Title: Right In Front Of You
Disclaimers: These are Joss Whedon’s toys, we only play with them when he’s not looking.
Spoilers: Takes place the morning after the S6 episode Wrecked so anything up to that is fair game.
Feedback: Feedback is my antidrug. Swanrvr80@aol.com.
Distribution: See, want, take - just tell me.
Reluctantly she opened her eyes. Even with the shades drawn she knew it was late, maybe even after noon. Lunchtime. The day was already halfway gone. She only sat up to stop herself from calculating how many hours she had left until the sun set. At least she didn’t have to make the bed. Buffy had fallen asleep wearing the clothes she had worn the night before, hadn’t even bothered to slip under the blankets.
Smoothing down the comforter with her hands, she stared for a moment at the empty pillow next to her. Two pillows, one girl. Why did she keep two pillows on her bed? Had she even noticed? Did her body want something that she didn’t even know she needed? And then her eyes focused on the silver cross nestled in a fold of her covers.
Buffy quickly turned and ran to the window, pulling on the shade. It slipped from her grasp and snapped up, forcing her to cover her eyes with her forearm. The warmth of the sun felt comforting, felt reassuring, yet Buffy had to squint as her eyes slowly adjusted to the brightness. It was another thing that she hadn’t told the others, how everything seemed too bright, too harsh now. Dawn seemed to have noticed but made it obvious that she didn’t want to talk about. As long as her sister was back the details didn’t matter.
With a sigh that puffed out her cheeks, Buffy rubbed her eyes and left the room. Willow’s door wasn’t open yet it wasn’t exactly shut, either. Buffy inhaled slowly once and peered in. Willow’s bed was unmade but she wasn’t in it.
“Willow?” called out Buffy as she gently nudged the door open.
The room was dark, lit only by the flickering glow of a single candle. Willow was sitting cross-legged on the floor at the foot of her bed. She didn’t look up at Buffy. Buffy walked over and sat down next to her.
“Morning. Or afternoon. Not really sure. Only got up a few minutes ago myself,” offered Buffy. Willow glanced at her with half a nod.
“Get any sleep?” asked Buffy, touching Willow’s shoulder softly with her hand.
Willow shook her head ever so slightly, her face expressionless. Buffy noticed that she was rubbing her hands together, repeatedly, probably unaware that she was even doing it. Suppressing a frown, Buffy hesitantly slid her hand across her friend’s shoulder and pulled her close.
“I, I couldn’t...the bed, I mean. I couldn’t stay in it. It just seemed so...so empty, you know?” whispered Willow.
With her other hand Buffy reached over and covered Willow’s hands, calming them. She gave Buffy the briefest of grateful smiles then looked away.
“I know,” nodded Buffy.
Willow inhaled sharply and painfully closed her eyes.
“Why don’t we go see how Dawn’s doing, maybe make her some pancakes or something?” smiled Buffy. She felt Willow’s body tense.
“I...I already saw Dawn. Earlier, I mean. She wouldn’t talk to me...wouldn’t even look at me,” sighed Willow, not looking at Buffy.
“Oh. Well, I guess she’s entitled to a hissy fit. Or two. But you know Dawn...she’ll come around,” reassured Buffy. “You’ll see.”
Willow halfheartedly shrugged her shoulders.
“And why should she?” protested Willow with a pout.
“Hey. I’m only going to allow you some minor wallowing. And a little guilt is okay, but self pity? Sorry, ain’t going to let you get away with that.”
Willow just stared out ahead of her, as if Buffy weren’t even there. Buffy leaned forward and kissed Willow’s hair, adding a little squeeze on her shoulder. She made to stand up but Willow lashed out, fiercely grabbing Buffy’s wrist. Her eyes danced from Buffy to her hand and back again. Slowly, embarrassed by this display, Willow eased her grip. But she didn’t let go.
“Buffy, do me a favor? Please?” pleaded Willow. Buffy cringed at the desperation in her voice.
“Of course. Anything. What...”
“Could...could you call Tara for me? I need...I mean, we need to talk. I...it’s just...”
“I’ll call her right now. You go get in the shower. Okay?” asked Buffy, lowering her head to meet Willow’s gaze. Willow seemed to consider this, almost afraid to let Buffy go. Then she nodded. She tried to smile but just as quickly looked as if she would cry.
Buffy stood up and helped Willow to her feet. She put her hands on Willow’s cheeks and made her friend look at her. And then she smiled, forcing a confidence that she didn’t feel.
“It’s going to be okay. Trust me,” said Buffy, touching her forehead to Willow’s. Willow closed her eyes, fighting back tears and eased her chin onto Buffy’s shoulder with a hug.
“Buffy, it hurts so much,” whispered Willow.
Buffy awkwardly pulled away.
“Will, go get into the shower. I have a phone call to make.”
Buffy smiled to make her point. Willow nodded, wiping her eyes as she turned from Buffy.
Buffy made her way to the top of the staircase. Downstairs she heard Dawn run to the front window.
“Buffy! There’s a taxi in front of the house!” called her sister.
“Giles?” whispered Buffy, her eyes opening wide as she ran down the stairs.
“Who is it?” asked Buffy, her voice louder than she wanted.
“I don’t know. Some girl, brunette...wearing a black leather coat,” shrugged Dawn, not bothering to turn to face Buffy. Buffy stood behind Dawn.
And her mouth dropped open.
Buffy glanced at her sister. Dawn wrinkled her eyebrows at her.
Once again Buffy’s eyes opened wide.
“Faith,” she repeated, still getting a confused look from Dawn. “You know...the other Slayer?”
“Oh. That’s right, you died. Hence another Slayer. Wow, you were gone what, three months? Didn’t think she’d show up here that quick.”
Buffy’s mouth slowly opened, her eyes narrowed in confusion...and fear.
“What? I should have said quickly?” frowned Dawn.
Buffy shook her head to clear it.
“Stay. Here. Don’t. Move.”
Buffy walked to the door and glanced back as she opened it. Dawn’s expression, that of stark trepidation, never changed.
She stood at the end of the walk, not moving, staring...waiting. Black. Her leather jacket, her top, her pants (surprising not leather), the backpack slung over her shoulder, even the sunglasses she wore. Black. Same old Faith.
Buffy closed the door behind her and walked towards Faith, stopping about ten feet away. Faith didn’t say anything, didn’t smile, didn’t move. Putting her hands on her hips, Buffy eased into her best glare.
“So. You’re out,” challenged Buffy, stating the obvious.
“Hey B,” replied Faith, her lips nervously taut.
Buffy ignored her, waiting for an explanation.
“Um, yeah. I’m out. Time off for good behavior, throw in some extenuating circumstances...”
“Good behavior! You’ve got to be...and so you come running back to Sunnydale? What happened? Angel get sick of you already? Last time I saw you he was in your arms,” added Buffy bitterly.
Faith looked down, wincing. Buffy’s words had seemed to hit home hard.
“Angel probably...he doesn’t know. Don’t see how he could,” shrugged Faith.
Buffy lowered her arms to her side.
Faith took a deep breath but didn’t look up at Buffy when she spoke.
“Angel stopped coming to see me over a year ago. He...no one has even spoken to me since...”
“Oh, and you expect me to throw you a big pity party? Is that it?” demanded Buffy, incredulous.
“Actually, I needed to ask Red a question. Is, is she here?” asked Faith hopefully, looking up.
“She’s here. But Willow isn’t...she’s not feeling well right now. And I don’t think she’d be up to dealing with you.”
“B, please. It’s wicked important,” pleaded Faith.
“And I should care why?” laughed Buffy. “Angel obviously doesn’t. Hell, you think Wes or Cordy are worried about you? Maybe if someone else’s wishes about what happens to you needed to be considered I might care enough to continue this conversation!”
Faith bit her lower lip, her voice almost a whisper.
“There is, B. See, I...”
Just then the door behind Buffy opened. She turned to see Dawn standing there. Her sister didn’t come outside. She just stood there...watching.
“Who is that? Is it Re...I mean, Willow. Is it...”
“It’s Dawn,” interrupted Buffy, turning back to face Faith. “You going to tell me you don’t recognize her?”
“Who’s Dawn?” asked Faith. By the expression on her face, Buffy could tell that Faith was both serious and confused. Buffy’s mouth once again dropped open.
“Uh, B? About the recognizing part? Thing is...I’m not wearing these glasses as a fashion statement. I’m blind,” said Faith flatly, her face now empty of emotion.
If Buffy was confused before, she was absolutely speechless now.
Buffy still didn’t move. She simply stared at Faith.
“I knew coming here was a mistake. Just, just call me a cab, okay? Or maybe Xander can drive me over to the shelter,” sighed Faith.
“What? Oh! No. No, Faith, I didn’t...I’m sorry. It’s, it’s just a lot to take in, you know? Why...I mean...Faith, how did this happen?” asked Buffy, just now realizing that she still hadn’t moved any closer to Faith.
“I don’t know,” replied Faith, shaking her head. “Just woke up like this. Doctors can’t find anything wrong with me, say it’s psychosomatic or some such crap. But I know better. So do you.”
“Huh?” countered Buffy.
“Magic. It’s a spell or a curse or something. Wolfram and Hart are probably pissed that I didn’t do what they hired me to do. Least that’s my take on the sitch.”
“Hired you to...oh. You mean...kill Angel,” nodded Buffy.
“So that’s why you want to talk to Willow.”
Faith nodded but didn’t say anything at first. She winced and then looked down at her feet.
“Not that she has any reason to help me,” whispered Faith.
“You never did understand her, did you?” smiled Buffy. “Come on, let’s get you inside. Um...”
Buffy walked over to Faith, stopping about an arm’s length from her.
“Why don’t you give me your hand?” offered Buffy.
Faith slowly raised her head. She started to extend her hand but hesitated. And suddenly Buffy knew why. The last time they had clasped hands together...
As if she knew what the other Slayer was thinking, Faith slowly opened her hand, palm up, showing Buffy that it was empty. Only then did she hold it out. Buffy looked at Faith’s face, searching for any hint of the emotions that Faith might be dealing with, that she herself felt. Conflicting, inhibiting, both pain and anger, fear and pity preventing her from reaching out to Faith. But the younger Slayer’s face betrayed no such feelings. Looking down, Buffy noticed that Faith’s hand was trembling. And Buffy allowed herself a brief smile.
She brushed her fingers across the palm of Faith’s hand and held it.
“I’ll help you,” said Buffy, slipping her other hand down to her elbow. She could feel Faith’s hand tense.
“Thanks,” answered Faith softly and without a smile.
Buffy turned and saw Dawn staring at them. She mouthed the words ‘get inside’ to her sister as she guided Faith up the walk. Dawn frowned and stomped off.
“Okay, almost there. Coming up on a step...here,” warned Buffy, leaning forward to push the door open. Faith nervously reached out with her left hand, searching for the door.
“I got ya,” encouraged Buffy. Faith nodded slightly and let Buffy lead her into the living room.
“The sofa is right behind you. Why don’t you sit down?”
Faith sat down, slipping her backpack off one shoulder. She realized that she was still gripping Buffy’s hand tightly and quickly let go.
“Thanks,” repeated Faith, embarrassed. She dropped the backpack down next to her.
“So...you want something to drink?” asked Buffy.
“No. I’m fine.”
Faith placed both hands on her knees, tense, her head tilted slightly as she listened to her surroundings. She froze and Buffy turned to look behind her. Dawn was standing by the stairs.
“Dawn, go upstairs and see if Willow is out of the shower yet. Tell her...don’t tell her anything. Just...bring her down when she’s ready.”
Dawn nodded and ran up the stairs.
“Faith...that’s Dawn. She’s my sister. Are you telling me that you don’t remember her?” grimaced Buffy, sitting down on the couch next to Faith.
“Sister? Buffy, what the hell are you talking about? You don’t have a sister,” said Faith, turning her head in Buffy’s direction. “I mean, what, did Joyce adopt while I was in prison?”
“Um, no. And Faith, about my mom...”
Just then they both turned their heads, hearing Dawn come running back down the stairs.
“She’ll be right down, Buffy. I didn’t tell her who was here,” said Dawn, looking at Faith.
“Thanks, Dawn. I...”
Faith slowly stood up, her face visibly pale. Buffy looked from her to Dawn and back at Faith, quickly standing up as she realized something was wrong. The look on Faith’s face...she had seen Faith afraid only twice before, when they had faced Kakistos and, oh so briefly, when she had mistakenly staked Allan Finch in that alley. And now.
“Buffy...Buffy, who is that?” whispered Faith, her voice trembling.
“Faith, I told you, it’s my sister. Dawn. I’m not sure why you don’t remember her, but I think I can explain. There’s something you don’t know about her,” added Buffy, moving to stand in front of Faith to get between her and her sister.
Faith stood motionless, staring past Buffy at Dawn as if she could see.
“Dawn...say something. Speak to me,” said Faith.
“Um,” began Dawn, glancing nervously at Buffy.
“Say something!” screamed Faith, startling both Buffy and Dawn.
“I, um...what do you want me to say? I’m Dawn. Like Buffy said, I’m her sister,” answered Dawn defiantly, hiding her fear.
“Oh my God!” breathed Faith, her voice less than a whisper. She moved along the couch and nearly stumbled as she pressed back against the wall behind her, moving away from Dawn.
“Faith?” called Buffy.
“What are you?” demanded Faith, the fear in her voice replaced by anger.
Buffy and Dawn stared at her.
“Are, are you a ghost? A demon? What? Answer me!” yelled Faith, still trying to back further away.
Buffy looked at Dawn and then walked towards Faith.
“Dawn, don’t move. Faith, it’s me. What’s wrong? I don’t understand...”
“Buffy, that’s not your sister. I know that voice. I will never forget that voice. Hell, she even has the same name!” cried Faith, her voice breaking.
“Faith, what are you...”
“Buffy! Dawn was my sister! But she’s dead!”
Again Buffy’s eyes grew wide. So did Dawn’s.
“Wh...Faith, that’s impossible! And, and you never told me you had a sister!” protested Buffy. Yet Buffy knew Faith believed what she said. The girl was shaking.
“No, I didn’t tell you. It was too...Buffy, she’s dead. She died when she was ten!”
Faith had pressed back until she was in the corner of the room and could go no further. Buffy swallowed and closed her eyes, trying to think. Just then Willow came down the stairs, a towel wrapped around her head.
“Okay, what’s so important that I couldn’t dry my hair? This had...oh my God,” said Willow, stopping in midstride. She reached out and pulled Dawn behind her.
“Willow, it’s okay. Faith, um...well, first of all...she’s blind,” winced Buffy. “And she, uh, doesn’t remember Dawn.”
Willow scrunched her eyes together, staring at the figure in the corner and slipped her fingers into Dawn’s hand. Dawn just stood there as if she hadn’t noticed.
“Buffy, I, I can prove it. In my backpack there’s a leather wallet. There’s a photo of me and Dawnie. We’re, um, outside Fenway Park, sharing a sausage and pepper grinder.”
Buffy unzipped the backpack and quickly found the wallet.
“Oh, and Dawn, she has a small V-shaped scar just above her left knee. She got it when she was nine and fell off the carousel at the Big E. Oh, that’s this huge fair they have every fall back in Massachusetts,” said Faith confidently.
Buffy looked at Dawn. Dawn was shaking her head.
“No. No, I got that scar when I fell off the carousel in Los Angeles. With you, Buffy. Not her,” denied Dawn weakly.
Buffy looked at Faith. Faith had closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall. She covered her mouth with one hand as if she might throw up. Buffy chose to ignore her for the moment and pulled a worn, faded photograph from the wallet. And then she gasped and shot a worried look at Dawn. Dawn’s eyes opened wide.
“Faith, this looks like you’re outside of a stadium...and you have a grinder in your hand...but you’re alone. There’s no one in the photo but you. See?” asked Buffy, holding it up. “Oh! Sorry!”
“Wh-what? No. No! That’s impossible. I, I’ve had that photo for years. I...oh my God,” whispered Faith. She slumped down into a sitting position, her knees drawn up and her head in her hands. Buffy wasn’t sure but she thought Faith was crying. And she had never seen Faith cry.
Buffy tossed the wallet back into the backpack and glanced at Willow and Dawn. They stood motionless, both waiting for her to say or do something. Buffy exhaled slowly and knelt down next to Faith. Buffy put her hand on Faith’s knee and she recoiled at the touch.
“Buffy, it’s not fair,” whispered Faith. “Even what I don’t have anymore is being taken away. This, this can’t be happening.”
Buffy hesitantly reached out and then put her hand on Faith’s arm. This time Faith didn’t flinch.
“Hey. We’ll figure this out,” comforted Buffy.
“Yeah. Magic. It’s got to be magic. I know! Giles! He can figure this out. That’s what he does, right?” asked Faith, her voice holding no hope despite her desire.
“Yeah, he does. Except that he’s back in England now,” frowned Buffy.
“Oh,” replied Faith, her answer hollow and empty.
“Buffy, there’s something wrong here,” called Willow from the other side of the room.
“Ya think?” sighed Buffy.
“Buffy, listen to me! I know Faith tried to...I mean, when she was with the Mayor and, and...Buffy, I can’t remember! We know Faith tried to hurt Dawn. Don’t we? That time when...Buffy, I...something’s not right here,” said Willow, now pulling Dawn close to her. Dawn didn’t protest.
Buffy looked away, lost in thought. Very slowly she turned towards Faith and then she looked back at Dawn. Her sister, while obviously scared, was trying to put on a brave face for her.
“You’re right. I can’t even remember Faith even meeting Dawn now. But I know...”
Buffy looked back at Faith. Faith raised her head and looked back as if she knew what Buffy was doing.
“It’s as if...even when Faith came over, Dawn would be sleeping over a friend’s house, or she was at school, or...but I know you tried to hurt her. At least I used to!” sighed Buffy, shaking her head.
“Buffy, my sister is dead. There’s no way that what I remember isn’t real. It was raining and the clock had just started to chime ten. And then I saw that the front door was slightly open. I...I had told her that I had lost one of my favorite earrings on the way home. She wanted to look for it but I said we’d wait until morning because it was raining.”
Faith paused, swallowing hard, lost in her remembering...and then she turned her head in the direction of Dawn. Buffy followed her gaze and looked at her sister. Dawn was listening intently, afraid to even breathe. When Faith spoke again, her voice was small, distant, as if she were back in Boston, watching this scene unfold all over again.
“I ran outside. We lived at the top of a hill and it was dark. It was dark because I had thrown a rock at the streetlight and busted it the night before. Dawn, she...she was in the street...and she was just standing there in the rain. But she was smiling. She held out her hand and I knew. I knew she had found that damn earring. That God damned earring!”
Faith turned her head but Buffy could see the tears welling up in the corner of her eye.
“This pickup truck came over the hill. And it was coming fast...too fast. I, I tried to scream Dawn’s name...she barely had time to even turn around. She didn’t...she didn’t...”
“Faith, don’t. I believe you, okay? Faith...stop,” said Buffy, now getting upset herself. She put her hand on Faith’s shoulder but she pulled back.
“No one is going to tell me that I don’t remember that,” snarled Faith through clenched teeth even as she choked back her tears. “No one. That’s not going to be taken from me...ever. And I know my sister’s voice. She screamed my name. She...”
Faith turned her head towards Buffy.
“This is hell, right? I’m dead...and this is my hell,” nodded Faith.
Buffy couldn’t answer her. She had wondered, no, had believed the same thing almost every day herself. Without realizing what she was doing, Buffy turned away from Faith and stared accusingly at Willow. Willow’s lower lip quivered as she turned away, unable to look at her friend. It only took one simple look. But Willow knew what Buffy was thinking.
They sat around the table in silence, Buffy across from Faith and to her left, Dawn across from Willow. Faith was tapping her fingers on the table until she realized just how loud, and annoying, that was. Even though she was blind the others, hiding their pity, still avoided looking at her.
“So...I’m supposed to believe this whole Key story? That everything I believed was a lie? That, that one of the only people who ever...who ever cared for me...that it was just some cruel joke?” sighed Faith.
There was a moment of silence that was quickly shattered by Willow as she tried, rather unsuccessfully, to stifle a laugh.
“Red, what could possibly be funny?” winced Faith, more hurt than angry.
“I’m sorry, I...well...”
Willow glanced around the table, still trying not to laugh.
“I guess you’ll just have to accept it...on blind faith!” snickered Willow. Dawn bit her lower lip and Buffy had to cover her mouth.
“Faith, I’m sorry. Really,” guffawed Willow, her face getting red.
Faith simply shrugged.
“Whatever,” she said, her shoulders slumping.
“Faith, I get it now. It makes sense. It does,” said Dawn. Faith tensed at hearing Dawn’s voice again but only Buffy seemed to notice.
“I was sent to the Slayer for her to protect me. But you, well, you were in prison and couldn’t take care of me. Sounds like the monks who did this started the process and then changed their minds about it,” said Dawn. “So...”
“So they sent you to me,” interrupted Buffy. “And Faith was chosen first because I’m not the Slayer.”
“What?” said both Dawn and Faith at the same time.
“Well, not the active Slayer. I mean, I died...again...and another Slayer wasn’t called. Another won’t be called until Faith...”
“Oh,” interjected Faith, nodding her head. “But no, I’m not the Slayer. Buffy is. Always has been.”
“Not now, B. Not now,” repeated Faith sadly. Buffy was going to argue but let it go.
“Wow, this is...wow. Ya know, you guys could’ve dropped me a postcard or something. There’s just so much that I missed. Dawn’s here, Buffy died, Buffy came back, Giles left...”
“And Riley did too,” added Dawn. Buffy glared at her as Faith shrank a little lower in her seat.
“Well, excuse me, but he did!” protested Dawn.
“And Buffy, I’m sorry about your mom. Really,” said Faith, trying to change the subject.
“Thanks,” answered Buffy. “Um, Willow, what do you think? Some bad mojo making Faith blind?”
“It’s possible,” agreed Willow, standing up. “Faith, take off your glasses. Let me see your eyes.”
Faith complied as Willow walked into the kitchen a took out a flashlight from a drawer. She came back and shone the light directly into Faith’s eyes. Frowning, she clicked off the flashlight and flicked her hand at Faith’s face. Faith didn’t even blink.
“Weird,” commented Willow.
“No shit,” agreed Faith.
“Her pupils dilate, reacting to the light, but she can’t see. Either the doctors are right...”
“Meaning I’m nuts,” sighed Faith.
“Or it’s a spell,” continued Willow, not disagreeing with Faith’s assessment.
“You sure?” asked Buffy.
“Remember when Amy’s mom did that spell on Cordelia? Her eyes clouded over, became completely white. It only lasted for a few hours, but that was a complicated spell. This is different. There’s some powerful magicks at work here,” nodded Willow.
“But...you can help me?” asked Faith anxiously.
Willow glanced at Buffy but quickly looked down at her hands.
“No. I can’t,” said Willow softly, her face contorting as if she had just bit into a lemon.
“Why? Red...Willow. You can raise the dead...but you can’t help me?” pleaded Faith.
“Can’t walk on water, either,” countered Willow, an edge to her voice.
Faith leaned back into her chair and slipped her sunglasses back into place.
“It’s okay. I understand,” said Faith flatly.
“No, you don’t,” answered Buffy. “Faith, Willow doesn’t do magic anymore. She...just can’t.”
“Oh,” grunted Faith, truly surprised.
“That’s not entirely true,” sighed Willow, sitting back down in her chair.
“Huh?” muttered Faith.
“I can. Do magic. I, I just can’t control it anymore. It’s...complicated,” frowned Willow. She wrapped her arms around herself as if she were suddenly cold.
“Oh,” said Faith, not really understanding. “Tara! What about Tara? Can she...”
“Tara!” repeated Buffy. “Oh, Will, I didn’t call her. I’ll, I’ll do it right now, okay?”
“No Buffy, it’s okay. I should be the one.”
“Yeah,” nodded Willow.
“What’s going on?” inquired Faith.
“Willow and Tara kinda broke up,” said Dawn.
“Dawn!” snapped Buffy, glaring icicles at her. “They didn’t break up. They just...have a few things to work out,” winced Buffy, instinctively putting a hand on Willow’s shoulder.
Willow weakly smiled but didn’t deny what Dawn had said. No one spoke. And the silence was broken by the growling of Faith’s stomach.
“Um, Faith? Are you hungry? Can we get you something to eat?” asked Buffy.
“No, um, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“Faith, when was the last time...”
“Okay, maybe some toast. Or a buttered roll. Something I can pick up with my hands. I’m not really down with the whole fork and knife routine yet,” sighed Faith, embarrassed.
“I’ll get it,” said Willow, quickly standing up.
“No, Will, I’ll...”
Buffy, I need something to do,” winced Willow, her arms still wrapped tightly to her chest. “I, I need to keep busy.”
“Okay,” smiled Buffy.
After Willow had left Faith looked in Buffy’s direction, knowing that she would be staring at her.
“Those two going to be alright?” whispered Faith.
“And you care why?” snapped Buffy.
Faith looked away as if she had been slapped.
“Sorry. That came out a little harsh,” apologized Buffy.
“No big,” shrugged Faith.
“I don’t know. About them, I mean. Willow was doing too much magic and it drove Tara away. But they love each other. They just...”
“Okay, I didn’t need to hear her life story,” said Faith.
The room was quiet and Faith’s stomach growled again.
“Dawn, could you do me a favor. Please?” asked Faith gently.
“I guess,” shrugged Dawn.
“Could...could you let me touch your face. I, um...I have to know. Is that okay?” winced Faith.
Dawn looked at Buffy. Her sister nodded both her approval and her encouragement.
“Sure,” answered Dawn reluctantly.
She got up and stood next to Faith. Faith sat there for a moment, not even looking up at her. Dawn reached down and put her hand over Faith’s hand and slowly lifted it, resting it on the side of her cheek. Faith turned in her chair and with her other hand touched the other side of her face, gently rubbing her eyebrows and finally sliding her fingers through Dawn’s hair.
“Well?” demanded Dawn with a scowl on her face.
“I...I don’t know. It’s not as easy as, well, like on television or something. And you’re five years older now,” said Faith, dropping her hands to her side. “But your voice. Damn it! Why can’t I see you?”
“So...who’s sister am I?” said Dawn sarcastically.
“Dawn,” scolded Buffy.
“Well? I mean, hey, maybe Xander will bump his head and think I’m his sister! Or, or some stranger will show up at our door and claim he’s my father!” yelled Dawn.
“Dawn, no...,” began Buffy, standing up.
“When does this, this, this...”
“Shit?” ventured Faith.
“Shit ever end?” barked Dawn, storming off.
“Dawn!” yelled Buffy.
Dawn slammed the front door shut as she left. Buffy turned to glare at Faith...but her anger melted away when she saw how upset Faith was.
“I’m sorry, B. I had no right...you’d better go after her,” warned Faith, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes. Buffy sat back down.
“No. We’ll just let her be. Give her some time. She knows she is my sister. We, uh, kinda went through this the first time she found out,” frowned Buffy.
“She didn’t know?”
That one word hung in the air between them. Faith looked towards the door where Dawn had gone, weighing the implications of this discovery. Buffy studied her, only now seeing how her clothes hung on her. She wasn’t gaunt but Faith had lost weight. Buffy wondered what had happened to Faith in prison, what she must have gone through...and shook her head, clearing her reverie, remembering just who was sitting across from her.
“So...what’s new with you?” sighed Buffy.
Faith raised her eyebrows in surprise.
Still pouting even though no one would notice, Dawn sat down in front of the door. After all, where could she run off to? Besides, she wasn’t as angry as she was scared. Maybe she could admit that to Buffy later. Maybe. She ran her hand over her left knee, thinking about the scar hidden there beneath her pants.
Why had Faith remembered something that had happened when she was younger? Did it make her any less real? As much as Buffy had stressed to her that their blood was the same, that they were sisters no matter what Dawn’s origins were, she still had her doubts. All she could do was trust in the way she felt about Buffy. And her mom.
But why did Faith have feelings for her? She didn’t know Faith. She had never met her or even heard her name mentioned. Dawn was staring down at the walk so intently that she didn’t notice Tara until she was standing right in front of her.
“Hey, Dawnie!” smiled Tara. Her voice didn’t betray anything but Tara’s usual happy disposition. But Dawn could see in her eyes that Tara probably hadn’t slept much last night, if at all.
“Hey,” smiled Dawn.
“Oh, wow. What’s with the cast?” asked Tara, concerned. She sat down next to Dawn, hiking up her ankle length skirt and putting a small potted cactus that she held down on the step next to her.
“Oh. I, um, got into an accident last night. It looks worse than it really is. I mean, it doesn’t hurt so much as it itches, you know? Just a hairline fracture. Lucky, I guess. Could’ve been worse,” shrugged Dawn.
“Wait, you got into an accident...not, had an accident? What happened?” asked Tara, putting an arm around Dawn’s shoulder while still looking at the cast.
“We...I mean, Willow and I, we were in a car, trying to get away from this demon thingy...”
“Wil-Willow was driving?”
“Well, sorta. See, she was using magic to drive the car.”
Dawn ignored Tara’s deflated look and kept on with the story.
“Except Willow, she...she was kinda wild. Out of control. Her eyes were all...”
“Black,” nodded Tara, looking down, away from Dawn.
“Yeah,” frowned Dawn. “And we got into an accident. Hence the cast,” added Dawn, holding up her arm.
Tara’s eyes suddenly opened wide.
“Willow! Did she, did she get hurt?”
“Oh, no. Willow’s fine. Really,” assured Dawn. But Tara didn’t look relieved.
“No, Dawnie, she isn’t. Look, I, I um, have to go, okay?” said Tara, standing up.
“Tara, wait! Don’t you think you should talk to her?” whined Dawn.
Tara took two steps and then stopped, looking back over her shoulder at Dawn. She could tell that Tara wanted desperately to talk with Willow. And Dawn knew that Tara wasn’t going to stay.
“But you don’t understand,” protested Dawn, getting to her feet.
“No. I don’t,” winced Tara. “Dawn, I have to go.”
“Uh, what about your plant?” asked Dawn, trying to stall her.
“It’s Willow’s. She left it at my place. Just...give it to her.”
And with that Tara walked quickly away.
“Tara! Please, don’t...”
Dawn sighed and shook her head.
“Here,” said Willow, placing a plate down in front of Faith. “There’s a buttered roll on the left and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the right. And a can of coke. Diet, but that’s all we had.”
“Thank you,” nodded Faith uncomfortably.
“Sure. So, where’s Dawn?” asked Willow.
“She, um, she got a little upset and went outside,” explained Buffy.
Buffy glanced across the table and Willow frowned at Faith with one side of her mouth.
“She’s upset because she doesn’t understand how I can think she’s my sister. Because,” hesitated Faith, pausing to take a deep breath. “Because it challenges who she is. Makes her feel less than real.”
Buffy glanced at Willow, biting her lower lip. It sounded harsh to hear Faith’s words spoken out loud, even if Buffy was thinking the same thing.
“I’ll go talk to her,” sighed Willow.
“Uh, Will? I thought she wasn’t talking to you?” reminded Buffy.
“There’s that,” agreed Willow. “But you want her running off again?”
“Again?” said Faith.
“I should go,” said Buffy, starting to get up from her chair.
“Sit!” commanded Willow. Buffy quickly sat back down. Willow glared but with approval.
“Faith, eat. You’re food’s getting cold,” said Willow before walking away.
Faith mouthed the words ‘getting cold’ at Buffy and Buffy shrugged. Then she remembered that Faith couldn’t see this gesture.
“She’s just being Willow,” said Buffy.
“Hey, Dawnie,” said Willow, closing the door behind her. “And here I thought I’d have to go lookin’ for ya. I thought I heard voices. Were you, uh, talking to someone?”
“Yeah, Tara was...hold on, I’m not speaking to you yet,” announced Dawn, crossing her arms.
“Tara? Tara was here?” said Willow, quickly looking around. “She didn’t stay?”
“No,” frowned Dawn, turning her back on Willow.
“But...why?” begged Willow, the ache in her voice making Dawn lower her arms and face her.
“She, well...I think she was upset,” cringed Dawn.
“Upset? Why would...oh! Your arm. She saw...”
Dawn nodded. Willow ran out to the street, looking left and right.
Willow quickly gave up and slunk back to stand in front of Dawn but held her eyes closed.
“She did ask if you got hurt,” said Dawn encouragingly.
Willow slowly opened her eyes and glared menacingly at Dawn. Dawn’s eyes opened in reaction to Willow’s change of mood.
“What did you tell her?” demanded Willow, hissing.
“N-Nothing! Really, I...”
Willow grabbed Dawn by both arms and pulled her close.
“What did you tell her?” repeated Willow, much louder.
“Ow! Willow, you’re hurting me!” winced Dawn.
Willow eased her grip but didn’t let go. Instead, she brought her face closer to Dawn.
“I, I told her what happened. That you used magic to drive the car and, and...”
“And?” yelled Willow.
“And that you were out of control!” snapped Dawn, pulling her arms free. She glared defiantly at Willow...and was shocked to see Willow’s anger fade into despair. Beyond crying, Willow looked like she was going to be sick.
Immediately the red head’s rage returned.
“I don’t use magic anymore! I don’t suppose you mentioned that to...to her?” choked Willow, unable to say Tara’s name.
“And how would I know that?” barked Dawn defensively.
“Are you happy now? Does this make us even!?” yelled Willow. “Next time twist the knife a little deeper into my back!”
And again Willow’s anger vanished, replaced by tears. She ran past Dawn and opened the door, running up the stairs.
“Willow! I’ll, I’ll go find her! I’ll...”
Dawn’s shoulders slumped, wondering just how the hell any of this was her fault.
“Willow!” yelled Buffy, freezing Willow on the stairs. She turned and Buffy took a step back, thrown by her friend’s face. Her tears couldn’t mask her seething fury.
“Buffy...not now,” warned Willow through clenched teeth.
“Um...okay,” winced Buffy. Willow turned to go. “But...”
Willow’s shoulders slumped. Buffy stepped forward, thinking she might actually collapse on the stairs.
“What?” whispered Willow without turning to face her.
“I, uh, was wondering why the whites of Faith’s eyes were...well, kinda blue. And not kinda. They are blue.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. I added something to Faith’s food. It’s a tracer. To see if she was under the influence of magic. Guess we got our answer,” said Willow.
Faith stopped in mid-bite and put the roll back down on the plate.
“It’s okay, Faith. The stuff’s harmless and the effect should wear off in an hour. Or three,” added Willow nonchalantly.
“Should?” sighed Faith.
“Buffy, I gotta...”
“Go. You okay?” asked Buffy, though the concern didn’t seem to be there.
Willow looked at her and sadly shook her head.
Willow walked up the steps without looking back.
“Try to get some sleep?” called Buffy. She turned to see Dawn standing there, embarrassed. Buffy hesitated and then opened her arms to her sister. With a little smile Dawn sought comfort in the embrace. Buffy rubbed her back with one hand but her face was blank.
“Buffy, I’d be fine on the couch. Really,” argued Faith.
“No. I don’t know how late it will be when I get back from patrol. I’d wake you up,” said Buffy, pausing as she pulled the sheet down. She glanced up at Faith then looked at the white sheet in her hand. Somehow this felt familiar. This felt...Buffy shook her head and fluffed up the pillow.
“Did Xander or Anya have any luck at the Magic shop? Research turn up anything?” asked Faith.
“Uh, no. Not yet. But we’ll start fresh tomorrow, hitting the books and...stuff,” said Buffy, trying to sound encouraging. She turned to see Dawn standing in the doorway.
“Just wanted to say goodnight,” smiled Dawn, her eyes on Faith.
“Goodnight,” answered Buffy.
“Goodnight,” repeated Faith.
“Um, Buffy? When was the last time you took a cross with you on patrol?” asked Dawn with a confused look. Buffy looked at the cross in her hand.
“Oh. Um, no. I was....just picking up. Must’ve left this out,” she laughed, opening a drawer and tossing the cross inside. Dawn’s confused look didn’t change as Buffy closed the drawer with her hip.
Buffy scowled at Dawn, nodding her head towards Faith.
“Faith, I’m right next door. If you need anything, just call out. I’m a light sleeper,” offered Dawn.
“Thanks,” smiled Faith, nodding awkwardly.
“I put a new toothbrush on the sink for you. It’s right behind the faucet,” added Dawn.
“Thanks,” answered Faith again.
“Well...goodnight,” said Dawn, quickly leaving.
Faith swallowed, waiting until she heard Dawn’s door close.
“What’s up with the cross, B? Some vamp giving you a hard time?”
“Giving me a hard...um, no. No, of course not. Nothing hard...er, no.”
Faith answered her with a doubtful frown.
“Willow gave me a pair of Tara’s pajamas for you to wear. They’re on the end of the bed here,” said Buffy. “Might be a little big but...”
“But it’s better than sleeping stark naked. Wouldn’t want to scare anyone if I had to get up in the middle of the night,” laughed Faith. She leaned forward, touching the bed and finding the pajamas.
“Well, Willow might not mind, but Dawn...um, hold on there, Faith,” said Buffy as Faith pulled her top over her head. She stepped over to the window and pulled the shade down.
“What?” asked Faith, shaking her hair loose and standing there in her black bra.
“Almost had a Helen Keller moment there. The window?”
“Oh. Eh, always thought Helen was an exhibitionist at heart,” smiled Faith.
“Sure she was. Okay, gotta go.”
“Good luck hunting,” said Faith.
“Thanks,” answered Buffy. She hesitated, wondering what else there was to say. Then she left. Faith undid her bra and slipped into Tara’s top, finding that it fit pretty good as she buttoned it up. She stepped out of her pants and pulled on the pajama bottoms, fumbling for a moment with the drawstring. With a sigh she slowly made her way out into the hall, hand outstretched to follow the wall, pausing in front of Willow’s door.
“Mind if I join the party?” asked Faith.
“I can’t see but I can smell an open bottle of whiskey. Thought you’d be more of a wine guzzling girl,” smiled Faith.
“I am. I mean, I prefer wine. To whiskey. When I drink, that is. Which isn’t...and I don’t guzzle. Hey, I don’t even drink. It’s just...”
“Red, relax. I don’t care,” said Faith, interrupting Willow’s stumbling ramble.
“I thought a sip...or two...would help me sleep. That’s all,” sighed Willow, looking like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “You want?”
“Oh, um, no. No, I’d better not.”
“You’d better not? Party girl Faith, turning down a drink? I don’t get it,” said Willow, putting the cap back on the whiskey bottle and putting it on the dresser next to a now full glass. She looked at Faith and was surprised to see that Faith was more than embarrassed; she was at a loss for words.
“Hey, it’s not like I have to defend my reputation, ya know? I can drink you under the table and still kick some vampire’s ass,” stated Faith, though her voice lacked her usual conviction.
Willow crossed her arms and studied her. It wasn’t long before Faith lowered her head and took a deep breath.
“Can you keep a secret?” whispered Faith.
“Sure,” shrugged Willow, suspicious yet curious.
“I um...I have an ulcer. That’s why I shouldn’t...so, go on and laugh. I mean, what’s more pathetic? A blind Slayer or one with an ulcer?” grinned Faith, her voice bitter.
“Oh. Sorry. I had no idea,” winced Willow.
Faith stood there, still looking down. Willow frowned and then walked over to her. Faith looked up, hearing her approaching.
“Faith, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Hell, the stuff a Slayer has to deal with...”
“Or the shit a Slayer inflicts on others,” corrected Faith quickly. Willow knew that Faith had only let her guard down for a moment. She pressed on, hoping Faith wouldn’t block her out.
“How do I say this without sounding condescending? Faith...do you regret what you’ve done? Is that why you have an ulcer?”
A flash of anger contorted Faith’s face and Willow took a step back. She wasn’t sure if Faith was ashamed or embarrassed by revealing this rage but just as quickly Faith winced in pain.
“Regret is not the word I would choose. Regret means never letting go. And if I couldn’t...well, let’s just say I’d have gone insane by now. Not that you ever doubted my sanity, right?” laughed Faith.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to...”
“Is this where you tell me that since I’m blind I should look within? See the person that I am? Where do you think I’ve been? How do you think I blocked out the sounds of that place at night? You close your eyes, tightly, shutting down and you relive...everything. Over and over. And if you don’t feel like you want to vomit it just means you’re numb. No wonder people don’t change...no one gives you a chance to make amends inside. I...”
Faith stopped, suddenly seeming deflated.
“Sorry,” whispered Faith. “Sorry.”
“No, I kinda deserved that,” sighed Willow, relieved that Faith had calmed down. Faith leaned against the door.
“Tara didn’t return your calls, did she?” asked Faith softly.
“No,” breathed Willow sadly, looking down. “How...how did you know?”
“I can hear it in your voice. And...that’s not the first glass you’ve had tonight, right?” asked Faith, nodding in the direction of the bottle. Willow slowly raised her eyes. Faith touched a finger to the side of her nose.
“Your breath,” shrugged Faith.
“Oh,” confessed Willow.
“Red, trust me when I tell you that drinking won’t help.”
“I know. We should, uh...”
“Get to bed,” agreed Faith.
“Yeah. Faith, we’ll tackle the books tomorrow. I’m sure I can find something that will help you.”
“But you said...”
“I know. I can’t do the magic. It’s just too dangerous for me right now. But maybe Tara can, if I help her. She’s not as...I’ll talk to her, okay?”
“Thanks. Willow, can I ask you for a favor?” said Faith hesitantly.
“Sure,” smiled Willow, almost laughing.
“Can you get me a glass of milk? It’s, uh, good for my stomach. Besides, I hear it helps you fall asleep.”
“Not a problem,” agreed Willow happily, slipping her hand into the grip of a surprised Slayer. “I’ll help guide you to the bathroom first.”
“Thanks,” smiled Faith. “And if you tell anyone I was drinking milk, you know I’ll have to kill you, right?”
“And if you tell Tara I let you sleep in her PJs, I’ll have to kill you. Fair enough?”
“Looking real good in those, I might add,” grinned Willow, feeling Faiths hand tense.
It was Willow’s turn to laugh.
She smiled and her hand reached out. But the bed beside her was empty, cold. Tara’s eyes sprung open and she yanked her hand back, embarrassed at how her body had betrayed her. With a sigh she rolled over and noticed the blinking red light by the phone. Wincing, she pressed the button.
“Tara, honey, please call me as soon as you get this message. It doesn’t matter how late it is. Just...call, okay? Please? We need to talk. I need...I need you.”
The machine clicked off. Tara held her hand over the erase button but couldn’t bring herself to press it. Instead she hit the save button and rolled back over into bed.
“That was your last message. I will save message,” chimed the mechanical voice on her machine. The tape whined as it rewound.
Tara eased onto her side and pulled the pillow next to her close to her body, hugging it. She glanced at the clock. It was two in the morning. She rubbed her cheek against the pillow but couldn’t close her eyes.
Buffy sat down in the dark alley, finally admitting to herself that she wasn’t patrolling. She was hiding. Pulling her legs up, she rested her chin on her knees and concentrated on the sounds of the night, listening to distract, listening to avoid thinking. She was concentrating so hard that she never heard him until he was standing at the entrance to the alley. Still, she knew he was there. Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head.
“I don’t appreciate being stalked,” she stated without looking up.
His footsteps came closer. She could hear the cigarette he held burn, could feel the leather of his jacket as it moved with him as he walked, its scent washing over her. And then he was standing next to her. Buffy raised her head but didn’t look at him.
“I’m not stalking anyone, Slayer. I’m just out for a stroll.”
He took one last drag and tossed the cigarette away from them.
“Spike, I thought I told you to stay away from me.”
“What can I say? Never believed in that absence makes the heart grow fonder tripe. Truth be told, I think you want to see me,” smiled Spike.
Buffy slowly stood up and met his gaze. Spike’s smile grew into a grin.
“Back to wearing that silver cross around your neck, I see.”
“Old habits die hard,” replied Buffy.
“And some things never die. What say we have another go at it? Or haven’t you recovered enough from our last tryst?”
“Wow, ever the hopeless romantic. I can’t imagine how Drusilla ever let you get away,” challenged Buffy.
“Who needs romance? Your needs are on a much more primal level, are they not? Admit it, Buffy. It’s not love...yet...but what I have to offer, at least it’s something you can feel.”
Spike’s words were harsh but he had said them softly, almost tenderly. Buffy turned away, unable to look at him. He put his hand against the wall beside her and she slowly turned back to look at him, her lowering lip quivering. Spike leaned in, hinting at a kiss but wanting her to make the first move.
“Spike. You...you told me that you love me,” whispered Buffy.
“That I did,” smiled Spike.
“And do you want to see me dead? Again?” asked Buffy, her voice a little louder this time.
“No. No, why would you say that?” said Spike, lowering his arm.
“Because you know how dangerous what I do is, how one little distraction, one hesitation...”
Buffy didn’t have to finish. He could see her eyes pleading with him.
“Spike, I need some time. Just leave me alone. Please?” begged Buffy.
Spike slowly looked down. And took a step back from her.
“I, uh, hadn’t thought about that,” whispered Spike.
Buffy watched his lips as he spoke, mesmerized. She winced and quickly walked past him.
Buffy froze but didn’t turn around.
“Isn’t feeling something...doesn’t that help?”
She looked back over her shoulder, her eyes clouding with tears but her voice firm.
“I don’t know.”
Buffy turned and ran from the alley.
Faith walked very slowly, her left arm extended so that her hand touched the wall as she made her way down the hall. She paused, hearing a muffled...cry? Moving ahead, her fingers came to a door. This would be Willow’s room. Faith hesitated, unsure of what to do until she heard a moan from the other side of the door.
“Willow?” called Faith, rapping her knuckles against the wood. She heard sheets rustling, then silence. Faith cringed, just now realizing that Tara might have come back and she was now interrupting...something.
“Come in,” answered Willow. Faith found the doorknob, twisted the handle and pushed the door open. She didn’t enter the room.
“Hey. You okay?” asked Faith.
“Yeah. Just can’t sleep,” said Willow weakly. Faith couldn’t see that she was sitting up in bed.
“That sounded convincing,” commented Faith sarcastically.
“Yeah. Guess it did at that,” sighed Willow. “Oh, I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No. Couldn’t sleep either. Just fumbling back from the bathroom. Thought for sure I’d knock something over and wake the whole house up,” smiled Faith.
“Need some help getting back to...”
“No. Red...I’m sorry. Willow. What’s wrong? This have something to do with you giving up magic? Buffy kinda hinted at a few things but left out the juicy details.”
“There’s little in the way of citrusy goodness. It has everything to do with giving up magic. But, well, I had a pretty okay day, you know? I didn’t think I’d feel like this again tonight,” said Willow, her voice hinting at the pain she felt.
“So it’s withdrawal? You mean like the shakes?” asked Faith.
“It’s withdrawal, it’s payback...it sucks,” admitted Willow, leaning her head back against the headboard. She wrapped her arms around herself as her body involuntarily convulsed. Wincing, she was glad that Faith couldn’t see her.
“You shouldn’t be alone. Want me to get Dawn?”
“No,” replied Willow quickly, her voice rising. “No, we uh...just don’t bother her, okay?”
Faith made her way over to the bed. Willow stared at her the whole time.
“Almost there,” warned Willow.
“You can see me?”
“The night light’s on,” admitted Willow.
“Oh,” said Faith, stopping and reaching out until she found the bed. She sat down on its edge, either by choice or luck as far from Willow as possible.
“Tara didn’t call?” asked Faith gently.
“No,” whispered Willow.
“Oh. Sorry,” shrugged Faith. “Want me to see...um, okay, bad choice of words there. Want me to check if Buffy’s back from patrol yet?”
“No. No, I can’t...no,” sighed Willow. “I don’t want to bother her. I can’t. Not after what I did to her.”
Faith didn’t say anything for a moment.
“Wait. What you did to her? You brought your best friend back from the dead! Someone want to clue me in on the downside here?”
“Guess you got the short version, huh? She didn’t tell you where she was?” choked Willow.
“Um...no. Kinda figured she was in hell or, or got sucked into Glory’s dimension.”
“Yeah. Common mistake, that. Funny in a not so funny way,” whispered Willow, sniffing. She didn’t look at Faith, letting her silence sink in and make it’s weight felt.
“Oh. Oh my God. I...Willow, you didn’t know. You can’t blame...”
“Myself? Who else should I blame? And it gets even better. Buffy’s numb. She, she can’t feel anything. Well, anything but pain. She wasn’t in hell before...but she is now,” sniffed Willow.
“Damn,” whispered Faith. “Willow, you need to talk to her.”
“And say what? Oops. Sorry, Buffy, but um, if you get yourself killed I promise not to do it again.” Willow wiped her eyes.
“Doesn’t matter what you say. Doesn’t matter if you say anything. You just have to sit down and let her know how you feel,” said Faith.
Oh, like you did?” sneered Willow. She got even madder as Faith looked at her but of course couldn’t make eye contact and instead seemed to be staring at her neck.
“Ouch. Good comeback,” winced Faith.
“Faith, she doesn’t care what I feel because she can’t feel. She’s a living corpse. Get it?” yelled Willow.
Faith lowered her head but didn’t move. Willow was shocked that she didn’t leave, didn’t at least lash out at her with a clever retort.
“Mind if I stay? We can...talk. About anything. About nothing,” shrugged Faith, suddenly not sure what to do with her hands. She pressed them against her thighs.
Willow’s eyes opened wide in surprise.
“Um...yeah. Yeah, I’d like that. I really don’t want to be alone right now,” admitted Willow.
“I hear ya,” smiled Faith, rubbing her arms.
“You cold?” asked Willow. Faith nodded.
“Here. Lay down,” said Willow, pulling back the sheets next to her. Faith hesitated but slowly eased herself down, laying rigidly on her back. Willow tossed the sheet over her.
“Sorry I yelled,” offered Willow.
“No big. I understand where you’re coming from.”
They lay there, not talking, not moving. Willow stared at the ceiling, occasionally glancing at Faith. Faith listened to Willow’s labored breathing, felt her body twitch and shiver.
“You want me to get another blanket?” asked Faith.
“No. It wouldn’t help,” sighed Willow.
Faith moved her hand and accidentally brushed up against Willow’s arm. Willow pulled back and Faith moved her hand back to where it was. But she felt Willow tremble, shaking worse than before. And she felt Willow’s hand slowly cover her own. Faith held her breath...and Willow slipped her fingers in between hers, suddenly gripping, holding on tightly.
“Faith?” whispered Willow.
“Yeah?” answered Faith, her fingers finally responding.
“I...can you...I mean...”
Willow’s voice was empty. Faith bit her lower lip. Neither of them spoke. Willow’s hand was cold and damp.
“Willow, just say it,” encouraged Faith. She didn’t answer right away but turned her head to look at Faith.
“Can you hold me? I’m sorry, but, but I’m just so scared, you know?”
“I know. I’ve been there,” nodded Faith.
Faith rolled onto her side and pulled free her hand. Awkwardly, hesitating, she placed Willow’s hand on her waist and wrapped her arm over Willow’s back. Her forehead touched Willow’s, her skin slick with perspiration. Faith rubbed her hand across Willow’s back.
“Thank you,” whispered Willow through chattering teeth. Faith didn’t say anything.
“I never thought of you as being afraid. Of anything,” said Willow.
“I am human, Red,” smiled Faith.
“I know. I didn’t mean...”
“Shh. Close your eyes.”
Willow nodded and nuzzled closer against Faith’s shoulder, her nose pressed against the pajama top. She inhaled and Faith knew Willow was thinking about Tara.
“Missing Tara is only making this worse, isn’t it?”
Willow didn’t answer but her face contorted as she tightly clenched her eyes to hold back the tears.
“I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to ask,” winced Faith.
Willow moaned, a cry felt more than heard by Faith.
“I was doing too much magic and I promised to stop. But I didn’t. I lied to her. God I miss her so,” whimpered Willow.
“She left over a lie?”
“No. No, it’s worse than that,” said Willow, pulling away. “We argued about it and I did a spell to make her forget.”
“But she found out,” sighed Faith.
“Yep. So she doesn’t trust me. Hell, she’s afraid of me! And how can she love me if...oh, Faith. I blew it! I was so stupid,” cried Willow, pressing her face against Faith’s chest.
“Shh,” comforted Faith, holding Willow’s head against her and running her fingers through her hair. “Willow, you made a mistake. We all do. Tara loves you...she’ll forgive you.”
“No, she won’t,” wailed Willow.
“You’re right, she won’t. Not unless you forgive yourself first.”
Willow became still and then, sniffing, pulled away from Faith, her face only a breath apart from Faith.
“Really?” whispered Willow, the ache in her voice pleading for release.
“Really. That and a lot of begging,” said Faith seriously. Willow actually laughed.
“Everything seems worse at night. Wait ‘til tomorrow. You’ll see,” promised Faith.
“Thank you,” smiled Willow gratefully. She lay her head back upon Faith’s shoulder. Her body shivered and Faith rubbed her back.
“There must’ve been times before when you couldn’t fall asleep. What did Tara do...um, you know, maybe I better not ask that,” smiled Faith.
“Didn’t think that one through, did you?” smiled Willow.
“Not exactly,” laughed Faith.
“Tell me a story,” said Willow.
“What? You’re kidding me, right?”
“Nope. Doesn’t matter what. I just want to hear the sound of your voice.”
“Ookaay.” Faith thought for a moment, noticing that Willow wasn’t shivering much anymore.
“Well, I know this one about a little girl who was really into red leather and she had to bring some booze to her grandmother’s house but there was this big bad wolf...”
“I already heard that one,” yawned Willow.
“Yeah, you probably did.”
Willow settled more comfortably against Faith’s arm. Faith smiled. And she took a deep breath, releasing it slowly.
“I know one you never heard. Once upon a time there was this girl. And she wasn’t happy...so she ran away from home. At first she didn’t know where to go, but then she remembered a story that her, her friend told her. About another girl who lived in a far off land. But this girl was special. And this girl was...she was so much like her, they could’ve been sisters.”
“I like this story,” mumbled Willow. Faith smiled.
“And the girl who ran away finally came to this far off land. Now she never had any friends growing up, so she didn’t know how to act, how to fit in...so she told stories to impress people. Oh, there was some truth in them. Our runaway never had much of an imagination,” chuckled Faith. She took another deep breath before continuing.
“But she embellished a little. Or maybe more than a little. And these two girls met. Now our little runaway wanted to be friends...she just, she just didn’t know how. And the girl she wanted to be friends with...well, she was scared. Because she couldn’t admit how much alike they were, even though, deep down, she knew it was true. And our runaway was scared because...because she wanted so badly to trust her new friend, but she was afraid to. And I...I mean, this girl...Willow?”
Willow’s breathing had become more relaxed.
“You want me to continue the story? It really doesn’t have a happy ending, what with all the jealously and betrayal and...Willow?” whispered Faith.
Faith smiled, realizing that Willow had fallen asleep. She ran her fingers through Willow’s hair and, gently, held her just a little tighter. She closed her eyes, an unseen and unanswered tear running down her cheek.
“Everything’s worse at night...when it’s completely dark. Red, do you know how long it’s been since anyone has touched me? Just...simply held me?” whispered Faith.
Faith lay there, so grateful to just feel Willow’s breath against her skin.
Buffy closed the door behind her and rubbed her eyes, glancing up the stairs. Willow’s door was open and her light was on. Closing her eyes for a moment, Buffy reluctantly but quietly made her way up the stairs. She reached out, about to knock on Willow’s door, but froze, her hand held out before her, her eyes opening wide.
Willow and Faith were sound asleep in each other’s arms. Buffy backed out of the room, looked back in just to confirm what she had seen and then walked away.
“Well...at least they both had clothes on,” sighed Buffy, shaking her head.
Faith awoke but didn’t bother to open her eyes, knowing how futile it would be. She lay motionless, listening to Willow’s shallow breathing, enjoying the hint of strawberries held within her hair. The house was still so there was no way for Faith to know what time it was. But she felt rested so she knew she had slept undisturbed for at least a few hours. And how long had it been since she had done that?
Willow moved, shifting her weight. Faith felt her arm slide over her back, nudging Faith closer, felt Willow’s cheek brush against her own.
“Tara?” murmured Willow.
Faith tensed, unsure if she should pretend to still be asleep or if she should smile and laugh, making light of the situation. But then she remembered exactly how deeply Willow was hurting and froze in her indecision.
“Oh. Oh!” exclaimed Willow as she opened her eyes. She tried to pull away but her arm was under Faith’s neck.
“Morning, Red. What’s wrong? My breath that bad?” smiled Faith bravely, though whether it was for her benefit or Willow’s she didn’t know. She raised her head and Willow slid her arm out.
“Huh? Um, no. I, I must’ve been dreaming. That’s all.”
“Well, I’m glad you were able to get some sleep. What time is it?” asked Faith casually, as if waking up in another girl’s arms was an everyday occurrence.
“Um...almost seven o’clock,” answered Willow, sitting up to look at the alarm clock. “I don’t think Buffy or Dawn are up yet.”
“No, they aren’t. I would’ve heard.”
“Oh. So you’ve been awake for awhile,” said Willow, surprised.
“Not long. I just didn’t want to wake you. How are you feeling?”
“Better, thanks. But the day is young. I’ll get in the bathroom first, okay?” asked Willow, stepping out of bed.
“Sure. And I’ll sneak back into my own bed. Girl’s got a reputation to consider, you know?” smiled Faith as she sat up.
Willow stood there and Faith hesitated, hearing that Willow hadn’t moved. And Willow slowly smiled.
“Faith, your bed is cold and this one’s warm. Stay. I’ll go make us some coffee. I think I’ll need some caffeine today.”
“Hey, I’ve got a reputation to consider too, you know. And I don’t mind anyone knowing that I slept with a Slayer,” grinned Willow. “How many people can say that? Oh. Oh! I didn’t mean...”
Faith laughed and tossed a pillow in Willow’s direction but Willow easily stepped aside.
“How do you like your coffee?” asked Willow.
“Black and bitter, just like your sense of humor,” answered Faith.
Willow smiled and shook her head. And then she wondered if this was the same girl they had last seen. Had Faith changed or was she just...afraid...because she was blind? Faith knew that Willow hadn’t moved and was probably watching her.
“Just wanted to say thank you. For last night.”
“You’re welcome,” answered Faith without hesitation.
Sure, she had shrugged her shoulders. But for the first time that Willow could remember, Faith had accepted a compliment.
Faith tightened the belt around her robe and loosened the towel from her hair, letting it drop onto the floor. She tentatively reached around until she found the brush Willow had left for her next to the sink.
“No sense standing in front of the mirror,” complained Faith out loud. She opened the bathroom door and centered herself in the doorway, remembering that it was twenty two steps down the hall and she would be standing in front of Buffy’s bedroom. Before she took her first step she sensed that someone was standing in front of her.
“No. It’s Dawn. Good morning.”
“Morning,” nodded Faith.
“Um, look, I know you’re not an invalid or anything, but...”
Dawn took Faith’s hand into her own.
“Let me help you back to your room.”
Faith smiled and held Dawn’s hand more firmly.
They made their way back to the room and Dawn practically pushed Faith onto the bed.
“Sit,” ordered Dawn, taking the brush from Faith’s hand. “So...you sleep okay?”
“Yeah,” nodded Dawn. “You’re kinda mirror challenged at the moment. Thought you might need help brushing your hair. Is, um...that okay?”
“Yeah. Thanks,” smiled Faith.
Dawn began brushing Faith’s hair, gently tugging when she hit a snag. Faith flinched, causing Dawn to smile.
“I thought Slayers were tougher than that. I didn’t pull that hard,” teased Dawn.
“No, it’s not that. You’re doing fine,” whispered Faith. But Dawn could see that Faith was uncomfortable.
“Faith, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Really,” smiled Faith, though she knew Dawn could see how her lips tensed.
Dawn continued to brush her hair but watched Faith’s face.
“Guess I’m just not used to people taking care of me, you know? Having to depend on others...never even thought about that. It’s...weird,” shrugged Faith.
Dawn studied Faith for a moment.
“No. It’s more than that,” said Dawn.
Faith lowered her head and nodded.
“That obvious, huh?”
She reached out and found Dawn’s hand. Dawn let her take it and Faith gave it a little squeeze but quickly let it go.
“It’s just...you used to depend on me. I looked after you, kept you away from mom when she was drunk. I, I used to comb your hair. Just like this. But you don’t remember,” whispered Faith, her voice breaking.
Dawn stood there and took a deep breath. And then she began brushing Faith’s hair again. Neither of them spoke.
Faith sat, resting her chin on the back of couch, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight coming through the front window on her face. She didn’t turn her head when she heard the others come down the stairs and open the front door. Buffy motioned for Willow to take Dawn outside and walked over to the couch.
“Faith, you sure you don’t want to come with? Might do you good to get out of the house for a while,” suggested Buffy.
Faith looked up and shook her head.
“No. I mean, I appreciate what you guys are doing, trying to help me. But I know what the others think of me. I’ve seen it, remember? Both from my perspective...and yours.”
Buffy’s hand clenched into a fist but then she relaxed, blocking out the memory.
“Can I get you something before I go? You didn’t eat much at breakfast. As in not much at all.”
“No. My stomach’s a little queasy this morning. But...thanks,” smiled Faith.
“Okay,” agreed Buffy, still not making a step towards the door.
“B...what if, what if Willow can’t find a cure? What good is a blind Slayer? I mean, what do I have to offer? Who am I? How...how do I make amends? Not that I can ever...”
Faith turned away and faced the window again.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Willow’s good. Better than Good. She’s...Willow. She’ll figure something out,” said Buffy, trying to sound encouraging. She stood there for a moment but Faith didn’t say anything. Buffy turned to go.
Buffy stopped and took a deep breath but didn’t turn around.
“I wish we were strangers.”
“What?” answered Buffy, looking back over her shoulder.
“I wish we were strangers. That we had just met...so we could start all over. Things should’ve been so different,” whispered Faith, still facing the warmth of the sun.
“Yeah. I get that,” whispered Buffy in return.
Faith didn’t move even when the front door clicked shut. She closed her eyes, letting the sun’s warmth make her sleepy. Even so, she heard the footsteps out front even before she heard the knock on the door.
“It’s open,” called Faith, instinctively not saying to come in, even though it was daylight and this wasn’t her house.
“Hello? Where is...oh! Faith! You...you’re out of prison.”
“Hey Tara. Yep, it’s me, in the flesh. I keep telling everyone I got out with time off for good behavior, but no one seems to buy that,” smiled Faith.
Tara stepped back towards the door which she hadn’t closed yet.
“You don’t have to run off. Guess they didn’t tell you about me, did they?”
“Um, no. No, I think I w-wo-would have remembered,” answered Tara, still inching backwards but not turning her back to the Slayer.
Tara froze, somewhat confused as to why Faith was still sitting on the couch.
“Chill out. I’m not wearing these sunglasses indoors as a fashion statement. I’m blind. And even if I wasn’t, I’m not going to hurt you. Okay?”
“Blind? You, you’re blind? How?”
“Magic. No doubt about it, either. Willow put something in my food, made my eyes all blue. You know, I never asked anyone if that cleared up,” said Faith to herself.
“Blue? Oh, right. Yeah, that would, um, yeah. Someone did something to you. Magic-wise, I mean,” nodded Tara. “Oh...how did you know it was me?”
“I recognized your voice. And the stuttering. We met, but I wasn’t who you thought I was,” smiled Faith.
“Oh! Right! Right,” repeated Tara uncomfortably.
“Everyone’s at the Magic Shop in full research mode. I know you don’t want to stay, but I was hoping we could talk for a few minutes.”
Tara studied Faith, hooked by how sincere her voice sounded.
“Sure. I’ll just, just shut the door,” smiled Tara awkwardly. She shut the door and came back into the room but didn’t sit down. Faith sighed.
“Tara, please...sit down. I’m harmless. Really. I know I deserve this but, um, the girl you sorta met...or at least heard about? She’s dead. I’m not her,” said Faith, her voice firm like a promise.
“Oh. That’s, um, good,” smiled Tara weakly as she sat down on a chair across from Faith. “So...then who are you?”
Faith shifted uneasily on the couch, bringing her hands together in front of her.
“Wow, that’s...that’s kinda deep and philosophical for this early in the morning, isn’t it?” frowned Faith uncomfortably. Tara didn’t say anything. She watched Faith, studying her body language.
“Tara, I don’t know the answer to that question,” whispered Faith.
Tara still didn’t speak. Faith looked down, wringing her hands nervously. Tara smiled and stood up. Faith heard her approaching, felt her sit down on the couch next to her, but didn’t look up.
“Well, at least I know now that you’re being honest. Besides the obvious, isn’t that why you’re here?” asked Tara.
Faith stilled her hands and slowly raised her head, turning to face Tara.
“Even Buffy hasn’t thought of that. Willow’s a lucky girl, you know that?” said Faith, almost smiling. Tara almost smiled in return.
“Wish she knew that,” whispered Tara under her breath.
Faith smiled, not wanting to reveal that her enhanced hearing allowed her to hear what Tara had said. And then her smile faded.
“I can tell her that I’m sorry, and I really mean that. I do. But what I need is for her to forgive me. And I can’t ask...what I mean is, I don’t deserve it. With all she’s been through, I’m the last thing she needs to deal with right now,” sighed Faith. “But...”
“But she’s afraid. She can’t trust you. So how can she forgive you?” nodded Tara, now looking at her own hands.
“We still talking about Buffy?” hinted Faith. Tara’s head snapped up, shocked at Faith’s insight. She changed the subject.
“Faith, I’m pretty sure I know the spell that was used on you.”
“So you can help me?” asked Faith excitedly.
“Me? I, I don’t think so,” winced Tara. “We’re talking powerful magicks. But Willow can. I know she can. She’s...Willow.”
“No. She can’t,” said Faith, saying the words as if they were painful to utter.
“What? Oh. You mean she told you she won’t help you?” asked Tara, confused.
“Tara, Willow gave up magic. And not because she can’t control it anymore. She wants you back. Least that’s the Reader’s Digest version,” sighed Faith.
“She, she told you that?”
Faith sat up straighter and frowned at Tara.
“And why is that so hard to believe? Do you have any idea how much pain she’s in?” asked Faith, her words tinged with anger.
“I don’t doubt it. Willow, she...she’s been into some dark stuff lately. There’s always a price to pay,” sighed Tara. “Always.”
“I wasn’t talking about magic,” said Faith, shaking her head.
Tara released her breath raggedly, not even aware she had been holding it in.
“Take it from me, Tara. You can’t run away from this. You need to face her, confront her...talk to her,” said Faith softly.
“I know,” whispered Tara.
“So why are you still sitting here?”
Faith felt Tara rise from the couch.
“You want to come with me?” offered Tara. “Get out of here for awhile?”
“No. No, I got some thinkin’ to do.”
“Okay. I’d better...”
“Go,” finished Faith. Faith heard her footsteps but not her goodbye.
“Yes?” she replied, one hand on the doorknob.
“Good luck. And, um...thanks for the talk.”
“Thank you,” smiled Tara.
Faith stood as soon as the door closed.
“Guess I have some packing to do. Only a fool would choose me over...over someone that deserved to be loved.”
“So, tell me again. Why are we still pretending to be reading these books? I mean, Willow found the spell. She knows what to do. She just has to do it...or undo it,” said Anya, scrunching her nose.
“Honey, we’re not pretending. We’re trying to see if Faith can be cured without, well, Willow having to...you know,” hinted Xander.
“No, she’s right,” sighed Willow, slamming shut a book. “We’re not going to find an easier way to help Faith. We should be grateful we even found one way.”
“This is easy?” asked Buffy skeptically, glancing over Willow’s shoulder at the list of ingredients she had written down in a notebook.
“For some people,” said Willow, rolling her eyes.
“But not for Tara?” said Buffy, knowing the answer before she asked.
Willow closed her eyes and shook her head.
Willow picked up the notebook but her hand was shaking so badly that she tossed it back onto the table. Embarrassed, she slipped her hand under her leg. Buffy was going to say something to her but settled back into her chair.
“Hey, look on the bright side. You need the ingredients? Look around you. Not a problem,” smiled Anya.
“One or two are kinda rare,” frowned Willow.
“Again, not a problem. I can special order them and have them shipped overnight by express mail,” smiled Anya.
“That’s a good,” agreed Willow. “Oh, but I’m kinda short on cash right now.”
“Now we have a problem,” said Anya, no longer smiling.
“Anya!” complained Xander.
“Oh, alright!” whined Anya. “You people don’t seem to have a grasp on this whole capitalism thing.”
Everyone around the table leaned back in their chairs, grateful to get away from the books. And it soon became awkwardly obvious that no one seemed to be looking at Willow. Even Willow noticed. She exhaled, puffing her bangs up off her forehead.
“Dawnie, what’s up? You look a little...distracted,” offered Willow.
“You know, I wish everyone would stop calling me that! My name is Dawn. I’m not a little kid anymore!” snapped Dawn, pushing away from the table and walking off towards the front window. Willow tensed, not moving but following Dawn with her eyes.
“Yikes,” said Xander, looking to Buffy for an explanation.
“We have to cut her some slack. Or lots of slack. I think she’s a little wigged about this whole thing of Faith remembering her as a sister. But I think she’s handling it...good. She’s good. In a moody sorta way,” frowned Buffy. “But a good moody way.”
“Well, I’m not on board with the handling. I mean, I know Faith tried to hurt Dawnie...Dawn,” corrected Xander. “At least I think I know that I thought I did. It’s like I forgot where I put something...and I can’t remember what it was, but I know I lost it.”
“Yeah. What you said...I think. Now if I could only forget what she did to me,” sighed Buffy. “Makes it hard to...never mind.”
“I hate to be the one who mentions the elephant in the room that everyone sees but no one wants to talk about...again...but do we really want to help Faith? We’re talking about a psycho-killer with a proven track record and super strength,” grimaced Anya. “This whole feel sorry for me act might just be...well, a feel sorry for me act.”
“No. No, I think she’s changed. I really do,” asserted Willow.
“Really?” asked Xander, surprised. “You’ve never exactly been a member of the Faith fan club. Why the one eighty?”
“Well, we, we spent some time together...recently. And I got to know her a little better. I just think she’s being sincere,” affirmed Willow, reluctantly doodling on the notebook in front of her with a pen. Buffy raised her eyebrows in concern but didn’t look at Willow.
“You slept with her!” shouted Anya.
“What? No! Well, no in the biblical sense. Not that what I do with Tara can be found in the Song of Solomon...er, again with the no! I, I was having a really bad night. She stayed with me. Purely platonic,” sighed Willow, pouting. She cast a look at Buffy and Buffy cringed, knowing that she should’ve been there for her.
“Xander, stop thinking what I know you’re thinking,” warned Anya with an elbow to his ribs.
Xander winced and was going to protest but his face turned red. Willow rolled her eyes with her own protest.
“I don’t think it’s an act. Something’s different. There’s a spark that’s just not there anymore,” said Willow.
“I can see why you’d want to sleep with her. She is quite attractive, even for a blind person,” nodded Anya.
“I didn’t...oh, why bother!” sighed Willow, throwing her hands up in the air.
Xander looked at Anya out of the corner of his eye.
“You find Faith attractive?” he asked, somewhat apprehensively yet trying at the same time to hide his smile. She noticed...and punched him in the arm. He held up a finger to make a point of protest but then smiled.
“That’s okay, I actually deserved that,” grinned Xander.
“Act or no act, Faith scares me,” replied Anya.
“So do I,” whispered Buffy, a little louder than she meant to. The others stared at her.
“Buffy!” winced Willow.
“Well, I do. None of you know how to act around me anymore, always afraid you’re going to say the wrong thing. Always so, so full of pity. It’s too much! Just...be yourselves!”
“And what, act like nothing’s happened? Buffy, we just want to help,” consoled Xander.
“Don’t you get it? You can’t. It’s my problem. It’s my life,” sighed Buffy.
Silence gripped the table again. Willow not only couldn’t look at Buffy, she had to close her eyes. The front door chimed and closed. Tara stood there, waiting for Willow to notice her. Dawn saw her and smiled. Tara almost smiled back, then winked at her and nervously grinned, looking down.
“Tara,” said Willow, her voice teeming with what could only be described as wonder.
Tara simply stood there, as if waiting to be invited in. Willow walked over to her, her eyes never leaving Tara’s own. She stopped about an arm’s length away.
“Hey,” smiled Willow, crossing her hands in front of herself.
“Hey,” nodded Tara, suppressing a smile but her face lighting up in spite of that.
“You look great,” said Willow, shaking her head and chewing on her lower lip. Tara laughed.
“You are the worst liar the world has ever known,” smiled Tara.
“Let’s, um, go in back. Okay?” asked Willow. Tara eagerly nodded. Willow held out her hand and Tara glanced down at it and then up at Willow. She slipped her hand into Willow’s and sealed it with a tight squeeze. Willow closed her eyes for a moment and then smiled and turned, leading Tara past the table.
Tara raised her hand no higher than her waist and wiggled her fingers in greeting towards Buffy. Buffy nodded her approval and motioned with her eyes, showing Tara that her fingers were crossed. Willow caught Xander’s eye and they both smiled. The girls disappeared into Buffy’s workout room. Xander was still smiling when he looked at Anya.
“Should I save you the trouble and just punch myself?” asked Xander.
“Is that all you think about?” asked Anya, rolling her eyes. Buffy simply shook her head, realizing that, kidding aside, she might actually fear Anya.
“I hope they resolve this magic issue,” sighed Buffy.
“A big affirmative to that,” agreed Xander. “I hope Willow learned something from all this. Still, maybe just to make a point, Tara should hold it against her, rub her nose in it.”
Buffy looked at Xander, hesitated...then punched him in the arm.
“Ow! Now what was that for?” asked Xander innocently, rubbing his arm.
Willow pulled Tara into the room and shut the door behind them. Instead of letting go of her hand, Willow reached for the other and held both, taking a deep breath.
“I’ve heard that you’ve given up magic,” said Tara, the sadness in her voice outweighing any hope.
“Yes. I swear to you, I’m done,” nodded Willow, squeezing Tara’s hands but not getting a response.
“You’ve promised that before,” sighed Tara.
“I know. And I’m so sorry. But Tara, you have to give me...us...another chance.”
Tara didn’t say anything but she smiled. And she let go of Willow’s hands.
“How are you feeling?”
“Whew. I can’t begin to describe it,” winced Willow.
“I know,” nodded Tara.
“No, I don’t think you do. Between the physical pain of withdrawal from magic and the physical pain of being apart from my girl...not to mention how ashamed I am at some of the stuff I did...” grimaced Willow, lowering her head.
“Willow, you’re not listening. I know.”
Willow raised her head, puzzled.
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t make the connection at first. Not until...later. I’m having the dreams again. They started about the same time that you did that spell on me. With my mind?” reminded Tara.
“I know the spell,” replied Willow, annoyed. “But Tara, you never told me about any dreams. What do you mean by again?”
“No, I didn’t tell you. I didn’t want you to worry,” frowned Tara, embarrassed. “But I’m beginning to remember.”
“Remember? Remember what?”
“Where I was. What happened to me,” whispered Tara, not looking into Willow’s eyes, waiting for her to understand, to make the connection.
“You mean, what Glory did to you?” asked Willow anxiously.
Tara nodded but didn’t look up.
“How...how is that my fault? Why are you blaming me?” asked Willow, her voice rising.
“You think you know, that you have to give up magic. You don’t. Not if your intent is pure, if you use it to help others and not for selfish reasons. But what you were doing...Willow, you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting others,” finished Tara sadly, crossing her arms. “You’re hurting me.”
“I didn’t know. Yeah, I get it now. Believe me...just look at Dawn. That’s my fault. Just look at us and, and you. Tara, I’m so sorry. Please, you have to forgive me,” said Willow trying not to cry. Tara couldn’t bear to see her upset and reached out, pulling Willow in with a hug.
“I do. I do,” comforted Tara. Willow held on, grateful for her touch.
“Oh Tara, you don’t know how much I’ve missed holding you. And it’s all my fault,” cried Willow, holding her even tighter.
“Willow, I’m so afraid of what might happen. You promised you’d always find me...but what if...”
“Shh. I promise you, no more magic,” sniffed Willow. “And you don’t think I’m afraid?”
“Of losing me? Never,” laughed Tara, pulling back. But she saw that Willow didn’t mean that. “Willow?”
Willow stepped back and wiped her eyes.
“You’ve never known me without magic. Never knew the real me. What if, what if...maybe I won’t be who you need me to be,” whispered Willow, ashamed to say the words. “And I’d lose you even without magic.”
“Yes, it always was about the magic,” sighed Tara. Willow’s eyes opened in fear.
“You dummy. It’s not the conjured magic. It’s the magic that’s us,” smiled Tara. Willow closed her eyes and lowered her head, freely crying even though she was happy.
“I know the real Willow. She thinks of others, putting their needs ahead of even her own. I miss that girl.”
“And she misses you,” said Willow, reaching out, running the back of her hand along Tara’s arm. “Tara, you’re all settled and, and stuff, but could...could you spend the night with me? I left the room exactly as it was. Just like before.”
Tara stepped forth and embraced her girlfriend.
“Of course I will. I’ll take care of you, just like you did for me,” promised Tara, inhaling the scent of Willow’s hair.
“Good magic, bad magic, I don’t care. Never again. Never,” said Willow, pressing her face into the hollow of Tara’s shoulder.
“Not even to help Faith?” whispered Tara. Willow slowly pulled away. She reached up and placed her palm on Tara’s cheek. Tara leaned into her touch, closing her eyes.
“No. Not even if there’s the slightest chance it would hurt you. There has to be another way.”
“She’s changed, you know. I can sense it. Her aura...Faith’s very scared right now, no matter how brave she acts. But I feel no anger in her. Willow, she needs our help,” sighed Tara.
“She does. And you know, I think she has changed. But maybe she’s only closer to the girl she always was. What happened to her...she lost herself, like I did in the magic. Being out there like that, you can feel the edge. It sets you free...you think it’s real, but it’s all a lie. It’s not who you are. It’s not...”
“And when you come down, it makes you doubt even more who you are without it,” sighed Willow, shaking her head.
“I have no doubts,” said Tara, gently raising Willow’s chin up with her hand. Willow painfully smiled and brushed her cheek against Tara’s fingers, kissing her wrist. She looked up, eyes suddenly open.
“Amy! I’ll ask Amy to attempt this!” said Willow excitedly.
“You think she can?”
“Yes. I know she can. And how can she refuse? If it wasn’t for me...”
Willow stopped, seeing the look of disappointment on Tara’s face.
“I’ll ask her,” said Willow softly. “No conditions. She’ll agree or refuse on her own.”
“That’s my girl,” smiled Tara. And then Willow began to cry. “Willow, what...”
“Am I? Still your girl?” asked Willow, looking desperately into Tara’s eyes through her tears.
Tara grinned mischievously and grabbed Willow by the shoulders, pushing her back hard against the wall. Instantly her mouth was on Willow’s, rough and demanding, her tongue slipping past Willow’s lips. Tara’s hands moved up against either side of her head, holding her still while her lips pressed on, driven by a hunger of their own. Breaking free with a low moan, Tara rested her nose on Willow’s nose. And smiled.
“Wow,” gasped Willow, glassy eyed and catching her breath. “I thought all that weak-kneed swooning I read about was just...oh my.”
“That answer your question?” teased Tara.
“Oh my,” sighed Willow, holding herself up by grabbing onto Tara’s arms.
“I’m not big into public displays, but I am butch enough to fight for you,” stated Tara firmly.
“Screw magic...you’re the weakness in me,” breathed Willow.
Willow closed her eyes, smiling blissfully. And then she tackled Tara, luckily landing them on a padded mat on the floor with an oomph! It was her turn to aggressively seek out her lover’s mouth.
“God, I missed you!” shouted Willow out of the side of her mouth, moving down to playfully nip at Tara’s neck with her teeth.
“Shh. They’ll hear you,” giggled Tara in a whispered protest.
“Good. I’m no longer shy about public displays,” laughed Willow. “Now shut up and kiss me!”
A few minutes later Willow came out of the training room, pushing her hair back into place. Tara was trying to hide behind her as she tucked in her shirt. They were met by four sets of smiles.
“Hey. I won’t have to do the magic. We decided to get Amy to help. You know, make it a threesome,” smiled Willow, still somewhat out of breath.
Anya and Buffy looked at Xander but he timidly crossed his arms and refused to talk.
“That’s great, Will. I think I’ll call Faith and give her the good news. Anya, why don’t you help them with whatever they need,” said Buffy, getting up from her chair. Xander stifled a laugh.
“I’ll go find Amy. Tara can figure out what we need with Anya. Oh, honey? There’s a list on the table over there,” pointed Willow. Tara nodded meekly and walked over to the table, winking at Dawn and causing her to giggle.
“Will, why not just call her?” asked Buffy, standing next to her.
“Because if Amy is where I think she is, there’s no way to reach her by phone,” said Willow ominously.
Willow pushed out her lips and nodded sadly, knowing Buffy understood. She pulled Buffy aside and lowered her voice.
“Buffy, while I’m gone, can you tell the others not to mention to Tara that Faith was in my bed last night. Not that anything happened!” whispered Willow emphatically.
“You’re not going to lie to her?”
“No, of course not! She’s spending the night and I’ll tell her then...when I can disarm any complaints with, well, you get the idea,” smiled Willow.
“Okay,” laughed Buffy loudly, getting a disconcerting look from her friend. “Come on, Will. It is kinda funny.”
“I guess,” admitted Willow. “Oh, and while we’re on the funny...”
“Yes?” asked Buffy suspiciously. Willow glanced over her shoulder at the others.
“Faith talks in her sleep.”
“And?” prodded Buffy.
“She called out your name. Actually, it was several times. No, wait! She didn’t call out your name. It was more of a moan,” grinned Willow.
Buffy’s eyes popped open but otherwise didn’t move.
“Of course, I have no idea what...”
“You’re lying!” accused Buffy, her eyes still open wide. Willow made a cross over her heart with a finger.
“That’s an evil grin you’re sporting there, Willow Rosenberg,” glared Buffy.
“And wouldn’t your sister love to tease you about this?” added Willow, innocently blinking her eyes.
“This is blackmail!” yelped Buffy.
“Chocolate will suffice and then my lips are sealed,” replied Willow, running a finger across her mouth.
“So I’ve heard,” nodded Willow.
“Will, if Amy won’t help you...”
“Buffy, I can’t. I mean, Tara explained how if I only use magicks to help someone, if my intent is from the heart, I should be fine. But I’m too scared to find out if she’s wrong.”
Buffy nodded and put a hand on Willow’s arm.
“Be careful,” said Buffy. She kept her eyes on Willow for a moment to stress her warning and walked over to the phone. Dialing her number, she waited until the seventh ring before reluctantly hanging up the phone. The others noticed her just standing there, lost in thought.
“Buffy? What’s wrong?” asked Dawn.
“Oh. Nothing. I hope,” replied Buffy, shaking her head. “Faith didn’t pick up.”
“Maybe she couldn’t find the phone,” suggested Anya.
“And maybe she walked into a wall and knocked herself out trying to get to the phone,” said Xander.
“Exactly!” agreed Anya. “Oh, you weren’t...never mind.”
“Guys, I’ll be right back,” announced Buffy.
Buffy scrunched up her face, wondering where Faith could be. She took a few steps up the staircase even though she didn’t hear anyone upstairs.
Just then a breeze blew, sounding the wind chime on the back porch. It sounded a little louder than it should have. Curious, Buffy retreated down the stairs and noticed that the back door was open. She made her way to the door and saw Faith sitting on the steps, her backpack slung over one shoulder. Buffy watched her for a moment but Faith was still, lifeless like a statue. Yet she knew Faith was aware that she was here. Buffy hesitated, stalling, then sat down next to her, shaking her head. Faith looked out into the backyard, seeing something that only she could see.
“Running away again?” sighed Buffy.
“You mean like Giles did? He should be here, Buffy. He should be here.”
“Well, he uh...he thought I needed to be on my own. That I had to learn to depend on myself and, and not lean so much on him,” shrugged Buffy. “Isn’t that what growing up is all about? Being independent?”
“Giles can suck on my left one. He should be here and you know it. He’s your Watcher, damn it!” snapped Faith.
Buffy raised her eyebrows, disturbed at the visual Faith suggested. Still, she suppressed a laugh.
“Didn’t say I agreed with his decision. And you didn’t answer my question. You running away?”
“Thought about it. But to where? I have nowhere to go and no one to take care of me when I get there,” replied Faith bitterly.
“You can stay here,” said Buffy flatly.
Faith just shook her head.
“Of course, once you get your sight back, you’d be free to decide for yourself. But...you can stay here,” repeated Buffy, this time with a more friendly tone. But just barely. Faith snapped her head towards the sound of Buffy’s voice.
“Willow. She can help me? She can...”
“No. No, Willow’s afraid to try. Even after Tara gave her blessing. She’s going to ask Amy to help her,” said Buffy.
“Hopefully tonight. Willow’s tracking her down as we speak,” smiled Buffy.
Faith turned away from her and Buffy didn’t say anything, giving her a moment.
“Thank you,” whispered Faith, not turning around.
“Oh, I think you’ll owe the girls more than a simple thank you. Maybe some scented candles. Chocolate works too,” encouraged Buffy, though she still didn’t get Faith to laugh.
Buffy took a deep breath, looked down for a moment and then slowly reached out until her hand rested on Faith’s shoulder. Surprisingly, Faith didn’t jump. She rubbed her eyes under her sunglasses and then slowly turned to face Buffy.
“Can I ask you something?” said Buffy softly.
“Sure, B. Ask away.”
“I need you to be honest with me. One Slayer to another.”
Faith sat up a little straighter and nodded slightly. Buffy withdrew her hand.
“You and I, we’re alike. Said so yourself. No one else can understand what it’s like. What it...what it feels like,” said Buffy, choking on that word. “The rush you get from a kill...the anticipation that drives you like a hunger when you hunt.”
“No. Let me finish. Let me try to explain. See, I’m not...feeling that anymore. Hell, I don’t even get hungry afterwards! I’m not...Faith, what drove you to him? Why the Mayor?”
Surprised, Faith turned her head, staring back out into the backyard.
“Back in the mansion, with Angel, you, you talked about being jealous. Was that it? Was it...was it me?” winced Buffy. “Because I tried. I, I just didn’t try hard enough.”
“B...you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it,” whispered Faith, biting her lower lip.
“Faith, please. I need this,” begged Buffy.
“Okay. Okay, maybe I do too,” nodded Faith. But she wouldn’t face Buffy.
Buffy reached over and held Faith’s hand. Faith, as if she could see, looked down and smiled.
“It wasn’t you, B. Jealousy? Oh, there was little mixed in there, I’m sure. But not the way you think. I wanted what you had. But I wasn’t jealous. That doesn’t make sense, does it?” laughed Faith. Faith gave Buffy’s hand a squeeze and then, reluctantly, slipped her hand free.
“You and me, B, we’re special. No one else like us. No one. And yet...I was numb. See, if I was so damn special, why was I so alone? Always. No one ever respected what I could do. No one...ever loved me,” gulped Faith, spitting the words out, shocked that she was actually telling Buffy this.
“Don’t you get it? Do I have to say it? I tried to do the right thing. I tried to, to be good. It didn’t matter. Anyone I got close to...all I ever did was cause pain or suffering or..or I got them killed,” said Faith, pausing to take a deep breath. She lowered her voice to a whisper, her voice breaking. “There must be something so wrong with me, so evil...”
“No! Faith, that’s not true!”
“Buffy! You wanted to hear this, right?” yelled Faith, focusing on Buffy’s voice, staring at her from behind those glasses like she could see.
“Yeah,” whispered Buffy.
“The Slaying, the killing...you know why I got off on it? Because it made me feel something. And if you can’t feel than you’re not alive.”
Buffy stiffened, recoiling as if slapped, but Faith couldn’t see this.
“I know it was wrong. But I didn’t care! I was numb. I needed to feel...anything! I craved it, like a drug. And the Mayor...it was sick and, and twisted...but he let me in. In his own way, he loved me. Made me feel that I was alive,” spat Faith, disgusted with herself.
“I tried to let you in,” said Buffy, unable to conceal the sudden tears in her voice.
“You didn’t even tell me about Angel,” sighed Faith, shaking her head.
“That was different! I didn’t tell anyone about him! I was scared and confused,” protested Buffy.
“Buffy, I don’t think it would’ve mattered. I never let anyone get close. Not even him. Not really. Even then I held back. Oh, my Watcher gave it a go. Maybe if she had more time...but look what happened.”
“Faith...there had to be someone. Please tell me that there was.”
“Yes! There was!” yelled Faith, making Buffy jump.
“There was,” repeated Faith, softer. She took a deep breath.
“Buffy, the only person I ever loved and loved me back was Dawn. Unconditional, wanting nothing in return...and she died because of me. Now you tell me that she wasn’t even real. So what does that leave me with? It means that I’m more alone now than ever,” said Faith, her words empty, void of emotion, yet screaming how she felt. And she felt nothing.
Buffy stared at her, her mouth open.
“All this time...the answer was there, right in front of me. But I couldn’t understand. Until now. Faith, I know what you’re going through. You can’t see me but you know what I’m dealing with. The others are blind, not you.”
Faith’s mouth opened but she didn’t speak. She couldn’t.
“And I’ve done things, things...that I’m so ashamed of. But it gave me...hope. Let me know that I’m alive. So you see? We are alike,” nodded Buffy. “We are so alike.”
“Tried to tell ya that, B, a long time ago” smiled Faith.
“Yeah. I guess you did. And I tried to tell you that I loved you. But I couldn’t say the words. Just like I couldn’t say them to Riley. That’s why he left. So I pushed you both away,” winced Buffy.
“No. Like I said, I didn’t let you in, even though I know you tried. You’re the only one who really tried. I’m flawed, B. I think the wrong girl was called, ya know?” said Faith, laughing with no joy. “I’m a mistake.”
“I don’t believe that and either do you. Back in LA, on the rooftop, you tried to tell me. About the pain and nothing making sense. Maybe it comes with the job. This is what it does to us,” said Buffy. She hesitated but decided to push on.
“At least you never gave up.”
“You tried. You turned yourself in, went to prison, accepted the rules of the game...you wanted to make things right. I gave up. I...gave up,” repeated Buffy, whispering her last words.
“Buffy, what are you talking about?” asked Faith, now reaching out and finding her hand. Buffy let her hold it but didn’t respond in turn.
“My mom was dead, Riley had left, Glory had taken Dawn...it never ended. No matter how hard I fought, how many demons I killed...and my reward? Kill my sister or let the world be consumed by hell. With choices like that...”
Buffy yanked free from Faith’s hand.
“Do you know how relieved I was when I knew that I could die in Dawn’s place? That I could finally be done with it all? Oh sure, Buffy died a noble death, fighting the good fight, saving the world. Guess no one ever considered that I wanted to die. That I killed myself because nothing made any sense, that I wanted the pain to just stop!”
“Yep, the pain stopped. Until now. So...is this my reward...or my punishment?” laughed Buffy, though her voice held only agony.
“Buffy,” whispered Faith. Buffy wiped her eyes and faced Faith. And was surprised to see the younger Slayer smiling.
“I know how I can help you.”
“Huh? What do you...”
“I believe I’m going to get a second chance. To feel again. To love. I honestly do. And hell, if I can believe that...trust me, you’ll come around. Trust me. I feel it. Because we’re alike,” grinned Faith.
Buffy couldn’t help but smile in return.
“You get that out of some fortune cookie?” laughed Buffy.
“Sure I did. And Buffy? Willow didn’t know. She thought you were in hell. What she did...Willow wanted the pain to stop. Don’t you see? Maybe it was selfish, but all she wanted was to feel something other than pain. She was numb...and wanted to feel alive again.”
Buffy looked away, her eyes narrowing.
“I hadn’t thought about it quite like that,” said Buffy.
“B, you might not understand this, but a friend like that...I think, I think she needs to hear that you forgive her. That is, I mean...even if you’re not sure. Your friend needs to hear that. From you, and no one else.”
Buffy sat up a little straighter, looking at Faith. Faith bit her lower lip and slowly looked away from her. And Buffy knew Faith was no longer talking about Willow.
“Hey, here you are! I was looking all over for you,” said Dawn, suddenly standing behind them. “What’s up?”
Buffy stared at Faith, watching as she lowered her head ever so slightly.
“We, uh...we were just deciding on what to get to eat later. Pizza sound good?” asked Buffy, forcing a smile for Dawn.
“Oh yeah,” agreed Dawn. “Wanna invite Xander and Anya over?”
“Sounds good,” nodded Buffy. “Why don’t you go call them?”
“Okay,” agreed Dawn, skipping off.
Faith didn’t raise her head. The two Slayers sat there in silence.
Willow turned, paused...and let out a sigh, realizing that she had already been down this alley. She looked up, knowing it would be dark soon, the suddenly overcast sky threatening rain, rushing the night towards her. Leaning back against the damp wall behind her, she ran her hands through her hair and closed her eyes, beginning to feel just how tired she was.
“Why the hell do I feel like a cigarette? I don’t even smoke!” said Willow, exasperated.
Willow’s eyes snapped open and she turned in the direction of the voice. But no one was there.
“Amy? Is that you?” called Willow.
The top of a dumpster across from her slowly rose, pushed up by an arm.
“Amy!” yelped Willow, running over to help her out. “What the hell are you doing in there?”
“It’s not as bad as it looks. Well, okay, maybe it is. But it’s empty. I, I heard someone coming and I hid. I didn’t know it was you,” said Amy, jumping down to land next to Willow. Unsteady, Willow held her up but only with one hand. Amy’s face was dirty and Willow could tell that she had slept in her clothes. Her somewhat rank clothes.
“I was looking for you,” said Willow.
“Why didn’t you just use a locator spell, silly?” laughed Amy.
“I couldn’t. I mean, I could but I can’t so I won’t,” frowned Willow.
“Anyone ever tell you that you still talk like you did in high school? Oh, that’s not bad. In fact, I find it oddly comforting. Too much new stuff to get used to, ya know?” asked Amy.
“Yeah. New stuff. I get that,” nodded Willow.
“So...what did you say? Translated this time.”
“Amy, I’m giving up magic. It’s just too dangerous for me. And for Tara. Magic doesn’t keep you warm at night,” sighed Willow, smiling.
“That’s it? You’re okay with that? ‘Cause we had bunches of fun and stuff and, and this has nothing to do with you,” added Willow.
“I’m fine. It’s your choice. I might not agree with it, but...I’m cool. Oh, and I’m really glad you didn’t give up practicing before you deratted me,” smiled Amy.
“Me too,” smiled Willow happily.
“So, why were you looking for me?”
“Oh. Well, I was worried about you, of course. And I still want to be friends, you know? But...I need to ask a favor,” said Willow tentatively.
“Sure. Ask away,” said Amy, looking down and brushing off her pants as if just noticing how filthy they were. Still, it didn’t seem to bother her.
“I have a...a friend,” said Willow confidently. “Someone worked some bad mojo on her and she’s blind. I know the counterspell but...I really don’t want to try it, what with the giving up magic and all.”
“Oh. So, you want me to do it,” nodded Amy.
“Yes. If you don’t mind.”
“No problem. But I need you to do me a favor in return,” added Amy.
“Hey, I’d be glad to. Oh Amy, this is great. Really. Oh, what’s the favor?” asked Willow, suddenly suspicious.
“You have to take me to Rack.”
“W-what? But I, I gave up magic,” protested Willow nervously.
“Willow, he’s bored with me. But you’re his favorite now. For that alone you owe me,” glared Amy.
“Yeah, maybe I do,” winced Willow.
“I know where he is tonight. Everything has a price, Willow. So if you want to help your friend, you have to help me too. Is that too much to ask?” said Amy, a little desperation creeping in to her voice.
“Amy, maybe I can help you more if you take a break from magic,” offered Willow. “Just for a little while.”
“It’s my choice, Willow. I’m not judging you. Don’t judge me,” snapped Amy.
“No. No, I wouldn’t.”
“You only have to take me to him. He’ll listen to you,” begged Amy.
Willow wrapped her arms around herself, fighting off a sudden chill.
|Section 2||Boo||BVS||Main Index|