DISCLAMAIR: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and lots of people in expensive suits. Iím not making any money here, just trying to create a happier Buffyverse for my favorite characters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Adheres to Buffy canon up to "Who Are You?" Spoilers for S4 after (and including) "This Yearís Girl" and the Angelís episode "Sanctuary."† Many thanks to Val for the beta and encouragement.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

LearningCurve
By Rebelrsr

 

Chapter Ten

Willow stared blankly at Joyce Summers for a moment before shaking her head slightly. "I'm sorry, what did you say?' Her voice squeaked on the final word.

"You know very well what I said, Willow Rosenberg."

Great. Can this day get any worse? What am I thinking, of course it can. Willow didn't respond; she just walked past the other woman toward the small waiting lounge down the hall. The witch could feel Joyce behind her, disapproval and worry radiating off Buffy's mother in waves. After checking to make sure they were alone in the room, Willow sat down in a chair, perching on the edge.

Joyce sat down next to her and waited expectantly.

"Faith was in my dorm room last night." She hesitated, not really knowing how to describe the Dark Slayer's visit. "At first, I thought she was there to kill me or Buffy, but she said she had some information."

"I don't really need all the details, dear. You mentioned earlier that Faith said Buffy might be suicidal. How about you just skip to that part, hmm?" The older Summers tried to keep the impatience from her voice. The tiny redhead babbled at the drop of a hat, but right now, she was at a verbal standstill.

The girl shrank away from her interrogator. "Sure, Mrs. Summers. That's what she said – well, maybe not quite like that." The Willowbabble was finally rearing its head. "Faith told me Buffy didn't fight back in the church and she was giving up. There's a bond the two of them share and Faith could feel the despair through it."

"And you think she was telling the truth." Joyce sounded unsure.

"Umm, not really. I mean it was Faith and she was always playing head games with me. So I asked Tara about it. She can read auras and she swore Faith was telling the truth."

Joyce stood and walked a few feet away. Head bowed, she asked, "Is that why my daughter's lying in a hospital bed?" Her voice was choked with tears.

"NO." Willow was adamant. "No, Mrs. Summers, I really don't think so." She hadn't been sure until just now. "Buffy and I talked a little before the fight and when she woke up. She just wants to quit, to stop being a Slayer. It's got her all confused and depressed. But she still believes Slaying is her job; she even got mad when I mentioned Xander and I wouldn't let her fight alone. I think Adam is too strong for her. All those demon parts and the cyborg exoskeleton – I mean, he's a lot more than she's ever faced before. We can't look him up on the Internet or in some dusty book on Giles' bookshelves. Until yesterday, we didn't have a clue how to beat him."

"So, you think this spell will work?" Joyce turned to face Willow.

The young witch nodded enthusiastically. "Definitely. As soon as Buffy is out of here, we can go find Adam. I just need to take a look at the stuff on Spike's disks so we know where he is."

"I'm not sure…" Mrs. Summers' voice trailed off. "Why would Tara think Buffy wouldn't be able to help with the spell now? The doctor said she would be fine in a few weeks."

"Tara thinks we don't have that kind of time. She isn't used to Slayer healing," Willow replied. She noticed a vicious "don't lie to me, I'm your mother" look aimed her way. Ookay. That is so much worse than Resolve Face. I suddenly want to confess every wrong thing I've ever done. "If Buffy's not completely healed, Tara also thinks acting as the vessel could basically rip her apart," she mumbled.

"And that's why you argued." Joyce wasn't asking a question. "So let me get this straight." Willow tried to become one with the chair at the frustrated tone. "My daughter is supposed to walk out of here as soon as possible because she needs to save the world – again. You said something else, earlier. Something about Faith taking Buffy's place."

"Yeah. Tara wanted to go get Faith just in case Buffy wasn't ready. None of us thought that was a good idea. You know, making Faith a Super Slayer when she's already tried to kill us and all."

Buffy's mother sighed. "God knows I have my own problems with Faith, but…Honey, do you trust Tara?" At the small nod, she continued. "Then you really don't have anything to fear from Faith. If she believes Faith isn't a danger and we need her for the spell, you should believe her." Joyce lapsed into deep thought. "OK. I need a few minutes alone. It's a lot to take in at once, especially since I'm usually out of the loop on the Slaying details." She gestured to the computer bag by the door. "Go, ahead, Willow. Find the information we need and keep an eye on my daughter." She smiled slightly. "You've always been there for her."

"I'm not planning on changing that." Willow picked up the bag and headed for Buffy's room, determined to do whatever it took to help Buffy defeat Adam.


"I can't make the drive back to Sunnydale right now," Tara answered the Slayer. "Let me get a few hours of sleep and then we'll head back."

Faith shrugged. "Whatever. Where are you going to hide me until the big battle? I'm wanted for murder, remember?"

"You can stay in my dorm room." Tara pushed her hair behind her ear. "Look, I know there are a lot of details, but I need to crash."

"The bedroom's through here." Angel guided the exhausted witch out of the living room. "I can get you some fresh sheets if you want to take a quick shower."

Tara shook her head. "The sheets are fine. Don't let me sleep more than a few hours. I want to get Faith into the dorms before most of the students are up. We'll need to leave by 5:00." At Angel's nod, Tara smiled. "Thanks, Angel. One last favor? Make sure she doesn't leave."

"She'll be here." An answering smile ghosted the vampire's mouth. "Even if I have to chain her to the wall."

Chuckling, the blonde climbed under the covers and watched Angel leave.


Tara woke to a light touch on her shoulder.

"Fang said you wanted to get an early start," Faith said. She waved a steaming mug at the groggy witch. "I got coffee brewing in the kitchen when you're ready."

"OK, give me a few minutes." Tara swung her legs out of the bed and staggered into the bathroom. She didn't bother with a shower. That could wait until they got back to Sunnydale. Instead, she splashed cold water on her face and availed herself of the toothbrush on the vanity. A glance in the mirror told her she looked rumpled but presentable.

Faith was leaning against the kitchen counter, absently sipping from a coffee mug, when Tara came out of the bedroom. "So, Blondie, you sure you want to take me back to SunnyD?"

"I thought we took care of all this last night, Faith. We need you there. It doesn't matter what Willow or the rest think. It's only a matter of time before they realize Buffy isn't going to be ready in time. So, stop trying to weasel out of saving the world, and hand me some coffee."

She wasn't expecting the dimpled smile and laughter from the normally taciturn Slayer. "Gotcha, T. One coffee coming right up." Faith grabbed another mug from a cabinet and filled it. "Need anything but the java?"

"Cream and sugar if you can find it." Looking completely at ease, the brunette quickly added the requested items and handed the witch her coffee. After a tentative sip, Tara asked, "You all packed?"

"Ain't nothing to pack. All I got are these clothes – and they belong to Queen C." At the blonde's questioning look, she explained. "Cordelia. Used to be the Head Bimbo at Sunnydale High. I think Willow was the one who came up with the Queen C title."

"Sounds like Willow." Tara drank the coffee quickly. Despite the easy banter, she could tell Faith was anything but relaxed. Time to hit the road. She rinsed the mug and put it back in the cabinet. "Well, if you're traveling light, we should head out."

The Slayer didn't reply, but started for the elevator. The offices of Angel Investigations were empty at this time of morning. The vampire and his crew were either tucked in for the night or out on a job. The two women exited the building and climbed into Tara's borrowed car.

A comfortable silence blanketed the first hour of the drive, but Tara sensed the change as they got closer to their destination. Not wanting to alienate the brunette, she hesitantly reached out and touched Faith's knee. "It'll be OK." When Faith snorted, the witch smiled slightly. "Alright. That was a pretty dumb comment. But, whatever happens with Adam, I promise that the Scoobies won't hurt you."

"How can you say that, Blondie? Even all banged up, B's gonna want to kick my ass. And Red? She never did like me, and that was before all the other stuff."

Faith hadn't moved away from her touch, so Tara daringly moved to grasp the girl's left hand, squeezing gently. "Well, they may try to 'kick your ass' as you said. But they won't be able to lay a hand on you." She could feel the tension in the body across from her. A glance at the younger girl showed an aura whirling with fear and anger, bolstered by a steady determination. Hmm, she may be terrified of being in Sunnydale, but she isn't going to back down. Good.

"Hate to break it to you, T. Buffy's never lost a fight with me and Red's already showed just how little Slayer strength is against her mojo."

Tara couldn't hold back her laughter. At Faith's confused look, she explained. "If you were on your own, that would be true. However, I'll be there to protect you." The laughter broke out again at the look on the other girl's face. "You should see yourself," she managed to gasp out.

"Don't know what's so funny," Faith ground out, managing to look like a pouting five-year old.

"Oh, Goddess, that felt good." Tara reflexively linked her fingers with Faith's and stroked her thumb across the back of her companion's hand. "Hey, sweetie, you can trust me on this – I am strong enough to keep Buffy and Willow from trying anything."

Tara could see the girl looking at their joined hands, but the Slayer didn't say anything or move away. She also still didn't appear entirely convinced. "If you say so, Blondie. But I gotta ask, if you're so strong, why can't you just go after Adam?

"We actually thought of that – me and Willow. But Adam is made up of several different demons. We don't know what those demons were and that makes any kind of focused, combative magic risky. Before we discovered the enjoining spell, we were exploring ways to remove Adam's power source. Unfortunately, anything we found worked on some demons, but not on others. So, it wouldn't be effective to try a direct magical attack," Tara explained.

The Slayer was silent for a few minutes. "OK, then. Whatever I gotta do to help out, just tell me. You keep saying you don't think Buffy's going to have enough time to heal. Is Adam planning something, or is this like one of those ritual things that's got to happen at a certain time?"

The witch hesitated before answering. This was a new Faith. She could still see the whirling emotions, but they had faded. This was Faith the Slayer, totally focused on the job at hand. "Well, nobody's really sure. Just before Buffy got hurt, though, Spike gave her some disks that were supposed to have information on Adam."

For the rest of the drive, Tara filled the brunette in on everything they knew about Adam, the Initiative, and their thoughts on what nefarious plan the monster had for Sunnydale. They pulled into the dorm parking lot shortly after daybreak. "Hey," Tara said, shaking the hand she was still holding. "Remember what I said? I won't let anyone hurt you."

Reluctantly, Faith nodded.

"I'm going to cast a glamour on you so you can get safely into the building. We have to hurry, though. It's a difficult spell and I won't be able to maintain it for long." Tara closed her eyes, drawing in energy from natural elements around her. She whispered a short incantation, and glanced at her companion. "OK, let's go."

They hurried into the building. "You better lead, Blondie. I don't know where I'm going." Tara nodded and moved into the lead. Faith was ashamed of herself, but couldn't help checking out the witch as they climbed the stairs. Not bad. Wonder how Red could've thrown that away?

As soon as they entered Tara's room, the witch closed the door and released the glamour. She sagged against the door, feeling the energy drain from her, returning safely to the ground.

"You OK, T?"

Tara smiled at the worry in the tone. "I'll be fine. I'm just a little low on reserves right now. Why don't you make yourself comfortable while I go take a shower? I didn't want to take the time at Angel's." She quickly gathered her supplies and a fresh change of clothes. "Be right back."

Faith spent a few minutes casually inspecting Tara's things after she left. Other than some old books in weird writing, the Slayer didn't find much of interest. She shrugged out of her jacket and sat down on the bed, thinking about the information Tara had given her on the trip to Sunnydale. She was startled out of her thoughts by a knock at the door. Grinning, she bounded to the door, flinging it open. "Forget your key, Blondie?"

 

Chapter Eleven

"Hello, Faith," Joyce greeted the stunned Slayer. Faith didn't respond. "I thought I should talk with Tara. Can I come in?"

The brunette moved back, opening the door wider. She followed the eldest Summers into the small room. Mrs. Summers sat down at Tara's desk. Uncomfortable and trying not to show it, Faith sat on the bed, back resting against the headboard.

"It's good that you're here, too," Joyce began. She hesitated before continuing. "You know, we seem to have reversed positions." At Faith's look of confusion, she explained. "The last time we met, you were here, and I was on the bed."

"Oh." There really wasn't anything else the Slayer could say.

After waiting for more commentary – and not receiving it – the older woman sighed. "I wanted to thank you, and I need to apologize, too."

"Mrs. S…I mean, Mrs. Summers, you don't – "

"Be quiet, Faith." Joyce's voice was quiet, but effective. The Slayer lapsed into a brooding silence. "I don't know what happened to turn you against Buffy and her friends. Someday, maybe you'll tell me. But I do know that you took a huge risk coming to Willow the other night." Seeing the girl start to speak, Joyce raised an eyebrow and stared at Faith until she slumped back against the wall, lips pressed tightly together.

"You were right the night you took me hostage. Buffy and I had drifted apart. She moved out, and I got left behind. It didn't matter that we lived in the same town; we might as well have been continents apart. It's hard to admit it, but I rarely know what goes on in Buffy's life. So I owe you a great deal for trying to warn us about her state of mind."

Faith glanced at Mrs. Summers, gauging her mood. Sensing the ban had been lifted, at least momentarily, she said quietly, "I knew what B was goin' through. Spend too long in your own head, wondering about the meaning of life – she was gonna either end up dead or taking a walk on the dark side. Couldn't let that happen. I knew Red and the gang would be able to help her out."

"They're trying." Joyce was silent for a minute. "Faith, this may not be the right time…I owe you an apology for how I treated you when you first came to Sunnydale."

"What? Mrs. S, you were great. I mean, you invited me over for dinner. Hell, you and B even let me be a part of your Christmas that one year."

"But I didn't understand things then." Joyce could tell Faith didn't get the point. "That was a really bad year for the Summers family. Buffy had just gotten back after running away; I had just discovered the Slaying and wasn't handling it very well; and then you showed up." The older woman leaned forward, resting her head in her hands. "I don't know how I felt about you as a person. I only saw the Slayer. You were Buffy's chance to get out of the business. You were the answer to all of my prayers.

"When things went wrong between you and the Scoobies, I think I could have killed you," the blonde continued.

Faith was glad Joyce was holding her head and looking at the ground. She had known she would find no forgiveness for her recent actions, but Mrs. Summers' comment was devastating. Despite her best intentions, she couldn't hold the tears inside anymore.

Mrs. Summers ran shaky hands through her hair. "I talked with Willow late last night. She said something that made me reevaluate you and what you've done. Willow was convinced that, although Buffy is struggling with being the Slayer, she still is the Slayer. Buffy can't quit, no matter how much she wants to. I think you feel the same way." Joyce leaned back in the chair and looked at the brunette on the bed. Tears streamed steadily down the girl's cheeks as they stared at each other in silence.

"You weren't checking Buffy's mail that night in my room. You were using my credit card," Joyce said as she got up and moved slowly toward the bed. "So tell me, Faith. Why didn't you just get on that plane? How did you end up in the church with Buffy?"

The Slayer tried to answer, but couldn't find the words to explain. She simply shook her head and fought to regain control of her runaway emotions.

Joyce sat down next Faith. "I'm pretty sure I know why you didn't get on that plane. You couldn't, could you, Faith?" she said to the girl. "You heard about those vampires and the part of you that was still a Slayer wouldn't let you leave."

The brunette didn't answer. Joyce's relentless questioning had her on emotional overload. She closed her eyes, trying to block out the memories of her indiscretions. Arms wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her into a tight embrace and the last of her control vanished. Sobs tore through her, garbled apologies and explanations mingling with the sounds of grief. Her tears raged until lingering exhaustion and emotional upheaval dragged her into sleep.

Feeling the Slayer relax against her, Joyce used a shaking hand to wipe away her own tears. Whatever it takes, Faith, I'll make sure you get the help you need. Just like you got help for Buffy.


Willow glanced from her computer screen to the sleeping Slayer for the thousandth time that hour. Slayer Watching was far more entertaining than the failed algorithms that covered her laptop with melting gibberish. She'd been at this for over ten hours. Nothing worked. If she wasn't so worried about her friend facing Adam unprepared, even the talented hacker might have admitted breaking the encryption was impossible. But there was no way Willow was going to let Buffy go into battle unprepared. Sighing, she looked away from the resting blonde and prodded her tired mind into finding a new algorithm.

Another hour passed with no results. The redhead growled under her breath. What was I thinking? Sure, Buffy, no problem. I'll just crack the encryption on a top secret project planned by a black-ops para-military operation. Have it all ready for you when you wake up. Willow cursed her optimism and dreaded telling Buffy she didn't have the promised answers. Stretching out her back, she started to close the computer screen when something caught her eye. The shifting, random pattern of letters and symbols was gone. In their place was a crystal clear diagram of Adam. I'm dreaming. I've got to be. How… Clicking through the large document file, Willow realized this wasn't a dream. The files were really readable. Grinning madly, the hacker began to take notes.


"Will? Hey, um, Will? Come on, wake up."

Mumbling incoherently, the redhead ignored the insistent voice and tried to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, the voice kept insisting that she get up. She pried one eye open to glare at the source – Buffy. The Slayer had a quirk to her smile that guaranteed Willow was in for some ribbing.

"If I hadn't heard the snores, I might have thought you were dead." Yep. There it was – the teasing, lilting tone.

"How could you have heard anything," Willow fired back. "You've been asleep for," she checked the clock on the wall, "almost fourteen hours. Besides, I think I deserve a little nap. I told you I'd have answers; boy do I have answers." She waved her notebook at the bed-ridden blonde.

Buffy's smile widened. "I should probably tell you that I had no doubts, but you might think I was calling you reliable again."

The redhead giggled. "Afraid of meeting Vamp Me again, Slayer?" Willow cocked her head. "Too bad I didn't keep the outfit. I could've used it to get you to appreciate all my hard work."

"No way, Wills. I learned my lesson that time. No taking the Ultimate Scooby for granted. Not gonna happen again." Buffy's smile dimmed, and her voice was far more serious when she spoke next. "So, tell me what I have to do to beat Adam."

"We," Willow stressed, "have to find a hidden lab inside the Initiative. According to the maps on the disk, it's behind Room 314."

"OK. So we sneak through an underground military post past dozens of heavily armed soldiers and a load of captive demons – check. Then what? How do we beat the bad guy waiting for us?" Willow didn't like the downward swing in Buffy's emotions.

"Oops! Did I forget to mention Tara found this great spell?"

"Yeah, Will. You did. What spell?"

"Well, it's called an enjoining spell and it will turn you into Super Buffy so you can send Adam to the junkyard."

The blonde considered that for a moment. "In case you missed it, I'm not really up to par."

Willow frowned at her friend. "Hey, Buffy. Trust me, OK? The enjoining spell will take care of Adam, and, with the information on the disk, we know exactly where to look for the sicko."

The Slayer looked stubborn for a moment, but, finding a similar expression on Willow's face, gave up. "Right. You're right. So, Adam is toast. Got it." She peered at the rumpled-looking witch seated against the bed. "Where's mom and the rest of the Scoobies?"

The question had been casual, but everything changed when the Slayer saw Willow's reaction. First, she turned ghostly white. Then color flooded back into her face, turning it a shade of red just this side of purple. The girl's mouth opened and closed several times. No sound ever emerged.

"'Kay, Will. That was certainly interesting. You wanna tell me what's going on?"

"Not really," her friend mumbled.

"Maybe you'll recognize this…You know you can't keep a secret from me." Buffy relaxed slightly as the redhead laughed. "It can't be that bad. I mean, unless there's another Big Bad in town besides Adam."

"Well, that depends on whether you consider Faith to be a Big Bad," Willow replied.

"What?!" Buffy tried to sit up and gasped at the pain flaring along her spine. "Damn. Oh, damn that hurts." She lay back against the pillow and tried to breathe through the agony. "OK, Willow Rosenberg, you better tell me the whole story."

 

Chapter Twelve

Taking a deep breath, Willow began, "Well, I don't know if Faith is in Sunnydale right now. Tara was going to try bringing her back."

Buffy's heartfelt growl sent her scrambling for explanations. Even though she had told this story to Giles and Mrs. Summers, it hadn't gotten any easier. "Um, after the fight at the church, I headed back to the dorm to do some research for Giles. Only when I got there, Faith was waiting for me." The Slayer hadn't moved since Willow began, but the witch could feel the tension increase. As she continued, her words picked up speed and started to run together. "She didn't try to hurt me, really, but I bound her to the bed and just then Tara showed up and Faith told both of us that she was worried about you. I didn't believe her – I mean, come on, it was Faith. But Tara can read auras and she said Faith wasn't lying. So we talked for a bit and she said that you hadn't really been fighting hard at the church and she thought maybe you might be sui-suicidal."

Willow finally paused for breath. The silence in the room was suffocating. She could hear Buffy breathing rapidly and a quick glance showed the Slayer was flushed. The really scary part, though, was that the blonde hadn't yet said anything. "Buffy? I didn't believe her. I didn't." The witch was quick to reassure her friend.

"What else did she say?" Buffy's voice was cold.

"Nothing, I swear. She freaked out because she felt you coming back into the dorms, and she ran away."

More silence. Willow's first instinct was to fill the verbal void with sound, but she managed to control the impulse. Finally, the Slayer continued. "So Faith, the same Faith who tried to kill all of us at one time or another, comes to you with this story about my fragile emotional state. Why would anyone, even Faith, think I was trying to kill myself?"

"I don't think any of us really did. But, Buffy, you've been acting really depressed and telling me you didn't want to be a Slayer anymore. We both know you don't get to resign from the job. What was I supposed to think?" The redhead could see her words hit the Slayer hard. She continued in a softer tone, "Sweetie, we're all just worried about you. Things are so different this year. We're all kinda going our own ways, and Faith really scared us – and not in her usual 'I'm going to gut you with my big knife' way."

Buffy's eyes were closed. She looked tiny in the large bed, monitors looming over her. "So, even though you didn't believe I threw the fight with Adam, you still thought you had to bring back the murdering part of the Chosen Two to handle the final showdown."

"No! No! And more no!" Willow jumped out of the chair and carefully crawled onto the bed next to the blonde. "Pretty much Tara was the only one who wanted Faith here." The witch lay pressed against Buffy, gently stroking her cheek. "In fact, Tara and I - well, to be honest, I said a lot of nasty things to Tara, and she left yesterday. I haven't talked to her since. I don't even know if she still wants to help us."

"What about the rest of the gang?" Buffy asked quietly.

"Um, just a different set of stupid comments with the same result." Willow rested her head against the Slayer's shoulder. "It wasn't my finest moment." A warm hand grasped the fingers moving against the blonde's face. The witch looked up. Hazel eyes stared back, misted with tears, but steady and supportive.

"Doesn't sound like either of us was at our best." A small smile touched Buffy's lips. "Have you tried calling Tara to see if she found Faith?"

Willow was surprised by the question, but answered, "No, I thought she…" At the slightly raised eyebrow, she amended, "I needed a little time to cool off and get my head together."

"Hmmm, kinda let the red hair take over, Wills?"

The redhead laughed slightly. "Yeah. Although, it really wasn't the hair, Buffy. I knew what I was doing, and I chose the most hurtful words I could to make my points. Except for Xander, really. He's feeling left out and like he's not part of the team."

"He'll be back. The Scooby gang has survived a lot in the last four years. We just need to give him some time and then remind him how much we love him." Buffy twitched her shoulder, getting the witch to look at her. "Speaking of telling people you love them, have you told Tara yet?"

"Told Tara what, Buffy?" Willow hoped she didn't sound as nervous as she felt. The reproving look on her friend's face, though, let her know she hadn't been successful.

"It's been pretty clear she means a lot to you, Will. You can't let this argument ruin that."

The witch lay her had back on the Slayer's shoulder. "Tara's special, Buffy. I mean, I could tell that right away at the wanna-Blessed-Be meeting. And – and we've gotten really close. But it's complicated."

"Complicated 'cause she's a girl, or complicated 'cause of someone else?"

"Ah, I'm not really sure," Willow said, sounding miserable. "I don't think it's the girl-girl thing. I mean, I've had a while to get used to that. It's hard, though, because I know Tara wants more, and I've been holding back."

"Hmmm. Then maybe you're still pining for someone else." Buffy rested her cheek against the tousled red hair. "Still missing Oz?"

"Buffy, I loved Oz. What we had was great, but…" The witch hunted for words. "Our relationship was comfortable, but I don't think it would ever have lasted. Oz was too afraid of hurting me, and he was never OK with all of us knowing about his wolf. Sometimes, I feel the same way about Tara. I mean, sure, no wolf, but it's still just comfortable. There's friendship and affection." She could feel herself blush at having this conversation with the Slayer. "But no real flaming passion. Tingles, yeah, maybe even a wild spark or two, but no forest fires."

Breathing deeply, eyes getting heavy, the Slayer offered some advice. "Well, Will, listen to the voice of experience. Dating someone you know isn't the one, for whatever reason, never ends with goodness. You need to talk to her and explain what you're feeling." She yawned. "We also need to find out whether she was able to find Faith. You trusted her once, Willow. If she's right about Faith, then we need to get everyone on board. We're always strongest together." Buffy could feel the witch relax against her and realized they were both near sleep. Still, she had to add, "It doesn't mean we trust or forgive Faith, though, we just need her to deal with Adam…"


Tara walked into the dorm room and stopped in shock at the sight of the two women cuddling on the bed. She opened her mouth, but then closed it again when Joyce shook her head. Still rooted in place, the witch watched as the older blonde gently untangled from the sleeping Slayer and motioned for Tara to step outside. They closed the door behind them.

"Mrs. Sum-Summers, what ha-happened with Faith?"

Joyce sighed. "I came to talk to you, and ended up having a bit of a heart-to-heart with Faith." She looked around. "I don't want to be away from the hospital too long, but there are a few things I need to ask you."

Tara ducked her head, hair falling forward to hide her eyes. "Sure, Mrs. Summers."

"Originally, I came to see if you needed help finding Faith. But, now, I wonder just what it is you see in her. Willow mentioned you see auras and that you trusted Faith to do the right thing. Why?"

"I d-don't th-think I sh-should tell you th-that."

"You talked with Rupert and Willow."

Tara nodded reluctantly, still shielded by a curtain of hair. "I did, but only to t-tell them Faith wasn't lying. I w-wouldn't tell th-them anything else."

"Hmmm. So you see more than just surface emotions."

Tara's head came up in shock.

Joyce laughed quietly. "I may not always be in the thick of things, but my daughter's best friend is a witch. I've learned a lot just from eavesdropping." She sobered quickly. "I wanted to tell you I supported your plan to bring Faith back. Since she's already here, it's time to get the rest of the gang behind her."

"Do y-you th-think that's possible?" Tara cursed the returning stutter. She'd been almost free of it the past few days, but being around Buffy's mother was bringing it back.

"If it were just you and Faith, probably not." The older blonde smiled reassuringly. "I'm your secret weapon. Why don't you get some rest? I'll head back to the hospital and check on things. Can you get Faith safely to the hospital around seven this evening? That'll give me some time to get Rupert and Xander there and it will be easier for Faith to avoid being seen."

"OK." Tara was far too tired to argue, and it felt good to know someone else realized Faith wasn't beyond salvation.

Joyce touched her lightly on the shoulder before walking away. Almost swaying with exhaustion, the witch silently reopened the door and crept in. Her caution wasn't necessary. The brunette Slayer was sleeping heavily and remained unaware of the movement. Tara set her shower supplies on the floor, shucked her robe, and climbed into bed with Faith. She kept a small distance between them, not wanting to crowd the other girl. After a few changes in position, Tara drifted into sleep.


The blonde witch woke slowly, her senses tingling. Keeping her breathing deep, she peered through her lashes, searching for the cause. Blue eyes collided with brown. "Hey, Blondie." The Slayer's voiced rumbled over her.

"Faith," Tara groaned the name in protest. "Go back to sleep. Too early to be up."

The brunette chuckled in response. "Ain't early anymore. Nearly two in the afternoon."

Tara rolled over and glared at the laughing Slayer. "Faith," she said warningly, "remember I can tie your ass to this bed with just a few simple words."

Faith moved suddenly closer. "Well, then, Blondie, guess I'll have to find a way to keep you from saying the spell." Warm lips pressed against the witch's. At first, Faith seemed content with just the light contact. However, when the blonde didn't move away, the Slayer deepened the kiss, tongue demanding entrance.

Tara's hands caressed the Slayer's lower back before slowly sliding up to tangle in the brunette curls.

With the witch's tacit permission, any restraint Faith felt disappeared. A low groan tore from her, and she pulled back from Tara's lips in order to trail light, teasing kisses down the long, pale throat. When she reached the blonde's pulse point, the Slayer smiled against the skin and began gently sucking the flesh. Tara arched sharply against her at the feeling, hands nearly tearing at the hair in her grasp.

"Feels good, don't it, T," Faith murmured. The brunette brought her hands to Tara's shirt and slowly slid it upward, baring the witch from waist to shoulders. Reveling in the sight of milky skin topped with hardening pink nipples, Faith held herself above the heavily breathing blonde. Leaning in, she blew across the puckered flesh, causing the girl beneath her to shiver and moan. Dimples peeking out, the Slayer laved Tara's left nipple before drawing the flesh into her mouth, catching the hardened nub between her teeth.

"Faith," Tara groaned. "Faith, s-stop."

Pausing in the act of nibbling the witch's breast, Faith glanced up into hazy blue eyes.

"We ca-can't do this, sweetie."

The Slayer released the tender flesh and leaned up on an elbow. "Why the hell not, Blondie? You ain't seeing Red anymore. What's stopping us from having a little fun?"

Part 13

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