oh that? That was easy." Tara's eyes became animated. "We just made them think they were looking at a suitcase full of books."
"Kind of like that scene from The Lost Boys?"
"Exactly like that, except not as gross. I couldn't eat maggots." Tara shuddered in her seat while her face started to look like she had smelled something putrid.
Faith smiled. "After all the slimy things you've seen, you still think maggots are gross?"
"Not maggots. Eating maggots. They'd be all squirmy and everything."
It wasn't really what Tara was saying, but how she was saying it that made Faith laugh out loud. It wasn't the rib-splitting kind of laughter, but it was laughter just the same. If she kept that up, she might actually become happy.
"What? Squirming maggots are not funny. They're serious business." Tara had a mock-hurt look on her face. That just made Faith laugh harder, and Tara joined her that time.
Faith calmed down, suddenly becoming self-conscious after remembering that the spirited woman sitting next to her probably wouldn't be alive in a couple days, and that her death would be on the Slayer's hands. Turning toward the window, she stared at the tiny lights of cities in the dark. At least until Tara's voice broke her from her revere.
"None of this is your fault." Tara said as she put her hand on the Slayer's arm.
"It is, though. If I hadn't come back, everyone would still hate me, and Buffy-"
The Slayer looked into Tara's warm eyes and realized that she wanted to tell the blonde witch everything, rather, almost everything. "She kissed me." The words were hushed.
"Ah, and you-" Tara said, trying to get Faith to continue.
"Kissed her back. At least until I freaked out."
"You love her, don't you? That's why you came back. She's the reason you've been helping people all these years." Tara's eyes dawned with realization.
"And now she's going to die because of me. I've been seeing it in my dreams since I stole the Codex. I thought I could stop it by giving it to you guys, but I was wrong."
"Prophecies are funny things that way. Listen to me. You couldn't have prevented the prophecy no matter what you did. Willow and I told you that we sensed an enchantment, but we didn't feel one on the entire prophecy. You are supposed to be here, with us. It feels right to me."
"You go with your feelings a lot, don't you?" Faith asked, genuinely curious.
"They've never steered me wrong, and I don't feel like we're heading for our deaths. I do feel a change, but I'm not sure what it is, though."
"Is it always that vague?"
"Not always. Like when," Tara paused, "You and Buffy switched bodies. I knew exactly what was wrong. It's the future stuff that's kind of vague." Faith cringed at the mention of her attempt to steal Buffy's life. "And before you say anything about the first time we met, just remember that I don't care about who you were, I only care about who you are." She squeezed the Slayer's hand gently.
"Thanks. I've done a lot of things in my life I've regretted-" Faith glanced at Buffy, then back to Tara.
Faith's gaze wasn't lost on the witch. "Then don't regret not telling her how you really feel."
Willow made a beeline for Buffy, who was busy getting more coffee from the steward. "Coffee?" The Slayer held up a cup.
"I could use some of that java jive right about now." After taking the cup Buffy offered, Willow motioned to a couple of empty seats.
After years of practice, Buffy knew what her best friend wanted, or at least she thought she knew. "Is it buck up little camper time already?" She asked with a smirk.
"Not if you play you're cards right, but it is the I want the poop and I want it now talk. Spill it."
"Spill what?" Buffy asked, looking very innocent.
"You really don't want me to bring out the big guns, do you? My resolve face is getting that itchy trigger finger."
Buffy took a sip of her coffee. "When did you know you were attracted to Tara?"
Willow didn't answer the question; she instead asked one of her own. "Do you remember when the Gentlemen came to town?"
"How could I forget?"
"Well, we were doing the typical run-and-hide-for-our-lives thing that the Scoobs did back then, and I tried to move a soda machine against the door with my mind so they couldn't get to us. All I could do back then was float a pencil, but Tara knew what I was trying to do and grabbed my hand. When I looked into her eyes the split second before we moved the machine, I knew."
"And it didn't bother you? Being attracted to a woman?"
"It isn't exactly like that hadn't happened to me before; it was just the first time the other person felt the same way. It didn't bother me. What did scare me was the connection I felt whenever I got near her. I felt like we were one person even then."
Buffy did a double take. "Did you just say you'd been attracted to women before?"
"I was in high school, and it was you I had the crush on, silly." Willow watched Buffy for a second before continuing, as though she was checking to see if Buffy was freaking out. "It was high school, though, and I kind of thought it was just a little hero worship and nothing more, at least until I met Tara."
"Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I had a crush Giles, too. I was a teenager. I had hormones and they were raging all over the place. Plus you've got the whole possible 'Ew!' factor to consider. I didn't want to lose our friendship. Besides, Oz came along and I fell head over heels for him-" Willow smiled sadly.
"-and then there was Angel." Buffy finished. "I see your point." She glanced back at the other Slayer, who was laughing at something. She has such an amazing smile. I wish she'd- Her thoughts were broken when she realized that Willow was speaking again.
"-ason for asking me that."
"Huh? Sorry, Will. Could you run that by me again?" Buffy hoped her friend wouldn't be angry with her.
Instead of being angry, Willow had a huge grin on her face. "I said, 'I don't suppose you have a reason for asking me that.'"
"What? Oh, um, that. Yeah. What do you think of Faith?" Buffy felt like she was back in high school with all the nervous knots in her stomach, and the gleam in her best friend's eyes wasn't helping any. Willow was up to something, and she knew it.
"What I think doesn't really matter here, does it? What do you think of her?"
"I think she's she's God, I kissed her." Buffy rubbed her eyes.
"So I guess that means you think she's okay, huh?" Willow's smile was threatening to circle its way around her head.
"I don't know. I mean, we just clicked today, you know? I can't really explain it. One minute we were sparring, and the next I was kissing her. Then she got all weird on me, like it was her fault I kissed her." She looked at the hacker suspiciously. "You knew something happened today, didn't you?"
"I plead the Fifth." Buffy gave her a very dangerous look. "Okay - this is me, cracking under pressure. Sheesh, some secret agent I'd be. Yes, we both knew something happened between you and Faith, but we didn't know what."
"So you pulled a divide and conquer?"
"Yep. And so far, it's worked quite well, thank you very much."
"Well, what do you think?"
Willow seemed to think about her answer before responding. "When she showed up again, I didn't know what to think. Now I look at her and I see someone who should be here, with us. I also think she risked her life to warn you about the prophecy."
"You mean us. She was warning us."
"No, she wasn't. You weren't the only one who called Angel. She only knew that the Slayers were in trouble. She came to Sunnydale for you."
"I would just like to say wow right now and get that over with. Will, I care for her and about what happens to her."
"Then tell her before it's too late."
Arthur Black was seated at his desk studying a text when someone knocked on the door to his office. "Come in. Ah, good afternoon, Marcus. Please, do sit down. I trust you have good news for me."
"The two Slayers and the witches have just landed at Heathrow. They are en route to their hotel in London as we speak."
"Excellent. Are the preparations made for tomorrow night?"
"Mostly. We just have to do a once over and make certain that everything is secure. Would you like us to pick them up?"
Arthur laughed. "I doubt seriously that you could. No - they will be here."
"Very well, sir. To whom will we be transferring the Slayers' power? I don't remember you mentioning that in any of the meetings."
"There is a vessel we can hold the power in until we can find a suitable replacement for the Slayers, which should not take too long. Don't worry, Marcus. This world will still have a Slayer after tomorrow night. Remember the prophecy, though. They must die." Arthur was tolerant in his explanation.
"Yes, I know, but why can we not let them simply die and the next one be called? It is how it has been done for centuries."
"But we must have complete control over the next one. You know how important that is. We do not want another rogue Slayer on our hands." Arthur's tone turned harsh.
"I just want to make certain that everything has been accounted for."
Arthur stood and walked to the bookcase, reaching to get book from the shelf. "Here, read this tonight. That should ease your concerns." He handed the book to Marcus, but still stood behind him.
"Thank you, sir." Marcus replied, glancing down at a copy of Howard's End.
Arthur quickly and easily snapped Marcus' neck, letting his body fall to the ground in a lifeless heap.
"Sorry, dear chap. You're asking too many questions." He heard footsteps in the hall. He had forgotten Thomas was still in the house. Arranging Marcus' head so that it didn't look like the man's neck was broken, Arthur went into the hall just as Thomas got to the stairs.
"Thomas, you must help me. I was talking to Marcus when he suddenly passed out."
The young Watcher's face became concerned as he went into Black's office. "Is he breathing?"
"I believe so, but I didn't check."
Black waited until Thomas bent over the dead man before putting a stranglehold on his neck. Thomas struggled to break free, but Arthur's hold was too strong. When he was dead, Arthur let him drop unceremoniously to the floor next to Marcus.
Leaving the bodies where they lay, he walked up to a painting of the real Arthur Black that hung over his desk. He couldn't believe what an egotistical man the real Black was. The spell he had performed to look like the old man had been a tricky one, and the imposter felt that it wouldn't last much longer. Each time he performed it the glamour lasted a shorter period of time, and he didn't think he could do it again, but it didn't matter anymore.
He had been a bit concerned when the dark Slayer stole the Codex. He had only performed the glamour on the Watchers who came to the house, and he knew Faith saw who he really was. Then he remembered that she had never had the pleasure of meeting him. That would be remedied soon enough, however.
The imposter began his evening ritual. Reaching behind the painting, he pressed a small button, allowing the picture to swing away from the wall, revealing a safe embedded in the wall. He turned the dial and opened the small steel door, revealing two identical daggers. Touching them lightly and careful not to cut himself, he felt the energy coursing through them. They would bind the essences of the women to the blades, and even then he could almost feel the souls they had touched. He had searched the globe for the Daggers of Viduus, finally finding them just last year in the den of a wise man living in the French Alps.
He closed the safe and swung the painting against the wall again. Instead of going home, he went downstairs to finish the preparations. He had a feeling he would have visitors later.
Faith waited for almost an hour before she thought it was safe to leave her hotel room. She didn't want anyone knowing she was gone until it was too late for anyone to follow her. It was the only hope she had of making sure no one was hurt.
She put a stake in her boot and another one in the breast pocket of her jacket. Everything Tara had said to her on the plane had been right, she knew she needed to tell Buffy how she felt, but there was still a large part of her that kept screaming that she was poison to everyone in the Scooby Gang. That part was exceptionally loud when it came to Buffy. That was why she made the difficult decision to take care of the problem herself.
She left the key to the hotel room, knowing that she wouldn't be back, and opened the door. Buffy stood there with a look of surprise on her face, her hand raised as if to knock on the door that wasn't there anymore. "Going out?"
"Yeah um, no, not exactly." She had to think quickly. "I needed to go downstairs to get a plunger." Instantly she chided herself. There was no way Buffy would believe that.
Buffy looked at the other Slayer's clothing. "And you needed boots, your jacket, and your stakes for that? Are there vampires lurking in the halls?"
"Funny one." Faith said nervously. "I thought I'd go for a walk."
"Great, then I'll go with." Buffy's face brightened.
"You don't have to. I mean, I just wanted to be alone, but you could come with me if you wanted to shit. Now I sound like Red." She was desperate. The train left soon, and she needed to be on it.
Edging a little closer, Buffy spoke softly. "You were going to go out there tonight, weren't you?"
Finding that she couldn't lie anymore, Faith looked Buffy in the eye. "Yeah." She flinched at the thought of what the other woman would say, but she didn't expect what came next.
"Then I'm going with you. Don't say no, because you know I'll just follow you." Her face was determined.
"I'll knock you out if I have to. I don't want to, but I will if I have to. I won't let you die." Faith looked just as determined.
"Who says I'm not going to die anyway? We're Slayers. We fight the bad guys. There are bad guys out there and I'm going. We'll have a better chance if we both go, and you know it." Buffy's face softened. "Besides, there seven people, if you count the baby, on this floor that I won't let die either."
Buffy brushed her hand across Faith's cheek. "You can't do this alone. We need each other."
Closing her eyes for a moment, Faith let herself feel the warmth of the other Slayer's touch. "Okay," was all she said before closing the door behind her.
"Good. Let's go catch the train."
Two dark forms knelt at the edge of the forest. In front of them stood the Council house, its foreboding walls towering three stories into the dark night. Only two lights were on in the house, one on the second floor and one in the room where Faith found the Codex. There was a blanket of dew on the ground, and the nearly full moon cast shadows everywhere.
"You never said this place looked like the Dark Shadows mansion." Buffy whispered.
"It's creepy, isn't it?" Faith's voice was low, too. She turned to Buffy. "You sure about this?" She silently prayed Buffy would say no and go to someplace safe.
"As the song says - it's now or never." Buffy put her hand on Faith's arm. "This is completely moronic. You know that, don't you? We don't even know what we're going to do when we get in there."
"You wanna wait for everyone else?"
Buffy shook her head. "Just making sure you knew that. Let's go."
Keeping to the shadows, they made it to the house and began inching their way to the door. Faith picked the lock easily, and they cautiously stepped into the darkened kitchen. Staying silent, they both poked their heads into the hallway. Faith made a motion with her and went to the right, Buffy following closely. At the end of the hall both Slayers put their ears up to the closed door, trying to hear if anyone was on the other side.
Leaning her mouth close to Faith's ear, Buffy whispered, "My spidey-sense is going bonkers."
Faith nodded. "Let's get this over with." She pulled out a stake, and Buffy did the same.
They counted silently to three before kicking the door in. The room they walked into was cavernous, and it looked as though it had been a ballroom at one point. There were about twenty demons in the room, all of them from different species, but none of them made a move toward the Slayers.
"Well, well. I'm so glad you finally decided to join my little party. I've been expecting you for quite some time. Where are your two little witches and the librarian?"
Buffy's face contorted in her hatred. "Ethan Rayne. Can't you just get a life?"
"Miss Summers, I am about to get a life. Four lives, to be exact. It's my guess that your friends aren't far behind, so we'll just wait them out, shall we?"
"You know this guy?" Faith asked.
"Only enough to know I hate him." Buffy turned back to Ethan. "You finally went off the deep end, didn't you?"
Ethan didn't lose his cool demeanor. "Come now. I was always 'off the deep end' as you so nicely put it. No, I'm actually being completely rational; I kill you and your friends and lead the demons in the war to end all wars. Simple enough, I should think." He made a motion with his hand and the demons began closing in on the two Slayers.
The two women moved so that their backs were to each other, both ready for the battle that was about to happen. The first demon came at Faith, and she easily knocked him to the floor dead with a hard punch to the neck. After that, it was chaos.
Buffy and Faith fought for what seemed like hours, but finally there were only four demons left standing. The Slayers killed them easily. "What was that about killing us?" Buffy looked up at Ethan with defiance.
"Buffy!" Faith jumped at Buffy, getting her out of the way of a crossbow bolt fired by a not-so-dead demon just in time to prevent the other Slayer from being hit.
Buffy heard the sound of the crossbow. Then she heard Faith's scream. The next thing she knew she was on the ground with Faith on top of her and five demons standing over both of them with crossbows pointed directly at their heads. "Faith?" Buffy nudged the other Slayer a bit to make sure she was okay, but only got a groan in return. Touching the dark Slayer's side, her hand came away sticky with blood. She felt her heart scream in anguish at the sight.
The last thing she heard before the floor fell out from underneath her was Ethan's voice. "Damn it. I told you not to hurt them yet. Release the trap door." She hit the ground below so hard she was knocked unconscious immediately.
Tara woke with a start. "Willow, wake up."
"But the balloons aren't ready for the race." Willow said as she drifted out of sleep. "What is it?"
"Something's wrong. Can you feel it?"
Shaking the sleep from her mind, Willow knew her lover was right. "I'll get Giles, Anya, and Xander-" she said as she stood, pulling on some clothes.
"-and I'll get Buffy and Faith. We'll meet in Giles' room."
Less than five minutes later, a very tired Giles, Anya, and Xander sat in Giles' room, while Willow paced nervously. Tara burst through the door, looking very hysterical. "They're gone."
"What?!" Four voices yelled in unison.
Willow walked up to Tara, holding her hand and stroking her blond hair. "Breathe, love."
Tara calmed down a bit, and started again. "They're gone. And some of the weapons are gone, too. They must've gone after Black themselves and something went wrong."
"Oh God," Giles said nervously.
"Giles, do you know where the house is?" Anya asked the former librarian.
"Not the one Faith described. We don't have any hope of finding them in time."
Willow turned to the rest of the group. "We might. Tara and I could try to locate them. It would be hit and miss, but it's our best chance."
"Kind of like that hot-cold game when we were kids?" Xander grasped at the one strand of hope.
"Exactly like that. Once we open ourselves to them, we'll be able to tell when we get closer." Tara explained.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Do the hot-cold thingy right now. We're running out of time." Anya was almost hysterical.
"Here goes." Tara said, closing her eyes as Willow did the same.
I can't feel them at all. Willow sent.
They're probably just too far away. They're still alive though. I know that. Maybe if we went to the edge of the city. Tara tried to sound hopeful in Willow's mind, but she had a bad feeling that they were hurt.
Willow opened her eyes. "We can't feel them from here. Giles, try to find a car rental place that's open, or a cab company that can drive us around until we can rent a car."
"What about us?" Xander wanted to do anything but wait.
"You guys stay here." When Xander started to protest, Tara stopped him. "You have other things to worry about, Xander. Anya's going to have a baby, and you both need to stay alive for that."
Xander looked to Anya for a second, then back to Tara. "These are our friends, and I'm going. You need as many people as you can get, especially if they were able to take down two Slayers."
"I'll stay behind." Anya gripped her husband's hand tightly.
"Xander does have a point. We do need him." Giles said sadly.
Willow and Tara looked at each other. "Okay," Willow said. "Xander, you get the weapons ready. Giles - do the car thingy. Tara and I will see if we can reach out any further."
Faith cringed when she tried to move, the wound in her side sending shooting pains throughout her body. She didn't open her eyes; instead she tried believing the pain was just a dream, at least until she felt something soft on her forehead. What's that? God, I'll have to open my eyes. Don't wanna Her thoughts were broken by a voice - in the distance at first, then seemingly against her ear.
"Faith? Please wake up." Buffy's voice was wrought with worry while her hand stroked the fallen Slayer's face tenderly.
Finally letting her eyes open, Faith found herself gazing into Buffy's relieved face. Memories of the last few days came back to her in a flood through her pain-induced haze. "I'm so sorry-" was all she could get out before the pain overtook her senses again.
"Shh." Buffy leaned down and brushed her lips lightly across Faith's cheek. "Glad you could join me."
Even in her pain, Faith noticed the kiss. "Where are we?"
They both looked around. The area appeared to be a dungeon of sorts; it was the same size as the ballroom but with no windows, the only light coming from torches on the walls. In the far end of the room, there were two stone slabs resting about waist high on four pillars each. Mounted on the walls was an assortment of medieval weaponry. The two Slayers were in the center of the room, Buffy sitting with her back against the five-by-six cage with Faith's head on her lap.
"I tried getting out, but the bars won't budge."
As though cued by the two women's voices, Ethan came down the stone steps. "You're both awake. How wonderful. I trust the accommodations are satisfactory?"
Faith tried to sit up, but failed miserably. "You bastard!" It came out as a low whisper. Buffy gently moved her so that she was leaning against the bars.
"You know, that whole banding the demons together against the humans thing has been done before. It didn't work then, and it won't work now." Buffy spoke with a confidence that was hollow even to Faith's ears. "Can't you do something original?"
Ethan was smug. "Your friend Adam didn't have the Slayers or your friends on his side. I don't have to do anything original Miss Summers; I just have to do something that works."
"What in your pea-sized brain makes you think we'll ever be on your side?" Faith's voice was stronger.
Ethan sighed. "I suppose this is the part where I tell you everything I have planned. Fine, here it is. I don't really want you on my side, as it were. I want your powers, as well as the witches'. They'll come looking for you soon, I should think. By the way, how is your side? I told them not to do any permanent damage. I had to punish the demon stupid enough to shoot you. Hopefully you'll be at least a touch better for tonight's festivities.
"Tonight you will die. It's as simple as that. There's no use sugar-coating it anymore. I'm just so happy that things have worked out so well, aren't you?" He glanced at the two Slayers. "No, I suppose you aren't."
Faith's eyes lit up as she put all the pieces together. "You paid those demons to steal those artifacts. You knew Angel's friend would ask for help."
"It looks as though you aren't as moronic as you look." Ethan backed away from the cage as Buffy rushed the bars trying to get at him.
"You'll pay for that remark." Buffy's eyes were narrow slits.
"Somehow I don't believe you. You are correct, Faith." He sounded like a teacher in a classroom, and that infuriated Faith. "It was the part of my plan I wasn't too sure about. I couldn't get both of you together unless there was something to bring you together. Angel could have just as well come here himself - but I figured he would send you, and he didn't disappoint me.
"I knew you were the one who stole the Codex. The little conversations you overheard were supposed to be heard by you. As for the prophecy how did you like it? I didn't go too over the top with it, did I?"
"Sir?" A demon called from the stairs.
"What!?" Ethan yelled, then calmed down a bit. "How many times have I told you not to interrupt me when I'm gloating?"
"Sorry, but there are some people here. They look like Watchers."
"Oh, very well." He turned his attention back to the two women. "It's been a pleasure, ladies. I'll be back soon." He left abruptly.
Buffy walked back to Faith and sat down beside her. The two Slayers were silent for a while, both lost in thought.
"You didn't have to defend me, but thanks." Faith said softly.
Buffy looked at the other woman. "No, I didn't. I wanted to." She reached out, taking one of Faith's hands in her own.
"If we don't get out of this, I just want you to know that I-" Faith stopped. Looking into Buffy's eyes, she saw none of the anger from a few days before. There was only love. "-I'm sorry for everything. I should've never-"
"Shh. It's not your fault. I came on my own, didn't I? God Faith, when will we stop apologizing to each other?" Buffy stared at their entwined hands before moving her gaze to Faith's brown eyes. "I've been thinking a lot since you came back, and I-" Buffy's words were ended by Ethan's voice.
"How touching. I didn't realize there would be a final goodbye scene. It's too bad I'm not going to let it play out." Ethan motioned to the two demons standing behind him. "Prepare them, then come and get me. And remember: if the witches get here I want to allow them in here unharmed."
The demons fired their Taser guns, shocking both Slayers into unconsciousness.
"When did the Watchers become the haven for demon activity?" Xander whispered. He, Giles, Willow, and Tara knelt at the same place Buffy and Faith had been just hours before.
They had searched the entire day; driving all over London while Tara and Willow focused their thoughts on the two Slayers and tried to get some kind of feel as to where they could look. When they finally sensed them, it came as only a weak feeling of pain, anger, and sadness. They were still relieved; they had a chance to save their friends. Driving through the countryside in their search proved difficult because they had to keep backtracking on the country roads, and they hadn't reached the mansion until well after sundown.
The mansion had no more pretense of being a Watcher's house. Under the full moon, the four friends could easily see the demons walking in and out of the house. A few of them looked as though they had already started celebrating something. None of them seemed to take notice of the four figures at the edge of the forest.
"Can you tell where they are?" Giles spoke in hushed tones.
"Below us." Tara and Willow spoke in unison. "They're weak, but they're alive."
"Well then, time's a wastin'. Let's do the John Wayne thing and rescue the damsels, shall we?" Xander pulled out a crossbow.
We can't let them do this. This is our destiny, not theirs.
Willow sighed in her mind. I know. Let's get it over with. "You two aren't going." Willow held up her hand to stop the protests on the lips of the two men. "Someone needs to survive this, and you both know it. We don't know what we're up against-"
"That's why we should all go!" Xander's voice was frantic.
Tara laid her hand on Xander's arm, calming him instantly. "No, Xand. Willow and I stand a better chance of getting in there ourselves, you know that. And you know she's right."
"But Tara, there's strength in numbers." Giles couldn't believe they wanted to go in alone.
The two witches exchanged a look, waved their hands, and the two men fell to the ground unconscious. "Sorry, guys. You'll be safe here." Willow waved her hand again, and the two forms that lay on the ground disappeared. Feeling a hand on her back, she turned to her lover.
"You ready?" Tara's eyes were heavy with sorrow. Her feeling of foreboding had grown so much that she felt they wouldn't make it out alive.
"As ready as I'll ever be." Willow squeezed her hand and kissed her briefly before they crept toward the house. Neither one even noticed the shadow of the Earth slowly moving over the Moon.
"Wake up. It's time." Both Slayers were shocked out of unconsciousness by the cold water thrown in their faces. They were both chained to the cold stone slabs, and a hooded figure stood over them.
"You won't be able to break them, so you may as well not even try," Ethan's disembodied voice said when the Slayers tested the chains that held them. "Sorry we can't chat more, but it's time."
He carefully pulled two daggers from a wooden box, holding one in each hand.
"Great Viduus, I beseech thee "
Lifting his arms out, Ethan poised one knife over each Slayer's chest.
" Grant me the power "
Buffy and Faith locked gazes, each one thinking the same thing - I wish I'd told her how I felt.
" Of the Slayer!"
Ethan plunged both daggers simultaneously into the women's chests. Blood from the wounds began to flow upward onto the daggers, then up Ethan's arms. When it reached his mouth, he drank the coppery liquid as though it were ambrosia. When it stopped flowing, the essence of each woman drifted to him in a green mist.
Faith gasped and tried to keep her eyes focused on Buffy, but everything was dimming. This is what dying is like. Damn it - we couldn't even fight. The only thing that kept her from crying out was Buffy's face staring back at her. It was the last thing she saw before sinking into oblivion.
Buffy watched helplessly as the life drained from Faith's features, even as she felt the darkness envelop her. It was only when Faith's lifeless eyes closed slightly that she whispered, "I love you." Breathing her last breath, Buffy finally gave up her life.
Tara and Willow entered through the same door their friends had, and ran into three vamps in the kitchen. Before any of the demons had a chance to stand, the witches turned them to dust with a wave of their hands.
Moving swiftly through the house, they killed each demon they came across with ease. There's power massing right below us. Willow sent when they reached the door to the ballroom.
Then they felt the Slayers' pain, and both witches fell back from the force of it.
Downstairs! Tara cried in Willow's mind.
They found a door at the end of a small corridor, but it was locked. Willow concentrated on the lock for a split second; then the door opened. Running down the stairs quickly, they were shocked when they saw the scene before them.
Faith and Buffy were chained to the stone slabs, a knife stuck in each Slayer's chest. No blood came from their bodies, but a glowing green mist slowly made its way under the hood of the figure holding the daggers. When the mist disappeared, the figure pulled the daggers from the dead women.
"No!" The two witches screamed simultaneously.
The figure turned, removing his hood. "You can't stop me, witches. I have the power of the two Slayers now." The laughter that followed was pure evil.
Even through her anger and grief, Willow immediately recognized Ethan. Never in her life had she felt such pain in her heart. "You will die!"
Ethan moved with an inhuman swiftness across the room, sheathing the daggers in his belt. A spear flew off the wall directly at Ethan's head, but he easily sidestepped it.
Tara fired a burst of energy at him, and he ducked out of the way just before it reached him. "You'll have to do better than that, I'm afraid." He said as he began to advance slowly on them.
Change of tactic. Let's bluff him. Tara looked to her lover, who was consumed with the need to kill the man before them and getting more frustrated by the second. She disappeared in a whiff of smoke. Willow stood where she was, lifting the weapons off the walls with her mind and flinging them at Ethan.
"My dear Willow, I'm afraid your friend has left you. Too bad, I would have loved her power." Ethan was almost ten feet away from her and closing fast. Willow's only answer to his taunt was sending a mace toward his head.
Tara materialized directly behind him and shot him in the back with a crossbow. Ethan's eyes went wide and green light started coming from his eyes, mouth, and ears. "Run!" Willow screamed, but it was too late.
Ethan's body exploded, releasing a wave of energy so powerful that the two witches were killed instantly.
Xander woke up feeling wet, and when he opened his eyes he saw that there was debris everywhere. Sitting up, he looked to the mansion or what was left of it. "Giles, come on, wake up!"
"Stop pestering me, Xander," Giles said. Opening his eyes, he suddenly remembered the night before. "They didn't come back out, did they?"
Xander was already on his feet, and helped Giles up. "I don't think so."
"There may still be hope, let's go check out what's left of the mansion." Refusing to give up on the notion that the four women might still be alive, Giles started walking toward the ruined house.
All hope that they had was gone by the time they made it to the rubble. What was left of the house looked as though it had been bombed by warplanes while the two men had slept through it. The only part of the building left was the shell.
Giles fell to his knees and began mumbling incoherently. Xander simply stood there, staring at the destruction in disbelief. Neither man moved for quite some time.
Anya was more than worried. She had been pacing all night, stopping only to take bathroom breaks and catnaps. Everyone had been gone for a day and a half, and though she hated to admit it, Xander wasn't the only person in the mortal world she cared about. The Scooby Gang had shown time and time again how much they cared for each other, and they had welcomed her.
Hearing the door to the room open, she whirled around. "Xander, you're okay." She ran and threw her arms around him tightly, holding on as though her life depended on it. She released her hold on her husband when she saw Giles' face in the doorway. "Giles?" Her voice was uncertain.
Giles didn't say anything; he simply went to a chair and sat down, burying his face in his hands.
"Xander, what happened?" Anya knew what the answer was going to be, but she had to hear it.
"They're gone, An." That was all he got out before he pulled his wife to him and sobbed.
Anya waited until he calmed down, then she gently led him to the edge of the bed. "Xander, tell me what happened," she said in a soft voice.
"They - they went in - by themselves - knocked us out-" Her husband paused to get his emotions under control. Finally, he continued. "When we woke up this morning, there was nothing left. I don't know how we slept through it."
"Spell," was the only word that came from Giles' lips.
"We searched all day - we couldn't find them - just some dead demons."
"Oh God," Anya pulled Xander to her and held him rocking back and forth. "No, they can't be dead." She whispered before giving in to the tears.
In a place that existed everywhere but nowhere at the same time, everything was as it should be. Since it encompassed everything and nothing, the only thing that could be seen was white light. Until two holes opened from out of somewhere and two confused and formerly dead Slayers dropped onto whatever passed for ground on that plane of existence.
"Okay, weren't we just in a dungeon? And dead?" Faith stood close to Buffy.
"I remember it that way." Buffy's voice was unsure. She looked down at her chest, as though she half expected to see a knife protruding from it and blood everywhere, but her shirt wasn't even torn. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Faith shrugged. "A knife sticking out of my chest and some guy drinking my blood. And you I remember you."
Buffy reached out, linking hands with the other Slayer briefly before letting go. "Same for me. I think we're dead, Faith."
"This can't be Heaven then."
Two more holes opened, leaving two more forms on the ground.
"Will? Tara?" Buffy tackled her best friends. "What are you doing here?" She asked after they were all standing again.
"I think we died, same as the two of you." There was a hint of sadness in Willow's voice at the memory of their deaths.
"So we're all dead. That's just spiffy. I knew I'd get us all killed." Faith was visibly upset.
Grabbing Faith's hand in her own, Tara spoke forcefully. "This wasn't your fault, Faith. Our choice, remember? So I don't want any of that stuff from you." She paused, regaining her usual composure. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be so-"
"Honest? Thanks Blondie, I needed a kick in the pants." Faith's face had a relieved look.
The four women turned when they heard voices coming toward them. "I completely disagree. We don't need to provide them with a fish to break the language barrier. Just because you read it in a book doesn't mean it's a good idea."
"But it could do so much-" The two figures stopped when they realized that there were four women staring at them with their mouths wide open. "Forgive our manners. You must be the Chosen Ones. You're much younger than I thought you would be."
Tara was the first one to be able to speak. "Where are we?"
The two people, if that was what they could be called, seemed almost fifteen feet tall and the light shimmered around them. Looking straight at them did no good at all, but looking at them from the corner of her eye she could tell that they were kind of human, but made up of light from all the colors of the spectrum.
"That is certainly a difficult question," one figure responded. "In answer to the earlier statement by your friend," he indicated Faith, "you are not in Heaven. You are in fact, nowhere in your plane of existence."
Buffy's protectively stepped in front of her friends. "Then where are we? Who are you?"
"The Powers That Be." Faith said simply. She had talked to Angel about them before and how they'd helped him a couple of times.
"You are close." The other figure paused before suddenly realizing something. "I knew we should have changed before we left. Come on." The figure motioned for the male one to come with her, and they disappeared.
Willow looked at her friends. "Okay. That was weird."
Just then a woman appeared. "He'll be here in a moment. He couldn't decide who he wanted to be."
"And you wanted to be Emma Thompson?" Buffy asked.
"You may call me Emma if that's easier."
"So who are you if you're not The Powers That Be?" Faith asked nervously.
"We're the beings who created them." A man's voice called. When he emerged from the light, he was a short, balding man. "You can call me Al. I just love that song." He said, smiling from ear to ear.
"Okay, Al. We died. We all know that we died; so why are we having a Shirley MacLaine moment here?"
Al turned to Buffy. "You're here because you weren't supposed to die. None of you were."
"But you did. That cannot be helped, at least not without upsetting the cosmic balance."
"Would you like to sit down?" Al asked cheerfully as he waved his hand. Four comfortable chairs appeared behind the women.
"Are you guys supposed to be this happy to see us?" Faith asked, genuinely confused.
Emma looked into Faith's eyes, seemingly reading her thoughts. "Our children have lost sight of what is right. They did restore your friend's soul, but they allowed the four of you to die. We want to do what we can to rectify the situation.
"When that man killed you," Emma gestured to Faith and Buffy. "He also took the power that made you Slayers. No other Slayer was called."
"But we killed him. Didn't that release the power? I mean, he did explode." Tara offered.
Buffy looked at her and mouthed the words, "You made him explode?" When Tara nodded, the Slayer's eyes almost came out of her head.
Emma continued. "You didn't exactly release the power; it released itself when he died, but it found no one else to inhabit."
"Twice now a demon war has been avoided by your actions. We need warriors on the side of good to balance out the evil. We wish to give you a second chance at life." Al said. "If you agree, we'll send you back to your realm alive."
"And if we don't?" Willow asked, fidgeting in her seat.
"Then you stay dead." Al simply stated.
"What's the catch? There's always a catch." Faith didn't trust the beings at all.
Emma turned to her. "Your mortal bodies died on that plane. There is little we can do about that. The only way we can return you as you remember yourselves being is for you to become immortal."
"Damn it, it figures. I'm not doing it. I don't care what you say. I can't spend eternity down there." Tears began forming in Faith's eyes.
Emma put a hand on Faith's shoulder, instantly calming the Slayer. "Child, you are the most important one of all. You know the evil as well as the good, having lived in both those worlds. Your knowledge and strength would be invaluable to your friends. They cannot keep the evil in check without your help, just as you cannot do it without theirs."
"Understand this: if you do not choose the right path, your world will end. There will be nothing left. We will leave the four of you to decide." As Al spoke the last word, they both vanished.
The four women sat quietly, each one lost in thought. Faith kept thinking that there was no way she was going back, while the other three were realizing that there was no other way. Immortality wasn't the best thing in the world, but it wasn't the worst either - as long as they had each other.
Tara took Willow's hand and looked into her eyes. This is it.
Do you want to go back? Willow was afraid to hear the answer.
And fight the good fight? Yeah. You?
Breathing a sigh of relief, Willow smiled warmly. It's what we were meant to do - the change we sensed. Their decision made, Willow turned to her friend. "Buffy?"
Willow's voice barely registered in the Slayer's head for a moment. "Huh? Sorry, Will. What do you think?"
"Tara and I are going back," Willow responded, holding her lover's hand tighter.
"You're sure? I mean, you don't have to."
"You heard what Al said, they need all of us. Besides, we want to go."
Buffy's swallowed hard, hugging her friends to her. She had felt it was her duty to go back as the Slayer, but she didn't think her friends would do the same. "Wow. I guess it give new meaning to the phrase 'friends forever', doesn't it?"
Faith stood and began pacing. "So I'm the only one who understands what this means? This is forever we're talking about. We won't die, but we'll see everyone around us die. Xander, Anya, Giles, Joyce they'll all die."
Buffy went to Faith. "I know that. They know it, too. But it has to be done."
"Sacred duty and all? I know that, and I feel that same duty. But I can't live like this forever."
Looking everywhere but at Buffy, Faith whispered. "Alone."
"You won't be alone. There's Angel, Willow, Tara, and-" Buffy took a deep breath. "Me." The last word was said with as much love as Buffy had ever felt in her life.
Faith slowly turned her gaze to Buffy. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I don't want to go back without you. I will if I have to, but I don't want to. God, I meant to say this before we died. I'm not sorry I kissed you. In fact, I want to do it again. That is, if you'll let me." Buffy drew close to Faith and said softly, "When I died, there was one thing in my life I regretted, and that was that I hadn't told you I love you. I'm not going to promise you sunshine and roses if we go back together, but we'll be together." Putting her arms around Faith's waist, Buffy leaned in and kissed her gently.
After a moment Faith broke the kiss, tilting her head so that their foreheads touched. Her breathing was ragged, as much because of the kiss as because of Buffy's words. "You want to be with me?" Buffy nodded.
Emma and Al reappeared. The four women turned to the beings. "So you've all made your decisions. That's wonderful." Emma said.
"Those of you who chose to return will be sent back directly. You won't really remember much of this, just the outcome of our conversation. We wish you luck in your new lives." With that Al opened a portal, and the four women were sucked through it before they could question anything.
Giles finished packing the last of his clothes into the small suitcase. It had been a week since the incident at the mansion, and neither he nor Xander and Anya had come anywhere close to recovering from the loss. Giles had gone to the main Council house, demanding answers and finding out that the Watchers had not known anything about the prophecy and didn't even realize the Codex had been missing. His anger toward them subsided, but it left him feeling hollow. Willow, Tara, and Buffy had been the daughters he never had, and now they were dead.
Then he remembered Joyce. He had no idea of what to tell her. The thought caused the tears that he had held back for the last week to fall down his face like a waterfall. Getting his emotions under control, he was blowing his nose just as someone knocked on the door. "Just a moment."
He splashed some cold water on his face and went to the door. "Morning." He said, letting Xander and Anya in.
"You ready?" Xander asked, not mentioning the older man's tear-stained face.
"I'll just be a second."
"You want us to wait for you downstairs?"
"That won't be necessary." Giles put his shoes on quickly. "Let's go."
They went downstairs, getting into the waiting car. They drove through the countryside to the mansion; they had been every day since the explosion. Most of the ruined structure had fallen throughout the week, and Watchers crawled over the ground looking for clues as to what might have happened, but no answers had been discovered.
Stopping the car in the same spot they had parked for the last week, the friends climbed out of the vehicle. Walking to the area of the house that had been the source of the explosion, they stared for the last time at the place their friends had died as a soft rain began to fall.
"Xander, what's that?" Anya pointed to four objects that had begun moving in the rubble below them.
Xander wiped the tears and rain from his eyes, squinting to see what his wife was talking about. "It can't be. Can it? Giles, look!"
"Dear God. They're alive!" Giles ran to the edge, trying to find a way into the pit. Xander followed him closely. "Where the bloody hell is that damned ladder?"
"Giles?" Willow's voice called out from the rubble as she stood. Kneeling down, she helped Tara up.
"Willow, stay right where you are! We'll be down in a minute!" Giles called.
Turning to her lover, Tara giggled a bit she saw the state her lover was in. "You look -"
"As wonderful as you do?" Willow smile threatened to turn into all-out laughter. She was happy to be alive. She brushed her lips lightly across Tara's cheek, then over her lips.
"Um, guys? Slayers under some rock. Help?" Buffy and Faith lay under pile of stones that not even their strength could move.
Willow and Tara concentrated, and the rocks moved enough for the Slayers to get out from underneath. "Are you hurt?" Tara asked.
The Slayers both glanced down at themselves as they stood. "I'm fine. B? You okay?" Faith looked at Buffy, knowing that something had changed between them, but the memory of what was just out of her reach.
"Other than being dirtier than I've been my entire life, I'm fine." Buffy said, trying to wipe some of the smudge marks off her face with her equally smudgy shirt.
Giles, Xander, and Anya finally found the ladder the Watchers were using to get in and out of the pit and scrambled down. None of them had even dared to believe that what they were seeing and hearing was real until they saw the grubby faces of their friends up close. They stumbled through the debris, not caring about the cuts and scrapes they were getting from the rocks.
"Don't you ever do anything like that again," Xander said through tears as he pulled Buffy, Tara, and Willow into a hug. Giles and Anya came up behind them and circled the three friends as well.
Faith stood to the side, shuffling her feet. "Whoa, that's definitely a Kodak moment."
Scrambling out from the tangle of people, Buffy came over to her. "Come on. You should be in this too."
"That's for family."
Buffy took her hand. "You are family now." She lightly brushed some dirt off Faith's cheek.
"I-" Faith stopped when Buffy placed a finger on her lips.
"Shh, there's nothing to be afraid of anymore." Buffy's lips gently replaced her finger. Faith closed her eyes and sank into Buffy's embrace. She put her arms around Buffy, pulling her close as she deepened the kiss.
"Ahem." Anya's voice broke the momentum of the kiss. Her arms were crossed and she looked every bit a mother already. She crossed the short distance between them and hugged both Slayers tightly.
Faith broke away, but still kept an arm around Buffy. "You guys been waiting here long?"
Giles, who kept hugging Willow and Tara every few seconds, said between hugs, "You've been gone a week."
"How'd you get here, and in one piece?" Xander was hugging the two witches whenever Giles wasn't.
"Why don't we," Willow had to stop for a hug, "discuss this," and another hug, "in a dryer place?"
"I think Willow has a point." Giles was becoming a bit more composed. "Let's go back up to the car and get you four back to the hotel, shall we? Then you can explain."
"Wait." Anya said. "You haven't come back as demons or anything, have you?"
The four women laughed together. "Not exactly." They said in unison.
Willow came out of the shower with a towel around her body and another one around her hair. Tara turned from the window, a smile spreading across her face when she saw Willow. Walking to her lover, she unwrapped the towel from Willow's head and began drying her hair.
"Mm, that's nice." Willow leaned into Tara's hands. Tara brushed her lips across the back of Willow's neck, then down her back.
Willow became lost in her lover's caresses, slowly coming out of it. She turned around. "Sorry love, we need to meet everyone."
"I know, but I wanted to feel you." A tear rolled down Tara's cheek. "I never thought I'd be able to touch you again."
Willow gently wiped the tear away with her finger. "I know, but we have plenty of time now, don't we?"
Tara giggled. "We do." She kissed Willow on the tip of her nose and let her go.
Willow dressed quickly, and they headed to Giles' room. Anya and Xander were already there, and Buffy came in a couple of seconds later.
"Can we start now? I can't take the suspense." Anya's hand was wrapped around Xander's, and looked as though it was cutting off the circulation.
"Wait until Faith gets here. She's part of this too." Tara said gently.
"Sorry," Anya said.
There was a knock at the door and Giles opened it, standing still with his mouth slightly agape. "Faith?"
"Yeah G, it's me. Could you let me in?"
"Yes, yes. Sorry." Giles moved aside, letting the Slayer in.
Everyone's eyes popped out of their heads when they saw Faith. Everything about her was the same as they remembered, except for one startling thing. The scar on her face, which had once been so prominent before, had almost completely disappeared.
"I know what you guys are gawking at, and you can stop any time." Faith was embarrassed by the attention.
Buffy walked over to her. "Let's sit down." She said, kissing the place where the scar had been. Taking Faith's hand, they sat on the edge of one of the beds.
"So now will you tell us, please?" Xander's voice held a note of desperation to it.
Buffy started the story with the afternoon she and Faith went to confront Ethan. It took a long time for the four women to finish the tale with their hazy images of the beings who had returned them to Earth as immortals.
"And you don't remember why they did this?" Giles asked his hundredth question of the evening.
"We tried to remember, but we can't. I don't think they wanted us to know." Willow said.
"Well, that's a higher plane being for you. They do something, but won't ever tell you why. It's all part of this big picture stuff that we never get to know about." Anya rolled her eyes.
Xander stared at the floor. "You're immortal? There's no way you can die?"
"Don't think so. We haven't tried it out since we got skewered, but I don't think anything can kill us." Faith shifted closer to Buffy on the bed.
Xander's face shot up and he directed his gaze at the two Slayers. He looked as though he'd just noticed something that had been in front of him for a long time. "Whoa. You kissed. I saw you. And not the 'hi, haven't seen you in a while' kiss on the cheek. Didn't anyone else see this?"
Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Anya glared at her husband in horror. "Why does it matter? They want to be orgasm buddies." Both Buffy and Faith turned red.
Xander actually cringed at his wife's tirade. "I'm just a bit shocked. Can you blame me?"
"It is a surprise." Buffy squeezed Faith's hand. "But yeah, we kissed."
"Okay, just wanted to get that out of the way. We can talk about something else, if that's all right."
Giles cleared his throat. "Well, it's probably time for supper or something like that. I assume the four of you still need to eat."
Willow's stomach growled loudly. "I think that's a yes." She said, smiling.
"Then let's go get some food. The restaurant down the road is quite good." He grabbed his coat, and everyone went out the door behind him.
Just as Buffy reached the door, Faith pulled her back, turning her so that they faced each other. "Is this real? Are we real?"
Buffy's only reply was a kiss more deep and passionate than either woman had ever felt. Breaking away only enough to look into Faith's brown eyes, Buffy whispered, "We're real."
Two figures walked through the darkened cemetery engrossed in their conversation. Unlike most of the town, they weren't afraid to go out after dark. Sitting on a couple of gravestones, one of them pulled out a stake and played with is nervously as she talked.
"What about a rose? You think that'd be too cheesy?"
Tara's face brightened. "Oh no. I think she would totally love it. Are you just going to get one?"
"Should I get a dozen?" She hopped off the headstone as the earth beside her began to shift. A body came up out of the ground and Faith staked the vampire the moment his chest was exposed, turning him to dust. "Damn, I just love that part. Okay, next one."
She and Tara resumed their walk through the graves. "If you want to get a dozen, you should. Maybe you should wait until it's not movie night, though." Tara cast a sly smile at her friend.
"You're right, Blondie. I should wait until you and Red are out for that." Faith chuckled.
She and Buffy had been dating since the Scoobs had come back to Sunnydale, which was interesting since Faith had been sleeping in the spare bedroom. They both had decided to take things slowly and get to know each other again, and both Slayers were more than ready to take the next step.
A vampire came out from behind a crypt with his game face on. "Little girls shouldn't be out this late."
"Can you be any less frightening? You want him?" Faith asked Tara.
Tara held out her hands and spoke a word under her breath as the vamp came toward her. Light as bright as the sun shot from her palms, and the vamp burst into flames. The light faded, and there was a pile of dust where the vampire had been.
"Thanks. It's good to do that sometimes."
"I guess I can't have all the fun, can I? C'mon, I want to get B that rose before the flower shop closes."
"And it's our turn to pick the movies." Tara said as they started walking toward the car.
"Oh God, don't these guys understand that we've got somewhere to be?" Faith whispered, pulling Tara down when she saw two vamps about fifty yards from them. "You wanna go get the car while I take care of these two?"
"You don't have to-"
"I do if I want to get B her rose. They close in ten minutes. If you get the car, we might be able to get there in time."
"You've got a one-track mind right now, don't you?" Tara chuckled, already walking to the car.
Faith moved through the graves until she was about ten feet from the two vampires. "Is this a private party, or can any Slayer join in?" She asked, moving from her hiding place.
The two demons turned, their fangs coming out instantly. "We've never had Slayer blood before, this should be good." The first one said, walking toward her slowly.
She waited until he was just within reach before sending him flying with a roundhouse kick to the chest. Not stopping to think about the second vamp, she ran to the first one and staked him quickly.
"Oh shit, that hurts." She said, feeling something go through her back. Looking down, she saw the tip of a sword disappear beneath her bloody shirt as the weapon was pulled from her body. Falling to the ground, Faith lay perfectly still.
The second vamp knelt over the Slayer's body and turned it over. He was inches away from her neck when he felt the stake being shoved through his heart, and he had just enough time to widen his eyes in surprise before he turned to dust.
"Phht! That's just nasty." She flinched as she stood. "It was a perfectly good shirt, too." Brushing the dust off and picking up the sword, she went to the car and got in quickly.
"Faith, you're hurt!" Tara said, staring at the blood.
"I'm just glad we got those plastic seat covers. But you know what? This immortal thing is pretty cool so far." She smiled and batted Tara's hand away. "It'll stop in a second. We've got to get to the flower shop."
"Nothing's going to stop you, is it?"
"Nope. We have a mission."
Tara smiled as she put the car in gear and drove away.
"Glad to see you finally decided to come out from under your computer." Buffy called from the kitchen as Willow closed the door to her office.
"No one likes a smart-aleck." Willow smiled and grabbed a chip from a bowl on the counter and popped it into her mouth.
Buffy pulled some dip out of the fridge. "How'd it go?"
"Fine. I uploaded the last of the files to the Watchers' Council. They have a record of everything we've come up against since you quit."
"Giles'll be happy. I still don't trust them."
"Things are different now. You're not eighteen, and they can't exactly mess around with your life like they did back then. It'll be fine. They have information we need, and we can kick some serious butt. Plus, they're paying us, which means no more security work." Willow took some sundae toppings from the top cabinet.
"We're going all out tonight, are we?"
"It's Faith's first movie night here. It should be special."
"You're right." Buffy's eyes lit up at the mention of the other Slayer. "Hey, where are they? Patrol should be over by now."
"They'll be fine. Maybe they were having problems choosing the movies." Willow knew why the two women were late, but she was sworn to secrecy.
Buffy poured herself a Coke. "Probably. It's just that the gang will be here soon-"
"-and you want everything to be perfect?" Willow finished. Buffy nodded. "Don't worry, it will be."
Just then Faith and Tara came through the front door. "Sorry we're late. There was mass slayage going on in the graveyard tonight." Tara went immediately to Willow, kissing her lightly on the lips before taking her hand and pulling her onto the deck.
"They're in a hurry." Buffy said, smiling. Then she noticed the blood on Faith's shirt. "Are you okay?" Their immortality was still so new to her that her first reaction was to worry.
"I'm fine. I'll need a shower to get all the dust off of me, though." Faith looked down at Buffy's hand, which was covering the place where the sword had come through Faith's stomach. "I got you something."
Buffy stopped examining the wound, which was already a thin white scar, and looked into Faith's eyes. "You did?" She asked softly.
Faith turned red, suddenly shy. "It's not much. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you." Moving her hand from behind her back, Faith gave her a perfect single red rose.
"It's beautiful." Buffy took the rose, reaching to bring Faith closer.
"Not yet, lemme shower first. You'll get all dusty."
"I don't care." Buffy's voice was full of the emotion she was feeling. She pulled Faith into her embrace, kissing her intensely. Faith ran her hands through Buffy's hair as she pressed herself against the other woman.
They were both breathing heavily when they finally broke the kiss. "We gotta stop this now." Faith said as she struggled to get her breathing back to normal.
"I know," was all Buffy could say before she rested her head on Faith's shoulder.
"You have no idea how much I hate doing this, but I need to take a shower." Faith pulled away only slightly. "'K?" She gave Buffy a quick kiss on the tip of her nose before going to her bedroom.
Buffy leaned against the kitchen counter, breathing in the scent of the rose. There was a significant part of her that wanted to cancel movie night all together and go join Faith in the shower right then and there.
"Earth to Buffy. You in there?" Willow's face appeared, startling Buffy out of her thoughts. "Did you like the rose?"
"Of course." Buffy was beaming with happiness.
Tara walked out of the pantry and over to the sink, holding a small vase. "Let's get it in some water."
"What movies did you get?" She and Tara had already discussed that on the deck, but Willow felt that Buffy needed a change of subject.
"We got Strictly Ballroom and The Matrix."
"Ooh, tonight will be so much fun. We'll get to torture Giles for four whole hours!" Buffy said as someone knocked on the front door. "I'll get it." She said, going into the foyer. When she came back, Xander, Anya and, Giles were just behind her.
"We brought the ice cream." Xander proclaimed, putting the two half-gallon containers in the freezer.
"Goody, I can hardly wait for sundaes!" Willow said excitedly.
Anya went over to the couch, sitting down slowly. Only five months into her pregnancy, she was already huge with the twins she carried. "Xander, could you get me some water?"
"Sure hunbun." Xander immediately appeared by her side with a cold glass of water.
"Did everything go all right this evening, Tara?" Giles asked.
"Uh-huh. We got four of them tonight, but they were all pretty easy. One of them had a sword, but it looked like one of those ones anyone could get in a store. We've got it in the back of the car if you want to look at it tomorrow."
"If you think it's from a store, it can wait." Giles replied. He trusted Tara's judgment completely.
Xander and Willow started talking about how feasible the story of The Matrix really was, and everyone was soon involved in the discussion.
Faith came out of her bedroom, her short hair still wet from the shower. Her eyes caught Willow's for a moment, and the smile she received from the witch was genuine. There were still so many days that Faith couldn't understand why any of the people in that room had forgiven her, but they had. Every time one of the Scoobs smiled at her or said anything nice to her, she moved a little farther away from the pain that had held her in its grasp for so long. Her eyes moved to Buffy, and the other Slayer sensed the stare and turned her face toward Faith, her eyes filled with the love she felt. Faith went toward her friends. No - family. She finally felt like she had come home.
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